Thursday, December 26, 2013

A Very Meaningful Christmas

Our family in front of the tree on Christmas Eve

I'm finding it hard to put into words what has been going on inside my heart this Christmas. We had been planning to come to my parent's house in Uganda since last Christmas when my parents came to celebrate Christmas and the New Year with us in our home in Melut. After graduation and a week of tying up loose ends around campus, we were the final missionary family to leave Melut on December 11th.

Little did we know that just a week later fighting would break out in South Sudan. We are so grateful to be with my parents, to have loved ones to cry with and pray with. At the same time our hearts are breaking for our friends who are waiting every day to see if the fighting will come to their area. We are also very sad that our team had to pull out of South Sudan. We wish that we could be with them.

On December 22nd my Dad preached at their local church here in Mbarara, Uganda from Hebrews 3. The point that God really drove home to me that morning was to Fix my Thoughts and Focus on Christ. As we've been reading Advent passages with our boys, the meaning and power of Christmas has come alive to me in a very new and special way this year. When we first heard news of unrest beginning in Juba, South Sudan, my immediate response was, "No! Please No Jesus!" and then I remembered that Jesus, that precious, innocent, and perfectly pure baby who we celebrate this season is Sovereign King over all the earth and He sits on the Throne, in control of EVERYTHING! The encouragement that the Lord has been speaking to my heart this week is:
1. Do Not Worry
2. Do Not be Afraid
3. Stop thinking of the What-Ifs
4. Just Trust Him one day at a time

I am so so thankful that we are in a safe place where we can process this very crazy last year and pray about the year to come. We don't yet know what 2014 holds for us but we know that we serve a Mighty God and we are determined to obey and serve Him whatever that looks like and wherever that might be this year.

And now for a few fun Christmas photos:

Josh was our little elf who passed out the gifts

Christmas stockings filled with all kinds of goodies

At the Christmas service a Birthday cake was brought forward for Jesus and we sang Happy Birthday to Jesus and all the children came forward to help serve it to the congregation. The service was beautifully focused on Christ and concluded with an amazing Ugandan singer who sang a special song with three of her children - complete with traditional dancing.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Please pray with us for the unrest happening in South Sudan

Dear All,
I am writing from Uganda where we arrived on December 12 to celebrate Christmas with Bethany’s parents and brother.  We flew through Juba and spent an afternoon walking around the town with the kids; all seemed to be peaceful.
We are saddened at the news which has come out in the past week.  We have tried calling many of our friends who are either in Juba or in Melut but we believe the mobile networks have been shut down during this time as we have not been able to get through.  The news which has come from the media is conflicted and speculative.  In light of this, I will not try and give my slant on what is happening.  Instead, I ask that you would take a moment now and pray for the people and nation of South Sudan.  
1.) Pray for peace and safety for the majority of citizens of South Sudan who simply wish to live out their lives.  There is a common African Proverb that says “When the Elephants fight, it is the grass who suffers.”  
2.) Pray for courage and wisdom for the Church.  Ministers, Pastors, Priests and Christians will have a great opportunity to calm the nation through their words and through their actions.  The opposite is also an unfortunate possibility.  Please pray that these Ambassadors of Christ would use their positions and relationships to preach love and forgiveness during this time.  
3.) Pray for a crisis of identity for the people of South Sudan.  Especially at times like this, people’s true allegiances are revealed.  Will people choose to live out their allegiance to their tribe, their nation, their God, or their personal ambitions?  Many Southern Sudanese will have to make tough choices and actions in the next few weeks about whom they will serve.  Pray that they will find their true identity in Jesus Christ and do what He requires of them.  
Thank you for praying these three prayers with us.
In Christ,
P.s. For those who would seek our perspective on what is happening (albeit, flawed and limited) please do not hesitate to write us.  

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Ugandan Safari

This week we had the wonderful opportunity to go on safari just two hours from where my parents live! Instead of staying at a lodge we decided to have the full experience of wildlife and camp in tents.

