Church Family

We had a church picnic yesterday!

This was the second time during the school break that we got to spend a Sunday afternoon with our church family, picnicking on the lawn.

It takes a lot of hot dogs to feed this crew, so we've learned a few tricks. Did you know you can cook 60-70 hot dogs in a crockpot? The ones on the edges even get a nice sear!

I brought some bunting for a festive look, but needed a little help to tie it up. You never know when your husband's tree climbing skills will come in handy!

It's always good to spend time with church family, but this day was especially sweet. Just before the picnic, one of our elders, Gideon Manda, had preached on the unity of the body of Christ from Ephesians 4:4-6. For such a diverse church, this was an important reminder, and made our fellowship time a reminder of our unity!

As I looked around at the people on the lawn at lunch, I thought about how some of them are more comfortable eating their lunch with forks and spoons, some with chopsticks, and some with their bare hands. It's the times when we focus on those differences that we miss the beauty and eternality of the unity Scripture says we have as the body of Christ. One body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all.

This picnic was just a foretaste of heaven, when people of every tongue, tribe, and nation will join together to worship the Lord!

He’s Back!

Naomi woke up this morning yelling “Dada! Airport! Dada! Airport!” She was a little disappointed that we went to church first, but all was forgiven when we got to the airport.

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The (“secret”) sign was out and ready! Naomi was a little distracted from Dad Watch by all the people at the airport who were taking pictures of the girls and their sign. =)

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And then all of a sudden he was here! Abi chattered away trying to tell him about the last nine days within 9 minutes. And Naomi tried to keep up: “Dada! Hi Dada airport. Fweooooo! (airplane noise) Hug Dada, hi!” The long wait was over – Dad was home!

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As happy as they were, I might have been even happier! (See the little photo bomber in our picture?) It is so nice to have Matt home! On Wednesday we will have been married 8 years, and while things are ok when we’re apart, they are great when we’re together. I’ve known for almost 10 years that I would rather go through the worst things in life with this man than the best things in life with anyone else. In God’s grace, we have gone through some difficult times, but the life that God has given us has been filled with far more of the best things. I am truly blessed to be married to this man!

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I heard from several people over the course of this week in comments or emails about how “brave” or “strong” I was. I didn’t feel especially brave or strong this week. I felt that I missed Matt, but I also felt that life just continued fairly normally. We are missionaries, but I’m a mom, and a wife, and a church member, and a counselor, and a home-maker, and a friend, and a daughter. The wife part was different over the last week and a half, and some of the mom part, but the rest of life and all my other roles continued normally.

I think that sometimes, just because we’re missionaries, I want to spiritualize everything we do – or at least how I portray it. In chronicling these last 9 days, I’ve had to set aside the temptation to spiritualize things. I just didn’t have time every night to make things look all godly and perfect! =) But I did want to share about what my life looks like from day to day. It is filled with all those normal things: homeschooling, grocery shopping, telling my girls to stop fighting over who gets to play with the blue ball. My roles right now revolve primarily around raising our girls, freeing Matt up to do more things at the church and CAPA, showing hospitality, and helping the women at our church through counseling. Only one and a half of those things sound “spiritual” enough to write about in an official missionary newsletter. But really, they’re all spiritual and whether or not I’m fulfilling the roles God has given me is found in the hows and whys of what I do. I’m not Amy Carmichael, or Gladys Aylward, or Elizabeth Elliot. I’m Rachel Floreen, and I want to follow what the Bible tells me to do as a wife, as a mother, as a church member. Do I aspire to great things? Yes, and right now the greatest things I can do are raising two little girls to love the Lord. And being delighted to do whatever I can to help my husband. And visiting people in our church who are sick. And helping women to biblically navigate the troubles of life. My life, like the lives of so many moms, is lived in the “small” things. But those small things are good – so very good! – when you get to do them to please the Lord.

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Unlike many of the moms who will read this blog, I get to do those small things in Malawi. It’s home for us, and we are so happy to be here – especially now that Matt’s back! I hope that these 9 days have given you a glimpse at what normal life is like for me and the girls. Thanks for following along!

