Saturday, November 30, 2013

Reverse Homesickness




So, back to Thursday -- a thanksgiving spent halfway around the world, not with turkey, mashed potatoes and fixings, but as an authentic of a day devoted to being thankful as I have ever experienced to date.

In my last post, I left off with me on the side of the road struggling with the overwhelming emotion that consumed me from what I had seen over the past few days.

They fixed the flat tire. The sun broke through the clouds. An airplane took flight at the airport across the road. I dried my tears. We got back in the car and headed back to Arusha.

It felt like it had already been a full day, but it was only lunch time. 

After a quick lunch, we headed back to Maranatha Primary School to pick up Neema and another teacher to take them to a bookstore that they use for the government-approved (and required) curriculum for the school. We weren't sure what to expect, but it wasn't really this.





There were books stacked up and jammed into every spare inch of space. There were books stacked in piles on the floor that you had to maneuver around. There were books, school supplies and a few other things.




The teachers from Maranatha showed us the "wish list" that we had asked them to create. We asked the owner to total it up and he said he would give us his best wholesale price. They had listed out 1 teacher handbook and about 15 student workbooks in about 4 subjects. Those 15 books would be shared between 2-3 students (one student having one consumable workbook is a luxury here). 

Even with that accomodation, the total came to more than we had to spend. The teachers assured us that they would be happy with anything we could do so Rylie and I walked outside and looked at the list. In the end, we were able to purchase about $250 in books and the teachers were ecstatic. We also happened to run into Javelin, a teacher for Bethel Primary, whom we had seen earlier that morning and whom Rylie has a connection to as a young teacher. He was buying a handful of books for his classroom and students from his own pocket. Rylie asked if we could purchase the books and he graciously accepted. 

The store employees started pulling books out and stacking them on the counter and both teachers meticulously went through the list and the stack and made sure they had everything accounted for. The stack was smaller than Rylie and I had hoped. 




In that moment, we wished we were wealthy. That we had won the lottery. That we hadn't spent our own money on a safari celebrating our anniversary/40th birthdays that we were leaving on the next day. In that moment, if we could have gotten that money back, we would have. 

The teachers were so excited as they boxed up the books and tied it with a twine handle for carrying. They gave us the receipt, but we knew that they needed it, so I snapped a picture and had them keep the hard copy.



Rylie had one last purchase of something we had heard every time we asked a group of teachers what supplies and materials they needed the most.

Red pens.

Rylie and Joel had to laugh -- both of them being teachers and using a good amount of red ink.

So, on this day, Rylie got a box to give to the Maranatha teachers and staff.



We had to giggle a bit at the name. Apparently it is a well-known and trusted brand. So that's good.

And then we were done.  We drove Neema and the other teacher back to Maranatha. Back by the dilapadated buildings and people with sad eyes. Back by the men selling and doing drugs. Back to the children who love giving me high-fives and playing my iPhone. 

We said our goodbyes. I hugged Neema and she thanked us for being an answer to prayer. I thanked her for all that she is doing for the children in the neighborhood and for her amazing faith and love.

As we drove back "home," we were quiet. So much had happened. It was Thanksgiving. Earlier in the week and even that morning, we had talked about going to feast at a nice restaurant. But, none of us wanted to do that any longer.

What sounded good was a simple bowl of Hot and Sour Soup from the Chinese Dragon. What sounded even better was using the restaurant's wi-fi to Facetime our children back home. It felt great to tell them and my parents how thankful we were for what God had done that day and the other days, and how grateful we were for them and that they let us go so far away to give to others.

And too quickly, it was time to go back to the apartment and pack up for the safari we were leaving on the next day. But my heart and mind was still back at the rescue center and in that bookstore and on that forlorn playground. As I packed our suitcases and put aside things to give to Joel for his apartment, I found myself not thinking about the wildlife we would be seeing over the next two days, rather I thought about the things I wanted to do on Monday after we got back and before we catch our flight home.

Visit the Kase Bookshop we've heard so much about and check out their selection of story books.

