A letter from my better half!

Good day to all ~ what's happening in your world this last day of January? We're spending a Saturday morning at home…Marla is making tortillas and the kids are doing kid things. Like playing bike taxi and making coke icees. To do this you put a glass bottle of coke in the freezer for a while, then take it out and pop the lid, at which point it's supposed to slush up and taste like a coke icee from home–yum! (It won't slush until you pop the lid–don't ask me why–but if left too long it WILL seep out the top of the bottle and make an interesting brown iceberg in the freezer.) Slushies are especially lovely on very hot days when there seems to be no reprieve from the heat. We've actually been enjoying quite comfy weather since the rains have come though; many evenings we listen to rain pattering on the tin roof and feel thankfully snug.

Unfortunately there are many others around us that haven't felt so snug…L most of the homes around are made of mud bricks, with thatch or grass for the roof; if they're rich enough they might have plastic sheets under the thatch… but you can imagine what happens to these after the rains have pounded down off and on for several weeks, or even after 2 or 3 days without any sunshine to dry them out. All over the country there are collapsed walls and fallen-in roofs. People are living here and there with relatives, or in temporary shelters, hoping to fix their homes after the rains let up. We help where we can, though there's not a way in the world to help them all. Some places closer to the rivers were flooded especially hard this year and now have many, many homeless people…somehow they survive and make do with almost nothing…and when the sun comes out they begin to fix and patch things up as best they can. A resilient people!

Most of the crops are looking wonderful which is a bright spot. The people work in their gardens a lot–babies tied on the mama's backs, feet dirty and muddy–but so happy for the rain and sun which makes the maize grow. It is absolutely amazing the amount of acres that are farmed here; all done entirely by the sweat of their brows. (Makes Americans look pretty spoiled!K) Amongst the corn plants there are pumpkins, peanuts, pigeon peas, and sweet potatoes planted. Around our village we can see the gardens are cared for very well; weeds are pulled and fertilizer is applied whenever they can afford it. Hills and valleys are a stunning blanket of all shades of green, and the tall green mountains rise in the distance. Colorful skies and even some rainbows appear as the showers come and go, and sunshine glints off the clouds and mountains around… wish you could come and sit on our front porch with us and enjoy it too–no need for jackets here!J

Jan. 1 & 2 found us at Likabula (a lodge close to Magnificent Mount Mulanje) with the other missionaries for our Christmas get-together. So fun to see everyone again…the kids played in the wild, chilly river, we ate Christmas goodies, sang, cooked over grills and propane burners and washed mounds of dishes in dishpans on the table. Also survived a rainy, no-electricity night in a dorm room with a bunch of moms and little kids…once a year is enough for me!J

Got home from that deal on Friday at noon, and that night Mark got really sick; sicker than he's ever been here so far. Of course those things always happen at night, and I didn't know what to do, other than pray. He couldn't keep anything down so it didn't do any good to give him medicine; he was in a lot of pain all over and had some fever, but the malaria test we did was negative. I figured I'd be taking him in to the hospital as soon as morning came, but around 5 or so the nausea started to abate a little and he finally was able to rest better. I was so very thankful and relieved! He laid around that day and by evening was able to eat some; and the next day we went to church and he was able to lead the meeting as usual. Felt like God had been there and seen us through once again.

Some of you have asked what the children do here. They have school as many days as we can get in, though it's not always 5 days a week. Other than that Kasey keeps busy working in the garden, corn patch, and yard; building things, riding bike, cooking stuff outside over the fire…how we'd love to have all his old friends from home come for a week and let them get a taste of village life! One rainy day a bunch of the boys his age appeared at our gate, hollering and wanting us to come. They had a HUGE lizard (it was about 3 or 4 feet long) of some kind that they'd killed down by the river; they seemed sure that we would want to buy it and cook it for ndiwo. We told them azungu don't like to eat things like that, so they happily carted it off and we don't know what they did with it; surely someone had meat for their supper that night?!

Another evening 5 of Kasey's friends were hanging around outside our gate. We chatted with them for a while and then decided to pop popcorn over the fire. Of course they were very happy to come to the porch and help us, liberally dumping salt on the popcorn and glugging down our cold water–a real treat when all they're used to is well water. I told them I wanted them to sing for us now so they did–a treat for us.J

