Monday, July 24, 2006

A prayer from Mark

Hello all,

p.s. I sat to write this as a description of my life here so far, but I think it actually came out as a prayer.

I realize that you all have not heard from me for quite a while and I apologize for that. I have let Carla carry the load of recording our adventures and emotions. I know you all agree that she has done a superb job of it too.

It is almost the one-yeare anniversary date of my mass-voice mail message to the teachers and staff at MMW that I was leaving Minnetonka to come to Africa, and almost six months since we have arrived here. As I look back on this year, it seems a life time, not the usual blur that is the passing of a year. I really wonder sometimes who I am becoming, but I know that I am being transformed. When it is not scary, it is the most exciting time of learning and growth that I have had in my life. If you could see me, maybe you would recognize me, maybe you wouldn’t.

Let me tell a couple of stories to illustrate the changes that are happening in me/too me/for me. Without remorse, fear or timidity, the most important stories have to do with the ways that my faith in God is being strengthened by this time here.

For much of my life, I have pursued notice, affirmation, praise, reward, attention with the zeal of a workaholic. Those of you who know me well can well remember times when these selfish desires manifested themselves as controlling behaviors, or over-speaking when I should have been listening, or impatience with those who weren’t on board with what ever my idea was, and a bitter biting sarcastic tongue for those who I felt had what I wanted, and etc. I realize that this was not my whole character, and don’t want to misrepresent myself, but when I pray for forgiveness in my life, it is for the kinds of things listed above. When I am feeling judgmental toward others, I will say things like “you can tell a persons character by how he responds to challenge/stress/difference of opinion”. Unfortunately, this phrase has condemned me as quickly as it condemned the person I was hoping to hang with it.

So, if my character (one of competition, judgment toward others, selfishness) is being exposed by moving to Africa, how and why and what will I do about it seems to need answering. God has not challenged me with my prideful and sinful nature directly, but has shown me clearly that He is worth pursuing, not that which I thought was important before. I find it nearly impossible now to count the times that God has answered my prayers in direct and clear ways. With all the bravado of Gideon, I even prayed last fall “God, I don’t want to be seem to self-important, but if your really want me to go to Africa, it would be nice to if this fleece was dry tomorrow while the ground was wet around it.” The next day, a woman we know who was born and raised in Tanzania called to talk to Carla and told her that she had awakened during the night with this sense that God wanted her to pray for us and to give us a call the next day. So she had prayed and then called, but wondered if we knew what He might have been meaning. This call was when she learned that we were making plans to go to Tanzania.

This weekend, more of our things were stolen, and I recall the story of Gideon again. Gideon built up an army of 10,000, but God made him send all away who set down their weapons to drink, leaving him with only God and a few hundred soldiers with which to fight the battle because God wanted Gideon to recognize that God had provided the victory. God wants me to put my trust in HIM, not in what I can acquire. He wants me to look to him, to give him the glory when it goes well, not seek it for myself. He wants me to trust His promise that he knows all challenges known to man, but promises not to allow a challenge too great for me to handle, and He promises to always provide the strength to do it. I was quite worried about my role of judge and jury over these stolen items, but God was concerned about my salvation. I felt alone and discouraged, but He provided strength, encouragement, and support. Through the miracle of modern technology, many of you knew of our struggles. The prayers and emails of support today have been almost overwhelming. God also let this incident happen when He knew our good God-fearing friends would be with us to offer direct support, encouragement, prayers, and guidance. And, God is teaching me an important lesson related to my sinful nature here as well. When I sought glory for myself, I usually took it by causing pain to others. When I look to him for his support, He gives me a reward (peace and encouragement) that is far sweeter than those false ribbons and trophy’s I have spent my live pursuing.

The other thing that has been happening to me is that God has been affirming the skills, talents, experiences that He has provided me. I hear God say to me “Mark, through me you are able to support the ministry of others. (He has provided many opportunities already for me to be the role of supporter and encourager) You are able to help others see Me and understand Me (and I’ll prove it to you by having you preach to this congregation of missionaries in two weeks). You are capable of facing great challenges, of assuring that the right thing is done, even if it has great personal risk to you to do so. Mark, I called you here.” He has comforted and affirmed me in ways I either never knew before, or I that ignored the messages He was sending while I sought affirmation from the wrong sources.

