Posted in Crossing Cultures, God's heart, honesty, Mozambique

A Cultural Clash Redeemed

Sometimes cultures clash and you find yourself standing in the gap in the sake of your daughter.

 

I hesitate to share this story with you because I hope you will choose to leave this in the Lord’s hands like we have. That being said, I want you to know that we fought the same responses you may when you read pieces of this: frustration, an urge to protect, an urge to respond rashly, and then a settling into God’s Sovereignty in this situation. The benefit for you is that you get to read this situation in entirety verses our wrestling with this over four days of “beyond our control” waiting.

But I have chosen to share this because I really make a concerted effort to share the whole story of our life here: the good and the hard, and how Jesus is capable of redeeming everything for His Glory in our lives here.

 

Abi came home from school frustrated and embarrassed. She brought home a story from the play-yard where she usually finds delight in catching frogs and lizards. This time it was a lizard that she caught triumphantly when another child came over to investigate.  On this day, this child was surprised by the lizard and began screaming when the lizard jumped out of Abi’s hand onto the ground. The child began stomping the lizard in the dirt while accusing Abi of throwing it on her.

Rachael, while standing there, continued to defend Abi (keep in mind that all of this is in Portuguese) as Abi and Rachael told the child that the lizard was on the ground (where she had smashed it). Many children began to crowd around at the great commotion.

The child left and returned with an older child. The older child grabbed Abi while the younger child spanked Abi. Other children circled and shouted and Rachael yelled in Abi’s defense, telling this older child to let go of Abi and continuing to proclaim Abi’s innocence. Abi fought away from the kids and ran toward where she believed a teacher’s assistant would be, but unfortunately the teacher’s assistant was not there.  See, the teachers all take their break during the children’s recess time and two teachers assistance are in charge of the children during the time.

The two children pursued Abi when the school bell rang, informing the children to return to their lines in the gym. The older child was in a line nearby Rachael and announced that she was going to go hit Abi. Rachael yelled in Abi’s defense again, but in the chaos of the kids lining up and the lack of supervision, the two children once again returned to holding and hitting Abi, only this time on the top of the head with a closed fist. Abi sunk to the floor, crying and the teacher found her there. When the teacher asked who hit Abi, Abi’s entire class pointed to the guilty child, but the older child was back in their line and was not identified as aiding in the situation. The teacher told the child not to hit people, not knowing the full story, and helped Abi return to the line.

Abi was not physically hurt despite the incidents. She is a tough kid, but she was obviously scared, frustrated and feeling defeated.

So let’s address the cultural realities behind this in which we battled in addressing this situation with the teacher, the children involved and their parents. This type of rough behavior here is highly common and brushed off as ‘kids being kids”. Kids here are very rough in general, wrestling and hitting each other even when they are close friends. It’s a reality of children in the community spending a decent amount of time unsupervised. I’m not saying unloved, but the realities of the family workload leave four year old children caring for younger siblings while Mom is in the field for the morning. So kids come together, many times in groups outside, passing the time with nearby friends. And kids work out their problems with their limited skill sets, which often involves hitting. Oh sure, friends and family, kids hit. We all know that. But our situation’s kind of hitting took on a different angle when the child acquired a larger child to aid in the fight.

Another cultural reality that we learned in this process is that an older child entering the situation is supposed to be a voice of greater wisdom and an aider of calming the situation. This was helpful information when I spoke with the older child about their part in this problem. And quite honestly, this was nice to know was an underlying cultural rule in this community as our children play in the community.

There’s also the culture of fear of frogs and lizards in general among Africans. There’s also the culture of unsupervision which carries over to the school setting. For example, many times a teacher has to attend to other work and instead of finding a replacement teacher, the class is just left to color pictures… for 3 hours, unsupervised. You can imagine that running, yelling, sometimes hitting and general chaos happens. Usually another teacher leaves her classroom to recalm the other classroom temporarily. Yeah, it’s just Africa, and the girls are learning how to follow good examples and avoid being in the line of fire of bad examples.

Then we rubbed up against the culture here that most people are not pro-active. They tend to wait until a situation gets so problematic that it has to be addressed. We were not sure if this situation would have been brushed off as normal kid behavior or if it would be agreed upon that it was needing to be addressed. But either way, this situation in our culture absolutely had to be addressed.

