Bird on a Bare Branch

Attempting to fling a frail song in my little corner of the world

The Cause of Death December 28, 2007

Filed under: Uncategorized — Jen @ 2:49 pm

I realized that my post yesterday made it seem as if Mesa had died from his tooth infection.  Actually I first thought he had had an aneurism as the first piece of information we received about his death was that he had suffered a terrible headache and died in the taxi on the way to the airport.  The cause of death is, in fact, much more complicated so that it was difficult for me to write about it yesterday without a cultural discussion.  I also wanted to be fair to who Mesa was and not focus on his tragic behavior. 

Results of the autopsy showed that Mesa died of alcohol poisoning.  On Christmas night he and a good friend of his went out drinking and consumed too much too quickly.

In Mozambique Christians do not drink.  While this seems legalistic to those of us from America and Europe, what must be understood is that the context is one in which there is no concept of moderation.  When Mozambicans drink, they drink to get drunk.  People here do not go out for a leisurely drink with friends or have a glass of wine with a meal. 

Therefore the cause of death is more serious here than it might be in a Western context.  It not only means a shameful death but also means Mesa’s life cannot be held up as a testimony. 

Ultimately we do know that God is sovereign over all of this, and we believe that Mesa is with Him now.  At the funeral today the director of Oasis spoke of Mesa’s life, not ignoring how he died, but choosing to focus at how he served in life. 

Unfortunately, it will be a difficult healing process for his wife and family.  His family are not Christians, and his father was drunk himself when we visited two days ago.  (They are also likely spending the rest of today drinking.)  It will also be a difficult healing process for those who served alongside him in Oasis and the church.  It will not be an easy start to the New Year when the office reopens on Wednesday.       


When Christmas Ends With Death December 27, 2007

Filed under: Uncategorized — Jen @ 2:58 pm

The joy of Christmas ended abruptly yesterday morning when we received news that one of our Oasis colleagues had died Christmas night.  I had spent the night with a British couple from Oasis since it was a late night, and they got a phone call early that morning saying that Mesa had died in a taxi on the way to the hospital the night before. 

He was a 24-year-old pastor with a wife and a 2-year-old daughter who is a real daddy’s girl.  Like many of the guys at Oasis, he constantly smiled, always radiating joy, and clearly loved the Lord.  His was the first sermon I heard in Mozambique, and it was far better than the pastor’s that followed.  Because he worked for Oasis, he did not have his own church but helped at one.  He also taught me about witchcraft in Mozambique and told me how he became a Christian when his mother was healed from an illness at a church through prayer after witchcraft failed to heal her. 

On our last day in the office last week he went home early, missing our end-of-year luncheon at Nautico’s beach club because he had a tooth infection.  His cheek and jaw were badly swollen, but he still smiled widely when I gave him a little bag of Christmas M&Ms. 

Yesterday morning I went with my British friends to sit with the family.  How helpless did I feel sitting on a mat on the floor watching Mesa’s wife lie down and quietly cry next to her friend.  And how hard was it to listen to the women wail later on when I was sitting outside. 

And how hard will it be to attend the funeral tomorrow…


Christmas is coming December 18, 2007

Filed under: Pictures — Jen @ 3:12 pm

I’m having trouble figuring out text and pictures together on here (blogger was so much easier). But here are some recent Christmas photos: With “Pai Natal” outside the cafe beneath our office, one of many tree/decoration street vendors, singing carols on the beach by candlelight with some of the English-speaking community.

With “Pai Natal”Street vendorFriends singing Christmas carolsCarols by candlelight


“People in churches are dying…” December 14, 2007

Filed under: Uncategorized — Jen @ 2:00 pm

The other day I was reminded of a conversation I had with a pastor in Uganda.  I had complimented him on the Church in Uganda and how it was responding to AIDS and orphans.  The clearly evangelical churches were discussing HIV/AIDS in churches and encouraging families to take in orphans.  They were taking practical steps to help their communities.  I explained that in America there tends to be a dichotomy between evangelicalism and social justice.  Evangelical churches are suspicious of the social justice work liberal churches engage in and vice versa.  He was shocked.  He said, “But you cannot have one without the other.  Jesus did not only preach.  He also fed and healed people.  If I share the gospel with someone, he accepts Jesus, but collapses from hunger on the way home, what good is it?”