Before you freak out, this elephant was just a statue at the lodge where we spent the afternoon swimming.

We went on several game drives - the longest being in the early morning. Josh liked being up front with Mimo (Grandma).

Mama elephant with her baby
We were able to get really close to several herds of elephant.

Isaac and Joshua with a buffalo skull

The Fader Five tent - plenty of space!

Our campsite was magnificent. It overlooked the channel where hippo, crocodiles and many other species of animals and water birds lived. At night we fell asleep and were even awakened a few times to the sounds of the wildlife around us.

A giant baboon

The first night we roasted hotdogs on our campfire and as Josh took his first bite he exclaimed, "Am I dreaming??!!!" The boys had such a fun time on this trip - every little boy's dream.

On our 2nd day we took a 2 hour boat cruise along the banks of the channel to see all the wildlife that lived in or near the water: elephants, buffalo, hippo, crocodiles, monitor lizards (like iguanas), fish eagles, pelicans, and many other spectacular water birds. The "cherry on the top" was that it was baby season so we got to see baby elephants, buffaloes, hippo, and even a baby crocodile!

We spent one afternoon at Mweya Lodge - a place that is special to Bethany's family because we used to go there when we were younger. We enjoyed the pool, cappuccinos, and the great view of the channel.
Camel fights on Uncle Stan and Uncle James' shoulders

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

"Home" for Christmas

Here we are - at "home" in Uganda with Bethany's family. It's funny that I seem to put quotation marks around "home" whether I'm talking about our home in Melut or in the States. It's because home is where the heart is and home is where your loved ones are and for this month home is Mbarara, Uganda.

Our last couple of weeks in Melut were very busy so when we arrived to the lush, green cow country where Mom and Dad live, it meant rest and refreshment to our weary souls. We have enjoyed the last five days of great food, lots of wrestling and water fights between the boys and their uncle, morning runs with my dad, and going through the book of Acts every morning and evening as a family.


Bethany with her "little" brother

Water fights!

Wrestling with Uncle Stan

Tomorrow we leave for Queen Elizabeth National Park for a fun family safari and camping with the wildlife. Stay tuned for more pictures...

Sunday, December 08, 2013

What a week!

My last cuddles with Baby Isaac
 We had quite the week here in Melut starting with last Sunday, the day after our big graduation. Sunday morning was an extra long, but special church service as multiple congregations from different tribes worshipped together (they had traveled to Melut for Graduation.) Then that afternoon was the 40-day memorial service for our dear friend Elizabeth who went to be with the Lord in October. We were really feeling our loss on graduation day, a day that she had been looking forward to for so long.

Monday morning students started leaving. The men from northern Sudan left early that morning and several families packed all of their belongings, pets, and all their family members into the back of a huge truck for what was probably a 5 hour drive.

Lifting Evan up for a final farewell

Isaac and Evan's best friend German was one of the passengers on that truck so it was a tearful goodbye.
Waving goodbye with prayers on our lips for their safety

As the truck pulled out of GTC's gate, I was working hard at containing my tears but when I saw my oldest son sobbing I realized we both needed a good cry. I put my arm around him and we silently walked home, feeling the same emotions and sadness and letting the tears fall.
That same afternoon a decision was made to medically evacuate one of our teammate families to Kenya due to a very sick 2-year old. God was so good to provide a plane that flew their whole family out of South Sudan less than 24 hours after making the decision. But this was a hard day as we prayerfully sent them off, knowing this was not what any of us planned for or expected. And worrying for their sweet little boy.
Thursday - more goodbyes.
This time we said goodbye to the Heska family who joined our team here for one year and Claire who is heading back to the States for her home assignment. Thursday was the 3rd day that week Eli spent waiting at the airport, making sure people got on their flights. This week just happened to be the week that the airline that flies out of Paloich, an hour from us, suddenly stopped flying so the airport was full of passengers needing to get to their destination. God worked wonders to get all of our GTC people on those flights!
On Friday Eli and I both breathed a sigh of relief and took a slow day - we needed it!
Saturday was full of projects around campus, cleaning up after the students who left and working on things at home, packing up and securing everything since we'll be away for almost two months!

