Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The Answering God

Tomorrow I am leading devotions on James 5:13-20, which encourages the faithful in prayer. As I was preparing, I reflected on my time in Malawi and how God so faithful answered my prayer for his protection and provision. Our Answering God answered in big and small ways.
The provision began in Kigali. I arrived at the airport at 7 a.m., two hours before my flight. As I approached the check-in counter, I was alone, except for the two ticket clerks. They jumped to action, one taking my check-in bag and the other my ticket. After a bit of conversation, the one handling the ticket decided that my seat assignment was wrong for my needs and reassigned me to an aisle seat at the front of the section, with extra leg room. He switched the assignment for both my flights. That certainly made for more comfortable traveling. When I arrived at Lilongwe airport, I discovered that, due to the ebola scare, the officials were carefully checking health cards. I fumbled for mine. I always carry it, but I was a bit flustered and couldn’t locate. The health officer looked closely at my passport and waved me through. (I later found it just where I had put it, safely in a small notebook to keep it from wrinkling.) When I got to the baggage claim, my bag was already off the conveyor belt and waiting for me. At the security check, I was waved through, without having to put my bag on the x-ray belt. Only when I got to my friends Sam and Lonnie’s did I see that the luggage had been tagged “priority” by the second helpful young man in Kigali.
Two days later, Sam and Lonnie and their son and I were traveling down to Zomba in Sam’s minibus. Our plans changed and we did not leave as early as we intended and then made a stop along the way. Before reaching Ntcheu, we saw an accident where a trailer truck had rolled over on a minibus. People were standing around and offering assistance, so we continued on our way. About ten minutes later we got a call from Sam and Lonnie’s daughter, who was meeting us in Zomba, wanting to be certain that we were alright. It seems the radio had reported the accident, with the information that the minibus was operated by a family traveling from Lilongwe to Zomba. It happened at the time we should have been passing through there, if we had not delayed in leaving and made a stop. (The family had a few injuries, but everyone walked away from the accident.)
My driver Maxwell and the minibus
Sam “loaned” me one of his drivers for whenever I needed or wanted him, so I would not have to do all the driving, particularly not the longer distance driving. Twice while he was driving for me he stopped to check something he heard that none of the rest of us in the vehicle heard. Once it was low tire pressure. He took the minibus to have the tire changed. The second time it was lug nuts that had worked loose and he quickly and easily tightened them. I don’t know that I would have heard either warning of possible trouble.

My flight back was delayed by four hours getting out of Lilongwe. That meant that I missed my connecting flight in Nairobi. Before boarding the plane, my name and two others were called to the check-in gate. The airline had arranged for me to take a later flight out of Nairobi and I was given my boarding pass there in Lilongwe. When I got to Nairobi, I realized that the same had not been done for many delayed passengers and there was a scramble to rebook flights. I was provided for.
Each of these may seem like small things, but I believe that God was answering my prayer and was protecting me and providing for me. I believe he is the Answering God.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Mututu Fundraiser

 Mututu parish is a rural parish on the Burundi border. I visited them before and was impressed by the young pastor’s energy and imagination as he brought solar power to the church and manse and then enabled some of the members to open a shop to cut hair and charge batteries, using the solar power. From the proceeds from the shop, they have been able to assist members with pig farming and goat raising and bee keeping. So when he invited me to come and preach for the end of a evangelistic rally and a fundraising, I accepted. An extra bonus was that one of my students is a member of that parish and he was doing his first year internship there. I would get the opportunity to see him, as well.

The old church that must be replaced
Since we have been having rains, I arranged for the PIASS vehicle, a sturdy 4-wheel drive that can easily go on the narrow, muddy roads to Mututu. Bosco, the driver, was more than willing. (He is a good sport.) So off we went at 6 a.m., to pick up the pastor at the turnoff from the tarmac road, so we would have a guide. He was with several members of a choir from a nearby town that was singing for the service, so we had a full car. The drive on the dirt road was about an hour. We had to stop once to repair a wooden bridge before proceeding, but otherwise, it was an uneventful trip, with lots of conversations. During the ride, the pastor explained that the district officials had decided that the church building was not good and therefore needed to be replaced. The parish determined that if that were the case, then they would rebuild nearer to the market area and the population center, rather than on the border, in the midst of farm land. So that was the reason for the fundraiser.

