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

The Hanging Bridge

Evidently, this is the most interesting photo I’ve ever taken:

Kandewe Hanging Bridge

To date, I have posted 241 Malawi photos to Flickr. The photo above just received the highest “interestingness” ranking of all of them. Since other people seem to enjoy it so much, I’ve decided to share this photo here too, along with more about this very interesting bridge in a remote part of Northern Malawi.

Zuwulufu Suspension Bridge

Before the Kandewe Hanging Bridge was built, people risked their lives to cross this river by canoe. An enterprising man from the village devised this bridge. Since then, everyone from businessmen to schoolchildren will cross on this bridge. Crossing it made my heart race, but it’s definitely better than braving the rapids in a dugout canoe!

The bridge was first built in 1904, so obviously none of the original materials remain. One story says that a hippo tried to cross this bridge once, and broke through!

The bridge crosses the South Rukuru River, one of many rivers running down from the Nyika Plateau in the background.

The bridge crosses the South Rukuru River, one of many rivers running down from the magnificent Nyika Plateau in the background.

High water on the South Rukuru River. Man running across bridge

LEFT: High water on the South Rukuru River. As you can see on Google Maps, there are some rocks visible in this part of the river during the dry season.

RIGHT: This guy was amused by my fascination with the bridge. “Did you know I can run across?” And so he could! He only put his hand down once.

The bridge uses clumps of trees as support pylons on both ends. During this rainy season, the river extends to the very end of the bridge.

The bridge uses clumps of trees as support pylons on both ends. As you see, during this rainy season, the river extends to the very end of the bridge.

The bridge is constructed from bamboo running the length, to provide strength, and roots running the width, to provide flexibility.

The bridge is constructed from bamboo running the length, to provide strength, and roots running the width, to provide flexibility.

Be careful where you step. My foot, and the holes, for scale.

Be careful where you step. There were a lot of holes as big as my foot!

Some well-meaning donor provided two steel cables and some cement pillars to reinforce the bridge. You can see one slack cable on the bottom right. It seemed to me that they weren't doing much anymore.

Some well-meaning donor provided two steel cables and some cement pillars to reinforce the bridge. It seemed to me that they weren’t doing much anymore.

These men are repairing the bridge with cord made from bark.

Sometimes, the old ways are best. These men are maintaining the bridge with cord made from bark.

It's not just for adventurers. People of all ages cross this bridge every day.

It’s not just for Indiana Jones. People of all ages cross this bridge every day.

The South Rukuru River was in flood stage as we went. It had recently washed away a concrete bridge about 50 km downstream, but the old bamboo bridge flexed and remained.

The South Rukuru River was in flood stage as we went. It had recently washed away a concrete bridge about 50 km downstream, but the old bamboo bridge flexed and remained (there’s a sermon illustration in there somewhere…)

I watched this guy with a bike approaching, and asked if I could take his photo. To him, having someone take his picture was much more unusual than crossing a bamboo bridge with a bike over his shoulder.

I watched this guy with a bike approaching, and asked if I could take his photo. To him, having someone take his picture was unusual, but crossing a bamboo bridge with a bike over his shoulder was totally normal.

The hardest part for this guy seemed to be the steep descent at the beginning.

I learned a few tricks from watching him. The hardest part seemed to be the steep descent at the beginning.

There are no handrails on the bridge. Most people employ the "lean over and grab the side" technique. This is what I used. :)

There are no handrails on the bridge. Most people employ the “lean over and grab the side” technique. This is what I used. :)

Children running and playing on the bridge. I didn't try this technique for crossing. :)

These kids enjoyed running and playing on the bridge. I didn’t try this technique for crossing. :)

The water was so high, I used a pole to get my camera out past the trees. These kids were fascinated to see my antics!

The water was so high, I used a pole to get my camera out past the trees. The kids were fascinated to see my antics!

Want to see more? Every week, I try to pick five Malawi photos from my archives and post them to Flickr. You can view 240 slightly less interesting photos here. :)

 

Staying in Touch

Missionaries aren’t the only ones who make sacrifices when they move to the missions field. Parents of missionaries make enormous sacrifices! Their kids and grandkids move very far away, often to difficult or dangerous places. They spend a fortune to send small care packages (that may not even make it), and save money for years to go see where their kids live and who they live with, and what they do and how they do it. And they just hope their grandkids will like them – or at the very least recognize them!

