Sunday, June 10, 2018

how I want to be

I have a friend. His name is Hosea. 

Hosea has been my friend for years now, but last week we became best friends. Want to know how? 

I let him hold a piece of string. 

No kidding. That was it. 

You see, last week during the holiday program I had some free time from leading and planning, so I decided to start putting up some of the kids’ crafts in the children’s home so they could admire their own handiwork. It would have been a simple task on my own, but I am trying to get more intentional about discipleship and inviting others into the everyday teachable moments, so I passed by the school to find a helper. Seven-year-old Hosea was the first one to catch my eye. 

“Do you want to help me with something at my house?” I asked. He nodded his head enthusiastically (as they always do), took my hand, and we set off. 

The decoration process was very simple. We measured a string so it would fit between two pillars in the children’s home, then took it to my house and got out paper aliens to string. (We had a space theme this holiday so I have literally hundreds of aliens hanging out in my spare room right now. It’s awesome.) I would put the string through one alien, then hand the end of the string to Hosea. He would keep it taught until I had slid the alien to the other end, and then he let go at just the right moment so I could tie a knot. Once the knot was tied, he scrambled to find the end again and we repeated the process. 

We did this for an hour, no joke. And actually, it was more helpful to have him there than to do it by myself. 

When we finally strung all the aliens that would fit, he ran to get Christian from the office and the three of us carried the artwork to the home and hung it up. We repeated the whole process once more, and that was the end of it. 

The next day when I went down to school, I saw out of the corner of my eye a rapid movement. Turning just in time, I found Hosea sprinting toward me and then he smacked into my legs, wrapping his short arms around my waist and giving me the biggest hug he could muster. These kids know how to melt your heart, I tell you. He stayed by my side as long as I let him. 

Now, every day when he sees me, he drops whatever he is doing and runs straight for me, arms outstretched, smile wide. Even today at school, as soon as I appeared at the end of lunch break, he came running across the field. It was nearing time for class so in an effort to get him and a classmate to go to their classroom, I told them to race each other. He sped off again, about fifty yards to the door of his classroom. He won. I clapped from a distance, but when he realized they had still not rung the bell for class, he made the run again and came back to my arms until it really was time to go. 

For the past week, if I don’t find Hosea at school or at the children’s home, he will find me at my house first. He walks across the verandah as if he is just passing by, but as soon as he catches my eye he giggles and is immediately sitting in the open doorway, content just to be there, or to read books if I take too long to get ready.

Sometimes Hosea shows his faith in me (or demonstrates his lack of forethought) when he jumps into my arms unexpectedly. No warning, no hesitation, just a run and a jump. What trust. 

That. All of that is how I want to be with God. 

As soon as I get a glimpse of Him, even in the distance, I want to run full speed into His arms. I want to race toward Him, arms outstretched and smile wide. I want to jump into His embrace, not hesitating to see if He is really paying attention or asking if He will catch me this time, but with an unwavering and uncomplicated trust that He will catch me. Again. And again and again and again. 

For an answer Jesus called over a child, whom he stood in the middle of the room, and said, “I’m telling you, once and for all, that unless you return to square one and start over like children, you’re not even going to get a look at the kingdom, let alone get in. Whoever becomes simple and elemental again, like this child, will rank high in God’s kingdom. What’s more, when you receive the childlike on my account, it’s the same as receiving me.” (Matthew 18:2-5, The Message)

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Roman Road skit

Every Friday I lead part of an assembly for about 150 primary school students. Together with two teachers, we give a short Bible message and (try to) teach them a new song. A couple weeks ago I was trying to plan an assembly about salvation, and the idea of the Roman Road came up. Since we try to make the assemblies as fun and interactive as possible, we tend to do a lot of skits. I searched for Roman Road skits and found several options, but nothing that quite fit what we were wanting or able to do. In the end, I wrote my own version based  on some of the main Bible verses from the Roman Road. I wanted to include it here in case anyone else likes the idea of doing a skit and doesn’t feel like writing their own. 

