We’re leaving on a jet plane…

Yes we are.  Our bags are packed and waiting to be loaded into the truck, we are checked in online, we’ve said many good-byes and we are ready to head out the door.

I think that we’ve been ready to head out the door for a long time now.  We hadn’t intended to be here in Canada for this long.  We thought that we’d be here for a couple of months and be back in Zim for Christmas.  Goes to show what do we know really? And you know what? It’s been good to be here.  I won’t go into lots of details and reasons, but this time back in Canada has been good for us, as individuals and as a family unit.  We can’t wait to set foot on the ground at Eden again, dodge the odd cobra or chameleon, and get back into life there.  But we are going back with a much better awareness of what life is like in Africa, what we want to do differently and refreshed to run the race set before us.

Usually I don’t sleep well the night before I travel.  I toss and turn and am awake more than I’m asleep.  Last night went really well though and I woke up early but rested.  The chaos of last minute packing, checking in online, paying for extra baggage and making sure we haven’t forgotten anything has been normal, but with an overarching sense of peace, which isn’t normal.

The feeling I have is gratitude.  We have been the recipients of the generosity of so many people while we’ve been here.  I’m not going to list off those people, I’d miss way too many.  It’s been so cool to see how God has provided for us through others, sometimes people we don’t even know.  This is the way it’s supposed to work, I know.  It feels like something out of the book of Acts.  It has been humbling to accept so much generosity and I often feel like I can’t express my gratitude enough.  I just hope that when I do say ‘thank you’ that you all know that it comes sincerely from my heart.

We will be emailing, Facebook-ing, blogging and Instagram-ing like crazy to keep you all in the loop.

Thank you and God bless!

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So much to do…

Our family is heading back to Eden Children’s Village on April 23 and I couldn’t be happier.  I’m trying not to think of being crammed into aluminum tubes breathing recycled air and watching movies until my eyes are burning, I’m trying to focus on life on the other side of customs in Zimbabwe’s International Airport.  That’s the moment I’m really excited about.

I’m also excited by the news that Eden has the funds for two major projects when I arrive.  The first is finishing this house, orphan home #8.  It was started about a year ago and I believe it has the thatch roof on, so it will mean doing all the finishing work; electrical, plumbing, floors, plastering and painting, stairs, furniture, etc..  Then the best part, getting new orphan kids to care for and love!

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The second project is to start the new Eden Christian Academy school, which will end up consisting of about 8 buildings, but we will be starting with 2.  We are going to build them using the same company that we used for the new chicken barns so the initial stage will go relatively quickly, then we will build the exterior and interior walls and so on.  The county has surveyed off land for this directly across the road from where our own house will be built, so one day we should be able to watch the girls, or maybe just Naomi by that time, walk to school and play in the school yard.  I think perhaps putting up a fence will be the first step to keep these mombis out.

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We have so much to look forward to at Eden and we can’t wait to be sharing our photos and stories with you all.  And you know what would be even cooler? Having you come visit and take your own photos and make your own stories! Give it some thought.  You won’t regret it.

Missionaries or not?

One day Lia and I were hanging out in our living room back in Doma just talking about life stuff and what we were doing in Africa and she said, “we aren’t really missionaries.”  I love talking with my daughter and getting her thoughts on things, so this was going to be good, I could tell.  So I asked her what she meant by that.  Lia went on to say that I don’t preach at the Shona church, I don’t lead Bible studies, I wasn’t planting a church, the normal stuff we think of when we hear the term ‘missionary.’

 

I took a moment to reply, always a good idea but something I don’t do enough.  I told her that those things are all good, they are what missionaries typically do, but they aren’t what I felt ‘called’ to do.  Preaching is a gift I don’t have.  I don’t intend to plant a church, there are plenty in the area and I’d rather join one of them than add to the number of churches.  What I do, is try to live in such a way that people get a glimpse of Jesus in me.  I asked her if she remembered what was said at church last week.  She couldn’t.  I said that I couldn’t either.  I like to think that the men I work with listen to me and remember what I say, but the reality is more likely that they remember how I act, how I treat them, what I do, rather than what I spout off each day.

