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Now I am not referring to the shortest book of the Old Testament, and who but biblical scholars even knows where it is? True Obadiah was a prophet and I had to go to the index to find his short little book. (Between Amos and Jonah if you are interested) Old Testament is actually a pretty good read.

But this Obadiah is not the prophet. He is a beggar who came to our house nearly every day. He looks worse this year than last and Sandy doesn’t think he will last much longer.

Remember, we were there in the dry season – they don’t have winter, spring, summer and fall. They have the rainy season and the dry season. In the dry season it is quite cool in the mornings and evenings and warm, even hot during midday.

Obadiah comes in the afternoon and I’ve never seen him in anything but a ragged wool overcoat, torn trousers, barefooted and with a stick and a filthy old bag. We gave what we had – a chunk of bread, a baggie of cooked rice, an egg, tomato and once I gave him some Knorr’s dry soup that had been left in our cupboard and of course he hadn’t a clue what to do with it. We tried to make him understand to mix it with water but I’m not sure he ever “got it.” Somehow, he knew my name for he would say “Tally” but Jessie and I both went to the door and both found scraps for him. Maybe he just couldn’t say Jessie. In all truth I confess that some days when we were busy at the computers or trying to take a little rest we would say to each other: “Oh, no it’s Shamba (his other name which I don’t get because Shamba means farm). There were times when we just wanted him to go away. It’s not easy to look at beggars. We are not saints, at least I am not, maybe Jessie is. But he would sit patiently on our porch muttering in Kiswahili, waiting us out and we would finally give up and look for something to share.

Obadiah/Shamba is also an alcoholic and it could well be that he sold whatever we gave him. Several times he would offer us a dirty, broken-down sandal (he only had one) and I couldn’t bring myself to even touch it.

Something happend on our last day though that humbled me and pierced my soul. I saw the image of a Christ-like figure and I hope this doesn’t embarrass Jessie. We had laid aside the clothes and towels that we were leaving behind including our athletic shoes. With the heart of Jesus, Jessie suddenly asked me: “Do you think Shamba could wear my shoes?” And with that she went back into the house and came out with her dirty running shoes. Now Shamba has a deformed hand but he sat down in the dust grinning his toothless grin to try to get them on. With that withered hand there was no way he could wrestle his feet into them, and then I watched my beautiful sister/friend bend down and force his filthy feet into her shoes. She did exactly what Jesus would have done ~ she touched a “leper.” Although I filmed it, it is a scene that is engraved on my brain and in my heart. I’ll NEVER forget it. I learned a lesson from Jessie at that moment. Those beautiful artistic hands that become poetic when she paints became the hands of Jesus forcing Obadiah’s feet into her shoes – feet that haven’t seen soap and water in heaven knows how long, if ever.

Maybe Obadiah/Shamba was a prophet after all for me. Everyone is sacred and should be looked upon with wonder and awe ~ everyone needs a “leg-up” or shoes put upon their tired feet even a filthy beggar. Maybe now, “all God’s children got shoes,” and Shamba didn’t have to wait to get to heaven to get his. Thank you Jessie, for opening my eyes.

You may have to wait for Anna Franklin Smith to post the pictures of this scene. Jessie may be a saint but sometimes even saints are stymied by technology.

Jessie is the sister of my choice ~ sisters examine each other so they can have a map for how they should behave.

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This is our last full day at Msalato Theological College and the Bp. Stanway Primary School where Jessie has left part of her tender heart. We aren’t quite finished there as we are going at 8 a.m. to have breakfast with some of the teachers. The students will not be there tomorrow. They have just finished exams and the teachers will be grading them. Also, between you and me, I think they can’t let Jessie go without one more look at her. You might say they love her, although Kilian’s baby (he’s the academic master) wailed every time she looked at Jessie and me -two white haired muzungus. Win some, lose some.

