Thursday, June 30, 2016

Cross At Own Risk

They say it was less than 40 kilometers in distance, but 2.5 hours later we were just arriving. Literally over the river (the sign said "Cross bridge at own risk"), and through the words (or the bush, complete with herds of goats), we arrived at Sanga Sanga, an easily forgotten church in the Mission District of the ELCT of Morogoro. 

As we stepped out of the car, we were greeted by a choir of women singing praises and men who were eager to shake our hands. (I somehow found the thorn bush and therefor spent the first few minutes picking small thorns out of my skirt, with the help of the mommas who laughed at me the whole time. Of course I would find the lone bush...) We were quickly ushered into the church as we listened and watched the choirs sing and dance, all while sneaking curious glances in our direction. (We totally snuck them, too) 

As the worship began, about 30 had gathered. Mostly women. Some children. Maybe 3 or 4 men. It was a sweet service. The German (we let him go by Pastor yesterday) led the service with grace and ease- teaching those gathered a hymn in Masaai (something I've never seen done before) and using a felt board to captivatingly tell the Gospel of the day (also a first). As time went on, the voices in the church grew and grew, as more came to join. At one point, I turned around and 15+ were even huddle just outside the doors. By the end of the service, the church was mostly filled and many men had come. 

As the formal service came to a close, the room began to buzz with energy. Though the rest of the group was unaware of what was coming, I could tell by the motion around me what was next. As we sat there waiting, the men took a quick leave to then return with sticks. I knew what was happening- they were going to dance for us. And dance they did! Booming and rhythmic song echoed in the brick building as 20+ Masaai men invited us into their world of traditional dance and song. As they finished and cheers surrounded the building, the women began to shuffle. Not just one, but two special shows! Again singing, jumping, and some (as Becky put it) sexy shoulder moves, were offered up. In all of the services I've been to over the years, I've never seen anything like this. It was absolutely incredible. 

When the celebrations and services finished- then we painted. 
Oh boy did we paint. 
Anytime you give a Masaai a roller, you know it's going to be good! 

And now- picture time! 

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Authentic Invitation

25 plates. 
Full plates. 
Very very full plates. 
11 people. 
6 of us, 5 new friends. 

How could we eat all of this? 
It was simply impossible. 

Until it wasn't because we had three Masaai and a German with us, as well as a newly recovering vegetarian who basically ate his weight in beef. I can't tell you the name of the "restaurant" because it was tucked behind the busy road, had plastic chairs and tables sponsored by Pepsi, no walls or solid floors, and no overhead lighting. A real gem. A delicious, awesome, authentic, meat-tastic, gem. 

There's something magical about experiencing the world around you in authentic and real ways. It reminds us that we are all connected to each other- and so often we're invited to and connected at the table. It reminds me of Jesus and his persistent invitation Over and over again we have been invited to enter into the sacred spaces of people's lives. For that we are so grateful. 

Today was a wonderful day. 
The pictures can tell the story much better than I can. 
Tomorrow we travel to a Masaai Village for worship and partnership through painting. We are so excited! 

Enjoy the day in pictures! 

(Lecture classroom at the beginning of the day and at the end. What a difference a day makes!)

Monday, June 27, 2016

Doin' the Lord's Work

Day 3. 
We have Internet! 

It feels as if the words are hard to find to fully describe what we're feeling. This place, my beloved Tanzania, is so special. The people are full of life and energy. The smells and sounds are so vivid. The movement is peaceful, welcoming, and kind.

We arrived in Morogoro at Luthernan Junior Semianry on Saturday morning around 7:00. Well timed even, as breakfast was just set out. You see- time in Tanzania is an experience in patience. Everything is late. Everything. Except for the food schedule at LJS. Fueled by European and American residents, it's the one thing you can always count on to be on time. #fastestwaytoourhearts. #welovefood 

After dumping all our bags, we enjoyed the fresh baked bread and sausage (hotdogs) as well as the best jam in the whole world in the dining hall. It wasn't too long after we finished breakfast that we set up our ENO's (hammocks) in the yard, took showers, and tried to pull ourselves together after the 24+ hours of travel.

Since those few moments of recovery Saturday morning, we've been in full "go" mode! 
In the last 3 days we've: 
1. Met a German Pastor who loves chocolate, wool pants, church hymns, Josh Groban, and has pretty much had us laughing non-stop. 
2. Fueled the Tanzanian economy by way of currency exchange
3. Learned that Tanzanian "home improvement" stores aren't anything like Home Depot- but they do have paint
4. Purchased enough fabric to cover the state of North Carolina and employed a local clothes maker for the rest of his life- all while putting a week time limit on the order 
5. Climbed in a Boaboab tree. Mostly unsuccessfully. 
6. Found cow patties while touring the seminary grounds 
7. Attended a worship where we understood nothing until we realized our names were being called 
8. Celebrated a 30th Birthday with cake and cat stickers
9. Warmed up our painting skills at Kristen and Tisho (missionaries) home. 
10. Got excited over soccer at a local restaurant while eating Simosas
11. Started and finished painting and cleaning up a classroom at LJS. 
12. Ate Ice Cream with the German who played us Masaai music videos 
13. Stargazed on a field AND saw a shooting star 
14. Played with a Herbert who can eat more than three of us combined
15. Learned that Becky is the wisest woman we know. We now turn to her for all important life advice. #wheelerswordsofwisdom 

There's so much more to share. 
There always is. 
But the day has been long and full of hard work and these eyes of mine can simply stay awake no longer. Internet willing, I'll post more (and some pictures hopefully!) tomorrow. 

