Saturday, December 27, 2008

"Humankind is our business" (Ghost of Christmas past in The Christmas Carol)

People are the reason Christmas happened! God wanted to get close so we humans could possibly see Him in all of His beauty and grace and fall hopelessly, or maybe I should say, hopefully, in love. His love lavished on us, without reservation, without pre-condition, without assurance that we would respond to His outlandish gift, is what provides the motivation for me (and for us as a team out here). I believe it was best expressed by Paul, “His love compels me…”

Scrooge Dwight struggles to retain that precious priority: loving people without reservation, pre-condition or any assurance that they will respond the way we hope. This is what Christmas (and our core business) is all about.

For us this past 24th of December we had the awesome privilege to be channels of your love to the communities of this area. We launched a work-for-food program sponsored by a generous donation of maize meal by a Canadian donor and which will now be supplemented by others who have sacrificially given. Loving people and helping them is as difficult as parenting and likely harder (although we certainly are not, and do not want to be paternalistic missionaries). We are committed to not developing unhealthy dependency while still being there to empower people in less than ideal circumstances. Creating work which respects and hopefully retains and/or multiplies the value of help given, while being sensitive to ensure people are able to work (for themselves) to secure a future that will not be dependent on more help, is a challenge.
Line up of people in the "Work for Food" program, ready to receive their ground maize (above). Young mother receives her portion (below).

To do this, we have identified areas of work on the mission that help develop our capacity to further love others (in Word and deed). We have also planned to ensure that there is enough time in the work-day for the people to cultivate their own land and plant their own crops (now that the rain has come).

Finally, we were able to buy in and distribute the seed that so many people were desperate for since their seed had already germinated and died in the sun-baked ground.

It was such an encouragement as the people hooted and cheered while they were given the conditions of the seed contract.

Above: Community leaders organize their people into separate groups.
Below: Beneficiary of seed signing a contract

We were able to help 132 families (or family units often headed up often by a widow) with maize seed. They will return the value of the seed in grain and we have offered to buy whatever they want to sell after the harvest since we annually buy in grain for our orphan, widow and school feeding program.

Besides introducing 10 of the farmers in the area to soya bean this year (a new crop for our people), we hope to make more sorghum seed available in the New Year which is a quick producing grain that does not require high rainfall to be productive. This will at least spread the risk and diversify the crops the people are producing.

At this desperate time of the year where some of us are eating too much (speaking for myself here), the people in many rural areas of Mozambique and much of Zimbabwe are literally starving and only keeping some kind of sustenance by eating mangoes, roots and edible weeds, I know we have been called to do more than preach the gospel in words. Thank you to so many who partner with us to make our core business more than just words.

Monday, December 8, 2008

"Cry bloody murder"

Cry bloody murder is a recent CNN special that tracks the historically poor response of the international community to crisis situations around the world, and more specifically to “genocide”.

As I watched I realized that regardless of the press reports etc., for the most part the horrible crisis in Zimbabwe has pretty much been neglected by the world! We have watched Zimbabwe decline steadily and then, absolutely collapse, under the leadership of their dictator, Robert Gabriel Mugabe and his henchmen. Under the guise of respect for the sovereignty of independent governments, the African Union, with support of the UN and others have basically allowed another power intoxicated, despot to destroy yet another African country and her people. It is stated that within 5 years he destroyed the agricultural development of 100 years. And we have numerous Zimbabwean friends who have fled Zimbabwe who can tell you the personal story of this destruction, causing the loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs as well as a devastation of an entire country and economy.

The Zimbabwe dollar has been worthless for the past few years with inflation in the trillions of percent. One cannot even imagine what this is like…it is incomprehensible, but people have attempted to live within this horror. Recently someone reported seeing million dollar notes pegged on a wire by an outhouse being used for toilet paper!