One of my favorite things about this week that I have thanked the Lord for many times are the new friends that God is already bringing for our boys. Isaac, Evan and Josh had to say many goodbyes this week but two boys in particular above, Deng and Go, have started coming over every day and they all seem to getting along splendidly.

We are now trying to organize a flight to travel to Uganda to spend Christmas with my (Bethany's) family. With the airline down, it's proving to be a challenge, but hey, it's a new week, we never know what's going to happen!

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Just In Case You Wanted to Visit

It was Monday, 6:31 AM, Yohanna Musa, recent graduate of Gideon Theological College knocks on the door and with as much patience as he can muster says, "Is Eli ready?"  I groggily peak out onto the porch and tell Yohanna that I meant 6:30 Sudanese time, not foreigner time (Sudanese time means 30 minutes after any mentioned time).  However, today, Yohanna was getting a ride back to see his family after two years of studying at the college so perhaps his impatience is forgivable. 
I was given the task to drive Yohanna and the Northern Sudanese students along with Bishop Raymond, the graduation speaker, to the airport and bus station which was forty five minutes away.  This is not a simple task in rainy season (ask Nate Kidder) but it has not rained in a month so the roads are dry and recently a grader has smoothed them so we were off and flying down the road at 7 AM. 
I should have known.  This was not going to go well.  I fly right past Bishop Raymond as he patiently waited outside our neighbor's guesthouse.  Yohanna politely informed me that I just covered our graduation speaker in dust and would now need to reverse and pick him up.  This humble pie is going to be eaten one piece at a time. 
The rest of the day seemed to go well.  I dropped Bishop Raymond at the airport, dropped the northern students at the bush station, purchased 11 tickets for people going away for Christmas (including our family) and was on the way home when Bishop Raymond called and informed me that he was not on the flight.  Hmmmm.  I made some calls.  "There are two flights today, he is on the second flight," came the reply. 
I travel back to Melut and get a call at 3PM.  No 2nd flight is coming: "Technical Difficulties".  Bishop Raymond needs to come back to Melut to spend the night.  He is catching a ride with some other people, so don't worry, you don't have to pick him up.  Not so bad.
The next 9 hours are a blur as our teammate's child takes a turn for the worse and needs immediate medical attention and evacuation in the morning.  That is for a different blog post (Praise God, as I am typing this the child is safely in Nairobi in a great hospital and his family is with him). 
Tuesday begins at 6 AM to deliver the family to the airport and Bishop Raymond has found a separate ride there, no worries.  The plane comes for the family, (Thank you Samaritan's Purse) and as I am coming out of the airport, there is Bishop Raymond!
"Bishop!  So glad to see you, how was the night?" I asked.
"The night was fine but they have cancelled my flight today," the bishop responds.  "The 'Technical difficulties' are now being labeled 'Administrative Difficulties'".  Now what I am about to tell you comes seventh hand but it turns out that the oil company decided not to renew the contract with the airline that flies their employees from Juba to our airport near Melut.  Did they have another airline in mind?  No.  Did they inform anybody about this?  No.  Did they continue to take bookings on these flights even though they did not have any airline to fly?  Yes. 
I looked around.  100 or so upset people surrounded the airport manager demanding to know what was going on.  All he could offer that was when a new contract was signed, those who missed yesterday's flight would get priority and then today's passengers would be next.
"When will they sign a new contract?" an astute passenger petitioned.
Silence from the airport manager.  Hmm.  Not a good reply. 
Oh, No! I remember the purchased tickets for our flights out to spend Christmas with Bethany's parents.  That's right, five tickets with a non-contracted airline.  Oh and yes, I purchased 2 tickets for our staff and 4 more tickets for the Boland family.  I thought it was a little too easy to buy all those tickets yesterday! 
In Kenya, the proper response about now was to look around for an old tire and some gasoline.  However, such mob justice has not found its way to our area and the people wandered back to their seats and waited.  Bishop Raymond and I sat for an hour, went and had breakfast for an hour and then came back to see if there were any developments.  None.  We had an inside man and he came out to tell us that we were better off just going home and checking in tomorrow.  We got the phone number of the airport manager and were just about to leave when Bishop Raymond prayed that God would sort this out some how.  I wondered what God could do at this late stage: Oh Me of little faith.
We turned to get in the vehicle when I noticed the fire engine.  The fire engine always starts up and goes out to the runway when there is a flight coming in.  "Bishop, let's wait a few minutes and see what happens," I say.
A couple minutes later, a massive Russian-made Antinov lands and it is followed by a second.  These are cargo planes but were commonly used to carry passengers during the war. 
We rush back into the airport and people are lining up, obviously thinking the same thing.  The airport manager comes out and solemnly tells everyone that these planes cannot carry any passengers and that we should all go home.  No one moves.  People are desperate. 
A man named Dick Otto once told me that I have two passports in Africa.  One was my paper passport and the other was my skin color.  For good or worse, he is right.  I was going to try and use the second one now.  Russian Antinovs are usually flown by retired Russian or Ukrainian pilots who are crazy enough to fly these planes that are banned in European and American airspace because these planes have not been properly maintained.  I had to choose my target carefully.  I found a crew member that was wearing a cross (remember, I am trying to get a flight for a bishop) and asked, "Captain?" pointing to him.
"No. Captain does paperverk," He responds and points up at the tower.
"I have a friend. He is a bishop in the church.  Can he fly with you?" I ask.
"You Military?"  He asks.
"No.  I am a teacher.  I will stay here.  The bishop will fly to Juba," I respond.
"You have I.D.?" 
I show him my GTC identification card and then he says, "I talk to captain". 

