December 18, 2010


Facebook status update 9 Nov 2010:Street and canal

“Traffic jam in Maputo at 6am, emergency toilet stops for passengers with the dreaded lurgy, then remarkably fast border crossing. By sundown, I am settled in Nelspruit SA in a gorgeous flat on a farm surrounded by fertile fields and green rolling hills. Hunkered down on the couch, new novel open, glass of cab sav in hand. Sunset. Silence. Sublime. I may not budge from this spot for 10 days.”

This year I am required by the conditions of my visa to leave Mozambique every three months. Last year it was every 30 days. “Going out” would normally imply going down the road to the store or out for dinner or a movie. At Zimpeto it is missionary lingo for leaving the country.

“When do you have to be out?”

“I’m going out next week.”

“I’m going out next week too. We can go out together...”

The price of overstaying one’s visa is about $100 US a day. One of our missionaries misread her visa and overstayed by a month. Ouch.

Occasionally we will do a border run, a half-day’s trip to the border and back. Every now and then I’ll catch a ride all the way to Nelspruit with a friend then spend a week or so in South Africa, which is where I am at the moment. I haven’t been out for a break for about six months and I forget how very much I need it until I am settled here at Mercy Air in one of the flats offered very cheaply to missionaries in southern Africa who are in need of a rest.Front wall sign

Every time I “go out”, I feel the weight of work and busyness begin to lift as I drive through the Zimpeto gates. At the first toll booth, I breathe more deeply. Through Matola, sigh. Second toll booth, the heaviness is falling away. Cross the border and suddenly the land is green, the air is clear and I can see for miles, physically and metaphysically. The tiredness of months of hard work and spiritual battles slips away and I head into the tranquillity of some down-time.

Today I am sitting at a picnic table under a stand of lush pecan trees. I sip coffee as a mongoose ambles by. The frogs revel noisily in the puddles left by the thunderstorms that rumbled across the African skies for most of last night. Vervet monkeMonkey cropped portraitys frolic in the trees about 30 metres away and occasionally a couple of the babies venture close but then are hurried away by panicked parents.

Now this is what I call down-time.

I do so love my life in Mozambique but, even when we live lives that we love and to which we are totally committed, we need to step away occasionally and experience something other than the everyday. Yes, at some point, living in Mozambique stopped being a novelty for me and became my everyday reality and so I need to take time out to rest, to pray and to keep dreaming.

There are missionaries at Zimpeto who have been dreaming of Africa for a lifetime. I am not one of them. I never dreamed of Africa or of Mozambique: I dreamed of being in the centre of God’s perfect will, wherever that may be in the world. Some friends 0f mine moved to Mozambique in 2000 and encouraged me to visit. Finally, after years of pondering, I booked my plane ticket for a three week trip in 2006 and knew that I had just signed off on a collision course with destiny.

For me it is not about Africa or about Mozambique but about obedience to going where I am led, when I am led there. 1-world-map-political[1]It is about the whatever and the however of following, just one step at a time. People often assume that I am in Mozambique because I love the country but I hardly knew it until I lived here. I had to step off the map of all that was familiar to me and move to a place I did not know to then fall in love. It is like an arranged marriage of God’s perfect design. The dream truly was exceedingly, abundantly more than I could ask or imagine.

Then at some point after colliding with destiny and a year or two of living the dream, it became day-to-day. It lost its shine, its excitement. It began to feel less like an adventure and more like a settled ordinary life. There is nothing wrong with this – it is a sign that the dream has become reality. Glory to God!

When the dream becomes reality and the cycle of life continues day-by-day, we then start to dream again, until the next collision with destiny takes us off the map of the last dream we journeyed. This time, we gaze higher and dream bigger because, last time, God proved Himself so infinitely faithBoys sunset NBful and able. It may not mean a physical move but a mental one, or spiritual or emotional. Or it may mean moving to the other side of the world. There are a thousand ways to dream and a million different expressions of those dreams.

I will return to Mozambique in a few days with a bag of ripe pecans just off the tree, a rested body, a rejuvenated soul, and my dreams of God’s possibilities refired as I reach to grasp those dreams and draw them to me, one day at a time.

“Now to Him who by the action of His power that is at work within us is able to carry out His purpose and do superabundantly, far over and above all that we dare ask or think - infinitely beyond our highest prayers, desires, thoughts, hopes or dreams – to Him be glory...”!

Eph 3: 20,21 [Ampl.]

