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!