Bird on a Bare Branch

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

Desert Christmas December 19, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — Jen @ 11:47 pm

Starting tomorrow I will be driving across Southern Africa to spend Christmas and New Year in Namibia.  I will be offline until at least January 5.  Merry Christmas to you all!  I look forward to more blogging in the New Year.


Joy Part 1 December 17, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — Jen @ 10:57 am

The electricity went out two mornings ago at 3:30.  I felt it right away, sweating on top of my sheets with no fan to comfort me.  I fell fitfully back to sleep, never cooling off.  In fact never cooling off for the rest of the day.  Later, sitting still in my office, I felt the sweat drip down my neck and roll down my stomach.  It was 95F.


Early this morning, again at 3:30, I was woken by a sound I haven’t heard since probably April.  Rain.  Pounding, blowing, forceful rain.  Rain that we’ve been praying for for over a month.  Rain that should have come a month ago.  Rain that will soak into the ground and finally allow farmers to sow their fields.  Rain that will fill people’s wells.  Rain that will remove the heat from the air, if only temporarily.  Rain that will revive and revitalize. 


When you have running tap water and can afford to buy groceries, you don’t think of the life-giving force that is rain.  Then you hear about the cholera outbreaks in the area because people are using dirty water to drink, cook, wash, and bathe in.  You hear about the farmers who haven’t been able to plant crops because the ground is too dry, of the milho that’s half the height it should be by now.  My friend Heather lives in an orphanage on the outskirts of town.  She bathed in the sea one day because it was cleaner than her well water.  Another day she found tadpoles in her brown bathwater.  At 3:30 I thought of Heather.  I thought of the boys at the orphanage likely running out into the rain, dancing around, lifting their heads to the sky, mouths open wide in laughter.  I sent a text message to my parents:  “It’s storming!!!”


Through the steamed-up windows of the chapa on the way to work I saw two boys running and jumping down a path in their underwear, their skin soaking in the heavenly shower. 


This afternoon I walked the very familiar route to Immigration, this time with umbrella in hand, dodging muddy puddles on the way, trying to avoid being splashed by cars.  Ordinarily it wouldn’t be a fun walk.  I was getting wetter by the minute, my flip-flops kept flinging bits of wet sand up my back, and I didn’t want to think about the filth that was mixing in the puddles.  But the air was fresh, it was cool, I could feel the ground beneath me thanking the sky. 


At some point I found myself in step with an older man, also maneuvering between puddles and cars.  He said, “The rain is good.  We want the rain.”  I agreed, “The rain IS good.”  We continued back and forth:  “It cools the air.”  “It’s good for the ground.”  “It’s good for food.  It’s good for germination.”  I couldn’t remember the word for well, but I wanted to say it was good for the wells too.  But I needed to cross the street.  With big smiles on our faces, still dodging puddles, we parted ways, “Tchau.”


Yes, the rain IS good.



Peace Part 3 December 12, 2008

Filed under: Faith — Jen @ 4:17 pm

Many people don’t know the story behind Horatio Spafford’s “It Is Well”. I, myself, didn’t know the full story.

Spafford was a successful lawyer in Chicago, who was ruined financially when the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 destroyed a Lake Michigan real estate investment. Before the fire, he also lost a son. Two years later, Spafford’s family planned an ocean voyage to Europe for some rest and for Spafford to assist in an evangelistic campaign in Great Britain. On the day they were meant to depart, Spafford needed to stay behind in Chicago for a business transaction. But he sent his wife and four daughters ahead. Sadly, while crossing the Atlantic, all of his daughters perished in a collision with another ship. Upon arrival in Europe, Spafford’s wife sent a telegram with the words: “Saved alone.” Weeks later Spafford was inspired to write the words to “It Is Well” as his own ship passed near the spot where his daughters died.

Please scroll down to yesterday’s post and reread the lyrics with this story in mind. I cannot sing this song without feeling some depth of this man’s sorrow and feeling shame for so often putting my own sorrows and trials above my blessed assurance.

