Wednesday, March 28, 2012

What is quiet?

Quiet is age-less.
It floats in and out of time, like a wisp of cloud on a soft breeze.
It simmers patiently and stirs only softly.
It ebbs and flows like the tide, in and out of consciousness.
It soothes and gently rocks, until all worry has been brushed away.

Quiet touches the senses.
It smells clean like freshly-cut grass or the earth after the rain has washed the filth away.
It feels soft, warm, and safe, like a cozy blanket that fiercely protects one from the harsh coldness of the outside world.
Its only sound is that of the wind as it rustles the long grasses of the wide, lonely prairie.
It pervades life, though not unpleasantly, but like a long-lost friend who occasionally stops by for a visit.

Quiet is the warmth of the sun upon my face, or the stillness of a clear, starry sky.
Quiet is the gentleness of a mother holding her newborn in her arms.
Quiet means peace and hope, and a sense of completeness that we too often go without.

Quiet is one of life’s greatest and rarest treasures.
It protects us and wraps around us, preparing us for what happens when we leave the quiet.
And we wonder, will we ever return?
To quiet. To peace.
To the slowing of time and the embodiment of all our senses in one still moment.
Stillness. Quiet. Peace.

Quiet is the feeling of being wrapped in the arms of the Savior as you stand alone, one a cold, sandy beach, looking up at the heavens, feeling so small.
As you see His beauty and wonder at it all.
Quiet is knowing, with a secret joy, that He did all this for you.
Because He loves you.
Quiet. Peace. Love everlasting. God.

A newborn’s silent cry as it breaks the quiet on a night when the whole world was changed.
As the earth is filled with sorrow, when its Savior gives His life on a painful, quiet cross.
Silence. Quiet. For three days.

And joyous victory as He breaks all bonds of sin forever!
As the world rejoices with song and celebration!
As He is crowned king over all!

And then, a return to quiet.
A calm, steady peace that banishes all weaknesses with a gentle whisper, “You are loved.”
That still small voice that speaks
In the quiet.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Adventures in Madagascar: Home Again

Well, I'm back home. After a total of 30 hours of traveling (flight time and layover time), I finally made it back to Chicago. The first things I did were check email, open all my snail mail, and do the dishes. Then I took what was supposed to be an hour and a half "nap", and I ended up sleeping for 6 hours! I guess not sleeping on the airplane can do that to you. :) I had cereal for my first meal back in the states, and Giordano's pizza for the second! (I'd been looking forward to that pizza for weeks!)

So, how am I doing adjusting back to America? Here's some things I miss about Madagascar, and what I love about being back home.

What I miss about Madagascar:
1. My team. It's hard to believe that after five weeks, we were separated so quickly in the D.C. airport, without really getting the chance to say goodbye.
2. The missionaries and friends that we met while in Madagascar. Many thanks to the Zagamis and the Schafflers for all their help. Thanks to Betty for her amazing hospitality. Thanks to Mr. Rado and Mr. Samson for helping and befriending us. Thanks to Michelle and Hany for their friendship.
3. The slower pace of life. Even though we had schedules, it definitely felt more relaxed and less stressed than here in America.
4. Less options. Honestly, the only reason I had cereal for lunch when I first got home was because I was overwhelmed by all the options in my fridge! Sometimes having less options can be really helpful when you aren't in a decision-making mode.
5. Walking everywhere. Never thought I'd say this, but I really miss our long walks to get somewhere. Especially since there was so much beautiful nature to see while you were walking.
6. Rice and fish. Had it often. Miss it.

What I love about being home:
1. Family! I missed them so much, and it's been a blessing to see my Dad and Brother again. I'm still waiting to see Mom and sisters, since they are all away at camp.
2. Personal space on public transportation. Unlike the buses in Madagascar, there was plenty of room on the CTA coming home from the airport yesterday.
3. Wonderful showers! While we did have hot water in most cases in Madagascar, having a good showerhead with adequate pressure is a luxury we had to forego.
4. The food! It's no longer a Malagasy version of American food, but real American food! Yum!
5. Having a washer AND dryer. Clothes take less time when you are able to dry them in a machine.
6. Fast internet connection. I know it sounds lame, but it's so much easier to update this blog here.

Thank for all your prayers everyone! This trip was amazing. I'm still processing everything that happened. There are so many more stories to tell, pictures to show, and thoughts to process. As I now try to reflect on this trip, adjust back to America, and prepare for this upcoming school year, I'm in awe of God's faithfulness this summer and always. May you also recognize His faithfulness.

In Christ,

Monday, August 1, 2011

Adventures in Madagascar: Culture Notes, New Experiences, and Some Myths About Roosters

Tomorrow afternoon my team leaves Madagascar. It's so weird to think that this trip has come to an end. I thought I would share some more about our trip by presenting you with three different lists: culture notes, some new experiences of mine, and some myths about roosters.

