Friday, November 1, 2013

Welcome to our Crooked House

(Hmm. I wonder who's visiting today?)

Our stay in Tanzania is coming to an end.  With less than two weeks left, I am naturally tempted to look back over our time here and make an assessment of what we have “accomplished”.  But I think this is the wrong approach.  It is too business-minded, too goal-oriented, too much of a “Western” mindset.  We like to think that we are “going on a mission trip” to “change the world”.  Oh, how foolish we are to think that we can accomplish “great things for God” in such a short time as six days, six weeks, or six months!  I am reminded of what the chief architect of one of the big cathedrals in England is reported to have said when a workman asked him why they were using such big nails to hold the beams together:  “We are not just building for the first thousand years!”

This is not to say that God does not use what we offer Him.  We have come for a purpose.  We put forth our best effort to accomplish that purpose, while leaving the results up to Him.  I would like to “feel good” about what we have done.  But really, wherever we live, we are to serve God, the Church, and our neighbors to the best of our abilities.  We seek to live by the Scripture which says, “Bear one another’s burden, and so fulfill the law of Christ”.  (Gal. 6:2)  At the end of the day, when the assessments are made, I need to reply as Jesus taught us to reply, “I am thine unworthy servant.  I have only done my duty”.   (Luke 17:10)  We seek to serve without thought of reward, yet the Lord is kind enough to send some encouragements along the way.

For example, while walking through downtown Mwanza recently, I met one of my students who had attended my first class in 2011.  Shadrack told me that what I taught them in that seminar had a large impact on all the students.  What they learned brought about a significant change in their spiritual lives.  Many were encouraged to continue in their ministry education, with some of them now being in seminary.  He said that it has taken some time, but those teachings are beginning to bear fruit in the lives of the people of their churches.  He advised me to not give up, but to continue what I am doing; for it is what the church leaders need to learn.  I was grateful for his comments, for they show us the grace of God; that He uses what we offer Him in our weakness.  This was literally true, as I was sick with a terrible flu while I was teaching that particular class.

During the six months we have been here, I have edited and arranged several courses for the Bible School:  Principles of Bible Study; Principles of Sermon Preparation; Principles of Christian Leadership One and Two; Principles of Humility; and an Old and New Testament Survey.  I have also visited many homes; preached sermons at various churches; and taught a two week seminar for deacons and evangelists.  This is not to say that we are done with everything.  There are more courses that need to be compiled and arranged.  Most of what I have done is in English and still needs to be translated into Swahili.  There are severe leadership struggles and management problems in the churches of this region.  We have "hammered a few nails into a couple of beams", and trust the Lord that a transformation will take place as we persevere together with our Brothers and Sisters here.

My wife, “Mama Anna” as she is known here, was able to teach an English class for some Bible School students.  She has also been able to offer English tutoring to some of the neighbor ladies near us.  This has been both a challenge and an enjoyment for her.  Our older children have gone almost daily to love on the young children at a local orphanage.  Interacting with the local families here has also been a tremendous educational experience for us.  It’s been great to see all the children playing together in and around our house every day.  (Although I do admit, some days I really don’t want to hear all that noise!)

Since I have mentioned our home, I thought you might like to read a description of our home that was written by our daughter, Sveta, as a home school assignment.  I gave her an “A” for this paper, and I think you will too….

“Our Crooked House”
The front door won't open more than two feet, unless, of course, you push so hard you'd think it will come off its hinges. It's a good thing we're all thin and fit. The concrete floor, in the kitchen, slopes down towards the kitchen sink in the corner. When water spills, it stays for a while; concrete doesn't usually soak up much moisture. The door frames are all crooked in some way, shape, or form. The door to my sisters' bedroom is permanently open because if you try to move it, it will fall over on your head. The ceilings are water-stained and warped. My sister and I lay at night thinking of the day they will collapse on us while we are sleeping. The walls are of peeled yellow paint, with chips here and there. Welcome to our crooked house.

From early hours in the morning until late hours at night, there are African children in and out. Davie, four years old, is the faithful morning child. Usually bananas are what is on his mind. He has become an adopted child in our family and joins us whenever his playmates are not around. Shanya and Danny are two neighbor children, also four years old, who are around all day long. Shanya always brings a smile to your face with his big eyes and silly attitude. His brother, Danny, is usually the more serious type. Although when he does smile, it's one that goes from ear to ear. Daudi and Philip, both thirteen years old, rarely miss a day to come over after school. The children come and go, knowing they are welcome at any time. Welcome to our multi-cultural home.

