Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Safe? What is Safe?

A few weeks ago, after undergoing several days of gun fighting all around us in our home in South Sudan, I came out to Kenya and the first few days felt an immeasurable amount of guilt for allowing my children to be in a situation where they had to endure something scary and heart wrenching like that. But after God doing a slow work in my heart and thanks to a dear teammate who I respect in a huge way sharing this insight, I am coming around and actually coming to the place of feeling grateful that our family gets to be where we are and endure and see and hear what we do. It's not easy. It's heart breaking to the point where you feel like you can't take it anymore. And yet it's the brokenness and evil and suffering that God sent His son Jesus to this earth to redeem and provide salvation from.

Somehow so many of us value comfort and security/safety as things we should strive for and make as goals for our families. But is that biblical? Did Jesus tell His disciples to only go to the safe places and never put themselves in danger? He told them to count the cost, to lay down their lives and to follow Him. Was Jesus' way easy? No, Jesus' way ended with blood, torture, injustice, incredible pain and ultimately death. Jesus said, "For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it." Matt 16:25

This is definitely a lot to chew on. I have chewed on this for several years, ever since about 2013 when I realized that living in South Sudan was going to mean dying to self again and again, losing everything, seeing incredible suffering, and never knowing if it was even all worth it. And God keeps bringing us back. He keeps telling us He's not done with us in South Sudan. He keeps giving grace and strength to persevere and press on. He's given us resilient children who share our mission and love for our South Sudanese brothers and sisters. And He's given us an incredible "cloud of witnesses" who pray and encourage and support us and have for the last 10 years!

This morning I was out jogging and a song called "Safe" by Britt Nicole came on. I was so compelled by the words that I didn't realize I actually broke into a sprint! I will admit that I thought the words were slightly different than they are. Below are the real lyrics and then I'm going to take the liberty of switching them to what I want them to say.

Everything you want, but it's everything you need
It's not always happy endings
But it's all the in-between
It's taken so long, so long to finally see
That your love is worth the risk

What I thought the words were saying was and what my heart was screaming in agreement as I sprinted up my neighborhood hill was:

Life's not everything you want, but it's everything you need
It's not always happy endings but its at the end that's sweet.
It's taken so long, so long to finally see
that life is worth the risk.

And this is what resonated with me this morning: 
1. Life isn't always what I expect or want it to be but it's all part of what I need to cling to Christ and know Him more.
2. In the end we will look back and see the sweetness in the sacrifice.
3. Living for Jesus is worth the risk.

The Britt Nicole song ends with: "You're not safe. And that's okay."

We're not safe in South Sudan. And that's OK. It's OK because Jesus didn't call our family to live in a happy, safe bubble (which no one can live in by the way.) He called us to lay down our lives and follow Him.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Looking to the Prince of Peace

On Christmas Eve, tensions were high between the 40,000 refugees and their host community in Doro, South Sudan.  We had seen this before as small issues between individuals were suddenly blown up into large conflicts between entire communities and tribes.  When we woke up on Christmas morning, we had to decide whether to allow the 25 missionaries who served with SIM in Doro to spread out and celebrate the birth of our Savior in the various churches that dotted the communities around us.  I went to the police station with our director and while we were there, we heard sustained gunfire coming from the corner of the refugee camp.  “It is just a disagreement between the refugees” we were told.  We were not so sure.  We came back to our homes and spread the word that we needed to stay close to our homes but we could celebrate Christmas with the local church in Doro. 


We had a wonderful service full of singing.  Oh My!, how the believers love to sing.  It was fun to hear Christmas songs in Arabic because there were many I had not heard before.  Like our Christmas hymns, you don’t usually sing them unless it is the Christmas season.  Our director gave the message honoring the love of Christ who humbled himself, emptied himself and came to live among us and ultimately sacrifice himself for us.  We rejoiced as about 20 people were baptized after the service. 