Lala Salaama 

(Please excuses this awkward picture. We've been so busy doin' the Lord's work we've forgotten to take pictures!)

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Part One: When my hiccups become OUR hiccups

I wrote this the first day we were in Tanzania on our Honeymoon. 
I dind't post it. 
I didn't have internet. 
Then I got home and I still didn't post it. 
I'm not sure why. 
So I'm doing it now. 

Enjoy Part One of our adventure. 
I'll be uploading the others as we go. 


It wasn't until we were standing at the counter at Dulles in DC, after a 5 hour drive and dinner with my family, that I pulled them back out. A frazzled counter worker snatched the small blue books from my hand and started typing feverishly. I looked over at The Hubs and exchanged an anxious yet excited smile. Without warning, she shoved my old, worn, and well traveled passport back at me. Confused, I took it from her as she said, "You can't go." 

Traveling as a Mrs. 
When my hiccups become OUR hiccups. 

About 2 months ago, The Hubs and I sat there trying to figure out what the right choice was. To renew or not to renew. With a wedding coming up in just 2 short months, and a name change to follow, it didn't totally make sense to renew my passport under my current name. However, it only had 6 months left till expiration and I wasn't sure if the Tanzanian Embassy would issue me a VISA with less than the typical 6 month validation period. After tossing back and forth several ideas, even thinking about having a secret wedding before our October 10th date to make it legal for documentation purposes, I decided to write a letter to send along with our applications explaining our situtation to the TZ Embassy. In three short days, our passports were returned, both with VISAs; though a special note was made on mine noting the shortened length of my allowed days. 

I gently tucked away our Passports in a green folder next to my desk for the next 2 months and waited. When we packed, two days early (what is happening to me?! Packing early?!) I placed the folder safely in my backpack. 


Seeing the panic in my eyes, and the tears in John's (his heart is the best. #luckygirl) a man with a kind smile came to help the situation. He explained the 6 month travel rule and I tryed to link together enough words to explain our situtation. I showed him the VISA and our travel plans. He showed me the rules. We both understood each other. We both had limited options. His- to call Tanzania Immigration to get approval to let me fly; mine, to wait.

As I stood there running through all the possible scenarios: refunded tickets, a domestic flight change/honeymoon, expedited passport service, hostage situation... the man with the kind smile came back and said, "It's okay." 

Praise Jesus. 
Like a lot. It was about to get nasty up in there. And by nasty I mean like three-year-old meltdown and tantrum. That would have just been embarrasing. And The Hubs may have started to rethink his life choice that is only a week old. 

The rest of our travel has progressed with only small incident. 
I got felt up in security and my hands tested for bomb residue. 
The Hubs had to get bag checked for the secret stash. 
My canckles are in full force. 
And the first flight was like a sauna. 

The second flight gave us more room to move, Cherry cake, and double pillows.
And The Hubs has talked soccer with a nice man from Senegal. 
I also keep seeing adorable Tanzanian babies. 

Ain't nothing gonna hold us back! 

But most importantly- we've landed! 
I'm here. 
We're here. 
The Norris' are here. (that's still weird to say)

Thursday, April 2, 2015

What a story to be told

And then He broke bread. 
Tomorrow He will die. 
And three days later He will rise again. 

What a story to be told. 
As I come to the end of my Lenten journey, I pause for the next few days to remember and engage in the journey to the cross. 

The Lord is with Us. 

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Best of Harkins Happenings: Bouncing Back

By some stroke of good fortune I was placed in the front row. 
Not First Class, but the section right behind. 
You know the row I'm talking about- the one with the little bit of extra leg room, and a nice view of the curtain that separates you from the more 'luxurious' passengers. 
But more importantly the row that allows for you to faithfully and intently watch every other passenger load the plane because you literally have nothing else to look at. 
That row. 
I was put in that row of my Boeing 747. 

As I sat there, tucked (un)comfortably in the middle seat next to a Tech Savvy man and a Beverly Hills Grandma, I watched. 
Person after person loaded the plane. Many boarded. All types accounted for. 
Country Folk. 
City Type. 
Soccer Mom. 
Impatient Father. 
Annoyed Sister. 
Oblivious Child. 

One woman, with a rather prominent derrière waited patiently for her turn to take her seat as people tried to shove their oversized bags into the less than accommodating overhead bins. Following close behind (no pun intended) her was a young boy, we'll call him Little Man, no more than 3 years old. Bright eyed and full of wonder, at what I can only imagine to be his first plain ride, he was more than preoccupied with all the sights, people and smells. Obviously in complete wonderment by everything that was around him, beside him, behind him, above him, he could not be bothered to watch what was ahead of him. 

