Thursday, May 31, 2007

What Congo Has Taught Me #1

I’ve been realizing lately that I’ve learned a lot of important lessons in the past year. Many good things have come clear to me on account of the stark contrast between the Congolese culture and my own. Overseas living is good for that; you stay in your own culture and you think everything is normal, when in reality there are things about it that aren’t good. Here’s what Congo (mostly the Congolese people themselves) has taught me:

#1 There’s no need to be embarrassed about your body. People here will be like “Hey, you’ve got pimples on your forehead. What’s causing that?” I’m like “Excuse me? Just leave me alone!” But for them it’s not something I need to be embarrassed about. If you’re short they have no problem making fun of it, or you will even make fun of it yourself. If you’re fat it’s just a plain fact everybody can comment on. Some of the things they say about people I find quite insulting, but on the other hand just to be open and honest about bodies is rather refreshing. They simply aren’t embarrassed of their bodies. Here’s a passage from “The Poisonwood Bible” that I really enjoy:

“The lady in the little house that’s pretty close to ours is Mama Mwanza. One time her roof caught on fire and fell on her and brunt up her legs but not the rest of her…Mama says that was the poor woman’s bad luck, because now she has got to go right on tending after her husband and her seven or eight children. They don’t care one bit about her not having any legs to speak of. To them she’s just their mama and where’s dinner? To all the other Congo people, too.

“Used to be Adah was the only one of us in our family with something wrong with her. But here nobody stares at Adah except just a little because she’s white. Nobody cares that she’s bad on one whole side because they’ve all got their own handicap children or a mama with no feet, or their eye put out. When you take a look out the door, why, there goes somebody with something missing off of them and not even embarrassed of it. They’ll wave a stump at you if they’ve got one, in a friendly way.

“Father said, ‘They are living in darkness. Broken in body and soul, and don’t even see how they could be healed.’ Mama said, ‘Well, maybe they take a different view of their bodies.’ Father says the body is the temple. But Mama said to him, ‘Well, here in Africa that temple has to do a hateful lot of work in a day.’ She said, ‘Why, Nathan, here they have to use their bodies like we use things at home—like your clothes or your garden tools or something. Where you’d be wearing out the knees of your trousers, sir, they just have to go ahead and wear out their knees!’”

The Countdown is ON

Hi y'all!

Sorry there hasn't been too much blogage going on these days. I've just been having too much fun in Congo to spend time in front of my computer getting angry at our unreliable and sluggishly slow Internet connection!

Somehow a lot of things have really come together for me the last few months. I'm so much more at ease here than I've ever been, both in my work and with my Congolese friends. Others have remarked on my growth. For about a year everyone (especially myself) have been wondering how in the heck I'll handle being team leader when I come back in October and find myself with two new ladies to work with. But seriously all of a sudden a lot of things have come together for me. I have ideas, I'm asking the right kinds of questions, I feel more confident, I have a positive outlook on the coming year. So I praise the Lord that He knows our needs and does all things well!

Although this new progress makes leaving a bit harder, I'm so so thankful that I can go home looking forward to coming back. I leave in 2 1/2 weeks! I will be in the US (mostly in Oregon) for 3 1/2 months. I'm looking forward to wearing closed-toed shoes, eating cereal with real milk, driving, shopping, and blending into the crowd. Of course the biggest deal will be seeing my family and I am praying that this summer I can be a blessing in the lives of my friends. (See you soon!)

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Double cause to celebrate

Hello! Did you know that today is a holiday? Two in fact! First of all, it is Ascension Day. I found out the hard way that it is a holiday...I'm up in my house working away on my computer and I went down for coffee break to find that it hadn't been served. A little annoyed and wondering why the woman who puts the break stuff out didn't show up for work, I wandered over to the office. "Hmmm, that's weird. Why are the gates shut?" I go in and everything is all locked up and no one is there! "Uh, is it a holiday?" I go over to the director's house to find him and his wife and another couple chatting away drinking coffee together. "What?!! Nobody told me! I've been working!" :o)

Read this post from two years ago to find out about today's holiday.