I get that this could sound like a cop out, but I don’t think it is.  Lia and I went on talking about it and I said that everybody is watching us and seeing what we do, to see if what we say jives with what we do.

We talked about the term ‘MK,’ Missonary’s Kid.  In Christian circles it can have a negative connotation, usually meaning that the person is a little screwed up from being dragged by their missionary parents to some far off country, and made to feel that their parents’ ‘calling’ is more important than them.  I told Lia that someone said one day that the term should really be Missionary Kid.  Lia and Naomi both have roles to play at Eden Children’s Village. God will use them just as much as He uses us to communicate His love for people.

Lia went off looking sort of pensive after our chat and came out to the veranda to sit with me the next day after work.  “You know Dad, I do think we are missionaries.”   I asked her what changed her mind.  She said that she had just thought about it some more and realized that Jesus showed who He was by what He did, not just what He said. Cool.

I’m not a theologian or a deep thinker, I’m far too pragmatic and perhaps too simple for that and I’m okay with that.  I’ll leave preaching and writing theological treatises for others.  What I can do is work hard and make friends and try my best to let Jesus be seen in what I do each day. When I’m cutting holes in shipping containers, building walls or learning to thatch a roof, I’m doing it with men who are becoming my friends, and friends talk.  I have started to make friends of the Shona men and teen boys and can’t wait to get back there to pick those friendships up again.  I miss having tea breaks with Lamek and hearing about his elderly mother and his plans to build her a house and about how he’s got his entire church fasting and praying for my family and our swift return to Zimbabwe. To me, it’s all about relationship.  We talk and pray and work together.   It’s what I feel we are supposed to do.

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My Friends.

I was recently at a birthday party for a really good friend of mine and was talking with two friends that I hadn’t seen in quite a while.  We’d been catching up for a bit, I was asking questions about family, children, life etc. when one of them said, ‘What about you? You lived in Africa for almost a year since I saw you last, but you haven’t mentioned it. What’s up with that?’

I had to tell her that it wasn’t until we returned to Canada and got to hang out with our friends again that I realized how much I had missed from their lives during our absence.  Most of my communication with people had been mass Facebook posts about what I was doing.  I could probably count on one hand how many personal emails I’d written in 10 months.  And I was ashamed.  I realized that I did not want to be that person who just talks about themselves, you know the type.  I love my friends deeply and I missed them while I was away, but I don’t know if they knew it.  I’d like to think so.  So I just wanted to catch up with them, to hear about their past year and if they wanted to hear about Africa and what I was doing there, they’d have to ask me about it.

One day I was working in one of the new chicken barns at Eden Children’s Village and had been having a bit of a down week.  This particular day nothing seemed to be going right.  The drill bit broke.  I was making a mess out of the metal I was trying to weld.  It stunk of chicken feces and of course I was hot.  I was getting frustrated and angry.  Then my phone beeped to let me know I just received an email, apparently I was in wifi range.  It was a message from one of my good buddies from Canada.  I don’t remember what he said, it didn’t matter, but I cried.  It felt so awesome to be thought of enough that he took the time to email me.  It couldn’t have come at a better time.

So even though I could talk ad infinitum (How’s that for remembering some of my university Latin?) about Africa and what we were doing there and our plans for our future there, I want to learn to shut up and listen more.  I want my friends to know that I missed them, that they are important to me, that I love them.  10513295_10152199430236931_1313926893493098181_n

Hurry up and wait!

How many times have you heard that? I always cringe when I do.  It’s like when someone says to me, “Are you workin’ hard or hardly workin’?” Urg.

Waiting is something us Westerners are just not good at.  If we see four people in line at the bank we decide to come back later.  Or if we do decide to stay and endure the 6 minute wait we whip our our phones and post an update about having to wait for the elderly lady at the counter who wants to pay her bills in cash and is carefully counting it all out.  Then we check our Instagram account, email, messages and if time allows, the news.  To me that isn’t waiting.  Waiting is standing there, watching the people around me, actively exercising my patience muscles.

