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A Stone Upturned
like butterfly that flits and sips
the nectar here,
and moisture there,
the poet tastes and stores to keep
in memory closets treasured deep,
moments of wonder, joy, and awe,
flashes of fire which seer the sore,
longings intense for something more,
emotions pounding at the door,
these he weighs and sifts through fine,
distils each drop like weathered wine
and then he trains his eye to see
beyond the leaf, a glorious tree,
beneath the oak, an acorn small –
the seed of hope where it did fall
to look and ponder from each view,
to see anew
that hidden ‘neath a mossy stone,
is some fine jewel of tawny tone,
when scraped and cleaned, the colours glow
as light is pierced when waters flow
all this is unseen by the mass,
removed from loud and harsh and crass,
cut off from where the crowd to throng,
that he may hear the silent song,
his senses rise to ecstasy
and plumb to deep profundity
yet this path is but for a few
those who take the time to woo
the words that wing, and set them down
to sparkle in a royal crown
thus lonesome is the poet’s ruse,
if he the gritty stone would loose,
to find the gem so rich and rare,
that others too his joy might share
It’s early morning, the dawn just breaking, and I’m on Wimbi beach with Jandy Janliya. The sky is rose, with streaks of gold, as the sun breaks into another day. The cold sand rubs against my bare feet as I wade through the shallows, the waves slipping through my toes. There are no big breakers here. The ripples just release their store and run quietly back, to return from where they came.
Jandy bounds along, her lithe body moving with studied grace, a shadow leaping through the ebbing water. She throws her head back with delight, and frolics as she splashes. I love to watch her. In her huge energy and strong movement, I feel stronger, and sense a renewed life coursing through my veins. She turns and looks at me. I call her, and she nuzzles my hand, her wet nose giving an affectionate push, before she thrusts forth again.
This is one of my happiest memories of life in Pemba, Mozambique. Such things I want to hold, and remember in days to come. Other memories stand like memorial stones in the desert. Just as the children of Israel were commanded to build piles of stones to remember God’s faithfulness, I want to erect memorial stones, to build faith for the future. Such stones, when captured and examined often lead to new discoveries, treasures hiding under the surface of day-to-day events.
Creativity is in every one of us, I believe, for our Creator made us in His image, and He is the essence of creativity. Perhaps such an inner surge can be repressed through force of circumstances, or even dulled through neglect, but once it finds an opening, it grows and grows, like the unfurling of a tightly-coiled spring. And so I find now that I must write. The thoughts must be seized, and carefully turned over … that revelation might come.
Indeed, it is a precious gift it is to be able to think, and to write. So many women in so many societies never have such an opportunity. I think of my Mwani friend, Zuana, sitting day after day over her coal fire in Pemba. What does she do with the creative urge within her? Sing songs? Tell stories? She loves to do that. Where would she be if she had had the opportunity to write?
But why write? What can I say that hasn’t been said before? The world is full of books, full of cleverness and truth. But we are each unique, and each has a different story to share, which just may speak to someone in a similar situation. I love the words I read some time ago: “The books that really speak to us are not those which tell us something new, but those which put into words the ideas we have been struggling with for years.”
And even if no-one reads what I write, I still must make the effort, reflect, and discover … for this is the way to move towards wholeness. Through writing, I encounter truth. Through shifting and sifting ideas, I learn. And thus, even if these musings are but for my own pleasure and profit, I am grateful for the opportunity to create with the Creator.
Intense emotions are best stored in small containers. Thus I find poetry to be a medium to express pains and struggles. The discipline of rhyme and metre helps me structure my thinking, and to bring order from a mayhem of emotion. Much of what I write is very personal and costly. But I do believe that by being vulnerable and transparent, others can enter in and perhaps gain from what I’ve learned. I hope that will be so.
Much of my adult life has been as a single woman in an isolated situation in Africa. Thus the struggles have been around being single – husband-less, kid-less, and the concomitant loneliness. Along with that has been the battle of feeling different and not fitting in. Some physical difficulties have also periodically raised their heads, and thus much of my heart’s cry has been to grow towards “shalom wholeness” – in relationships, in sel,f-talk, and in every part of my being. Those who identidy with these struggles may find some spark of encouragement in the words that follow. That is my prayer.
Apart from working through difficulties, the poem for me is also a way of capturing beautiful meoments, to paint “word pictures” to be held and caressedwith warm pleasure. As Barton said, “The poet’s vocation is to distil his experience and make it available to others … that they … may catch a glimpse of what he has seen …” Thus the second half of this section is a collection of such moments. May you catch a glimpse of what I saw, and be stirred in your soul.
I guess every little girl grows up imagining her wedding day, planning it in great detail as the years go by, even thinking of the names she would give her children … I guess God created us that way: to belong to someone, to nurture others, to be protected by a man, and to shape children. That was always my dream, and sometimes I still feel the longing, the sense of having missed out on something so integral to being a woman.
Other days I realise hos great is the freedom and opportunity that is mine. I can make plans to travel without consulting anyone. I can eat when I want, and what I want. I can spend all day gardening or reading or writing. No-one is upset or inconvenienced. This indeed is something many long for!
Yes, there are times I wish I had the counsel of a husband. There are days I would love to have a good conversation at the dinner-table. And many is the day that I have longed to know that I am needed, that I make a difference to someone, and am “special” to someone.
Sometimes the pain of being hjusband-less is accentuated. A week after I turned 30, my younger sister was married, and I was her only bridesmaid. Much as I was glad to share in her happiness, the reality of the situation was also salt in a stinging wound. After watching most of my friends get married in their 20s, I found myself in a new group, “the passed-over ones”, those waiting and waiting in the wings, hope waning with every passing year.
Ten years after reaching into spinsterhood territory, it was the big 4 crunch! For many this is a doom’s note that youth is fast fading. However, for the single woman, the crisis is exacerbated by the fact that the likelihood of her being a mother is ever decreasing. I found relief in pouring out my tears to the Lord through this poem:
On Turning Forty …
The tears have come, I’m cleansed and crushed –
like sweet grass after rain –
My heart is singing now with light
born out of piercing pain.
At thirty hopes seem fading fast,
I walk while others run,
The things they grasp at any cost,
I wait, and thus I’m one.
Ten candles more, new tears to shed,
other dreams must rest,
This womb will not burst forth with life,
I leave His good for best.
For more than all, my purpose this:
to pleasure Him each day,
to bring Him roses, scented blooms,
them at His feet to lay.
So may they come, the pains which press
distilling fragrance, Him to bless.
The writings of Helen Roseveare have been a great help to me in this regard. Helen was a medical doctor in the Congo during the Simba uprising of the 1960s. A strong-minded British lady, she had many serious conversations with the Lord about her singleness. In essence, her cry was this: Lord, if you’re not to give me a husband, then you need to satisfy the longings of my heart. What was refreshing to me was Helen’s ready acknowledgement of her needs. And her dependence, and i9ndeed demand, on the Lord to satisfy her.
Florence Allshorn, a single lady who lived last century, said that it doesn’t really matter whether we are single or married. Each has a different testimony to give. After speaking of the wonderful witness the married home can be, she added, “On the other hand, I think the unmarried person has something very fine to do, in showing that without having anything the world says you must have if you are going to be happy, you can still be happy and fulfilled, and I am very glad I have been able to prove that true.”
1 Corinthians 7:17 says, “Only let each person lead the life tha the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him.”
Indeed, Christ is more than enough. That is my heart cry, stireed by a desire to show forth the sufficiency of Christ. Even without a husband, even without children, we can be comp0lete, and full, and satisfied … if we are settled in Him.
Reaching the “big 5” was another milestone. And yet, somehow this time it was different.
It’s different now than then –
30 had wistful fears …
bride’s maid always to be,
but never wear the white,
40 was harder still …
the womb becoming dry,
no more “perhaps” or “might”.
Now 50’s almost here,
and yet a settled rest
has crept in on tip-toes,
the fret has turned to faith,
the eyes have seen beyond,
the heart has found repose.
It’s true, my skirt’s uncreased –
no children tugging there
and none at my heart’s door;
no man with whom to share –
to ease the heavy load,
and lift me when I fall.
A different course was mapped
by Him who knows the best,
it wasn’t what I planned –
but 50 years have shown
the wisdom of His ways,
He has me in His hand.
And so I give my thanks
my song of praise to You
for all Your ways so high –
You’ve drawn me closer yet,
You’re Pearl beyond all price,
Your loveliness is nigh,
and I am grateful!
Perhaps one of the hardest things for me as a single woman has been not having children to mould and shape. I guess it is the sense of “eternity within our hearts” that makes us long to be able to pour ourselves into the next generation. And to not be able to do that leaves one questioning one’s worth. I wrote this little poem after watching the son of my colleagues being intent on having his father’s attention, and seeing the great joy of being needed as a parent.
If not a parent, what …? (Psalm 147:11)
A chubby leap into a lap –
the mother smiles within,
A question asked, addressed to “Dad” –
the eyes look just to him.
Such joys of parenthood I see,
a sense of worth, of need
to others come, but not to me,
What, then, is my life’s creed?
What purpose, if no life I shape?
No real impact make?
Just sugar-icing spread out thin
to cover o’er a cake.
No life I shape, except afar
as aunt or friend can do –
The twinkle of a distant star,
the morning touch of dew.
But these don’t last long, and nor do I –
What of my life shall be?
A passing wind that rushes by?
A ripple in the sea?
And then I heard what God would say
in answer to my quest,
“Fear Me, for this is my delight,
In this you will find rest.
Seek not for things that others seek,
eternity’s at hand,
Just trust My love and care for you,
one day you’ll understand.”
In the Bible, the idea of one’s “portion” comes up now and then. The twelve tribes of Israel each received their allotted portion when they went into the Promised Land. The Psalmist speaks of his portion have fallen in a pleasant place. And Qohelet, the writer of Ecclesiastes, also talks about the portion or “lot” of man (Ecc 5:18). As we accept that it is God who apportions to each of us our lot, to be single or to be married, that changes everything. No longer is it just my good idea, for marriage or not, but it is something God has purposed before the creation of the world. Understanding that it is part of His intricately-woven plan for the world, gives purpose and value and a sense of privilege. We as single women are chosen to reveal a unique facet of His loveliness!
My portion (Eccl.5:18)
I look around and yearnings come:
a child to have, one I could guide,
to know and serve the One I love –
such joy! But this to me denied …
instead I watch as others come
their little ones to dedicate,
young parents full of hopes and plans –
no more for these I dream and wait.
Qohelet helps me find the way
to ponder what my portion be,
that which God in wisdom gives –
His choice, not mine, for He can see
beyond the world before me now,
and from my first days He did plan
a part for me in His design –
the ways of God, higher than man!
I’m not like them, I haven’t done
what most take as their rightful due –
to hold a babe, to hear him laugh
to share in all his school-years too …
to be the one to leave one’s mark,
a strong impression in soft clay –
instead my life is wrapped in books,
not touching lives in some deep way.
Qohelet, though, this wisdom brings:
“Receive your portion from His hand”,
don’t fret and look to others’ lot,
for this is what for you He’s planned.
Whate’er the pain it may entail
that’s nothing, in the bigger view –
this life is but a fleeting breath
and then it’s gone. But then breaks through
eternal life, when we will long
to have been faithful all the way,
and so my “helech” I’ll accept,
beholding Him and that great day.
Remembering too that He knows best,
my view is finite, small, and dim,
thus God I’ll fear in loving trust,
and find my heart’s sure rest in Him.
Married women have certain joys, single people others. Parents have certain joys, and single people others. Too easily we see only the ghings we miss –the fun of being a mom and having children who need you, or the whole afternoon to youself with no interruption. But each “portion” has its pleasures, and its challenges too.
I do believe that only as we accept our “portion” will we find true satisfaction with our lot in life. There is much joy that I experience as a single person, but it’s not always the places where others find it. I think of warm days exercising in the pool, or walking with my doggy at dusk on the beach. There has been the stimulation of working hard on some translation project, and then the tired but happy contentment of reaching the goal.
I watch a dragonfly alight on a purple plectranthus bloom. Its transparent wings glisten in the sunlight, as it sips the dew and sweet nectar. Then satisfied, it flits away. A picture of freedom – unshackled, unbound. That is my heart, when I stop to give thanks.
The dragonfly alights on the bark of a tree, and my eye is drawn to the glory of the leaves. What Painter of the woods is this, to throw such a palette together? Golden orange, lemon-lime, a marmalade of hues. And the maple a flaming red, against the wind-blown sky. Piles of leaves gather at my feet, and I scrunch through them, dry and crisp, like starched paper handkerchiefs blown from the line. To some the leaves are a bothersome burden, calling forth rakes, and sweat, and fires. To others they are pages slipped from heaven’s diary, recounting golden days of summer, transformed to the rich resonance of fall.
Some days the wind blows, and I feel its icy breath. But once the gusts have passed, the air is new, stripped clearn of dust. Indeed beauty is in the eye, rather than in the view. Those with eyes to see can rejoice in the gifts of singleness: opportunities to experience, to work, and to serve; the possibility to ponder, to have unhurried time in prayer. Indeed, we as single women have a signal treasure, to give witness to a truth that no-one else can ever do … that no matter what the world says, indeed Christ is enough! What a privilege is ours, to show forth this facet of the Jewel!
Probably the reason most people fear singleness is that its close companion is often loneliness. And no-one wants to feel isolated and out of relationship with others. We were created to be social beings. And so it’s natural that we should have such longings.
But as John Piper so eloquently says, stuffing ourselves with candy-floss dulls our appetite for steak. We can fill our lives with things and people, such that there is no room for the relationship that alone can satisfy.
When I first lived in Mozambique, I used to revel in the aloneness. The peace, the uncluttered life, the lack of noisy distraction, gave me time to think, and to reflect. Later, the social isolation and aloneness became oppressive. But it always drove me to God, to cry out in my pain to Him. And now, even in South Africa, I have often felt cut-off from others. But this has given me space to prod deeper within, to seek a contentment that is not rooted in circumstances.
One December day in Wheaton, the wondrous winter beauty caught me by surprise:
Gleaming, glistening, glittering snow
shafts streaming sunlight bring
the spirit starts to sing
But what of days dreary and dull
no streak of sun to see
all dismal dark
when life is on the lea ..?
That’s when I need to pause a while
to ponder winter’s part
in teaching us
true peace will come
from a contented heart
Loneliness is a part of winter. It can be cold and distressing, if one is not warmly wrapped. But it can be a time of exquisite loveliness, when the air is clearer and there’s a keen-ness to the view. Distractions disappear in a garment of white, and a bright silence pervades and fills.
Could we say then that loneliness is a gift? That which we seek to shun at all costs, could it be priceless treasure? Could the crushing heaviness sink us into a goldmine?
Perhaps, if we have a seeing eye. Perhaps, if we would risk embracing the possibilities. Perhaps, if we could leave off scanning the horizon, ever looking for a means of escape.
John Fischer writes that “loneliness is not necessarily a bad thing. Loneliness can open the way to an intimate encournter with God. It trains the ear to listen for His voice, His song, His breath in the wind. It unclutters the horizon and sharpens the eye. It heightens the awareness of His presence …”
Anything that brings us closer to Him is worth exploring. Unless we have chosen absence of pain above His presence.
Hudson Taylor made the comment: “It doesn’t matter how great the pressure is. What really matters is where the pressure lies – whteher it comes between you and God, or whether it presses you nearer His heart.” This is where loneliness can help us, opening the door for a wonderful discovery.
As I seek to be attentive, and to hear the whisper of His word, I find that He has indeed given some unusual treasures. And loneliness is one, abhorred and avoided by almost all, and yet a necessary prodder, if I am to live beyond frivolity.
Is that not true for all of us? He’s put a treasure within, but it needs to be minded. We are each given a means to bring forth the hidden jewels. The tools may be different, but all will take hard work.
So husband-less, kid-less, and facing loneliness, I’m pressed closer to His bosom, nearer to His heart. If these are your gifts too, I invite you to join me in mining for the treasure. I have a feeling that there is much more to discover.
I have lots of friends I deeply value. Some go back many years, others are new. And yet every now and then, I feel an aching longing, a sense that no-one around me can meet me in my need.
As a single woman, friends are very important. Those with a husband and children have a few intense relationships. Those of us who are single must have many relationships, for no one person shares all the ins and outs of our lives. When I lived in a big city, this was possible. At work, and at church, I had many friends. Each added to my life, and stretched me in different ways.
But when I moved to Pemba, I no longer had such relationships. The demands of trying to survive, and minister in a difficult environment, left most people with just enough energy to keep their own heads above water. And with few people to draw upon, I sensed a keen loss of family and friends. One day I poured this out to the Lord in this poem:
It’s sore, Lord
Day in, day out, no-one to share
The silent corners of my heart
I’m here, they’re there, yet ‘twas His call,
And to obey keeps us apart.
I long for friends, in little things –
The little ups and downs of life,
Someone to listen, to the end,
Someone who hears me in my strife.
It’s not to be – His whisper comes –
I’ve called you on a different way,
But Lord, I’m weak, I’m falling now –
How much longer can I stay?
Shouldering things beyond my strength,
No-one else to bear the load,
And so I trip, I fall, I faint,
Life has become an uphill road.
“In Me alone is your peace found,
in no-one else, however dear,
I am your Friend, beloved one,
Come draw aside for I am here.”
Yes, Lord, I come in this quiet hour,
You are my only refuge true,
You know my sins and yet You love –
To whom, Lord, could I come, but You?
Sometimes the Lord gives special moments with friends, times when we revel in the sweetness of companionship. Such glimpses of His love are worth holding in one’s heart. One such remembrance brought spring to a winter’s day. It was icy cold, and I was wrapped up under a blanket, sitting on my bed, and taking time to be quiet. The sky was grey, but my heart was warm, as I thought on the friends I had spent time with that day.
Spring in February
It’s grey outside,
trees stand forlorn –
stark scarecrows left out in the cold;
then in the dismal, dreary day,
a leaf-bud stirs,
hope to unfold
Through mists of cold, Spring skipped the stairs,
and quietly entered through the door,
I wasn’t watching, then I heard
the night jar sing a liquid call,
And carried on the evening air,
the lilies’ fragrance lingers near;
and from afar, the sound of bells,
ring forth in tones both sweet and clear.
And all of this, because Your grace
has given ears and hearts that care.
Winter flees, self-pity too,
with friends to listen,
smiles to share.
During one of my visits to Pemba, I was feeling very tired, and hemmed in at our office. Without transport, and living in the noise and discomfort of the bairro, I was not easily able to escape. But one Thursday afternoon, I was offered a lift to the home of friends who live right on the beach. It was quiet and beautiful, and enriched with good fellowship and a lovely meal. All of this I wanted to capture, to remember God’s mercy when He gave me six hours of “time out”, just when I desperately needed it.
Time Out, Six Hours on a Thursday
rowing hard across the sea,
fellowship, and time “to be”,
catching wavelets as they run,
wispy clouds and crimson sun
Such bounteous good to me is given,
quite undeserved, a gift of heaven,
Indeed He knows what we can take,
and sends refreshment in our wake.
This may I hold, when things aren’t “right”,
when babies scream and bedbugs bite,
and music blasts, and smells abound,
when peace and joy aren’t easily found.
Please help me then to count as small
the sufferings that on me fall,
And count as big the chance to prove
the adequacy of Your love.
Grief is a journey. It takes one into new territory, with unknown hills and valleys. Never does one return to one’s former landscape. Never again will the view be the same.
The Scripture says that “Weeping endures for the night, but joy comes in the morning.” Yes, indeed, but there is a night of mourning. A time when all seems dark, and when no birds sing. And as is known to the watchman who longs for the dawn, one cannot hurry the night to pass. It must simply be patiently endured.
But those who have been bereaved have a testimony that no other can give. Only they can testify that God is true to His word, that indeed He is with us “in the shadow of death.”
I lost my Dad when I was in my mid-twenties. It was a huge shock, and I felt a sudden vulnerability. But losing my Mum more than twenty years later was even more traumatic. Overnight I was no longer “a child” who could revel in a parent’s assured commitment.
Over the years the pain of loss has eased and I’ve adapted to the scar. But every now and then the dull longing recurs. At such a time recently, the Lord met me so tenderly. This little poem seeks to capture His reaching out to me:
a hollow ache flooding within,
a longing to converse,
but those I love are no more here –
who can the pain reverse?
I long to be a child again,
no more an orphan be,
but once again have Mum or Dad,
and sit upon their knee
And so to church, with not much hope
that God would something say …
then comes the word, “stretch out your hand
upon a child and pray!”
I wait, and thense I sense a hand
upon my head to rest,
Why, I’m “a child” before His eyes,
the one who’s now being blessed!
He sees, He knows, and once again
He calls me tenderly,
to be His own, converse with Him,
and sit upon His knee.
Jesus knew singleness, and loneliness was His. But these did not characterize his life. Rather we are amazed by the selflessness He showed. We too are called to be selfless. In Acts 1:8 we are told: “You will receive power …. to be my martyrs.” The Greek word for “witnesses” is the same as that for “martyrs”. We are given power to die – be it physically, or dying to self in the countless opprtunities that come our way every day.
Robert Moffatt, the missionary statesman, wrote: “We will have all of eternity to celebrate our victories, but we have only one hour before the sun sets to win them.”
From these two thoughts, this little poem comes:
Power to die
Receive His power, power to die
that you a martyr be,
and then go forth, where e’er He leads,
your cry: “For Him, not me!”
My little world is small and safe –
He calls me higher, higher
to catch the eagle’s glimpse of Heaven
to pass through holy fire.
For endless years we there can joy
in victories He’s given,
But now there’s but a brief one hour
until we get to Heaven.
Just one short hour to do His will –
May we then faithful be
That no regrets will cloud our eyes
When once His face we see.
3. Dealing with Physical Pain
My call to join Wycliffe and serve in Bible Translation came shortly after I had had major surgery on my strong leg, and yet once again was beginning to sense problems. Unconsciously, I was striving with the thought, “How will I be able to serve in the field with two weak legs?” It was at such a time that the word came clear and strong,
“In your weakness will My strength be seen.”
That has been a promise I have held on to through the years. At times the pain has been severe, at other times not. But in those moments when I am battling, I remember His word to me.
Here follow there examples where I found new hope as I poure3d out my pain to Him. The first was written soon ater I had arrived in Pemba for a month’s intensive work with the team, and found myself with agonizing knee pain.
Here I am again, Lord,
my knee scrunched up and sore …
and looking at five weeks ahead
of needing to give all.
Will this pain depart?
Or must I just push through,
and try and focus on the work,
while feeling sore and blue?
Today we heard from James –
a word simple and clear –
that “if we suffer, we should pray”;
to You, then, I draw near.
But there’s no word to say
that suffering will end,
just “pray!”, and then it’s up to You
what You should choose to send.
Please help me, Lord, to hold
the promise You gave me,
that in the weakness of my legs,
Your strength others will see.
And please enable me
to finish my life’s race,
not losing heart, but holding firm
the beauty of Your grace.
Enabling grace, that picks me up
when weary, weak and sore,
and puts sure strength into my knees
so I can run once more,
And thus complete the work
You planned for me to do,
looking ahead to that great day,
when all will be made new!
This second piece was also written in the midst of knee pain:
“In acceptance lieth peace” –
more easily said than done …
Lord, help me here in this dull pain
to trust what you have won
on that rough tree those years ago
when all my pain You bore,
You shattered bonds and brought bright hope
to all that on you call.
The pain may linger for some time,
But time will reach its end,
And then our hearts will run to You,
And on our knees we’ll bend
And worship You, and pour our love
Upon Your pierced feet,
That knew such pain yet shifted not
Your purpose to complete.
Perhaps like Lazarus of old,
this pain is not for naught,
But that your glory we’d behold
And praise you as we ought.
So give us eyes to see beyond
the pain and weariness –
to see Your shining, radiant joy
as you we learn to bless,
To keep our eyes on higher things,
the glories You have planned,
And so accept with trusting heart
whate’er comes through Your hand.
The following piece was a cry to the Lord, and through it He reminded me that the weight of the burden is not ours to bear.
Each morning it’s with me as I clamber out of bed;
I inch along to the bathroom,
shuffling and sore.
A thorn in the flesh to remind me “I need You”,
the One who is never weak nor weary ….
the One who renews my youth as the eagle.
Teach me today, Lord, to lean long and low,
to throw my all on your sure strength.
Alone I stumble,
I totter and fall,
but You are beside me –
I shift my weight to You.
4. Dealing with emotional pain
Sometimes I feel like a green leaf – strong and vital. The wind can blow and I simply bend, resilient and sure of whom I am. But the next moment, I may be battling with some darkness within me … a sense of being rejected and wanting to flee, or a brokenness that doesn’t want to reach out to others. Then I feel like a dried up leaf, fluttering off the tree, not sure of where I’m going and disconnected from the source.
All of this causes me to cry out to the Lord. Again and again my yearnings lead me in the same direction – to seek for more in the only relationship that has the potential to fulfill.
This little poem is one I return to often, as often I find myself “in the cracks”:
in the cracks
now and then
I find myself
in the cracks unseen,
with heavy heart –
not this nor that,
but something in between
a prayer may rise,
or wordless be,
so small – like mustard seed,
and yet He hears, and answers strong,
exactly to the need
He meets me in the cracks each time,
just where I be,
I couldn’t reach to Him, instead
He lifts me tenderly
out of the cracks
to firmer ground,
no more to wince within,
for I am loved
and warm and safe,
securely held by Him
Often the sense of isolation and not connecting to others is worse in a social situation where communication is superficial. The following was my experience at such an event:
Yet once again I feel exposed –
raw meat in blistering sun …
We talk, I share, but then she’s gone …
and what I brought hangs loose,
slips into nothingness,
I hide my pain
This has happened many times,
my heart I open wide,
but this is not the place,
I’m naked in the snow
Some may listen, even try
to enter in and hear,
but very distant is their world –
where is one who knows?
Home again, home alone –
deep in my heart I know …
There is One.
The following was my experience at a camp where we had the opportunity to go cross-country skiing. I had never done that before, and would love to have tried, but in the circumstances, was afraid to risk it. And so again I had to deal with a raw nerve …
Psalm 4:4 at Honeyrock
But know that the LORD has set apart the faithful for himself;
the LORD hears when I call to him. (Psalm 4:4)
It’s sore, Lord –
just “small talk” to her: “Are you going skiing?”
But a raw nerve in me is struck,
exposed at deepest being.
And again the pain stabs high,
and so once more to you I cry
It’s hard to be the one who can’t …
can’t go … in case my ankle twists –
I don’t know, I’ve never tried,
but I don’t feel secure to risk …
There’s no-one on whom I can call
to give a hand if I should fall.
And so it seemed wise not to go,
and yet the battle isn’t through –
I need to find a place of rest,
contented peace that comes from You,
in being heard for who I am,
and joying in Your greater plan.
Here smiles are wide, but guarded too,
a brush, a bump, and they withdraw ….
I want to be a friend, and so
I open up, fling wide the door,
But the response is great surprise,
“why tell this all?” is in their eyes.
Victoria helped me understand,
in her perceptive, caring way,
She said, “You share yourself at depth
much sooner than most others may,
because you move and don’t stay long,
friendship must rapidly grow strong.”
Only a few begin to grasp,
how those alone have things that must
come out, or else the dam will burst,
but where is one such depths to trust?
The one of small talk cannot bear,
she looks away, no longer there.
But you know, Lord,
You know the pain,
that sense of being cut off in flight,
blank faces not concerned to know,
not caring to “walk in the light”;
a heart left naked in the cold,
bereft, exposed, for being bold.
And so I come to You my Lord,
Whom I can trust, the Faithful One,
And in Your Word, You whisper love
that sets my heart to skip and run,
the truth that comes as ever new –
“You have set me apart for You”.
What depth of riches here to tell:
I’m Yours, You’re mine, and all is well,
Nothing I lack, my Shepherd-King
holds me secure, and I can sing.
For when the heart is full of pain,
He turns it all to priceless gain.
This next experience was in Pemba, Mozambique, when I was living among the mud huts in the bairro, the only white person around.
Some are kind,
they smile, they greet,
they show they’re glad you’re in their midst …
But others, Lord, they make it hard,
to reach beyond my own safe world
I try to be polite although
I don’t quite follow all they say,
and then they laugh, and I’m the butt,
it hurts, it hurts,
deep down it hurts
The children see me and they cry,
nzungu, cunha – strange white one,
and then a youngster shouts wiwi –
grandmother – not
what I would hear
And so I keep within my walls,
within my fence, all weekend too
And yet to You, I’m daughter, June,
and known beyond the skin.
Please help me, Lord, to hold on tight,
and see myself
through Father’s eyes.
One of my favourite Scriptures speaks of God crafting us as a poem. Perhaps if we could get hold of the truth that we are accepted and loved, things would be so different.
His poem (Eph.2:10)
if only I could know His love
deep deep down, deep inside
where all the raw rough memories
linger there and hide
then I would know a peace that holds
me through each bramble time
of squirmishing misunderstood,
the odd one, out of line
if I knew that He loved me then
I wouldn’t have to lift
the barriers of pride and self,
instead I’d take His gift
of Shalom, wholeness through and through
that quiet assurance known,
He loves me, not “because” or “for”
But as I’m His, His “poem”
Much as I long for that wholeness, I can’t get there on my own. The next poem captures something of that:
Why is it that I just don’t fit
inside this world so small?
So gawky, gangly, out of place
longing for something more?
Why do I never feel at ease,
accepted by the rest?
Why do I always try so hard
to please beyond my best?
How can I let His love seep through
and fill this hurting place?
What must I do to be made whole,
set free by loving grace?
What I can’t do,
please do for me.
No more to strive,
I wait on Thee.
Being misunderstood seems to be a part of life. One is often tempted to defend oneself, or try and explain, when one senses one is being critically judged by others. When I returned from the two years in the US, I found it difficult to feel “at home” within the Body that had been home many years earlier. This poem is a psalm, reaching out to the Lord, seeking to understand the situation.
What’s wrong, LORD …? Am I slipping,
sliding back, away from You?
Meetings, cultos – they don’t grab me –
nor the latest hullabaloo
And yet I love You, that I’m sure of,
You’re still the pearl beyond all price,
But I’m not into canned fast-faith-food;
rather give me beans and rice!
I long for You, not any other
Your precious fragrance, pure and true;
not signs and wonders, great and marvellous,
all I need and want is YOU
Others look, and judge within them,
no-one really understands
or cares enough to sit beside me –
But You do, LORD,
You hold my hand.
Thank You, LORD, You’re not like others,
Thank You, LORD, You’ll see me through
Thank You, LORD, your love is constant,
Thank You, LORD, for being You.
6. Hanging in there
Some days life is difficult. One gets out of bed, and life is a drag. On such days, “dreary days”, we can reach out with an open hand and heart, and trust that an infusion of divine life will transform the grey to silver.
The sky is grey, my heart is too,
nothing exciting, vibrant, new
Yet things will not this big hole fill,
nor even friend.
I need You, Lord,
as glove needs hand.
So, Lord, I look to You and wait,
for You to come invigorate,
turn grey to silver scintillate,
and with Your love intoxicate.
Some days are full of routine donkey-work. I wrote this little poem just after realizing the huge amount of pedantic, pernickety work before me, when I felt caught in a “slee”.
beyond the slee
hundreds of hairy hob-kneed legs
and yet one day … a butterfly,
flits here and there
don’t let me think I’ll always be
stuck in the slee,
but let me see …
to rise and sing
and soar with Thee
During a time that I was doing some translation-checking in Pemba, I jotted down this little poem which captures for me something of what the work involves:
waves rising, falling, crashing,
slipping through the silence,
words tumbling, rising, falling,
running through my head
a breeze breaks through and cools the brow,
a long, cold sip relieves the dry;
Kimwani, Greek, they march in step
and we sigh deep within!
“You have need of perseverance”, Paul writes to the Corinthians (??), and at times we all have such need. Then the bigger picture is often what helps us to keep going. Here are a few poems written at such times:
Lift your wings and soar –
He longs to take you higher,
Hear the whispered call,
The music through the fire.
There may be pain indeed
And loss of things thought dear,
But such will not last long
And He is always near.
So fix your thoughts on truth –
The glory that’s to come,
Renew your mind again,
For thus the race is won.
Seeing the bigger picture, and having hope, are companions.
because I hope
I plant a rose,
my eye sees it full grown –
cascading blooms across the wall,
a glorious golden throne
of petals holding beauty forth,
sunshine’s song displayed,
and in each bud, an angel’s smile
creased full, with joy inlaid
the day will come when thorn gives flower,
when what is pain yields fruit,
and until then I’ll hold on fast
to Him who is the root.
Another day as I watered a patch of brown earth where I had recently planted some hollyhock seeds, I realized that hope is what underlies such action. This set me to pondering, and the following was the result:
a shriveled seed hid in the earth –
a speck not easily seen
day by day we water, weed –
where then the burst of green?
instead the earth is brown and dead,
nothing to lift the heart …
and yet within the scrunched-up seed
swells hope, life to impart
so each day as I scatter seed
small things although they be,
I trust you Lord, to bring forth life,
some buds to pleasure Thee.
From 2007 to 2012, I lived in South Africa, but made periodic trips to Mozambique to check various translation texts. The following was written during a visit to the Mwani to check Psalms in 2009:
Watching the morning light break through –
coffee in hand,
birds a twitter,
Jandy lazy in her bed …
the garden touched with dew,
wet upon my feet
oats and water,
the packet gets smaller …
something to lift the heart
another day of work
and food and sleep
and work and food and sleep
How much longer?
And will I last …??
Not my plan,
but I must complete
Deep down I know they need this Word.
they don’t know
how much they need
but I’ve been there
and then I saw,
and my life changed
and so I’m here
Not because of anything else –
Please take my lunch –
small though it be –
and feed these ones –
until they rise
and bless Your name …
is my heart’s aim
Weekends away from home, on such checking trips, were always the hardest:
unhurried time in the garden
contact with friends
freedom to do
trying to fill,
and noise and heat and sitting alone
if I had a car,
I would fly … and swim,
and the days would be good
and refresh the soul
but I´m stuck –
no transport, and the bus too much –
so I sit and wait
for Monday to come
One of the first things I did as I sought to get to know the Mwani was to collect some of their proverbs. This was a fascinating exercise into the way they see their world. One of my favourite Mwani proverbs says: “A drop of water is the tide for an ant.” That inspired the following reflection:
A drop of water
The Mwani people have a word
they say with happy pride:
“A drop of water in a shell
is to the ant the tide.”
They don’t have much
as there they live
upon the coastal plain,
and yet they know that little things
can yield some priceless gain
A handful of five wriggly fish
caught in a swinging net
can keep the children one more day
and take away their fret
It may seem small – a water-drop –
not much to you or me,
but to the ant tucked in her shell,
it is the raging sea …!
So, too, some strange words on a page
may empty be to you,
but to the ones who ne’er have heard
it could be life anew!
For many yet in darkness walk,
their language still unwrit,
they need a messenger to bring
the blessed Manuscript
To learn their sounds and write them down,
and teach them how to read,
that etchings made in black on white
might fill their deep soul need
So Lord, we pray You take our drop,
the little we can give,
and use it as a swelling tide
that others, too, might live!
to what You’ve said,
and so I plead
Your mercy, Lord,
for those in need
keep them safe
keep them strong
as close they hold
and from all dread
release them, Lord
keep them true,
to keep their faith
always in You
6. Beauty to hold
Often I find myself overcome by the beauty of a moment: the richness and variety of autumn colours, the clarity of bright reflections in still water, the soft touch of falling snow in an ethereal haze of mistiness … such sensory experiences I long to capture. Film is too flat to hold the emotion, and so I try to squeeze the experience into a poem – a wash of words to try and paint a picture. Here are some examples:
This next poem is one of my favourites, both for the way the descriptions came together, but also because it recalls a very special day, my 40th birthday, when I first came across the coral in northern Mozambique. For many months, I had been searching to find it, and then on this day, I found it. What a gift! I was overwhelmed by the beauty …
just a swim, like other days,
back and forth through azure blue,
and then breaks forth a wonder-maze
of coral castles; with them too
a flash of colour, darting bright
between the tendrils delicate,
their chisseled features catch the light
and in and out the Angels flit,
and there below float fins of lace
the Fire Fish, with rustling skirt,
transluscent flurries waft with grace,
a wistful dance to notes unheard
a wonderland, and yet without
a mask I could not grasp the sight,
amazing beauty none can doubt
with eyes transformed, to see the light;
so too the best may pass me by
if earthly things constrain my view;
what mask would let me rise and fly?
the mask of faith,
that sees the true
Many of us encounter the Lord speaking to us through the beauty and quiet of a garden. This next poem is from the “quiet corner” in my first garden, in Gonubie.