Well now it has gotten to the point most of us felt it should have (had) arrived at a few years ago already. People are dying of cholera (600 at present count), and millions of others are literally starving to death and fleeing the country to find a way to survive. In our immediate area and up the highway North from us, making a corridor that parallels the Zimbabwe border, the local population have been inundated with very hungry people flowing over the border from Zimbabwe looking for anything to sustain life.

As I met with the pastors and leaders who are the monitors (trainers) in our extension Bible and leadership training schools, they shared the desperate situation they are facing with the food shortages and basic maize (corn) already at 400% the normal price and possibly even doubling over the next two months! Beside the price, food is simply harder and harder to find. Then there are the Zimbabweans; Most showing up on the pastors doorstep, because they know that he is the most likely to try to help. But as much as they would like to try and help, they simply have no way to do this, so they do whatever they can and watch these poor people sleeping in the dirt or on the floor in a church with little they can do to help and little hope they can see for a change.

We as Christ’s ambassadors have been called to bring help and hope in these times, and we do. But the faith and courage it takes to do this when in the natural everything looks impossible, is a challenge that stretches even the best equipped.

As we watch our grain stocks diminishing at a rapid rate to the point where we have to retain the food remaining to keep our feeding program and orphan support alive for the next four months, we are prayerfully determining how we can respond to the current crisis and all the hungry people who arrive daily looking for help. Our commitment is to at least respond to those involved in our programs and web of relationships.

Life and survival is difficult enough without a Robert Mugabe who cares little about anyone else as he desperately clings to power. We need more people crying “bloody murder”, or for my more conservative friends… “ENOUGH!” And taking the action we individually can to stop the injustice and make a difference. It is at times like this that the following verse is so poignant, “so men are trapped by evil times that fall unexpectedly upon them.” (Ecclesiastes. 9:12)

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

“You are my father, I have no one else to turn to…”

We returned to the mission farm on Thursday after being away for a few weeks having the annual inspection done on the mission aircraft. We were blessed by Tim and Barb Heubner who took a week out of their schedule to help us with the annual inspection this year. Tim and Barb were serving MAF in Angola and were on their way back to Canada, so the timing was perfect for them and certainly for us. We praise God for His awesome timing as well as all our friends at Mercy Air who made this another blessed experience. I have made it clear to many of them that if they were not there, it is likely we would not be here. Their presence there has made our presence here in the bush survivable.

After flying to Maputo (about a 50 minute flight) for the Department of Civil Aviation inspection there (which turned out to be a successful inspection), I returned to Nelspruit to load up and pick up Lynn and we flew home. As we climbed out after departure at Vilanculos on the coast, we admired the turquoise sea with boats and islands which quickly faded into the distance.

As we enjoyed a sandwich together, I suddenly felt an overwhelming burning in my throat and began to cough. After landing in Chimoio this continued and since I have struggled with a terrible flue that has really knocked my legs out! Ironically we returned just in time for a week of training with the monitors of our extension training program, and a flu at this point is really something one does not need. But I think we have learned one thing in life and that is that if it is worth doing, it is worth doing regardless of the challenges that WILL be thrown at you! Our resolve will always be challenged, and perseverance is the only thing that brings victory.

(Leaders in one of the sessions.)

As I met with the first group of leaders that arrived, I asked how they were all doing. The first response was that “it is very likely some of us will starve to death this year…and I will be one of the first!” I was somewhat taken back by the forwardness, but after more discussion, it became clear that the desperate situation we have been facing in our area is just the tip of the iceberg.

Enjoying a meal during one of the intensive seminars.

Today as I was doing some final preparation for tomorrow’s classes, the bell rang. Anyone who has visited us knows what this means…the bell is our constant companion calling us to respond to needs almost all hours of the day. Due to the evening hour, I was somewhat surprised, but I set aside the work and went out to see who was calling. It happened to be our guard accompanied by the elderly local chief of our area. Regulo Araujo Mpungo who is the “king” of our area as well as being the traditional local leader had borrowed a bicycle and managed to ride the few kilometers to our home.

