Sunday, March 26, 2017

For Such a Time as This

The Doro Team (1 man missing)
 This last week was really special for Eli and I since we got to see more clearly WHY God had us staying here in Kenya this long before heading back to the States for our home assignment. Tomorrow we'll have been here three months and I'll admit that it has not been easy. We are not city people. After being used to living in the bush, especially the boys were missing the freedom, space to run and play, and all their friends. They've been confined in our apartment with no grass or trees to climb and lots of school work that I use to keep them busy.

But we know this is exactly where we needed to be as a family so we could process, grieve and heal from the crazy Christmas and evacuation we had, including the loss of everything we own again and the huge question marks in our future. It has been precious to have time together with our teammates to cry, struggle, pray, encourage, and play.

In February the assessment team went into Doro for a week to check on our base, visit friends, and get a feel of the "new Doro" after the intense tribal fighting in December. Then in mid March, a team of 5 SIM men flew into Doro to REBUILD. They have been working hard in over 100 degree heat every day, wiring the missionary houses, setting up solar power, trying to get internet set up again, and many other things to make it easier for the rest of the team to come back and re-settle.

This week we had the great joy to pray with and send back our Doro team.

The team has literally been cut in half. There are now 8 SIM missionaries and 4 Kenyan health workers who will all live on one compound and begin picking up the pieces of ministry, home, friendships, and push forward to whatever God has in store for them. Last Monday, as I stood with one arm around one beloved teammate, and one around another, and prayed my heart out for them as they prepared to fly back in, my heart overflowed with thanks that we could be here FOR SUCH A TIME AS THIS.

Ladies Painting Night

A couple weeks ago I came across an old Wayne Watson song called "For Such a Time as This". As I listened to it and read the lyrics, I was struck with how fitting it was for our team going back into South Sudan during a time when things are still very shaky and uncertain. We are so thankful that God has opened the door and for the courage and bravery our brothers and sisters are demonstrating as they continue to love and serve the Southern Sudanese in our small corner of South Sudan.

For Such a Time as This
Now, all I have is now
To be faithful
To be holy
And to shine

Lighting up the darkness
Right now, I really have no choice
But to voice the truth to the nations
A generation looking for God

For such a time as this
I was placed upon the earth
To hear the voice of God
And do His will
Whatever it is
For such a time as this
For now and all the days He gives
I am here, I am here
And I am His
For such a time as this

You, Do you ever wonder why
Seems like the grass is always greener
Under everybody else's sky
But right here, right here for this time and place
You can live a mirror of His mercy
A forgiven image of grace

Can't change what's happened till now
But we can change what will be
By living in holiness
That the world will see Jesus

Songwriters: WATSON, WAYNE

Monday, February 27, 2017

Homeschool week at Rift Valley Academy

It is time for me to introduce this wonderful school to you all because it is about to be a very important part of our family next year. Rift Valley Academy is a boarding school for missionary children whose parents serve in African countries. Eli and I both graduated from this school and have very fond memories of our years there. It is crazy that now, almost 18 years later, our oldest has been accepted to join next year. 

Joshua playing handbells
The 5th and 6th graders playing handbells 
 Several times a year the school invites homeschooled children and their families to come for a week and experience a bit of the Rift Valley life. Children spend part of the week taking a standardized test to make sure they're keeping up to standards in their education but they also get to attend classes with the RVA students and are paired up with a "pal" for the week. We came in 2015 and that was what got Isaac thinking about coming here in the first place. About 4 months after the last homeschool week Isaac asked us if he could apply, so we did. And this week we found out he has a place which is very exciting (and sad for me!)

The boys with some of their friends eating in the school cafeteria

The boys had a very full week making friends, attending classes and playing really hard on the playground and on the hockey courts. Their favorite game was playing hockey while skating on a ripstick (type of skateboard). Needless to say, we were all exhausted when we got back to Nairobi on Friday evening.
Emily and I eating lunch just like old times

Emily was my roommate and best friend during my years at Rift Valley Academy and isn't it amazing that both of our oldest sons will be starting at RVA next year?! It was really special to spend the week with Emily and her family and what memories it brought back!
Emily and I 
The day we left RVA we got the boys' test scores back and were so thankful and encouraged to hear that they are all doing really well in their grade levels. What a relief that was for me as their education has been my full time ministry for the past 7 years! Hopefully we can jump back into our homeschool routine back in our Nairobi apartment with new vigor, knowing we're right where we need to be.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Why it's so cool to grow up in Doro, South Sudan

I thought I would give the boys a fun creative writing assignment today by having them write an essay about why Doro is a fun place to grow up. I thought it would be a good activity to think about all the wonderful things about the past year and a half that we got to live there. Isaac and Evan jumped right in. Joshua didn't find it quite as easy and burst into tears. Suddenly I realized what I thought was a good idea maybe was not so great after all. He said he was upset because he doesn't like writing and he didn't want to have to write something long. I'm wondering if maybe it wasn't the best day to give the assignment since we've just said goodbye to Eli for a week as he flies into South Sudan on a small assessment team. But I thought each of their little essays were unique and wanted to share them.