This can take about five or ten minutes depending on how much acting you want to add in. I didn’t put too many notes because improv is more fun anyway. 

Disclaimer: You will need to make a car out of a cardboard box, but that is possibly the most fun part. 


Roman Road

Another Person
Other Person
(or Driver plus up to five other people to help hold signs and whatnot)

Driver enters the stage in his car. Without noticing, he goes past a sign with an arrow that says “Roman Road.” Driver looks really annoyed. 

Driver: Stupid, stupid, stupid… How could she, my own mother, tell me to get out and cool off? My brother was the one who started it! Every time we get in a fight she blames me. I did nothing wrong, I tell you! I am a good person who knows how to behave and I don’t need to be chased from home when I didn’t do anything wrong. I’M A GOOD PERSON!!! 

Driver stops as he reaches a yellow triangle sign held by Another Person that says, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Romans 3:23.”

Driver: Okay, yeah, but not me. Sinners are just the really bad people. (The person holding the sign points to the word “all.”) Seriously? You mean I have also sinned? But all I did was call my brother a— (before he can finish the person points to the word “all” again. Driver keeps quiet, humbled.) Oh… um, I guess my mom was right… but I should keep going…

Driver continues down the road, deep in thought.

Driver: Okay, so I am a sinner. I can’t believe it… but really, sin isn’t that big of a deal is it? If I have sinned, it can’t be that bad. 

He stops as he reaches another sign held by Other Person. This one is red and says “For the wages of sin is death.”

Driver: Death? Not a time out? Not going to bed without supper? Death? Hmm, this sin must be more serious than I thought. But if we have all sinned, where is hope? 

Other Person turns the side around to a green side that says, “but the gift of God is eternal life. Romans 6:23.”  

Driver: Eternal life?! You mean through Jesus? I’ve heard of Him. Something how He died to save us from our sins. (He keeps driving, talking to himself.) Now that I know I am a sinner, I guess that means He died for me too. So… I have sinned and I deserve to die. But then Jesus came and died instead, so now I get to live? That doesn’t seem fair. Why would He do such a thing? Whoa! 

Driver stops suddenly when he notices another sign in front of him (held by Another Person), reading “But God shows His love for us, that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:8.” 

Driver: But God shows His love for us… you mean He sent Jesus to die because He loves me?! God loves me? Even when I yell at my brother? Even when I skip school? Even when I fall asleep in church? Even when I tell little lies? And big ones? Wow, He must have a lot of love to love someone like me. He sounds like a pretty awesome God! (Starts driving again) He sounds so great, I’d like to stay with Him forever. Yes, that is exactly what I shall do—I shall follow God for the rest of my life… but how? 

A railroad crossing bar comes down in front of him, held by Other Person. Hanging from it is a sign, which Driver leans in to read:

Driver: “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. Romans 10:9”. I can do that! (shouting to the sky) Jesus, I believe You are Lord! I believe You are the Son of God! I believe You died for my sins and God raised You from the dead! Woohoo!

He quiets down and waits for a moment, looking around and waiting for something to happen. Another Person runs onstage and tears the steering wheel from his car. 

Another Person: Well, I guess you won’t be needing this anymore. 

Driver: What do you mean, I don’t need it? How am I going to steer? 

Another Person: You just gave your life to Jesus, didn’t you? 

Driver: Yes…

Another Person: Then Jesus is your driver now! He will take you everywhere you need to go; you just need to stay in the car and follow Him. 

As he says that, the crossing bar goes up and the car starts moving. Driver acts as if this is all a surprise to him and that he does not have control of the car. 

Driver: This is weird… but Jesus, you are a pretty good driver! Now, where are we going next? 

They turn a corner and see a sign listing upcoming cities and their distances. It says things like Prayer Town, Bible City, and Church-ville. 

Driver: Wow, this looks like it is going to be one fun ride! Whoaaaa! (He quickly “gets driven” around the corner and out of sight again.)