Whatever my lot…


Peace Part 2 December 11, 2008

Filed under: Faith — Jen @ 7:49 am

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

It is well, with my soul,
It is well, with my soul,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blessed assurance control,
That Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.

It is well, with my soul,
It is well, with my soul,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!

It is well, with my soul,
It is well, with my soul,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

And Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight,
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,
Even so, it is well with my soul.

It is well, with my soul,
It is well, with my soul,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

– Words by Horatio G. Spafford, 1873
– Music by Philip P. Bliss, 1876


Peace Part 1 December 10, 2008

Filed under: Faith,Pictures — Jen @ 7:57 am

I went swimming on Monday night. I haven’t been in awhile, but I had been working on a difficult report and needed to get out of the house and move my body a little.

Back and forth across the pool, my mind unable to hold a steady thought, “peace like a river” popped in and out. Why like a river?

At the end of my last lap, I leaned against the edge of the pool, removed my googles and saw a rainbow. The sky was dark, and the wide band of faint colors shot straight up from the ground into the clouds.

When I emerged from the pool, I noticed the other side of the sky – orange and pink clouds, glowing brighter and brighter as the sun sank into the sea. I wrapped my towel around me and turned a deck chair around to watch the east and west skies. Rainbow…sunset…rainbow…sunset… Neither of them was possible without the right combination of sun and cloud. Peace like a rainbow. Peace like a sunset.

The beauty of the sunset grew, and colors melded and brightened then lightened then faded. Clouds and movement created the beauty and peace.

Movement. Still air is not peaceful. A breeze is. Sitting on a porch swing is more peaceful than sitting on a wooden bench. Rocking back and forth is peaceful. The rise and fall of a sleeping baby’s chest is peaceful. A still pond is not peaceful. A gurgling stream is.

On the other hand, too much movement is turmoil. Gale force wind, someone pushing the porch swing too hard, a tantruming baby, white-water rapids.

“Peace like a river”? I sense it now – clean, rippling, with smooth pebbles lining the bottom, coolly splashing around my ankles. Massaging, soothing, refreshing. It streams from a deep source and flows into the vast ocean. “Love like an ocean…”




A New and Unknown Encounter December 8, 2008

Filed under: Immigration — Jen @ 2:57 pm

This has nothing to do with Advent, although it allows me to leave the country, which takes place during Advent. But it’s too good not to share.

After my year of Immigration stress, frustration, anger, bitterness, and near hatred, I had pretty much given up on anything positive ever coming out of there. I cringed last week when I realized I needed to start the whole visa renewal process over again. After the humongous month-long hassle they gave me last time, I really dreaded going back now, especially since I needed to convince them to renew it early. (This visa doesn’t expire until December 22, but I’m supposed to travel from December 19 to January 5.)

I went prepared last week with copies of every document they could potentially ask for. I remembered to have a letter from the office stating my reasons for requesting early renewal. I went in with my most dazzling smile and handed everything over to my favorite of the two Immigration officials downstairs, Senhor S. “Come back on Monday for a response.”

This morning I trudged over there, preparing myself for the beginning of the battle: Come back tomorrow; come back Wednesday; come back next week; we need a copy of such-and-such a document, etc., etc. I decided not to get bothered today when they would inevitably say they didn’t have a response yet. After all, I still have ten days until I absolutely need my passport back.

I walked in with my most dazzling smile. Amazingly Senhor S plopped my paperwork on the desk, and I noticed a note written in the corner. “Is there a response?” I asked as sweetly and respectfully as possible. He tapped the note in the corner, “160 days. That’s six months.” (Well, 5 1/3, but good enough.) “Six months??” I said. “That’s great!” And then because I wasn’t expecting it AT ALL, I didn’t really know what else to say. “Um, can I pay now?” He showed me the total, which was nearly $120. Yikes. I didn’t have that much on me, so I went across the street to a bank to withdraw some cash.

I stood in line, giddy. I texted people to share the great news. I planned in my head what I would say to João when I got back to the office. But part of me was scared too, scared that when I returned, they would decide that actually it wasn’t going to work to give me 160 more days.