So the other day I met with one of the Mozambican Oasis team leaders who is heading up a project on abstinence and faithfulness.  He told me about a meeting he had with 50 pastors concerning AIDS and getting them on board with this program.  Most of the pastors responded positively, agreeing that there was a need to discuss matters related to HIV/AIDS in churches.  However, some of the pastors were against it.  They said it is not the Church’s place to discuss such matters.  It is the government’s.  Some pastors also believe that AIDS is an unforgivable sin, and that those who die from it cannot go to heaven.  “That’s not right,” Manuel said.  “The Church must be concerned with AIDS because AIDS is in the Church.  People in churches have AIDS.  People in churches are dying of AIDS.  People in the communities are dying.  And the incidence of AIDS is increasing.  It is the responsibility of the Church.”

Fortunately, it is only some pastors who believe this.  More pastors are realizing the need to discuss matters surrounding HIV/AIDS.

How much are we discussing these issues in the US and UK (or elsewhere)?  I don’t necessarily mean issues of HIV/AIDS because that is not a big issue in many of our communities.  But other issues of sexuality.  Other health and lifestyle issues.  (What is the American church doing about obesity, for example?  Or do we say it’s for the government and/or healthcare system to take care of?)  Other issues of concern for communities.  Do churches even know the issues of their communities?  What are Americans dying of (both physically and spiritually)?  What are the British dying of?

Jesus did not only preach…


I’ll have a coke with my baguette, please.

Filed under: Uncategorized — Jen @ 10:43 am

How many times in my life have I heard comments about how missionaries have destroyed culture?  In some cases it’s true.  Just yesterday I was meeting with a pastor to learn about Mozambican culture.  He was explaining how missionaries long ago came to Mozambique and taught people that it was wrong to play traditional instruments and dance in church (and out of church).  Drums and other instruments were “of the devil”.  Guitars and pianos were “of God”.  (Does anyone actually read the Bible?  Were the Israelites praising God with guitars or pianos?  Did David not dance?)  I said, “But now people dance in church and play drums.”  He said they are starting to bring it back, but it’s difficult to get past the mentality that it’s wrong. 

This is one example of missionaries destroying an aspect of culture, but how much did they and are we really destroying culture?

My Portuguese tutor made a comment the other day about culture that has caused me to ponder this concept of changing or destroying culture…

He said that he admires America very much but that American culture is destroying Mozambican culture.  He explained that the youth here are listening to American music (all hip hop) and watching music videos, starting to wear inappropriate clothing (sagging jeans), and speaking disrespectfully.  I explained to him that there are many cultures in America, and the American cultural influence here is hip-hop culture.  What we didn’t discuss is how hip-hop culture actually has its roots in Africa.  Has America bastardized something good and sent it back to its origin?  How much has Africa influenced American culture, and how much has America influenced African culture?

Furthermore, what exactly is Mozambican culture?  How much of it is African and how much is Portuguese?  Certainly the colonists affected language, architecture, and various aspects of lifestyle.  I’m pretty sure Mozambicans were not eating European-style breads and pastries before the Portuguese came.  But now we call these pastries “Mozambican”.  It’s also “Mozambican” to serve Fanta or Coca-Cola to visitors.  We forget that Coca-Cola was once a strictly American beverage.  It’s become so global that we don’t think twice about it.  (At what point will we not think twice about McDonald’s and Starbucks infiltrating every country in the world?)

In the end, are there any indigenous cultures to destroy?    


Church Part 2 December 11, 2007

Filed under: Uncategorized — Jen @ 1:36 pm

The church I attended on Sunday morning in Manga meets in a tiny wood-and-straw structure built on sand – yes, it brings to mind both the story of the Three Little Pigs and the song about the foolish man building his house upon the sand.  In this case, the church had no choice.  Out of nothing, they were able to build something.  And the pastor remains strong in the face of ridicule from other pastors who have larger churches.

