Monday, July 27, 2009

Arandis (Weeks 18 & 19)

For the last two weeks, we relocated to Arandis, a town located around 30 miles from the coast of Namibia. We had no idea exactly what we would be doing, but we knew there was an opportunity to serve.

Arandis is a tiny town formerly owned by a mining company (it is located very near to Rossing Uranium Mines) that has since been turned over to the government. It is isolated and somewhat rundown, and is known for its crazy weather. It gets an East wind off of the Kalahari desert that brings tremendous heat and dust, and a West wind that brings cold from the Antarctic.

Although we knew that I would be doing something involving counseling for the Hope’s Promise branch there, we had absolutely no clue what Josh would be doing. As it turns out, a teacher left the school with no notice, so he had the opportunity to assist the first-grade teacher with her class, and he was put to work before I was! He has also had the chance to work a bit with an after-school program.

I went to give a fresh perspective on a few of the Hope’s Promise kids in Arandis. I very much enjoyed my time getting to know them, but I don’t have a lot I can share about my work.

We were blessed to have the chance to get to know the team there a little bit. Some have been in Namibia for as long as 10 years, and some only a few weeks. Most of them are teachers at the school, and all of them work with youth in some way. They have so graciously welcomed us into their world for the last 2 weeks, and we are grateful for their hospitality. An extra-special treat was to spend some time with an amazing married couple; since we are the only couple in Rehoboth, we cherished the opportunity!

In Arandis, there are a large number of stray dogs, and most people think they are racist. Yes, you read that correctly. Apparently they tend to bite only black people and no white people. Of course, the accusation of racism is not taking into account the fact that less than 1% of the small population is white. I just thought it was an interesting tidbit you might like to know about…

Another interesting fact: we have moved 8 times in the last 2 weeks, and while it has been very exciting, it has also been a bit tiring. I think we are ready to return to our “normal” life.

Last week, Josh’s sister got married. We would have loved to be able to be there, but it wasn’t an option. So instead, we made a little video for them. We later found out that, due to time constraints, they were only to show part of it (but it apparently made people cry anyway!) Since you are all extra-special people, here is the full, uncut, special-edition version:
video
Here is one take we did in which we just couldn’t seem to get it together…well, we tried. Tired, staring into the sun, impatient...it was a bad combination. We are missionaries, not media professionals:
video

Praise God for laughter!!!

While we have been away from our beloved Rehoboth, we found out the first case of Namibian swine flu was detected there. We are not sure of the current status of the situation, but we are going to keep an eye on it and try to avoid it. We are especially concerned for the many citizens infected with AIDS; to them, contracting swine flu would be extremely dangerous. Please be in prayer about this situation- it is very serious for some.

***Don’t forget to check out the new “Cute African Kids” album on the right sidebar!***

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Spitzkoppe


On our first full day in Arandis, we were invited to accompany some other volunteers to Spitzkoppe…which we had never actually heard of. Nonetheless, we were up for an adventure, and heard it was some sort of mountain or something. On second thought, us going may have had more to do with the fact that Arandis has little in the way of entertainment than anything else.

Praise God we had been bored.

Full-time foreign missions is incredibly fulfilling…and emotionally draining. This is not to give some excessively negative picture of missions, but rather to help you to understand the kind of emotional state we found ourselves in. Combine all this with homesickness, being in a brand-new town, having just moved houses, teammates coming and going…God’s majesty just seemed a little far away.

Then we saw this:


Of course, this being Namibia, it is all God-made.

Spitzkoppe is the second-highest peak in Namibia, but that’s not what makes it amazing. The rock formations look ridiculously unstable, as if just touching one will make delicately-balanced boulders come crashing down.



In this picture, we are standing in an opening called “The Bridge.” It’s one of those things that makes you wonder how it came to be. Our God is so wonderfully mysterious.

Josh attempted to carry the weight of the world:

Some of us have just had more practice:

We had fun climbing on the rocks and taking a few pictures as the sun descended rapidly:


We were blessed to have such a refreshing break amidst a rather stressful time.