It was also our last day in chapel with the college students and the teaching staff. Like last year we were asked to say a few words which we could barely do because of the lumps in our throats. It is much harder to say “goodbye” than “hello.” We were thanked over and over more generously than we deserved. Sandy has said that we are incarnational – that we cared enough to come back. There were many hugs at the door after chapel and equally as many tears. We have felt so insecure teaching English and yet, at the end our last class the young women responded by giving little speeches in English – they who barely said two words in class. In particular, one young girl, a Muslim looked grim and glum in every class. She is quite bright and I figured that she was bored to death with our feeble attempt at teaching English grammar. Lo and behold, Lilian stood up and said it pained her that we were leaving. Of course, we choked up. It’s that kind of experience. We are not tired physically, but emotionally and mentally we or at least I am “whupped.”

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As Jessie said in her last entry we both have a lot of processing to do about our 14 hour journey to Manyoni, Itigi,and the Rift Valley -the welcome, the food, the singing and dancing, and the gifts that were given to us, just two ordinary, aging women. Just wait until you see the pictures. It was such a long day and night that we did not go to 7 a.m church the next day but slept in and read, talked some about the experience and mostly, I cried. Jessie kept pushing me: “What are you feeling.” I sat for long periods of time by myself unable to answer her questions. Finally I said something about feeling so connected to the people and we both agreed it had been a holy day. God, who often eludes me seemed so near. I kid you not, I feel closer to God here than anywhere I have ever been and yet it seems like a God-forsaken place.

We hear “Hodie” and “Karibu” many times a day. Hodie: “knock-knock, may I come in?” Karibu: ‘Welcome.”

The dusty footpaths that we have walked daily will recede from our memory, or will they? Certainly, we bring home many stories; so much fills our hearts.

Be patient with us when we get home. Tectonic events take some time, maybe a lifetime.

We will be home late Friday night. Love to all who have followed our journey and who have prayed for us.

I doubt that one can be half-mad, half-crazy or even half schizophrenic. I guess your are or you aren’t, but yesterday I felt that half-madness had overtaken me. I’ll try to explain.

Night before last Jessie and I had a dinner guest, a woman from England who suffers from MS but who is a volunteer English teacher, something we hope never to have to teach again -(gerunds, dangling participles, simple-past negatives – oh horrors)! It was a warm night so we opened the back door in order to have some cross-ventilation. We had not opened the back door before because we are gone most of the day, and the nights are delightfully cool. Looking out the back door and seeing that our kitchen drain had emptied a lot of garbage out there and making it look like the world’s cess pool, and being that it was late and I still had the kitchen to clean up, I said to Jessie: “I think I hate Africa. I’m tired of the daily dirty beggars, tired of cleaning my shoes every day, tired of not knowing if we would have water or the internet, tired of dim lighting that has probably permanently ruined my eyes, tired of dirt and dust, tired of my skin and head itching from the dryness, tired of the suffering, tired of the starvation poverty – tired-tired-tired.”  Africa seemed hopeless to me that night and I guess I had a real case of “poor me.” Perhaps I am not mad but human and feeling helpless in the face of so much suffering.

Now here is where the real “go figure” comes in.

The very next day I had an English conversation class. Usually Jessie and I do this class together but she had another class at Bishop  Stanway so I went alone never expecting the fall-out that was about to happen. The conversation lesson for the day was to identify items one would find in various rooms in a house or home. They had been prepped for this with small pictures of the average western home and they named all the items – sofas, chairs, lamps, desks, computers, showers, toilets, cookers (stoves), cabinets, towels, sheets, pots, pans, microwaves and on and on. I knew that they not only didn’t have those things, often they didn’t even know what they were (Stupid lesson).  When we got to a garage and what one might find in an average American garage I suddenly teared-up. They said a water hose to water grass and flowers. When I asked how they bathed or washed they said: “with a bucket.” I felt so horrible for having such an “attitude” the day before. They are such dear people and I couldn’t bear that I use water indiscrimately – turn on the faucet and voila, I have water. Fill up a tub of hot water just for a soak, push a button or turn a knob and the outdoor watering system comes on. Here they thank God for a glass of water. Where am I going with this; I honestly don’t know. I only know that I told them it was our last class and I walked around the room and shook all of their beautiful black hands and wished them God’s blessings and then I left crying.

