Sunday, November 28, 2010

It's Rainy Season, and It's (Mostly) Cool!!!

Rainy season has begun. We are sitting through our biggest storm of the new season, and it’s only our second. It rained on us Saturday afternoon, a nice little shower, as we sat in the parking lot of the fastest internet service provider in town trying to Skype with the Mission Vision Team of Landmark Church of Christ, our primary supporting congregation. Yesterday we got our first good rain here at the house, but not this heavy or brilliant. Now it is raining: cats and dogs, buckets, gushers, raining up a storm, a real gullywhomper thunderstorm.

And it is lightening. Most of the strikes are 2.5-3 seconds away. One was less, and threw our main breaker. I had just unplugged our laptop, the printer next to it, a heavy-duty surge protector which fed the electronic piano, and an uninterrupted power supply which carries our desktop. Then the blue-white flash of light and “Craaackkkk”. Our house is on the highest hill for some miles around. I am aware that we could use lightning rods, but our house built on a rock would have a hard time finding ground. How long can the lead wire be?

Two weeks ago it was hot, very hot. But about a week ago, as rain began to fall within sight of the house, the temperature graciously dipped as well. The clouds have been hiding the sun and the breeze has kissed our arms and brows after coming through the drops that we can see falling in the distance: relief from the heat. The sun has passed overhead on its journey south in relation to the earth, and will be back in a few weeks, after its overhead rendezvous with the tropic of Capricorn. Though my logic says it should remain hot, a critical point has been reached such that the updrafts provoked by those rays work steadily every morning lofting water droplets off Lake Malawi and the Indian Ocean which in turn cool, condense and fall to freshen the breeze blowing our way. Even from unseen parts we feel the results. Where seen, it is beautiful as the cumulonimbus billow overhead higher than we fly when coming here, sheets of rain fall, marching across the Lumbadzi River valley north and east of us, progressively hiding the Dowa mountains in the distance, visually demonstrating the process which brings us relief, and water to settle the dust and seemingly awaken the world.

Many have already planted. Others are doing so now. Napoleon and other large farmers are busy spraying herbicides before their fields are taken over ere the corn even sprouts. Fields prepared by hand have been ready for several weeks revealing freshly brown broken lumps of clay. A few are still being turned by hoe. But now it is planting time, and most are at it. The frogs form a deep-throated “amen” chorus, welcoming the gushers as the storm passes and the rain subsides to a drizzle. The birds sing after the rain as if it were morning again, and maybe it is, a seasonal morning of new life.

For several days now the little orange and blue-black beetles (see “Lava Bugs”, posted Wednesday, March 17) have swarmed our ceiling and walls. We’ve learned that the mosquito coils we use have no effect on them, but they occasionally do fall off the ceiling to crawl through hats and hair, down our necks or up our sleeves. Interesting little critters—they do keep you awake in the late evenings with dim light and the press of the day every heavier on the eyelids. The mosquito population has not changed much yet. But they will soon catch up. We’ve been trying to get the holes in our roof patched and some better screens on our house, whose windows are filled with an eclectic ensemble of American and African architecture, each having its respective advantages, mostly in its proper place, but together conflicting frustratingly and preventing the best use of each the other’s features. The carpenters on campus have been tied up for weeks on other projects of higher priority, so we are making efforts to get those underway—and hopefully finished—soon. Then the blessings of rainy season will not be slighted by its problems, and we’ll be able to enjoy without compromise the cool rebirth of life which will bless the next few months.

Then today I learned that a dear friend and her husband are both infected with HIV, and he is ill. I am poignantly reminded in this season otherwise refreshing of the wise preacher’s comment that there is a time for everything: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to be happy, and a time to be sad. And sometimes in the many lives playing out before us, those times come to meet each other.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

A New Friend, Unwanted and Self-Detached

I have a new friend. Without invitation or welcome he first came into my sight on a recent Monday. One minute he wasn’t there, the next he was, off to my right and a little above center of whatever I was looking at. I call my friend “Maejong” because he reminds me of some of the characters on the playing pieces of that game. This new friend looks like a nest of folding dark lines with weighted strings hanging down, at times appearing as a jellyfish, at times like a ranger dangling from his parachute. I knew from first sight that my new friend was somewhere in my eye, my right eye. I can’t see him well as I can’t focus on him; he moves with my eyeball, always off to the right, always a little above the level of the object of focus.

