Monthly Archives

August 2017

Fighting my DNA

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I like to think that I don’t try to impose my Western ideals and solutions on people in Africa, but I know I fail at it sometimes.  I know I make mistakes and likely offend people by trying to get them to change how they do things, but it feels like it’s in my DNA and I just can’t help it sometimes.  There is one example that stands out to me of a complete failure on my part.

I was asked to make a coffin for the father of a friend of mine.  This would be the third coffin I would make.  The first two were made out of scraps of plywood and chipboard I scrounged around for, but this time I had some sheets of plywood to use.  I was working with Cloud and Wilfred and they were telling me what size to make it.  It was going to be a simple rectangular box just deep and wide enough to fit the body.  I was feeling particularly sad about making this coffin because of who it was for and thinking that after a long life this man was going to be buried in a rough plywood box.  So I made it a bit deeper and wider than I was told in an effort to make it better or nicer somehow.  I just couldn’t get my head around the idea of such a shallow rough coffin.

I found out later that they had to break apart the doorway in the man’s home in order to get the coffin through the door and into the hut.  That was humbling and terrible to hear.  I went to my friend apologized and of course he brushed it off and said it was fine.

Even when I have the best of intentions, I sometimes muck it up.

I Confess

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I have a confession to make.  I like Pinterest.  There.  What a relief.  That’s out there finally.  I love that I can go on the website, I use Carole’s account to hide that it’s me, and I do searches for metal art, or pallet creations or woodworking ideas.  There are so many creative people out there who post photos of their work and I take it all in and get inspired to make my own stuff.

I found another website called and I love it as well because it is a repository for photos of projects people tried to replicate from Pinterest and totally failed.  It’s hilarious.  And enlightening. You should check it out.  Baby photo shoot calamities, baking mishaps and decorating disasters.  You’ll never look at Pinterest the same again and it’ll give you a much more balanced view of the world.  If that’s what you want.  Maybe you don’t.  In the very least, it’s bound to make you laugh.

What would life be like if it was all Pinterest without the Pinterestfail experiences? I think about our life in Africa a lot.  It had its highs and lows, just like life anywhere does.  I don’t tend to talk about the lows though.  I try to not focus or dwell on them that much.  But they are definitely there.  I’m often asked what it’s like to live in Africa, how hard it is and I have to really think about it to give a few examples of the difficulties we live with.  I think that is partly due to the fact that it has all become normal to us.

The house we lived in had solar power until the generator caught fire early one morning and all our solar power equipment was destroyed.  That was a rough morning, but thankfully the house was saved.  We lived without electricity for three and a half months.  Our solar hot water heater was taken down after the fire so we didn’t have hot water either.  So what do you do? You just get on with it.  We got a propane lantern and used our solar flashlights and charged our devices wherever we could.  We took showers at the farm or used a camp solar shower bag.  We kept our food in our friends’ refrigerators.  Sure it was a nuisance, but you know what I remember most about that time? Playing canasta with our friends with the roar of the propane lantern on the table beside us.

We are thankful to have access to the internet where we are out in the boonies.  I think our house is radioactive or something though, because we can’t access the wifi unless we are outside on the veranda, which is no fun during mosquito season, or bug season in general.  And yes, the night-time mosquitoes can carry malaria.  It’s great to have internet because it helps us feel connected to family and friends back home, which helps us cope with feeling isolated and so very distant.  We were able to Skype with our church a couple of times and those were highlights for us.  Feeling disconnected is something we contend with, but when we get messages or emails from friends it totally makes our week.

The last couple of years have been the hardest and the most stressful of my life, but also the best.  The stress is due to our monthly visits to the immigration office in Harare.  We had to go into the city, a three hour drive, and ask to have our visas extended for another 30 days.  We never knew what they’d say, if they’d grant our extensions or tell us to leave the country.  This was a hard way to live, month to month, not knowing if we’d be here the following month or not.  It felt like we had no security or real stability.  In our first term I built the new medical clinic and I put in long days and weeks to get it done because I wanted to have it complete and ready to use before we had to leave.  Thankfully, it did get done and there was a great big celebration for the grand opening.

The most difficult thing for me is to see my daughters surrounded by Shona kids, but alone.  I ride my bicycle down the road past the church where they go to school and I see them at break time sitting outside together.  There are 30 other kids around, but they all speak Shona as soon as they step out of the building, so my girls are isolated and alone.  It breaks my heart.  Every time.  It was the same at the school in South Africa.  What I try to think about though, is just how close Lia and Naomi have become over the last couple of years.  They have become best friends and are far closer than they ever would have been if we hadn’t gone to Africa I think.  Does that make it worth it? I don’t know.  All I know is that my kids have sacrificed to go with us to Africa, but at the same time they are stronger together for it.