Friday, July 10, 2009

The Angry American and Hello Kitty

This has been, by far, the strangest week we have had in Africa so far (and that is saying a lot).

Our 4th of July was completely different than usual this year (not terribly shocking, huh?). Saturday morning, we celebrated by blasting “The Angry American” (by far our favorite patriotic song) in our flat. We celebrated with an afternoon braai at the 8-week-team’s house. As this is not America, no one celebrates the 4th of July here, and nobody even knows it’s a holiday. It emphasized to us that the U.S.A. is not the center of the world, like we often seem to think it is. However, I have never been prouder to be an American.


Homemade decorations elevated our patriotism.


The “Hello Kitty“ in the title of this post does not refer to the animated Japanese pop-culture icon, but rather to our new teammate! Kitty arrived with a 4-week team this weekend, and we couldn’t be happier to have her! She will be here for 6 months, and is the only other person scheduled so far to be in Rehoboth after August. We are so grateful for her willingness to serve, and are excited to get to know her.

Wednesday turned out to be an extremely stressful exciting day. As Josh and I were walking to the youth center in the morning, we realized there was a police officer standing on every corner of a particular road. We asked one what was going on, and he said the president was visiting. That explained an enormous SWAPO rally that had taken place in front of our house the night before. While we were meeting with the 4-week team about some youth center stuff, we sat outside, cameras poised (the youth center is along this road). Two hours after his scheduled arrival, we were able to take some pictures of the motorcade. It wasn’t much, but this is Rehoboth, and we’ll take any excitement we can get.



The motorcade, complete with a dozen or so squad cars

The President's actual vehicle.

Within an hour, we found out we needed to move; this was completely unexpected, and we had no notice, but Africa just works differently. Glory to God, we had a different place to stay within 2 hours! It will work well for us, and we are just excited we have somewhere to live.

Since we were dealing with all of this, we weren’t able to lead the youth program as usual, but the 10 people from the temporary summer teams were there, and they did a great job. This bodes well for when we are in Arandis.

For the next 2 weeks, we will be staying in Arandis, where we will be doing some work for Hope’s Promise. We are not certain of the details yet, but we know that I will be doing some sort of counseling, and Josh will be doing some maintenance and repairs, and possibly some work in the schools. It will be an adventure, something that has come up only recently. We are looking forward to seeing how we get to serve, but also a little apprehensive because we aren’t sure of what we will be doing. Please be praying that we will be able to glorify God in whatever we are asked to do!

Make New Friends, But Keep the Old...

This week began with Josh’s birthday, and it was a wonderful day! We went to our former host mom’s house for lunch, and she made us pancakes (which are more like eggless crepes here). We have been back there a couple of times since we moved, and it was great to see her and her grandson (who adores Josh!). We really want to maintain our relationship with them, even though we don’t live there anymore.

After lunch, we were able to meet a very short-term team that has come to Rehoboth for a few weeks. There are six members (4 female, 2 male) between the ages of 20 and 27 that have come for a few weeks this summer. Alex, Amy, Bethany, Jason, Natasha, and Tricia- we are so excited you’re here! We talked to them about some available ministry opportunities, and they seemed enthusiastic to serve. We are so excited to get to know them better!

Friday night, there was a joint braai (barbeque) for Josh, Catherine, and Tracey (Catherine’s former host mom) who all had birthdays this week. Namibians love meat, and even though I couldn’t eat it, the smell was so amazing I wanted some sort of way to film it or package it so I could share it with you!


They made roasted bread over the fire- it is definitely my favorite Namibian treat.

The Birthday Boy

The gorgeous fire.

The Birthday Triplets

There were a ton of people, and it was a great time. We were blessed to be able to meet another AIM missionary from Windhoek, who we are always hearing about, but have never met. We also met another American who is here with the Peace Corps.