Thank You for the garden –
for roses offering their perfume in the cool of dusk,
for sunshine and a place to sit and dream through languid days,
for water’s music as it falls to come and rise again,
strelizia and aloes too, which bring their vivid hues,
“the quiet place” tucked in between, offering its gift of peace.
Thank You for these blessings, Lord,
balm dripping from Your hand.
This next kaleidoscope was written during a “quiet day” that was held one Saturday morning in a lovely garden in Kenilworth. It recalls a moment of contentment and inner assurance.
In a quiet garden
The mountain peeks across the wall,
birds twitter in the trees
oaks all festooned in summer green,
dance with the gentle breeze
a blaze of daisies, golden bright,
sweet water tinkling by.
snapdragons in their regal show,
the wind begins to sigh
the busy buzz of bumble-bees,
sip nectar from the rose,
and bathed in sun the butterflies
flit here, and then repose
within that arbour of renewal
all heaviness released,
He comes and whispers close, “My child,
I love you, go in peace.”
The colours of Autumn always cause me to grope for new ways to grasp their magnificence. This next passage is my attempt from one glorious fall day in Wheaton.
The pale sun filters through the trees,
a canopy of lime and tangerine,
rust coppers and glowing reds,
shot through with streaks of sun.
Golden handkerchiefs on a washline,
on leaves dark green.
The sky above blue, blue and clear,
a thin jet trace, and splattered clouds …
A carpet of leaves beneath my feet,
tinged with yellow
swoosh as I step through piles of plushness.
And there a tree lit by the sun,
ringlets of gold,
a toss of the head,
the curls cascade,
leaving her naked, exposed and shy
The dogwood tree is all afire,
burning amber, tawny bright,
at its feet, thick clumps of colour
pulled off the trees,
and left for lost.
I trample through, like wading water –
soft, papery, and crunchy crisp.
At our language centre in Nampula, Mozambique, we have some benches set beneath some spreading cashew trees, between the conference building and the dining hall. Often people rest there during the day or in the early evenings, to chat with others, or just relax. One such evening was memorable:
Beneath the Trees
Spreading arms hovering above,
a trunk too wide to reach around,
standing there in stately strength,
festooned in leaves colours of gold,
the sun breaks through in brilliant light …
and we three sit at ease and chat,
until the darkness draws us in.
It’s pleasant there upon the bench,
beneath the trees, as evening comes,
and even more the sense within
of quiet peace,
belonging to each other
Another tree was the inspiration for the following:
leafy green, cool sublime
caressed with gilt-edged glow
her flowing locks with flowers festooned
stoop gently, bowing low
a place to come on such a day
of stifling, breathless heat;
her outstretched arms embrace me close
a verdant shade-kissed seat
within her quiet, gentle frame
I find a place to be
refreshed, restored by healing balm
that He gives, in a tree
While in the US, I was invited to a retreat for single missionaries to be held in Israel. The Lord amazingly provided the airfare, and I had a wonderful ten days in Galilee and Jerusalem. While at the retreat centre on a hillside overlooking Lake Galilee, I wrote the following three poems:
Dawn in Galilee
Snowy caps of Mount Hermon melt into pale sky,
and way below shines Kinneret, grey-blue jeweled by the sun;
across the stretched-smooth cling-wrap film, run ripples laughing by,
crinkling the sheet of water wide, they toss their heads and run,
then silver shadows fold the hills in early morning light,
and marble streaks of pearly grey caress with streaks of sun
the little town of Kfar Nahum, she straddles on the height,
and turtle-doves coo plaintive calls, their greeting one to one
I sit and marvel at the sight – these hills, where Jesus taught,
these waters where he walked and sailed, and maybe swam for fun –
right here He lived, the very God, and such a message brought
that in my heart He now can live, the great eternal One.
I was sitting on a hill overlooking the Sea of Galilee. It was dawn, and the shafts of sun were just beginning to strike the water. This poem seeks to catch that moment:
Sunlight on the Water
Sunlight on the water
dull grey begins to shine –
rich ripples of silk-satin
a tantalizing wine
But that without the sun
is lost in smoggy gloom;
a cloud of emptiness
that speaks of endless doom.
But should the glory reach
and touch with brilliant light,
the mist will melt away,
the dull will turn to bright.
And Radiance has come
to transform our dark ways
Receive, and drink Him deep
and then reflect His rays.
As I sat quietly on the hillside that morning in Galilee, I noticed some sparrows near me. These little poems sprung forth as a result:
Spring has struck –
the chase is on
but she protests
The little sparrow –
brown and plain –
swoops down, and he
pursues with zeal.
But she is off –
not much impressed –
to quietly sit
in sunshine warm
and sing her song
of praise to Him.
Her heart is set on higher things!
A dime a dozen they would be:
small, brown and plain, lost in the dust;
their song is sweet, but nothing else
would draw the eye to make a fuss
should one fall to the ground perchance
no-one would think it a great loss,
And yet my Father says He sees,
for Him the sparrow has a cost.
More so, He says, concerning me
when I trip or fall headlong
He knows, He cares, He lifts me up,
And with great love, restores my song.
The little sparrow lives to praise
his merry chirp greets each new dawn,
So may I too my Lord lift high
and sing His love with every morn.
I’m tired, Lord!
For many days
I’ve sat with books,
No time to play,
to sit and “be”
beside a lake,
beneath a tree.
But now a day of rest has come,
I linger in the warm clear sun;
below the lake a hazy grey
and folds of hills spring-green and gay.
A turtle-dove coos low his song,
and little birds chirp sweet and strong.
they dart and flit from tree to tree,
and as they go, twit merrily.
And here I sit one with it all,
the warmth, the joy, the peace, the call
to revel in what He has made
and lift my heart in thankful praise.
The following is based on a true experience, and one that shows how each people group has a unique gift to bring to the Lord. Here a group of simple women, illiterate but who had been taught to remember the Lord in communion, came up with their own meaningful way of celebrating the Lord’s Supper.
for the joy …
She broke open the coconut, piercing the skin with a mighty blow ….
So was His body broken for us
They drank the juice, its very life, sweet on their lips ….
to remember Him
They chewed the flesh, white and pure, giving strength ….
His life in them
A simple communion,
a few Mwani women,
remembering the broken body of their Saviour,
drinking His life, eating His flesh
And then behold, an overflow …
“He’s our Nvushi“,
songs burst forth,
“Insa (Jesus) – He’s the highest!”
And as I look beyond the seen
I see His face, lit by their love,
rejoicing in their child-like faith,
and well I know
they’ve touched His heart
“For the joy He saw before Him,
He endured that pain-filled cross …”
Is the joy they give Him now
part of the joy “before Him” then?
After completing my study program at Wheaton, I had the opportunity to work as a volunteer at the Grand Canyon for a couple of months. Not only was the work interesting and I met many people from all over the world, but I also had time, each morning and evening, to revel in the colours and beauty of the Canyon. However, again and again, visitors would get caught up in the majesty of the view, and fail to see beyond, to the One who made it all. This was a challenge that I sought to capture in these verses:
subtle in shades
of gold and green and shimmering red,
“What formed it? How?” they ask of me,
“Not ‘what?’ but ‘Who?’ ” each time I said.
Each spire and butte is not by chance,
but rather shows fine, crafted care
superbly sculpted with finesse,
“We are His work!” they do declare.
Yes, powerful water was His tool,
but He it was who poured the Flood –
not slow erosion through the years
but ordered by His mighty word.
The glory then belongs to Him,
Creator-God, so may we too
with spires and buttes lift high His praise,
and let His glory e’er shine through!
Creator of the Canyon
Men marvel wide-eyed, lost in awe
at such strength – untamed, vast –
great beauty way beyond the power
of human mind to grasp.
They write, they draw, they point their film
but fail to see beyond,
to Him who made it all, and now
still holds it in His hand.
They put it down to “forces” which
the chasms deep did flay,
the river falling, thrashing through,
“the plates did rise” they say;
But who is it who holds each drop,
commands the river’s way?
The One behind the surging power,
Whom earth plates must obey?
We look at little figurines
hunters of old did twist,
small symbols of their hunting prey,
not real, just shadow-kissed.
So too the Canyon represents
a true Reality,
it shows His power and splendour forth
to all with eyes to see.
The walls so deep for endless miles
show forth His powerful hand,
and yet as part of all He’s made,
they’re but a grain of sand.
A little poem, a song He sang,
a painting etched in light,
a pointer to a bigger Truth,
Creator God of might.
Beauty calls forth deep emotions, as the previous poems have sought to evoke. And a sense of the Lord’s goodness too draws forth deep wells of emotion – a desire to praise, to worship, to give thanks. This first poem was way to express my gratitude after a long day of travel:
someone waiting for me when I descended the rickety steps of the six-seater plane,
a vase of bright zinnias with a sparkly ribbon put outside my dorm door,
the offer of food, and drink, and kindness,
all unexpected …
transformed a long, long day of travel
into a home-coming.
Thank you –
This next poem was written on Palm Sunday, just after returning from a church service when we had sung “Your Name is like honey to my lips”. The sermon had been about the rocks shouting their praise to the Lord, and the trees clapping their hands. That morning I had also noticed the first snowdrop buds in our garden in Wheaton, and I had memories of recently making my first “snow-angel” during a week at HoneyRock camp in Wisconsin. These images are background to the poem.
Snowdrops and loudest praise
With honey from the Rock, You say,
You will satisfy my need,
and Your word says, “Christ alone
is that true Rock”, the one to feed
hungry, lonely, desperate hearts,
unfulfilled by worldly gains,
and so I come, and taste and find
the sweetest joy that never wanes.
Among the rocks a little clump
of green bursts forth, tips brushed with white –
snowdrops showing leafy heads,
and little buds, still curled up tight.
Last week the snow was deep and soft
like down; an angel on her knees,
remained behind from where I lay,
to sing among the clapping trees.
Today rocks cry their loudest praise
in honour to the greatest King,
their Creator, now the Lord
yet on a humble colt, riding
here to suffer much and die,
to bring about the Kingdom true.
He heard their cheers and yet He wept:
“Father, they know not what they do.”
The snowdrop bud slowly unfurls
releasing hope to all who see,
but once it was a wrinkled bulb –
cast aside beneath a tree,
The One before us on the colt
will also be despised, then lain
upon a tree, in suffering death
releasing hope, won by His pain.
So with the rocks, and trees so tall
I would shout loud my praise to You
who now must pass through death’s dark vale,
and in Your death I must die too –
upon the cross my will submit,
for if to live, I first must die,
and then for all eternity,
my King in heaven I’ll glorify.
One of the Amercian holidays I enjoy and find meaningful is Thanksgiving. Both years I was there, I was invited along with a group of others to a home for a nice meal, and then one by one around the table, we shared some things for which we were grateful. This led me to reflect on my year, and the following is the result:
A time to pause, slowly reflect,
and offer grateful praise:
a year of books, papers to write,
busy, mind-stretching days!
But there were times when home seemed far,
misunderstood and blue,
then a kind word would draw me back,
pink sky come piercing through.
Some wondrous days I’ll e’er recall,
rich treasures of His grace …
beside the lake, with twinkling lights,
snow soft upon my face
And there among the white-decked trees,
an icing angel pressed,
and music, lights to cheer the gloom,
e’en time to sit and rest
That longed-for morning when I spied
a snowdrop pushing through,
and then the colours of the Fall,
that made me gasp anew
A tapestry of gifts I’ve had
this year, I’m blessed indeed!
E’en in the darkness He has come,
His love has met my need
And what’s ahead is creased with hope –
my heart begins to fly …
So thanks to God who brings me through,
The following poem remembers various experiences one Sunday in Wheaton. I expected a “nothing day”, tasteless like the flour and oil balls one buys on the street in Mozambique. But instead it was special, like the delicious doughnuts someone brought to our Sunday School class earlier that day.
Cream puff (Sunday, 11 Sept. 2005)
I took a bite, thought it would be
a Moz-style “dough-ball”, made in haste –
flour and oil (not much else),
something to eat, but lacking taste.
Instead my tongue was bathed in air,
light and frothy, squishy cream!
surprise and pleasure mingled there –
such delight, a heavenly dream!
A day of cream puffs this has been,
unexpected happy things –
riding to church in summer warmth,
the bike giving the joy of wings,
Warm welcomes in the Greek class too,
Jon Laansma with his shy, kind grin,
and Ellen reaching out, and Peg –
a sense of “rightness” deep within.
Then on to lunch with special friends –
Steven and his Emily –
chicken with mash and garlic too,
followed by fragrant Earl Grey tea.
And after happy chatterings,
to feast on music, rich and strong –
a free concert at College Church –
violin and voices joined in song.
A lovely day, a Sabbath rest,
blessed later with such happy news
talking to Dana on the phone,
“the pink” has come, gone are the blues …
So thank you, Lord, for cream-puff days,
for happy unexpected things –
may the sweetness of the taste
remain, whate’er tomorrow brings
For You’re the one who gives the treat
transforming “ordinary days”,
and so we lift Your name on high
and sing to You our grateful praise!
While at Wheaton, I used to enjoy wandering through the Billy Graham Museum every now and then. It was in the same building as the Grad School, and usually had an interesting art exhibition on display in its foyer. One such exhibition had a beautiful painting called “balcony in Heaven”. It showed some angels looking down and rejoicing … This, together with Isaiah 43:4 (“You are precious in my eyes, and honoured, and I love you”) was the inspiration for the following poem, which I wrote for my special friend, Dana.
The one loved by the King
The word comes sweet and simple
and yet so deep, profound
“You are precious to me”;
the angels look around,
to see where He is gazing,
the one whom He does love,
I hear them say, “It’s Dana!”
joy echoes from above,
and then they stop in wonder
as He once more speaks low,
“You’re honored, child,
I love you”;
one draws his violin bow,
and trumpets fill the air
as heaven starts to sing,
rejoicing to behold
the one loved by the King!
7. Inspired by Scriptures
Sometimes the Lord distills one or two truths from a passage of Scripture, or from a sermon, and these form themselves into a little poem, a tool to hold on to truth. This first poem came out of a reading of Ezekiel 28:11 and Isaiah 14:12-14. Interpretations vary as to whom the Ezekiel passage refers; commentators suggest it is a human (the king of Tyre, or Adam) but mythology holds that Lucifer too was staggeringly beautiful. Being God’s creation, and there then being no sin in the world, surely he must have been magnificent! The Isaiah passage is commonly accepted to refer to Lucifer, when he tried to usurp God’s position, and so fell from heaven. These ideas come together in this little poem.
Bejeweled with dazzling gems aglow
in every heavenly hue,
the music caught within his wings
was such as angels knew.
“Reflect my light” was God’s design,
but he himself desired to shine.
“No more I’ll stoop to serve my God”,
the cursing choice was made,
“I’ll rise to all that I can be”,
the light began to fade.
Wild seething darkness gripped within,
the trace of hell, the birth of sin.
We too are inlaid with fine jewels
and soaring songs of praise,
We too must choose who we will serve,
whose name we’ll seek to raise.
The throne has room for only one,
We are but stars, He is the Sun.
Working with Scripture is a real privilege as one has opportunity for the words to wash over one repeatedly. And in the process of translation, one must chew each word and get hold of its full flavour. But all of us have the opportunity for such, through study of the Word. After such a gathering, where we were studying the first chapter of Joshua, this poem presented itself.
The promise of His presence (Joshua 1:5,9)
meditate, … again, again …
ponder, and chew some more …
draw out the promise, write it deep
within your treasure store
note the command and see within
its truth, a promise too –
of blessing, life, and shalom peace,
to those who it would do
“The land is yours!” So occupy,
take hold of what He’s won,
He promised Life, it’s yours to take –
Life whole, and full, and strong
And He says too, “where’er you go,
there I am, at your side”,
Can that be true? I’m ne’er alone,
but loved by Him, His bride?
Not only is His presence sure,
but there too grows the seed
of rest, contentment, wholeness too,
all that we’d ever need.
Another little verse came from meditating on 2 Thessalonians 2:16
Already given …
for today plenteous grace:
to be, to do;
for tomorrow strength to face,
with joy get through;
it’s a promise we can hold,
and thus strengthened we be bold
to obey all that we’re told
to honour Him!
This next poem seeks to capture three essential elements of the Christian life, knowing:
i) our position (“in Christ”)
ii) our placement (what He has prepared for each of us particularly to do) and
iii) our purpose (to lift up His praise, and not our own)
Position, Place, and Purpose
That’s who I am, “righteous in Christ”,
a glory-gripped position,
nothing can change that, for indeed
Jesus fulfilled His mission.
And in His great eternal plan,
He’s put me in this place,
and shaped me too for perfect fit,
to run and win my race.
But most of all, His purpose high:
that, through us, all would see
the wonders of our awesome God,
and so would bend the knee.
8. Word Play
Writing verses or poems takes a bit of effort, but the joy is that there is often a discovery. I start off, not sure where I am going, and then in retrospect, am amazed at how the Lord has directed me. It makes writing an adventure!
I never know
quite what they’ll do,
these words that jump alive:
march straight like soldiers,
two by two,
or run away and dive,
or quietly wait for me,
to usher them to their marked seat,
the place where they should be
sometimes they rustle in their skirts,
showing off their finery
they curtsey, and,
with heads demure,
look shyly up at me
and should I give the nod, their eyes
are filled with ecstasy
and toss their heads
and float in harmony
and as I join with them, I find
they’ve led me back to You,
the One who pulls their strings,
to show me something new
I love playing with words, much as one mixes paint, or arranges Lego in different ways. The following is a playful verse which highlights the fun of being creative with words:
fat words, full of juice and bite
like hairy caterpillars …
squirmy ones that wriggle here
and r – u – n across the page
others polished, carefully sought
for eloquence and show
some that seek to be “a pair”
with rhyme and ordered flow
and those that shun to be
in bold relief
just marks of black on sheet of white
yet variously they paint …
water-colours, in soft light
bold oils embracing LIFE
abstracts seeking truth within
and wafty brush-strokes, gently smudged
with incandescent glow
and all of these I find within …
paint dabs that speak with different voice,
so let me play
and toss around
and see what comes to be!
 “Helech” is Hebrew for “portion”.
 Cultos is Portuguese for “church meetings”.
 Hefzibah is Hebrew for “My delight is in her”. I worked on a kibbutz in Israel called Hefzibah, and gave that name to my first home too. (Later I changed the name of my GOnubie house to Beit Shalom – the place of wholeness.)
 “Kinneret” is another name for the Lake of Galilee.
 Nvushi in Kimwani means Saviour.
 A snow-angel, which I made up in the woods of Wisconsin during the heavy snows of Easter 2005.
 Shukran means “thank you” in Arabic, one of the languages I studied at Wheaton that year.
 Adonai means “Lord” in Hebrew, another language I studied that year.
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17. The Boat Trip
“Anywhere – wherever you want to go, we’ll take you.”
I looked quizzically at the bald-headed man in front of me. This was Andre, the captain of the Linaka, a beautiful, sparkling-white catamaran which had just skirted the sandbar of Pemba Bay, and was now lying at ease in the deep water. He was responsible for sailing this mission-boat around the islands of southern Africa. And here they were now in our corner of the world, offering us their help. “Whew! It would be great to get the Jesus Film out to some of the remote islands.” And so the seed of an idea was planted, my head running in twenty different directions.
With Andre were his crew of three, and a lady Veronica who they had been helping in her work around the island of Madagascar. Veronica, seeing my excitement, said: “It’s pretty rough out there. You can’t imagine how good it is to have one’s feet on firm ground again”. They had been against the wind coming into Pemba, and it had been a night of hard sailing. But even the green look on her face and her eyes hollow from lack of sleep could not dull my excitement. I loved boats, I loved islands, and I couldn’t wait to get the film out to where it could make an impact.
As the four of them shuffled out the door, to make their way up the hill to the town, Andre smiled and said, “We’ll be back this time next year then”. His brown eyes twinkled mischieviously.
Over the next months, I was involved with other things and the “boat trip” slipped to the back of my mind. Then one day, some nine months later, Hendrik (one of the newer missionaries) came bursting into the office: “I’ve just heard from the Linaka. It’ll be here in two weeks!” Two weeks! And we still had to prepare the literature, and hope and pray that the copy of the Jesus Film would arrive in time. For months I had been harassing the people who were editting the film. We had been waiting for over a year. Would it be here in the next two weeks?
My friends in Pangani, Dudley and Jan, also wanted a copy of the film. They were finishing up a two-year project in this little Mwani village, and as a climax, they were planning a special jambo. This would be a community celebration, with reading of Scripture and the showing of the film. When it looked like the editted version would not arrive in time, I offered Dudley the pre-editted copy to use. Each day they handed out a hundred tickets, and each evening, the ticket-holders jammed into the yard of a village home, to watch the film on a small TV monitor propped up on an old, wooden table.
Movies were not a complete novelty in the village. A couple of people had video machines and would charge others to watch some imported story. But this was the first film in their own language they had seen. They were fascinated! And moreover, it was free! This was good news in a community where every metical was carefully weighed before it was spent.
The plan was for us to get to Pangani the second day of our trip, and try and join in with the jambo and the showing of the film. The first day we stopped at the little island of Nfunvu. It was a clear morning as we anchored the Linkaka and took the little “rubber-duck” into the shallows, from where we waded to the shore. Immediately we were met by a delegation of islanders. There in front, with a big smile on his shiny black face, was a young man, “Madura, 2nd-in-charge on the island”. He and his friend Vicente took it upon themselves to look after us.
We sat down on the sand and pulled out a story book. Barefooted children hesitantly tripped forward, and sat down on their knees, eyes wide with anticipation. A few women sauntered over from their huts, curious but cautious. My Mwani collegaue, Saweji, pointed to the pictures and read to them. Their eyes lit up as they heard the book talking to them in words they could understand! What would it be if they could see the film?! Perhaps it would still arrive and we could stop there again on our return journey.
The next day we arrived at Pangani, one of the loveliest corners of the Mozambican coastline. The coast ripples in and out, with protected bays providing anchorage for the countless fishing dhows that ply the area. As we dropped anchor, the sun was sparkling like jewels on the undulating waves; the sandy bay with just a smattering of smooth pebbles, made it possible to bring the rubber-duck in close to the beach, and we were able to wade ashore with only our calves getting wet. This time there was no delegation to meet us, as the beach is somewhat secluded from the village. But we had been here before, and so found our way along the sandy paths between the coconut palms to the home of Dudley and Jan.
That afternoon was the big jambo. A tarpaulin had been set up in the area outside our friends’ home, and colourful capalanas decorated the inside, giving a festive atmosphere. This was a celebration, and all were invited, to hear the Scriptures being read in Kimwani, and then to share in a feast. Women were already busy cooking huge mounds of coconut rice, sitting on their haunches over the fires. Coconut shells littered the courtyard, and a toddler, nose running, reached for one and idly scooped up dirt. Other women chattered away as they stirred goat stew or cut up tomatoes to make a salad. Husks of garlic blew in the breeze from the many cloves that had gone into the stew. Pieces of dried mango and slivers of chilli had also been added to give a spicy tang. All these delicious fragrances filled my nostrils as I listened to the contented chatter of those anticipating a good meal.
The jambo was due to begin about 3pm and by then a group of about a hundred had assembled in the area, some sitting inside the tarpaulin, others hanging on the fringes of the crowd, curious to hear and see, but not ready to commit themselves by identifying too closely. For about an hour, they listened attentively as Scripture was read and then explained. Thereafter it was time for the feast, and the huge mounds of food were set before the people.
That night we joined our friends in the yard where the Jesus Film was being shown. This was exciting, to see the reaction of people, as they heard the message of the Gospel in their own language. Some people had asked for tickets for more than one night, and had sat entranced each time. As I stood in the back of the yard, leaning on the bamboo fence and watching this spectacle before me, I longed for the people on the islands we were to visit to also have access to the film. Why not copy the video, and show that on the boat? Although it did not have the final editing, it was certainly better than nothing. When I got back to the boat, I suggested this to Andre, but he had had an even better idea! As they had just come from Madagascar, they had on board a 16mm copy of the Jesus Film in Malagasy. Why not show the Malagasy film on a large-screen, in sync with the soundtrack of the Kimwani video?
So that is what we did. But the film and the video didn’t move at exactly the same speed. Thus, every now and then Andre had to momentarily stop the film to allow the sound-track to catch up with the picture! This he did a few hundred times each showing … so first his one finger was blistered, then the next! But in this way, over 1200 people were exposed to the film. In a way beyond anything we could have anticipated, our prayers were answered – the film did “arrive in time” after all!
From Pangani we sailed on to the long, thin island of Matemwe. With us was Rui, a Mwani living in Pangani. He had recently become a Christian, and was excited to be returning to Matemwe, the island where he had grown up. However, as he had not been there for some time, he didn’t remember the location of the villages. So as we approached the first grove of coconut palms, we looked through the binoculars, scanning for any sign of life. With little to encourage us, we decided to drop anchor anyway, and to take the little boat into shore. There, amongst the trees, we found two solitary women, sitting guarding the developing fruit. The one, about twenty, had her face painted white, with the traditional mask to soften her skin. She shyly told us that she had learnt to read on Ibo, at the literacy school we had started there some years earlier. Her reading was very hesitant, but she pleaded with us to leave her a booklet … such determination, and hunger for written words!
We asked where the village was, and she vaguely pointed down the beach. Once back on board, the captain motored the catamaran a few miles down the long island, and we went on shore once again. This time we found only two men! They were fishermen of another language group, but still interested to receive any literature we had in Portuguese. “Where is the village” we asked, and again they gestured down the beach.
Being some miles from the point of the island, we returned to the catamaran and sailed as close to the end as possible. There was a lot of coral with sharp spines protruding in the shallow water, so we had to moor some distance out, and take the rubber-duck in. Then we tramped down the beach a couple of miles, and at last, at the far point of the island, found a small village. The people responded with big smiles to our greetings, and a little old man pushed himself forward and introduced himself as “the President of the island”.
I looked at his white stubbly hair and smiled; clearly age was still venerated in this place.
After explaining what we wanted to do, the president gestured warmly and said, “Yes, you can show the film here,” and he indicated the area surrounding the school. It was an exquisite spot, in the midst of the swaying coconut palms, with the sea washing the pebbles and sighing quietly in the background.
We spent the afternoon walking around the village, greeting people and inviting them to the film that evening. There were a number of people who could read, and so we gave them tracts and encouraged them to share the words with others. Rui also used every opportunity to preach the Gospel with those who gathered around him; using a “wordless book” consisting of five squares of coloured felt stitched together, he would point to the first page and say, “This is your heart. This is how you are before you know God.” Then, clearly and simply he would present the good news.
That evening, as the sun began to sink into the sea, we set up the big cloth screen, stringing it from one palm to another. People began to congregate, sitting in groups on either side of the screen. We began with some lively songs, which we had translated into Kimwani: “Walk, walk in the light”, and around we walked as we sang with great gusto. The children, and the women, were delighted with it all – they loved to sing, and giggled as they tried to do the accompanying actions.
Being an old-fashioned reel-to-reel film, there was a fifteen minute break half-way through, while the reels were changed. This gave good opportunity for Rui, or one of the others, to share of the reality of their faith. Rui spoke that night on Matemwe, and it was very moving. He referred to the story of the demoniac who was healed by Jesus and then told to “go home and tell your people what God has done for you.” With his voice ringing strongly through the clear night air, Rui said to those around him, “So I’ve come back home, to tell you of what God has done for me.”
After the showing of the film that evening, the President grasped our hands firmly and said, “You must show the film in my village tomorrow.” So we set off with happy hearts, lugging the heavy generator and all the other paraphenalia, back to the boat. It was a beautiful night with the moon lighting the way. However, the sea-floor was very uneven, so as we waded through the water to the rubber-duck, first one and then another fell into the holes. At one point, the captain’s feet got sucked into the mud, and as he heaved out his foot, his shoe came off and floated off with the current. No-one could help as all had their hands full of equipment! Just at that moment, one of the crew arrived with the rubber-duck, and retrieved the disappearing shoe.
So there was much hilarity as we made our way back to the boat, a lightness borne out of a common “crazy” experience. What on earth were we doing, tripping through the African night, knee-deep in water, and with our hands laden with equipment? Only a common commitment to a higher purpose could explain such absurdity.
The next evening we set off again, to walk the four miles to the farther village. The others were carrying the heavy equipment, but I still couldn’t keep up with them. I was tired – it had been quite some walk the previous day. So I said to the others, ‘You go on ahead. I’ll come at my own pace.”
And so I wandered along, strolling slowly along the sandy beach, enjoying the sound of the waves rustling against the smooth pebbles. As I entered the first village, I was surprised to see the President, riding towards me on his bicyle.
“Jump on”, he said, “I’ll take you to the village.”
Somewhat bemused, I positioned myself on the carrier, grabbing the President’s waist to make sure I didn’t fall. The bicyle had certainly seen better days, and it wasn’t going to be easy for him to keep it moving.
A lady standing nearby shook her head at me, and said, “No, put your hand here” and she indicated his shoulder. So I sat side-saddle, with my hand demurely resting where advised, and was escorted along in style. I felt like the Queen, sitting side-saddle on her steed, although I expect the view before me surpassed any she would have seen. The coconut palms swayed in the breeze, and the waves rippled in the sunlight as we trundled along on the rickety bicycle. My job was just to try and keep my feet from hitting the ground; the President gallantly did all the hard work!
The film that evening was shown outside the President’s house, so I certainly didn’t expect him to give me a ride home again. But realising it was about an eight kilometre walk, I set off immediately after the film, to get a head-start on the others. As I walked along, I chatted to some of the ladies who had been at the film. It was pleasant and companionable, in the clear night air. Just as they turned into their homes, and the next section was looking rather dark and lonely, the President appeared again, with a cheerful, “Come on up!” And so he took me back again, all the way to the first village.
From there it was a lovely walk in the moonlight along the beach. I arrived back before the others, and even had time to lie back in the cool sand and marvel at the array of glittering stars in the heavens above. When the other arrived, they said to me with great consternation, “What happened to you? We left soon after you, and we never caught you up!” What a special experience, to be stored in my treasure of memories – the evening I rode side-saddle with the President!
After two nights on Matemwe, our next destination was to be the island of Ibo. I was especially looking forward to this as my first months among the Mwani had been spent on Ibo. Moreover, we had some good contacts there: for many years, the Floors had lived and shared their lives with the people there, and we had been running literacy classes on Ibo for some years too. It was a beautiful morning as we came near the island. I was up early, sitting at the front of the boat on top of the roof, enjoying the peace and beauty of a new day.
That morning we spent a few hours running all over the island, spreading the news, “There’s a film tonight… in Kimwani! And it’s free. Down by the municipal offices.” This message we relayed countless times, calling “hodi’ at someone’s fence, and then popping our heads in the gate to address those in the yard. The women would be sitting around idly chatting or pounding rice to remove the husks. Some of the younger ones would be painting their faces with nsiro (a white dye made from tree bark), or doing one another’s hair. Toddlers, usually wearing a little T-shirt but nothing else, would straddle by, playing in the dirt. And so the message was spread, from one compound to the next.
As we moved about, I carried a pile of pamphlets, clearly exposing the picture of “Two-ways” to interested passers-by. We soon had a cluster of little boys, trailing after us. The one little boy was very persistent. “Give me a book”, he kept on insisting. He only looked about six so I didn’t expect he could read; consequently, I kept on refusing, until his persistence caused me to say, “Can you read it?” And he could, beautifully. So he, and all the others who could read, received their own copy to take away. We even gave to some of the women who clearly could not read; instead we explained the message to them from the drawing on the cover. Hopefully they would find someone in the family who could read, and we trusted the illustration would speak to their hearts.
It was actually very encouraging to see the literacy level on Ibo. The years of having the literacy classes there, plus the government school teaching Portuguese literacy, had had a very positive effect. As a result, we distributed many tracts across the island, both in Kimwani and in Portuguese. We made contact with a group of teachers who were on Ibo for a conference; they were very interested in what we had to offer them, and not being Mwani, were glad of the Portuguese literature.
That afternoon a surprise awaited me on the boat. I was sitting out on the front deck, enjoying the sunshine, when the captain’s wife arrived with a laden tea-tray, heaped with banana-muffins and a delicious chocolate cake! The latter had been baked by the captain in the boat’s microwave! All the others came out to join me, and proceeded to sing “Happy Birthday!” What a surprise! Someone had sent a birthday e-mail to me in Pemba and this had been forwarded to the boat by radio-link!
That evening was perhaps even more special, although it began with some tense moments. We were about to start projecting the film when someone announced that we couldn’t begin until we had permission from the policeman on the island. He was apparently at mosque, and not able to be found. We were anxious to begin for many in the crowd had already been sitting there for a good hour waiting. We were afraid they might get up and leave, if we didn’t begin the film fairly soon. But where was the police-man? Just as we were beginning to lose heart, he staggered along, not quite sober; we paid him the amount required, and the film could begin.
Excitement was high as hundreds sat on the ground and watched mesmerized. As the disciples were introduced, they laughed with delight to hear names like “Tamimu” and “Yahaya” that they knew in Kimwani. With the crucifixion, there was a hush over the crowd, and one could sense the tension as the nails were driven into His flesh. That such a One would die for others seemed beyond belief! With the Resurrection, and Christ’s appearing alive again, sighs were released from the crowd – there was hope after all!
As the interest on Ibo was high, we decided to spend another day there. In the morning we visited people in the market and read the pamphlet to them. Another of our team sat down on the harbour wall; a little group quickly assembled around him, and he went through the wordless book with them, sharing the meaning of the Gospel.
Another important visit that day was to our friend, Pedro. I had seen him the previous evening, at the showing of the film, and what an extraordinary encounter it had been!
I had not seen Pedro for a year, since he had worked for my Swedish colleagues in Pemba. Then he had apparently “disappeared”, but here he was again now, living on Ibo. What a blessing this would prove to be. He was a Christian, and had a heart to reach out to the Mwani. “Please give me some literature to have at my house”, he begged. So we supplied him with pamphlets and tracts, as well as a tape-recorder, with Kimwani songs and stories on cassette. He set this up in his front yard, with a chair alongside, so that passers-by could stop and be able to hear the message.
In this way, the ten days of our boat-trip rapidly passed by. It was a wonderful time, seeing the materials we had prepared being used with the people. On our return journey we stopped again at Nfunvu and showed the film, as we had promised. It was a good evening there; the people were thrilled to hear the story in their own language, and we had some time praying with a woman who had a very severe eye-problem. How we longed for the Lord to touch her eye, as we had seen Him do in the film!
Some ten days after getting back to Pemba, a message came from Pedro on Ibo: “Please send help. There are fourteen people here wanting to start a church.” This was in response to the film! Of the fourteen, only one was a Mwani, but still this was an encouragement. The many years Sebastian and Karen had lived on Ibo they had prayed and worked for such a response. Now some fruit was evident, and we were very grateful.
18. Heading for Furlough
When the Floors first left, the plan was that I would remain for a year, completing a “mini Bible” consisting of six New Testament books (Mat, John, Acts, Gal, Heb, 1 John) together with the Pentateuch (first five books of the OT) and Ruth. However, during that year, we sensed a significant blessing from the Lord, enabling us to do far more than we had anticipated. Thus we decided to extend the goal and seek to complete the New Testament, and a good bit of the Old Testament, including the major narrative stories.
I was also aware that the Lord was answering our prayers for more workers among the Mwani, and that these new missionaries would need Scriptures to use in their evangelistic work. Thus I decided to delay my furlough for a year or so, and try and complete the work before leaving.
Was that a good idea? I’m not sure. For the next two and a half years, I felt like a “production machine”. From first daylight until long in the night, I pushed myself slavishly. Apart from trips to the beach with Jandy, for a walk and a swim two or three times a week, my life consisted simply in working. I realised this was not healthy for the long-term, but I wasn’t sure how long I could cope with the extreme isolation; thus I decided to try and get the work done as fast as possible, and so be able to leave.