Here is Isaac's:
Life in Doro for a boy

Some people think South Sudan is a horrible place, not to mention a refugee camp! But those people have the wrong idea! If you live at the edge of the camp like me it's really great. Every morning I wake up to the good smell of breakfast cooking or occasionally Sudanese zalabia (fried doughnuts). After that, we jump into school for like 4 hours and by the time we're done it's lunchtime so we hop on our bikes and ride over to lunch club for some okra or kudra soup. Then we come back to our concrete home to have rest time. At 2:30 we have a choice of about a million things to spend our afternoon. We could go get stuff at the market or go play at the crashed Russian cargo plane. We could go find a tree in fruit or go catch grasshoppers for our 11 cats to eat or we could play soccer with our refugee friends or build a grass hut. If there was rain we would have mud ball wars. There are a lot more things like fishing or swimming at the river but I'm tired of writing so why don't you come and see them yourself.

By Evan:
Doro Memories

Doro is a fun place because there is only half a day of school. And once school is done we play with all our friends and go to the river, swim, fish and play with our friends. We also climb so many trees and get the fruits to eat. There are also crashed airplanes that we love to play in. When it is rainy season we play mud fights, catch grasshoppers, or we just sit around under trees talking in the shade. If we get bored there are two little girls named Annabelle and Mikat that we also swing and play with. That is our life in Doro.

By Joshua:
Fun in Doro

Doro was fun because you could do anything. Like fish or play with your friends. It was so fun. But then dudes with guns came and scared everyone. They kept shooting all the houses but we got in a plane and left.

Monday, February 13, 2017

13+ km hike up and around Mt. Longonot

Our family at the top!
 Early Saturday morning we set out of the city in a van with a group of teammates to hike Mt. Longonot which is a crater about an hour and a half out of Nairobi. We all packed snacks, a picnic lunch and lots of water for a day of adventure in the sun

Group pic at the top

Isaac with his awesome Aunties

Isaac clambering down a steep peak

Explorer Evan

We were so proud of our boys for making the 13 plus km hike!

Sweet family bonding

Eli and the men

Some of the downhills/slopes were a little scary

Still smiling with dusty faces - proud of our day's accomplishment

Josh enjoyed guessing what type of animal each skull was
We were amazed at how refreshing and fun it was to get out of the city and experience such a challenging yet exciting hike with breathtaking scenery. We are again thankful to spend these months here with our teammates though we're not able to be in South Sudan where we all really belong.

Saturday, February 04, 2017

 Press On
When I’m alone, when I’m afraid
When I have had all I can take
Losing my grip, I start to slip away
When I can hear the voice of doubt
Inside my head, screaming loud
Strengthen my faith, and help me say today
I will follow, I will press on
Even when the walk feels long
Your hands hold me together
Your love is with me forever
Through the broken, through the victory
I will praise You through it all
And run hard ‘til the race is done
I, I’m gonna press on, press on
I’m gonna press on, press on
How many storms have I been through
How many led me right to You
You’re using the pain, the hardest days for my good,
My good
So what do I fear God, You are with me
Guiding my steps today
Through the mountains, valleys, sun and rain
Lord, lead the way, lead the way
I will follow, I will press on
Even when the walk feels long
Your hands hold me together
Your love is with me forever
Through the broken, through the victory
I will praise You through it all
And run hard ‘til the race is done
I, I’m gonna press on, press on
One step in front of the other
No looking back, no looking back
One step in front of the other
I’m gonna press on, I’m gonna press on
Songwriters: Chuck Butler / Jeff Pardo / Juan Otero

Again God has been speaking to me through songs, and most especially while I'm out on my morning jogs. Yesterday the words of a song called "Press On" really impacted me because they expressed what the Holy Spirit has been gently laying on my heart. I haven't explained this whole saga here on our blog but a couple weeks ago one of our teammates and dear friends got very seriously sick here in Kenya and she and her husband made the decision to travel to the US to get the medical help she needed. Since she was weak and they also had a 2 year old in tow, I offered to travel with them. When I found out they were flying to LA, I decided to stay a few extra days with my sister and her family and it was such a sweet time of talking, catching up and loving on my adorable nephew.
Coming back to "reality" in Kenya, battling killer jet lag and jumping right into homeschooling my rambunctious three boys didn't add up to a very easy week. Rather, by day 2 I was ready to quit and was feeling so overwhelmed with everything going on in our life. Part of me was tempted to just "escape" and pack up and fly back to America. I was feeling "burned" by Africa and just didn't want to be here anymore. But then the Lord reminded me that sometimes He rescues us from hard times, sometimes He plucks us out of hard times but sometimes He is with us THROUGH the hard times. And I am realizing that I am in that third scenario. My life circumstances are just the way it is and God is calling me to walk through it with him. So when these lyrics to the song "Press On" blasted through my headphones as I pounded out yet another mile on my run yesterday, I was struck by the prhase "I will follow. I will press on. One step in front of the other..." That is all I need to do. Put one foot in front of the other. We will get through this season. I can't avoid it. I can't skip it. I need to press THROUGH it. It's not the easy route but I know it's for my good.

Doro Assessment Team delayed

In our last newsletter we mentioned an assessment team of 5 was going into Doro. The team only made it as far as Juba, South Sudan. Various delays and rumors of unrest made it clear that this is not the right timing for them to be in Doro. They returned to Nairobi, Kenya today. Please pray that God will make clear the right timing for their return and for our team as they grieve the delay. May God redeem this for His glory. Thanks for your prayers.

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: