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....

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

It takes so little....

We spend our lives looking for our purpose. Looking for our destiny. Our calling. We look for that one big thing that will fulfill us and confirm to us that our lives have meaning. We seek and we wait. We wonder and we wait. But is it just that one big thing that awaits us? Or is it the little opportunities that come our way each day that hold the greater significance?  I believe they are.

Nyara covering her eyes.
You all know our story. We are the crazy American family who sold everything and left all behind to come to Africa to develop a vision. That is a pretty big thing. But what brings my husband and me the most joy are the little things we encounter each day. This is what brings us that deep feeling of satisfaction and fulfillment in our lives. In the simple acts, we are finding our purpose and calling.

Meet my new friend, Nyara.

She is so very beautiful. She lives in the impoverished community of Matola Santos in a little cement block home. I met her while we were down two houses down working on the home for the 3 orphaned children we are supporting. I would watch her as she went up and down the dirt road playing with friends, and she captured my heart. Maybe it was pity that grabbed me first. It was hard for her to fully play and enjoy these moments of fun with her friends because she was always shielding her eyes from the sun. She always kept her forearm up over her forehead to block the sun. Being Albino, her eyes are extremely sensitive to the light. I have always striven to ensure that every child I see is able to experience life to the fullest. I made up my mind then and there to get her proper sunglasses and a big floppy sun hat.

Nyara with her "Hello Kitty" sunglasses and blue hat
Yet where oh where in the land of Mozambique would these be found?? They wouldn’t. So I took my quest to America. You would think that children’s sunglasses and beach hats would be easy to find in stores in the month of August. Not! Despite the fact that there was still one month of summer left to enjoy, all I could find were winter clothes already out for sale. Summer items were few and far between. So I searched every children’s store in every town I went to from Philadelphia to New York to Boston. I was about to give up when the mall in my parents’ hometown rewarded me big time. I found “Hello Kitty” sunglasses and added a pink headband to them so they would stay on securely. I found a floppy washable hat with ocean animals on it for when she plays. I found a big blue woven floppy hat with lots of ventilation for those hot days of December, January, February, March,… And finally I found a beautiful white hat with a pink flower adorning it for church and good days. Best yet…they were all on clearance! I couldn’t wait to bring these back for her!

My first trip back to Matola Santos rewarded me with little Nyara walking down the road towards me, forearm over her forehand, squinting to see. I sprinted to the car to retrieve the bag of goodies. It was like Christmas for me to pull each one out and present it to her… first the sunglasses and the headband, then the play hat, the blue hat, and finally delighting her beyond measure with the
beautiful girly white hat. We were both grinning from ear to ear. She looked so pretty. She looked so happy. She now could play and run and enjoy her friends. And all it took was about $20 and a little of my time to search these items out.

Such a beautiful princess!
I am learning that we are presented with many opportunities each day to pour into the lives of others. We don’t have to sell everything and move to Africa to make a difference (or for those of you in Africa reading this…you don’t have to sell everything and move to the mission field of America!). We can find fulfillment and satisfaction in our daily lives with simple acts of kindness. These are just as, if not more, rewarding than that one big thing. So I encourage you to stop waiting, stop seeking, and start doing. Your destiny is right in front of you - fulfill it!

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

And then there were two.....

Today is Election Day in Mozambique. This means that everything is closed today- all businesses and all schools. This allows the citizens the opportunity to go out and vote and the ex-pats the opportunity to stay safely tucked away in their homes in case any unrest occurs. Don and I wanted to make this day of seclusion in our home a special vacation day for us, so we planned a day of rest and good eating. For us, this would mean sleeping in and starting off with champagne mimosas and Eggs Benedict. The sleeping in part was easy- no problems there. Yet as we sat down to eat our Eggs Benedict, we both began to cry. It was not the same without William here. Who would we give the extra sauce to? Who would eat my second one when I could not eat both? We could not take our first bite!

While my husband has awaited this season of our lives for a decade, and while I am happy to have this time to devote solely to him, I have to admit that I was dreading having our family nest empty. I don’t doubt that part of my dread is a result of encountering an empty nest years earlier than I ever expected to do so.