Shandi usually has some project or another going on. Lately she's been sewing some purses together using old scrap fabric she found somewhere. She likes to get up early and help Mark get the coffee made, or start something for breakfast. She's also a good caretaker for all the little critters and babies that seem to find their way into our yard. The latest editions include 25 baby chicks, a hedgehog which we captured and then felt sorry for so let it go, and a two year old monkey with fuzzy grayish fur, quick dark eyes, and a sharp little brain. Her name is Ichabod; if you want to see what she looks like look up "vervet monkey" in the encyclopedia or online. We've had some entertaining times with her! (Apparently she was a previous missionary's "baby", so is very used to being handled by people. No worries June.J) She's the most active, curious little thing. We wondered how she'd adjust to the cats and dog we have. Well, she immediately stood up to the dog and took his long nose in both paws, stuck her nose right up to his and let him know she wasn't afraid of him! Zabo stood there stiffly, tail sticking straight out, with the most bewildered expression on his face. They have an interesting relationship; Zabo loves to pester Ichabod, and she delights in teasing him and then leaping easily into the tree out of his reach. Every now and then she still stands up on her hind legs and gets face to face with him just to prove she's not really afraid. Just recently he finally started allowing her to pick through his fur much to her great delight. We read that vervets spend 3 or 4 hours a day grooming each other; one of her most favorite things is to have someone scratch her side or brush her fur. She'll sprawl out on the ground or branch or wherever and just enjoy it to the hilt! We keep her either on a long plastic chain or in a big pen, though one evening she had a grand time galloping along the wall and leaping hither and yon in the trees after she snuck out the door when Shandi went to feed her. That was quite a commotion-maker for all the people around our wall! They thought it was hilarious. About dark Mark lured her back into her pen with something sweet and we thankfully shut the door. We sure would've been sad if she'd have disappeared. The first few nights she was here Shandi could hardly stand to go inside. She sat out there with Ichabod snuggled in her lap and begged us to let her sleep out there. The electricity was off so the yard was totally dark, and we told her she had to come inside for night. Ichabod resigned herself to sleeping alone, pulled her blankie over her head and went to sleep.

Connor's become our little chatterbox/noisemaker lately. He plays and talks and sings so loudly all the time we wonder if we need to get his ears checked or if that's just what third children have to do to be heard?! He has special friends outside the gate that he plays ball with, and we hear him rattling off Chichewa phrases and words a lot. His cheerful (loud) singing is usually done in Chichewa, though I'm sure he doesn't know what all the words mean. He's doing very well physically which we are so thankful for. He wears a splint at night but otherwise we haven't had to take him in for anything other than check-ups.

We're finding out that rainy season in Malawi is cause for some interesting road experiences if you happen to travel by vehicle. One week we tried twice to visit a sick lady who had been coming to church previously. The first time we got to a washed out bridge and with much encouragement from the bystanders, Mark edged the vehicle partway onto the boards and planks that had been placed there as a replacement. The rest of us (including two of our member brethren) got out and stood in the rain, trying to help direct him, but finally we decided it just wasn't going to work, (the planks were moving around and the whole thing was just a tad too narrow…plus there was mud everywhere:-/) so he wiggled the rig back off and up the steep, muddy embankment. Shortly a minibus came down the road and unloaded it's passengers before gunning the motor and slipping and sliding precariously across, much to the delight of the people! They all traipsed across and climbed back on. Personally I was glad to turn around and see that bridge receding behind us. A few days later we tried a different road. Partway there a stretch of black, slippery mud effectively canceled our plans of visiting anyone that day. We spent several hours trying to get out of there, requiring the assistance of some strong black arms and a few green bills. Also a four year old's prayer.

One Sunday Eric and Fern Unruh, the CSI boys, and teacher Meghan came for lunch. It looked like one of the boys' jeans were a bit damp when they arrived. Sure enough, they'd had a delay in a "large puddle" on the way to church and he'd had to wash the bottom of his pants off in the creek before they continued on their way. I told you once we don't wear really nice clothes to church here didn't I?

This morning (Feb. 22) we sat in church in Yasini and sang and prayed with the people there. I was happy to notice that almost every person was using a Bible. Seven of them have earned their own Bible recently by memorizing the books of the Old and New Testaments. It's been rewarding to see them learning to look up scriptures on their own. We can't give Bibles away because too many people would just resell them, but we have a short program going now at that congregation, where we can give an attendee one Bible if they can memorize all the books of the Bible. It's a fun program and it looks like they treasure those Bibles.

I realized we must be getting accustomed to things when I watched large flies crawling around on a little boy's sores on his head (during church) and it didn't gross me out too seriously or even induce a great deal of sorrow in my heart; instead I know now that this is life in Africa…dirt, poverty, flies, worms. But just as real are the happy children, (they don't know they're wearing rags); the contentment many of them have even though they are very poor, (we often hear the ladies singing as they sweep their yards or wash clothes); the hospitality that welcomes us into their home and seats us on their living room "furniture"– a reed mat. The way the children come in quietly, one by one, to kneel down in front of us and shake our hands; the way they freely offer us their best, proving that "Little is much when God is in it"; how they take our hand in both of theirs and wish us a safe journey, escorting us to the road and waving with both hands as we drive away. Somehow our hearts and lives feel richer for living and knowing another way of life.

We want to say "Thank-You" again for remembering us in thought and prayer…and letters and cards and packages!:) Our Christmas was special and it was so fun to get the mail in Dec. and Jan. and have a stack of Christmas mail to open–thanks to all of you who took time to write and mail to us clear over here. Yesterday we reached the 9 month mark since we arrived; can hardly believe it's going this fast! May we be thankful for the moments that come and go so swiftly.

Love to all ~ Mark, Steph, Kasey, Shandi, and Connor