On our way home, we once again witnessed some of the terrible violence that is so common in Rehoboth. We passed a group of people hanging around a truck, and saw one begin a fight by going after another with a broken bottle. These people were all obviously drunk, and everyone seemed to think this was perfectly acceptable. The next morning we found out that the police had been called to the scene, and that there was blood everywhere (this has serious complications when HIV/AIDS is so common). Josh and I really struggle in knowing what to do in these situations. Although there is some [undeserved but nonetheless helpful] credibility and respect given to white people in Windhoek and around Namibia, that is not true in Rehoboth. In fact, it seems as if the opposite is true. Basters tend to have lighter skin (since they are part European), and it is a source of great pride to them. Many of them seem to resent being around white people, because then they seem “less white,” relatively speaking. It is very difficult for Americans to grasp this concept, but once we consider the racial tensions present in the area, we can began to approximate an understanding. Josh and I wish we could do something when we see violence here, but to step in and say anything could very well be a death sentence. We have found prayer to be the most powerful force against aggression here, but it is still a struggle.

Please keep the children here in your prayers. Although this is Africa, it can get very cold here during the night because we are in the desert, which means there is no humidity to hold the heat of the day. Buildings here have no insulation or heat, and it can get chilly! Many children don’t have appropriate cold-weather clothing because their families can only afford one set of clothes, and the vast majority of the time the weather here is very hot. We are going to try to collect some gloves (new or used) from home that we will be able to pass out to kids. I am especially concerned for the kids in the farm schools up in the mountains, as it can get quite a lot colder there. Please pray for this project.

On Monday we traveled to Windhoek to hang out with Steve, because it was his last day in Namibia. This means the team that was once 10 people is down to 4. We went to see Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen in the theater (is it even out in the states yet?). It was entertaining, although I wouldn’t recommend it for children. It was so weird to go to a theater…Windhoek is a completely different world from the rest of Namibia. We are sad to see Steve leave, but we know he has many important things to accomplish back home. He has left a big hole to be filled. We are praying for you, Steve.

We have had a significant improvement in the youth center during the last week. The only door on it is a large graded gate that lets in so much dust, you would clean one day, and everything would be covered in dust the next. It was extremely frustrating. Now, Steve and Josh have attached corrugated tin to the inside of the gate, meaning there will be significantly less opportunity for dust to come in. This will go a long way towards helping to make the youth center a clean and safe environment for the kids of Rehoboth

Next week, our new teammate Kitty will arrive. She will be here for 6 months, and we are so excited to have her. It will be she and the 6 members of the summer team who have to keep things going while we are away. We are praying God will give them guidance and grace as they jump into this new role.

Prayer Requests:

1. Steve’s transition back home
2. The children in the cold
3. Our business trip to Arandis next week.
4. Health and energy
5. Kitty
6. Victory over the enemy
7. Family and friends at home.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Rundu

This past week we had the opportunity to visit our dear friend (also Nicole) in Rundu, located about 10 hours north of us on the Angolan border. She is a wonderful hostess, a terrific conversationalist, and a precious sister in the Lord.

This is a sign seen all along the road to Rundu, and it means warthog crossing. Yes, we actually saw some warthogs, but they weren’t exactly what I expected (they look nothing like Pumba).

The scenery on the way up changes dramatically, from sparse desert shrubs around Rehoboth to beautiful trees and prairie grass near Rundu, which is in more of a tropical climate. It made me miss home.

However, this is what made me really homesick:

As less than 1% of the land in Namibia is farmable, a corn field is a rare sight indeed.

People really do carry things on their heads, just like in the movies. And I mean all the time, and usually with no hands. They are completely nonchalant. I really want to learn, because it keeps your hands free, but I think I might look a little silly (I think it takes quite a lot of practice). As if I don’t stick out enough, I’ll just add carrying a large parcel on my head to the equation. On second thought, maybe it will help me to blend in…

This is the most common traditional dwelling in the area, called a rondavel:

One night, we were actually invited to dinner for one, which was…so incredible. Nicole has been blessed with so many incredible relationships, and we were privileged to be able to be dinner guests of one friend. We ate a traditional meal in the traditional style, using our hands as utensils:

A couple more friends came along, and it was a wonderful time of fellowship and encouragement. Two of them work with projects focused on purity, so we had tons to talk about, and it was so heartening to meet local people who believe that this is so important. In their region, it is incredibly rare to be committed to purity, even among Christians. In fact, women are encouraged to have children before marriage to prove their fertility, and men are told to have as many sexual partners as possible. The whole situation is heart-breaking.

