Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas, everybody! We've been reflecting on this past year, amazed at where we are and what we are part of. I (Brooke) am, in particular, thankful for the opportunity to be living in community with an amazing, diverse group of people who share our desire to serve God by serving people. I have learned so much about hospitality and caring for your neighbor from so many who have cared for us this year--especially since returning from the U.S. in September. I expected it to get easier to be away from our friends and family during the holidays (this is our 3rd year away from home), but in some ways it's only gotten harder! Still, we are blessed to be part of a family here who loves us. I've also learned so much this year about compassion, trusting God, and about appreciating every day.

Christmas Eve afternoon we spent at Mac Mac pools, swimming, reading, and having a picnic lunch. Then last night we went to a Christmas play and had a late Christmas dinner with George and Carolyn and their kids plus Levy and Pragcidence. We went to church this morning, came home to clean up, now Jed is making candy cane cookies in anticipation of friends arriving this afternoon to eat and play games. The weather's been in the 90s all week, so we're really grateful to have clouds and cooler temps today. (Of course, we're dreaming of sounds like MN could stand to share some of theirs.)

Thank you all for your support this year. You have no idea how much your phone calls and emails and text messages and packages and blog/Facebook comments mean to us! Here is our Christmas present to you...we had so much fun making it! If you laugh even half as much as we have, we'll be thrilled.

Send your own ElfYourself eCards

Let it Snow

A week or so ago when Minnesota had that cold snap go through I started thinking back to when we first arrived in South Africa in July 2007. It was the middle of their winter and people were complaining about how cold it was. As a Minnesotan I would just smile and say if you think this is cold where I come from it can get to -40 and it will barely get above freezing for weeks at a time. They would look at me and shiver never really being able to understand what cold like that is really like. I suddenly realized I have become them. I can imagine what -20 is like, but it has been so long since I have felt it that I really can't comprehend it.

The one difference that there is between myself and my African neighbors is that I want it back. I want to feel the sting of the cold air filling up my lungs. I want my eyelashes to freeze together every time I blink a little too slowly. I want my cheeks to turn rosy red after standing outside for 10 minutes and after an hour in the cold just start to become numb. Then I would go rushing into the warming shack or sit by the fireplace or wood stove. Drop my hat and gloves on the radiator just long enough for them to dry out and run back out into the cold.

I don't understand why people would want to go on a destination Christmas to a warm, sunny place. Yesterday it was 90 today 88 tomorrow 84. The sun is shining the grass is green and it is Christmas? This year will be our third straight Christmas outside Minnesota and there is nothing I would rather have for Christmas than a foot or two of snow on the ground.

Brooke and I will be finishing up our time with Peace Corps in October next year. Let's see if I still feel the same way next Christmas, or an even better test if I still feel the same way in February, March and April.

I hope everyone has a great Christmas and gets a chance to feel the sting of cold weather!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

There's no place like home

It's hard to even believe. When we found out our Meggie was getting married, I was pretty crushed we were going to miss it. It's really a miracle that everything fell into place perfectly. Jed found an amazing deal with air miles...and there just happened to be a special where you got 50% extra on transferred miles...and Jed just barely had enough miles to stay under the transfer limit...and our families were incredible generous to "top us off" with miles. We'll be home May 13 - June 11, in time for Jed to fish before it gets too warm (shouldn't the opener be a few weeks later, honestly), in time to celebrate my 30th birthday with all of you, and in time for Megan and Blake's wedding on the 5th. See you then!

If you're disappointed that we're coming and you want to know who to blame, it's this girl! For those of you who don't know her, this is my cousin Megan Garrity. She's like a little sister to me and Kim, and she's marrying Blake Ellefson, a Hibbing guy that many of you know. (We love Blake too!) They're getting married at Elbow Lake Lodge, where Jed and I had our honeymoon. Isn't that cool?

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Looking for a good book?

I have read so many good books lately. (You can see all of them in the left margin.) But I enjoyed The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls so much I just feel like telling everybody I know. It's a memoir, and the author tells the story of growing up with parents who are odd, neglectful and nomadic, and the tone is incredibly honest. She certainly doesn't waste any time feeling sorry for herself. I'd highly recommend it!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Levy and Prag's Wedding

We celebrated the marriage of two of our Hands at Work family members on November 7th. What a beautiful day! The highlight was listening to their vows. To hear an African man stand in front of 100 people and declare his love and's very counter-cultural and oh so encouraging.

