Tuesday, March 1, 2016

What is a Miracle?

(This month's article was written by my wife Julie, known as "Mama Anna".) 

    What is a miracle?  As a young mother holding our newborn daughter, I considered it a miracle to have this beautiful, fragile angel cuddled in my arms.  With each birth of our subsequent children, I held on to this same belief that God had performed yet another miracle.  Only God could do the impossible, forming such a beautiful new life, and to think He entrusted us with the priceless gift of each child.
   
    Our family has experienced other miracles in recent years.  My husband had opportunity to teach Bible School students in Tanzania in 2011 and 2012.  While visiting with his translator's parents on Ukuwere Island, a large island in Lake Victoria, he had the thought of how good it would be to share these beautiful people with his wife and children.  Yet, how would it ever be possible?

     The Lord performed a miracle despite our human failings, and on May 15, 2013, seven of us were boarding an airplane in Washington D.C., heading for Dar Es Salaam.  Our oldest daughter, Anna, had already traveled to Mwanza, Tanzania the previous week as an intern of Berea College at Isamilo International School.  (This was yet another miracle!)  So we were greeted on a Monday night at 11p.m. at a missionary’s home in Mwanza by our bubbling young daughter with supper ready on the table.   This missionary family graciously allowed the seven of us to stay with them until we were able to get a water line connected to and cleaned up the house in which we would be living in Nyakato.  They also had a young family, Boniface and Grace Owiti and their young son Joseph from Rongo, Kenya, residing in their home -- so we got acquainted with them during that week.  

     Even though we faced various challenges during these six months in Nyakato, the blessings far out-weighed the struggles.  We shared our weekends with Anna, and she joined us at St. Nicholas Cathedral on Sundays for the English service.  Also, one of Nathan’s Bible school students from 2011 was attending seminary near Dodoma and he and his wife entrusted us with the care of their 11 year old daughter, Keri, while she continued her schooling in Nyakato.   We also became acquainted with two boys from the neighborhood, Daudi and Phylip, who also accompanied us to church.  The Nyakato pastor had twin 4 year old boys, Dani and Shanya, and another neighbor from the compound had a four year old boy, Davi, and a boy Jonathan’s age, Lazaro.   Also, the Kapili’s had two grandsons, Kevi and Dani, living with them in another home on the compound who became good friends with Jonathan.  Our home was full of laughing children, white and black, and we were very blessed to share life with these little ones and their families.  

    I offered to teach English and ended up with two small classes, one with the six Bible School students and the second one with the pastor’s son, Baraka, and Baraka’s wife, Neema, and some other ladies and young people from the area.  Through these classes, I learned that teaching English is much harder than I had expected, but I enjoyed getting to know the various students.  Through this endeavor, we became good friends with Baraka and Neema and their three children, Pendo, Nesta, and Abigaili.  Their home was only on the next street, and their home became a second home for us.  

    We got to know Babu and Bibi Kapili, and they welcomed us as part of their family.  Yes, we were considered family just as their other children, grandchildren, nephews, nieces.  We are in their family – what a huge gift from our heavenly Father to bind our hearts and lives in such a way in just six short months – another miracle!!!   They asked us to participate one of their niece’s weddings by  leading two songs, and my husband was asked to share a message for the bride and groom.  We knew that Babu and Bibi were earnest about us being one of their family, and when we had to leave, they were sadly giving their grandchildren a farewell speech and prayer.   All of us were very sad to leave so soon, and all of the ones we joined in living and worship were so sad to see us depart.  We told them, “If God wills, we will return”,  but in my mind I thought it was impossible.

     However, with God, nothing is impossible, and God performed yet another miracle during the year 2014, and on November 15th, 2014, five of us were once more boarding a plane from Chicago to Dar Es Salaam.  This time I really struggled with a pull for two places I love, having family in both Kentucky and Tanzania.  This time it seemed we would have to choose between Kentucky and Tanzania, seeking God to guide us in knowing our vocation for our older years.  This time was much harder  for me because it meant giving up the comfortable life we had established on a small farm in rural Casey County.  It meant saying goodbye to neighbors we have been sharing life and worship with, and leaving our mother who lived next door to us.  I felt very torn, yet I longed to see our Tanzanian grandparents, Babu and Bibi Kapili, our Tanzanian pastor, Captain Nestor, and our very good friends, Baraka and Neema Muheta and their children, Keri and the other children we got to know in 2013.  So I took the leap of faith, and we found ourselves greeted joyously by our Tanzanian family outside our Nyakato home. This time our beds were already set up with mosquito nets, and the house was ready for us upon arrival.   Another huge miracle had occurred that only God could have performed.  With man, it was impossible, but with God all things are possible.  He even uses His weak vessels to show forth His mighty strength.  

     When we arrived in the busy, crowded city of Mwanza from quiet Casey County, I was very homesick for the familiar life of country life.  Two weeks into our stay, a shooting took place in a store nearby which we frequently visited.  The traffic was chaotic so walking required much care, and the noise was terrific making it hard to hold conversation in our home at certain times.  I was uncomfortable with the change.  Then December 25th arrived and things changed for me on this Christmas Day.  

