FRIDAY JUNE 6TH
What does love look like? It looks like different things in different contexts, and the Iris family has found many ways to show love practically in this community. And I get to just jump in and have fun after they have done the labor of laying down the foundations!
Today we learned of all the practical efforts going on around the base and in the community. We will be signing up with 4 preferences and assigned 1-2 for the duration of our time here, for a few days a week.
I had no idea there were SO MANY THINGS going on here. It is simply amazing that the Lord puts dreams in people’s hearts, and they say yes and put in the work. We just get to come see how He has carried them through and touched individuals and transformed lives.
It took three hours total for all the representative teams to come and present to us what they do here and how they would like Harvest School volunteers to help. We heard from Mozambicans and internationals alike about their shared hearts and labors for so many different, truly unique things.
I am summarizing the various things in the bulleted list below, with info on the pursuit and what help they’d asked from us. I will update regarding which I end up doing! Sorry for the long list- just wanted to give the full scope!
One week later, this is my first update from Mozambique!
There is way too much to report, so I am going to break this up. This post will be just about our physical conditions.
The past week has been about adjusting to the culture and surroundings. The weather is beautiful as we are in the Southern summer. We are in the 80s during the day and the 60s at night. The foliage is tropical, with palm trees and mango trees, etc.
We are living on the Iris base called Village of Joy. Here is everything it contains, detailed in this map posted on the side of one of the huts. Entry to come about all the stuff going on at the base!
We have 40 nations represented in the Harvest School (350 students including myself). There is also a concurrent Bible School for 200 men from Mozambique studying to become pastors and missionaries. Working alongside us are short-term visitors from other countries as well. Also living and working on the base are the Iris kids who have grown up in the orphanage, and Mozambican staff who help run everyday activities like feeding everybody! There are also two horses living here, lizards, and many, many bugs that tend to join us all the time.
I am living in a student house with 3 bunk beds and a walled-off bathroom. We have to be creative with storage, so I’ve created a makeshift shelf which a line of things on the edge of my bed against the wall, and I have hung my clothing on four hangers off of my bed.
Our running water has been out for 4 days, so we can collect water sparingly from a reserve tank, and cannot flush our toilets, so we must use cement latrines (literally a hole in the ground). We are all praying it comes back on. When it does, we are able to take sparing cold showers and
Food has been mostly carbohydrates… usually my nemesis at home. I’ve also not brought any coffee. My body has been adjusting to this and I have often been fatigued or at least low on social energy, with nauseous moments.
As for meals, breakfast consists of bread rolls taken from burlap sacks at the foot of a bilbao tree between 6:30-7:00am. I’ve also purchased some peanut butter to supplement that, and brought a stash of fiber granola bars from home. Lunch and dinner consist of rice or noodles heavily seasoned, and either beans or cabbage or some other African vegetables called matapa (kind of like collard greens). Sometimes there is fish or fruit as well, and chicken on special occasions. We eat with our hands unless we bring our own forks and knives. We are able to supplement these foods with produce and food items purchased in nearby streetside stands, or in town.
Here is the bilbao tree (“the bread tree”).
Upper left: my house mom, Aly, enjoys sprucing up the rice and beans with many spices. Upper right: Aika from Japan is roasting garlic to eat in order to ward off mosquito bites.
Photos are taking extremely long to upload here to I think I’ll have to stop here. Another entry coming up right now!
Wondering if the Tumblr app works on my phone. Let’s see!
I am drafting this entry (to post when I have wi-fi) from the front porch of my little cement house, smelling like chicken, sweat, and dirty kids!
I am praising the Lord for bringing greater freedom inside my heart as I praise Him and serve with this community.
Today, along with my Iris community, I:
In the morning we participated in church on the Iris base. It was quite the global experience: kids from the village, adopted Iris kids (we don’t call them orphans), the Bible School’s aspiring Mozambican pastors, the Harvest School students from all over the world, and the long-term missionaries from everywhere. There were two translators, so that whatever was being said could be heard in Makua (local African dialect), Portuguese, and English.
