Each story is written in the form of a letter from one of the Matthews’ children. There are seven children, (but the baby can’t write yet!).
I write these stories so young readers can learn about missionary life in Africa. The MKs (Missionary Kids) will tell stories about cultural differences (and similarities) such as eating DEAD MICE in the first MK story, or why guard dogs are necessary in Malawi as in BIG BLACK DOGS (the second story). They will also show how they face the same temptations, emotions, and problems that all kids everywhere do. I hope to entertain and inform the children, but mostly I want to quietly teach them truths from the Bible, God’s Word, as it pertains to their everyday lives.
So, here is the next story! (If you are new here, scroll down, or check the list on the side bar to begin the with the FIRST story and meet the kids and their idiosyncrasies in order.)
This is Melody again. I know it’s my sister April’s turn to write to you. You will like her. She’s cute and smart and was born in April…of course.
She loves to read books – any books just about. She even likes to read cookbooks! And she likes Kids’ National Geographic Magazines that tell about other places in the world, and animals and insects and snakes – which there are a LOT of here in Malawi.
In fact… she was reading that magazine on the day after the big rain Julie told you about, when she almost fell into that old deep well in our backyard. She was reading and NOT paying attention to where she was going.
Pssstt! Don’t tell anybody, but that magazine ended up at the bottom of the hole when Marshall grabbed her to keep her from falling in! Later, after she got over being scared, she was mad because she hadn’t finished reading it!
April has also read the whole Chronicles of Narnia series. Did you ever read those? We ALL did. Dad has the complete set in his library, but he lets us read them any time we want. He has a Pilgrim’s Progress book with pictures too
The thing is…. when April is reading a book, she really gets into it and doesn’t want to stop (like right now!). And … sometimes she acts like she is one of the characters, and talks like them for days. Once, when she was reading The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, she pretended that our dog, Gideon, was Aslan, and called him that for a week. (He didn’t care.)
Oh, here she comes…finally!
I got to warn you – her eyes are staring off into the distance and she is walking slowly, so I know she is still thinking about something she was reading.
“Hey, April! The kids are waiting for you. Just start writing….
Yes, I am April, and I do like – no, I LOVE – to read. When I am reading, it is like I am right there inside the story. Do you ever do that? And when the book is done, I am sad. Sometimes I start reading it all over again.
Let’s see….. I think I will tell you about what happened last April, soon after my birthday, which is the day after April Fool’s Day. I am SOOOO glad I was not born on April Fool’s Day. (Thank you, Mom!)
Well, of course I got BOOKS for my birthday, also a new set of 50 colored markers, and a big, thick sketching pad. Besides reading, I like to draw pictures. Sometimes I draw pictures from the books I read.
Sometimes I even make up stories with the same characters that are in the books. These stories I keep secret in my journal. I would be embarrassed for anyone to read them, especially Melody who teases me about reading so much! SHE likes to go outside and DO things.
Oh, sometimes I show my teacher a story that I wrote, if we have an assignment or something. That’s different, and I get graded… usually an “A”.
Anyway, last April I got two really wonderful books. Melody says I got “super cuckoo crazy” about them and I guess I did. But, I learned a really important lesson from them too. I still get the shivers when I think about that time.
Here’s how it happened.
The two books I got for my birthday, were Anne of Green Gables and Anne of Avonlea. Have you heard of them? They are really good, and in fact there are MORE of them in the series that I don’t have yet. I don’t blame what happened on the books. No…. it was all me.
Melody was sitting at the kitchen table that day doing some homework for Mrs. Molenaar’s class when I came in to get a glass of water from the water purifier bottle on the counter. I had been reading the first “Anne” book (for the third time). I so love Anne! I wish I could be so smart and fun as she was. That’s why I…..
“APRIL, what did you DO???” Melody yelled, standing up so quickly her chair fell back. “You are SO going to get into trouble!”
That’s when she came over and tweaked the two braids that I had made in my hair… the braids that I had “colored” with some of my new markers to match Anne’s in the book.
“Please call me Miss Aprile…with an e,” I said.
“What? Are you kidding me?” Melody said. “April doesn’t have an ‘e’ in it.”