In Africa you have to learn to patiently wait or you’ll go nuts.  There are queues for everything.  And when you watch the people waiting for whatever it is, they don’t seem to mind.  They are talking to the ones they are with or whoever is next to them.  Sure, some will pull out phones, even out in the boonies of Doma, but mostly people will spend their time talking or just sitting watching life around them.  I admire that.

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We have learned to be patient during our time in Zimbabwe, or at least we’ve learned that we need to be more patient.  We’ve been given plenty of opportunities to practice.  From the moment we touched down on the runway and waited for the mad scramble to subside so we could retrieve our overhead luggage and get out of the big aluminum tube with it’s stuffy recycled air, we were going to be stretching our patience again and again.

What is the longest that you’ve ever had to wait in an office? Or at the hospital emergency room? Hours, I’m sure.  For us, the immigration office is the penultimate in patience purgatory.  We had to go get our visitor visas renewed every 30 days and it meant waiting. I remember the first time we had to wait all day long.  We arrived at 8:30am thinking we’d be in and out in no time.  Nope, we were told to sit down and wait while they found our file.  At 1pm I left to go find some lunch and brought back burgers and fries for the girls.  At 3:30pm we were called up to the counter and by 4pm we were finished.  We were all dumbfounded, having never experienced anything like that before.  Let me tell you, the next month we brought a picnic lunch, books, tablets, snacks and drinks.

We had many more opportunities to wait and be patient during our time in Zimbabwe.  Now we are back in Canada and again find ourselves waiting.  What we thought was going to be a two or three month stay has stretched out to six months.  There are many hoops to jump through to get our business visa and just when we were ready to submit the application last week we were told we had two more steps to do before we could.  Nuts.

How many times have we all heard that God’s timing is perfect and we just need to be patient? It’s hard not to get frustrated with cliches.  Perhaps the frustrating part is that often cliches are true and accepting that truth is the difficult part.  I totally believe that God’s timing is perfect.  Our journey to this point is evidence of the fact.  I believe that He has it all in control.  My part is to live out that belief.  I’m a do-er.  I’m not a great be-er.  Verses like, “Be still and know that I am God” are not my favorite.  I can appreciate what it’s saying, but my personality is such that I’d rather be busy working and knowing that He is God.

People have remarked about the difficulties we must face in Africa, and honestly, it really didn’t feel that hard.  We didn’t have electricity or hot water for three months in the house we were living in and we just dealt with it, no big deal really. Watch where you walk, there are plenty of snakes around.  No problem.  Find a tool to fix the tool that you need to fix the tool that you need to use, just another day.  Waiting for paperwork to get cleared, brutal.

The wait will be worth it.  I believe it.  We have had lots of great times while back in Canada.  We have experienced the love of friends and family and made some cool new memories and connected with people.  Our waiting has felt like an active sort of waiting much of the time and we are continuing to grow closer as a family.  God is in the waiting, I just need to suck it up, be still and know.  It will be worth it.

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Standing out

Carole and I lived in Ukraine for four months in 1997.  We lived in an apartment on our own, shopped in the market like everyone else and studied Russian at the medical institute everyday.  I remember once talking to a class of students and they said we stood out, even though we had the same color of skin.  We asked them what made us stand out and they said that we smiled a lot.  Apparently that marked us as foreigners.

Now we live in Zimbabwe and yes, we stand out.  Our skin is a different color.  Our hair is blond-ish, our eyes are light and we speak with accents, at least the Americans say we do. It won’t matter how long we live in Zimbabwe, we will always stand out.  We will always be ‘from away’, like we have been in New Brunswick for the past 20 years.  When Lia and Naomi walk to school you can spot them from a mile away.  I kind of like that, actually. There are a few white Zimbabweans around Doma, but it feels like we stand out from them too.  They have an ease about life there that we don’t have yet.  We still get excited about cobras and pythons in the yard, for example.

