Monday, June 8, 2009

Peace in Spite of Ambiguity: It's a Learning Process

We miss all of you at home SOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO much! If you have written to us and haven't heard back, please be patient!

Once again, Rehoboth has kept us super-busy this week!

Friday morning I spent more than an hour cutting Steve’s hair- using a tiny scissors from a first aid kit. It took forever…oh, well, you‘ve got to use what you‘ve got! I had a horrible hand cramp the next day, but the difference was worth it.

In the afternoon, Steve and Josh went to the youth center, and I worked on my talk for youth group (mentioned in last week’s post). However, I never actually got to give it. When we arrived at youth group, we found out it was going to start an hour late…but very few of us had been informed. Due to the miscommunication, as well as some general disorganization, the talk never happened. We were disappointed, but consoled by the fact that we will be able to meet with the Rehoboth Covenant Ministries (our host family’s church) youth group this Friday (6/5) and will have a chance to speak with them. Hopefully there will be an exciting report next week!

Saturday began with the second meeting of the guy’s Bible study Steve and Josh are leading. As you may recall, nobody came to the first one, but 2 guys came this time! They seemed to be very excited about the topic of godly masculinity, and we are all hopeful that membership and enthusiasm will continue to grow. Steve and Josh have decided to open the study up to all young men of the community between the ages of 16 and 25, and have received much positive feed back about that decision. We wait with anticipation to see what God will do through this ministry.

Rugby is the favorite athletic pastime here, which means Saturdays are practically national holidays, with people gathering at each others homes to cheer on their favorite teams. We had our first opportunity to partake in this tradition, and had a wonderful time hanging out with our host family and learning the intricacies of the game. They are voracious fans of the All Blacks (a team from New Zealand), whom we’ve yet to see play.

On Sunday, we attended church services at RCM (I may have previously referred to it as the “tent” church). Afterwards, we hiked a large hill/ small mountain not far from town (from now on to be known as “Rehoboth Mountain”). We have had difficulty finding activities through which we can spend time together here, especially given the fact we can’t go out after dark. There are no real restaurants, no theaters, parks, bowling alley, hiking trails, or any other of the typical “date places,” so we were excited when a friend told us about hiking Rehoboth Mountain. On Friday, we asked a friend from the community how long it would take to walk from our house (he lives near us) to the hill. He said around 20 minutes to half an hour, so we planned accordingly- fallacy! It took closer to twice that amount of time to get to the base of RM, and we tired of looking for the service road that most people use as a trail (there is some sort of communication tower on top), so we decided to just hike up the side, creating our own trail.

The entire hillside was covered in boulders like these, which made the hike a bit of a workout. There were also all sorts of smaller rocks covering the ground, many of which were unstable, which also complicated the situation.

If you look closely, you can see that there was a significant incline to the land. Once we were about 2/3 of the way up, we spotted the road! By then, though, we were having too much fun to switch. That is Rehoboth that you see in the background.

The view on the way up through some tree branches.

Some photographs from the top of Rehoboth Mountain:

On Monday, I didn’t begin teaching at Kwakwas as planned because the combi that takes the teachers to the school was still out of order. It turned out to be okay, because it gave me some much-needed time to work on lesson plans and pray about this new ministry opportunity. I also found out that I would be teaching the 2nd grade class, not the 4th grade as originally planned. This has created some special challenges, because it is the largest grade in the school (23 kids versus 15-26), they have had less than half as much time studying English, and they have never had an English-speaking teacher.

When Josh and I came to our kitchen Tuesday morning, this is what we found:

If you look closely, it says that it was packaged in Minneapolis, meaning that it basically followed us here (or we followed it, I’m not sure). Apparently if you support Feed My Starving Children, the money is put to good use. Since Kwakwas is not a government- sponsored school (even though it’s been around for more than 50 years), they receive only a bit of maize meal (corn meal) to feed the kids with. This means that they rely heavily on private donations to feed the students and to purchase educational materials.

When I arrived at Kwakwas, I learned that I actually have 26 students instead of 23. That doesn’t sound so crazy until you realized that NONE of them speak English! Only seven of my students are girls, so this is a loud, boisterous, testosterone-dominated class. As Namibian law states that no child can begin grade 1 until he or she is 6 years old, the youngest is 7, but I have several students who are around 14 years old (though they don’t look it). Last year, officials at Kwakwas heard about a few families at a local farm who had children that had never attended school. The sad fact is that many of these students have a high aptitude for learning, but have not yet been presented with the opportunity to gain much knowledge. Many of the children in the class are from very poor backgrounds, and over half of the students at Kwakwas live in a hostel (sort of like a boarding school) and are therefore separated from their families, both of which are significant emotional challenges for these children.

This is the school building at Kwakwas. The door to my classroom is underneath the green awning-type structure, and the windows are open.

The school day begins at 7am, which means we must leave by 6am to be arrive on time. The kids are usually running around outside, many of them playing soccer. The day commences with ringing an old-fashioned hand bell, and the students go to their classrooms and take their seats. When I arrive, I say “Good morning, students” and they say (in unison), “Good morning teacher, good morning friends.” Although there is a subject schedule they usually follow, I am allowed to teach my subjects (math, English, art, music, environmental studies, and physical education) in any order I choose since they are a little different from what is usually taught. At 9am, the students say a prayer in unison, and there is a short break during which students are given a bowl of porridge, which they eat with their hands.

This is a picture of the tin-covered area where the students go to get their porridge each day.

