Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Figure Skates and Hockey Players

Life was a lot simpler when I was a little kid. There was family and hockey and school and hockey, and in summer there was hockey camp and my paper route and mowing lawns to get money for hockey equipment.

So what happens when thirteen-year-old Ben Bradley decides he wants to learn to jump and spin? With a dad who went through the U on a full hockey scholarship and high school cousins already watched by the talent scouts, there’s a lot of pressure to follow where they lead. What will they think if they find out what Ben is doing at the ice rink in the early mornings? And what will the other guys on the hockey team say?

So far my manuscript, Crossovers, about Ben and his sister Denise (who wants to be the first girl in Rum River to make the varsity hockey team) has not found a publisher. “Boys won’t buy a book about a figure skater.” “Stand alone titles lack visibility.” It’s frustrating to think that the need for a book about being artistic and male, is the very reason it won’t sell. But since I know Ben’s whole life down to what his kids did when they grew up, turning it into a series seems to be the way to go.

Consequently, I have spent this week volunteering at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Saint Paul, Minnesota, to get a behind-the-scenes view of what Ben will encounter when he makes the big-time. My assignment was transportation at the gate where the skaters, families and coaches entered the arena. I held the door for Johnny Weir and his coach, Victor Petrinko. I answered a question about the bus schedule for Tannith Belbin. I found a newspaper clipping with her son’s picture for Charlie White’s mom. The mother of one of the skaters (who shall remain un-named, but you saw her on the medal podium) apologized to me for the rude behavior of her daughter’s coach. I bought tickets for the last event so I could sit in the arena and watch my man, Evan Lysacek, get his gold medal in a tie-breaker finish. All the while I made notes on 3 by 5 cards of the kinds of details that will make Ben’s trip to Nationals feel real.

The monitors over the bar next to the gate showed far more of the competition than I could have seen at home on TV, and I had the fun of being in the middle of the excitement. When Ben goes to Nationals, he will definitely encounter a rude coach who says he’s nothing more than a hockey player in figure skates. Who knows? There may even be a tie-breaker finish.

Ben, I mean, Evan, gets his gold medalPosted by Picasa

Friday, January 18, 2008

Patience and a Return from Iraq

Have patience; have patience.
Don’t be in such a hurry.
When you get impatient,
You only start to worry.

When my kids were little they had a tape of songs about the fruit of the Spirit. This was one of our favorites, sung whenever someone in the family got antsy.

I’ve been thinking a lot about patience these last few days. I made a list of some things that require it. I would love to hear what you would add.

Mailing a letter instead of sending an e-mail
Simmering a pot of soup instead of opening a can
The Lord of the Rings instead of watching the movies
Sewing a quilt instead of embroidering a refrigerator magnet
Writing a book instead of an article

Then there are such travel goodies as:

Standing in the airline check-in line
Standing in the airport security line
Standing in the immigration line
Waiting at the gate for boarding
Waiting on the plane for de-icing
Waiting for your luggage
Standing in the line to report lost luggage
Waiting for your lost luggage to be returned…

Other things that require patience:

Toasting a marshmallow so it’s melted through, but not burned
Paying off debts
Sitting in a doctor’s waiting room
Following a slow driver when you are in a hurry
Passing safely on a curvy road
Attending an African church service
Learning a new language
Waiting to hear back from a publisher after sending a new manuscript
Mastering a figure-skating jump
Waiting for results on a pregnancy test (or a biopsy)
Reading through the Bible
Remodeling a kitchen
Growing trees around your new house in a former corn field
Growing a strong marriage
Seeing maturity in your kids
Seeing spiritual growth in yourself

My daughter and son-in-law have recently experienced a major test of patience. After fifteen months in Iraq, Dan is finally home. He telephoned from the base where he had been stationed to let Erika know their unit was moving out. He called from Baghdad where he waited three days for the army to get him on a flight. He called again from Kuwait where he sat two more days. He stopped in Budapest and in Ireland and called from Newfoundland when he was finally on his way. Erika was thrilled to get the call even if it was in the middle of the night. (She couldn’t sleep anyway!) He sent her a text message when the plane landed at Fort Hood, Texas and another after the returning soldiers had stored their gear and boarded buses.

