Saturday, December 10, 2011

Snakes and Weapons
Living with a gun in your bedroom, is like sleeping with a snake, one day it might just turn around and bite you.” Bishop Denis Sengulane, Anglican Church of Mozambique
To ‘live without resort to arms’ is a spiritual, a practical and implies also a political position.” Rev. Dr. Olav Fykse Tveit, General secretary, World Council of Churches

I am slowly learning a vocabulary in Portuguese that I barely have vocabulary for in English. I am more comfortable with the theoretical vocabulary of peace and justice than the practical vocabulary of weapons. I am learning about AK-47s, grenades and triggers. It’s not something I would have thought about learning when I wrote my first research paper in 10th grade about why I believe in non-violence. Non-violence doesn’t have any thing to do with weapons, right? Non-violence eschews the use of weapons so why do I need to know about them?

I am working with the Transforming Arms into Ploughshares (TAE) project of the Christian Council of Mozambique (CCM). TAE was one of CCM’s responses to helping build peace after the war ended in 1992. The churches were involved helping people reconcile, welcoming their friends, neighbors and family members back to the community, even when they fought (voluntary or conscripted) on opposite sides of the war. As a way to promote peace, TAE emerged as a means to collect weapons from people. They deactivated the weapons they received, offered material rewards for the weapons (metal roofing, cement, bicycles, etc) and found a number of artists interested in spreading the gospel of peace by creating sculptures with the decommissioned arms. As I work with TAE, I am learning some of the vocabulary of weapons.

The message of peace is powerful, life-giving. Peace takes time. The American Civil Rights Movement in the mid-1900’s accomplished a lot through non-violence but it took time. I think of Bishop Segulane’s quote. Few of us are enamored enough with snakes to want to wake up with one in our bedroom. Here in Mozambique, people do not like snakes and if they happen upon one, they kill it, immediately. Since 1995, when TAE began, over 800,000 weapons have been collected. Some are destroyed on the spot—there is still a bullet in the gun, a live hand grenade—with dynamite and the community watching. Functioning, empty weapons get their triggers broken so they cannot be used again and are transported back to Maputo to be made into sculptures. As powerful as the message of peace is; the irony is how often we believe in the lie of having a weapon is protection: the lie of redemptive violence.

What would our world look like if, following the Rev. Dr. Olav Fykse Tveit’s quote was a reality? That like the TAE sculpture in the British Museum called the Tree of Life, if relics of past wars would be fused together to create something profound and holy as a symbol of the victory of peace and reconciliation and a reminder that violence doesn’t solve problems? How would we live differently if we chose “to live without resort to arms”?

Sunday, December 04, 2011


I don't quite understand the ATMs here in this country. It is wonderful to have ATMs. They seem to be on every other corner in Maputo, a sign that people have more disposable income and the country is moving up in the world. They are well lit and usually have a guard. Our closest bank is right across the street next to a market and a huge dumpster. The market is probably the seediest place in the area, especially at night, but at least the ATMs are on the opposite side from the market.

This is what happens when I go to get money out. You wait in line, sometimes quite a long time. When you finally make it to the ATM you want to be quick because people may get upset behind you if you take too much time. This is, of course, aggravated if the computer is not working well and taking time. This used to happen to me when we lived in Chimoio but less here in Maputo. People still get upset even if it is not your fault and attempts to explain that the ATM was slow can fall on deaf ears. Most ATMs will make loud 'beeps' when you are pressing in your code announcing "Yoo Hoo" to everyone that you are entering into your account and calling all would be theives to your whereabouts. You quickly type in 'levantamento' which means you are taking money out. It takes about 30 seconds, you look around and in the mirror to make sure no one is watching. And if they are not, the ATM makes sure that everyone is by making a loud 'whoommmpf' as your money comes out. Jenny assured me this noise can be heard on the otherside of the divided main street even when there is traffic. This noise does not happen when you are paying bills, looking up the account balance or any other numerous transactions that can be made, only when you take money out. You quickly stuff your money into any part of you but your wallet so that people do not see but the noise has already made it as obvious as if there was a sign pointed down saying,"This guy just took out money, come and get it". Who designed this thing anyway?
Sunday afternoons in our house

