Archives

Stories of Missionary Life in Africa for Children (#8) “Unexpected Arrivals”

mk-story-coversThis story is the EIGHTH in the Missionary Kids Stories about the Matthews family who live in Malawi, Africa.

Each story is written in the form of a letter from one of the Matthews’ children. There are seven children, (but the baby can’t write yet!).

I write these stories so young readers can learn about missionary life in Africa. The MKs (Missionary Kids) will tell stories about cultural differences (and similarities) such as eating DEAD MICE in the first MK story, or why guard dogs are necessary in Malawi as in BIG BLACK DOGS (the second story). They will also show how they face the same temptations, emotions, and problems that all kids everywhere do. I hope to entertain and inform the children, but mostly I want to quietly teach them truths from the Bible, God’s Word, as it pertains to their everyday lives.

So, here is the next story!  (If you are new here, scroll down, or check the list on the side bar to begin the with the FIRST story and meet the kids and their idiosyncrasies in order.)

 

“Unexpected Arrivals”

 

Hello Kids!

It’s Julie again!

Last time, I wrote about what was in that old well that’s in our back yard. Do you remember? You can hardly tell where it was now. Dad didn’t want us (or anything else) to fall into it, so he and Ngunda covered it up with cement. Then Dad got some bricks and built a big round planter on top of it, tall enough for us to sit on.

They filled it with dirt and compost from garden clippings and Mom’s kitchen scraps and planted a small lemon tree there!  The little flowers on it smell so good, but we haven’t gotten any lemons yet.

I can hardly wait for them to grow because I love lemonade!  Mom wants them to squeeze over fish when she cooks it. And also to put into her tea.  And of course, EVERYONE loves lemon bars and lemon cake.

C’mon little lemon tree… GROW!!

mk-lemons

Last week we had two exciting things happen.

First, we got a big box of letters and cards in the mail from the kids at Faith Bible Church. They had written them to us during their Vacation Bible School.

Here’s a picture they sent in the box. It shows some of the kids making the cards!  (If you see any of them… tell them a big “thank you” for us!)

mk-vbs-letters

It was so fun to open them and read the messages and see the drawings. You could tell that some of the cards were from real little kids because they were just scribbles. But we loved them anyway!!  We read our own cards, and then we passed them around so the rest of us could read them too.

April cut cute shapes from her cards and tied a little ribbon at one end. She’s using them as bookmarks in her Bible and other favorite books. She made five especially nice ones to give to her friends and teacher at church.

Marshall and Gus made a whole fleet of colorful paper airplanes out of their cards. Then they had a contest for which would fly the best. Marshall had saved one card that had a lot of yellow coloring on it. He cut out a star and pinned it on Gus for having the best flying airplane.

June did something very pretty with hers. It was something I never would have thought of. On the cards that had drawings of fish or flowers or stars or boats, she punched little holes around each drawn thing, and then threaded different colored yarn through the holes. They really looked cool!

Melody used some of the yarn to attach her cards at their top corners to make a long banner which she taped up on her bedroom wall.

Deek…. well, Deek just liked to throw his whole pile of cards up into the air and let them fall down all around him. Then he would shuffle through them, swishing them all around with his feet. (Mom rescued a few and set them up by his bed so he could look at them when he went to sleep.)

I cut out some of the objects that the kids drew, and a few of the messages they wrote, which I cut into heart shapes. Then I used a wire hanger that my Mom had and some strong string, and made a mobile to hang by my window. When the wind comes in, they flip and turn and spin. I love them so much!

After all the excitement and craft making was over, everyone went to put away their scissors and tape, and to display the things they’d made. Gus and Marshall went outside to fly airplanes.

I decided to help Mom by picking up all the paper scraps and tiny yarn pieces scattered everywhere around the living room. I used the broom to get some that had gotten pushed under the couch. Then a saw one more envelope under there that hadn’t been opened.  I pulled it out with the broom and wiped off the dust that came with it.

It had no name on it. There were no stickers or colored marks on the outside, but there was something inside. Something MORE than a card. When I turned the envelope up on edge, the thing slid to the bottom.

“Mom,” I called, waving the envelope. “Look what I found under the couch. It has no name on it.”

Mom peeked out from the room where she was changing Deek’s clothes. “Just open it, Honey,” she said. “Maybe there is a name inside.”

“But…if it doesn’t belong to me…” I protested. Then I rattled the envelope again. I really DID want to know what was inside.  If it was for someone else, I would just give it to them.

I started to tear open the top, when all of a sudden the dogs started barking furiously. I heard a car horn honk out a funny tune. Gus and Marshall ran by the window shouting.  What was happening?

I slipped the envelope in the back pocket of my jeans and ran to see.  Melody, June and April were right behind me. Ngunda had the dogs tied up and was rolling our big metal gate back along its tracks.

A bright blue Land Rover started edging inside. The top canvas had been rolled back and a tanned arm stuck out of it and waved a small American flag back and forth.

mk-smlbridge

“Uncle Will!” shouted Marshall, running to open the car door before it had even stopped moving.

A tall tanned man in sun glasses, a bush jacket and jungle hat, stepped out. All of us just stared at him in wonder except for our oldest brother. It looked like Marshall was going to knock him over with his hugging. Then it was like Marshall got embarrassed and stepped back. He held out his hand to shake instead.

“Aw, come here, my boy,” said our Uncle Will and pulled Marshall into another big hug.  “You’re getting mighty big!  Hey, who are all these?” He looked around at the rest of us.

I remembered him vaguely from the time before last that we went back to America. That time, he wore boots, a leather hat with a snakeskin band, and a necklace of beads and spear heads.

Whoa!” he said looking right at me, “Is that you, Julie Joy? What a young lady you are becoming.  You’re… what, twenty now?  Or twenty-five?”

I shook my head, grinning. “No-o-o-o-o! Thirteen.”

He gasped loudly then bowed deeply, which made me giggle.

