We desire to bring sunshine to Africa....opportunities to allow people to realize their destinies and be released from oppression. We are starting in Mozambique with The Sunshine Nut Company. The majority of proceeds from this company will go to the poorest of farming communities and the neediest of children. Mozambique is ranked among the poorest in economic status but we believe they are among the richest in spirit. Join us in our adventure....

Monday, January 21, 2013

A Mozambican Funeral - Laying a good friend to rest.

Precious in the sight of the LORD
Is the death of His saints.

Psalm 116:15

We arrived at the cemetery in Machava shortly before the 10 o’clock service for Pastor Berto was to begin. The parking lot was crowded with cars, buses, vans, and people. There were processions of people going in and out of the walled cemetery. There were many people waiting around outside with us. People who would attend Pastor Berto’s funeral and others as well, quietly talking. It was sad to see how many people were there. More vehicles came carrying even more people as we waited. A truck came in with its bed full of passengers who were softly singing. The sky was filled with dark, gray clouds. It sprinkled several times as we waited, but the downpour that they threatened never did come.

We had to wait quite some time for the service to begin. The vehicle that was bringing Pastor Berto’s family had driven through some deep waters and broke down. We have had rain the last several days, and with no drainage system, the roads get very difficult to traverse. A van was sent to pick them up. This van also broke down. Yet they soon arrived. There was also a bus load of people from Iris Zimpeto, Pastor Berto’s father, Jose, is a pastor there. The last to arrive was a van and truck loaded with people from the Iris Matola-Rio center and from the church Pastor Berto shepherded. I greeted these people who I have come to know and love. It broke my heart to see Mama Helena. This always joyful, smiling, loving woman was simply blank. Her pain and hurt was so visible on her face. She was emotionless. Everyone began to file through the gate of the cemetery. Before they entered, they stopped to buy fresh flowers from venders located outside. We were one of the last to enter.

Before me I saw graves in every direction. The grave sites here are different than in the northeastern US. While the bodies are laid in the ground, they are not placed very deeply. Each grave is filled and a mound of dirt about 2 feet high that covers the grave site it left. Later, for those who can afford it, these dirt mounds are boxed off and tiled or cemented. It is similar to what I have seen in the south or in the Carribean. There was a cement building for registering for a burial site. On the side wall was hand painted the pricing for burying a person- one amount for an adult, another amount for a child. But what drew my attention was the sight of our gathering of mourners. The coffin had been placed under a large tree and everyone was gathered around this tree. I wish it had been appropriate to take a picture of this to show you. It is a sight I will always remember. The coffin under the tree, at least a hundred people encircling the tree singing, and the graves that surrounded them as far as the eye could see. The songs they sang were deep and soulful. Each was led by a woman with a strong voice and the people echoed and joined in. A few people quietly cried. Others were so distraught that they were taken off to the side to be consoled. It seemed that this was the proper etiquette. Mama Helena was the first to be taken to the side. She was so upset that she could barely walk. Young Albertina soon was taken to the side as well.  I, too, wanted to cry, but I couldn’t. I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that Pastor Berto is in heaven rejoicing with all the saints before the throne of God. He loved His Savior deeply. He is home. He does not need our tears. To cry for him just seemed wrong to me. Yet I did want to cry for the people here. Pastor Berto’s gain is our loss. He was loved, valued, respected, and is needed here. Yet I have faith that God will use this for good. He will not let Pastor Berto’s flock go unattended. He will send us another shepherd. My prayer is for this man to come soon!
Pastor Alberto on the left.....with Alberto on the right.

“Where, O death, is your victory?

Where, O death is your sting?

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. BUT THANKS BE TO GOD! HE GIVES US THE VICTORY THROUGH OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST.” I Corinthians 15:55

Songs were sung and interspersed with pastors and others sharing encouragement and words from Scripture. Pastor Paulo shared with the assembled group the hope that we have in Jesus Christ. Without Jesus Christ in our hearts and lives, we cannot be saved. We are by nature sinful.  Romans 3:23 “…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Because of our sin, we are separated from God and will spend an eternity separated from Him. Romans 6:23 “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  But, we have hope. Our Father God loved us so much that He sent His only Son as a once and done sacrifice for our sins.  Romans 5:8 “But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. “  Romans 10:9 And so, “If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” Romans 8:1  “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set ‘us’ free from the law of sin and death.”  Jesus has set us free from the bondage of sin and death. He waits for each of us to accept Him as our Lord and Savior. He knows how long eternity is. He faced death because He could not spend an eternity without us! I once read a quote that said as Jesus hung on the cross, He had my name (and yours) on His lips. This is how much He loves us! If you do not know Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior, I encourage you today to seek Him. Read the Gospel of John. Find someone who does know and love Him that you can talk with and ask questions. Go ahead and ask the hard questions. Be honest and share your doubts. God is big enough to handle them! Pray and ask God to reveal His love for you. If you seek Him, you will find Him. This is the message Pastor Paulo shared with us yesterday. This is the message that I want to pass on to you.