Now, please don’t be mistaken here. I am still too quick with a judgmental comment, with MY answer, with my self-righteous anger, etc… Like Paul, I continue to do what I don’t want to do, even when I know better. Maybe I’ll never completely throw off the pursuit of human affirmation, but I am being taught here that my faith is real, that my God is real, that His work in me and in the world is real. I am frustrated by my how little I know about Tanzania now, about what it will really take to get Peace House Academy off the ground. But one Tanzanian here gave me a pretty good clue as to HOW to do it when he asked me, “Mark, do you pray about the school?”

So, everything I know about the world has been stripped away. Everything is different and strange now, but I am able to see Him and therefore, myself more clearly. You ask, what is the lesson of my adventure to Africa so far? Trust God, and when I forget, I know that He will remind me again.

I pray that you see and know God so that we can encourage each other to pursue Him. Please continue to pray for us as we are for you.


A Bright Spot in the Weekend

With the wretched events on Saturday, we had a late start on our planned activity, a hike up Mt. Meru. We started late, but it was a perfect way to take our minds off of what had happened and enjoy the beauty of Tanzania with good friends. The hiking skirt is a new thing--but we were going through villages so shorts are not an option. That's our friend Steve O'Neil and his daughter Anna, who is Cameron's age. The Tanzanians are the requisite followers that seem to accompany us wherever we go. The trees behind us, interestingly enough, are pine--real pine--with raspberries--real raspberries--in the undergrowth. A little slice (and scent) of Montana surrounded by banana trees! AND, they're about 10 years old, to give you an idea of how fast things grow here.

This is the extent of the wildlife we saw. The kinyonga (chameleon) is an endless source of fascination for our kids and terrifyingly disgusting to Tanzanians. They will not come near a chameleon and those we passed while carrying Viper on our heads were horrified. It has something to do with the color changing that makes people believe that they can "steal" a person's "color". They also do not like the way the chameleon's eyes rotate independently. But our kids love 'em. Viper here rode all the way home before being released in the yard. In these pics he is black--they change color in response to stress and temperature, not background--but he was kind enough to show off a range of colors, from spring green to almost teal with white spots.

And here's the group. The Hillmans--including a rare photo of Noah--he's just TOO busy to stop for a picture--and the O'Neils (Steve and Denae, Anna, Benjamin, and Thomas). We count them among our blessings here. We have had a great time getting to know each other better here at language camp, the kids (who all match up in age) have been so busy we've hardly seen them, and they were a tremendous source of support this weekend. We're already looking forward to our visit in Dar to see them! Their stories of their own experiences in Tanzania and their farith journey are inspiring and give another insight into life here and attempting to discern what God's purpose is in our lives. They are starting a blog that you can read at or click the link at the left on our blog called "Tales from Tanzania" (do give them a little time to get it up and running, though).

Sunday, July 23, 2006

The Ugly Side of Life.

This has been a very difficult month for us, and this weekend has been the worst weekend since we’ve been here in Tanzania. Among the many challenges in living here is learning to adjust to having workers—gardeners, guards, housekeepers, etc.—in and around your home every day and night. I think we’re like most people we know (back home) in that we tend to be pretty trusting with people. As Christians, we tend to see people first in positive terms. The idea of looking at everyone you meet as a potential threat or problem is something that we would never think of doing.

Until we arrived here. This morning we discovered that someone had stolen 4 pairs of shoes (the kids’ shoes we had purchased in the States for the them to grown into while they were here since good durable shoes are almost impossible to get), an expensive backpack, a sleeping bag, and two sleeping pads were stolen from our garage while we’ve been at language camp. All of the things had just been unpacked from the shipping container and were in the process of being organized, so there is no doubt that they’re gone. Like everyone else who has workers, our housekeeper has access to our home when we’re not here, so he had access to our garage from the inside of the house. The garage “locks” with metal rods that slide into the holes in the concrete at the top and bottom, but Mark found out that he could open and close the garage from the outside. When he went into the garage from the house this morning, he had to shove a box out of his way that was blocking the door.