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

dear grandpa

Dear Grandpa,

It was a sunny day. I am going to assume it was a sunny day, since we were working outside and it was most likely summer. To be honest, I don’t remember a single thing from that day—I was only three, after all—but I have heard the story so many times I have a pretty clear image in my mind. 

So, it was a sunny day. You were doing some work outside, probably chopping or stacking wood. After a while, your cute little granddaughter (me) came out to join you. Or not. For some reason that none of us remembers, or probably ever knew, I picked up one of the gravel stones from the driveway… and threw it at you. 

I must have had good aim because if I had not hit you, you would not have told me this story so many times. 

Well, you made it very clear that throwing rocks at Grandpa is not okay. I refused to apologize, so you made me sit on the front step of the house until I said sorry. I must have inherited some of your stubbornness. Perhaps more than you bargained for. 

Most three-year-olds would give in after a minute or two. Not this one. After letting me sit by myself for quite some time, you tried enticing me to join you. You got out my little plastic wheelbarrow and started carrying the wood, one chopped piece at a time, from the stack to the woodshed. It probably took you five times as long and was hard on your back, but you did your best to make it look like the most fun activity in the world. 

Still I did not apologize. 

I think your story changed a bit over the years. There is no telling how long I was actually sitting there on the front step, but in the version I remember it totaled somewhere around an hour. Finally, when something other than your enthusiastic wood-carrying caught my attention, I stood up, said a quick and insincere “sorry,” and dashed off. 

You told me that story so many times. In fact, I first saw evidence of your Alzheimer’s when we went to visit you one summer and you forgot to tell me that story. I was relieved at first, but it wasn’t long before I actually started to miss it, the way you would act shocked every time you said I threw the stone, as if it was the first time you were hearing it. 

So then I started telling you the story. For the first few years, you would listen and follow along. One time I remember when I got to the rock-throwing part, your eyes got wide and you said, “You did that?!” From that point, it really was the first time you were hearing the story, every time. In the past several years I don’t know how much you understood or even heard, but I am not one to break tradition, and that story has become a bit of a tradition for me. Never mind that it doesn’t put me in a very good light, but don’t forget I blame the stubbornness on you. 

Now I will find someone else to listen to that story. 

I miss you, Grandpa, but I have been missing you for a long time. We all have. Alzheimer’s robbed us of much of you, one little piece at a time—first a story, then our names (though Grandma was never good at names in the first place so I can see how that would be confusing for you), and eventually even the dancing stopped. You were a fantastic dancer. I remember a few years ago when you were still living at home, we were listening to some of your old-timey music when you danced across the living room and extended your hand to me, lazily seated on the couch. You were always such a gentleman. I got up and followed your lead, and we did the same two or three dance moves for half an hour, song after song after song. You may not have had many moves left, but the ones you had were smooth, with your little steps and strong hands. We all loved dancing with you. 

One of my favorite things is to read through your old letters to Grandma. I remember one in particular that you wrote when the two of you were engaged. The beginning went something along the lines of, “Dear Pat, Congratulations, I read in the paper you are engaged! Who is the lucky man?” That was one of many times I thought to myself that I want to marry someone like you. I think I did pretty well with that. 

And then the time with the bicycle. Our visits to Iowa in the summers were the only times we could ride bikes to get places. We had bikes at home growing up, but on a gravel driveway on top of a hill three miles out of town they were more for recreation than transportation. It was fun to come to your house and get the bikes geared up, whether it was for a loop around the block or a trip to Dairy Queen. You would pump up the tires and adjust the seats until we were all outfitted with something that suited us. 

Only I always got stuck with the Schwinn. 

Was that your bike from when you were a teenager? It was so heavy! That green chunk of heavy metal with no gears and pedal brakes. I was a little embarrassed to ride it at first, and it was years before I appreciated it enough to be proud of it. Eventually I got there though. 

When they took away your driver’s license you were disappointed, until you remembered the Schwinn. What a great way to get around! Grandma was apprehensive—I mean, that bike was about as old as you, and you were no spring chicken—so she insisted you get it checked out before using it. There was no way it could be safe. 