We took Will back to America to complete his last two years of high school at Delaware County Christian School. As many of you know, this is the same school I taught at for five years, Cassie and Brent both graduated from DCCS, and Will has been a student there since second grade. For Will, this transition has been a good one. It is like going home for him. All of his friends are there, he is playing soccer again, he is living with the most amazing host family in the universe (Shout out to the Georges!), he is playing guitar and joining the worship bands at school and church, he is in a brick and mortar school (Peer pressure can be a good thing too!), and he is thriving. Best of all, he has not forgotten us. He calls most days after school on his way to soccer practice, and he has requested to come back to Mozambique for his summer vacation as well as a gap year before he heads off to university.

I am so very proud of Will for having been such a sport about living here with us in Mozambique. Cassie and Brent had the option of staying in America when we made this major life change. Will did not have a choice. While he did at times remind us of this, he never complained about all he had to deal with here. He stuck out a lot of difficult situations- a new language, a new culture, being different than 99.9% of the people around him (doesn’t make it easy to blend), being away from family and friends, losing his beloved dog Bailey who could not come with us, a new school and later adjusting to home schooling via an online school, as well as some extremely challenging situations like having our house broken into and robbed while we were away and then being the first person to have an AK47 shoved in his chest when two robbers invaded our property. He did not have many friends here. His only friend was his South African buddy Luc, for whom we are very grateful for his friendship. All that he experienced here has created the young man he is today. He has a whole different world view than his peers, and we trust that God will use this greatly in his future.

I remember how hard it was to let our first child go. When we took Cassie and left her at Gordon College, it felt like someone had died. There was a huge hole in my life. I prayed and prayed for God to fill this hole. Yet He responded that He could not do this. I would have to learn to live my daily life without her in it. I clung to the words shared with me by a colleague at my school…that at the end of the four years of university, I would be closer to my daughter than I was before. She was right. Despite the distance between us, our relationship was strengthened as she matured into the young woman I always prayed she would become.

I also had to give up my Brent earlier than I expected. He was just about to start his senior year of high school when we moved to Mozambique. We gave him the choice of staying behind to complete his senior year at DCCS or to come with us. While he wanted to stay with his friends and attend DCCS, he felt an obligation to come with his family to Mozambique. We arranged for him to complete his senior year online in partnership with DCCS. He would still be able to return for his senior prom, his senior class trip, and to graduate with his friends. In February, we sat in the headmaster’s office finalizing these plans and when I looked over at him, he looked like a frightened deer in headlights. I could tell something was up. When we got home he said he did not know if he could do this. He needed more time to decide. He came to us shortly after that and said he wanted to stay in the US for his senior year. It felt like someone stabbed me in my heart and twisted the knife. I was so unprepared to let him go. Over the course of the next few weeks, I threw a bit of an emotional temper tantrum with God…wasn’t I already giving up enough in moving to Mozambique? Did I also have to give up my son too? I did not know if I could do this. One night while Don was off in Mozambique and I was home alone with my boys, I was at the kitchen table doing my school work. Brent came up from the basement, pulled me to my feet, looked down into my eyes and said, “It will be okay, Mom.” As I looked up into his eyes, I could see a confidence, maturity and contentment that I had never before seen in him. I knew he was right…it would be okay. He gave me the longest, best ever hug to reassure me. And it was alright…he grew immeasurably during his senior year. I then had my year of loss restored to me when he came to spend a gap year here in Mozambique with us. He left Mozambique a transformed young man…ready for university and knowing what he wanted out of life.

So now there are just two of us, unless you count Harmony. Ha! Not! 

I was dreading the day I would have to say goodbye to William at the Philadelphia airport and would head back to Mozambique. He does not know this, but for days before I left, I sat alongside him as he slept in his bed and covered him with all the prayers a mother can pray. Even that morning, I did the same. At the airport, he helped me out with my suitcases and stood by me while I checked them in at the curbside. All that was left then was to hug and say goodbye. I moved this along as I knew if I dwelled on it, I would not be able to go. I headed in and was just about to continue up the escalator when I realized the attendant had not given me my passport back. So I had to go back outside to get it, or I really would be going nowhere. As I was heading out, he was heading in to give me one more hug. So sweet and considerate. I got my passport and made my way up the escalator waving to him until he was out of my sight. Then it became a challenge of walking it out, one step at a time, to my gate, onto the plane, to my seat, and taking off leaving America behind. My first stop on my way home was Amsterdam. Don was waiting there for me and we would spend five days together before heading back. I got off the plane, collected my suitcases and made my way out. He was there waiting for me with a beautiful bouquet of flowers. As soon as he wrapped his arms around me, I melted and cried. I was hoping the worst was behind me. I have learned from experience these past few years that the anticipation of the goodbye is much worse than the actual part of doing it. 

