Sunday, November 23, 2014

The story of a friendship

As I write this, I'm sitting in the Johannesburg airport waiting to fly home for my dear friend Louisa's wedding. Well, to be fair, I'm flying home for my furlough, but the first thing on the agenda is getting Lou married! 

I've never told you about Lou on here, or maybe even fully about my journey that landed me living in Zambia. But it kind of all begins with Lou and a friendship that completely changed my life. 

Lou and I met the summer after my freshman year of college. I went to OC and she went to Harding, but we both ended up on an internship in Jinja, Uganda that summer. We were both a little stand offish at first, not quite sure about the other. But over time and by the sweetness of God, we became friends. She would quickly tell you I'm not her best friend and she's not mine (this always makes people laugh because it sounds so weird), but we are each other's kindred spirits. In that first summer together, we bonded over A.W. Tozer's Pursuit of God, over sickness and an inability to swallow pills at an embarrassing age, and hearts that were starting to feel called far away from home. Before that internship in Africa, I'd never thought about the things Lou and I would talk about and question. I'd never had any desire to do anything but get married and raise my kids exactly like I was raised, to be honest. So many questions started troubling me as I left Uganda that summer, and Lou remained that person who "got it" in my life. 

After a couple more trips back to parts of Africa, we decided to move to Namwianga together. The decision and process to get there is a story for another day, but the point is that Lou and I embarked on a journey together that would change our lives forever. 

We were oh so naive. I'm laughing right now just remembering so many of the hilarious memories and mistakes we made early on. We just had no idea what all was in store for us. I always tell people if someone had told me before I left all that would happen to me while I was in Zambia, I probably would not had been strong enough to still choose to go. 

But go we did. Together. It was Louisa who taught me to drive a stick shift. It was Louisa who went wild in the rain with me the first time we experienced real African rain. It was Lou who was with me the night Harper died and I was all alone and away from my family in America. It was Lou who taught me how to be more sympathetic. It was Lou who made me laugh until I peed my pants so times. It was Lou who weathered culture shock with me and I with her. It was Lou who walked with me through so much death and so many questions and helped me learn to see light again. It was Lou who continued to support me even after she moved back to America and I remained in Zambia. There will always be a part of me that only Lou will totally know and understand, and I'm so grateful for that connection and gift. 

Someone wise once said something to the effect of "Each friend represents a world in us, a world not possibly born until their arrival" (I'm in the airport, okay? It's tough to look these things up!). But Louisa opened up so many new worlds to me. She made me braver and stronger and wiser and happier and healthier. She affirmed me and challenged me and asked questions with me. I've never known someone whose opinions and ideas of the world and mission and poverty and love mirror my own so closely. 

And now she's getting married and I get to be there to stand beside her and I couldn't be happier. 

And then I get to hug all my family, and my church family, and my friends. My heart feels pretty full. (I'm just not thinking about all the little ones my heart's already missing!)

** Now I'm sitting on a plane to Oklahoma City to see my family, but just now posting this I wrote before I landed for Lou's wedding! The wedding was yesterday, and now it's off to new fun adventures! And this is my 20th blog! :)

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Chitenges

Before you even start reading this post, know that I just laughed out loud when I was reading it over because it reads like a middle school essay on Chitenges or something. I'm sorry about that. It's just that people always ask me about them, so I thought I'd provide some facts! Sorry if you're bored to tears after reading my term paper. :)

One of my favorite parts of Zambian culture is the use of chitenges. Most every African nation has a form of a chitenge. It's a 2 meter strip of fabric, sometimes nylon, polyester, or cotton, that serves so many purposes.

It would be impossible to find a Zambian woman who doesn't own at least one, but most women usually have more in the neighborhood of 4 to 8.       .  

The primary use for a chitenge is as clothing. It covers the under layer of clothing and protects those from becoming dirty or wet. If you are a thin woman, it can be wrapped and tied around your waist. If you aren't that thin, it is tucked, but not tied. Some women even have strings sewn in so it's able to tie more easily. 
Chitenges are both casual and fancy (but not at the same time!). They are sometimes filthy and ratty from years of wear and tear. But they are also made into suits and worn to the most special of occasions, like weddings or graduations. 

They also play a part in funerals. It would be uncommon for a woman to not wear a chitenge to a funeral here. 