But such an intense life-style did take its toll. Small concerns became heavy burdens as there was no-one around with whom to share them. Occasionally a colleague would pass through town and show some kindness and support, and my bottled-up emotions would find a release-valve and come tumbling out in a torrent of tears. I hated living on the edge of exhaustion but there didn’t seem to be an alternative, apart from pulling out of the project prematurely. But the Lord did enable me to see it through, and the draft was completed and most of it checked, within the time-frame set.
As I considered when to begin furlough, it seemed right to do so in June of 2003. Our branch conference was to be in early July, thus from a human perspective, it made more sense to go to conference, and then proceed on furlough. However, within me I sensed the need to get to South Africa, and so set about bringing everything to closure.
I wasn’t sure what I would be doing during furlough, or thereafter for that matter. All I knew was that I was very tired and needed an extended “time out”. The work was at a point where it could be left for a while, without causing problems to anyone. Shikito was to go to Bible-school for three years, and all other loose ends were tied up. I gave up the rental of my little house, and set off, with Jandy, to drive to South Africa.
John, from the church in Kempton Park, came up to accompany me on the long journey south. The first day we drove to Nampula, where SIL has established a large base. After six hours in the car, it was good to get out and stretch. I took Jandy for a long walk around the perimeter of the property, and on meeting some of my colleagues, was told that there was to be a party for one of the girls shortly. After settling Jandy into her basket, I ambled across to the new conference room, arriving a little late for the festivities.
As I walked into the room, I found it all decorated beautifully, with an arrangement of flowers, pretty paper serviettes in glasses, and the tables arranged in a horse-shoe, as if for a banquet. To my great surprise, I was ushered to the empty seat at the middle of the horse-shoe, and when I looked at the wall across from me, there was a bright poster with a Scripture verse in Kimwani. This was a farewell party for me! We then had a special time of giving thanks to the Lord for what He had been doing in the Mwani project, and different friends prayed and led us in songs of praise. What an affirming time of fellow-ship and encouragement, as I set off into the unknown!
The next night we spent in Quelimane with my colleagues, Jim and Virginia. During conversation, Jim referred to the study programme he was completing at Wheaton College, Illinois. He spoke of it with great enthusiasm, and mentioned that the Billy Graham Centre offered scholarships to non-American missionaries on furlough. It seemed to be a course very suitable for our work, focussing on exegesis based on the Greek and Hebrew text. And so I decided to apply, right from their home in the African “bush”!
At the time, I had no idea of how important that evening would prove to be. In fact, the conversation about Wheaton would probably never have occurred if I had kept to my original timetable; initially we were to arrive there a day later, by which time Jim would have left to travel to a workshop. But in God’s purposes, that conversation took place, and opened up a whole new world to me. But more of that later…
The trip south continued happily and without any problem. We arrived in Johannesburg and, after leaving the Landie to be fixed, I took the bus to Durban to have time with Mum. When I arrived she was in good health, although she had had surgery six months earlier. She drove me around, and we had a good time of being together. I always loved my times with her in Durban; there I truly was “at home” and she gave me all her time and attention.
Just over two weeks after arriving in Durban, it was my birthday, and Mum took the family out for a special celebration. We had a lovely dinner at the Durban Country Club; the elegant tables and beautiful view of the sea added to the enjoyment of the evening. That was the last time she was able to go out. Five days later she had a stroke, and after a week of becoming progressively weaker, died on the 6th July. This was the very day our conference in Mozambique began, at which I would have been, but for God’s good grace!
Ever since I joined Wycliffe and began living “in the sticks”, I had been concerned that I would be far away when Mum should be in need. So despite the great shock of her loss, there was much comfort in the Lord’s mercy, in providing for me to be on hand at that time.
His goodness was seen in many other details too. When Mum suddenly became very ill, I wanted to get hold of my cousin, Duncan, who ministers at a church in Cape Town. I knew he was travelling at that time up to Natal, but I didn’t know how to communicate with him. Then “out of the blue”, he phoned me. And so he and his wife came over to visit the next day, and we had a special time of praying with Mum. And when she died the next day, Duncan kindly offered to come up again, to lead the service of thanksgiving. How gracious of the Lord to have orchestrated such details!
I was thankful to be in South Africa at this time of loss, to be with my sisters and their families. As I walked the journey of grief, I found myself in an extraordinary situation – all the parts of my life were “being shaken”. There was a sense of closure in my work situation, and I wasn’t sure quite how I fitted in there any more. I no longer had a home, neither in Mozambique nor in South Africa. And I wasn’t quite sure what I would be doing in the “extended furlough” that I had felt led to take.
Little by little, as the months passed, the door for Wheaton remained open, and I began to do some preparatory study, in case I was accepted for the scholarship programme. There seemed to be numerous obstacles to my doing the course; first, there were three entrance exams I would need to pass; then I would have to catch up three courses in both Hebrew and Greek before I could begin the MA proper. It all seemed a bit daunting, especially as I was a good twenty years older than the average graduate-student. But the Lord kept the door open, and so I felt I needed to continue walking in that direction.
One by one the hurdles for going to Wheaton fell away; I was accepted into the graduate programme and awarded a scholarship. Now I needed to book an air-ticket over to the US. The cheapest air-ticket I could find at that time was about R10 000, an exhorbitant amount. So when with one of the Wycliffe prayer groups, I asked them to pray specifically about this. Soon thereafter, it was confirmed that I could have a ¼ price ticket, from someone in the church who worked at the airways. This was a huge blessing! It did mean, however, that I would be on standby, and as the day of departure drew near, the possibility of being able to get a seat seemed rather remote.
Early that morning I went to the airport and checked in for the ticket. They told me to return that afternoon, when I waited a further hour until the “normal passengers’ had all checked in. To my great relief, they then confirmed that there was indeed a seat for me.
My next concern was how I would manage my hand-luggage if it was a long walk to the plane. I had had to rearrange my suitcases as the airline only allowed two pieces in the hold, regardless of weight. I stared at my third suitcase, my computer over my shoulder and a bulging handbag.
So I had a seat, but how choosy could I be? “Do I have any choice of seat, or is it just a matter of what is left?” I asked. The attendant smiled at me, picked up the phone, and said to her colleague, “Do we still have that nice seat vacant?” Her face then clouded, but she continued, “Remember, you owe me one. Keep that good seat for me.”
Then, picking up my extra suitcase, she marched me down the hallways, past the various officials and right on to the plane. We squeezed past all the regular paying passengers, and at last she stopped, right next to one of the few seats with extra leg-room. “There you are,” she said, “will this do for you?”
Standing around were several men, bickering as to how to get those special seats! I quietly took my seat, glowing inside at the goodness of the Lord. Before she left, the airline lady said to me, “Oh, by the way, I’ve booked your extra suitcase through to Atlanta, so you won’t need to carry it yourself. Just pick it up at the other end, along with your other ones.”
When I did retrieve the three suitcases, I found that a luggage-cart cost 3 dollars, which seemed like a waste on trifles. So I lugged one case a short distance in the direction I needed to go, and then, to my delight, found an abandoned cart in my path! So with a light heart, I raced around, retrieving my other bags on the cart so graciously provided.
I was actually booked on a cheap flight to Florida the next day. Having a stand-by ticket out of Jo’burg, it had been difficult to know exactly when I would need the onward flight. Thus, when I flew a day earlier than expected, I tried to change the Florida ticket but was told a significant cost would be involved. However, as I went to pick up my baggage, I decided to check again on the situation. The official was very helpful, and said there would be no problem to change the ticket. “But”, he said, “the plane leaves in three hours, and I doubt you will be able to collect your baggage, get through security, and return here before then!” I raced off, and one hour later was back, having done all that was necessary. I even found a courtesy phone at the airline office and so could alert my friends to the change in plan. As I sat there waiting for the flight, I could not but marvel at the Lord’s goodness, in every detail of the trip.
My first week in the US was spent with friends in Florida, the parents of a colleague who worked in Mozambique. Their home bordered a canal, with the water lapping against the bottom of the garden. Summer days revolved around taking boats out for crabs, or swimming in the pool. One evening we went out on the canals; the sun was just beginning to sink into the west and the lights of the town were twinkling in the distance. Once out on the open water of the bay, the engine was switched off, and we drifted quietly, gazing at the bright array of stars. Conversation then turned to serious things – the purpose of life, and what we are here for.
Later that evening, back at the home of one of the girls, we ate left-over crab, and began playing pool! Then, at about 1.30am, our host began asking some very deep questions. What about life after death? How can we know we will go to heaven? She looked at me, and said, “What do you think?”
At that hour of the night, in my weakness, the Lord gave His anointing, and words flowed. Some time later I heard that she had come to commit herself to follow Jesus. What excitement, that He should let us share in it!
Some days later it was my birthday but, of course, no-one around knew. However, many times before the Lord had made my birthday special in some way, and I looked forward to see what He would do this time.
The day didn’t work out as I had hoped: it began with my computer-cord malfunctioning, thus I was not able to receive any e-mail. Then my plan to spend the day at a nearby Water-park was thwarted. And finally, I was left alone for the day as my hosts all went out to other commitments.
My disappointment drove me to seek a quiet place where I could pour out my heart to the Lord. I sat on the wet grass next to the canal and watched a boat chug by. Then I reached for my pocket Bible to read a psalm, and as I read, the swirling winds within began to die down, the waves calmed, and I began to see things from His perspective. The pain dissolved in peace as I sensed again the joy of being pressed closer to His breast, the warmth of His holding love.
And so the Lord met me in my need, and showed me again the loveliness, and all-surpassing beauty, of His presence. No present could match His presence. And He had reminded me of that, by bringing me to a place of frustration, so that I would seek “alone time” with Him. And more, He had made that possible, by removing the clutter of any distraction; no-one else was around, so I could give ears to Him alone. So, not only did He make my heart hungry for Him, but He also provided the quiet pasture where I could sit and be fed with “honey from the Rock”.
That evening I was reading A.W.Tozer, and was struck by these words:
“When God sets out to really make a superior Christian, He is compelled to strip the man of everything that might serve as a false refuge, a secondary trust. He must shut the man up to Himself only, or He must give him up to be a second-rate saint.”
What an incredible privilege that God would choose to be shut up with us alone! What an honour this is … oh, that my heart would revel in every opportunity to be alone with the King!
In his prayer, Tozer prays: “Be Thou exalted over my friendships. I am determined that Thou shalt be above all, though I must stand deserted and alone in the midst of the earth.” I would pray that too – be more important than any other friendship, Lord. May I determine to keep you first in my friendships, even if that means I must often be alone.
20. Wheaton College
I arrived at O’Hare Airport on a hot, sultry day in June. Once having rounded up my baggage, I scanned the people waiting to see if someone might be looking for me. “Are you June?” said a quiet voice at my side, and I looked up to see a middle-aged lady with wavy brown curls and a gentle smile. This was Karen, the lady in charge of the international students at Wheaton College. She had kindly offered to come and pick me up and settle me into my new home.
So began my two years in Wheaton. It would prove to be a busy time, with study commitments occupying six days a week. I rented a room from a little old lady from Latvia. It was an old house, about a mile from campus, and I had a big upstairs room on the roadside. Across the street were the train-tracks, and all through the night the trains would rumble by; my bed would shake from the vibrations as I listened to the clunking sound.
I began my studies with Summer Greek. We were about fifteen students meeting every day for four hours. I had done some Greek on my own before, and so eased gently into the challenge of a new language. The next semester I began Hebrew, and continued with Greek so had two languages to juggle in my memory. Each evening would find me going through hundreds of vocabulary cards. Greek was relatively easy, but had a complicated grammar. Hebrew was an uphill climb, trying to get a grasp of the new alphabet.
The next big challenge was being a social misfit. Not only was I twice the age of many students in my class, I was also the only woman. This made it more difficult to establish friendships. But I was determined, and so joined all sorts of groups at the church, and the one and only fellowship group among grad-students. But it wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be. Most people were very busy with their studies or families or church commit-ments, and most had already-established friendship circles.
After a while, I accepted that my social expectations were possibly unrealistic; I settled into a heavy study routine, only taking time off on Sundays. But three times a week, I visited the swimming-pool. There I could de-stress with a mile of laps, and follow this up with a relaxing time in the hot-tub.
During my first year at Wheaton, I participated in a course at a local church entitled “Discover your gifts”. I only managed to go to a few sessions before the demands of homework caught up with me, but a couple of helpful things emerged from this time.
I began to see that the gifts the Lord had given me flowed together in a complementary way, and fitted the life-style He had called me to. First of these gifts was the gift of loneliness; the isolation of my life-style caused me to call out to Him, and to seek in Him my deepest friendship. Then there was the gift of time – time to think, to pray, to write. And coupled with these was the gift of an exciting life, in which I had the opportunity to see the Lord doing some amazing things, in response to my need of Him. And lastly, He had given me the gift of writing – a delight in reflecting on what He does, and sharing that with others.
Moreover, during my time at Wheaton, I had opportunity to grow in this latter area. During my Summer Greek class, I was alerted to the fact that there was to be a class in “Writing your Spiritual Autobiography” the next semester. As a full-time student, I could take an extra class for free, and so I opted to take this class in writing. It was a refreshing change from the other classes in theology and language. And, instead of being the only woman in a class of young men, I found myself with eight young undergraduate women. Over the ten weeks of the class, we learned to share our writing with one another and to give (and receive) critical feedback. We were also encouraged to begin writing our own spiritual autobiographies, hence I began to put down on paper and reflect on the turning points in my own spiritual life.
And that brings us pretty much up to the present. But one needs some distance to see the present clearly, and so perhaps this is a good place to stop, for now anyway. I’ve taken time to remember and reflect on what the Lord has been doing in my life, and these stories come as a testimony to His grace, as memorial stones of His faithfulness. I am blessed to think of all He has done, and trust, in some way, it will be an encouragement to you too.
 a motorised boat
Filed under: Uncategorized
After my three months in Maputo, it was time to go to Ibo for the first time. This was the little island village where my colleagues, Sebastian and Karen, were working. I was to stay with them for a while, to become oriented to the Mwani project, and begin learning the language and culture. So one lovely spring day, when the bouganvilleas were full of bloom, I left Maputo and flew up to Pemba. There Sebastian met me, and we drove up the coast to Tandanyange, the little village about 8km from Ibo island. Sebastian had chartered a fisherman to take us over to the island in his dowh, but we would need to wait for the tide to come in. Only then would there be enough water for the boat to set sail. That would be about 2am, so we went down to the beach at Tandanyange to wait.
Sebastian had parked his vehicle at the home of the village leader, after unloading on the beach all the supplies he was taking over to the island. These were now scattered around us – cartons of food, oil for the generator, and a huge mound of accumulated mail. There were also some curtains for the house on Ibo, so we covered ourselves for protection from the mosquitoes, and lay down to snooze for a few hours. The sky was clear with a myriad stars as we listened to the quiet rhythm of the low tide. Our resting place was under a huge Baobab tree, the majestic “upside-down tree” that is typical of northern Mozambique. The broad trunk had squat branches, spreading out like roots into the sky. Suspended from its bare branches were clusters of huge white flowers. In the dark they looked like falling stars, hanging above our heads.
Just before 2am there was a whistle, calling us to come to the boat. We gathered our things and waded through the water, some twenty metres to the dowh. The tide was coming in fast and it was getting deeper with each wave, so we needed to move quickly to get everything loaded. Once that was done, we jumped on board, and the boatman at the back gave us a push. Near the beach were clumps of mangroves, trees growing in the water with deep and intertwining roots. The front boatman had an oar, and he slowly punted us through the foliage. Once free of that, and out on the open water, they raised the sail, and we were off.
I sat there mesmerised. It was such a beautiful night, and the only sound was the lapping of the waves against the boat. No-one spoke, nothing diffused the beauty. Every now and then a flash of phosphorus sparkled below us. Or an eddy rippled outwards as a flying fish sliced through the water. It was magical, and the silver moon was shining overhead.
Normally the trip over would take forty minutes, but we were “contra-vento” with the wind against us. So it was after 4am when we approached the island. Dawn was just breaking over the horizon, and rose filled the sky. Sunrise, and a new beginning – what a glorious prelude to the first chapter of a new life.
When we arrived at the Floors’ house, having left the heavy luggage down on the beach to be collected later, Karen met us with a big smile. “Welcome to Ibo” she said, and poured us a cup of tea. With no electricity on the island, she had learnt to be well organised. Whenever a fire was made, to cook the food or to heat water for the bath, the flasks would be filled, to be ready for tea. After the long trip, we were rather grubby, and Karen had anticipated that too. The bucket in the bathroom was full with water from the well, warmed with hot water from the fire. What a marvellous welcome!
I’m always amazed at how a little bit of water can significantly alter one’s outlook on life! A bath, or a wash-down with warm water, lifts the spirits and brightens the eyes! When I used to visit Nigel and Heather in the refugee camps, I was always impressed at how clean and neat they managed to keep themselves, despite the lack of “a proper bath”. When I felt the Lord calling me to a life “in the bush”, this is what I imagined would be the hardest … not being able to soak in a relaxing bath at the end of a tiring day. So it came as a great encouragement to me to discover that a bucket-bath could be very satisfying; a few jugs of warm water and I felt invogorated and refreshed.
Later that first day, we had a special lunch of roast duck. At the time I didn’t realize just how special it was. This was no hastily-contrived meal, bought from the frozen-foods section of the supermarket, but Karen had been fattening the duck for months. After some time I began to appreciate just how much work goes into preparing a good meal, in a place where supplies are very limited.
It was Friday and I woke to hear the heavy latch on the metal gate opening noisily. By the time I had dressed, Karen was already up and pouring three large cups of tea, loaded with sugar, for some visitors. I looked through the mosquito-netted windows and saw an interesting group. There was a little boy leading an old man with opaque eyes, clouded with glaucoma. Behind him, hobbled a man with one leg, using a wooden pole as a crutch to heave himself along. His toothless smile and bright eyes showed his anticipation of the tea and bread.
These men, and many others like them – crippled from exploding mines in the war, or blind from the ravages of neglected eye-disease – were part of a group who went from house to house every Friday morning, asking for alms. “Senhora, senhora” they would beckon and hold out their palm for some money. The muslim shopkeepers would peel off a note and give one to each, but instead Karen offered them her hospitality.
When I first arrived on the island, it was “the hungry season”, the month before the harvest comes. Karen took me to the market, and we looked forlornly at the miserable offerings – a few onions and some tattered garlic, and the inevitable dried beans. But no fresh fruit, nor vegetables, not even bananas! There were a few papaya growing in people’s yards, but each one was spoken for before it ever left the tree.
With so little to eat, one had to become more innovative. And so one afternoon we gathered bunches of pumpkin leaves, and cooked them with peanut sauce. The Mwani call this “matapa” and it is a staple for them, especially at the time of the year when there is so little else available. Delicious served with crunchy rice, it would taste even better in a few months’ time, when the rice would be newly-harvested.
The part of the day I loved most on the island was the evening. By 6pm the sun would suddenly begin to sink into the sea, sometimes dropping like a ball of fire, other times tracing a brilliance around the clouds. I would wander down to the old pier, now disused and just a breakwater. If it was low-tide, I would clamber down the broken steps to the beach below, and walk along with my feet in the water. I loved the peace, the quiet, and the glorious colours in the sky. Each evening would be different, a unique work of art from the Painter of the heavens. There would be deep purples melting into pinks and shot through with silver. Or streaks of violet cascading into bold brushes of gold. Other days it might be pastels, a soft rose and a blush of lilac, washed gently across the sky. I would sit there enchanted, drinking it all in, awed by the splendour and beauty.
In days of old, the promenade along the sea-front must have been very elegant; there was still an old-fashioned, black curvy lamp-stand at the corner, and I could imagine the Portuguese King and his entourage walking along there in regal pomp, taking the sea-air, much as I was. For Ibo, many years ago, had been the capital of the country, and four embassies had graced its shores. It’s hard to believe that now. Unfortunately, when the capital was moved, the people of initiative began to leave. Those who were left were the poor, and they were unable to maintain the buildings. Thus scattered across the island now are houses with no roofs, and grass growing through the foundations. Goats graze where gracious villas once stood.
That first afternoon when I explored the sea-front, the water was high, breaking against the old craggy wall. There was a nice little bay to the one side, and I quickly appropriated that as my “swimming pool”. I went down the old steps and jumped into the warm water, and had a pleasant swim, back and forth. The next morning as I strolled down by the sea-wall, I was shocked to find that my swimming pool had disappeared! The tide was very low, and a pile of pebbles and stones littered the beach where the water had been! I would have to learn quickly to pattern my life after the tides. Even a Mwani child knew that!
Sometimes Mwani would stop me on my way down to the beach, and ask me where I was going. That was part of the standard greeting, to find out where a person was coming from and where they were going to. I would reply that I was going down to the “mwani” (for the word literally means ‘beach’ as well as being the name of the people). They would then ask me what I was going to do there. “Just to look at the colours in the sky.” They would look at me puzzled, baffled as to why I should want to do that.
They would also watch me walking along the beach, picking up the little shells that are scattered along the shore. The ones I specially liked were tiny cowries, cream with a purple smudge and an inner spot of grey. One day a young man asked me why I wanted them. “Because they’re pretty”, I said. His face gaped at me in nonplussed amazement.
The next day the same young man came running after me as I wandered along the sea-front. In his outstretched hands were a handful of shells, his eyes imploring me to buy them. I tried to explain that I enjoyed finding the shells, not just having them. However, the aesthetic joy of discovering a thing of beauty in the sand was not something he could comprehend.
After some days of settling in, Karen introduced me to Marta, a Mwani friend of hers. She was in her 30s, with two small children. Marta also had had polio and walked with a very pronounced limp. But she was always cheerful, and her physical difficulty never deterred her from getting where she needed to be. Marta was to be my language-helper, and I arranged to meet her at Sebastian’s office each day for an hour of language-work together.
The first days we began with all the greeting phrases; unlike English where you basically just say “Hello” or “Good morning” and then get on with other matters, the Mwani have extended greeting rituals. First one asks literally, “Are you?” I thought this was strange, but after hearing many believers always give thanks that they had survived the night, I began to realize that the greeting was almost literally asking “Do you still exist?” Such is the fragility of life in these communities.
Once the greetings were mastered, I asked Marta to help me learn the names of things in the market-place. As I pointed to things and she gave me the word, I would hastily jot them down in my notebook. Then I tried to get some short sentences that I could use in dialogue. I would express the sentence in Portuguese, and she would tell me how to say it in Kimwani. Within a short time, my notebook was bulging with new words, and I was battling to keep up with memorising them. So then I had to try other methods too. I would get her to tell me a story on the tape-recorder, and then go through this and try and understand what the words meant. It would take many reviews just to understand a simple sentence, so that kept me busy for a while.
In between our formal language-classes, I would also be trying to build relationships with the people, and practising the few words I knew. So most afternoons, I would go for a walk in one of the “suburbs” and try and make a little conversation with people I saw on the street. They would inevitably greet me in Portuguese, and I would return the greeting in Kimwani. There would be a look of surprise, and they would resume the Kimwani, and I would then be lost for understanding! But I was hearing the sounds, and something of the language was beginning to sink in.
Sometimes I opted to simply speak Portuguese, in order to be able to have a conversation and begin to build a relationship. This was far less taxing on the patience of those who could speak Portuguese, as my faltering Kimwani made it difficult for a conversation to take place. But many of the women did not have recourse to Portuguese, and I knew that my fumbling attempts were the only way we could communicate.
Every morning Sebastian was working with Anli Juma, an old man who was an expert in the language. He was known to have a good style of expression, and living away from the city, his vocabulary was not mixed with that of other languages. In fact, the dialect spoken on Ibo was considered the “purest”, and thought to be the source of the language. So being the prestige dialect, this was the one we were to follow in our work, and Anli Juma was the man who could ensure the translation was “good Kimwani”.
He was a devout Muslim, and always wore his little white cap as a sign of his religious commitment. His face was shiny and smooth, and a light seemed to come from his eyes as he would excitedly explain some facet of the language. But his diction wasn’t very clear and he spoke fast, so I would battle to follow what he was saying. I couldn’t, of course, understand anything; indeed, I could hardly decipher the sounds to write them down, so that I could go through it with Marta later.
One morning I joined Sebastian and “Mwenye Anli Juma” (the polite way of addressing an older man). As I walked in, I said the greeting, “Did you wake up well?” He didn’t reply and so I repeated it, and he then very condescendingly indicated to me that I had mispronounced the word. I felt thoroughly humiliated, and it took me a long while before I had the courage to try and greet him again. But in time we were to become friends and to respect one another, and I now appreciate him as a valued friend. But I remember that first day, when I was very daunted by “the old man”.
One of the people I was most looking forward to meeting was Shikito. I had heard so much about him from the Floors, and he was certainly a key person in all the work. At that time he was living on Ibo with his wife Amina and their five children. He was a little younger then I was, and had also had polio. The first thing that struck one about Shikito was his big holey smile, with a number of teeth missing. He was very slightly built, his waist disappearing into nothing, but his smallness of stature housed courage and big vision! He was the first Mwani believer, standing courageously against the opposition, and his longing was to make the Bible available to his people in their own language.
His coming to faith had been closely linked to the Scriptures. As a young man, he had been given a copy of the Bible, in Portuguese, but he had some difficulty understanding it. Then some time later, as an official in the Dept of Religious Affairs, he had had contact with a Christian group that wanted to do outreach on the island. He asked them details as to what they hoped to do, and then followed up with many questions about the Bible. The person concerned was able to help him with his queries, explaining things to him in his own language. A short while later, Sebastian and Karen had arrived on the island, and thus had begun to disciple him.
One day Shikito was visiting at the house, and I was able to give him a smile and a few words. We were not formally introduced, so simply drifted into getting to know each other, but I immediately was drawn to his ingenuous ways, his open personality, and his ever cheery grin. Over the years this quiet beginning to a friendship would put down more solid roots, but for now it was an encouraging start.
As part of my language-learning, I drew up a list of Mwani proverbs. The Kimwani language is rich in figures of speech, and the people love to play with the language. Riddles are very popular, and an important part of teaching children timeless truths. So too are folk-stories, and the Mwani have countless fables of “Rabbit”, the crafty animal, and his escapades with other animals. The animals are symbolic of certain character types, and when a problem arises, the response will often be to tell a story, the moral of the fable being the intended advice.
So studying the proverbs, and riddles and folk-stories is a rich way of coming to understand the culture, the way people think, and the way they teach their children the truths of life. One of the proverbs that struck me was this one: “A drop of water in a shell is the tide for an ant.” I love the graphic picture that this conjures up in the mind – this little ant overwhelmed by the vastness of the water-drop, and yet to us it’s nothing. It made me think of how things that seem so enormous and unconquerable to us are but a drop of water to the Lord.
The other side of the picture is to realise that the little that we have to offer may seem like nothing, and yet to some it can be significant. With that idea in mind, I penned these words as an encouragement to prayer-partners:
Within the shell
Yet for the ant it be
Something immense – the coming tide,
The greatness of the sea!
For some a word is just a word
etched out in black and white,
But to the lost
the Word of God
Can change the dark to light.
It may seem small – a water-drop
Not much to you or me,
But to the ant tucked in her shell
It is the boundless sea …!
So, too, some strange words on a page
May empty be to you,
But to the Mwani
these could be
the breath of life anew!
Pray, then, that God will take our drop,
Our little we can give,
And make of it a mighty sea –
That others, too, may live!
I’ve always loved islands. There is something very romantic about being on a small piece of land, surrounded by water. When working in Scotland, I had had the opportunity to be on the island of Iona for six weeks, working in the bookshop of “The Abbey”, and I had loved the experience. It was a remote island, hidden from all except those who would make a special effort to get there, first taking a boat from the mainland to the island of Mull, a bus around to the other side of Mull, and then another ferry to Iona. Such a remote community, with very well-defined borders, has a strong sense of community. There’s a sense of interdependence; all needs must be met by those within the little group. There is nowhere beyond that one can slip away to, except at great effort.
And this I found on Ibo too. The fact that I was on Ibo meant that I had purposefully chosen to visit this place. It wasn’t somewhere I would be passing through en route to somewhere else more interesting. It was the focus of my interest. And there seemed to be a subconscious sense that one belonged to the community, simply because you had chosen to be there. And so I felt quite at home on the island. People were warm and friendly. The Floors had established their presence years earlier, and were well-known and accepted, so I simply piggy-backed on the goodwill they had generated.
But the very remoteness of the island began to generate in me a sense of claustrophobia. I was used to a world that was less localised; my horizons were further than Pemba. But the very fact that one could not send e-mails, or receive phone-calls from afar, or even pick up a letter sent by post, meant that one had to focus on the present and the now. That wasn’t a bad thing. Too often, I think, I had been so wrapped up anticipating future happenings, that my attention had not been focussed on the goodness and the beauty of the moment. And Ibo helped me correct that. “This moment” was the one that was important. And “this person before me” was the one to whom I should give my attention. There were no distractions from other worlds, no voices demanding attention, just that which was my present reality.
I had imagined that Ibo would be a quiet place, far away from the city, and with no cars racing around. But I soon found that I was mistaken. I would be lying in bed and the light would be just beginning to creep through the shutters, when there would be the piercing noise of metal against metal. A child was running down the street rolling the frame of a wheel and clanking it with an iron rod. This was music to his ears, no doubt, but a cacophony to mine.
With no electric power on the island, people generally went to bed fairly early. Some might have the luxury of candles, although generally their light came from a swab of cloth suspended in spirits. The Floors had some solar panels but the light was not strong, and so we usually also retired early for the night. But when the moon was full it was another story. Then the children would be out on the street playing rumbuscuous games far into the night. Their need to run and shout and play seemed to escalate dramatically; perhaps the stored energy from so many “early nights” was suddenly let loose. Or living in a community so closely connected to the elements, this was part of their cyclic rhythm. When the moon was full, it was time to celebrate, for the children anyway.
Of course, my expectation that Ibo would be quiet was also because I had not yet come to realise the importance of the radio in this culture. In time I began to see that ownership of a radio is the first symbol of having moved up the social ladder. If there was any excess cash it would be spent on this, and even if there wasn’t excess, it might be purchased, sometimes leaving empty tummies hungry. All day people would have their radios blaring. The carpenter working at his bench would have the local radio on in the background. The tailor working at his treadle-machine on the front stoep of his little house would be accompanied by the incessant sound of noise from his son’s radio. This was the way people communicated, not just the big news but all the little personal news of the community too. If there was a death on Ibo, it would be broadcast, and then family from all the surrounding villages would know to hasten over for the ceremonies. If something was lost, or the electricity was to be cut off for a while, a message would be put over the radio.
Later when I was in Pemba and wanted to ask Anli Juma to come over and work with us for a week, Shikito told me to put an announcement on the radio. My thought was to phone and leave a message with the switchboard on Ibo (the only phone on the island) or to send a note with someone travelling to the island, but the consensus was “no, put it on the radio. He might be on Ibo but he might be elsewhere.” This made a lot of sense as, like most Mwani, Anli Juma was always on the move. To make an income, he would sell fish from Ibo in the interior, and buy goods in the capital to bring back to sell on the island. So the public radio was the way to get hold of him.
This brought home a general revelation to me. If I’m to be effective in communicating with this people, I need to follow their ways of doing so. Books might be the way we know best, (or perhaps today the means is television and the internet), but radio and other oral means would be something we would need to consider too. I began to dream of having a Christian film in Kimwani, or cassettes with stories and songs in their language. This was the beginning of a seed that would germinate in time.
One evening Karen and I were in the house getting ready to go to bed. Sebastian had gone outside to switch off the generator, when suddenly we heard a piercing shriek. Karen’s hand went to her throat and her eyes showed fear as she breathlessly said, “Sebastian!” My thoughts were the same as hers, and without thinking, I said, “What shall I do? Shall I call the doctor?” Then it struck me that neither of those was a possibility – there was no phone, and there was no doctor. Just as we were catching our breath, Sebastian ambled into the room, very much alive. Our fears that he had been electrocuted were wonderfully unfounded … Karen’s shoulders relaxed, and I heaved a sigh of relief.
What then had been that ear-splitting noise? Next morning the Mwani cleared up the mystery. There had been a Pungi ceremony taking place in the vicinity. During these ceremonies, at attempt is made to appease the evil spirit that is considered to be causing a particular problem in a person. A witchdoctor is consulted to determine which demon has been offended, and then the family of the victim is told how best to appease it. For the “lion demon”, certain foods and dances are prepared; for the “hyena demon” it may be something different. Then, during the ceremony of dancing and food offering, the demon manifests itself to the witchdoctor, who then makes an agreement with it as to the period of time it will stop harassing the victim. When the demon is manifest, there may be shrieking and tumultuous noise, which is what we had heard the night previous.
One doesn’t have to look far to see the oppression these people experience, as part of their everyday lives. Indeed, more effort seems to be given to trying to keep the demons at bay than any other activity. When a child is born, the parents will go to the “mwanlimu”, and get him to write a few words from the Koran on a piece of paper. This will then be worn around the baby’s wrist or neck, as an amulet to keep away the evil spirits.
Many young adults, especially women talk of being troubled by “jini”. There seems to be a personal jini who attaches itself to those who open themselves up to such. And it is a reality that many people live with. These people are not “happy” in this kind of bondage. They desperately need to know the Lord who can set them free forever.
As a result of such activity in the unseen world, spiritual warfare is an inescapable reality. Perhaps one can choose to not believe in demons if you live in white South Africa. But faced by the torment of those caught in their grasp, as one is in black Africa, the reality hits home. That being the case, one has to have a strategy to deal with it.
Sebastian’s counsel in this area was to “come with the opposite spirit”. Among a people always grasping to get, one needs to be generous, to break that spirit of greed. And when people are focusing on the power of the enemy and seeking to appease his demons, the best strategy is to give full attention to the Lord and lift up His name. During my time on Ibo, we had opportunity to put this strategy into effect.
First it was my watch that disappeared. I had left it lying in the bedroom and someone must have slipped in and removed it. That was irritating, but a common problem. Then the next night, a burglar visited the Floors’ home. Sebastian was actually ill with malaria, and was sleeping outside on the front verandah where it was slightly cooler. The back door was unlocked, but Sebastian was in the entrance, and the house had a high wall, and a locked gate. And yet the next morning we found that my computer bag had been taken, with a printer inside. Thankfully, the computer was in another place, as I had been charging the battery from the solar panel the night before.
And then a day or so later, the curtains from Karen’s front-door suddenly were no longer there. These curtains played a critical role in the life of the family. Without them, there would be little black faces pressed against the window all day, watching for the Floor children to come out to play, or simply observing what the “wazungu” do. It was not a great loss in money-value, but was distressing to have three burglary incidents one after the other. And then the truth hit home. This was spiritual attack.
We were about to have the first “Sunday School picnic” on the island. Karen and Sebastian had a little group of mainly children that used to meet in their home each Sunday evening for a time of singing and Bible-study, and they had decided to give them a picnic. We had planned to have games and songs, and a special Bible story, and Karen had baked some cookies and prepared coloured juice. It might not seem like much, but this was a foray into enemy territory. A beachhead was being established, and the enemy was not happy. Once we realised that, we met together and had a glorious time of praise. We sang every song we could think of, to lift up the Lord’s name and declare his victory in that place. And it was amazing to see the change this wrought … perhaps most of all in us. We went on to have a fun picnic, and could rejoice that the negative had been turned around.
The episode when we erroneously thought Sebastian had been injured, caused Karen and I to talk a little about how one faces the paucity of medical help. She told me a story which has encouraged me many a time. When they were fairly new on the island, they had two sons, and the younger, Adrian, became very ill. He was feverish and Karen had treated him for malaria, but still he wasn’t making good progress. He was only about four years’ old, and it was very distressing to see this little boy weak and in pain. Sebastian and Karen considered getting him to the mainland, but it would be a rough and tedious journey by boat, not really a feasible possibility. And the hospital on the island had virtually nothing to offer; there was a technician who gave out pills for malaria or headache, but little besides.