We had a wonderful time in Holland before we returned to Mozambique.  I have always been ready and excited to return to my life here. But this time I did not feel the same anticipation. I would be entering into a new season of life and I just could not picture what it would look like now. I have been back here exactly two weeks as of today. It has not been easy. The first few days were tough. Moments like walking past his room and seeing the empty desk where he used to spend most of his time would make me cry. Other times, for no reason at all, I would sense his absence and fill with tears. And there was the time when I found a guitar pick out in the living room that he had left behind. There have been moments like today, when we had our first “whatever without him” like going to Mimmo’s for pizza, food shopping, or eating Eggs Benedict. Yet as I have done with so many other things that I have had to sacrifice, I will press on and trust in what God is doing in all of our lives. I have absolutely no doubts that this is what is best for William, and for Brent, and for Cassie. If it is what is best for them, then it is best for me. We used to be five…and now there are two…”It is well with my soul.”  

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Desensitization.....I am beginning to think it's impossible. What about you?

"In psychology, desensitization is defined as the diminished emotional responsiveness to a negative or aversive stimulus after repeated exposure to it."  This is how Wikipedia defines desensitization. I believe that this emotional response has been my biggest fear since coming to live in Mozambique. It has been proven that when a person is continually presented with adverse situations, they respond with less and less intensity each time they encounter it. I was so afraid that my constant daily exposure to the poverty and struggle I see here every time I leave my house would desensitize me to it. Not that I would ever stop caring. But that I might begin to not hurt so much for these people that I have grown to love immensely. I am “happy” to report that I daily do have my heart broken by at least one sight or another. But sadly, I must admit that I do not cry as much as I used to. For example, when I first came, every time I left the children’s center, tears would blind me as I headed down that bumpy dirt road back to my home. I could hardly drive! I no longer cry when I leave. This just may be their fault though. How can one be sad when there behind you in the rearview mirror are a dozen kids smiling and laughing as they chase you down the road screaming your name over and over. Yet yesterday I came face to face with, or should I say face to three little precious faces, that left me weeping. I believe their faces will leave you weeping as well. This is their story.

As my faithful blog readers already know, Berta, the woman who works in our home, has a project for 39 children in her community. She saw the needs of the children and was moved to help them. She opened up her home to these children for the half-day when they are not in school. So half of the children come in the morning and half in the afternoon. We all naturally feel badly for orphans in orphanages. But the children we need to worry about are the ones who are still living out in the communities. The children in the orphanages know they will receive three meals a day, a bed to sleep in, a uniform and books so they can go to school, medical care, shoes, and clothing. The children in the communities have no guarantee of anything…ever. Many children have lost one or both parents and have been taken in by an elderly grandparent who no longer works. These grandparents have no income and therefore no means to provide for their grandchildren. Other children are forced to live in abusive homes when one parent dies and the surviving parent remarries. In such cases, most stepparents do not want the children of the former spouse in the home so the children are neglected, abused, and most often abandoned. These are the children Berta helps. She teaches them skills like basket weaving and how to make jewelry or brooms. She gives them bread and tea in the morning and soup for lunch. She teaches them cultural songs and dances. She reads them Bible stories and encourages them to memorize Scripture. Berta takes in 39 children each day, but she could easily take in 390 more…the need is so great. Berta knows her limitations and she keep her number to strictly 39.

About two weeks ago, Berta shared a sad story with me about three children that she had just discovered. Their ages are 12, 6, and 4. Their father died and their mother remarried. The mother got pregnant to the new husband. He told her he did not want this baby and was going to force her to abort the baby. On January 21st of this year, she gave the oldest girl money and told her to take her brother and sister with her to go buy some things at the market. While they were gone, she locked herself in her bedroom and in despair, this mother took her life by hanging herself with a cord in their home. The children came home to an empty house. At first they thought she had gone out for something, so they carried on with their day, waiting for her to return. As hours passed, they became concerned and tried phoning her, but they got no answer. After more waiting, they decided to break down the bedroom door. They did this, and these little children were the ones to first to discover their mother hanging in her room. After her death, the stepfather left, feeling no responsibility whatsoever for his dead wife’s three children. He completely abandoned them. The owner of their house told the children they had to leave because they could not pay rent. The children were taken in by an uncle who already has 9 children of his own to care for. He is not able to provide them with much food and has no money to give them for school uniforms, fees, books and supplies. He is only able to provide them with a safe place to sleep at night.

