|RVA Banquet 1999|
Since we are celebrating our 15th wedding anniversary today, I can't help but feel a little nostalgic after going through hundreds of photos that represent our marvelous life together so far. So in the spirit of the occasion, I want to share some of our love story.
I first laid eyes on Eli Fader as a new 9th grade student at Rift Valley Academy, a boarding school in Kenya for missionary children. He was on the soccer field and the reason my eyes were drawn to him was his neon pink Umbro shorts! I remember thinking, "Yikes, ok, so he's interesting..."
Though Eli and I knew of each other through high school, we didn't really start getting to know one another better until our senior year. He was actually better friends with my roommate and so he started coming to our dorm room window after lock down in the evenings. One night she wasn't there so he and I started chatting and next thing you know, he was showing up at our window to talk to ME! (Yes, this was very much against the rules.)
At the beginning of 1999 for the Junior/Senior Banquet, the event of the year at our school, Eli asked me to be his date. I was so excited because I knew I'd have a good time with him. Everyone loved Eli - he was kind to all and a lot of fun. It was after that Banquet night that my feelings for Eli began to change. I'll never forget the day I was on my way to 7th period and I heard Eli call my name. No joke - my heart started going nuts and I remember thinking, "What in the world is going on???" He was just asking me if he could borrow a pencil for his class, but boy did I feel special.
A few months later we finally had the DTR conversation (Define The Relationship). Eli said he wasn't interested in starting anything if we would just cut it off at graduation in a few months. I agreed that that would be silly. But I was in. All in. So we became a couple - May 1999.
|I was a faithful fan at his rugby games|
As graduation neared, I remember feeling dread, knowing that we would soon be on different sides of the United States. Eli had been accepted at Calvin College in Michigan and I was going to Multnomah Bible College in Oregon. We had no idea what lie ahead for us but we were determined to stay together. I remember sobbing with Eli the night before graduation.
|Graduation day - July 1999|
For the next 2 1/2 years we persevered through a long distance relationship. Every six months we'd find some way to see each other - at Christmas and during the summer. We spent many hours on the phone...
|It meant talking on the phone whenever we could|
Halfway through our sophomore year of college, Eli asked me to marry him. We had known by graduation day from high school that we wanted to spend the rest of our lives together but our parents had cautioned us to finish college first. Eli had been trying to convince me to transfer to Moody Bible Institute where he had transferred for his sophomore year - both because they had a great program for what I was majoring in and so we could be together finally. With both of our parents' blessings, we decided to get married and finish at Moody together. I'm so thankful we took that huge step, as scary as it was at the young age of 21.
|Our Wedding Day - June 22, 2002|
|Totally thrilled to start our lives together!|
Life as a couple was sweeter than we could have imagined. I remember thinking how wonderful it was that we never had to say goodbye, just goodnight. We did have to be a little creative - working part time and finishing school part time but we did it and graduated in 2004, two years later.
Oh and did I mention that we received a special surprise only a year and a half after our wedding? The double pink lines on a pregnancy test! We were pregnant with our first child. So when I walked across the stage to receive my degree, I admit that I waddled a bit - at 7 months pregnant! (hmmm, I wonder why I don't have any pictures of that?!)
|On July 20, 2004 we welcomed Isaac Amani into our family!|
Life changed quite a lot when Isaac was born. Now that Eli and I had completed our undergraduate studies, only a month after our baby was born, we moved to Columbia, South Carolina so that Eli could continue with his studies - now at seminary. We already knew at this point that we were heading for the mission field, specifically Sudan, so we wanted to be well-equipped.
In 2006, a few months before Eli finished his Master's degree, our 2nd son came along and we were thrilled to be a family of four.
|Our Commissioning service at SIM in 2006|
Raising support was a whirlwind but God provided quickly and only a year later we were in the air heading to our new field - Yabus, Sudan. I honestly don't know how to sum up those years of schooling and preparing for the mission field but it was a beautiful season for our marriage to grow and for us to practice stepping out in faith and supporting one another as we did so.
|Arriving at the Yabus airstrip, June 2007|
|Family of Five on the Yabus River|
|A year in Khartoum, Sudan 2011|
|2012 - Our 10th anniversary|
|Our Special Arrival in Melut, June 2012|
2012 was a significant year for Eli and I. That was the year we found our "sweet spot" in life. Through a series of events out of our control, the Lord led us to Melut, in the new South Sudan. While we were studying Arabic in Khartoum, fighting and war broke out in Yabus and our compound was bombed and left deserted. After praying, we believed God was leading us to teach at Gideon Theological College in Melut, on the Nile River.
Life on the Nile wasn't easy but it was so obvious that was where we belonged. Eli absolutely loved teaching. We loved the set up of the college. Students were strongly encouraged to move their whole families to campus so we lived on a large compound with families from at least 5 different tribes. Eli taught the men. I visited, taught and lived life on life with the student wives and all our children played together.
|This was how we got away on "dates" in South Sudan|
|Eli teaching his first English workshop|
Eli blossomed at Gideon Theological College and honestly, a huge part of our hearts will always remain there.
|Graduation 2013 was a big day for us|
We spent 2014 in the United States praying about what God might have in store for us next. We longed to return to Melut but we knew that the new "normal" in South Sudan was going to be tense and unstable. After a whole year of praying and seeking advice, we knew God was holding the door open for us to return.
|May 2015 - celebrating one month in Melut again with our teammate Claire|
After taking several months in Kenya to process and heal from losing our home and our "sweet spot" in Melut, the Lord guided us to Doro, another SIM base in South Sudan, only four hours away from Melut. Eli and I found that we clung to each other all the more through the unknowns and we were so grateful that God unified our hearts and vision during this time.
|Eli teaching in Kaya, a refugee camp in Doro area|
Isn't it amazing that even through the lowest of lows, God flamed the love in our hearts! We have had to be very creative to find ways to "date" in village life. In Doro, every now and then our teammates invited our kids for a special evening of pizza and games. Eli and I would take advantage of those opportunities and have a date-in at home. For our 14th anniversary last year, I spent the greater part of the day rolling my own lasagna noodles, making ricotta cheese and putting a lasagna together for my husband and I to enjoy on our anniversary date in our back yard. It was soooo worth it!
|Fresh out of the charcoal oven|
|Badminton doubles at Samaritan's Purse compound|
Happy Anniversary to my Beloved!
|2017 - still very much in love|