 

My first response was most certainly fight or flight. My flesh rose to heightened Mama Bear protector mode and I am thankful for Matt’s sensibility once again. 😉 I am also thankful that in this moment my Portuguese is not as strong as Matt’s so he was our public voice for most of this situation because quite honestly, I was not as level-headed for the first 48 hours. Respectful, yes, but I had less control in my inner person and was not sure how I would respond if in a parent meeting the other child’s parents defended their child’s behavior.

We used the culture in our favor to require the teacher to call a parent meeting with the children involved and their parents. Since the older child’s parents were very hard to get to come to the meeting and the older child was repentant, the child who did the hitting’s mother came to the meeting as well as the 2 other children.

The day after the situation, I confronted the older child, trying to swallow my inner burning for justice. When the older child defended the classmate’s behavior because she said Abi put a lizard on the classmate’s head, I informed the older child that that was a lie, just as Rachael had said because Rachael was standing there to see the whole thing. I asked the older child if she saw the situation for herself before holding down my daughter so another could hit her. And I told her, leveraging the culture, that she is supposed to be a helper to the situation, not a bigger problem. When the older child found out that the situation was a lie, her face broke into repentance and she immediately apologized. I think the public hearing this also helped curb her respect for me (the adult), which is a building block in this community. And while approaching the child after the situation was over is not really a part of this culture (I would have normally approached the parent), due to the situation, the timing, and the lack of parents picking up this child, by the grace of God, the road was paved for further conversations. Then I felt the Lord swelling up within me as I softened my voice further to encourage this older child to protect and care for younger children. I reminded her that that job is one of honor.

 

Matt attended the parent meeting to find a mother broken by her daughter’s behavior. And that was nothing but the grace of God. The mother said even if Abi had thrown a lizard on her daughter, though she knew Abi did not, that her child’s response was completely unacceptable. This is a grace of God to find a parent in this community who would say this. Beyond this, the mother apologized and required her child, who was sick that day from school, when she returned to school, to apologize to Abi.

And then we learned that behind the scenes our little Mama, Rachael, had stood in defense of Abi when asked by her teacher (who adores Rachael) and the teacher of the older child. Rachael was leveraged as a voice of reason to clarify and solve this problem. While we didn’t ask Rachael to play this role, this also was not a problem because we learned that the more school community that knows about this situation, respectfully, will aid in helping to curb further behavior. This was evidenced in other teachers entering the situation to solve the problem. Community is a big deal here! And people modify their behavior based on the accountability of community.

The child has since apologized to Abi, hugged Abi and, thanks to the grace of God, has been friendly toward Abi again. And how’s Abi?

Well, Abi is a really resilient kid. And this move overseas has only heightened her resilience. We have had many conversations about forgiveness, not living in fear and this situation’s resolve has left her as happy and carefree as normal. We have advised her to not catch lizards and frogs during recess at school, especially since she can’t keep them anywhere. And instead we’ve given her some time after school to grab a few helpless victims to add to her plastic tuppowear for 12 hours of prison before they are returned to the outdoors. 😉

So thus this situation was resolved with care and grace extended. And God in His Sovereignty has showered his grace over us all as we are continuing to learn how to thrive in this community.

Thanks be to God for His presence amidst a hard cultural clash in our community. How He can make beauty from ashes. How He can speak in our hearts to still and calm us and to spring us to action where we must. How He is a trusted friend who walks beside us in times of uncertainty. And how He frees us to forgiveness and returned joy. Oh and thanks be to God how he protected our Abi’s innocence amidst a potentially future fear-creating situation.

Thank You, Lord.

Posted in BRAVO, celebrating life, Mozambique, That's so Africa, willing hands

Six

Today marks six months of being American Africans. SIX MONTHS!!!!

“Wow, that has gone fast,” my conversant commented.

“FOR YOU!” I joked. 😉

In some moments six months has surprised us and in some moments language school feels like a never-ending endeavor. 😉

Six months looks like having enough language to complete our normal needs/wants/tasks without problems, while still forgetting how to congregate some irregular verbs to say something simple like “I have gone to the doctor before.”

Six months looks like preaching and teaching Sunday School lessons. Some sermons even coming with less than 12 hours of notice. HA!

Six months looks like a toddler experiencing some culture shock, resulting in a regression to diapers again, a promise that this is a phase, and more intentional Mommy snuggles. And by the way, this same toddler is reminding me that she wants underwear sometime soon when she does a good job using the potty, so I am encouraged by the grace she has been extended.

