the charging of the… ummm… deer?

20 04 2015

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We had been looking forward to this, almost from the time that we moved into our house. 

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We loved the view as soon as we saw it, and here on the Vojmån River we find so many moments of gratitude.  The river has defrosted so quickly, even if we have snowy sights like this in between all the defrosting.

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(This was last Sunday. It was snow free by the next day again!).

The Vojmån Bridge is the only place that the Sami (Lapps) can get their reindeer across towards mountain grazing once the rivers have started melting. 

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We have been waiting to see this event for a while… and today it happened! 

All the reindeer in Sweden belong to the Sami.  They are as precious over reindeer as the Maassai over cattle.  Maybe more so. It is very poor form to ask a Sami how many reindeer he owns.  It is a great transgression against all Sami-dom to kill a reindeer by mistake.  They may not be shot, knocked down by cars or frowned at. 

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The look on that face lets you know a great deal about the mental capabilities of these creatures.  They are not highly regarded for their intelligence.  The brain agility is perhaps best compared to an amoeba.

But they are pretty. 

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And they may roam wherever they want to in Sweden.

Travellers are very smart to watch out for them on the roads at all times. 

Reindeer wander about in smallish groups most of the time.  But they are herded together for summer, to head into the cooler mountains.  To get to the mountains, the deer must cross the bridge.  Which just happens to be about 300meters from our house. 

So we followed the movements:  our landlord kept us informed of news broadcasts of their journey. This morning Deon saw the Lapps preparing by fixing fences across the bridge to ensure there would be no option but to cross. 

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While chatting to my brother on the phone I was informed by the landlord, with a sign.  The Reindeer would be arriving soon. 

We went out, prepared with cameras.. and we were an hour or so too early.

Went back home, kept watch from the porch. 

Then it was unquestionable: we heard the helicopter and the snowmobiles.  The first sight of them across the bridge was breath taking.

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Thousands and thousands of reindeer.  All traffic was stopped to allow them to make the crossing. 

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We had to stand far back: the leader deer (not Rudolf)  was rather uncertain, and at one stage three renegades did move away from the others and come dashing past us.  But for the most part it was a steady stream of hooves beating and bells ringing as they pounded across the bridge.

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They were moved along by a small helicopter and nine snow-scooters, besides the traffic that had been held up by the herds. 

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And one dear soul running for all her worth to chase the herds to safety. 

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Very soon after the bridge crossing, the reindeer were diverted into the forests, to make their own way to the mountains. 

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And within ten minutes it was all over. 

The wealth of the Lapps is sent off into the forests, the roads are reasonably clear for cars and we have an amazing experience to share with others. 

We were frowned at for trying to capture this.  But we are just crazy Africans.  We cannot help ourselves! 

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an altered april

15 04 2015

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One gets used to the usual way things have always been done.  April was always the advance warning:  autumn shades would just begin, there might have been a bit of a nip in the air for a few mornings and there was not much chance of rain on my birthday. 

This year was not like that at all! 

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We have been getting used to seeing huge, or small chunks of ice come floating by.

We first watched how within a week the river opened up: first just a shimmer of water glistening through the snow and within a week a swathe of almost 300 meters of water was showing. 

Within just a few weeks we have seen amazingly positive signs:

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Friends we last saw in October have returned and are being seen all around the waters of our town. 

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Whooper swans and knipa (common Goldeneyes) are visiting us regularly. 

We have seen several new little birds too:  the siskins, chaffinch and green finches are around, and the sounds of singing from the forests are refreshing.  We have heard Tengmalm’s owl calling from our house too.  We do understand how blessed we are to be able to live where we do: on the Vojmån River, with forests around us, yet very near to town too. 

Another reason to be grateful is that my brother and his wife have moved about 600km closer and I got to see them twice over 2 weekends! 

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Easter weekend is all about FISHING and being outdoors up north. 

My brother is an avid fisher, and came up to where the waters are meant to be good for brilliant catching. 

We do not fish, but joined in on a FREEZING day to see how it  is done. 

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Drill holes.  (Super quick with motorised drill.  Through at least 40cm of ice on the lake.)

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Make sure the equipment is ready.  Yes, the rods are that small:  just about 20cm.  Maggots are used, as well as blinkers to catch the Really Good Stuff. 

The Really Good Stuff would be Arctic Char, Brown Trout, Rainbow Trout, Perch, Char… Apparently the waters around these parts are top fishing waters.  (yes, just another reason to come visit.  You can fish for brilliant species from our house front). 

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Go find a hole and get down to it. 

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It is not relished by all, equally.

But some go back over and over.  Ever after the Big One. 

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We far prefer getting out in the good weather, when that is around. 

