Saturday, April 1, 2017

Passing on the Watering Can

There was an article I wrote in October 2015, about watering where others have planted.  This is often the position we find ourselves in life.  The work we do for the Kingdom of God is rarely the case of us starting and completing the work ourselves.  We are very much dependant on what others have done before us, and much remains to be done after we have done all that we can do.  St. Paul said, “I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase.”  We also remember that Jesus said, "When you have done all those things which are commanded you, say, we are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do.”  As Christians seeking to live out the Gospel mandate, we are like a gardener who has been handed a watering can and told to water the seeds that have been planted.  And so, we go forth.

Usually we need not go far.  The basic principle is to look around wherever we are; there are many people that need watered with mercy and compassion.  Opportunities usually present themselves daily and we need to be alert:   ready to serve, teach, preach, share, encourage, lift up, build up, and strengthen faith in Christ.  There are many ways this can be done, for God is not limited in the ways that He works through us to minister to the needs of others.

We did not set out intentionally to go to East Africa.  An opportunity came up for me to travel with Fr. Francis Wardega on his last teaching trip to Tanzania.  I was quite unsure that it was the right time for me to go, or even if it was possible.  I was busy working full-time, with five children at home, serving at our local church, farming, working on various building projects – and had no money for travel expenses.  How could I possibly go on a mission trip?  I kept waiting for someone else to volunteer instead. When no one did, I finally said, “Someone needs to go with Fr. Francis.  After all, he is retiring and looking for someone to continue his teaching ministry.  If no one else is going, then I might as well try and see what the Lord will do.”

Since then, I have been to Tanzania four times, twice with my family, and also living there with them for 1 ½ years.  As incredible as it was to be able to even go in the first place, it is still even more incredible to me that God enabled our family to go together.  But then again, should we ever doubt what God can do?

Normally we do not need to go looking for some mission work to do.  The opportunities are all around us.  Where you find yourself now is the place that God wants you to minister to others.  He sets before you daily what He wants you to do.  We went to a foreign country only because God placed the opportunity in front of us.  We could have stayed home instead. He could have given us work to do here instead (which He did in between the trips).  He is not a demanding taskmaster.  He presents us with opportunities to serve and we either say Yes or No.  But, the right attitude is to ask the question, “What can I do to help?” – then to simply do what needs done without any fuss.

So there we were in Tanzania, with watering can in hand, diligently watering the seeds that others have planted.  Sometimes we were given to see the results of our watering (which is a blessing and a consolation that all is not in vain), but often we kept watering by faith, believing that the increase would come in God’s timing.  Then, there came the time for us to pass on that watering can to another brother who will continue what we have been doing.  This is that time for us.  Our original goal was to provide ministry education for church leaders in East Africa who are unable to obtain this education on their own.  We have done what we were able and it is time for us to pass on this job to another brother.

Rev. Jan Beaderstadt is a fellow Missionary of St. John the Evangelist member who has many years of experience teaching church leaders in Asia and Africa.  He established Renaissance Outreach Ministries to facilitate his ability to travel and to live in several countries each year as he faithfully teaches and encourages church leaders to more effectively preach the Gospel.  We met him when he came to share at our local church, and we have visited with him in our home.  He has graciously offered to continue watering the seeds in Mwanza, Tanzania where we lived in 2013 and 2015.  Recently he met with Bp. Boniface Kwangu of the Diocese of Lake Victoria (Anglican Church of Tanzania) and plans to teach several seminars for church leaders there in 2018.

Our recommendation is that any support that would have been given to Forward in Africa, be given to Rev. Jan of Renaissance Ministries.  The following website will provide much more information about what he is doing and how you may contact him.

We are very pleased that God has provided another brother to pick up the watering can that we have set down.  I should add that Rev. Jan is also training church leaders in Asia as well, and has done so for many years.  He is doing a good work.