Then Marshall introduced Gus and our sisters to their Uncle Will. The tall man shook hands solemnly with Gus, after first clicking his heels together and saluting him. (Gus still had a paper airplane in his hand, and the gold paper star pinned on.)

Then our uncle laid his hands on the heads of our twin sisters and pulled them to him, both at one time for a big three-way hug.

“Where’s your Mom?” he asked Marshall after he’d patted April’s cheek softly and winked at her.

“Well, I’ll be!” he added, looking over April’s head. Mom had come outside now, carrying Deek.

“WILL!” she cried and ran to him, handing Deek to me on the way. “Why didn’t you tell us you were coming? Oh, it is so good to see you!”  She went into his open arms and they hugged and swayed back and forth for a long time.

I put Deek down, and then picked him up again because the excitement was scaring him and he was puckering up to cry.  Uncle Will saw this and came to us, still holding Mom’s hand.

“Who is this young man?” He said and took Deek from me. He tossed him into the air, and then caught him easily, swinging him around in a circle. I gasped and Deek shrieked and Mom laughed.

“Will, be careful!” She said as he raised Deek up to sit on his shoulders, stubby legs around his neck. It knocked off his hat and Gus was quick to grab it, putting it on his own head and laughing when it came down over his eyes.

“This is Deek,” said Mom to her brother. “Deacon William Matthews, our youngest.”

“Deacon William? You’ve got to be kidding!”

“Which part?” she asked, teasing him. “We didn’t name him after YOU!  Well, not completely. We wanted to remember the missionary, William Carey.

“Oh, that’s fine,” said our uncle, “but….. Deacon?  Seriously?”

“Well…. You know our tradition of naming the children with a reminder of the month they were born in.  Deek was born in….”

“DECEMBER!” we all called together, cutting her off.

“Dees-ember!” said Deek, bouncing up and down on Uncle Wills shoulders and flapping his arms.

Then we all heard a familiar toot and Ngunda opened the big gate once more to let in Dad’s car.  Uncle Will handed Deek back to Mom and went to greet his brother-in-law. They shook hands, and then hugged, slapping each other on their backs the way grown up men do.

“Hey, Bro, why didn’t you tell your wife and kids I was coming?”

“I wasn’t sure when you would come. I didn’t want them to get all excited and be disappointed.”

About then, after shutting the gate, Ngunda let the dogs loose. They joined in the fun, jumping up on Uncle Will’s chest and almost knocking him over.

“Whoa, you big lugs!  Down boys!”  He thoroughly scratched their necks and squeezed their shoulders up next to his knees, and then sent them off.

As we all started towards the back door, Dad asked, “And where have you been these days, my famous jungle-doctor brother-in-law?  Zimbabwe? Mozambique?”

“No. Ghana, this time,” he answered. “But I’ll be working in Malawi now for a couple weeks.  No, not at your Kamuzu Hospital in Lilongwe. We’ll be down south at a clinic in Zomba.  So… now is perfect time to visit my sister’s… growing family!”

“Oh, Will,” said Mom, disappointed. “Zomba is a seven hour drive away!  How long can you stay before you leave?”

“It will take me a week just to get all your kids’ names straight, Sis,” he joked. “Let’s see….who are we missing? Where is January Jan?   September Seth?  October Otto?  And…. November Gobble-gobble?  Hey, stop hitting me!  I know, I know… seven kids are enough!”

We were all laughing at Uncle Will and Mom, including Dad.  We had never seen her act so funny before. It was almost like she was a little girl again.

Inside the house, our uncle got more serious. “But, actually, Hudson, while I am here, I need to talk with a one of your teachers at ABS. I think she goes to your church too.  It’s about a young village boy named Lugono. She wrote to Operation Smile about him and I need to see him in person.”

“That must be Debbi Kingsley,” Dad said. “I’ll take you to meet her tomorrow.”

After that, the afternoon was a scrambled happy stew of talking and laughing and showing things and playing guessing games and getting to know Uncle Will. He asked us all lots of questions and bounced Deek on his knee till he got the hiccups from laughing.

When Mom said she would fix some dinner, we all moved into the kitchen to “help” her… but mostly just to look at and listen to our uncle.  He was wonderful and exciting. And besides being fun and part of our family, he was real doctor: Dr. William Calder. He told us some amazing stories about kids all over Africa that he helped by operating on them.

Gus had a question that made us all giggle, except maybe for April who looked like she wanted to know too. “If you are really Mom’s brother, why isn’t your name, Dr. Matthews?”

Uncle Will’s eyes were sparkling, but he answered Gus seriously. “Because ‘Calder’ was your mother’s name too, before she married your dad.”

“It was?” Gus said and looked at Mom in a curious way. We all laughed then, including Gus.

~~~~

It was very late when we were finally sent to bed, with the promise of Uncle Will coming to each of us to pray and “tuck us in.”

Back in the room that I shared with April, who was brushing her teeth right then, I was puzzled to feel something in my back pocket.

“What in the world…?” I said aloud.

Then I found the envelope. I had forgotten all about it with Uncle Will coming and all the excitement  afterwards. I started to open it right then, but April came back and I quickly hid it under my pillow.  I would show her tomorrow, I promised myself, after I found out who it belonged to. But for tonight, I wanted it to be my secret.

But I was too late.

“What was that?” April asked and picked up my pillow. “Did you get another card?  What’s in it?” She was shaking it like I did when I first found it.

“I don’t know,” I said and sighed. “I don’t know what’s in it, and I don’t know if it is even mine. There’s no name on it.”

“Well, OPEN IT!” said April and did just that.

There was a paper inside with neat printing on it. It said, “For JOY, read Romans 12:22.”

“See, it IS for you. You are Julie JOY, right?  And look!  Here’s a little pin. Oh, a cute happy face!”

mk-happy-face-1

She handed me the pin, the note, and the envelope, and went to her bed. She picked up the book lying open on her night stand and began to read. She was deep into the story before I could blink twice.

I felt happy with how the whole envelope thing turned out.  It WAS for me after all, and I loved the little pin. It wasn’t a cheap button pin like you might get for free, but a nice gold-color pin like a piece of jewelry about the size of an American dime.  How cool was that?

And I was the only one who had gotten a “prize” in an envelope.

Who had put it in the box I wondered. Was it a teacher? I didn’t know any close friends back at that church, but one girl HAD seemed to like me the last time we visited. Maybe Taylor had sent it.

I picked up my Bible and found the verse written on the paper.  It was exciting to think that someone was sending ME a special message!  I read the verse to myself, “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.” I memorized it in a minute. Easy-peasy.

I put everything on my night stand and lay down with a smile on MY face.  I was asleep just like that and only slightly remember a hand on my head and a deep voice softly praying for me.

