Saturday, May 30, 2015

An Afternoon of Reunions

We had a little crowd of children following us as we walked out to the camps
 I want to tell you about a special day that happened 10 days ago. Our family and teammate were flown from our base in Melut to another SIM base in an area called Mabaan County because of the fighting in our town. Mabaan County is where 135,000 refugees and 23,000 internally displaced people live. Ever since we left Yabus in Blue Nile State in 2010, we have wanted to re-connect with many friends who live in these refugee camps. God gave us a special opportunity during our short stay in Mabaan County to go out and find them in the camps.

Having tea

Reunited with their best friend German.

With my friend Martha
 Yuna and Martha were some of our first friends in South Sudan. They were our neighbors in Yabus and then they came to study at Gideon Theological College in Melut for two years. We have been so thankful for our friendship with them through many different changes. On this day we got to visit them in their new home built in the refugee camp by their church family.

Joshua and little Isaac

You might remember that our friends Yuna and Martha named their youngest son Isaac after our Isaac. He was born in Melut and Bethany was the first person to hold him. It was so fun to see how much he'd grown.
With Yuna and Martha's family

Everywhere we walked children followed. They rarely or never have seen kwadja (white) children. At this point in our walk, Joshua had stopped to shake a little boy's hand and soon everyone wanted to shake his hand too!

With other friends who lived in Melut at Gideon Theological College with us
We hadn't seen them since 2013. 
Eli and the men enjoyed tea inside the hut

Bethany with some of the ladies
 The woman to the left of me in this picture is Miriam. She and her husband graduated from Gideon Theological College in Melut in 2013. I have always had a special admiration and respect for this young lady. It warmed my heart to see her place of ministry among her people in the camps and to see that same sweet smile. (They don't smile in photos unfortunately.)

The boys were happy to find their buddy Samuel

Yuna, Eli and Yoel
Both of these men have been special friends so it meant a lot to Eli to spend a few hours catching up and praying with them.  It was so encouraging to see and hear how God is using these men, graduates of the Bible college in Melut, to teach and disciple believers and preach the gospel to other tribes who haven't heard about Jesus before.

Although we were very heartbroken by what was happening in our beloved town of Melut and sad that we had to leave South Sudan the next day, God gave us this very meaningful afternoon reuniting and mutually encouraging each other, to provide good closure for us.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Accepting it...with Joy

    As you all know, we had to leave our cozy home on the Nile River, about a week ago due to fighting that arrived in our town. It has been quite the week of moving from Melut to another SIM base and then from that base back to Nairobi, Kenya. Just a few days after arriving in NBI, I (Bethany) came down with a horrible stomach bug that thankfully only kept me in bed for one full day but it has now passed to Isaac and Eli. So amidst the processing and grieving, our bodies are a bit weak as well. Maybe God knew we needed something to keep us at home, taking it easy for now.
    Yesterday was the one week mark since we had to flee Melut and our dear teammate Claire, came down to visit for a bit. She shared a wonderful passage from Hebrews 10 that I want to share this morning. I got up before the rest of the family this morning (which is my usual routine) and poured over these verses, feeling fountains of new peace and yes, joy, flood into my saddened, heavy heart. I have read it in multiple versions but I will start out with the version I use, the New Living Translation:
    "You suffered along with those who were thrown into jail, and when all you owned was taken away from you, you accepted it with joy." The Amplified version says, "you bore cheerfully the plundering of your belongings and the confiscation of your property"
    Wait a minute, what?!!! I need to bear this cheerfully? If I stopped there in these verses I wouldn't understand how I could possibly accept this with joy. But again in the Amplified Version, the verse goes on to say that we bear this cheerfully "in the knowledge and consciousness that you yourselves had a better and lasting possession. Do not therefore fling away your fearless confidence, for it carries a great and glorious compensation of reward."
    And now it's sinking in...slowly. Yes, we do have a better and lasting possession. What was looted and confiscated was just stuff. It doesn't have eternal value and it's not going to heaven with us. Yes, it does have sentimental value and we LOVED making our home among the people of Melut town, but the Lord offers us soooo much more and with lasting value!!! Therefore, we can't give up. We can't "fling away our fearless confidence" (trust/faith). And this passage keeps getting better. Verse 36 wraps it all up with: "For you have need of steadfast patience and endurance, so that you may perform and fully accomplish the will of God and thus receive [and enjoy to the full] what is promised."
    So this is my prayer - for steadfast patience and endurance to do the will of God. It is tempting to think we weren't able to accomplish His will in Melut because we had to leave prematurely. But Eli and I believe that God sent us there for those 40 days of living in community, encouraging, and offering hope to our friends in Melut. For some reason He wanted us there, along with Claire, for that specific amount of time and He has more in store ahead of us.
    The lesson I'm asking God to teach us this week is to accept what has happened with joy. This will only happen by His Spirit. And you know what? It's already happening! My sister called me this morning, unaware of what I was blogging at that exact moment when she called. And you know what she encouraged me with? She shared how she has seen (rather heard) us maintain joy through this whole difficult ordeal. Even from across the ocean she testified that we are accepting this with joy and moving forward. I told her I can't take any credit. "That Sis, is the waterfall of grace that our Loving Heavenly Father has been showering over us during this time!" I know there might be dark days ahead but I'm clinging to these incredible verses penned more than a thousand years ago!