We also want to encourage you to consider what another brother is doing in southern Kenya.  I have written before about Bonface and Grace Abongo and the what they are doing for their local neighbor children.  (Please refer to my blog article, "Children of Hope, Children of the King" - August 2015)  They have been able to do much work on several new classrooms and now have two teachers who are working together to provide free education to 27 students, ages five to eight years old.  They come daily to the classrooms that have been built next to the Abongo’s home, not only learning to read and write, but also to receive instruction in the Christian faith.  It is a good work and we highly recommend them to you as well.  They are living by faith in God’s ability to provide.  Bonface is a hard-working man with a big vision of transforming his neighborhood and village by showing Christ’s love in a practical way.  He is planting many seeds, and we need to help him water those seeds as well.

This is a new ministry in the foundational stage.  It is called Children of Hope and there is a website that you can check out to learn more of what their vision is for their area. 

They are a legally registered charity in Kenya with a board of directors and a separate bank account.  Unfortunately there is no convenient way to send donations at this point in time.  There needs to be a charity organization in the USA that can legally handle funds for them.  (Does anyone out there know of an organization that can do this for them?)  Hopefully this can happen sometime in the future.  God will provide a way.  At this point, we have been sending donations for Children of Hope to Bonface Abongo by Western Union.  There may be other ways to do this as well.  Bonface has been very diligent to send reports and photos of how the donations are spent, so that we can know that he is trustworthy and responsible.  We have visited their site twice to see for ourselves what is being done at Children of Hope, and so we recommend them to you as well.

So, this is Goodbye for us.  Forward in Africa is closing down – passing on the watering cans to two other brothers.  One is teaching current church and community leaders and the other is teaching future church and community leaders.  It has been an adventure for us and we are grateful for all that we have experienced and learned along the way, and for all the gracious support that we have received.  God has been so good to us.  Our place is here in Kentucky now, watering the seeds and plants that we find here.  Not that we have much to offer of ourselves, but to ask the question, “What can I do to help?” and then to get busy doing what needs done.  To be quietly and faithfully living out the Gospel message through actions of Kindness and Mercy.  We encourage you to do the same.  What opportunities has God given to you?  Look for a watering can – and trust that God will bring the increase.

May the peace of Christ always be with you, 
Brother Nathan and Mama Anna

Rev. Jan Beaderstat of Renaissance Outreach Ministries


Bonface checking up on Devi in Mwanza

Children arriving at Children of Hope school in Kenya

The two teachers with students in a newly completed classroom.
Praise the Lord!

The Kingdom of God is moving Forward in Africa!

Goodbye from Brother Nathan & Mama Anna

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

The Way of the Cross

   My husband and I had desired to be foreign missionaries, even when we first were married.  So, after the birth of our second child, we moved to Baker, Louisiana where my husband attended a missionary training school.  While he was studying I took care of our little ones and a woman in a wheelchair with whom we lived in exchange for caring for her.

    After the nine months of intensive training, we prepared to go to Russia on a church planting mission.  We had the two little ones with us – Anna was two years old and Ethan was one year old.  I turned thirty years old the day we arrived in Russia.  We went to Russia thinking we would be there as our lifework, our vocation, but God had other plans and we returned after 13 months.

    As I reflect upon our 13 months in Russia, I can truly say this was a priceless gift from the Lord.  Even though we only had a season with these Russian families, yet we were blessed with close relationships with the Russian children who lived near us.  Despite our failings, God brought meaningful relationships with these children and teenagers.  The fruit of our feeble efforts was seen in the Russian children we came to love and who loved us freely.  Even now, when I think about Russia, I think about these children who are now grown up, many with families of their own.  God even brought one of these Russian girls, who had immigrated to America and married here, to our state, and we became close family friends with her growing family.  Our farm became a place where her daughters could come to enjoy country living.

     We were grieved to have to leave Russia, for we desired to live there longer.  In fact, we wanted to dedicate our lives in that beloved land.  But, we had to die to our wills and embrace God’s will.  God knows what is best, and He brought us along the journey full circle.  I remember praying about this desire to be a foreign missionary, and one day God spoke to my heart that this would come later.