I thought it was my cataract. About a year ago my family doctor (yes, I have one) told me I had an immature cataract in my right eye. I just thought it had caught my attention for the first time, that I was seeing it layered onto whatever I focused on. There was, however, one problem. The parachutist swung in the breeze at the end of his lines. Whenever I looked quickly to the left, as my eyeball came to a halt, and with it most of my friend, the lower “strings” of my new friend swept up and left. When I looked right, my friend’s dependencies swung up and to the right. This is not what a cataract should do. Then the lights came.

Six days later after I first saw my friend, on a Sunday evening just as dark fell I was walking out to the Blessings Hospital portal to welcome some friends who were driving out to visit us. I was reading in the dim light and my eyes were flitting back and forth across the page. When they moved to the right I saw a flashing band of blue light, over and over and over, line by line on the page, running from the top of my eye to the bottom flashing through the spot occupied by my new friend. Light flashes are associated with retinal detachment which may cause loss of sight. My friend had my attention. But my impression was that there was no ophthalmologist living and working in Malawi.

Early the next morning I called my friend Perry Jensen, another family doc who has cared for AIDS patients in Malawi for ten years. Perry knew of two opthalmologists in the country, one at Kamuzu Central Hospital, the referral hospital for the central region of the country, the other was at a Nkhoma Mission Hospital about 40 km south of the capital, and Perry knew him. I chose Perry’s friend, gave him a call, and was encouraged to show up as soon as possible that day.

Mtendere’s driver was able to accompany us, and we took off, arriving a little before noon. After discovering that we had met the hospital’s volunteer optician from Luxembourg in the immigration office, I had a thorough exam by a young ophthalmologist who looked younger than my son. You know you’re getting old when your doctors look like your children, and I got another gentle reminder when the doctor told me my new friend was nothing to worry about, just the result of a “maturing” eye. It seems the vitreous in my right eye, the gelatinous stuff that fills most of the eye ball, back in the back, is drying out, shrinking, getting a little wrinkled, and doesn’t need as much space as it once did. Thus it has pulled away from the eyeball, a “posterior vitreous detachment”. Some strings of tissue are literally hanging loose in the space that is left. There is a slightly increased risk of a future retinal detachment, which would be accompanied by a different pattern of light flashes, but nothing really serious at the moment. He will see me again at a hospital closer to home in about six weeks.

So I confidently play with my new friend, aware of his faithful presence when I move my eye, especially at night, enjoying the blue light, usually a bar, at times a ring around my visual field, but always a reminder of the sixty-one years walking on this earth.

“Today I’m nearer to my home,

much nearer than before.”

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Wheels!!!—Or, “Lessons on the Importation of Diplomatic Vehicles Already in Malawi.”

Our quest for transportation for our ministry began at budgeting time about 18 months ago. We had been assured by Malawian missionaries that churches could import vehicles free of duty, so we counted on that, budgeting $55,000 for a Toyota Hi-lux or Land Cruiser allowing for addition of an extra fuel tank, bull bar, luggage rack, etc. A number of good folk shared with us generously (see below), but we always seemed a little behind on our budget, not quite getting there. Then we moved to Malawi, and a number of smaller “one-time” expenses came due, drawing down our fund.

Very early on here we learned that some Malawian churches had been passing out duty free vehicles to their senior members as benefits, not exactly what the law had envisioned when it gave churches duty-free status. So, seemingly overnight (was it by presidential decree?) churches were allowed only to import single cabin pickups, trucks or buses, none of which fit our needs for village visits in Malawi and travel to other countries in the region.

Our partner, Napoleon Dzombe, who is very well-known in central Malawi, and is also the imagination, brains and probably the biggest single contributor to the hard work behind the six different projects here on our campus, was sought out by the new Land Rover dealership to help them launch their sales campaign, trying to put Land Rover back on the road here. Napoleon encouraged us to try to get the same sweetheart deal he’d been given, but the problem was we didn’t have quite that much cash. Then when we got it, the Land Rover had gone up $10,000, and the next month it went up $10,000 more. We visited the Toyota dealership regularly and wrote letters seeking funds. Another foundation offered us a challenge grant which would get us close to the purchase price. But we just couldn’t seem to get over the edge. Then Napoleon went to Europe.

He had to get a visa via a European embassy here which, in Malawi, covers for its neighbor which Napoleon was visiting. The Malawian who was screening Napoleon asked him, “Would you like to buy a good car?” Napoleon learned that one of their diplomats was finishing his two year tour, and that he wanted to sell his personal vehicle which had only 30,000 kilometers (about 19,000 miles) on it. Napoleon looked at the car, a beautiful 2008 Nissan Patrol and knew it was a very good deal, even if not inexpensive.

