Monday, July 24, 2017

Ma Riziki & Me

Ma Riziki & Me- dressed for wedding
“So, who’s getting married?” I ask as we walk along the road together. We’re already dressed for the wedding in matching outfits, but I have no idea who is getting married or even where the wedding is going happen. But I’m not really going for the bride or groom, I’m there for Ma Riziki.

Ma Riziki doesn’t get much honor in a country where honor is of great importance. She’s poor in a world that honors wealth. She’s skinny, almost gaunt in a place that honors people who are plump. She’s illiterate in a town that honors education. The only jobs she has ever done are menial type work, cooking and cleaning at the parties of the rich.  She’s a great-grandmother and in most families this would accord some honor, but her family is a messy array of humanity where squabbling and manipulation seem the order of the day over loving and honoring one another. Twelve kids, countless grandkids and at least two great-grandkids that I know about. Most living on top of each other in a precarious two story structure. Her youngest kids are teenagers and theoretically she should have lots of help at home. But no one seems to help her and instead of relieving her workload her kids burden her  by leaving grandkids with her to care for.  Most of the children in this large family are not looked after. It’s almost like there are just too many of them to keep track of and no one is really trying. She’s the matriarch of a messy family that isn’t well respected.

It might be possible for her to have some more honor and respect in her community except that she usually doesn’t try. She often does not follow the social and religious norms that most islanders  hold dear. It’s like she is constantly in survival mode, tending to crises, figuring out the food and money needed for the day. Often cultural niceties don’t make the list.
Ma Riziki with some of her grandkids

When we first came to Clove Island, Ma Riziki sought me out right away. She lived just across the street and seemed to want to claim me before any of the other close neighbors could. Since that time she has come to us for many things. We’ve helped with food when they are hungry and have nothing to cook. Ma Riziki usually has a worn-out and tired look when she asks for food. It’s a source of shame. But we’ve helped in other ways too— with medicine when people have fevers or toothaches or headaches, with bandages when there are wounds, with help into an English class when one studious daughter wants to learn, with taking photos when there is a special occasion and finally by attending events.

From the beginning, Ma Riziki has been interested in me joining her “shama” (a group of people that help each other when they have weddings and other celebrations). The idea is that you pay in every time there is an event (with money and/or labor) knowing that when it is your turn to have an event everyone will reciprocate and help you make it happen. Now I’ve never been interested in joining a shama because most likely I would be always be paying in and never receiving, plus we’re invited to so many events as it is— we don’t need to add random shama events to our schedule.

At some point I stopped fighting it. Now I’m not a very good shama member and I was puzzled why Ma Riziki wanted it so badly. But eventually I came to the uncomfortable realization that I brought her honor. I receive honor in this society merely with my skin color and my foreign passport. I’m an honored person here and so any association with me brings her honor. Anytime I attend an event with her it raises her before her friends. I may not be comfortable with my mere presence being an act of honor, but would I deny her that honor? Giving her food helps her but it is a source of shame. Going with her to wedding as her friend, that is a source of honor. So I go along.

So I went with Ma Riziki to yet another wedding.  I didn’t know the bride, I didn’t know the groom. I didn’t even really understand how Ma Riziki was connected. But that wasn’t really the point. I was there for Ma Riziki.  Some people at the event had fancy jewels, some had outfits made of expensive material, others had the latest smartphones or cameras. Ma Riziki had me.
Our kids

Our son’s scrapes have healed better and quicker than expected. Our family got to take a hike and swim this past weekend— the first outing we’ve managed in a long time. It was a nice few hours to get away as just our family.  An island sister had a great chance to share important stories at a wedding with a bunch of other women— they wanted to hear more.

One of our island friend’s wife is ill and may need to travel to get the care she needs (this is a pretty common occurrence on the islands with the lack of medical care). Pray for him that he would have wisdom and peace as he considers how to proceed.  Our teammate is supposed to arrive back on Clove Island tomorrow afternoon.  Pray for her final leg of travel and for a quick transition back into the island time zone and life. Our pregnant friend is already dilated. She seems a little nervous (since it is her first), pray for a smooth labor and delivery and for health and safety for both her and the baby.

Monday, July 17, 2017

It’s Never Exactly What You Expect

Waiting at stadium for things to start
Our friend was about to leave when she mentioned, “This afternoon is a fête for kids up at the stadium.” She was speaking the local language but she used the French word fête (even though she’s not a French speaker). In French we might expect a party of some kind, but the way islanders use it can be different. After a couple more questions, it seemed that it would be more of a performance. Apparently some foreigners had been involved in organizing it, the kids had practiced throughout the month of fasting and they would be doing a dance. We knew three girls who were going to perform. “It’s at two o’clock for the kids and then adults will do something at three o’clock.” We told her we’d try to make it.