“We’re here,” came Dan’s final text message while Erika waited with the other family members on bleachers overlooking a parade ground. A DJ played upbeat music and announced the progress of the soldiers, but the buses were still nowhere to be seen.

At last they pulled around the building and stopped on the road in front of the parade ground. Blurred faces jammed the windows, searching for loved ones. The crowd danced, screamed and waved handmade signs. The music grew serious, even heroic. In a few minutes the four buses pulled away to reveal the returned soldiers in perfect formation behind the ceremonial horses of the First Cavalry.

Erika could see Dan. He was there, looking where she had told him she was, but he still hadn’t spotted her. After a brief ceremony, including a prayer for others who are even now on their way to Iraq, the wait was over. Erika and the other adults followed the children running onto the field. After fifteen months (with a brief interlude in May), Dan and Erika were reunited as husband and wife.
Congratulations to you both! You made it!

Welcome home, Dan. We appreciate you more than you can know.

P.S. Although I would have loved to be there, I wasn’t. This account is based on Erika’s description of the day. The picture is by her friend, Dana Stone, whose husband is still there. Other pictures can be seen at
http://flickr.com/photos/photosoftheheart/sets/ (Choose 'Army Life')

N.B. Phone cards make great gifts for soldiers.
Posted by Picasa

Thursday, January 10, 2008

The Purpose of a Holiday

January is vacation (or 'holiday') month in the southern hemisphere. I wrote the following for the magazine of my writers' club in Johannesburg:

The January when my Brazilian-born daughters were twenty months and three-and-a-half years old we spent our holiday with friends in a fishing village three hours east of Rio de Janeiro. Arraial do Cabo was then an idyllic place as yet undiscovered by tourists. Located at the tip of a peninsula, the village was surrounded by seven white-sand beaches, separated from each other by scenic ridges that plunged to the azure sea.

January 1982 it rained. It rained every day for the ten days we were in Arraial. The only laundry facilities were a wash tub in the back yard. I made the mistake of hand-washing a pair of jeans early in our stay. I wrung them out as best I could and hung them in the shed. At the end of the week they were still as damp as if I had just taken them from a washing machine. They also smelled of mold.

Like many Brazilian homes, our friends’ house was an ongoing project. The walls of the lounge were unplastered terra cotta building blocks. Construction materials spilled out of corners, and a heap of sand dominated the small yard. It was not exactly pretty to look at, but we had expected to spend most of our time on those glorious beaches.

We weren’t the only guests that week. The teens had brought along their friends, and eleven of us crowded the three bedrooms and competed for the one bath with installed fixtures. Eleven people had no place to go in the rain except a half-finished house or the cousins’ around the corner. There were no hotels with piped music in comfortable lounges, no boutiques or coffee shops—only open pra├žas and snack bars with outdoor tables dripping rain. In the evenings when everyone was home, I sang lullabies for an hour or more trying to distract my children from the noise in the kitchen and get them to sleep at a normal hour. At least that was what I told myself. Maybe I only shut myself in the bedroom with them so I could escape the confusion of the rest of the house.

One day as we adults sat in the kitchen conversing over cups of strong Brazilian coffee, we heard a cry from the younger children in the bedroom. My husband Steve got up to investigate. What he saw was three-year-old Katie clinging to little Erika, who in turn held the frayed cord of an electric fan that was turned off—but plugged in. Both girls were wide-eyed and crying. Steve hurled himself at the children, knocking them free of the electric wire.

“I tried to touch them,” ten-year-old Roselito cried, “but I got a shock.”

A blister rose on Erika’s finger. The next day it was ugly and swollen. I took her through the misty rain along the open canal that conducted raw sewage to the nearest beach—the one we never frequented—to the public health clinic. There the little girl who wouldn’t let her mother near her sore finger sat perfectly still while the medic lanced it and watched in fascination while dirty gray pus poured out.

“It must be dressed every day,” the medic told me. Thereafter the highlight of each dreary day was the walk to the clinic through the rain to have Erika’s finger dressed.