Six months looks like knowing what pizza place the family likes and successfully avoiding some other “less delightful” restaurants in town.

Six months looks like moving beyond introductory language to really starting to learn friends’ testimony’s, cultural superstitions, and understanding different ways of life.

Six months looks like looking at future homeschool curriculum so you’ll be ready to order it when the time comes in the next handful of months. (It takes a while to get here, but it’s still an exciting promise of things on the horizon.)

Six months looks like being SO CLOSE to remembering all of Roman’s Road and culturally appropriate questions regarding these verses to engage others in conversation.

Six months looks like celebrating with ice cream while skyping my best friend and her little boy.

Six months looks like a third grader doing 95% of her homework all by herself and casually reading her first grade sister the Portuguese directions to complete her first grade homework. It also looks like two girls enjoying school, but looking forward to returning to homeschool in English (!!!) as well. 😉

Oh sure, six months still has it’s growing pains, frustrations and challenges to rise above.

But six months also finds this country dripping with home, these pot-holed streets and people not so foreign and these hands still open to whatever God would have us learn

here in Mozambique, Africa.

Thank you, Lord, for six completed months.

Happy six months, FPO family!

Posted in faith, God's heart, Hope, JOY, Mozambique, my heart

Immeasurably More

We sat at the table the other night and the girls brought up the topic of Heaven. It stemmed out of a conversation about the meaning of the word “paradise”. And after cleaning up some six year old confusion about Paris vs. Paradise, one of the girls mentioned Christ’s words to the broken sinner on the cross. “Today, you will be with me in Paradise.” He said in response to the man’s belief.

Paradise.

“What will Heaven be like?” the questions arose with great curiosity.

“No one really knows beyond the Bible’s description of it being immeasurably more than anything good we could imagine.”

“No more tears,” Hannah piped in.

“Lots of food!” Came Abi’s response through her mouthful.

And then it hit me like a ton of bricks.

“Can you imagine what it will be like for some people here?”

Rachael caught my eyes.

“They will go from a life of disease, surrounded by death, no electricity, no running water, fighting for hope amongst abandonment and challenge and desperation STRAIGHT to the banquet feast of our Lord.”

A tingle went through my body.

I saw the light on Rachael’s face as we both had very real pictures flash through our minds.

Suddenly, I thought about the homeless man out on the main street a half-block over. He never makes eye contact, is always surrounded by cardboard and trying to make fire. His loins barely covered by a shredded rag. I don’t know how long he’s lived there. I don’t even know how he’s still alive.

I thought about the sea of chronic medical problems people live with here, from huge goiters to elephant legs and open sores. I thought about the tiny, emaciated bodies that fill the public schools and the swollen preschool bellies and pencil-thin arms. I thought about the reading group girls who come in a capulana (thin, colorful yard of fabric) tied over a naked body underneath. This is all they own. That very well may be all they’ll ever own.

Can you even imagine, church?! Can you even imagine their faces when they’re given new robes? When those emaciated hands reach out in a new flesh for the banquet meal? Can you even imagine when the homeless man receives his house? Can you even imagine when the chronic ill step foot into Heaven and feel for the first time a land where those is no more death, no more disease and no more tears?!

Oh church, can you even imagine?!!!!!

Brother’s, my hearts desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved…  For ‘everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’

How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? 

Romans 10:1, 13-15

May this truth permeate our very souls and open our eyes to His work laid before us. Oh the immeasurable value in all mankind that He would stoop down from the High places and rescue us into His arms.

Oh church, can you even imagine……

Posted in celebrating life, my heart, thankful and grateful

Not Forgotten

Sometimes I think how easy it can be to feel left behind. We go off on an adventure and all you get to see are pictures. But we don’t get to sit together in your living room anymore. Not for a very long time. We don’t get to exchange hugs and laugh as we tell stories over a shared meal. We don’t get to talk about the latest movies or news. We don’t get to share thoughts over the newest books we have read. We don’t get to laugh over things the girls said at church when they were running down the aisle to give you a hug. We don’t get to steal away after the kids go to bed to grab a cup of coffee and lose ourselves in conversations way late into the night. We don’t get to wear Spartans gear together and cheer on the victories (or desire for victories) in your living room.

We have left. And you stayed.