September 4, 2010


I woke early on Wednesday to the sounds of sirens and chanting crowds. The usual morning noises were absent. There were no children’s voices still thick with sleep playing under my window. There was no scraping of sand being raked into neat rows. No birds twittering as they caught insects for breakfast under the eaves. No trucks in the distance zooming past on the highway north with their heavy loads in tow. The peaceful sounds of a regular Zimpeto morning had been replaced by panicked yelling as loud and repeated “pop pop popping” cut through the air and smoke wafted in the window.P1190111

As my mind struggled to make sense of these foreign sounds, I trawled quickly through my memory banks until I retrieved a memory from two and a half years ago... Where have I hear d these sounds before? I can “feel” the memory, I can smell it and taste it... but what is it? There’s a sense of panic attached to it, a bad taste in my mouth... Is that noise possibly gunfire? And then I remembered.

I jumped out of bed, went into the next room and pulled back the curtain. I looked past the school building and soccer field to the highway and it all came flooding back to me. The streets were on fire once more.

The cost of bread has risen 25%. The government has just raised the price of water and electricity. Shapas (public transport somewhere between a mini-bus, a taxi and an accident waiting to happen) cost 30% more than last week, now priced out of reach of many people who cannot get to work or take their produce to market to be sold. Such price rises led to a day of rioting in 2008 and it seemed now that history was repeating itself.

The average monthly income here is $37. Almost 60% of the population is unemployed. More than 70% of Mozambicans live below the poverty line. When I say "below", I mean no electricity or running water, living in a reed hut with holes in the roof, chronic illnesses untreated though manageable, struggling daily with the thought, "Where will our next meal come from?"

A city-wide strike was called to protest against the price rises with text messages the main form of rallying. Many Mozambicans have a cell phone even if they do not have running water – a typical paradox in developing African nations. Mozambique is a country struggling to grow beyond its “developing nation” status and those on the streets are led by a generation who feel they have never had a voice or the power to change their circumstances.

I have never had to go hungry. I have never been forced to live without running water or electricity. The greatest sacrifice I make in a financially tight week is to do without coffee or cheese or meat. I have never missed a meal because of a lack of money. Even here, living on a very limited income by western standards, I am rich compared to my Mozambican brothers and sisters.

Many, many Mozambicans have been hungry for a lifetime with nobody hearing their cries. I cannot condone rioting and violence but I daily come face-to-face with the pain and frustration of a people desperate to be heard. Such frustration will inevitably spill onto the streets during times of pressure if this is the only outlet the people feel they have.Riot closeup edited

Throughout the day, the rioting continued across Maputo. A militant and determined band surged destructively back and forth along the potholed two-lane highway outside the Centre’s long yellow wall. The crowd worked in rhythmic unison to overturn a bus, setting it on fire and blocking the only road north out of the city. The army advanced, using one of their own vehicles to push it off the road, metal grinding fiercely on metal as the bus easily gave way to the force of the armoured personnel carrier full of soldiers with rifles cocked at their shoulders.

The army moved back, then a car was overturned and destroyed and a pile of tyres set on fire, creating a thick black cloud rising above the chaos. This time it was the police who moved in, firing round after round of teargas and rubber bullets. The crowd again retreated and the vehicle was removed from the road, smouldering through the day outside our gates.

Most of our 300 kids stayed inside, apart from some youth who sat around on the soccer field, keeping enough distance to be safe but close enough to see the action. Occasionally a semi-trailer would roar past at speed and twenty teenage boys would jump up and cheer, high-fiving wildly as the semi ran the gauntlet of the rioters. Even here, even now, boys will be boys.

A group of high school students who ventured outside sat 15 metres in front of me as they watched the action. Suddenly they moved as one, screaming hysterically, and ran back towards the school buildings as they pulled their shirts over their faces. I glanced quickly around to see what had spooked them so abruptly... Suddenly, my eyes began to sting and my throat tightened as an invisible cloud of teargas reached me. Who knew I could move so fast!

I raced into the house, only 50 metres away. As I stumbled through the door, I was unable to open my eyes and felt like I was choking on the acrid, painful gas. My eyes felt like pins were being stuck into them and my throat burned but soothing cool water soon eased the pain. I received just a breathful – our guards at the front gate were in the midst of the worst of all the gas and smoke and I cannot imagine how awful that must have been for them throughout the day.AP_Mozambique_Price_Protests_1Sep2010_480[1]

As the afternoon progressed, the rioting crowds flowed forward like waves surging into shore as they moved towards the police to taunt them by throwing rocks. Then they would stream back from where they came, retreating as the police began to fire from their armoured vehicles. This pattern of attack/withdraw/attack continued throughout the first day.