Those seated are about to be baptized

The boys were having some stomach issues so Bethany stayed home with them.  Instead of hanging around after the service, I went home at about 2 pm.  Bethany and I were taking a nap when suddenly Isaac came into our room at 5 pm to say that he could hear shooting.  This was unlike anything I had heard before.  There were so many shots and they were getting closer to our homes.  I quickly called our director and he ordered everyone to lie on the floor in their homes and then to gather together when the fighting was over.  We live in three separate compounds surrounded by chain-link fence.  The compounds are close to each other but separated by about 100 meters between them.  We would end up spending the next 2 and a half days separated into three groups, laying on the floor, wondering when the next round of fighting would come and when we would be able to get safely to the UN compound and be evacuated out. 

Working on security while behind the walls and having lunch
At times the fighting was so close that soldiers were about 20 feet from where we were lying down.  At other times, it was half a kilometer away.  We were not sure who exactly was fighting and what their objectives were.  The night was punctuated with the staccato of shots.  I kept saying to myself, “This is Christmas!  There shouldn’t be fighting on Christmas!”  As if somehow, this would stop the fighting.  Our Christmas evening and the following day were spent like this.

The boys hanging out at the UN waiting for the planes
On December 27, we were able to make it over to the UN compound and be evacuated out by some incredibly brave and able AIM AIR pilots.  As we lifted off the ground, we were able to see for the first time the incredible destruction and eerie emptiness of the village where we have been living for the past year and a half. 

It took two airplanes to bring out all the SIM missionaries.  Here we are flying together.

My teammate, Christiane Fox, posted these lines from I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day, “And in despair I bowed by head, There is no peace on Earth I said.  For hate is strong and mocks the song, of Peace on Earth, good will to men.”  My mind has been playing these words over and over as we process what has happened in Doro.   How could this happen?  Aren’t the refugees from Sudan suffering enough?  Isn’t the host community suffering enough?  And on Christmas day!  Somehow I felt like hate won.  Evil was dancing .

Henry Longfellow
But this story isn’t new.  Henry Longfellow wrote I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day as he struggled with the pain of evil and suffering in his own life.  His wife had burned to death after an accident, he was badly burned trying to save her, and his son was injured in the American Civil War.  The United States was ripped in two and hundreds of thousands had died and were continuing to die in the war. 

Hate is strong and is a mocker.  This is just as true today as it was for Henry Longfellow.  In fact, going back 3,000 years, we hear the same voice echoed.  “Help, Lord, for the godly are no more; the faithful have vanished from among men.” (Psalm 12)  David certainly felt like evil was winning the day.  Habakkuk lamented several hundred years later, “How long, O Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen?  Or cry out to you, “Violence!” but you do not save?  Why do you make me look at injustice?  Why do you tolerate wrong?  Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife and conflict abounds.” (Habakkuk 1:2-3)

U2 cries out in their song Sunday Bloody Sunday, “How long must we sing this song?” decrying the violence in Ireland and throughout the world. 

U2 singer Bono
My Christmas was not like your Christmas.  I spent my afternoon lying on the floor, praying fervently for protection, more scared than I had ever been in my life.  I doubt many of you outside of Doro were doing  the same.  And yet…somehow, our Christmas was the same

Our hope.  Your hope and mine.  David’s and Habakkuk’s.  Henry Longfellow’s, Bono’s, and the believers’ in Doro.  Our hope is the same.  We declare it in faith.  We shout it in hope.  We live it out despite the pressure to give in to despair.  Listen to these refrains as each of these writers speaks truth to themselves:

David: “But I will trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation.  I will sing to the Lord for he has been good to me.” (Psalm 13)

Habakkuk: “…though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior.  The sovereign Lord is my strength…(Habakkuk 3)

Henry Longfellow: “Then pealed the bells more loud and deep: ‘God is not dead; nor doth he sleep!  The wrong shall fail, the right prevail, with peace on earth, good will to men’”. 