I could continue to list off all the difficulties and frustrations we experience living in Africa, but I won’t.  I realize that I should perhaps write about the hard stuff more often, but I just love to talk about the good stuff, the amazing stuff, so much more.  As much fun as it is to check out failures on Pinterestfail, I would far rather look at all the great stuff on Pinterest.

Trial by Fire

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Weeks later he felt that he needed to go to his family home and talk to his family.  He took his wife and children and off he went.  When he got there he found that there was a witch doctor living in the village and he was having a strong influence on his family.  Misheck went to the man and told him to leave and that he didn’t have any power or influence on his family.  The witch doctor told Misheck that he wasn’t safe and to watch out.  That night Misheck woke up in the middle of the night with a terrible burning on his leg like it was on fire.  He prayed to Jesus to take the pain away and fell back to sleep.  In the morning the witch doctor was furious and left the village.  Misheck came back to Eden with his family, where a couple days later his house burned down and he lost all of his new tools in the fire.  I heard about the fire and went to see Misheck and found him picking through the charred remains of his hut.  He wasn’t upset and smiled when he saw me.  Nobody had been hurt in the fire and he was already planning where his new hut would be built.  He apologized to me because a woodworking book I had lent him was burned in the fire.  I told him it was okay and to come by the house when he got a chance.

When he came by the next day I had another batch of tools waiting for him.  And yes, the new old hand plane was included.

A Little Elbow Grease

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I decided to refurbish the old plane and spent hours one Saturday oiling and sanding off all the rust, sharpening the blade and I sanded and refinished the handle.  By the time I was finished it didn’t look brand new, but it did look awesome, at least to a carpenter.

I wanted to show Misheck my plane so I asked him to come see it one day.  He was amazed at the change that had taken place with that plane.  He loved the finish on the handle and how sharp the blade was.  I asked him which one he wanted now and he said he wanted that one.  I said not a chance.  I also went on to tell him what I’d been thinking about while I was working on it.  It made me think of Jesus and how He looks at us and works with us.  We are all like rusty, dull, bent tools, but when we let Him, Jesus lovingly works with us, scrapes away the hurts, the rust, He gives us people to help sharpen us, like iron sharpens iron and we become beautiful.  We become useful.  The process hurts sometimes.  It takes real work.  It can take a long time.  But it is so worth it.  I have found old planes in yard sales and taken hours to clean them up.  I believe that this is what Jesus has done, and continues to do, with me too.

Misheck didn’t get my hand plane that day, but…

The Hand Plane

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Misheck Agrippa is the softest spoken man I have ever met.  He speaks in whispers, leaving me straining to hear what he’s saying and usually asking him to speak up.  Misheck’s heart is as soft as his voice, but is also strong.  He works at Eden as a gardener, but in his heart he is a carpenter and I steal him away from his gardening to do carpentry jobs every chance I get.  He and his brother make bed frames and wardrobes outside their huts at the workers’ village for extra income.  Misheck has been attending a Bible study with Ian Fry for a year now and has accepted Christ and is growing in faith and that faith has put him to the test.

When Misheck’s father learned that he had forsaken his traditional beliefs and was now a Christian he disowned him and took all of his carpentry tools away.  Being disowned by your family is a terrible thing in any culture, but to have your tools taken away, removing your opportunity to make money, was an added injustice.  Ian told me about Misheck’s situation so I found some hand tools to replace those he’d lost.  I invited Misheck to the house one day and showed him what I’d collected to give him his face shone as I handed him each tool.  He ended up with more tools than he’d had before.

I gave him a choice of hand planes.  I had an old one I’d found in a tool box, it was rusty, the handle was scuffed and loose, but it had potential.  I also had a new one I’d purchased in Harare.  It wasn’t a good quality one, but it was shiny and had a bright yellow plastic handle.  I let Misheck choose which one he wanted and he didn’t hesitate to take the shiny one, leaving me with the old one.  I was fine with that and he left smiling with a bucket full of hand tools.

Just Getting Started

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We have been asked why we think we need to return to Eden Children’s Village if they are able to continue existing and operating without us while we are back here in Canada.  That is a valid question.  Eden Children’s Village existed before we arrived and is continuing in our absence.  We believe we are supposed to return there because we don’t feel that we have finished what God showed me.  Our work there isn’t done and in fact has just gotten started.  Too many people and organisations go to developing nations and start projects and then leave before they should.  It isn’t enough to get something started and leave expecting it to continue.  People are creatures of habit and you shouldn’t expect them to change habits in a short period of time.  It takes commitment to stay for an extended time and invest personally in the people.

With over 150 orphans to care for at Eden, there is a lot of work to be done and so much rests on the shoulders of the administration and the missionaries there.  Everyone is already overloaded with responsibilities, often doing things because there is nobody else to do them.  The fact is that Eden needs more people to go help, more than just our little family.

