Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Tornado and Fredy's Dinosaur

On Saturday I joined a crew from our congregation and headed to Joplin to help in the relief efforts. David and I drove there in his pickup truck. I was glad we were alone when we found our way into the center of the area hit by the tornado. I thought I was prepared after seeing the photos and video on TV all week. But nothing prepared me for the actual sight of miles and miles of devastation. Miles and miles of houses reduced to rubble. Very few had even one wall still standing. Cars crushed like Coke cans and carelessly tossed like pieces of litter. Electric lines snaking and coiled on the ground by the roadsides. Naked trees stripped of leaves and bark. All I could do was cry and wonder how anyone escaped alive.

We drove to a house in an area that was one block away from the worst-hit area. That one block was the difference between matchstick rubble and houses that were still standing. A lady named Viviana and her preschooler waited out the storm in an inner closet. They emerged alive, their house damaged but structurally sound. A block away the stories were much more tragic.
Viviana had windows blown out on two sides of her house. The Mt. Vernon crew had put a tarp on her roof and cleared fallen trees out of her yard on Thursday. The job for six of us women on Saturday was to help her get the interior cleaned up and livable. Glass was everywhere, and rain had soaked the carpets and furniture. My brother had brought a generator, so we cleaned up the glass and vacuumed the carpets with a ShopVac. Mud splattered the living room walls, and we cleaned them off as best we could. The living room furniture was ruined and had to be carried out to the curb to be picked up by the trash crews.

Viviana's son Fredy uses a small enclosed porch as his playroom. The shattered window had scattered glass shards all over the floor, and most of the toys were drenched. We started taking the toys outside and sorting what was salvageable from what would have to be thrown away. Fredy had been gone for the first hour of our work, and when he came home he headed straight for his playroom. He eyed the bare spots silently as his mother explained that his toys would have to be washed and that we were going to help. Without a word he began gathering up armloads of small items that had been kept dry by a plastic bin and carefully carried them out to the porch and piled them up. He made trip after trip, adding to his little piles in silent determination.

Then tragedy struck. His favorite toy, a maroon stuffed dinosaur whose electronic innards made it roar and move, was found soaked and still. Viviana pronounced it a discard. Fredy's big brown eyes dropped to the ground. His chin trembled. He tried really hard not to cry in front of these strangers. But it was the last straw for Fredy. The tears fell, the silent sobs became uncontrolled weeping, and no one could console Fredy. His mother's promises to buy him a new dinosaur were useless. And we six other women stood around Fredy and Viviana and tried not to cry with him.

My sister-in-law Carol grabbed up the dinosaur with one hand and hugged Fredy with the other. "Fredy, I'm going to put it right out here in the sunlight and we'll just see if we can't get it dry and maybe it will work again." Fredy hid his face on his mother's shoulder, finally gaining control of himself and reluctantly releasing the dinosaur to Carol's kind hands.
I wonder how many scenes like this are happening every day in Joplin. How many Fredys did the tornado leave behind? Fredys who can't understand an EF5 storm and only know that their dinosaurs are wet and life will never be the same?

I just had to grab my broom and cleaning rags and keep moving.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

HIZ Path at Namwianga

Harding University's speech pathology program has a group of students and faculty members at Namwianga now. This is their third year to come, and they are once again making a difference for the children at the orphanages. The students provide various kinds of therapy and language development experiences that the kids would not get any other way. The results are wonderful for both the kids at the Haven and the Harding students who fall in love with Africa and its people.

Dr. Dan Tullos has a blog about his experiences with the group, and his blog has links to several student blogs as well. Check it out if you're interested.

Natural Disasters

David and I live in southwest Missouri, an area that used to be famous because of Branson. Now Joplin is making headlines, and our entire region is consumed with helping Joplin recover from the devastation of last Sunday night's tornado.

Sunday night at 5:25 we were in the church auditorium hearing yet another of my husband's great sermons. My niece who lives in EL SALVADOR sent a text message to my brother that a tornado was on its way and we should take cover. Right after the services ended, my brother (who had then checked out the situation on his Iphone) announced that we should all head for the basement. About 25 church members and neighborhood residents spent the rest of the evening in the church basement. We followed the tornado news on laptops and Iphones, hardly able to believe the terrible reports. Of course, we soon found out that the initial reports couldn't begin to describe the incredible damage.