Bono: “The real battle yet begun, to claim the victory that Jesus won”.

David and Habakkuk trusted in what the Savior promised, while we rejoice in the Savior given on Christmas day so long ago.  Our hope lies in Him.  Our Christmas was spent remembering that Savior born to us who would defeat our enemy.  He is the one, and the only one, that has promised to confront, battle, defeat, and destroy the evil that exists.  He alone can deliver on the promise to ‘wipe away every tear from our eye’.  

So our Christmases weren’t that different.  Whether in safety or in danger, we remembered the birth of Jesus Christ.  Whether in comfort or in pain, we hope in that child born so humbly.  Whether in joy or in sorrow, we look to him who is our Prince of Peace. 

Worshiping the Light of the World as a team Christmas Eve
We are in Nairobi, Kenya and doing well as a family.  We have no idea what the future holds but as the saying goes, we know who holds the future.  We battle against despair and feeling that it is hopeless.  We struggle with sorrow for friends who have lost loved ones.  We ache for entire people groups that have not heard the hope and good news that Jesus loves them.  Yet...We will trust in our sovereign Lord.
-Eli for the Fader Family

Here are some links to read the full lyrics of the songs:

Friday, November 25, 2016

Thanksgiving in South Sudan

The Bountiful Buffet
 We celebrated Thanksgiving with our team on Tuesday with a bountiful potluck of all the major traditional trimmings you'd expect back home. Several times during the day I had to remind myself where we were because our menu included: stuffed roasted duck, stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy, bread rolls, green beans and several other vegetable dishes and for dessert: cheesecake, pumpkin pie, fudge, pumpkin pecan cake and chocolate cake!

Of course before I could fill my own plate with food, I walked around capturing this epic Thanksgiving meal on my camera and as you can tell there was quite a lot of dust in the air. So though it kind of spoiled my photos, I am just pretending they are snowflakes. :)

Family Dinner

Eli filled his plate!

 And then on Thursday, we joined our Uduk friends in the refugee camps for their traditional Thanksgiving celebration. Their food preparation was a little different than ours but we enjoyed it all just as much.
Ladies grinding sesame and peanut butter

Cooking for the multitudes

 Eli spent the day with the men, the kids with the youth, and I was with the women and babies. My favorite part about Thanksgiving here is that we are always reunited with many friends from our Yabus days more than 6 years ago!

As always, I'm happiest with a baby in my arms
One of the friends we were reunited with delivered a new baby girl a week ago so as we went to visit her since they are required to stay inside for the first 40 days of the baby's life. Before praying for the new baby as we were leaving, our friend Mary asked us to name her new daughter (who was child #7). My teammate Ruth suggested Grace or Nayma in Arabic. What a treat to meet this sweet little baby but also have the honor of giving her a name that will hopefully be significant in her future.

Naming a new baby

Brushing up on our Disciple Making

Sessions in our neighborhood church

Due to really weak internet lately, I haven't been able to update you on the happenings here in Doro.
November has been a full month but we have much to be thankful for. One thing we're really grateful for was a week long training on Disciple Making. Two experienced disciple makers (who have followed Christ's examples from the Gospels) came all the way to our corner of South Sudan to not only train our team of missionaries but passionate believers from different tribes here in our area. It was honestly like a "taste of heaven" having our friends from so many tribes all together in one place.

Small groups outside in the shade
We spent a lot of time in smaller groups practicing a new method of Bible study.

Overall, it was a very encouraging week to learn alongside our fellow missionaries and Southern Sudanese brothers and sisters. We are now trying to implement what we've learned and this is requiring a lot of prayer and wisdom. Please continue to pray for the Jesus Followers in South Sudan to be bold and passionate about sharing the Good News with their family and neighbors who don't know Jesus personally yet.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Church wedding

Eli with the groom, Peter (directly to Eli's right) 
A friend of ours called us on Thursday to invite us to an Uduk church wedding for her nephew. This was a significant event because it was the first church wedding in this tribe since they fled to Mabaan 5 years ago! The bride and groom were both 18 years old and had grown up in the church.