I stopped at Sandy’s on my way home and said: “last night I hated Africa and today I am crying over leaving and I love Africa”. She said: “welcome to Africa – now you are becoming a missionary. I’m not sure I even know what that means. Maybe I have a love/hate relationship with Africa. I do know that something is not right with this picture but I sure as heck don’t know what to do about it. Keep on keeping on, perhaps, and try to remember Mother Teresa’s wisdom – we can only do small things with great love or “better to light one candle than curse the darkness.”

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We arrived in Tanzania as the moon was rising full and beautiful. We’ve watched it wane and now it is nearly full again. It is time to come home. As we prepare for our last seven days on this continent we are filled with awe, sadness, hope, sometimes despair but always love and gratitude for what we have experienced and what we have learned. Some of you will agree with me that it is easier to say “hello” than “goodbye,” but I remind myself that goodbye is derived from “God be with you” and we leave our friends here with that prayer.

With the few remaining days we want to fill them to the brim. As I may have mentioned, we had dinner with Bishop Mdimi Mhogolo and his lovely wife Irene on Saturday night. He gave us a personal tour of his grounds where he himself is growing casava, mangoes and grapes. Tanzanian wine is not the greatest, so here’s hoping the bishop can grow a grape that will harvest a good crop for communion wine.

We ate in their dining room with a Lazy Susan. At one point I asked if it was permissible to take seconds and Irene said it would be impermissible not to have seconds and imagine this: the bishop began to clear the table. I thought that was the deacon’s job or privilege. Later we retired to his living room where the bishop gave us his undivided attention about some of the schools and projects that we are interested in. On Sunday we were again with him as he ordained over 30 men and women to the diaconate and the priesthood. He graciously invited me to vest and participate but I had not brought robes and I was quite happy to sit with Jessie and other friends. Our friend, Joseph Kyense who was in one of my classes last year moved to sit close to us so he could translate for us. The service was in Kiswahili. There is a genuine kindness in the bishop’s face and demeanor. It was a glorious day as are all ordinations. We are all on the mountain top that day and the next day we are in the valley where most of life’s growth occurs.

We have a full week with a visit to another diocesan school nearby and we have volunteered to have an orientation for 4 students who are coming to the states in January to do four weeks of urban ministry at Virginia Theological Seminary. None of them have ever been on an airplane and some are nervous wrecks. Jessie and I hope to alleviate some of their fears or concerns.

This coming Saturday two of my former students and one whom Jessie gave art supplies to are taking us to Manyoni and Itigi to a different diocese. We will visit with church leaders and their bishop and then we are promised a magnificent view of the Rift Valley in Kenya. I asked Sandy why they were going to so much trouble for us and she said it is all they have to give us.

One last note for this entry. Today at 4:00 a lovely man, Daniel Fweda came for tea with his wife, Karen. As Jessie and I picked up our cups they stopped us and said: “we must give thanks for the tea.” Embarrassed, we said that we say grace at mealtimes but not at tea. When Daniel said they give thanks for a glass of water I nearly dissolved in tears.

Jessie will follow this up with news of a project that really lights my fire. We are investigating all the hopes and possibilities.

Blessings

At least a hundred years ago I directed a production of Hansel und Gretel at an elementary school in Virginia. One little child had a one-liner: “The wind, the wind, the heavenly wind,” and he could never get it quite right – sort of like the little boy playing the inn keeper during the Christmas pageant. When Mary and Joseph came up the church aisle he got so excited that rather than saying his one-line: “There is no room at the inn,” he blurted out: “Wecome, welcome, come on in, we have plenty of room.” It sort of blew the gospel account of Mary giving birth in a stable or a cave but it still excites the mind that the birth of any baby, and especially the Christ Child can engage and capture our hearts.

Wind is much on my mind these days because it comes up in the early hours of the morning – I mean like just before the rooster whom we have named Pavarotti, welcomes the new day, and it blows and blows and sometimes makes me think of storms at sea.

Shortly before I left for South Africa in 2007 the late Dr. Don Schulte, respected and loved by many of us, called me at home and said among several things that I had endured a seismic event in my life with the sudden death of Hank Franklin, the priest at Emmanuel whom I had worked with so faithfully and lovingly for many years. Further, Don said that I was entering a period of enormous transition and he urged me to go off to South Africa with an open heart and an open spirit. More than anything he told me to be attentive to the new sights, sounds, smells and tastes of this very different world from what I had known.