“It does now!” I said with my teeth grinding.
Just as my hero Anne in the books didn’t want to be plain old Ann with no “e”, I didn’t want to be plain old April any more.
“Okay, April, I’m leaving before Mom comes,” Melody said. “And you’d better not use that stupid “prim-missy” accent on her. Just be yourself. It’s good enough!”
Well, that’s when I got into that “pretending” that Melody talked about. I practiced sitting up very straight with my hands folded in my lap.
I said aloud, “I AM myself. I’m Aprile Grace. I’m an orphan who was adopted by this nice Matthews family because they needed a girl to help clean the house and cook and do the washing. I lived in an orphanage till I was six years old and was afraid no one would EVER want me.
“The Matthews family didn’t want me at first either. They wanted a boy. But they changed their mind because I am so funny and entertaining. Now I live here, but I have to behave and do all my chores, and say all my prayers, or else they might send me back to the orphanage….”
“APRIL GRACE MATTHEWS, what are you saying???”
“That’s Audrey Matthews,” I said aloud in my Anne voice. “She’s my adopted mother–”
“April, stop that right now! You are not adopted. You did not come from an orphanage. And you know very well that Asala is our housekeeper. Let me see that book!”
I had to give her my Anne of Green Gables book. I slowly took my finger out of the mark where I had been reading when I came to get that glass of water. I’d read the whole book before, like I said, so I knew what would happen, but I didn’t want to lose my place! Still, I had to obey, so I handed it to … Audrey.
“April, we need to talk again about your pretending to be one of the people in your books. I know you love to read, and that you really “get into” the stories you are reading, but…”
“But Mom!” I said with a pout. (I knew she really WAS my mother). “They have such fun in their lives, and do exciting things and have “bosom” friends and go on picnics and eat ice cream….”
“April. We had ice cream after dinner last night.”
“No buts, April. You have to stop this. It is lying.”
“Lying. When you say things to people that are not true, April, it is lying. Someday, some person is going to believe your “pretends” and it will get you in trouble. It might even get us ALL into trouble. Do you want that?”
I shook my head.
“I’m going to put this book away for now,” she said. “You may not read it…. or any other book except your Bible, for two weeks.”
“But, M-o-o-o-m-m-mmmm…. please don’t do that!” I cried, and got real tears in my eyes. (At least I tried really hard to make them real.) But she shook her head and took my book with her and went out of the kitchen.
“And you’d better hope that marker comes out of your hair!” I heard her say from down the hall.
“Told…..you…..” said another voice is a quiet whisper.
“Be quiet, Melody!” I yelled. “You shouldn’t have been listening.”
My sister giggled and then ran across the living room, her sandals making flap-flap-flap sounds on the marble tiles. The door slammed and I knew she was outside.
Well, I didn’t care if I did get into trouble for coloring my hair orangey-red with markers. I thought it looked pretty! (Too bad you couldn’t have seen it. I know you would like it. Maybe.)
I wished I really DID have red hair instead of plain brown hair like all my brothers and sisters. (The boys all have dark brown hair like Dad’s, Julie’s is almost blond, and Melody, June, and me have dumb old “nothing” brown hair. June says it is like brown sugar or caramel, but I think it is like… muddy water!)
I wanted to be special… instead of just plain April with blah brown hair.
There IS one way that I am special, but I didn’t think of it back then. I am the first in our family to be BORN in Malawi. Melody says she became Malawian when she ate a mouse (ewww). But all I had to do was to get born.
Of course, Gus and Deek – when he’s older – could say the same thing. We three – and Freddie who died – were born in Malawi, but I was FIRST. It makes me happy to think of this now, but back then, all I could think about was ME and how plain I was, compared to all those wonderful people in my books.
I forgot so fast that I had just had a birthday, and that everyone had given me presents, and I had eaten my favorite cake, and had worn a birthday hat, and had everyone sing to me. I forgot to have thanks in my heart.
Since I only had my Bible to read, I read all of Jesus’ parables in Matthew. (I like that Gospel book the best, because my last name is Matthews!)