     Twenty years later, my husband told me that he believed God was impressing upon him to offer to teach ministers and church leaders in East Africa.  He took two teaching trips in 2011 and 2012, and then God allowed us to go to Tanzania as a family in 2013 and again at the end of 2014.  Whether or not this final trip to a foreign land was wise, God granted the desire of our hearts, and once again we were blessed with close friends:  children, young adults, families, and elderly.   We were blessed to be included as actual family with some of those who loved us so fully.  God is so amazing to give us sons and daughters, grandparents and even a little girl named after me.  This gift of family in Africa I treasure always.

      The realization that we had to leave after one year was difficult for me.  We had opened our hearts again to the possibility of dedicating our life to service in a foreign land, but I realize now that this was not God’s will for our family.  I remember our African pastor, Captain Nestor, saying on our last evening in Nyakato, “It is now their time to go.”  Yes, it truly was time for us to return home to live and work in our native home as ordinary citizens.

     I have now had over a year at home to reflect on the gift of a full church year in East Africa which we were given.   We are thankful for this grace we have experienced.   God blessed the time we lived in Tanzania, and then He brought us home.  This first year of being home was a rocky road, mainly because transitions are hard for me.  However, God has been very gracious in making the transition from African ministry to home gradual by bringing two separate guests from East Africa to stay with us for different periods of time.  We were able to share our life and church community with Mama Askofu (Bishop Kwangu’s wife) in December, 2015, and with Bonface Abongo, the father of my namesake girl, from June through August, 2016.  These two people, one from Tanzania and one from southern Kenya, were able to become better acquainted with our family by experiencing our culture.  As a result, we were able to be more connected in the Spirit by reciprocating the roles of guests and hosts. 
    Now we are called to be active members of our home community.  Our group of eight families and a several single young adults meet together each week to celebrate our life in Christ and to worship Christ the King.   We are a small part of the body of Christ, and as we share in each others’ pain and reach out to our neighbors with compassion, we partake of the Lord’s suffering.  As we make ourselves vulnerable to one another and our neighbors, we are walking on this way of the cross.    May we bring light to those who live in darkness.  May we bring hope to the downtrodden.  May we bring joy to those who those who live in sadness.  May we bring Christ to those who don’t know Him.  Even though we stumble, we fall, but with God’s grace we stand up again and continue to tread upon the way of the cross, following our Savior, Christ the King. 

     This is my final time to write for this Forward in Africa blog.  Though this chapter of our journey is coming to a close, yet we press forward in the call of God to be His disciples wherever He leads us.  We love our brethren whom we know in Russia and Africa, and we love our brethren here in our local community.  God is the bridge which connects us as the Body of Christ.  With God, all things are possible, and I entrust all of our diverse family to His loving care, knowing that we all are called to take the way of the cross. 

     My husband will write next month and update you on the change God is bringing to Forward in Africa.  “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain.”  John 12:24

May the peace of Christ be with you always,

Mama Anna and Brother Nathan

Christmas 1993 in Russia with Marina's family and friends.  Marina is in dark blue sweater, seated at center of table between her father and mother.

Summer 2017 in Kentucky. Visiting with Marina and her children along with Bonface from Kenya. How amazing that we had friends from two continents meeting each other together with us.

Nathan and our pastor Capt. Nestor served together at the English Congregation of St. Nicholas Cathedral in Mwanza, Tanzania.

Visiting a Catholic priest in the Serengeti with Baraka and Neema's family.

Bonface and Grace from southern Kenya came to visit us in Nyakato with their family.

Our next door neighbor Devi was both a challenge and a delight to know and love.

Neighbors and friends came to say their goodbyes on our last day.  Keri, the girl on the left, lived with us for many months in both 2013 and 2015.

Easter Day 2015, together with Bibi and Babu, our beloved Tanzanian grandparents.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Savoring Pleasant Memories

     November 9, 2016 brought forth a new chapter in our family’s life.  On this day, our first grandchild was born.   I was awaiting the good news, and when the phone rang, my daughter, Irina, told us that our other daughter, Anna, had been in active labor all morning.  I asked her how far apart the contractions were at that time, and she replied, “I think about a minute or so.”   I knew that she would soon give birth.  Shortly thereafter, a friend from church stopped in, and I told her our daughter was about to give birth.   So we prayed together that she would have a safe delivery, and as we prayed in Casey County, Kentucky, our first grandchild, Annalyn Joy, was born at 1:02 p.m. in a large hospital in Kansas City, Missouri to join our family.

