Category: Lesotho

Out of Darkness, Light

When I arrived in the tiny airport in Maseru three weeks ago and the men unloaded everyone’s luggage, it didn’t take me long to realize that mine was not there. I remained calm even as the customer service lady told me that all of the belongings that I had for the next year “might arrive tomorrow, they might not” and that we should just “think happy thoughts.” That did not sound promising. That night before I went to bed,  I took inventory of what I did have with me:

– Passport (thank God)
– Clothes on my back
– Salt packet AND plastic spoon from the plane! ha
– Toothbrush (no toothpaste)
– Skittles flavored chap stick
– Journal and pen
– Encouraging note from Dave Toms
– Bible

When I spoke with the lovely Betsy for the article in the Wheeling newspaper before I left, I mentioned that I was looking forward to simplifying my life because “When God is all you have, you know God is all you need!” I laughed out loud at myself as I thought of it (that’ll teach me) and then I did the only thing that seemed appropriate—I picked up my Bible and I prayed. I thanked God that Donna and Allan took me in, fed me and gave me a warm bed to sleep in. I fell asleep praying for good news the next day. The next day, there was no word from the airport. I felt like God was testing me. He forced me to feel for a short time like I really didn’t have much of anything, and I had to depend on the kindness of strangers.  This is what it is like on a regular basis for so many, but I had never experienced it before. After God let me sweat it out for a few days though, I did finally get word that my luggage arrived unharmed fortunately.

I’ve mentioned sweet little Millie before in my writings also. When she first came to Donna and Allan, she was underweight and clearly depressed. She would sit for hours on end with a frown on her face and her head tilted to one side as if she couldn’t muster the strength to hold it up and was generally not very responsive. In the short time since I’ve been here though, there has been a huge transformation. She has gained weight, learned to walk, laughs and smiles regularly, makes noises like she’s trying to sing, plays with toys, plays with other people, kisses and hugs and is a generally happy, healthy and beautiful little girl. Isn’t it amazing what some good food and a little lovin’ will do?

In the short time I’ve been in Lesotho, I’ve seen Millie grow strong; three abandoned babies adopted into loving families; dry, brown land turn into shades of green and pink, and strangers become friends. Despite the hardships that have become a part of everyday life in places like Lesotho and are evident by the fact that a place like Beautiful Gate must even exist, there is still so much beauty and growth and love, and God is at the center of it all. “The God who said ‘Out of darkness the light shall shine!’ is the same God who made his light shine in our hearts, to bring us the knowledge of God’s glory shining in the face of Christ.” (2 Corinthians 4:6)

Out of the darkness, there is certainly light in Lesotho. I came here with hardly anything, and I am leaving feeling as if I’ve gained everything. To all those who have become friends, I pray that God blesses you abundantly for your kindness and love.

Ahhh…yet another great experience in the pursuit of discovery and renewal!

Uganda, here I come!

Love is contagious.


Lesotho: The Mountain Kingdom

Basotho woman and her child in the Kome Caves village.

I can hardly believe that three weeks has passed by so quickly and it is nearly time for me to go to Uganda. As I am preparing to leave Lesotho (pronounced Les-oo-too), I wanted to share some knowledge and random interesting things that I’ve observed in my short time here.

Lesotho is a very small kingdom surrounded entirely by South Africa. I have been living in the capital city of Maseru. The total population is only about 2 million people, but unfortunately, about 25% (or approximately 500,000) people have HIV/AIDS, hence the need to have so many orphanages in the country. Many of the children at BG lost both of their parents this way. The king serves as a figurehead and the prime minister has executive authority. About 90% of the country’s population is Christian.

Other random observations:

-Many people wear the traditional Basotho blanket wrapped around them and held in place by a giant safety pin. I am surprised to see both men and women wearing these even when it’s very warm outside. Some also wear the Basotho hat that is shown on the kingdom’s flag.

-I am regularly awakened by roosters calling in the morning…or a creepy cat meow outside of my window (it’s my own fault…I’ve been feeding it tuna and chicken)

-Adults and children push many things around in wheelbarrows like the buckets of water from the pump. It could be totally dark in the village outside of the BG gates and I won’t see anyone but I’ll know they’re there because I’ll hear the rolling wheels of the wheelbarrow.

-The stars are absolutely beautiful. Maybe it’s just because there are no lights so I can actually see them all.

-The King of Lesotho goes to the same gym as Allan.

-“Tea time” is at 10:30 every day at BG and also includes a variety of biscuits (cookies). I’m loving this a little too much. If I’m not careful, I’ll have to change the name of my blog to “The Business of Eating: A Year of Fattiness in Africa”

-The Lesotho Maloti and South African Rand are interchangeable (7 to 1 USD right now)

-There are many cattle grazing the land and herding boys to watch them, some as young as five. They carry a large stick and are usually wrapped in a blanket and a face mask. It can get pretty windy and the dust really carries.