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We joined some friends for other fun on the lake.  (This was 2 days before the fishing photos.  April weather is temperamental!)

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Getting towed behind a snow-scooter is great fun! 

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And then the fires are lit, sandwiches are grilled and sausages are charred.  Good chatting, great playing for kids on slopes and even a bit of lying in the sun… these moments sink down into the cherished experiences of our lives. 

April is all about enjoying the outdoors.  There are several hours of sunlight a day, the weather is not totally miserable (although we have had a few windy days) and there can be amazing sunshine, enough so that a person can get a tan. 

Even if there is no sun, that does not stop the Swedes!  Good clothes, a fire, some coffee and brisk activity and one can face ANY weather! 

Our school spent several hours at our local ski slope a few weeks ago.  Several students were slalom skiing or snowboarding.  But there was a big group, from the littlies to the oldest, who went on ‘madras’ ( a thick plastic coated small mattress) down the slopes, all together, wrapped in, around and through each other. 

This was some of the most fun I have had in AGES!  I do not trust myself on skis, and this way there was not far to fall.  We did land on top of each other, we lost control, we screamed in fun, and went over and over and over down the slopes. 

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(More pictures can be seen on the Strandskolan facebook group.)

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I had one of my best and must unusual birthdays too.  We had just a few friends for a typical SA braai (grill) in very untypical SA form! 

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But we had meat, pap, milktart… all good SA food. 

We also had arm-wrestling and neck massages for all!  Never had that at a birthday party, have you? 

See the neck rubbing in the photo above?  We have the best massagers around, often giving free treatments during coffee time at church!

And our town hosted the National Arm Wrestling Championships for Sweden over the weekend, so we had a few partygoers giving it a shot…

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And I got to see my brother and his wife again! 

I have made some of the most amazing friends, with so many experiences standing out for their uniqueness in this place. 

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I have also found my twin.  See how similar we are? 

It is a crazy relationship.  more like a daughter twin.  This special gal has become so dear to me!  This is Dianah, a student from Uganda, studying in Östersund.  We met at a youth conference where Deon was doing sound and have had regular contact, a few visits and a few parcels in between.  We share a birthday, and shared a party.  (you can keep her and her studies in your prayers.  And pray that it warms up enough for her sweet African legs to wear skirts and dresses soon…)

And a  day after we were enjoying superb sunshine outside, in sunglasses and short sleeves, the snows came down!  We had about 20cm or more of snow! 

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We are beginning to see (but not grasp at all!) really fickle weather.

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The other exciting news is the boat that Deon is helping to build.  He has always wanted to build a wooden boat.

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Our landlord wanted to build a boat too.  He had not done this before.  The landlord has been rather ill this year, so needs to take it easy.  He has an amazing workshed filled with tools.  He knows just the right places to get wood. 

This boat is a miracle story.  Neither Deon (or Bjorn, as the landlord has named him) or the landlord speak a common language.  Both are practical.  No plans were used for the boat, but hands held for dimensions.  Deon is getting to live a dream.  He is making a difference and impressing Swedes, who said it should not be done this way.  The landlord and his friends are most impressed at Bjorn’s cleverness and skill.

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We still find hundreds of challenges coming our way.  But we also find hundreds and hundreds of blessings to cheer us on.  The days are lighter, we see prayers being answered, and we have had some amazing fun.

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Maybe not as much fun as this rocking squirrel at our feeder? 

But grateful, glad appreciation for all our blessings. 

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figuring out the worth

8 04 2015

This week has been a pensive one for me.  We have been going through all our photos of our travels together to put a wall-hanging together. 

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We have some beautiful pictures from amazing places.  And we have said, over and over, how amazingly grateful we are for the beautiful things we have seen. 

But the beautiful places are full of PEOPLE. 

People who matter. 

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And I am amazingly grateful for the people we have had the chance to meet.  Sometimes so very briefly.  And sometimes we had a chance to be a part of lives for a little longer. 

I got to teach a few lessons at LivingStone University in Mbale. 

And oh, how those faces have come back to me this week.  Seeing the chairs,(similar to the toppled, blood stained ones in a dry Kenyan university) those eager faces, and knowing that there is so much potential sitting in those lives to make a difference in a place that really needs it… the emotions stir and the images get all jumbled together.

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I have a confession to make.  This week I have been a facebook stalker.  And a google trawler.  I have searched for names.  I have looked for pictures.  I have tried to find out about LIVES that these young people lived.  And above are a few of the faces that stood out.  Just look at the SMILES.  That girl on the top left, Lydia.  She is beautiful.  I see pride to be where she is.  And it is not what the west would consider a stately university.  Janet, the picture besides Lydia.  Look at the environment she is in, but see that deep joy shining from her.  Janet’s text message has gone viral.  She wrote of the danger they were in, and sent a final message of love to her people. 