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Enter Skype, the best invention ever for grandparents of missionary kids! Abi can show off her new ballet skills, Naomi can show off her adorable wave and her daredevil climbing skills. Matt can demonstrate the new screens he installed in his office so that his parents understand what he’s talking about, and Rachel’s parents can show us their kitchen remodel in progress. We can share a bit of real life together, every Saturday morning with the Smiths and Sunday afternoon with the Floreens.

Both sets of parents love the Lord, and because of that joyfully let us be missionaries and go (taking their grandkids!) 10,000 miles away. We know that despite their willingness this is a sacrifice for them, so we cherish every chance we have to Skype with them. It sure beats waiting for the mailboat to arrive every six months!

This is Not a Cooking Blog, But…

I have a new obsession – drying mangoes.

My friend Mirjam taught me that you can dry sliced mangoes on a piece of cotton fabric, draped over a clothes drying rack and covered with mosquito netting, in the sun for 1-2 days… and you have wonderful dried mangoes.

And since it’s mango season here in the southern hemisphere and you can get local mangoes for about 3 cents apiece, my “dehydrator” has been in use all week.  We’ve done quite a few mangoes, but also some apples and peaches.

My sticky assistant likes dried fruit, but especially favors the apples.  She never turns down dried mango though, and now we’re looking forward to having mango all year long!

Furlough How-To, Part 2

We’re going to try a few different things for our furlough this July – October.  Here’s the rest of the list of things we’ve learned, some by experience, and some from wise, seasoned missionaries.  The first three items were in our previous post, and the last four are here:

4) Intentional family time is important.  Even if it’s just leaning back and relaxing over breakfast.  =)  We have a little family vacation planned while we’re in the States, and we’ll try to establish a daily routine over the months and to stay organized.  Abi is pretty flexible, but she will have so many new things to process that she’ll need some things to be regular and consistent.  Her parents would probably benefit from this too…

5) We have set aside 4 weeks with family: 2 weeks with the Floreens and 2 weeks with the Smiths.  We’re not planning anything else for these weeks, except for speaking at our parents’ churches.  Everything else we’ve left for our parents to plan, and we will be 100% there to enjoy time with our families.  We’ve tried this and a couple other alternatives for spending time with our families, and this 2 week deal is the way to go.  Even if the parents are close geographically, it doesn’t work to try to catch a meal here and there, to stay with them the first or last days of our visit (because we’re either zombies or frantically insane!), or to blindly hope that a weekend will open up to spend with them.  It needs to be specific, intentional, and long enough that we can relax and enjoy the time together.  It’s the only time we’ll spend with them for the next 2 years, and all three generations agree that it’s worth the investment.

6) Because our furlough is only 4 months, we need to focus more time on fewer geographical locations.  We’ll be primarily in 3 locations: southern California, north-western Washington, and eastern Kansas.  The majority of our time will be in southern California, and then we’ll be in eastern Kansas at the end of September, and north-western Washington the beginning of October.  We’re still working on some of the specifics, so more details will come as we have solid plans – and airline tickets.  But if you live in one of these locations, or within driving distance, we want to see you!  Hopefully we’ll have some people to host and coordinate a few get togethers (hint, hint, want to host one?), and then we’ll let everyone know when and where.

7) We think it’s important to enjoy furlough.  There is a downside to furlough, and that’s being away from our home in Malawi and all the things that are happening in the life of our church and the lives of our friends. However, furlough should be, as all of life should be, a time for us to glorify the Lord and enjoy His goodness and His good works.  We have so many things to be thankful for in America!  Family, friends, cranberries, fuel at every gas station, continuous water and electricity…  In order to enjoy God’s goodness to us during our time in America, we need to be disciplined to get proper rest as well as consistent times in the Word and in prayer.  It will be tempting to get caught up in the busy-ness of life in America, and because we’re not used to that temptation, it can sideline our walk with the Lord and our joy.  That would be a shame, and a wasted furlough.

That’s what we’ve learned about furlough so far, and we’re sure to learn a few more things in the next 5 months.  We’d appreciate your prayers during this time, and we’re already looking forward to seeing many of you… soon!

Furlough How-To, Part 1

Four weeks from today… we’ll be in America!  It’s time for furlough!

We’ve realized in the last few years that furlough, raising support, and just in general being in America can be very busy and at times overwhelming, so we’re going to try a few different things this year.  We’ve come up with a list of things we’ve learned, some by experience, and some from wise, seasoned missionaries.  The first three items are here, and our next post will cover the last four items.