At the Centre, we went about our days as normally as we could. Most of our workers could not get here although a few managed to make it, walking for hours through the tumultuous streets. Now that’s commitment. School was cancelled for the week. Food was rationed as time went on. Nobody could leave the Centre... nobody wanted to. The younger children remained in their dormitories. The youths grew tired after a few hours of watching the action and withdrew to the playground and dorms. We closed our windows against the teargas as it wafted through the Centre for much of the day.

At one point I felt anger rise within me as some of our youngest kids, seemingly safe in the Baby House, were affected by the gas. Up until this point, I was willing to see both sides: a people who have suffered more than anyone should have to in a lifetime versus a government trying to draw a nation gradually out of poverty and underdevelopment. There are no easy answers and no quick fixes in a country like this. But when the babies are caught in the middle, there is no excuse.

The action moved from outside the Centre on the third day but continued in pockets in the city, and then began in other towns north of Maputo. Looting has continued for a third night in the city but all is quiet here on the northern outskirts today. I hear occasional gunfire and police sirens in the distance this morning but all is calm here.

Ten people have been reported dead and almost 500 injured.

There have been calls for more strike action on Monday.

Here at Zimpeto, there is a definite sense of a clear boundary of safety drawn around our land and a peace that surpasses understanding that envelops us. Psalm 91 (quoted from The Message) has never been more real to me:MOZAMBIQUE-PROTEST/

“ ‘God you’re my refuge and I’m safe!’ That’s right, He rescues you from hidden traps and shields you from deadly hazards. His huge outstretched arms protect you – under them you’re perfectly safe; His arms fend off all harm...

“You’ll stand untouched, watch it all from a distance... because God’s your refuge, the High God your very own home. Evil can’t get close to you, harm can’t get through the door.”

We could not have been closer to the violence of the past days and yet Zimpeto Children’s Centre and all its residents remain untouched and blissfully restful despite all that is happening on our doorstep. It is in times such as these that the Bible becomes so real to me, speaking directly into my circumstances with promises I need to get me through.

All that the Bible promises to me, I pray also for this city ripped violently apart in past days and for this nation trying to stand under the weight of a tragic past that still holds it down from becoming all it is destined to be.

Please pray with me, friends! Let us believe for better for a people who have never experienced “better” so find it difficult to imagine all God’s possibilities for themselves.

To whom much is given, much is required. We have received so much and now we have an opportunity to give into the future of this nation. You can pray. You can give to support the work here. You can go, either to work or to visit and see for yourselves all that God is doing. You can speak up and be a voice for those who have no voice. Please consider how you can be involved.

If you have always wanted to “make a difference” in the world, now is your chance.

Pray. Give. Go. Speak.

Get involved and see what God can do through you!

August 13, 2010


While I was browsing the web this morning, I read something that resonated deeply within me. David Carson wrote, “When I get serious with God, I retreat into a quiet room with no distractions, an open bible, a new notepad and a comfortable pen. Then I cry out to God for wisdom, for God has called me to be a voice, not an echo...”

I have neither a pristine new pad nor a comfortable pen but I do have my bible, trusty laptop and currently reliable though slow, slow, slow internet access. A “quiet room” is something of an oxymoron here at Zimpeto but I am becoming adept at shutting out the noise of 700 school students having recess 50 feet from my house. Earphones in, ipod on, music up, mentally switch off the noise of the world trying to distract my soul.

With a day off work, I even turn off my phone and feel wonderfully irresponsible... then I change my mind and switch it back on again. The irresponsibility is a little too much for me to rise above.

I get quiet and I listen. And I hear, “What do you know? What do you know... today?”

Today I know that God is good. I know that He is kind. He is faithful. Today I know that, even in the midst of difficult situations and questions that have no easy answers, He is mine and I am His. Today I know that, in an imperfect world filled with imperfect people, I have access to the perfection of the One who created me and knows me to the core of who I am. Today I know that I am frustrated by my own imperfection but He is not.

What a relief it is to be sure, today, that I am fully known – and accepted.

Today I know that life is a gift and so are the people around me... even the grace-growers. Ah yes, especially the grace-growers, the ones who challenge my patience and my self-control again and again, allowing grace to grow in me if I choose my responses well. How would I learn to live patiently without having my “patience button” pressed occasionally to keep it in good working order?

Today I know that, cliché though it is, pain moulds me into something better than I am, if I can receive the pressing lessons it holds. Today I know that faith is being sure of what I do not yet see and, though I cannot yet see the shape into which He is moulding me, the result will be good because He is good. And He turns all things to good for those who believe.

Today I know that I believe.

Today I know that there are babies waiting for some love. I know I will come home covered with sand and dirt and sweat and probably the leakage from a few nappies needing changing. Tomorrow I know I will be doing some laundry.

Today I know the visitors I serve here will have a dozen questions for me as soon as I walk into the visitors’ compound. Some of the answers I give will not be satisfactory and others will bring joyful, gracious thanks bubbling up and overflowing into my day. Today I know that this job is a path of privilege to be walked with care.

Today I know that the weather report has predicted the coldest night of the year and, thanks to my family, I have two new hot water bottles to curl up with. I know it will be a two-bottle night.

Today the wind is wildly whipping up the sand and I know that everything in the house will be covered with a layer of grit within the hour. I also know that tomorrow Maria – God bless Maria! – will be here to help me clean the dirt away while laughing at my jokes even though we speak different languages. Today I know that laughter is a language all of its own.

Today I know that one breath at a time is as fast as I am required to walk through this day and that, if anyone demands that I walk faster, it is ok to say no. In fact, it is necessary.

Today I know that I am where I want to be. I cannot say that any day living here is easy. If it were easy, there would not be the satisfaction of knowing, at the end of each day, that He led and I followed and that His grace was sufficient for the day.

Today I know that, for everything He calls me to, He fills the deficit between what I can do and what He calls me to. He fills the deficit between me and Perfection. I want to live today and every day knowing that Perfection leads me and all I am asked to do is follow, trusting.

Today I know that He is good and that He is making me into His likeness, just one day at a time.

PS 118: 24 “This is the day that the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.”

[David Carson quote from pid=4849]

July 5, 2010


imageThe mission field. Now there’s a broad term. Where is it, this “mission field” we refer to so loosely in the church today?

How does one define “the mission field”? Is it a place that is on another continent? Is it somewhere that I am not used to being? Does it have to be a foreign land? Must it be a nation where the lifestyle is very different from my own, where the language and food and culture are unfamiliar to me? Does “the mission field” have to be poor? Or hot? Or a long way from home?

For my grandparents, missionaries sent to the fields of India and China, the term was quite specificimage – the mission field was a foreign land unreached by the Gospel, and one from which you may never return. My father, seen here on his 80th birthday, was born in India, raised in China, then interned as a POW by the Japanese when war broke out. I will never understand, no matter how I try, the cost that he, his parents and sister counted to be on the mission field all those years ago. He has kept a sweet spirit and a gentle, forgiving nature despite all that he went through. Now there’s a big clue to the thesis that follows…

I am a product of a Christian family and I have sensed that “missionary calling” – whatever it may be - pulsing in my veins for most of my life. Now I live in Mozambique and the longer I live here, the broader my definition becomes.

I have worked in a variety of jobs over the years – teaching, church administration, retail, nannying, waitressing... My very first job as a teenager? “Hello, this is St Ives Sports and Toys. Can I help you?” said of course in the most grown-up tone a fifteen-year-old can muster.

As I mentally retrace the timeline of my life, I can detect few patterns, many unexpected detours, loads of unfulfilled dreams and much boredom interspersed with very occasional bouts of excitement and fulfilment. It was during those rare seasons of delight that I received a tiny taste of all that I was hoping for and felt the heightened tension between the now and the not-yet. I knew that I knew that something bigger and better and more wonderful was just around the corner. But what was it and how would I get there? Was it... wait for it... drum roll please... “the mission field”?

I am a dreamer. I always have been. I have longed and hoped and dreamed big all my life. When people tell me to dream bigger, I laugh because I cannot imagine what bigger is. Perhaps that is what God means when he talks about the “exceeding abundantly more than all we can ask or imagine...” But bigger than MY dreams? Is that really possible?

Then it dawns on me. Of course it is not possible. If it were possible, I would have been there a long time ago. It also dawns on me that, if I had been able to find my imageown way there, in my own timing, I would not have coped with what I found when I arrived. I would have enjoyed the view for just a moment then choked to death on all the circumstances I was not yet equipped to deal with.