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Only 1 Week Ago!

The boys all dressed for church standing by the river

The outside of our church in Melut

Last Sunday, May 17, Melut SIC Church was packed full!
 Just last Sunday the youth and elders from a church in Paloich, a one-hour drive from Melut, came to spend the weekend with the youth and church family in Melut. Gideon Theological College hosted the visitors in some houses on campus but the church cooked and hosted. Sunday morning was a very special (and long) service with the Melut Choir (pictured on the left in blue) and the Paloich Choir (in peach on the right). They sang and worshipped. There was dancing, ululating, and even tears shed as we thanked God for being God.

As the choirs sang, the people of the church joined in and came forward with dancing and celebration.

Isaac and his friend Manchol

I even got to hold a baby for a while and got him to fall asleep!

The boys were a little squeezed and hot but they did amazing for a 4 1/2 hour church service!
When the service was over around 1:30, we headed home for a quick lunch and then a Sunday afternoon rest. But I  heard that the women were still fellowshipping together on campus, eating and drinking tea and coffee, so I headed back over to join in. Once we'd had our fill, the youth and women headed back over to the church for more singing and dancing. I forgot my camera this time but it wouldn't have mattered because I was too busy joining in!

It was such a precious time of praising the Lord together, forgetting for a while, the growing tensions in our state and the instability in our hearts. We forgot that we were different colors and different cultures. We just sang and focused on one thing: Jesus.

And that, my friends, is my last good memory of Melut. By Monday we had to arrange a plane to take us out of Melut and in the middle of the night on Monday night we were woken by a friend telling us that Security in town was telling everyone to pack up and get out of Melut because the rebels were coming.

I look back at these pictures now and at each face, those I know personally and those I don't, and I wonder where each of them is now. Where did they run to? Were they separated from their family? Where are they getting food and water? And most of all, what will they do now?

The phrase that seems to keep coming up today is: Let Go and Let God.
I still have so many questions and emotions I haven't sorted through yet but I know I can trust God. I know that He reigns.

Friday, May 22, 2015

We are OK

The boys playing Uno in the UN bunker in Melut
Dear Friends,
    We are sorry for the delay in the letting you all know that we are safe and OK. We know that many of you have already heard that Melut, our little town on the Nile River in South Sudan, was attacked by rebel troops this last Tuesday, May 19th. We are so thankful to the Lord for preserving and protecting our family and teammate, Claire. Our children never heard a single gunshot or saw anything traumatic. In fact, I feel like the above photo is kind of bizarre since they were sitting in the bunker at the UN but all smiles as they played Uno, unaware of the danger coming closer.
    We were evacuated to Doro, one of SIM's other bases in South Sudan, and then yesterday, May 21, we flew to Nairobi, Kenya. This is a good place to recuperate and process this last week's events and pray about what is next for our family. There are a lot of emotions to deal with especially as we continue to contact friends who had to run for their lives and as we hear reports like we did today -  of Melut town being burned and our college campus being looted.
     I have a lot to share, even about the precious days leading up to our hasty departure but that will come in time. We have agreed with our teammate Claire that we believe the Lord sent us to Melut for those 6 weeks, to share hope and love with His people there.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Sometimes I pause and think, "This is my life?!!!"