But I want you to know something that is very near and dear to my heart.

It’s you.

When I write my blog posts, I think of walking around my mom’s backyard with her, looking at the newest flowers blooming. Hanging out in the living room with my Dad, listening to his newest adventures and his newest thoughts on passages of the Bible. I think of sitting in the dining room with Barb and Rodger, playing another game of ticket to ride with Sarah, Ricky, William, Kourtney, Cousin Brittani and James.  I think about how we wait in anxious anticipation of Kat and Stephen visiting and I remember walking the streets of San Fransisco watching Hannah peak over your shoulder, Stephen. I think of standing outside in the yard with Ellen and Ron and the cousins, most of us are barefoot and laughing at the kids’ attempts at gymnastics and “soccer” or “football” in the yard. I think of sitting on the couch at Jes and Nayt’s house, laughing over the Lego movie as Nayt imitates that obnoxious song again and Eden begs for Aunt Jes to read another story with voices.

I think about standing in the kitchen with my best friend, Heather, and actually completing an entire conversation because my girls and Luke are so used to playing together that they’ve adopted him as their little brother. I think of taking a walk with Susan and Jade, talking about absolutely nothing because the girls keep interrupting to give Susan flowers, re-explain old stories and hold her hand. I think of playing at the park with Heather and Dilly, both Heather and I pushing the swings until our arms fall off but not minding in the least bit because being together gives us both an endurance we never thought possible.

I think about our Ms. Becky and how wonderfully dear she is to Matt and my hearts. How I loved “randomly” bumping into her while she was prayer walking at church. Hearing her fierce prayers for God’s people – Oh how our lives are ALWAYS ten times better because of our Ms. Becky and her beautiful heart.

I think about sitting on the floor in Darlene’s living room. Wes is in his chair covered in cats and Darlene is in her chair with the dogs at foot. And we could even steal a visit with Luanne too! And I am overcome by Darlene’s gentle heart, letting Rachael hold Allie as she marvels over God’s precious gift of the little baby.

I think of pool parties with the youth at Patty Thornell’s house and how we’d just sit on the patio together and share in life over a cup of soda and some pizza. My Jenney’s (Carrots) always prepared to be an encouragement, even though we both have missed spending as much time together as we have in the past.

I think about Dennis and Patti Stauffer with open arms at church, always ready to look past the girls’ crazier moments in light of their huge hugs and delight to see them. I think of Eden just desperately needing to hug Pastor Steve and Ms. Carla and how our Sunday morning wasn’t complete without saying hello to Sandy Vaugh and Lisa Walker at the piano. I think about Sara Fitch and how one of my favorite places to be at church was standing next to her in the praise team. Oh how sweet it is to break loose in worship of our Father over harmonies that ‘just happen’ by kindred spirits.

I think of Aunt Jes’ Housechurch (yes, that’s your official name now), oh my and sweet Ellie and Frannie, June, Suzie and Amanda, and how instantly at home we felt. How you wrapped your arms around us and still pray for us today. And how sweet Ellie still emails us asking about my girls and giving us the privilege of writing her back. And little Greta and Ethan just joining right along in the play.

I think about Ms. Betty and Ms. Patty in the nursery and how Hannah and Eden were always ready to run into their arms. Safety was found there.

I think about my Miranda Baker and my Amanda Parson and how even though schedules were hard to coordinate, spending time with them always felt like picking up where we left off. I always knew (and still do know) that at any point in time I can just pick up the phone (or the computer now) and call and they’ll always be there.

I think about Sarah Lockwood and Jenn and Dallas Russel and how Awanas was ALWAYS a blast enjoying some playful joking between kid session needs. Oh how fun it is to serve with family in the Body of Christ.

I think of Jess Herbst and how no matter how little I got to see her (it’s hard work seeing a Pastor’s wife) we could always just laugh and laugh about life. And how Brad and the “kids” (Can we even call them that anymore? Man, they’re HUGE) were always such a blast to see. Instant friends. Instant family. And then I get to thinking about Lifepoint church and how I loved to see Phil and Trish and Max and Dexter and so many ex- FBCM family. 😉

It think about Kassie Wysong and the kiddos and Papa Bear Jacob “doing voices” in the storybooks at night. And how the kids just rolled and were completely beside themselves, begging for just one more story.