Smells of chapati, mboga, or other African foods often drift through the house. You can often find me sitting on a little hand-carved wooden stool as I cook on the charcoal fire. Usually one or two children are sitting on buckets, and we chat about the day while the food cooks. A green counter lines one side of the room. Cabinets of slowly deteriorating wood are below it, but the only items stored in them are those hideous creatures called cockroaches. Despite this, the kitchen is a popular room. We'll gather on the floor to sort the rocks out of the rice or to peel potatoes. The dirty dish pile seems to never diminish, and many songs are sung loudly as we attempt to diminish the pile. Welcome to our kitchen, where memories are made each day.

My bedroom, shared with Kat, is a simple room with two beds, a desk, and a closet. The windows are always dusty, and barred, so as to keep the burglars out. Netting is hung over our beds to keep the wretched mosquitoes away while we sleep. We wonder how stuff piles up on the floor so quickly; my parents would most likely say it is from laziness. I say it is from little brothers digging through our stuff to find a knife. We kids often sit in this room and talk about the day. We drink chia and eat “mandazi” in here. We tell jokes. The little boys join us too, pretending to sleep, preach, or fight. Kat and I lay awake at night talking about how we are going to conquer the “nominal Christian world.” We talk about the future and of Africa. Many things have gone through these four small walls. Welcome to the room where the door is going to fall down because it has had so much use.

I despise the color of paint each room has:  peeled and yellow. I can't stand to look at the crooked bookshelves. I miss having a couch. I don't care for the table bench that is not only uncomfortable, but also makes the loudest, most deafening screech you ever did hear. When it rains, water pours down inside the front room wall.  The concrete floors are ugly and impossible to keep clean. The toilet doesn't flush, the shower drain doesn't work, and the water pipes leak.  The electric and water regularly turn off at random for hours or days at a time.  The windows look weird, the ants like us too much, and when my bedroom door creaks too early in the morning, I just want to tear it down. Despite the looks of our house, there has been so many good conversations and meals shared in it. Laughter rings down the hall. Children run in and out. Joy is bursting in the walls. People are calling “Hodi Hodi” at our front door. With a hearty voice, I say “Welcome home.”

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Here are some of my thoughts after I read her paper:

Our bodies and lives are often like that crooked house.  We wish that we lived in bodies that were built strong, straight, functioned well, and beautifully decorated.   But we have defects and parts that don’t work properly:  our doors tilt, our ceilings sag, our drains don’t work, and our windows are dusty.  The same is true of our lives.  Many trials and struggles cause us to feel as if we were constantly living in a crooked house.  We have personality faults, bad habits, and “bad hair days”.  We wonder how the Lord can use us for His Kingdom:  yet He does!  He knows the weakness of our flesh and remembers that we are only dust.  We offer Him our “crooked houses” for His service and we find that while we often have to live with the crookedness, there are days of friends, good conversation, music, children playing, laughter, and joy.  Our house can still accomplish its purpose – by the grace of God.

Soon we will be back in the USA after having had the adventure of a lifetime.  What the future holds, we do not know.  Does God have more for us to do here or are we finished?  We are not making any predictions until we are home again and can receive good counsel.  Home?  Where is home?  One thing we do know is that we now have two homes, one in Kentucky and one in Tanzania.  I think that we will forever belong to both places.  We have committed ourselves to a long term relationship to the Anglican Diocese here, regardless of where we are living.  We will continue to participate in what has been started here.  There are many people here in Tanzania asking, “When are you coming back?  We need you to continue helping us with church leadership training”.  I can only smile and say, “If it is God’s will, we will be back – back home to our Crooked House!”

May the peace of Christ be with you,
Br. Nathan

Our house seems too empty and bare

Until the boys come over in the morning

To help stir up something for breakfast

And enjoy a cup of porridge together!

Now it's time to enjoy a little "home grown" music

To give a cheerful, willing hand with the daily chores

 And to rejoice in the first rain after a long dry season!

Our house seems in need of improvement...

So we cook up some chapati and mboga for our friends

and enjoy singing a few songs together after dinner

Along with that perfectly ripe pineapple for desert!

Later we relax outside in the cool evening air

along with whoever happens to be hanging around...

Welcome to our Crooked House!


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