When I got on the plane at the end of that horrible holiday, I leaned back in my seat, exhausted. Tears came to my eyes. I was going home. After all, isn’t that what a holiday is for—to make you feel good about being home?

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

The Autobiography of Pastor Raphael Manguele

Me, learning to manage a heavy grain
stamper with the other ladies at a
church conference. (1985)
The true story of what God is doing in a country often has very little to do with the missionaries. God has raised up his servants among Africans to do the work of the ministry of the gospel and to stand firmly for him amidst the ups and downs of their own communities. Pastor Manguele is an ordinary pastor, faithful in the ministry God has given him with an amazing story to tell of God’s protection in the midst of the terrible civil war that ravaged Mozambique during the 1980s. 

The following autobiography was compiled by his daughter, my dear friend, Adelina Malombe. Pastor Makusa, a character in my juvenile novel The Wooden Ox set in Mozambique during this period, is based on Pastor Manguele. 

 LeAnne Hardy

 I, Raphael Zenisse Hofisso Macuacua Manguele, was born in Nyantsalale-Nhazilo in approximately the year 1916 in the house of King Tiane Chikolo, where my father had his fixed residence with the chief of that land as an nduna (warrior). He married my mother Muanduane Nhazilo. I was born to them and later twins, a girl and a boy, but the baby girl died soon after the birth as did my mother. My father returned to South Africa where he worked in the mines. After some years my father married again, but this second wife died in childbirth before her first child could be born, and once again we were left alone to suffer.

My brother and I worked as herders of cattle, swine, goats and other animals that belonged to the chief who was a great man with a house two stories high although it was made of sticks, straw and mud. We were poorly treated, and lived much like the animals with neither clothes, nor a place to sleep nor coverings at night. This suffering led us to flee to the house of our maternal grandparents, where our father found us when he returned from South Africa.

 Our father was angry and insisted that we fulfill our duty as sons of a warrior and return to the house of the king and our work as herd boys. Our grandparents however, couldn’t help but see what was happening, and when our father returned the next year, he found us once more with them. He couldn’t convince us to go back, and he had to move his official residence and come to reside near our maternal grandparents, leaving his responsibility as nduna.

Our father died when we were of school age. After this we sought out our mother’s younger sister who had nursed my brother Tsikwanhane (Amosse). That was how we came to live here in this land of Matimbine, where we now reside, because it was here that our aunt married.

I, Raphael Manguele, suffered much. I grew up in paganism, following the spirits of the ancestors until they possessed me. My grandparents gave me garments and various paraphernalia which had belonged to my ancestors, and when I became ill they said it was the spirits of my parents who were in me and loved me. This was their way of showing themselves and their love for me. But I didn’t like it.

I always looked for a way to flee from this, but never succeeded until one day I fled to the house of an evangelist in the area, Abel Matiko. He received me and asked my grandparents to let me live with him. After many difficulties they agreed, and he convinced them to hand over to him all the things that belonged to the evil spirits which I had used. I burned them and committed myself to God. God was with me and helped me to forget that old life of slavery to Satan and to live a new life of peace and happiness.

This evangelist, Matiko, also worked in the South African mines as was common for men in our country. They would be gone for months at a time and return home with marvelous things like metal pots and soft mattresses that had been purchased in the shops of the big city. I remained behind to take care of the evangelist’s house, gardens, cattle and other things.

I began to lead the worship services because this evangelist had a church under his charge. I stayed about three years with his family and in that work, and that is how I began to be involved in the work of the Lord.

Later I, too, went to work in the mines of South Africa. When I identified myself as a Christian, they gave me not only a house to live in, but also one in which to hold worship services. The work of the Lord went well in this area. I evangelized and taught the Word of God, and periodically, ordained pastors came to do baptisms and collect our offerings.

In 1941 I returned home to look for a wife. In January of 1942 I married Essineta Afonso Nhatumbo, the daughter of an evangelist of the United Methodist Church. God blessed me in my choice, and gave us eleven children, seven sons and four daughters. We worked night and day in the vegetable garden and in preaching the gospel to support and educate our children.