Now we knew enough to take 2 o’clock with a grain of salt. It is the islands after all. But with foreigners involved, you never know it might be more punctual. We didn’t want to miss the kids dancing. So around 2:15 we leisurely left the house, arriving at the stadium about 2:30.

Procession of everyone onto the field
This was the first time that we’ve been to the stadium as a family. It was built by a foreign country as a gift to the island a number of years ago. Except for the plastic seats directly in the sun (everyone here knows plastic degrades quickly in the sun), the rest of the stadium has held up well. It is much nicer than the other sporting venues on the island and the covered seats have a great view of the green island hills.

As soon as we pulled up to the stadium, we knew we were way early. Some of the performers were getting ready but the spectators were few. Still they let us in and we found seats.

Fast forward two hours. Yes, TWO HOURS. Nothing had really started. We hadn’t come prepared with snacks or books, so our kids were bored and antsy. For the last hour a group of adults had been doing a slow monotonous militaristic dance-march, apparently to kill time while the crowd waited for some honored guests to arrive. It wasn’t very entertaining.

Just after 4:30pm, things started going. But not in the way we hoped. Instead of the kids coming, dancing and us making our exit. There was a large procession of various groups into the stadium and onto the field. The honored guests in the stands with us included the country president, vice president and two former presidents! Not to mention the current island governor and former governor. For island bigwigs you don’t get any bigger than that! It turned out that this was no kids dance performance, this was the opening ceremony for the annual inter-island sports competition!

Getting ready to dance
Of course, everyone had to give speeches, long, flowery speeches, sometimes in more than one language—after all, this is Africa.   We sang the national anthem at two different points (that might have been a mistake). Finally most of the groups on the field processed out, leaving the kids to dance. The kids danced for about 15 minutes before they left the field. There were various adult music groups left to perform, but we made our way out. It was after 5:30, the sun was going down and we had other things to do.

It wasn’t what we expected, but on the islands it is often better to curb expectations completely.  If you’re wondering how the sports competition is going, we couldn’t tell you.  We haven’t heard one bit of information about it.  Not what you’d expect?  Welcome to the islands…

We had several different wedding events this past week. We’re thankful that they went well and that that we had the chance to attend. We’re feeling better now. After a few painful days, Megan’s back seems to be doing better again. We were able to give our pregnant friend a gift of some things for the baby— she seemed encouraged. Things continue to progress to have two more ladies join our team in November— we’re excited to see our team grow.

Tom had the chance to share more fully with someone who he’s studied with before— pray for an open heart and mind as he thinks about the things they discussed. We’ve had a chance to give away some good books and movies, pray that they would be watched/read and passed along by many islanders. Our youngest had a fall and has a big scrape across his face, pray that it heals quickly. We’ve noticed that our kids have a couple cavities but island dentists only seem to pull teeth. Pray that we’d have wisdom about how, when and where to get dental care.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Showing Honor Amidst Schedule Conflicts

Us with groom before men left
“Summer vacation” is a busy time on the islands. It is actually the cold time of year, but it is the time when islanders come from abroad. A time without school. It is the time for weddings!  Lots of weddings.  Island society idolizes weddings.  Lots of money and effort go into throwing them.  There are literally wedding ceremonies every day of the week with multiple weddings often going on the same day around town.

Honor is a big component of weddings. The bride and groom are being honored by their families. The two families honor each other with gifts and extravagance. Special wedding guests are honored with special attention, flower garlands, and seats of honor up-front and center.
Men proceed to ceremony

As foreigners we are often sought-after guests at weddings. We get lots of invitations, sometimes from strangers who don’t even know our names. We don’t go to all weddings, but we always try to go when we have a personal connection, though it is rare that we are actually friends with the bride or groom.

This past week was different. An old friend (we hadn’t seen in months) had come during the month of fasting with his fiancée to tell us that he would be getting married during summer vacation and that he would be so honored to have us at the wedding. The problem was, he didn’t know when it would be. The date hadn’t been set.  So last week, he came back at night with his fiancée again to say the wedding would be on Friday, in just a few days! I looked at my schedule and groaned—the wedding was at nearly the same time as the exam for my teachers—the culmination of over a month of training. I am the only instructor. The exam had been scheduled for weeks. It could not be rescheduled and I could not miss it.