Pragcidence and Levy

George performed the ceremony. Here he is giving communion to Prag.

The Wedding Party

The wedding party changed into more traditional African clothing before the reception and danced in, Zambian style

Me and Jed

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Dust for Prints

What have you left your fingerprints on lately? I was listening to a sermon (if you have time click and listen) George Snyman, founder of Hands at Work, gave at Grace Church in Racine, WI last week. He said God has given you a fingerprint. It wasn't the central message of the sermon, but it got me to thinking.

When I think of fingerprints I see images of crime scene investigators with little brushes searching for a print a criminal may have left behind. I also am reminded that fingerprints are unique like snowflakes no two are the same. Investigators are looking for fingerprints because if they can a print they can try to match it to a database of criminals whose fingerprints are saved in computers all over the world.

The term fingerprints these days extends much farther than just an impression left behind from touching something. There are genetic fingerprints (your DNA code), computing fingerprints (uniquely identifying data) and many more. Did you know they can even tell if you are a smoker by your fingerprint? Apparently certain chemicals are secreted by your skin if you are a smoker. If they process the fingerprint a little differently a smokers fingerprint will glow under fluorescent light while a non smokers will stay dark. Crime scene investigators are learning more and discovering new techniques that can tell increasingly more about a person simply by the fingerprints they leave behind.

So the question is what have you left your fingerprints on lately? What story do your fingerprints tell? If someone comes after you and dusts for prints will you be ashamed or proud of what they find? We all have an opportunity daily to leave our fingerprints on something that matters, on something that makes a difference. Ask yourself, where are your fingerprints?

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Life at the Farm

So we are living up at the farm again. I know this is not new news to many of you, but here are some recent photos mixed in with some old photos!

From Farm

So the last time we lived up here our neighbors had a Jack Russel named Jack. Here is a picture of him playing (terrorizing) Buhle.

From 2009-11
Now we are living up at the farm and again our neighbors have a Jack Russel. This time it is a girl and her name is Joanna. Buhle likes having a companion and only gets really annoyed when we pay ANY attention to Joanna and not Bu.

From 2009-11

Of course some things never change they just get bigger!

The last time we lived up here they had started renovations on the main farm house as well. You can see they came a long way. And no more fence for Bu to get stuck in!

From Puppy

The farm is a great place to live. We love our new neighbors, but we also miss our old! For all of you who have lived up here over the past couple of years just know if there isn't room in the farm house there is always room on our floor!

Monday, November 9, 2009

George in MSP

George, the founder and CEO of Hands at Work, and a great friend of ours here in South Africa, will be in Minneapolis this Thursday (November 12). He'll be meeting with pastors at Hope Church in Apple Valley. That evening, you are all invited to Vision of Glory Lutheran Church in Plymouth at 7pm where George will share about the vision of Hands at Work. He's a captivating story-teller, so we want to encourage you all to go!

If you have questions, you can contact us or another friend of ours who is helping to organize the event, a former Hands at Work volunteer named Dara Hillstrom. You can reach her at 480-272-2742 or

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Two boys drown in ASM dam

I wasn't sure how to write or title this post. It starts with a tragic accident, but I found the discussion after the accident interesting. I am in no way trying to make light of the tragic accident. Please leave comments.

Two days ago two teenage boys drowned in the dam just outside the fence of ASM. A brother of one of the boys watched helplessly from the shoreline as the boat the boys were fishing in tipped over. The two boys most likely were not good swimmers and didn't make it the 50 feet or so from where their boat capsized to the shoreline. A few staff and students went out to try to help, but they couldn't find the two boys.

You can see how close the boat was to shore

Paramedics were called, but were also helpless as the bodies could not be found. A police diver was called in, but couldn't find the boys. They called off the search off late in the afternoon. The diver had only been in for about an hour and a half but didn't have the proper equipment to continue searching, and it would be getting dark soon. Many family and community members spent the night camped out around the dam (large pond).