The time came when I was ordained an evangelist and given the responsibility of some churches. Then in 1956 the church thought good to send me to the Theological Seminary in Inhambane, which belonged to the United Methodist Church. We remained there for four years and in 1960 returned from school. But because of this absence, we lost our possessions, our houses collapsed and we lost our cattle and gardens. After our return we rebuilt our thatched huts and began again the work of our gardens and of the gospel; in this way we passed the next ten years, and in 1970 I was ordained as a pastor.

Times were hard and the political situation in our country grew unstable. Satan tried to disrupt the work of the Lord, and for a time even normal worship services were prohibited. Because I insisted on holding services, I was imprisoned twice. [Translator’s note: Mozambique achieved independence from Portugal in 1975 and declared a communist government.]

One time when I was conducting a funeral for one of our church members, I had barely finished reading the Bible when I was taken prisoner. The second time they came to arrest me in my house because they had received complaints that I was holding services. This time, after judging me and finding nothing to condemn, they let me go free, and I asked that they give me a letter of authorization to work freely, preaching and opening new churches. With this authorization I gained strength and courage to continue the work of the Lord. God helped and sustained us in these difficult situations.

Hungry children pick up every fallen grain of corn
after a church distribution to the needy. (1985)
The war disrupted the lives of everyone, and there were always extra mouths to feed. [Translator’s note: The unrest that had continued after independence, worsened and spread in 1985. Farmers were unable to plant and harvest their fields because of the violence.] We didn’t ask what denomination people were from or even if they were saved, but helped each one. When I saw that the people of the region were suffering for lack of water, I dug a well of great depth because in this region the water is very far, and in this way I gave drink to the people. Whenever possible we arranged seed for the people to plant, especially those who are the most poor and have no one else to help them. There came a time when our land passed through a prolonged drought. People came [on foot] from as far as twenty kilometers [twelve and a half miles] away, looking for food. Some when they arrived were already sick and at times critically malnourished. But they always stayed with us until they had recovered and carried something home with them from our garden. We are happy in this. In our house we don’t know what it is to be alone even though all our children and grandchildren live in the city; we are never lonely.

The Massacre

In those days our country was in the conflicts of war. In the area of Matimbine where we live, many people had fled because the villages were frequently sacked, the people killed or carried off. Twice the armed bandits had come to look for us, but hadn’t found us. Once they found a nephew of ours and killed him. The second time they carried off all they wanted: clothes, chickens, food. They even burned the house. But we were there because God had put us there to work for his kingdom. So we remained despite the risks of death. We were willing to die if necessary for the cause of the gospel. Our children in the cities offered their homes as safe havens for us to take refuge with all our possessions, but we weren’t willing to leave our ‘flock’ most of whom were poor and elderly with no place to go.

On the morning of October 30, 1989 we rose at 4:30 a.m. to journey to Maputo for our church denomination’s annual conference. Forty minutes later the rebel soldiers arrived and found us with our bags packed ready for the journey. One was full of money—the offerings of our church being sent to Maputo. They seized us and beat us. They demanded food, clothing and for us to show them other houses where there were valuables. We told them we didn’t know of any, but they forced us to go with them and other prisoners.

We walked the whole day. Once they stopped to cook and eat. I asked for some tea, and one of the soldiers ordered a girl to make us some. Then we continued walking.

When we reached the place where we would pass the night, they shut us up like prisoners in a house. It was a cement-block house, and they put all forty of us in one bedroom for better control. They nailed boards over the door and windows so that no one could escape. There were so many people in the room that not everyone could sit at the same time, much less lie down. We had to stand or sit in one another’s laps.

The house was stifling, without air, and women and children cried. I was the only pastor to comfort others, although I was in need of comfort myself. Two women drew near in the night and asked me to pray for them. Both of them were named Marta. I said that I would pray for them, but they also must pray in their hearts and trust in God.

When morning came, on the 31st of October 1989 they took us from the bedroom where we were held prisoner. We continued walking toward the place where they intended to kill us. We walked for around ten hours. They began to separate the men from the women and to beat us.

Essineta Manguele continues the story:

When we arrived in the place where they wanted to kill us, they strung the men together with one continuous cord, so they could only walk in single file. They tied their arms and began to beat them badly.