I think this year, two years later, I am more in-tune with the sounds and smells and sights. Landsamercy, last year I was too shocked to take in much of anything other than the poverty. I’m more relaxed this time – not as stunned, in fact mesmerized by the sights and events that we have been privileged to experience this year. Earlier we said we would probably not come back next year because of the global economy but already we are saying we want to come back next year.

Wood and charcoal fires, the African’s way of cooking is a natural aroma now. Mostly though I notice the quiet at night – Jessie doesn’t always agree because we hear drumming and singing long into the night from the girls’s secondary school nearby, but once they have called it a day, it becomes unearthly quiet – no traffic, no planes or trains, no sounds from things like refrigerators or televisions or even air-conditioners. Those sounds do not exist here. Occasionally we will here far in the distance the whine of a dog which rips at our souls. Mostly, it is grave-like quiet and it feels holy to me.

This should be two entries because there is another whole story to tell you about our dinner with the bishop last night and an ordination of 30 some men and women in a far off village. We left home at 7:30 and got back around 5:00. Don’t ever complain about services lasting more than an hour!

For now I will leave you with these words about wind.
“I am the wind; yes, the wind beneath my feet. I’ll keep rising up. From the way I stride to the whisper in my voice; it’s the wind carrying me and directing my flutter; directing every twist and turn. Yes, it’s the wind inside that uplifts my spirit daily. See the true freedom in my eyes, it’s my soul in the wind.”

communionOur day began at 6:30 when we awoke to prepare for our journey to the village of Handali about an hour and a half away on a rutted dirt road but with lovely mountains in the background captured by Jessie and her camera. Along with Sandy McCann who was to preach and celebrate the Holy Supper, we picked up Venuce Mazengo, one of my students from last year to translate the sermon into Wogogo and Kiswahili, and Magi Griffin (one neat woman) who is from Georgia and who works for the Diocese of Central Tanganyika.  Sandy’s gallant husband, Dr. Martin McCann did all of the driving and please notice in the photos, especially you altar guild experts, Martin decanting the communion wine during the service.

We were welcomed first into the home of the priest-to-be ordained next weekend, Ayubu, I think. My hearing deficit is a real problem here but I manage. Sandy had a wonderful sermon and as I listened to her preach on the gospel from Mark (not the same lectionary that we use) I wished that Jesus could put his fingers into my ears and help me to hear but I reminded myself that I am old and have heard the birds, babbling brooks, rushing wind and Mozart for many years and it’s enough to be thankful for.  Jessie and I are phenoms over here – old old Muzungus (white-skinned people) and honored and respected far more than we deserve.

The service was so much more than we are accustomed to – lots of music, singing and dancing – several collections (and we think we ask for a lot of donations!). The collections were for the 10 that were “made Christ’s own forever” in Holy Baptism. One collection was to defray the cost of the newly aquired electric keyboard, and then there was the regular alms given to God.

Baptism2Deacons have privileges here that we are not always granted in different parishes. Sandy was insistant that I baptize half of the children. I didn’t know the Kiswahili words but she told me to do it in English because it meant so much to the people. I looked into their dark faces gleaming with hope and trust in their Saviour and couldn’t help but wonder about their futures and in some mystical way I trusted God to “do his thing,” whatever that may be. I was allowed to be God’s helper and the rest is up to God.

BaptismJust like at home, many pictures were taken of the clergy with the newly baptized and then Jessie and I were gifted with two pottery vessels – enormous pots that we might not be able to bring home because of the sheer weight of the two pieces. They look Etruscan to me but were given with such love that it will be nearly impossible to leave them behind. When the service ended hours later we had yet another meal in the priest’s home. We got home at nearly 5:00 which was was about the time you were beginning the 10 o’clock service. God’s word is being preached all over the world at different times but he/she is a timeless God.

We are energized, exhausted, thankful and are going to hit the hay feeling it was a glorious day and one that we will not forget. How do we come home in heart and spirit after all of this?

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