Individuals in rural African communities are superstitious. Shortly after the boys died and partially because the bodies weren't found the rumors started about why/how they died. Some thought hippos had gotten them. This is not so far fetched. About 6 weeks ago there were two hippos living in the dam. Little known fact that hippos are responsible for more deaths than any other animal in Africa. But as I said it has been at least 6 weeks since the hippos left. Some thought mermaids lived in the dam and were upset that the boys were fishing with nets. Maybe a mermaid got caught in the net and pulled causing the boat to tip over? The most common idea was that a massive anaconda lived in the dam and pulled the two boys under and killed them. Another said the Ancestors were angry about recent break-ins in the area and were trying to tell the community to put a stop to it.

Divers in the boat getting ready to start Day 2 (you can see people climbing into trees in the background to get a better view)

Yesterday more divers were called in. They started searching around 11:30 and by 2:00 they had found both bodies. To me it looked as though the boys had drowned. Fairly simple answer. No animals, mystic creatures, or mystic beings. Although one could say the Ancestor theory would still stand. There is no proof that the Ancestors weren't responsible.

Cars stopped along the road to see what was going on

I doubt we will ever hear the end of the story. No cause of death will be shared with the hundreds of people there yesterday. Which, as in any culture, will lead to imaginative stories of, "how they really died." I guess we aren't much different in that way. Think of an old urban legend or a story from your childhood you were told about that, "scary place," or the, "abandoned house." Most legends start with some form of truth, maybe a tragic accident like this was. But it is that same tragic truth that makes the legend just believable enough.

People were lined up around the dam

I didn't compress this photo before uploading it. If you click on the photo you can see the enlarged original. (Caution: If you look closely behind the raft just poking out of the water you can see the head and hand of one of the boys being towed to shore)

Thursday, October 8, 2009

MN in pictures

Now that I'm back in the swing of things (with work, life in Africa, etc.), I think I'm ready to share a little more of our trip home. (Yes, it's been a long time coming, but it didn't feel right to go back until I had really left...sure, makes a lot of sense.)

Papa with Lilly Garrity, one of two new cousins, at Perch Lake

Close as my dad's gotten to being a grandpa so far...Kael Burkes is too funny. (Yes, he's asleep.)

How cool is it when family and friends come together? This is my auntie Debbie and brand new Lianna with Amber and Luci Bretto.

Newly engaged! Isn't Megan Kelly beautiful? Blake is a lucky guy! (Megs is pretty lucky herself.)

Papa's cabin is the greatest place on Earth

Jed with our new niece Amanda. Well, she's not that new (almost 18 months!), but we're certainly new to her. But we love her already!

Uncle Jed reading stories

My mom and dad's new house on Spirit Lake. Honestly, it was such a treat to be able to help them move. And what a beautiful place to live!

Fishing on Spirit Lake

Brothers and sisters--Jed with Jacob, Jodi, Josh, and Bobbie

Mom and Kim at the shack

We did so many fun things that we didn't get pictures of...golfing with Josh and Kathy at Giant's Ridge, supper with Aaron, meeting Bobbie's new husband Mark for the first time, eating Chipotle, burgers at the Grzybowski's, walking through Grandpa Rittgers garden and hearing about Roberta's latest projects, campfires and S'mores, playing 500 with Grandma Krumwiede, supper at Shelly's with Alison and the crew, the Twins game with Mike and Kim, supper at Auntie Debbie and Uncle Greg's, Jordan's birthday party, pizza at Ciao, seeing the Schleppe-girls at Perch, kicking back with a Labatt, playing with Shanti, hanging with Beth, Andrea and Brianna, four saunas, releasing Dad's Chinese lanterns, and so much more. Wow! We have been incredibly blessed.

Thank you all for loving us and supporting us so generously. We love you!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Catching our breath

Hi guys! Just a quick note to let you know that we weren't able to leave for Zambia on Sunday as planned. We're waiting to get our passports back, because they're in Pretoria so that our South African visas can be renewed.

Life is good here. We've moved back to our old apartment at the Farm (our 7th move in 26 months). It's a good thing and a bad thing, but we're just happy it's a long term thing. No more moving, please!