1) We like one-on-one time with everyone we know, but groups are better.  There are a LOT of people that we would like to see – that’s you! we want to see you! – and we have only 4 months in America.  In both 2010 and 2011, we tried to set up meals with individuals and families every chance we got.  Every night of the week, and sometimes lunches and breakfasts too.  It drained us!  We had a great time with people, at least the first 20 people, but then we were wiped out and couldn’t keep track of who we’d seen and what stories we’d told.  But then, at the end of our brief trip to America in 2011, a group from one of the Bible studies at our church hosted an evening for us to invite everyone we knew and share with lots of people at once.  It was fantastic!  We got to show slides, we had time to chat with groups of people, and we got to enjoy the kindness of this Bible study in helping us in a very practical way.  We’re going to try to focus our catch-up time with most people in this type of a setting.  Want to host a group?  Let us know – we’d love to find a few coordinators!

2) Every missionary jokes about gaining weight in America, so as much as we can, we’re going to say no to desserts.  If we end up eating a meal with you, don’t be offended if we turn down dessert.  Now, Matt could do with putting on a little weight, but Rachel’s determined not to gain 20 pounds in America!  Enough said.  =)

3) We’re going to be better at asking for help.  Missionaries have an independent streak, which can trick us into thinking that we can do everything all on our own.  That’s not good for anyone, especially for the church.  As the body of Christ, we need to work together, and a proud, independent streak is not conducive to unity or the joy of working together.  So, there are a few things we need, and we humbly put this little list out there for any interested parties:

  • People to host groups like we mentioned above – either at their home or at their church.
  • A car to drive while we’re in Kansas.
  • A car to drive while we’re in Washington state.
  • Support – we need to raise over $900/mo while we’re in the States.
  • Costco chaperones. =)
  • Someone to watch Abi while we go on a few dates (Yay! America has places to go on dates!)

Any interest?  Click on the linked words above to email us!

The last 4 things we’ve learned about furlough are coming up in the next blog post!

An Infrequent Flyer’s Guide to Using Frequent Flyer Miles – Part 2

Earning and Keeping Miles

We’ve learned a few tricks about using airline miles, and decided to type them out for all our friends.  I hope they’ll be helpful for some of you, and maybe other readers will be able to suggest some tips we’ve missed (let us know in the comments).  Part one, written a few transcontinental flights ago, is here:  Part 1: Flyer Miles: What to Expect

Frequent Flyer 6

Pick Miles with a Long Shelf Life

I’m assuming most of our readers are, like us, folks who fly the occasional really, really long trip.  If so, the most important feature in a frequent flyer program is most likely the life expectancy of the miles.  Many miles will expire 1.5 to 3 years after you earn them.

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Earning Miles Intentionally: Determine Your Top 2 or 3 Airlines

This can take an hour or so, but I definitely recommend it.  I wish I’d done it years earlier.

  1. First, make a list of all the airlines you already have miles with.  For chronic mile-wasters like me, that means digging through your desk drawer, email archives, or passport holder and finding cards, welcome emails, and notes torn out of SkyMall.  If you can find your membership number, write that down too.
  2. Second, add any other airlines that would be a logical addition to your list.  Applying for work in Alaska?  Add Alaska Airlines.  Also factor in the airlines which have a hub in your city.  (If you aspire to be an over-the-top mile collector, the folks at FlyerTalk have a forum for you.)
  3. Then for the hard part.  Answer each of the following questions for each airline on your list.  I recommend typing it.
    • Expiration: How long before miles expire?  (On a good plan, the miles never expire)
    • Activity: How often do you need to fly to keep all your miles active?  (Even if your miles don’t expire, your account can be cancelled if it’s inactive for a period of time)
    • Partners: What airlines can you fly and still earn miles with them?  (Write down the ones you might fly someday.)
    • Login:  What is your username, password, etc. for the airline’s website?
    • Balance: What’s your current mileage balance?
  4. Pick your top 2-3 airlines.  Once you see the above info side-by-side, it should be pretty clear which program will give your miles the longest shelf life.  My #1 airline choice is KLM, because they partner with airlines I fly often (Kenya, Continental, Delta), and their miles last 20 months as long as I fly once every 20 months.
  5. Keep this list handy.  I have mine saved on my computer so I can refer to it whenever I book a plane ticket online.  Just because I have a Continental OnePass card doesn’t mean I should use it for my Continental flight.  This list shows me that I should put those miles on KLM instead.  I keep a 3×5 card with all my flyer mile numbers on it in the back of my passport.

