Wednesday, 30 July 2008

Goodbyes

I'm afraid the journal is no longer forthcoming, it seems.

Last week, I put all my favourite belongings in a suitcase and left it on the train. Some things were easily replacable - toiletries, make-up, etc - though I could do without the expense. Some things are harder to replace because of expense or availability: my laptop, my Riverside Chaucer, my Kate Rusby traditional folk sheet music, my phone charger, my camera-to-computer link-up cable. And some things are irreplacable: an 80 page letter from a friend, the music and photos and documents on the laptop, most of my clothes, my beautiful Bible I bought in Johannesburg and, of course, the Mozambique journal. I've phoned every train company and station in the country, nearly, and it seems to have been stolen. So that's that.

What shall I do with this online journal now? Any suggestions? I don't want to delete it because I anticipate future mission trips. I think I'll leave it inactive for a while. In the mean time, All Things Jesus will be over at St. Pixels.

Saturday, 19 July 2008

In a puff of smoke...

... she reappears.

And, not only that, she reappears with photos of her trip: here, here and here.

Once I've typed it up, there will also be a Mozambique journal for your amusement.

I've been back over a week already. Sorry you've not heard from me - I had a month's worth of correspondence and so many little fiddly things to sort out. I was also dealing with culture shock and getting over a stomach infection. I'm okay now, though!

Thursday, 12 June 2008

2 days, 9 hours

I'm procrastinating. I have so much to do.

I awoke this morning sick with fear. I'm really not sure that I want to do this anymore. But that's neither here nor there: I'm going. Even if I could back out, I wouldn't. I agreed to take up my cross and follow. It turns out that I'm to follow to Mozambique, so off I go. A friend pointed me to this in an e-mail today, which I found to be a great source of strength and comfort:

"Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go." (Joshua 1:9, NIV)

This is one of those pivotal points in my life, I feel. Every few years you get a moment when you're teetering on the brink of a life change. I've started flashing back to others, from the past, which is a bit weird. I got up this morning, went to the loo and suddenly -

it's January 8th, 2003. I'm fifteen. I'm sat on a soft chair in the stuffy, overheated reception room of the psychiatric hospital. My parents are sat beside me, looking grim. We wait for a long time. I turn to my left and read the posters, the phone number for Saneline. I wonder if I should make a note of it for a later date. It could come in useful. One of the posters reads: " You don't have to be mentally ill to be affected by mental illness." It refers to family and friends and carers, I guess. My family would never use a service like the one they advertised. They're private people. I wonder if I'm was mentally ill, if I'm what they mean by "mentally ill." I look ahead of me and examine the patients' artwork. Landscapes, mainly. I think it's dull. I turn around to look out of the window at the falling snow....

Then I realised where I was and stumbled back into bed. I turned over and face the wall, and it happened again.

It's October 4th, 1998. I'm ten. Dad and Tom and I are in the park. We've been collecting conkers. It's a windy day and autumn leaves are swirling through the air. I'm stood a few steps up on a war memorial. Behind me are a list of a dead men's names and a wreath of plastic poppies. My dad hangs up the call on his mobile phone. He's been talking to my mum, who's in the hospital with my nan. My nan is dying. "Shouldn't be long now," Dad says and sighs. I don't know what to feel. I don't feel anything. But I have a sudden awareness, then, of the future, of my future. I realise that it isn't going to be ordinary. I realise that it's going to be about things that I don't have any concept of at the moment. I realise that I'm going to suffer a lot. But I'm okay with it. I don't think of it again. In fact, after that moment, the awareness vanishes and I'm a child again, back in the present. My thoughts go back to my nan.

Funny, the five year intervals. Now, I must get on and do stuff.

Wednesday, 11 June 2008

Three Days

Three days. It keeps hitting me like a slap in the face: the nearer it gets, the more often it hits me. I can't decide whether I'm more scared or more excited. Sometimes I think it's all a terrible idea and I shouldn't be going in the first place. But I trust in God. And, just, oh my goodness. I knew, somehow, instinctively, and my friend Rhian confirmed it: the air will taste different in Africa. I remember a poem I wrote when I was fourteen, about worship, in which I wrote of "tangy, blinding Africa." Prophetic? There will be red dust, like on Mars. My word, what am I doing? There's stepping out of your comfort zone and then there's... this.