Jed's getting into his new role working with the International Team. (Sounds kind of funny when I say that, like it's a large operation. It's a team of 4 now.) They're responsible for the Hands at Work website, marketing material, the Facebooke cause and fan page, and relating to our offices in the US, Canada, Australia, the UK, and South Africa. He's really enjoying it, and it's much less stressful than coordinating the new volunteers.

I'm struggling to keep up with my work supporting Zambia. There's so much going on! Planning to do and funding coming in, project proposals and reports to review, and seemingly endless numbers of emails to get through. I love it though.

Our time away reminded me how much I appreciate living in community with such a great group of people. What a privilege to live and work with volunteers from SA, Canada, the US, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Holland, and the UK. You can't live and work together and remain just friends. These people have seen the best of us and the worst of us, and they've still chosen to love us. We are family.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Back in SA and I don't mean Super America

Well, after spending 5 weeks with family and friends in the "states" we are now back with Hands at Work in South Africa. We had a blast back home! Thanks to everyone who made our time at home so special. It went by too quickly though. There are many of you who we didn't get to see, and for that I apologize. Before we left South Africa to head home it felt like 5 weeks would be enough time to see everyone we know, but the time just kept slipping away. Just like sands in an hour glass...

For those of you that came to our Hands at Work presentation the night before we left, I would like to say thank you. It was great to be able to share what Hands at Work and Brooke and I have been doing for the past two years. It was also a great shift into getting ready to head back to South Africa for one more year. Our new close of service (COS for you RPCVs) is now October 14, 2010. As Brooke and I were sharing about many of our challenges and successes at the presentation we gave it got both of us excited about coming back. Then we remembered the 36 hours of flights and 5 hours of riding in cramped vehicles.

Our flights were long, but uneventful (just a 1 hour delay before our flight to Amsterdam.) We got to the Hibbing airport around 5:30am on Tuesday morning and arrived in Johannesburg at 9:30pm on Thursday night. Peace Corps had sent a driving service to pick us up and take us to a backpackers in Pretoria. We spent Thursday and Friday saying goodbye to many Peace Corps friends in Pretoria. Our original end date was September 14, 2009 and so many volunteers were preparing to head back to the US for good. Because we had just been there many people were asking questions like: How have things changed; how's the economy affecting things; what food did you eat first when you got off the plane (answer: Chipotle!). We also got to ask them questions about how they were feeling about going home for good, and how did things go wrapping up their time at their sites; what do they have planned for when they get home. All important stuff we will have to go through in the next year. It was great to see everyone, but bittersweet knowing that we were losing much of our Peace Corps support staff. Luckily, we have so many great people that we get to work with daily at Hands at Work, phone calls from family and friends, visits from family and friends (hopefully!), and of course the internet!

We will try and continue to post often (hopefully more often than lately). We miss everyone back home already, but two years went by quickly and we just have one more to go!

Friday, September 4, 2009

Presentation in Hibbing

Hi Hibbing-ites! Anybody who's in town on Tuesday is welcome to come here a short presentation we're giving about our experiences in Africa.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Community Room
Lower Level
Duluth Clinic in Hibbing

All are welcome!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

North Shore

We've had so much fun back home in the last month! Here's a few pictures from a weekend we spent on the North Shore of Lake Superior with Jed's family, celebrating Jed's parent's 40th wedding anniversary.

Split Rock Lighthouse

Wally and Pam celebrating 40 years of marriage

Nephews around the campfire


Uncle Jed, the best jungle gym around

Family photos

Friday, July 31, 2009

A few days back in SA

It was a looong trip back from Zambia Wednesday and Thursday that went something like this: wait for the bus, ride the bus to Lusaka, take a taxi to "lodge", sleep, wake up early for taxi ride to airport, fly, ride another bus, try to smile at the new volunteers also being picked up, ride in the car home. All together, that took about 31 hours. Let's just say I'm not looking forward to Tuesday and Wednesday's travel to the U.S., which will cover many more miles.
It was a GREAT trip to Zambia...the best time I've spent yet in Kabwe. Here are a few highlights:

Spending time with Doris. Her husband Charles works for Hands at Work and their family is amazing. She has three boys, so she was thrilled to have some girl time. We drank tea and talked a lot and laughed at the boys. I've never been so comfortable in a Zambian's home. Thanks, Doris!

