Saturday, November 29, 2008

The quandry of giving

Back in April, I was asked to take part in organizing the Mozambique side of a learning tour for Canadian Food Grains Bank (CFGB-the organization that funds the sand dam projects). So over the past six months, I have had quite a few meetings with the CCM offices involved in hosting the group. In one of the emails between myself and the coordinator on the CFGB side, he asked on behalf of participants if we have any ideas for gifts that people can bring for the communities. I replied that I would talk with the CCM extension workers and get back to him.

So, in October, Joel and I sat down with the extension workers to plan the visit in to a sand dam community. I brought up the question of appropriate gifts and after a long discussion, the consensus from the extension workers was that it would be better if the group did not bring any gifts. Gifts, they thought, would complicate their working relationships with the community members and any future interactions between the communities and foriegners (including MCCers). They also said that gifts would cause division in the communities because those who did not receive a gift would be jealous of those who did and could harm relationships between community members and outside workers in the communities.

This week the learning tour is here. Due to some health issues, I am in Beira for the time being and Joel with the MCC rep are leading the tour. Joel texted the other day to ask if I would lead a discussion during the ending retreat about how giving is not always good.

Giving, we are taught, as children is good. It is better to give than receive. So how can giving not be positive? In North America, we give for all sorts of things...Christmas presents to the person who delivers our mail, collective gifts from staff to a boss for his/her birthday, checks to charities during a crisis, food to soup kitchens, hostest gifts when we go to someone's house for dinner or a weekend, not to mention, birthday and christmas and wedding and anniversary gifts to loved ones. Giving is part of our culture. So, it seems so counter intuitive to not give, especially when we visit another country, especially one that does not have as much as ours.

Joel and I struggle to know what to do with our tithe. Our annabaptist upbringing tells us to give it to our local congregation where we are involved. However, after almost two years with this local congregation, we've stopped giving our tithe there. The money (just a part of our tithe) that we put in the collection plate was four times larger than the rest of the offering. Our offerings allowed the church to do things that they would not have been able to do if we were not there and based on comments we heard, we ascertained that without a foriegners' offering, the church did not carry out its duties.

A comment that we have heard from visitors is that this is the only time I am here and so it is the only time I can give something away. It's hard to come from North America and be confronted with the poverty that is here in Mozambique. It's hard not to feel guilty about it and yet, is guilt a reason for giving? It's a reason, but is it honoring to God or to the person who will receive? Do we give to ease our conscience or to better others' lives?

How do we be generous in the face of poverty? We struggle with that question so much. How do we give in a way that will not perpetuate oppression? How do we give in a way that works at alleviating larger issues that create difficult situations for individuals? Will we be asked why we did not give to beggars when we stand before Jesus? I wonder that when I say no to a beggar because I'm in a hurry or just don't feel like giving that day.

For those who are on the CFGB learning tour, I want to thank you for coming. Thank you for coming and seeing what life is like. So that you can go back home and tell others. Thank you for donating money to CFGB so that it can fund projects like the sand dam and food security projects, that will impact a large number of people's lives and make systemic changes for the better. For those who give to your local congregations, thank you! Thank you for believing in the church and your church's ministries, whether locally or those that they send to missions. For those who give to organizations like MCC, thank you for giving money so that we can support projects like the Anglican education project that supports preschools in rural Mozambique where preschool children learn their alphabet before going to school, or projects like the United Church of Christ's savings group project, where the women's groups of various congregations are starting savings groups to better their own lives and reaching out to people in their communties.

It's a continual struggle. How to be generous and not create dependency or false expectations for the future or ease my guilt or give into the system that keeps people poor.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Joel's family came for two weeks. Here's some photos from our time together.

The snorkeling squadron

The women Kempfs

Drinking maheu (traditional non-alcoholic corn drink) with Sr. Manuel and Sra. Joana in their home

Bathing beauties!
Quiet reflection

It's been a while since we last posted anything here. We've been busy traveling, hosting guests, planning for a Canadian Food Grains Bank learning tour. There hasn't been a lot of quiet and I know myself well enough that without quiet spaces, there's not much room for reflection.