I look back now and the pattern finally becomes clear, the common denominator in all my jobs and relationships and trials and joys and sorrows – everything has been a preparation for now. And now is a preparation for what comes next. So even here, living in Mozambique, the quintessential “mission field” for the hard-core “missionary”, I still feel that tension between the now and the not-yet.

You see, all these years were not a preparation for the mission field. They were preparation for discovering greater depths of the heart of Jesus. Plumbing those depths will never, ever end because the heart of Jesus is bottomless and the goodness of His will for the earth unending.image

I do not belong on the mission field. I belong in the perfect will of God.

If I am in the perfect will of God, doing all that He asks me to do, then I have found my mission field, no matter where in the world I am. I happen to live in Mozambique because, for now, this is where God needs me to be - for what I can give and also for what He wants me to receive.

Somehow, in God’s economy, giving and growing go hand-in-hand. The more I give, the more I grow. He has placed me, in every season of my life, in exactly the spot He has wanted me to be. Now, here in this nation so rich with possibilities and so desperate for breakthroughs, I receive so much more than I can give no matter how fast I try to pour myself out on the needs around me. This is the perfect economy of God.

I love that God has brought me here and that I am in His perfect will. I love the mission field in which He has planted me for now. Not because it is easy (it is not). Not because it is fulfilling (it is occasionally). Not because I get to pour out all that I am (some days yes, some days all I want to do is hide away and pretend I am somewhere else).

I still dream. I still search for ways in every day to express my passions. I still sense that heightened tension between the now and the not-yet. The difference now is that, instead of stepping out on my own to fight my way into the future, I am trusting God to lead me there one day at a time, via the mission fields of His choosing, where I am needed and where I need to be.

He is teaching me to squeeze all the possibilities out of each of the days between the now and the not-yet.

So, what does your mission field look like? Where is it? And when, oh when, will you get there?

If you are able to say that you are following God the best way you know how, obeying His voice one whisper at a time, and that tomorrow you plan to do the same, then look around you and take a deep bimagereath.

You’re standing in it.

You can call me a missionary if you like, but only if you are willing to use the term for yourself as well. I am a simple Christian woman doing my best to live God’s way, one day at a time. I am no more nor less valuable to the Kingdom than anyone else. Today I will give of myself, as you will. And today I will pray that I grow a little more in grace and patience and wisdom, as I pray for you also.

Yes, I live in a nation full of needs. So do you. Together, let us walk through another day serving God the best way we know how, encouraging one another in the work of the mission field in which each of us is planted for now.

The harvest is plentiful in your field and in mine, so let’s get to work.

April 4, 2010


Last night there was a gecko in my bed. It was only a small gecko but the size is not relevant – it was a slithery lizard and it did not belong whMy room rightere it was. I evicted the invader quickly and with minimum fuss, flicking it gently out from under my mosquito net which, by the way, is meant to keep such interlopers away at night. I know there are geckos residing in the rafters because I wake each morning to look up at new deposits of gecko droppings on top of my crisp white net – just one of many good reasons to use a mozzie net in Africa. The geckos are welcome to share my room so long as they are on the outside looking in while I sleep at night.

I tell you this story by way of proving how very far God has brought me since I left Australia in January 2008 and how very deeply He has worked in me, to bring me to peace and contentment and joy. Yes, even with a gecko on my pillow. Oh how far I have come!

I am of the firm belief that the grace of God is sufficient for anything to which He calls us. There is the danger that some of you may thinkP1110823 me trite, especially on this oh-so-holy day of the year, to be thanking God for the grace to live with lizards. Be that as it may, I do see His provision and strengthening in new ways every day here and, so very often, it is in relation to creatures with which I would never choose to associate back home.

Last week His grace was sufficient when I had to deal with the huge rat hiding in the rice sacks stored just outside my front door. The rice is bagged up for the food packages given out each week. Did I mention that it was a rat and it was huge? So huge in fact that even the Mozambican men who came to rescue me commented on how huge it was. When I said “I had to deal with the huge rat”, what I meant was that I sent out an SOS to the workmen next door to come and rescue me. P1180732

His grace was sufficient when a cockroach fell onto my shoulder and crawled across my arm while I was praying. His grace was sufficient when an ant started biting me in an embarrassingly inaccessible spot while I was having a meeting outdoors with someone I had only just met. His grace was sufficient when a mouse ran between my feet as I chased it with the electrified tennis racquet I normally use for zapping mosquitoes. The proof that His grace is sufficient is in the fact that I find it hilariously funny to chase a mouse as I wield what I affectionately call my “fanger”. My friend Vella killed a mouse with a dustpan. Splat. I like her style.