~~~~

Next morning, I put the pin on my pajama top and went out to the kitchen where I could hear Mom making breakfast noises.  Uncle Will was there too, sitting on a stool with a cup of coffee in his hand.

Before they heard me, I saw how much they loved each other and were glad to be together even for a short visit.  Uncle Will was Mom’s only brother, and she didn’t have any sisters.  I wondered how it would be to have only one more kid in my family.

“Julie Joy!” my uncle said, holding out his empty hand to get a morning hug. “Why is your face shining like a mirror in the noon day sun?”

I looked down at my pin and smiled bigger.

“Ah, what do we have here? Now, that’s a right beautiful pin, m’lady.”

“It’s called a happy face, Uncle Will. Someone at our church in American sent it to me.”

I showed it to Mom too, who had her hands floury from making cinnamon rolls.

“There was a Bible verse in the envelope too.”  I recited the verse and the reference to them.

“That’s a good one,” my uncle said. Then, it was weird, he got this  far off look on his face like an idea was blooming in his mind somewhere. He leaned over to look more closely at my pin.

“Hmm,” was all he said.

~~~~

The next thing that happened, was two days later.  Dad had taken Uncle Will to the College with him, and he had talked with that teacher. In the afternoon, he had ridden with her out to the village to see Lugono. He was sad but excited when he came home for dinner.

“I think it might work,” he told Dad later that night while Melody and I were playing Dominos on the cleaned-off dining room table.  “But he’s pretty scared. His mom might need some convincing too. I wonder…..”

Here is where he looked right at me. Then he leaned close to Dad and they talked softly for a while, both of them glancing at me now and then.

It made me feel kind of worried. What were they talking about? The corner of my bottom lip slipped under my teeth before I could stop myself, but I quickly made it come right out.

Finally they sat back. In a minute, Uncle Will called me over to them and I sat beside him on the couch.

“Julie, you seem to be someone with a lot of compassion for others. Your Dad told me how you rescued that  feral cat in the well… no, no… don’t worry!  He also told me how you were sorry for disobeying him.”  He smiled gently at me.

“And I’ve also seen how gentle you are with your little brother…. Deek.”

Here he looked at Dad. “Sheesh, what a name!  How did you let my sister name him that, Hudson?”

Dad shrugged and grinned.  “It grows on you, Will.”

“Anyway, Julie,” he continued. “I’d like you to come out to the village with Debbi and me tomorrow and meet Lugono. Would you do that?”

I nodded. I had been there many times when Mom went to help Mrs. Molenaar teach Bible and sing and hand out bread to the kids.

“I should tell you….” he glanced at Dad, “I should tell you that I’m considering him for surgery next week.  He… well, he has a different problem.  He might look quite frightful to you.  I’d understand if you didn’t want to go. But…. I think you would be a big help.”

I thought about a baby I’d once seen at the village. He had a funny mouth. His upper lip was pulled up into part of his nose and a tooth was growing in a weird place.  I felt really awful  and sad for him, but then I saw his eyes – so big and dark and shining – and all I wanted to do was hug him and make him all better.

I nodded again to Uncle Will. “Yes, I’ll go with you. I want to.”

He grabbed me – big as I am – into his lap for a big hug, and kissed the top of my head. “Thank you, sweet Jewel!  Oh, and be sure to wear that pin.”

And I did. Before I went to bed that night, I pinned it on the shirt I would wear the next day.

mk-happy-face-2

~~~~

On the way to the village the next day, Miss Debbi told us Lugono’s story.  He was one of eight kids and his mother was a widow.  (That means her husband had died.)  One night, two years before, Lugono tripped and fell face first into the open cooking fire. He got VERY bad burns on his face and burned off one eye, one ear, and half his nose.

(Let me tell you, when I heard that, I wanted to scream or cry! Oh, that poor boy!)

Miss Debbi went on to say that his mother took him to a health center, then to the Kamuzu Hospital in Lilongwe. He was there for three months!!  But they didn’t do much for him. They sent him home to die because they thought he was “a hopeless case.”

Right then, I remembered part of my “pin” verse, “joyful in hope,” but Lugono didn’t have much hope, did he?

What happened then, Miss Debbi?” I asked.

“His mother cared for him in the village. Every time she cleaned his wounds, she cried and prayed for a miracle. She never gave up hope.”

Hope….

She continued with the story, “My friend first saw him when his Mom brought him to a mobile clinic for malaria testing. Sonja contacted me because she knew I was helping to find children who needed an Operation Smile* surgery. We took pictures of Lugono and sent them in.”

She smiled. “Your uncle here is the answer to all of our prayers!”

“Julie,” said my uncle, looking right at me, “I believe we can help Lugono with some starter surgery, but he will need many more to really restore his face. The problem is, he is very frightened to have anything done. We… I… hope that you can somehow help him.”

We bumped into the village right then and I took a deep breath. I recited the whole “pin” verse to myself. “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.”  As I stepped down from the Jeep, I prayed really hard for Lugono and for ME.

Like in every village, when visitors arrive, all the children come running, shouting, smiling, wanting to touch you, and get their picture taken. This was the fun part about visiting a village!

100_5255-copy

I looked around, but I didn’t see any boy who might be Lugono.