He called us to a meeting before he left. “If you don’t buy this car, I’m going to sell you! We made an appointment to see it and were given a ride by the same embassy worker. It was a very nice car. Not the luxury model, but very nice. It was not a steal, but the price was reasonable for what it was. And it would go to any village in rainy season as well as cover the mileage of southeastern Africa we'd be traveling. The price would more than double, however, with the import duty, and we didn’t have that much money. Some modifications would also have to be made to bring it up to the standards we were seeking (bull bar, etc.). A series of meetings with the diplomat began. He wanted to be paid in his home currency which would protect him against vacillations of the dollar. For the same reason, we would have rather paid in dollars. Others wanted the car, but had trouble coming up with that much of the diplomat’s currency. We could get the currency, as our money was in a U.S. bank, but we wanted a guarantee that we would not go above a certain dollar figure. We dickered over this point, the diplomat refusing to sign a contract we drew up until the currency exchange rate was no longer an issue.

The diplomat wanted to keep the car until the day he left and all the money had to be in his bank account before he would hand it over. We wanted the deal to be called off if an accident occurred on his watch. Eventually it became apparent that trust was necessary to make a deal, a trust greater than our brief friendship with this announced agnostic would support, even though he was also a gentle and wise senior statesman who cared deeply for the impoverished villagers and workers of Malawi. We could only trust him in spite of the many circumstance which could intervene to sour this deal by first trusting the Lord.

As the diplomat’s departure date moved back and forth we were rattled and frustrated. The dollar rose and fell against his currency, but never so far that the deal would have to be off. Finally we had to say to the good brothers and sisters at church and the bank in Montgomery, “Just do it. Buy the currency at the best possible moment and wire it to his account." The best possible moment became “anytime now”; then it was done, at least in America.

The currency was purchased and wired on a Tuesday. The diplomat had promised that his assistant would help us with the paperwork for the two remaining steps, importation and change of title, but the assistant wanted the week of his boss’ departure for vacation. We had to finish all the paperwork before the end of the previous week. To change the title we would also have to demonstrate that we had insurance. We priced insurance on Wednesday and sealed a deal with the best offer. On Thursday morning we changed money at the ForEx (foreign exchange bureau), and purchased the insurance, receiving the certificate and sticker we needed. We visited the embassy and got the diplomat’s signature on the importation papers verifying that he was selling the car to us, at what cost, and his original cost of the car. The assistant brought the car for inspection to Customs who verified the VIN and motor number and certified that the price was reasonable for that car. It was then discovered that a mistake had been made on the documents by Customs and new paperwork had to be signed by the diplomat. This would be done Friday morning.

Beth got in line at the bank Friday at 7:30 to get a certified check for the duty while I went to the embassy nearby to pick up the re-signed papers. With those in hand we headed back to Customs. At the proper office no one was in. They were all in a meeting. We took the check downstairs and paid the tax (greater than the selling price of the car!). On return, no one was there yet. An attentive ear at each door discovered the meeting, the door was cracked, the supervisor’s eye caught, and he came to help us. In five more minutes we were off.

At the regional road traffic office we were told that a diplomat’s car had to be handled at the national office, thankfully only two blocks up the street. We raced up the way, arriving at 10:30. The staff was very pleasant with the bad news: “Your papers are all in order, but the network is down. Please come back after lunch.” At that point the diplomat’s assistant left us to try to finish up some things at the office before his vacation. We were on our own.

We returned at 1:30. The staff arrived at 1:45. The network was back up, and we got in line near the front. Our turn came quickly, and the re-review of our papers was met with, “Where’s the letter saying the car is being sold to you?”

“We have this sales agreement, signed by both parties.”

“No, that won’t do. Here, use this one for an example,” and from the stack someone else’s letter appeared. Beth quickly took notes while I called the diplomat.

“We need you to sign another letter, sir. May we come over right now?”

“Another letter? My assistant said that would be all.”

“Yes sir, we thought so, but they say we need another letter.”

“Of course. I’m here packing. Come right over. I live in Area . . . Do you know the way?” I took careful notes on the directions.

And, “yes,” the clerk responded to our query, “you will have to have the car inspected to complete your paperwork, but if you get back before 3:30 we’ll be able to finish everything.”