His grace is sufficient when the heat saps my strength and leaves me feeling weak and dizzy. His grace is sufficient when more toddlers than I can possibly carry all want to be cuddled at once, running at me and knocking me over in the sand. His grace is sufficient when the bananas – again! – get infested with fruit fly within hours of my buying them. His grace is sufficient when the rain pours in my window and floods the drawers, the floor and my clock radio.Dino and Francisco

His grace is sufficient when I walk into the Baby House and think of Dino who died a few months ago. I miss Dino’s smile and his giggle and his funny little run when he would rush to me for a hug.

His grace is sufficient as I watch, speechless, helpless, while a young woman drags herself across the busy, blisteringly hot road on her hands and knees, unable to walk.

His grace is sufficient when I am asked for money and food and even for my shoes by the poorest of the poor. His grace is sufficient when I am racked with guilt as I keep my shoes on and walk away.

You see, His grace is sufficient for all He calls us to. Some days, His grace enables me to laugh and other days, to cry. Some days His grace lifts man cross churchme up to thrive and, other days, grips me tight enough just to survive. His grace – the grace that led Him to the Cross where He gave His life for me – now leads me to live in a place where I need Him every day in ways I never could have imagined or prepared myself for.

When He calls, He provides all that we need for that call, no matter who we are or where it is we go or what we are called to do.

May the God of all grace be your sufficiency this Easter season and may you know to new heights and greater depths than ever before the grace that is sufficient for you, in every way.

March 30, 2010


As I read back over my Mozambique blogs, I realise that I talk like it is easy to live here, as though I roll with the difficulties effortlessly and that it is all one big adventure. Perhaps I have misled you into thinking that I am on top of it all, that as I seek to keep my attitude right and my mind focused and positive, I can handle anything. Possibly I have given the wrong impression by allowing you to think that this amazing adventure is an easy journey to negotiate and that I am a successful negotiator of its many twists and turns.

Please trust me when I say that I have not intentionally misled.

As I read, I realise that I have not been entirely honest. The positive thinker in me, the faith-filled believer in the God who is always good, has determined to believe all things, hope all things, endure all things... [1Cor13:6] Preceding those verses, though, is a challenge to love, and this is where the adventurer in me gets a little shaky.

It is true that I have decided to live my life with eternity beating loudly in my heart, so that every decision I make in each day is informed by this. How grand that sounds! How godly and shiny and unflappable I must be to live this way each day. How very glossy life is when expressed in terms that resound throughout eternity!

Did I mention the six toilets I scrubbed one Saturday morning not long ago? I would like to say that eternity was resounding strongly in my heart as I did it. I would like to say that I prayed over each of those toilets, so that every person who found themselves in a sparkling cubicle that afternoon would sense the eternal weight of their calling as they benefitted from my hard labour.

I wish. It was a stinky, sweaty, messy job and my attitude stunk to match.

I would like to say that moving house is a breeze – I have lived in a different place on average every three months in my time here in Mozambique. But I recognise now that moving throws my soul off balance every time and, just when I am beginning to find my balance again, I move again. Often it is my new housemates who suffer as I take time to gain my equilibrium in a new place.

I pray for a home, a real home where I can settle for awhile, but that is unlikely.

Faith says to believe but sometimes I find it hard. There, I said it.

I would like to say that I negotiate community living well, with grace, patience and selflessness. This I call my “Attitude Wars” where, each day, there are incoming bullets that need to be dodged. The bullets are not shot purposely and often shot without the shooter even realising the gun was loaded. I confess that sometimes I am the shooter and, occasionally and to my utter shame, it is totally premeditated. My attitude wars, when I am on the defensive, lead my actions and, when my attitude stinks, my actions - my words and expressions and body language especially – follow.

I am not good at living selflessly, at putting others’ needs before my own and sacrificing for those with whom I share this wonderful, difficult, crazy environment. Ironically, the more people around me, the lonelier I feel and I wonder how this is possible.

The big picture is that I have sold all and moved to one of the poorest nations on earth to serve. I have been told I am brave and selfless and I have been tempted to believe it all. But those attitude wars keep my feet firmly on the ground. God is concerned as much with the macro-focus of how I love as He is with the big picture.