I tried to make my apologies and explain how this exam was simply something I could not bow out of and that I would not be able to attend the wedding. But he was quite persistent that I could at least come for part of it.  Obviously it was a big deal for him that we come to his wedding.  So I agreed to come to as much of it as I could and then go to the exam from there.  It seemed like a decent compromise.  It meant I would be dressed in my traditional wedding clothes for the exam—but that’s not such a big deal.
The drum section for the ceremony

But there was another problem that niggled at the back of my mind though I tried my best to ignore it.  You see, where as my classes start on time (and this is a habit we try to model and encourage in our teachers), weddings are not always punctual.  So it came to pass that we arrived at the groom’s house only to find that the wedding was far from getting started.  We got some nice pictures of the groom being dressed for the event and then with us.  Then after a long wait, the procession of men finally left the groom’s house walking down the street with singing and booming drums headed to the ceremony location.  I followed with my two sons (the men celebrate separately from the women) noticing on my watch that my time was nearly up and that I would have to leave for my exam very soon.   So, thinking I knew the culture well, I carefully held back and did not make my way into the ceremony.  But I was dragged in anyways. So I sat in a chair on the edge of the ceremony.  But here I found the groom had other plans.  He wanted me near the front with him.  I explained to his groomsmen I could not.  I was leaving in 5 minutes.  Still they pressed me until I could not refuse and found myself seated directly next to the groom facing the other guests—a seat of honor saved for truly honorable guests—a seat saved for me.  An agonizing 5 minutes passed.  As I knew that I must leave but hated to do so—hated to think what I may have be doing to the groom’s honor.  Hating to think what all the people sitting there facing me might think.  But I felt I must go, so with a heavy heart, I rose and offered my sincere apologies to the groom and left.  On my way out, almost to increase my shame they threw a garland around my neck—one I felt I did not deserve—I had not stayed, but to refuse it would be even worse.

I was in danger of being late for the exam, so I couldn’t find Megan (who was far away with the women) to leave the boys with her. So with two sons in tow, I found a taxi to my exam.

The exams went well despite my traditional garb and two little boys playing outside, but part of me still felt terrible for leaving the wedding.  That night I got a phone call from the groom.  He assured me that he was honored to have me at the wedding even if only for a little while and he wouldn’t have had it another way.  I thanked him for honoring me by inviting me, hung up the phone and went to bed wondering if I had made the right decision.

Our teammate made it safely to the States. We continue to pray that she has a wonderful time with family. The water to our house has been really bad lately, but every time we run low and pray, it comes on so that we can fill our barrels. A student came from the village this weekend and stayed with us as we met on Sunday morning, asking good questions and hearing a lot.

Continue to pray for our pregnant friend who we wrote about last week. Her husband left with all of his things. Pray that she would find encouragement and feel loved as she goes into the final weeks of her pregnancy. Pray for Megan’s back during wedding season—attending wedding ceremonies are hard on the back and her back is already seeming more tender. Pray for our health, we’re all coming down with scratchy throats and feeling tired. More weddings coming up this week!

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

The Hope of Marriage

Our daughter with neighbor couple and baby
“How was your holiday?” I asked our good friend. She's in her first year of marriage and over 8 months pregnant.

“It didn’t go well,” she replied. This was an invitation to talk. People usually just say “it went well” even if it didn’t. She obviously wanted to tell me about her troubles.

Her husband didn’t get her anything for the holiday. This might not seem like a big deal, except that island husbands are almost required to get their wives something for the holiday. Then came the rest. He didn’t really want to marry her. It had been arranged by their mothers. She was getting up there in years (in her twenties) and his mother wanted the marriage. They didn’t even know each other. She didn’t know that her husband was going into it begrudgingly. But here she is about to have a baby. She should be happy, she should be loved and cherished. Instead she’s miserable. He hasn’t given her any money to buy things for the baby. He waited more than a month to give her the funds for the ultrasound she needed. He has more than one job, he shouldn’t be strapped for cash. He also gives her no affection and almost no attention. She tried to talk to his family to be intermediaries, but they are too embarrassed by his behavior to come and listen to her. She is not sure what to do, but she’s considering telling him to leave if it doesn’t change. She muses that maybe she could start again and find someone better.

Last week two more young women disgruntled with marriage were in our house. Both are young (early twenties) but divorced. They talked about families not wanting them to marry their sons because their skin was too dark or because their families are too poor or because they’ve already been married.