Our community of Mt. Vernon is 45 miles west of Joplin, and we were spared. David and my brother have been to Joplin and will be going again tomorrow to help with relief efforts. Everyone here is shocked by the horrible sights and reports of what happened in Joplin. The community and the nation are mobilizing all kinds of resources to respond and help those who lost everything in a few minutes of terror.

I've been reflecting on storms, disasters, and my experience of living in Africa. There are no earthquakes, hurricanes, or tornadoes in Zambia. About the only natural disaster is drought, and it is a slow, insidious danger--nothing like the apocalyptic destruction of a tornado. The other slow, insidious killer in Zambia is AIDS. As horrible as the Joplin tornado is, AIDS may be just as destructive--or more so. Every family we knew at Namwianga had been touched by the AIDS epidemic in one way or another. A slogan that is often repeated in AIDS awareness campaigns is "We are not all infected, but we are all affected." Parents die, leaving helpless orphans to be raised by relatives who are already overburdened with their own poverty and need. Orphans with no family to care for them end up at orphanages like the Havens--wonderful places for children who must be there, but nothing like the safety and security of a true home. Workers in their prime are cut down by the dreaded disease, robbing the country of needed talent and skills. Weakened immune systems cause employees to miss days and days of work, hampering the efficiency of a nation already struggling for economic survival.

I weep at the photos of Joplin's flattened neighborhoods and think of the many lives destroyed by the tornado. And I grieve for the lives destroyed by the quieter and equally powerful pandemic called AIDS. May God help us to be just as shocked, touched, and motivated to help those whose lives are destroyed in years of suffering as we are by those who lose everything in an instant. May God help us all.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

How to Pray for Missionaries

To those of you who want to pray for missionaries, but don't know what to pray, here is a link to a weekly cycle of prayer topics. The article includes some excellent insights to help you become a prayer warrior for those who are serving in the mission field.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Road Rage African Style

These photos are from Thursday, February 17, by someone from Centurion in Pilanesberg Game Reserve, South Africa.

Road rage affects us all!

Saturday, May 07, 2011

A Tribute to Mother

My mother has been gone for several years now, but her heritage of love and faith still inspires me every day. In honor of Mother's Day I am re-posting a tribute I wrote about her.

Mother's Quilts

The quilts tell her story. I finger the bright prints and smooth the muted solids. I trace the stitching on intricate designs or snap a simple nine-patch design over a bed. And when I do, each quilt whispers her story.

I asked my mother many times to tell me her story. Usually she refused to offer more than the briefest of details. “Not much in my life,” she would say, “is worth telling.” So I am left with the quilts—the bits and pieces of my mother’s story.

Like the quilter who stitched them, the quilts are sturdy. The stitching speaks of one who can endure repeated trials without coming apart. Mother’s trials were all too many. She was raised in a crowded household by a preoccupied and distant mother. The reality of the depression was a constant presence on the Iowa farm. Mother loved learning and longed for a good education, but there was no way to get into town for high school, so she was forced to quit school at age 13. She married at 21 and worked with my father on the farm from sunup to sundown. Farm life was a constant struggle against the capricious whims of drought and crop failure. There was never more than just enough money to get by. When she was a young mother, her brother committed suicide and her sister’s only son drowned. When Mother was in her fifties, my father was killed in a tractor accident, leaving her with a farm and a construction business to run by herself in addition to her job as a nurse’s aide. Just a few years later her infant grandson died of a rare illness. Through it all she remained strong and uncomplaining. Only sturdy women like my mother endure the bits and pieces of hardship and pain without bitterness.

The bright hodgepodge of prints in her quilts tells of one who was frugal. Mother used only scraps of fabric for her quilts. Others might plan and purchase colors and prints for a coordinated palette, but Mother was content to use what she had. “Make do or do without” was a proverb she lived by, first of necessity during the long years of the depression and the lean years on the farm, and then from sheer habit. So her quilts are pieced from leftover fabric, from fabric others gave her, from the good pieces saved from discarded garments. One of her most beautiful quilts was stitched on white blocks that were cut from my father’s white dress shirts after he died. In her later years, she promised that when she had sewn up all the scraps she had, she would go out and buy fabric like the modern quilters did. I knew that day would never come—and it didn’t. After her death my sisters and I found boxes of fabric scraps ready to be sewn into quilt tops.