Visit the "science store" that is supposed to be nearby to look for science kits and materials.

Type up and talk through our strategy for building Character 101 and possibly bringing out a group of teachers in July.

And this makes me happy. It means that when I leave on Monday night, I'm not really leaving for good. I will leave a piece of myself here. My thoughts and actions going forward will return to this place. The roots that have bound me here since before I was born have dug into the soil even deeper.

Last night, my sister and I were chatting via iMessage (have I mentioned how wonderful technology can be?) about how we feel about beautiful Tanzania. I told her how I was reluctant to leave. How the "crazy thought" of living here someday cannot leave my mind. As she concurred with that same desire, she asked me a question that I still don't have the answer to.

"How can you be homesick for a place you have never called home?"

All I know is that it is entirely and thoroughly possible.




Blessed to be a blessing



Thursday was by far the toughest day for me personally.

I think that's one of the reasons it has taken me so long to even attempt putting down my thoughts into words. Another is the wi-fi, power/generator issue here, but that's another story.

Thursday was supposed to be the "easy day." We agreed to not wearing our "uniform" and "going casual". However, it turned out that I was the only one who stuck to the plan. No matter. I was easy breezy in my long "missionary skirt" as per usual.

First, we headed to Bethel Primary School to see the headmaster, Golden, and speak with him and his staff about how Character 101 could help them. They were so happy to see us and had fond memories of the team's visit last year. We came bearing three bags of items for the staff. I think they might have been the most excited about the blow up globes that were donated by my girls' scout troop in Clovis. They kept handing them to the geography teacher one by one and each time he was handed one, his eyes got bigger and bigger.



To say he was grateful would be an understatement.

The teachers echoed most of what we heard.

School supplies

More textbooks so that the students can share 2-3 to a book instead a handful of books per class

Storybooks. Please, we need storybooks!

And, the one that we loved to hear. Teacher training. Could you please help us learn more about teaching the children. Would they be willing to stay after school for 2-3 hours or come on a Saturday and attend a teacher workshop?

Absolutely.

The headmaster told us about some rescue centers that the church attached to the primary school was sponsoring and he was overseeing. He asked if we wanted to drive out and see one of the orphanages. I said, "of course!" Joel and Rylie may not have said yes as quickly, but I just had to go.

As we walked out to our car, I asked to slip down to the classrooms and playground area. Although school was not in session for a few weeks for the Christmas holiday, the sight of what they have to work with weighed heavy.



While it's better than some of the schools we have seen, it was very sparse. Then I walked outside to the playground and saw the saddest view.



When deciding between textbooks and playground equipment, you will choose textbooks every time. However, that sad little swing ripped my heart up. One little chain wrapped around the top pole. And then I looked over to the "slide" that was really a ladder to a 6 foot drop off. I didn't even walk up the stairs. I could see that the teeter totter was more totter than teeter and that there were no seats to sit upon. Only bare post.

As a mother, I couldn't stand it. I told my uncle that we HAD to get that swing fixed before we left. That it needed be something I could leave knowing I left behind. School is important. Education and learning is important. But swinging free and high. That's important too.

There are no city parks here. There are no roller rinks or skateboard parks that I have seen. If you can't play in your own school's playground, where do you play?

When we got in the car to head to the rescue center/orphanage called, Shalome House, Joel told the headmaster that we wanted to fix the swing and could he arrange for it to be fixed in the next few days. He said he could and I settled back in my seat for the "twenty kilometer" trip.

However, as with everything, nothing takes the time you budget for and think would reasonable if you were in the States. What we failed to take into account is that going "across town" in Arusha is an exercise in a persistent but very halting experience. Traffic lights are new and partially obeyed. Private run buses "dala dalas" stop everywhere and anywhere to disgorge and take on passengers. Construction is everywhere. When we finally got out of Arusha city on the country road, we found that it was under massive construction and we had to take constant "diversions" on bumpy, graveled road. When Joel asked about the 20 km thing, we found out it was 20 km from the edge of town. 