Jesus’ parables made me think of the stories I wrote in my journal. They were parables too, right? Mine were mostly about me, of course, and how fun or smart or pretty I could be. And they didn’t have a lesson at the end, like Jesus’ stories did.
Hmmm… how could I write one with a “moral” at the end? I would have to think about that.
Easter came in April that year, so I also read about the resurrection of Jesus in all four of the Gospel books. I especially liked Mary Magdalene. She was so beautiful (I imagined) and so sad to believe that Jesus had died and she couldn’t even find his body to put spices and things on. I loved her scene where she thought Jesus was the gardener!
That made me think about Ngunda, our gardener. Could I write a story about him and me that had a moral? I would have to think about that too.
I was so excited the next week when my class decided to put on the Easter play at our church, and I was picked to be…. Mary Magdalene!!! Wow! I knew just how dramatically to play her. I could really be HER because I had so much practice being other characters in my books. (See, Melody! Na-na-na!)
I memorized all her words from the Bible and thought about adding some more to make her even more special, but the teacher said “No, way!” and gave me a verse in the book of Revelation to read – 22:18, I think. (I told her I would read it, but didn’t get around to doing it right away.)
I practiced Mary’s words and decided how I would act when I saw that the tomb was empty (overcome with sadness), how I would jump back to see the angels (Oh, My!), how I weep (that means cry) and then fall at Jesus’ feet when He said my name…. Mary…, and how I would hold on to His feet to keep Him from leaving again.
And then the way I would get up, my face shining (somehow – maybe have some lotion on my hands?), and run away so excited to tell all those unbelieving, scared disciples that Jesus really WAS alive.
Oh, it was going to be so good!
We got the costumes – pretty simple, so I added a fancy sash, which my teacher wouldn’t let me use. I guess Mary WAS in mourning, so she wouldn’t dress like that….okay, I get it.
Anyway, every day I walked around our house or the yard outside practicing her words and actions. I got Gus to play Jesus once, so I could practice falling down and grabbing his feet. But he said it felt weird and wouldn’t do it again.
Finally the Sunday came. It was the day of my great part in the Easter play. Mom took me early so we could practice in the church’s main room (it’s called a sanctuary). Someone made a big rock-looking tomb out of cardboard with a cut-out for the door and a big cardboard circle for the stone that was rolled in front. It was pretty good! I think my brother Marshall worked on it too.
Everyone had on costumes, including head scarves over the girls heads. I tied mine on so you could see my face good.
The angels were in white bathrobes (really??), and Jesus…. Well, Jesus was…. He looked really amazing! Somehow they had put glitter or something on his white robe because it kind of sparkled. I wasn’t going to have any trouble falling at his feet, but… to pretend I thought he was the gardener…, well THAT was going to take some good acting.
Maybe if I sort of covered my eyes with my scarf – no, I didn’t like that idea. I would have to cover my eyes with my hands, leaving a little space so I could see where I was going.
I was SO excited! The crowd – which was huge on Easter Sunday – was really going to love me.
I played my part perfectly (and only added a few words of my own, to clarify which Mary I was). Daniel M., who played Jesus, looked a little startled when I said, “Teacher!” then added, “Yes, it’s me, the one You cast seven demons out of!” But he’s a good actor too, and went on with his lines perfectly, sending me off to tell the disciples the good news.
The rest of the play was about Jesus meeting with the disciples and having them touch his wounds and telling them to “Believe, and then to go tell the world about what He had done.”
People really clapped at the end! I was smiling so big when I took my bow. Wow, it felt so good! I thought right then that I might become an actress when I grew up! It felt amazing to be so special and admired.
Well, I pretty much floated through the rest of the day. Dad preached on how important the resurrection of Jesus was from 1 Corinthians 15, I think. Then we had a big pot-luck lunch with the Floreens and the Ayers and the Kopps at our house.
Abby said SHE wanted to play Mary next year, but I secretly thought that “I” had that role sewed up for a few years.
Zoe thought Jesus was so wonderful in his white shining robe. She said she loved His words about going to all nations to preach the Gospel.
“That’s why my family moved to Africa,” she said, “so we can tell Malawi people the good news about Jesus.”
