Ides and Ideas

Friday, March 24, 2017
Mzuzu, Lilongwe, Malawi
Last week brought "the Ides of March." This day is always with me. It's not that I obsess over the fate of Julius Caesar or the hurt he must have felt that day when he turned to look his best friend in the eyes after being betrayed by him. I'm not terribly fond of memorizing lines from Shakespeare plays, and I have actually never seen that play. I only know the warning that was given Caesar before his death because others have mentioned it, and because it's such an infamous line. And still I recall this day every year, and am reminded repeatedly so there's no chance of me forgetting.

When we were kids my Grandma Edie would always take each of us out for hot chocolate on our birthday . As we aged it turned into a birthday mocha. There were small coffee stands on each major street or highway all over even the smallest towns. It was nearly impossible not to get used to drinking a good cup of coffee. This year I made my own birthday mocha with store-bought powdered mixes and a strong brew I've been perfecting that tastes almost like a good espresso.

Lena spoils me every year on this day (and throughout the year of course). She likes to make a big deal about other peoples' birthdays. I think it's because her own is so often overshadowed by Thanksgiving. She made me a delicious breakfast and kept asking me what I wanted for my birthday. She usually has some surprise gift picked out weeks or months ahead of time, but she didn't manage anything this year so she waited for me to decide on the day of.

The two of us spent the whole day together which is always a delight. Even though we spend most of our days together, there's something special about quality time with my best friend . We went for a long walk through some new neighborhoods not too far from our house. The weather was perfect and some of the views were amazing! We ate lunch at a Vietnamese restaurant that is in the neighborhood. The owner makes her own bagels since they are difficult to come by in Malawi. My lunch included Vietnamese iced coffee which is a very delicious treat made with sweetened condensed milk and strong coffee. The earlier part of the afternoon was spent searching for headphones (my actual present). I have some that only fit my phone but are useless on long plane rides which I regretted on our last flight.

For the last few weeks we've been without power nearly every evening. The power company has a schedule of load shedding that is supposed to make it so there is enough electricity to go around. During the rainy season there should be plenty of power obtained from hydroelectricity but no one can figure out why there had been so much load shedding during that time. Now is sort of a transitional time between seasons as we move into a drier, cooler time of year. My birthday ended with a candle lit sit around the living room, trying to remember that it isn't bed time yet. Every time the power goes out, we end up heading to bed early, waking up early, and then starting the whole cycle all over again. I've actually been on a the search for a smaller solar generator that is big enough to run a few items in the house, but still small enough to not cost too much . Solar power is an investment, but our stay here is not permanent and we can't justify spending so much on something we will only use for a short while. For the time being, we borrowed the gas generator from LifeNets and are actually trying it out for the first time tonight. Our poor neighbors. While the rest of the compound is in the quiet and darkness of night, we are in a well lit room with the perfectly good hum of a generator right outside the kitchen door.

Besides power outages, we've also experienced a shortage of water flow in our compound. With every house full, the water has been quickly used up -- plus we have lawn care guys watering the new grass, a guy washing every car in the lot, a hose that doesn't actually have a shut off valve, and all the house maids mopping and doing laundry. Even if we have some water, there has to be enough pressure for the hot water tank to fill up. There have been quite a few days in the past few weeks where we have been showerless in this house. Don't worry, the property manager is looking into that. On a side note, we found out this week that we actually do have trash pick up once a week. We've just been giving our trash to the guards and hoping they know what to do with it. But we also know that it may or may not just get tossed out back somewhere. I'm not one for just throwing my trash in the woods or in the back of someone's maize field. We decided to look into the matter (before we knew about the trash service) and began by calling a few places (with no results) and separating our trash into food waste (which can be thrown in the fields without repercussion) and non-compostable items . With nowhere to put the actual trash, we have a few extra bags in the kitchen. This week, however, the problem has been solved, and come Tuesday, our trash will safely be wherever trash goes in Lilongwe and not in our back yard (even if everyone else's trash is there).

Soon after we had arrived in Malawi, I had the pleasure of going with our deacon, Haiton Thungula, to have the Bongo serviced. This was quite an experience for me because I had the chance to see how mechanics do things here. It's a rough life for those who work on the cars of others. Most of them don't own their own vehicles and don't have a license to drive. They often work outside in a pit, on the ground, and who knows if it will rain or shine. I've seen only a few actual garages. The mechanic we use does a fine job most of the time, although he could use an automotive electrician on duty to ensure that wires to censors are not cut. The guys are thorough, and even do extra checks on brakes and tires to ensure that you get your money's worth (what little money they charge). This week I had the van serviced all on my own. That meant running around town to several different parts shops to buy the oil and three different filters, hoping that I bought the right ones, and then getting over to the shop and not being overcharged. Thankfully, everything worked out wonderfully! However, I found out that the van needs a little more than just having the oil changed . Next week...
We had a lovely visit with Mwayi Chonde, a lady in the congregation here in Lilongwe. She lived in the UK for a while a few years ago and has the perspective of living in two different worlds, as she grew up here in Malawi. Things can be difficult no matter where you live. Sometimes we make choices about what we do in life and where we end up because of the chance to better our own situation. Other times we decide based on the welfare and health of our family members. Our children have an influence on us. Our parents have an influence on us. Our God has an influence on us (hopefully). Sometimes we even make decisions based on how we are feeling at the moment. Do we have the insight to look into the future and decide what would be best? Do we have the patience to wait things out and gain experience and perspective? These are things I've been thinking about a lot lately, especially the more places we visit and the further chance we have to see how our brethren here live. Could we live like many do, in small homes with only one room, sharing every little living space with the entire family, cooking outside over a small fire no matter the weather or season or time of day? In some ways I've lived in similar situations, growing up with not as many luxuries as I have now . But overall, I've been spoiled and blessed by living comfortably. Even when I didn't have much, I still always had healthy food, clean water, a warm home, and my loving family with me. Sometimes I feel bad that I won't mind going back home to the US when we are finished here because we will be leaving so many wonderful people we have met here. I suppose we would do just fine if we did live in Africa for a longer period of time, or anywhere else in this world for that matter. But I would still miss my home, where I grew up, where things are familiar to me. And yet, I still always find myself wanting to be out in the world, to see far away places, and meet everyone there.