     Five days later, we were all packed up for the eleven hour drive to see this precious gift.  What gladness we felt to at last hold this bundle of joy!  We enjoyed seven days rocking her, exclaiming constantly of how wonderful she is, and thanking the Lord for gracing our lives with this beautiful little girl.

     I wanted time to slow down, but the week came to an end like every week does, and once again we were packed up for the long drive back to our Kentucky farm.  I tried to be cheerful on the outside, but inside I was so sad to have to leave this young, happy family.  Irina, who had been invited to her birth, couldn’t hold in the tears as I did, and we all departed with heavy hearts, some showing and others keeping it under the surface.

A similar experience occurred when we had to leave our beloved East African family at the Nyakato airport on November 30, 2015.  On that day, we had gathered for the last meal at our neighbor’s home.  After the meal, we all gathered in a circle for a final prayer together, and then we got into the van which would take us to the airport.  Several of our African family piled in with us.  We were all sad, so the van was quiet except for Lilian, our newfound daughter, singing to cheer herself.

     Over the year, I had so many good times with these new family members from another continent.  Most of the memories center around the African ladies sharing their ordinary day with me. 

     One memory I savor is when Neema, my English student and Swahili teacher, who became a daughter to us, invited me to live with her family for a week so I could learn Swahili better.  We had the agreement that while I was with their family, everyone would only speak Swahili with me.  I carried an English-Swahili dictionary, and when I couldn't catch a word, I would have her write it down, and then I would look it up.  I needed longer than a week to pick up spoken Swahili, but this week is particularly memorable because I was immersed in their family’s daily life.  

     Neema let me join in all the regular daily chores, which included cooking ugali on their charcoal stove.  Neema got the charcoals red hot, boiled a pot of water on the stove, and then handed me a bowl of corn flour.  While I was stirring the stiff mixture and adding more flour, I remember hearing her exclaiming that I was able cook ugali.  It got so stiff that she took over and gave it a final stir before turning it upside down onto a plate.   Then we all sat down to eat ugail and dagaa, (small fish), around their dining table.  After supper, I got up and we washed the dishes together as I practiced conversing in Swahili.

     Three of her sister’s children were also visiting that week, so together with Neema’s three children, there were six children in their home while I was there.  One day the two youngest children were squabbling outside over a used tire which they were rolling around. So I took turns rolling the tire to each of them, and their sad faces turned to smiles.   Soon the big kids came to join us, and they began jumping over the rolling tire.  Later one of them rolled up inside the tire while the others rolled it all over the yard.  What fun to hear their laughter and see their imaginations creating all sorts of games to play with that old tire!

     I also remember many warm afternoons, sitting on a low stool in Neema’s backyard with a bucket of soapy water, scrubbing dirty laundry with Neema.   She was sitting on another low stool, scrubbing clothes also.  Often I offered to rinse the clothes in several buckets of water, moving them from the first rinse bucket, which had some soap mixed in from former rinses, to a second bucket, and then to a third bucket.  Then the garments were ready to be wrung and hung on the lines that were strung all over her back yard.   Every day, Neema had a large pile of clothes thrown on the grass to wash by hand.  Usually she was too busy to wash all of it, so she would bundle up what was left and tell me she would do it the next day. 

     What is the value of pleasant memories to our present day?  How can these good memories benefit us?   When we are faced with painful separations – whether it is a death, a move far away, or an end to a visit, those pleasant memories can remind us of how much we have to be thankful for.   Our heavenly Father has graced us with these good times in our lives, and we are given the extra gift of remembering them.  Besides that, we are creating new memories as we continue on our journey to our true home.