So, it took at least 45 minutes to get out to a little piece of land that held a walled off compound of sorts. Inside the walls, was a nicely built building built by a Rotary Club in the States.



It housed a resource room of some books and a "study area" for the center's children and those in the neighborhood. We were shown the "kitchen" which was an outdoor but enclosed cooking area in which the "auntie" was serving up the standard Tanzanian fare of rice and beans. For the 58 children who live in this center (runaways, street children and orphans), it cost $700 US to feed them three meals a day (mostly rice and beans each meal). 

We then got a peek into the dormitory, which is when I started to break down a little.



Somehow seeing these bare rooms devoid of any personal belongings and touches hurt my heart so deeply. A walk to the "recreational center" sealed that feeling in my heart. 



The sight of that bare room save one small and lonely t.v. in the corner (unpictured) was like a stab to the heart. When I asked what they did in that room (hoping that there was a hidden stash of board games, balls and coloring books), I was told that they did their homework and had their nightly meeting/prayer time.

A bright spot was the chickens that they are raising to help self-sustain the center. They raise them from hatchlings to six-weeks old and then sell them for 6,000 shillings, or about $3.75 per chicken. While it's something, it's not enough to feed all of the children and to pay for their school fees, etc. When they told us that it takes about $100 for a child to be taken care of for the year at the center, I was astounded. 

That's all.

$100 a year.

For food.

For clothes.

For security.

For hope.

They have an onsite social worker who is available to talk with the children whenever they want it. After all, living on the streets of Arusha or being orphaned will take it's toll. I was so grateful to hear that.

While I reminded myself that there is something to be said for shelter and safety when you are being saved from a life of abandonment, I can still see those children lined up alongside of a building, slowly eating their lunch and looking like they had nothing in the world to do, nowhere to go and nothing to look forward to doing that day.

As we got ready to leave, I begged Rylie to run to the car and grab some frisbees out of the back that my uncle had brought over and was saving for I'm not sure what. But, in that moment, those kids HAD to have those frisbees.

He brought three and threw one out towards the children -- startling them.



One of the kids bravely picked it up and tried to toss it back.

Upside down.

We all laughed together. Rylie showed them a few times how to do it. Then we had to go. They gave the frisbees back to Rylie -- wistfully, I might add. He handed them back and said, "these are for you."

When we walked out of those walls, those frisbees were seeing some serious action. And that made me happy.

But as we bumped back down that road under construction back to Arusha, I had the thought, "this hurts too much to cry."

But, I was wrong. The tears began to flow. While it was hard for me to see the apparent lack those children had, the entire week caught up with me in that moment. And it came out my eyes and dripped down my chin. It kept coming.

Beautiful Tanzania. 

Your people have so much heart and love for their country and each other. But you need so many things -- basic things that every person should have. And I have so much. Too much. So much that I don't even value it or give thanks for it.

The tell-tale sound of air escaping signaled a flat tire. 



So, we pulled off of the highway (thankfully it was on the paved portion) and I took the opportunity to sit on the side of the bank and eat a Clif bar (and don't think that I didn't feel a measure of guilt about that) and read the wrapper about the founders quest for simplicity.



I resolved right then and there to de-clutter, de-stuff my life and pour as much as I could into putting my efforts, money and time into things that really and truly matter. Because time is so short. And the need is so great.

I know that I can't constantly feel guilty about being born where I was and for having the life I do. But I have come to the absolute knowledge that I have been greatly, terrifically, abundantly blessed Not for myself and my family. 

Rather, I have been blessed to be a blessing.

And at that moment, I felt God whisper in my soul that the smallest ray of light can penetrate the darkest cover. And then he showed me.




(the rest of this Thanksgiving Thursday to be continued in the next post.)

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Happy are the feet...