Pastor Jose, Berto’s father, spied us in the back. He immediately sent someone to translate for us. How kind of him to think of us at his son’s funeral. Pastor Berto’s brother was in the center circle of people as well. His face was full of disbelief and he held his hand to his mouth. He bears a striking resemblance to his brother. Towards the end of the service, the casket was opened and people were invited to come by and see Pastor Berto one last time. As people passed by they anointed his head with powders and perfumes. I chose to remain in the back. I wanted to remember the vibrant joyful pastor who just one week ago led the service at his church in Chinonquilla.  This part of the service caused much pent up emotion to flow from his friends and family. People were overcome with emotion and began wailing and crying. This changed the whole tone of the service and it became very difficult. Mama Helena was again taken to the side where she fell face first, prostrate on the dirt path, her body wracked with sobs. Albertina again was overcome with emotion. Several of the younger girls from the Iris Matola-Rio center came to Emily and me for comfort after seeing his body. Beatriz was the most affected, crying uncontrollably, so I took her to the side to comfort her. Even Pastor Berto’s brother, Silas, needed to leave the congregation for a while. It was a blessing to see that each person was immediately surrounded by others who tenderly held and soothed them for as long as they needed it.

It was at this time that the most difficult time came for me, which almost sent me to the side to be consoled.  A new procession of people entered into the cemetery, quietly singing. It was led by a man carrying a very small, white coffin followed by a young grieving mother. Tears fill my eyes even now. My  heart hurts for this mother that I do not even know. I tried to look away, but then all I could turn my eyes to was the row upon row of graves that surrounded me. I wondered how many of these graves were filled with children taken by the enemy well before their time as well. I was overwhelmed by a feeling of despair for how difficult life is here. I cried for these people.  My Brent was at my side and held my hand, giving me strength and peace.

The coffin was sealed shut and the service under the tree came to an end. Pallbearers carried the coffin to its resting place, followed by the crowd of people. Final prayers were said and it was lowered into the ground.  As the dirt was shoveled in, people went forward to throw in a handful of dirt. A mound of dirt was piled on top of the site where the casket had been buried. People began going up and forming small holes in this mound and planting the flowers they had purchased in these holes. Don went up with me and helped me place our flowers. It was a beautiful sight to see the flowers covering his grave. Then a large container of water was brought forward. People began washing the dirt off that was on their hands from planting, letting the water flow over the flowers. More water was added to the flowers. Then water was poured over the sides of the dirt mound, smoothing out the sides as well as people forming and smoothing the sides of the mound with their hands. Each grave also had an arrangement of hand-made paper flowers on it. These were made from scrap paper and assembled on a circular piece of cardboard. They were beautiful. All around us were fresh graves covered by the same bed of flowers and paper flower arrangements. You knew they were recently buried because the flowers were still fresh and the paper flowers had not been ruined by last night’s rains.  There were too many of these around us. A closing prayer was said by Pastor Paulo. As he did so, the clouds began to release a gentle rain over us all.

Pastor Alberto's service with the J-Term team on Sunday - a few days before his passing.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Day 8 for the J-Term Team here in Mozambique

The team was blessed to have a rain free last day here in Mozambique. They spent the entire day at the center. It was evident that every person just wanted to soak in as much time as they could before having to leave. Scott and Ron got busy working around the center while they waited for Pastor Berto and our Mozambican work crew to arrive. The team members got busy with a Bible lesson and craft with the children. We had our rice and beans a la Berta half way through the day. We were all then gathered around the veranda at the center, just talking and holding the children. We were entertained by the amazing skill and precision of the Mozambican workers at they slung cement on the walls of the addition that was put on.  Even Scott and Ron stood still in silent awe watching like two little school boys. Later that afternoon we enjoyed a time of dancing and singing in the church which was a lot of fun! Ron Hoch led everyone in a congo line. This was the highlight of the afternoon. It finally came time to say our farewells and head back to the guesthouse to clean up for our last dinner together. Everyone was in firm agreement that they wanted to go to Tubiakanga for chicken, fried potatoes, and tomato salad one more time. Everyone laughed, talked, and ate their fill. Back at the guesthouse everyone got busy packing up their belongings for their 5 am departure the next morning. My family left with a load of donations of clothing, shoes, and left over craft materials that will really bless the center.