His words challenged me, “You are my father, I have no one else to turn to…” as he shared the fact that he was now desperate for food and had no other alternative but to come and see us at the mission. We have helped before, but being the “king” means a certain amount of self-respect. He described his home situation and the fact that besides himself, he was now caring for 4 orphaned family members and he simply had nothing to feed any of them. He went on to share that he has already heard of two women who have died of starvation in our immediate area…and we have a work for food program to help the most desperate!

Although our food stocks are already stretched to breaking point, I assured him we would assess the situation and send what we could in the morning. I then took the time to remind him that we too can only depend on God in life, and even now with the falling Canadian dollar and the local Mozambique currency retaining unusual strength, we are living one day to the next depending on His gracious provision. We then prayed together and the “king” hobbled off pushing his borrowed bicycle!

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Ten days of life and ministry in Mozambique
By Dwight Lagore

3:40 AM came far too quickly! As I did my best to carefully roll out of bed, my wrist watch alarm started beeping for the 3rd time. I hurried to silence it so as not to wake Lynn who certainly did not need to be up at this early hour. It only took a few seconds for the pain in my arm to register. It was swollen and blue, but not nearly as bad as I thought it might me. I breathed a prayer of thanks again because the experience of last afternoon’s fire could have been so much worse.

Kim Lagore, my niece who is visiting thought that it would be fun for the group, which included Lynn, Rick and Heather Neufeld (a young couple who have joined us to serve God and the people of Mozambique), and myself to go for lunch together after church as a farewell meal since I would be gone for 10 days visiting our extension leadership training schools along the Zambezi river. While we waited and waited and waited some more for our food, we reminisced about Rick and Heather’s first experience visiting a rural Mozambican church. The meal had just arrived when my phone rang unexpectedly; it is still hard getting used to having cell phone coverage in our area, although it has already been 3 months since they turned the tower on. It was our guard Horacio, “Pastor there is a fire on the North boundary. Come quickly”.

Rick and I finished up our food and left the girls to catch a ride with some friends on a neighboring farm who had shown up for lunch as well. As we sped toward the mission farm all I could think of was how much I had to still pack up and do before leaving early the next morning and fighting fires is always a long, hot and dirty experience. I breathed a prayer and willfully committed myself to face up to whatever the coming hours would bring.

As we pulled into the mission farm entry I could see the black smoke rising. The fire had clearly crossed our boundary fire break, so stopping it was going to be all but impossible. We quickly changed clothes, picked up an axe and rushed to join our guards. As we pulled up to where they were desperately beating the flames, it was clear they were not making much progress. The fire was being encouraged along by gusts of hot wind. This combined with the long, bone-dry grass created a very determined, very resilient inferno.

Both Rick and I threw ourselves into the fight; beating back the fire with branches cut from the few bushes that seem to stay green regardless of extreme drought at this time of the year. It happened so quickly. One second I thought I was gaining ground, the next there was a “whoosh” and I was engulfed in flames. All I could think was to try to run and then roll if I could get away from the flames. I tripped twisted my arm as I fell on it awkwardly but thankfully the fire around me was out as quickly as it had started. Rick was there ready to assist and seemed as grateful as I was that I was not on fire! Limping, with a hurting arm and a fair amount of singed hair, I made for the boundary and called our guards along with Rick and couple of our other staff, Charles and Gabriel who live near-by and had come to help out. This was far too dangerous; we had to find another way to try to contain the fire.

I remembered that about 20 meters back up our fence line a path had been left for our community to enter the property and walk down to the river for water lifted out of holes dug in the now dry river bed. This was likely the only chance we had to stop this fire. As we ran back toward the path I knew we would need a miracle and I prayed, “Lord if you could, please send us a breeze from the opposite way to help us.” Even while I willed myself to pray I struggled with my weak faith and doubts. Someone I read recently said, “Faith is not so much the absence of doubt as it is the presence of action.” As I stepped into the path, I distinctly felt a cool breeze touch my right cheek. Excitedly I told everyone to help me light the grass along the path so it could burn back against the fire coming toward us. Others ran ahead all the way down to dry river bed 500 odd meters down the hill and helped light the grass all the way. That was it. The breeze that had suddenly changed slowed the other fire and pushed the fire we had lit straight into the oncoming blaze extinguishing the fire as the two fires met!

