Thursday, September 21, 2017

Six Months

While we were at home, I was often asked how it felt to be a first time mom. I couldn’t help but chuckle when the question was asked. After all, it had been so long since I had felt like a first time mom. While Mateus may have been our first-born, he is far from the first child we’ve been blessed to mother and father.

I’ve heard many say that they never knew how much they could love and how deep they could love until the birth of their children. And while I feel this is a beautiful sentiment, it was not my reality. Truth be told, I knew the love I could feel, I knew the depth. But Mateus wasn’t the one to teach me that-it was our girls. Our girls have challenged us, stretched us, inspired us, and amazed us in more ways than we could ever imagine.



After six months, I must admit, I am not surprised by how much I love our beautiful baby boy---but I am surprised how much I like him! Our youngest girl was four years old when she came to us. I knew how fun school age kiddos were, but I was unaware just how much fun babies are! He is funny, adventurous, determined, strong-willed, playful, flexible, and so much more. He has been a beautiful gift from God to us and I’m forever grateful. Our pastors back home told us that God gave us exactly the kind of baby we needed and they couldn’t be more accurate. In six months, Mateus has braved over 40 hours of travel and international flights, been passed around hundreds if not thousands of times, and survived 37C heat during Mozambique’s winter months. And best of all, he’s done it with a smile.


There is something so exciting and magical about introducing a new baby to their older siblings. And while Mateus had to wait a little longer than normal to meet his big sisters, the anticipation, suspense, and beauty of the moment was no less. As we landed in Maputo back in July we received a video message from another missionary with a video of our girls playing on the play structure chanting our names in joyful anticipation. As the car pulled in the gate, the “lookout” who was waiting by our home ran to tell the rest and within fifteen seconds dozens of girls came pouring into our home. They knocked Evan over and ran towards Mateus. A family united once again.



So what’s it like being back at Zimpeto with a baby? What’s it like for Mateus who spent 4 months as a seemingly only child now to share Mom and Dad with seventy sisters---that’s for another blog. As for now-happy six months Mateus.





Friday, March 31, 2017

A little distracted...

A new blog post is on its way... but in the meantime, we're a little distracted by the cutie in the pictures below. We welcomed our baby boy on March 20th and we couldn't be more delighted.

 


Tuesday, February 28, 2017

"So that you don't forget me"


It's been a rough couple months with one of our little girls. In the weeks and months leading up to our departure, I felt like everytime I turned around there was another problem with her. She refused to listen to me, to Evan, to our other Mozambican staff. She was full of attitude, frowns, and discontent. Impossible to please, stubborn as a mule, and more pouty than my preschoolers. At one point she decided to give me the silent treatment. Next, she went to the centre's director to tell him she didn't like me (after all, who ever likes their parents after they've been given a consequence!). One thing after another. At times it seemed as though she was headed in a downward spiral with no light at the end of the tunnel.

Now given her sad history and traumatic background story, this little one has every excuse in the book for behaviour like this. We did not come to let these girls' horrific pasts define their future. But we did not go to Mozambique to pass out excuses. Rather, we want to equip our girls with the strategies they need to build a better future and move beyond the tragedy that has marked their young lives.

Sometimes love looks like discipline. It looks like consequences, boundaries and following-through. It looks like the very ones you love glaring you down like they despise you because you are calling them to something higher. Love looks like parenting.

Just before we jumped in the car to head to the airport to return to Canada and deliver our baby, we ran through the girls dorm kissing and hugging each of our girls and squeezing them tight. Then painfully we pulled ourselves away clinging to the hope that it will only be a few short months before we see them again. But just as we were about to jump into the car, my little rascal came running after me. Extending her arm towards me, she handed me a handmade necklace from her little sweaty palm. Likely one of the only necklaces she owned and she gave it to me. She looked up at me, hugged me, and said, “so that you don't forget me.”

The words stung me like a knife. And without words, I reached down and gave her a long hug. Hoping that a simple embrace would somehow convey what words could never...

We may be back in Canada for a few months, but not a day goes by where we do not remember, the beautiful little smiles, eyes, lovable cheeks, endless mischief, and ceaseless laughter. Father God, teach me to remember them like you remember each one of us--with infinite love, grace, mercy, hope and joy. 

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Where should we have a baby?!

With the turn of every year, we welcome a few new girls into our dorm. And while we are so excited to welcome four new munchkins to our existing seventy, these four are not the only new ones joining our family this year. We're expecting a baby in March 2017!