Our mode of transportation unless we feel like walking

Honestly this life near the Nile is not all glamor and shine. Though I thank the Lord every day for the privilege to be here serving Him, you seriously have to be soooo flexible to survive the craziness. I am not really a very flexible person but am trying to be more so. Anyway, I wanted to share what it's like for me to go grocery shopping. Think of me the next time you go to Walmart or Publix. :)

Some of my friends who  have stalls at the market
 Once I get to the market which is only about a mile from our house, I have an order of where I go to get what I need. First I go to the butcher. I should have taken a picture but I was in the midst of the crazy crowd, pushing and hollering for the cut of meat I wanted. Seriously, when the freshly butchered cow arrives, there is a rush of women and children who have been sent to the market. They are all pushing and yelling at the butcher for the amount they want as they shove their money at him. I don't know how he keeps his cool. I've learned though that if I just stand patiently, Kamal (the butcher) will look at me and ask what I want. Usually I get 2 kilos of laham safi (meat without bones) but yesterday there wasn't enough meat to go around and I ended up giving up. They brought more meat about a half hour later, but again, there was such a scramble, I decided it wasn't worth it.

Next I go to the vegetable stalls. These days I can find potatoes, sweet potatoes, eggplant, cucumbers, and sometimes even oranges that come come from Egypt. There is also a lady who sells kudra (local greens) and okra which I always buy!

a view of the market
 Next I go to the little shops which we call dukans in Arabic. This is where I go for rice, sugar, flour, pasta, tomato paste, or juice powder. We've also really been enjoying dried dates.
Joshua had been begging me for fish. He just LOVES fish. We couldn't find any in the market (which was the whole reason he came with me to the market.) So I told him we'd try to go look along the river side later.

Sure enough, around 5, a boat came from a small village upriver called Thiangrial, carrying a canoe-load of fresh tilapia. The boys and I walked all the way down the river, almost a mile I think, and bought 5 nice tilapia. It wasn't until we got home that I realized I was the one who would have to gut and clean these fish before they became the fish tacos I was imagining in my mind.

It took about an hour to gut all five fish. I made a real mess of the first one, since it was my first time, but by the 4th and 5th I was a pro. We fried them up and had delicious fish tacos for dinner.

I do admit that many times as I'm climbing into bed and thinking back on the events of the day, my life almost feels like a dream. It's not always a happy dream, but most nights I fall asleep with a smile on my face because though our life really is very crazy, we truly are living out our dream. And we are thankful.