“You hear, O Lord, the desire of the afflicted; you encourage them and you listen to their cry” (Psalm 10:17). My theme for the seminars we were to hold this coming week as we travelled to seven centrally located extension leadership schools, was the powerful effect of encouragement and the importance of cultivating this critical skill in our lives and ministries. The Lord had heard my cry and sent us an encouraging breeze. Interestingly, the New Testament word for encouragement is “parakaleo” (Romans 12:8), which is very similar in meaning to “parakletos” or “comfortor,” the name Jesus used to designate the Holy Spirit who “would come along-side to help, to comfort, to teach, to encourage”. Wind is also a type of the Holy Spirit who breathes on us and into us bringing life and power for witness and service.

As I write this, we have visited 5 extension schools and almost as many orphan programs. Although my heart has been torn again by the desperate physical need of so many people, especially the children and old people, I have also been so encouraged. In Chueza an elderly pastor who recently lost his wife, and two widowed ladies (one the widow of the community leader in the area), asked me to please stop by their hut for prayer. It was the last group of huts on the right as I left the village and could not miss it. As we pulled up they were waiting. We walked into the dimly lit, dank smelling room and joined hands. The intensity and emotion of their fervent prayers touched me deeply, and they were not praying for themselves, rather for the close to 60 orphan children they have been burdened to serve in whatever ways they can.
As we drove from there South East paralleling the great Zambezi river we came to a community called Zombwe where Pastor Ricardo (the coordinator of our extension leadership training program) asked that I please stop. On his way through here a couple months back he had been stranded due to no vehicles going further, so had to find somewhere to sleep. A local pastor welcomed him and Pastor Pires, one of our monitors, to stay the night. As they entered the home they encountered the mother of the home sadly holding her little girl. They had travelled all the way to Mutarara to the hospital with the child, but she was now worse than ever. The young girl was barely breathing, certainly not talking and most definitely unable to walk. Pires and Ricardo prayed for the young girl at the invitation of the family and then prepared themselves to sleep. That night Ricardo had a dream of the child walking and specifically walking into church the next morning (which was a Sunday). As they rose, the mother had taken the little girl out into the nearby bush to assist her with a bowl movement. Her mother then took her into the grass enclosure to bath her. All at once she looked up at mom and said, “I want to get up and walk mom”. And she did. As she walked back toward the house Ricardo was amazed to see his dream coming true. The little girl then walked into church later that morning and worshipped.

We had hardly pulled up to the home, when the little girl, Brendita, still not walking perfectly, came out to meet the vehicle with a huge smile.
When she saw Pastor Ricardo, tears rolled down her cheeks as she ran to grab his hand. She led us in to the yard of the home where her father the pastor and her mother told us the whole story. Clearly something dramatic had happened and God was getting the praise! As we entered the church to pray with the family I noticed something tied around the little girls’ neck. After prayer I saw that it was an amulet placed there, likely by a local witch doctor. I could not help myself. As I tugged on it I quietly asked the little girl what it was. “Oh this she said”, quite disgustedly, “I think we should pull it off and throw it in the fire” Nervous laughter came from the mother and father who had obviously tried to hedge her bets with the witch-doctor to deal with the remaining deficiency in her daughters leg. If the sun had been down, the light in this little girls face would have been quite enough to light up that little church. I was amazed at how intuitive it had been for her to identify with strength, take the decision her father pastor should have taken weeks ago when the amulet was tied on. But that is not a little girls place in this culture, that is until other pastors and a white guy come along who can help to see the sillyness of a miraculous healing followed up by a fearful doubting parent trusting in some home-made amulet!

I was encouraged again of the critical importance of our presence here in Mozambique and of the desperate need for trained and equipped local pastors to be present and resident in every community boldly proclaiming and demonstrating the truth that sets people free! “And a little child shall lead them” (Isaiah 11:6). What a powerful witness to the presence of the Kingdom in the life of this little girl!