We couldn't be more excited and our girls are just as thrilled. One day the baby started kicking and I reached for one of our youngest girl's hands so she could feel it as well. With wide eyes she looked up at me and asked, "did you eat a baby?" Yesterday one of our girls asked me, "Does the baby have all of it's parts yet?" Meanwhile, my six and seven year olds are trying to understand how to get the baby out of me. Some of the "wise" eight year olds told them they would "cut the baby out".

The last few months have been a whirlwind--getting Christmas presents ready for each child (see our latest blog, slideshow, and thank you message from Christmas at Zimpeto: Pennyless at Christmas), planning a New Years Party for 200+ children at our centre, and running daily programs to keep our seventy girls entertained during school holidays. 

We made the difficult descision to give birth in Canada largely due to the lack of safe medical facilities. (And of course, because I don't think our baby's grandparents would have it any other way!) For prenatal check-ups we've been travelling to South Africa every two months to make sure baby is staying healthy and well. After researching up and down the airlines that would let us fly the latest into pregnancy, we finally found one that would let me travel up to 32 weeks. And so, as you can imagine, wanting to soak up every last minute with our incredible little ladies here in Mozambique, we booked our flights right on the 32 week mark. 


The other night as I started to pack my bags (Evan laughed, the thought of packing won't cross his mind until the day before we leave!), it started to hit me. Leaving our dear little ones here in Mozambique for a couple of weeks on our yearly visit to Canada is hard enough, the thought of leaving them for a few months brings me to tears. While we are undeniably excited about welcoming our new little one and spending time with friends and family in Canada, as we hug each of our precious ones here the season becomes bitter-sweet. 

It's hot. And I mean hot! With temperatures in the 40s, this Canadian girl is definitely feeling the heat this year! As much as I love these sweaty palms and kisses, I'm awfully excited for a true Canadian Winter! Comically, I can no longer wear my white shirts here in Mozambique. The girl's spend most of their time rubbing my belly and hoping the baby will kick. Needless to say, my white shirts are now stained with a large circle of dirt!

Our plan is to spend the two months prior to my due date in Canada and return to Mozambique when our new little one is three months old. We want to have enough time for our baby to get the necessary shots, vaccines, and be within close proximity to the amazing medical services Canada has to offer for the first couple of months before returning to the great unknowns and risks of a developing nation. There is never a dull moment here and always something to keep you in constant prayer. The girls are already counting down the months until our return. They are all to excited to meet our little one and introduce them to life here in Mozambique. 

Our parents have graciously offered for us to stay with them while were in Canada. While at home we'll also continue serving the ministry remotely (there is always lots to do in improving the website, center administration emails, and technology trouble shooting for our social welfare files).  Before the baby comes, I hope to speak at schools in Ottawa about our girls in Mozambique, speak at churches, and anywhere else that will open their doors. I will also be trying squeeze in as many day to day supply teaching days as possible while I am healthy and fit enough to do so, and complete a course that will further my effectiveness in helping our girls academically upon return to Mozambique. Due to living in Mozambique for the last two and half years, I am not eligible to receive any sort of maternity leave or benefits. We were very fortunate that the school board granted us a leave of absensce over the last two years (alternatively we would have been kicked of the board's supply teacher list). When we return, Evan will be supply teaching. Our hope is to earn some extra cash while at home to cover the additional baby expenses for the coming year that weren't in our original budget and to help cover costs incurred in Canada. Since a lot of our budget for living in Mozambique is consumed by yearly expenses (flights, residency permits & insurance) we are still very grateful for the help of our amazing North American support team. 

Many who read our blog perhaps are unaware that neither Evan nor I are paid to work in Mozambique. We left our full time jobs with the school board almost three years ago on a leap of faith and pursuing a calling so deep that words could not explain (read our first blog post in Mozambique). Over the last two and half years in Africa, God's incredible provision has never ceased to amaze and leave us in awe. We have been supported and encouraged by our incredible team of monthly partners that have made every minute here, every wiped tear, and every smile possible. Our Canadian team has covered us in prayer and blessed us with the finances to make it all possible. Without you it wouldn't be possible. Thank you for believing without seeing and answering God's call. Thank for believing in something greater than yourselves. And thank you for believing in a bigger and brighter future for our girls and Mozambique at large. 