What's the 2nd cause to celebrate? Well, a few days ago Brent and Brock, the director's two kids, were like "May 17th is Miss Jessica Day. We have to respect you all day long." Wow! We joked about it again yesterday and then this morning I heard a little tap at my door. Brent and Brock were there with a plate of steaming hot cinnamon rolls. Mmmmmmmmmmmm!!!!! Brent said, "Even though we tease you a lot we just wanted you to know that we really love you." Wow again! So precious. Pretty thoughtful for 6 and 8 year old boys, doncha think?
I felt kind of bad that I put "Miss Jessica Day" on my calendar when it turned out to be the Ascension! Sorry Jesus! :o) Can you tell from these mischievious photos that a whole day of respect is a big deal? :o)

Monday, May 14, 2007

The Guinea Fowl and the Lion

Lion and Guinea Fowl had been friends for many years. One day, Lion was chosen to be king of the animals. Lion sent one of his children to share the good news with his friend Guinea Fowl. Lion also sent word that he needed to wear a crown decorated with guinea fowl feathers. And so Guinea Fowl was asked to give all his feathers for the king’s crown.
Guinea Fowl was embarrassed and frightened by the request. But what else could he do? He couldn’t refuse. So, with the help of his wife he plucked out all of his feathers and brought them to the king.
As a result, Guinea Fowl was very sick for a long time afterwards, and his family wondered if he might even die. But, little by little, his feathers grew back and he recovered. Over the years Lion and Guinea Fowl remained close friends. One day, Guinea Fowl’s son became very ill, and the only thing that could cure him was a lion’s pelt. But where in the world could he find a lion’s pelt? All of a sudden he remembered his friend Lion, the king.
So Guinea Fowl sent word to Lion to see if he would help them. Poor Lion was embarrassed and frightened by this request, but how could he refuse someone who had demonstrated such close friendship in the past. So Lion began to skin himself... and died in the process.
This story shows us that we should never ask something of a friend that might cost them their life.

My colleague Trista got this story from her French tutor (who was also my Lingala teacher) and after a half hour of discussion with him, she concluded that the message of the story in a Congolese man's eyes is that it's good to ask your friends for things, but you shouldn't ask too much. This is a very good thing for us to know because people are ALWAYS asking for things and it can be really annoying. But if we understand that to them it's acceptable and appropriate, we won't be so offended about it. So far no one has asked me for the skin off my back (although I have been asked for my hair!) so I guess we're doing OK.

Things people ask for include: taking them to the States, helping them find an education program (abroad or by correspondence), food, money, medicine, English lessons, phone credits, something you're wearing that they like, bus or taxi fare, etc. The person asking could be your best friend or someone on the street. I generally don't give anything to people I don't know (families are big here, they should be asking their relatives if they're really in need) but managing friends' requests is a little harder. If I follow my African colleagues' example, I will help people in need whenever I have the ability to do so. I am like a big sister to all my jobless musician friends so it's my role to help them out.

But it's not always easy to accept. Imagine if your good friends started coming to you all the time asking for things! You would get mad or feel used. It's the same for me except I have to tell myself to interpret it differently. Sometimes I succeed and sometimes I don't. But I'm learning.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Living Faith

Thursday night was one of my best meetings with my girls from church. They were all there, which was amazing ‘cause they’ve been super busy with the end of the school year and attendance has been pretty spotty. But they were there and we had a great discussion. They were attentive and interested and even looking up verses for themselves.

The preacher on Sunday had talked about how we will be judged not by our faith but by our works. The Bible does say over and over that we will be judged according to what we do in this life, but I was a little concerned that he didn’t emphasize the fact that we’re saved by grace. So I looked at Ephesians 2:8-9 with my girls, to make sure they understand this foundational truth. We’re working on memorizing it in French and Lingala:

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.”

But we also held up this truth in relation to what James has to say:

“What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” James 2:14, 17

Unintentionally on my part, this teaching went incredibly well with what we were experiencing as a group. On Sunday we had gone to the orphanage for my girls’ first visit there. I’d had to leave early, but the girls ended up staying quite late and apparently the kids begged them not to leave even then. They played and played and then had a really great praise and worship time together. The girls were so excited to report to me how well it had gone, how the kids loved them, how God really came and did a work in their midst.

We often hear “faith without deeds is dead,” but what about faith WITH deeds? It’s so alive! After having spent themselves in service at the orphanage, I could see my girls’ faith just bursting with life. Nothing better than knowing you’ve done something for someone else and feeling the Spirit of the Lord work through you. So satisfying, so life-giving.