We feel like we are just barely starting at Eden Children’s Village and are looking forward to living there for a long time and forming relationships and doing what we can to benefit the orphans at Eden and local people in the community.

Innovation for Conservation

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We burn a lot of wood at Eden Children’s Village.  People cook over an open fire outside in the kitchen huts, or just in the open.  They burn three long logs that they just keep pushing towards the centre to boil enough water to cook their traditional meal of sadza, a cornmeal porridge.  When they are finished cooking they pull the logs away from the centre until they need to cook again, then push them together again.

Every day you will see women walking with bundles of branches balanced on their heads.  Their lives are an ongoing task of finding firewood.  Eden buys firewood from local people who have licenses to cut down trees as well.  It always bothers me to see how much firewood we go through and I’ve been working on finding an alternative source of fuel or method of cooking.  I have been experimenting with two different types of stove, a top lit up-draft (TLUD) stove and a rocket stove.  I believe the rocket stove will be ideal at Eden. I made a prototype at our house using regular clay bricks, clay mud and some scrap metal, readily available materials.  I had a fire in it one day and made a large pot of rice in half an hour and only burned small dead branches I picked up in the bush around the compound.  We have just built new kitchen blocks at one of the workers’ compounds and these stoves will be perfect to make for them.  This will reduce the deforestation in the area and the cost in buying firewood for Eden.  The TLUD stove is a portable stove made out of metal which I will be able to teach others to make and sell in the markets.  I believe that we can be innovative in such a way that we have a positive impact on the environment and help people generate extra income at the same time.

Keep the Purpose in Sight

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There is a young man named Sinate who works with the thatching crew at Eden and he likes to joke around with me.  He used to wear red satin slippers to work and I’d tease him about them.  I asked him why he wore them and he’d say they were all he had, even though I’d seen him in good running shoes before.  One day he was down a hole digging and he stopped when he saw me walking over and he told me that I should get a new work suit.  The jeans I was wearing were full of holes and tattered and he thought I would look better in a work suit.  I said that the tattered jeans were fine and I liked them.  I noticed that he was looking at my feet and the new work shoes I’d just bought.  I had destroyed my first pair doing all the metal cutting and welding on the new clinic, so I had bought a cheap pair of steel toed shoes in Harare.  I tapped my toes together and asked Sinate if he liked my new shoes.  He said that yes, he did.  I asked him if he knew how I got the money to buy them.  He said no, but that I probably got paid from Eden to get them.  I was surprised by his answer and told him no, that I had to beg for money from my family and friends in Canada to get the new shoes.  He just stared at me in shock.  I used the word ‘beg’ on purpose because he would be able to relate to it and would have seen people begging for money before.  I explained that we did not get paid by Eden to be there, rather our family and friends at home gave us money to pay our expenses to be there.  He’d had no idea.  He’d thought that Eden was paying us to be there and paying for everything for us.

I went on to explain why Eden Children’s Village exists, that it is primarily an orphanage and that the farm, school and clinic all exist to support the orphanage.  Without the orphanage nothing else would be there.  The orphanage is the hub of the wheel, the other parts are the spokes.  I told Sinate that we need to keep that in mind every day while we work.  That we are working to give unwanted children loving homes.  Eden Children’s Village is like a family and has limited resources to pay for food, housing, workers’ salaries, clothing, taxes, vehicles, fertiliser, fuel and so on.  When we take money to buy things like work suits for all the employees the money comes out of a limited pot of money, not a pile of cash hidden away like some in the community think.  I told him that he needs to think of Eden Children’s Village as a family and that it doesn’t exist to give him a job, but to look after the abandoned and orphaned children in Zimbabwe.  It’s a lesson that I gave repeatedly to the builders as well, to keep our purpose at the centre of our vision.

Open Doors, Open Hands

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Carole and I have always had what we call an ‘open door policy,’ meaning that our doors are always open to our friends to come in and share life together.  This wasn’t our idea, we got it from friends who made sure that I knew I was welcome in their home,and would often come downstairs in the morning to find me sleeping on their couch or starting their coffee maker.  During university it was other students who came through our doors, since then it’s been our friends and our friends’ kids.  We are trying to live our lives with open hands.  We want our hands to be open to give what we have and to live ‘erring on the side of generosity,’ to use another friend’s phrase.

We also want to have our hands open to receive.  I believe that to be a good giver you need to be a good receiver.  It takes humility to receive from others.  Pride often comes in the way of receiving from people and we have to suffer some humiliation in order to receive well.  We have been on the receiving end of many people’s generosity and it is humbling.  Sometimes we feel like beggars, always asking for help to be in the mission field.  Coming home earlier than we’d hoped has been humbling and once again we are on the receiving side of other’s generosity.