My heart is pounding.  This might work!  I run back inside to tell Bishop Raymond the good news.  However, we have to be careful how many other people find out about this.  We go and wait outside under a tree near the Antinov and a couple other curious passengers follow us out (Bishop Raymond brought his bag).  Nuts!  Airport security spots us and comes over to find out what we are doing.  I try to explain to them that the Bishop might be able to get a seat on the flight...They cut me off.  There is no way.  The airport will not allow people to fly with them.  Go back inside and sit down with everyone else.  Dejected we turn and walk back inside.  Bishop Raymond seems surprisingly buoyant.  Oh Me of little faith. 

The first Ukrainian/Russian man I met returns with another man who is the captain.  The captain asks, "Vare you go?" 
"I am not going.  The Bishop is going to Juba.  Can you take him?" I point to Bishop Raymond.
"Bishop is black," came the response. "Vee only take white people." 
Shocked, I turn to Bishop Raymond.  He is calmly taking in the fact that he cannot fly because he is a Southern Sudanese but I can fly because I have "the second passport".  The captain explains that the company has a policy that they cannot take on nationals as passengers for insurance reasons but somehow Europeans (I didn't argue when he called me a European) don't worry the insurance company. 
I explain to him that we work together and that there won't be any problems but he was quite insistent.  All he would do would be to call his office in Juba.  I sat down dejected a second time.  Bishop Raymond...well, we don't have to go over that again.  He was fine.  He then told me an incredible story about waiting in the Khartoum airport for an entire month trying to get a ride on one of these planes down to Juba during the war time.  Me and my FWPs. 
An hour later, the Antinov is all unloaded (they had a brand new Toyota Land Cruiser in there) and suddenly this man comes up to us.  He is wearing a yellow reflector vest like some of the airport security staff and he points to Bishop Raymond's large wooden cross on his chest, "Bishop?" 
Raymond nods.  "Come with me," yellow vest says. 
I decided not to follow because I drew the wrong attention from airport security before.  Raymond disappears out the doors and towards the plane.  A couple minutes later, I get a whispered phone call from Bishop Raymond, "I am inside."  He hung up.  What! I couldn't believe it!  Amazing.  What happens next, I will have to ask Jesus when I get to heaven because it doesn't make sense to me.  A couple minutes later the captain comes in to the airport and pulls me aside.
"So sorry friend.  Juba says we no take Bishop.  You ok but Bishop no."
Thoughts are racing through my head.  I decide to chance it.  "I think the bishop is in the plane.  A man came and took him."
"No," replied the captain, "I just come from plane. I know Bishop face.  He not inside." 
I think I was catching on to Bishop Raymond's faith because I didn't feel very dejected when the captain said all this.  Was Raymond inside or not?  I didn't have a clue but somehow this was going to work out.  I thanked the captain for trying and exited the airport.  I didn't want the captain or the airport security to be able to find me if they found out that Raymond was on board. 