Sharing, Caring, and Bed Sheets

Tuesday morning brings Priscilla back to our house at 7:30am, so the girls spent their morning coloring, building train tracks, and reading books with her. I was starting to feel the pressure of a backlog of items that needed to be sewn – and the very strong desire to run away from the taxes I probably should have been finishing up today – so I tackled a couple more urgent mending jobs and then immersed myself in a fun sewing spree.

I spent about half the morning with this friend. I have a very old singer sewing machine also, and today they sat side by side as I moved back and forth between the two, but this overlocker machine is fantastic. Matt was pretty skeptical when I registered for it on our wedding registry, and rather shocked when we got it! I’d never had a “fancy” sewing machine before, but after almost 8 years of good use, I can’t imagine sewing without it!

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Today’s fun sewing project also had practical value: bed sheets! Abi had come with me to the old part of town a couple weeks ago to buy fabric to recover the cushions on our wicker furniture, and I think it was she who discovered the sheeting material. She fell in love with the purple stripe, and when I showed her the matching solid purple (her favorite color), she did a little dance and laughed out loud! So she now has a purple fitted sheet and a striped top sheet.  And she LOVES them!

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The other set of sheets is queen-size to replace an old set that was becoming brittle and too thin. But the fabric that I found for that set is amazing. It’s the (blazing brilliant!) white in the first picture, but it’s some of the best sheeting material I’ve ever seen. It’s solid, medium weight, with a smooth almost velvety feel. Think high-end hotel sheets. And the fabric cost me half of what I would pay to buy a mediocre set of sheets in America. My time counts for something, of course, but I did make 2 sets in about 2 hours, so I think I’m ok with the time!

I also ran over to see my friend Susan again. The medicine to treat the bacterial meningitis continues to work, and she was up on her feet to meet me at the door today! She had finished all the books I took her on Saturday, so I brought her 3 more books, and a little loaf of banana bread that we had made yesterday.

The afternoon was back to more routine things – Abi and I did school while Naomi slept and Priscilla cleaned out all my kitchen cupboards. About the time Naomi woke up, I started working on dinner, because I knew I needed a little extra time today. I made a triple batch of rice and Spicy Beef with Peppers stir fry, to keep one batch for us and send the rest home with Carol for her family this evening. Carol works full time and has spent the last 14 months caring for one family member or another, herself included, as their family has experienced injury and illness almost continually during that time. The Lord has chosen a serious path for this family for this time, and I have known the blessing of not only being able to help in small ways, but also to be able to see the Lord strengthen their faith. We love this family so much and it hurts to see them suffer, but we too must trust the Lord, entrusting our friends to Him.

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Then after dinner, this happened:

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Naomi threw a dish towel over a little side table, and Abi and I were joking with her about setting the table for tea, when Abi ran off to the play room and returned with play tea set. They played for a couple minutes, then Abi had to go to the bathroom. I sent Naomi to the playroom to find a couple missing tea set pieces, while I made some tea and filled the milk pitcher and sugar bowl. When Abi came back, her eyes got big and she jumped around and yelled “We’re not playing anymore, Naomi! This is REAL tea! I’ve always wanted to do this!!!”

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So they had their little tea party. Two cups of rooibos tea apiece.

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They were very careful and didn’t spill a drop.

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It is nice to end the day with a cuppa. =)

What is Justice?

I was in town on Thursday and witnessed something I’ve heard of but never seen before: mob justice. Apparently two guys were scamming people by stuffing stacks of bills with cardboard rather than actual bills. When they were discovered, a small crowd chased them down and a group of about 20 guys were taking turns punching and hitting them with metal bars.  As the 2 men tried to run away, they were tripped and the beating continued.

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I kept my distance, which wasn’t all that far away because I was paying for my groceries in a little shop across the street.  The crowd eventually moved down the street, following the men as they tried to get away.

