No matter the slowly healing torn ligaments, the wheelchair, the walker, the pain, the anger at being unable to help, or to take care of simple things like making myself lunch—I am happy. I am healing. I am surrounded by people who love me and a wife who loves me deeply and will do anything to make my happiness complete. John is in Dar Es Salaam doing computer work to finance his rural solar projects and calls every morning to talk. He’s happy, so I’m happy. My sons in the U.S. are happy, too, and I get to see pictures and videos of my grandchildren, and watch Formula One races with my oldest son on a video chat so we can talk about the race as it happens. He has commercials to deal with and I don’t, so I tell him what is happening when he can’t see, and when the rain (we are in the rainy season) messes up my television, he provides commentary on the race. It works well for both of us and keeps us close. It makes me happy. When one of our workers is sick or has a sick child or spouse, they get free medical care and medicine as well as prayers from us—which makes us happy when they get treatment and get well. Shaban’s wife is in the hospital right now with a bad case of malaria and his son is also sick with it, but we are taking care of things and paying all the bills—which makes us happy because we can help.
Helping others makes us happy. We hear the laughter and the singing from the orphans we are feeding and educating every day—which makes us happy. Karen is working every day on her “Chicka Chicka Boom Boom” projects and that makes her happy (and me) even though the rain is making the paint take forever to dry. You need to Google “Chicka Chicka Boom Boom” as it’s a great book you may want for your children or children of friends—you heard it here and you can see and hear it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bhKmoI97X34
It also makes us happy to see our workers gaining weight because in this culture that is a sign of being blessed by God. Isn’t being a bit overweight a good thing where you live? If not, you oughta be here. This culture rewards being fat or at least being a plus size because it means you have enough money to buy more food than just what you grow in your garden. You automatically become upper middle class if your middle is thicker than those around you. It also means you aren’t sick, as people with AIDS grow thin and malnutrition also keeps you skinny. One of my ministerial colleagues from Arkansas claimed that the only reason I moved to Africa was because here a fat, white man was like a god. Of course that was not the reason I came to Tanzania . . . but it is one of the perks. I’ve lost about thirty pounds since I came back from Nairobi, and while I feel a lot better, it makes the locals worry about me. Several years ago, I once told a Tanzanian friend that I needed to go on a diet. He looked at me incredulously and said, “Why?” It is hard to gain a lot of weight here since almost all the food is organic, free range, and free from preservatives and chemicals. There is also no fast food, so everything has to be cooked and planned in advance. No pizza, no McDonald’s, no Ben & Jerry’s, no Lay’s potato chips, no dips, no way to spend the day snacking and grazing. There are Coca-Cola’s, but they are in small bottles that have to be returned, no Big Gulps or Icees and no Dairy Queen or ice cream parlors. Absolutely no food that can be delivered. If you want meat, you have to be at the butchery early in the morning and there are no cuts you would recognize, just lumps of meat that has to be cut and cleaned. Rice and beans have to be cleaned as well, so no Minute Rice. With none of the easy ways to put on pounds readily available, it makes gaining weight a measure of your success. It also makes us happy There is a store in Mwanza (about three hours from here) that sells canned goods and on rare occasions will have a turkey or a ham, but in eleven years here we have had three hams and four turkeys (at a cost of about $50 each). We did teach our cook how to make french fries (called “chips” here), so you can gain weight if you work at it, and if your wife lets the cook make you chips more than twice a month. We really don’t suffer and eat healthy meals with no snacking. Our meat is so lean that if we grind it to make hamburgers, we have to find ways to make it stick together. Lots of recipes call for you to use the fat left over from meat and things that we just don’t have. We have shelter, food, people who love us and pray for us (my doctor thinks of me as his brother—a high compliment), and, according to a government official, a community that calls us “beloved family.” So, no matter that we have no McDonalds, no Eddy’s ice cream, and we have to sleep under mosquito nets—we are happy.
I am happy, Karen is happy, and John is happy. We have answered God’s call and hope He is happy, too. If you’re doing what God has called you to do and you love it, you are not working, you are not sacrificing, you are living full. Did you understand that we are happy? You can still send us packages, though. That also increases our happiness—just don’t put too much value on the mailing label. We love all of you and wish you are as happy as we are.