Miss Debbi took us to a thatched red-brick hut. We started to go inside, but Uncle Will said we needed the sunlight to see.  Soon a woman came out leading a boy about nine years old.

And then…. “Oh, no!  Oh, no!  “Oh, please God,” I prayed to myself with all my might, “Oh, please help me not to look away from him!”

I was crying inside and praying softly and smiling and reaching out for Lugono’s hands all at the same time. I recited my “pin” verse softly even though he didn’t know what I was saying.

His poor skin was all twisted up and pulling his lips and half nose and one “good” eyelid towards the burned side.  Everything else – where no eye or ear was – was just tight, shiny, pink-spotted skin.

He looked away from us and turned to go back into the hut.

Miss Debbi said something. She pointed to me and then to Uncle Will and talked more in Chichewa. Lugono tried to look up at my tall uncle, but his skin was too tight and the eyelid wouldn’t stretch at all. My uncle, kneeled down in the red dirt in front of him. He gently ran his hand over Lugono’s face, talking softly and smiling.

Miss Debbi translated and Lugono seemed to listen. Pretty soon he looked at me as best as he could under that half-closed twisted eyelid. It was then I saw his one dark, shining, unhappy but beautiful eye gazing at me. I really think I started to love him then.

I took one of his hands and started to tell him what a good doctor my uncle was, how he had helped many, many kids by his surgeries. Then I remembered what Miss Debbi told us about his mother’s prayers.

“Lugono, God has sent my uncle-doctor as the miracle your momma prayed for. He has come to help you. Don’t be afraid to let him.”

I said it again, this way, “Your momma has been faithful in prayer. God has sent you hope, a reason to be joyful.  Please be patient and trust our good God, and let my uncle-doctor help you in your …. affliction.”

He looked at me steadily with his eye while Miss Debbi translated, and I looked back with all the love I could. Finally he nodded.

“Thank God,” I heard Uncle Will whisper as he stood up.

Then Lugono smiled. Or… he tried to smile. It was… it was horrible to see, almost like a monster’s smile.  But I knew my uncle-doctor would make it beautiful.  Make it a…. happy smile.

I looked down at my pin and without a thought, unfastened it from my shirt. I looked at Lugono and held it out for him to see.  He held it closely to one eye and… smiled again.  I took it and pinned it to HIS shirt.

I heard a joyful laugh.

I don’t know if it was from him or me!

~~~~

I saw Lugono ten days after his surgery, right before Uncle Will went back to America. The team had done many surgeries to help kids, but Lugono’s was the most wonderful to me.

Of course he still does not have an eye or an ear, and although his skin is still shiny and spotted pink, it’s not twisted so much now.

He can look out of his one eye just fine and blink. His lips work good now – he has a great smile – and his half-of-a-nose is straighter, so he can breathe through it.

Uncle Will says he will arrange for Lugono to go to America in a few months, and have more surgeries to make everything even better.

mk-lazaro-and-2-close

(See Lugono and Miss Debbi and his mom in the picture?) **

~~~~

When I rode out to the village with my uncle and Miss Debbi for a last visit, Lugono was still wearing the happy face pin. He made signs asking if I wanted it back but I shook my head. Seeing HIS happy face was better than any pin could be.

To me, it was like that pin came just for him!