When you two took it to the bike shop, the worker was amazed at what great condition the bike was in. He kept exclaiming about it, and you just stood there listening and laughing. And laughing. And laughing. Gosh, for how loving and generous you were, you sure did like to be right. 

And you were loving. Just look at your family. An unloving husband doesn’t have a wife who selflessly cares for him day in and day out for over a decade, even when he forgets her name. An unloving father doesn’t have three children who all live in different states but are at his bedside when he dies. An unloving grandfather wouldn’t be in all my dance recital photos, and softball, and graduation, even though he had to take a plane to get to every single one. 

You, Big Daddy, have set a high standard for the rest of us. Thank you for that. 

I loved when I lived in Wisconsin and got to visit you every month. I had friends growing up whose grandparents lived in the same town and I was always a bit jealous of them. But visiting you was an adventure of its own, whether I was ten and staying for a few weeks or twenty-two and staying for a few days. 

Thank you for the cabin. I don’t remember a time without it and I am okay with that. It may not have ended up being the retirement retreat you and Grandma had hoped it would be, but no one can count the wonderful memories made there, and still to be made. 

I am so happy for you. For years you have been trapped inside that mind, that body, things which were not built to last. Now, for the first time in a long time, I know you are free. Free to laugh and dance and speak your mind clearly and worship our Lord right in front of Him and not have anything stopping you. I am so happy for you, and of course a bit sad for us. But I know Jesus gets to take care of you now, though I will say He has His work cut out for Him because Grandma set an extremely high standard. 

You are loved, Grandpa. But you know that already.

I did my best to prepare for losing you. We all did, but there is only so much preparation one can do. Especially since moving to Uganda--and losing Grandpa Don during my first year here--I tried to assume every time I saw you was the last, so that when it was true I wouldn't feel like I had missed a goodbye. I am so happy Christian and I came to visit in February, four days after getting married no less. It was really important to me that he got to meet you. I have and will continue to tell him stories about you, and he believes me when I remind him that he married into a really good family. 

The best part about that trip? The morning we were leaving, I gave you a big awkward side-hug-thing in your wheelchair, and you reached up and held onto my arm for awhile. Grandma smiled and said you were hugging me. 

A couple months ago, Christian and I were talking about when we start a family. It went something like this: 

Me: If we have a boy, I would love to name him after Grandpa. The only problem is Tom sounds like an old man name, Tommy sounds like a boy’s name forever, Thompson isn’t really a first name, we have a Thomas we love already, and to be completely honest I don’t really like the name Neill. 

Christian: It’s settled then. 

Me: What? 

Christian: We’ll have to name our son Grandpa. 

Thanks for being the best grandpa. I love you. And I am really, truly happy for you. 


our last photo with Grandpa in February

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

stop trying to fix things

When I took English classes in school, I learned something called constructive criticism. This concept was a delicate balance between affirmation of work well done and criticism of things that were not up to standard. The key was to include some of both. 

The problem with missionaries and volunteers is that we all come to this place with the mindset of How can I make this better? or What needs to be changed? Those aren’t bad questions in and of themselves, but they shouldn’t be the only ones we ask. When was the last time a newcomer came through the gate at Noah’s Ark and asked, What is going well here?

When I came for the first time, I was amazed at what a smoothly-running system they had here. There were people for everything and everyone knew what they were supposed to do and the operation worked rather well. Of course, I didn’t see all the glitches and unmet expectations, but I was pleasantly surprised at the whole thing. They didn’t need me as much as I had thought they would. But did I tell anyone that? Nope. At least not anyone who was involved in it. I told some other volunteers who were also looking in from the outside. 

We always did constructive criticism in English classes, and one thing we always had to include was something about the paper that was good. Even if it was a random thing like “Your sentences are nice lengths,” if there is some praise the criticism is more bearable. If it is only criticism, we put up a defense and don’t change anything because of course the other person is out to get us. Do we ever do that with ministries? At least, ministries we want to help? 

I remember going on a walk up the road the first time I came to Uganda. The thought that went through my head most often as I looked upon this village for the first time was, They really need some new houses. Then things will be better. 

