Normal Life: Electricity

“Power’s off!” is a phrase commonly heard in our house. In fact, it’s one of the first sentences our girls have learned. It’s usually accompanied by one or the other of the girls trying all the light switches in the house, and opening the fridge to see if the fridge light turns on.

So the title to this post is not exactly accurate. Electricity is only sometimes a part of normal life. But the way we do electricity here is so different from how we have ever done it in the States, that I thought it would be interesting to show what “normal” looks like for us.

Here’s our meter box.

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All fancy, high-tech, and digital isn’t it?! Well, to remind you we live in Africa, there are usually 2-3 lizards living in this box too. I open it and jump back to see what will come out! Only lizards so far. But anyway, you can see the keypad on the meter. Our electricity is pre-paid, so in order to “top-up” our electricity, I buy units of electricity from the power provider (Electricity Supply Company Of Malawi – ESCOM), and on the receipt, I’m given a code that I must input in my meter in order for the units to be applied to our account. So I check the meter every week or two to see if we have units, and buy and input more units as we need them.

Now. Having units does not equate to having electricity. If the power is on and we have units, then we can have electricity. But these days, we never know how many hours a day we’ll have power available to us. It could be on all day, or it could be off from 4am to 4pm. Usually it’s off 4-8 hours a day (alternating mornings or evenings), and on overnight. But you never know!

Enter the generator.

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With 6.5 KVA available and a battery backup for the starter ignition, this machine is our friend! We’re not the type to turn the generator on every time the power goes off, but if it has been off for 7-8 hours, this generator saves the day by recooling and refreezing my fridge and freezer. Especially if the girls have been checking to see if the power is back yet. (Ahem, yes, we are trying to break that habit…) It’s also helpful when we need to have sign-up sheets printed for church and the power has been off for hours, or if we need to turn in an online assignment for Matt’s grad program by a specific time and the power is, once again, off. I will admit to occasionally asking Matt to turn the generator on for bath time too, because, well, it’s ok, but sometimes I need to see in order to scrub all the African red dirt off those girls!

Can I just point out for a moment how wonderful my husband is? The metal housing held above the generator not only covers the generator to make the side of our house look nicer, it also greatly reduces the noise. And Matt designed it. He’s wonderful! He also designed this little switchover:

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If the green light is on, we have power from ESCOM. If it’s off, we can flip the switch and start the generator. Brilliant!

And if all else fails, we can buy a 6-pack of candles for about 85 cents. We actually like candle light, so it’s sometimes our power of choice! Not that it will run our internet router, but it sure is pretty!

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However you get your electricity to read our blog, thanks for following along!

To America and Back Again

We’ve been back in Africa for more than a month now, and I’m finally finding time (and electricity, but that’s a story for another blog post) to write about our 105 days in the USA.

It occurs to me that going on furlough is unusual for some of our readers.

We’re certainly not the only couple to take their young kids around the world for months of travel. But it’s definitely not exactly commonplace either. So here’s my attempt to capture how it feels to visit the-country-we’re-from-but-don’t-live-in-now.
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(CUTE KIDS ALERT: We have a “don’t just blog about your kids” policy, and I’m shamelessly taking a hiatus from it for this one. Half of the fun of furlough was seeing things through our girls’ eyes. If you don’t like cute kids, you can keep scrolling to find other posts about big bugs and stuff…)

Let me start by sketching the framework with some furlough stats:

  • We spent 15 weeks in the USA
  • We stayed in 16 different houses (+1 hotel)
  • We spoke at 22 different churches or Bible studies

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There were some flying parts:

  • We flew on 11 different airplanes
  • We flew 23,000 miles internationally and 5,000 in the US
  • We had 3 planes leave without us
  • We got 3 free seat upgrades (except we needed 4 seats – poor Naomi was left out!)
Naomi on Matt's lap

Naomi flew on our laps for about 18,000 miles

And there were some driving parts:

  • We drove 4 different cars
  • We drove in 9 different states
  • We drove 9,000 miles (which meant 2 oil changes)

 

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Sometimes the car is fun!

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Sometimes the car is not fun!