We spent all day Sunday (our first full day there) in Bible study, listening to a sermon, worshipping, praying, and talking; it was basically all-day church, and it was phenomenal!

Rundu is famous for it’s open market, and Josh and Steve pretty much drooled over the weapons they had for sale there. These spears were a serious favorite (but so difficult to take in one’s carry-on ; )


Check out this crazy plant. I see them around, but this was one of the nicest I have seen by far. The crazy part? Look closely- it’s actually composed of pink leaves instead of petals!

So much in Rundu inspired me to look at the details. Even here, Josh and I find ourselves rushing around trying to complete tasks, and we miss out on the people. I don’t know why; we love getting to know the people here. Sometimes it seems like we think we must be making big sacrifices and suffering in order to serve God, and that if we enjoy something, it must be selfish. I have no idea where I came up with this ridiculous concept; I know that God created our hearts, personalities, and dreams…it seems the enemy will use anything to try to keep us from doing God’s will.

We realized we have been trying to do way to much here, and that we need to cut back. It is so difficult, because there are so many needs we could be ministering to, but we cannot single-handedly fix everything. We want to shift towards focusing more on individuals and smalls groups; we will still work with some larger groups (like at the youth center), but that will not be our main focus. If we change a lot of lives a little bit, that’s great but it probably won’t last. We want to be used by God to have a dramatic and lasting influence on a few lives, in the hope that they will be able to continue ministering to the community once we leave. This is an important transition for us, and it is somewhat intimidating. Please pray with us for God’s guidance and direction.

These last few pictures are were taken the night before we left. It was impossible not to sense God’s power, and majesty, and glory through witnessing this in person. I’ve come to believe that sunsets are Africa’s crowning glory. Even when surrounded by barren landscape, they are spectacular. This sunset, however, took place over the crocodile-filled Kavango River, which feeds into the magnificent Okavanga Delta in Botswana.


Kwakwas


The educational system in Namibia (although one of the more developed in Africa) is so disparate to that in the United States that I am sure I can never adequately highlight the differences within the context of a post that covers an entire week. Here is what you should know:

Farms are more like sparsely populated, far spread communities in the countryside than what we are used to at home. Often times, these communities share schools, and the students may have to walk for several miles to reach them. They may only go up to grade 7 or 10, and if that is the case, the students’ education usually stops there, which will exclude them from many employment opportunities.

Kwakwas (sounds just like it’s spelled) is a farm school on the Kwakwas farm outside of Rehoboth. Each morning, all the teachers (4 of them for 7 grades, and 3 right now due to illness) are transported via combi (a large van) to the school. It takes around 45 minutes to get there.

The children that attend Kwakwas usually have parents that work on the farms. Almost all of them speak Nama as their first language, made up of complex clicks and sounds- it is very difficult to learn if it is not your first language. They are often very, very poor, and most receive their clothing and shoes from Catholic Aid or the school. They wear uniforms to school, but the dress code cannot be super-strict, because if they grow out of the clothes or if they are ruined, it may be some time until they can be replaced.

The curriculum for my class (grade 2) came from a 150-page book that lists all the educational goals of students in grades 1-4. Subjects taught are “maths,“ environmental studies, art, religious and moral education (in which they are exposed to both Chrisitianity and “traditional religions,“ Afrikaans, and English (which means they are expected to know 3 languages by the time they reach grade 4). One of the biggest challenges is that it does not identify which concepts should be taught in which grades. Knowing that children achieve some significant developmental milestones within that time, it is very important to know what children at each age are actually capable of. Given the fact that many teachers on farm schools do not have degrees in education, this is often difficult to ascertain.