Before we went to the village, all my sisters and brothers – even Deek –  made cards for Luguno, with drawings, and yarn stitches, and even ribbons. He loved them and also the paper airplanes Gus and Marshall made. And he tied my mobile in a nearby tree to flip and turn and spin in the wind.

~~~~

That’s all this time. I really love writing to you. When I tell you the things that happen in our family, it’s like I can see God at work in all of us.  And THAT makes me want to thank Him so much.

Love to you,   Julie

 

http://www.operationsmile.org/

**photo acquired with permission from the Tracy Elliott newsletter

“Come, my young friends and listen to me. And I will teach you to honor the Lord.”  ~~~ Psalm 34:11   Good News Bible

Stories of Missionary Life in Africa for Children (#4) “What’s In A Name?”

mk-story-coversThis story is the FOURTH in the Missionary Kids Stories about the Matthews family who live in Malawi, Africa.

Each story is written in the form of a letter from one of the Matthews’ children. There are seven children, (but the baby can’t write yet!).

I write these stories so young readers can learn about missionary life in Africa. The MKs (Missionary Kids) will tell stories about cultural differences (and similarities) such as eating DEAD MICE in the first MK story, or why guard dogs are necessary in Malawi such as in BIG BLACK DOGS (the second story). They will also show how they face the same temptations, emotions, and problems that all kids everywhere do. I hope to entertain and inform the children, but mostly I want to quietly teach them truths from the Bible, God’s Word, as it pertains to their everyday lives.

So, here is the next story!  (Scroll down, or check the list on the side bar to begin the with the FIRST story and meet the kids and their idiosyncrasies in order.)

 

 

What’s In A Name?

Hi Kids,

It’s my turn to tell you a story. You already know from Melody that I am her twin sister. She is older than me by fifteen minutes, but we were born in two different months, May and June.

That’s how we got our names. Hers is Melody May and mine is Charity June. Being twins, we look alike, but we don’t act alike. She is friendly and daring and thinks of other people’s feelings. I’m not like that. Sometimes I get jealous and even mean.

Everyone calls her by her first name, but they call me by my second name.

I always wondered why.

One day, I complained to Mom, “Kids in Sunday School sing about my sister’s name, Making Melody in my Heart, to the King of Kings, why can’t they sing Making Charity in my Heart instead?”

(Charity means giving some of your old things to poor people who really need it. That’s a good thing, right?)

Mom looked off over my head, with a small smile on her mouth as if she was remembering something good, and then answered, “You’ll grow into it one day, June.”

What?? How do you grow into your name? Don’t you grow into it when you are born?

The story Julie Joy wants me to tell you started way back in December when it was Christmas time here in Malawi. It was also Deek’s second birthday.

Our Grandpa and Grandma Matthews came to visit us. Maybe because it was Christmas and Deek’s birthday or maybe they wanted to see how we were doing in Malawi. They were very tired at first. I takes thirty-five HOURS to travel here from America!

One thing I noticed right away was that they brought four extra suitcases of stuff for us – like clothes and school books and special shampoos for mom, and vitamins and first aid stuff, and a new computer battery for Dad’s laptop. There were also presents for Deek’s birthday, AND Christmas presents for all of us!

On Christmas morning we all had hot oatmeal with the toppings we each like best – three flavors of yogurt, raisins, granola, nuts, chocolate chips, and brown sugar (which Mom makes by mixing white sugar and molasses together because there is no such thing as brown sugar in Malawi! Weird, huh?).

We had a special Christmas service at our church, but this time Dad didn’t have a part. We sang Christmas carols, and then our regular pastor read the Christmas story from the Bible. He invited my Grandpa to pray, which kind of surprised me, until I found out that Grandpa and Grandma used to be a missionaries too, in some other place called Borneo.

(Do you know where that is?)

Some of the ladies at church gave us waxed paper wrapped packages of cookies and pumpkin bread. Mom gave them little baggies of her very special brownies.

We had a big Christmas lunch, with six small roasted chickens called “baby chickens” at the Chipiku (Ch’-PEE-koo) market in Lilongwe, our town. (They are actually Cornish Hens, my mom says.) We also had roasted potatoes, slices of red, red tomatoes, and canned peach halves. We had Jell-O that Grandma made in layers of red and green, and for dessert Mom made three apple pies. We ate all of them!!

Anyway…. we FINALLY got to the opening of presents. We sat in chairs in a big circle in our main room. The windows and doors were all open because it was hot and a cool wind was coming in because a storm was brewing.

(By the way, mosquito screens cover every opening in the house because those tiny flying bugs like to come inside and bite us and sometimes make us sick with malaria!)

It was darker than usual in the house with the storm clouds covering the sun, even though it wasn’t raining yet, so mom turned on the lights. We had a tiny little plastic Christmas tree that Grandpa and Grandma also brought. It had a flashlight battery inside, making the colored lights shine out.

After we opened our presents from Mom and Dad, Dad passed out all the ones from Grandpa and Grandma. We each got two. Marshall got a pocket camera and a really cool knife with lots of things that open up. Julie got a soft fuzzy blue bathrobe and slippers and a matching Disney “Frozen” hairbrush.

Melody got a new board game and a 1,500-piece jigsaw puzzle. April got a set of twelve kid’s books and a pen with her name on it. Gus got a miniature train set in two boxes. And Deek got a little tricycle, two coloring books, and a big box of “washable” markers. (Mom made sure they were washable.)

I got a plastic jar of Jelly Belly jelly beans! All flavors! My favorite candy!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Then I started to open the flat box on my lap. I was so excited. Was it a scrapbook or a giant book of crossword and word search puzzles? Was it game that took batteries and made noise?

Nope. It was none of those.

It was a picture in a frame with glass on the front. The frame didn’t even look new, but was worn and scratched in a lot of places. And, worse yet, the picture wasn’t even a picture. It was a bunch of words and designs in sewing, AND the glass looked foggy. It looked like something that someone didn’t want any more and gave to us “poor” missionary kids. It was like… like charity…. given to ME!

I dumped the old sewing picture on the floor and picked up my jar of Jelly Belly candies. I hugged them, looking around at my sisters and brothers. They were all “wow-ing” about their presents and trying them out, thanking Grandpa and Grandma, even giving them hugs.

Mom came over quietly and picked up the framed picture. She sat by me, holding it so I had to look at it. I did, for a minute, and then turned away.

“It’s a sampler,” she said. “People long ago made these to remember important sayings, often from the Bible. They did their very best stitchery on them, sometimes taking months to finish. This one was made by your –.”

“It’s ugly, and I don’t want it,” I cried in a mad whisper. I slapped it away, and it fell to the floor with a clunk.

Just then a huge, loud thunder sounded and the lights went out. Mom and Dad and Marshall stumbled around through all the furniture and wrapping paper to light the candles.

In Malawi, we are used to the electricity going out, especially in storms. Mom keeps a bunch of white candles with matches all over the house on high shelves for when this happens.

candlesfloreen
Once they were all lit, we could see again, but not as well as before. The light was dim and yellowish and the flames wiggled back and forth from the wind.

It started to rain so Dad got up and closed a couple of the windows. Then it got more warm and humid. I noticed that the old picture on the floor got covered up by some torn wrapping paper. I was glad.

“How lovely!” said Grandma. “Perfect light and sound effects for singing some joyful Christmas songs!”

I didn’t feel like singing songs. I didn’t feel joyful. I felt mad. Why didn’t I get fun presents like everybody else? I went over to where Melody and April were setting up the new game.

“Come play too,” said April, making room in all the wrapping paper on the floor for me to sit.

“I don’t want to play your stupid game. I pushed the game board with my foot and scattered all the pieces.

“Ju-une, why did you do that?” wailed Melody. I can’t find the other dice now in all these ribbons and papers. Mom, make June help us find the pieces.”

“It’s right there,” I said and kicked the little square with my toe. Are you blind or something!”

When I backed up, I tripped over an empty box and lost my balance. I fell with a thud on one of Gus’s little train engines.

“Owwww!” I yelled!

“Mo-om-m,” Gus yelled back. “She messed up my train!

Dad came over then and helped me up. But he didn’t let loose of my arm. Instead he marched me out to the kitchen.

“June, what’s the matter with you? Why are you being so mean?” he asked.

“Everybody got good presents, but I didn’t!” I cried back.

“What about the Jelly Belly candy? I thought those were your favorites.”

“They are,” I said in a small voice, my head bent over. When I looked up I was crying. Not sad tears but mad tears. “I wanted some puzzle books, or a new hair brush, or markers. I wanted a computer game or something, and all I got was an old picture! I hate it.”

“June,” said my dad. “You need to go to your room until you can come out with a happy face.”

That would be NEVER, I thought and stomped into the main room.

When I picked up my jar of Jelly Belly candy, I stepped on something under the wrapping paper. I heard a crack, but with so much noise, no one heard. I hoped it was a game piece or a toy train car.