I listened as Berta shared this story. I saw the pain in her face because she could not help them. She can barely survive herself. My heart was broken for these children. But in all honesty, they were unknown to me…they were just another sad story…another of the many sad stories I hear each day. Like we all do after seeing a commercial on TV about starving children in Africa, I moved on with my day. I did think about them and I would ask Berta about them and how they were doing, but that was all. I had other troublesome issues to deal with already. Until…

Yesterday I took a friend to Berta’s project. My friend is a lovely generous person who gives selflessly to others. She has been wanting for some time to see Berta in action. We arrived at Berta’s and were treated to lots of smiling faces, a song and dance performance, and a tour of Berta’s little home converted to a center (with me now translating for my friend- my Portuguese is coming along!) The children present at the time were the younger group. They go to school in the morning. The older children go in the afternoon. I did notice one beautiful young girl with gorgeous long braids wearing a secondary school uniform. I found it odd to see her there at this time of day but did not think much of it. After Berta showed my new friend all around her center, she told us she would like us to meet
someone. She brought over this girl along with a little boy and a little girl. She then asked me to translate their story to my friend. She began retelling the story she had told me just two weeks before. The one I just shared with you. As she began telling it to my friend, big tears began to roll down the older girl’s cheeks. The little boy reached up to be held by his big sister. She complied and he buried his face in her neck. The little girl turned and hid her face against her big sister. I quickly realized that these children did not need to stand by and hear their story told aloud to a stranger. I told Berta that I would just tell it to my friend in English. My friend cried. I cried. Berta cried. And the children continued to cry.  It was heart wrenching to stand with these precious gifts that had been carelessly and thoughtlessly cast aside like they had no value. It is one thing to hear a story. It is another thing entirely to hold the story in your arms and cry with it. My friend did exactly what I know her to do…she immediately asked what she could do to help these children. Berta shared that the oldest girl was 12 and in grade 8. She needed money to buy books for school. Children in Mozambique receive a free public education, but when they advance to grade 8, which is the first year of secondary school here, they must buy their own books and pay fees. This girl had a uniform but she needed 2,400 meticais (about $80 USD) for books- an amount that is close to the average monthly income of people here in Mozambique. The smallest child did not go to school and had no needs, but the six year old did need a book bag and some supplies. My friend had received money from a friend in her home country of Australia to use to help others here. She pulled out the full amount that was needed and passed it on, along with another hug. The young girl now would be able to go buy her books at the markets in Baixa on Saturday and she will be able to start attending classes again on Monday. For the time being, she can continue on. It should have been a very joyful moment, but there was just so much sadness in the air.
We finished out our time at Berta’s and left to go home. The children waved profusely and smiled as we left. But I did see three children standing in the midst of this happy group that were not smiling or waving. They simply watched us go. Since I left, I have not been able to get their faces out of my mind. I have cried every time they come to the forefront of my thoughts. They now can go to school. The oldest girl gets up every morning at 4 am so she can leave the house by 5am to walk 1 ½ hours to arrive at school in time for the 6:30 start. She cannot afford to pay 25 cents to take public transport. These children will need so much more than books and a bookbag to survive. And I can’t stop thinking about the fact that they will never have a mom or a dad to love on them and support them. I wish I could bring you here myself and let you see their faces and hug them. It would make a difference for you. I know, because it made a difference for me.

The problem is that the sad story of these three children is repeated again and again and again here. When my parents recently visited here with me, my dad’s parting words were, “I am going to go home and tell people about what I saw. I am going to show people pictures of what I experienced, but they will not get it. You have to be here to get it.” This is so true. You can’t just read an article, see a statistic, or watch a commercial on TV and understand the suffering people experience. You have to walk it out with them. You have to see their faces. You have to hold them in your arms. You have to wipe their tears, and sometimes their runny noses too. Only then can you begin to know the Father’s heart for them. I recently read that the Bible has over 2,000 references to caring for the widowed, poor, and orphaned.  God has a heart for the poor, so shouldn’t we have one too?

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Friday Giveaway

Each day, we can never know what is in store for us; what types of experiences will come our way. How often have you gone out on a regular day and seen something unexpected and wished you had a camera there to capture it? Our cameras are never around when we need them the most. Yesterday I had such an experience in a most unexpected place.

