We live in Mwanza, Tanzania, serving with Emmanuel International helping local churches in physical and spiritual ministry.

Saturday, 15 October 2016

Gangrene Usually Spreads

Mama Zuena's left index finger had turned a terrible crusty black. When she arrived at the Mamas meeting the week before I went to Dar es Salaam, Zuena, who has diabetes, showed us the horrendous looking finger, which had somehow become infected. When I asked her if she had been to the hospital, she replied she hadn't got the money. Clearly, she needed to go... and soon! As a group, the mamas gave her the small sum of money to go and see a doctor. And we prayed for her. I urged her to go straight away to the hospital. At the time, I thought she didn't realise the seriousness of the situation to do anything about it, but now loooking back, I think she was quite simply afraid and didn't know how she could do anything about it. 

When we came together again a few days later on Saturday, Zuena's finger looked terrible. It looked to me like gangrene would cause her to lose it. It was sickening. Zuena had been to the hospital, but the injections she needed cost 50,000 Tanzanian shillings each. She would need at least 150,000 shillings!

Feeling terribly sick just looking at her finger, and realising the seriousness of her situation, I just held her hand and prayed. All the mamas prayed for her and for the healing of her finger. She was able to take a loan from the group of 150,000 shillings and again I urged her as strongly as I could to go quickly back to the hospital. I phoned her when I was in Dar es Salaam, worried that she might be afraid to go to the hospital. She assured me she would go.

The Mamas Group met again this past Wednesday and Zuena came in with a smile on her face! I looked at her finger, with layers of crusty blackened skin coming off. She told us that the doctor had been completely amazed and surprised when he saw her again! He did not understand how the gangrene had not spread up her hand and arm! Gangrene usually spreads. She told us the doctor had thought she might not only lose her finger, but her hand and even, as she pointed on herself, as far up to her shoulder! Yet it had reversed! Zuena knew then that she, like many others, could well have lost her arm, possibly even her life, if she had left it longer. She told us she knew it was because of our prayers to God that the gangrene hadn't spread. And she said how very thankful to God she was!

We all thanked God! She has been able to get the injections she needs thus far, but we continue to pray that her finger would heal completely.

It is so great to spread good news about what God is doing!
 Zuena next to me with her little daughter, Mariam

Thursday, 13 October 2016

Flight 147

We boarded our plane, flight 147 from Dar es Salaam to Mwanza sometime around 6pm and were seated at the emergency exit. We listened dutifully to the steward who explained our role in the case of an emergency. At the time we just appreciated the extra leg room.

We were already three hours late leaving. The airline had issues all week and my flight into Dar es Salaam the previous Wednesday had been cancelled, as had Tim and the girls flight on Thursday night. We had all been shifted to other later flights.

Although things hadn't gone entirely according to plan in Dar, it had been a good few days after the rather stressful, busy time the previous week at home. Tim's mum arrived safely from the UK on Friday, and although we keenly miss Dad, it is wonderful to be together with her! We were so well cared for by our friends at Victory Christian Centre, despite the sad loss at the time of Pastor Huruma's sister. Tim was teaching at the Bible School and in the church and we enjoyed catching up with other friends and making the most of a swimming pool! On Monday we were ready to head home to Mwanza.

We peered out the windows, watching the lights of Mwanza get closer in our descent in the darkness. But suddenly, as we approached the runway, we pulled quickly upwards. We circled and climbed and again descended. But again, the landing was quickly aborted. Something was very obviously wrong.

All was very quiet as we seemed to be going different directions at different altitudes. It seemed like a lot of time to think about things. And go through the directions on how to open the emergency doors and slide out. We wondered if there was a problem with the landing gear; were we dropping fuel now? The vast lake was below us and I had just finished my novel about a plane submerged in a lake after a crash and remembered it talked about the "golden hour" for divers to rescue before oxygen ran out. I was sorry I hadn't been able to Skype my family in Canada the previous evening. Tim gave me a kiss and told me he loved me! This sounds terribly melodramatic but really we were all very calm! Everyone was.