We've been asked a few times lately whether we will continue to need financial support while we are in Canada? The answer is Yes. While we might not be physically in Mozambique, our girls still will be. We want to make sure that they are well looked after and taken care of in our absensce. Sanitary pads, special snacks for our HIV positive girls, literacy programs and the like, we want to make sure that our girls will not go without while we are away. Your continued sponsporship over the next few months helps us to continue caring for the girls even from a far. My parents never left us with a babysitter when we were children without making sure we first had food for dinner and everything else we needed; our hope and heart is to do the same for our little ones in Mozambique. Also, many of our expenses for our work abroad are annual ones (medical insurance, immigration residency permits, international health insurance, etc.), these expenses remain constant and unfortunately are not reduced simply because we return to Canada for a couple months. These costs to serve in Mozambique will also increase with the addition of our little one. 

While in Canada, we also hope to expand and build our prayer and financial support team for our return to Mozambique. We are so grateful for the supporters that we've gained over the past two years. As life's circumstances and seasons change, we've also lost a few along the way. We trust that as God shuts some doors He is bursting other windows wide open. Please join with us in prayer that we would be able to connect with more people who are interested in partnering with what God is doing in Mozambique during our time in Canada. 


The girls are already asking us who will celebrate their birthday and give them a little gift while we're away. We smile and say, don't worry, we haven't forgotten, we'll make sure you are celebrated, we'll make sure you'll continue to feel the love of the Father, and enjoy the little blessings of childhood that for so long you were robbed. And we're comforted and amazed to know that our heavenly Father loves you more than we ever could. He dreams even greater dreams for your lives than we ever could.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Pennyless at Christmas


I can imagine what it's like to not have enough money to buy Christmas presents for my children. I can imagine the stinging conversations that parents are forced to have with their young ones. When food takes precident over gifts. When necessities trump the luxuries of Christmas gifts. When parents are forced to explain that Christmas won't be filled with gifts this year. I can imagine the soaring pain in each child's heart as they realize their family won't get to celebrate Christmas like other families. Pennyless at Christmas time is a harsh reality many families face all over the world.

Evan and I have seventy girls. And though we work around the clock, we earn no income. Our work here in Mozambique is sustained by the generosity of everyday men and women who believe in something greater than themselves. To our friends, our families, our monthly supporters, those who rallied with us at Christmas time and even the strangers we have yet to meet on this side of heaven, words will never be enough to say thank you for your generosity in making Christmas 2016 one to remember. Thank you for your prayers and financial gifts that continue to bring smiles daily. To those of you who have never met our girls but care so much for them that you went out of your way to help sponsor our Christmas--may you be blessed abundantly for having believed without seeing.

Because of you, our girls had the oppertunity to enjoy Christmas. There will forever be something so special about waking up on Christmas morning surrounded by gifts and goodies. Each girl received new shoes, a new school bag full of gifts, and a new outfit. A slip and slide, bicycles, and tons of fun! These are all but a small earthly reminded of the greatest gift of all: Jesus.
Merry Christmas. From our family to yours. Thank you for once again helping put presents under our tree! To those of you in Canada, England, the United States and Mozambique that made it all possible, Merry Christmas and Happy New Years! May your homes be filled with as much joy and love as ours!





Our Christmas Slideshow 2016:


Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Three simple words. She did not understand.

Three words.

Three simple words. Three deep powerful and meaningful words.

I whispered them in her ear with a smile as I gave her a hug.

Three simple words. And yet she did not understand.

I love you,” I said with a big grin and warm look. “Tomorrow,” she responded.

A one word response to my three simple words. “Tomorrow.”

Caught off guard and confused by her response, I said it again. And again. Three simple words.

I love you.

Again she responded, “Tomorrow.”

Then it clicked. I understood what she was saying.

Even those three basic words, she did not understand. But she remembered her favorite movie she had been watching on repeat for months. She remembered that when little orphan Annie sings “I'll love you”, she follows it by saying “Tomorrow.”

I started to chuckle. I wanted to cry.

It wasn't that she didn't understand English. After all, our girls speak Portuguese. But it dawned on me that she still didn't understand those words. Their meaning. Their significance. Their power. Those three simple words in Portuguese or in English. “Eu te amo” or “I love you”.

Rape. Abuse. Neglect. Left to die. Helpless. Alone. Robbed. Mistreated. Beaten. Our girls understand these words. But I wanted her to understand a word far greater. A word far greater than any of those words.

Love.

Love that is patient. Kind. Gentle. Selfless. Genuine. Protects. Trusts. Hopes. Perseveres. And never fails.

Love.

I want so badly for our girls. To receive it. To feel it. To embrace it. To share it. To know it.

Love.