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I watched along with everyone else.  And I thought.  A lot.  I’ve thought about it for 3 days now. The American part of me has strong feelings about what justice should look like, and it doesn’t look like 2 thieves being beaten on the street. But the American in me is reliant on a strong, honest police force and a right to a speedy trial by jury. “There are no police close by. They will do nothing,” said the lady in the shop. And I’ve heard of people sitting in overcrowded prisons here for years as they wait for their trial. As for juries, they are not used here. Loyalties are too easily bought, and the level of education – both general education as well as education about laws and justice – is too low to make juries a viable option.

So is mob justice the answer? It is immediate, and it is an extremely effective deterrent. It is also filled with anger and the passion of the moment. In an ideal world, it is not the answer. In my small, American brain, mob justice is categorically rejected. But I live in Africa, in Malawi, and more often than I’m comfortable with, mob justice has become the people’s answer to a broken system, to a broken world. I don’t like it.  I’m not comfortable with it – I’m not even comfortable with thinking about it!  But it is a part of this world I live in.

Thankfully, I won’t always live in this world. I know the Judge, and I know that He will bring justice to all.

Oh, let the evil of the wicked come to an end, and may you establish the righteous – you who test the minds and hearts, O righteous God!
—Psalm 7:9

Driving is Not Boring

I’ve decided not to be afraid to share on the blog what I now think of as normal. I hear from readers that they want to see what normal life is like for me. I also hear that what I think of as normal is not normal for almost anyone else. I know this is true, but whenever I go to post on something that’s “normal,” I feel like it’s boring. Boring = bad = I’m afraid of it.

But let’s be honest, not posting on the blog is worse than risking a boring post.  =)

So, today’s “normal” thing is driving.  I took a little video on the way home from grocery shopping this past Thursday.  It’s short, because driving here is a little hectic at times.  But this is what it’s like to drive home from the grocery store, on the left side of the road, around bicycles, past pedestrians, avoiding mini-bus stops, etc, etc.

Just a little piece of normal life…

Economics

No Money No Friends“No Money No Friends” painted on a truck’s bumper

When we lived in America, economics and the financial condition of the nation were not things that I spent a lot of time thinking about.  Then we moved to Malawi, and I got an immersion course in how the financial condition of a nation affects its people in every day life. Rapid devaluation of the currency, a year-long fuel crisis, a sugar shortage, corruption… It’s that last item – corruption – that is taking center stage now, with tough ramifications for everyone in Malawi. Check out this article on “Cash-gate” and the loss of 40% of Malawi’s national budget to corruption.

Please pray for Malawi. It’s not a matter of better laws or even better morals. It’s a matter of the heart, and only Christ can change the heart.

That’s Cheating

I got a ticket.  A speeding ticket.  I have NEVER gotten a speeding ticket before in my entire life, in any country, ever.  I actually like obeying the speed limit!  But if I had to get a ticket, I’d much rather get one in Malawi than in America.  The traffic cops pull drivers over all the time here, so I’m used to being pulled over here.  Almost every time I drive.  Not that they have cars or sirens or anything – they just stand in the street and wave you to the side of the road.  Usually they just want to check your license and registration tags, but not this time.  I got caught in a speed trap.

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But this speed trap was not supposed to be there.  I was about 2 kilometers (1 mile) outside of town. The traffic laws say that you must drive 50kph (30mph) in town or in a market area, but 100kph (60mph) on the open road.  [But realistically, you can’t ever get up enough momentum to drive faster than about 80kph (50mph) while you try to avoid hitting people, bicycles, goats, cows, pigs, children, pot holes, etc.]

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The traffic cop pulled me over and told me I was clocked going 71kph (43mph).  Not possible.  I was following a slow, small truck packed with about 15 people in the back, so I was hanging back to make sure I didn’t hit anyone who fell out.  I was matching the small truck’s speed and keeping my distance, but the cops didn’t pulled over the truck I was following – just me.  I felt like I was getting a ticket because I was white, since many white people here just pay whatever as long as the cops will leave them alone.  This made me sad, and a little upset at seeing sinfulness and corruption multiply in this country I love.  I realized that sitting in my car being charged with speeding was not the place to argue with sinfulness and corruption, so I just left it.  Besides, there was another issue at play here.  I was on the open road, outside of town, and not near a market. Thus, the speed limit should be 100kph.