May the peace of Christ be with you,
Mama Anna with Brother Nathan

Rejoicing over the arrival of Annalyn

Cooking with Neema at a wedding feast

Turning tears into smiles

Adding to the fun

Making memories to savor later

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Heri ya Mwaka Mpwa - Happy New Year!!

    At the beginning of this past year of 2016, we sang songs with Mama Askofu as we welcomed in the New Year together.  “Askofu” means “bishop” in Swahili, and “Mama Askofu” is the title given to a bishop’s wife in Tanzania. We had the gift of a visit with Mama Askofu during the Christmas and New Year holidays, and I tutored her in English during her stay.  We really enjoyed hosting her and were thankful that she joined us in worship at our home church of Christ the King Anglican Church.

   It seemed like a miracle to have had Mama Askofu sitting next to us during worship in our small rural church.  She comes from the large city of Mwanza, which borders the southern shores of Lake Victoria. We live on a small farm in Kentucky with many Amish neighbors. Our worlds are so different and far apart, yet God brought her to our home.

    During the two weeks in which we were graced with Mama Askofu’s presence in our home, we became friends, and I learned about her life as a bishop’s wife.  She helps provide for their family with small businesses such as sewing men’s shirts and women’s skirts after preparing the cloth with various dyes.  She has a small variety store next to their Mwanza home. She is also very active in the Mother’s Union, a large organization of Anglican women in Africa. I saw how she loves Jesus fervently, trusts the Lord through all her family’s trials, reads the Bible every day, and prepares messages of hope and love to share whenever she is called upon to speak. 

    While Mama Askofu was visiting, we invited her to join us for a Sunday afternoon hike on some trails nearby.  We set out together and headed for the highest point of our county.  We were not familiar with the landscape because the area had been logged off since our last hike there.  As we walked, our trail became thinner and disappeared into the overgrown briars and brush. We  had lost our way.  We walked through the brush until we reached another trail.  Later we came to an abandoned homestead and began walking down the dirt road.

     However, we realized that we were walking in the wrong direction, and we turned around and took the trail past the homestead which was going toward our starting point.  We could see the road faintly (maybe 1/2 mile away) where we needed to reach, but the trail was not continuing toward this road, so my husband led us through the woods towards our parked car.  There was only one problem: it was getting dark and we had forgotten to bring a flashlight.  So we held hands and carefully stepped through the trees and thick brush, and down a steep hill in the darkness.  I was quite embarrassed to have brought the bishop’s wife to these cold, dark woods. But as we were slipping and sliding down the steep incline, I heard Mama Askofu laughing as one of my daughters guided her.  I was so thankful when we reached a field, and shortly thereafter, the road which led back to our car.  I was so thankful when we were back in our warm cabin, and Mama began cooking some “ugali” on our stove.  I was so thankful for her graciousness and forbearance concerning our loss of direction.

    Sometimes we do lose our way in life, and we grope through the darkness as we try to get back on track.  I think of Mama Askofu and how she didn’t complain or scold us for our foolishness.  I think of how she trusted us to find the way again.  I think about how we walked together, holding hands and helping each other through the dark. I think of how she saw the humor of sliding down a steep incline in the dark, trying to avoid trees and large rocks.  I believe that God is with us when we lose our way, guiding us back to safety.  He will hold our hand and even laugh with us as we slip and slide down some steep areas on our way to the correct path. 

    Currently, we are waiting to see if Forward in Africa will continue on through the work of others in the Missionary Society of St. John.  There is also a possibility of partnering together with another mission organization that currently provides leadership and spiritual training for church leaders in several third-world countries.   This may be a way to continue the teaching ministry and vision of Forward in Africa. We ask your prayers that God will guide the leaders of MSJ and others as they discern God’s wisdom concerning the future of this ministry.

May the peace of Christ be with you,
Mama Anna and Brother Nathan

Heading out across the fields on New Year's Day

The two Mamas enjoying their walk together

The day started out warm but got quite cold later

Opps - the sun is setting and we're not out of the woods yet.

Wandering through the darkness trying to find the right path

Finally back home to some warm tea -- thank God!