When I was younger, I had a thing about my feet -- more specifically about my toes. I inherited the "Bruton toes" which you can see above. This entails having a longer second toe than the big toe and oddly curving fourth toes that more or less lay on the side rather than standing at attention. It used to make me so self-conscious that I would not wear flip flops or sandals or anything that might possibly show those rebellious digits

Last Saturday, I was able to break through my jet-lagged fog enough to admire these super cute Tanazanian sandals and have Rylie buy them for me (I have not carried a single bit of currency since I've been here which has been equal parts liberating and horrifying for this independent gal.)

After my internal 3 a.m. wake-up call early Wednesday a.m., I got ready for the day (my first day not wearing my "uniform" which was also equal parts thrilling and horrifying after appearing the first day and my uncle announcing, "You look like a missionary!"). I decided the day called for me to wear my new sandals.

The day got off to a later start which allowed for me to have some time to get online at The African Tulip and post a few things and generally catch up with the world back at home. What a blessing to be able to iMessage my family and FaceTime the children. It makes the absence easier to bear on both sides.



After Rylie and Joel picked me up, we headed out for the day. Our first stop was a new one for this year.  The Arusha Teacher's College is a private college that prepares students to be teachers in both the government and private schools in Tanzania. The two year program is attended by young people who ranges from 16-20 years old. 

For $580 a year, they can live on campus and receive instruction in multiple subjects. When they receive their certificate, and if they choose to work for the government, they are sent anywhere they are needed in whatever subject is needed. As you can imagine, this can be problematic when so many of the bigger needs are in the poor rural areas with few resources and even lower pay.

Our first order of the day was to speak with a few of the "tutors" at the college. They shared with us about their program and how teachers in Tanzania are trained and what they face in their career. A new teacher can expect to make about $180 per month. They are usually given teacher's manuals for their classes (usually); however, if they are given textbooks for their pupils, they are usually to be shared with 3-4 students or more. Often, there are only a handful of student textbooks for up to 70 students.

One of the tutors wiped tears of frustration from his eyes as he talked about the struggle to educate the future generations of Tanzania with such meager support from his government. It was painful to see.

Afterwards, we were taken to a classroom to speak with about 20 candidates for graduation in the Spring. These young people (and some looked so very young) told us about their fears for their future profession and asked how we could help them be better prepared for their chosen career. They know they are signing on for a difficult life. They long to affect change in their culture -- to give the younger people hope and a better education and life than has been made available.


The need is great and we so desperately want to meet this challenge. As we left the college, we talked about the "ocean of need" in this country. I recalled my dad saying many times that we all have our bucket and we all do our part to bring relief.

Next up was checking in on the shelves for Maranatha which were built within 24 hours and amazingly, so were our bookends!

The woodworking keyboardist.


The finished bookends -- may they hold many books!

As the call to prayer began from the loudspeaker at the nearby mosque, we paid for everything and then the shelves were loaded up and driven to Maranatha to the delight of the principal. 


As they were unloaded, I met a welcoming party of neighborhood boys who practiced their high fives with me and whom I entertained with TapTap Revenge on my iPhone -- the great friend maker worldwide.





At one point, I saw one of the little boys in our circle glance down at my foot. He stared at it. Immediately I thought, "ugh...he probably is  grossed out by my freaky toes." As he continued to gaze at it, he a very tenderly reached down and took away a small pebble that had made it's way between my two big toes away and brushed away the dirt. The little kindness almost undid me.

We waved goodbye and bumped back down the rutted dirt lane and then back towards "home" which is how I've started to think of this place and this apartment we are staying in.

Over a surprisingly delectable dinner of Chinese Food (we are eating so internationally here!) 




and the best Hot and Sour Soup I've ever had, we debriefed another long but fulfiling day and dreamed about how we could expand Character 101 to bring more help to a country so in need of educational support.

If I think about it too much (as I have already done), it can be disheartening to think of the small beginings we are in with the organization. I know that we all wish that we could be more...do more...offer more.

Yet, I also know that it is wise not to scorn small beginnings for they are often the making of big opportunities. Because when you don't have much to lose, it means that you have everything to gain.

Arriving back at the apartment, I took off my sandals and rinsed the day's grime off of my feet and wiped the dust away from my sandals. No longer new, the soles had begun to form ridges and grooves in the leather from the form of my feet.