Nope, they wrote the receipt and accepted my 2487.24 meticais then handed me the receipt that says to come back on Friday. I won’t get too excited about Friday. That would be a little too much to hope for. But whenever I do finally get my passport back, with the visa inside, I know I won’t have to revisit Immigration for a very long time.

P.S. I bumped into João on the street on the way back to the office and told him I had great news. We “wuawed” and high-fived and did a little dance next to the fruit vendors.


Hope Part 2 December 7, 2008

Filed under: Faith — Jen @ 9:10 pm

Last Monday was World AIDS Day. In Mozambique where the infection rate is high, and the majority of the thousands of NGOs here are working in some way against HIV/AIDS, this is a big day. In typical Mozambican style, campaigns were organized. Men and women in matching, sloganed tee-shirts, and women in matching capulanas organized themselves around town and marched to and around different roundabouts and public squares where various musicians and speakers greeted them. Mozambicans love to march.

Around Beira red AIDS ‘ribbons’ have been painted on the white paint that already encircles the bottoms of every tree along the main roads. In a city where the HIV/AIDS rate is reported at 34% (and that’s likely a low figure), it’s a visible reminder of hope in combating the disease.

But what does that hope actually look like?

I have learned two important cultural lessons since I’ve been here: ‘help’ and ‘development’ to many Mozambicans means handouts, and few people accept personal responsibility for anything. Most development organizations are working in an opposite manner. Because of mistakes made in the past, mission and development organizations have realized the futility and harm in giving out money and stuff. The idea now is to teach and train. It’s that whole teach a man to fish thing. And responsibility? Well, we want people to learn how to make positive choices and take responsibility for their own lives.

Mozambicans know about abstinence and faithfulness. They know about using condoms. They’re not doing it. Somewhere there is a mental disconnect between what they do in the bedroom and the spread of the disease. A group of teachers I met with to discuss corruption admitted that they were having sex with students. Several stated that a problem at that school was pregnant students, yet they all claimed the girls were not impregnated by teachers. (We’re sleeping with students, but it must be male students who are impregnating them.) They recognized that the spread of HIV/AIDS was one of the consequences of sexual corruption. When discussing it further, one teacher said, “We need to talk to those AIDS activists and ask why they’re not teaching people to use condoms.” (The activists’ fault.) Another teacher pointed out that men don’t like to use condoms because they like “fresh flesh”. When discussing financial corruption, they said, “So much money is being spent on HIV/AIDS programs, but the rate continues to increase. Where is that money going?” (NGOs’ fault.) And you, Teacher, have you been faithful to your wife? Did you use a condom the last time you slept with someone? Churches say the government needs to do something about HIV/AIDS; it’s not the Church’s responsibility. But how many people in churches are infected? Pastor, have you been faithful to your wife?

Therefore, when we have different people from different parts of the world gathering together in Beira, Mozambique to discuss hope for a future free from HIV/AIDS, the path toward that freedom looks quite different in different people’s minds. Some are hoping the Government or NGOs will spend more money on ‘programs’ to make AIDS disappear. Some are hoping their teaching and training will sink in so that people will start choosing to be abstinent or faithful or use condoms. But really, I think most people lack hope. For many NGO workers, they’re just doing their job, but are they doing their job with a true expectation and vision that the HIV/AIDS rate can indeed decrease? For many others, Mozambicans and non alike, they’ll continue to live their lives, ‘hoping’, with no personal involvement, that HIV/AIDS will begin decreasing on its own.

Where do I stand in Hope? I’m quick to criticize Mozambicans’ attitudes toward AIDS (or corruption or poverty or any other social disease), but can I see how my own sin and personal choices contribute to Evil in the world? Yes, I said Evil. Or do I sit back and blame those sinful people and their personal choices. Do my prayers indicate a genuine expectancy and willingness to be involved, or are they merely reciting from memory, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done…”?

The AIDS ribbon red on the trees reminds me of another red on another tree. God made a very personal choice so that I might have Hope.