Joyful worship
The service was the end of the evangelistic rally of the day before, held at the market area, and a fundraiser, so it was a full service. There were two visiting choirs and five parish choirs. (One of the visiting choirs had walked 8 kilometers from a neighboring parish to join the service.) That alone makes for a full service. Add to that my preaching which needed to be translated, testimonies, and the fundraising, and it was a 4 ½ hour service. I was impressed by the energy of the worship and the singing of the choirs. Because of the solar power, the choirs were able to use a keyboard and that added a contemporary flavor to the worship. But I was more impressed by the giving of the congregation. This could be described as a poor, rural church, but they don’t see themselves that way. They see themselves as capable. From pledges for iron sheets for the roof, bags of cement, and selling items that some individuals brought from their resources, the church raised almost half a million Rwandan francs or $750, about a third of what they need for the building. They will begin and then do more fundraising when the next crops come in. The pastor is confident that they will easily complete the project.  He is pleased with the good beginning. I was greatly impressed once again by their giving and their determination.


Me with my student and his mother
After the service and a meal, where the ladies of the church fed the visitors and all the choirs, we took pictures, especially with my student. Everyone loves to have a picture taken with the muzungu (white person). We loaded the car with choir members and headed back the dirt road to the tarmac and finally to Butare. The rains held off the entire day. We arrived home at 5 p.m. It was a full and satisfying day. I so enjoy being in village services.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

The 65th Birthday Party

 Where does one begin with a wonderful trip to see family and friends? I guess with the reason for the trip, my 65th birthday. I decided months ago that I wanted to do something special for this “landmark” event and determined that spending it with family and friends was the best way, so I booked a trip to Malawi as my vacation/birthday journey. My sons were thrilled and immediately came up with all sorts of plans for my time with them. My only request was that we all spend my birthday together. My dear friend Sam Ncozana said he would make those arrangements. He booked the CCAP cottage on the Zomba plateau for us all. That meant 17 people in the three bedroom cottage. This included Silas and Margaret (Sam’s parents and my close friends) Sam’s family of 6, Charles’ of 4, Thomas’ of 4 and me. Silas and Margaret determined to have dinner with us but to spend the night in their own Zomba accommodations. This was family at its fullest, a delight to my heart.

Sam's new dining area
We had hoped to gather for lunch, have the day and then dinner and the night. Things never go just as planned, but that is Africa. Thomas had a funeral he had to attend, so that meant that we had to delay, since Sam’s family and I were driving from Lilongwe to collect Thomas’ family at Liwonde and then go on to get Charles’ at Malosa then proceed to Zomba, an orderly movement south. We needed to delay at Liwonde, so we took the opportunity to make the trip a leisurely drive, stopping a few times and then having lunch at Sam and Lonnie’s newest project, a safari camp at Liwonde. It is under construction, so we roughed it a bit, picnicking on a stone platform that will soon be a dining area for the camp. Who could object to lunching under an ancient tree with an orphaned young elephant grazing just a 100 meters away? This in itself is a birthday gift.

Margaret and me chatting
Once we gathered all the family and did our shopping in Zomba, greeted by a number of vendors who remembered me, we headed up the mountain. Silas, Margaret and Sam and Lonnie’s girls were waiting there for us and the celebration began. The guys fired up the grill for the meat and the gals headed to the kitchen for the rest of the meal. Margaret and I were banded from both places, so we played with the grandchildren – hers and mine – and we caught up on each others’ lives. There was chatter and laughter throughout the house and on the lawn overlooking Zomba city below. By the time dinner was ready, it was dark and cooling off, so we lit a fire in the living room fireplace and gathered for prayer and food. The food was abundant and delicious, as was the laughter. Cake, singing and gifts followed. The boys’ families had a dress made for me that fit perfectly. Sam and Lonnie gave me a Dedza pottery round house with a grass roof to remind me of life in Malawi. Then I had gifts for all of them, too. It was fun to reverse the giving tradition.
The dress from the boys' families

By the time all this was done, and prayers offered, it was time for bed. The logistics of sleeping took some time to sort out but everyone had a bed, with Sam and Lonnie’s kids opting to sleep in the living room, near the fire. This is something they look forward to at the cottage.


As I drifted off to sleep, I thought what a blessed woman I am. At 65 I am still doing a job that I love and I have good health but the greatest blessing was being with the ones I love, to have sons and daughters-in-law who are like daughters, and grandchildren and good friends to share life with. What a great gift!

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Consecration


The Presbyterian Church of Rwanda (EPR) has just undergone a major restructuring of the organization of the church. This was approved at the General Synod meeting in April and has been ratified by all the new Presbyteries. So on Sunday, the presidents and vice presidents of the presbyteries were consecrated at a festive worship service that featured seven choirs, a brass band and a line of drummers.

The restructuring was carefully planned to decentralize the administration of the church. This involved reducing the 17 regions, all answerable to the general offices in Kigali, to seven presbyteries that would set their own plans for growth and management of resources, with assistance for the general office in Kigali. This makes the presbyteries much larger and gives them more resources to manage. New presidents were elected along with new vice presidents. In the last three months, each of the new presbyteries have met and adopted constitutions and elected administrative councils. Sunday was the culmination of the reorganization as the new officials were set apart for special service to God and to the church. This came at the end of four days of spiritual retreat and an evangelistic rally for the entire church.