After what seemed like a long time, but probably wasn't, the steward went into the cockpit and shut the door. A short while later the sound system buzzed and the pilot proceeded to tell us that due to instrument failure, we were unable to land safely in Mwanza in the dark. He calmly informed us that we would turn around and go back to Dar es Salaam where with better services (I'm thinking ambulances but he probably meant more than that!) we could be guided in for a safe landing.

So we had another hour and half in the sky. We had no way of letting our friend, Dave, picking us up in Mwanza know what was happening. And we felt for our friend, Holly, travelling on the same flight with her daughter, whose husband and other children were also waiting in Mwanza. We found out later that those waiting for us had seen our plane approach and almost land and then pull up and circle. They watched it happen again before the plane disappeared from view. They alerted friends in Mwanza to pray for us. All they then heard was that the plane had an emergency and had gone back to Dar.

We approached Dar es Salaam and again began a descent. It was very quiet as the landing gear lowered and we approached the runway. There were flashing lights around the runway. It was a strange thought wondering what the next minutes would hold. But the pilot did a fantastic job, getting us all safely on the ground with barely a bump. All we could do was clap our hands. Then a relieved chatter broke out as everyone got out their mobile phones!

Arriving in the empty airport at 10pm, we figured we would be waiting until morning for a flight back. We were pretty hungry now too, as we had left before eating any lunch or dinner. But after an surprisingly short time, we were on our way ... boarding the same plane, which we were assured was now fixed! After another hour and a half in the same dark sky, we again started a descent into Mwanza. And thankfully this time, had a smooth, safe landing! Claps and cheers this time from all on board. Amisadai commented to me that she had thought that if she died now she felt happy she had enjoyed a good life. But then added that she thought she had more potential!

We were so thankful to be on solid ground in Mwanza. Thankful for our kind friend, Dave, who came back to the airport in the middle of the night... with coffee cake ... to take us home. Thankful for the wisdom and skill of our pilot. Thankful for life to live another day. Thankful for a God ever present with us who holds all things in his hands!

Maybe next time we'll take the bus! 

Monday, 3 October 2016

Gratia. When Rose said Grace

Looking at this photo I took on Saturday while making beads with the other mamas, I was reminded yet again how often I look at the mess and fail to see the beauty or potential in it!

Bead-making with strips of paper; a few finished beads underneath
God is doing so many good things and all too often I fail to see it because I am looking at the messes! Yes, there are frustrations and bee stings and now bed bug infestations. But there are also joys, friendships and beautiful things!

I am a big fan of sharing food with people. It doesn't have to be fancy food in a perfectly prepared setting. Some of the best food shared for me has been with many bodies crammed in a tiny space, sitting on rice sacks eating simple ugali and beans. It is just about eating. Together.

But I forgot this on Saturday. I was tired. It had been quite a week, full of things like Tim's large swollen, stung foot (still huge!), an intense bunny feeding schedule, busy days out of the house leaving little time for those basic necessities like market shopping, cooking and laundry. Then throw in a bed bug infestation and you get the idea. Feeling behind on what I felt I "needed" to do, I went early in the morning to meet with the Mamas group, secretly almost hoping that the planned lunch together wouldn't work out and I would be home early.
Mama Laurensia starts cooking lunch
The lunch looked unlikely. It wasn't exactly planned well! We did have a full gas burner this time. But we didn't have any cooking pots, wooden spoons or knives and there was no salt. Mamas were very late arriving and those of us there were battling on with another attempt at candle-making. But the women were determined the lunch would work. Someone had even brought some meat to cook with the other vegetables. Despite numerous delays and phone calls, the lunch was finally started as vegetables were cut and meat was boiled. And sometime after 4pm we gathered around the table and shared the food. And then I remembered how very important and significant this was.

