Thursday, February 26, 2009

Day to day, where do you want to be? –Gomez

A lot of times people write analogies about times of the day. In fact, even I in the 11th grade wrote a rather elaborate poem about the course of a life in one day, using different animals for the literary magazine. I remember compiling a rather extensive list of animals, their group names, mother/father label, baby title, etc. all of this for that poem…one that I’m not sure I could put my hands on today, perhaps in America I’d be able to.
However, that is not what this post is about. I love many different times of the day. In the US living on the East Coast, I loved the morning and having the chance during summer days to wake up before dawn and go and watch the sunrise over the ocean (though my mom would argue it was the sunset). Here, I also adore the sunrises. The colors that appear in the sky though my tiny glimpse of Lake Victoria is magnificent. Even as the sun continues to rise, up to 7:30 am, it’s a mystical time of day with the sun gleaming in through the dust that rises from the rusty earth. It’s often cool here in the morning, which gives warning to how hot the day will be. The colder the morning, the hotter the day will be. It rains a lot here, and not just during the rainy season. It seems that as the rainy season approaches in late March, the amount of rain is gradually growing, as my classroom will not so gladly prove! I am grateful for the rain, though it may cause me move the desks in my room to avoid being filled with water. It not only replenishes the thirsty land, but also cools us down. I’ve somehow grown to love the sound of rain on a tin roof. What’s funny about rain in Africa is the way that people disappear. You can be in the middle of getting petrol when it starts raining and the attendant will evaporate for 20 minutes because he is afraid of the rain. But through those times I am indebted to another learning experience in patience in my day.
Another wonderful part of the day is the night time. Though it’s not so safe for me to be out wandering the streets at this time of day, I can’t help but be drawn out of my home (still within my compound) to marvel at the stars. I know that I’ve mentioned them before, but I will never, ever cease to be amazed at that phenomenal creation of God’s! It’s a rare night when I don’t notice them. Orion’s belt and my ‘northern cross’ draw me and I find myself searching as I did with friends late at night in national parks in the US.
However, I think that my favorite time of day here is around 6:45pm. I can’t put my finger on it. It’s not necessarily the sunsets, because oddly enough that is not something I’ve noticed here. It’s not a good time for the photographer in me to snap away. Rather, I think it’s what happens to the people. There are so many people out at this hour, either making their way home or selling shoes on the street corner. As the light begins to fade, even the outskirts of the city become alive. It’s almost a homey feeling. I can’t figure out why. I grew up in horse country, not a city, though I’ve always loved wandering through lower Manhattan. People here are friendly despite the hustle and bustle. They are on a mission, but happy to stop along the way and interact with others to get things done. It’s also a relaxing time of day where things are drawing to a close and families seem to gather together again.
Have you taken the time to soak in the world around you recently? God has us each where we are for a reason, don’t forget to glance around at where that is from time to time, and at all hours to learn something new about Him.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

What do I do to make you laugh, what do I do to make you smile, oh if only for a little while- Jennifer Knapp

