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

Friday, August 05, 2016

First 24 hours

Back to our Reality:
      A few days ago I was enjoying hot showers, Dr. Peppers, and eating out. Today I felt the stark contrast of my life, my reality here. My reality check started yesterday at 2:30 am when I had to wake my children and husband to head to the airport for our journey back to South Sudan. In the van on the way to the airport I realized that I needed to pray over every step of the journey. We had to first fly to Kenya where we then had to change planes and arrive in Juba in time to join the mission charter plane. It was a chain and it needed to all work without a hitch. And it did, other than an hour and a half delay in our 1st flight and almost having to leave a teammate behind, we made it to Doro by 1 pm, just in time for lunch.
Our co-pilot
In a flurry of hugs, handshakes and greetings, all I could think about was all the cleaning and unpacking ahead of me. Since we'd been in limbo for the last two weeks, not really knowing when or even if we could return to South Sudan, I felt very eager to be settled again and get back into some kind of routine (notice I don't even try to use the word, "normal"). All afternoon I swept away cobwebs, wiped things down and unpacked the next 3 months worth of supplies, battling pangs of guilt as I stacked cans of fruits and vegetables knowing so many of my Sudanese friends are hungry every day.
     Even though I've been living this "bush" life for 9 years, I still had to fight to crank my brain into the right mode - trying to think of what to cook for dinner for my family. Should I take the time to light the charcoal - the more economical option -  or splurge and cook on propane which is much faster? Should I dig into our fresh stock of canned goods or resort to the local lentils? By thte time we got the boys in bed by 7 (because of our early morning), Eli and I were ready to head to bed right after them!
     First morning back and I am woken at 6 am by several booms and some gunfire. I told myself it was thunder and rolled over to go back to sleep. A half hour later, our kittens who missed us dreadfully started meowing to let them in, the rooster started crowing and my mind instantly kicked into gear.
     Shortly after 7 am we got a phone call confirming that yes, the 6:00 booms were clashes about a 45 minute drive from us. So this is how South Sudan welcomes us back after a month away! Unrest rmeans Eli spends extra time on the phone and meeting with key people in the community who pass news and information on to him. Basically, he jumped right back into his role as team leader!
Fast forward a few hours - the house was unpacked, the kids were out in the neighborhood playing happily with their friends, so I decided to go visit and greet all my neighbor friends. I drank tea and coffee and helped my friend chop onions while she told me some of the sad tales of what July was like for her - sickness, hunger, unrest, etc.
     I walked home, my heart heavy, my emotions all over the place and the words to one of my favorite hymns came to mind: "I need Thee every hour." This was significant because one week ago, missionary friends prayed over our return to South Sudan and asked us to choose a song to sing. We chose "I need Thee every hour". And today, when those words came to mind, I couldn't help thinking that God had been preparing us days ago for what we would return to.
      Another God thing is that the day before we flew back to South Sudan God led me to read from Deuteronomy 31 where God (and Moses) encouraged Joshua to be strong and courageous with the reminder that the Lord would personally go with him and even go ahead of him. These verses were so comforting as I prayed and anticipated our return, I even shared them with Eli. Then the day after we arrive, new clashes occur. It was timely - God's loving timing - to bolster me with courage and remind me He went before me and is with me now.
      I know this post might sound negative. Honestly, my heart is feeling lifted, positive and at peace. I can't allow the circumstances of this war-torn country and the suffering of its people to steal my hope. God is Here. He is doing something. And I'm so thankful He brought our family back - however long that might be.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

12 years!

Newborn Isaac
 12 years ago this sweet little baby changed our lives together. He ushered Eli and I into the world of parenting -a role that has brought the most joy, challenges, miracles and excitement into our lives! Today our firstborn is 12 years old and I can hardly believe it.

In some ways it feels like it was just last week that we cuddled and nurtured this little baby. But then I look at this kid now and I can't believe the young man he's growing into.

It is such a joy and encouragement to my heart, after 12 years of parenthood, to see the sweet, kind, responsible young man Isaac has become.  Isaac does well in school, speaks Arabic, is a friend to many - young and old, helps me so much around the house and is a good leader for his little brothers to follow. Happy Birthday Isaac!

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Finding Joy in Uncertain Times

Quiet time away 
     As many of you know, we had a quick change of plans last weekend. We were packed and ready to fly back to our home in South Sudan until we found out that all airplanes were required to go through the capital city of Juba. After what's been going on there in the past week, we didn't feel comfortable taking our family through so we decided to postpone. Knowing we'd need a few weeks to wait and see how things go in South Sudan, we traveled back to western Uganda where Bethany's parents live and do ministry. Though it is always challenging when you don't know your next step, it is a comforting place to be - in our Heavenly Father's hands and at home with family. We are deeply grateful how God worked things out.
     Last week Eli and I were able to leave the boys with their grandparents and take a few days away at a quiet, beautiful place on the edge of an animal reserve. We spent most of our time taking in the spectacular scenery, talking through heavy subjects and praying over different aspects of our lives. Our time away together was everything it needed to be.