At some point, somehow, I had made the correlation in my head that if the buildings were better, that equaled a better life. 

Thinking back on that now, I wonder what on earth I thought that would fix. It is just about the most superficial fix ever. By nature, we judge things by appearance. It is the easiest information to gather and process in a moment and without intruding or putting in too much effort. We look, we process (a little), we judge, and sometimes we make a plan. I looked at those houses with their rickety wooden doors and caked mud walls, thought about how crude and insufficient they were, judged them to be not good enough, and thought someone needed to come change that. Someone from the outside. Because that is what I considered help to be: someone coming in from the outside to make someone else’s life better. 

Thank God, I have learned a lot in three years. I still have more to learn than I will ever manage, but I have learned a lot. Change does not happen from the outside. It can influence change, but it can’t control it. 

I recently met a woman who travels around East Africa training nationals to be counselors. She said she loves to do counseling herself, but she knows locals will respond better to a fellow national than to a white person storming in and demanding to help. Part of the reason is this: When we go somewhere specifically to help or to make a difference, especially if it is in the area of trauma therapy or counseling, we only hear the bad side. We only hear the terrible things that have happened and the sad stories people need to share. We don’t get the context with it. When a national listens to those stories, she can listen to them within the context of this world she knows. She has a framework that includes more than the words being spoken in the moment and more than one sad story. 

Constructive criticism takes that context into account. It says, “In light of the things that are going well, here are a few things that could make it better.” 

Someone once told me that men love to fix things. Apparently it is hard for them when women don’t let men fix their problems because for men fixing them is the logical response. 

Recently Christian and I were on a run and I was telling him some ideas I had for the holiday program. For one particular idea about how to write the timetable, he listened to what I said and then responded with, “But you know with how people see things here that that’s not going to work. You need to…” and he proceeded to tell me how to do it differently to be more effective. Do you know how effective his “help” was? 

I stopped running and started crying, right there in the middle of the road. 

(I mean on the side of the road. Don’t worry, Mom, I don’t run in the middle of the road.)

I finally told him, “I don’t want you to fix it. I need you to affirm what I am doing and then gently offer help. Find another way to tell me to do it differently.” 

These days, do you know what I see when I walk up the road? I don’t notice the houses anymore. I see a tree with the world’s flattest branches that provide shade to an entire yard. I see maize growing left and right, some of it green and healthy and some of it yellow and dry. I see women washing clothes in basins outside and hear children calling my name from paths to their houses. When I am lucky, I see baby goats. 

I realize I live in a beautiful country with friendly people who are going about their daily lives in the way they know how. Isn’t that what we all do? Of course things can always be better, but criticism is not the place to start. 

A word of advice: Next time you want to “help” somewhere, don’t just look for the gaps in the programs or the people that are not being reached. Don’t approach it from what is missing. Look at what already exists, the good in what is happening, and see how you can add to it. Build on it. Expand it. Don’t tear it down straight from the get-go. Be constructive.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

the struggle

As I was cleaning out some things on my computer this week, I found this half-written blog from over two years ago. I don’t like to waste things—especially my own efforts—and it surprised me how fresh some of the memories and emotions came back to me. So, if you can imagine yourself back in April of 2015…

There are a lot of things that perplex me, but one is how often struggles and joy walk hand in hand and how seldom we recognize their partnership. 

The students are not listening. Big surprise. On a hot Wednesday afternoon, after a nearly full day of school and a big lunch, who wants to sit in the sun and practice an Easter skit time and time again? I scold Vanessa for sneaking crumbs of the biscuit that serves the purposes for our Last Supper, then hound the disciples for being too loud while the chief priests are talking. Looking to my right, I catch a glimpse of Hananja dipping a long piece of grass into my water bottle. These are P.5 students, I think to myself as I toss Teacher Prossy my water bottle for safekeeping. Can they not focus for even one hour? 