With our own workspace, this was the first time we had been able to cook our own food together and sit around a large table to eat together. I realised as Rose said "grace" how much we had to thank God for and how much goodness from Him we had to celebrate! We warmed up our hands to clap three loud, long claps for the work that had been accomplished. Saying grace (the word comes from the Latin word "gratia" meaning "thanks") expresses our gratitude for our food; it acknowledges the loving provision and grace of God and recognizes our dependence on Him. Rose's joyful prayer of thanksgiving for so many things that day was a true reminder of the grace and goodness of God.

While I had been so busy looking at the mess, turning into a frantic, quality-control freak to finish an order of products to sell, these women had found grace and by expressing it, made something more beautiful. I know I still need to be a teeny bit of a quality-control freak if we are going to sell products, but at the same time in the midst of the mess, there is so much grace ... and beauty.

I was reminded of the story in which Jesus, after his death and resurrection, travels to the village of Emmaus with two disciples still mourning his death and frustrated by dashed hopes (Luke 24:13-35). They were so  downcast, not recognizing Jesus, they didn't see the good thing right beside them. When they reached Emmaus, they stopped to share food together. Before they ate the bread, Jesus gave thanks (gratia) and broke the bread and gave it to them. And it was only after that, that the men saw clearly and recognized Jesus.

Sometimes, rather as it was for those disciples, things happen contrary to what we expect, things happen to frustrate our own hopes and plans, and downcast, we fail to see clearly. Maybe we lose sight of Him altogether... which doesn't mean He isn't still walking with us.

Much as it was for those disciples, it was after saying grace (gratia) and sharing food that I regained better vision! I saw the beauty in our dependence on a gracious God. We live in a world subjected to frustration but it is through the grace of God, through the death and resurrection of Jesus, that we have a hope that cannot be dashed.

After my questions and doubts last week on how to learn from failures and persevere, here is part of the answer! I started writing this blog a few days ago and already I am forgetting and doubting. Tears in the storm this morning (literal tears and literal rainstorm). With frustrations and difficulties again mounting, this morning we heard that a Kisesa hive lost its roof in the storm. Rather gutted and worried, this meant a rushed trip out there to suit up, climb nervously back on the container, inspect the damage and fix things. Thankfully it actually all went amazingly well and also amazingly, hive and honey are still intact!

But I must remember. It's something easy to remember three times a day and something even better when shared with others. Grace. Gratia. Thankfulness.

On Saturday the candles worked perfectly!
 And the Chamomile Calendula Soap! Thankful!

Monday, 26 September 2016

One Fine Week

Sitting here in the dark during a power cut, Tim and I are sort of laughing. Trying to figure how things went so drastically from bad to worse. Tim is lying out flat with an elevated ice-packed ankle, unable to walk after getting bees in his boots. I am ringed with stings on my arms, but not as puffed up as Tim. It's been quite a day. It's actually been quite a week or two.

Today was the day that I hoped things would finally "work out." Tim and I were going to Kisesa, hoping to harvest some honey. We were up high on the roof of the container when it all started to go pear-shaped. There was some honey for the taking, but we got just a little overwhelmed by the situation. Bees were agitated. Bees were everywhere. We were seriously outnumbered. And way out of our comfort zone on the roof with them all trying to sting us. We escaped down the ladder without getting things closed up. We walked through bushes and trees, smoking ourselves, desperately trying to lose the bees. Finally things calmed down and we came back and climbed back on the container to get things sorted out up there.