I walked to the truck and sat inside, watching the plane taxi and then take off, watching it all from the rear view mirrors.  Ok, time to check.  I got back out of the truck and then strolled through the airport, looking to see if Bishop Raymond had been found and kicked off.  Nope.  Didn't see him.  I looked outside where some other passengers were attempting to get on the other Antinov.  He wasn't there.  I tried his cell phone.  Didn't go through.  Hmmm.
I drive back to Melut and as I am sitting on my porch, drinking a cold "yucky water" (that is what the kids call it when I put Oral Rehydration Salts into water) and then my phone rings.  Bishop Raymond was in Juba safely and on the problems!  They didn't ask for a single bit of money from him...well, they didn't see him at all! 

Anyone care for a visit?

Monday, December 02, 2013

Graduation Day - November 30, 2013

Staff and Students marched through town to announce their graduation

Words cannot even express how wonderful Graduation day was here at Gideon Theological College in Melut yesterday! Excitement was high - people danced, cheered, sang, prayed, and thanked God for carrying them through.
The student wives

The graduates sat at the very front

From left to right: our new Principal: Mr. Kur Deng Kur, Academic Dean: Jamie Boland, and Dean of Students: Eli Fader
 Eli had the privilege of opening the ceremony with a speech in honor and memory of our late Principal, Rev. Philip Eisa. Philip's name was mentioned by many throughout the day, recognizing that it was his passion and vision that helped this day, this dream, come to pass. How we wish you could have been with us Dear Friend.

Graduates were called to the front in groups with their wives for a special commissioning prayer

One of our students receiving his diploma

One of the wives with her certificate of attendance in the women's program

This couple, Yuna and Martha, have been some of our closest friends from the very beginning of our life in South Sudan! Here Martha is "decorating" her husband proudly with wreaths right after he received his diploma.

Some of them were so decorated you could hardly see their faces!
 The Graduation Ceremony started around 9:30 am and finished around 2:30 so it was five hours long on a very hot day. However, the heat and length of the program didn't dampen anyone's spirits! As the graduates came forward to receive their degrees, groups of people (usually family or church members of the graduate) would rush forward and perform a traditional dance with the graduate. It was incredible to see the depth of their joy as they celebrated each of the students' hard work!

After all the graduates had received their diplomas, the staff also presented an honorary Bachelors degree to Elizabeth William, our beloved student who went to be with the Lord on October 17th of this year. A family member came forward to accept the diploma on her behalf and her oldest daughter brought a beautiful heart-shaped wreath to commemorate all her mother's hard work. It was a quiet, solemn, and tearful few moments as we all paused to remember our sister who was missing from our midst.

The GTC kids - children of staff and students - did a great job with their two songs that they've practiced for the last two weeks

The day ended with many, many pictures, hugs, and goodbyes. Students and their families will continue to slowly disperse and leave what has been their home in Melut for the last few years to their villages and towns.