I recently posted an article on my writers’ group blog, Writers in Residence about “Turning Experiences into Stories” (http://bit.ly/2cTsCu0) and included in that post a story; the first and shortest in a series I’m writing for children. Since then, several people have asked to read the other stories in the series. Since I send these out to about a dozen kids (7-11) at my church via email, personalizing each and inserting 2-6 photos individually in each separate correspondence, I cringed to think about sharing them all in this way in any great number.
Friends have suggested I turn them into chapters in an eBook, but that sounds like a lot of hassle and I’d rather spend my time writing the stories and not “marketing” them. I believe God gave me this idea and talent as a ministry to do for Him, so to “profit” by them… well, it seems wrong. But we’ll see – maybe sometime. I’ll wait for His leading on that. I have printed the series in simple booklet form for a few special individuals, but that would get quite costly in quanity.
So, I decided I would simply post the first seven “Missionary Kids Stories” here, on this site. (Believe me; I agonized over many of them in my “Morning Meditations” time with the Lord!)
The characters came easy – seven children (2-15 years old) in a Missionary family living in Malawi, Africa. Their backstories and personalities were fun to create, although sometimes “they” dictated just what they wanted to be. Since I have been on three short-term mission teams to Malawi, I’ve observed and learned a lot, and photographed a good deal. (I am a former photo-journalist.) I listened to the missionaries talk about the people, animals, insects, cultural differences, living conditions, personal problems, and the things they experienced in their own daily life (some very funny). This was enough of a “spark” to get me started on the stories.
But my goal to “glorify” God with my writing, teach my local church kids about missionary life, and tie everything together with an important truth from the Bible, was a challenge I couldn’t manage on my own. I have to admit (and thank God) that as I put my fingers to the keyboard and began these email-letter stories with, “Hi —, my name is —” the Lord would bring what I needed to my mind. Nothing supernatural or weird; the story simply began to flow from the character and the spark of an idea. Only twice did I really get hung up. Those were stories #4 and #7, and THEY ended up having the strongest Gospel message. One of my young readers wrote that the #4 was her favorite story! Thank you, Lord.
Here is the first one I sent out, introducing the family and setting up the series. The stories vary in age level depending on the MK (Missionary Kid) who is telling the story. Stories five and six – told by a teenager – is actually one story in two parts with a cliff hanger at the end of five. I include the rest of the series in the following posts.
These stories are about the (make-believe) Matthews Family, who went to Malawi, Africa about eight years ago to be missionaries. This family has a dad and a mom, and seven children (three boys and four girls including a set of twins). As part of their names, each of them has the month that they were born in as a first or middle name, like Melody May or April Grace. All of the stories are written to you as letters. The first story starts like this:
My name is Melody May, and I have a twin sister whose name is Charity June. I also have three brothers and two more sisters. We all have the month we were born in as part of our names. It’s really cool I think, but some people think it’s weird.
My mom – her name is Mrs. Matthews – is really fun and creative. She picks out all our names. My dad – his name is Mr. Matthews – just smiles at her with love and agrees to the names.
People call me Melody, but they call my twin sister “June.” You may wonder how twins could be born in two different months. Can you guess how? It’s kind of tricky.
I’ll let my brothers and sisters tell you about themselves in other letters, but right now, let me tell you about what happened to my sister June and I a week ago.
We are MKs (Missionary Kids) who live in Malawi, Africa. Our dad is a college teacher at the African Bible College. We go to a school there too, but in a different building.
One day, an African boy in our class showed us a mouse… a really DEAD mouse. Then he dared us to do something with it. At first June and I refused, but then…..
Here’s how it happened.
The boy’s name is Kukana (Koo-KAH-nah). On that day, the first day of the new school year, he dared us to EAT a dead mouse! Ewww! Would YOU eat a mouse, especially a dead one? (I guess a live one would be worse!)
There are kids from America and Canada and Holland and South Africa in my class. There are many Malawian kids too. We have three grades in our classroom because, well, our teacher is very smart and can teach three grades at once! At least that’s what I think.
That day, when Kukana stood up in class with a closed box and told us he brought something for us to eat, we all smiled. We thought it might be some roasted peanuts, or those small super-sweet bananas they grown in Malawi. Yum.
Then he opened the box and reached in and held up this really stiff, black, hairy thing. Some of the new girls screamed, but June and I didn’t. We almost did, but we grabbed each other’s hands and squeezed real tight.
“This is a mbewa,” he told us.
(You say mbewa like this – mmmmm-BEE-wah.)
“They are very tasty to eat,” Kukana said.
Then he held the mbewa up high by the stiff tail, tilted his head back, put the old dead mouse’s head into his mouth… and crunched it off!!!!! He smiled big as he chewed it. The Malawian boys cheered and stomped their feet!