Well, THAT was why MY family came there too. Duh! And the Ayres. And the Floreens. And Pastor B and Mrs. B. We were missionaries, right?
But my part in the play! Wasn’t it great?
JoJo and Titus really liked how I fell down at Jesus’ feet.
“Did it hurt?” JoJo asked, adjusting his glasses.
Caleb told how he would have done it. “I would have fallen down, rolled over twice, and spread my arms out wide, and crossed my eyes.”
Melody said, “Why didn’t you color your hair blue, April? Or purple? You would have gotten noticed even more!”
Melody is so mean.
What’s weird is, Mom and Dad didn’t say ANYTHING about how I played Mary Magdalene. I know they SAW the play. They talked to my teacher afterwards. Why didn’t they say how they liked me in it?
In our family devotions that night Dad read about John the Baptist, how he said Jesus must increase while he (John) wanted to decrease. What did THAT mean? I guess it was good that he wanted Jesus to have more followers than he did – especially since he was going to get be-headed pretty soon.
But why read this on Easter night? And why did they have ME read that one section about Jesus being the bridegroom and John the Baptist, as His best man? Did this have anything to do with Jesus turning water into wine at another wedding?
I just couldn’t THINK of that right then. I wanted to think about that scene in the garden by the tomb where I…..
All the next week after Easter, I replayed my words from the play and acted out my scenes whenever I went outside to play in the back yard. Julie was pushing Deek on the swing one of the times I was pretending to be Mary Magdalene again.
“Where have you taken His body?” I said loudly, weeping, to an imaginary gardener/Jesus.
“Body!” repeated Deek.
“Oh, April, you and your missing “body!” Don’t you get tired of doing that over and over a hundred times?” She gathered up Deek and went inside the house.
“No, I don’t,” I said to no one, and flung myself on the ground as if to plead with Jesus to stay and not go away again.
“Miss April! You all right?” It was Asala, our housekeeper, coming out of their little house at the back of our property. She was carrying her little baby boy named Praise on one hip and a laundry basket on the other. She looked worried and started toward me.
I laid there without moving for a minute longer, enjoying the impression I was making. She hurriedly put down the basket, and rushed toward me. At the last minute I moved and sat up, smiling. “I’m fine, Asala,” I told her. “I was just begging Jesus not to go away again.”
Asala stopped dead still, her eyes wide open, squeezing little Praise until he started to whimper. “What you talking about?” she asked, looking all around.
“I’m Mary,” I said, “and they took the body of Jesus away. That’s what I first believed, but then I saw Him and fell at his feet!”
“You, April, not Mary,” she said, easing up a little but still looking around cautiously. “Not good to play-act about dead bodies!”
So…. to tease her, I stood up and “became” Anne again. “Oh, please don’t tell Audrey, Miss Asala! She will send me back to the orphanage!”
“Orphanages are no good places to play-act about either,” said Asala, turning and picking up the basket. She swung Praise around to her back in that sling thing she wears and started hanging up the wet clothes, all the while watching me.
So…. I pretended to be a bunch of characters in my books and in the Bible, one after the other. Why not, with such a good audience? It was such great fun. But when I came to the story of Lazarus walking out of his tomb like a zombie at Jesus’ command, she quickly picked up the empty basket and went into her house.
I decided to make some drawings in my sketching book and brought it and the markers out to the back yard. It was so nice there on the grass after I put a blanket down, that I drew maybe about six pictures before I heard a loud rumbling of men’s voices from behind our back wall.
It was in Chichewa so I couldn’t understand even one word. It kept up and then the back, chained wooden gate rattled a little. And one voice got louder.
What was it? I was about to go inside, when Asala came out of her house and went to the gate. She spoke in the native Malawian language, listened awhile, then came running to me, her face serious.
I got up quickly.
“Miss April,” she panted, “please to go tell your mother that those men… they say they need her help. There is a dead body behind the wall.”
“WHAT?” I cried. I looked toward the wall and heard the voices.
“Please to hurry,” urged Asala again.
A body behind our wall? A dead body? How had it gotten there? Had those men… killed someone? Were they going to come into our yard? Where was Ngunda? Then I remembered that he had gone with Marshall to take the dogs to get their vaccinations. That meant…. no guard dogs either!