I did not sign up for this. Quite literally, I did nothing to sign up for preparing Easter carols. I did not even express interest. The task was assigned to me without question by a head teacher who left little, if any, room for personal opinion or declination. We had been rehearsing for three weeks, with two still to go before the performance, and in that time I had yet to discover whether I was in charge of the whole thing or only two songs. Sometimes we are slaves to ambiguity. 

After several long and frustrating meetings, I had finally resigned myself to sitting back and doing as little as possible in the way of carols… until the head teacher left the school and suddenly I knew that if the program was a disaster, fingers would point to me. I in no way recommend this as a method of motivation because it is undeniably based in pride, but it was the push I needed to step up and start making things happen as best as I knew how.

So here I am trying to offer direction to thirty P.5 students as they pick biscuits and talk incessantly. After shouting a little and clapping so loud my hands sting to get them to pay attention, they politely listen to my direction. For some reason, however, no matter how many times I physically pull Richard off to the side of the priests for his line, he still stands directly in front of them.

That was where my previous writing ended, with Richard standing directly in front of the priests. At the time, what I knew was that at eight in the morning I had to pack up my guitar, my school things, and a small speaker because between normal library work and practice for carols I would not reach home again before five in the evening. I knew I was busy and I knew I had to find someone to help the students change into their costumes and I knew I had to find a room where they could do that and I knew I was so excited for Easter weekend because that meant carols were over. That was what I knew then. 

Here is what I remember: 

I remember being surprised at how smoothly the whole event went, from the classes being ready on time to everyone having the correct costume to the Easter story being acted out and told in the correct order. 

I remember Sarah, a student from secondary, being willing to spend hours in a tiny concrete room in the church changing a dozen P.2 girls into ballet costumes and all other classes into soldiers, disciples, and Jesus-es. 

I remember our P.1 Jesus almost falling off the P.1 donkey as he tried to ride it up the steps onto the stage, and Teacher Lindah laughing and enjoying her class’s performance.

I remember being proud of the teachers and students. 

I remember working with secondary students after school every day. One group was learning a song and one group a dance/skit/thing. Some days they became weary of practice, but I wanted to get it just right. I remember the song went fairly well. 

And I remember the dance was one of the most powerful things I have seen. I loved that I had the privilege of being involved in it. And I loved that even though I was not onstage with them, my job was to squat in front of the stage and give cues at two different points because the person playing Jesus kept getting confused. I could have watched that one over and over again. (Unfortunately, to this day I have never seen the video.)

I remember after the whole event was over, walking down the road toward school with several students and feeling like I was walking on air. Everything was light, the performance was over, and one or two people told me they had really enjoyed it. 

I also remember that that was the first time Christian and I played music together, and how much I looked forward to our rehearsals at school. Sometimes I hoped the children would come late because then he and I could play on our own—he on keyboard, me on guitar—until they showed up. It was in those weeks I started to see him differently. Guess that worked out okay.

I remember the struggle, but I also remember the joy. We need both ends of the spectrum. What would we have to be happy about if there was nothing to compare it to? I look back on our three cantatas in much the same way—remembering the struggles and emotional pain of trying to put it all together, but in the end being supremely proud of my dancers and actors and appreciative of the ones who worked tirelessly behind the scenes to pull it off. 

There are struggles here. Currently, one of my biggest struggles is staying positive, which is hard for me to handle because in the past that always came naturally for me. I am trying to learn how to cope with that struggle. I struggle with the auntie who says I am sending the children on a path to hell because we have a disco at the end of the holiday. I struggle with people who say they are going to do something and then don’t. I struggle when I say I am going to do something and then forget. I struggle to make time for the children and to make time for myself because it seems to be an ever-elusive balance. Every night Christian and I ask each other, “What was the best part of your day?” and on those days where I get to spend an hour or more just being with the children without an agenda, that is always my answer. 

Yesterday I learned how to make chocolate cake from scratch. Turns out it’s not so hard. Though I probably shouldn’t have told you that because now it sounds less impressive. Anyway, I made the chocolate cake and chocolate frosting with things I already had in my kitchen (including sprinkles, because my mother-in-law makes sure we are equipped with staples like that), and I tell you, that cake tasted better than if someone had given me a huge slice of fancy chocolate cake from a restaurant. Why? I put effort into it. I couldn’t take it for granted. I struggled. And it was worth it. 