Our caretaker, Alberto, and the pastor of the church the team built last year, Pastor Berto, stayed on to spend some more time with the team. They both have the same name, except for their middle names- Alberto Juliao Novela and Alberto Jose Novela. Both men had worked alongside the team while they were here and the team was very fond of them. They left later that night after joining the team for devotions and a time of the team  praying for them. Sadly, we received a phone call at 4 am the next morning from Alberto’s sister saying that he was in a motorcycle accident on their way home. A car hit him as they pulled out of a gas station. Don and I shared this with Scott when we went at 5 am to see the team off. He said he would tell the team once they got on the road and they would pray. All we knew at the time was the Alberto was unconscious and we were hoping that he had already taken Pastor Berto home and that he was not involved. We called Pastor Berto’s number hoping that he would pick up, but we got no answer. Don and I arrived at Central Hospital in Maputo at 8am- the time when you are allowed to come. We were met by Alberto’s family. They shared with us that Alberto had regained consciousness but was hurt. My Portuguese is developing slowly, but I immediately recognized the word “morreu” when I heard it. We were shocked to hear them say that Pastor Berto had died. We were devastated. He was such a godly, good man. A true role model for other Mozambican men. He was only 32 years old. We were asked to go with a police officer to give her as much information as we could and we also set about getting in touch with his family. His funeral is this Saturday . I cried in as controlled of a manner as I could for being in such a public setting, surrounded by Mozambicans wondering why a white woman was at this place. I began to remember how he led the church service on Sunday. I sat right up front and remembered smiling as I watched his sheer joy and love for the Lord as he sang, danced, prayed, and taught his congregation from God’s Word. I was overwhelmed with peace as I realized that he has been welcomed home by the God he loves so very much and that he is now living with Him for eternity!

 Don was able to go see Alberto in the emergency room that morning, but I had to wait until visiting hours at 4pm. We went with our whole family, including Emily and our newest guest, Matheus (who is working with Don at the factory). Alberto is family to us, and we all had to see him and spend time with him. We were able to go in two by two to talk with him. He was so happy to see us, and we were just as happy to see him. I shared with him that it was Brent’s birthday and that he was Brent’s present. When Brent came in, he sang “Happy Birthday” to Brent.  All we know for now is that his left leg is broken. He has lacerations on his face, arms, hands, and body. The back of his head and the right side of his head are terribly swollen. But he is with us, and we praise God for that. We paid for him to be moved to a more private room and to receive better care, but they want to wait until all the test results are in before they move him out of the large ward he was in. As of tonight, they still have not treated his broken leg.  Please join us in prayer that he will receive excellent medical care, that no infection will set in, and that he will make a full recovery. He also has not yet been told about Pastor Berto. This will be very difficult for him to receive this news. We will be sure to keep you updated.

So our team went on their way for a safari in Kruger Park in South Africa. They spent the night in the park in tent accommodations. As I write this blog, they are on their plane and most likely about to take off for their long flight home. They will be very missed here in Mozambique by many people. They touched many lives- the children at the center, the people that attend the church we built, the people who live in the Bocaria, the Mozambican workers, and me and my family as well. They came here to make a difference, and they did. I pray that they leave feeling as blessed as we all feel!

Thursday, January 17, 2013

J-Term Team - Days 6 and 7

Day 6 - Monday

The past two days have been quite rainy, but the team did not let that deter them from their work here. Yesterday we set up stations in the church building (a large open cement building). The kids came in one by one. First they had their feet washed and lathered up with lotion. It was comical to see our son, Brent, and team member, PJ, rubbing the feet of these little ones. They then went and continued their manicures and pedicures with Kendall and Grace painting their fingernails and toenails. Next it was on to the hair station where Michaela and Haley dressed up their hair with beautiful flowered headbands and barretts that were donated. Finally they came up front to be outfitted with a pair of shoes. Many people sent these shoes overseas for us. But special thanks goes out to my good friend, Elizabeth Berry. She visited here in September 2011. She knew the needs of the children here. When she read a recent blog of mine about the needs of the people here, she was unable to just read it and move on with life; she wanted to make a difference. So she immediately posted a request on Facebook for donations. And in they came! So we were able to outfit each of the children with new shoes. They were so proud as they walked around. Little Armandinho, for example, got a lovely little pair of blue plaid shoes. He couldn’t take his eyes off of his feet and he had a perma-grin pasted on his face. Too cute! We also were able to outfit many of the kids with a new pair of school pants to begin their new academic year the next day.  While this was a joyful time of gift giving and serving the children, by the end of the morning, we all needed a break. So the team headed back to the guesthouse for a swim and lunch. The woman who works in our home prepared the traditional Mozambican rice and beans for their lunch.  They were a bit apprehensive at first and took small helpings. Soon all were back for seconds and even thirds! We returned that afternoon to the center to share a Bible story and craft with the kids.

