Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Invented reality is real

Inventam uma realidade daqui e fazem os planos sozinhos. 

"They invent a reality, and then they make the plans alone."

Let that sink in for a while. 

My actual description of a road to a real place we are going to visit in the next few weeks. 

She is right. I am guilty. I am so glad for this blast of wisdom when I least expected it.

So much of what we do on the ground in development or mission work is based on an "invented" reality. How patient are my African colleagues who do not shout at my stupidity! How kind they are to say, "ok," and then kind of ignore my missteps and good intentions.

We are careful to collect all the facts. Data is important. But background is difficult and hidden and messy and we don't even know what to call it or how to calculate for it. So we fill in the blanks with something that makes sense... to US... from where we stand and all that we know. We process it all very neatly into an "invented reality". 

In the past couple of years my real advice to anyone starting work in "Africa" (with a big A) is: Don't even open your mouth to teach anything for the first year. Shut up and learn; watch and listen and wait. You have no idea what is really going on and your advice and teaching may be completely irrelevant. (The Holy Spirit can help with that a lot. But still, you should listen before you teach.)

In most cases, anyone planning something based on invented reality is writing science fiction. And we wonder why so many careful plans fail. I've been struggling with this feeling for awhile now, and my teacher friend nailed it. Thankfully, I was ready to listen this time.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

The Selfish or Selfless missionary... does either really exist?

Dear friends,

FACTS (as I see them from here):

  • Missionaries do jobs in places where the people they actually work for cannot pay them for what they do.
  • Missionaries sometimes have jobs that can earn a "regular" salary.
  • Missionaries often are paid according to what they need to cover expenses in the country where they work.
  • Missionaries are vulnerable to international economic fluctuation.
  • Missionaries can get a "pay raise" if the local economy fails or the home economy surges.
  • Missionaries are viewed as poor and dependent from one side, but ss rich and responsible for everyone around them on the other side.
  • Missionaries have to pay taxes... sometimes, somewhere. Social Security in USA,for example.
  • Missionaries can drive cool cars and live in exotic locations.
  • Missionaries have house-help... maids or gardeners or watchmen; often they contribute jobs to the local economy and avoid looking "stingy".
  • Missionaries often cover all medical expenses and education expenses for their "house-help" and their families... sort of like being an "insurance program" for those close to them.
  • Missionaries don't always love their jobs every day.
  • Missionaries don't always love the culture they are working in though they begin to call it home.
  • Missionaries don't always love going to church... it is hard to fit into a church in the field and it is hard to fit into a church at home. They end up being "special" in church, and that's not really fun.
  • Missionaries referring to "our language" or "our people" are described by some as "paternalistic". 
  • Missionaries referring to "our language" or "our people" are described by others as identifying with local culture and fitting in to a community. 
  • Missionaries are referred to as "our missionaries" by home churches who care deeply for them, provide lots of money, and pray earnestly for the missionaries and the people they are serving. 
  • Missionaries are referred to as "our missionaries" by the people they serve who care deeply for them, give generously of their patience with these strangers, pray earnestly for their well-being.
  • Missionaries use international finance, human resource management, program development, PR and fundraising, and journalistic skills almost as much as the jobs they are actually trained for. 
  • Missionaries try lots of things to reach out and make a difference.
  • Missionaries fail lots of the time because "tried and true" methods don't work in every context. 
  • Missionaries love their home countries and sending churches, but hardly feel at home there ever again. 
These are some of the feelings I have as a missionary. Not all of them are true at the same time. I'm not resentful of how we are viewed. There is some truth in all of this. We chose to "go" and to "teach" and to be a part of a life that isn't "normal" for anyone. We aren't "suffering for the Lord" and we aren't 'living it up at the expense of others". We are depending on "you" to help us to help "them". Thanks for being patient with us as we navigate a tricky balance in changing reality.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017


 First of all, let me say I LOVE the people who work at the Tete Provincial Library. They know me and know how I feel about some of the policies they have to abide by. There are children's books among others. There are shelves of books displayed and organized. There is lovely natural lighting from the big windows, clean bathrooms and even air-conditioning (when the power allows it). The staff are knowledgeable and can be friendly. I don't want to bash the library. There aren't really bookstores around, so a library is a big step towards helping people have access to books!

Provincial Library

I just want to point out a few things about this context here that might help those of you who don't live here in Mozambique understand what "access to literature" might be like. 

Sign at the entrance

Necessary requisites for entering the library: 
  Personal ID:  ID, passport, student card or 
  driver's license

Entrance denied to persons wearing:
  shorts, flip-flops, 
  tops, messy hair

NOTE: All library patrons should be clean. 

Silence - in the reading room
Stack of books, but NOT the reading room.
These are closed behind another set of doors.
You get to look at a list of titles, and staff will get a book for you from this room.

Little Zebra Books and our reading groups don't replace libraries.
We create another place right in communities full of kids who might not be able to get to the library! 

Barefoot or flip-flop-wearing...
Strapless shirts or even shorts...
Messy hair... 
Sandy toes...


ACCESSIBLE literature!

We have also donated some of our books to the library! 
So if some clean, neatly dressed children show up, they can read our books, too!