We are pretty sure our night guard (hired through a company) is responsible. If you read a couple posts back, you’ll remember that we also had our camera stole from our car. We lock our doors every time we leave the car in our yard, but if I were to get out trying to manage groceries, 3 kids, a barking jumping dog…well, you can imagine that I may not have been 100% perfect. Nights are very noisy here, and although Yasini (our housekeeper) lives onsite, he doesn’t get up and check every noise he hears. And Mark was able to open and close the garage without me hearing it in the house. So there you have it. We contacted the company and they came out with the guard and talked to him and our housekeeper and our gardener. Immediately they wanted to point at our housekeeper with the keys. We listened, they said we should take everyone to the police station and let them sort it out. The concern we have is that we’ve not heard any positive stories about the police here and seriously doubt that they would do a thorough investigation once they know we have a housekeeper in the house. There are also issues with corruption in using the police, too. Later, we heard from our guard (via the housekeeper) that the “word” among Tanzanians is that the company is not terribly reputable and that guard services can often be a handy front for theft.

But it doesn’t guarantee that he stole the things. Or that the housekeeper did. Or the gardener. But someone did. We don’t need a police report, or some type of justice done. We just need people to stop stealing our stuff. Although we do appear (and are) very wealthy to the Tanzanians here, the truth is is that we can’t afford financially to replace the things that were stolen. Besides which, we need to be able to have some modicum of trust for those that we employ at our house.

And there’s the worst part of the whole situation—because this weekend we feel like we’ll never be able to trust any Tanzanians. How can you be friends or have a relationship with someone who appears to be genuine and friendly, and then hits you up for money or steals from you? Cultural differences aside (and the asking for money and things is a cultural difference in the way friendships and money are seen here—something that we are working to understand so we aren’t offended or put out when it happens), we still are left with the feeling that we will have to look at every person we encounter as a potential thief, or someone looking for someone to gain from us. Hire people, work with them, for them, whatever—but never trust them. Is that really what life is going to be like here? If it is, how does anyone stay? Because right this weekend we want to leave, and it’s the first time we’ve felt this way since we’ve been here.

We have told the company that we do not want the guard back. We will have a different guard this week and will look at other guard companies on Monday. As for our housekeeper and gardener—we still don’t know if we should just let everyone go and start over (with people we don’t know and won’t trust now anyway) or what. Our housekeeper is a particularly complicated matter since his whole family lives here and letting him go will cause a terrible disruption to their family, including having to remove a child from school and possibly have a very difficult time getting him into another, as well as loss of income, home, etc. If we could prove something, we’d have no trouble making that decision, but having his family onsite with us is making it difficult to see things objectively.

Tonight, we have padlocks on a closet where we keep our purse, wallet, money, and camcorder. We have padlocks on our garage and on the door from the garage to the house. We have 2 padlocks on our front gate. We have a padlock on our back gate to the back compound. We have a padlock on our workshop and padlocks on each of the rooms in it. We lock our car doors, and have metal gates over the wooden doors in our house. And things are stolen. This, apparently, is life in Tanzania.

This, too, will pass, of course. Things are just things. Things happen to people. Certainly far worse than this has happened to many people. But the deep sense of—I don’t what—disappointment, fear, cynicism, anger, frustration—over how it seems life might be, how it seems people might be, how we go about getting past these feelings—that’s the challenge, I guess. We’ll see how we make out.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Habari kwa Shuleni


Tunakaa shule ya Kiswahili. Tunahudhuria darasa kila siku. Darasa linaanza saa kumi na mbili na nusu mpaka saa kumi na nusu. Tunapumzika saa sita na nusu mpaka saa nane na tuna chai saa nne mpaka saa nne na nusu. Kila siku tunajifunza vitu vingi. Kila jioni tuna fanya kazi ya nymbani pia.