While the team did this afternoon activity with the kids, there were children who needed to go to a health clinic. We had already visited a clinic on Sunday with Beatriz to get her tested for malaria- which she did have. With high temperatures and lots of rain right now, this is prime time for malaria. So on this day, we needed to take Zefanias for a test. We also took Augusto who has an infection in his knee that has caused it to swell up to at least four times its normal size. We arrived at the clinic to find dozens of people waiting in the hot sun for treatment. Augusto was taken first. Tracy went with the male educator, Makunana, who accompanied us. She came out a bit stunned because of the poor conditions of the clinic. Yet she was happy that she was able to learn how the injection of medication was to be given to him. Then she could do the injections herself for him. Emily, a previous team member of J-term 2012 who is helping out this year, waited with Zefanias until he received his malaria test and thankfully it came up negative. So he will just need some fever reducers to get his fever down. We took both children back to the center to join the others.

All during the day, Scott and Ron worked with a team of Mozambicans on the room that is being added to her house. At the end of the day, I needed to take them along with Pastor Berto (our master builder) to get 2 windows, a door frame, and a door for the room. A task like this in the US is a simple one. You just go down to your local Home Depot, pick them out from the dozens of different kinds available and haul them home. Here in Mozambique, it is nothing less than a  full out test of patience. We went to location after location after location in search of these items. But thankfully we finally found them all and took them back to the center. They were then ready for the next day’s work.

Day 7 - Tuesday

Today began with the threat of rain. While we hoped it would pass, it turned into a thunderstorm with downpours and steady showers all day and into the night now. The team began their work at the center by raking and cleaning up the outside yard hoping to get as much done as they could before the rain started. They then went inside the dorms of the children to pray in each room and over each bed. When they were ready to begin their Bible activity for the day, it was unfortunately time for the children to head off to school. Not all go at the same time. Some grades go from 7 am-12 noon, and others then go from 12 noon to 5 pm. Because it was the smaller children that were now heading off, they decided to wait until later to do these activities. So instead they got out coloring books. When I arrived at the center, I saw children ages 2 to 16 quietly coloring away in the many books that the team brought. They rarely get the chance to do this kind of thing, so it is enjoyed by all ages and genders of the children there. The team then went back for lunch and a nap. They then went back to the center in the late afternoon to spend time singing and playing with the kids. 

It is so nice for the kids to have the team here on rainy days. They are the highlight of their days right now!
A note about the afternoon nap the kids are taking. Yes… they are tired. Maybe it is some jetlag. Maybe it is the long days. And yes…it absolutely is the fact that they are staying up too late each night. BUT it is for a good reason. They have developed a routine of gathering together each night for a biblical discussion of a variety of topics led by our DC bible teacher, Ron Hoch. One day Tracy said it was so intense that smoke was coming out of her ears. Even though our adults Scott, Tracy, and Tracy are exhausted and just want to go to bed, they find they cannot do that because they don’t want to miss out on any of the questions and follow up discussions. So know that your children will come home with lots of ideas and things to share.
Meanwhile, Scott and Ron did their best with our Mozambican building crew to get work done despite the rains. They were planning on putting the roof on the room today but had to change their plans. They put in the windows and knocked out the area of the wall where the door will go. They put in a long good day, and a productive one.

And meanwhile, guess where Tracy, Emily and I went? The medical clinic! Today it was 11 year old Herminia, and she did test positive for malaria. So we got her the medication she needed at the pharmacy before taking her back to the center again. She also got to enjoy a stop at Mama Terri’s house where Emily indulged her with a popsicle and lollipop.