Happy feet indeed, for they had spent the day bringing very Good News.

Finding My Niche



It occurred to me that I am somewhat writing my posts out of sequence. The last one I posted was about Sunday, yet the one posted before that was about Monday. Don't even get me started about Tuesday.

Actually, I probably should get started on that since I started writing this early Wednesday morning, but now it's actually Thursday morning here as I post it. (See what I mean? I'm confused myself.)

After falling into a deep sleep around 7:30 p.m. on Monday night, I again found myself wide awake at 3 a.m. (yes...my old friend). I whittled away the hours by reading the epic tome, The Exodus, by Leon Uris. It had been years since I last read it and I have been wanting to read it again. I figured an epic travel journey was the perfect time to download it to my tablet and have for airplanes and jet lag. I'm glad I prepared.

And, yet, it took me until a few hours ago as I opened the book to read it and saw the title filling the page that once again, there is a theme to this trip. 


The Exodus - the coming out. The leaving. The going.

Yep...and we're right back to the Journey theme of my life right now.

So, we'll journey back to Tuesday (yesterday) so I can tell you about the day.

We left our little apartment where we are staying (cheaper than a hotel and has more homey amenities) and headed for Maranatha Christian School. On the way, we stopped to see the metal worker and the wood worker to order two more shelves. 

The day before, on Monday, my new friend Neema (Grace) had given up most of her day to come and assist with translation and the distribution of the materials that we brought to give Ngarenaro public school. I instantly connected with her and her obvious passion for teaching and her country. As she helped us prepare the way for the new bookshelves and books we had brought, I could see the longing in her eyes as she caressed the books in the boxes -- stopping at a Thomas the Train book. 

"Do you have a little boy?" I asked.

She replied that she did. "He is four years old," she told me. (This is the third 4-year-old boy...like my four-year-old boy that I have "encountered"). "And I have two daughters also."

"Would you like to take that for him...and others for your daughters."

She did and she explained that story books are few and far between in her country.

Rylie and I talked about how much it would mean to bless Neema and her school, Maranatha, in the same way with bookshelves.

So, there we found ourselves -- back at the shops and ordering two more shelves. I mistakenly thought my Uncle Joel would run in and ask for two more shelves like the day before and we would be on our way. But Tanzania doesn't work that way. Half an hour later, we were finally on our way with the promise that we would have the two new shelves on Wednesday. 

Don't get me started on how long it took us later in the day when we stopped back by to explain the concept of book ends and how we picked up two pieces of scrap metal off the ground and showed how we wanted an "L" shape to hold the books upright. That was a comedy of errors and neither our driver, any English speaker nearby or the metal shop owner had any sort of clue what we were talking about. The reason? Many have never seen the amount of books in one place that would warrant such a thing. Joel pointed out something I hadn't seen at Ngarenaro the day before. Neither the students nor the teachers knew how to "properly" stack and display the books on the shelf spines out nestled together. The reason? Same as above.

But I digress.

After those morning negotiations, we were back on the road to Maranatha school. And we passed these curious sites that I just have to share.



These headless children creep me out in a major way.



It made me laugh when I saw it, but then I thought maybe it's good that they just throw it out there for all to acknowledge. 

After turning down a narrow dirt alley with ramshackle shops and houses on either side, we pulled up to the Maranatha School campus. 



Rylie's first words were, "they finished the second story!" And they had and were actually building a third.


The blue color of the building and inside walls is surprisingly cheering.


This was Neema's school site and it was nice to greet her again and see her in her element. We were taken upstairs to the sixth grade class and got to sit in while they reviewed the skeletal system. The students are taught in English in order to give them a global advantage. The teacher used only a large book and his own body to quiz the students on their knowledge of all the bones in the body. The students referred to their own drawings (most likely made from the teacher's book two at a time) to answer.


We were impressed. They were so knowledgeable despite having such meager resources.

After class, some of the teachers joined us and we asked them what they needed to feel supported and successful.