I was asked to take a friend to catch a bus to South Africa. She arrived at my house around 6:30 am so we could go wait in the parking lot for her 7 am departure. Africa being what it is, the bus arrived about an hour late. We waited in my car and passed the time with conversation and people watching. We began to notice more and more elderly people arriving to our right. They sat down on the sidewalk outside in numbers that grew by the minute until about 40 people filled the space.

There is something that I just love about older people. They carry such a dignity to them. They have such a history behind them. They have stories to tell and experiences to share. I especially admire the elderly here in Mozambique. The average life expectancy in this country is 40 years of age. If this were true for us in the US, most of us reading this blog would not be alive right now, and I would not be here writing it either.  People who make it to senior citizen status in Mozambique are revered, as they should be. Imagine the stories these people have to tell! They have lived through their country’s rise to independence from colonialism, they have lived under both communism and democracy, and they have endured a 17 year long civil war followed by severe flooding- both of which ravaged the land. They have experienced all of this hardship as well as their own personal struggles to survive in this third world country.

They were all so content. They came using walking sticks for support. The upper part of these brown sticks were worn smooth and white from years of use.  Some struggled just to step up the curb to get on the sidewalk. Others had no shoes and came barefooted. A woman came leading a blind man who used a white-tipped walking cane. Women carried bundles on their backs, tied up with capulanas. The majority of people by far were women. Only a few men were in this group. They sat and patiently waited, conversing amiably with one another. One older man caught our attention. He had such a friendly face and seemed so gentle and kind. There was something about him that made you want to go up and hug him. Another old man arrived in wearing a blue suit jacket. It was old, worn, and showed the wear of many, many years, but we were touched by his desire to look his best for this outing. The women were all wearing the traditional capulanas. They were a beautiful tapestry of colors and patterns.

Then the gate near them began to open. They stood and made a line. A young Muslim girl wearing a beautifully ornate head dress began to pass out bread. One at a time, they filed by accepting a small roll from her hand.  The young girl did not smile at them or speak to them. Her face was passive as she went through this duty her family had left to her to complete. As the people passed through, they then began to form another line on the opposite side of the door. We later discovered this was to file through a second time for the extras. We marveled at the generosity of this Muslim family, who clearly have done this every Friday for some time. We marveled at the sadness of a people, who would be so desperate for a small piece of bread that they would wake up early and walk who knows how far to sit and wait to receive it. We marveled at the discipline of a people of faith, who so obediently carry out the command we all have received to care for the poor. And it made us question how obedient we are to this same command.

As they filed through, a woman wearing a capulana decorated with bunches of grapes arrived late. I vividly remember her because I intently began to watch to make sure she at least got one roll. The first handouts had already been completed, so she took her place about two-thirds of the way back in the line of people waiting to receive a second roll. I kept my eyes directed on her as person after person received their second roll.  I prayed asking God to make sure that these extras lasted long enough for her to receive a bread. And she did! In fact, she received the very last of the rolls! Thank you Jesus! There is always enough!

After the bread supply was depleted, the people filed off, down the sidewalk, and around the corner. I had already been told that on Fridays, Muslims are required share a portion of their earnings with the poor.  This is why you often see old women begging for money out on the corners at the street lights on Fridays. I don’t know if this is true everywhere, but it is here. Amy told me that the elderly go from place to place on Friday accepting these gifts. A butchery near our old house prepares little bags of meat and passes them out every Friday. Another place passes out vegetables, and another may pass out fruit.

So now I am left with how to process this and what to do about it. I see need here every day. Most times I am overwhelmed by the extent of need there is. It is more than a person could fill in a lifetime, and it can make me feel so small and inadequate. Each day I see people begging, people wearing dirty, tattered clothing and going without shoes, and people just sitting with despair written all over their faces. But then I remember that I serve a big God who owns the cattle on a thousand hills. I remember that Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor, for they shall inherit the kingdom of God.” And I remember that, as Heidi Baker teaches, Jesus died that there would always be enough. And I am blessed by so many of you who have given to the people here, some of you who have not even visited here! I realize that if we all do a little bit…whether it be passing out a small roll to a hungry person, sending money to buy pillows for children to lay their heads on at night, donating shoes,  sacrificing our time and comfort to come and play with orphans or build a church…together we can make a difference. Together we can be the hands and feet of our Father. 
Through our actions we can show His love for His people and let them know He sees and He cares.