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Keeping Miles

  1. Never refuse miles.  Even if you don’t think you’ll ever fly Aeroflot again, get the miles.  If they’re not a partner with any of the programs you already have (refer to the list you made above to check), sign up for theirs.  It’s easiest to do it on their website before you fly.
  2. To keep track of all my miles, I love AwardWallet.com.  It can check all my balances in one view, and shows me when they expire.  If I see that one of them is going to expire this year, I’ll schedule a reminder for myself to revisit it the month before they do.
  3. And when you see that your Lufthansa miles are expiring this month, you don’t have to fly to Frankfurt quite yet. You can often get an extension on your miles buy spending a few of them.  We’ll cover redeeming miles in part three.

How to Host 50 People in Your Home

We’ve already had 9 visitors, and we have about 45 more coming to stay in our home in the next few months. It sounds crazy, but this is a part of ministry that we love. Here are some of the things we’ve done to make it work in our house.

 

Mountain of Laundry

1. Get a good washer and dryer.

Thanks to the ladies of Mindset for Missions, we have a great washer/dryer set. They are high-capacity, and we’re putting them to work with mountains of laundry!

 

Half a Cow

2. Buy half a cow.

Yes, we bought half a cow. Someone had given us a quarter of a cow in January 2010 and it took us a year to eat and share it all. With so many people coming, we invested in 104 kgs of beef – that’s 229 pounds. Thankfully it comes processed, so here’s a sampling of what we got: 12 minute steaks, 23 chuck steaks, 28 shins, 32 spare ribs, 78 beef sausages…  A good amount of it is already made into meals or components of meals: empanadas, spaghetti/lasagna sauce, and carne asada.  Our large deep freeze is packed!

 

Guest Bedroom

3. Rearrange your house.

The Lord blessed us with a fabulous house for hosting anyone who comes to visit. It’s a bit big for just the three of us, but we’re putting it to work right now. We have 4 bedrooms with an optional 5th and possible 6th, and 5 bathrooms. It didn’t even feel crowded with 7 seminary guys, which is good because our next team also has 7, and they’re here for 5 weeks. So we play musical beds and match the mosquito nets to the right beds and we’re ready to go!

 

Pantry

4. Shop like you mean it.

We don’t have a Costco here. At times we wish we did, but then we realize that we’d miss out on all the adventures of shopping in Malawi. It goes like this: “If you find the kind of light bulb that we need, buy all they have.” On occasion the same is true of butter, flour, canned tomatoes, and even Coca-cola. The grocery shopping game is interesting when it’s just the three of us at home, but add 7-25 extras and it becomes an extreme sport! We’ve been stockpiling for months to get ready for this, though we’re sure we’ll run out of something and give everyone a good Malawi experience.

 

Biedebach Kids Helping Out

5. Get help.

There’s no way we could do all the normal things in our life and host so many people on our own. We have ladies from the church coming over to help cook, families bringing desserts, and even little decorators giving a helping hand (thanks Biedebach kids!). We’re so thankful for our church here and everyone’s willingness to jump in and share the work and the fun with us!

 

Anyone else want to come visit? We have openings in August… =)

How to Take a Baby on Safari

We had a great little family vacation last month!  Ever wonder how to go on safari with a 6 month old?  Here’s how we did it…

Matt and Abigail at Ntchisi ForestWe went.  Sometimes with a baby it’s tempting to just stay home and keep a routine.  But we just went.  Babies are amazingly flexible.  We gave her naps and food at all the right times, but we WENT.

Rachel and Abigail in the mirrorMake sure the baby is good around cameras.  In our case, no problem.  She’s fine around cameras.  Mom, however, is not so good at juggling baby and camera… It’s got to be one or the other, so mom let dad take all the really good pictures.

Matt and Abigail look at flowersSet your expectations.  We planned to bring Abigail on as many things as we could, but knew that we’d have to go a bit slower, stop and enjoy things with her, and maybe cut a few things short.  We also knew that at times there would be things that one of us could do while the other stayed back with her.  Thinking through those things ahead of time made every experience more enjoyable.

Surf on rough roadTeach your baby to sleep on rough roads.  We had about 11 hours of rough roads on this trip, and Abigail just slept right through it.  She actually woke up if we stopped or the road was suddenly smooth!