I was scared. This was not like play-acting!
“Go, tell her come!” repeated Asala.
I ran into the house, so panicked I could hardly breathe.
“Mom, MOM!” I screamed. “Someone killed a man behind our back wall. There are men wanting to come in and kill us too! Asala said to call the police!”
Mom got scared too. “What, honey? What are you saying about a murdered man? Behind our wall? Oh, this can’t be happening when your Father and Ngunda and Marshall are all gone!!”
“And the dogs!” I whispered.
“What? Oh, yes, the dogs are gone too!”
She went to the side door and stepped out to the patio. You could clearly hear the men’s voices from there. She ran and got her cell phone, pushing an automatic call button.
“HUDSON, You have to come home right now! Call the police and hurry home. There is a mob behind our back yard and they have killed someone already. They are trying to get in! OH, HURRY!”
By that time, Julie, Melody, June and Gus were in the room too, their eyes wide with fear. Deek, being carried by Julie, started to cry, repeating the new word he had learned, “Body…body…body!”
“Let’s pray, children,” said Mom. We huddled together and she prayed for our protection, for wisdom about what to do, about getting Dad home quickly from ABC, for the police to come too. “O God, You are our refuge and strength. We will not fear. What can men do to us without Your knowledge?”
We all heard a car honk at our fence in the front and Melody ran out to let in Dad. Amazingly he had a policeman with him, the one who was stationed at the new crossing gate at the end of our street.
“Audrey, tell me what is happening?” Dad said. The policeman cocked his head toward the rumbling in the back, but waited to hear.
“Asala told April….” Mom started. “Oh, April you tell it.”
“There was a rumbling of voices outside our back wall.” I said. “I thought I heard someone scream for help, and then sounds like sticks or rocks hitting somebody’s head. And a big thud to the ground.” I demonstrated how I thought it might have happened, but didn’t fall all the way down.
“Then there was a pounding on the back gate. I thought it was going to break right down!” I cringed to show how scared I was.
“Asala came out, but she was very afraid to go near the wall, so she called from way back and told them to go away. They talked in loud voices to her in Chichewa and she answered back. Then they talked more and louder, and she came to me and told me to run and have Mom call the police, that they were all going to come in and kill us too! And I did what she told me. Oh, Daddy!!”
The uniformed man took out his club and went immediately around the house to the back wall.
“Go inside everyone,” Dad said and followed the man.
We all went to the back of the house where Mom and Dad’s room was and peeked out the curtains. The policeman was talking to Asala. Then he put his hands on his hips and looked back at the house. Dad came up to them, and the policeman and Asala talked to him. I saw him relax his shoulders and take a big breath.
What was the matter with them? Couldn’t they see we were all in danger?
All three walked to the back fence. Dad unlocked a tiny little peek-hole door in the gate and spoke through the opening. He listened. Then he talked to Asala; then to the policeman. She nodded and the policeman shrugged.
Then Dad did something amazing! He took out his big wallet and shoved a wad of Kwacha through the little door in the gate. WHAT???
Oh! I get it. He must be paying blackmail or something! Giving them money to make them go away.
Then he closed the little door and re-locked it. Asala went into her house, and Dad and the policeman walked to our back door. By that time we were all crowding out to hear what he had to say.
“Did you pay them a ransom for us, Daddy?” I asked, scared but in an exciting way.
“April,” he said, “this officer wants to say something to you.”
“Missy,” he said, eyeing me like I was a criminal or something. “Do not lie again or I will have to come and take you to Maula Prison.”
He stared at me for a minute, and then he turned and walked out our front gate.
“I ran to Mom and hugged her tight. “What does he mean? What does he mean?”
“Come inside, all of you,” Dad said. We all went into the living room and sat down. “April you have told one pretend story too many. And you are going to be punished. Asala told us the real story. She said that those men needed our help, and that you were to go get your mother.”
“But the dead body, Daddy—-”
“Hush. You are not to say a word. Yes, there is a dead body back there. Yes, there is a crowd of men. Yes, they did want to get our attention…. BUT.” Here he looked at me very sternly. “You imagined all the rest. This was a funeral procession. The dead body is in a wooden box carried by four friends. It is the custom in Malawi for poor people to go to the fences of nice homes and ask for a donation to help cover the cost of burial.