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This was after more than 30 hours of travel

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This was after more than 30 rounds of “Old MacDonald”

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34° in Central Oregon

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11 days later: 104° in S. California

At the heart of all this globe-trotting  was our desire to better connect with our ministry partners. Our service to the church in Malawi couldn’t happen without all the people back in the US who faithfully pray for us, support us, encourage us, connect us with resources, visit us, and stand behind us in countless ways. (We thank God for you people!) We also are looking for others to join us in partnership for the gospel.

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The Hamlines (L) visited Malawi last year, and the Temples (R) will be joining our team in Malawi this year.

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We created a “Malawian Market” to introduce our friends in Los Angeles to some of our favorite parts of Malawi.

In that respect, this was our best furlough yet. It was wonderful to share true Christian fellowship with so many people we don’t often see. We enjoyed every opportunity to tell others about the Lord’s work in Africa. It was also a huge blessing to hear testimonies of Christ continuing to build people’s faith. We returned to Malawi feeling physically tired, but spiritually encouraged.

While that was certainly the most meaningful part of our time in the US, there were several additional benefits too. Here were some other highlights, according to each member of our family.

Matt enjoyed:

  1. Mexican food
  2. Introducing the family to some Pacific Northwest favorites

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    At Multnomah Falls in Oregon

  3. Being a part of several big family events
    Naomi is no longer the littlest cousin

    Naomi meets her new cousin

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    Abi and great grandma Donda

Rachel enjoyed:

  1. Trader Joe’s
  2. Getting our girls together with their cousins and grandparents 151025-105925
  3. Catching the fall colors in Connecticut 151026-135519

Abi enjoyed:

  1. Libraries Abigail loves libraries
  2. Escalators and moving sidewalks

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    She’s a pro now. The only moving staircases in Malawi are ladders.

  3. Seeing skyscrapers for the first time151022-104853.jpg

Naomi enjoyed:

  1. “Papa!” Naomi and Papa.jpg
  2. The aquarium 151024-225018
  3. Drinking fountains 151110-015557

Since I’ve already given my disclaimer above, is it okay if I act like a proud dad and wrap up with a few more pictures of my girls on furlough?

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A great fishing cabin, courtesy Airbnb

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Fun with grandma

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Naomi might want to be a cactus when she grows up

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Dad, can this be my bed?

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Right now our girls don’t know Disneyland is a real place. (Shhh.)

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Naomi was fascinated by the science center. Not sure it was quite such a fun experience for this other kid, though.

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“We’re from Africa too!” (We’re still working on finding flattering camera angles.)

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After our time in Washington, Naomi asked “Cow?” every time we drove past a field.

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Poor Abi’s tummy wasn’t used to American food

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We don’t get orange pumpkins in Malawi!

Abigail and Naomi dance in the redwoods

Abigail and Naomi dance in the redwoods

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Abi’s first snowman – on the side of an Arizona highway

Naomi is TWO

Naomi turned TWO.

Naomi is not sure about Abigails driving skills

Guess which girl wanted to buy this motorcycle?

Thanks for following along!

Martha

A lot happens at our house during the week. We’re often teaching Bible studies, having families over for meals, homeschooling, hosting guests, counseling, meeting people who just dropped by, and fixing something or the other. Sometimes people wonder how I find time to stay on top of those things AND keep our house clean.

Here’s the secret: I don’t keep the house clean!

Martha does.

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Meet Martha. She’s our housekeeper, and she’s wonderful! Every morning Monday through Saturday, she comes in and washes all our dishes, mops our floors, cleans our bathrooms, and helps with laundry. Her family lives in an apartment in our backyard, and has since before we moved here.

Martha has helped us learn how to live in and interact with our local community. She helps us decide if we should go to the Neighborhood Watch meeting, how much to contribute to the neighborhood ladies’ funeral fund, what to do about the local crazy woman who thinks she lives at our house, and tipping us off that our neighbor’s daughter is getting married this weekend (so we can be ready for a night of loud music!). You could say she is the “point guard” at our house. We don’t even know everything that comes through her, because she manages so much without even bothering us.