Lake Malawi with dug out canoesGo places that you know YOU will like.  Do you remember when your parents took you to Disneyland when you were 2?  Of course you don’t.  The point: don’t plan your vacation around your baby.  Plan your vacation, then figure out how to do it with a baby.  We went to Ntchisi National (Rain) Forest, Lake Malawi, and Nyika National Park.  None of these places had a playground or even a toy box, but Abigail couldn’t have cared less.  She smiled and played with her 5 toys, and we loved all the beauty and variety we were able to enjoy.

fuel gaugeHave enough diesel so you don’t get stuck on the side of the road.  This is good advice even if you’re not taking a baby on safari.  We didn’t get stuck on the side of the road, but we did use every bit of diesel we had!

road side diesel refillEven the jerry cans we had stocked up on!  When we got to the furthest northern point of our travels, we drove in to the lodge with the fuel light on, 20 litres of diesel remaining in the jerry can, and the knowledge that we had a 5 hour drive before we would reach the next gas station.  But we made it!

zebrasGet to know the locals.  In our case, that meant the wildlife.  We walked up to a herd of zebras…

leopard.. spotted leopards!  …

Abigail with bushbucks…and let Abigail sing songs to the bushbucks off our room’s little balcony.

Abigail in Land RoverBe the only family booked at the lodge.  This one recommendation, though entirely out of our control, might get the most “Amen!”s in our home.  The lodge at Nyika National Park was running a “green season” special because it’s the tourist off-season and it’s rainy which makes it difficult to get around.  So we knew we’d gotten a good package deal, but we didn’t know until we arrived that we were the ONLY people at the lodge.  They treated us like royalty, washing our laundry, babysitting Abigail during dinner, and taking a chatterbox 6 month old on safari.

Rachel and Abigail in Land Rover

We didn’t mind if she was shrieking in delight at the elands, but a nice older bird-watching couple might not have appreciated her joy the way we did.  Thankfully we didn’t have to figure that out, and we went gleefully shrieking at the animals all over the park, from the sunrise safari to the nighttime safari.

LLW km markerEnjoy it and go home refreshed.  We’re busy these days, as we’re starting to describe in our We Love What We Do series, and we’re about to get busier with the summer and short-term teams.  We needed to get away, just for a bit, but on the last day of vacation we realized that we were ready to go home, to do more of what we love.  The vacation had fulfilled its purpose, and we had learned how to take a baby on safari.

An Infrequent Flyer’s Guide to Using Frequent Flyer Miles – Part 1

(Matt) Over the years, I’ve lost hundreds of thousands of frequent flyer miles.  I imagine that if I could have somehow consolidated them, I could fly around the world… but they’re gone.  I lost some because I didn’t get around to signing up for a membership card with Northwest or Swiss or some other “random” airline.  I lost some because I didn’t have my card when I was at the airport.  And most of them were lost because they expired before I did anything with them.

I think I knew all along that frequent flyer programs were designed for, um, frequent flyers.  And the last several years, I’ve been more of a “take 1-2 really long flights each year” kind of flyer.  Any guesses how many miles we fly from Lilongwe to Nairobi to London to Los Angeles?  (See the bottom of this post for the answer. )

So is there some way to do something with all those miles besides let them expire?  I’ve determined to figure it out, and share the results with you.  Here’s what I’ve learned so far.

Set Your Expectations

Again, the people who benefit most from frequent flyers are ones who fly often.  If, like me, you fly far, but not all that often, it’s good to put aside the idea of a free flight to Australia every year.  To get an idea of what you can expect, head over to milecalc.com and guesstimate how many miles you’ll fly in the next year.

Here are a few global landmarks to give you an idea of how many miles you’d earn:

  • LA > NYC and back:  4,924
  • LA > London and back:  10,912
  • LA > Tokyo and back:  10,964
  • LA > Moscow and back:  12,188
  • LA > Sao Paolo and back:  12,306
  • LA > Johannesburg and back:  20,770

Now, here’s approximately what you can redeem them for:

  • 500-5,000 – Magazines, travel accessories, flowers
  • 5,000-30,000 – Upgrade from coach to business class within the US, Caribbean, or Central America
  • 15,000-50,000 – Upgrade from coach to business class from USA > Europe, Asia, or Australia
  • 50,000-100,000 – Free RT flight within the lower 48
  • 70,000-150,000 – Free RT flight to Central America, the Caribbean, or Hawaii
  • 100,000-300,000 – Free RT flight from LA > Australia, Europe, Asia, Africa (be sure to drop by!)

In other words, plan on paying for that trip 8-10 times before you get it for free.  And you’ll need to fly there 2-3 times in coach before you can get that free upgrade to business class.

While it may be discouraging to see that they don’t go as far as we’d like, it is nice to see that most flyer mile collections can be used for something. The trick is to collect enough of them to use them, which we’ll cover in the next post.

ANSWER FROM ABOVE: Our most recent flight to LA: Lilongwe to Nairobi to London to Los Angeles was 21,166 miles round trip.  To fly through South Africa adds 1,500 more.  (Compare your latest trip at milecalc.com.  Got a longer trip coming up?  Commiserate with us in the comments.)