After break, class resumes until 12:40, at which point they are fed lunch, and those children who do not live at the hostel return home.

My first day of teaching was definitely a challenge. The kids were very energetic and noisy, and I couldn’t communicate with them. Although I know that some of them know a few words of English, I wasn’t sure which words they knew. I couldn’t explain games or instructions for assignments. I was given no information as to where they left off in there subjects, and of course they couldn’t tell me. They kept yelling out “teacher” repeatedly to get my attention; inevitably they wanted to go to the bathroom or tattle on the kid next to them. They hit, kicked, stole, pinched, and bit, and I was pretty frustrated by the end of the day. It was only after class that I was informed this was normal behavior for them.

Josh and Steve went to the pre-school on Tuesday, something Steve and Britt have done for quite a while, but that Josh is just starting now. It serves around 30 children ages 2-6, and survives on essentially no money. According to Josh and Steve, they became “human jungle gyms.” By the end of the day, they were exhausted, but they love it. Although Steve and Britt went to the pre-school twice a week, our plan right now is that we will just be going once per week, because that is all the time that our other ministry commitments allow. Choosing where we spend our time is really a challenge; there are so many areas of need, and we want to help them all. On the one hand, we want to impact as many people for Christ as is possible. On the other hand, we want to impact people significantly, and we know that impact is not measured only in quantity but also in quality.

Wednesday went much better at Kwakwas; I knew what to expect and how to prepare. We did a lot of math and I read them several stories. Even though the books were in English, they were captivated by the pictures, rhyming, and the different voices of the characters. We did some crafts- they love coloring- and sang a lot of songs. I think songs may be crucial to my success with this class- they immediately stop whatever they are doing to sing and dance.

More Kwakwas Pictures:

If you look closely, you can see laundry hung out to dry on a chain-link fence

A weird but cool-looking tree

The blackboard: multiplication tables, Alphabet (English and Afrikaans), a simple English prayer (we are working on them memorizing this so they can say it before their breaks), a stoplight (behavior monitor- green is good, yellow is warning, and red is very poor), and transportation words.

Wednesday afternoon we had the second day of our youth program, and this time we added a craft to the games. This seemed to go a bit better, because 2 hours straight of games proved excessive for some. It was another step towards building our program, and I think we will maintain it with just games and crafts for a while. To solve the problem of not having any money to replenish craft supplies, we are going to charge “Craft Fees,” in which youth can bring certain items to “pay” for their craft supplies. For example, they can bring 2 glass bottles, 7 newspapers, or 5 toilet paper rolls. There is a lot of litter in Rehoboth, and this way they can feel they are earning their project in addition to helping their community. Most of the craft ideas I brought were specifically created to use items/ trash readily available in Rehoboth, so this will help keep our supply up. Josh and Steve continued to lead the games, and the kids just love them. It is so important for children to have positive male role models, and they are often lacking in the lives of the youth here. They are doing an incredible job fulfilling a crucial role.

Thursday morning went pretty well, but by the end of the school day, I began to feel very sick. I was in the middle of reading a story when I got intense stomach pains. This lasted throughout the rest of the day, and I wasn’t able to go to school the next day. I was so frustrated, because I know this was a blatant attack from the enemy, but there was really nothing to be done. Friday afternoon I had begun to feel better, but by that time, the school day was over.

It seems like our lives are full of constant change here. Just in case you've never met me, I hate change. I know "hate" is a strong word, but I feel it may just be appropriate to the context. Change literally makes me feel ill. Even little things. I have had to limit myself to checking email and facebook once per month because I would feel such anxiety every time we went to the internet cafe that I couldn't properly focus! I know it sounds extreme, but imagine being on the other side of the world and only having contact with around 1% of the people you usually associate with at home. You have no idea what's going on...I just tend to fear the worst.

This is a huge period of growth for me, in terms of learning to be at peace even when my circumstances are not ordered. This past year has been full of circumstances lacking in peace, and it has been a huge burden. There have been situations that I have rushed to "remedy" (because I can't handle things not being settled) that were not given necessary time to resolve of there own volition. There have been toxic relationships that were continued because of a need for everyone to get along...healing was hurried, which basically means we have covered gaping wounds with band-aids. I have obsessed over decision-making, because I worry about all the different possibilities. It is wholly distracting, and keeps me from keeping my focus on God.

It is fear, and it is from the enemy.

Of course, Josh is pretty much the opposite, in many ways. He doesn't really mind change, and sees it as a means of keeping life from getting boring. Ambiguity and uncertainty don't bother him (crazy, I know!). He doesn't need to know what's going on, or to be able to plan for the future...he has complete peace. He is my role model, in this and so many other ways.

God is teaching me- both through Josh's example and through circumstances I don't feel comfortable in- how inconsequential pretty much anything in this life is. Yes, even ministry. I am learning that the things I hold to be most important- relationships, conversation, pleasing others, encouraging those around me, achievement, purity, morality, perserverance, actively serving God, spirituality- none of those are so important as growing closer to Him and being in His will. Of course, many times the important objectives may entail the less important factors, but they are not paramount.

When something is turning my direction from God, in however minor a fashion, I don't want it anymore. I don't want what is good...I want only The Best.

Prayer Requests:

1. That our visas would be approved.
2. Guidance in how to use our time
3. Blessings on our Bible studies.
4. Good health and energy.
5. Grace and protection for family and friends at home
6. Protection from the attacks of the enemy
7. For peace


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