A theme that God has really pressed into my life is joy. I am called to “be joyful always.” In any circumstance!
So where is my joy? For me, it’s always been the small things. It’s in the snowdrop flowers that are blooming this time of year in New Jersey as the snow melts and brings hope. It’s in the black-capped chickadee’s twitter that I mimic. It’s in the rhyme my friends and I would sing as we drove into the dorm parking lot hoping to find an open spot.
So what are those small things that sustain me here? Some is in the people I see in my ministry. The kids in my class do bring me so much joy. They can be annoying, it’s true, but the little things they do make up for it. I’ve come to see joy in a unique way in each of them.
-One of my kids is the most animated child I’ve ever seen. When he is about to go somewhere, he’ll stop dead still, stare at you, then quickly stick his hands straight out in front of him, palms facing out and spine leaning forward, then run in place while continuing to stare at you intently making a funny noise you’d only expect to hear in a cartoon. Sometimes I catch him staring at me, then when I look at him, he says “What?” and shrugs his chubby shoulders. I can’t help but laugh.
-Another is as quiet as a mouse, but can dance and shake his petit hips like he hasn’t a care in the world. Switching on the cd player before Friday Chapel is quite a highlight for this!
-One of outgoing girls in my class who happens to be the principals daughter has the most contagious laugh in the world, I’m convinced. I have always been the type of person who laughs when I hear others laughing, even if I don’t think it’s funny. I just love the sound of laughter, as a few of my college friends can attest to. I used to get so much slack for laughing at one of my friends dumb jokes, but the simple fact that it makes him laugh makes me giggle with glee. This girls laugh does even more than that. Her laughter makes me want to make her laugh. I’ve often find myself having to hide my face behind a book because I am laughing at something I should not be condoning, but because of her laughter, I can’t stop. I’ve even made her promise to never stop laughing, no matter what.
-A few of the girls are always bringing me flowers and putting them on my desk. In fact, just this past week, four of them brought me a huge pile of empty seed pods. What an honor! To most people, it would appear silly, but the fact that these girls saw how I looked at this kind of seed pod the first time I’d seen it…and harvested that idea! They are paying attention to my every move. That scares me at the same time. To know that they love me and want to impress me so much that they spend two entire recesses collecting these things is so humbling and makes my heart grin a smile wider than it can handle. However, there are those times when I am not so aware of their presence and may get frustrated. I guess it is just a good reminder that I am a role model and always being watched.
-A certain child rarely smiles her brightest, but when she does, she gets cutesy and covers it up, but you can tell that even through those fingers that smile is beautiful.
-One little girl comes up to me from time to time and insists that she can’t go out for recess. She will claim that I am her BFF (Best Friend Forever) and she doesn’t want to leave me.
-It may seem sad, but this past week, one of the little boys in my class cried. The sad part is, it made me laugh. I’m not a heartless being, you’ve got to wait and find out why he was crying. We didn’t have real classes the next day, rather game day, so I didn’t assign any homework. This young child was crying hysterically over the fact that he did not have any homework that night! As I comforted him and explained that reading is always homework, he resisted my efforts to make him smile by singing a silly song. But as he hung his head I could see a smirk breaking out, and that warmed my heart.
-Joy comes in the stories that a small amount of my kids tell so magically.
-The sweet tender care for friends of one of the boys in my class warms my heart.
Oddly enough, it brings me joy to know that my students are willing to chase the cockroach that has just crawled through my shoe and kill it.
There’s a plant here called Yesterday, Today and Forever that I have grown attached to. It’s a bush that blooms deep purple flowers that slowly fade to white and then die. They smell absolutely marvelous. I only know where 3 are, but they tend to be on cycles so that I can usually find one in bloom when I am craving it. Even if you want to go out and buy a bunch of roses, you would only have to pay $3 for a beautiful bouquet!
One thing that I love about being here is the constant presence of baby animals. There is no spring. The animals have babies year round, so I always get to see baby cows, goats, chickens, and puppies.
When I least expect it, around once every other week there comes a point when I look up in the sky and see a palm tree (not that they are not everywhere!) and suddenly remember that I am in a tropical place. It’s not that I am not also reminded of this daily by the sweat running down my back, but I’ve always associated palm trees with the relaxing beaches of Florida the few times I went as a child. So when I look up and see palm leaves blowing in the wind backed by a blue sky with light and fluffy clouds, I am suddenly overtaken by a blissful calm.
As always, joy for me also comes in the form of music. It moves me. No matter where I am, and no matter what style of music, God finds some way to speak to me through it. Working in an International setting, I get to hear all sorts of stuff! And for that unchangeable joy, I shall be forever thankful.
Where are you finding your joy?