In my room, I slammed the door shut, but everyone was singing, “Hark, The Herald Angles Sing” as loud as they could and didn’t hear me. It was raining hard now and thundering. I felt like that inside, like the storm.

I opened the Jelly Belly jar and ate a few green ones. I ate some red and red-spotted ones next. Then I poured a whole handful and popped them all into my mouth all at once and chewed.

MKJellyBeans.jpg
They sang “The First Noel” and I ate white jelly beans. They sang “Angels We have Heard on High” and I ate yellow and orange jelly beans.

I was starting to feel sick when I heard a knock on my door. Everyone was singing “Silent Night” now, but I didn’t feel like eating any more candy, not even the blueberry ones. The big jar was half empty!!

I heard Grandpa call to me and crack open the door.

“Oh, good!” cried Grandpa. “There you are, June. Come out here and sit by me. I want you to help me with something.”

What could I do? Besides I didn’t really want to stay in my room alone any more. I put down the candy and followed him down the hall. When he sat down, I squeezed into his chair beside him.

“We were going to read the Christmas story again, but my old eyes can’t see very well in the candlelight. Would you read it for me from this very old Bible?” He lifted a big old book from the table beside him and set it in my lap. It was heavy and very thick and had gold writing on the front.

I sighed. I started to turn to Luke 2, but Grandpa said, “No, turn to Philippians 2 this time.

What? Everyone knows the Christmas story is in Luke. It tells about baby Jesus being born in a stable in Bethlehem, and the angels singing Peace on Earth, and the shepherds going to look at the baby. I was curious as I turned the old pages back to Philippians.

“Start right there, June.” He pointed to verse 5. “This Christmas story begins before Bethlehem. Before Nazareth. It begins… in Heaven.”

So, I read until he stopped me after verse 9.

 “For let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men, and in habit found as a man. He humbled himself, becoming obedient unto death, even to the death of the cross. For which cause God also hath exalted him, and hath given him a name which is above all names…”

“That’s not the Christmas story, Grandpa!” I said.

“It isn’t?” he asked.

I read it again, to myself.

Well… it did tell about Jesus coming, but it went way past that, to the Easter story. Actually… way past THAT too. To Jesus going back to heaven. And what was that about a new name. Wasn’t He going to be called Jesus anymore?

That made me think about my OWN name problem and I didn’t want to do that. I started to close the Bible, but Grandpa stopped me.

“Here, look up another verse or two for me, will you?” He told me where and I found 1 John 4 and started reading aloud at verse 9.

“By this hath the charity of God….”

My eyes stopped at the fifth word – Charity?

“Go on,” said Grandpa.

“By this hath the charity of God, appeared towards us, because God hath sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we may live by him. In this is charity: not as though we had loved God, but because he hath first loved us, and sent his Son to be a sacrifice for our sins.” 

I stared at those words. The reason God sent Jesus at Christmas was for….charity??? He gave something of His own – not an old throw away thing, but His very own Son – to the world because we were…what? Poor and needy? Like the Malawian villagers we sometimes take old clothes and food to?

It didn’t make sense.

“But…. we’re not poor and needy, Grandpa. We have a LOT of things. Why would God think we needed charity? Okay, okay, some people in the world need it…..”

Grandpa looked at me with his kind eyes.

“Sweetheart,” he said softly. “We ALL need very much what God is giving. Without it we are all lost. You remember in the Bible where it says we ALL have done bad things against God and other people… even our family. We couldn’t even come close to God’s high standard. We all have hearts that make us want to do bad. God is perfectly good (we call that being holy) and he can’t be with people who aren’t perfectly good too.

The Bible says we deserve God’s punishment for living that way. It’s only fair, don’t you think?”

My mind flashed to how I always tell Mom about the bad things my sisters and brothers do so they will get in trouble and get disciplined. Well, they should get punished, right? They did bad things! Yes, THAT was fair, I knew. But… God’s punishment…that was too scary to think about.

Grandpa went on, “We need God’s forgiveness for all those things we’ve done. He could just ignore them or erase them, but would that be fair to Him or to the ones we’ve sinned against? Would it be fair for someone to get off completely free from any punishment?

I shook my head no.

“The Bible says that God is just. That means He is fair.”

I never thought about God being fair, only that He loved us.

“All people, including Grandma and me, and your Dad and Mom and everyone – all people have broken God’s good laws and disobeyed His Word. We deserve his punishment. Don’t you think?”

I nodded, but it was hard to think about.

“That’s where Jesus comes in,” Grandpa said with a big smile. “He is God’s precious son, but God sent him from heaven to earth – yes as a baby in a stable – to get punished for us, punished for all the disobedience and sin we have done. Yes, He did this because He loved us so much, but also because He is just. He’s fair.”

It all didn’t seem fair to me. How could it be fair for Jesus who was perfect, to get punished for people who were sinful? And yet, He did it. I know all the Bible stories from Sunday School.

“We need something else too, June,” Grandpa said. “We need God’s perfect goodness. You see, we really ARE “poor and needy” after all! We need His…. charity…. as you call it.”

He smiled and patted my knee. “We don’t have anything to pay God for His goodness. (The Bible calls it righteousness.) What could we give Him? Even if we lived perfectly for the rest of our lives – and we couldn’t – it wouldn’t be enough.”

I was beginning to feel really bad listening to Grandpa. I was thinking of the mean things I had said and done to my sisters and brothers, how I always wanted to have the things THEY had and maybe made up stories to get them in trouble because I was jealous… and how I always wanted to make myself look really good and them really bad… and how I never admitted I did anything wrong even when I did sometimes.

I wondered how could I ever get this goodness from God that I needed, like Grandpa was talking about. So I asked him. “How can I get this goodness?”

Grandpa smiled. In fact he gave a happy little laugh. “God gives it to us as a gift. Just like He gives us forgiveness. He can give it, because someone else has paid for it. Do you know who?”

My eyes went to the figures of the nativity scene we have on a low bookcase. I saw the little baby in the manger.

mk-xmas-nativity

I thought how He grew up and always obeyed God, and how He died unfairly so that I wouldn’t be punished for my sin. So I…. so I would also have…. God’s goodness instead of a heart that wants to do bad.

I looked back at Grandpa, my eyes and my mouth wide open.

“Yes, June. Yes!” he cried and gave me a big bear hug. “God did a wonderful exchange when Jesus died. He took our sin, and gave us back His forgiveness and His goodness.”

Wow, it made sense to me now. I have a lot of stuff – I thought about all the things in my room and about my family and friends – but I didn’t have everything. I did need God’s charity; I needed His giving me His forgiveness and His goodness. Boy, I sure was needy and poor!!

It made me want to thank Him. Thank Him very much!

And then I wanted to thank Grandma and Grandpa for the candy, and even for that old sewing picture, because it must have meant something special to them.

I got up and shuffled through the wrapping paper on the floor till I found the picture. But…. oh no! There was a big spider crack in the glass, just over the bottom word that was sewn bigger than the rest. I wanted to cry now. My first thought was to blame it on someone else, but I knew it was me who stepped on it. I had heard that crack sound.

I went to Grandpa very slowly, my eyes filling with tears. “I’m sorry Grandpa and Grandma. I ruined the picture you gave me. I didn’t want it at first, but now I do.” And I started crying really hard.

I didn’t know it, kids, but all my brothers and sisters and even Mom and Dad were staring at me in surprise.

Grandma got up and took me in her arms. “Charity June, we forgive you. The glass can be replaced. And it doesn’t look like the embroidered sampler is hurt at all.”

Grandpa was already gently pulling out the pieces of glass and laying them on top of that old Bible on the table beside him. With the glass out, I could clearly read the emboider—the cross-stitch letters and see tiny hearts that made a frame around them on the cloth. It said…

And now abides

Faith,

Hope,

Charity,

these three;

but the greatest

of these is…

Charity

1 Corinthians 13:13

And in very tiny letters at the bottom… C.G.H.

My Grandma took the picture gently in her hands and lightly traced her finger over the letters. “This sampler was embroidered by your great, great grandmother, Charity Grace Hill, in 1902 when she was about 12 years old. We have cherished it in the family all these years.”

I looked at the stitched words again. They were over 100 years old!

“You were named after her, June, did you know that? We thought it was time for you to have the sampler now.” Her hands were shaking when she gave it to me. “Maybe before we go back to America, we will tell you her story. She lived up to her name, you know.”

“Did she give a lot of things to the poor?” I asked.

“June,” Grandpa interrupted, “Don’t you know what “charity” means? It’s an old English word. You read it in the verses tonight.”

I shook my head.

“Charity means LOVE, a special kind of Godly love” He repeated the verse in 1 John from his old Bible, “In this is charity: not as though we had loved God, but because he hath first LOVED us, and sent his Son to be a sacrifice for our sins.”