I drew near to my husband and encouraged him to break his bonds and flee so that our children would have at least one parent. I was certain that I was not strong enough to get away. But he swore to me, “As God has made our marriage, I will not desert you.” When they saw that we were close enough to talk they separated us, but those words made us both strong and firm.

The soldiers had brought the instruments they intended to use for killing us from the houses we passed. They had collected hammers and heavy wooden stampers used by the women to pound corn.

The moment of killing arrived when the men were tied and being hit. I began to be afraid. I didn’t want to witness that scene; my husband was the first in line to be killed. They cut the cord that tied him to the others and ordered him to kneel in the road to kill him there. Not wanting to see what happened, I crouched and tied the cloth that served me for a skirt firmly around my waist.

One of the soldiers asked me, “Woman, what are you doing?”

So I said, “I want to drink water.”

He said I could drink, so I stepped out of line and fell behind the other women. Then I leaped up and ran. I opened my arms like one who would fly. They chased me, but they didn’t catch me; they shot after me, but the bullets didn’t reach me. This is a marvelous thing because I am an old woman; I had walked more than a day and a half already and was very tired.

I ran about twelve kilometers [seven and a half miles], only stopping when I reached the sea. There I fainted and woke in the morning revived by the ocean breezes. I found someone who showed me the road to the city of Xai-Xai [Shai-SHAI] where I found the house of my children and gave them the news of the death of their father. But news of the massacre had already run through the country. They had gone to the hidden site and had not found the body of their father.

Pastor Manguele again picks up the tale:

I found myself on my knees in the middle of the road, the first designated to die. The soldiers joked that as the shepherd I could lead the sheep into the afterlife. I asked the commander, and he permitted me to make a prayer to God. After I finished my prayer, I closed my eyes and bowed my head prepared to meet my Lord.

The commander gave orders for the execution. A man raised a heavy grain stamper to split open my skull; suddenly his arms had no strength. He couldn’t hold the stamper. When he tried a second time, there came a voice, saying, “This one is not to die.” He looked around to find the source, but there was no one. The strange voice repeated once more, “This one is not to die.”

Frightened, my would-be executioner kicked me aside saying, “Get out of here.”

I got up, and one of the men took out a knife and cut me on the head, but the commander rebuked him. So they began and clubbed to death thirty-eight people. Later I learned that the two women with whom I had prayed the night before did not die because the bodies of other murdered people fell on top of them, and in that way they escaped.

Since the bandits couldn’t kill me, they forced me to accompany them. At that time of year there is much heat in the south of our country. I was more than seventy years old, very tired, and had no water to drink. By noon I fell and could walk no more. So they began to argue over what to do with me. Some said they should kill me, but others said, “There is no one who can kill him if the spirits say he is not to die.”

“At least let’s take advantage of his shoes and watch,” they said.

Finally they agreed to leave me alone in the bush with the thought that this old one will die here because there is no food, water or other necessities for survival. But God had a plan for my life. My time had not yet come even though I couldn’t walk.

I stayed there a long time and rested. I thought if I had a stick I could support myself to walk, and when I opened my eyes I saw a stick nearby. But hunger, thirst and exhaustion still overwhelmed me. I thought if I had some fruit I could eat and regain my strength. When I looked, there in front of me was a papaya tree with one mature fruit. I took and ate. Supported by that stick and strengthened by the papaya. I looked for a house where I could ask for water to drink.

In those days because of the war, people didn’t stay in their houses, and when I arrived at a house, it was empty. Nevertheless, there was water in a clay jar nearby. I drank the water. I also found a basin and used it to wash my face and head. I stayed a little there, prayed, and wrote my name in the dust of the ground so the owners would know when they returned who had been there.

I found a better walking stick near that house for which I praised the Lord. Then I set off to find the main road. There I caught a ride to my house.

When I got to the stop of my house, I met my neighbors and acquaintances; when they saw me they began to cry. I asked them “Why are you crying?” and they answered me, “We cry for you and for your wife because your children were here and said that in the place where so many were killed, they did not find your bodies.”

