I just heard Kirk scream—the kite string has broken and it’s lost. The kite carefully fashioned out of garbage had flown so high! I’m surprised that it flew at all.
With the help of his Mozambican friend, Gerito, my 12-year-old son Kirk unraveled a length of nylon rope into many short strands, and spent hours tying them together end to end for the kite string. They used a plastic grocery bag over two sticks for the kite, scraps of rope for the tail, and—believe it or not— it flew sky high. We dodged dozens of kids flying kites as we drove home from school on our sand road the other day. It must be the season to fly.
What season is it for you? Maybe it looks like all you have to work with is garbage, but God doesn’t see you or your situation that way. God, the original creative artist, loves to make masterpieces out of messes. He loves the people that are society’s “throw aways.” He is mending you and lovingly crafting your life so that you can one day “soar on wings like eagles” (Isa. 40:31). Some days it’s hard to believe, but then again, I never thought Kirk’s kite, made entirely out of “garbage,” would ever fly.
Getting off the airplane, it felt as though we had traveled back in time. Mozambique was said to be the third poorest country in the world at that time, and they had just survived 30 years of civil war. Kentucky seemed like a bright, shiny Disney Land compared to the devastated country we had just entered. Many people lived in mud huts and cooked outside on a fire. War had ravaged the countryside and further impoverished the people. There was the feeling of “You’re not in Kansas anymore, Dorothy.”
As we bumped over the asphalt roads, and then the sand roads on the way to our compound, we saw that some Mozambicans did live in apartments or houses of concrete, and others in houses of mud and sticks or grass. I had been told that an American missionary had built our house, so I was expecting, not anything fancy, but an average, finished house.
Upon arriving at the compound, I discovered that the house wasn’t finished to the level I was expecting. The floors were concrete, and I was told that I would need to wax the concrete floors before we could move in, or maybe I could hire someone to help me with that. There was no mention of tile or carpet or anything of that sort, just
“Wax the floors before you move in so you won’t be sweeping up cement dust every time you sweep.”
And this had to be done on hands and knees, and then the wax had to be buffed off, by hand. Finished, to me, meant floors and ceilings. There was no ceiling either. We looked up at rafters and the underbelly of the roof. A friend later commented,
“Your house is like living in a bath house, with the concrete floors, no ceiling, etc.” She was right.
Nothing brings you face to face with your own self-centeredness and presuppositions like moving to another culture. I had just arrived, and nothing was like I had expected it to be. This was hard—in so many ways— hard concrete floors, no furniture, no air-conditioning, and unreliable electricity. Yet many of the Mozambicans lived in mud huts. In the US, I never had to struggle with wealth inequality. I was nearly always surrounded by people of about the same socioeconomic status that I have, and I felt comfortable being kind of in the middle. I had enough, but not a lot more than those around me; and many of those around me had a lot more than we did, so I felt righteous enough, at least when it came to material possessions.
Then I moved to Mozambique, and the rug was pulled out from under me, landing me flat on my hard, soon-to-be-waxed concrete floor. What was I to do? Complain to God and my coworkers that this was not what I expected, when I could easily walk to a dozen or more mud huts in our neighborhood? Maybe I should have tried to buy one of those huts to live in, but then we would have starved if I had had to cook everything on a fire that I had built, since my fire-building skills are laughable or non-existent. Then too, we probably would have all died of cholera or malaria if we had not had a house with screens and running water that we purified with a water purifier. I could go on and on, but you get my point. Do we all need to plunge into poverty, or can we lift up the impoverished to a higher level instead? Does God have enough to go around?
I think God does have enough, but I also believe I should learn to be content with a simple lifestyle. God loves the homeless, the refugee, and the individual living in third world countries as much as He loves me. He hates greed. What does greed look like? Having a floor and a ceiling? What does it mean to be greedy in light of the suffering in the world? I wrestled with these questions as I waxed my floor, down on my hands and knees.
Every day is filled with incredible stress, guilt, and fear. My husband nearly died from an unidentified illness, and I fear for the health and safety of my kids almost all day, every day. It’s easier just to stay on the compound with the other American missionaries, but that’s not why I came. God, help me get through this.
The women here are so strong and persevering. They work incredibly hard everyday, many with absent husbands, caring for children in addition to working a job if they can find one. Most prepare their food over a fire and carry water some distance from a pump. Their lives seem like constant struggle and pain to me, and yet they sing and smile and are so beautiful in their laughter.
I am a pampered child who cannot handle much stress, apparently. Many days I wonder what it would be like to have a nervous breakdown. How can you tell if you’re about to lose it? What are the signs? I can’t talk to anyone about this because they’re all stressed too, and I’m supposed to be a hero to the people back home. What a crock! I’m a wreck. The kids are the only ones who seem to be okay, most of the time. I try to hold it together for them. I keep my inner turmoil hidden. God does help me and carry me through, but I wonder if He will keep us safe. I wonder if all 5 of us will make it back home to Kentucky.
I know that God is good. I see it in nature and in the beauty of children and in the Mozambican people all around me. How can the creator of such beauty not be good? But I also see the suffering around me. Children are dying from cholera all around. I saw my 20 year old brother suffer and die of cancer within a few months. My dad died at age 63, just before retirement, as a result of a car wreck. Life is suffering, beauty, and glory, all mixed together. Sometimes I could hide from that back in Kentucky, but not here in Mozambique. Extreme poverty slaps you in the face as children beg for bread every day; but at night, the stars crowding the sky seem so close you could throw a rock at one and send it crashing down to earth. This beauty is also undeniable.
Looking back in 2019, I did survive 3 years in Mozambique, but one of my teammates did not. He was shot and killed by armed robbers that entered our compound one night. I did not feel free to write about how difficult it was for me back then, but now I am free of the pedestal and the expectations that were put upon me at the time. I don’t know why I am safely back home, and my friend is not. God allows suffering, and He is is good. These truths I have to hold in tension, and probably always will. I hope I can live in such a way as to celebrate the beauty and goodness, and at the same time, maybe I can alleviate a little of the suffering, or at least, stand in solidarity with those who suffer, as Jesus does.