Tuesday, April 4, 2017

All in love

A few weeks ago I had a lovely chat with a friend who loves and supports Little Zebra Books and our community reading programs. Hilda even uses Little Zebra Books in a Sunday School program at her church here in Tete.

Our conversation turned, as often happens these days, to our impending exit from Tete. "Are you really going? What will happen to the programs without you? We need you here."

"Yes," I replied, "we are going to leave. It is for the best. It has always been planned this way. Others are already running things. There are a few things I can help with from a distance if needed, but I trust my teams."

"But it isn't the same. You do everything with love!"

I got teary, as often happens this last year in Tete. "Hilda, so do you! You show such love to the kids. So does Veronica! You all do! You can love them even better than me, because you know them better."

There is a reason that I'm not in all those pictures. Mine is not the face of Little Zebra Books to any of the kids or their parents in Tete. The love they see comes from Jesus shining through Hilda. Veronica. Isaura. Cesária, Ilda. Jona. Nico. Matilde. James. The list keeps growing!

"We need you," she said.

I answered with an analogy this time: "For now, they do need me for some things. But remember that when you carry your baby on your back in the capulana, you will not carry her forever. You must put her down and hold her hand. She will start to walk with you. She will fall and you will help her. But if you don't put her down, she will be very big, and she won't learn to walk, and it will be strange! It would not be good for your daughter and not good for you!"

I am so glad to have carried them for a time. I am even more excited to see them walking on their own. My role changes. I can keep the books coming! For now, our groups cannot develop the
materials or afford to publish or ship it on their own. I will do what I can to teach them to be as independent as possible. I will hold their hands on that part. I hope many of you reading this will reach out to help with what you have. We do make a great team stretched around the world like this!

Monday, March 20, 2017

Growing reading groups... a year later

About a year ago I posted Why read to kids on a pile of rocks in the shade of a thorn tree?  We've come a long way since those days! Not only have we graduated to reed mats, we have also expanded. Yes, Veronica recruited six volunteers in 2016, and we have added several more in 2017 so far! 

Each of our newer volunteers is excited to read to kids. They are following the model that Veronica and I worked out as we experimented with our first books. 

  • Talk to adults first. 
  • Gather the kids. 
  • Read stories and talk about what happens. 
  • Meet weekly at a fixed time.
The adults often stay for the stories. Some of them can read. Some of them cannot. One thing they are learning is that their children LIKE to read. Books are now a part of their community life! Books are not a foreign thing brought by strangers. These books are THEIR stories in THEIR language. 

The bigger storybook version of each title is also really popular. Our group leaders know the kids and have taught them to care for the books. Watching as older children read to the little ones is so much fun. They have gained confidence. They are leading and reading! They are free to choose a book and share it. These growing little libraries are a blessing to the children, families, and communities where our leaders live or visit.

In the last few months our groups have started being more intentional about teaching reading skills. This came in response to community needs. Parents are concerned that the kids don't progress well in school without homework help or tutoring. In many families, there is no one who can support this need. Our readers have volunteered to fill the gap for those kids. They are blessing those families in a unique way.

We have been making letter cards out of recycled cardboard boxes. Our group leaders have learned to make neatly measured and cut cards with nicely printed letters! We are trying out several games that help identify progress in the kids' skills. No testing - just playing and learning together.  Who knows the most letter names and sounds in a row?

They also use the cards to spell words. Sometimes they compete to make the longest word. Sometimes they choose Nyungwe words. Sometimes they spell Portuguese words. The children are growing up with both languages all around them. In the reading groups, they are learning that they can read and write in both languages. They can tell stories in both languages. They can understand both. That's a big deal around here.

The groups have also begun to use alphabet banners made from recycled cardboard and string. Teachers passing by think they are great! Some of them even plan to make their own for their classrooms. Teacher trainers have noticed them, too. They hope to include these innovations in training for new teachers. Why learn to recite the alphabet if you NEVER see the letters you are reciting? That is the reality of first grade classrooms here. Small changes can make a big difference. Our volunteers are leading the way!

Somewhere in Tete this afternoon, a volunteer is stringing up a banner of homemade letters between two trees. Twenty-some children spread out mats in the long shadows. There is singing and giggling as someone tries to name all the letters. They take turns pointing to the cards swinging on the string. They choose a book to read together and talk about the meaning of the story. They play some games. They ask and answer and learn to share their ideas and respect each other. They help to put it all away.

Sometimes a few of them stick around for just one more book.

We thank everyone who makes this possible. Little Zebra Books and all the caring people who are willing to give so others can improve the lives of these kids. THANK YOU!!!

Friday, March 3, 2017

He's put up with me for twenty years

Long ago, our mission directors decided that a short American girl should share a desk with a tall Swede in Maputo, Mozambique. They were in the same department and the office was very small. That's the beginning of our story. We've told it often and in many circumstances: when we visited churches everyone wanted the "love story"; when we met people in Mozambique and they wanted to know how we ended up together; when I've given a lift to a lady on the side of the road and she asked how I ended up in Mozambique and questions led to the story. God has used the story to show many how he can lead with a smile, and a whisper of hope. We married at the age of 30. It seemed very old at the time!

February 22, 1997
Mikael and I have made a life together, and we have mostly allowed God to guide us. He's guided us through good and bad decisions and moved us a little closer to His vision of who we are in Him, I hope. We are never quite there... but we are moving there together. Not every step is as exciting as the first! I still tingle at his touch, and he still twinkles when I smile. We are not the same as we were at thirty. We are grown up and we've walked through the stresses of changing countries a dozen times while creating a family of transient troopers. From strollers through the Swedish snow and cloth diapers in the African sunshine to muddy feet and malaria fevers and Christmas in America... our big success may have been in our stubborn optimism (mostly mine) and unswerving focus (mostly his). The real love we share for each other isn't the tingly kind, but the sticky kind. We decide to make it work and never give up and know that it will always get better. If things aren't better today, there is always tomorrow.

Because when "love never fails" I don't think it means that MY love will always be perfect. I think it means that committing to the best for each other comes before personal satisfaction. On the days we get that right, we are both happy and moving ahead. When MY best pushes against our best, we stop. Grace is the secret to all the bumps along the way -- that "unmerited favor" that purposefully decides to recognize there was crap, but to forgive it and get on the way. ONWARD!

So here's to my prince charming... Mikael Bister. He's embraced this loud-mouthed, opinionated and impatient woman and says he's excited to have me by his side. I'm so thankful for his steady side to be beside! He is kind. He is gentle. He is not easily swayed by trends and wishful thinking. He will never give up on a commitment once he's made it. (That includes me, our kids, and a long, drawn-out Bible translation program.) He's pretty much got the final word on the text for 80% of Nyungwe publications ever published. (There haven't been all that many, but since Little Zebra and SIL are responsible for most of them, I think that is a safe assertion.) I couldn't do what I do without him - personally or professionally. He can make me crazy in all the good and bad ways, but I respect him and I trust him, and that's what makes things work.