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Oh no, he informed me.  Just last month the city had moved the boundaries of town.  Now, town extended all the way to a corner 9 kilometers “outside of town.” I was in the “new part of town” that looked like open road and was still sign-posted as being outside of town.  I looked at him for a couple of seconds, not really believing this was happening.  And then I remembered I was in Africa.  I’m not normally so bold, but to my surprise I blurted out “You can’t give people tickets if you haven’t changed the road signs. That’s cheating!”

“That’s cheating! That’s cheating! That’s cheating Abi!” says Abi, the little myna bird in the back seat.

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Oh dear.  Thankfully, the officer laughed with me.

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I did pay the ticket and go on my way.  However, I will tell you that  everything above this current paragraph was written back in January when this incident actually happened.  I wrote it and set it aside, because I was still frustrated by the whole incident.  I felt like I couldn’t post this on the blog while I was still dealing with it in my heart.  My American sense of justice was irked by the obvious inconsistency and corruption I experienced that day.  But as a believer, I needed to step back and consider what my role really is at times like these.  When I have opportunity, I should do justice (Micah 6:8, Proverbs 21:3).  I am also called to submit to the authority God has placed over me (Romans 13:1-2), including policemen who aren’t practicing justice.  Doing justice feels good.  Submitting to corrupt authority doesn’t feel good.  But I am called to do both.  That’s what I needed to work out in my heart – how to submit to authority, even if they are not treating me justly (as long as they’re not forcing me to sin).  And that’s what I need to remember as I live in a context that frequently puts this dilemma before me.

It’s good for my heart to live here.  Situations like this help me translate my formal theology into godly behavior.

Color Blind

If you’ve been following the blog for a while, you might be thinking to yourself: There are a lot of white people in these pictures – are the Floreens really in Africa? Yes we are.  =)  And yes, there are a lot of white people here.

 

Baptism at Biedebachs

Lilongwe, where we live, is the capital of Malawi and is definitely an international city. We’re not exactly on the same level as Bombay, London, or Hong Kong, but we do have an international airport and you can get Indian, Chinese, Ethiopian, AND Italian food here. More importantly, as the capital city, Lilongwe is the hub for almost every local and international government, aid, and development organization in the country. Because Malawi is one of the poorest countries in the world, there are scores of international organizations here, of every flavor, bringing in aid workers, volunteers, staff, and consultants from their own countries. We see this in our church. In addition to Malawians, we have Nigerians, Indians, Chinese, Koreans, Americans, Brits, Germans, South Africans, Zimbabweans… Some are here for only a few weeks and some have lived here all their lives. Some were born here because their grandfather started a sugar plantation in Rhodesia 80 years ago. Some will stay here only long enough to finish a construction job.

 

But one of the most striking things we have discovered is a forgotten people group: white Africans. A few months ago Matt was asked to officiate at a memorial service for a middle-aged white lady who was born and raised in Malawi, and later married and settled in Scotland. The service in Malawi was mostly for her childhood friends who still live here. Matt asked the sister what songs should be included in the service.  She thought for a minute and declared that none of the friends would know any church songs because “no one comes to Africa to save white people.”

 

Youth Group

Does that make you stop and think? It certainly gave us pause.  I (Rachel) will admit that I had been a little shy of putting too many pictures of white people on the blog.  I felt like for every picture of a white person I had to have at least one, if not two, pictures of “real Africans.” I wanted to make sure that everyone who read our blog knew that we were interacting with “real Africans” and not just hiding away in the ex-pat (foreigners) community.  But many of those white people ARE real Africans.

 

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So with ex-pats and white Africans, we have a lot of white people in our church.  They (we) make up almost half of the congregation.