While they were wondering what to do, Sebastian and Karen heard the drone of a small aircraft overhead. They ran outside and saw a little 6-seater descending at the site of the old airfield. This was the first time they had seen a plane on the island! Somebody was sent to find out who it was, and they came back with the message: “Election officials!” With Mozambique’s first elections imminent, some officials had chartered a plane to come and check on the situation on Ibo. They only stayed a short time, and then were ready to fly back to Pemba. “Do you have room for a sick child?” queried Sebastian, and with an answer in the affirmative, Karen was able to to take the only empty seat, with Adrian on her lap. That testimony encouraged me that the Lord has ways to reach into the most isolated situation.
I was going along a path near the old tower in Ritutu village on the island when an old man passed me and gave a greeting. I responded, and then the next thing he said to me was: “Are you married?” “No,” I replied. “So will you marry me?” he responded.
He was nonplussed that a woman of my age would be single. But it was not only the men who could not fathom this out. The women too would look at me in horror. But their first question was usually “Do you have children?” The other question didn’t seem all that important to them.
This was one thing I was coming to realise – the incongruity of a single woman in Africa. There is just no place in their social structure for a woman who is not with a man, or who doesn’t have children anyway. This made it a little hard for the women to identify with me – we had so little in common. I wasn’t like them, spending my days caring for children, cooking, shopping, and chatting with the other women. But I wasn’t a man either, although I worked with them, and “sat with books”. Essentially, I became a
“person of no gender”; having a white skin enabled me to occupy this nebulous position.
But isn’t that what incarnation was all about too? Jesus was God and yet He became a man. The missionary comes from the first-world but lives in the third-world. Like Jesus, he must be a mediator between the two: he must bring the good from his world, the truth of the Gospel, to those in the other world.
All our life we are in this middle position. We must have our feet in the “home-situation”, reporting to prayer partners and encouraging them with field-news; and we must be in the field-situation, trying to identify with those with whom we are sharing. It’s a double life, and one with which we are never totally at ease, for we never quite fit in, in either world.
My time on Ibo had been a great time of learning, but after two months of orientation with the Floors, it was time for me to now go to the mainland and begin to put down some roots there.
10. Pemba – early years
The water was ankle-deep and warm as I waded through the shallows to the motor-boat some twenty-metres from the shore. Light was just beginning to break through the cloak of darkness, and a light wind was whipping the water. I clutched my bulging bag, readjusted the computer over my shoulder, and concentrated on not stepping on one of the jagged rocks being hidden by the incoming tide.
The time on Ibo had been a good time, and I had revelled in it all, but now it was time to launch out on my own, in the provincial capital of Pemba. “You’ll need someone to help you break into the community”, Sebastian had said. “Look out for Irmã Pascõa.” And with that advice ringing in my ears, I was now on my way.
As I approached the boat, the smell of fish became overpowering. Some fishermen had been filleting the freshly-caught haul in the shallows, and bits of intestines floated past as I clambered on board. With a quick glance back at Karen, I waved my goodbyes, and she responded with the traditional greeting, “Safari ngema!” Yes, I too hoped it would be a good journey. I smiled ruefully, looking at the crowded deck already full, with people hunched in every corner. It would certainly be a new experience! Chickens squawked loudly, protesting against being swung upside-down, and little children moaned intermittently at their mothers’ side.
Although I was the only white face among the crowd, I was not alone. Alfredo, the Floors’ house-help was accompanying me, and he helped me find a place to sit, up on the roof of the boat. I stretched out, with my head on my bag, and drank in the clear night air. The morning star above shone like a jewel, and I sighed deeply, grateful to be on my way to my new life in Pemba.
After about an hour, the tide had come in sufficiently to raise the boat off the sandbank, and the dirty engine spluttered into life. The sun was now bright in our eyes and I pulled down my sun-hat to give some protection. Women shouted their final greetings to families on the shore, and the long trip to the mainland began.
After some time I began to feel quite seasick, with the boat bouncing against the strong current, like a cork on the waves. So I lay down, and closed my eyes, and drifted off into sleep. Suddenly I noticed that the boat had stopped and was making a circle. I pried myself into an upright position and asked, “What’s going on?” “Someone has fallen overboard” they said. I stared out at the water in disbelief, and was just in time to see a hand raised for the last time some twenty metres away, and then sink forever. Before my eyes, someone had drowned!
What shocked me more than anything was the seeming acceptance of this tragedy. “It’s his destiny”, I was told. “Couldn’t he swim?” I asked. “Oh, yes, he was a fisherman. But it was his day to die.” The captain of the boat made a wide circle, looking for the body, and not finding it, we continued on our way. I was appalled. That someone could so easily disappear, without trace, and no-one seemed to make much effort to find him! No-one threw him a rope. No-one jumped in after him. It was another life, gone forever to an eternity beyond the grave. The urgency to share hope with those without hope became more intense.
It was late afternoon as we chugged up to the peninsula, and a crowd quickly gathered on the beach. As I clambered over the side of the boat to wade through the shallows, my stomach felt hollow. It had been a hot March day, and my skin was flushed from the wind and clammy weather. It felt good to get some feeling back into my legs after twelve hours on the cramped boat, and I began to imagine the good bath I would have as soon as it was possible. It would be a bucket bath, but that would still wash away the layers of grime clinging to my weary body.
As my feet felt the hard sand of the beach under them, Alfredo said to me with a cheerful smile, “We’re right by Irmã Pascõa’s house now – let’s pop in to greet her!” My shoulders sagged. That was not what I felt like doing! Yes, I did want to meet her. I had heard many wonderful things about her, this lady with the name ‘Sister Easter’. She had been one of the first converts to Christianity in the area, and had opened her home for the church to meet there. She was not a pure Mwani, having Makua blood too, but she lived among the Mwani, and had a heart of compassion to reach them with the Gospel. What a blessing to have such a person to help me be accepted in the community. Yes, indeed, I did want to meet her. But it would be nice to be more refreshed before meeting someone who would be so important in my life.
I suggested, “Another time” but Alfredo was not to be defeated. “We’re going to pass right by her house, so we might as well greet her now.” I reluctantly agreed, and we made our way to her little mud home, set in the midst of the Mwani village.
Alfredo called the customary greeting, “Hodi?” and a voice from within called back “Hodina!” And so we entered, and found a lady of about 60, with a bright scarf covering her grey stubbly hair, sitting next to a large table. A young girl came in and brought a chair from another room, and I was invited to sit. We had a short conversation, and she graciously offered to help me get to know some people in the community. I left feeling excited and grateful. Trudging up the hill, there was a bounce to my step as I pondered this new door that was being opened up before me.
The next morning, at 6am, there was a knock. A young girl, panting heavily from running up the steep hill, gasped out the news: “Irmã Pascõa has died!” I could scarcely believe it. The gracious lady, who I had met just yesterday, the one who was to be my sponsor, was no longer here ….
More than that, she had been the one to care for the Mwani, to give herself to pray for them. She had carried a spiritual burden for this people. And now she was gone, no longer their intercessor. In that moment, I had a sense that the Lord was saying, “Now the baton is in your hand. Now you have responsibility to pray for these people, and to work, that they would come to know Me.”
The day after Irmã Pascõa died, I walked down the hill to her home, to go and share in a “service of consolation” for the family. The lounge had been cleared of all furniture, and ladies were sitting on the floor all around the room. Men stood in pockets, or looked in through the windows. There was quiet weeping, and then the group started singing a chorus in Portuguese. This was followed by various people standing up and exhorting the others, telling of how we must be ready to die as we don’t know who will be next.
Each evening for the next three days, there was a service in the home to console the family. Many members of the church were there, not only from the congregation of which she had been a part, but also many from the wider Christian community. A good number of Mwani ladies also came to show their respects. They were not part of the church, but had been impacted by the kindness and loving concern of this lady who had lived in their midst. What an inspiration for those of us coming behind her!
Soon after I moved to Pemba, Shikito was transferred from Ibo to work in the Dept of Religious Affairs in Pemba. And about the same time, the Floors decided to relocate to Pemba too, so the locus of the work shifted from the island to the town on the mainland.
From the beginning, when I knew I was to be working with the Mwani, the idea was born of a children’s group on the beach. I could imagine little brown bodies in the sunshine, scrambling over one another to come closer to hear the stories, see the pictures, learn the songs. For this was an unreached people group, with no church and no pastor. If we were to connect with them, we would need to go to them, to meet them ‘where they were at’.
The Mwani are “beach people”; indeed the very word “mwani” means beach, and they like to build their homes on the gravelly sand, with the water almost touching their doors. Consequently, the beach is the playground of the Mwani children. At low tide, they play football on the hard sand. And as the tide comes in, they splash in the water and sail their little boats, fashioned from coconut shells and peelings of bark. The beach is their territory, so that was the place to encounter them.
Shikito had a strong burden to teach his children the ways of the Lord, and he asked me to help him. And so his longing, and my dream, came together.
We decided to meet on Saturday afternoons, on the sand-dunes of Kitekete, next to the deep blue waters of Pemba Bay. But where could we find some shade from the hot sun? The only place seemed to be the shadow cast by the lighthouse in the later afternoon, so that became our meeting place and determined our meeting time.
Shikito called the group SAWA, an acronym for “SAlama ya WAsimana”, meaning ‘peace for the children’. And he composed a song, based on a verse from 1 John, which became the signature-tune of the group: “Munu saana pendo amwijiwa Mwenyezi-mungu”, which means “He who does not love does not know God’. Every week we would sing this tune over and over again, and many times as I walked in the streets of the village, children would see me coming and lapse into the song. The great thing is that they would also sing it at home, and so their parents would be unwittingly exposed to the truth of Scripture.
Each week SAWA usually began with Shikito and his children singing a few choruses vigorously; his daughter, Helena, eyes shining with excitement, would clap and dance, and soon a crowd of eager faces would gather around. Then Shikito would open up a brightly-coloured picture book, and begin to read them a Bible story in their own language. They had never heard books talk to them before, and would sit there, open-mouthed, drinking it all in.
One day, as I sat there on the sidelines, watching and encouraging Shikito, something happened which is forever etched in my memory. Here is the account of that special moment:
A face lit up
in the shadow of the lighthouse ..
The past few months have been difficult in some ways –
But then the Lord opens my eyes,
with a glimpse again of His purpose among these people.
This happened yesterday
down on the shoreline.
About thirty of so children huddled together as
Shikito read along with them the story of Joseph.
A few adults wandered by to see what was going on,
and I was entranced
watching the sheer delight and joy
on the face of one mother, child on her hip,
as she listened to the children reading the story
It was like seeing a new cultural pride coming to birth
…. a straightening up of the shoulders
with the realisation that their language
is worthy of being written down!
In that brief moment of watching a face lit up,
fresh light broke through my darkness too.
In my mind’s eye, I could see these people
learning to read Kimwani,
and then reading the Kimwani Scriptures,
and so hearing of a way out of their darkness.
The Light of the World … beaming forth
from within that village
on the sand-dunes!
That smile of anticipation,
tucked away in my memory’s treasure-chest,
is one that I will take out,
and look at again and again …
In such ways, the Lord lifts the eyes, and keeps us
to the certainty
of His glory manifest among these people.
Now that I no longer had a guide to help me break into the Mwani community, I realised I would need the Lord to direct me to the right person who could help me. So one morning, armed with a sun-hat, a big smile, and a few Kimwani greeting phrases, I set out for the rabbit-warren of Kitekete. One main sand track runs through the village, and from this go off a multitude of alley-ways, which then intermingle in the middle. Each yard is surrounded by a rickety fence, and here and there a coconut palm shoots its striking head into the sky. But to the untrained eye, there are no distinctive landmarks, and it is very easy to lose one’s way!
As I ambled along the sandy paths, I had no idea where I was. All I knew was that with the sea all around, I couldn’t get too lost. So I squeezed through little openings to find new dwellings, and watched children playing a game knocking down an old bottle filled with sand, using a ball made from plastic bags bound together with string. Their surprise at seeing an “nzungu” in their midst left them staring at me open-mouthed, or running for cover through their backyard gates.
I passed a group of women sitting on a mat on the dusty ground outside their home. A little stall displayed some home-baked bread and a handful of tomatoes and dried mangoes. They smiled shyly at me, uncertainty in their eyes. An old man sat on his veranda reading the Koran; some younger men were busy on their small veranda making envelopes by hand. To each I gave a big smile and called out my greeting, “Salama! Muwapo?”
The responses were friendly although guarded, until I came near one elderly man sitting on the step of his veranda, hands under his chin. He beckoned me over. “What are you doing”, he asked? When I told him I wanted to learn his language, he asked me excitedly, “But why?” “So that I can write God’s Word in your language”, I replied. At that, he ran into his small mud home and came out proudly bearing a Kimwani dictionary! This was the work of Sebastian from his time on the island of Ibo. Gogo, for that was the old man’s name, had worked with Sebastian, helping him learn the language. And of all the people in Kitekete, he was the one to whom I was directed!
Gogo, his eyes bright with excitement, gestured for me to follow him into the backyard. There he introduced me to his wife, Zuana, sitting on her haunches over a fire. She was baking peanut fudge, her daily task, to sell on the beach to passers-by. Zuana jumped to her feet, gave me a kiss on each cheek, and rattled away in Kimwani. And so a friendship began with this family – all from that inauspicious beginning, roaming around the alley-ways, asking the Lord to direct me.
Over the next year or so, I met regularly with Zuana, and she became my new language-helper. She was a fun person to work with; when I arrived at her house, I would call out “hodi!” and her deep voice would echo back “hodina!”. Then I would push open the heavy wooden gate and find her in the yard squatting over the fire. Normally her little girl, Tima, would be tugging at her skirt. Tima was the light of her life. Zuana had so wanted to have children, and after five miscarriages and still-births on Ibo, Tima was born safely in the hospital in Pemba. She was longing to have another child, but had not been successful.
About this time a team from my home-church in Kempton Park came up to visit. Pastor John and his wife, Ivy, led the team, and when I took them to meet Zuana and Gogo, Ivy was immediately drawn to Zuana and her desire to have another child. Right there, she prayed for her, and a short while later, Zuana fell pregnant.
Shortly before she was due to give birth, Zuana suddenly became very ill with toxemia.
She landed up in the hospital, critically ill. In fact, there were two other ladies with the same condition at that time, and neither of them survived. It seemed to us that the enemy was trying to take away Zuana’s testimony to the wonderful way the Lord had answered prayer and given her a child. So we got involved in the spiritual battle, praying for her earnestly. And when I received visitors from South Africa, Peter with his auburn beard and his little wife, Margaret, they also came along to the hospital to pray for Zuana. After some days, she seemed to recover and soon thereafter gave birth to a little boy.
It was some years later that I heard what had happened at this time. Zuana, in a little Bible-study group with her neighbours, testified that when “the man with the beard” had prayed for her, the Lord had touched her in a significant way. Peter hadn’t been aware, nor had I, of the Lord touching her specially, but the Lord had done something significant in her life, and she knew it. This gave me much encouragement and a new impetus to hope. Although it often seemed like nothing much was happening, the Lord was at work.
Zuana was always so hospitable that whenever I had visitors from South Africa or England, I would take them to visit her. Usually I would give her money and ask her to prepare a traditional meal, and then we would sit in her yard and enjoy it together. Part of the routine was also for Zuana to teach my guests how to grate coconut, using the “goat”, the traditional Mwani grater. This consisted of a circular blade inserted into the end of a little bench. The idea was to squat down on the bench and then move the halved coconut shell backwards and forwards across the blade. It was called a “goat” as the noise of the coconut over the blade sounded like the hagh, hagh, hagh of a goat chewing!
The Mwani like to cook with fresh coconut, and rice is considered “not rice” if it is not cooked with the delicate flavour of coconut milk. To make the milk, the Mwani squeeze water through the freshly-grated coconut, two or three times until a thick milk forms. This is also used with cooked green plantain bananas to make a delicious pudding, or added to virtually anything else, to enhance the flavour.
For such an occasion, Zuana would inevitably dress up, knowing that there would be photos on the go. She would spend ages in the house getting ready, and then come out with a fresh capalana around her waist, and a matching head-scarf elegantly tied in a fancy knot. The children would also be dressed in their best … a photo was an important occasion.
Her husband, Gogo, also liked to give a good impression when he had his photo taken. Every now and then there would be occasion to take a picture of the men working with Sebastian. One time he managed to borrow a pair of glasses to wear for the event. This provoked a good chuckle among us as he is actually illiterate and so never reads.
It was my fortieth birthday! I hadn’t been long in Mozambique, and no-one knew it was a special day for me. But I couldn’t let it pass by, like any other day. One only turns 40 once! And so I had invited around some friends for dinner, and prepared a traditional Mwani meal – fish stew with delicious local rice, nutty and chewy, followed by a dessert of dried berries served with custard.
And to treat myself, I had taken off a few hours in the morning and headed for beautiful Wimbi beach, with my snorkelling gear to hand. I had not yet managed to find the coral reefs, but I was keen to try again. “They’re directly in front of the old change-rooms”, someone had said, so on several occasions I had swum and swum, but thus far had not found them. However, this day, as I waded into the clear, warm water, I spotted a few other swimmers some distance away and so called out to them. “Do you know where the coral is?” “Yes”, they replied, and pointed. And so that day, my fortieth birthday, I received a wonderful gift – I found the coral, and a whole new world opened up to me!
What amazed me most was that I had been totally unaware that this wonderland existed!
I had been swimming, three times a week, over this magical world, quite ignorant that it was there for the seeing! It was a fantasy, like swimming through an underwater Disney movie. Delicate fingers of finely-chiselled coral reached up from the ocean floor. In and out of the pink castles darted flashes of fish, brilliantly blue. And then a brown one, smudged with yellow, wiggled by. On a rock nearby, movement caught my eye … like the rustles of a skirt catching the breeze. And up wafted this flurry of fish, its fins moving to unheard music. It was breathtaking … underwater ballet!
That left me wondering what other worlds I might be missing, because I don’t have the eyes to see. And what enabled me to suddenly see ….? Why, it was the mask that made the difference! And what is the mask that makes visible that which I don’t yet see …? Is that not what the Scriptures calls “faith”?
The insistent knocking on my gate eventually broke through my heavy sleep. I reluctantly opened my eyes, and pulled at my watch on the bedside. Three-thirty on a Sunday afternoon. Time for the weekly nap. But repeated calls of “Irmã, Irmã!” meant there would be no further rest if I lay there. So dragging myself to my feet, and throwing on an old dressing-gown, I made my way to the door. I was angry and irritable, and whoever was at the gate would be sure to know all about it.
Here I was, a “missionary” in Mozambique, supposedly a shining light to all around. And yet my life seemed to be marked by impatience, rather than grace and love. It often seemed that the Lord had taken me to Mozambique to show me who I was, to remind me of how much I desperately needed Him. No longer did my image as a “nice Christian girl” carry. Pressed way beyond my ability to cope, all the gunge in my life seemed to be surfacing.
“What use then am I to you here, Lord?” I often cried. “I might as well go back to South Africa – at least there I seemed to be able to help others.” Slowly, slowly, the Lord spoke to me, “It’s not what you do that matters. It’s who you are.” Suddenly the light dawned – the Lord didn’t need “my” Bible translation. He could reach the hearts of the Mwani in a multitude of ways. He didn’t need me. But He had called me to this work in order that He might change me, to become more like Him. So the purpose of my life suddenly took on new perspective. My most important goal in life was not to do a Bible translation in Mozambique, but just to be obedient … whatever that might mean.
When I was preparing to come and work in the third-world, I had the idea that I was coming to a “blank slate”. I thought there would be nothing there in terms of Christian work, and I could come in and “write on it” from scratch. Perhaps the missionary biographies of those working in the Ecuadorian jungle had given me this idea. But I quickly found that not to be the case in Mozambique.
First there was the local church, which was an important part of the equation. In Pemba, there are three main people-groups, and among two of them there are churches. The Makua are the largest group numerically; although many of them also come from muslim roots, the religious hold on them seems less binding, and many have come to the Lord. Other Makua have an animist background, and they have been quite open to becoming Christians.
The second people-group in Pemba was the Makonde, a fiercely-independent people from the Mueda plateau further north. A Catholic mission had been working among them for generations, and consequently they had no link with Islam. In recent years, there had been something of a revival among them, and there were now many churches in Mueda, and a sprinkling too among their people who lived in the provincial capital of Pemba.
So throughout the town, there were small congregations of believers, usually using Makua and Portuguese in their services. But these were not churches which had a vision to reach out to the Mwani. And they were not the kind of place a seeking Mwani would wander into.
As there was not yet a church established among the Mwani, I had naively assumed that I would then not be working with “the church”. But I had things to learn.
First, I was told by more experienced missionaries that if I didn’t connect in with one of the local churches, the pastors of the town would be suspicious of me. I would seem a threat to them. Indeed, I was to find this to be true later when we did some evangelistic outreach on a few Mwani islands. The pastor of one of the bigger churches in Pemba was most uncomfortable with what I was doing. He sent a message: “In the name of which church are you doing this work?” My response, “in the name of Jesus Christ”, didn’t allay his fears. Which church would then be responsible for any work established on the island?
I began to understand his fears, but it required a wrestling in my thinking too. I was hesitant to get involved in a largely-Makua church, and then have no energy or time to try and reach out to the Mwani. It seemed that that was where my focus should be, there being no local church reaching out to them. Initially this caused a great misunderstanding with the one local church. “You say you want to work with children, so why are you not in our Sunday School?” I tried to explain that my commitment was to the Mwani women and children, but this was not easily received.
After that, I began attending one of the other “bigger churches”, some forty or fifty people who met in a large mud hut in the heart of one of the “bairros”. It was quite an exercise just to find the place; the first time I tried, I completely lost my bearings, turning this way and that down narrow red-sand tracks, which often disintegrated into nothing. Every now and then I would come across gaping holes in the road where erosion had made it impassable. So thereafter I decided to park the Landrover on the main street, and walk along the tracks between the dwellings .
This took me past a row of little huts, with children playing “jacks” with stones in the sand. Or, being a Sunday, there would be groups of women, sitting on grass mats in front of their homes, chatting away idly. Then I had to pass through the bed of a little stream; in the dry season this was just a steep jump down, and a hefty climb up the other side, but in the rainy season it became a turbulent river, and I had to find another way around.
So I became a frequent attender at the “Assembly of God International”. I was the only ex-pat who attended, and often my very presence meant that I must be offered the opportunity to preach. I would be sitting there quietly, on the left-hand side among the ladies, and in the front row (for that is where they insisted I sit), when a note would be passed to me. “Today is your day to bring the bread to the lambs”. Each time I would refuse their kind offer, knowing that someone else was far better prepared than I was, and could deliver the message in a way more fitting with the culture. There would always be at least two people who would stand up and preach, with great passion and skill.
But I had to listen carefully in the service, as the moment was sure to come when the leader would say, “Now our dear sister, the Bible translator, will pray for us …”. Usually I caught the cue, but once I missed it. Most times when there was a time of prayer, everyone would pray at the same time, out aloud. Or if a leader was leading in prayer, it was usually in Makua. As I didn’t follow the language, I had become used to blocking out the noise level, and simply praying quietly on my own. So I was surprised when sitting down one day after the prayer, the lady next to me said, “Didn’t you hear him say you would pray?” Well, worse things have happened than that!
It was a happy church, and they accepted my keeping myself at arms-length. Occasionally the pastor would visit, if there was a particular situation that he wanted to discuss. Usually this was a need for finance, for him to get to a conference in a neighbouring town, and I was always happy to help with that.
Sometimes other pastors in the town would visit, usually with a financial need, but perhaps just to talk over something. Pastor Akilo was one who would occasionally ride up on his bicycle, and call out an imposing “hodi” at the gate. He would never waste his words; he was a busy man, running Bible studies in various prisons around the area. I liked him, and his to-the-point manner.
Usually, when Mozambicans visited, they would talk a long time about this and that, and only as they were leaving would they raise the topic that was on their minds. I found this something of a challenge, to sit patiently and make small conversation, when my work was waiting, and this was an “interruption”. I had to learn to live in the moment, and to accept unexpected visitors as part of the plan for the day. I’m still trying to learn that!
In the Mwani team, Sebastian was the leader. When I first joined them, he thought I would be doing the literacy work. I had always seen myself as involved on the translation side, so there was a possible misfit. But the Floors and I were pretty sure that it was right for us to work together, although we were certainly a non-typical team. A team normally consists of one person responsible for the literacy work and the other for the translation. In this way there is a natural division of work, and each is able to get on without being on top of the other. But here were Sebastian and I, both interested in doing the same thing.
The first few years I was finding my feet, and was happy to do whatever needed to be done. I soon found out that Sebastian had a lot of stories sitting on his computer, which hadn’t yet been printed. That caught my attention. I love to complete goals. And the literacy work needed to be done so I worked on that for a few years, developing a primer with a team of Mwani, and producing some easy books for early readers.
A short while before my first four-year “term” came to an end, Sebastian suggested I have a go at translating the book of Ruth. This is a good book to begin with, being only four chapters and most of it being narrative, which is somewhat easier to translate than other genres of literature. I was thrilled, and revelled in the times I had with Shikito and the team, whenever they were not busy with Sebastian.
As I began to get into translation, there were various issues I began to think through. What kind of translation were we going to do? One that followed the form of the original, or one that focussed more on communicating meaning? At whom were we aiming the translation? How explicit did it need to be? Would there be pastors to explain difficult passages, or did the text need to be as self-evident as possible? I mulled over these things, and made some tentative choices, but sometimes found that my thinking was not the same as Sebastian’s. What to do then?
In the Mozambique branch at that time, we were the only “double-team”; all our colleagues were on their own, and so able to make decisions and run with them, without recourse to anyone else. This suited most of them, being very independently-minded people. But I didn’t have that liberty; being the “second-fiddle”, I had to learn to submit and not get offended when things didn’t go as I thought they should.
One thing I was ever mindful of was the fact that most problems on the mission-field are the result of relationship difficulties between colleagues. When I was upset with a colleague, the Lord would remind me, “Look at his heart – it’s in the right place, so just let it go.” Occasionally I did confront, and it was always a great surprise to the other person that I was upset. But most times, I felt the Lord saying, “Just bear with it for the greater good”. I’m glad of that, for it did bring a greater good. From my time in the Caring Community, I had learned that there is great security when one submits to those in authority. So, a little submission, a little bending, and the branch didn’t break.
Sebastian was very good at preaching; Karen led the worship often and well. And in comparison, I did nothing. I would look at my colleagues, speaking the language so well, and having established very positive relationships in the community, and I would shrink inside. Yes, the reality of “comparing myself with others” soon became a problem.
Over the years, the Lord began to teach me in this area, and in particular, give me a clear understanding of where I fitted in. This continues to be one of the most liberating revelations … to know what I am called to do, and what I am not called to do, and to have absolute peace in that. Not only did this set me free from a sense of condemnation (not being as good as others at various things), but it helped me too to know where to focus my energy and time, in the midst of many demands.
I remember going to visit a colleague K who lived in a small village. She spoke Kimwani much better than I did, although I had been among the community much longer. And she had developed excellent relationships with the people, and good things were happening in their ministry. I felt very intimidated.
At the time, I was doing some testing of the book of Philippians in the village. Shikito would read the text, and then I would ask a Mwani from the village one question after another, to determine if he had understood the text correctly. Then we would repeat this with another person. K sat in to observe a little, and then she said to me, “I couldn’t do what you are doing. I would get bored, going over and over the same text.” My heart leapt within. There was something I loved doing, and could do by God’s enabling, that she didn’t like, and wouldn’t do. Suddenly I no longer felt threatened by her. I began to see the great gifts the Lord had given her were just what she needed for her work, and He had put different things within me, for a different purpose. Hallelujah!
When I first went to Mozambique, my “reason for being” was to translate the Scriptures. But the Lord had dealt with that, and shown me that He didn’t need my translation, that He could reach the Mwani in a thousand other ways without me. But He was interested in changing me, and that is what He was about – through the challenges and stretching experiences that He was putting me through.
So if my “reason for being” was not to be a worker, what was it? Little by little, I came to understand: God has called us into relationship with Himself, and He wants us – our love, our worship, our trust! Something in me soared at the revelation this was to me! I didn’t have to complete ten “goals” to please Him! I just had to learn to accept each situation that came my way as “sent from, or allowed by, Him”. With such an attitude, the frustrations of “being interrupted” would take on new perspective. If my goal was to please Him, I could do that by receiving an unexpected visitor graciously; I didn’t have to complete the chapter I was working on! And if I landed up spending hours “doing nothing” – waiting in a queue or for people who were late – that needn’t upset my goal at all … right there, where I was, I could be lifting my heart, and my praise, to the Lord.
Next, I was to tell of His goodness – to encourage other Christians, and to enable those who didn’t know Him to come into relationship with Him. And only fourthly was I to give my energy to the work of Bible translation. I sensed that this latter task might change in years to come, for it was not the essence of my “reason for being”. For now, it was what I was called to do. But if next year, the Lord called me to live in suburbia and follow some other possible direction, it wasn’t really an issue. Wherever, and through whatever means, I could worship Him, and make His goodness known … such freedom!
One of the things I had copied down in my book of treasures, long before coming to Mozambique, was a quote from Len Moules, a long-time missionary. He said: “If I were to be a missionary again, I would have a different life of prayer.” That had struck me, and I determined to try and ensure I wasn’t just working away, grinding along in my own efforts, but taking time to be in the Lord’s presence, seeking His help and getting direction for the effort.
So soon after we began working together, the Floors and I started meeting on Tuesday afternoons to pray together. After some time, we invited colleagues who were passing through town to join us, and later those from other missions were also included. It became a special time. Not only was it a time of bringing difficulties to the Lord and allowing His presence to change things, but it was also the main time of fellowship for us in the week. This was the time we could catch up with one another, and share those things that only those in a similar position understand.
One of the prayers that was wonderfully answered was our prayer concerning Shikito coming to work with us full-time. He was still working with the municipality, and had risen to the position of second-in-charge for the whole province. This was a significant achievement, and carried with it the security of a long-term salary. And we were asking him to leave that security, and join us, without any guarantee of long-term employ. It was a big decision for him, and so we prayed …
Very shortly thereafter he said to us one day, “I have decided. I want to do the translation work full-time”. This was a huge blessing. Up until then, we had had to scrabble an hour here and two hours there to work with him, and it was difficult to make significant progress with such inconsistent scheduling. And now he was happy to come full-time …!
Over the next years, this enabled all sorts of new developments. We began having a madrassa in Gogo and Zuana’s yard each Thursday afternoon. This was a gathering of neighbours to hear the Bible being read in Kimwani. It began as a way of testing the translation, and evolved into a mini Bible-study. The ladies would come in their colourful capalanas, and sit on mats on the dirt ground. A few men might lounge around on the fringe, and some children would be hovering around their mothers. Then Shikito would read them a portion of the Scripture, and explain it in his own words. He loved to do this, he was a natural teacher. He would add his own home-spun illustrations, and they would listen intently. Then there would be a few songs, some that Karen and other ladies had recorded on tape previously. Zuana would make it her job to turn the handle of the wind-up tape-player, and we would sing along cheerily.
Another opportunity that arose was to get involved with radio ministry. A church in England offered to sponsor six months of trial programming in Kimwani, so we leapt at the opportunity. The only trouble was that Sebastian was busy with translation, and Karen was taken up with home-schooling, so that left me to try and get it going. I enlisted the help of Shikito and his cousin, Alfredo, and we simply read portions of Scripture on to tape, and had some questions and answers at the end to try and reinforce the message of the text.
Later, when Karen’s load lightened somewhat, she was able to take over this work and add to it immensely. The programmes became more varied with songs in between, and we experimented with having male voices one day and female the next. We weren’t sure what was most acceptable in the Muslim context – would men listen to women reading? Would women be more inclined to hear another woman’s voice? Karen later worked with two women who knew Kimwani but were actually not Mwani by birth, and the three of them made some lovely cassettes of music, adapted from Swahili to Kimwani.
By this time we had managed to purchase an old tailors’ workshop in the middle of Pakitekete. It was just perfect for our needs, a large classroom area where we could have literacy classes, a little office where we could work as a team, and a small “library”where we could keep the growing stock of books. Shikito was so thrilled about having our own space, and in his own time, painted a big blue sign on the front of the building, describing this as the “Nyuki”, an acronym for Nyumba ya Kimwani meaning ‘the house of Kimwani’.
Having a smart new building made it possible for all sorts of new things to take place. Shikito, ever the visionary, suggested we have “library days” once a week, when people in the community could come in and read books. So we decided to do this on Saturday mornings. To publicise it, the SAWA group went on a little march through the “bairro”, singing loudly and banging various musical instruments. I also had my tape-recorder handy, and when a little group of onlookers assembled, I called them to hear a Kimwani story on the tape. They were fascinated, and their curiosity was aroused. “Tukeni” – (come along with us) we said, and soon we had a growing ensemblage, coursing through the village streets. Once back at the Nyuki they crammed inside, and Shikito read them a story as they followed along.
From there we had “library days” each week for a while. The participants had to first wash their hands, so we had a basin and soap, and a container of water on hand. Then they would read a book together with Shikito, and therefter were free to choose whatever other books they wanted to look at. This was just a little way to expose the community to the idea of reading books in Kimwani.
Another way that we tried to promote a culture of literacy was to have T-shirts printed with a Scripture in Kimwani on the front. The fact that it was Kimwani made many people very keen to have one, and soon many people were walking around, prizing their smart new T-shirts.
All these new directions in the work had come about as we had waited on the Lord and He had brought opportunities our way. It had been so exciting to see, and I increasingly began to agree with the person who said, “Prayer is not something we do in addition to the work. Prayer is the work.” I had much more to learn in this area, but the experiences of the next few years would leave me even more open-mouthed as to what God would do through prayer.
Statistics show that the way most ex-muslims have come to faith in Christ is through the Scriptures, or through visions and dreams of Jesus. As I mulled over this, the idea came that I should pray for the Mwani when they were sleeping, praying specifically that they would have visions of Jesus pointing them to the truth. Although God is not limited by time, for me it seemed important to be praying at the same moment as the event I was praying about. So I began to go to bed early and then wake up sometime around midnight and pray in this way. That was a nice quiet time of the night, and I could pray without any distracton. This became a pattern for a good number of months, and it was during this time that Paulo entered into my life.
Paulo was the husband of Lydia, a Christian from Tanzania who was working with Karen in the radio-work. He was a Mwani and an unbeliever, but had gone along to church with Lydia, and then gone forward in response to the altar-call at the end of the service. This was exciting news for us! Soon thereafter he became very ill, apparently the consequences of having been a heavy drinker in his younger days. It seemed that he would need either dialysis or a kidney transplant, both very unlikely options in the third-world environment of Pemba. We shared the need with prayer-partners and they generously provided for us to be able to send him to Tanzania, for treatment there. However, before he could actually go, he became critically ill again, and we gave ourselves to serious praying for him.
One morning Lydia came to me, and told me what had happened the night before. She said Paulo had woken up, and had had such a strong sense that someone was praying for him that he had gotten up also, to pray. She didn’t know I was praying in the night for Mwani, and I hadn’t told anyone, so I was thrilled and encouraged at this little episode.
Paulo then had to be moved to hospital, and we continued to visit him there. His family were all muslim, and the hospital room would be filled with them whenever we popped in. They were putting pressure on him to “leave this new religion which has upset the demons” and to seek traditional witchcraft as a means of getting better. But he stood firm. He was now a Christian, and he would pray to God, and not seek other recourse.
His illness continued and eventually he reached the point of death, at which he said to his family that he wanted a Christian funeral. This was a very courageous stand, and when he died, the family honoured his wishes. First there was a service at the hospital morgue, then another at the graveside, then several more “services of consolation”, and at all of them, all the family were present to hear a very strong Christian witness. Sebastian’s comment was that he was “probably the first Mwani in heaven” – a happy thought!
Rashidi was another Mwani who made a commitment to the Lord about this time. He was a tailor who lived on the same street as the church building, and one of the missionaries, John, would always greet him as he walked past on his way to a service. In time, a friendship developed between them, and John offered to help Rashidi improve his English, using the New Testament as their text-book. In time, Rashidi joined the church and then offered his home as a place where we could have a little Christian gathering for Mwani on Sunday afternoons. We would meet on the hard dirt ouside his grass hut, sitting barefoot on a mat, men on one side and ladies on the other. Rashidi would invite some family or neighbours, and we would sing, and Shikito would preach, and we would pray, all in Kimwani. It was an exciting first “Mwani fellowship”. We called this a “jamati”, from the word “jamaa” meaning family. Once a month, we had a meal together, and this was a good time of being Christian family together.