Right now we would like to ask for prayers for 12 year old Vasco. He has had pain in his left leg since the middle of December. Strangely though, he has also been losing drastic amounts of weight, and therefore has little energy and strength. His current weight is 23 kilograms (about 50 pounds). He did have Kaposi sarcoma cancer and was treated 2 years ago. Our concern is that it may be reoccurring. We are praying over him and Tracy bought him fortified soy milk to drink and she is making up a chart so we can keep track of his weight and how much he eats each day. He really needs our prayers right now!

Monday, January 14, 2013

J-Term Team - Days 4 and 5

Saturday was a fun day for all of us despite the rain that fell. We went downtown to the craft market where the local artisans display and sell their work. The team had a good time shopping and bartering with the salesmen. Scott kept his buying under control this year. J It was fun to see the purchases everyone was making. Most were buying gifts for family and friends back home. We then went out to lunch downtown at a restaurant on the beach by the Indian Ocean. At the end of the meal, a few of the kids went out to walk to the beach on a walkway out into the ocean. It was a great time for photo ops!

We returned to Iris Matola-Rio to spend the afternoon with the kids.  The team began with singing songs and teaching the kids some fun accompanying motions. Kendal then shared a story about baby Moses with the children. They then went and did a related craft which they all enjoyed.  Michaela displayed her servant’s heart by making sure that everyone had a picture to color and crayons to color with. Haley, PJ and Grace were busy helping children trace and cut their hands out. It was clear that these children have had very limited experience in using scissors. 

Each child was so proud of the picture they made. The students had a good time helping them color, cut and paste. Tracy Clark was again busy taking photos, Tracy Castelli was busy feeling foreheads and bandaging boo boos, while Scott and Ron were just busy getting the kids all wound up and having fun.

We left the center to head to the Larson’s favorite Mozambican restaurant, Tubiakanga, which specializes in chicken, fried potatoes, and tomato salad. This is an outdoor restaurant close to the guesthouse. We were all happy that the rain had stopped enough to allow us to indulge in this dinner. Again it was a fun time of fellowship. This team is very talkative and is having a great time laughing and experiencing everything together. After dinner, we returned them to the guesthouse to sleep.

When I showed up at the guesthouse on Sunday morning, it was clear that most of the team was feeling quite tired. It seemed that the full days and jet lag were catching up a bit. Yet they were all in good spirits as we loaded into the van to head out to church. We went out to the church that last year’s team built in Chinonquilla. Pastor Berto met us at the church where we joined hands in a large circle and prayed before entering. Worshipping alongside Mozambicans is a privilege. They are not afraid to sing out and dance as they praise God. It is a very joyful time, and it always makes me clap and smile until my hands and cheeks hurt. The first song ended with everyone going around and shaking hands and greeting each other in the name of Jesus. The worship, singing and dancing lasted for more than an hour. We were joined by Augusto Makanana, an educator at the children’s center. He played the drum and boldly led the congregation in many songs. The language spoken and sung was Shongana- the local indigenous dialect.

After worship, Ron Hoch shared a message from Matthew chapter 8 in which Jesus heals a man with leprosy. He reached out and touched this unclean man. Yet instead of becoming unclean Himself, the man was healed. His message was that Jesus cleanses us from all sin. Then it was time for testimonies. Mozambicans love giving speeches and hearing speeches. Several people got up to share, including the local chief. They greeted our team in the name of Jesus and thanked them for coming. They said that one day they could maybe go to America. They spoke of how we did not know each other before this trip, but that through the Holy Spirit we were united as brothers and sisters in Christ. They spoke of how meeting together like this with Mozambicans and westerners worshipping together in church does not happen. They were truly blessed by this team who took time to come and worship with them. Pappa Sitoi (Jim) got up and pointed out the team members he remembered from last year. He was so happy that we were back again. He was a big part of building the church last year and has been at the center helping us build the visitors’ room. Pastor Berto noted that our team brought a guitar with them and asked them to come and sing for them. Ron Hoch accompanied as the team sang two songs (“Lord I Lift Your Name on High” and “Amazing Grace”). Each time, Pastor Berto translated the words after the team sang so the people would know the message of the song. Scott shared his heart with the people. He has really connected in a deep way with them these past two years. He shared that if he is not able to return to see them again here, that he knows he will see them again in heaven one day. He encouraged them and then shared the Gospel message with the congregation saying that our prayer was that each one would know Jesus as their Lord and Savior. They then returned the favor by singing and dancing traditional African worship songs for us. It was a delight to hear these men raise their strong voices in song. The 3 hour service soon ended and the team went outside to play soccer and football with the children while the women finished preparing the meal.