Children’s Day is a day in Mozambique for celebrating children, so church service also celebrated children. Youth led worship, youth girls did a praise dance, and then a child preached on Psalm 1. The preacher shared his life testimony of being thrown out of a broken family, being adopted into the Iris family, and eventually coming to know Jesus who transformed his life and then his family when he returned to tell them about Him. They gave an altar call to any children who wanted to know Jesus for the very first time.
Because it was Children’s Day, hundreds of children who walked into the base for the day’s activities were also at church. Worship was spirited as I danced with this girl. During the message she braided my hair. I’m glad I took my friend Jane’s advice to not cut my hair before coming here, so that kids could play with it!
Here, kids, Harvest School students, and leaders (including Heidi Baker) are praying for the child speaker before he shares.
For lunch we had a special meal for Children’s Day of chicken, rice, chocolate, and Fanta! I also forgot to bring a fork, and figured now was the time to do what everybody else does here and use my hands. A few sprays of hand sanitizer later I had figured out how to haphazardly shovel food into my mouth.
We are encouraged to have conversations in the cafeteria with the Mozambican students of the Bible School. But after exchanging some Spanishtuguese with a man named Cristover, a little boy came up and called us “maridos.” Seems I need to work on cultural gender norms. Most of the Mozambicans we are able to engage with on a daily basis are male, but my room is doing “Adopt A Dorm” and will be “adopting” a room of Iris girls soon to hang out with them weekly or more. I am very much looking forward to this.
After lunch, we fed lunch to between 5,000 and 7,000 children who came to the Iris base! We fed them chicken, savory rice, cabbage, a lollipop, and a Fanta. Wow! For those who’ve done Father’s Heart Ministries breakfast in NYC… imagine that crowd, times ten, and all children. So many happy kids sitting on the floor and shoveling food into their mouths with their hands. Some children walked for hours from their village to come to this meal, and many with babies on their backs. I saw many children pouring the Fanta into waterbottles to take home, perhaps to share with other family members.
To control the line of thousands, children lined up outside the Iris gate. They were first led into our huge sanctuary space, where they participated in sing-alongs and dancing. As they exited, Harvest School students touched them and high-fived them, while blessing and praying for them inwardly. On the next line into the kitchen, kids got their hands washed, and waited and waited, some laughing while people played with them. One man had a rat puppet and fooled around with the kids.
He was a hoot. Note to self: bring puppet next time.
Kids love photos!
This girl is having a grand ole’ time stuffing chicken in her mouth and watching Iris girls dance!
Wish I could post more photos but the Internet is very slow!
More updates to come!
God is amazing and has a great sense of humor.
Although I had started praying about IRIS over a year ago, and submitted my application, for much of the winter the decision was unclear and life’s discouragements dragged me down. I fought the blues. Soon my grandmother became very sick in Shanghai. I decided to visit her for the summer.
I tabled IRIS in my heart for another time.
Three weeks ago, my grandmother passed away. We had a good few sad yet thankful days of grieving her life and counting our blessings enjoyed in her 94 years.
The next day, I got accepted to IRIS’s program.
For a week as I waited on the Lord and cried out to Him, it became clear that He uses the most broken, like myself, that equips the called… and that He was still inviting me to have this delight especially now that I had surrendered it, even though I had wavered.
Yet the one-month time crunch was daunting. I stepped out onto the waters, tentatively like Peter. God is patient with me.
In the past five days, an avalanche of blessing has been released. My beloved friends have given to help me exceed my fundraising goal for the trip!
I know the money comes not only from my friends but from the heart of the Lord— how else can you explain raising $2500 in FIVE DAYS, with more checks promised in the mail?!
I am speechless in joy, honor, and worship.
I’m thankful God chose to wait until a month before my trip to open all the doors and provide all the finances. This gives me less time to over-think things and just say yes, yes, yes, and get myself to Pemba to participate however He wants me to!