Watoto wetu wanapenda TCDC sana. Wanapenda kucheza kwa rafiki wao. Cameron anajifunza Kiswahili kwa muda saa mbili au tatu kila siku. Noah anajifunza Kiswahili kila siku pia, lakini kwa muda saa moja. Ava anacheza tu.

Chakula kipo kizuri sana. Tunakula mboga na matunda mbalimbali, na pia wali, supu, nyama, mkate, na vitindamlo. Watoto wote anakipenda chakula. Baada ya chakula cha jioni, kwa kwaida Cameron na Noah anacheza puli.

Tumechoka kila usiku kwa sababu tunafanya kazi bidii! Tutakapomaliza, tunafikiri kwamba tutahitaji likizo! Labda tutakwenda Nairobi—tutaona.
Kwaherini—tutaonana baadye!

(If there is anyone out there actually capable of giving me feedback on my Swahili—don’t.)


We are at Swahili school. We attend class every day. Class starts at 8:30 until 4:30. We have a rest from 12:30 until 2:00 and tea from 10:00-10:30. Every day we learn a lot. Every evening we have homework, too.

Our children like TCDC a lot. They like to play with their friends. Cameron studies Swahili for 2-3 hours every day. Noah also studies Swahili every day, but only for 1 hour. Ava just plays!

The food here is very good. We eat different kinds of fruits and vegetables, and also rice, soup, meat, bread, and desserts. The children like the food. After dinner, Cameron and Noah usually play pool.

We are tired every night because we are working hard! When we are finished we think that we’ll need a vacation. Perhaps we’ll go to Nairobi—we’ll see.

Goodbye—see you later!

In rereading this, I’m seeing that everything I wrote I was taught in the beginning session, which means I might master some of this session’s lessons in the next 4 months! We are very blessed to be able to be here learning. The pace is exhausting, but we strongly feel that learning Swahili is such an important part of living here. People here are so pleased when you speak their language, even when you do it badly. Here in Arusha we can get by pretty easily basically speaking English, but we have had to rely on Yasini to translate for us a number of times with repairmen and it’s frustrating not to be able to understand or participate in those conversations. We’re also learning so much about how Tanzanians think and view the world by the way their language is structured. It’s interesting to hear them describe themselves as “people-oriented” or “relationship-driven” and then learn how certain aspects of the language support those views.

I suppose if we leave Tanzania in 3 years, we’ll be able to say goodbye to all our friends in Swahili, because that’s how long it’ll take us to master it!

I found this description of Swahili on another random blog...

"The rythmn of the voices here is like a synchronized melody. Each syllable flows off the tongue with an ambiotic drum like sound. Close your eyes and listen to the sounds of raindrops filling your ears and feel them melt upon your skin. The subtle, smooth, rise and fall of notes..."

Beautiful, isn't it? I love the imagery. But I have sneaking suspicion this person has not had to attempt to parlay these impressions into a functional conversation with a fundi to get their water tank fixed. Or tried to understand what the heck someone was explaining about their electric bill. Or wondered if they told their gardener to take tomorrow off or never come back to work again.
I'm not saying the language isn't beautiful. Hearing so many languages and accents here in one place, I actually love to hear people speaking their own language (I often wonder how American English sounds to people who aren't familiar with it). But in the circumstances I've mentioned above, when I close my eyes, I'm not feeling raindrops--it's more like a "deluge of sound, pelting the skin with a melody that fills the ear with seemingly random sounds, which are at times almost within one's grasp, before slipping away and pouring past in a torrent of confusion, leaving a sensation of bewilderment."

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Hail to the (Former) Chief

Peace House Academy had another notable visitor today to look at our progress and hear more about our mission here in Tanzania. Scott Augustine, PHF's founder and chairman, is explaining our work to former President Benjamin Mkapa. President Mkapa's administration was instrumental in allocating the land where PHA is located.