One of the ladies who would come fairly regularly to the jamati was Kavantu. She was the cousin of one of the men working with us on the translation, and through this contact, had worked with us in various capacities too. She had not made a commitment to the Lord, but over the years with us was exposed to much of the Gospel.
When she and I first began working together, I went with her to her home in Namavi for a night. This was on the other side of Pemba Bay, but we drove all the way around the huge bay, so it seemed a lot further. I only stayed a night, but it seemed much longer as I was having to speak Kimwani all the time; the whole environment was Kimwani. This was great for language-learning, but pretty exhausting too.
Being in the village, I was quickly exposed to the needs of the people. We came across someone who was being plagued by a personal “jini”, and so gave him one of the booklets we had translated: “Jesus has power over demons”. Another young man came up to us and told us how much he enjoyed listening to the Kimwani radio programmes. That was encouraging – we didn’t often get feedback. That night, as I sat in the dark around the fire, and listened to Kavantu talking to her mother, I was saddened to hear her say, “I’m not a Christian. It’s just a job for me.” She had heard the Gospel many times, but the enlightening of the Holy Spirit had not yet come.
During this first term in Pemba, my health had been good. I had had malaria a couple of times, usually in the dry season, when I opted to go off the prophylaxis for a time to give my body a break. One of the times I had become sick was after Karen and I had taken some visitors to see a Mwani village, and we had stayed with Shikito’s in-laws. They had been very gracious, and had offered the two of us a room with a bed, but we had chosen to not use the mosquito-net, thinking it wasn’t necessary, being the dry season. And then we had both come down with malaria!
Apart from malaria, I had had a bout of dengue fever, which had been more difficult to cope with. The symptons were similar to that of malaria, with, in addition, great fatigue and depression. Feeling extremely weak, I managed to pull myself over to the home of the Leprosy Mission doctor, but his response was very nonchallant. “There’s nothing much to be done – just sit it out”. So I went home, and went to bed, and lay there for days and days, hardly able to move.
Soon after that, I went to South Africa for a previously-planned break. Just before I was due to return to Mozambique, I had some time in Cape Town with my friend, Clare; we were having a long walk along the white sandy beach at Bloubergstrand. As we chatted and shared, she offered to pray for me, and then suddenly I began crying and crying, out of sheer exhaustion. It was clear that I was not ready to go back, but the ticket was booked, and I went. However, all through the next year I was conscious of not having a fully-charged battery, and so when it was time for my first furlough, I was more than ready for it.
One thing that had become very evident to me during my first four years in Pemba was the difficulty of not having a partner. So often I longed for someone to be able to talk things over with, or pray issues through with, but there wasn’t anyone – everyone was more than busy with their own responsibilities. Wycliffe’s normal policy is not to assign singles to a language project or isolated situation alone; usually they are sent out in twos, following the Biblical example. In my case, there simply hadn’t been another single girl who had felt led to do language work in Mozambique, despite prayers over many years in this regard. So my big question as I left on furlough was this: Do I come back to Mozam-bique for another term alone?
12. Furlough, and return
I had a wonderful furlough, spending a good amount of time in England, helping teach at the SIL school near London. Most weekends, I would go into the city, and overnight with my second-cousins, Alexandra and Alison, who had a large, four-storey home in Clapham. I was a given a little room on the top floor, with a bathroom among the treetops. From there it was a pleasant walk into the city, over one of the many bridges of the River Thames.
Alexandra and Alison were both girls of my age, but both very busy with their jobs, so we lived independently of one another. I came and went, enjoying the freedom of their home, but rarely having much time with them. One Saturday they invited me to join them for a special dinner; this was the first and only time that this happened, and it happened, unbeknown to them, on my birthday!
And then, without realising it, they each gave me a gift! Alexandra said to me in her warm way, “Wouldn’t you like to use my family-ticket for the London museums?” I couldn’t believe my ears! I had been longing to visit the Science Museum, one of my favourite places in London, but with the increased price, had delayed. And now I had the opportunity to go at will! And then she went on, “And wouldn’t you like to look at the things Alison is tossing out, in case you like any of them?” Alison, her sister, had very expensive taste in clothes, and was in the process of casting out her old season’s collection. And so among her many smart outfits, I found a soft, Indian cotton sundress, just perfect for Mozambique. I was delighted by their kindness, but even more moved by the fact that without any conniving on my own, the Lord had made my day special.
While in England, I had opportunity to attend a number of interesting conferences. There was the Prayer Summit in London, to which my friends John and Penny were going, and they invited me to join them. As I was helping out at our SIL school near London, I was in the area, but would I be free to go? It seemed that the Lord had provided for that, as I lost my voice and so wasn’t able to teach! Instead I was doing administrative work on the computer, and thus could arrange my schedule to fit around the conference. It was a great experience, and I was exposed to many new learnings in prayer.
One that stands out was the testimony of John Mulinde from Uganda; he shared amazing stories of what the Lord had done in answer to prayer, in changing the national situation under the dictator Idi Amin. Not only had the evil regime been brought down, but the Lord had turned around the AIDS problem in that country. And all of this had been the result of faithful Believers meeting in the forest at great risk to themselves, to pray and pray.
Another conference that I went to in England was “Faith Camp”. This was a gathering of thousands of Christians, for a week of teaching and fellowship and worship and prayer. My good friends, the Tweeddales, had invited me to join them, camping in a big tent with their four little boys. It had been a special time, but as we approached the day that my air-ticket ran out and I would have to return to South Africa, I still did not have clarity from the Lord with respect to my big question: “Do I return to Mozambique without a partner?” I had been fasting and giving myself to earnest prayer, and had enjoyed that all, but I still hadn’t received another commissioning to go back to Mozambique. This was what I felt I needed, if I was to return. The challenges were too great for me to go back “by default” alone. Unless I had the assurance of the Lord’s grace upon me, it would be foolish to try.
But that very last day before I had to leave England, the answer came. It was a Wednesday night, not the planned “high-point” of the conference, but certainly the highpoint for me. The preacher was speaking about Paul and his visit to Athens. He said, “Sometimes the Lord has us go somewhere alone, without the support of the brethren. That was the case with Paul. He had to go to Athens, without Timothy or Silas.” In a flash, I knew that that was what the Lord was asking me to do – to return to Pemba, without a partner. And with that, I left the country and headed back for Africa, sure, without the shadow of a doubt, that the Lord was sending me back to Mozambique.
The fact that it was right to go back didn’t make it easy to go back. In fact, that’s probably what made it so hard. The enemy put up a fight! First I battled to find a convoy with whom I could travel. As it was a long six-day journey, it’s not something for a person to do alone. The risk of being stuck with car trouble was the greatest problem, but even in terms of personal safely, it wasn’t a good idea for a girl to travel alone.
Twice I heard of a convoy and was all set to join them, when the Landrover revealed a problem which had to be fixed. Eventually, it came together for me to travel in convoy with my friend John Giles. He had been my pastor, and together with his wife Ivy had visited me in Pemba some years earlier. Now he was working with another mission organisation, Every Home for Christ, and together with a colleague, was heading for Malawi, and then Nampula in Mozambique, to do some outreach work.
I had done the long trip several times before, and knew it would take me about 16 hours to get to South Africa’s border with Zimbabwe. John, however, said he would only need twelve, so I arranged to go ahead the day before, and sleep over with friends in Pietersburg, four hours away. Then hopefully John would meet me on the road the next day, and we could go into Harare, the captial of Zimbabwe, together.
The first day went well and I had a pleasant visit with my friends. Early the next morning they sent me on my way, and I relaxed back into the Landie, glad to be making progress. I enjoy driving, and the road I was following that day goes through magnificent scenery. Around Messina, the last town on the South African side of the border, there are many beautiful Baobab trees giving definition to the otherwise flat countryside. Each tree stands alone, impressive in its majesty. The thick smooth trunk gives way to a spread of dividing braches, sticking up in the air like upside-down roots.
I crossed the Limpopo River dividing South Africa and Zimbabwe, and glanced down at the languid brown liquid moving sluggishly under the long bridge. Once through the border posts, I pulled into a fuel station, and it was then someone pointed out to me that I had a leak in the fuel tank. Thankfully someone could fix that relatively easily, and I continued on my way, grateful that the problem had become manifest at a place where it could be easily fixed.
A few hours on into the journey I suddenly felt the steering veer off-centre, and realised I had a flat tyre! At this time I was travelling in the open countryside of Zimbabwe – nothing but undulating hills, and occasional strange rock formations, shaped like giant balls resting on slabs of stone. Where would I get help here? There had been a little roadside shop some ten minutes back, so I slowly turned around and inched along, hoping the Landie would make it.
The owner of the shop was kind enough to change the tyre for me. This was no easy feat. First we had to unload the whole bakkie, and it was choc-a-bloc full with supplies for six months – boxes of books and computer stationery, and food and late Christmas gifts for colleagues. All of this had to come out, to get at the spare wheel, right at the front of the storage area.
That problem having been resolved, I went on for another few hours, and then to my horror I felt the car swaying again … another flat tyre! And now I didn’t have a spare!
This time I was just passing a little roadside butchery, with an outdoor beer-garden. The fact that I was near another of these little “settlements” was amazing to me as they are few and far between. But I was very grateful it was there, and pulled over to ask for some help. The owner of the shop was called for, and when he came, he kindly took me to his farmhouse next door. Then while he and a young man fixed my punctured tyre, his wife entertained me with tea and biscuits. In fact, they had to strip a tube off one of their tractor tyres to replace my faulty one, and this they did without any fuss at all. Just as the sun was setting, I was back on the road, and ready to go.
I was not unmindful of the wonderful way the Lord had cared for me, through three breakdowns, when I was travelling alone on a remote road. But I was emotionally drained and not sure if I could cope, should there be another breakdown, especially as it was now getting dark. But it then occurred to me that this was not coincidence – this was enemy attack, to discourage me. Suddenly I recalled the statistic that half of career missionaries do not return to the field after their first furlough. It seems to be a time of particular vulnerability, and the enemy does all he can to prevent it. I had certainly seen that in the problems I had had in even finding a convoy, and now it was clear that the darts had not let up. I would need to fight against this, with the shield of faith, and a spirit of praise.
So for the next hour or two, as I travelled the dark and lonely road into Beatrice, I declared out loud my faith in the Lord’s faithfulness. With that the fear certainly took flight, and I arrived in Beatrice weary, but strengthened too. It was then 8pm, and John and I had agreed that if we didn’t meet on the road, we would meet at Beatrice at 5pm. As I had been off the road such a lot, fixing the various problems, I assumed that John had passed me, and would now be already at his host’s home in Harare. So I decided to phone him, and ask him to please be on the lookout for me. I spied a garage down a road and pulled in there. Just as I was idling the car to let it cool-down, and looking for change for the phone, a car drove into the very same garage where I had stopped. I glanced up at the glaring headlights, and a hand casually waved. I couldn’t believe it! It was John and his colleague!
Our extraordinary meeting, at a time and place unplanned, and within minutes of each other, gave us all confidence that the Lord’s hand was upon us. So I followed them into Harare with a rejoicing spirit. Once we entered the built-up area, I should have been more alert. Harare is known for its thieves who cause trouble for foreigners, and our heavily-laden vehicles made it obvious that we were such. But numbed with exhaustion, I simply followed John mindlessly. We then veered off the main road and down some small, winding streets to the gate of the home where we were to overnight. As we waited for our hosts to open the gate, I noticed a car’s headlights behind me; it had been following, and then it disappeared into the darkness. That should have made me suspicious – why was another car travelling in such an isolated part of town at this late hour? But I was weary, and the incongruity slipped past me.
Once inside the compound, we locked the cars and went inside to greet our hosts, and to have a short time of thanksgiving to the Lord for keeping us through the day. I had just sat down with a cup of tea, when John’s friend came in and spoke to him, and then they both rushed out. I jumped up and followed them, and heard John say breathlessly, “I think they’ve gone …” With that I walked over to the driver’s side of my Landrover and saw the window smashed. A quick check showed that my two computers were missing, and my printer, and my bag with all my cash for five months, and my documents. All gone, in a flash..!
I leaned against the car, closed my eyes, and then opened them to see the bright heavens above. The stars were shimmering in a clear, dark sky. Nothing had changed, the Lord was still in control.
I decided to spend the night with other friends, where the Landrover could be parked behind a secure fence. As I lay under the crisp linen sheets, my mind reflected on the events of the day. There was much for which to be thankful. I had seen God carry me through three breakdowns with the car, where I had no other recourse. And He had proven through the amazing meeting in Beatrice that He was with us. That helped put the burglary in perspective – it was not out of God’s control. With that, a peace from above settled on my spirit, my heavy eyelids closed, and I fell asleep.
The next morning I awoke with the words of a song welling up from deep within. It was one that I had learned at Faith Camp in England. “This joy that I have, the world didn’t give it to me. The world didn’t give it, and the world can’t take it away.” That song continued to play in my mind over and over the next few days, keeping me in a place of quiet joy – truly a gift from God!
After sorting out various things in Harare, I continued my journey to Blantyre in Malawi. John could not wait for me, so I travelled “alone”, but I did have my doggie, Trudy, with me in the car. I had picked her up in Harare, from the friend who had been looking after her while I was away. Leaving Zimbabwe we entered into Tete province of Mozambique, with its very narrow roads and heavy traffic. It was an overcast day, with light rain falling, and I found myself behind a massive vehicle inching along very slowly. Noticing the build up of traffic behind me, I eventually decided to overtake it. Putting on my indicators, I positioned my outside wheels on the gravel, to give a wide leeway to the bulky truck. But its huge size created a suction pulling the Landrover, and we hit once, and then again. The driver of the truck continued unabated, seemingly unaware of any problem. Trudy immediately reached through the little window that separated us, and gave me a wet lick on the cheek.
In Blantyre I met up again with John, and his colleague kindly agreed to drive for me the next two days, through to Nampula, where they were to stay for a while. There had been rain and the roads were very slippery with red mud, and the Landrover was battling to keep traction. Once we got past the quagmire, the roads became rutted; up and down, ridge after endless ridge, made it feel like we were driving over corrugated iron! How thankful I was that I didn’t have to be straining my brain, working out how best to avoid the bumps. I simply closed my eyes, and drifted off to dreamland.
The last part of the journey, from Nampula to Pemba, was one that I had done many times before. As always, there were guinea-fowl running across the road in front of me, but otherwise the journey was “without event”. That’s the way we like it!
It was great to be back in Pemba, and my spirits lifted at the view: the beautiful bay sparkling in the sun on my left, and the coastline stretching as far as the eye could see on my right. Even the noisy busses, disgorging loads of over-laden passengers, were a welcome sight. As I watched the familiar sight of men dragging sacks of charcoal, and young boys swinging live chickens, I knew I was “home” – the long journey was over!
I thought that was the end of the test. There had been enough to discourage on the way, and yet it had had the opposite effect, in that I had experienced the grace of God like never before. I began to relax, not realising that the hardest part of the trial was yet to come.
A few days after getting back, I was driving down my street, watching the road-surface carefully to avoid the treacherous pot-holes gaping here and there. Suddenly, a ten-year-old girl ran in front of the car! I only saw her when she fell, and immediately drew to a halt. She was shaken, and slightly injured, with a grazed knee; thankfully the injury was very minor as my speed on the bad road had been so low. But nevertheless, the accident became a real problem; under Mozambican law, the driver is always responsible. This involved negotiations with the family and police, somewhat costly financially, but very demanding and draining emotionally.
But I was back, and the Lord had kept me through the various discouragements and distressing details. I was back, and believing Him for good to follow the enemy attacks. And it was so. The next four years were to be a time of great fruitfulness, and I would look back with gratitude for the experiences of this trip, which had taught me again that “the Lord is more than enough”.
13. Second Term
Once back in Pemba, the first thing I had to do was to find somewhere to live. I had given up the lease on my former home when I left for furlough. It had been a very special place, almost on the water’s edge, with the sound of the waves lapping against the rocks at low tide. I would sit there next to the window overlooking the bay, and just gaze and gaze at the changing scene. In fact, I had arranged the little front room as the place where I did everything – studied and ate and slept. I just loved to be near the water, and to hear the ripples, and to see the sun shimmering, or setting in a wild profusion of colours over the bay. Moonlight, and full moon on the water, was the best of all. Then it would be quiet, with the neighbours having turned in for the night, and the splendour and serenity would fill my senses, as I sat and drank it all in. Such unspoilt loveliness left one breathless for the majesty of the creation.
During the day-time it was often quite different. If a fishing-boat had just come in, there would be a rush of young men carrying plastic basins, running to be the ones to get the fish, to then go and sell on behalf of the fishermen. This was the way many Mwani youths made their livelihood. So there would be a scramble of bodies and shouting, and then they would disperse with their supplies, to sell in the suburbs. Other days the fishermen might be sitting just outside my gate, mending their coloured nets, spread out over the smooth shiny pebbles on the beach. They would work in groups and chatter among themselves, like magpies preparing the nest for their next collection of treasures.
Some days the noise level would rise considerably. This usually happened at lunch-time, or soon thereafter when I was taking my short siesta. Suddenly there would be an explosion of splattering and spluttering as the engine of a motorboat choked into life; my neighbours had a business of repairing motors, and the decibel level would rise to screaming pitch, and then fall off, only to rise again.
Nevertheless, the happy memories of my “beach-house” are many. The one day I was working at my desk when suddenly the windows filled with the billowing sails of two dhouws, both coming into shore at the same time. The wind was behind them and the white scrappy sails were fully extended, looking strong and powerful. The little wooden boats skimmed across the surface, and shot into the sandy cove. I ran for my camera, and quickly took a few shots. One of these I turned into a homemade postcard and sent it into “Getaway” magazine, for their “Greetings to Getaway” section. They usually featured postcards from exotic places around the world, and my little amateur version caught their eye, and I was awarded a year’s subscription to the magazine. This was more to the credit of the sheer beauty of the place than to my photographic skills!
But that home was no longer mine, and now back in Pemba I set about trying to find a vacant house to rent. It needed to be somewhere with a garden large enough for Trudy, my Golden Labrador-cum-Ridgeback. That seemed like a big order, especially as the rent I had been paying at the “beach-house” had been very favourable. But Karen prayed with me, and I remember her saying, “Lord, you know what June needs, and what Trudy needs. And we’re trusting You to provide that.”
And He did. A friend told me that the house next door to him would be vacated shortly, and I was able to move in and negotiate a satisfactory rent. It was just what I needed – a small, two-bedroomed house – and it was just what Trudy needed – a huge yard!
When I first moved in, there was no garden at the back, just a small fringe of plants at the front of the house, and a magnificent hedge of brightly-coloured bouganvillea – vivid magenta and orangy-pink – on the roadside. But I enjoy gardening, and after a friend sent me a hose from South Africa, I was able to get busy with planting grass and designing flower-beds, between the cluster of fruit-trees.
I soon discovered that Vinca, a common little shrub with pink or white flowers, was a prolific multiplier. As it was the growing season, the little patch of plants with which I had begun, rapidly produced countless seedlings. I soon had pools and pools of bright splashes of colour. Then, to add more definition and give shade, I decided to plant some Frangipani trees. This is one of the few plants that thrives in the poor soil of Pemba. A vacant house nearby had a few healthy trees in their front garden, so at my request, my house-help-cum-gardener broke off a few cuttings, and planted them in “the garden”. Their fragrant flowers soon appeared, deep pink edged with white, or cups of cream with golden centres.
I loved working in the garden. Trudy would be at my side, sniffing at the tangle of weeds that I was pulling out, or running through the flowers, chasing blue-tailed lizards that were lazing in the sun. So often, as I worked, the Lord would speak to me through the images of the garden. Removing the rocks and digging the hard soil would remind me of the work we were doing in preparing the way for the Gospel to come to the Mwani. And as I would spend hours and hours watering the little seedlings (with water at very low pressure available for short intervals every second day), I would be praying and asking the Lord to come by His Spirit and soften the hearts of the Mwani, that they would be ready to receive the seed of the Word.
One day a letter came by e-mail from Campus Crusade: “We are to do some work in Mozambique this year, and have selected the Mwani as one of the groups to receive the Jesus Film. Will you be willing to work with us on this project?” This was great news. I had wanted to work on a film-media project to present the Gospel to the Mwani, but the costs were prohibitive if we were to do it alone. But here was another organisation, who specialised in film-media, offering not only the technical know-how, but also the financial sponsorship to make it a reality. I quickly leapt at the opportunity, and set to work on the translation of the script with the team.
Some months later Campus sent up someone from South Africa, to come and do a “lip-synchronisation check”. We had already been told how many syllables to use for the translation of each segment of dialogue, but the accuracy of this now needed to be verified. One of the Mwani, Saweji, helped us with this. He would read the translated segment in Kimwani and we would compare it with the lip movement of the original sound-track in English. Sometimes we had to add a few syllables to match the mouth movements of the person speaking on the film. Other times we had to reduce our translation, so that Kimwani words wouldn’t still be pouring forth, after the original speaker’s mouth had closed! This was something of a challenge in some cases. The English word “God” has just one compact little syllable; no sooner has the mouth opened than it closes! But in Kimwani the equivalent word is Mwen-ye-zi-mu-ngu, five syllables to fit into the space of one! We had to opt to use the word “Mo-la” instead, which is the equivalent for ‘Yahweh’, not exactly the same meaning, but with the technical constraints of lip synchronisation, we had to be flexible.
About a year after we began the translation of the script, we were ready to do the recording. So it was time to find “actors”, people who could read the script-parts with expression and good clarity of voice. And so we called for auditions for the twenty or so voices to be dubbed. Soon there was a cast, busy practising every day. Shikito helped coach the speakers, and then I tried to animate them, to catch the mood of the occasion and not just read the part. “Peter” caught on really well, and his weeping after denying Jesus was heart-wrenching.
The people most eager to play the parts were the young men. And they were the ones most able to read fairly fluently. So without realising the implications, I had a young man playing the voice of the high-priest Caiaphas and another man of much the same age playing the role of the ex-high-priest Ananias. Only later did I remember that Ananias was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, and so should have a voice appropriately older. So the search was on for another “Ananais”. The old men lined up for the audition, and the one who got the part was the one with no teeth!
The day then came for the recording team from Canada to arrive. We had ten days to complete the project. The first thing to do was to find a suitable place to record. A Swedish colleague, BG, helped us negotiate to use the smart facilities of the Pemba TV company. This newly-completed building overlooking the bay was not yet being used, and had a few studios available for rent. At first the price they wanted was high, but BG managed to knock it down to 200 000 MT a day, about 10 dollars.
Then the fun began, to transform the big empty room into a recording studio. BG went down to the local market, and asked the owner of a booth selling mattrasses. “If I buy five mattrasses, will you buy them back from me in ten days’ time?” A bargain was struck, and BG arrived back at the “studio” with his mattrasses and pieces of wood which he quickly hammered together to make the frame for a little “mattrass room”. So in the big empty echo-ey studio, a cosy little recording corner was created. Inside the little “room” there was just enough space for the speaker, the “director”, and myself, each of us wearing head-phones, which were connected to the recording technicians “outside”.
The recording required intense concentration from the speaker, and often he or she had to make several attempts to get the whole expression out without hesitating or making a mistake. The marvellous thing was that, with the sophisticated recording equipment, one could redo just a fragment of a word or sentence, and patch it together with the original, to get a complete section well done. This significantly lessened the load on the speakers, and enabled those who were not literate to be coached through their parts, simply imitating the “director” as he read, piece by piece.
After the first day, as BG went to arrange with the studio manager for the next day, he was told, “The cost will be 200 dollars a day”. During the course of the day, the price had jumped twenty-fold! He reported this back to us, and I said: “We can’t pay that. We’ll have to leave.” That would mean packing up our mattrass-room, and starting all over again in setting up a suitable recording space. What a disappointment. But when we told the manager our decision, he came back, “OK, you can have it at the original price.”
The next days were very full. The three men from Canada stayed in our SIL guest-house, so there were meals to be organised and their other needs to be cared for. And this, of course, involved trips to the beach … no trip to Pemba is complete without that!
It was raining too! When the Canadians said they were to come in February; I had happily agreed, forgetting that it would be rainy season, and very hot! Thankfully, our smart studio didn’t have a tin roof so we were spared the clatter of falling rain. But the heavy downpours and muddy roads made it difficult for some of the actors to get to work, so I became the taxi too. It was a busy time!
Shikito had been chosen to play the part of Jesus, mainly because he was one of the most fluent readers and had a strong clear voice. But just before we were about to begin the recording, a friend asked me: “Who’s playing the part of Jesus?” When I said, “Shikito”, he replied, “But he has a lisp!”
“Could that be so?” I thought. “I’ve never noticed. But then I might just have become accustomed to it.” I could hardly sleep that night, worrying about this, and first thing the next day, I had another good listen to Shikito speaking. Yes, he certainly had gaps in his teeth, for many had fallen out. But the lisp to me was negligible. Perhaps it’s there, perhaps not … but the important thing is that “Jesus” speaks Kimwani like a typical Mwani would … teeth or no teeth!
Just before we were about to do the recording, my colleagues from Pangani were in town, and invited me to join them at the beach for a cooldrink. While sitting out on the big stoep overlooking the ocean stretching before us, and sipping “Fanta Orange” while we lazily caught up with one another, they introduced me to M, a young Mwani who had just arrived back from Kenya. They had been able to get M on one of the mission planes going to their mission hospital, where he had had surgery to correct club feet.
As M talked to me, his eyes lit up, describing the amazing time it had been for him. Not only did he get medical help for his long-standing problem, but he was also exposed to the Gospel for the first time. “I saw the Jesus Film in Swahili”, he told me. This he could understand, and he had been captivated. After watching the film a few times, he called the doctor and said to him, “I want to follow Jesus.”
I was thrilled to hear his story, and said to him spontaneously, “Would you like to be in the Jesus Film, in your own language?” And so it happened. The next week he and another friend from the village took part in the film.
This was wonderful timing from the Lord. M was delighted to be part of bringing other Mwani to faith, through the film that had brought him to faith. Also, being from Pangani, he spoke a dialect of the language slightly different from the Pemba dialect. Having some representatives of this dialect included in the Jesus Film meant that the film would be more acceptable to the many Mwani who live in the north. Again, the Lord had added the fine details which added a depth we would have otherwise missed.
14. Canine companions
At the end of 1999, I went to South Africa for a short break. After Christmas with the family, I went on to East London to celebrate the coming of the new millenium with the church there, and to share in a conference “To the ends of the earth.” The conference was a great time of bringing together the dynamic of life lived in the Spirit of God with the vision of taking the Gospel to the ends of the earth. One day, while in the conference, I received a very sad message from Sebastian: “Both of your dogs have died. It seems that they were poisoned.” I was devastated. My beloved Trudy and Dommi … both dead. I left the meeting and wandered numb-struck down the sandy road, through the farmland surrounding the church building. My heart was crying out to the Lord. I walked and walked, and little by little, He brought healing and peace. But arriving back in Pemba, and not having my two doggies jumping up at the gate to welcome me back, was hard.
I decided not to get another dog, as I was due to go on furlough in a year’s time, and what would I then do with an animal? But I did miss the companionship, and after a couple of attempted burglaries, my supervisor said to me, “Why don’t you get a dog and have one happy year, rather than one miserable year?” So, I made enquiries and heard that an ex-pat living at the beach had a dog with a litter of pups. I went down to see, and found a beautiful copper-coloured Dalmatian-cross with six adorable puppies. Two were pitch-black, and the other four brindle. I asked for the strong black male, but was told all the dogs were spoken for, except the weak black female. She was the runt of the litter, but as I watched her play in the grass, I was captivated by her; she would happily go off on her own and sniff and play, her tail constantly wagging. So I set my eye upon her, and told her she was mine.
At that time they were only four weeks old so I had to wait at least another two weeks before I could take her home. I was so excited and could hardly wait for the change this little bundle of life would bring to me. However, before the six weeks was up, the owner became very ill and had to leave the country urgently for medical help. I continued to visit the puppies, and noticed that some of them were being infected by ticks, so I took along powder and doused them down. This I did regularly over the following weeks, each time having an affectionate cuddle with my little pup, but not able to take her home as the owner was still away. When he finally returned, the puppies were already four months old. With great excitement, I took her home, cradling her in my arms as we drove the ten kilometres. When I let her out in the garden, she was so fearful, she ran to the farthest corner of the garden. It was dark, and she was black, and I thought I had lost my little puppy, before we had even begun to know each other! But she emerged out of the darkness, and with some loving attention, settled down into her new home.
I called her Jandy Janliya. “Janliya” means ‘blessing’ in Kimwani, and that is what she was to me. Also, to the Mwani, dogs are unclean and often cursed, so I wanted them to know that she was a blessing. Janliya seemed like a bit of a mouthful to be calling again and again, so I shortened it to Jandy, in rememberance too of her beautiful mother, Candy.
Jandy proved to be a very affectionate and sweet companion. She would wake me in the mornings by jumping up with her forepaws on the bed, and just lying there and nuzzling me awake. Or she would give a generous lick, again and again, until I leapt out of bed and found her a bone in the fridge. This became our morning wake-up routine.
I often thought I should have called her “Shadow” for that is what she literally was to me. When I moved from one room to the other, she always immediately followed me. When I was out in the garden, she would join me, sniffing at the weeds I was pulling, or chasing the blue-tailed lizards with great delight.
The best times with Jandy were early in the morning, walking along the beach together at Wimbi. The sun would just be breaking over the horizon, and we would have the place to ourselves. The coconut palms would be in silhouette, their high fronds hiding their precious fruit. The white sands would be smooth and hard, unmarred by other footprints. Jandy would run through the water, with an exuberant toss of her head and her nostrils fully flayed, revelling in the sea-air. Occasionally “Yellow”, a dog who lived on the beach in a little cabin, would join her, and the two of them would play “catch” together, Jandy out-running him every time, and Yellow taking refuge in the water. I loved to watch her lithe body exerted to the utmost as she ran at full gallop towards me. Or to watch her splashing through the waves, carefree, and her little black face smiling widely.
These were happy times, the stuff of memories, to be pulled out and delighted in when the going was rough.
15. Special moments
I was sitting in the little mud church building on a hot Sunday morning. As usual, I was in my customary place, on the wooden bench in the front row of the women’s side. As a missionary, I was expected to sit there, and if I sometimes tried to sit further back, I would be escorted forward. This was the Mozambicans’ way of showing respect for visitors, pastors’ wives, and the like. We had been praying, each one raising his or her voice to the Lord aloud in unison. This had been going on for some minutes, and then the combined prayer tailed off, and the pastor led a further prayer. As I listened to his words, I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. How could he have known …?
For some weeks prior to that, I had been feeling rather restless. The work-load seemed so heavy, and I began dreaming about what I would do in my upcoming furlough. That was still eighteen months’ away, but plans always took time to be worked out. Several ideas had come to mind, ways to best utilise the opportunity for a refreshing break. One thought was to go and teach at the SIL school in Papua New Guinea. I had always been interested in this, but had put it on the back-bench as something I might do when I reached retiral age. But as I pondered it anew, it seemed like a viable possibility. However, I had not voiced this thought to anyone, least of all to the pastor. And yet he was saying, “Lord, thank you for our sister who’s translating the Bible. Give her courage not to leave Mozambique. And give her courage not to leave Africa. And in particular, give her courage not to leave Pemba.” And then he finished off the prayer and we all sat down. I was stunned. What an amazing affirmation to me of the Lord calling me to forget about PNG and continue with what he had called me to do!
“Glow plugs” or “hot plugs”? What was the difference? I wasn’t sure but twice the wrong parts had been sent up from South Africa. The Landrover had been out of action for a good month, and now my friends Sally and Janet were coming up to visit, and I was hoping they would bring the correct parts this time. It was exciting to see them, and I was very glad to see they were accompanied by a paper-bag, with the much-anticipated car-parts. But, once again, the wrong kind had been sent up!
What to do? We had planned to have a few days in Pemba and then go away for a little holiday in neighbouring Nampula province, six hours’ away. So we decided to jump-start the battery, and hope that each morning we would be able to start the car, by parking it on a hill. Off we set, and made our way to the very beautiful beach where we had hired a room for two nights. The beach itself was some distance from the guest-house, so it was necessary to drive the Landie in and out the marshy roads, to get to the long expanse of open beach.
On the white sands, there were a few grass shelters, providing respite for bathers from the hot sun; however, they were empty, and we had the whole beach to ourselves. We lolled about in the gentle waves, revelling in the warm water, and marvelling at the wonder of this private paradise! Of course, this meant too that there was no-one around to help with the car, should we need someone to push us or give a jump-start. Thus every hour I wandered up to the Landie and ran the engine for a few minutes, to keep the plugs warm. In this way, we were able to get to and from the guest-house, without any further problem.
As we sat gazing out at the horizon, I noticed a little casquinha come into view, with the fisherman doing the familiar “two paddles to the left, two to the right”, in a good and steady rhythm. It was hard work for these fishermen in their narrow wooden boats. Sometimes there might be two people in a boat, but usually it was just one, and he had to sustain the paddling alone. I was watching him move slowly forward at such expense of effort, when another boat slipped into view. This one fairly glided along, at a rapid rate, its sail fully extended to catch the power of the driving wind. What a contrast! It was as if the Lord said to me in that moment: “You can be like that casquinha, striving along in your own effort and not really getting anywhere fast, or you can yield to the wind of the Spirit and be empowered and directed by Me.”
After our little beach holiday, we went on to explore the Island of Mozambique, a fascinating World Heritage Centre. After crossing the long, narrow bridge to the small island, we stopped the car several times to look at interesting features, and each time it started again, without any trouble. Then we had two further days with friends on a mission farm, and returned to Pemba in time for the Tuesday afternoon prayer meeting with our colleagues. I drove the Landie into the Floors’ yard, parked the car, and we went into the meeting, and when I came out, it refused to start. There it stayed for another month, until I was able to get the right plugs sent up from South Africa! It seemed as if the Lord gave divine enabling for the car to work just during that “holiday window”, and then it reverted to its former problem. What an amazing sign of His tender love!
Over the years I had been in Pemba, a group of us ex-pats had begun meeting together on Sunday afternoons for a time of worship and fellowship in English. There was usually a core of about six people, with numbers increasing when missionary colleagues came into town. Towards the end of 2000, a world-wide call for 40 days of prayer and fasting had gone out, and we decided to meet every day during the 40 days, and to fast as we felt led. There was a programme of prayer to follow for each day, praying for different countries in Africa and their specific needs.
The pastors of Pemba also met once a week during the 40 days for a time of prayer, and I joined them on a number of occasions. Besides praying for the African countries in focus, we also prayed each time for a different part of Pemba. The one week we were praying for the bairros around Wimbi beach, and my friend, Pastor A, felt that we needed to pray against the “sin of nudity” that he felt was prevalent in that area. I was rather shocked. I had been going to swim at Wimbi beach at least three times a week over a number of years, and had never seen anyone nude! Then I realised that our going around in bathing costumes was the offence. Suddenly, I began to see this from the African perspective, and to realise that little things that I don’t even think about as issues could be a rock of stumbling to others. This was a sobering lesson.
As I considered the “fasting time”, I felt the Lord leading me to just take liquids for the 40 days. Being November, the mango trees were in full fruit, and I had a ready supply of juicy fruit falling off my tree every day. That, together with papaya and sweet bananas from the market, made a delicious refreshing and sustaining drink. After the first ten or twelve days, the hunger pangs and headaches retreated and strength returned, and I was able to enjoy the fast. Even the initial days had not been too difficult – clearly the Lord had given special grace, and I was not doing this in my own effort.
Towards the end of the 40 days, the Floors invited me to join them on Ibo island for the dedication of the Kimwani Taureti, the five books of Moses. Sebastian had been working on this for a good bit of time, and now was ready to dedicate it to the Lord and put it into the hands of the people. This was shortly before they were to be leaving on a long study- furlough, and was also a way of them greeting the people and saying their farewells.