Best of all, Martha is our friend. We laugh together as she washes dishes and I make lunch. We share recipes and thoughts about parenting. We can ask one another cultural questions and talk about difficult issues without fear of it damaging our relationship. She is indispensable, not only for a clean house, but also for helping us be part of Malawi. Martha is one of the reasons we love to call this place home.

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Wilfred and Martha Chunga, Chancy (12), Rejoice (4), and Timothy (2 months). Christmas 2014

Quiet, Cold, and Dark… Not that We Mind

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It’s the long school holiday here in Malawi, which means lots of people are traveling – for vacation or relocation – and church activities are a bit slower and fewer for us. It’s our break time to take a deep breath and make some plans for the next busy season.

The school holiday happens to coincide with the coldest days of winter. We FINALLY get to put on sweaters and enjoy a cup of hot tea or cocoa in the evenings! Being in the southern hemisphere, we just had our winter solstice a couple weeks ago, so the days are short and the nights long.

Meanwhile, our generator went on vacation. That’s right. Our generator joined an outreach group running audiology clinics on the lakeshore, so we spent three weeks without our back-up electricity. And I do have to say, we kind of enjoyed it. Candlelight throughout the house is really very beautiful. We have been in Africa for 6 years now, but we still enjoy the rustic, romantic, adventurous beauty of life here!

Prep Work

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Our kitchen is a busy place these days. We have a team of 10 coming next Saturday, so I’m prepping what I can of the meals now to better enjoy spending time with the people… rather than being locked away in the kitchen while they’re here. I was pulling out ingredients to make 5 different things yesterday, and as I looked at the counter, I thought – the secret life of a missionary wife. Come up with your go-to recipes, know how to mass produce them, and knock it out in 2 hours while the kids are napping.

Yes, I’m busy with counseling, Bible studies, taking my turn in the nursery at church. But there’s always food. There’s tea and banana bread with the counseling session. There’s brownies or flavored popcorn or even fried rice for Bible study. And there’s vats of soup, pans of lasagne, birthday cakes, and dozens of rolls in the freezer waiting for our next team.

The mass amounts of food that come out of a missionary’s kitchen are something I’ve rarely heard even missionaries talk about. But as far as I know, we nearly ALL do it. Fortunately, it’s something I’ve always loved to do. Cooking and baking is my thinking time, a great meditating time, and is both creative and relaxing for me. I don’t think there’s a spiritual gift of “cooking,” but I think it’s rolled into the general category of hospitality, and that I think I have. I’m not trying to boast here, but I love it, and God lets me do it on a rather large scale. It’s beautiful and wonderful, and I thank the Lord for it!

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I’m also thankful for some wonderful helpers in the kitchen. =) I hope some day my girls will find the same joy in sharing the Lord’s kindness with everyone who comes to their homes.

Friendship

We love raising our girls in Africa, for many reasons, one of which is the great diversity of people who are around the girls – and become their friends – as they grow up. Here are a few of Abigail’s friends. =)

Abi Friends 1Rejoice and her family live on the same property with us, and as the girls were born only a few weeks apart, they’ve grown up together. They learned how to roll over together as babies, planted their own gardens – on my front porch cushions!!! – together as toddlers, and now they run through the sprinkler together on hot days.

2015 Zomba Vacation 18Speaking of growing up together, these sisters are starting to become good friends too. One of the good things about sisters, especially growing up on the mission field, is that they go everywhere with you, so you always have a friend close by.

Abi's Friends 2I’m pretty sure that Yami and Abi think they are brother and sister. They are fiercely loyal to one another! They play together on Tuesday mornings while I (Rachel) teach Bible study, and are pretty much inseparable at church. Yami’s parents are good friends of Matt’s and mine, and his little brother is the same age as Naomi, so our families enjoy spending time together when we can – from dinners to family vacations.

Abi's Friends 1Maggie and Abi are always pretty goofy when they’re together, so this is about the best picture I could get of them! Maggie’s parents are also missionaries, and the girls are now taking ballet class together, so we see them fairly regularly.

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Abi also has dozens of church friends. (I think here Vanessa and Allison are teaching Abi to eat the ketchup right out of the packet?!?) She gets to see them each week on Sunday, at church events like the Relationship Conference, and then 5-6 of them also come on Tuesday nights to watch Bible movies with us while their parents have Bible Study in our living room.