 

Church View 2

Someone once asked our church’s pastoral staff what demographic they were targeting.  Their answer: sinners.  The Malawians who teach a children’s Sunday school class, the white Zambian single mom who is a new believer, the German missionary with financial trouble, and the American Embassy family who are new to town… like us, they all desperately need God’s grace.  Those are the people we love, the people who live in Lilongwe. They are our demographic.

Hobbies

A wise missionary once told us that we should have hobbies. This was at a time when we were all excited about ministry and moving to Malawi within a few months.  We were focused and ready to go, not really thinking about hobbies other than the fact that Matt’s photography business was about to revert to being a hobby.

 

Matts Photography

But then he explained.  Ministry doesn’t stop until heaven.  Until then, there will always be more to be done, more discipleship, more counseling, more serving.  Hobbies are different.  They have a beginning and an end.  One ship built in a glass bottle – done.  One hand-carved toy – done.

 

Hiking

The wisdom we’ve discovered in this is that when we have a hobby that gives us that sense of completion on a small-scale, we’re not making ministry a to-do item that we just want to check off the list.  We can give the time and attention and patience to those relationships and ministries that they really need, without trying to just get it done and move on as quickly as possible.

 

Thanksgiving Turkey

So we have a few hobbies that we like to do on the side.  For Matt, it’s photography.  For Rachel, cooking.  Ironically enough, these both help us in ministry.  Matt’s photos give us (and other missionaries) presentations to explain life and ministry in Africa.  Rachel’s cooking feeds guests in our home every week and, at times, every day.  But these are still our hobbies.  We love to do them, we love to exercise creativity in them, and there’s a sense of completion and satisfaction that goes with them.  They don’t take the place of the ministries that we do here, but they come alongside those ministries, and they ward off discouragement on the days when the road of ministry seems long and dreary.

 

Beef Stroganoff

Matt’s photo of Rachel’s dinner – done and done.  Now back to work.

Guest Blog Post: Raqel Cherry

Raqel is originally from South Africa, so for her coming with the TMC team to Malawi is almost coming home. She encapsulates here much of what the team has been thinking about and doing while they’re here – wrestling with suffering, considering the role of compassion ministries, and loving the church.

(Raqel Cherry) The pace is a lot slower here in Malawi, in everything from the internet connection to tasks we are trying to get done. I found it really easy to feel right at home here, and not just because the Floreen’s have been the most amazing host missionaries, but also because a lot of the culture is very similar to South Africa and there are a lot more familiar sights like rooibos tea, nutticrust biscuits and green cream soda.

TMC Team Ready to Leave for Mozambique

Our main project here is to help Matt find out what local ministries are around and who is doing them well. Our team has been wrestling through how we can really be helping.  Through team time, conversations with Matt, and a book he’s having us read, I think all of us have a new perspective on many aspects of missions work, and how we can really help without hurting here.  Malawi is a new culture to us, we cannot begin to expect to understand in our short time here.

God is teaching me a lot about His sufficiency, not only for us but for those in great suffering. It is one thing to accept Christ’s love but a grave danger to forget how much we don’t deserve it. The devastating effects of a fallen world became very apparent when you walk into an HIV/AIDS clinic and see the downcast faces of those in true suffering, God’s role as comforter to the broken hearted takes on a whole new depth when you put it in this context. It is incredibly overwhelming to feel helpless in the face of others suffering and so we all feel like we need to make some temporary fix by throwing money or even our time into different ministry efforts. While this may be well and good it can sometimes just be for our own guilt relief and become more selfish than selfless as it may appear.

Raqel in Mozambique

Something I have a deepened respect for since being here is the role of the church and the demand for us to be committed and serving. The church is Christ’s body and the home of the Gospel, which in all reality is what people need more than any life-saving drug or steady supply of food.  It’s hard to say that because even after experiencing salvation from the Gospel and reveling in its depth I still just want to give some kind of relief to anyone I can, but I’ve seen how while this can be a good thing, it isn’t the best thing.

Thank you so much for all of your prayers, we truly appreciate them so much. I pray that God is blessing you, and you are having a joyous summer (or winter in South Africa).