The second main use, and my primary use, for a chitenge is for carrying babies on your back. From the time a baby's cord falls off until they are 3 or 3 1/2 years old, babies are worn on their mamas' backs. Occasionally you'll see a desperate father wearing his baby, but it's a rare sight! Even babies chitenge babies, little girls only 4 years of age. 
It's interesting to me that although every child in Zambia grows up being worn in a chitenge, Zambians place little, if any, sentimental value into particular chitenges. In America, we keep baby blankets and stuffed animals and things that remind us of certain times in our lives, but here once it's worn out, it's used for rags until it can't be used anymore.

We use chitenges for so much more than just wearing, though. They're made into quilts, curtains, nappy liners, bags, table cloths, decorations, picnic blankets, and more.
Aaron and his auntie
Aunties all wearing short chitenges so they could still play volleyball!
Milika snuggled up under a chitenge quilt
Chitenge curtains

Chitenge pillows in the background

I hope you all are having a great day! 

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Birthdays lately

We've had so many birthdays around here lately! Thankfully, the Harding group that is here has been more than willing to help me bake all the birthday treats, making my life so much easier! Our babies are growing up fast and doing so well. 

Biggie turned 3!
Seth helping carry in some birthday cake
Chabilo and Chabonwa turned 1 and 3! 
Chabilo enjoying her brownie birthday cake.
Esther turned 1!
And so did Ezekiel!
Katie turned 2!
Twins Owen and Oscar turned 1!

It's an honor to be able to celebrate these milestones with these little ones we love so much. We're grateful for their lives that we get to share in for this season.

Friday, November 7, 2014

It's formula time again!

It takes a lot of formula to feed our hungry little mouths and also the mouths of the 50+ children in our milk program. Our milk program provides formula for children who have lost their mothers but still have someone in their family who is able to care for them with the assistance of milk. It's a wonderful ministry made possible by people like you who help us buy the formula. We love it when families can stay together if at all possible, and this is one great way to support that happening!

Because formula costs so much in Zambia, it saves us considerable amounts of money to purchase it in the States. The East Side Church of Christ in Colorado Springs lovingly organizes a container each year, which ships over a year's supply of formula and other supplies that are hard to get in country.

We still need to raise about $35,000 to accomplish our goal before the container ships out in January!
If you are interested in making a donation to  help us meet this goal, you can send a check to:

Eastside Church of Christ,
Formula Fund
5905 Flintridge Drive,
Colorado Springs, CO 80920

If you need any help or have questions, please contact Benita Thomas at

 719-338-1341    benitathomas3@gmail.com .

As always, we are so blessed to have people around the world who love us so well! We appreciate you!

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Window Wednesday- 9th Grade Bible Study

I thought tonight I'd offer you a glimpse into my normal Wednesday night routine. Since moving back here in 2012, I've been teaching one of the high school bible studies every Wednesday night. Wednesday night church does not exist in Zambia, but because Namwianga has the secondary school, they have grade level bible studies on that night. I started with the grade 8 girls last year, and now I have them again in grade 9. The plan is that I'll have them all the way until they complete grade 12, and I can already tell what a difference it makes having the same group of girls carry over each year. They are definitely growing, maturing, and gaining more depth each year. 

They come over to my house each week, and most weeks I make some kind of special treat for the end of our night. Our first year we studied Jesus, what he said and what he did. This year we've been studying a book called "Follow Me" by David Platt which deals with what it means to actually follow this Jesus we spent the last year learning all about. 

When the Harding groups are here, many of the girls participate in our bible study. I pair each college student up with one of my grade 9 girls. They sit together each week and try to spend a little bit of time at the end talking about the lesson and praying with each other. 

Tonight, we had a game night with everyone. We drew names and each pair played another pair in some crazy fun games like Trouble, Memory, Jenga, and Toss up! I love how games transcend cultures, and how everyone enjoys a little friendly competition. :) 

Here are a few pictures from tonight's match ups. 











I don't love these pictures because everyone's eyes look crazy and the flash was weird, but I sure do love all the girls in these pictures and the love they pour into each other.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Things you might find yourself saying if you've lived in Zambia awhile

The longer I've lived here, the more often I find myself saying things that I've picked up from my Zambian friends. With a little help from my friends and coworkers who have lived here with me, we've come up with this list of things you might find yourself saying if you've lived in Zambia awhile!

1. Bad manners. I say this one probably 20 times a day, minimum. It's like we'd say, "That's not very nice" to our kids in America when they've done something naughty.

2. Early bells. This phrase describes just how early of a start you'll have in the morning. If someone says we're going "early bells", they mean at the crack of dawn!

3. Nicely. This is easily the most used adverb around these parts. Play nicely. Sit nicely. Eat nicely. People always walk away from Zambia using this modifier!