They were asking for our HELP, April, and we nearly had the police take them to jail for…. for murder! Do you understand what this would have meant for us? For our witness among the poor people in our community? What would the Malawians at church have thought of their pastor sending a funereal party to jail?
“How about the ridicule or expensive fines from the authorities – it will be bad enough when Banda tells our story around – although I asked him not to. April—” Here my Dad sighed and put his face into his hands.
After a while, he raised up and said, “See what your pretending, no, let’s call it what it is, what your LYING has nearly cost us?”
I felt bad and sorrier than I’ve ever felt before. I didn’t have to pretend, I started crying for real. What had my pretending done? It was getting so that I believed my own made up stories!! Would I get so that I didn’t know the REAL truth at anymore?
Dad must have heard my thoughts, because he said, “Lying is just like any other sin, April. When you do it over and over, pretty soon you don’t feel bad about it. You get better at sinning. And your conscience can’t be heard any more. It’s like you turn off God’s voice in your heart. Then the Evil One can have his own way.”
“No, Daddy! I am really sorry. I don’t want to preten- to lie again! I don’t want to hurt people. I don’t want God’s voice to be turned off in me. Oh, Daddy, what can I do?”
It was here that he quoted 1 John 1:9. I knew it by heart already.
” ‘If we confess our sin, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sin and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.’ “
“April, God is holy and He can’t just overlook sin. Do you know HOW He can forgive us when we sin? It is because He put all of every true believer’s sin – ALL of it – on Jesus on the cross. Jesus had no sin of his own, only ours. Then God – who hates sin above all else looked away and crushed His only dear Son to death. Our dear Savior paid the wages for sin that WE were supposed to pay. Death.
“Then Jesus rose again… on Easter… (Here, he gave me a long look.), proving that God accepted His Son’s payment for sin IN FULL.
“You know your Mom’s favorite verse, don’t you?” He turned to Mom. “Audrey, say it, please?”
“‘For God made Him who knew NO sin, to BE sin for us, that WE might become the righteousness of God in Him.’ 2 Corinthians 5:21,” she said softly.
Dad nodded to her and she gathered the rest of my family into the other room.
Daddy and I kneeled down right there. (He groaned a little when his bad knee touched tile floor.”
“Go ahead, April.”
“Dear Heavenly Father,” I began. “Thank you for being such a good God, for making a way that I could be forgiven for my sin. It must have hurt You a lot to kill your own Son. I am so sorry for that! And I am sorry for… lying. I know it is sin. You say so in Your Bible. So I did sin today. And I have sinned by lying a lot. I don’t want your voice to be shut off in my heart. I want to hear You when you tell me not to do something. Please forgive me, for Jesus sake, for what He did. You said You would.”
I know I was forgiven right then. I believed what God said in 1 John.
Then I added a PS to my prayer. “And dear Heavenly Father, I confess my other sins too…for being mean to Melody when she was trying to set me right…for thinking I was SO great in the Easter play, even better and more important than Jesus! Oh, dear God! If Jesus had not come back to life, then… then… then You could never forgive my sin…. ever! I made my role of Mary Magdalene bigger than Jesus, when HE is the most important. I bet SHE never would have thought like that in real life. I am so sorry.”
After that, Dad got up and hugged me. We sat on the couch and both of us had a “good” cry. Then he went back to work at the College, and I sat by myself for a long time. I was one of God’s adopted children. Adopted forever, with no threat of being sent back to any “orphanage.” I WAS special to God. I didn’t have to pretend to be anything different than that. I took a big happy breath and let it out.
I felt like laughing. So I did!
Well, that happened six months ago. I still like to read books and can’t help getting “into” the stories I read. But I don’t want to BE the people I read about….. except Jesus. I am a daughter of a KING! How could I be better than that??
Love, April Grace
Wow! I just realized what my middle name really means – it’s how God saves people!
“Come, my young friends and listen to me. And I will teach you to honor the Lord.” ~~~ Psalm 34:11 Good News Bible