Wham! Attack of the Bees! It was insane. Bees stinging us through our suits, going down Tim's boots. We did the best we could in the circumstances and escaped again down the ladder, but half the colony chased us out. We ran. We walked. We ploughed through trees and bushes. We went round in circles. And more circles. It was so very hot. Tripping in circles over steep cassava mounds of hard dirt. Sweat pouring off me. I lost my hair elastic and wet hair was clinging to my face, and my nose was streaming from the smoke. But with the bee veil over my face, I couldn't do anything but stagger onwards! It's a times like this I wonder what on earth I am doing. WHY? I even started singing in a rather desperate kind of gentle way to the bees in hopes that I could calm them all down. But I didn't lose them. I lost Tim. I lost the hive tool. Tim lost the car keys. That could have been serious. We had been walking for over an hour through every tree and bush in the vicinity trying to lose the bees. But amazingly, Tim found the car keys!

Finally, with me way up the road, Tim hopped in the drivers seat and with windows open drove to pick me up. I climbed in and tried to lose more bees. It wasn't working with lots of bees in the back of the land cruiser. So I sat on the back with my legs holding both doors wide open as we bounced along the dirt road trying again to lose the bees. Finally we had the car to ourselves and were able to strip off our sweaty bee suits and gulp some much needed water.

This is the only photo from this bee adventure. It was that stressful.
This is me holding the two doors open with my feet as we try to lose the bees out the back.
Epic bee adventure yet again. And we didn't even get the honey. Someone reminded me of Winnie the Pooh devoting his life to getting honey... and getting stung. And I feel much sympathy for that honey-lovin' bear. And rather like that Bear of very little brain, I will keep on trying for that honey!

We arrived home, hot, tired and gutted. Only to find Louisa's rabbit dead from her injuries after a dog attack. And after burying her, we are now all out to try and save her 10-day old bunnies.

Amisadai feeding the little kits.
Bees and bunnies aside, it's been a busy full-on time for the Mamas. Wednesday's and Saturday's have been a hive of activity in our new "workspace" as we have worked on finishing products to sell in Canada at an UTSS Albinism fundraising Gala next month. It's been a challenge. Our last job was to make candles and we set aside a whole day on our last Saturday to get them all done. To make it through the day, we would all bring food to cook for lunch. I brought a gas burner to cook it on and to melt the candle wax. Unfortunately halfway through our candle-making, the gas ran out. With the torrential rainstorm, we couldn't even light a fire outside. None of the candles worked. And none of us got any lunch.
Working on the candles
We did manage to finish lots of cards
On Thursday, I left early at 6:30am to pick up Peter and head off to Malya for the Bee Group meetings. We were sorting out getting catcher boxes made to catch any swarming bees for our hives. And sorting out who would make them and for how much. Always a little complicated. I was meeting with the mamas and that was a bit of another classic mamas muddle. Mixed up times, mixed up recipes, one mama coming without any of the supplies and heading off on a borrowed bike for an hour to fetch things while the fire went out and the wax went cold.

We were trying to do in one day what we normally do in two days and it didn't altogether work. Never try be over-ambitious with time in Tanzania. I actually really know this. But I thought this time it would be fine. It wasn't fine. I wasn't fine. I recalled Julie and Julia's definition of FINE that day. "Freaked-out, insecure, neurotic and emotional." It seemed rather apt! As the time approached for us to leave at 3pm, I tried to quickly wrap things up and clean things up with the mamas. Then the bee group was so keen that we ate some lunch they so kindly provided for us, and then there were kind gifts of aubergine and spinach to be picked straight from the fields for us. ... And then we hit the bumpy road for the long 3 hour journey back, arriving exhausted and "fine", but to my relief, just before it got dark!

I'll leave it there, but as I try to sum up a week of  "failures" (I have a lot to learn) and tired frustrations, I know I am looking forward to a time of quiet reflection in the midst of the storm tomorrow! Soaps that have over-reacted. Me who has over-reacted. Candles that have holes in. Milk boiled over. Food run out. A rather dirty, messy house (We are missing Angel who helps in our house and is currently at her sisters wedding for two weeks ...which is seeming like an eternity!) Difficulties and problems. Questions and doubts.

How to best serve? How to learn from our failures? How to persevere and when to wisely let go? 