When I get to Heaven, He will not ask, “Did you sell all you have?... Did you have the faith to go?... Did you speak My word?... “

He will ask one thing and one thing only: “Did you love?”

It has become easy now for me to stop in the middle of a busy day for the toddler in the sand wanting my attention. I like now to give my “down time” on a Sunday to pray with the old vovos sitting outside church waiting for lunch. I look forward now to going to the Tuesday prayer meeting where I will be the only woman and the only non-Portuguese speaker. When I can call it “Ministry”, it happens now without too much internal fuss. But when it is “life” happening amongst the brothers and sisters with whom I live each day, it is different and it should not be.

I am called to love, no matter who is standing in front of me. I have written before about stopping for the one. Why is “the one” out in the sand, crying for a hug, easier to stop for than the one in my own home? Where did I learn that Big-M “Ministry” starts when I step out the front door each day? What about the small-m ministry that begins over coffee in the morning?

I live in community with many others from all walks of life and from all parts of the world. It will not ever be easy and I think that is just how God wants it. We are “grace-growers” for one another. If I can win my attitude wars here in my own home then, surely, I have more chance of winning the war beyond my front door as I walk out to face each day.

“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful... Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”

March 12, 2010


It is Friday morning, 4.45am. I wake to the gentle scraping of sand being raked into neat submission as one of the younger boys begins his daily chore near my window. He does not have to work at 4.45am but I guess he is a very early riser. Not owning a watch, he gets out of bed when he wakes, gathers his equipment and walks alone across the sand in the pre-dawn stillness.

At this time of year it is not yet cool in the early morning but bearably warm. As he works, he waits for the sun to light up the ordered rows of rake-marks that will be scuffed away in just an hour or two. 300 pairs of feet do a lot of scuffing in the sand.

This is the most peaceful time of the day here at Zimpeto, before all those feet carry their sleepy owners out of their dorms and onto the playground, hungrily awaiting their breakfast of bread and tea in the refertorio. It is at this time of day that faith rises in me, everything looks clearer and I know that anything is possible. The stresses of yesterday were laid to rest before sleep last night and today’s busyness has not yet stirred me into action. The knocking at the door will begin at 6.00 with the younger boys wanting balls pumped up and bandaids for their grazes. So I figure I have about an hour to sip my coffee, get quiet on the inside and listen – just listen.

Around here, listening to the still small voice within is hard to do because there is always noise. I live with 300 kids so of course there is always noise, except when they are eating or when they’re asleep. You know that dinnertime hush that falls on a family as they dig in to their meal together after a long, active day? Here, at 7am and at 12 and again at 5pm, I physically feel the hush descend for just a few minutes and my whole body sighs from the inside out.

First comes the siren, the loud, intrusive and very successful means of getting 300 kids to the table at once. Then some yelling or singing, clapping and all those voices yelling “Ahhh-men” in unison.

And then... nothing. No sound at all. Silence. Breathe out. Be still. Get quiet on the inside and listen. And rest for just a moment as the hush settles like a thick, cool fog that you hope will last forever.

The fog only lasts for 15 minutes though and then it is gone, blown away by the whirlwind of 600 feet and 300 voices and the babies in the sand and the boys on the slide and the band practising with the sound turned up high and the banging at the door as Aurelio brings his ball full of holes back to be pumped up for the third time today. Sigh, focus, get to work.

All the children go into their dorms at 9pm when silence descends once again but, by that time, I am just-about ready for bed myself. Refer above to the raking under the window at 4.45am.

So my quiet time, my thinking time, my praying and processing and just-being-still time has to be early. It is my favourite time of the day. It is my time to ponder the big questions of life as well as the little soul-issues scratching at my heart until I dig a bit deeper and find resolution. If not resolution, then I settle for acceptance, for peace with the status quo for today. Perhaps tomorrow morning, in the stillness of the dark pre-dawn hours, I will come to resolution. How good it is to know that there is tomorrow, and tomorrow and tomorrow.

This is why the gentle sound of sand being raked before dawn each day is not a disturbance but a gift I look forward to as I fall asleep at night. I sometimes wonder who it is giving me such a gift and if I could ever explain in a way that he would understand. I am so thankful that, every morning, he crawls out of bed in the darkness, finds his rake as he rubs the sleep from his eyes and goes to work on the sand under my window.