I joined the family, driving from Pemba up the coast to Tandanyange. The road passes over countless fords, which in the rainy season can be rather treacherous. But this was before the rains had started, and the road was dry and dusty. The greater problem was to get caught in the red sand, but we made it safely to the little village of Tandanyange. There Sebastian chartered a fisherman to take us the eight kilometres over to the island in his motor-boat.
The day of the dedication dawned bright and clear, and Sebastian was busy running around sorting out a megaphone for the speeches, and ensuring all the practical arrangements were under control. A spacious area under the trees and among the huts had been chosen, and some tarpaulins had been erected to give some shade. A few goats had been slaughtered and the women were busy preparing a stew, along with mounds of rice cooked in coconut milk.
At about 9am, one of the Mwani organising the event began calling over the loudspeaker: “Come, Mr Administrator, we are ready to begin.” Two rows of chairs had been arranged at the front of the tarpaulin for the invited guests to sit facing the others. There arrayed in their long white robes and skull caps were some of the muslim leaders of the island, and officials from the Education Department and Religious Affairs. In time, the administrator of the island arrived, and the event could begin.
Sebastian and his team read various portions of the Taureti, while about a hundred people sat on grass mats listening intently. One man caught my eye as his shiny black face glistened in the heat, his eyes screwed up as he tried to comprehend the message. Women sat to one side, their colourful capalanas lending a festive atmosphere to the occasion. After about an hour, the Muslim clerics stood up and filed out, to go to the mid-morning prayers at the mosque. Some short while later, they all filed back in, and resumed their places on “the stage”.
After some three hours of listening to Scripture being read, it was time for the feast. The men grouped themselves into circles of about ten, sitting on the floor, and a large pot of rice and a plate of meat was placed in their midst. A young woman went from one to the other with a basin and a jug of water, and poured the water over each one’s hands, and then offered a small towel. Once the hand-washing was accomplished, the men then dug into the food, making clumps of rice in their hands and dipping it in the “sauce”. The women sat off to the side, and once the men had all been served, they were then given their portion. I watched skinny men consume two or three plates piled high with steamy rice and “sauce”. Among the Mwani, like most people who live “hand to mouth”, there is something of a “camel mentality” – eat when you can, for you don’t know when you will have opportunity to eat again!
And so the Taureti was dedicated, and some of the special guests were given copies of their own. Copies were also for sale, and a few were bought, but there seemed to be fear to buy a “Christian book”. One lady who was seen walking away carrying a copy defended herself to an inquirer: “Well, I didn’t buy it. I was given it.” But the next day there was great excitement at the mosque, as those muslim leaders who had been present reported to the others what had happened. “It was all from the Taureti, and it was all in Kimwani!” Those who hadn’t gone, out of fear, were regretting it.
16. Learning to Live with Loneliness
Soon thereafter the Floors left Pemba for a two-year study furlough in South Africa. After that they were to be taking up a new assignment in Nampula, so this was the end of our time together in Pemba. Also, my Swedish colleagues, BG and Evvie, were about to leave Pemba to take up another assignment, and with both of these families moving to other locations, Peggy, the itinerant teacher was also to be moving. After having colleagues around for seven years, I was to be on my own. I was very apprehensive. Would I be able to cope without anyone around with whom I could share and pray? Would I be able to handle the loneliness and isolation?
Apart from that, there was also the increased volume of work to consider. As I waited on the Lord, I felt He was saying: “Take up your own yoke and it will be light; take someone else’s yoke and it will chafe.” Thus I was determined not to try and do more than what I believed the Lord was asking me to do, namely the translation work. This meant I would not be doing the literacy or radio work, nor supervising the guesthouse. Although in time I did have to keep an eye on the former (there being no-one else to do so), it was very releasing to know that my focus was to be on the translation. Having assurance this was what the Lord was calling me to do, prevented me being overwhelmed by the many things that beckoned my attention.
Some time later my supervisor came to visit, and I told him of my decision not to try and keep all the parts of the work going. He countered by saying: “I’ve come to ask you to do more than just the literacy and radio work. I want you also to do some literature development for the government.” I was appalled! Rather than assisting me to reduce my work-load, he wanted me to take on an extra responsibility!
Once I got over the shock of this request, I began to see the Lord’s provision in it all. Although it would involve extra work initially, the long-term benefits would be enormous. We would assist with the translation of school materials for the first three grades, and in turn, all Kimwani children would learn to read their language in school. We would inherit a large corpus of Kimwani readers, able to read the Scriptures! And the timing of this proposal came just at the time we were phasing out our literacy programme. Without our strategizing, the Lord had provided what was needed. I was awed, and realized again that the Lord’s ways are so much higher than ours … and how much I need to be listening to Him, and ready to change my thinking.
Karen had been a good friend to me, and it had been a great blessing to be able to pray together once a week. We had seen the Lord give His divine wisdom and direction into many situations, and I had a real sense of His Spirit “blowing us along”, rather than us “paddling in our own efforts”. Now she would be gone, and there was no-one with whom I could pray on a regular basis.
Apart from my SIL colleagues, I had also had a lot of support from the AIM missionaries, who were working in a town about four hours away. Whenever they came into Pemba, they would make a point of contacting me, and inviting me to join them for a cooldrink at the beach. I had been grateful for their fellowship, and we had worked closely together for many years. They had asked us to translate various tracts or portions of Scripture, and we had had the benefit of seeing the Scriptures being used in their work. Now their project was coming to an end, and they were also to be leaving town.
How was I to cope? I wasn’t sure, and was somewhat nervous about not having anyone around to call upon, in time of need. If my car broke down, or if I was sick, … what would I do?
There would be opportunity to find out in the months and years ahead. I had already had many experiences of my vehicle breaking down in isolated places. There had been the time several years before when I was travelling through a very muddy area in my old Isuzu truck, a 2WD vehicle; although it was the dry season, the road passed through marshland and so the road was a perpetual quagmire. I was following a friend along a narrow strip of road, with bushes crowding on either side. Before us was a river to be forded, but I was afraid to stop in case the engine cut out. All I could do was try and keep going. Mud splashed on to the windscreen leaving a sticky brown film so I put my head out the window to see where I was going. I knew I should really stop the car and wade through by foot, to check the depth and ensure there were no hidden sharp roots. But with a 2WD, I had to keep going … and so I careered through the thick splodge and into the water.
Thankfully I made it through, and we kept going. Some time later, we came to another slippery area. There before me was a huge truck, stuck fast in the mud and blocking the way! Soon a crowd of travellers was milling around, chatting good-naturedly and wondering how we were going to get through. Then, to our surprise, an enormous Caterpillar-tractor appeared; apparently it was doing some road construction work in the area, and someone had managed to persuade the driver to help. It effortlessly pulled the truck back on to firmer ground, and we gleefully returned to our vehicles to continue the journey. However, I then found that my Isuzu was securely stuck! I quickly asked the driver of the Caterpillar to pull me out, and no sooner had he done this than he received a radio call, ordering him back to his work. Off he went, leaving a number of other vehicles still entrenched in the churning mud.
There had been other occasions when I had had car troubles, and the Lord had sent along just the right person to help. One day I had gone alone to the beach, and had parked in a different place from where I normally did. I had a wonderful swim, and with darkness fast approaching, returned to the car, only to find a flat tyre! Just then I looked up, and a short distance away saw one of the AIM missionaries leaving a house where he had been visiting. Although I went to the beach about three times a week, I had never seen him down there before on a weekday. But in God’s providence he was there, and moreover had a Landie similar to mine, so was able to lend me his spare.
Another time I had a car breakdown a short distance out of the city of Nampula. Shikito, Saweji, and I were returning to Pemba after having attended a workshop. Although I was stuck out on the highway about half an hour from the city, I was not bereft. One of my coworkers hitched a ride back to Nampula to summon help, and the other stayed with me. Some time later, two of my colleagues arrived and towed me back to town. So once again, by God’s grace, I had been looked after.
As to being sick and being alone, the Lord had proven His faithfulness to me in that too.
I had come down with dengue fever at a time when all my colleagues were out of town, and even my househelp, Salamu, was away visiting her family. I had felt extremely weak, and had battled to move around, yet the Lord had brought me through and in time I had recovered.
So as I anticipated remaining alone in Pemba, I realised I would have to learn to lean harder on the Lord. He had been faithful before, and He would not let me down now.
I remembered that word He had spoken to me in England: “Sometimes one has to go without the support of the brethren”. This seemed to be such a time.
One can do without most things, but one has need of a friend. Living in an isolated situation, without the normal circle of family and friends, is a huge adjustment for most of us in a mission situation. For me, it’s probably been the area I have battled with most. Few people in today’s world are able to maintain friendships at a distance, and it often seems that “out of sight is out of mind”. How can the Lord meet us in this need?
Back in England, when I was studying at SIL, I remember complaining to the Lord one day, as I sat in the sheepfield, having some time alone with Him: “Lord, You’ve given me these friends, and none of them write letters to me. Please won’t you give me someone who will write me letters.” It wasn’t more than a couple of days later that I received a letter from an elderly gentleman I’d never heard from before, who said he just wanted to write to encourage me. There have been a few instances like that, when I have cried out to the Lord, and He has prompted someone to phone or to write. That’s so special … when it comes from His hand!
But as to day-by-day friendships … that’s harder to come by. So one is pressed to lean harder on the Lord and develop a more intimate friendship with Him. Why is it that it takes an extreme situation before we press into this most special of all relationships? When others are around, and willing to be a friend, we latch on to them. And the Lord waits in the wings, neglected. Why are we so reliant on what we can see? Have we not developed our sense of faith sufficiently?
One of my favourite authors, John Piper, says that we have stuffed ourselves with candy-floss and so have no appetite for the steak. We are too easily satisfied with lesser things, and lesser friendships, and so miss out on the most important one of all. Perhaps then loneliness is a gift, for it drives us to Jesus. This would fit in with what James writes when he says: “Count it all joy when you meet various trials ..”. Perhaps living in a very isolated location is a “trial” … but it is indeed also a cause for joy. A stripped-down life, without the distractions of competing friendships, forces me to seek the best, indeed the only One who can fully satisfy.
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The road stretched ahead, a narrow ribbon cascading over the undulating hills. To my right, a huge Baobab clawed its branches to the African sky. A hadeda lifted its majestic wings and, with a screeching call, set off for home. The wind whistled through the open window, cooling my flushed cheeks with the breath of dusk. It had been a hot day, and I had been on the road since first light. Now the sun was dropping into the horizon, a fiery ball melting into the silhouette of tatty thorn-bushes. It would be good to get to my destination, great to have a bath … and a meal, and then bed!
I turned on the dial of the radio, but it was stuck. Too much dust! Yesterday’s trip had taken me through hours and hours of billowing red sand. The road had been corrugated, like an endless tin-roof, and it had taken all my strength just to keep the steering of the Landrover on the narrow track, following the imprint left by vehicles before me. Now today there were gaping potholes to dodge; each time I approached one, my mind weighed up the matter: do I attack it from this side, or that? Three hours of making such tedious, but impacting, decisions left me exhausted! But I was on my way home, and tomorrow I would cross the border into South Africa. It had been four and a half years since I had spent more than a month in my homeland. But now, after four days on the road, I was nearly there.
Home…! Where was home anymore? For the past ten years, home had been a rented house in Northern Mozambique. And for five years before that, I had been studying and travelling – in England, Portugal, Kenya, and across South Africa – carrying my world around with me in two bulging suitcases. But the word “home” had my thoughts flying back to a small granny-cottage in Durban North, where I would sit in comfortable silence with Mum and simply “be”. There I wasn’t “the missionary from Mozambique”; I was June, a daughter. That thought brought to mind the picture of Mum awaiting my arrival with a delicious meal of chicken and mushroom. There would be flowers in the house to give a cheery welcome, and the table would be set with the red cloth I had given her so many years ago.
As I gripped the heavy steering-wheel and peered into the gathering darkness of the African night, my thoughts began to wander. What had brought me to this place? How had I come to be so far from the norm of suburbia, that had been Mum’s dream for me? What pressure points along the way had nudged my life in this direction? My musings took me back, way back, to my earliest memories of childhood.
- 1. Formative years
All had seemed well at first. Like most babies, I had given a good lusty yell on arriving in the world. And the nurse had assured my mother, “Yes, she has ten fingers and ten toes!” I was the third daughter, with big sisters Ann and Sandra old enough to enjoy fussing over a new arrival.
Home at that time was a cottage at Cedara, an agricultural college in the rolling green hills of Natal. Dad was studying at the college, and so my first days were spent in the fresh country air. Ann and Sandra would play with me in the mornings, and in the afternoons we would go for a long walk, Mum pushing me in the big purple pram. Down the dust-road we would meander, Ann and Sandra skipping alongside, singing and chattering like happy swallows. Each evening we would listen for the creak of the gate latch, the signal for Topper, our white Highland Terrier, to sprint to the front-door and give Dad an exuberant welcome home. As I began to crawl, I would try and race Topper to the door. It was then it became evident that there was a problem – I moved sideways like a crab, dragging the right leg along. Something in the development of my muscles had been impaired. A small thing, the timing of my birth – at the time of the last polio epidemic in South Africa – and yet this would radically impact my future.
Some years later, now a curly-headed five-year-old, I snuggled up against the pink cushions on the comfy couch, eyes shining with excitement. It was good to be home again. Yes, it had been exciting to be in hospital and have meals served to me on a tray. The marmite-toast had been delicious, all cut up in little squares. And icecream every day … why hospital wasn’t so bad! And Dr Kaplan had come, with his thick bushy eyebrows and kind voice. He always made me feel special, looking deep into my dark eyes and explaining what he was doing. And there had been flowers, and grown-up visitors … and the minister had said, “How brave you are!” I hadn’t understood what he meant, but it had sounded kind. Others had said, “Fancy having to have an operation on your birthday!” But I had thought it was the most wonderful thing to happen. Wasn’t it going to make me better?
And I did want to get better. Kate at school sometimes called me “Hop-along-Cassidy”.
I didn’t like that. And there were others who sometimes mimicked my walking. Did I really have such a bad limp? Or were they just exaggerating? No-one at home ever said anything that made me feel different. Ann and Sandra were my “big sisters”, but they were always kind. Sue, my “little sister”, was eighteen months younger than me, and we had fun together. We would play school, and I would boss her about. Or she would be the shopkeeper, and I would come and buy from her. Mum said we fought too much, but it was never serious. Even when we were calling each other names, she never said I walked funny.
One thing rather puzzled me about school. Sometimes the school nurse would come, and Lucy and I would be called out of class. We were the only two, every time. Lucy had a patch over one eye, and also had to wear thick glasses. I didn’t wear glasses, but the nurse would make me take off my dress and walk backwards and forwards in front of her. Why did I have to do this? Was it because one leg was shorter than the other? Mum said she needed to see how my bones worked, and that she was trying to help me learn to walk better, but I didn’t like being different.
And then there were the Physical Education classes. I hated it when the teacher would shout at the end of the lesson: “Four times around the field, all of you!” It wasn’t much fun lagging far behind everyone. And I dreaded even more those times when she would say: “You two are captains – now choose a team for rounders.” Why do teachers do that? Don’t they know how awful it is to be the last one chosen?
The only sport I really liked was swimming, although I wasn’t a “natural” like Sue; while I was having lessons, she used to copy what I was learning, and so she taught herself. Dad trained the two of us every morning in the pool up the road. Sometimes when he came into our room very early to wake us up, I would pretend I was asleep. But most mornings, I would join Sue and we would do lap upon lap, mile upon mile, before going to school with red, swollen eyes. Often I didn’t dare close my eyes during prayers in school-assembly for fear I wouldn’t be able to open them again, stuck together with stinging chlorine.
Every few weeks, we would take part in a gala at the Beach Baths. That was exciting! Sue and I were both “under 9” and the lady organising us seemed to think we were inseparable. She would always put us in adjacent lanes, and in those early years, I usually managed to slip in ahead of “little sister”. But that was not to last! Sue’s commitment to the sport far exceeded mine, and she would go on to become a national champion. However, as a lanky eight-year-old, I sometimes won a silver teaspoon, and Mum would have it engraved with a “J”.
So swimming was fine, and I liked that. But other things at school made me wish I could run faster. Maybe this operation would help me with that. Dr Kaplan had said he was going to make my right leg longer. I really liked him. Gosh, I think I even told him that I loved him! I was just coming out of the anaesthetic, so I was not thinking too clearly. But he was such a nice person, and he was making me better.
So there I was, back home again, and propped up with lots of springy cushions. Our big white house had always entranced me, with its wide open view of the sea. From the upstairs, we could watch the boats go by, up the coast to all sorts of exotic places. I loved sitting there and dreaming away, watching the big trees on the horizon and catching a glimpse of the bell-tower of the church down the road. So it was good to be back in my world, and I was enjoying everyone fussing over me as I balanced my heavy plaster cast on a soft cushion. “You’re like Lady Muck on toast”, Sue said. She had been pleased to see me back, and had even made a card to welcome me home. The words, cut into a sheet of white paper with faint green lines, said: “Dear Junie-pooh, Welcom home!!! Love Susie-Woo”. Our Golden Labradors, Rusty and Bilbo, had also given me a wonderful welcome. Rusty, his face now white with age, had sniffed me all over, trying to work out where I had been for three days! Bilbo, still an exuberant puppy, had jumped up and given my face a friendly lick. What good friends they were to me. They might not be able to talk, but they understood everything I told them.
In the midst of all this happy commotion, the door opened and in walked Mum, her wavy dark hair framing her roses-and-cream complexion. She was carrying a huge cage, wrapped in white tissue. Her eyes were bright as she said to me, “Here’s something to cheer you up!” I looked at the big cage and my heart sank. Not a leg-cage! Surely not one of those awful things to keep the bedclothes off my plaster! I whispered a reluctant “thank you”, and reached over to untie the bow. Suddenly, a little cheep broke forth! I tore off the wrapping in astonished delight, and came face to face with a blue budgie, the colour of clear sky.
And so little Freddy came into my life, chattering and chirruping as he pecked his mirror. Over the next months he would be a great companion; “Pretty boy, pretty boy” we would say to each other, as I rubbed my finger over his soft, warm breast. My little blue bird, who chased away the grey … and gave me hope of bright days to come.
The next time I saw blue, blue that went on forever was two years later. Sue and I were on our way to visit our cousins in Pretoria, and were securely strapped into our airline seats, breathless with excitement. I pressed my nose to the little round window and saw the tiny airport disappearing below. In its place were white fluffy clouds, so close we felt that we could almost touch them! And blue sky that stretched on and on, taking us all the way to Aunty Kitty’s house.
Sue crunched the sticky sweet we had been given by the hostess, and smiled up at me, the gap showing from where her front teeth had fallen out. Her dark hair was pulled-back in a tight pony-tail, whereas mine was short and curly. But we were dressed alike, in our purple-checked coats and new red shoes. Some people thought we were twins. At our feet was the big box of avocado-pears that Mum was sending to Aunty Kitty. She had forgotten to give them to us, and so had come running on to the plane just before we lifted off into the sky!
So began a wonderful week’s holiday with our cousins, Duncan and Peter. Duncan was six months older than I, and Peter a little younger than Sue, so we made a good foursome. Duncan was always full of fun ideas, and Peter was a ready lieutenant!
They lived in an old rambling house, set way back in a large garden, with a long path leading up to the big verandah in front. The verandah was where life in the Mclea household happened. There were various lazy chairs scattered about, and an old webbed bench, with the leather thongs beginning to wear thin. Raleigh, their big slobbery bull-mastiff, had his own chair on the verandah, and he would inevitably be lounging there when we arrived.
Out in the garden, next to the roses and under the big Jacaranda tree, with its gorgeous purple trumpet-flowers, was “the family bench”. This was where all the family photos were taken. “The bench” had hosted many a breakfast and morning tea too. The trolley would be piled high with crumpets and chocolate cake, and the family would spread out indulgently under the Jac. This was a friendly garden, filled with many happy memories.
That holiday we built a tree-house, high in another Jacaranda tree overlooking the tennis-court. The boys organised some wooden slats to make a ladder going up the trunk, and all day we scampered up and down to our hide-out, like furry squirrels with very important business.
One other scene is etched in my memory from that special fun holiday. One evening as we were getting ready for bed, I passed by the boys’ bedroom and saw Aunty Kitty kneeling by the bedside, praying with Peter. He was embarrassed and giggling nervously, but she carried on unperturbed, eyes closed, quietly asking the Lord’s blessing. It was just a moment in time, but through the years it has returned again and again. A praying aunt! Did she perhaps sometimes utter a little prayer for her small nieces too? I cannot know, but something of the serenity and security of that scene slipped into my subconscious, to be drawn upon in future years.
Sundays were a special day when I was growing up. There was no rush of traffic and no crowds pressing into shopping malls. Instead, there would be a quiet peace as Dad took Sue and I down the road to Sunday-school. On the way, we would pick up Rosemary, Sue’s friend from school who lived a few houses away. The three of us little girls would tumble into St Mark’s Hall, to join the other children for an hour of singing and stories. Mr Williams, bald-headed but with smiling eyes, would begin with a prayer, and then we would sing and clap vigorously. A dark-haired lady, with the appropriate name of Joy, would clunk away on the piano as we sang “Wide, wide as the ocean”. We would stretch and stretch our little arms … “so wide is our Saviour’s love”. Then we would divide into classes and have stories and questions. I enjoyed it all, and drank it in eagerly.
Each year we would be given a book for “good attendance”. One year the book was “Children’s Prayers”. I took it home with much excitement, and soon had Sue join me, kneeling at the bedside, as I read one of the prayers. Something in me was yearning for God. Where did this longing come from?
Most years we would go away for a week at Easter time, to a country guest-farm in the Byrne Valley. “The Oaks” was run by old family friends, and Dad was a sleeping-partner in the business. The six of us would climb into our cream VW Beetle, Sue and I snuggling into the luggage compartment at the back. And off we would go for a wonderful week, meeting up with the same friends each year. The Oaks offered old-fashioned hospitality, with fresh farm food and outdoor activities each day.
We would swim in the old pool, painted dark green, so you were never sure what creepy insect or clammy frog might be in there with you. Most mornings us children would clamber up on the red and yellow cart, and two patient donkeys would pull us along the sandy track under the spreading oaks. Other days we would run along the dust-road, past the paddock with the stable neatly-painted black-and-white; from there we would skirt through the tall trees and across the river, on a wonky bridge with slats missing. Beyond that were the hills, and waterfalls, and all sorts of discoveries to be made.
In the evenings, there would be family games; it might be “Bingo” and Aunty Hazel would call out the numbers in her unique way: “Lizzie’s legs, no.11” or “Top of the house, no 60”. Another night it might be “Donkey Derby”, with little donkeys made from vegetables, held together by tooth-picks. We children would race the donkeys across the table, and the adults would “bet” which one would win. During the day, there might be a wild-flower contest, with us children gathering grasses and pods and whatever field flowers we could find, and making a pretty arrangement. And once a week there would be a “ball”, with a particular theme. One time we had to wear fancy hats; the older children organised for me to wear a bowl of fruit, tied on with a pink chiffon scarf. I could hardly move my head sideways, trying to balance the apples and bananas! But I won a prize, and that made it special!
One year, instead of our usual holiday at The Oaks, Dad and Mum joined with some family friends who had four sons, my age and younger. The four adults, with four boys and four girls, set off on a two-week trip down the lovely Garden Route. Our first adventure was a few days at the Swartvlei, one of a chain of lakes near Sedgefield; there we stayed in thatched bungalows, and messed about in the shallow waters of the lake.
From there we went on to the Cango Caves in Outshoorn; these strange and beautiful rock formations were all lit up green and pink, as we moved from one cave to the next, exploring this wonder-world. Right at the end, we had to go through a narrow gap in the rock, sliding like a letter through a postbox. Mum was walking with little Robbie, the youngest of the boys; he was too little to go through such an exciting escapade, so they turned around to retrace their steps. But somehow Mum managed to find a secret, quick way through to the end, and met us as we came through the “Pillar-box”. What a surprise to see her there, having reached the same point without the trauma!
So in all these ways, I had a carefree childhood. The lines were clearly drawn by our parents, and we had their loving support. What a blessing, to have such a foundation, as I prepared to enter the teenage years.
2. Need and new life
“You’ll love high-school”, Ann said to me one sticky December day as we decorated the Christmas tree. Every year we made paper decorations that were strung across the lounge, and the box of tree ornaments was hauled out of the storage cupboard and perused with great excitement. It was a happy time of togetherness, and with the New Year approach-ing, my thoughts were taken up with the adventure of a new school. From being in the senior class at primary school, I would be in the junior class at high-school, and the change was rather daunting. Ann had just finished high school, and so she was in a good position to allay my apprehensions. “They have hymn-singing and prayers every day” she said.
Yes, I did love to pray, as best I knew how. And I did love to sing hymns too. Was that the reason I used to walk half an hour or more to the Presbyterian Church on the hill? Many Sundays I did that, and then I would go again in the evening. The service was the same, and having already heard the sermon, I could sometimes anticipate what the preacher was going to say. Why did I do that? Where did the hunger come from that moved me to go? Sometimes Mum would come with me, especially if it was a “Communion Sunday”, but otherwise I would sit alone. And the preacher would watch me, a gawky introverted teenager, agonising in my seat, and sometimes he would smile.
This was the big day, the first school dance! All the other girls had hair-appointments, their dresses had been specially made, and excitement was high! But I wasn’t going. Who would want to go with someone who couldn’t dance? And anyway, I didn’t know anyone to ask.
I didn’t have any close friends, no-one I could really talk to, no-one who would understand the churnings of my heart. But I worked hard at school, and I did my swimming. And now and then I would snuggle up on my bed, with the door closed, and imagine that I had a friend. And I would tell this friend all the secrets of my heart.
It was October, the South African spring, the season of new beginnings … It was also the time of year when young people in the Presbyterian church would be “confirmed”. With Mum having grown up in Scotland, my parents had chosen to allign with this denomination when they settled in South Africa after their marriage. Dad had grown up mostly in England and had been part of the Church of England, but he was happy to join Mum in her tradition. Thus, as a baby I had been baptised in the Presebyterian church in the little hamlet of Howick in the green countryside of Natal. And now as a 16-year-old, it was time to “confirm” that decision to be part of the church, which my parents had made on my behalf so many years earlier.
Thus it was that I found myself with a group of others my age for a series of ten weekly classes. I had no expectation that this would be anything different from all the lessons I had had in school. The first week I went along and shyly took my place among the group of strangers.
The leader of the class was Kingsley, a big smiley twenty-year-old with short, curly, ginger hair and a rosy face. He was one of the young men studying for the ministry, and during his holiday break, he was gaining some practical experience. Gently and clearly, he explained the Gospel and the love God has for us, and I sat there, fascinated.
The second week of the class I had actually forgotten to go, but week by week, as the message began to penetrate my understanding, I was captivated. This was all about my friend, the one I had dreamed of in the quietness of my room. I had hoped and imagined I had such a friend who understood me when no-one else did! And here Kingsley was saying that such a Person really did exist! The one I had talked to, and shared my secrets with … He was real! I just hadn’t known His name!
As the Confirmation class came to an end, Kingsley encouraged us, as a group, to do something to reach out to others who were less fortunate. And so it was agreed to take a group of “poor white” children, for a weekend in the country. We would go to Camp Jonathan, the church’s camp-site an hour’s drive away. So one Friday afternoon we set off for Camp J, set amid rolling green fields of sugar-cane.
We had a wonderful time, and the children revelled in it all. And it was the beginning of something else too. I felt the Lord urging me to build on what had been begun, and to start a Saturday group for these children. At first I resisted. I was too shy. How could I do it? But the urging grew, and so finally one day, I found myself heading down the hill to the minister’s office. My legs were wooden and my stomach was doing cartwheels as I edged along the street. What would I say? Where would I begin?
All I knew was that I must help these children. My heart was churning, but release would only come it I were to share this passion within. Part of me wanted to turn around and flee back up the hill, back to safety and uninvolvement. But I had to go on … this stirring within was more than just from me.
So passing down McKeurtan Avenue, I trundled heavily past the line of little shops, and then rounding the corner, came upon the church building. There my courage could get me no further, so I simply sat down in a little heap, on the stairs outside the minister’s office.
After a short while, he found me there and asked me in. With much stumbling, the passion poured forth, and he listened quietly. Then he asked me gently, “What do you think the next step is?” We agreed that I should contact the social worker who had been our liason for the camp for the children. And so I did that, and from that beginning of confusion and weakness, the Goofy Club was launched.
Every Saturday afternoon, a small group of us would go down to Point Road, to the “sub-economic flats” where the children lived. It was not the most savoury part of Durban; there was squalor and poverty, and some unseemly characters were known to frequent that area. But the children were eager, and loved the attention we were able to give them once a week. There was Marina, with her tangled long hair and big wide eyes. And Sam and Tom, two brothers who always came neatly dressed with shorts and long socks above their “tackies”. Mrs Brown, the social worker for these flats, also came along each week, and helped us get organised. She arranged for us to use an empty flat, and there we would play some games with the children, sing a few choruses, and read them a Bible story.
I remember one day sharing with the other helpers a verse from 1 John that had been speaking strongly to me: “If our brother is in need and we do not share with him what we have, how can we say we have the love of God within us?” The social-worker sat there listening, her head nodding in agreement. We were discovering the excitement of seeing the Scripture speak to us in our own lives. And so, through the months ahead, I was stretched to reach out beyond my comfort zone. Something that had seemed so big and so beyond me thus came into being …
At the end of the ten weeks of confirmation classes, there was a special service in the church and the minister had prayed for us. In the words of the Presbyterian tradition, he had prayed “that we might receive the Holy Spirit”. I didn’t understand too much of what that meant, but I was sincere, and something happened that day. I knew I was different. It was nothing dramatic nor visible, but slowly I began to gain confidence and be able to reach out to others. I knew now that “the one in my room”, who I could speak to about anything, was the Lord of all. But He was my friend too.
One of the girls in the Confirmation Class was Pam. She had green eyes and a disarming smile, and always made a point of greeting me. But I didn’t really know her. And she seemed to be part of a clique, a group that hung around together and played guitar. I watched them all, and wanted to belong, but I didn’t know the way in. And then Pam invited me to come along to the church’s youth group. That was all, a simple invitation. But it changed everything.
And so, in that final year of school, the youth group became an important part of my life. Every Friday I would join the others for games and fun and fellowship. For the first time, I made some real friends; I was accepted, and encouraged to trust others. And little by little I learned to depend on others as they reached out to me.
There was Keith, solid as an oak, who noticed that I sometimes walked home in the dark. It was just a short walk up the hill, and in those days, it was still quite safe to do so. But Keith made me promise that I would ask him for a lift and not walk home alone; he badgered me until I agreed, and so a little chink was made in my armour of independence.
Another time I had been asked to lead a Youth meeting, and had worked hard to prepare for it. However, it had been a flop, and I had been devastated. But afterwards the words of a Scripture verse had shed light into my confusion: “In the counsel of many is wisdom.” What a revelation, to learn to work as part of a body, and not try and do it alone! And even more liberating was the truth that I was free to fail! Part of the freedom that had been won on the cross was the freedom to fail!
At school, too, I was being nudged into new areas of growth. Since Pam had so kindly taken me under her wing, and given me the opportunity to break into the group, I found myself drawn to others in a similar position. As I walked around the school grounds, I noticed a tall red-haired girl with a smattering of warm freckles; she was always alone, sitting under a tree eating her sandwiches. So I befriended her and found it to be true that those blessings we have received, we are able to pass on to others.
In my final year at school, we were a passionate group of Matrics. At one time, a number of us wore little black bows on our white school dresses. This was to show our solidarity with the victims of some social injustice. I don’t remember the reason for our protest, but I do remember us being called before the headmistress and told to remove the bows, or we would lose our positions as Prefects! This was the first time I had to consider such an issue: did I believe strongly enough in the principle at stake, that I would be prepared to pay the price for it? We didn’t lose our positions so some compromise must have been reached. But I still remember facing the dilemma, and realizing that sometimes a real cost is required to swim against the current.
At this time, I loved to read missionary biographies. I scoured the shelves of the school library and devoured all that I could find. I was fascinated by the life of Amy Carmichael who worked in India, seeking to rescue young girls who had been dedicated to temple prostitution. Her commitment was astounding: leaving her home in England, she journeyed to India and never returned to her homeland.
Then there was Helen Roseveare. She was a single lady, a doctor, caught up in the Simba uprising in the Congo in the 1950s. As a new missionary candidate, being interviewed by the Missions Board, she did not initially make a favourable impression. The members of the Board then asked her to leave the room while they continued discussing her case; she meantime got on with washing her clothes and hanging them on the line. No sooner had she finished than the wind came along and blew them all on the ground. At that moment, one of the Board members looked out the window just in time to see her, unperturbed, pick them up and hang them again. Seeing her perseverance in this humble task impressed him so favourably that she was accepted!
She went on to spend many years in the Congo, in a very isolated situation. It was a battle to be single and alone, and repeatedly she cried out to the Lord: “You called me to this life, so I’m trusting You to satisfy me completely.” In time, this became her testimony; she was sustained and satisfied in all her need … physical, emotional, and spiritual.
A third person whose life made a big impact on me was Jim Eliot, one of the five missionaries killed by Waorani Indians in the jungles of Ecuador in 1956. His journal, “In the Shadow of the Almighty”, became a much-read book. I loved the way he thought things through rather than to simply follow the accepted norm. And so this impacted his attitude to relationships, and in particular, the way he related to his future wife. Here was a man not afraid to be different. And even little things received his considered attention; for example, he didn’t make a fuss of birthdays. I liked this because it showed a sincerity of heart. He was not just going along with the crowd, but he acted out of clear purpose. And his well-known words, proven in the giving of his life for others, became chiselled in my heart: “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”
3. Exploring, growing up and away
It was now time to leave home and go to university. I chose to go to Rhodes, in the small town of Grahamstown, some five hundred miles from my home in Durban. My two elder sisters had both studied at Rhodes before me, and Ann had married a local farmer and so was living in the area. Nevertheless, my first year at university was a hard one.
Week in and week out found me in tears. The Psalmist’s words were my comfort: “Pour out your heart to Him – God is a refuge for us.” And so I did. My prayers would be scribbled in big tumbling words across the pages of an exercise book. I longed to know Him, to be able to cope with all the uncertainties …
One of my friends in that first year was Alison – Alison, with her curly red hair and bright warm smile. She and I immediately became special friends. We had much in common, having both grown up in the Presbyterian Church; and our rooms were next to each other, so many times we would pop in and encourage one another.
At the end of my first year, I went home to Durban for the long summer holiday. There a surprise awaited me. People in the church were talking – things were happening, unusual things. The minister had been “baptised in the Spirit” and was sharing regularly about it, and inviting others to come forward for prayer. That first Sunday I sat there and listened, and when the invitation was given to go forward, I went, but very hesitantly. Someone laid hands on me and prayed a simple prayer, that I would be filled with the Holy Spirit, and very quietly and very beautifully, something happened. I knew deep down that there was a new joy and confidence, a greater certainty of the reality of my faith.
When I got home from church that morning, my heart was light and fairly skipping. I had a strong sense that I needed to share with Dad what had happened, so went out to him where he was working in the garden, and shyly said, “Dad, can I speak to you, please.” His response is one that will gladden my heart forever. He broke into a warm smile, his eyes slightly puzzled, and said, “Of course, Junie.” I don’t know what he thought I was about to say, but he knew it was important, and we sat down together on the concrete steps. The very fact that I was able to share, told me that I had been given a new boldness. Dad listened with kind and searching eyes, and said how glad he was for me.
It was a small moment, but one I treasure with great tenderness.
Some months later, back at university, I was away for a weekend camp with one of the Christian groups on campus. We had gone to Hogsback, a very beautiful mountain area, with cascading waterfalls and magnificent walks through forest and woodland. Each morning, Mike – a curly-haired Divinity-student with a penchant for fun – would blow the trumpet at some unearthly hour. Someone responded appropriately by pointing out to him the verse: “Do not make a loud noise early in the morning…”!
We slept that weekend in a barn, lying on bales of hay, wrapped in our sleeping-bags. During the days, we had some teaching times, and the speaker encouraged us to ask the Lord to give us a heavenly language, to be able to pray more effectively. He urged us to get on our own with God, and to open our mouths so that God could fill them with “a spiritual language”. I couldn’t wait to try this! But it would have to wait, until I got back to the privacy of my bedroom.