~~~~~

One day, much later, after Grandpa and Grandma had gone back to America, Mom asked me, “Well, June, do you want us to start calling you Charity now?”

Her question surprised me. I thought about what I had learned from the special Christmas story we’d read in Grandpa’s old Bible. I thought about the wonderful things my great, great grandmother had done (Yes, Grandma told me her story). I thought about the old sampler picture (with new clear glass now) that was hanging on the wall by my bed. And I thought about what Charity really means.

“Mom,” I said. “I think I need some more time to grow into that name.

And that’s my story, kids!

Love,  Charity June

Well…..I’m still just June for now.

— Facts —

The electricity goes out often in Malawi, sometimes for whole days at a time. When it does, you don’t get any water in your pipes either, because electricity is needed to pump in your water. People who live in houses always have spare water in big plastic bottles, all purified and ready to drink or cook with. 

They also keep buckets of water next to their toilets, so they can be flushed. (Did you know your toilet won’t flush unless water is coming through the pipes?)

Sometimes missionaries have a generator if they can afford it. It runs on gasoline and is noisy, but it will make some electricity for a while. But you can’t use hairdryers or plug in your Internet when you are using generator electricity.

And sometimes…. in the dry months, there is just NO water to pump, even if the electricity is working. And when it does come back, it is muddy from the red dirt in Malawi.  Here’s what came out of our broken water heater.  Ewwww!

MK.Malawi mud.jpg

 

Missionaries have to think of all this and buy drinking water in big bottles from the Chipiku market so they are prepared.

How would you like to live in Malawi with the electricity problems? In some ways, it is like camping. In other ways….. you just want to take a bath in clean bubbly water and go get a drink any time you want.

Next time… maybe Marshall will tell you HIS story about a…. criminal!

 

 

“Come, my young friends and listen to me. And I will teach you to honor the Lord.”  ~~~ Psalm 34:11   Good News Bible

How Do You Answer Such questions?

What day is this?

“Why, it’s Tuesday.” (There’s only one answer to this one, although you might add the month and date, depending.)

What am I supposed to be doing? I don’t know what I’m supposed to be doing!

“The laundry, washing the dishes, taking out the trash, writing thank-you notes, feeding the dog….”  (lots of answers to this question, depending on the time and situation and person).

Question marks1But, what if these questions are asked repeatedly, over and over, in an unceasing, annoying, frustrating, pull-your-hair-out-by-the-roots-and-scream way, many, many times a day?

What if they are asked by someone you love, someone who is struggling mentally to understand?

The easiest (but perhaps not the best) way to reply is to answer their question directly.