Culture notes:
1. There's no such thing as personal space. It's not uncommon to fit five people on a seat meant for three on a public bus.
2. Cutting in front of people is not considered rude, nor is staring at people.
3. Women breast-feed in public. It's considered perfectly normal.
4. A matching athletic suit is considered "dressy" because it matches.
5. It's normal to see zebu in the middle of cities, even the capital of Tana. Also, chickens roam every single street.
6. There are no traffic signals or signs, so you basically cross the street whenever you can and hope that cars will stop.
7. Even if you order off of a menu, you never know what you're going to get.
8. Most people walk everywhere, although you don't normally see people jogging for fun/training.
9. Picnicking is very popular here; especially for dates.
10. Whistles, catcalls, and cries of "Bonjour Madame" are normal here.

My New Experiences:
1. Bargaining in another language
2. Malagasy facial mask
3. Swimming in the Indian Ocean
4. Sleeping with a mosquito net
5. Riding a pousse-pousse (a rickshaw)
6. Boarding an airplane from the outside, rather than from an inside terminal.
7. Tasting zebu meat, rabbit meat, octopus, crab, cabbage, jackfruit, and Madagascar sweet potato.

And finally, some myths about roosters.
1. They don't say "cock-a-doodle-doo." It's more like "cock-a-choke-choke."
2. They don't crow only at sunrise. They also crow at 2am, 5am, and all day long.
3. They are not plump, regal looking creatures. They're rather scrawny and ugly. If I were a hen, I wouldn't find them at all attractive. :)

I hope you've enjoyed following along with my adventure in Madagascar. I'll be writing an update from home in a couple of days to let you know how I'm adjusting back to the states. Thanks for all your prayers. I ask for continued prayer for our trip back to the states and for adjusting back to American culture.

In Christ,

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Adventures in Madagascar: Sarodrano and Andasibe

Well, we're back in Tana for a couple of days before departing Madagascar. It's so hard to believe that we're already at the end of the trip. This past week we spent traveling mainly to two different places.

Sarodrano is a small fishing village on a sandy island that is about an hour and a half boatride south of Toliara. We spent about two days there with Pete Schaffler and his sons, Luke and Jojo. We stayed in small bungalows at this little hotel run by residents of the village. It was the most rustic place we've stayed, but it was incredibly fun. We spent two days relaxing and recuperating from the English club in Toliara. We went to a beautiful grotto to swim, and since we were staying right on the beach, we spent some time in the Indian ocean. Some of the highlights of our stay were the times we played with the local children. Some of the young girls sang in Malagasy and performed a little dance; I tried to follow along. I'm sure I looked ridiculous, but it was a lot of fun. I also really enjoyed the stars when we were there; with no electric lights and no trees, the starlit night is incredible to see.

The other half of the week we spent in a rainforest called Andasibe for debriefing. We stayed in a hotel right on the edge of the rainforest, from where we could hear the cries of the Indri lemurs. We did a four-hour hike in the rainforest, during which we got to see four different types of lemurs. We also did a nighthike during which we saw chameleons and nocturnal lemurs. During our stay we had individual and group debriefing with Daniel Zagami. We talked about what we've learned on the trip, how we thought the trip affected us, and what we are planning for the future. It was a very good, needed time for reflection and rest.

We will spend the next couple of days in Tana finishing up shopping, packing, and getting ready to go home. We might also get to go to a halfway house for troubled youth. Pray that the next couple days we will continue transitioning mentally and physically to return home.

In Christ,

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Adventures in Madagascar: Teaching English and Getting Stuck in the Bathroom

This last week our English club in Toliara went really well. We started with 45 students on Monday and ended with 94 students on Friday! It was quite the experience; six of us teaching 94 students from all different age ranges. We had to pull out all of our creativity, flexibility, and patience to make it work. Most of our material was prepared for younger students, but our adult students went along with it really well and some of them were even helpful in teaching the other students. It was also nice to have adult students because we were able to have good conversations with them and learn some about their lives. As crazy/chaotic as it was, I'm really going to miss working with some of those students.

Teaching english to non-native speakers is a lot harder than I thought it would be. Not only are you unable to clarify concepts that may be difficult for them to grasp, but it is practically impossible to discipline students when you do not speak their language. Sometimes it helps when you have interpreters, but if children are not used to structure, they can get a little out of hand. And of course they chatter on around you in a different language, and it is frustrating for you when you can't understand them. Our students do enjoy it when we try to learn Malagasy. It shows them that we don't have all the answers, and that we can learn just as much from them as they can from us.