New officials being sworn in
Because of duties at PIASS and filling in for colleagues of EPR who were needed at the retreat, I just went for Sunday’s worship service. A car load of us from PIASS left at 6:30 a.m. to join the EPR pastors and faithful at Rubengera, near Lake Kivu. The pastors met in a building to robe and process up the hill to the retreat center. A field area next to the retreat center had been set up for the gathering, with tents for seating and shade and a stage for the choirs. The center area was prepared like the chancel, with a communion table, a pulpit and a space with pillows for kneeling. As the pastors processed in, the band played a rousing hymn. After a number of choirs and the preaching, the new officers were called forward with their spouses to answer constitutional questions and then to be prayed for. It was a moving moment, to be a part of this historic event in this 107 year old church that is, as we might say in the States, “reformed and ever reforming.” This reforming is designed, not by European founding churches, but by the Rwandan church to meet the needs of the Rwandan culture, to reshape the church to make it more responsive to the needs of the local congregations.
Drum line that lead praise

A personal joy was that two for the new presidents are colleagues from PIASS with whom I have become very close. I delight in seeing their gifts used in such a significant way (not that teaching is not significant). Another two of the presidents are woman I have come to greatly admire for their gifts of leadership. A much smaller delight was the drum line that served to lead the applause and encouragement from the crowd of nearly 5,000 who had gathered for the celebration. It was a distinctively Rwandan touch, with the big drums sounding forth thanksgiving and appreciation.


The new presidents then ushered in the candidates from their presbytery for ordination. EPR now has 9 new pastors. Ordination is always a blessing and was particularly moving as it was the first official act of the new presidents. Again, there were choirs and drums and the band to help us celebrate. The service was a mere 5 hours of singing and praising and consecrating to God’s service. As the carload of PIASS folks left Rubangera, we sang “We are Marching the Light of God,” using 5 different languages, represented by folks in the car. It seems to fit the spirit of the day.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

The Farewell

 Each year the small English Chapel I serve bids a special farewell to the departing students. They host a dinner and an elaborate celebration for those who have grown in faith, knowledge and leadership capabilities. This year the celebration was larger because the chapel was saying goodbye to the pastor who had led the group to transfer from a French speaking congregation to an English speaking worship center, as well as saying thank you to the one who served as treasurer for two years. It was a big event, especially for a relatively small group of students – only 32 in all. Six of them are leaving us.
Preparations began weeks ago as a carefully selected committee planned a budget and held a fundraiser to meet that amount. By God’s grace, they exceeded their target, so they were able to add the extras they had cut from the initial budget and sent out more invitations than they thought they would be able to. Preparations escalated last week as committee members prepared programs, purchased gifts and gathered non-perishable materials. The preps crescendoed on Saturday and Sunday morning.
Saturday afternoon and evening students were in and out of my house hourly. I house the “bank” for the chapel. I hold the money for safekeeping since the chapel does not yet have a bank account. (It is coming soon.) The treasurer “withdrew” money for the open market shopping, then for the vendors’ shopping, and finally for the final payment for the gifts. She did not want to carry large amounts of cash or leave it unattended in the dorm, so each time she completed one transaction, she came to get money for the next. Then those who had speeches to give came with them for me to edit. The chair of the function came for me to review the agenda. The chair of hospitality came to arrange to borrow my flatware and dinner plates. She made the same arrangements with a number of other faculty families to provide enough wares for the food service. The president of the elders came to check on details of the worship service. About 10 p.m. I locked the door after the last of them.
Cooking on a 3-stone fire
Sunday all activities were centered at the chapel. To accommodate the guests of honor who had other responsibilities and were coming from Kigali, the time of the service was moved to 1 p.m. and the celebration was set for 3 p.m. This allowed the morning for decorating and cooking. This began in earnest at 8 am. The cooking was done behind the chapel in 3-stone fires, by the students, male and female. They were preparing for 75 people, so there as much to do. Even as the worship service began, many were still outside cooking and slowly joined the service as their responsibilities finished and they were able to prepare themselves for the celebrations.
After a Spirit-filled worship time, we took a break and readied the room for the celebration. Time is not the issue in Africa that it is in America, so the fact that the guests of honor were 45 minutes late in arriving due to long worship services and long distances to travel did not disturb anyone. People gathered and chatted until the festivities kicked off. A pleasant surprise for me was that the Edmondsons from Kiskiminetas Presbytery in US, who are here for 6 months, were able to join us.  The students had done such a good job of preparations that everything went smoothly and the food was delicious. The speeches and the appreciation of the contributions of those departing were heartfelt. It was a joy to listen, especially about my predecessor at the chapel who no only introduced worship in English, but who initiated a song book and who guided the furnishing of the chapel. He is now the President of Kigali Presbytery and will bring that same vision and energy to that task.