That's when I saw it happen. 
There's no way she could have seen it coming, but then again, neither did he.  

Looking everywhere but in front of him, Little Man's bright eyed face made FULL contact with the fully present derriere in front of him. I mean FULL contact. Had her butt been a sponge, Little Man's nose would no longer be with us today. Due to what I can only describe as 'elasticity,' the boys face did not stay planted on the backside of the woman in front of him. No. Instead he did a sort of bouncing trick with the force of a strong trampoline. Obviously a little shocked by the contact, he turned to look at his parents behind him for some sort as reassurance or affirmation. I imagine at that point his reaction would be based off of theirs. However, they were so engrossed with pointing to their seats and checking ticket assignments against the labeled rows, that they missed the entire scene. With no reaction from his parents, Little Man turned back around and continued to wait in line. Quickly distracted by something on his left, Little Man engaged his full attention. In doing so though, he seemed to forget to yet again disengage his little rhythmic feet and marched his way right back into Wonderbuns! 

Again, he turned to look at his parents. And again, they could not be bothered! 
It was only after Little Man made a third contact with the elastic buns that his mother caught a glimps of what was going on. Obviously embarrassed by hers son's inventive groping tactics, she pulled him close to her by his shoulders and didn't let go. But it was too late, many had witnessed and polite giggles began to resonate in the first few rows of that loaded 747. 

Though maybe somewhat of a stretch, I think there's actually a lot to be learned from Little Man and Wonderbuns. 
1. The world is a big place. There's lots going on around us, beside us, behind us, above us, and obviously in front of us. What a gift we have been given, that even in the simple task of loading a plane, there is so much to take in. IF we take the time to actually look around us.  

2. If we get too focused in once place, we might miss something very important that God has so graciously placed right in plain sight.

3. When we hit a wall along the way, we can trust that we will be able to bounce back. God has created us to survive. To adapt. To look at the people around us, judge their reactions, and continue forward. And if we just so happen to hit that same wall again, hopefully we'll learn something in the process. 

4. And if all else fails and we just can't seem to stop face planting, we can always retreat to the comfort of a protective and loving God who, though maybe a little embarrassed, will hold us close as we continue to engage with the world from the protection of the one who loves us. 

5. A plush derriere is far more useful than a flat one. 

He leaned over and whispered quietly, "will you come with me?"

"Are you nauseous?" 
"Not yet." 
"Fair enough." 

There's something sacred about being a friend. About being let into the depths of someone else's mess. About being invited to a place of vulnerability. About experiencing the seasons of life alongside someone. The darkness. The light. The doubt. The hope. 

As we sat in that waiting room, multiple times I fought back the emotions that crept up within me. While he sat next to me, breathing peacefully and resting his eyes, "Get it together, Emily" echoed over and over again in my head. Though the uncertainty that loomed beyond those doors was not my own, it was hard to separate the feelings that circulated between us. While the ambiguity of what happens next was solely for him, as his friend, I couldn't help but be overwhelmed by the sense of urgency and desperation that he felt. 

Two and a half hours into our waiting room time, finally his name was called. As he began to stand up, he leaned over and whispered quietly, "will you come with me?"  Humbled by the invitation, I stumbled to my feet and searched for the counselors nod of approval. A stern "You'll have to sign paperwork" trailed off as he led us into the well-let, sparsely decorated office. 

For the next two plus hours, I sat there as my friend shared every intimate detail of his past. After 25 years of addiction, today he waited in a lobby searching for the first glimpse of what is next. He answered each question in his own style. A hint of sarcasm mixed with the sting of full disclosure. From time to time he would look at me and flash a grin while rolling his eyes. While my heart ached for him as he relived the details of what led him to this place, I rejoiced in the little gestures that reminded me that he's going to be okay. 

When they got to the questions about symptoms and detox, I laughed out loud as the counselor was thrown off by his quick wit and sarcasm. 
"Are you nauseous?"
"Not yet." 
"Fair enough." 

That's my boy!
That's. My. Boy. 

Tonight as I keep awake one last time during this Overflow Shelter season, I find myself nearly without words at the amount of love that has radiated from this holy place in the last four months. The amount of access we have been given into the daily and real struggles of our friends. No longer can we surrender to the idea of us and them. You see- that's the thing about love- once it's planted, it can't help but grow. And grow it has done. And it's been messy. And it's been hard. But it's been worth it. Because love is always worth it. 

So while we celebrate the end of a successful run as an emergency overflow shelter, there is a bitterness in knowing that tomorrow will still come. And tomorrow homelessness will still exist. But tomorrow, love will also remain.

By the end of tomorrow, and the Grace of God, My Boy will officially be admitted, desperately holding onto the promise of something more. But he wont be alone. Because it's been planted. All the loves have been planted. I have been planted. And truly, there is sacredness in being planted together.