Mtendere Children’s Village uses its truck on Fridays to shop for the next week’s operating supplies, so we had rented a car with driver for what we knew was going to be a harrowing and possibly feverish race against the clock. We were glad he was driving as Beth dictated based on the letter we’d seen, in the back seat I wrote by hand in a steno pad, trying to compensate for the bumps and curves. The assistant called me regarding why another letter was needed. His reply to my answer: “Oh, yes. That letter.”

We arrived at the diplomat’s home just as I finished writing, finding the house on the fourth leg we tried from the appointed intersection. The maid ushered us to the patio and offered much-needed water. The gentleman appeared, inquired about the rationale again, then signed the letter handwritten on both sides of a steno page. Then we told him we had to have the car inspected. This had not been contemplated by his assistant either, but the diplomat drove with us, I riding with him, Beth carrying the letter on ahead with our driver. The diplomat could not let someone else drive a car with his embassy’s plates on it.

The diplomat’s presence provided a little grease to the wheels of bureaucracy. As I mentioned his presence to the clerks, and that he hoped this process could be completed today, the information was relayed to supervisors, papers were placed on top of the stack and returned in a few short minutes. A first payment was made downstairs, a computerized form generated, back to clerk, back to supervisor, back across the hall to the clerk, a second payment was made downstairs, and then the “last step”. “Where do we find the inspector?”

“Oh, for that you have to go back to the regional office of the Road Traffic Department.”

Back in the two cars we hit the busy main street and pulled into the front lot of the appropriate office. A quick inquiry revealed that we needed to pull around back to the inspection lane. Having done so, I sought an inspector. One was engaged, took our paperwork, and eventually came out to inspect.

The inspection lane is a narrow alley between two buildings with a dangerously deep center pit for underside inspections (absolutely unused for any of several cars I’ve seen inspected there). With the diplomat in the car, the balding inspector, walking around the car to observe, shouted for him to turn on various lights and turn indicators. We could not figure out how to turn on the fog lights and the inspector gave up. They aren’t mandatory, just interesting. But it’s nearing 4:00 on Friday.

The diplomat was asked to wait on the side, the inspector slid behind the wheel, shut the door, sounded the horn several times, revved the 6 cylinder diesel, and popped the clutch. Smoking rubber was left on the slick cement both on takeoff and on slamming the all-round ABS brakes two seconds later. The triad was repeated with braking after a run of about 20 feet onto gravel approaching a curve with a steep upward bank guarding the far side of the curve. Our car joined the previous cars that had “Passed”, sliding into the curve with ABS complaining, coming to a halt before it hit the bank. “He’s no inspector, just a cowboy!” the diplomat expressed his disgust at the treatment of the vehicles. I was thinking about how much a tire balancing would cost and where I’d get it done well. But forms were checked off: “Pass”. This was verified, as required, by a second official. “What next?” I asked, as one man reviewed my papers.

“Take this and hurry, hurry to the front of the building and pay 1000 Kwacha. Hurry!!! It was straight up 4:00. I ran.

The office was closed at 4:02 but two or three others bargained through an open window. As I joined them the diplomat pulled the car around in front of us. “Good afternoon. Please, this car is being sold by a European Diplomat, and he wants to finish today so he can leave the country shortly.”

“You live in Lumbadzi; you’re no diplomat.”

“Noooo. I’m the buyer. See that car out there? That’s the diplomat. See those plates? ‘10 CD 8’”. [CD = diplomatic corps.]

“Well, all right. That’ll be 6000 kwatcha.”

“I was told 1000.”

“No, it’s 6000.”

I handed over six thousand. “But I need a receipt.”

“That paper you have is your receipt.” There it was: 1000 Malawi Kwacha. I didn’t argue. The day was over. The deed was done. We had been helped. The cost of express service.

We left and hurried back up the road to the national office, all our papers in hand. “Is there anything else we need to do?”

“Just make your plates.”

“And where do we do that?”

“Just down the street here, at the bakery, just before the regional office.” The driver knew the place.

It made no sense, but we headed for the bakery as the diplomat headed home to finish packing. I had been told that one of several [Asian] Indian shops could make the plates.

We saw the bakery, surrounded by several auto parts stores and pulled in. As we hopped out, appropriate documents in hand, an employee on his way out the door of one of the parts stores turned around and ushered us in. Over the protests of the manager he asked for our number, the size of our plates (which we quickly confirmed on their samples), if ours was to be a private vehicle (yellow plates), grabbed the blanks, went aside to a machine, and quickly stamped out both front and rear plates. “Four thousand nine hundred kwacha.”

“I understood they were twenty-five hundred.”

“A decade ago.”