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Advent -- A Time of Waiting

We were singing our farewells at St. Nicholas Cathedral in Mwanza on the first Sunday of Advent last year.  I had brought my banjo to Africa because I enjoy playing worship and praise songs, and the elders of the English congregation graciously let my husband and I chose two or three songs to lead each service.   So on this last Sunday, we chose  to lead the congregation in singing,  “O come, O come Emmanuel”, “ Sweet Bye and Bye”, and our final song, “May the Roads Rise Up to Meet You”. This final song is usually sung in our local Kentucky church whenever someone is leaving.  My husband wasn’t sure that we would be able to sing this song without tears.  

That same Sunday, God brought a group of young people from Norway, and they also shared three songs with us.  This group had been traveling throughout East Africa, sharing their music and youthful enthusiasm.  One song they shared stands out in my memory with these words repeated throughout the chorus: “We are going to see the King”.  I still remember their joyful voices proclaiming this hope and anticipation – (isn’t that what Advent is all about?)  No more dying there; We are going to see the King. No more crying there; We are going to see the King.  God brought these young people on that last Sunday to remind us that we all are looking forward to that day when we will see Jesus the King.

Now the year has rolled around to a new Advent, the beginning of a new church year.  Yet I am reminded that all of life is really Advent.  All of life is a waiting to see the King.  All of life is a preparation for the life to come.  All of life is hope in the resurrection.  We wait in joyful anticipation as we journey together toward that day.  Even when we are oceans apart from part of our Christian family, we still are one in this experience. We are going to see the King.

     “Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things        which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for      the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”  Philippians 3: 13-14

I will never forget our beloved brethren; but I will forget the mistakes, the regrets, those things I wish I had not done, and those things I wish I had done.  Also, I will strive to forget the sorrow of parting, for now God has us as missionaries here in Kentucky.  Wherever God places us, we are His ambassadors bringing the message of hope that we are going to see the King.

In joyful anticipation,
Mama Anna and Brother Nathan

Soon and very soon

We are going to see the King! (of Love)

Soon and very soon

We are going to see the King! (of Joy)

Soon and very soon

We are going to see the King! (of Peace)



We are going to see the King!  (Notice the card?)

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Give Thanks

One Thanksgiving, our daughter sewed several large blocks of letters which together read, “GIVE THANKS”, and then she hung them on a string over our dining room windows. We left them hanging there through the years as a reminder to always give thanks. Last month I was doing some thorough cleaning, and noticed that the letters that were depicting this vital message were very dusty, so I took them down to wash. When I asked my husband if I should put them back after they are washed, he replied that we’ve had them there long enough.

Those letters in our kitchen got very dusty, and in my own life I have let this message become dusty in a similar way. How does giving thanks become dusty? By neglecting to attend to the action and attitude of giving thanks. By bemoaning what could have been, instead of thanking God for what was, and is, and will be someday. We may have the desire to give thanks, but we must go beyond the idea and actually give thanks to God in everything.

We are to give God thanks in everything because our God is always present in our life, and He is present in our deaths. We all go through many deaths before we come to the end of our earthly sojourn and experience the physical death of our bodies. These deaths include losses of various kinds, whether it is a death of a loved one, moving away from loved ones, loss of health, loss of a significant relationship, loss of work, or any number of losses. Death is part of our humanness, and even animals and all of nature share in the experience of pain and loss. Death is part of this earth.

Jesus taught us that unless we deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Him, we are not worthy of Him. Saint Paul exhorted his disciples that we must “die daily”. So from this we see that death is essential for true life. We are to accept the disappointments, the losses, and the pain we encounter in our many deaths, and in these times we can choose to give thanks to our Heavenly Father through Jesus Christ, His Son, by the power of the Holy Spirit. We give thanks to God in these times of darkness because we know by faith that God is with us, wanting us to keep on the path to eternal life. We give thanks because we have hope and faith in the blessed Kingdom of God, both in this life, and in the life to come. We give thanks for the loving-kindness and faithfulness of our King.