     We asked the Kapili’s if we could share a Christmas meal with them after our church service.  We offered to buy some tilapia fish and cook with them.  After church, the girls and I walked to their home with a charcoal stove.  Bibi was busy cooking some chicken and some rice and greens.  The girls began sorting rice, and I sat with Bibi learning how she prepares greens.  Babu asked if we could come to share two meals instead of just one.  Nathan said we could return in the evening also.  So we enjoyed a very nice lunch, and then went home to rest.  As we were leaving, Babu called out, asking us to bring our musical instruments with us in the evening.  So when we returned, we sat outside with Babu, and soon Bibi joined him and their grandsons, Kevi and Dani, and their niece, Deborah.  We sang some Christmas carols in both Swahili and English.  Soon we were surprised by the arrival of a young mother in a Santa hat, our good friend, Neema, and her brother-in-law, Msafiri.  Neema had been coming to our home every afternoon to give us Swahili lessons.  We were pleased to have her and Msafiri  join us.  We continued singing carols together, and then Babu said that Bibi had beans cooked for us.  (What was the smirk I detected?)  We went inside to see a big feast all set out on their dining table.  We had a very memorable meal with our Tanzanian family, and then Nathan led some more music while Msafiri accompanied him with the tambourine and I had my banjo.  We enjoyed laughter, music, and so much warmth as we shared the miracle of being together for this Christmas of 2014.  It was this Christmas evening in the Kapili’s living room that all the homesickness left me.  I had a total shift, and from that point on I knew we were home there in the Kapili’s home.  God had performed another miracle, even though I had been looking back prior to this point.  Though I was unworthy of this miracle, yet our God still chose to grant this blessing and demonstrate His infinite love through the love we experienced in Babu and Bibi Kapili. 

    Even though I had adjusted to life in Mwanza, Tanzania, Nathan had been developing many food allergies and began losing both weight and strength.  One of our daughters was having persistent trouble with parasitical infections.  The year before, no one had wanted to leave Africa, but this time our children were missing our rural life in Kentucky.  The dynamics of family life were very different this time with three of our oldest children still in the states.  These conditions, along with other factors, were causing my husband to reevaluate our stay, and together we decided to shorten our time in Mwanza to one year instead of two.  Though I knew that God was guiding this early return, it was still so hard to accept since I felt so at home in Nyakato.  It isn’t that everything was so comfortable.

    It was still very noisy, and we had the feeling of being in a fishbowl.  The traffic was as crazy as ever.  However, we have family there, and it is family that makes home.  Africans have a much broader definition of family than Westerners.   
   
    Once we told our Tanzanian family we were leaving in December, they were saddened to have only a short time with us.  I was also very troubled even though I tried to live in the present.  Four months before we were to leave, the Lord brought two people into our lives for these few months.  We met them on the same Sunday.  Before the service, Nathan told me that there was a tall young man who had converted from Islam, and during the service, this man stood up and introduced himself and displayed much joy and enthusiasm in knowing Jesus and coming to our church.  After the service,  we had a time of fellowship in which we visited with Said (pronounced "Sah – eed") and the German missionaries who brought him to church.  Toward the end of the fellowship time, I noticed a young girl sitting alone on the side of the room.  I sat down next to her to meet her.  Lilian told me that she was an orphan and lived with her older brother.  She wanted to learn more English and also learn more about church.  So I invited her to come to our home the next afternoon.  I told her we only had four months left in Tanzania, and I could tutor her during this time.
   
    Lilian came about four times a week and brought joy to our home.  She not only studied English, but also prepared for the sacrament of confirmation with Nathan teaching her catechism classes.  Nathan also taught Said and Keri the catechism classes, and we witnessed Said’s baptism on September 20th, my husband’s 49th birthday.  Said chose the name "Matthew" for his baptismal name.  Lilian was baptized on October 10th, and surprised us by showing up in a wedding dress.  I had bonded well with her, and she calls me Mom.  What a miracle, to be walking down the road with my African daughter, holding the side of the wedding dress so it wouldn’t drag on the ground, and then to see the joy of our beautiful daughter being baptized in Lake Victoria.  This truly was another miracle our loving father brought to us during our shortened stay in Mwanza.  On November 15th,  Matthew, Lilian, Keri, and Pendo received the sacrament of confirmation.  What a blessing to be a part of their spiritual journey with Christ!

    Our year in Tanzania, from Advent of 2014 and to the first Sunday of Advent of 2015, began and ended with us singing “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” at the St. Nicholas Cathedral.  The first time asking for strength to adjust to life in the big city of Mwanza,  and the last time asking for God’s grace to leave our loved ones in East Africa and reconnect with our loved ones in Kentucky.  God’s grace is sufficient in our times of weakness.  In my weakness, I miss Lilian, Neema, Bibi Kapili, and Keri.  I knew I would miss them, but the Lord has directed us to return to peaceful Casey County.  The Lord will strengthen my inner person.  These four ladies have been a huge blessing in my life, and I entrust them in my Heavenly Father’s loving care.  Neema wrote on our very large Goodbye card: “I will never, ever forget you all ‘til I reach Heaven’s gate.”  I read what she had wrote and said, “ I hope you won’t forget us when you reach Heaven’s gate,” and she exclaimed, “I will see you there!”   I will also always remember the miracle of the deep love God planted in our hearts, making us family in the short time we shared together.  God is a God of miracles if we open our eyes to see them.  I will keep looking for the daily miracles of God’s grace poured out in our lives.  I thank God for receiving us as His beloved children.  Every year, from Advent to Advent is another year of miracles as we progress on our journey to Heaven.  Bwana Yesu asifiwe!!  Lord Jesus be praised!!

May the Peace of Christ be with you,
Mama Anna

Celebrating Christmas 2014

Visiting with Bibi

Our neighbors: Abigaili, Pendo, & Nesta

Lilian came to visit Bibi too

Lilian on her way to being "wedded" to Christ

Behold, the old is gone and all has been made new!

The baptismal party.

Keri, Lilian, Pendo, & Matthew at their Confirmation

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And The Miracles of God Continue On!

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