The past year or so, our schedule has been chock full of travel. Our neighbors probably think we don't like our house, we're gone so much. It's the nature of our work--working directly with communties and organizations that have interest in bettering their community's lives and that we as MCC can come along side them and support them. Unfortunately in a country as vast as Mozambique, it means ALOT of travel. Almost every foreign worker I know travels to some degree to work with communities, whether doing pastor trainings, development work, HIV trainings, etc. And all the MCCers travel.

So, over the past year, Joel and I have gotten to know the road to Mandie well, now lately, the road to Tete, the road to Beira and the road to Sinhara (where my savings group is). The idea of traveling for work is exotic. But after my previous job where I had to travel, it quickly got old here because travel in Mozambique, no matter, how nice your vehicle is, the trip is always full of precautions--people walking along side of the road, goats wandering in the lane of traffic, potholes, slow drivers, large tractor trailers taking up too much of their side of the road. At any rate, whenever you arrive somewhere, you are Tired!

In October, we traveled to Cape Town, South Africa for a conference on Program, Monitoring, Evaluating and Reporting. First off, air travel is the way to go. We got there with more energy than we do after driving 3 hours to Beira! While we were there, though it was an intensive seminar, we got more rested than we do in a normal week at home in Gondola because it was quiet--no roosters, no loud music, no neighbors talking late into the night and then yelling at each other before 6 in the morning, space to take walks without being noticed.

One of the concepts that was discussed at the seminar was the idea of what the presenters called a "Home Week". It's a week where they as an organization are all at "home" in the office. No is traveling, and they intentionally sit down and reflect on their activities and what they are learning. From those conversations they set their direction for the future. It appeals to Joel and I who have a full schedule traveling to various ends of the nearby provinces. A week of quiet; a week of reflection; a week of intentional reading. We scheduled several reflection days for ourselves over the next six months. Perhaps, we'll have more blog posts out of those days!

It reminds me of Isaiah 30:15
This is what the Sovereign LORD, the Holy One of Israels says: "In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength"

After the learning tour is over, we are determined to slow our life down. Not so many trips, not always on the go, and more time to just be. The culture here doesn't do well with always being busy. And frankly, neither do we. We need the quiet to find our strength and time to reflect. We need to slow down to take care of ourselves (because if we don't, no one here will) and we need the time for quiet to connect with God.

My body craves the quiet. If I go too long without quiet, I feel it in my shoulders and neck muscles. I can not think connectedly. I can not journal to refresh my soul. Ironically, here in Mozambique, the city is the quietest place, the country is the noisest. I am learning to carry ear plugs with me on my travels and the formerly dreaded white noise of a fan, drowns out interuptions when I want to sleep. Unfortuately, it is also hot here, so closing the windows to noises is not always feasible.

Thus our travels to South Africa rejuvinated our souls and bodies. It was as quiet as America. I have read that America is startling anticeptic-- meaning it's so clean and devoid of humanity's muck, in comparrison to a place like Africa where humanity reaches out to you at every sensory consciousness. Here you walk down the street and can not help but get your feet dirty--dust, sewage (some places), puddles (if the rainy season), smells surround you--fire for cooking, sweat, urine; tastes--if the smells are poignent, they make their way to your mouth, dust; sight of course--mothers walking with babies strapped to their backs, bicycles carrying charcoal, people talking to one another, women braiding each others' hair; and hearing--constant conversations, flip flops on the pavement, traffic, loud radios, goats bleating, dogs barking. It's as if the noise never stops, even when the people go to bed because that's when the lazy dogs decide it's time to howl.

I miss the quiet and sometimes I dream of going to Joel's parents' house in Nebraska and just sitting in the quiet, letting it wash over me, going to sleep in the quiet and waking up in the quiet. I told them that and they said I'm welcome any time, but if I'm there longer than 3 months, Joel'll have to work. When I get back to the States, I'm gonna take them up on it, but maybe only for a week, and then I'll make noise playing the piano!

* The picture is a photo of the town where the seminar was. It was on the coast and there were mountains on one side, the coast on the otherside. It was lovely.