The dapper young man holding… a Bible?  Valuable school books? Erick Ondari Nyabuto.  That is his name.  Possibilities.  Loved by family.  Hopeful. 

One of the people who has stuck out to me the most is the dude in the orange Tshirt.  Can you read the words there? They say “THE HOLY SPIRIT.  You can do it, He will help.”  This guy was not afraid to shine.  Dadley Mose, that is his name. He did not hide his faith, in a divisive environment, where religious tensions could be felt everyday.   He had almost 5000 facebook friends. (Go trawl through Dadley’s facebook page.  I wish I knew this guy in person.)  His aim was to change Kenya. 

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I believe that Dadley was one of those who stood up, tried to protect others.  And although he has no more days on this earth, I pray that the seed of his life and testimony will lead to life.  And maybe his life could still change Kenya.  And the world.

You see, this was not Just Another African Thing.  All those 142 lives had been God-breathed.  They had purpose.  They were loved.  One of the students had the entire village contribute funds to go study.  A mother sold two cows for another.  One parent wished that his child had failed school rather than go to university to be killed.

Education in Africa is HUGE.  It costs.  It may take days for a student to get to school: via bodabodas (motorbike taxis), daladalas (minivans, loaded with mattresses, suitcases and food for school) and even a good amount of walking.  

So the young lives paid a cost to get their education.  The families paid a price, not to have the hands that may have been needed for planting, harvesting, bringing in water, cleaning… life in Africa requires energy.  From all.  

And on that Thursday morning there was an ultimate cost.  The first place targeted was a prayer meeting.  At 5h30 am on a Thursday morning there were students praying.  I am sure that this was not a once off meeting.  If my experiences of Africa are right, these young people would have been praying every morning.  Early.  Paying a price in prayer. 

And when the gunmen came, they were not ashamed.  Apparently, if students could not recite the Shahida, or Muslim acknowledgment of faith, they were lined up and shot.  There was a price to pay.  I wonder how many KNEW the Shahida, knew the words to say… This northern area of Kenya had a very strong Muslim presence and all across East Africa Muslims and Christians grow up together, perhaps knowing the right words to say.

But they paid a price.  People who knew Muslim-committed words did not speak them.  Young lives spoke out their belief in Christ.  142 students lost their lives.  At least another 80 lie in hospital with gunshot injuries.  Because they paid a price.  Because they were students, seeking education.  Because they had faith in a Saviour.

My own experiences in life have given me a tiny glimpse into paying a price.  I was the kid all through school who felt the jibes and teasing for not being quiet about my beliefs.  My heart was pained but I never had my life threatened.

When I knew I was called to serve in a missions way, the choices were between a closed African country and India.  I went to India for 9 months.  I knew there was a price to pay.  We stayed in areas where believers, those coming from the west, were killed.  We were warned by our friends of particular times when the chances of attacks were higher. 

In Uganda, Deon’s life was threatened because he stood for what was right.  There were voices calling for his head to be chopped off.

These were tiny pictures of the threat that several face regularly just for believing. 

And the Spirit stirs in me this need to get the message out.  Are we really content with a lite version of faith?  Are we happy to be in our safe little worlds, where, if we are honest, there is no real price to pay? 

Jesus challenged those who would follow Him over and over.  He turned away a rich young man, because that man could not bear to pay the price. The disciples left all they had and followed.

How would this world be different if we really started to pay the price that faith is all about?  The hours spent really seeking God in prayer, for nations where violence for belief is an everyday thing.  If we paid the price in money for those who have needs around us.  If we were willing to move beyond Our Comfortable Lives to do those things, everyday, that true obedience to the Cross requires.

Jesus paid everything He had.

And I cling to my little comforts, like this is all that matters. 

It doesn’t. There is an eternity that far outlasts this flighty time we have. 

And I hear the words my granny said, that my daddy so often repeated too:

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If God speaks to you about obeying, paying, living for Him, please follow His prompting.  The rewards of obedience are soul-satisfying, and He takes you places you could never have imagined.

And please could you pray for those hurting in Kenya? For the parents still waiting several days later to know if that dear child of theirs is among the dead.  For the friends traumatised by being under siege for almost a full day.  For the many believers who now fear going to church, going to school, living their lives because it may put them in direct danger. 

Pray that believers may have wisdom to know how to live lives that bring forth fruit.  Fruit that lasts.  And that we may not be afraid to pay the price, so that the Kingdom may grow. 

I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat is planted in the soil and dies, it remains alone. But its death will produce many new kernels–a plentiful harvest of new lives.

John 12: 24 , NLT