I think about family reunions up with the Stauffer and Kelly clans and how much I looked forward to sharing in the food and fun together. From the organized games to the unplanned hang-out time when I got to hear about school happenings, church joys and new house building hopes.

I think about my FPO family: Jesse, Jenna, Angela, Elise and Jay, the B Team, Andrea, Troy and Alice, Rebecca, Chris, Maris, Cy, Peyton, Mrs. Carole, Brandi, Lara, Daniel, Emily and Alison, Joy and Jonathan, Taylor, our “North Africa and the Middle East”, “Europe”, “East Asia” and “South East Asia” friends … oh my goodness, the list could go on for days!!! And our appointment friends serving in hidden places. [I know many of you will not be able to comment or “like” this post for security reasons, but I know you will read it and feel our love.]

Friends and family, there are SO MANY of you to list that I’m sure I failed to include someone of you that I’ll soon be kicking myself over for not including. Oh like Theresa, Will and sweet baby Ellie. And then there’s Jackie and Lydia (sorry, you guys always come together in my mind). And Jill Turner and her precious faithfulness in friendship. And my dear Vicki Ralston! And Aunt Yvonne, Aunt Joanna, Aunt Gayle, Aunt Greer, Cuz Christi. And Kari, Josh, Shepherd and now sweet little Griffin Ortega! And, oh my, sweet Victoria Singerman who I can’t wait to see her on this side of the ocean!!!! And Cortney Tipton and her beautiful heart. And Lynn Parson – oh man, Lynn you are always a blast with your sense of humor.

Oh friends… there are just so, so many of you wonderful people that I cherish so!

Matt, the girls and I do not deserve such a HUGE cloud of wonderful people in our lives.

And I just want you to know that when I sit here across the ocean and create these blog posts,

When this blog post world seems so one-sided, I want you to know that you are on my mind. When I write “friends and family” I see your faces in my mind.

I went online and stole some of your more recent family pictures to put into my computer’s slideshow. And the girls and I love watching it (even my conversant and I have watched it together) and we LOVE talking about you. The stories we have shared still find their way into conversations at the dinner table here in Africa. Because you’re our people. And you are not forgotten.

I want you to know that I don’t write this to you because I am feeling forgotten. No, quite on the contrary. I write this to you out of a heart overflowing in gratitude because I am overcome in thankfulness at your love for Matt, the girls and I.

Please, don’t take our time-lapse between communications personally. We are fighting to share life with you. How we love to walk this road with you all even if we’re working with third-world internet and it’s hard to fit all of you into one schedule without never serving the people here too. 😉

But I just want you to know, precious family and friends, that we are honored to take adventurous steps through the support of your love.

So to our people in Ohio, Minnesota, California, Nevada, Virginia, Peru, Brazil, the Dominican Republic, Senegal, Niger, South Africa, Uganda, Kenya, “Europe”, “North Africa and the Middle East”, “East Asia”, “South East Asia”, and anywhere else our people are planning on moving in the near future: 😉

Thank you for being used of God.

Thank you for being our people.

Wow, thank you. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

– We love you all so, so, so much!

Posted in faith, honesty, willing hands

Sweeter than Honey

The heavens declare the glory of God;

the skies proclaim the work of His hands.

Day after day they pour forth speech;

night after night they display knowledge.

There is no speech or language

where their voice is not heard.

Their voice goes out into all the earth,

their words to the ends of the world.

In the heavens He has pitched a tent for the sun,

which is like a bridegroom coming forth from his pavilion,

like a champion rejoicing to run his course.

It rises at one end of the heavens and makes its circuit to the other;

nothing is hidden from its heat.

The law of the Lord is perfect,

reviving the soul.

The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy,

making wise the simple.

The precepts of the Lord are right,

giving joy to the heart.

The commands of the Lord are radiant,

giving light to the eyes.

The fear of the Lord is pure,

enduring forever.

The ordinances of the Lord are sure and altogether righteous.

They are more precious than gold,

than much pure gold;

they are sweeter than honey,

than honey from the comb.

By them is your servant warned;

in keeping them is great reward.

Who can discern his errors?

Forgive my hidden faults.

Keep your servant from willful sins;

may they not rule over me.

Then will I be blameless,

innocent of great transgression.

May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight,

O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.

-Psalm 19

“Your call will take you to the mission field.

But it is only your daily walk with God that will keep you there.” -E.S.