Sunday, November 20, 2011

The joy of cooking

When we moved to Congo, we brought only 1 cookbook: More with Less. This cookbook had already become a friend, both for its philosophy and for its recipes with simple, natural ingredients. I did not know exactly what foods would be available in Kananga, and I must admit that I did not expect the complete dearth of familiar spices, which made cooking comfort food a real challenge! Fortunately, Inge Sthreshley bequeathed a copy of The Babula Cookbook to us, which gave hints of how to use local vegetables in familiar ways.


There were many days when I poured over More With Less, looking for the recipes that would work for us. Imagine—excluding all recipes that require an oven or the common American ingredients like cheese, green peppers, cream of mushroom soup, or boneless chicken breasts. Fortunately, More with Less is written by Mennonites living in all kinds of remote areas – perfect for “from-scratch” cooking, with lots of meatless options. So, I worked my way through the cookbook, marking the date and ranking how well we liked it. I imagined myself reenacting the movie Julie & Julia, with the stark contrast of our settings and the resulting meals.

We learned, gradually, that okra is a very flexible vegetable, and substitutes well for other vegetables like green peppers, broccoli, and carrots, that we don’t have in Congo. Gwenda Fletcher introduced me to the vegetable sellers that have “foreign” vegetables, like spinach, eggplant, and occasionally green beans. I also learned, through trial and lots of error, to cook rice on charcoal, where there is no “simmer” option. On our vacation to Morocco last year, we stocked up on several spices and bags of lentils, and some friends brought us some soy sauce from Kinshasa. So—now we really did have options! Some of our favorite recipes have been Egyptian rice and lentils, huevos rancheros, sweet and sour soybeans, and potato soup. We have also come to enjoy homemade macaroni and cheese and corned beef sloppy joes (as long as you are not expecting the same flavor as you would in the U.S.!).


Bob makes pancakes on the babula – a Saturday morning tradition!

We enjoy local cuisine in Kasai, but we come from a culture that practices culinary variety. So, while we appreciate local food and even eat it at home in Kananga, if we tried to eat it every day we would quickly lose our appreciation for it. So, we continue to explore ways to cook healthy, tasty meals that don’t take too many hours to prepare! One new acquisition during this visit to the US has been a very sturdy kerosene stove –hopefully easier to start and regulate the temperature on than charcoal! We got the stove from Lehmans, who is a major supplier for the Amish – perfect match for our environment in Kananga!

During these months in the U.S., I have been thrilled to get the chance to cook with all the ‘modern conveniences’ like an oven, a refrigerator, and an American grocery store down the street. We have perhaps enjoyed cooking and eating a bit too much here, since we have gained back all the weight we lost in our lean Congo lifestyle. Ah well…at least it is one sign of returning health!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Whispers from God

Bill Hybels, pastor of Willow Creek Church in South Barrington IL, writes “Without a hint of exaggeration, the ability to discern direction has saved me from a life of sure boredom and self-destruction.  God’s well timed words have redirected my path, rescued me from temptation and re-energized me during some of my deepest moments of despair.”  In his book The Power of a Whisper (Hybels, 2010), Hybels gives powerful witness and testimony that God continues to speak to His children today. 


Since August, I have visited several doctors and had more tests done on my body than any other period in my life.  At times, this process has felt quite helpful and hopeful; at other times I have felt exasperated and hopeless.  The biggest challenge, medically speaking, has been hearing a diametrically different message from a few select doctors we have seen.  These mixed messages have led to consternation and confusion. 


In the midst of this confusion and befuddlement, I have found solace in a God who continues to speak to His children.  Almost everyday over the last several weeks I have taken a walk along the Belmont Slough in Foster City, CA.  The Belmont Slough is a narrow, winding channel of water creating one of many marshlands next to the San Francisco Bay.  Along this particular slough is a wonderful trail for walking, running, and bicycling.  There are also many benches from which one can watch egrets, ducks, seagulls, and once in a while a lost seal. 


view of birds, reeds  birds


Most days, between noon and two in the afternoon, when few others are out, I will take a meditative stroll.  Recently I have been stopping and resting on a bench where I simply asked God to “whisper” to me.  As I enjoy the sunshine and a gentle breeze, God, in His faithfulness, has given me messages of encouragement.  One time I believe I heard God say to me, “I will never leave you.  I will never fail you.  Take me at my word.  I am yours.  I will never let you go.”  Another time I believe I heard God say to me, “My loving-kindness is for you.  You are my son, with whom I am well pleased.”  Still a third time I believe I heard God say, “I am your King.  I am your Father.  Follow me and know my ways.  Serve me and be blessed.”  Upon hearing these messages (in my spirit), I meditate upon them as I continue walking along the slough.  Always, I have felt uplifted, remembered by God, and more fully loved.  The angst and worry of doctors’ appointments and mixed messages evaporates as God reminds me of His constant love. 


This last week was particularly trying.  After meeting on Tuesday with a specialist who seemed at odds with what I have read and what I believe my body is telling me, I felt wholly perplexed and unsure of myself and what to do.  Thursday morning I took a long walk along the slough where I again found solace and peace.  Though I didn’t feel any specific message in my spirit, God’s goodness and love flooded over me as I enjoyed His wonderful creation.  I had the sense that things would work out, that God would give me the wisdom I need, and that ultimately God would bring healing to my body.     

birds on water  shadow

As God spoke to His servants Abraham, Moses, David, Jesus (His Son), and so many others, God is faithful to speak to His children today.  There are many ways which God continues to speak.  May our hearts be open to the message God has for us.  God is so good! 


The Lord appeared to us in the past, saying: “I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving kindness” (Jeremiah 31: 3).