Thursday, November 24, 2011

A Change of Gratitude

A year ago I was struggling with the upcoming holidays. My husband had recently lost his job and we had put the brakes on all unnecessary spending. Like many Americans who have gone through a similar situation, suddenly my focus was not on what I had, but what I didn’t have – extra money.

Also during this time the Lord was continually nudging me to go to Africa. As I’ve shared in previous columns, I did not immediately embrace that nudge. Why go to a land of poverty and willingly give up the comforts of home? But now that I’m officially part of that “been there, seen that” club, I can’t go back to my previous attitude of “going without”. When you live among people who don’t have many of the basics that we take for granted, it can’t help but change your perspective.

One afternoon, while in a village outside of Nyasoti on their market day, we visited what I referred to as an “outdoor Wal-Mart”. There was everything that the locals needed in one open area with shack-type stores connected all along the perimeter. I discovered how extremely frugal Kenyans were – nothing went to waste.

Actually, I was indoctrinated into that lifestyle the first evening we arrived in Kenya. We ate dinner at a nice restaurant and most of us ordered tilapia. (Little did I realize then that tilapia would be our dinner for the next 9 days.) I sat beside a local who spoke fluent English and shared fascinating stories about their way of life. I couldn’t help but notice how he skillfully dissected with his fingers, and consumed, an entire tilapia, eyes and all. To be honest, I found it to be both fascinating and nauseating.

Another female missionary witnessed it, too, and questioned him, “You eat the eyes, too?”

He broke up laughing, and said, “Yes. We waste nothing.” And then, (I knew it was coming) he encouraged us to do likewise. There were about seven of us at this table, and one by one (I was last) we became indoctrinated into the Kenyan way of life.

That was my first “taste” of being frugal in Africa. Another was at the outdoor Wal-Mart when I saw two vendors who sat by a fire, surrounded by plastic bowls and metal pans. When plastic bowls (the several gallon size that women carried on their head) got a hole in them, they were taken to one of these men and patched. It was the same for their metal pots and pans. Items were repaired or patched, but seldom thrown away.

Another time I learned of their extreme frugality was while walking through a village. Along the way there were huge aloe plants, taller than me. Americans sometimes use aloe plants to treat minor burns, but there they cut the plants down and let the huge stalks dry. Then, they painstakingly pull the thin strands apart, and entwine them together to create strong, thick ropes to tie up their oxen and donkeys. Amazing.

While thinking about Thanksgiving the other day, I couldn’t help but see an analogy between the Kenya lifestyle (for most of the people), and that of the New England Pilgrims (minus the cold). If you pause to think about it, our country has come a long way in a relatively short time. God’s hand has obviously been on it. Remember to give Him thanks, for He has richly blessed us.

I will give thanks to you, Lord, with all my heart; I will tell of all your wonderful deeds (Psalm 9:1).

Friday, November 11, 2011

Thank you, Veterans!

This week we celebrate a well-deserved holiday for those Americans who have served in the military, especially those who have fought in a war. According to Wikipedia, Veterans Day is: a federal holiday that is observed on November 11. It is also celebrated as Armistice Day or Remembrance Day in other parts of the world and falls on November 11, the anniversary of the signing of the Armistice that ended World War I. (Major hostilities of World War I were formally ended at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918 with the German signing of the Armistice.)

In 1954 America renamed the holiday from Armistice Day to Veterans Day. By doing so, it gave the holiday the added significance of honoring all veterans of all wars…as we should.

My husband, Chuck, fought in the Vietnam War and was stationed in Da Nang. When he enlisted he was trained to be a computer operator; however, the need for more protection on base became great and he was switched to guard duty, six nights a week. It was tough to stay awake during the night, so he found ways to entertain himself. One story that he tells has to do with a “pet” rat. While Chuck was eating his dinner on guard duty (cold Spam from a can) a rat took interest in the Spam, too. My husband was so bored (and lonesome) that he started feeding and talking to this rat. They stayed buddies for an hour or so, until shots rang out a little too close and his new friend skedaddled out of there.

My husband has shared another story, too, but not very often. This one is about the reaction back home in America upon their return from Vietnam. There was no fanfare to speak of, no parade, no one patting him on the back for a job well done; not that he was seeking that. He enlisted because he felt it was the right thing for him to do. Even though the Vietnam War was not popular, brave men and women were still needed to come forth.

I am glad to see that the negative reaction to our soldiers faded along with the Vietnam War. Whether we agree with being involved in a war or not, we should still show appreciation to those who are willing to risk their life so that the rest of us may enjoy our freedom. It is fitting and right that we have a day set aside to honor those who have served in the military. Actually, I think the spirit of Veterans Day should be in our heart every day of the year as we openly express our appreciation to the men and women who readily sacrifice so much.

Unlike other countries, Americans are not necessarily a particular people from a particular place; we are the melting pot of the world, representing all nationalities and allowing all religions. Americans are the embodiment of the human spirit of freedom. We are unique, in that way. If we want to continue to enjoy such freedom, it will mean even more brave men and women stepping forth.

Thank you, dear Veterans, for serving our country. May God richly bless each one of you, and may He continue to bless America.

“The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace,” (Numbers 6:24-26).

In His Service,
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