Friday, December 02, 2011

Nadia's prayer
Nadia's learning how to pray. Today at lunch her prayer was something like this: "Thank you God for peanut butter and jam and Tia (Rebeca, our household help)and Mommy and Jesus' name, Amen."
We had rice and beans for lunch...
Five Years
We recently passed our five year anniversary in Mozambique. Five years sounds significant; but for me, it’s a reminder of how much transition we have gone through since November 2006. We have lived in three distinct places (not even counting the three months we spent in Beira for language study or the three months we were in Johannesburg, South Africa waiting for Nadia to be born). We started our assignment in Gondola and two years later moved to Chimoio. A little over a year later we moved to Maputo, where we’ve been for almost the past year and a half. My job has changed as much or more than we’ve moved—first working with the women of the Mennonite church in Gondola and the Women’s Society of the Christian Council of Mozambique in Chimoio, to savings groups through the Women’s Society of the United Church of Christ, to the Peace Building Department of the Christian Council of Mozambique to now the Transformacao de Armas em Enxadas (TAE—Turning Weapons into Ploughshares) of CCM. Our MCC team has been changing—adding people, subtracting people and now after 5 years, no one except for two Mozambican office workers, are the same people with whom we started. Our family has changed—adding Nadia in 2009 and the anticipation of our second child in early 2012. About the only things that have remained constant through the change are our steadily improving our Portuguese language skills and the constant search for finding God and relevance in a culture different than our own.

We have one more year to go, completing six years in Mozambique. It hasn’t been an easy journey. Would I do it again? I’d have to seriously think about it, though I have known the whole time this is where God wants us to be. I’ve wondered what it was like for people as they anticipated leaving their assignments/Mozambique. Now I’m at the point where I find myself thinking ahead to October 2012 and our leaving more than I think about where I am. I struggle being present beyond the details that daily living demands. I have a lot of questions of where we will go, what we will do, what it will be like to return to the States in our mid-30s with two children, having left only being a couple—DINKS (double income, no kids) as someone once described us.

What have I learned these five years that I will take with me? (in no particular order)

- God is good
- God is faithful
- Sometimes being present is all I can do and though it doesn’t feel like it, it is enough
- Showing up is skill
- I like the challenge of finding recipes based on seasons and produce locally available
- Children open and close doors
- I really value running water—with hot and cold as options—though a bucket bath with warm water outdoors is nice
- One of my favorite things is having tea outside (black tea in a teapot with a bit of milk, occasionally some sugar)
- As my mother used to say, “attitude follows action”
- I’m okay with having basically only one hobby—reading and need to always be involved with a book (I’m really looking forward to libraries in the States!)
- We waste resources whenever they feel unlimited, no matter our station in life
- Being poor is NOT glamorous or happier
- Mozambique, for as poor as it is, is a really expensive place to live—I feel for those who do not have enough
- Food security is huge stress on a family, community and society
- Clean water from the spigot in one’s house is a luxury for many people
- Walking, as opposed to driving to places, can be a radical choice of discipleship
- Forgiveness is freedom
- There’s a lot of value to insulation and crawl spaces between ceilings and roofs.
- The story of the little boy giving his five loaves of bread and two fishes to Jesus to feed the crowd of over 5000 people makes a lot more sense when I’ve eaten small fish and rolls and it’s a common meal for local people.
- The beach is a livelihood for some people; for others it’s a place for vacation
- Many people who have grown up just a few kilometers away from the ocean do not know how to swim

I know I’ve learned a lot more these five years. I wonder how I have changed. What will it be like to open the boxes of household goods that we’ve stored at my parents’ when we get back? Will I be astounded at what I chose to keep? Will I find joy in sets of matching sets of sheets? Will I feel overwhelmed by American culture? How will these six years in Mozambique affect my outlook and my lifestyle? My faith?