We arrived early (kawadja/foreigner) time so we went to visit and pray with each of them before the ceremony.

Praying with Rebekah, the bride (in the middle)

The church was packed!

The bride coming down the aisle
 I kept thinking to myself, "Where are we??!!" The wedding was full of western flavor -
- the bride wore a white dress and carried a bouquet of flowers down the aisle to a tune played on recorders (flutes)
- the father of the bride prayed over the couple before the vows
- they said vows to each other
- they had a receiving line after the service so everyone could greet and congratulate the new Mr. and Mrs.

The pastor who gave a short sermon had several couples get up and share with the church how they kept their love alive over the years - again another thing I've never seen in South Sudan before! The couple above was the former commissioner of the area and his wife who are well loved and respected in the community. Then they asked Eli and I to share because they declared that Kawadja marriages don't have fights or trouble. Well, we put that lie to rest and shared a few of our "tips" in our marriage. As you can see with my blushing face, Eli had everyone roaring with laughter.

Saying their vows

Look at that crowd!

Little Evan and Big Evan

The boys drinking tea after a big feast

Monday, October 03, 2016

The Ministry of Presence

Sweet little Priscilla
 This week the Lord reminded me of the power and sweetness of BEING with people. A week ago I went to visit a few of our friends from the Uduk tribe in their camp and was invited to come back the following day for a double birthday party. The next day we enjoyed an afternoon of singing, gift giving and eating with our friends.

The boys drinking tea after our meal

Eli and the pastors
 The family we celebrated with are good friends of ours from Melut days. Yoel and his wife Miriam were students at Gideon Theological College. Yoel was such a bright student that we encouraged him on to further studies, helping him to Ghana for seminary. He has been in Ghana all year while his wife and 6 children are here in Doro. Since this family is dear to our hearts, we enjoy checking in with them every now and then.

Later in the week, sickness hit our family in different ways. On Tuesday Joshua came down with a high fever, sore throat and headache that kept him in bed for a few days. On Wednesday Evan fell from a swing during recess and hurt his wrist. We are so thankful that it was only a sprain and not a break, but we're keeping an eye on it. I have also been battling a crazy leg ulcer that I think began as a spider bite but has now lasted 3 weeks! Besides sickness we also had a close encounter with a scorpion (but God protected Josh from its sting) and baby spider infestation in Evan's bed!

Evan's arm in a splint
On Saturday, with most of us healing up, I got a phone call from my friend Miriam who we'd just visited the previous weekend. She said she was in the town hospital and in a terrible amount of pain. I waited for Eli to come home from his class and then drove to see her. 10 minutes after I arrived, a doctor did an ultrasound on her abdomen and found a cyst - 9 cm in diameter! She was in so much pain, the surgeon decided to take her right into surgery. I prayed with her and waited outside the theater with her oldest daughter and 3 sisters. Half way through the surgery, one of the nurses poked her head out of the door and motioned for me to come. I was confused but went ahead. Inside the door, the nurse asked me to put on some boots as she put scrubs and a cap on me. She said the surgeon wanted me to see something! At this point, I was getting nervous because I really don't do well looking at the insides of people! I tentatively walked into the theater and the doctor motioned me over to get a look at the size of the mass. It was huge! He saved her life that afternoon because the growth had actually wrapped around another organ and was cutting off circulation.

When I went back to wait outside, Miriam's daughter and sisters were anxious to hear why I'd been called in and I explained what I'd seen and we all thanked God together for the timing of having her surgery. Her life has been preserved...again. Three years ago almost to the month, I wrote on our blog about how God saved Miriam's life during childbirth. I was right there with her when we thought we'd lost her in 2013 and it was precious that I got to be there with her again during another scary, life-threatening illness on Saturday.