So I said, “My body is here now; I go in search of the body of my wife.”

I caught another ride to Xai-Xai; I arrived at my son’s house when it was already the night of November 1, 1989 and I stopped; I didn’t have the strength to climb the stairs to the upper floor until someone appeared who recognized me, and they came to carry me up.

The house was full of people; they cried and prayed and praised God. Then I asked, “The body of my wife, has it already been found?”

And they said, “Mother is alive and here in this house with us.”

When I heard these words I was greatly moved; I cried much and they consoled me; after a long time I became calm; we sang hymns and one brother named Lourino prayed to the Lord.

The governor of the province of Xai-Xai received me, gave me materials to construct a house and transport to go back to my home and collect my belongings. I resided in the city of Xai-Xai until the signing of the peace accord in 1993.

In that same year I returned to Matimbine to begin life anew: to cultivate the land and to rebuild my houses. It has not been easy for us. My wife and I are already sick from the physical and psychological blows which we took in this period of war. Economic conditions also don’t allow us to recover quickly.

But with everything we are happy to be in this place and for the fact that God saved our lives, giving us the possibility of exalting him through us.

I would also like to say that when God calls someone and puts him in a place to serve him, he takes special care of that person. What happened to us is one among many true miracles which our God did and continues doing.

Christmas Crackers

“Merry Christmas,” my cheery sister-in-law greeted me over the phone from their long-awaited vacation in Hawaii.

“Yeah, right,” I groaned.

As fun goes, this Christmas ranks right up there with the one when I was eight. That was the year I emptied my stocking with its hoard of oranges, candy, new Crayola crayons, etc. onto the floor at my grandparents' house in Kokomo, Indiana and got an instant stomach ache — before I ate a thing! I spent the day in the high four-poster in the bedroom listening to the laughter from the living room where the extended family was having their annual exchange of goofy gifts. That might have been the year that someone gave a “do-it-yourself breakfast” — a cob of corn in a Kellogg’s Corn Flakes box — or a pre-splattered tie you wouldn’t have to worry about spilling on at dinner. I remember lying in bed, glimpsing my great aunt through the living-room door as she modeled a wide-brimmed straw hat decorated with large yellow sunflowers. I felt left out and very sorry for myself. A couple soda crackers make a lousy Christmas dinner. No doubt the surgeon had fond thoughts of little LeAnne as he was called out Christmas evening to do an emergency appendectomy.

Soda crackers still make a lousy Christmas dinner. This year fourteen-month-old Bella came down with stomach flu a few days before Christmas. The vomiting only lasted about twelve hours but left her lethargic and without appetite for days afterward. Her mommy, Katie, was next. On Christmas Eve son-in-law Adam started vomiting although by evening he managed to sit with us while we sang carols and read Luke chapter two as we have every year since Katie’s first Christmas.

At two A.M. Christmas morning Erika started vomiting. At five I joined her. The most inconvenient moment was when Erika occupied the bathroom while my contracting stomach muscles pushed food in various stages of digestion in both directions. Steve ate Christmas dinner so he had a lot more to come up. By the time Katie and family left for her in-laws' the three of us who were left crawled into separate corners to sleep it off.

I am older now and more philosophical than at eight. I lay in bed and thanked God that I was sick that day instead of two days later when we were scheduled to fly to Indiana. (Vomiting and diarrhea are somewhat inconvenient on a plane, and my fellow passengers would probably not be sympathetic with my commitment to attend the family reunion.) I prayed off and on for a friend in the last stages of leukemia. While my nausea would soon pass, Chris would never again on this earth feel strong and energetic. (He has since received his new, healthy, heavenly body.) I could also be grateful for a mother-in-law with lots of experience and a daughter who graduated from Cordon Bleu Culinary School who took over from my sketchy dinner preparations.

Of course, Christmas is not about turkey dinners or brightly wrapped packages. It’s about God taking on flesh, living with our weakness and dying in our sin so that we might be freed from both. My life should celebrate the incarnation three-hundred-and-sixty-five days a year, not merely on December the twenty-fifth. Nevertheless, next year I would like to eat my turkey fresh and leave the soda crackers to crumble in turkey soup.