The children receive corporal punishment as discipline.

There is a great lack of equipment. Not only are there no computers or copiers (which means everything must be written on the blackboard), there is no science equipment, calculators, art supplies, playground, and my class doesn’t even have enough pencils (sometimes that is because the kids become hungry and eat pencils or paper). As far as equipment for physical education, I have seen one soccer ball. There are a couple of games and puzzles that were left by previous volunteers, but the children will be closely monitored while using them, or they will steal pieces to take home. Stealing is a major problem; the children have so little, that they just want things to have, no matter what they are. We gave my class pencils that we had labeled with their names, and many of them carry the pencils with them everywhere they go. They are proud to have something that is their own.

Although Kwakwas has been around for more than 50 years, it receives very little help from the government, which is not uncommon concerning farm schools. The only real contribution the government makes is maize meal (corn meal) to feed the children, and usually not enough of that. The school relies on financial support from churches and individuals to remain open.




Jesus Loves the Little Children of the World (Weeks 14 & 15)

“ Let the little children come to me, and do not forbid them; for such is the kingdom of heaven” -Matthew 19:14

The last 2 weeks have been super busy, so I am combining them into one post.

Week 14 ended my time at Kwakwas. It was bittersweet; in this short time I had come to love my students, but my duties there were exhausting when placed on top of all my other ministry commitments. On my last day of teaching, I was blessed to have Josh accompany me to the school (the class created the message behind me for him):

We had a great time playing with and taking pictures of the kids:

Leading my little ducklings. These were taken down at the dry riverbed:



I let them do sidewalk chalk, and they really got into it- just look at their clothes!

If you look closely at the writing, you can see where I wrote “Nicky [heart]s Josh,” and then they copied it all over the cement, often with letters backwards or transposed.

Week 15 began in Rundu, and was a blur once we returned on Wednesday. As soon as we came back, we found this visitor outside our front door. His wingspan is around 3 inches or so:

This was Steve’s last week, and we went with him to the preschool, which is always tons of fun. Amathila Happy Kids preschool is located in Block E, and serves mostly orphans and vulnerable children (OVCs). One of the saddest things about Namibia thus far is that, anywhere you go, you can say those three letters and everyone knows exactly what you are referring to. It is that common.


I thought this was just precious.

Since it was his last week, Steve brought apples, which were a huge treat for the kids.

Doing emergency surgery on a paper chain. No worries; crisis was averted.

I am telling you, this kid got air.

The Josh fan club.

The kids here are amazing, and they are teaching me so much. Take a look through the all the pictures that have been posted of kids here. More often than not, their expression is that of pure joy. And they have nothing. Many of them only have the clothes they are wearing, which are often hand-me-downs. But they don’t seem to care; they don’t seem to have any idea of how little they have. Although we are often asked for food, money, or “sweets,” I have never seen one child pout when we say no. How many kids can you say that about in the U.S.?

One of the reasons we are grateful to have come here at this point in our life stems from this contentedness. Before we have had the chance to make much money or accumulate many possessions, we have been given the opportunity to think carefully about how Jesus wants us to live. We feel called to a life of greater simplicity than many of those around us. Don’t get me wrong- we are not trying to push our agenda on anyone. How you live is between you and God. We just find it difficult to justify using our resources to have all sorts of unnecessary stuff when many kids here don’t even have shoes or enough to eat. These children have just opened our eyes to how He wants us to live. It is something we are working on, because we want to find the balance God has for us. Luckily, we have several more months to think about it!

Well, that’s our last two weeks in a nutshell; we hope yours were terrific. God is faithful as always, and is caring for us even in the difficult times. We are both learning so much here in Namibia. Thanks for visiting!

Prayer Requests:

1. Guidance and peace- lots of readjustments going on in our ministry schedules!
2. Family and friends back home
3. Power against the enemy’s strongholds
4. That the Truth would be revealed in Rehoboth
5. Steve’s travel and transition back to the states
6. Community involvement in the youth center