Kids putting on a play
Then there have been other recent conversations about marriage on the islands— about how everyone expects their spouses to be unfaithful, about how almost all island marriages start with the pronounced “blessing” that the marriage “would start well and end well”. Apparently the speeches at weddings often include instructions about how to divorce peaceably. But ultimately marriage is more about status and economic security than about relationship. All islanders see marriage as important. It is actually considered a religious requirement that everyone marry and have children if they are able.

Polygamy is also another complicating factor on the islands, a destructive factor. It is within their religious and societal rights here to have more than one wife. Polygamy means a man isn’t necessarily 'cheating' on his wife, he may simply be looking for his next wife.  All of this erodes trust dramatically so that even the man who might try to be faithful (although he has little incentive to do so) will be always suspect.  And where there is no trust, there is little love.

So lately we've been thinking about marriage, in particular island marriage and whether it could be a bridge to deeper truth especially when talking to women. 

Island women generally have low expectations of marriage--extremely low by our standards. At most they hope that their husband won’t take a second wife and that he will provide for her and the children. The ideas of love, partnership and friendship in marriage are not usual expectations. But still they hope that their marriage might be different.  They expect almost nothing, but if they could find it--yes they would love a marriage built on love, respect, and faithfulness.  They would love a spouse who truly cares for them, sacrifices for them, and gives their all to love them.  Everyone seems to agree on this.

Almost all women can complain about marriages here. So as we look for ways to engage women in deeper conversations, could this longing for a good and faithful marriage be a bridge for talking about eternal things. We want to think about this in the coming months and would welcome your thoughts as well. Perhaps the story of a bridegroom that would lay down his life to redeem and marry his bride would touch hearts here?

Celebrating teammate's birthday
Our teammates burns have been healing well. Thanks for praying. Our colleague was with us for several days. His travels were fine and he was able to get people started on the project that they will hopefully be able to continue and finish even now that he has left. We’re excited to have the final product in coming months. We’ve started doing some lessons with our kids in both the local language and in French to encourage their language learning— so far the kids have been very receptive.

Pray for our pregnant friend and her disengaged husband. Pray for the growth of real communication, understanding and affection. Pray for her as she is more emotional at this time and it is hard to feel unloved and uncared for when she is about to have a baby. One of our teammates is on her way to the States for some vacation— she’s already made it to mainland Africa. Pray for safe travels and that the vacation (despite long travel, jetlag and lots of people to see) will be encouraging and rejuvenating for her. Pray also for her housemate as she is alone for the next few weeks. Pray for us as we go into wedding season and have lots of opportunities to attend and talk about weddings and marriage. May we be lights.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Blessed Holiday!

The new moon is sighted
Looking up into the sky on Sunday night, one could see it clearly—the first small sliver of moonlight, signifying the end of a month of fasting for islanders and billions of people around the world.  At last, this long, hard month has come to an end.  Let the feasting begin!

The next morning, dressed in the best new and formal wear, men and children take to the streets to share “the hand of the holiday”  with neighbors and friends.  Women wait in their homes to welcome the men and children, serving them cakes or samosas, and for the children—candy.  Everyone we see on the streets extends their hands and smiles as they greet us with the special holiday greeting, which literally translates “Blessed Holiday!”  Phone calls are made and text messages flash through the ether clogging the phone lines as salutations are made to more distant friends in neighboring villages.  Those with cars drive slowly from place to place greeting each neighborhood in turn. 
Tom and boys greet neighbors on street

As the day goes on the visits slow to a trickle.  We exchange photos with our neighbors and get ready to eat lunch together—something we haven’t done for the past month.  The children, tired from all the walking and full of candy, shed their traditional island outfits and settle down to watch a movie.  Like most, we will relax for the warm hours of the early afternoon and then go visiting again as a family to those particularly good friends like Ma Imani’s and others who don’t live very close.

Our daughter with women of one family
We’ve also planned to stop by the carnival.  At the local community center they’ve arranged a number of simple fair-type games for kids to play: Fish for gifts; wear a blindfold and cut the rope;  throw the beanbag through the hole, etc.  All the games are for a small price of course, but prizes of toys and candy are easily won.  But by the time we’re done visiting with the last family, the sun has already set and we’re tired. The carnival, being a two day event, will have to wait till the next day.