Monday, May 11, 2015

The Struggle of the Missionary Mom

I had to struggle through something last week, a bit of wrestling with myself and even with God. See, an issue that has haunted my 10 years of being a mother and 8 years of being on the missionfield crept up again. And that is the lie that I am not doing enough.
When I first came to Sudan in 2007, I arrived in a remote area of the country with an almost 3 year old and a one year old who was barely walking. Even with these two young ones, somehow I thought I was going to be able to be mom and wife but also have time to teach literacy classes and Bible studies for women. Oh and I thought I could pick up Arabic too, one of the hardest languages to learn! Boy did I have a reality check! And over the last 8 years I have had different seasons: some where I am home most of the time with the boys and others where God allows me, for a time, to teach a class or be involved in something outside of the home. And even when I’ve been heavily involved outside of the home, there is always this nagging thought in the back of my mind that I should be doing more. I’m not doing enough.
I don’t think this is only something that missionary moms struggle with. I remember when my first little guy was only 6 months old wondering, “So is this it? Am I going to wash diapers, feed a baby, and clean house for the rest of my life?” Even then I tried to find what I called “meaningful” things to do – like help a neighbor from Laos learn to speak English or watch someone else’s kids so she could homeschool her older children. Even as a young mom, before I even got on a plane and crossed the world, I felt like I needed to do more.
But let me stop there for a minute. Did I really think I needed to find something outside of the home for it to be meaningful? As my children are now 6, 9 and 10, I am seeing what all those months and years of hard work, prayer, discipline, training, and teaching have amounted to! It was so worth it and boy is it meaningful!
Now, a month after being in Melut, the dust has settled, we are back into routine, and that age-old, nagging phrase is at work again whispering, “Bethany, you could push harder. You could do more.” But everything inside of me is resisting. I know what my capacity is and I want to do what I’m doing well, so I know, without a shadow of a doubt that This. Is. Enough.
Pouring myself into giving my boys a solid education, taking care of everything in the home and freeing Eli up to do all that he’s doing is enough. It is good. It is meaningful. And it is what God brought me all the way to Melut, South Sudan to do!
Two different friends shared these verses with me this week and they came at just the perfect time while I was wresling, yet again, with all of this: “Her husband is well know at the city gates, where he sits with the other civic leaders. She is clothed with strength and dignity, and she laughs without fear of the future. When she speaks, her words are wise, and she gives instructions with kindness. She carefully watches everything in her household and suffers nothing from laziness. Her children stand and bless her. Her husband praises her. Charm is deceptive, and beauty does not last, but a woman who fears the Lord will be greatly praised.” Prov. 31:23,25-30
Honestly, there is so much I could share about this topic but I wanted to share it for several reasons:
1.      So you would know that even though our newsletters have fun photos and stories of great ministry opportunities, we do struggle at times to know if we’re really doing what we should be doing. We are also tempted to push beyond our limits.
2.      I want to encourage any of my mama friends (and especially my little sister who is about to be a new mother) that our ministry as mothers is soooo meaningful and significant. Raising our children to love and follow the Lord is possibly the most important thing we do in our entire life!
3.      In putting this down in public, I’m acknowledging what God has been teaching me and committing to be content in this season.
To close I would like to share how God is confirming this lesson for me. Though I haven’t been able to get off campus as much as I’d like lately, God has been bringing people to me, here to my house. I am realizing that God is giving me the ministry of hospitality. Whether it’s a cold glass of water, a shared meal, or an encouraging conversation, God is bringing ministry opportunities to my doorstep and I’m asking Him to help me make the most of those moments. Isn’t He so good?

Saturday, May 09, 2015

Celebrating one month in Melut!

On May 7th we celebrated one full month in Melut. Our teammate Claire invited us to her house for some cold juice, cookies and pudding and we thanked the Lord for His protection and strength as we've adjusted back to life in Melut and begun the ministries we believe the Lord brought us here to do.  We are so thankful to be here and every day God confirms that this is where we belong.

Sunday, May 03, 2015

No More Guns!!!

This morning we went to church in the Internally Displaced Camp. I wish you could have been there! Tears flowed throughout the beautiful service. Even before we arrived at the church, we could hear people singing with all of their hearts. The service was held in a UN canvas tent. People crowded in as closely as they could. I was thankful it was a cooler day.

As is typical here, each choir gets a chance to sing - the children, the youth, the women, the deaconesses. I don't know how to describe it but when this particular tribe, the Nuer, sing, they are literally singing as loud as they possibly can. You can actually see them cough and grasp their throats at times because you can see that it's hurting their throats from singing so loudly. But they are praising the Lord and lifting His name high.

During one song, I was profoundly touched. There were lots of hand motions and I could tell the people felt deeply about what they were singing about. At one point a young girl, probably only 6 or 7, started walking around the church, in and out, through the rows, holding up a replica of an AK-47 made out of mud. I wasn't sure what they were singing about since it was in the Nuer language but as I looked around women, young and old began weeping and wiping their tears. What happened next made my tears roll as well: the little girl began ripping the mud gun apart, pulling the pieces off and throwing them on the ground. Women began to ululate and raise their hands in the air. After the service I learned that the song was saying they are through with guns! They want no more with guns! They have all been deeply and terribly impacted by the power and destruction of the gun.

