Mozambican Odyssey, #26: Stuck Between Two Countries

Some of us feel stuck now, waiting for the chance to get on with life. Window to the Soul, Oil Pastel on Pastel Paper, 14 x 11, by Susan E. Brooks

One of the best things about living overseas was having groups from the US come to visit. They brought excitement to our lives, and the groups were generally encouraging and generous to our family. Our kids especially loved the group visits because it meant trips to fun places we didn’t normally go. One of our favorite trips was to a game reserve just across the border in Swaziland.

This rhino used our bumper to sharpen his horn! That was a little nerve-wracking.
The elephants also came very close during the safaris in Swaziland.

I remember one such trip that turned out to be a little too exciting! Mkhaya Game Reserve boasted white rhinos, elephants, and a beautiful setting for a safari ride in close proximity to the animals. A group from Kentucky had arrived, and we loaded them onto a bus for the trip across the border into Swaziland.

At the Mozambican side of the border they checked all of the passports and sent us on across with no problems, but on the Swaziland side we ran into a snag. One of our visitors had a Mexican passport, and they said she would not be allowed to cross. We were stuck between the borders. As much as I wanted to do something to help, I could do nothing but sit and pray. Our leaders negotiated while the rest of us sat on the bus and waited—for hours. The reason they finally let us enter is a mystery to this day.

In some ways, what we are going through now feels like that time when we were forced to wait between two countries in a kind of “no man’s land.” Going back was not an option, and moving forward was not allowed. Now we sit still, mourning the past and fearing the future.

It’s a difficult place, but in these times God can do something new if we remain quiet and listen. Richard Rohr explained it this way:

The very vulnerability and openness of liminal space allows room for something genuinely new to happen. We are empty and receptive—erased tablets waiting for new words. Liminal space is where we are most teachable, often because we are most humbled.*

Eventually, God made a way for us, and we entered the land. In time, we will be able to move into the next phase of our lives, but while in this liminal space, maybe we can look forward with expectancy, “receptive—erased tablets waiting for new words.”*

*Rohr, Richard, “Between Two Worlds,” Center for Action and Contemplation, April 26, 2020, https://cac.org/between-two-worlds-2020-04-26/.

Mozambican Odyssey, #25: Lessons from a Three-year-old

My son Joseph was quite the story teller at age three. Here he is ready for adventure with his monkey backpack.

On the spur of the moment, I was asked to make a speech in front of hundreds of Mozambicans. I was terrified!

It was our first wedding in Mozambique. As we made our way, asphalt roads turned to dirt, and the people in the villages stopped to stare at us as we bumped along with our three blond kids in the back of the Landrover.

Along the way people in the villages stopped and stared at us. Hero’s Journey, oil pastel portrait, 20 x16 inches by Susan E. Brooks

Finally, we found the church building, and the women welcomed me with kisses on both cheeks. They promptly led us to the platform up front. Oh no! This is not what I was hoping for at all. I was planning to be late and to slide into the back unnoticed—ha! When would I learn I could not hide in Mozambique? We were the only Americans there, and we were seated up front, facing everyone, with a few honored guests.

The ceremony carried on, and they asked Martin to give some advice to the wedding couple. We weren’t ready for that either. It would have been hard enough to think on your feet in front of a large group of people in your own language and culture, but he was asked to speak at the first Mozambican wedding we had ever attended.

Apparently, the tradition was to have family and friends give advice to the couple. Martin looked uncomfortable, so they tried to find someone who spoke English to translate. Finally, they found a young man with a little English, and Martin came up with an analogy, using the example of a triangle showing that as a couple moves closer to God, they also move closer to each other.

I was breathing a sigh of relief for Martin, when I realized they were asking me to do the same. Panic! Even the horrified look on my face didn’t persuade them to withdraw the request. I had to stand up in front of a church full of Mozambicans, and I had no idea what I would say. At least I had the young man standing next to me to translate. But then Martin had to choose that moment to brag on my Portuguese to the minister, and they took my translator away!

I couldn’t believe it. I was standing alone up on a platform with hundreds of strangers staring at me. In my panic, I forgot how to conjugate my Portuguese. The people were laughing at me, and so I laughed, and just stood there dumbfounded for what seemed like an eternity. Finally, I managed to give some advice in poorly spoken Portuguese. I advised them to pray together and stay together for always. I survived, and the wedding went on.

Sometimes I wonder how the world just keeps moving on, paying no attention to my crises. Probably I should be stronger as a result of all of that. Certainly people have survived worse. Will I ever learn not to be afraid of speaking in front of crowds? I don’t know.

My little son Joseph used to tell “ranger stories,” in which he, as a ranger, would face all kinds of foes–lions, gorillas, etc., and his stories always had the chipper refrain, “But I didn’t die!”

Maybe I need to learn from three-year-old Joseph. I didn’t die, so it’s all right. Martin, on the other hand, nearly died when I got him home after opening his mouth about my Portuguese! But he didn’t die either. Don’t y’all worry.