Thursday saw us in Sinjal, the community where some of you may remember a few years back had only grass seed and small green bananas to eat. We landed there then assisted by Mercy Air with their helicopter and found a tragic scene. This year the floods were bad as well destroying much of their food production, and as we travelled on to Mutarara with the community leader who requested a ride, he shared how just two months back he had lost is 9 year old son to a crocodile just a few yards from his home fence. The flood waters had come to the edge of the village and the crocodiles with them. Many people had been lost to crocodiles this year. In fact just this week 7 people were in a canoe crossing the Zambezi close to here when a crocodile attacked and turned over the boat. Although 6 made it to safety, a pregnant lady lost her life to the obviously hungry crocodile.

Friday we travelled North toward the Malawi border to a town called Dovo. A group of 30 pastors are studying here and because they represent two different areas, they have started two orphan programs and are doing amazingly.
The newest program, only a few months old, was initiated by a new student of ours. Tiago (James) I found out actually graduated from a 16 book course with the Apostolic church but is excited to be studying again and also participating in caring for orphans along with 7 other churches.

The signs of the Kingdom are everywhere as spontaneous love, compassion, service and persevering faith stand up to and overcome so much harsh difficulty in this world of hunger, limited supplies, and little outside help.

I really felt I could use a good bed and a good sleep after all these nights on the road sleeping in mosquito infested little places with no running water, cold bucket baths and cockroaches crunching under ones feet. We found a spot open in Mutarara at Dona Mina’s place. Well I must admit I woke up this morning not feeling the best. Besides my twisted arm that was now hurting worse than ever, everything else also hurt (or at least it felt like it). The bed I found out had only three support boards meaning I was falling through the mattress in all kinds of weird ways all night while trying to sleep. At 4 AM the entire community, who had obviously had plenty of sleep, were chatting and chittering at the top of their lungs right outside my window where it just so happens the water source for the community was located! If this was not bad enough, I had the maid serving my room knocking on the door incessantly forcing me to drag my damaged and hurting body to the door at 5:30 AM to tell her I really did not need a bucket of water at this unreasonable hour of the morning!

The day brightened substantially when after a cup of coffee we were scheduled to visit the orphan program at Bawe, about 10 or so km away. We arrived to the excited and warm greeting songs of the children. I then shared the story of Samuel as the orphans and other children who joined acted out Samuel sleeping, suddenly awaking when his name was called, running to Eli only to be told to go back to bed. The kids loved it, and I do trust the message stuck that God is looking for young hearts (and older ones too) to speak to if we will only listen and acknowledge His still quiet voice when he calls.
From there we met with a pastors fraternal led by our monitor in the area, Pastor Toca. Pastor Toca bragged how that he could not even read or write when he joined Faith Bible Seminary (our training program), but as he studied with us, God has made him now able to teach others to read and write and teach them His Word as well. We further introduced the training program to them and answered questions. They were excited and asked us to come back and preach for their combined service. I am confident God will give us the words we need to encourage them and motivate them to enroll in studies.

We arrived Sunday morning, back in Baue, to a church building that was filling rapidly, and wondered how they expected everyone to fit in. As the small building filled, two of the leaders untied the bark ropes holding the back of the church together and swung open two makeshift ends to open the church up immediately expanding it. Conservatively we shared with at least 300 people and by 2 PM when the service ended there were people seated all around the outside of the building, even though there was no shade. I am always amazed by the hunger for God’s Word.
Monday we are in Nyangoma, Tuesday in Murrumbala and then it is home to get back to house building before the heavy rains hit this year. I am so grateful for Jesus promise that He is with us and will be until the end of the age. What strength and encouragement we can draw from He, who is the way, the truth and the life.

I am now home working hard with our team on the house that has had to play second fiddle to all the other ministry. Thank you so much for your ongoing prayers and constant faithful support.