Departing students with gifts
The event was a great deal of planning and work but was worth every minute of is as it was well presented and greatly appreciated. The evidence of that is that after all was over, even as it was dark out, people stayed to visit and share with one another, even those who had traveled a great distance and had a distance to go to get home. Those departing the chapel were sent off with love and appreciation.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Pentecost Poinsettia

There are lovely little twists on what we sometimes have come to expect that can make a celebration come alive or enable us to see it a bit differently and appreciate it all the more. That was Pentecost this year at the English Chapel in Butare.

This is my first year as “responsible” for the chapel, as the phrase is used here. So it was up to me to plan the Pentecost service. The elders insisted that I preach (which didn't make me unhappy.) I worked with the student who was to be the liturgist for the service, a second year student who is a bit unsure of her English, so this was a challenge for her to lead in English. We decided this would be a Pentecost experience for her, a kind of speaking in tongues. We had a laugh as we prepared the service.


Since we are an international community, we tried to include a number of songs from different languages about the Holy Spirit. Our international song book helped, since we have songs in French, Swahili, Kinyarwanda and English. We made use of those. Then the Kataria family (my colleague Dr. Faith and her husband and sons) were a “choir” from Tanzania, adding to the international flavor of the celebrations. We had worship participants from Canada, US, Japan, Tanzania, Germany, Congo and Rwanda, a fairly international cross-section.

Pentecost Poinsettia in worship
I had requested that everyone who was willing to, wear something red for the occasion and folks enthusiastically cooperated. We just had new cloths made for the communion table, so that was no problem, but, as is the case in many African worship spaces, the flowers are usually plastic, regardless of the fact that there are beautiful, fresh flowers blooming year round just outside the  chapel. I surveyed my yard for something to contribute to the communion table in the way of fresh flowers. I have bougainvillea, but it is more orange in color. My hibiscus is more pink than red, but as I moved to the back yard, I spied the poinsettia bush in bloom. The red was the perfect color. Now, I know that in the US, these are plants specifically cultivated for Christmas. I was informed that the same is true in Japan. But there they bloomed, ready and perfect in color for Pentecost. I couldn't resist the wonderful irony of Poinsettia for Pentecost. What fun! Then I justified it theologically. What better unity than to have the symbol of the incarnation (God with us) at the celebration of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit (God in us). It seemed Trinitarian, or at least that is how I rationalized it, if, in fact, it needed rationalization. The simplest explanation is they were lovely red flowers to celebrate Pentecost. That is how the Rwandan members of my congregation received them, since they had no preconceived ideas that they were Christmas flowers. They brightened the communion table.
Congregation in red


So we celebrated with international celebrants singing in international languages in worship, dressed in red, and Pentecost poinsettia gracing the communion table. But most importantly, we experienced the presence of the Holy Spirit in the worship. That was the comment of many at the end of the service and was my experience as I preached. For that I praise God.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Monkey Business

Sweet face at Nyungwe
Another Nyungwe variety
Rwanda is known for its primates. First are the gorillas. They are found mostly in the north and are carefully protected. It costs dearly to go and see them, ($350 a day for foreign residents and $750 for visitors). This ensures their protection. It is more affordable to visit the smaller primates in Nyungwe Forest. That is only $60 for an hour hike. If you are driving through the forest, you may be treated to a glimpse of one, as I was several weeks ago when I went with some friends. There are reports of some on the other side of Butare, near the National University, but I have never seen them.

Monkey on my fence

I have had neighbors’ cats in my fenced yard, a squirrel with a bent tail and even a stray dog who had her puppies in my bamboo grove, but the other day, I had a monkey parade through my yard, bold as you please. I was sitting in my living room reading shortly after noon when out of the corner of my eye, I caught a movement in the yard. I looked up and at first I thought it was a dog. It was about 2 feet high, on all four paws, sniffing at my roses. But when I looked more closely, I recognized it was a monkey inspecting my flowers. He ambled around the shrubs and adeptly climbed the brick pillar that holds my gate and seated himself atop the pillar to survey the landscape. I ran for my camera, hoping he would stay long enough for me to snap a photo. I couldn’t get his face, but I did get a shot of him sitting on the pillar. Then as quickly as I snapped the photo, he hopped down the other side of the pillar, onto the walkway between my house and the campus. I went to the gate to see where he was headed, but by the time I got it open, he was nowhere in sight. One of my students was just approaching my gate and asked if I had lost my monkey. She said he scampered in front of her and over the wall onto the campus. We both had a good laugh. One of the joys of living in Africa is the variety of wildlife with whom we share space