At this point, Tracy Castelli, Emily, and I took Beatriz to the medical clinic. She was feverish, most likely due to malaria, and needed help. It was good we didn’t wait. She did indeed have malaria. When caught and medicated right away, malaria is no worse than having the flu. This meant though that we missed out on the chicken dinner that was prepared by the women at the church site. While we were at the clinic, the team enjoyed chicken, cole slaw, potato salad, rice, and fried potatoes.  From what I heard, everyone ate a lot and ate well. They all enjoyed the meal.

The group then had a few hours to shower and rest up. We had an early dinner at 5:00. The guesthouse prepared a braai for us- braai is Afrikaans for barbeque. We enjoyed a full meal of steak, sausage, beets, potatoes, pumpkin, salad, and ice cream for dessert. At this point, everyone was beginning to realize that they needed some exercise to work off all of today’s food. So a few took a walk while others chose to sit and converse in the dining room. The walkers joined us later and the conversations continued on. We concluded by seeing the team off to their rooms where they planned on spending some time in worship and playing games before heading off to bed.

I hope they don’t stay up too late. Tomorrow it is back to work for them!! We will continue the building project and will also conduct a “Hygiene Day”. We will set up stations in the church. At the first one, they will have their feet washed and then get sized up with a new pair of shoes from the generous amount of donated shoes that were brought over. The girls will then get their nails painted. They will also be fitted with a new pair of uniform pants or shorts for their first day of school on Tuesday. The team will also have another Bible lesson, songs, and crafts for the children to enjoy. Our next three days will be devoted to completing the building project and spending time with the children. The team has really connected with the children. Each member has developed special relationships with the children. It has been a beautiful thing to observe them fall in love with each other like this. They are being blessed by these kids’ love as much as they are blessing the kids.  

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Day 3 - Coming face to face with people who persevere....a trip to the Bocaria.

Our blog for Day 3 actually needs to begin with the night before. My son, William, and I left the guesthouse around 10:30 pm for our 15 minute drive home. We arrived home, pulled through our gate, parked, and got out of the car. Will then went to lock the gate for the night. This is our normal routine at the end of the day. As he approached the gate, two men swung the gate open, entered our property, and the entire family found ourselves faced with an armed robbery which resulted in two of our cars being stolen. Praise be to God that no one in our family was harmed in any way. God was with us and fully protected us from harm. He is good in all things!

Our first concern was for the team. Practically, the next day was their trip to the Bocaria garbage dump. This is an important part of this trip. It is impactful and really places the team members face to face with people who live in the most deplorable conditions possible. Yet these people face daily life with perseverance and determination. However in the world could we get them to Iris Zimpeto, a 45 minute drive away, to go on this outreach without our vehicles? We called the director of the Iris children’s center to tell him we would have to cancel. Yet our son Will kept saying that the team needed to go and that he believed that what happened was the enemy trying to prevent the team from having this life changing experience. I awoke the next morning wondering if indeed Will was right. I racked my brain trying to think of someone who could take the team for us. Into my head popped the names of two of our dearest friends here, Jonny and Becky Wakely. They are former Iris missionaries from England who have been given a vision from God of placing orphaned children into Mozambican families and coming alongside these families to build strong relationships.  I knew they were still seeking God’s will for the implementation of this vision and that they would be relatively “free” to help us. As soon as Don called Jonny, he gladly offered his assistance in not only taking the team for us, but to also pick them up in the afternoon. I met Jonny and the team at the guesthouse where I told the team I would be unable to take them and that Jonny was taking them. I then spoke privately with Tracy Castelli, sharing with her the details of what happened the previous night and why I could not go with them. I knew that together along with the DC administration, they would decide how to best tell the students and their parents about what happened. So the team went on their way with Jonny while Don and I went into town to buy a new van.

The day looked like it would be a total washout. The skies were gray and rain was falling pretty steadily. Yet I prayed asking God to clear it up for the team and to stop up the rain at 10:00- the time that they would be arriving at the Bocaria. As Don and I drove to town, the skies cleared and the rain did indeed stop. I looked at the clock in our car. It was 10 o’clock. Thank you Lord! You do hear and answer our prayers! The team spent their morning at the Bocaria with the Iris missionaries that lead this outreach. Half the members went up on the dump itself and half went out into the community of homes around the dump. Each group prayed with and shared God’s love with the people there. Then they returned to the Iris church at the dump for a service. (If you would like to read more about the Bocaria, read a previous blog I wrote about my visit there.) They then returned to the Iris Zimpeto children’s center where they had lunch (Mozambican rice and beans) with the children and they had a tour of the center led by hospitality.  By late afternoon, my husband arrived to bring them back to the guesthouse in Matola-Rio in our new van. It was at this time that the rain began to fall again.