We are making steps to fit in with the Shona people.  We have a school teacher come over twice a week to teach us Shona so that we can speak in their language.  That is not an easy thing, let me tell you.  And when you do try to say something and they laugh at you, it doesn’t help.  It took me getting pretty frustrated until someone told me that they laugh because they are happy that we are trying to use their language.  Oh. Good.  I know I sound terrible when I speak Shona, and the laughing didn’t exactly encourage me to try harder.  Carole and I also work alongside Shona people and are getting to know a lot of people just by working together.

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One Friday afternoon I was home with Lia and Nae and we decided to drag some firewood up to our house.  A fence was being put up around our group of houses so a line had been cut through the bush and the downed trees were stacked up.  So the three of us dragged wood and made a pile by our house and didn’t really think anything of it.  It seemed like a natural thing for us to do.

I found out later that the assistant foreman of the building crew, Vengai, had been watching us.  I heard through my buddy Guvere, the foreman, that he was shocked to see us hauling wood to our house.  Vengai said, ‘They are just like us! Mr Jeff didn’t have the garden boy to get the wood, they did it themselves! They are just like us!’  I cried when Guvere told me about this.  At this point we had been in Zimbabwe about 8 months and looking back it is still the highlight of my time there.

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I work alongside the men, but I still get called ‘Mr Jeff’ or ‘sir’, even by men older than me.  I will have the guys into the house for coffee, but you can tell that they are uncomfortable with it and love it at the same time.  It is a strange sort of space to be in. We want to be accepted into life in Doma, but realistically we won’t be.  At least on a large scale.  But we can be on a macro level.  On an individual level.

All of this takes me to something I firmly believe in and want to walk out in my life.  It is all about relationship.  To me building relationships are everything.  I treasure my friendships and my time in Zimbabwe was a time of building new ones that I can’t wait to get back to.  It is only through relationships that I feel people have a right to speak into each other’s lives.  I wouldn’t want a stranger to try to tell me how to live my life, but if someone I love and trust calls me on something, then I’ll listen.  This is my approach to life at Eden.  I am making new friends in Africa and they are learning to accept me and my family of foreigners.

I don’t care if I stand out when I’m tearing down the dirt road in Doma on my bike, or my kids stand out walking to school in the morning.  What I do care about, is that we are loving people and being loved in return.

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Closer

There were so many things that I didn’t know when we left for Zimbabwe.  Who could say what challenges, what opportunities, what joys and hardships we would face? You can try to mentally prepare for testing times, but until you face them you can’t really know how you’re going to make out.

One thing that I thought about a lot before leaving was how this change was going to affect our family as a unit, and as individuals.  Specifically, I wondered about Lia and Nae, what it would do to their relationship.  Being 4 years apart in age, they are sort of at different stages.  Movie nights can be more complicated now.  Lia doesn’t always want to watch Pixar’s latest offering, so we have to teach compromise.  What we witnessed over our time at Eden was awesome!DSCN6996

Lia and Naomi became friends.  Sounds dumb maybe, they are sisters after all and shouldn’t they be friends? But the reality is that siblings are not always friends, that’s just the way it is.  Our girls spent all their time together outside of school and they were great together.  We were able to watch them grow closer than they would have in Canada out of necessity.   There were about a dozen people on our last plane coming back to Canada and as soon as the seatbelt light was off Carole and I spread out, each taking a row of seats to ourselves.  We looked back to see the girls side by side, not even an empty seat between them, talking and laughing together.  In a plane where they could have been 30 seats apart, they chose to be as close to each other as they could be.  I just about cried to see them.2015-09-22 CLINIC, Lilli's Birthday, London, Airplanes, NB 220

As parents heading to the ‘mission field’ we worried about our girls, but so far, it’s been awesome and Lia says she can’t wait to get back.  Thank you, God, for that.