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

Thursday, 27 October 2016

To Heaven and Back

The Land of a Thousand Hills. We were there last week! We even went to Heaven and back in an evening. We had a wonderful half term break with Grandma in the beautiful country of Rwanda.

Our friendly Gray Crowned Crane
After surviving the long, incredibly pot-holed road, we quickly and easily crossed the border (never a given!), and stopped at Kayonza. We stayed in luxury tents, eating awesome pizza from a real Italian pizza oven at the Eco Lodge in the Women's Opportunity Centre. With women's groups, craft shop, restaurant, café and lodgings, this is a real social enterprise hub, helping vulnerable women across the country.
Enjoying the view
I was delighted to be amongst another Mamas Group! It was great fun spending time with them - trying to communicate with our mixtures of English, French, Swahili and Kinyarwanda! Louisa spent all of the first afternoon and the whole of the next day with the basket weaving group, learning how to make beautiful and strong baskets! Both the girls and the Mamas loved it!
Making baskets

Finished baskets in the shop
We also spent time with the group making "poo pictures!" This, as you can imagine, was right up my alley! Making beautiful and valuable artwork out of that which is discarded and deemed despised ... in this case, cow dung!
The mamas painting the cow dung pictures

Dung is mixed with ash
...and then moulded into patterns on a board
It was a beautiful spot and thoroughly inspiring with all the work being done. The women, most of whom have struggled to rebuild their lives after the genocide, are now making and selling the baskets and artwork and also yogurt, peanut butter, coffee and other things as well as running the shop and delightful café!

We travelled on to Kigali and discovered we had been upgraded in our lodgings to a huge villa as our apartment was occupied! We had a huge kitchen - complete with a couple of plates, a small cooking pot and a plastic teaspoon! It was a great base for exploring this immaculately clean city. Did you know that no plastic bags are allowed here? They are taken from you at the border! Rwandans have mandatory Community Clean-up Days and the results are clear to see in the tidy, rubbish-free public places! The city is well-organized with beautiful tree-lined streets and even traffic lights telling you how long you must wait at a red or how many seconds of green are left! We were very mpressed!
Our Villa

Great traffic lights!
(This is a real novelty for us ... we only have one set of traffic lights in Mwanza!)
A highlight was visiting the Kigali Genocide Memorial. The girls have already done a fantastic job communicating about the moving experience this proved to be and you must read and listen to what they shared here on their blog. It was deeply saddening and horrifying to see up close the terrible atrocities that took place in 1994. All the while knowing that so many similar atrocities still continue in many countries today. Yet it was incredible to hear the stories of forgiveness. To see the hope of a nation for change. The memorial gave a clear message to the rest of the world that there is no place for bitterness and revenge. It encouraged hope for the future to be found in unity and love.
The graves of over 250 000 people killed in the genocide

We drank plenty of the infamous Rwandan coffee and did an ace job of checking out the local cafes! Rwandan coffee really is good and the whole coffee shop experience was a real treat for us!
A great coffee shop!
Rwandan coffees from the regions!
And we found a bowling alley! Louisa had never tried bowling before (no bowling for us here!) so this was quite the experience! It was a rather old alley and we had to be careful to wait for the man hiding at the other end to finish sorting the skittles before we shot another bowl down and took out his arm!

Wait for the arm (or hockey stick) to disappear!

And finally, the other treat was our trip to Heaven. We went on Wednesday evening and thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience! As we climbed out of the land crusier, we were warmly greeted by a kind man, "Welcome to Heaven!" There was a sign there at the children's playground stating that "Heaven takes no responsibility for any injuries sustained!" All jokes aside, we enjoyed a fantastic meal at this restaurant which is a social enterprise project aimed at helping young people get vocational training and employment. We visited their shop selling the beautiful products from local artisan cooperatives. Amisadai was keen to buy one of their "Heaven" T-shirts. As mum quipped, then she could say "Been to heaven. Got the T-shirt."
In Heaven!


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!