Even in our losses, God is always present with us, for He never forsakes or abandons us. As little children look up to their parents, trusting them without question, so we also, as children of God are to trust God to lead and guide us throughout our earthly journey and over to the other shore when our time arrives. We can choose to always give thanks as long as we hold onto faith in God, and the hope we are given from walking in this faith.

God has been telling me that the key is thankfulness. What key is he talking about? This is the golden key which unlocks the riches of God. What are these riches? These riches include the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness, kindness, and self-control. They also include eternal life, the resurrected life without pain or sadness. As we strive to enter the narrow gate, having our minds fixed on our Lord, we can live life daily in giving thanks to our Lord and King. He is worthy of our thanks at all times!!!

Whether we live in Africa or America, or in any other place on this planet, the Kingdom of God encompasses all of humanity. God is present with each of us, and this truth will bring peace to our separations as we commit one another to God’s loving care. I discovered a prayer for our Tanzanian- Kenyan family which directs my heart to commit their lives to our Heavenly Father’s loving care.

Prayer from Anglican Prayer book: For the Absent
O God, whose Fatherly care reacheth to the uttermost parts of the earth: We humbly beseech Thee graciously to behold and bless those whom we love, now absent from us. Defend them from all dangers of soul and body; and grant that both they and we, drawing nearer to Thee, may be bound together by Thy love, in the communion of Thy Holy Spirit, and in the fellowship of Thy saints; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Let us all take heed to give thanks to God each and every day for the life He grants us.

May the peace of Christ be with you,

Mama Anna and Brother Nathan

I give thanks for Christ our King,

and our community at Christ the King Anglican Church.

I give thanks for the Diocese of Lake Victoria,

and our East African family,

including my namesake, Julie Ann, in Kenya.

I give thanks for sunrises over Torch Lake, Michigan,

And looking forward to meeting our first grandchild!

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Bibi -- Our African Grandmother

When my husband returned from his first trip to Tanzania in 2011, he brought me a long wooden spoon that was well used, telling me it was a gift from a very kind African woman named Bibi Kapili.   Every time I used this spoon, I wondered what Bibi’s life was like.    I thought it was so kind of her to share a utensil she had used in her cooking.   I thought it would be wonderful if I were able to be in her kitchen with her and get to know her.  I really didn’t think this was possible, but since that year, I found that I have been in her kitchen many times: visiting, laughing, and witnessing a hidden jewel living in a small house in Nyakato.
We became neighbors, and more than that, we became close friends.   I was always welcome in Bibi’s kitchen while she was sitting on a low stool next to a hot charcoal stove, preparing food for her husband, four grandsons who lived with them, and the many friends and relatives who regularly stopped by to visit.  Often she was sorting dry beans, peanuts, or rice in a large winnowing basket found in every Tanzanian kitchen.  Sometimes there were chicks scurrying around our feet, and she would throw down some of the inferior legumes and grains for them to enjoy. 

Bibi ("grandma" in Swahili) taught me the laborious ways of peeling greens before cooking them in the traditional Tanzanian way over the charcoal stove.  She scolded me when she discovered that I wasn’t peeling the greens I was cooking for my family, and told me it was important to peel them correctly in order to remove any sand or small stones that could be hidden.   I learned many tips from her about how Tanzanian women prepare and cook their food.   One food that was new to us was pumpkin leaves. I remember sitting outside as Bibi showed me to properly process the leaves before cooking them.   Then she went out to her pumpkin patch and picked me a batch of leaves to take home to prepare for my own family.

She mostly spoke in Swahili, using a lot of gestures and expressions, repeating her words and surprising me with a few English words when I was not catching the meaning well.  She shared her wisdom with me, and at the same time had a good sense of humor as she conversed.     Bibi was very patient with my slowness in understanding spoken Swahili, and subsequently I was able to learn more of the language as she told me stories of her life than I learned from poring over Swahili language books. 

I asked her to teach me some praise songs, and she sang the Swahili version of “All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name” over and over again, until I was able to remember the tune and words.   The tune she knew was somewhat different than the one we use at our Kentucky church, so it took a lot of repeating to remember the song.   I really enjoyed singing with her, and hearing her beautiful voice resounding praise to our Lord.