Now for a humorous bathroom story: We went to the restaurant of the hotel next door for dinner, and I needed to use the bathroom so I went in and closed the door. What I didn't realize was that there was no handle for the door and that the door latched when I shut it all the way. So I spent a couple minutes trying to pull the door open (although there wasn't much to hold onto except a broken lock and two tiny holes where the doorknob used to be). I didn't want to call for help because I didn't want people to know that I was stuck. After a while, I gave up my pride and banged on the door. Luckily, the girls heard me and came over. They laughed at the fact that I was stuck; until several of them tried kicking at the door and realized that I was legitimately stuck. Finally, Rachel ended up kicking the door as hard as she could several times in a row before it banged open. A metal piece from the doorframe broke off and the latch ended up scraping up the wall pretty well. Relieved that I was out, we all had a good laugh about it. :)

Next week we will be doing a lot of traveling to see some different things in Madagascar. First we will go down south of Toliara to a seaside fishing village to spend the night. Then after flying back to Tana we are going to spend two days at a rainforest. Please pray for safe travels and continued health as we go. (By the way, the Schaffler's friend is okay, he just lost his phone and no one could get ahold of him. Thanks for your prayers.)

In Christ,

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Adventures in Madagascar: Toliara

We flew out from Tana at 5:10am on Sunday morning. We were picked up at the airport by Pete Schaffler (Pete and Kara Schaffler are the AIM missionaries here) and after we settled into our hotel, he took us to the beach for a couple hours. I have now stepped foot in my third ocean, the Indian Ocean (technically, it is the Mozambique channel, but it's part of the Indian Ocean).

Our English clubs here are much different than in Tana and Antsirabe. Our youngest student is 9 years old, and our oldest student is 47; most of them are in their mid-twenties! At first I felt weird teaching them in this capacity; that is, most of our activities are geared toward children. However, we simply figured out how to change some things and make them more of use to adults, so it works out. It feels like here we can develop real relationships with our students because we are on more common ground concerning age. Several of them have asked us questions about our personal lives.

One of the most beautiful things is singing time with these students. It feels like we are truly worshipping together. The Malagasy have beautiful voices, and they seem to harmonize almost on instinct. One of our students even brought his guitar and plays along to the songs on it.

Thank you for all your prayers so far. I have kept in good health, and we've been able to find sufficient energy for each day (though by 9pm we're exhausted and ready for bed). Please continue to pray that God's message will be spread through our clubs. Also, we ask prayer for the AIM compound's night guard back in Tana; he lost his wife to cancer last week. Lastly, pray for a friend of the Schafflers who has gone missing here.

I'll try to write again soon!

In Christ,

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Adventures in Madagascar: Antsirabe

Well, we just spent the last week in Antsirabe, a town about a 3-4 hour busride south of Tana.

We stayed at a guest house in the country run by a Swiss woman, Betty. Her house had wooden paneling on all the floors, walls, and ceilings, and was thankfully warmer than most cement houses here (and it is very cold in Antsirabe; like, October weather in the Midwest). Betty made us homemade European meals every night, with TONS of homemade bread, cheese, and peanut butter. We ate very well there! She was very sweet and hospitable, and we really enjoyed staying with her. She loved playing Scrabble, especially French scrabble!

To get to ML School (where we held the English clubs) we walked about 10 minutes on a red-dirt road to get to the bus station. We then took a bus into town and once we got off we walked about a block to get to the school. This week the English clubs went really well. The kids loved the crafts, songs, games, and skits. Their favorite song was "King Jesus is All," a repeating song that they would sing throughout the whole day. We split the children into three levels based on English ability. Rachel and I taught the intermediate level; we learned common English phrases of introduction, colors, feelings (and emotions), and family. During the club we enjoyed getting to know our interpreters, Mr. Samson and Mr. Rado (who owns the school), and Mr. Rado's wife, Miss Dina. They would always ask us questions about proper usage of English words and expressions. They were a lot of fun to be around, and a great help in crossing communication barriers with the kids.

While we were there we also taught two adult conversation classes. We were asked all kinds of questions about the United States, including some tricky religious and political questions. We were also able to teach a few concepts, such as the difference in pronunciation between "leave" and "live." It was a very good experience. They taught us a song in Malagasy:
Tia Zaza
Tia zaza
Ny Jesosinay
Lanitra nafoiny
Zaza notrotroiny
Tia Zaza
Tia zaza
Ny Jesosinay

It means Jesus loves the little children, Jesus came from heaven, Jesus loves the little children.

I'll leave you with one more story of the week. One day while we were riding on the bus, the song "God of this City" came on the radio (they play lots of English music here). I don't know why, but it struck me that this song was exactly true; our God is also the God of the people of Madagascar. Whether they know Him or not, He is still at work, He is still in charge, and He has great plans for this nation. It's very encouraging to realize His greatness when faced with the poverty we've been seeing. It's great to realize that He has a plan for each of the children to whome we ministered.

Tomorrow we leave for Toliara at 3am. Pray for rest tonight, continued health for the team, continued energy, continued creativity, and continued hearts of service for each other and for the Lord.

In Christ,