However, when I arrived back at my room, I found that I had a visitor: my red-headed friend, Alison. She was now studying at another university, so it was a special delight to see her unexpectedly. A delight, and yet also a frustration … for I was longing to ask God for this new language! And for that I needed to be alone.
And indeed, the time came, and I knelt down, and asked God for this gift. And He met me, and gave me a few sounds in “another language”, and I sensed a new joy in communion with Him. In years to come, I was to realise the blessing it was to be able to pray beyond my own understanding. Many times I would find myself wanting to commune with the Lord, to be connected to Him, and this would be the means.
In my second year at Rhodes, I became friendly with a new student, Shirley. She was a year younger than I, pretty and petite, with brown wavy hair and an impish smile. Shirley was an Anglican and went faithfully to the services at the Cathedral. I joined her, and began to enjoy something of the solemnity and beauty of the liturgy. Some mornings I would go down at daybreak, for the early-morning communion. The bells would be ringing from the Cathedral Tower as I strolled down High Street, passing quaint, old-fashioned shops with bay windows and fancy awnings. I loved walking down the wide avenue, with its giant oak trees planted hundreds of years ago, giving their shade to generations of students. There was the University Book-store with its cosy fire, beckoning students to tarry on many a winter afternoon. And the jeweller, with his display of fancy clocks and shiny gold jewellery, reflecting auras of light on transluscent glass.
As I listened to the bells pealing their slow but certain ring, I could picture the bellringers, leaping up and down in the tower, throwing their weight fearlessly on the ropes. I had watched them before, with great amazement. So much energy was invested – hard pounding energy – and what issued forth was cool and restful, like water rippling over smooth pebbles and cascading into a deep clear pool.
Another bright morning as I walked to join others for early prayer, the bells were silent but my heart was bursting with praise. “When morning gilds the skies, my heart awakening cries, may Jesus Christ be praised!” I loved that hymn, and it burst forth from my lips as I walked from the College clock-tower, and through the Drosdy Arch. The beautiful stone dating back to the time of the 1820 Settlers stood solid and unmoved as my heart soared.
Through my friendship with Shirley, I began attending Ansoc, the students’ Anglican Society. Once a week we would meet at the Anglican Lodge where a few “sisters” shared a community life. At first I was hesitant to talk to these sisters – Sister Janet, always busy as a beaver, and Sister G who seemed as young as I was. Their strange clothes – long, blue habits and white veils draped around their faces – seemed to create a barrier. But, after some time, I saw past the externals, and realised that they were just like me … human beings wanting friendship. The wall between us crumbled and I began to enjoy them as people.
At the Lodge, there was a long bookshelf laden with old books collected over the years. There it was that I came across Amy Carmichael’s “Songs of Dohnavur”, a volume that was to become a much-loved favourite. Amy wrote these poems for the sisterhood she began in India, a group of women committed to rescuing little girls from temple prostitution. Many of the songs were written from a place of great physical pain, but her spirit always rose in hope and praise, lifting the eyes to see with gladness.
One that I return to often, when pulled down by heavy things, gives the call:
“Look up, look up, arise, above the clinging earth,
He waiteth to surprise the quickened heart with mirth.
Resist the downward pull, and soar,
And sing Whom you adore.”
During the year that the Lodge was part of my world, I wrote out many of those songs, and they became part of my storehouse of treasures. Often I would I dip into this quiet pool, for a word of encouragement or vision. These simple poems captured the spirit of a singing life… always a song, even in the night. So these words became imprinted on my heart. I dwelt in their truth and meditated on their richness.
One of the things that struck me about the Sisters at the Lodge was their attitude of quiet contentment. Their inner cheerfulness and serenity challenged me; I wanted to become like them, more settled and satisfied with my lot. One of Amy Carmichael’s poems seemed to capture this acceptance and peace:
“Lord God of gardens, Thou whose love disposes
Sun, rain, and wind violent,
So that our bushes flower to Thee in roses –
We are content.
We do not ask to choose our garden’s weather –
Too ignorant are we –
Only that we Thy children together
May pleasure Thee.
Only that till the time for gardening closes,
May skies be grey or blue,
Each dawn may find us bringing Thee fresh roses,
Buds drenched with dew.”
That was my longing, to have something fragrant and beautiful to offer my King. And to learn to trust Him, no matter how stormy the weather might appear … knowing that He would allow sunshine and rain, in order to bring forth the full splendour of the rose.
About this time my cousin Duncan invited me to be a helper at a camp for high-school students, at Skogheim, down the south coast of Natal. He was working with Scripture Union in the Private Schools, and they hosted camps in the school holidays, where young people could have fun together and also explore more of God.
I don’t remember much about that camp but the one thing I do remember was a huge revelation that came to me, loud and clear, at that time. It was simply this. The Lord had used the polio to draw me to Himself. I suddenly realised that “what the enemy had meant for evil, the Lord had turned to good”. Without that sense of loneliness and “not fitting in with my peers”, which the polio had worked in me, perhaps I would never have recognised my need of God. The more I thought about it, the more I marvelled at God’s amazing ways. Higher, so much higher than ours…!
At the end of my second year of university, there was a work-camp at Kentani Mission, for university students from across the country. Shirley and I decided to go, and off we set with great enthusiasm. Kentani is near Butterworth, in the Transkei, an area that used to be a “Black homeland” for the Xhosa people, but is now part of South Africa again. There is little development in the Transkei; most people live rurally, in mud dwellings scattered across the hillsides, trying to do subsistence farming in land that has been heavily overgrazed, eeking out a living in rather miserable conditions.
“Uncle Harry” Oosthuizen and his wife Grace had established a fine Bible School at Kentani, and they were now needing to extend the facilities. Our job would be to build a new dining-hall. First we would make mud bricks, mixing cement and then shovelling it into rectangular moulds; once turned out, they would be put to dry in the hot sun for a week and then we could get on with the building. So the assignment for the first week was making bricks, and then the second week we were to be evangelising, visiting the surrounding villages and sharing the Gospel. In the third week, the building work would resume again, once the bricks had baked hard and dry.
The first week had been fun, mixing sloshy cement and moulding the bricks. It had all been very rough and primitive, and we had realised how little one needs to live. At night we slept in a large rondavel with a thatched roof, and watched spiders and flying “goggas” share our crowded space. The boys were outside in flimsy tents so we girls counted ourselves fortunate; at least we didn’t have rain seeping through into our beds. In the mornings, we washed with water from a bucket drawn from the well, and once a week we rushed down the steep sand-dunes and washed our hair in the salty waves. Life was simple, like our breakfast – oats porridge and the Word of God.
But the second week had been very unsettling. After all, I hadn’t had a course in evangelism. I didn’t know how to share my faith! But Uncle Harry didn’t seem to think that was necessary. Each morning we were bundled into the truck and off we set for the rolling hills of the Transkei. Once out of the security of the little town of Butterworth, there was nothing to see but scattered huts on the undulating countryside. With a packet of sandwiches and an interpreter, we were dropped off at various spots, and told to meet again later that evening. And so my life as a reluctant evangelist began!
But the singing was fun. We would walk over the hills as a small group singing “Siyeka hamba ya tina, kalumhlaba…”, the rousing words ringing out strong. And then we would approach a grimy hut, smoke filling the inside, and little naked bodies nervously edging closer to look at these strangers. Once inside the hut, with a little crowd of old women and excited children, all wide-eyed at this unexpected visitation, we would share a simple Bible-story and sing some more Xhosa songs. These we had learnt in our times with Uncle Harry, and they were our entrance into the hearts of the people. So it was all very simple, and unthreatening, as I look at it now. But then I found it daunting, and after three days, I actually couldn’t take it any more … and I went home.
By the time I had reached my third year at Rhodes, I had settled down into the rhythm of being far from family, and was enjoying campus life. I lived in Olive Schreiner House, one of the older student residences, and by then I knew most of the girls. Among the new ones that year were a number of Christians, so we began to meet together each evening. We would gather in someone’s room, and sing and pray, and also try and reach out to friends in need.
There was Jenny, whose boyfriend had been in a car accident. One day as I passed the phone booth, she was coming out, most distressed. Seeing her anxiety, I felt prompted to take her a jar of flowers together with one of Amy Carmichael’s poems. After this, she occasionally joined us in the evenings for prayer and sharing, but it would be some twenty years before I heard how God had actually moved in her life and brought her to faith. “I remember the flowers you gave me”, she said, “But why didn’t you tell me about Jesus?” Yes, I didn’t yet have that boldness…
The fellowship we had that year was very special; it gave me my first taste of what life in the early church was like, bearing one another’s burdens and sharing life openly together.
As October approached, and with it my final exams, I needed that fellowship even more. One morning as I was reading the Scriptures, a verse took hold of my spirit, and burned itself within me. “You will not need to fight in this battle, says the Lord. Just take up your position, stand still, and see the victory of the Lord on your behalf.” As I waited on Him, He made it clear to me that my role in getting through the exams was to “take up my position” – to prepare as well as I could – but the actual battle was His. And I remember going into that exam room, adrenalin high but my heart at rest, knowing that it was His battle. What a transforming revelation! Many times since then, that same Scripture has reminded me of His faithfulness … I am to do my part, and then “stand still” and see His victory.
Apart from a new understanding of fellowship, my time in Grahamstown was also a time of gaining a wider perspective of the church. From my Presbyterian roots, I was exposed to the Anglican and Methodist traditions, and even something of the Assembly of God, a small but very active group in the town. I also had Catholic friends in Olive Schreiner, so my understanding of the bigness and variety of the Church began to grow. This would prove to be important in later years.
After completing my studies at Rhodes, I was keen to get back into “the real world”. Life as a student, in a small student-town, had become a bit claustrophobic, and I sensed the need to be among a larger variety of people. So I opted to forestall any further specialist studies and rather simply prepare for an occupation as a teacher.
After a year of study in Natal, I qualified with my Teacher’s Diploma. However, before beginning to teach, I had a two month break, and a friend from my class, Denise, invited me to go with her to Israel. We would work on a kibbutz for a month, and then backpack around the country for another month. I had been able to save my student loan through doing some “stooging” in a local school, and so decided to use the money for my first trip overseas.
Israel was an amazing experience, the first time I had been in a culture not my own, and I was constantly challenged to rethink things that I had always taken for granted. On the kibbutz, one of the interesting people I met was a British Jew, out volunteering for a few months as I was. He was a laconic fellow, quietly questioning, with big brown eyes framed by tortoise-shell glasses. As he was a mother-tongue English speaker, I expected that we would be able to communicate easily. But within a short while I was floundering; his world-view, as a religious Jew, was so alien to mine, and I battled to find common ground. He would talk of “prayer” but clearly it meant something quite different to him than it did to me. It was something of a shock to realise that my window on the world was not the only one!
The kibbutz was fun too in that I had my first opportunity to learn a few words of a foreign language and to try them out in daily conversation. Each morning I would say “Boker tov” to as many people as I could. It was rewarding to realise that a few words in a person’s own language can go a long way in building the beginnings of trust.
4. Broadening experiences
My first year of teaching was pretty awful – maybe it is for every new teacher … the overwhelming amount of work to prepare each day, and endless books to mark. And perhaps even more difficult was standing in front of a group of strangers – once I got to know them as individuals, it became less threatening. But at the beginning, it was a real battle, and my hand trembled as I tried to write my name on the board the first day.
In my second year, I moved back home and taught maths for two years at a school in my home area of Durban North. During this time, I became good friends with Naomi, a sunny-natured girl with warm brown eyes and a welcoming smile. She was the Scripture teacher, and loved to share her faith with her classes, including how she had met her husband on a student-leaders’ hike. The classes would sit entranced as she would relate how she had felt led by God to give up her desires for marriage and commit herself wholeheartedly to Him. And then had come the unexpected encounter, and within a very short period, she was engaged to Rod!
Towards the end of that first year together, Naomi and I began to meet daily before school to pray. This had some unexpected results. As Naomi shared with the girls of the way the Lord encountered her in her daily life, a girl would often stay behind to talk privately. This led many times to them kneeling down together and making a prayer of commitment to walk with the Lord.
We were also concerned about the principal’s negative attitude to the Students Christian Assocation (SCA), so this became a matter for prayer. After some months, we were most surprised to hear that the Principal had suddenly decided to take early retirement! Was this an answer to our prayers? It cerainly was an encouragement, especially when the new principal gave her blessing to the SCA.
About this time another significant event took place. There was a big Christian gathering at the Methodist church in central Durban, and I went along with some friends. The speaker was Johan Luckhoff, who later became Director of the International Christian Embassy in Jerusalem. At the end of his message, he gave a challenge: “Those of you who believe the Lord is calling you to missions, please stand.”
I remember jumping to my feet, expecting everyone to be standing! There was no way I could have remained sitting down! But to my surprise, we were only a handful on our feet.
Life then carried on in much the normal way; I forgot about this public commitment I had made … but the Lord had seen, and He knew my heart, and continued to prepare me for what lay ahead.
As I approached the end of my third year of teaching, I sensed a growing restlessness. I was relatively happy. The class that year was my best ever – eager, intelligent, and well-disciplined. And I was living at home, in the warmth and comfort of my family.
But the Lord was stirring my nest. Most Fridays would find me walking along the sandy beach near the school, crying out to Him. As the waves tickled my toes and the clean wind swept away the week’s cobwebs, I would be seeking, and listening. Deep in my spirit, I sensed a change was imminent, but as to the details, I had no clarity.
Listening to the Lord was not something I could do passively. So I explored a multitude of options over the next few months. I seriously considered studying medicine; I thought of taking a position on a liner, sailing the world; and I took a long look at an advertise-ment to teach in the Andes Mountains. In the midst of this whirlpool of possibilities, I also told my family that I was to join Wycliffe Bible Translators. I have no idea as to what led me to say that, but I do remember very clearly the letter my sister Ann wrote me as a result. She was very concerned about my taking on such a lifestyle, especially as there had just been a massacre of missionaries in Zimbabwe.
After having tried many possible doors and finding each one to be closed, I found myself at SACLA, the South African Christian Leadership Assembly. This was a national gathering of Christians, for a week of racial reconciliation and fellowship. I hadn’t particularly planned on going to this conference, but a friend-of-a-friend had offered me a lift, and something within had urged me to go.
So one crisp July afternoon, as I wandered around the Missions Stand at the conference site in Pretoria, I found myself drawn to a little stand, that of the “Caring Community”. As I talked to Dot, and then Patrick, two of the young people from this Christian community in East London, my heart leapt with excitement. This was what I had been looking for! A community of people committed to living out the life of the Christian Body, in sharing and caring together. Immediately the fumblings for direction gave way to a clear sure-footedness. The Spirit had come as the referree, and settled peace was the evidence.
One other strong impression I had as a result of the conference, was that I needed to get into Black education. This fell into place in a marvellous way; one of the friends of the Community, Kolisa, was the Vice-Principal at a school in the Black township of Mdantsane. And so without even an interview, I was appointed to teach maths and junior science. The pupils were all boys, in the first two years of high-school, aged from about fourteen to early twenties.
I remember the first day at Buchule High. The science laboratory was brand-new and I was busy exploring it when along came a lanky lad of about eighteen, a shy smile lighting up his face. This was Nkosinathi Tshanga-Tshanga, and he kindly offered to sweep out my classroom. I was quite taken aback, and delighted to find that most of the pupils had a very positive attitude to their education. They recognised the sacrifices their families were making for them, and were mindful, too, of the privilege to study at Buchule, a well-equipped (privately-sponsored) school.
So I settled into the challenge of teaching these boys, and of living in an extended household as part of the Caring Community. There were ten of us in a big old house with high, beautifully-embellished steel ceilings: a doctor and his family, and three other singles. Some days were hard. I was told I wasn’t sharing myself, and I would wonder what they meant. Or my desire to accept an invitation would be thwarted, as there would be chores to do in the home. And there was nowhere I could escape and hide, when things became too intense. Always there were people around me … and so, little by little, I was forced to face difficulties in relationships, and I began to change.
In my second year in the community, I was at home alone one evening when the phone rang. It was Ann, and she had shocking news to give me. Dad had died! Totally unexpectedly! Mum and Dad were on holiday in Scotland together with Dad’s brother and his wife, and they were visiting various golf-courses and having a dream-holiday. That morning the ladies had left the men and gone off to do something else, and at the first tee, Dad had had heart-failure and had collapsed, just like that. I was thunder-struck.
I spent the next hour or so quietly in the room. I sat and prayed, I wept and prayed. Later, a friend came over and listened to me as I tried to come to terms with this shocking news. It all seemed so unreal. And it remained that way for quite a while; even later, when I was back home with the family, I expected to see Dad coming up from the bottom of the garden any moment. He seemed so close, and I longed to talk to him again. But he was gone, and life would never be the same again.
After four years in the community, I went overseas for an extended time of exploring. I greatly felt the need to grow, and learn, and experience. For six months, I did periodic voluntary work, helping at a holiday centre for the disabled, and also working in the bookshop on a small Scottish island. It was a very positive time of meeting many different people, and of having to be responsible for my own life again. After years of being in an extended household, where I had had no major responsibilities, it was stretching to have to handle money, and organise transport, and find somewhere to stay. But it was good and I thrived on the challenges, and loved the constant stimulation.
Then my friend Jill joined me, and we travelled Europe together for three months. Jill and I had shared a room in the Community, and knew each other well. But being together, day in and day out for three months, was a new experience. However, our friendship grew deeper, especially after my handbag was stolen in Italy, while we were travelling on an overnight train.
The difficulty drew us together as she shared my loss. For the first time, my personal life had been violated, and I sensed a new vulnerability. Jill would see my tears trickling down and put out her hand to comfort. With the robbery, I had lost my prepaid pass on the trains, and so resorted to a third-class ticket for the rest of the way. Jill still had her first-class ticket, but she joined me on the hard benches. That meant a lot – her sharing discomfort with me – and it bonded us together.
After a happy time in Rome, despite the recent robbery, we caught the boat from the toe of Italy to the island of Cyprus. There we had a wonderful week in the sun. Each day we visited the same taverna, and ate tender beef cooked on the coals, wrapped in Greek bread. Some days we took trips to explore beautiful, ancient mosaic floors or the quaint villages of this colourful island. Another boat then took us on to Haifa, and it was with great anticipation that I set foot again on “Eretz Israel”.
I had so enjoyed my first visit there seven years earlier. At the time Denise, my travelling companion, and I had been offered teaching jobs in the two English schools, in Jerusalem and Jaffa. But we both had 4-year contracts to fulfill with the South African government, and so couldn’t accept. However, my visit then had awakened in me a passion for the history of modern Israel. I read every book I could find, from the time of Herzl’s dream of a Jewish state, to the reality of its fulfillment in 1948, and the difficulties thereafter. I was gripped with what God was doing in that land, and longed to return and really get to understand the situation.
However, by the time I had fulfilled my contract and was free to travel again, I was part of the Community, and not able to just get up and go wherever I chose. Within the Community, we committed ourselves to the oversight of the eldership, and only if they sensed God saying the same thing as we did, were we free to go with their blessing.
So it had taken a while to get back to Israel, but here I was, full of anticipation, and the dream was becoming reality. However, it didn’t take long for the bubble to burst. I soon found out that there was no opening at either of the schools … it was most perplexing. Surely if this was of God, it would have all fallen into place?
The Lord’s guidance had seemed so clear. Jean, the wife of the leader of the Community, had prayed and fasted with me for direction from the Lord. In particular we had been asking Him for clarity as to whether it was right to go to teach in Israel. That very week, while we were praying and fasting, I had had a remarkable encounter. I was at a conference in East London, with hundreds of others, and began chatting to the man seated next to me. Although I recognised him as a visitor who had once stayed in our home, I couldn’t recall who he was. “Where is your wife?” I asked. “Oh, she’s busy teaching and couldn’t come.” When I asked where she taught, his reply knocked me over: “At the English school in Jerusalem.” This was the very school in which I was interested in teaching! It seemed like a pointer from the Lord in that direction.
But things didn’t work out as I expected they would. Did that mean I hadn’t heard God? And if that wasn’t God, could I hear Him at all? These thoughts troubled me for some time. Every now and then, the Lord would give me a little insight … and help me realise that “that dream” wasn’t from Him. Yes, He had a dream for me. And it was right to go to Israel – He taught me many things through it all. But the main thing He wanted was for me to trust Him. To trust Him, even when things didn’t work out as I thought they would.
It makes me think of many other things in my life that didn’t work out as I had hoped they would at the time. How glad and grateful I am today that they didn’t! For instance, there was more than one young man to whom I felt very attracted, and with whom I would have liked to have developed a friendship. But it didn’t happen. At the time, it seemed painful and perplexing, but I look back with deep thanksgiving for a much more perfect plan.
I think my dream for working in Israel fits into that category. It wasn’t what the Lord had for me long-term. Someone put it this way once: It’s like He says to you, “You see that tower on the next hill over there? I want you to head for there.” And off you set, down a twisting path and across a river. Then the track veers off in another direction, and you land up somewhere else, not at the tower at all. But that’s not wrong. The tower was just a pointer to get you going, and to set your direction initially.
Maybe that’s what Israel was for me then. My desire to go there started me off on the eight-month trip, in which I learned so many valuable things. And it showed me that I can be wrong in “hearing God”, but that need not be a disaster. The most important thing is to trust Him whatever. When the door seems to close, I need to just keep on trusting. He closes one door so that I won’t go the wrong way. And He opens another, even if it seems at the time to be less than what I hoped for.
After returning from this time in Europe, I spent the next year back in the Community in East London. It was a difficult year. I was unhappy in my job, and sensed I needed to get back into computer-programming. But it was the time of the recession, and jobs were hard to come by. One of the leaders in the Community prayed with me over many months about this. Then we put a fleece before the Lord, asking Him to open a position for me in East London that year; if that didn’t happen, I would have to move elsewhere. At the end of the year, there was still no definite job offer, so I packed my bags and set off for Jo’burg.
Actually Johannesburg was the very last place I wanted to live. I was a small-town girl, and in my mind, Jo’burg was “the big, bad city”. In fact, I had said to the Lord that I would gladly go “anywhere, except Jo’burg”. But my attempts to get a job in Cape Town or Durban came to naught, and although I was offered an interesting job at my alma mater in Grahamstown, I knew in my spirit that it was not to be. It would have been too comfortable. Instead, I sensed the Lord encouraging me to follow Him, along a new path. So I turned down the offer, and headed for Jo’burg, to see what the Lord would do.
After some weeks of exploring options, I was offered a job by a pharmaceutical company in Kempton Park, on the east side of Johannesburg. This seemed like a God-send, and I happily accepted. From then on, one thing after another fell into place …
Within days of getting the job, I found a cosy cottage to rent in the same area. Soon thereafter I was directed to Maranatha Church nearby, and I quickly became part of the life of the church. In particular, I was committed to the group of young single working adults. It was an exciting group to be part of, led by a young man who had an amazing sensitivity to the Holy Spirit. I remember the very first night I joined the group. At that stage I hadn’t even been to a Sunday meeting, and I had just had very distressing news that left me emotionally exhausted. But I needed to be with people, and so went along. What surprised me was that, when I asked for prayer and didn’t give any details, the leader prayed right into my situation; that confirmed for me that I was in the right place.
After some months together, the young adults’ group realised how easily we could become thoroughly self-absorbed. Thus, we decided to do something for “those in need”. Just at that time I had been visiting the Wycliffe office, for I had become friends with some of the workers who were members of Maranatha. That day as I popped in for a visit, my friend Elsbeth was wrapping up a parcel of second-hand clothes. “I’m going to send these to the refugees in Mozambique”, she said. I was curious to know more, and so she gave me the phone-number of Francois, the leader of a group to be visiting the refugees shortly.
Later that day I connected with him, and explained our situation. “We’d like to give the refugees some clothes”, I explained brightly, “and to make it more personal, we’d like to come and deliver them ourselves.” This magnanimous gesture was greeted with silence!
“They don’t need your clothes, they need Jesus” was the measured response.
I was rather taken aback, and unnerved by this! It was one thing to hand over our used clothing, but how did one “give Jesus” …?
Nevertheless, I had committed myself now and couldn’t turn back, so on a humid day a few weeks later, a group of us set off for the Mozambican refugee camp. I was still very unsure of my part in “giving Jesus”; my experience at Kentani had been rather disastrous. Perhaps it was for those with another kind of gift, not for someone like me! But ten years had gone by, and the Lord had been at work …
That weekend as we wandered around the dusty camp, the earth hard-baked with little rain, we met smiles at every turn. These people were glad we had come. Not because we had brought them much, but because we were visiting them, and for that they were honoured. It was true, they didn’t need our clothes, as much as they needed hope, and dignity … and above all Jesus.
This struck me as we listened to their stories. They had so little, and were just profoundly grateful that they had survived. The long war in Mozambique had caused them to flee their homes, and they had walked for days and days, carrying children and their little bundles of belongings. Their path had taken them through the Kruger National Park, and so they had had to contend with prowling predators. The nights had been the worst, when the lions would be hunting and the hyenas and wild dogs scavenging. To give themselves some little protection, they would strap themselves to the branches of trees and huddle there through the long watches of the night. But this wasn’t always enough; one mother told of losing her child to a lion. To look into their faces one caught a glimpse of their agony; indeed, only Jesus could meet them there.
But something else very significant happened that weekend, which was to change my life forever. I saw God using ordinary, inexperienced, weak people, to effect things that only He could do. There was the witch-doctor throwing her bones and mumbling incantations. As we passed, Francois called us aside to pray, and we simply asked God to bring His power into that situation. I didn’t know anything much about spiritual warfare, or how to pray when demons are at work. But God responded to our simple faith, and we watched amazed: the woman threw down her bones in disgust in a heap, and muttered “No more power, no more power …”
There was also the child who came slithering into the grass shelter where we were chatting with the resident missionary. “Please pray for him”, she said, and we stood aghast, seeing the torment causing this child to writhe like a snake. We tried to make eye-contact with him, but he was hardly there. And so we had to pray. In the face of such need, what else can you do? Again we simply asked the Lord for His mercy on this child, and for him to be set free from the power of the enemy. And on our next visit we saw this same child again. But there was nothing the “same” about him at all. He came bounding up to the group gathering under a tree, and his bright eyes shone with happy release.
And that’s what changed me forever. In that moment, a new galaxy opened up before me – I knew without a doubt that God can use the weak and the foolish.
5. Don’t doubt in the dark what God has shown in the light
Shortly after this, the church in Kempton Park had their first-ever missions conference, and I participated along with everyone else. But it was to be more than just another display of mission pamphlets for me; rather, it would thrust my life in a pivotal direction.
As I wandered from booth to booth, idly picking up literature and looking at the colourful displays, I found myself at the Wycliffe stand, talking to a bearded man with eager eyes and a bright smile. As we chatted, he threw out a line to me that was to haunt me for the next weeks: “How much of God would you know if you didn’t have a Bible in your own language?” That question cut deep through my thoughts and followed me at every turn. I would know nothing! I’ve never heard an angel, or God Himself, talk to me. Everything I know about God is from the Scriptures, either what others have told me or what I have read myself. Without a Bible, I wouldn’t know what God is like, or how to pray. Without a Bible, I wouldn’t have the Psalms to run to, for comfort in the storms of life. Indeed, without a Bible, I wouldn’t know God. And the next question followed on quickly behind: What difference would it make if I didn’t know God? Why, without Him, life wouldn’t be worth living…
So these questions pierced through bone and marrow, and hit the soft spot. Never would I be the same again. No longer could I continue happy in my own contented state, knowing that half the world’s languages were still without Scriptures. Indeed, 3000 of the 6000 known languages in the world had no written alphabet, no books of any kind! And without the Greatest Book in the world, they were doomed to a life of “no choice”.
I was captivated by the vision. To give people the chance to hear about God by making the truth available to them in a way they could understand, gripped my heart. And that God should have called me to be involved in this work was staggering; I was dazed, unable to take it in. For weeks I walked on air, my feet floating on cushions of cloud. Slowly reality settled in, and all my energy was directed to this new passion; this would be my “life work”, to translate the Bible in Mozambique. Nothing else seemed to matter, this became my idol.
That weekend, when the Lord had this divine appointment with me at the Wycliffe stand, the enemy was also at work. I was sharing a house with a friend from the church, and we had been getting along well. But that weekend, out of the blue, a big misunderstanding had blown up, threatening to distract me from the bigger issue at hand. With feelings of confusion and high emotion, it had been hard to pay attention to what was going on at the conference. However, on the Sunday afternoon, Kathy and I had had time to sort out the problem, and so it was with a released heart that I had attended the evening meeting. And it was then that the Lord had gotten hold of my ear, and spoken those life-changing words.
At the end of the conference, the pastor had said: “If God has been speaking to you about any of these things, come and talk to me.” So, knowing full well that the Lord had put a new passion in my heart, I made an appointment to visit the pastor.
Nothing prepared me for what happened next! I guess I expected some encouragement, not from my family, but from other Christians, and especially from the pastor who had hosted this missions conference. But the Lord had more strengthening work to do in me, and so He allowed the fire to get hotter.
I came out of the pastor’s office very discouraged, and headed straight for the home of my friends, Roy and Annie. Through wet eyes and muffled sobs, I shared with them what had happened. The main problem, from the pastor’s viewpoint, was that Wycliffe did not pay salaries to those who worked with them, but like most other mission organisations, operated via “personal support”. The understanding, from Wycliffe’s point of view, was that if the Lord called someone to “go” to a field, He would also call others to “send” and to support in prayer and finances. So the responsibility was on each Wycliffe member to share the vision the Lord had given them, and trust that He would then add to them those who would want to be part of the support team.
I had no problem with accepting that philosophy, but the lack of encouragement did force me to cry out to God again for confirmation. The very next day was Sunday and I remember it as a Sunday like no other before. During the service, someone brought a word in tongues, not a common occurrence in the church at that time. And then the interpretation was given, by the pastor himself: “The Lord wants you to know that He will provide for you Himself, not through any other, so that the glory may go to Him alone.” I sat rivetted to my chair, scarcely able to breathe for excitement. Then someone else stood up and brought a Scripture, in paraphrase: “Seek first My kingdom, and I will take care of the rest.” And so it continued, with two or three further “words from the Lord”, both in that service and in the next few days. All seemed to point in the same direction – trust the Lord and make a move towards Wycliffe!
And so I did. But Pastor D. had given me some valuable advice: “Let the call be tested by time.” At that stage, February 1987, I had just enrolled for my second year of studies for a four-year part-time business degree. The second year was the most gruelling study-wise, and my fleece before the Lord was this: “If I get through this year, I will continue with business studies, otherwise I will switch to linguistics.” With no background in language, apart from what I had done in high-school, and with no formal theological training, it seemed sensible to rather study something related to translation work. However, I had begun the business studies feeling directed that way by the Lord, and so believed I should continue in that direction, unless He showed me clearly otherwise.
Thus, I set myself to do my best in the studies, and see what happened. I was really in deep water, way over my head, doing subjects in which I had no experience – production management, financial management, and accounting. But every week I met with the other nine in our study-group, and we worked at various assignments together.
As the exam-time approached, my supervisor at work, who had completed the same study programme, offered me some of his worked case-studies, to help prepare for the exams.
I gladly accepted, and added the five case-studies to my file of papers. I also gave copies to my friend, Trevor; he and I often worked together on assignments, complementing one another well. He was slow and methodical; I was quick, but sometimes missed important details. So we had made a good team, and as he was a Christian, we had a natural bond.
The exams were set over a period of two weeks, with five theory papers and five case-studies. The latter involved reading a story of a company with problems, analysing the difficulties, and then proposing solutions. Usually it took about an hour and a half just to read the long case-study, so it was a daunting task for one with no practical experience of such problems. There were two exams I was particularly concerned about – the case-studies for accounting and production management. The theory papers seemed more manageable – one could work hard and process the facts – but the application required in the case-studies was another matter.
And so the day of the production-management dawned, and I sat nervously at my desk, awaiting the distribution of exam-papers. When I turned the page, I could hardly believe my eyes. It was “Sunshine Builders”, one of the worked case-studies I had been given by my supervisor. Trevor and I smiled at each other, and set to work to answer. Being an “open-book exam”, we had a model answer at our finger-tips, to peruse as we wrote our answers.
I could hardly believe the amazing way the Lord had provided for me to get through that paper! But I still had the Accounting one to do, the last of the ten exams. By that stage, I was fairly happy that I was through the other nine, and it seemed that it would be such a shame if I were to fail now! But accounting was not easy for me. I had done as much as I could to prepare for the exam – and once again the Lord reminded me, “you have taken up your position – now stand still and see the victory that I will give to you”. That was the promise I clung to.
At that time one of my neighbours was a pastor at the church, and I had shared with him about the Sunshine Builders case: “I felt like I was cheating, copying the solution from the worked out case-study.” His response had been, “If that’s how the Lord provided for you, then rejoice!” And so I did.
I had even more reason to give thanks when I saw the Accounting exam-paper the next day. The case-study was also one for which I had a model answer! For some reason, the Lord wanted me to get through that second year, the critical one in the four-year programme.
And so I plodded on and completed the course. However, after my second year, the door opened for me to move into a new job position, at one of the large banks in central Johannesburg. This job offered exciting opportunities linked to my area of study, and I was keen to take it, although mindful that the Lord had called me to missions, and so the bank job would not be “forever”. In fact, when the first manager had interviewed me, he had asked me: “Are you prepared to commit yourself to stay at the bank long-term?” I can’t commit myself”, I had answered, not knowing exactly when the Lord would thrust me forth.
However, I didn’t want to be deceitful either, and so had asked my study-mate Trevor to pray with me about this. The Lord had reminded us of the Scripture: “Be wise as a serpent and as innocent as a dove.” So with the prayer for that kind of wisdom burning in my heart, I went for my second interview. The senior manager, in his thick Irish brogue, began by asking me, “So what are your hobbies?” The only ones that came to mind immediately were patch-work and gardening, neither of which struck a chord with him.
Then I added, “… and reading!” A smile broke forth with that, and he pursued further: “What kind of books do you like to read?” Well, although many possible answers could have come to mind, I found myself telling him all about the biographies of Cameron Townsend, the founder of Wycliffe Bible Translators. I had recently been reading these books to help the Wycliffe director with anecdotes for his presentations. It had been a fascinating exercise, reading up on the life of this extraordinary visionary. And so I shared some of these stories with this manager who was interviewing me for the job. How glad I was that I had such a perfect opportunity to share of my passionate interest in Bible translation, right from the start of my time at the bank. This would make it so much easier to leave, when the time came for that.
Now I had been in the bank for two years, and the studies were completed. My study-mates were all talking about the great jobs awaiting them, now that they had this rigorous degree behind them. For myself, I wasn’t really sure why I had done it, and how it would be used in the future. But one thing I knew. I had learned something of perseverance through the four years. And I had learned too of the Lord’s faithfulness to get me through situations where I was way out of my depth. Both were lessons well worth learning, if I was to be involved in mission work.
At this time I was living in a small Christian community in Johannesburg. My senior manager in the bank was part of a multiracial and interdenominational group, “Family of God”, and had invited me to come along. I had been interested in trying to relate cross-culturally within my own country, if I was being called to relate cross-culturally across the borders, and so had taken hold of this opportunity with both hands. Thus I was not only part of the weekly fellowship and worship times, but also living as part of an extended household with one of the community families.
As part of sharing one another’s lives, I had offered to go and support one of the friends of the family, participating in a drama at a local church. So one evening found four of us crammed into an old-fashioned VW buggie, heading off for the event.
On the way, I had been sharing with the others in the car about something the Lord had recently been speaking to me about. There had been a number of incidents in which well-meaning people had pushed me forward for prayer for healing. I had found this difficult; afterwards they had walked away, but I had been left to deal with the apparent “unanswered-ness” of the prayer. My response had been to shy away from such situations, but as I shared with my friends in the car, “The Lord has been telling me to go forward, if there is to be prayer for a release of healing.” And so, without realising it, I was making myself very vulnerable for what was to happen that night. I had been set up, unwittingly!