The Kapili’s had about a dozen chickens that stayed in makeshift cages outside their front door in the daytime, and at dusk her grandsons would escort them into a spare room off the kitchen, specially set aside for the chickens.   I asked why they brought the chickens indoors, and she explained that the chickens could be stolen if they were left outside at night.  I brought all our fruit and vegetable peels down to the Kapili’s chickens every morning and was always greeted with a cheerful smile from Bibi. She was usually busy sweeping the area outside their front door and starting a fire to heat water.   Greeting Bibi with the traditional “Shikamuu” and hearing her reply of “Marahaba” brought a wonderful start to each day while we lived in Nyakato.   “Shikamuu” means “I respect you” (literally, “I kiss your feet") and “Marahaba” means “I am delighted”.   I knew that Bibi truly was delighted to see me each morning by the kindness in her voice and eyes.  What a gift from our heavenly Father to greet this Godly woman each day!      

I would often see Bibi working in her garden:  hoeing, planting, spreading chicken manure, and harvesting.  I asked to join her in the work, and at first she was reluctant to have me helping with any work since I am an older guest from another country.   She was fine with our children helping her with various jobs, such as hauling buckets of water to their house for daily use, but for an older guest like me, this wasn’t culturally accepted.   Yet, as time passed and she recognized my desire to work with her, she finally allowed me to hoe and weed her corn field together one morning in November, shortly before we left Tanzania.   I was able to understand the vast amount of work African women do to care for their families, and was even given the gift of working alongside this blessed woman as she faithfully served her family.

One day I came down to Bibi’s house and found her with a very long stick.   I asked her what she was doing, and she brought me to a tall cassava plant, which towered over our heads like a small tree.  She stretched the stick to the high branches, and loosened some leaves, and as they fell into the vegetation below the plant,  I gathered them for her.  We brought them to her outside table and together we peeled off the tougher parts of the leaves.   Next, she brought out a very large wooden mortar and pestle and began pounding the greens in it.   Afterwards she put the greens on the charcoal stove to boil until they became soft.  Fresh ground peanut sauce was added to make a delicious dish of cassava greens.  The next morning one of her grandsons was at our front door with a hot dish of newly prepared cassava leaves for our whole family to sample.  We always enjoyed the traditional Tanzanian foods she shared with us.

Whenever I was ready to return home after visiting her, Bibi always escorted me part of the way, often holding my hand as we walked together.   She always left me with a blessing, and I knew that she was thankful for our time together, just as I also was thankful to share life with her.

I am so grateful that the Lord brought me all the way across the Atlantic Ocean to Bibi Kapili’s kitchen.   What I thought wasn’t possible, the Lord orchestrated two times (2013 and 2015).   I was able to witness a true servant of God as Bibi daily cooked, cleaned, washed laundry by hand, collected water, and gardened; cheerfully serving her family and guests.  I also was a recipient of her love and acceptance, even having our family received as part of her family.  We call her our grandmother because Bibi and Babu Kapili consider our children to be their grandchildren.   Now when I use her long, well-used wooden spoon in my Kentucky kitchen, I have so many memories wrapped up in this gift from our African grandmother.   Now I think about how wonderful it was to have shared so many pleasant visits with her as she lovingly labored over her charcoal stove.   

Bibi exemplifies the virtuous wife described in Proverbs, chapter 31:  “Strength and honor are her clothing; she shall rejoice in time to come.  She opens her mouth with wisdom, and on her tongue is the law of kindness.  She watches over the ways of her household, and does not eat the bread of idleness.  Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her:  “Many daughters have done well, but you excel them all.” Proverbs 31:25-29

May the peace of  Christ be with you,
Mama Anna and Brother Nathan

Bibi pounding cassava leaves

Preparing grains for another meal

In the kitchen with her sister

Washing up the dishes together

Heading to the garden past the chicken pens

Weaving a mat from local grasses

A peaceful afternoon visit with Grandma