Two of Mother’s quilts were made especially for my children. Sara’s is a beautifully pieced and embroidered “Sunbonnet Sue” pattern put together with strips of pink. John’s quilt pattern is called “Bow Tie” and is pieced with bright blue. Both quilts speak softly to me of Mother’s love for children. No one could name all the little ones who came in and out of her life. When the depression forced her to quit school, she became a hired girl for families in her Iowa community. She would go to their homes and help out when the mothers had their babies. Later she married and had four children of her own. A nephew needed a home, so he was added to our family. Still there was room for more, so she and my father became foster parents. Through the years 14 different foster children called her Mama. After my father died, she became a relief housemother at a children’s home and became “Grandma Clurg” to hundreds of other children who needed warm hugs, loving smiles, and gentle words of wisdom. Each child was precious to her—bits and pieces added to her heart.

I’m not sure how many quilts my mother made in her lifetime. Only a few were truly works of art. The rest were pretty to look at, but made for service. “My quilts aren’t beautiful,” Mother would say, “but they are meant to be used!” Such service is a part of Mother’s story as well, for she loved to help others. She prepared countless meals for family, guests, and church potluck dinners. At any family gathering, we expected to find Mother in the kitchen washing dishes or quietly finding a way to clean, straighten, or make someone else comfortable. Mother had no desire to stop serving as she aged. After she left her position at the children’s home, Mother became a private duty nurse. She finally retired for the last time when she was 70 and began her volunteer work at the community hospital, accumulating hundreds of hours of service. In her younger years she taught Sunday School classes, and in her later years she was a regular helper in Vacation Bible School. When her 80th summer approached, my sister and her husband invited Mother to go with them on a road trip through the northwestern states. Mother was disappointed that the trip caused her to miss helping with Vacation Bible School. Yes, like her quilts, Mother was created to serve.

Not all of mother’s quilting became bedding. She used some of her scraps to make potholders. Those potholders remind me that much of Mother’s life was spent in the kitchen. She was known in our family and our church for her cooking skills. She seemed to put a delicious meal on the table with no effort at all. Her cream cheese mints, hot rolls, and chocolate chip cookies were her trademarks. My daughter once asked her, “Grandma, why do your chocolate chip cookies taste so much better than anyone else’s?” Mother’s immediate reply was, “Because there’s a little love in every bite!” Even as a widow living alone in a small house, she kept her freezer stocked full of food ready for company. Her death came just 12 days before Christmas in 1998. We were not surprised to find that the Christmas dinner for the family was already there in the freezer: the turkey, the pies, the rolls, the vegetables, and, of course, the chocolate chip cookies, with bits and pieces of love in every bite.

Not all of the stories in Mother’s quilts are hers. Each family member has stories told by the quilts. We love to admire the quilt tops and take turns pointing out, “I had a shirt out of that!” or “That was my Easter dress!” We recall first days of school, dates, bedroom curtains, school trips, and 4-H projects. My niece is a young adult now, but she claims the quilts can transport her back to her childhood. She says, “It's always amazing to me that looking at a tiny scrap of fabric on a quilt can evoke such deep emotions. I can see a quilt piece and remember the exact outfit made from that fabric. Suddenly I feel like I'm 10 years old again, wearing that outfit and heading to church or going to school.” Mother’s quilts tell the bits and pieces of our lives, too.

Mother took the random bits and pieces of her circumstances and stitched them into a life that was loving, sturdy, frugal, and serving. God’s hand placed the final stitches. With timing as loving and kind as Mother’s sewing, He gave Mother’s life a gentle goodnight. Surrounded by family and at peace, she died as she had lived—quietly and lovingly.

There will be no more quilts made by my mother’s loving hands. But we will still discover more of her story and ours. The quilt of Mother’s life lives on, warming our hearts just as her handmade quilts warmed our bodies, and reminding us of the bits and pieces of a life well lived.

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