I love the diversity of friendships in our girls’ lives – and ours. It’s a great perk of missionary life!

IBF Church Relationship Conference

We had the privilege of having a Relationship Conference at our church this past weekend. A team from Calvary Bible Church in Burbank, CA came and spoke at the main sessions and breakout sessions for men and women, as well as ran a kids’ program during the conference time.

Relationship Conf 1We started with dinner for everyone on Friday evening. Ladies from the church hosted and decorated tables for the event.

Relationship Conf 2And we had quite a crowd! There were about 80 adults, and about 35 kids.

Relationship Conf 3One of the kids’ tables at breakfast on Saturday morning. The international flavor of our church shows up here – Sri Lankans, South Africans, Malawians, Americans, Koreans…

Relationship Conf 4Serving one another in the church – a keystone of relationships and fellowship!

Relationship Conf 5And of course excellent teaching from God’s Word about the definition of true fellowship, how to cultivate relationships within the church body, how to understand and deal with conflict in the body of Christ, and how to care for and love our spouses and children. We left encouraged and full of love for our church body as we see the body grow together through these times of teaching and intentional fellowship.

Christmas in Africa

We’ve given up on a white Christmas, snow flakes, and hot chocolate… Christmas in southeast Africa means BBQs, swimming pool parties, lemonade, and hopefully a few good rain storms!
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Christmas Eve BBQ with the Biedebachs, the Ayres, and the missions team from Grace Community Church had an especially African feel to it.

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At our church’s kids’ Christmas program, Abi the Sheep wanted to make sure everyone knew that the Go-Tell-It-On-The-MOUNTAIN was a very big mountain!

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Christmas morning service at IBF – our first time to do a weekday Christmas service. It was great to worship together on this special day!

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Christmas stockings for the girls – the squeaky ducks and oranges were the biggest hits!

African Christmas 2We’re thankful to the Lord for a great Christmas season this year… including the 6th annual IBF Church Christmas parties. For more on the Christmas parties, check out our last newsletter!

My Favorite Pharmacy

I seem to visit the pharmacy frequently. Maybe it’s that I have little kids and it’s just part of having kids, or maybe it’s because I live in Africa. Whatever the reason, I’ve had ample opportunity to pick my favorite pharmacy in Lilongwe: Pharmacare Pharmacy.

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There are several differences between pharmacies in the USA and pharmacies in Malawi. Yes, they both have medicine, but the line between prescription medicines and over-the-counter medicines is… merely a suggestion here. And the types of medicines available are a bit different. I feel like there are a lot of pain-reliever type medicines in America. We don’t have a lot of variety in pain relievers, but we do have a plethora of anti-fungal creams available here, as seen above.

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We have medicines for colds and allergies too; I’ve just had to become an expert on ingredients and dosages! Our medicines come from Belgium, England, India, South Africa, Kenya… reading the fine print becomes very important! Medicines from countries with fewer regulations tend to be more intense or concentrated (read that as “Wow, that cleared my stuffy nose! I hope I still have sinuses left in there!!!). On the other hand, medicines from “first world countries” tend to be more expensive. Caution and advanced decision making skills are required!

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We also have some local herbal powders and seeds for those taking the more natural approach.

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And, well, this is Africa after all. We do need to maintain those “long drops.”

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One more to leave you with. Yes, you can buy umbilical cord clamps. I didn’t have to buy one for Naomi’s birth, but most clinics will expect the parents to bring EVERYTHING needed for a birth, from the baby bath to a cord clamp.

Christmas is Coming!

Abi is in charge of the countdown and she knows CHRISTMAS IS COMING SOON! This is a fun time of year for our family and our church, and we eagerly look forward to the Christmas season.

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We had some friends over for dinner last night and they helped us decorate the tree, so our house is looking much more festive now!

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And the invitations are out for the 6th annual Church Christmas Parties at our home! We’re excited to welcome the whole church into our home to celebrate the birth of our Savior. The time of worship and fellowship and laughter together is a highlight of our year!

Now for some baking and Christmas present wrapping…