Monday, February 2, 2009

Well all the little ants are marching, red and black and tan –Dave Matthews Band

Let’s face it, this is Africa people. There are bugs everywhere. Even in the nicest of places there is some form of bugs. The bug that L-O-V-E-S my apartment? Ants. They are everywhere. I can handle them coming in our front door, simply grabbing the broom and sweeping them out. I can withstand washing them down the drain 2 times a day in the shower as they build their hill near our drain. I can endure them crawling all over our garbage can and making their way up the walls into a little crack in the caulk. I can tolerate them crawling on the top of our refrigerator as long as they don’t get into my cereal. I can stomach it when they crawl on me or my clothes. My roommate can bear them crawling out of her light switch and onto her toothbrush. It gets a little harder to undergo when they show up on food that you forgot to put away for an hour or so after spending a whole evening making it. But the thing that I never expected, and grosses me out more than any of the above (which happen daily) is the following. One morning upon returning to my room after bathing I grabbed a q-tip to clean out my ear. Can you imagine what came out on that q-tip along with my ear wax??? That’s right folks…a dead ant. EWWWWWWW…I still cringe just thinking about it! That thing was IN me! It’s not like I’m a dirty person…I shower daily, brush my teeth and hair…but this is Africa. It’ll make you think twice about sticking a q-tip in your ear. I guess you can never be as clean as you might want to me, even without knowing it. I’d much rather have to wipe an ant off of my manzadi and proceed to take a bite any day.

Praise you in the heavens, joining with the angels- Everything that has breath

A few weeks ago in class my bible lesson on Jesus growing up in Joseph’s footsteps was nearing an end. The strangest thing about this lesson was the ending. We haven’t even talked about the crucifixion, but this was the first time the curriculum told me to tell the kids that they need to invite Jesus into their hearts in order to really follow him. I guess it follows through with the ‘following in his footsteps’ theme, I could stretch, but that connection was not so seemingly clear to my students. I’d mentioned the crucifixion in passing before and that we need to follow Christ, but this time they curriculum told me exactly what to say. I was instructed to let them know that I wanted to help them ask Jesus into their hearts and that they could come and talk to me anytime about it. This is the honest truth, and I would love to talk to the kids about this fact anytime, but it took me a bit by surprised. Truth be told, I hadn’t had the opportunity to read this lesson ahead of time, but was not expecting this from the topic I knew we were discussing. Not long after this lesson the kids were at their Library class and I was sitting in my classroom preparing for the next lesson. All of a sudden, the new girl in class came in and came running over to me excited and whispered in my ear as if there were a classroom full of kids listening. She said “Miss Jean, I want to have Jesus come and live in my heart”. I was so surprised. I barely knew this girl. I quickly said to her “That is awesome A, and you know what? I would LOVE to talk to you about this after lunch. But right now, the library teacher is probably wondering where you ran off to!” She had escaped to come and tell me this! :D I was overwhelmed as I sent her back to Library. I was excited but scared at the same time. I can’t fully explain the feeling, but I knew that no matter what happened, God had a plan, and that comforted me.
On the way to lunch some of the other students in my class asked me if any one had come and asked for Jesus to live in their hearts. I told them the truth, that someone had, but told them that it was up to that person to share. Sure thing, right after lunch she came barging into my room and said again “Miss Jean I want to have Jesus in my heart!”
I went and sat with her in the 1 ½ feet tall chairs and talked about what that really meant. She seemed to understand as we talked about it, I asked her some questions to find out more about her faith background. Just because I teach in a Christian school does not mean that these kids come from Christian families. Lots of people send them here because they like the environment and the good morals. All I had known about this girl who showed up at Heritage only days before is how incredibly insistent her father was that she be at Heritage- enough to go to board to expand my class size. We sat there and prayed together, I led her in accepting Jesus into her heart! The thing that I will always remember about this time with her was what she said to me shortly after the prayer. When we finished praying I looked up at her and said, “You know what is happening in Heaven right now?” A replied with a big cuddly grin “What?” I responded in excitement “The angels are singing! They are so excited that you have Jesus in your heart!” She questioned by saying “I can’t hear them.” She was befuddled. We proceeded to talk about how you can’t always hear the angels singing, but that right now they were having a party for her, welcoming her into the Kingdom of Heaven! After we talked some more about what her life has to mean now, and how she is changed and always has someone to turn to, she skipped on out to the remaining 3 minutes of recess. She had never been so happy to miss a recess before in her life.