It was a proud moment to be able to show him the construction progress and also to share with him more fully and personally our vision for what we hope to accomplish here. Our mission of educating AIDs orphans and establishing opportunities for entreprenuers to develop businesses is one that has generated a lot of interest and has tremendous potential to make a change in so many lives! The day concluded with lunch, which was served by the President and his wife! Truly, Mr. Mkapa's attention to our project is a great blessing!

Thursday, July 06, 2006

A Quick Update

Well, I wish I could write volumes about life here recently but I can't...

*Rachel left last night for home, and the house seems a bit empty today! She gave a little concert yesterday and we had a chance to see the children say goodbye to her. Some were teary-eyed and clearly loved having her there. We really enjoyed having the opportunity to have her stay with us--the time flew by! We will be keeping her in our thoughts and prayers as she prepares to head to Buenos Aires and then Hong Kong for studies this year.

*Mark and I have both been sick with some type of upper-resp. crud for about 3 weeks. Mark seems to be on the healing side finally, but I just get worse every day. Antibiotics are not helping and I can barely stay awake during the day. Cameron has also been coughing terribly but seems to have no other symptoms. Ava woke this morning with sniffles and coughing...blech. I'm just so tired of being tired and stuffy and groggy. I will admit, though, that my down comforter and matress from home are helping immensely! At least emotionally.

*We are going on 3 days with no electricity. I'm at an internet cafe right now trying to catch up on emails. No electricity is more of a pain in the neck than an actual emergency...although we'll be heating water on the stove tonight (thank goodness for our gas stove) to wash in since we have no hot water. By tomorrow afternoon, though, we will be starting to lose whatever's in our freezer (meat) and some stuff in the fridge, which will be costly, as meat is one of our bigger parts of our budget. If the power comes on today or this evening, we'll be OK in that respect. Our phones are also almost out of charge, so I'm off to find a place where someone will let me plug them in to charge them. *sigh* Not to feel bad--our friends in Dar have not had power for days and days--they are on rationing, 24 hours on and then 24 hours off, but something's wrong with their house power so even on their "power days" they are ususally without power. Whenever you think you are being dumped on, look around--there's always something that will make you feel blessed. This is the longest we've gone without power since we've been here and since it's a problem somewhere, not rationing, we do have the pumps working so water is coming in.

*We are leaving Sunday evening for another 3 weeks at language school. We are nervous about our progress, feeling like we've just struggled so much with the language, so we'll see. We'll be home on the weekends to get laundry done and for a change of pace. The O'Neils from Golden Valley (now from Dar es Salaam) have 3 kids the same ages as ours and will also be there so we're looking foward to seeing them and catching up on life here and there.

*We celebrated 4th of July with other displaced Americans, having a BBQ, red, white, and blue sugar cookies, and even sparklers. It was a lot of fun and helped take our minds of the 4th of July evening that we love so much in Bloomington. The weather, though, was pure Montana--probably 60 degrees, clear skies, bright moon, completely dark, out in the woods, so Mark and I felt a bit homesick at the same time.

*We are looking forward to Scott Augustine arriving tomorrow evening. Scott is the founder and chairman of Peace House Foundation. It's always good to see someone from home and he'll hopefully be a big help to Mark in negotiating some of the more legalistic aspects of brokering a working agreement with the Lutherann Church. We will be welcoming Joe Storms on July 28th who will be working on some photography work for PHF as well in the 2 weeks he'll be here.

With the lack of electricity at this point, I'm not able to post pictures so you'll have to wait for those. We also had the misfortune of having our camera stolen from our car, so that has been an enormous loss for us. We do have a camera that we keep under lock and key for PHF use, but we don't use that for our personal comings and goings. So personal pics in general will be a bit infrequent for quite a while. We did purchase a TV and stereo now that our dvds and player are here. The Tv doesn't get a lot of use (we only get 2 channels) but the stereo has been wonderful to have music again in the house! But, those purchases also mean the camera will have to wait. Theft is just one of those things that's a part of the fabric of life here...something you have to come to grips with personally or you'll go crazy. We'll let you know how to do that when we figure it out ourselves! :-)

Until later...