More express service. We paid up and walked out, paint still wet, carefully propping our new plates on the floorboard and in the back seat. One thing was left: the money for the sale had not yet arrived in the diplomat’s bank account. He had remarked that it was interesting that we were navigating the Malawian bureaucracy faster than we could that of U.S. capitalism. Sometimes that’s the way it is.

The diplomat called on Saturday afternoon to say that the money had been posted to his account. Would we like to come get the car? We declined, noting that we’d spent three days in town and were just “hanging low” at the house today with no desire to get out. We’d pick the car up on Sunday afternoon after 4:00 when we finished doing some internet work in town. A call from the diplomat Sunday afternoon noting an urgent matter at the embassy moved us to 10:00 Monday. We were able to get there in time with the help of Mtendere’s driver, change the plates out, and then drive off in the car which many of you have made possible.

We are thankful to God for this very unusual opportunity. We would not have bought so nice a car, but it was the only one we could afford. A new car never came within reach of our bank balance, and most used imports are 6-8 years old or older, too worn to take on international trips regularly. We are thankful to all those who contributed specifically to this effort (including some of you of whom I probably haven’t heard of yet), and those who are considering a contribution based on our recent appeal. Though I know we’re close, I don’t think the car is paid for yet. (I’m not sure where our current balance stands, and the final cost of the car was more than we had planned due to exchange rates and higher-than-expected taxes). To enable the deal, Landmark ( has covered the difference to the end of the year. And, we still need some money for the add-ons I’ve mentioned and driving the car around the region next year for the seminars we will teach. Our working fund is supplying current, “without-a-car” needs, so one-time or regular contributions would still be of help.

Those whom I know have contributed toward our “one-time” expenditures, the largest of which is this car, include:

The Church of Christ Foundation (of southern California)

Christopher Matthews

Henriette Baker

Sunny Hills Church of Christ, Fullerton, California

Mr. and Mrs. Russell Presley

Otter Creek Church of Christ, Nashville, Tennessee

David and Rebecca Matthews

Peter and Pamela Bogdanovic Charitable Trust

Body and Soul Ministries (BandS)

Pleasant Valley Church of Christ, Little Rock

Warren and Phyllis Skaug

Boyd Pate

Ezell Foundation

Christian Service Committee, Searcy, Arkansas

Margaret Peters

Julie Commander

Summer Darnell

Kelley Maltby

An Anonymous Foundation Supporting Mission Efforts in Churches of Christ

Regular contributors include:

University Church of Christ, Tuscaloosa, Alabama

Chandler Street Church of Christ, Kilgore, Texas

Redlands (California) Church of Christ

Linda Taylor

George and Kris Conner

Henriette Baker

Robert and Allison Berger

Paul and Judy Teeter

Our primary salary and support come from Landmark Church of Christ, Montgomery, Alabama.

"To God be the glory,

Great things he has done,"

And continues to do.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

A Needless Death-II

She was about 25. She hadn’t done well in school, so at a young age she had decided to try her hand at something else where she might do better—marriage.

She found a man to marry her and they began their life together. No wedding, just a coming together with an announcement to the community: “We’re married now.” Two children were born. One died of malaria, and the community became suspicious of HIV.

A divorce occurred. Her brother did not know why or what the circumstances were. Now she was a single mom with one surviving child, and HIV.

Her test had been positive, and at some time she had begun on antiretrovirals, life-saving medicines that have normalized the life span of HIV patients who are diagnosed early in the disease’s progression and while they are still young—if they take their meds like their lives depend on it; they do. She was young, but apparently not diagnosed early. The hospital was not very far away, but she was sick a lot, and going even a few kilometers on foot was a problem when sick. She was very poor, and probably ashamed of her status. It was not easy to get a ride. So she missed an appointment and then ran out of meds. She may have stopped and started her meds several times. And then she died.

Primary Cause of Death: Unknown, but some opportunistic infection, possibly tuberculosis, malaria, or cryptococcal (fungal) meningitis.

Secondary Cause of Death: Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome—AIDS

Tertiary Cause of Death: Infection with the Human Immunodeficiency Virus--HIV

Contributing Factors: Stigma, Shame, Poverty, Unfaithfulness, Single Motherhood, Social Isolation. All these are things which the church must address in its God-given mission to help the helpless, defend the fatherless and the widow, offer forgiveness to the guilty and hope to the hopeless, to love the apparently unlovely whom Jesus loved enough to associate with, to care for, to speak up for (as his Father and ours has done since the beginning of time), and then to die for that we (yes, we are among them) might live to tell the story to others who need to hear it and to live that ongoing story in relationship with them.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

“We are One”

I have been reading psychiatrist F. Scott Peck’s, The Road Less Traveled, which was recommended to me by the late Dr. Henry Farrar, inspiring mentor to many of us, just two weeks before his death in February. Peck talks about the peace he had as his wedding approached, peace that lasted until he arrived at the altar where he was almost overcome by terror: he suddenly realized the magnitude of the commitment he was making, and the implications of that commitment being permanent, and conversely of it being anything but permanent.

