Categories
Courage Covid19 Endurance Faith Fear Feeding Missions Perspective

Just a Starfish

The past weeks here in Bujumbura, Burundi have had me (and all of us living here) spinning in circles. We have faced flooding, an ambiguous covid19 situation and now elections are set to take place on May 20th. Each of these issues have presented their own set of pressures that have proved to be demanding, even in the most optomistic of lights.

Our city borders Lake Tanganyika, one of the longest and deepest lakes in the world. It is more like a sea than it is a lake in that it has tides, rough and smooth water and it is slightly salty due to it only having one river outlet. The rains this year have been extremely heavy in this region so all of the water from the countries surrounding the lake, and there are many, dumps into Tanganyika. Water levels have risen exponentially causing the lake, and rivers that feed into the lake, to rise and break their banks. The beaches have disappeared under water, homes and villages nearby the lake have been inundated without much relief in sight. Thankfully, in the past week, the rains have finally started to taper off and the waiting game for the waters to recede has begun.

The tens of thousands who have been flooded out of their homes now live in absolute squallor, in makeshift camps under conditions that no human being should have to live in, waiting for someone, anyone to bring relief. Children run around in the dirt and mud, women try to cook with whatever cooking fuel they have and the men work to build shelters out of grass, plastic and any other materials they can find. There is no potable water, no toilet facilities and no food – their situation is dire. We were able to raise some money to bring care packages to 200 families last week but this little amount proved to be far from what is needed. As we were distributing the relief, it was painfully apparent that in less than a week the food would be gone and they would once again need assistance.

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While we were handing out the packages, even though covid19 has infected Burundi, there was no observing of social distancing or washing hands. How can people be expected to distance when their children are hungry and they fear being left out? How can people wash their hands when there’s no clean water? I didn’t realize that we ourselves had put ourselves at higher risk of infection until arriving on site – I simply said a prayer and carried on.

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Next week, on the 20th, as Burundi goes to the polls, there is an underlying fear of outbreaks of violence that this country/region is known for. Fear is a powerful emotion that can cause people to react violently even when there is no cause. Tempers can flare easily when a large number of people are afraid, people can react violently when they feel they are in danger. Our recourse? Dropping to our knees in prayer for these people, this nation and region that has long been the target of painful uprising and death.

This afternoon, as we do every Thursday afternoon, we have an outreach to the area surrounding our church in Bujumbura. Most of the time it is easy to step out and participate as we talk to people of the hope that is in us, that brings us to serve this nation. However, the past few weeks have been a faith-walk for me, rather than the usual exciting time of outreach. I find myself pushing hard to keep up and move forward while so much is whirling around me.

At times like this, when life presses so hard that you feel the water has gone over your head, it’s tempting to wonder (like I have) if your usefulness in your work is done or even give up. What is the use of working in the face of an ocean of need when all I have is an eyedropper to address it?

While I can’t do everything, I can do something and the small something that I can do means a lot to the one or two I have been able to reach. Many of you likely have read the story where a young child was on a seashore that was covered in starfish that had washed ashore. The child was busy throwing starfish back into the water, one at a time. A man walked up to the child and asked if the child thought he could clear the beach of all the starfish? Did it really matter? To which the child replied, it matters to this one, the one he was holding in his hand.

The needs of this world are so vast, so complex that there’s no way I’ll ever be able to meet even a fraction of them. But to the one or two I work for, it will matter. Lives matter, all lives big or small, young or old, black or white – and what I’m responsible for is doing what I can. It may just be one starfish – but to that one it might just make an eternity’s difference.

Psalm 66:12 “You let people ride over our heads; we went through fire and water, but you brought us to a place of abundance.”

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You may wonder, since covid19 is all around the world, why we are able to distribute aid and carry on working. In Burundi we have not been in lockdown during this pandemic. Our borders are closed as is our airport. Handwashing is encouraged and somehow people are trying when they can to socially distance themselves. Ours is a unique place in the world, please pray for us!

Categories
Despair Judgment Kindness Kingdom Mercy Missions

The Roosters

It was early, the sun had not yet risen but the roosters had already begun announcing the dawn’s arrival. The usual clanging of pots used for gathering water could be heard both far and near as the ladies of the village prepared themselves to collect water. On most days, everyone had to make multiple trips to the river to draw water, unless it rained in which case rain water was gathered in every available receptacle. On those days there was an almost audible collective sigh breathed as at least on that day their arms wouldn’t ache from having to draw and carry water home from the river several kilometers away.

The children woke slowly to the sound of their mother’s pots, husbands prepared themselves to work their fields of maize, squash, and other locally consumed vegetables. Everyone hoped this year’s rains would bring better times; the past years had brought sporadic rain. Sometimes the rains were too heavy, others too light. Either way, the community suffered through months of hunger. In decades past, the rains had been reliable and food plentiful, but that was no longer the case. The months of drought before harvest were now called the “season of hunger.” It seemed the hunger was lasting longer and longer every year.

Families began to move from the safety of the village to the larger cities in hope of finding work that would pay to purchase food to feed their families. The migration to urban areas did little to assuage hunger, rather, it heightened it as populations mushroomed and there wasn’t enough work in the city for all its new inhabitants. Mothers who hoped their children would go to school and do better found themselves with problems far different from what they had encountered in the villages. Their children began to wander the streets searching for food only to be pulled into prostitution or human trafficking.

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This scenario has repeated itself time and again in Africa; the problems of intese poverty and insecurity plaguing the most vulnerable: women, children, and the elderly. The answer to the question of solving the problems of intense poverty and suffering we face here in Africa and other parts of the developing world is too complicated for one simple blog to answer.