The Lord continues to rain down blessings on my life. We had a beautiful time in the Lake District. I could only marvel at the glory of God's creation. It's like a map of His heart, a glimpse of His splendour. We sought out a waterfall in the woods in Ambleside and clambered all over it, then drank the fresh, clean water at the bottom. Photos here. We saw so many places called "Lakeland" - I couldn't help but be reminded of the revival in Florida. I have been tremendously blessed also with the support I have had: so many kind words and people praying for me. A gift of a mosquito net. I put a notice in the parish newsletter of my home church about the trip and one family even opened their home and shared their dinner with me! This is my dream for the church. I've been really blessed also with my collecting clothes for the children. My cousin originally said that all of her daughter's things have been promised elsewhere, but now the person they were going to suddenly doesn't want them! So I have lots of beautiful things to take with me for the children at the centres. Another blessing has been my correspondence with another Laura, who is working at the centre in Maputo. She returns within days of my arrival. It was such a God-thing, our finding each other. How can I be afraid, with a God who is this good to me?

My preparations are almost finished. I have Malarone; I have travel insurance; I've had all my jabs. I've sorted out my e-mail list so that I can let everyone know how I'm doing. What remains now is mainly packing and last-minute shopping, yet there are 101 things to do. It's a little frantic. Oh, and before I forget: Tom made a blog too. Go check it out.

Friday, 6 June 2008

More to pray for

(from BBC news)

Until recently, Mozambicans in South Africa described the country as a "brotherly and friendly" place.

But more than 32,000 Mozambicans have now been pushed back across the border by a wave of anti-foreigner violence.

Fifty-six people have been killed and at least 70,000 displaced by the attacks, which began earlier this month near Johannesburg.

"It's absolute chaos. It's a massacre, as close to a war as you can get," says Levis, clearly shaken.
"I've lost a lot but at least still got my soul," he sighs, sharing a smile with a few fellow returnees.
They have been staying in one of two transit camps set up by the authorities in Beluluane, about 20km (30 miles) from the capital, Maputo.

In the background, in a fenced perimeter adjacent to a local police station, stand 74 neatly organised tents, spacious enough to accommodate six to eight people.

Close by, water tanks lie in wait, while health workers chat to a South African woman who says her Mozambican companion "was almost burnt alive".

"They said I should leave and follow him. We've got two young children and don't know what will become of us now," she laments.

The immediate priority is to give people medical treatment, food and counselling says Ilda Cuna, the provincial secretary of the Mozambican Red Cross, which is helping to run the camps.

"The idea is not to have people in the camps for too long, unless we're unable to get them back to their home provinces immediately upon their arrival and after they have received basic assistance."

Efforts to assist the returnees are being overseen by the reactivated Emergency Operations Center, commended for its work during recent floods in central Mozambique.

Levis hails the work the Mozambican authorities are doing to help people like him.

"I'm grateful to the government," he says.

"They have been asking us not to let anger get to us and that we should not retaliate. I hope all of us heed the call."

This forgiving sentiment is not shared by everyone though.

On the outskirts of Maputo, one woman says she will never forgive those who chased her, chanting the name of a southern Mozambican ethnic group common in South Africa: "Kill the Shangaans, beat the Shangaans!"

Conscious of growing anger among the returnees and the general public, President Armando Guebuza has been warning that "violence only generates more violence".

He has reminded Mozambicans of the heavy price they had to pay during another period of upheaval - the civil war that killed up to a million people before a settlement in 1992.

Meanwhile, about 100km (62 miles) away at the Ressano Garcia border, Mozambicans continue arriving, albeit in smaller numbers compared with last week.

One man arrives exhausted, his van overloaded and far too small the mattress, the fridge, the hi-fi equipment and everything else.

He says he had no choice but to flee.

"I drove all night and will have to continue driving for at least another 800km (500 miles)."

"I will not go back for at least six months," he vows.

In fact, there is not much road traffic from Mozambique to South Africa these days.

This explains why you do not see the long queues of people waiting to go through immigration and customs on their way to earn money in "the land of the rand [South Africa's currency]".

"Usually you'd have at least 10 to 15 minibuses leaving here for the border and beyond," says the man in charge of the local terminal for "chapas" - as the minibuses, the main means of public transport, are known.

"Now it's come down to almost zero."

For the time being the authorities appear to be coping with the demands suddenly imposed by the flood of Mozambicans returning home.

The question though is whether the communities the returnees are going back to - some after a long absence - will have the means to meet the additional social-economic burden brought about by the wave of xenophobic violence.

Saturday, 31 May 2008

Poverty

It is tremendously ironic that, to live for a short time in one of the poorest countries in the world, I must first go out and acquire a whole stack of new possessions. The money I have spent the last few days is unbelievable. So much new stuff: mosquito nets, plastic cutlery, long skirts, etc etc. I'm going in an attempt to identify with the poor, to stand alongside them. Somehow going to buy all this gear beforehand seems counter-productive.