I was pleased with my lunch

So thankful to have each other to go through life with!

Drinking evening tea on the porch of our little bungalow
 Last Thursday my parents drove us to Kampala, the capital city of Uganda. We thought we were on our way back to South Sudan so we spent some time doing last minute shopping and enjoying some special treats.

Gelatto ice cream with Mimo

Lattes with my Mama

On our first night in Kampala we got to spend the night with the Boland family, teammates of ours. We had served together at Gideon Theological College in Melut. They are now based in Uganda and teaching in a Bible College where many of their students are Southern Sudanese.

The kids camped out in the yard for the night

Lunch at Java House

My Mom and Dad
The day we returned to Mbarara, where my parents live, I was unpacking our things once again and thinking how crazy it was to be back at my parent's house moving back in when I had just packed us up a few days before! But the overwhelming feeling I had was GRATEFULNESS. We are so thankful that if we can't be in South Sudan right now, we get to be with family in a beautiful part of Uganda.

Josh & Grandpa

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Rest, Sweet Rest

Snuggles with Grandma 
The day before the boys and I got on a plane to leave South Sudan and come to Uganda to spend a few weeks with my parents, I came down with a nasty bout of strep throat. It had been a very stressful week and being sick as I tried to wrap up things in our house and pack to come was almost more than I could handle. I spent my first week "home" with my parents, sick but it was such a relief to be with family and have the extra help from my parents. 
Picnic in the yard

Playing Monopoly
 This has been the most restful R&R I can remember. Our days have been full of eating good food, playing games, playing in the yard, watching movies, and getting to know other missionaries in the area.

Enjoying lunches outside

Eli's 1st breakfast in Uganda
 After wrapping up his responsibilities in Doro, Eli joined us and we spoiled him rotten with good food and plenty of time to rest and play.

Rugby/wrestling with the boys 
Morning coffee with Mom
 One of my favorite things has been the many heart-to-heart talks that my mom and I have had.

We have had many yummy things to eat but one of the coolest treats so far has been the Dr. Peppers I found in town. You have to understand that the food available in our part of South Sudan is very limited so food is one of the most important parts of our R&R/breaks out.

Josh is fortunate enough that his birthday happened to be while we're here with the grandparents. I'd say he's had a very memorable 8th birthday with cinnamon rolls for breakfast, whole fish for lunch (his favorite) and cake with lots of friends.

We can do what we do in South Sudan, year after year, because of the breaks and times of rest we get out of country. We are so thankful for the refreshment we're receiving while we're here and the cherry on the top is getting to be with family! 

Monday, June 20, 2016

An Unusual Visit

Melissa and I adventuring through the camp
On Saturday my teammate Melissa and I were invited to visit a young teenage girl, probably about 17, whom I will call Teresa. She just started coming to our Saturday Bible study in the Yusif Batil camp and we were excited to have her, especially when we heard that she was from an influential family in the camp. Teresa is a very spirited, fun young lady and I feel like she took to me right away. Last weekend while we were sipping tea together in a tea shop she asked if I would come to visit her the following Saturday. I decided it would be possible because I could drop Eli at the church for Bible study and I could go on to her house. So Saturday afternoon we dropped Eli and two of the boys at the Yusif Batil church while Melissa, Joshua and I set out on what would later prove to be quite the wild goose hunt. I had a general idea of where in the camp she was from and I figured that since she was from a well-known family, I'd be able to find her house no problem. One issue: I didn't know her father's name. Just her first name. So for the next hour and a half, Melissa and I traipsed through the camp, first going in one direction, and then in another. We ended up coming to houses where someone with a similar or same name lived but found that it was not the right place. Finally we decided to head back to the church and see if someone there could help us find the way.

At the church, Sam, another young teenager, said he knew where Teresa lived so we got back in the car, heading back in the direction where we'd first been looking. He said he knew where she lived but as we started searching from one house to the next, Melissa and I realized that he knew the general area but not her exact house. :) We had to keep chuckling and smiling at each other because at this point it was just comical! Finally around 3:30 we ended up at the right house of the right girl. We met her mother who warmly invited us into a freshly mudded hut. After guzzling a big cup of water we found out from Teresa's mother that Teresa wasn't home! She had gone to market. She wanted to make us a cup of tea so we stayed, hoping that maybe Teresa would show up, but once we got to 20 minutes past the time we were supposed to meet back up with Eli at the church, we said we would try to come back another day and said our farewells.

I don't think people in that part of the camp have khawaja (foreign) visitors very often so we had quite a crowd of neighbors and children come by to greet and stare at us.

Children staring in at us
As we drove away from Teresa's house, honestly tired out and a bit frazzled from the wild goose hunt, I chose to believe that the afternoon trek and visit were not a waste. I hope it meant a lot to Teresa that we kept our word and showed up even though she forgot. I hope our determination to find her house spoke love to those who were helping us find the way. And I hope God will lead us back to that little hut someday soon to share His love and Truth.