Red pens.

Poster/charts.

Manipulatives.

Text books for the children (so that 2-3 could share).

Chalk.

They asked for so little it broke my heart a bit. When we asked them if they would be interested in some teacher training for ideas of how to teach content and perhaps for students with special needs, they were enthusiastic. It was amazing to see how much our offer to help lifted their spirits.

Rylie and I told Neema and the principal of the school that we wanted to purchase two bookshelves for the school. She clapped her hands in delight. We told them that we wanted to go with them to their local bookshop/supply store to start helping them fill the shelves, and it was like it was Christmas.

Playing Santa is fun and surprisingly fulfilling.

After we made arrangements to come back on Thursday for some shopping, we headed towards our next destination -- making a quick stop for lunch at a place our driver recommended -- The Arusha Coffee Lodge. "It's where "mzungu" (white people) go," he said.



The grounds were a startingly contrast from the poverty we just left. It took me awhile to acclimate and I struggled with feeling guilty at the knowledge that our buffet lunch in the beautiful garden cost more than three days of salary for the teacher's we had just left.

I am completely wonderfully and terribly blessed.

After our lunch, we made our way to Arusha Bible College, another place that my grandparents founded in the 50's. It was nice to be there again -- but this time without the huge crowd we had in 2008. It was peaceful and tranquil and lovely to stroll through the garden.


And I got to see what African Moons has been up to in building a dormitory for more students to come and study from surrounding countries as well. 


Rylie in one of the unfinished dorm rooms.

For the past year, the dormitory has sat unfinished due to a lack of funds. My aunt and uncle have been doing their best to raise money and support to get it finished. It was moving to see my Uncle Joel walk around the facility with the structural engineer to ensure that everything was still as it should be and ready for continued construction. 

And thankfully it is.


Something really amazing happened then. I got to play my part as a Bruton descendant. I was able to use the experience I've had writing, directing and producing video for my church to become a producer for my uncle on the spot. All of a sudden, I knew what needed to be said. What emotion needed to be expressed. What plea needed to be made on film so that people could know what it felt like to stand in that hollow husk of a building that looked like it had been abandoned, but was so much desired by the students and faculty who passed it every single day. How the academic dean who stopped by to chat said that the staff and students surround the building every Monday and pray that God would release enough funds to complete it.


The words kept on coming and I kept on writing them down.



I helped to frame the shots I wanted and even pushed record for the interviews.



Destiny.

Have you ever felt like everything you had done in your life had led you to a certain point in time? 

I have.

I felt it in that sacred moment.

I was born to do this.

And what better cause would there be then to help continue the work done by my ancestors. Who would care about this project being completed more than I would? 

We packed up the video equipment and I put away my "Journey" notebook. As we walked back to the van, I realized we had picked up a tail.


Despite my best attempts, I could not get this scrumptious one to smile. But as I looked in those beautiful eyes and then beyond at that unfinished dorm and all the promise that it had for future generations such as these, I found more resolve to see it finished.

Because I'm not the only one who has a destiny. This little one has one. And maybe...just maybe it might be right here on this campus. And maybe me being here right now can reach across time to his future and make it brighter and lighter.

And that is worth everything.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Your Works Do Follow You


A few minutes ago, my eyes stuttered open. The grey light through the curtains brought a silent cheer as I assumed that this would be the first night that I could count as interrupted sleep.

I was wrong.

A short walk to the bathroom belied that fact as the bright light from the lit hallway filtered through the bathroom windows -- unexpected power in a country actively engaged in power rationing. Rubbing sleep away from my eyes, I considered taking a shower while I have the guarantee of hot water.

Jet lag has struck again.

3:00 a.m....my old friend.

The night before on Monday, I fell asleep mid-sentence at 7:30 p.m. after a busy day at Ngarenaro public school and a tour of an orphanage out the direction of Mt. Kilimanjaro. After washing away the red mud that clung to my shoes and feet, I lay down sated with having held a little four-year-old boy in my lap for a quarter of an hour. That small blessed head felt the same nestled into my shoulder an ocean away from home and my own little four-year-old boy.