A few years ago the pastor and his wife were sent by the denomination to a remote district to start a church.  The plan was for the denomination to build them a house in Manga, rent it out, and use the money to support them in their remote location.  Unfortunately, the house was never built, and the church they were serving was unable to support them, so they were left with literally nothing.

In the meantime the church building in Manga was burnt down by arsonists. 

After a time of continuous struggle, the pastor and his wife returned to Manga – from nothing, to nothing.  They had no possessions, they had no church building to return to, and the congregation had dwindled to one person.  But they remained strong, and little by little they regained necessary possessions, such as pots and pans and cooking utensils.  More people joined them in rebuilding the church that they now have.  There is also now half a cement structure beside the current structure – the beginnings of a more secure church building.

What’s more exciting than a new church building is the growth of the congregation in two years.  On Sunday, it was pouring rain (and I only saw two small leaks in the thatch roof!), so there were only about 20 people there sitting on thin wooden benches.  But, wow, when those 20 finished singing in harmony and clapping, my ears were ringing.  On a dry day, the congregation would have been at least twice as big.

What encouraged me most was how the church clearly cares for their community.  At the beginning of the service people mentioned that a member, Juana, was home with malaria.  She was mentioned again during the service, and afterwards we all walked to her house to pray for her.  Twenty of us crammed into a kitchen/dining room/living room about the size of an American’s closet (with about as much ventilation as a closet) and clapped and sang while someone prayed for Juana who sat on a mat on the floor.  I’m not sure I’d want that kind of attention if I was sick at home with a fever, but I couldn’t help but be impressed by the care that the congregation showed.  When was the last time I visited a sick church member to pray for him/her?  Have I ever visited a sick church member or friend to pray for him/her?

People here are impressed with our big church buildings in America, our well-trained pastors, the numbers of people sitting in our churches on a Sunday morning.  But how much do we have to be impressed with a group of people in a village in Mozambique who worship with their whole beings and pray for and comfort those in need?  A group who two years ago were nothing and had nothing.        


Church Part 1

Filed under: Uncategorized — Jen @ 9:03 am

There are hundreds of churches in Beira, some of well-known denominations like Anglican and Baptist, but more often they are small independent Mozambican denominations.  Most are charismatic, and many pastors have not been trained.  They may come into their positions simply because they own and know how to read a Bible.

Many churches want a missionary as part of their congregation.  Perhaps it’s a status thing?  Perhaps they genuinely want the encouragement and training.  And missionaries, regardless of their capacity, are expected to preach.  Fortunately, I shouldn’t be asked to preach for a couple more months.  In the meantime I am spending time visiting various churches.  Part of this is to connect with different pastors and congregations, part to experience different types of Mozambican churches, and part just to see where I would like to settle in for my time here.  During this time I should ask myself if I want to get involved with a smaller church on the outskirts of town who would use me as a missionary.  Or do I want to get involved with a larger, more established church in town where I could blend in more and just be part of the congregation without automatically being assigned a leadership role?  I’ve got some time to ponder the options.

So far I’ve been able to visit three local churches (four if you count the International Fellowship).  Last Sunday morning I attended a small church that was nearly identical to mine in Honduras, from the singing style and preaching to the cement building with wooden benches.  In the evening I attended a lively and informal service geared toward young people (teens to twenty-somethings) at a small church in town.  Yesterday morning I attended a service in Manga, the peaceful, clean “suburb” I mentioned in a previous post.  In the service, there was a group of about 20 who had braved the rain to worship together in the tiny, wood-and-straw building.  Every service I’ve attended so far has involved harmonized, a capella singing, clapping, and a little bit of dancing.  And all the churches have had sound, biblical teaching.  They’ve also had warm, friendly congregations.  So far so good.  I also have a growing list of other churches I’d like to visit, including the Assemblies of God Africana church my host family attends and another church in Manga.

In the meantime I will also be writing more posts concerning church here.