Don’t shy away from the hard things. If you have ever seen the movie Home, you know in the end Oh and the other Boovs learn there is more to be gained by running to the danger than by running away from it. (If you haven’t seen the movie, watch it. And forget I said anything about the end.) When we avoid the hard thing, we also avoid the good thing. And the good thing is what you will remember. 

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. (James 1:2-4)

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

how to make beads out of paper


Step 1 ::  Cut

The way the bead turns out depends largely on the type and size of the paper you have. The best kind is the thick shiny paper often used for calendars or magazine covers. The longer the paper, the thicker the bead. For round beads, mark the short edges of the paper at one-centimeter intervals. Using a cutting machine or slicer, cut from the first mark on one side to the edge of the paper at the other, making a very long triangle. Do this three or four times on one side, then turn the paper around and cut from the opposite marks to the other corner, going back and forth until you reach the end of the paper. They won’t all be completely even, but that’s okay.

Step 2  ::  Roll

This is a simple process, but not an easy one. In a nutshell, you roll the paper around some sort of stick until you reach the end and it looks like a bead. 

First of all, finding the right kind of stick to make the hole is harder than I thought. My toothpicks were too big, my spaghetti noodles were too fragile, and my broom was too plastic. We ended up pulling pieces from a compound broom (one made from stiff grass that looks like long fir needles) and breaking them into two- or three-inch pieces for each of us to roll. That way we can’t accidentally close the hole in the process. 

Next, you have to roll the thick end of the paper triangle first, making sure to tuck it under itself because otherwise you just roll the stick up and down the paper and nothing ever catches. This may have been the part that made me sweat the most. 

Once you get your paper going, you have to keep it balanced, making sure it doesn’t list to one side and make a lopsided bead. The women who were teaching us made it look effortless. Don’t be deceived. One method is to roll with your thumb so the stick makes its way down your finger, but I find that hard to keep the paper balanced in the center. Another method is to use the thumbs and index fingers of both hands to roll between them, which is slower but more accurate for beginners. 

When there is about an inch of unrolled paper left, dip the end in glue and finish rolling. The glue will hold it closed until the bead is varnished. Pull out the stick, and you have a shaped bead!

Step 3  ::  Varnish

To give the beads their glossy texture, and to make sure they don’t unroll and fall apart, we use clear varnish. First, separate the beads by color. This makes it more organized when you actually put together the jewelry, plus in the varnishing some of the color bleeds and typically people don’t want tie-dyed beads (although, saying that, it now sounds pretty cool). 

String beads of the same color on thick fishing line. This ensures that the holes don’t close up from the varnish. Then take a few beaded strings of similar colors and put them in a basin. Pour a couple splashes of varnish on top, just enough to cover them all without ending up with a pool of liquid afterwards. Swish them around until they are completely covered, and hang the strings up to dry. 

After about fifteen minutes they should be dry enough to give a second coat of varnish. Two coats is acceptable, but for marketable beads you usually need about four coats to make them look really good. After that, it can take up to three days for them to completely dry out and not stick together. 

Step 4  ::  String

Once you have your beads made, you can turn them into a necklace! Typically the paper beads are separated by a few small glass beads whether it is a necklace or bracelet or anything. It looks nice, plus after putting in so much work making the paper beads it’s a nice way to spread them out so they make more jewelry. 

Use a slightly thinner fishing line if you are making a necklace, or a thin piece of elastic if you are making a bracelet. Tie one glass bead at the end to anchor the string, and make a pattern of three glass beads, one paper bead. Or whatever else you want. 

We were fortunate to have some aunties teaching us who have sold these necklaces for a living in the past, so they were teaching us the professional method. When your necklace is as long as you want, tie the ends of the string together and tuck it into a bead so no one can see the knot. And… you’re finished!