All of us, I think, are bracing ourselves for the poverty we shall see in Mozambique. It is the degradation of it that I fear most. It will break our hearts. But is it not necessary that our hearts be broken? Can we truly serve God otherwise? Is that what is meant by dying to the old and being born anew? Poverty is an evil to the rich as well as the poor. We may harden ourselves to the suffering all around us; we may deceive ourselves that it isn't there; we may seek simply to forget and we may indeed forget. I can't endorse any of these - yet how are we to live otherwise? How can we sleep in our warm beds, knowing that there are people shivering on the streets? Yet we have to sleep! I feel so powerless, not only because it is a huge problem but because it is so complex. I understand next to nothing about global issues. It seems to me that as long as there are people there will be greed, as long as there is greed there will be corruption, as long as there is corruption there will be poverty. I'm all for Make Poverty History, but is it possible? Nothing is impossible with God, yet God submits to our free will.

I struggle with the Beatitudes. On the face of it, the poor don't seem especially blessed, seeing as many of them are starving to death. Humility was never my strong point, though I have tremendous respect for it. And I'm not even sure that I want to be meek. What is meekness, really, anyway? I have always, perhaps mistakenly, associated it with being quiet, self-effacing, slightly gloomy. But I have fallen in love, lately, with the idea of being "poor in spirit." To me, "poor in spirit" doesn't mean self-effacing, which I will never be. To me, it means desperate. And, oh, I have always been desperate. All my life I have been tightrope-walking the fine line between sanity and madness, joy and despair, life and death. I am desperate for God. That's why I'm going to Mozambique. Which is hard to explain to people when they make polite enquiries about the trip.

June 15th is creeping up, very near now. A big part of me doesn't want to go. She's going purely out of obedience to God. She anticipates being positively wretched. She hates discomfort, and being away from home, and all things uncomfortable and unfamiliar, and all those nasty little inconveniences that go along with "roughing it." But I am not that person anymore. I do not need running water. I do not need - I do not want - to be comfortable. I only need God. And I need His courage. It's for a long time; it's far away; it's totally unlike anything I've ever done before. Please don't let me be lonely. It will be so strange, Africa. I imagine reddish dust on the ground and air that tastes different. Who will I be when I get back?

Thursday, 15 May 2008

One Month Today

Well, it's creeping up. I must be starting to worry now because I had my first Mozambique-related nightmare last night. Nightmares are a bit of a problem for me. I am really excited, though!

Preparations are now very much underway. Constant jabs, so much so that it's becoming a bit of a joke. I'm wandering round Egham with a medley of tropical diseases in my system. Currently I have meningitis, hepatitis and rabies. Cool, huh? I've been trying to sort out travel insurance, but no-one will insure me because of the bipolar. Fortunately, I just found this page. I'm also on a quest to find the world's cheapest Malarone. My auntie's going to have a look in Thailand for me.

Monday night we did our Mozambique fundraiser evening: African food, raffle, auction of promises, music, etc. People were incredibly generous and we raised a total of £750. We were so blessed. We also really bonded as a team, particularly over late-night washing-up! Big thanks to God for all that.

Diana and I went into London on Tuesday for our first Rabies jab. Just before we had it, the woman said, "I'm just going to close the door, in case you scream." Which wasn't terribly reassuring, but it was actually fine. Then we did the full length of Oxford Street, in and out half the shops, plus a good hour in Primark. It was an epic stomp. I bought some very funky girl boxers (not exactly a Mozambique necessity, but pants are always useful), two big bottles of 6-hour factor 40 suncream, insect spray with the all-important DEET (whatever that is), stuff to calm the itching down after the insects bite anyway and some Immodium. I'm gonna get some more, though, actually. Somehow I think it will come in useful.

There's one passage in Acts, which I think is really relevant to our trip. (It isn't about Immodium, funnily enough - I've switched topics.) Acts 3:1-10, NIV:

One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the time of prayer—at three in the afternoon. Now a man crippled from birth was being carried to the temple gate called Beautiful, where he was put every day to beg from those going into the temple courts. When he saw Peter and John about to enter, he asked them for money. Peter looked straight at him, as did John. Then Peter said, "Look at us!" So the man gave them his attention, expecting to get something from them. Then Peter said, "Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk." Taking him by the right hand, he helped him up, and instantly the man's feet and ankles became strong. He jumped to his feet and began to walk. Then he went with them into the temple courts, walking and jumping, and praising God. When all the people saw him walking and praising God, they recognized him as the same man who used to sit begging at the temple gate called Beautiful, and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.

People will be constantly asking us for money and/or stuff, and 99.9% of the time we're going to have to refuse, because it really doesn't help long-term. It's going to be heartbreaking, and very difficult for all of us. I for one will feel incredibly guilty, and I'll be constantly thinking of Jesus' saying: "I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me." (Matthew 25:42,43, NIV).

But this passage in Acts was such a gift, in telling me how to respond. At least I know what I can do for people. We can always pray. And God will honour that.