Last Sabbath we had the chance to visit with Juliana Guza, a member here who has been ill the last few weeks. Thanks to Mwayi, and a few others, we were able to find her home after services. We sat and chatted with her thanks to the help of Mwayi Chonde and Howard Elia who translated for us. Juliana Kachali also came with us . One of the most exciting and wonderful parts of my job as a pastor is visiting people.

Sometimes just sitting and listening, answering questions, telling stories, and getting to know who people really are and how they live. I hope that never gets old.

The day following the Sabbath, we packed up our van and headed on up the highway with Gracious Mpilangwe from Blantyre and Haiton. We drove for about a third of the day until we reached the beautiful forests of the Northern Region of Malawi, Mzuzu. The Kachali family live there. We had the chance to sit and eat a meal with the family in their home. They live on a hill near the forest where all sorts of fruit trees grow wild, and the baboons steal from the farmers. There are pine forests that grow there. Some have been conserved well while others have been over cut. There are some areas where the forests were burned to the ground because of disgruntled government employees. Some areas have been whittled away by people trying to make a living by cutting down trees to make and sell charcoal. Charcoal is used by nearly everyone in Malawi. Not everyone has electricity, and those who do don't have it all the time. They still need to cook so they cook on charcoal. It's illegal to cut the trees from the protected forests, and it's also illegal to make and sell charcoal. But what is the alternative for the people who rely on this source of income? What will people use to cook their food if there is no wood to burn? And still there are some trees around . But because of their dwindling numbers there is less rain in the northern region which means the crops don't do as well. Mzuzu was a beautiful backdrop to some pleasant moments with a lovely family, and for a bible study on focusing on the future despite what conflicts we have around us. Toward the end of the day we packed up our van with a few additions (Miracle, Lancy, and Asher) and headed on back down the road towards home. We will be back in Mzuzu when we can stay a little longer.

The week progressed nicely. I spent a few days in the office with Brennan and Michala, helping Juliana and Joseph, meeting with Haiton and Alfred and Frazier. The construction of the building is always getting closer to its completion. The construction of the water tower, funded by the Good Works program, has begun as funding as become available. We had yet another lovely visit with more of our members. This time we had the chance to sit and talk about life with Emmanuel Rashid and his son John . John is four years old and doesn't say much when we are around. I think we will be friends by the time the year is up.

Fridays usually come very quickly and the Sabbath is here whether we are ready or not. Usually we think we will be ready and we've forgotten something. Today we had plans to meet up with Alex Banda from Nkhotakota. We visited him about a month ago on a whirlwind trip all in one day. He and a member of his congregation tried to do the same last week and failed because of car troubles. Alex takes care of and teaches a growing group of people who are just learning the truth. They seem like they are ambitious and ready to learn, and absolutely ready to be with others of like mind. I stay in touch with Alex as often as possible in hopes of encouraging him in the work he is doing in building a good foundation in the truth. Today he and another member finally made it to see us. They actually arrived in town early afternoon, but because of traffic we weren't able to connect with them until just before sunset . It took us an hour to drive one city block at one point today. It's the beginning of the weekend and a lot of people are headed to their home villages, some are arriving in the city, and the heavy rains this afternoon added to all the confusion. But we still had good conversations with the two men and because they arrived so late they are staying in town for Sabbath services. I am excited to teach them and to learn from them. And hopefully we will have more opportunities to visit each other soon.

This week we all have been thinking and praying about the coming months. April brings the Spring Holy Days (Passover, Night To Be Much Observed, Days of Unleavened Bread) as well as visits from Victor and Beverly Kubik. I've realized there are seven different Sabbaths in the month of April. That means at least eight different speaking opportunities for myself and others. It also means plenty of fellowship, some side trips to various areas across the country, and feasting with our family. May means a trip back to the US to attend the General Conference of Elders, and to travel around the country to try and spend a little time with some of our family. Our apologies to everyone we can't go and see. We miss you and love you too, but only have so much time and so many resources. Planning the trip back to Lilongwe at the end of the month also means planning our trip back at the end of the year. I'm not quite sure if we are ready for that yet, but I know that plans must be made and executed. If nothing gets planned and accomplished, then why are we even here?
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Thanks for the update Lewis. I feel like I am having a personal chat with you. I look forward to seeing you in May at the GCE.