It’s so much fun when we say yes to God and offer ourselves— just wait and see what He does!
if she focuses during tutoring we get to do “show and tell”— today I brought my worship dance flags for show and tell!!! #learningfromchildren
written June 2012
all names changed
* * *
Max’s hands shook as he continued to mutter in Spanish syllables as he always did, as if reading a document that had gone through a paper shredder. His feet shuffled forwards as another resident held him back by the wrist. Shuffle shuffle, mutter mutter, shake shake. At least Max’s feet, mouth, and hands seemed to follow the same jittery rhythm, despite lack of comprehensible output.
Just a few months ago I had carried a decent conversation with him, chatting about the Spanish radio and asking if he would like to hear me play some violin as he sat in his easy chair. He seldom left that chair. After a fall he was hospitalized, and upon return, all he would do was shuffle throughout his room moving furniture around with his head bowed. Upon a revisit with my violin a few weeks ago, I did get him to stop shuffling. As I played, Max put down his garbage can and stopped, staring at the corner of his closet. That was a start, but he still seemed impossible to converse with, and would only sometimes respond to my questions in very loud and broken Spanish. He muttered syllables and words that sometimes produced what might be an answer. He wasn’t able to go to lunch or sit down when appropriate unless our largest and most matronly CNA took him by the hand like a dog on a leash. Last week I found him lounging around with his fly unzipped on the floor of the stairwell, and called the CNA for rescue.
But at this very moment, Max had gotten up of his own accord and seemed to be trying to get somewhere. Medea, another resident, was holding his wrist, stopping him from walking forwards. He was in the community room, and I was happy to see him there because he was seldom out of his room. His two shaking hands were fingering his belt buckle as he muttered in a raised voice what sounded like “toilet” and “papel” and “urinar.” Feeble cries of alarm.
But it was too late. A small puddle of clear yellow was already forming at his feet. Leading him to the bathroom would only create a wake of urine and arrive with an empty tank. Linoleum tile does not make a good riverbank, so the puddle grew into a lake.
The CNA returned and saw the lake. She looked at me with her seasoned nurse smile. “Belinda, why’d you do that!” she joked. With steps slow and sure, she led Max to the bathroom and cleaned him up. I recovered from my confusion about the wetting incident, and sat down with Max at the art table. Let’s see where we can go today.
“Mi familia… mi familia… mi familia.” Max’s folded hands were trembling over his flannel drawstring waistband as he muttered something about family. Su familia? I prompted. “Mi familia es muy muy grande,” he stuttered. O, un gran familia? I affirmed, inviting elaboration. “Si, muy grande, muy grande.” Y cuantos hermanos tiene? I thought maybe the conversation could go further today. To my surprise and delight it did. “Once hermanos, y cuatro hermanas…”
As I continued to follow the key phrases within his disjointed muttering, and clarified over and over again the words he said, he started to tell me about his family. Ah, vamos a dibujar su familia! It was arts and crafts, after all. Let’s draw your family. We continued our conversation and I drew everything he said: eleven boy stick figures for his hermanos, four girl stick figures for his hermanas. I asked for their names and labeled them. I asked como era su hermana Nali? y Cristina? and drew short hair or pigtails as he answered my questions about each sibling. One brother “era un maestro de escuela,” so I drew some glasses for the professor. More and more words came. Something about how he didn’t know how his family was doing anymore, how he left them a long time ago. Something about losing his ID somewhere. I leaned in to his hardly intelligible replies, too scared that it would stop to have time for amazement that we were actually having what you might call a detailed conversation.
Y mama, como era su boca? “Mama, siempre sonriendo.” A big smile with pink marker.
Y los zapatos, cual tipo de zapatos? “Regular.” I filled in circles for regular shoes. Con esos? I drew heels. He shook his head, “No, no, no, regular.” I got rid of the heels.
Y los ojos? “El mismo de mio.” Same as his: gray.
What about papa? “Papa, no recuerda mucho,” he said. But “Vivieron en el campo.” I drew some grass. “Tuve caballos. Horsie.” I drew a horsie.
Y Max? He looked annoyed that I didn’t know: “Yo soy Max.”