My friend Miriam (a week before surgery)

Thankfully Miriam is doing well. We went back to the hospital as a family to visit her yesterday afternoon and it is obvious that she is free from the pain she's been dealing with for so long. Come to find out, she's been having this severe abdominal pain off and on for more than 3 years! No wonder the mass had grown so big!

During the 5 hours I spent in the town hospital with my friend Miriam, I realized what a powerful ministry it is just to BE with people. Not only did I get to pray with and encourage my friend Miriam and her family but I also got to sit and pray with several other sick women and a few children that afternoon. It's amazing what a little hug, a prayer and a smile can do for someone who is suffering.

This was a good reminder for me. I believe it's easy for missionaries to get caught up in our work and what we're doing when really it's about being with the people. I'm thankful God plucked me from South Carolina and placed me among Sudanese refugees to be present with them as they face life's challenges and trials. Together we can fix our eyes on Jesus and remember the hope we have in Him.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Highlights of a Full & Crazy Week

At a wedding
 Last Monday we attended a wedding of a good friend of ours from the Jumjum tribe. As you can see by the crowd of children in the background, they were quite intrigued by some of us very pale wedding guests!

Isaac sporting a home-woven hat
 As Isaac gets older, I continue to be amazed how easy it seems to be for him to make friends everywhere he goes! What a great kid.

Joshua teaching Hopscotch
 As we waited for the dancing to start, Joshua decided to show all the kids how we play Hopscotch.
It turned out they had a similar game of their own.

After church in the camps, we took a group of church friends over to this fine restaurant to have lunch together. The lady making tea is the sister of my good friend to the left of me.

Even though we ended up being out for 7+ hours in the camps on Sunday, these boys don't complain. They are truly amazing. Little missionaries...

Monday, August 29, 2016

Sunday in the Refugee Camps

Eli and his translator Daud 
Yesterday we worshiped with our friends in Yusif Batil Camp. The church structure in made of twigs and branches with a grass roof and we sit on split log benches. Though these baby Christians are just learning how to lead a church service, we enjoyed teaching some new Arabic songs, sharing encouraging words from Scripture and from personal testimonies and then Eli gave a wonderful sermon with a clear gospel message. His message must have stirred in peoples' hearts because even after the service was over, everyone filed back into the church and wanted to ask questions and have discussion. Some of their questions were:
1. Can Satan forgive our sins?
2. If people pray for us after we die, can we go to heaven?

Please please pray for the new believers in the three Ingassana camps because though they are hungry for Truth and God's Word, divisions and misunderstandings have already shown up in their midst. 

Our car load going home
 Our friend T in the bright pink in the above picture is a new sister in Christ. She has been passing on the Bible stories she learns to her little sisters and this week not only brought her sisters but her mother too. Her mother was sick but she sat through the whole service and then we brought her back to town with us to go to the doctor tomorrow.

Even the front seat was full!
 We stopped in town and ate lunch with our friends at an Ethiopian "restaurant" and then drove to a far part of one of the refugee camps to drop off our friend T and her mother and sister.

The scenery driving to one of the camps

A Special Visitor from Melut

Eli and Kur in our home in Doro 
Last week we had a very special visitor come to see us from Melut - our friend Kur Deng Kur, the Principal of Gideon Theological College. He spent a few nights with us, catching us up on news from Melut, how the church and school are doing, and the success of the new Theological Education by Extension program that he started up in Melut in July. The exciting thing is that the weekly classes are now meeting on GTC campus which is such an answer to prayer. Soldiers continue to live in the empty houses (including our house) but at least Bible education continues to happen in that special corner of the world on the Nile River.
     Below is a picture of the 19 students, which includes 3 women, who are currently studying in Melut. This is in addition to the 70+ students in Mabaan county who have just started their 3rd term. We are praising the Lord that even in the midst of challenging times in the country, those who are hungry for God's Word are being filled.

19 Theology students in Melut