Monday, 12 September 2016

Seasons. Preparing and Growing


A new school year begins. A new "season." We missed joining the FB crowd last week with those "back-to-school-by-the-front-door" photos, but both girls are excited to be a year up with new teachers! Growing up.

Routine resumes. Or so they say. To be honest I'm not sure I really know what routine is... I think it is possibly over-rated. Our first week back to school, which was a quite a busy week, was thrown out of routine on the very first day when school was cancelled due to nationally planned political protests and rioting. Which didn't happen. We enjoyed the day off anyway. Planned schedules (not such a great idea here) were thrown with changing meetings and Bible college timetables. And a planned meal failed to materialise, so fried eggs for dinner it was. Then there was an unexpected earthquake; that didn't actually throw our routine here, but it did make one pause for sober thought and prayer. You can't actually prepare for everything.

It is the end of "summer" (yes, for lack of knowing what else to say, we still call it summer) and a new season begins. We miss the summer-autumn seasons in Tanzania, but there is definitely a dry season desperately waiting to turn into a rainy season here at the moment. It is consistently hot in the low to mid 30's here and evenings are still and humid. The ground is hard and dry and brown; the dust is constantly sweeping and covering while the cracked earth cries for rain. But in this harsh hot, dry season we are eagerly anticipating and planning for the rains. And this is the exciting part of our work here in agriculture!

It is always exciting getting ready to plant! Planning the crops and preparing the fields. The anticipation of the rains, of new growth, of seeds sprouting and fruit appearing. Tim has completed writing and translating our own manual for teaching groups of farmers the basics of Conservation Agriculture from a Christian perspective! Now printed (and widely available on Amazon for a grand sum - just kidding!), these manuals have been copied and given to all the new farmers training in this next phase of the project.

The new manual in English and Swahili
It is particularly exciting this year to see Peter and Esther taking increased responsibility for the whole agricultural project. Tim has taken a step back as Peter and Esther, together with help from Pastor Amon and Amos (a keen participant from last year's group in Kayenze), are doing all the teaching. Peter and Esther have been teaching the two-day seminar each week in a different village for the past three weeks - and done a fantastic job!

It is also exciting to see the project growing and spreading out. We have started working in a new village, Nyamililo, and are training fifteen farmers there. A third season of training is being held this week in Kayenze for a group of about 20 new farmers. And with the help of the village agricultural officer, we have extended the project to sub-villages of Kayenze; a new group of 21 farmers was trained last week in Lutale.

Also exciting for us this year, is to see local church members in Kayenze taking the work on in their community. They are inspiring others to try the new methods and now, after our two years of rather hard slogging, it seems to be catching on! People in the village are noticing and trying things in their own fields, even without the training! Peter, Esther and Tim can only teach in Swahili, but the church is now teaching in Kisukuma (the local language of the tribe), and next year we plan for them to do the whole training by themselves.

And now with classroom training coming to an end, the hard work begins. All the participants now need to prepare their fields; gathering composting and mulch material and laying down the mulch to capture and hold any early rain to soften the ground for planting. And then we wait for the rains...and new growth.

Amos teaching in Lutale
Meanwhile on our practice farming plot at home, we were delighted to eat our first home-grown bananas! We planted a little seedling banana tree a year ago and last week chopped off our first "bunch" of bananas. The whole hanging cluster (or bunch) is known as a banana stem and made up of tiers which are called hands. We had three hands on our stem, each with numerous fingers, or bananas as we tend to call them! And another banana stem is already ripening...

Ripening on the tree
Small but sweet!
After three attempts at growing sunflowers, this year we managed to get some huge sunflowers! They were enormous, up to 15 feet high! As you can imagine, our bees just loved them! Unfortunately so did the birds. We lost lots of seeds, but with the thrill of success, we will try again!

Bees enjoying the sunflowers
We are finally doing well with our roselle plants now and have harvested
 and dried some calyces for juice or jam!