Most of the time in patients with severe mental decline, I feel like the brainthreads are all tangled; sometimes seemingly hopelessly. But sometimes, if I find the right “in,” that thread could unravel a tapestry. To my amazement, it did that day. Our family portrait testifies.
written March 2012
all names and initials disguised
I met J on my first day of work. Our nursing facility houses many patients who have mental and motor conditions, but his were especially serious—he could hardly even move his mouth to speak. To call my name, he would say “Beahhh! Beahhh!” Belinda! Belinda!
That day as I interviewed J to update his recreation charts, I soon found there was no way to be hasty speaking with him. Sometimes I had to wait five minutes, kneeling beside his wheelchair, listening to him say a few words, say them again, and then say them still again, until I finally understood what he was saying. Sometimes when I just really didn’t understand, J would spell out his words letter by letter, struggling to say each letter of the alphabet he needed.
It was in one of these situations that I had a lightbulb moment. “Hold on J!” I ran to get a key and retrieve the solution: our plastic purple alphabet stencil from the arts and crafts cabinet. Usually these stencils are used to teach small children to write letters, but J could use it to point to one letter at a time. He saw it and immediately understood, eyes closing slightly and emitting a relieved “Mmmm.” During that interview, J spelled out “SCRABBLE CHAMP” when I asked him about his hobbies.
One day I found another patient in trouble: R. R had just used her own wheelchair to reach the stairwell door and was using much of her tiny strength to try and open it. This was very dangerous, as R is one of our more “confused” patients, and had just recently been relegated to a wheelchair, no longer able to climb stairs. The stairwell was a few feet away from J’s preferred parking spot in the lobby. As soon as he saw me enter, he shouted “Beahh!” and slowly but urgently stuck one finger out to point at R, furrowing his brows and lifting his drooping head sideways to look up as he cried, “Waaaa’ee’ooh’ee?!” What’s she doing!? Before that day, I didn’t believe that J’s facial muscles could even move.
A few weeks later I played a game of Scrabble with J. His fingers crept along the scrabble board to move each small Scrabble tiles around. I watched him sitting in his chair, slowly and arduously attempting to exert these actions, and realized that such fine motor skills were terribly strenuous for him. After three turns, sweat beads dripped down his forehead and I suggested we take a break. Nevertheless, J did indeed turn out to be quite a S-C-R-A-B-B-L-E C-H-A-M-P.
Watching J play Scrabble and show his concern for R, I realized that despite his inability to express himself in words, he must surely have many words to say. I slowly learned how to comprehend J’s “words” better, but hoped that one day someone could donate a tablet for him to type on, or something else that could help him communicate. J, what do you find to be important to you? What have you seen and who have you met over the course of your life? Maybe one day, I thought, we would learn the answers to these questions.
Indeed, a few months later the tablet donation was received as I worked with an outside church organization, voiced this need, and found a donor. Downloading an AAC app with buttons that helped him express daily wants and needs was helpful, and more organic verbal communication is getting there, although limited. “I want to say thank you. You see, I have a problem…” were the only two lines of a thank-you note that J was able to write after a week of using the iPad. With motor skills not precise enough for the touchpad keyboard, Jamel has gotten fatigued and discouraged. These days, the tablet resides in the bag hanging off the back of his wheelchair, untouched. It may seem like a waste of an expensive gadget, but the reality is that sometimes we find that achieving our dreams does not get us where we thought they would. Hopefully, one day we can find out how to make the tablet more usable for J. Meanwhile, the stencil still works fine.
The time has come!
In 3 weeks I will be joining 300 people from around the world at Harvest Missions School, a 67-day program of Rolland and Heidi Baker’s IRIS Global, on their main base in Pemba, Mozambique. The day I return to the States, I will be starting orientation as a first-year at New Jersey Medical School, in Newark, NJ. There is much ahead.
It is my sheer joy and undeserved delight that I will be joining IRIS this summer as they engage in missions and development work in the context of global poverty. Given the many radical ways this community of “laid-down lovers” has been known to follow Jesus and extend compassion to the poor, I expect that this experience will define the choices I will make as a Christian and as a physician for the rest of my life.