After the drama, there was a time of worship and all was going fine. Then suddenly someone stepped up to the microphone and said, “I believe there is a release of healing here tonight, if people will come up for prayer…” I sat there, eyes down, hands clenched, not daring to look at any of my companions. There was silence, no-one moved … and my heart was thumping! The man then returned to the microphone, and added, “I believe it’s particularly in the area of the knees.” With that I heavily got to my feet, and shuffled forward, the only one to respond.
Shortly before this, I had had major surgery on my left knee. It had always been strong, but as it was having to work harder than normal, with the right leg being weak, the cartillage had worn away. Thus I had had “the operation to end all operations”, which would hopefully set me up to be able to serve on the mission field. And now some weeks into the recovery process, I was again experiencing pain, in the strong knee. I hadn’t yet even been able to verbalise my disappointment at this, but deep-down was the hidden fear: “What use will I be, with neither leg working properly?”
And so I had reluctantly gone forward, knowing that only gross disobedience could keep me in my seat. How much more clearly could God speak? The pastor, a young man with long tousled hair, had laid his hands on me and prayed the predictable prayer for healing. Then had come totally unexpected words, rivetting words, which would springboard me into a new future. In a quiet strong voice, he had said, “You think the door is closed, but the Lord says it is still open.” My heart leapt to my throat. I knew exactly what he was talking about! The “word of knowledge” continued, and then he ended by saying, “In your weakness, His strength will be seen.”
I walked to my seat, mesmerised, and pulled out a used envelope to write down these words which had been impressed on my heart. Life-changing words, ones that I would need to remember, and look back on, again and again. This was the Lord’s commissioning, this was His affirmation that it was still right for me to go, and that it would not depend on my strength but His. That was all I needed.
Things were now looking pretty certain that I would be resigning from my secure job at the bank and learning to trust the Lord more keenly. I was confident that if I was hearing the Lord correctly, there would be no problem with the supply, but my concern was: Am I hearing correctly, or am I just following some romantic notion of ‘being a missionary’?
I felt the need to put it to the test, and so asked the Lord for confirmation. Various people had said they would like to support me financially, but thus far I had not seen anything in writing. And so my prayer was this: “Lord, I’m asking You to please confirm to me, by this time next week, if this is from you. Please let me have something in black and white so that I know this is not just my romantic dream.” That was a Monday in February 1990.
At that time I was staying with the community-family in Johannesburg and so I used my work address to receive post. Each day of that week I eagerly checked the post at work, but there was nothing of any real interest. Then on the Sunday, the day before my “D-Day” with the Lord, I was visiting a church with friends. The preacher that day was the principal of a well-known missions Bible-School. His message was about the second generation of Israelites, who had to go in and take the Promised Land. They had not seen God do the miracles that their fathers had seen, and many of them were fearful of the giants in the land.
“Do you feel surrounded by giants? Do you feel like a grasshopper?” he asked. Yes, that was exactly how I felt. I was fearful, not knowing if I could trust God for the future, and the giants of doubt and unbelief were leering at me from every side.
“Then stand up and I will pray for you”, he said. So I jumped to my feet, and as we prayed, I felt a palpable exchange take place – fear was removed and faith was put in its place. I could trust the Lord! No matter if I received anything in black and white or not, I could trust the Lord to look after me! What joy! What release!
The next day at work I checked the post again, but there was nothing in response to my prayer. However, when I arrived home that evening, there was a letter for me, a late Christmas-card, with a cheque inside. “This is the first instalment – we would like to support you financially in your new venture.” And it was signed by some friends who I had met inadvertently at the church some years earlier. There in February, a delayed Christmas-card, arriving on the very day I had been asking the Lord for confirmation, and at an address that I thought no-one knew! What a wonderful blessing – not only the financial gift, but even more, the assurance that I was in line with God’s purposes. That being the case, I could trust Him to provide for all the future needs to come!
It had been in March 1990, that the “go forth” had come. And at the end of June that same year, I was winging my way to the Wycliffe Centre in England to begin my training. How amazing the Lord’s timings had been. So altogether different from ours! It had been eleven years from the first impression in my heart that I would join Wycliffe, and four years since the clear call at the church missions conference. And yet when the Lord gave the green light, after all the preparation, everything fell into place so quickly.
My time studying with SIL in England was a happy year. I loved living in the countryside, surrounded by beech woods that turned pure gold in the autumn. And I revelled in being able to take long walks down the country lanes, with their quaint houses edged with hollyhocks and roses. And what delight to be able to amble along forest paths, and encounter a young deer, wide-eyed with wonder. The different seasons brought their own magic – the woods alive with singing bluebells, or the crunchy snow at first-fall.
The classes were a challenge. I had no idea if I had any aptitude for linguistics, and yet I had had to burn my bridges and come a long distance, trusting that I would manage. Up to that time, I had never had any great difficulty with studies. Most things one could learn, if one just worked hard enough at it. But phonetics was different! This involved getting one’s tongue to do all sorts of acrobatics, to produce un-uttered, and seemingly un-utterable, sounds!
No amount of practice seemed to make any difference, as I tried to elicit the bilabial fricative. “It sounds like the ‘vvvv’ sound you make when you blow your hair off your face”, said the teacher. That didn’t help me, I had never tried to blow hair off my face! And so I sat, day in and day out, in the sheep pasture, with my little mirror, trying to make strange sounds and see what my tongue was doing.
One day in exasperation, I took a break from phonetics and was reading a book of poems by a Wycliffe translator, Darlene Bee. In one poem, she expressed the same frustration as I was experiencing, and her heart cry was: “Lord, can You who made the tongue not help me form these strange sounds?” The answer, of course, was yes, and I suddenly realised that I had not asked the Lord to help me! So I brought this burden to Him, and in a flash, I had the idea I should ask one of my fellow-students to help me. She was a concert-pianist and had a very good ear for tone, and consequently was very good at phonetics. But how humiliating to have to ask another student for help!
The idea persisted, and so that evening, before the class “fun night”, I knocked on Sini’s door and hesitantly asked her for help. She immediately responded very warmly, and tried to help me. We held a mirror up to my mouth, and poked around on the palate. The tongue twisted this way and that. And then suddenly I could do it! I jumped up and down, and ran downstairs, elated, to see if I could still do it in my room. Yes, “it” was there, this was marvellous! I was so excited that I didn’t go to the “fun night” but spent the whole evening pursing my lips and making furry “vvv” sounds. Before I went to bed, I asked the Lord to please help me remember how to do it, and the next morning I leapt out of bed and ran to the mirror, to see if the sound was still there. Yes, my lips were still able to vibrate and push the air out as a bilabial fricative. Hallelujah!
A small thing perhaps, but this stands out in my memory as a towering memorial to God’s faithfulness. There I saw the Lord enable me to do something that physically I couldn’t manage without His help. This was something to remember and hold on to, to give confidence in the next test of faith.
There were other experiences in England which taught me to trust the Lord in new ways. The next one happened just after our first holiday break. We students had been told that we could leave our suitcases in a spare room during the holiday period, with the understanding that they would be secure there. Thus it was a great shock to return from our time away and find that our goods had been tampered with. Some students had had their fancy clothes or sound systems removed; nothing was missing from my case except my little “jewel box”. It was a tiny oval tin, holding a few pairs of special ear-rings, and most precious of all, a tiny diamond on a chain. This had great sentimental value as Dad had given it to me the last Christmas he was with us. That was irreplaceable, and I was very sore about its loss.
During our chapel time, someone prayed specifically that my chain would be returned. Nothing happened for eight months, and then suddenly, out of the blue, someone cleaning an old classroom found my little oval tin in an empty drawer! And so the lost was found, and my precious chain was restored.
Another way I had to learn to trust the Lord was in terms of some difficult relationships. One of the girls in my class, P., took a strong dislike to me; perhaps it was because I was a white South African, and at that time South Africa was still under an apartheid government. It seemed that she considered me to be part of the racist regime; she took to wearing an anti-apartheid button on her clothes, and the jibe seemed to be aimed at me, the only South African.
Another person who seemed to have problems with me was one of the Wycliffe administrators from Europe, visiting for a short while to check on my credentials for membership. This lady spent a day with me, and although I was not aware of any problem at the time, it seems that she found me rebellious. (In retrospect, I came to this conclusion, for I had gone swimming that day, alone, which was against “the rule”, but I had been desperate for some exercise, and did not feel I could ask someone to sit out in the cold and watch me, as the rule required!) Then there was H, another fellow-student, and the third person in quick succession to find me disagreeable. She accused me of not sharing my language data with my partner – a young African and I were working together on a project – and somehow she got the idea that I was being unfair.
The interesting thing is that all three of these ladies were Dutch. And even more amazing, each time one of them had confronted me (causing no little anguish to my soul), the Lord had sent along another Dutch person, to pray with me, or be extra kind. It was as if He allowed me to be bruised, and then sent along the ointment. Seeing His hand in all of this, made me more aware of His tenderness and care – and I could be glad.
A lovely experience during my time in England was the way the Lord sent along little encouragements and signs of His love. On three occasions, I received an anonymous card, delicate with pressed flowers or some other pretty thing, and each time the message was the same: “Because you are precious in My eyes, and honoured, and I love you”, one of my favourite verses from Isaiah. On one occasion there was a 20 pound note enclosed! With great joy I went into London, and used this to buy my first Greek New Testament.
Another treasured gift was a primrose bursting into colour, bright magenta framed with gold. My Japanese classmate, Toshiko, had dug it up from under the magnificent trees in her mission’s garden nearby. The richness of the colours was such a glorious reminder of the riches we have in Him.
As my time of linguistic training in England drew to an end, it was time to apply for a “field”, somewhere I could put my training to work. Mozambique was an obvious choice. It was the neighbouring country to South Africa, and so not too far away. And my experience with the Mozambican refugees had also pointed me in that direction.
Thus, I applied to the Mozambique branch, and my application was duly processed. I awaited the result with great anticipation, expecting it would go well. For hadn’t the Lord clearly led me that way? So when I was called into the office of my training supervisor, I was not prepared for the news that awaited me: “No, you haven’t been accepted for Mozambique, but they suggest you go to Angola.”
Everything within me fell out of my world! What was life for, if I couldn’t do Bible translation in Mozambique? That was all I had looked toward, that was all there was; there hadn’t been another alternative!
For the next two days, I walked and walked the woods surrounding the Wycliffe Centre.
I poured out my frustration to the Lord; words were few – the prayer was just my pain. As I tramped the forest paths, my feet were leaden and my mind was numb. Tears would not come, but way down deep, I ached as never before. Purpose was lost, vision shattered. Where do I go to from here?
Is this what Isobel Kuhn calls the breaking of “inordinate affections”? Had my vision for what I was to do in Mozambique been “my” vision, impressed too strongly with my finger-prints? Did the Lord have something else in mind, and He wanted me to fit in with His picture?
And so I had had to die to “my” vision, in order to receive again His vision, unmarked by my clutching hand. It was a painful dying – for what dying is not? – but a necessary one.
Just before I left England there was a conference at the SIL centre, with visitors from various parts of the world. One day was set aside for prayer, so I went to join in, along with many others. Towards the end of the prayer time, we were asked to find someone we didn’t know, and to pray for each other. I was just moving towards someone, a Russian who I had briefly met, when someone said in my ear, “Shall we pray together then?”
I turned around to see a short man with wavy, white hair and an open, friendly face. I squinted down at his name-tag, and almost fell over backwards. This was Bernie May, the founder of our sister organisation JAARS, and one of my heroes! I used to read the column he wrote in one of the regular Wycliffe publications, and I was always impressed by his bigness of vision and hugeness of heart. And here before me was such a little man!
After our time of prayer together, he asked me where I was from and what I was doing. Then he said: “Write your name down here. We’re going to send you $100. I’ve been asked to divide a legacy of $10 000 between 100 missionaries, each one getting $100. All that you’re asked to do is write a thank-you to the people concerned, and tell them what you are involved with.”
Having done that, I then forgot about it. But that $100 was to reappear in my life, at a very opportune time. That’s part of the next story!
From England, I went on to Portugal, to learn Portuguese in preparation for working in Angola. It was a long bus ride from London to Lisbon, 40-hours in all. But it was an interesting journey and one that had its amusing side. At each border post, the customs officials would come on board, have a cursory look around, note all the dark-haired people, and get off, without disturbing any of the sleeping passengers to ask to see passports. Of course, for European citizens, they were not required to have visas. I did not fit that category, and so had stood in line at the French and Spanish consulates to get the necessary paperwork. But nobody wanted to see it! They obviously assumed I was Portuguese, with my dark hair and dark eyes. And so I passed through all six border posts without anyone once asking to see my passport!
When my colleague in Lisbon heard this, he was horrified. “Well, you will have to go back to the border and come in again properly”, he said. I didn’t fancy doing that! But when we checked at the Customs office in Lisbon, they simply said: “Well, normally you would have to renew your visa after three months, and then apply for permanent residence.” I looked at him quietly, wondering what was coming next. “However,” he continued, “as you are not officially in the country, you can’t apply for an extension. So you can just stay, and do nothing further.” I left that office grinning widely!
Although my time in Portugal began with a good laugh, the next sixteen months were filled with many tears. How often I thought of that Scripture that says “God stores up our tears in a bottle”, for they are precious to Him. One of the hard things was being treated like a two-year-old, because I spoke like a two-year-old! And even after I had a little more control of the language, nobody expected me to be any different than that first day when I fumblingly said my first words.
Coimbra, where I stayed, was a very conservative town, and people were not used to those who talked differently, or who had strange ways. And I stood out, in my speech, in my dress … there I was in my brightly-coloured clothes, quite out of step with the Coimbra tradition. It seemed to me that most people wore black: little old wrinkled widows shuffled around in their mourning dress, students proudly wore their black capes as symbols of prestige; and the young teenagers wore black to be fashionable and smart.
I was definitely odd!
So it was a lonely time. I was on my own in Coimbra, my colleagues being in Lisbon, a day’s journey away. Many a night I walked up and down the river bank, pouring out my complaints to the Lord. And I counted the days until I could leave… fourteen and a half months in all!
One afternoon I rode the bus home; it was a circuitous route, and each time I passed my house, I felt unready to go back and face the bossy girl in charge. I was always doing something wrong, it seemed! So I rode the bus, around and around, occupying myself with my knitting, and gathering courage!
Some of the ways the Lord encouraged me at this time was through the kindness of friends. One such special person was Rita, a missionary running the Christian bookstore. She constantly reached out to us “missionaries in training”, and gave us a home from home. At Christmas, she invited a number of us to join their family for a special meal. I sat next to an Angolan studying in Portugal; his shiny, black face glowed as he told me proudly about his language, and his longing for his people to have the Scriptures in their mother tongue.
Another friend in Portugal was Margaret, an American with whom I shared a house for a while. She too was a great inspiration to me, tackling a new language at the age of 50. Day in and day out, she would work at the new vocabulary, sitting cross-legged on her bed, trying to pummel the words into her memory!
Some four months after I arrived in Portugal, Margaret approached me with a proposal: “How would you like to join us for a week’s holiday in the Algarve over New Year?” That sounded marvellous. I was still in the throes of culture shock, and language-shock; what bliss it would be to be in an English-speaking environment for a week! “There’s a special on then, $100 for each of us”, she added. I had no idea how much $100 was, but it seemed like a lot of money. “Pray about it”, she said, and we left it at that.
The next week, as I was dreaming about white sands and windswept freedom, a letter arrived in the mail. Inside was the promised $100, from Bernie May! So off I went to the picturesque Algarve, and had a wonderful week – certainly the highlight of my time in Portugal!
7. Almost ready
After completing my time in Portugal, I had another short course to do in England, and then returned to South Africa, for a time of “partnership building”. The idea was that I would share the vision of what the Lord was calling me to, and that He in turn would raise up partners, who would share the load with me. They would invest in the work, through their prayers or their finances, or would seek to encourage and help as opportunity allowed.
I had been out of South Africa for three and a half years, and so for that time, had not had a steady income. Before beginning at SIL in England, I had put aside savings, for the year I was to be away. However, with this stretching to three and a half years, with the language study in Portugal becoming a natural succession, the savings had needed to also stretch. Indeed, it had been marvellous how the Lord had “multiplied the money”, through the kindness of many people in many ways.
But now that I was back in my home-country, I felt obligated to get a job and earn some income again. It didn’t seem right to just “build relationships” when I could be helping towards my support. So I went ahead and took a temporary job, teaching at an affluent school in Johannnesburg.
It was terrible; I hated every moment. Almost every afternoon I was in tears. The discipline was awful, and I seemed to be forever shouting. After a month or two of this misery, I began to get the message: “You’re not meant to be teaching. You’re meant to be trusting Me to provide. And you’re meant to be investing your time and energy in relationships.” Slowly it dawned on me that that was true. But what was I to do? I had landed myself in this predicament. And something I had read said: “If God gets you into a tough spot, He’ll get you out. But if you get yourself into a tough spot, it’s up to you.” Not very encouraging words!
But then I came across a Scripture that spoke deep into my need and gave me hope: “God knows how to rescue the godly for Himself”. Yes, Amen! So I asked Him to please rescue me from my folly. And within days He did! Both of my senior teachers came to me and said, “We know you’re not happy here. If you want to leave, don’t feel obligated to stay.” I had indeed felt obligated, as these children had already had a plethora of teachers, and even had been without a teacher for a period. But with that opening, I took it with both hands. Yes, I’d learnt my lesson. Let me get to what I’m meant to be doing. What a relief!
The last step in preparation for going to work in Angola was Kenya Safari, a four month training time in eastern Africa. This was to help us learn to “love Africa” (for those who didn’t already!) and to learn practical skills for survival.
We were about fifty “members-in-training”, mainly Americans, with a handful of Kiwis, Swiss, Germans, Canadians, and me. For the first week, we camped on beautiful Lake Naivasha, with hippos storming out of the water at night and rummaging around our flimsy tents. These are very vicious animals, and can move with surprising speed, for all their bulk and sloppy demeanour. One night some pranksters in the camp imitated the hippos foraging around the tent of R and K, but this sweet quiet couple didn’t realise it was just a prank. In the morning they told us horror stories of how petrified they had been, and of how they had been desperately praying. For the rest of the week, they slept with tables and chairs barricading their tent.
Lake Naivasha was a bird paradise, and there were many exquisitely-coloured birds. The lilac-breasted rollers caught my fancy, with their flashes of bright turquoise and lilac and red, as they flitted through the trees.
It was January when we were there, the rainy season in Africa, and night after night I had water leaking into my tent. Only on the last day did I mention it to the leader, and his response was to say to me in exasperation: “Why didn’t you tell us? We could have fixed it!” I hadn’t wanted to complain as I thought I had to put up with it; after all we were here to learn how to “rough it”. But he did have a point, which I have since learned to appreciate. It is worth making the effort to be as comfortable as one needs to be, so that the discomfort doesn’t become a reason for giving up. Too easily a whole project may be abandoned, when a small adjustment to one’s comfort could make it viable.
After our week at the lake, we had six weeks camping with the Maasai. These were colourful people, with their stretched ear-lobes with big loopy holes, brightly-coloured beaded neckbands and jangly ear-rings. Their identifying trademark was the red-and-white cloths that the men wrapped around their waists. The men had a typical way of standing too, with one leg crossed over the other while leaning on a stick. They would chatter to us with big wide smiles, their faces crinkling in amusement at our lack of understanding.
However, we did have classes each morning under the shady trees, and among these were lessons in kiSwahili and in kiMaasai. Most effort was made in kiSwahili, so that we could communicate generally in the country, as that was the national language. But in order to be able to greet the Maasai and show general courtesy, we learned a few phrases in thir language too.
We were encouraged to visit the Maasai in their homes, and so one day, I gathered some sugar and tea supplies from the kitchen, and set off for a hut nearby. It didn’t take long for me to exhaust my few Maasai phrases, and then it was a matter of sitting quietly and watching. Of course, they were delighted with the gifts of tea and sugar, and set about to make me some genuine Maasai “chai”. Like most Africans, they like to make the tea by boiling the milk and sugar together with the leaves, to give a pleasant creamy taste. After tea, they offered me some braaied-goat, which I took hesitantly and battled to swallow. It was very tough, but a special treat, and a gesture of great hospitality. All the while I was sitting on a stool in the smoky hut, trying to express to the women through mime and hand-movements, my gratitude for their kindness.
The first “building” to be erected when we set up camp was the “choo”, the long-drop toilet. This was a deep hole with a grass fence around, and the idea was to call out “Hodi!” on approaching. If anyone was already using the choo, they were to call back “Wait a little”. To keep the choo hygenic, there was a pile of ash kept next to the hole, to be dumped inside at periodic intervals. My problem was that my left knee didn’t allow me to squat easily, and I needed to support myself with my hands. With hot ash lying around, I burned myself a few times, and so a friend came up with a solution. He found a piece of wood and whittled away a large bar-bell, which I could use to keep my hand off the ground. So each time I went to the choo, I had to find my big wooden bar-bell and take it along too. I became so attached to this piece of apparatus that I was tempted to take it home as a souvenir! I didn’t, and so perhaps the Maasai are still trying to work out the purpose of this strange instrument.
Because of the danger of prowling animals, we were not allowed out of our tents at night, Thus, if we needed the choo, we would have to use a bucket in the tent. However, one of the men decided to take a chance, and the next morning told us excitedly that he had seen a leopard during the night. The Maasai tracker quickly found the spoor, and ascertained that a leopard had indeed been about. “But not to worry”, said our leader, “they will only attack out of self-defence. So don’t look at them, and then they will not feel threatened.” “Where do they go in the day?” I asked. “Oh, they’ll be sleeping in the trees”, he said.
Of course, going for a walk in the afternoon, the hardest thing to do was not to look up in the trees. It took grit determination to keep one’s eyes down! Isn’t it strange how, as soon as we’re told not to do something, that’s suddenly what we desperately want to do?
During our time with the Maasai, we went for two overnight hikes, sleeping out in the forest. For the first hike, we went by truck for a few miles, to the start of the trail. As I squeezed into the back of the vehicle, I found a goat nestling next to me, nuzzling my hand. He had a rope around him, and as we walked, the goat accompanied us. When we reached our stop for the night, I was horrified to see the goat being led to one aside, and his throat quietly slit. Very quickly and deftly, the Maasai men cut up the small animal and skewered the pieces on sticks to be barbecued over the fire. To accompany the meal, we also had tacky bread, which was quite ingeniously made. We had carried with us plastic bags containing a mixture of flour and salt and raising agent. All we had to do was add water from the stream and mix up the dough. This then was wound around sticks and baked over the fire, and we had satisfying bread. Thankfully, it was satisfying, as there was no way I could eat the goat, not after he had been befriending me!
After our meal, we lay down on the leafy forest floor and listened to the Maasai chanting their hunting songs. Every now and then the various animal noises would be part of the song, and we could imagine what was happening, even though the words were unintelligible. It was warm, and the stars were bright and beautiful above. A light cloth covering was all we needed, to keep the mosquitoes at bay. Some time during the night, there was a scuffle of noise, and I awoke to feel drips of rain through the trees. The Maasai quickly made a shelter from a plastic tarpaulen, and we closed our eyes again. The next morning our bodies were stiff from the hard floor, but our hearts were happy – such a rich experience to enter into the life-style of another people group!
One sad experience of Kenya Safari was to see one of the single girls falling prey to the enemy’s trap. Single women in Africa need to be very careful that their friendly gestures are not misinterpreted by the local men. The sadness is that not only was her ministry brought to a crashing halt, but the life of an African family was disrupted and torn apart.
The last part of our Kenya experience was to live with an urban family for three weeks, and share in all their doings. We all stayed in the town of Machakos, and lived with families from the church. I stayed with a family who owned a “matatu”, a minibus-taxi that provided transport in and around the town.
Each morning we would rise early and sweep the dirt outside the house. There was no grass, but the dirt was considered part of the living-space, and so needed to be kept clean and tidy. Two of us would do this, while garish music blared forth from the radio. After a breakfast of tea and bread, we would do the clothes washing. This required first drawing water from the well, lowering the bucket on a long rope and then drawing it up very carefully. After some practice I got the hang of this, and could manage to raise a bucket, without sloshing too much on the way.
At that time of the year, it was the maize-picking season, and so for several days, we all piled into a big hired truck and went out to the family’s fields. All the neighbours joined in; they, in turn, would receive the help of the others, when their fields were ready to be harvested. All day we worked in the hot sun, pulling the ripe maize with a hefty tug. At lunch time we sat around a fire and ate roasted maize. This was from the barn as the freshly-picked maize was still green and hard. Once back at the house, all the maize had to be stored in the little barn, which was raised off the ground to keep away the rats.
One day I went into town to do some shopping, and while waiting at the taxi-station to come home, decided to take a photo of one of the colourful “matatu”s. Most of them were painted with bright signs, in vivid bold colours, and with amusing names. I could have taken a picture of my host family’s vehicle, but it was relatively dull, so I thought I would opt for one of the more attractive ones. I little realised what a riot this would cause.
No sooner had I taken the photo than people came rushing at me, demanding my camera, and shouting for money. I refused, and backed away quickly, my pulse racing at this sudden aggression. When I arrived back at the house, I had hardly set foot in the door when the father accosted me gruffly. “Why did you do it?” he asked. I was non-plussed at his reaction, and unaware of the trouble I had caused. Apparently one of the extended family had been in town and had witnessed the event and the resultant fury of the matatu owner. Realising my ignorance, he had raced over to explain, and had managed to placate the anger of the offended man.
This incident made me stop and think. I began to realise the need to humble myself to my hosts, to listen to their advice, or to seek it out. I needed to find out from the locals what was the acceptable way of doing things. I couldn’t afford to act independently and raise a storm as a result. This was a principle I would need to remember, but unfortunately it would be one I would need to learn again and again.
One thing that struck me about living in the African community was the difficulty of getting alone. I enjoyed being with the family, and walking along the winding paths to visit their friends, but sometimes I needed space and quiet, just “to be”. But this was hard to find!
So one day I decided to go and sit in the most public place of all – perhaps there I could find some privacy. I found a spot on the roadside and made myself comfortable. At periodic intervals along the road were similar figures, sitting lazily in the sun; some were alone, some were not. I hadn’t sat there more than a few minutes when someone stopped to ask me what was wrong. Then another wanted to know what I needed. After a succession of such queries, I decided this was not going to work. Obviously the rules are different according to your skin colour. A white person sitting on the roadside arouses suspicion – something is wrong. One can’t blend into the background like the natives.
One has to just accept that.
My colleagues Sebastian and Karen had a similar experience when they first started living in Mozambique. They lived with an African family, sharing the home and living exactly as they did. Karen washed the clothes with water from the well; she cooked over a fire out in the yard. But the local people didn’t like it. They couldn’t understand it. They were suspicious and imputed all sorts of wrong motives to them. It just didn’t make sense for white people to live like Africans, when these Africans wanted to live “like white people”.
This seems to be the way it is. One wants to identify with the people, but we need to see things from their perspective. That was one of the main keys of Kenya Safari – trying to learn to see things through the other culture’s eyes. Not an easy thing to do, to shed one’s own view of life. But that’s what it will take, if we’re to bring a message that will be heard.
8. First trips to Mozambique
I had been assigned to work in Angola, but shortly after this decision was formalised, war broke out in that country. Thus when it was time for me to take up my appointment, it was suggested that I be temporarily assigned to Mozambique. This was later changed to a permanent appointment, when it became clear that Angola would not open up for some time. So in an amazing way, the Lord gave me back that first desire, to do Bible translation in Mozambique. It had been such a painful death when I had had to give it up, and now when it was returned to me, it was almost without emotion. By this time I had surrendered “my vision” and I was happy to go wherever, and do whatever He wanted.
While I was still in South Africa doing partnership-development, I decided to make a trip to Mozambique, to begin to get a feel for the country. From the time of my first visit to the Mozambican refugee camps about seven years earlier, I had been in touch with a young British couple, Nigel and Heather. That weekend had also been their first visit to the refugee camps, and it began for them a ministry first in the camps and then into Mozambique itself. They were then at Beira, half way up the long coast of Mozambique, and they invited me to visit for a short while. So I set off for three weeks with them, and arrived at the end of the dry season, when the ground was parched for rain.
One day while walking along the beach at Beira, I saw an extraordinary sight: a ship-wreck next to a lighthouse! The incongruity of this struck me; how could it be? Lighthouses are meant to prevent shipwrecks! Did the shipwreck happen before there was a lighthouse?
Then I remembered what we had been told in Kenya: in every part of Africa, those groups without Scriptures have fallen prey to Islam, but those groups with a Bible in their own language were able to stand against the onslaught. Knowing the truth, they were able to discern the error. This happened in Ethiopia, and Sudan, and in Mozambique … the northern tribes, without the Scriptures, fell to Islam, whereas the southern tribes, with the Scriptures, were able to stand firm in their Christian faith.
As I walked along the sandy beach and puzzled over the anomaly before me, the Lord used it to speak a deep word to my spirit. I understood that those without the Word of God in their language are left without a light to warn them of danger; this seemed to be a clear call to take the Scriptures to such people. Thus, in a flash, my thinking was changed. I, who had always thought I could never work with muslims, found myself being called to such a work.
When I was planning my initial visit to Mozambique, I had hoped to go on up to the island of Ibo where my South African colleagues, Sebastian and Karen Floor, worked. But it was not a good time for visitors there, and so I restricted my visit to Beira alone. However, the Lord had a wonderful way of bringing Ibo to me!
One weekend while staying with Nigel and Heather, we decided to go over to Maforga Farm for the weekend. This was a mission station a few hours inland from Beira, down a road known as the Beira Corridor. It is a fairly well-travelled road so we managed to get a lift with some other ex-pats going to the mission station.
On arriving there, I was in for a surprise. A couple who had worked for some years on Ibo were now working at Maforga! Paul and Sue were a mine of information. They shared their stories and their pictures, and sitting some thousand kilometres south of Ibo, I was given a window into that world!
On the Sunday, we joined volunteers from Maforga at various church-services out in the bush. I went with a couple of ladies from England, and we drove out along the rough roads and off through a field where we stopped under a big shady tree. Soon a group of children and some youths appeared, and we began the service. The one lady had a flip-chart and a tape-recorder, and with this she presented a Bible story in Portuguese. At the end, she asked if anyone wanted to pray, and one young man came forward. It seemed that he wanted to make a commitment to follow the Lord, so she said to me: “Please pray with him.” My Portuguese was still very hesitant, but none of the other volunteers had studied the language, so it was left up to me. I made a halting effort in my broken Portuguese, and tried to lead him to faith. Seeing his need, and my inadequacy, made me more determined than ever to give attention to language-study. Without it, I realised, one is at a loss.
When we arrived back in Beira after our visit to Maforga, a great spectacle awaited us: the thrill of seeing the first rains come to the thirsty land. The ground was hard and brittle, crying out for refreshment, and then the healing water came. Big fat drops splattered to the earth. At first they just lay there, like oil on water. Slowly, the dust consumed the liquid life, mud formed and the earth became soft and squishy. Children came running out to play, their arms wide-open to feel the moisture on their skins. The little ones ran naked and stood under the gutter-falls, allowing the little stream to splash against their dusty bodies. The older boys kicked a ball for joy, and the little girls danced. This was celebration, the long-awaited life-giver had come.
The women sang as they walked out to their fields the next day, hoes at their sides, preparing the ground for planting. The long dry spell was broken, and there was hope for a future harvest.
One other experience stands out from that first visit to Mozambique. I saw for the first time the effects of burnout. Someone who was a gentle, self-controlled person began to do things way out of character. The stresses of the situation had become too much, and it was a sobering shock to see the effects. Through this, I sensed the Lord warning me to watch myself – to be attentive to signs which indicate that I am not coping, and to find ways of relieving such stress. This would be important in the future. There would be times when I would be unreasonably irritable, and that would prompt me to go to the beach for a long snorkel. Or it would alert me to look for a bigger solution – a time away, or a break from the routine. So that early experience, of seeing someone pushed too far by stress, served as a timely warning.
A short time after this visit to Beira, I was invited to join the SIL Mozambique team for the annual conference. At that stage, I was still not assigned to work with any particular people-group, and this was beginning to weigh on me. I needed to know where I fitted in, and with whom I would be working. Thus I requested at the conference that I be assigned to a particular team, so that I would no longer be “hanging in midair”.
It was decided that my assignment would depend on who was elected to be the next branch-director. There were two possibilities – someone in Beira working with a non-muslim group, and Sebastian in the north working with the muslim Mwani. The feeling was that whoever was elected would have less time for the language work and so I should assist there.
I was not eligible to vote, not being a full member, but I felt pretty sure of what the outcome would be. In line with the picture of the lighthouse and the shipwreck, I was sure the Lord was calling me to work with a muslim people-group. That would require that Sebastian be elected, and this is indeed what happened. I was thus invited to join the Mwani team.
The interesting thing about all this is that a few days later Sebastian withdrew his availability, and someone else became director! But by then I was part of the Mwani team, and had the assurance that I was where I was meant to be.
My next trip to Mozambique was at the start of my “first term” of service. It was decided that I should spend the first three months in Maputo, the capital in the south, and then I could proceed to the north to work with the Mwani. I was not enamoured with the thought of three months in Maputo. It seemed to be a big, dirty city, with countless street-children, hovering and lurking, eyes ever open to opportunity to rob.
Elsbeth, in the Wycliffe office in South Africa, challenged me to think differently. “Each day look for something beautiful, for which you can give thanks.” So as I walked the streets of the city, and saw piles of rubbish on every street corner, my eye was looking for the lovely thing that I could record for that day. One day it was a bouganvillea bush in brilliant hues; another day it was the kindness of a friend. So instead of having my thoughts fixated on the negative, I began to look for the positive, and to find it!
While in Maputo, I gave myself to get to know the missionary community in the city. One way to do this was through the International Church, and from there, I became involved with the Christian Women’s Club. This was a wonderful outreach to ladies in the city; each month we would have a fancy tea at a smart hotel, with a guest speaker giving a talk on a topic of interest. This would be followed by some Christian testimony, and the invitation was always given to then join a ladies’ Bible-study.
Once a week we also had a time of prayer, and on one occasion this had an interesting consequence. A Nigerian lady was horrified by all the piles of litter on the street, and felt that this symbolised the state of people’s hearts. So she called upon us to pray for a cleaning up on the inside. The amazing thing was that the next week I couldn’t find my way to the meeting. I had always turned right at the big pile of garbage, but now it wasn’t there! We had prayed for the Lord to remove the trash, and that’s just what He had done!
During my initial three months in Mozambique, the Lord also began to change my attitudes to muslims. Walking the streets of Maputo, they stood out in their different dress, and one was inclined to see them as “strange” and “different”. Just as I had failed to relate to the Anglican sisters as “people like me”, until the Lord had broken down that wall in my mind, so too I needed to see the Muslims in the same way. Otherwise it was too easy to just walk by them, and ignore their need to know the truth. Little by little, I was learning to see past the outward things that distract – the strange dress or religious symbols – and see the lostness, and the loneliness, and the need. Only in this way would I be able to reach out, and allow the love of God to touch them.
Filed under: pictures to hold
The glade has changed her summer dress,
now burnished bronze for lime and green,
rust, amber, copper, glowing red,
flags flying tinged with tangerine,
sun streaking through the canopy,
a marmalade of majesty.
Then with a toss, she shakes her head,
the golden ringlets blown and creased
waft slowly down, and form a throne,
each leaf a sculpted masterpiece.
Thick piles of colour at her feet,
a paper home for creatures small,
and crunchy crisp for children’s feet,
the wonder of a Wheaton fall!
Filed under: pictures to hold
I never know
quite what they’ll do,
these words that jump alive:
march straight like soldiers,
two by two,
or run away and dive,
or quietly wait for me,
to usher them to their marked seat,
the place where they should be
sometimes they rustle in their skirts,
showing off their finery
they curtsey, and,
with heads demure,
look shyly up at me
and should I give the nod, their eyes
are filled with ecstasy
and toss their heads
and float in harmony
and as I join with them, I find
they’ve led me back to
the One who pulls their strings,
to show me something new
Filed under: reflections
That’s who I am, “righteous in Christ”,
a glory-gripped position,
nothing can change that, for indeed
Jesus fulfilled His mission.
And in His great eternal plan,
He’s put me in this place,
and shaped me too for perfect fit,
to run and win my race.
But most of all, His purpose high:
that, through us, all would see
the wonders of our awesome God,
and so would bend the knee.