-The herding boys will work for an entire year and receive a single cow as their payment. The cows are not used for food, but are saved for later use as a bride price. When they get married one day, they will be expected to pay the bride’s father several cows.

-Marriage is highly emphasized here. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked why I’m not married yet. “But you are getting older. Won’t you be lonely?” Haha ooh whatever will I do?

-Since Maseru is the capital city, there are government officials and other business people who have pretty nice homes. All of the “haves” are on one side of the road and the “have-nots” are on the other. It’s quite a contrast to see. In the villages though, there are very few “haves.”

-Pap is a main food here. It is made by mixing maize flour and hot water together and is eaten with the hands.

-The Chinese are one of the largest minorities here with several factories and other businesses. The locals don’t seem to like them much though…I think they think they’re taking the few jobs that are available.

– It is common for men to hold hands with other men and women to hold hands with other women or link pinky fingers together while walking, but it is considered improper for men and women to hold hands or show any affection in public.

– It hasn’t rained here for more than three months, which can cause big problems for the many people who depend on farming for their livelihoods. I never thought I’d pray for rain before.

-When a child is born, it must be initiated into the world by the rain, so the child and person of the same sex holding the child must undress and stand outside in the raining, holding the baby up toward the sky. I think this is like baptism for them because it is believed that if this is not done, the child will grow up to be a thief.

There is so much more, but how do you condense an entire culture into a few paragraphs? Hmm…not trying. I hope that you were enlightened though, and have a little better picture of what Lesotho is like now.

Lesotho flag with the Basotho hat

Homes Away from Home

“Truly I tell you,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—along with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last and the last first.” (Mark 10:29-31)

Okay so the persecutions part isn’t all that exciting but, I think the other part is one of the many cool things about being a Christian. One of the early disciples wrote, ‘We have no house, but we have homes.’ Throughout my life, God has blessed me by surrounding me with good people even in foreign lands. Lesotho is a prime example of that. Donna and Allan have continued to invite me into their home and their circle of friends. So even though I don’t have my house or family here, God has provided me with many warm homes and warm people. Pretty cool.

Life in Lesotho has been quite different from what life was like in Malawi and I’m sure as it will be in Uganda. I have not been spending much time with the locals, rather, I’ve been spending my free time with other Westerners who have chosen to do ministry in Lesotho. I think this has been a valuable experience as well though because I have been so inspired to hear the stories of people who have sacrificed so much of their lives to do God’s work. This has put things into perspective for me. One year of my life suddenly doesn’t seem like so long when you talk with people who have been doing this for over 30 years.

Last week the Long’s invited me and Brian, another American volunteer, to go to Bloemfontein in South Africa for the day. They are also watching a little Lesotho girl named Millie for the time being so they could fatten her up and nurse her back to health. She was malnourished before they took her in, but now she is doing well. Anyway, Maseru is right near the border, so it is easy to go back and forth. Bloem had two large malls with lots of restaurants and a movie theater. We saw the A-Team (oh Bradley). It is crazy what a difference there is between SA and Lesotho, yet they are right next to each other. It doesn’t seem fair really. Bloem is in what is now called “Free State.” It was the hub of a lot of the issues with apartheid that we hear about in SA. There is still a large population of Afrikaans (white, Dutch ancestory), and some of them still aren’t over it. I think it will take several generations. You should’ve seen the confused looks they gave me as I pushed little Millie around in her stroller haha! Love it.

Anyway, this past weekend I went site-seeing with Justin (Australian), Sue (New Zealander) and Sarah Jane (Irish). On the way to our destination, Justin accidently went past a stop sign and nearly got arrested and put in prison for 5 months! The dirty cop decided to bribe us for 100 rand instead grrr. (Good thing this doesn’t happen at home or I would’ve been in jail for like 10 years by now.) We stopped at the Sesotho Weaving Gallery where women were making the most beautiful rugs and tapestries, and then to the Kome Caves. They are homes that have been built on the underside of a mountain and are made of mud. What was really fun about it was hanging out with the people that live there. They are used to visitors so they were happy to welcome us and talk for a while. The women sang and banged on a metal can and the children did an impromptu dance for us. It must be in the African genes that they all know how to automatically pop their hips—they were so good! They walked us up the mountain to the car and waved us off. It was a very scenic and exciting afternoon.

On Sunday I went to church with the Long’s, had a real coffee (yay!), and attended my first Lesotho braai (or BBQ as we know it). It was an eventful weekend, and I was glad to have the company. I’m so glad that God has continued to put good people in my life.