Those of us working in these situations feel the weight of the suffering of those living in these situations daily. Some resort to begging on the streets of the larger cities, others will steal, and yet others will resort to prostituting themselves just for a piece of bread to feed their children. For those of us living in a situation where our next meal is sure, it is easy to pass over them and say, “Get a job.”  What can they do in situations like these in the developing world where there really aren’t many jobs at all? Where can they go? What can they do?

Today as we woke to the crowing of the roosters and we made our way downtown, beggars lined the streets, a thief tried to open our car door, and little children who ought to be in school stood by their mothers as they tried to earn a little money sweeping the streets. This is an everyday occurence here and it still moves me – to do more, try harder, and find help for the few that we can reach.

What difference does it make to help only a few instead of thousands? It makes a difference to them and those around them and perhaps among them will be found a leader who will in the future sometime be the catalyst for change. While the need swallows me daily, so does God’s grace. He gives strength when we have none and provision to touch those we can.

Categories
Dreams Hope Missions Provision

Dream On, Little One

 

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I photographed this little boy this past Sunday. He is one of millions in Malawi – may they dream and live for better times.

I remember daydreaming in math class and being rudely interrupted from my reverie by my 3rd grade teacher.

“Lea! Stop daydreaming and pay attention!”

In my defense, she wasn’t the easiest teacher to listen to at the time when I was an easily distracted age of 9. I don’t remember what I was daydreaming about, but it certainly was more interesting than the droning on of Mrs. Parker and math. My daydreaming in math class continued for a couple of years and there was a consequence. I ended up having to go to summer school for math in 5th grade – my teachers attributed my falling behind to my daydreaming. I couldn’t help it that math wasn’t as interesting as daydreaming about being a princess over a huge kingdom where I could order as many pizzas as I liked.

I learned my lesson and began paying attention in math class, but I still wanted those unlimited pizzas!

Growing up, my daydreams gave way to other, more grown-up dreams. I dreamt of doing something for God with my life, going to be a missionary in Africa and doing whatever I could to help people, children specifically. Maybe I would be a nurse? Doctor? Those were removed from my list quickly as the sight of blood and other undesirable chores that nurses or doctors have to do changed my mind.

Years later, all grown up, I find myself as a missionary in Africa working in church planting and community outreach, mostly to women and children. I hadn’t dreamt of half of what I have gone through – but I have lived my dream.

This weekend at church was a busy one; I taught an early Sunday morning class, we had our regular service, and afterwards we had a baptism service. It may not sound busy, but believe me, these weekends keep us on our toes. I smiled this morning as I thought about the weekend, there were so many lovely moments: from having a nearly full class with almost perfect attendance to hearing my husband preach a great message (he is my favorite preacher), and finally watching people get baptised.

Then, I remembered the little children I watched playing around the periphery of our church tent where we meet (yes, our church is definitely no frills). I watched them cartwheeling, playing, and caught one of them looking off into the distance as if to daydream. I wondered what that little one dreamt of.

Here in Malawi, most children have their dreams snuffed out before they even have a chance to dream. For most of them, their dreams consist of not going to bed hungry or hurting or alone. They dream of not being abused or of their parents not dying and leaving them orphans. Their dreams are simple ones that those of us who have food security, families that love us, and have at least had the luxury to dream, cannot understand.

I can’t fathom being hungry for my entire life. Here in this part of Africa, 46% of our children under 5 suffer from stunting, which is a prevailing hunger that prevents proper growth in children. When I look at our children whenever we meet, most of them come from the poorer communities around our church, I realize just how serious the situation really is. Children are visibly smaller than they should be, and my heart aches knowing that many won’t reach adulthood and for those who do, chances are they won’t be able to have sufficient education to afford them the luxury of dreaming for a better life.

We run a feeding program in Lilongwe, Malawi, about 5 hours away from Blantyre. We have seen an amazing difference in the children who have been eating at the site regularly. A few years ago, a medical team from Joyce Meyers Ministries (who has been helping us feed in Lilongwe since 2007) came to hold medical checks in various places throughout the country. Their findings were, among those they surveyed, that ours were the most nutritionally secure children in Malawi.

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In a country where 45% of the population is under 16, you can understand that the scope of the problem is greater than 1 feeding program can handle. While we can’t reach them all, we can reach some. We are working on opening a feeding outreach in Blantrye, financing another feeding program of course has been a great hindrance but also the red tape involved has prevented us from receiving some food aid that has been promised to us. We continue to pray for solutions; this is proving a challenge, as the country itself is not producing enough to feed its own population.

So we reach those we can, feed those we can, and bring education (our newest outreach) where we can. But I can’t help but feel for the little ones who have yet to dream, for those playing around the church this past weekend. For that little one standing alone, I pray we find a way for him to dream on.

Matthew 25:40 AMP The King will answer and say to them, ‘I assure you and most solemnly say to you, to the extent that you did it for one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it for Me.’”

 

 

Categories
Christmas

Hunger During a Season of Celebration

I wanted to share a recent update we’ve written about the situation here in Malawi where we serve as missionaries. The country is facing severe food shortages due to years of inconsistent rains (either too much or too little). As much as 40% of the entire population of Malawi is facing food insecurity this year. The Christmas season will be remembered as a hungry one.

Please keep Malawi, which, has been listed as the poorest nation in the world in 2016, in your hearts and prayers.

Click here to read more about the current situation in Malawi.

Blessings. Lea