On our afternoon walk, we ran into the friend of one of our old teammates.  He followed us on the whole long walk home. As Megan prepared some dinner for the kids he sat down in the living room to talk some more.  After a little while our downstairs neighbor, Twama, comes up with her 1-month old, because her family has gone out and left her home with the baby. So the four of us are all sitting in the living room when the conversation turns to important things, to light shining in darkness and how real change is possible.  We share with them the story of the two kingdoms and of the opportunity everyone has to walk in the light.  They listen and ask questions and then say their goodbyes.  Twama returns to her family, and our new friend walks out into the night.  A holiday is always good news.  May there be more good news on these islands.

Visiting good friends in the afternoon
Megan’s finger is healing very well and with no infection! Thanks for praying. Our kids finished their year of homeschool (1st and 3rd grades)! We’re very proud of all the work they did and thankful for how well they are learning. Our newest teammate had a scare this week when a pressurized container that was among burning trash exploded. She had flash burns on her face, arm and foot. She acted quickly to cool the burn and we are very thankful that she ended with mostly superficial burns and only a couple blisters (it could have been a lot worse). We are thankful for how well the month of fasting and the holiday went. We had opportunities to share with new people and strengthen relationships.

Continue to pray that our teammate heals well after her traumatic burn experience. We have a colleague from the small island who will be visiting this coming week and working on an audio project that we are excited about— pray that his travels are smooth and that his time here goes well. He is hoping to get all the work done in three days. We’re taking a break from homeschool— pray that we can find constructive things to keep our kids occupied. Now that the month of fasting is over, we have to figure out our new schedule— pray for wise choices about how to spend our time. Pray for all those islanders that heard good news this past month that it would stay in their hearts and minds and they would continue to learn and grow.

Monday, June 19, 2017

A Knife in the Kitchen

Tom documents the bloody knife
In hindsight it was a stupid thing to do…the meat was still frozen as hard as a rock. Dinner was going to be a little late, but I should have had patience and just let the meat sit. Then there was the angle of the knife as I tried to cut apart the two hunks that were frozen together and the force I was using to get them to separate. In a flash of movement, the knife slipped violently off the rock-hard meat and I felt the shot of pain in my hand.

So there I was pacing in the kitchen, clutching my hand. I had stabbed completely through the pointer finger on my left hand. It was a pretty spectacular cut (two long cuts where the knife entered and exited the finger). Still it was not overly serious. If we’d been in the States, we’d probably have gone to the hospital or a clinic. It was deep enough to warrant stitches and the knife had been dirty.

So why didn’t we just go to an island hospital or clinic? Well things are different on the islands. Medical care is not very good. We actually worry that by seeking care we may end up worse off. The doctor on our last team had some very sobering things to say about the basic sanitation practices at the local hospitals.

So for minor medical situations we usually take care of things at home. We have a large first aid kit and resources like "Where There is No Doctor" (a book for people in our type of settings). Still we have to know when situations are beyond us. Island doctors and nurses may not have the training that we'd hope, but in a real emergency we would go to them. If it was serious, most likely we'd have to leave the islands.
Tom reading to kids in pjs on Father's Day
You might think we're being hard on the island medical system but islanders themselves see it as one of their country's biggest shortcomings. If a medical situation gets serious, islanders always look to get off the islands because here they don't have the equipment, the specialists, the diagnostic tools, the medicines, or the funds to care for the population. Traveling seems to be the only choice, but travel is expensive and sometimes dangerous as finding visas to insure legal travel options is often unavailable.  Dangerous, illegal, unjust, and desperate—it really is a mess.

Back to the situation at hand, my bleeding finger….Thankfully not serious. We talked it through and had a medical consult over the phone. It was decided that the wound would hold together fine without stitches and our teammate (who is a nurse) came and helped dress it. Tom will begin my knife safety training soon, in the meantime he has taken over all meat-cutting.

We’re very thankful that Megan’s cut finger was not more serious and that it seems to be healing well so far. We’ve heard word that two single ladies are set to join our team and will hopefully be ready to come to the islands in November! We’ve been praying for our team to grow so this is exciting. Megan had a good opportunity to share with a neighbor friend this week. One of the men that Tom shared with recently says he continues to be thinking about the things Tom said. We pray for open hearts. This Father's Day we were especially thankful for Tom and what a great father he is!

Wounds usually get infected here on the islands- pray that Megan’s finger can heal quickly with no infection. Pray that a couple or family would be able to join our team— there has been some interest but we continue to pray for the right people. We’ve been making some progress on our fasting-month projects but pray that we get some good work in this week. It’s the last week of the fasting month (the biggest holiday of the year will probably be next Monday). This Wednesday or Thursday will be a special night for islanders called the Night of Power, where they believe God is close and their prayers are most effective. Pray for islanders that those who seek will find!