A few weeks ago Beth and I began to eat lunch at Mtendere Children’s Village, the home for over 100 orphan children which is located right behind the house where we live. We looked forward to the help for our Chichewa from conversing with the children and staff, as well as the increased time with them. We paid the administrator of the orphanage, Gracian Chisema, for the first couple of meals, a very small sum, probably less than we spend at home to fix lunch. We missed several days after that and then started up again, and talked to Gracian about payment. “Talk to Tiwonge” [his operations manager]. “She’ll take care of it.” We talked to Tiwonge, and she refused to take our money, referring us back to the administrator. When we saw Gracian again, he said, “Yeah, Tiwonge talked with me the other day and said, ‘We all eat down there from time to time, and none of the rest of the staff pay, so why should the Smiths pay. They’re just as much our staff as anyone else.’ So, you’re not going to pay. We are one.”

“We are one.” That’s quite a statement. It’s a sword that cuts two ways. First, it’s a really high compliment. At this stage in our language learning to be told, “You are just as much a part of our staff as anyone else here,” is really an honor. We are not staff. Not for the orphanage, nor for the food processing plant, nor for Feed the Children, nor for Educate the Children, certainly not for the School of Agriculture for Family Initiative [SAFI], nor even for Blessings Hospital. We are students of Chichewa working toward a new HIV project which will be based on campus because we are here. We occasionally chauffer the staff here or there. I hold a devotional with the older boys of Mtendere two or three nights a week. One or two of the guards run with me most mornings. And, we are the only biological family living on campus. But we are not really staff. Something is happening, however, that is bonding us to them--and them to us. This blessed something is also a two way street.

With privilege comes responsibility. Beth and I have been reading a couple of relevant books: African Friends and Money Matters discusses the clashes between American values about money and African values about money, and Leading Cross-culturally points out that many American (and some African) values about money have their roots in the Kingdom of Darkness, the Kingdom of this World, not in the Kingdom of Heaven, the Kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Africans are much more communal about money. Americans are much more individualistic about it. For Africans, what is mine, or yours, is often ours. For Americans, what’s mine is mine unless I decide to make it yours. And don’t push me! It’s still mine!!! For Africans, whoever has a lot of money is a welcome part of this sharing community, a tremendous potential resource. And though we Smiths may have much less money than we did not too long ago, we still are so, so rich compared to most of our colleagues. We thus qualify: we’re a tremendous resource. I must add here that this is not consciously nor conspiringly considered any more than “It’s mine!” is consciously or calculatingly contemplated. They are, respectively, each in the place where it rules, just part of the unconscious fabric of life.

I’m not sure I want to be “one” with anyone but Beth and the Lord, and at times I have my doubts about them. I want to keep what’s ours. I want us to use it the way we want to. I don’t want anyone considering mine to be his or hers. But (the books also point out) that is not the way of life in the Kingdom of Heaven. (Read the ends of the 2nd and 4th chapters of Acts.) And as I exhort some of you to give up some fairly large chunks of “yours” to help us do what we want to do here, I run a great risk of standing condemned on my own appeal. Now don’t get me wrong. In Africa there are ways of saying “No”, ways to save some money, there is wisdom and foolishness with regard to money. But current relationships are more likely to rule than the bank balance or fears for the future. Days are taken more one at a time. I think there’s something about that in a book somewhere too, isn’t there?

And so “We are one.” As we by fits and starts, through hesitation and willingness, stubbornness and submission grow in these new relationships and by so doing learn more of what the Kingdom of Heaven is like, what the guidelines are for really trusting the Provider of us all (and not our own strength, or financial acuity, or business skills or any other aspect of “me” which I’ve been really been given by Him for service to others, which I’ve supposedly entrusted to Him as part of our agreement), as we learn what the guidelines are for living the best kind of life possible, pray that we will receive them, live them, and demonstrate to the world around that we do know the One who is three in one, who invites us to be one with him, and with each other through trust, to his praise and glory, and the growth of this life-giving oneness throughout the world.