I met the team at the guesthouse with a spaghetti dinner. I must admit that I did not know how I would be received or how they would respond to the news of what happened to our family the previous night. I was still trying to process and make sense of it myself. Truthfully, I didn’t even want to go out and see them. I felt so sad that this happened while they were here. I was literally prepared to drop off dinner and hightail it back home again. However, I am so glad I went… and that I stayed. During the day, the chaperones told the student members of the team what had happened to us. The team met us with hugs and concern for me and my family. Their concern was for us and how we were doing. Several shared with me that they now knew why God brought them here- it was to minister to us, to encourage us, and to support us through what happened. After dinner, they wanted to pray for us. We gathered in a circle and held hands while Tracy Clark led us in prayer, bringing our family before the throne of God and leaving us at His feet. Our family was enveloped in His perfect peace and compassion. Tracy Castelli summed it up well when she said that the Larson family is clearly up to something good for the enemy to do this to us. We know this is true. We know that our battle is not against flesh and blood. We know that we have been called here to change lives and to bring hope and a future to many. We know that the enemy does not want to see us succeed in what God has called us to do. This attack against our family occurred on the very day that the equipment for the factory was delivered. This is the very day that the vision God gave Don began to become a reality. We know what we have been called to do and we will not be deterred in seeing it through to completion. The team members “get it”. They are committed to support us and see us through this. God gave them to us, and we love them dearly for standing with us. We look forward to seeing how God is going to also use them in the lives of the children at Iris Matola-Rio in the coming week!

Day #2 - J-Term Team 2013

The team’s first full day in Mozambique began with a hearty breakfast at the guesthouse. I then took them to the Iris Matola-Rio children’s center where they would be spending most of their time while here. When we arrived, everyone was a bit shy. The children were spread about close to their dormitories curiously peering at their visitors. This was very unusual for them. Usually when I go there, they are out on the road and covering my car chanting “Mama Terri” before I even pull through the center’s gate! The team got out of the van and peered right back at them, a bit unsure of how to approach them. I called all of the children to the veranda to be seated so I could introduce the team to them. They sat strangely calm and quiet. They are usually a very rambunctious and noisy group. I shared with the children that the team would be at the center each day working on the room that would be added to Mama Corrie’s house as well as playing with the children. They began to smile. I then told them that the team would have special Bible stories, crafts, songs and games to share with them. Their smiles widened a bit. I finished by sharing that they brought special treats and presents for them also. The smiles broke into full grins. I introduced each team member to them and released them all to begin playing. The children sat still, unsure of what to do. But one by one, they got up and began mingling with the team members.

Within an hour, each team member was either playing with or holding children. Meanwhile, Scott Ryle and Ron Hoch got busy working with our team of Mozambicans led by Pastor Berto who were there to help with the building project. They had already begun the work the previous day. They continued adding layer upon layer of cement bricks to the walls that would form the new room. Tracy Clark was busy photographing the children, and Tracy Castelli was bandaging boo-boos and feeling the foreheads of feverish children. By lunchtime, the temperatures had reached at least 100 degrees and the humidity had us all uncomfortably hot, hot, hot. No one complained though, and they kept right on playing, bonding and working. We finished our time there with singing in the church. First Ron led them with his guitar, and then Tracy Castelli moved in with her songs with accompanying motions.

Around 4 pm we went to a project that the woman who works in my house began a year ago. Berta lives in a lower income area. She took note of the children in her neighborhood and recognized a need. Many of the children lived with their elderly grandmothers because their parents had died. These  grandmothers have a difficult time providing for the children, especially in purchasing uniforms and school supplies. She also noticed how many children had nothing to do, and that many would often play in the garbage dump behind her home. So she turned half of her home into a project for them where they come to learn Bible stories, songs, verses, as well as traditional African dances. She teaches them to make crafts- weaving, jewelry, potted plants- that they can then sell for income. We arrived and were greeted by the children who then sang and danced, delighting us all! The highlight of the program was when each member of the team was individually invited up to receive a gift from the children- either a headscarf or a purse (in the case of PJ, it was a “man purse”). A second highlight was when each team member was invited up by a child to dance a traditional African dance with them. Each member was gracious in honoring the children by accepting, even though it was highly embarrassing!! We then presented the children with candies and a toy to thank them for having us.