Monday, June 12, 2017

Fasting Month Moments

I think for many people who have not experienced it, it is a bit hard to grasp how different life is during the month of fasting.  Truth be told, in many ways it doesn't seem that different.  People still mill about the street.  Shops are still open (excepting restaurants) and life appears to be going on as normal.  But the fasting undergirds everything and manifests its differences in many ways.  Last week we shared with you about the constant barrage of questions we get.  This week we thought we'd share some of the other ways life is different.
Two of the regular visitors to our porch
  • The mob of colorfully clad shoppers fills the narrow streets like a river of confetti.  It's midmorning and we're doing some shopping, but it's the fasting month.  Much like the Christmas season in the states, the fasting month turns over a lot of commerce.  The holiday at the end of the month is a time for new clothes, sprucing up the house, gifts to loved ones--you name it.  So the shops are busy, the sales are on, and everyone wants to get in on it.  Moving through this sea of human traffic can be slow going, but it's also exciting.  So much activity...where do they find the energy?
  • Where did all these children come from?  It's early afternoon and suddenly our veranda is crawling with kids.  We get some neighbor kids to play on our porch but this crowd is not a normal occurrence.  As we re-instate order we recall, "Ah yes, It's the fasting month." Imagine that you haven't been able to eat or drink anything for the entire day.  Early afternoon rolls around.  It's hot, you're tired, and you barely have energy to start thinking about the big dinner you need to cook this evening.  Meanwhile your kids are out of school, full of energy (because they're not fasting) and are quickly driving you insane.  Now imagine every mother and father in the neighborhood doing the same.  Unsupervised and noisy, like packs of wild dogs, they roam the streets, looking for some place to play.
  • The sun drops down behind the ocean horizon.  A call blares out from the loud speakers perched on a pole high above the neighborhood.  There is a flurry of activity for a couple of minutes.  Cars race to their homes, men rush off to pray, dishes clank as they are brought out, doors are shut and people begin to eat.  A silence falls over the city like no other time.  The streets are completely empty.  Not a car goes by, not a pedestrian is seen.  For a blessed thirty minutes or so, the world is at peace as families eat together.  For many, it is the only time they do so during the whole year.  And then, stomachs full, people step out on their verandas, children go off to play, the taxis return to the streets. 
    Kids shelling some beans that were gifted to us
  • "Can anyone tell me the answer?"  I look out on a room of drooping eyes and slack faces.  It's 8:30pm and my students are tired.  After fasting all day and then eating a big meal, their bodies wish only to digest in peace.  Instead they have to listen to a guy trying to train them to be English teachers.  It's the same every year.  Why do I agree to teach during the month of fasting?  Students who have much to offer and are usually full of energy look drowsily up from their books.  Someone slowly raises a hand to answer.  I promise myself, "Never again." But next year will probably roll around and I'll forget and an administrator will suggest it as a great idea, and it will happen all over again.
  • What a sound!  At bad moments it can sound like a cat fight being broadcast by loud speaker.  It's getting late into the night and the children are showing off their prowess at chanting their holy book in as loud and shrill voices as possible in a cacophonous choir. This is then shared with the whole neighborhood via the speakers on the pole.  It will go on for an hour or so nearly every night of the month.  The hard work of religious school, where children are often whipped for failure to chant correctly, can now be proclaimed to the masses in what is probably considered a blessing to all who hear.

As you imagine experiencing this day in the island life, imagine also the heart behind it.  For many it's nothing more than an annoying obligation.  They don't like fasting, but everybody else is doing it, and the religion says they have to.  For others it is a chance--an opportunity to make up for things done wrong, and to wash away the previous year’s sins.  For others it's a chance to revel in religiosity - to wear their fine clothes and remind others of their holy fervor.  For still others they are searching; hoping to have their prayers answered; hoping for a change to their circumstances; hoping to see the face of God. 

Our son woke up crying in pain that he couldn’t get out of bed because of a pain at his hip— with a couple days of prayer he is doing better. We’re thinking it may have been a strained muscle, but we are thankful that he is walking/playing normally again. We were able to get some tables made, buy chairs and move into our new office. We were pleasantly surprised that the landlady cleaned and painted in honor of us moving in! The language project is very happy to finally have an official place to work. 

We’re just over half-way through the month of fasting. Please keep praying for the islands during this special month— if you want the daily prayer guide then just send us an email. We are trying to work on a few projects during this month (there have been some computer issues and the month is already half way over!)— pray that we’d be able to make good progress and complete our goals for the month.