Our prayer rose up together and we know God heard: King of Kings, please, we ask that there be no more guns in this land! No more fighting! No more jealousy!

We wait for God to answer.

Saturday, May 02, 2015

Experience a day with Eli

Returning from a boat trip up river
 I am always amazed at my husband and how God has uniquely gifted him to do what he does with such grace and humility here in South Sudan. Eli wears many hats and never complains though he is known for crashing in the evenings after a cool shower. Let me give you a glimpse into one of Eli's days this week.

By 8:00 am Eli has read his Bible with his coffee on our porch facing the Nile, eaten breakfast, and is heading out to begin his day. On Wednesday this week Eli took the boat to pick up an Australian friend who works upriver and he also checked in on some of the new Shilluk camps across the river. (The Shilluk is one of the majority tribes in South Sudan.)

In the office
 When he gets to his office he takes care of finances, manages workers and construction on campus, prepares for his English and computer classes and grades homework.

Computer Class
 From 4-7 pm every afternoon, Monday through Friday, Eli is in the classroom. He teaches English for two hours and then computer from 6-7. The computer class is smaller since a requirement was for students to have laptops.

The perfect ending on a hot day
Even after a long, hot, tiring day, Eli finds time to play with the boys in the river and be refreshed.

Our dear Eliza

At Eliza's house in 2013

Since being back in Melut, I have treasured my sweet friend and helper, Eliza. She has worked with us in our home since the day we first arrived in Melut in 2012. She has been an auntie to my boys and has a special bond with Joshua, has helped me understand cultural things, knows how to help and is always eager to support me. Lately she has been very helpful with gently asking people to come back later when they come to see me while I’m busy homeschooling the boys. She has helped in our home, running to the market, sweeping and cleaning the house, washing clothes, which has to be done by hand, and watching the boys when I need to go somewhere. It is because of her help that I am able to take part in ministry opportunities outside of our home.

Learning how to make zalabia (doughnuts)

Besides Eliza’s help in our home, she has also welcomed us into her family. The boys and I have spent many times in her home, drinking tea, laughing, and playing with her kids. Eliza’s son, Sunday, and her nephew, Riel, have been very special friends to our boys, especially since we’ve been back this time.

Such fun friends!

This last Thursday night Eliza showed up unexpectedly at our house. She said she had some news and sure enough it was quite the surprise! Out of the blue her brother and sister had arranged for all three of them and their children to move to Juba, the capital city of South Sudan in the south. I knew that Eliza has been very concerned for her two older children lately because the schools here in Melut haven’t been functioning since Melut lots a lot of their teachers during the unrest. Those who had money and education, moved to safer areas to get jobs. So we have been without teachers. This opportunity arose, so Eliza decided to take it. She had less than 24 hours to pack up her house and four children, plus her 5 nieces and nephew, to travel to Juba.
I can’t express how painful this was! Eliza was very kind to express her gratitude to us for our friendship over the years. She shared that she doesn’t even recognize the difference in our skin color or language any more. We are family. Tears were shed by all. We are thankful we got the chance to say goodbye and have closure, but we are also really feeling our loss of such a special family in our lives.
I have been amazed though, how God has been acting on Eliza’s behalf just in the last few days. First, Eliza was shown favor at the airport and only had to pay half price for their airplane tickets. Second, we had contacted missionary friends of ours in Juba asking if they knew of anyone who needed  househelp because our dear friend Eliza was moving to Juba and needed a job. We said we couldn’t say enough good about Eliza. Less than 24 hours later, only hours after Eliza arrived in Juba, we heard back from this missionary friend that TWO people have need of help! I had the joy of talking to Eliza on the phone last night, hearing how her trip had gone so smoothly and God had provided a place to stay with a relative and then I got to tell her that there were TWO job possibilities! All I know is that God has a way of showing us what His plans are for us!

The last two days have been a little sad as I’m missing my sister, Eliza, and realizing more and more how different life will be without her around. But I trust this is God’s path for both of us and I trust that it is good.

Joshua "helping" Auntie Eliza make fried fish (2012)