I want them to live each day knowing they are loved. They are special. They are worth it.

I want them to understand what it means to be loved. By me. By Evan. By each other. By family. By Jesus. By God our Heavenly Father.

I want them to understand. I want them so badly to understand those three simple words. I love you.

I love you. Today. You don't have to wait for tomorrow. Tomorrow is always a day away. I love you today.

Three words. Three simple words that will forever change your life.

I love you.






Monday, October 31, 2016

What My Mom and Dad Taught Me: We Can All Do Something

Since moving to Africa a little over two years ago, our definition of "normal" has changed dramatically. Scenarios, foods, challenges, smells, sights and encounters that we used to find strange have become an everyday part of life. Somedays I feel as though the more we invest ourselves here, the more the West and it's luxuries seem like a distant past. The initial shock of living in a developing nation wears off to an extent. Bugs in your food and toads in your bedroom become a mild laugh instead of a cry.

Having visitors from North America suddenly reminds you of how different our worlds are. As visitors process our Mozambican surroundings we are reminded of how the very things that have become a part of our norm are not so normal at all. 

A month ago we were so thrilled to have my (Natasha's) parents come for a visit. Their time here once again reminded us that the life we live here is anything but normal. A few days after they had arrived I wanted to take my parents to the local garbage dump where men and women spend day after day scouring through the garbage looking for sellable pieces of rubbish and separating the trash into recyclable products to earn a scarcely small amount of money to fill their grumbling stomachs and soothe their baby's crying lips. In smoltering heat, these men and women sort through the trash in humiliating and disgusting conditions of burning garbage all around them.

I wanted to bring my parents to run a children's program with me at the church our ministry started right beside the garbage dump. Each week the small african hut church is packed with boys and girls eager to learn more about Jesus and receive a small snack to ease their hunger pains. My mother had joined us last year on her visit to Mozambique (read more about her visit: http://evanandnatasha.blogspot.com/2015/06/if-only-i-could-have-my-cake-and-eat-it.html) and planned to join me again. Minutes before we were set to leave she came to me sobbing, the visions of the children and men and women she had met the previous year at the dump were forever haunting her mind and she couldn't face it again. She stayed behind to play with some of the toddlers and shower them with extra hugs and kisses. 

Leaving her behind, my dad and I boarded an old mini-van towards the dump, my dad all the more apprehensive having seen how hard the previous year had impacted my mother. When we arrived at the dump, nothing could have prepared my father for the sights, the smells and devastation. Through the smell of burning garbage, ash and soot, we led games and ran a children's program full of hope and life. The children were captivated by my dad's hairy arms rubbing them up an down like he was some sort of animal. 

When it was time to leave, he was speechless. We returned to the centre and headed for our living quarters. My dad wanted to take a shower and quickly was frustrated by the lack of hot water. He went outside and started tinkering around with the gas tank and hot water contraption. My father is one of the most brilliant men I have ever met, truly a jack of all trades and has the ability to fix just about everything (with the exception of a computer, afterall he's still learning how to use gmail). At first I was a little annoyed with him. After everything he had just seen and the extreme poverty, how could he possibly be so fixated on a hot shower! Besides, it was hot outside, who in their right mind would even want a warm shower that bad!

....But then it dawned on me. It had nothing to do with the hot shower or lack there of. My father had just seen one of the world's darkest places that makes you question everything about humanity and the West, and he was helpless. My dad loves to fix things and he had just been to a place, an assault to all senses, where there was nothing he could do to fix it. He couldn't fix the brokeness, he couldn't solve the poverty, he couldn't fill every empty belly. And so when we arrived back at the centre, he started looking for something he could fix. He started looking for some small thing he could tinker with to improve. He started trying to make a difference from his vantage point. And the first thing he found was our hot water tank. Our hot water tank was but one of the many things my dad fixed during his stay with us. 

His stay reminded us more than ever that we can't fix everything. We can't dry every tear or heal every heart or feed every stomach. But we can do something. My dad is a handyman and used his skills to fix up things around the centre to bless us and our kids. My mom's love for children is undeniable. The morning she decided not to go to the dump, she headed to the baby house. She knew she could do something there. My dad used his creativity to build and design kites with the girls in our dorm. My mom used her loving touch with every one of our sick little girls. We can't fix everything, but we can all do something. And together, our little somethings partnered with a our big God, can make a big difference.

And so I can't help but ask, what's your something?







(Inside the church at the dump)

(Our new little friend at the dump)
(My dad with one of our girls)
(My mom with our ladies)