Playing with the children in the Kome Caves village

Doing Small Things with Great Love

I want to have a big idea. I want to have an idea so big that it forever changes the way people live. I want to create the solution to overcoming poverty so that no one will ever lack access to clean drinking water or go uneducated or die of treatable diseases or starvation. I want to leave Africa better than when I first arrived. Yes, I have big goals of changing the world, and yes, I’m aware that most likely, none of these things will ever happen.

Lately I’ve been thinking that I’m not doing something big enough though. I’m a goal-oriented person. I like to make checklists and get satisfaction from crossing things off those lists. I like to plan, know my next move, and the one after that. Pretty much everything I’ve done since high school and continue to do is building me up to reach some ultimate goal. Scrubbing the floors, I thought, was not my idea of doing big things in the name of God.

I remember feeling like this before when I went to New Orleans for Hurricane Katrina clean up. I remember thinking about how sore I was going to be at the end of every day from working so hard to build a home for someone. Instead, I found myself picking up rocks and seashells out of the front lawn of a retirement center and eating beignets from Café du Monde. Okay, well there was more to it than that, but it was still not the backbreaking manual labor I had anticipated.

I read a book recently called “Becoming the Answer to our Prayers” by Shane Claiborne and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove. I read the whole thing in one day because I was hungry for the knowledge. How do I become the answer?? Well, it didn’t tell me the answer, but I did learn a few other things. The author of the book cites a quote from Mother Teresa that I’ve heard before:

“We cannot do great things, only small things with great love. It is not how much you do but how much love you put into doing it.”

Then the author says, “It is very easy to fall in love with the great things… but we must never simply fall in love with our vision or the five-year plan. We must never fall in love with the ‘revolution.’ We can easily become so genuinely driven by our vision for church growth, community or social justice that we forget the little things, like caring for those around us.”

Hmm…the dude’s got a point. This really resonated within me because of the kind of work I’m doing at this point in my life, but really, it could apply to anyone. Sometimes we can get so caught up following this grand plan for success that we miss out on even greater opportunities that God has for us, or worse, on those who love us the most.

On the other hand, we can become discouraged thinking that what we’re doing doesn’t really make a difference. But the author goes on: “I saw a t-shirt for sale recently. It said, ‘Everybody wants a revolution, but nobody wants to do the dishes.’ It was a constant reminder that the revolution must begin with little acts of love, like washing feet or dishes. One of the most radical things we do can do is love the people we live with, day after day, mistake after mistake.”

That’s what it’s all about really. The work of God is not always glamorous. It may mean scrubbing floors, making oatmeal, wiping runny noses, bathing, feeding, changing diapers…changing lots of diapers. The point is, God knows our desires. God also knows the needs of the world, and he needs to humble us every once in a while too. So maybe someone is tired and all they really need is someone to help clean the dishes, and if I can be that person, then I’m glad to do it.

I’ll probably never go down in history for solving the world’s problems, but I can make a positive difference in someone’s life. I can do small things with great love. From now on, instead of asking God for a big idea, I’m going to ask God to use me as an instrument of His love, and the rest will fall into place.

Welcome to Beautiful Gate

I arrived in Maseru, the capital city in the Kingdom of Lesotho this weekend to begin my work at a place called Beautiful Gate. I was warmly welcomed by an Australian couple named Donna and Allan who work as a builder and nurse for the organization. They fed me and gave me somewhere warm to sleep so I would not be all alone until the center opened on Monday morning. After my first day here, I can already tell that I am going to have a difficult time leaving.

The organization’s name was chosen from Acts 3:2 which tells the story of a lame beggar who was healed (“There at the Beautiful Gate, as it was called, was a man who had been lame all his life”). BG is a care center for children who have been orphaned or abandoned. Many come to the center malnourished, abused and struggling to survive, but after they’re healed (God-willing), well-fed and loved, they are placed in a home with an adopted family.

Not long after my arrival this morning, I got news of my Aunt Ceil’s death. I was quite upset to hear the news initially, and hurt that I could not be home to be with my family during the difficult time (again). I tried to put it aside for the time being as I felt pressure to put on a happy face for my first day working at BG. After I finished up in the office, I walked over to the care center to see the children and was greeted by 10 excited two-year olds who screamed and jumped on top of me. They laughed and rolled around and intimidated my words. “High five, ousi!” (Ousi means Miss in Sesotho) It was just what I needed. We bathed them, dressed them and tucked them into bed. As I was leaving the room, one of the little boys poked his head up and smiled “I love you, ousi,” he said.

God always seems to know just what we need, even when we don’t. Even though I cannot be at home with my family to remember my Aunt Ceil, I am going to go to bed tonight with thoughts of Aunt Ceil as I knew her growing up—laughing and loving, and I am going to thank God for welcoming her into the Beautiful Gate of His Kingdom in heaven.

Celebrating life