Then answer the question a second time.

old man2Then, answer it again. And again. Try not to let your voice get sharper and your blood pressure higher. Try not to say, “You just ASKED that question, aren’t you LISTENING?” or “Why do you want to KNOW?” or “It’s TUESDAY, TUESDAY, TUESDAY!!!” (By that time, it may be Wednesday. You might have to check your calendar.)

But that’s just it. YOU can check your calendar with understanding. YOU can see what you need to do, where you need to go, who you need to call, what event is coming up that you need to prepare for.

They probably can’t.

How about that second question? It’s maybe a bit easier to keep your cool because you can answer it – at first – in a variety of ways. “Oh, honey, all you have to do is just sit there and look at your magazine.”  “Oh, nothing. Just enjoy the sunshine.”  “Right now, just finish your sandwich.” “Nothing! You aren’t supposed to be doing ANYTHING….Sweetheart.”

old lady3For a loved one who has worked hard all their life, been on a busy schedule with lots of responsibilities, to not have anything to do is frightening and worrisome.

What if they are forgetting something important? What if they are supposed to be some where and will get into trouble if they don’t show up? What if…?

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I’ve had only a little experience with questions like this.  And I admit, I am not a good care giver. I’m not patient and kind, as the scripture says. Not long-suffering and slow to anger, as God is. Not loving and gentle, as Jesus was with the little children, which is what so many of our elderly are becoming like.

It’s so frustrating. It’s so heart-breaking.

While I was praying this morning and reading the Bible, God gave me some wonderful ANSWERS to those questions.

What day is this?

old man.woman“This is the day that the LORD has made! Let us rejoice and be glad in it!!” (Perhaps sing a song or two that they have known, or a simple chorus. Encourage them to sing along. If they are able, encourage them to get up and dance a few steps.)

This is the day of salvation! Let’s not harden our hearts against God, but say aloud all the wondrous things  He has done for us, especially for saving us from our sin, by sending Jesus to die in our place!

(Say honestly and with sincerity, “Thank you, LORD!” Encourage them to think about what they are thankful for. This may be hard, but keep at it, give them hints.)

What am I supposed to be doing? I don’t know what I’m supposed to be doing!
old lady woman4Here are some wonderful things from God’s Word that you can tell them they are “supposed to be doing” (as are all believers):

–Rejoice in the Lord. (Show them how!)

–Sing songs, hymns, choruses (aloud and to themselves).

–Pray for a friend (or an enemy or a missionary). You begin and let them pray too.

–Confess your sins to God. (Remind them He forgives.)

–Share (preach) the Gospel. (Have them tell their testimony – how they were saved – if only to YOU, it will be priceless, I promise, and they are sure to remember long ago events.)

–Praise (magnify) God for some of his attributes. (Loving, slow to anger, compassionate, powerful, kind, forgiving, healing, protecting.)

–Read the Bible. (If they can, or talk about familiar passages they might know or have memorized.)

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I’m encouraged by this.  Maybe it won’t satisfy them in the long run, but I can turn some of these frustrating times (and annoying repetitive questions) into precious moments spent with a loved one,  together with the LORD.

 

 

The Saint Who Needed A Hug

gloomy forestI woke up very early this morning with the Four D’s (Depression-Doubt-Distress-Despair) weighing heavily on my mind and spirit. It’s not a good feeling at Christmas time, but it’s not uncommon, or so I’m told.

Busyness has kept me from my devotions: time in God’s word and prayer. I’ve been diving right into my “things to do” list, skimping and even skipping that precious time with God. As a consequence, my prayers have become perfunctory, barely reaching the ceiling, which then brought on a sense of unease and guilt, which always leads to despair.

Weariness and weakness (from a seemingly endless bowel condition which sends me visiting “John” 4-5 times per night) added to my distress. Then doubt and depression followed. “I am so sinful,” I thought. “I can’t pray or intercede. I can’t understand the truths from the word. What is wrong with me?”

And then came that list (emailed to my conscience from the devil). “I am selfish, self-concerned, self-righteous (no better than that Pharisee!). I’m lazy, lukewarm, a hypocrite. I lack the Spirit’s filling power or maybe even…. His regeneration! Am I really saved?”  What a pity party! But it was also a confession of sorts.

Where to turn but to my Heavenly Father. “Oh, help me by your Spirit! I need a spiritual HUG!! Do you DO that, Lord?”

I thought of the Apostle Paul who was “troubled on every side, yet not distressed; perplexed, but not in despair.”  2 Corinthians 4:8  Oh, to be like Paul!

Then Romans 8 “came to my mind.” I turned to the passage and read that glorious first verse, “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the spirit.”

“Am I walking after the FLESH, or after the SPIRIT of God?”  My defeated, doubting spirit needed to know.

sunrays9I got out my journal and listed in two columns the things of the flesh and the things of the Spirit from the following verses in chapter 8. http://bit.ly/1ApHbXv  As I listed the evidences, I saw, that although some things of the flesh still clung to me, I was firmly in the camp of the Spirit, and my heart began to lift.

My eyes fell on verse 26, “the Spirit also helps our weaknesses…”

And on verse 28, “we know God causes all things work together for good to those who love Him…who are called according to His purpose.”

Verses 31-34 ask, If God be for me, who can be against me? Will GOD be against me, who loved me so much He spared not His Son for me?  No!

Will CHRIST condemn me, who died and was raised and is at the right hand of God interceding right now for me?  No!

And…. if MY HEART condemns me, God is greater than my heart and HE knows everything about me.  1 John 3:19-20  http://bit.ly/1GQKLfl

open-bibleThen in verses 35-39, Paul lists fourteen mighty things that CANNOT separate me from God’s love. http://bit.ly/16tD3Ni  And to those fourteen, I added “the Four D’s.”

Oh, thank You, Father. This is the spiritual HUG I needed!!  I do not deserve your love, but you give it to me freely because of Your Son. You are so good and compassionate! You know my “frame, that it is mere dust.” You are so faithful and true!

WHO can comprehend the LOVE of God?  The God who would reach down to His struggling daughter and give her a much-needed hug on a rainy day.