It was then time to return to the guesthouse for a traditional Afrikaans meal of fetcook (a deep fried bread filled with mince meat) and salad. We were all tired, hot, dirty and sweaty, but no one cared- because we were all in the same boat together with this. After dinner, some members returned to the guesthouse to relax and talk while other chose to go for a late night swim at the guesthouse pool. It was a good day and everyone was ready for bed!

Thursday, January 10, 2013

J-Term 2013 Has Arrived!

Tonight we welcomed this year’s J-term team from Delaware County Christian School to our beloved Mozambique. They have endured 34 hours of travel consisting of a bus ride to JFK airport, one 7 hour flight to London, a 30 minute race to connect with a second 11 hour flight to Johannesburg, and finished up with 8 ½ hour transport across the border and to Matola, Mozambique where we met them at the guest house. They arrived in good spirits and were surprisingly peppy for a group who has been through so much. After we unloaded the people, suitcases, bookbags, and pillows from the transport, we greeted each other. We got to say “Welcome Back!” to former team leaders Tracy and Scott. Then we got to welcome our new team members for their first time in Mozambique. It was already dark when we began moving everyone into their accommodations. I overheard a student comment on how beautiful the African sky is; which it is. There are no city lights to obstruct the view of the stars so they shine brilliantly in the dark night sky. I knew I would like this team very much. They already were noticing the little things about Mozambique that make it such a special place.

Each year I am overwhelmed with gratitude for the students and chaperones who make this trip. It is not easy travel and their time here is demanding as they adjust to the summer heat of Africa each day. It is also a very costly trip to commit to.  Not to mention the fact that they are coming to a third world country where they will be stretched beyond their comfort zone. They do all this to share the love of God with the people here. They do all this because Jesus said to go out into the nations and share the Good News. They have put aside their needs, their wants, and their comfort to put the needs of others first. Thank you to Machaela, Kendal, Grace, PJ, Haley, Ron, Tracy, Scott, and Tracy for coming, and thanks to all of you who are supporting them financially and with prayer for this trip.

After a dinner of KFC chicken, potato salad, and Mozambican Cokes, we had an informative meeting to introduce them to what to expect while they are here. My family then left our travelers to get a good night’s rest. We traveled home with a car filled with suitcases of donations (15 to be exact!) to unload and sort through. I now sit here in the midst of toys, soccer balls, shoes, candy, playing cards, hula hoops, construction tools, more shoes, crayons, coloring books, clothing, school uniforms, jump ropes, puppets, Kleenex, soaps, deodorants, even more shoes, Band-Aids, rubber gloves, pillow cases, gummy vitamins, skateboards, hats, playing cards, nail polish, Frisbees, and… did I mention, shoes? There are also 300 pillow cases that were tie-dyed and decorated by the DCCS elementary students- FINALLY we have gotten them here!!! THANK YOU to all of you who donated these items for the children here. You cannot even begin to imagine how treasured each and every item will be to the children here. You really would have to come here and see them to know how needy they really and truly are to comprehend how needed these items are.

In addition to these items are others that were sent to bless us personally – good coffee, candy of all types, macaroni and cheese, hair gel (for me!), Auntie Anne’s pretzel making kit, and chai tea (Guess who that is for?) which was given, according to Tracy Clark, from all over by everyone. J You all know me so well! There were even home baked chocolate chip cookies from a very good and thoughtful friend as well as little blessings from other friends like candles and Vera Bradley items that make me feel so pampered! Don, Brent, Will and I thank you for thinking of us and sending a little bit of America to us!

We have a full schedule in these 7 days ahead of us. The team will be spending the majority of their time at the Iris Matola-Rio children’s center. They will be adding on a visitors’ room to the director’s house. This is no small feat considering that the work is very labor intensive. For example, concrete must be made by mixing wheelbarrows full of sand and stone with bags of cement and buckets of water by turning and turning it with shovels. While working each day on this project, the team will also be present to interact with and love on the children there. They have prepared Vacation Bible School types of activities and stories to share with the kids. They are going to introduce new games to the kids like whiffle ball and card games. It will be fun to share these new experiences with the children and to see how they react to it all.

Please keep us all in prayer as we go through the upcoming week. The work that will be done is physically demanding. Loving on these children can be emotionally overwhelming. Fitting in and feeling comfortable in a drastically different culture is challenging. Each member of the team will face situations that will stretch them and grow them. They really do need covered by your prayers and they really will feel your prayers as you lift them up.