Our teacher frowned a little, but she didn’t say anything.
Kukana smiled again, real big, and there were little bits of black fur in his teeth! He leaned very close to June and me and showed us his icky tongue, trying to scare us, I think.
Then he ate the rest of it….. even the tail. There were more hoots from the boys, and this time Mrs. Molenaar said, “Okay. That’s enough. Now tell the class about mbewa. Why did you bring it – and eat it?”
Mrs. Molenaar knew about mbewa – we could tell by her look – but she wanted Kukana to explain about this “famous Malawian snack food.”
“We eat mbewa because it’s good protein food,” began Kukana.
June and I looked at each other, our eyebrows raised way up and our eyes got big. OUR family eats eggs, chicken, fish, and sometimes pork or beef for protein.
Kukana went on, “Village families here in Malawi are very poor. They raise goats and sometimes cows to SELL but not to EAT. They do this to have money for beans and maize to eat, and seeds to plant.”
I thought about what else OUR family eats. We like the beans, tomatoes, pumpkins, and peanuts that the villagers grow. We also eat yogurt and canned fruit and oatmeal. Sometimes Mom cooks nsima (nnnnnn-SEE-mah) which is made from white corn, called maize, and tastes like thick hot cereal without any salt. (Mom adds some for us.) Poor Malawians eat that every day. Sometimes that is all they HAVE to eat.
“There’s LOTS of mbewa around,” said Kukana. “You just have to catch them. We go to where old maize stalks or dead grass is piled up. We stand around the pile with sticks. Then someone lifts up the pile with a long pole and mice run out everywhere. We have a lot of fun killing them with our sticks!”
Kukana laughed and all the boys laughed too.
“Then we put five or maybe ten of them on a long stick and roast them.”
Kukana looked right at June and me, opened his eyes really big and added, “….just… like… your… marshmallows!” Then he laughed in a mean way.
That made us feel mad and scared and icky, but we didn’t do anything. I think it was then, that I started to think….. maybe I WILL eat a dead mouse!
Mrs. Molenaar gave Kukana a stern look and he finished his talk like this. “Sometimes our fathers burn off the maize stubble (old stalks) in our fields. Then all the people stand around the edge of the field to catch the mice that run out.”
Mrs. Molenaar told the rest of it. “After the mice are roasted, which dries out the bodies but doesn’t burn off all the fur, they will keep for quite a while. Maybe you American children have tried jerky. It’s a bit like that.”
She turned to Kukana. “Did you want to share your mbewa with the class?”
He walked through the desks with the box down low. All the Malawian boys and girls took one out and started crunching and chewing. One American boy, named Benji took one too.
When the box came to June and me, my sister leaned way back, but I….. I reached in, grabbed a stiff hairy burned mouse and took it out. Before I could think about what I was doing, I leaned back, held the thing up, and crunched off its head!!!!!!
This time June DID scream. “Melody! Noooo!! You are going to get sick and die!! And Mom will be very mad!”
I didn’t look at her. I stared at Kukana as I chewed the prickly, scratchy thing. It tasted kind of like burnt peanut shells and grease to me. Finally I swallowed it and stuck out my black-specked tongue to prove I ate it.
Kukana was surprised. He smiled at me (nicely, this time) and gave a little nod. After that, he didn’t tease June and me. He kind of respected me, and since I was usually with my sister, he didn’t dare tease her either. After a while we even became friends.
Let me tell you a secret now. I didn’t finish the dead mouse. I passed it to the boy behind me who snatched it up and ate it.
And you know what else? I didn’t get sick and die.
I just became a Malawian.
But Mom DID get mad at me and told me never to do that again. I promised her that I wouldn’t. I figured I would never HAVE to do it again.
Later in our Sunday School class at the International Bible Fellowship church where my Dad sometimes preaches, I learned what Paul wrote in one of his letters in the Bible. He was a missionary to MANY countries. I don’t know if he ever had to eat mice, but he did say in 1 Corinthians 9:22, that he wanted to “become all things to all men that he might save some” for Christ.
I hope Kukana will someday want to know Jesus too. Maybe he will listen to me now when I tell him the gospel story ….. BECAUSE I ate the mouse.
~~ Facts ~~
Malawians DO eat mice like this for protein. Sometimes you can see them along the road, selling mbewa still lined up in a row on the roasting sticks, or in piles on a piece of cloth they spread out on the ground. They also eat big grasshoppers for protein which they fry in oil and sprinkle with hot pepper.
“Come, my young friends, and listen to me. And I will teach you to honor the LORD. ~~~ Psalm 34:11 – Good News Bible
Rats on a stick. It made a great story and maybe the young man will be inclined to listen since she made the effort to know his culture.