My visit to Baraka, which I already told you about. Here are a few of the children I met there.

The Hands at Work team in Kabwe (clockwise from left): Melody, Charles, Luckson, me, Lawrence, and Violet. What a great, dedicated bunch they are!

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Coming home, and more about Zambia

It's true, we're coming home. We found out less than a week ago that Peace Corps has booked our flights for 5 weeks at home. Presumably, that means our extension has been approved! We'll land in Hibbing on August 5 and return September 9. Can't wait to see you all. It's been TOO long!

I'm in a lodge near Kabwe this morning, awaiting the arrival of a team of 8 nurses from the U.S. We'll have lunch together and have a little orientation. They'll be telling the story of their mission trip online, following a similar group of nurses who visited earlier in the month. It's a great website if you can check it out.

I traveled all day Tuesday to get here. Wednesday I spent time in the office fixing computer issues and training a new administrator. Thursday, I mentioned, I visited Baraka. Friday was spent planning for the rest of the year. We have so many plan around Kabwe, but the highlights are training for all 7-9 of our community-based organizations on how to care for orphaned and vulnerable children--how to do parental home visits to care especially for child-headed households. Many of the communities we're working in now have access to free ARVs for HIV+ people, so our focus is shifting from visiting sick patients to visiting the children whose parents have died.

Sometimes when I talk about home visits, I'm struck by how basic it the idea is, to get into children's homes and really care for them like parents. But it's really not. Just consider that there are lots of hurting kids in Hibbing; it's not always easy to tell who needs help unless you get into their home (through relationship) and really get to know what's happening there. It's the same in Africa, except the problem is magnified. There are children who have stood by the graves of both of their parents, who are left alone all day to care for younger siblings, who have no one. It's so easy for their neighbors to continue living life, not noticing the hurt that his there and the desperation. People are everywhere, and yet these children are incredible alone. A neighbor coming into their home, spending time with them, really listening, teaching them basic life skills like cooking and cleaning, washing clothes, asking them how school is...showing compassion--it can transform the world for that child.

The Bible couldn't be more clear in it's mandate that the Church cares for the vulnerable in their communities, and Zambians are responding to overwhelmingly to that call. People are sharing what little they have with those who need it most. Those words don't capture how incredible it is to see someone who isn't sure where tomorrow's meal will come from, share the little they have with their neighbor. It blows me away.

I'm learning so much! I'll be up in Luanshya for a few days, then back to SA on the 30th. That only leaves me a few days to pack and get ready for a month home. Wow! It sure is coming fast!

Friday, July 24, 2009

Brooke in Baraka

Just a quick update from Zambia to say all is well.  It’s a quick 9 day trip, but it’s my first time going alone.  (I miss you, Jed!)  Yesterday I went out to a little village called Baraka.  When I asked how many people lived there, I was told “991 after deaths.  We used to have 999 but a few people have died so I counted again last week.”  I met a man who has organized a community school there, where he and 3 other volunteers teach 125 children Grade 5 and under.  The nearest government school is 7km away.


I’ll try to post a photo if I can get to an Internet cafe. 


Much love,

__________ Information from ESET NOD32 Antivirus, version of virus signature database 4272 (20090724) __________

The message was checked by ESET NOD32 Antivirus.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Pam and Jed

Aren't they cute? This photo is way overdue, since Pam's been home for weeks, but I just like it so much I wanted to share it with you. We had such a good time with Pam here. She really shares our heart for Africa, and it was such a blessing to be able to show her why we love it here. We love you, Pam!

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Happy Birthday, Kristal!

Our friend Kristal turned 23 yesterday, and what a celebration we had! [Happy birthday, Kristal! We love you so much. Thanks for your encouragement and for laughing with us!] You can tell we love Kristal, because who else could convince Jed to dress up like a pirate and actually show himself in public?! Enjoy...

The birthday girl

Brooke and Jed

Argh! (Yes, Jed is wearing an earring)

The full ensemble--impressive, no?