4. Now now. In a world where timeliness holds little value, it's often hard to get a clear answer on just when you're going to be leaving, meeting someone, doing something, etc. If someone tells you, "We're leaving just now," that could mean anytime in the next hour or so. But if they say "now now", you know you're leaving momentarily.

5, Travel well. This is a common expression in Tonga (mweende kabotu), but it's used so often in English, too. Anytime someone starts off from a place, they are told to travel well.

6. How was the night? You'll hear this most mornings. It's just a common greeting to ask how people slept, and I think it's fun.

7. Filling station. Because we use the word fuel instead of gas here, we don't have "gas stations" but "filling stations".

8. I have tonsils. If you're sick because you're throat hurts, you would say, "I have tonsils." If one of the babies has an ear infection, an auntie would tell me, "She has ears."

9. I'm coming as you're walking out the door somewhere. As you leave a place, you say, "I'm coming." It's the same way in Tonga, and it doesn't make much sense to me. We're doing the opposite of coming, but the implication is that you'll come back again at some point.

10. Finished. I think in America we tend to say something is "gone" when it runs out, but here everything is "finished". The sugar is finished. The washing powder is finished. The charcoal is finished.

11. Body hotness. This is the expression used for fever. Totally literal!

12. It is paining. Nothing hurts here, but everything pains.

13. Looking smart. I think this one is actually British, but it just means you're looking sharp and put together.

14. Tropicals. Flip-flops.

15. Odi. This is the Tonga word for "knock", as in on a door, but it's also used if someone's not paying attention and you want to get their attention back again!

16. Two Hands. There isn't a word in Tonga for please, so the polite way to ask for something is to offer both your hands cupped. It's rude and offensive here to grab something with just one of your hands, so we teach the babies to receive everything with "two hands". 

17. Beautif. For some reason, there are a lot of words here that are just cut off mid-word. One of those is beautiful. If you call someone beautiful in English here, it would be shortened to "beautif".

18. Jers. In Zambia, a jacket or sweater is known as a jersey. Many words that have an "ee" sound at the end of them drop that sound for some reason, leaving words like "jers". So a common thing you'd hear around the Haven would be, "He needs to put on a jers before he goes outside."

19. Where do you stay? instead of where do you live? This question, oft received from Zambians if you are a guest here, always seems to throw people off at first.

20. Crisps are potato chips here.

21. Chips are french fries here. 

22. Queue is what is used here for a line formed for anything.

23. Mama/Daddy Many Zambians use these English words to call a child. Because most Tonga children would not call their mother and father those words in English but use the Tonga words instead, the words don't carry the same meaning to them. So we call all little girls mama and little boys daddy. It's quite endearing I think, but it sure confuses kids back home when I call them mama!

Ba Halale and I had such a good time talking about these things in Tonga class. You don't even realize how differently we use English words sometimes. This list is by no means exhaustive, but it's enough to explain to those of you back in America why some of these phrases are stuck like glue in my vocabulary now!

Monday, November 3, 2014

Whew.

This frequent blogging thing was tougher than I thought. But I will press on. I will prevail. I will be the recipient of some new thunder wear. 

It's not that I don't have things to say even. It's that I have so many things to say, and not easy things always. They take thought and fleshing out and contemplation. 

In fact, here's a list of half written, half thought through blog titles sitting as drafts right now, just to prove I'm trying. 

1. Orphan Sunday
2. Chitenges
3. Be you
4. Love chapter
5. Window Wednesday- Matilda
6. Interns 2014
7. Bailey

Since I can't just end there but I don't have it in me tonight to flesh out a whole though, and since orphan Sunday was yesterday and the latest draft, let me just cut it down to some bullet points:

-It was yesterday.
-I  had no idea until I saw it on someone's Facebook.
-I laughed to myself because that seems like something I should know. 
-Over here every Sunday feels a bit like Orphan Sunday. 
-I'm grateful for people that care and advocate and bring issues like orphan care to the forefront of conversations. 
-I'm especially grateful to you all who help give our babies life and healing through your prayers and donations. 
-I'm proud of the way so many of you are loving the motherless and fatherless right where you find yourself, in whatever school or city or country. 
-It's beautiful to know so many of you who parent the children God's given you so well. And that your kids don't have to know what it would be like to be an orphan because they have you. 
-I'm humbled by the way my Zambian friends love the orphan so well. 
-I have a lot to learn. 

Just picture that written cohesively and eloquently, and let's call it a day, shall we? More to come when I get my act together. 

And here's a pic, just because I love y'all. It's a happy, smiley, growing Memory! God has done a lot of healing in her since she got back from the hospital, and we're so grateful!