Who would have thought that a little boy tidying the sand before dawn would change me every day. So, thank you to my little friend for a gift you do not know you are giving and for which you ask nothing in return. It is a free gift indeed.

Catch you tomorrow, same time, same place.

January 22, 2010

Dino - Child of Zimpeto, Son of God

Dino. Three years old. A giggler. A smiler. A cuddler. A child of Zimpeto and a son of God. Desperately underweight and malnourished when he was brought to the Centre two years ago, Dino thrived on the care and attention he received. He grew gradually into a chubby, happy, good-humoured boy known as “Mr Dino” because he seemed old and thoughtful beyond his years.

Everybody fell in love with Dino. He was one minute hilarious and laughing without a care in the world, the next pondering and serious as though he were weighing the world’s problems and deciding what he could do about them. Mr Dino had a plan.

Two weeks ago, Dino died. After months of undiagnosed infections with high temperatures, Dino was admitted to the hospital where he stayed for a night. The next morning, in respiratory failure, his little body had no more fight left in it and he left us.

The last time I saw Dino, it was just a few weeks ago - a day or two before I flew out to visit Australia. He spotted me as I was walking across the hot sand. I was in a rush as usual to see someone about something so seemingly important then but now, from this view, utterly unimportant. I saw a little round body stand up in the distance, brush the dirt from his hands and begin to move towards me. I paused, mentally calculating the time it would take to get all the jobs ticked off my list so I could try to find a respite from the oppressive afternoon heat.

Dino was overweight – a miracle really after the physical trials of his first year of life – and still not the healthiest of children, HIV positive with various issues not yet clearly diagnosed. He shuffled towards me, arms out wide and his little feet stirring up a cloud of dust as he dragged them through the hot, hot sand. He looked unsure. Perhaps I had walked past, too busy, just one too many times for him to trust that I would stop for him this time.

As the thought registered, it pierced my heart. This babe, this precious child who had lost everything important in the world before his first birthday, was turning to me now with arms open wide. I stopped. I grinned. I crouched, bent low and spread my arms out wide.

Dino squealed. His face lit up. He laughed – one of those from-the-belly bubbling-over laughs so pure and free and joyous that I laughed with him. He shuffled faster, arms pumping at his sides. I thought he would topple forward, his feet not moving as fast as the rest of his body. But he knew what he was doing, his timing was perfect. Dino had a plan. Just as he reached me, his momentum lifted him off his feet as he fell towards me, giggling, reaching. Trusting.

As his arms encircled my neck, I picked him up and lifted him to me. I held him tightly and we swung together in a circle, stirring up more dirt that billowed and wafted, sticking to our damp skin. We turned and we turned and we turned, laughing and puffing and clinging tightly to one other. Ah the purest of joys!

Dino’s place on this earth can never be filled by another. He is irreplaceable in the hearts of those who had the privilege of loving him for a short season. In Heaven there was a place prepared for him and ready for his arrival and now, after three years of pain and grief and sickness and love and joy and laughter, He is home.

Our kids do not belong to us. We have no ownership, no rights. We do, though, have an awesome responsibility to nurture them as best we can, filling them to the brim with all the love we can muster for as long as they are entrusted to our care. It is impossible to know how long that will be so every second and every smile and hug and touch count in ways that go deeper than we can know.

My heart aches to see Dino again. I think of Paulo and Tino, Irene and Thabo, and all the children we have known and lost. It is not fair. It is not right. The world is out of balance when children can starve to death or die of diseases inherited through no doing of their own.

It is not right that children suffer. The “problem” – and even to name it “a problem” minimises its enormity and the injustice of it all - is huge and I feel so very, very small in comparison. Asking “Why?” brings an overwhelming sense of helplessness which leads me to numbing inaction in the face of such a huge question. So instead I ask, “What now? What next?”

I and the workers of Zimpeto had the privilege of loving a precious boy for much of his too-short life. Dino was loved and he was happy. Now he is no longer sick and he cannot be rejected or harmed anymore. He is in the safest place of all, in the arms of the Father who knows him better than we ever could.

Now, all I know to do is go back to that place of miracles where most of our children are loved into full and active lives and where, sometimes, they are loved into the arms of Jesus.

Dino. Son of God and a child of Zimpeto. He was with us not nearly long enough and now is in the arms of the Father who loves him perfectly. May we learn how to do the same with those of His children that He asks us to love here on earth.

Dino, on the left, with his buddy Francisco.