So I suppose it was only natural that sleep would consume me and wake me in the middle of the night.  I have been dancing a tango with Sleep and I'm not keeping up. My strategy of forgoing sleep on the 27 hour trip has not worked out as I had hoped. Perhaps taking two sleeping pills and crashing in a medicated-stupor until almost noon on Saturday did not help me acclimate to the time change of being 11 hours ahead of stateside time. The trip to the local larger grocery store, Shop Rite, was oddly disjointed through my addled mental fog. Even some shopping at local stores was not the appeal it would normally be. I felt so slow. My body longs for rest about 2 p.m. every day here -- which would be 3 a.m. at home.

Hmmm...3 a.m....my old friend.

Saturday night was rife with expectation for the visit to Calvary Temple the following day. I had visited this church in 2008, when I came with my extended family on my father's side for the 50th anniversary celebration of both the church and the local bible school that my grandparent's had helped to found.

My grandparents and two of their kids. My dad is the little nose picker in the front


There is a metal plaque on the cornerstone of this church that was placed there when it was built that dedicated it in the name of Mae West Bruton, my great-grandmother (and almost namesake save for my mom's intervention...thanks Mom!). It says, "Her works do follow her."

My mom and dad 

It's hard to describe the feeling of placing your hand on something that you've only seen in photos and to sit in wooden pews that cradled your father as a young boy.

The inside of Calvary Temple

As we were ushered into "seats of honor" to the right of the platform (which consisted of stuffed chairs and couches and bottled water), I couldn't help but tear up as the choir sang and moved and grooved unlike anything you can describe.


video


And there was the bookshelf woodworker we had met the day before, playing the keyboard like a maestro. 

If you look closely, you can see the woodworking keyboardist to the left.

And over his head, my eyes fell upon the Swahili translation of a Bible verse found in Deuteronomy 1 -- which blew my mind because at home, we had literally just finished an entire morning study on that chapter.

"You have dwelt long enough at this mountain; turn and take your journey and go." - Deut 1:6a-7a

It strikes me immediately as I compare both the English and Swahili versions that the word "safari" actually means "journey."  

Journey.

This word has been cropping up everywhere for me lately. I've always liked it but since receiving an early birthday gift in September of a necklace that espoused, "the joy is in the journey," it seems that the constant wearing of it against my skin has made the word come alive in my soul.

Journey.

Safari.

I purchased a handmade travel journal from a friend the Saturday before I left and guess what it said.


From airline headrests to posters promoting the countries Tanzanite trade. 


Journey.

The moment of terror that sliced through my body and sent adrenalin pumping in response when the pastor of Calvary invited me up to "say a few words" turned to a blessed calm as I looked out at the packed church building.

This journey was meant to be for a time such as this.

How could I not weep tears of gratitude as I tried to express how much this hallowed ground meant to me and my family and my very soul. How the labor started by my grandparents had blossomed into such a lush garden of grace. How the children singing upstairs about how God loves them so pierced my heart as they greeted me warmly and called me, "Mama Declan" after my first-born son.


They have an audacious plan for a newer and bigger facility that reaches higher and further into their surroundings. My blessings for that building to be complete was met with hearty ah-mens.

The rest of that day was a blur of another sermon (we had first arrived for the second service in English and stayed through the third Swahili service) and then being led upstairs to the bishop's office where his grandson, Presley, (also a scrumptious four-year-old who played Bad Piggies on his pastor father's iPad during the service -- reminding us of our own Camden at home) grabbed Rylie's hand to lead the way.


Lunch was served. Seconds were persistently encouraged. Talk was made.

But I was only partially present. I was still reveling in the goodness of God to allow me to see what can happen when someone is willing to give their life in the service of others. 

The work may be hard. You may have to leave loved ones behind. You may stumble and fall and worry and cry. 

But it is never in vain.


My sister and I in 2008 by the plaque dedicated to our great-grandmother installed by our grandfather.