Thank you so much for being part of this journey already by sharing your life with me. All the times we have spent together have encouraged me to continue pursuing Christ, as well as the path of medicine. It is but the Lord’s right hand that upholds me—often through you.
If you want to know more about what I’ll be doing, click here for FAQs.
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If you’d like to SUPPORT me financially, please click here.
And… if you can hang out before I leave, (please!) call me!
I tutor an energetic 6-year-old on Tuesdays. I think her love language is giving. Every week before I leave she says WAIT!!!, runs to the kitchen, and puts together some take-home goodies. 😊 These were from last week… she doesn’t know how much they comforted me that day, as I was still mourning my grandmother 💗 #food #learningfromchildren #danimals #bendystraw
Last week I enjoyed a delightful dinner meeting hosted by one of my supervisors, an elderly and wise physician specializing in psychoanalysis. The meal was thoroughly homemade by him and his wife, from appetizers to ice cream, enjoyed in their cozy upper east side home/office. I was thoroughly impressed, and sated. Here is his general recipe for the assortment of dips we had with nutty toast as appetizers.
Falling in love with Jesus
Falling in love with Jesus
Falling in love with Jesus
Was the best thing I ever, ever done
In His arms I feel protected
In His arms never disconnected (no no)
In HIs arms I feel protected
There’s no place I’d rather rather be
Stuyvesant Heights Christian Church assembled their gospel choir to come visit us at work, and perform this for one member of theirs who resides in our facility. The showing was open to all the patients.
So sweet, so tender, so powerful. So full of the love of Jesus.
Biking has opened up a whole new world for me in this city I have called home for the past 6 years. It’s like bringing a new thing into an old relationship, only to find there is so much more to discover.
It was my first time biking home along the river in the dark.
It was peaceful. I shared the lane with but a few bikers, passing them all in their helmet-less, leisurely pedaling, making my beeline home. One pair of bikers was an elderly man and an elderly woman, spinning side-by-side in conversation. The lights of the GWB twinkled in the distance, 100 streets uptown. The winds that had tormented me on the way down had now gone to bed. Thank you, Lord.
I reached what I recalled to be the 100th Street exit (the sign was facing the other way) and took it. Walking my bike up a ramp found me a wide path lined by old streetlamps and stone park benches. The river to the left. To the right, darkness, some hilly green, and a wall— beyond which, I assumed, was Riverside Drive, where I had thought I would end up. No people, 11pm. It was eerie, new, secluded, and beautiful. Mental note to enjoy a date here sometime.
As I resumed motion I breathed in this sight of open expanse, the thought of a day done and a day to come, and the sound of gravel and leaves crackling under-wheel. Deja vu. It evoked scenes I had experienced only in my mind’s eye, as a child reading my Little Red Riding Hood picture storybook. I relished the visceral feeling.
What seemed like awhile of blissful biking later, I had not seen an entrance to Riverside Drive and recalled what time it must be, my gender, and legends of what went down after dark in more be-fabled parks in this neighborhood. My brain graciously switched on a keen radar to what was going on behind me. My spirit kicked in too, as I started to pray in tongues. The trail was still so beautiful.
At my brisk biking pace I scanned the buildings visible over the high wall to the right, looking for the ones I knew to be around. Nada. Where was I? Not the Hudson River Greenway, and not Riverside Drive. I recalled maps of the area with Riverside Park nestled between the two. A quadrilateral patch of light green on Google Maps I had never ventured into. I recalled eating breakfast with a friend on Riverside Drive and seeing blankets of the homeless nestled over the high wall looking into what she told me was Riverside Park. Ah, that must be where I am.
In time, I deemed it too late and far to continue biking and scanning, wondering if I’d overshot myself into a more dangerous neighborhood. Finally, a gracious set of stairs to the street beyond the wall appeared. I wheeled my bike up. Indeed, Riverside Drive.
I saw 115th Street, 2 blocks from home, exactly where I had wanted to go. And there was the grocery store where I had shopped every week in my undergraduate days. Time for some coconut water.
Thank you, Jesus.
New York City, let’s fall in love all over again.
This is a simple yet addictive mix of salted cabbage and puréed avocado.