Monday, March 28, 2016

My Easter was like your Easter (and why it was NOT also)

My Easter was like your Easter
I woke up excited to worship together with other believers in remembrance of what my God did two thousand years ago.  My Lord, Jesus Christ, rose from the dead, conquered death and paid my debt of sin that I would otherwise have had to pay.  He proved to all that He is the King of Kings and no earthly or spiritual power compares to him.  What better reason is there to get out of bed and declare again that Jesus is my God?  I am sure that many, many others around the world got up with the same excitement and experienced the same joy as we went to our places of worship and sang, prayed, danced, and cried tears of joy that the promised messiah had come and opened the way of salvation for all of us.  I am sure many of us heard wonderful sermons, ate delicious food, laughed and shared time together with close friends and family.  My day was just like yours in so many ways.

This poor sheep probably doesn't have long to live.

My Easter was NOT like your Easter
Within these broad strokes of our common experience of Easter lies a story.  My day was pretty crazy.  We live in an area that has four different refugee camps surrounding it.  These camps hold people who have fled fighting in their home area of Sudan.  They have crossed the border into South Sudan and have been living as refugees for the past few years.  While some of these refugees are Christian, most of them are not.  While they have been here, some of them have come to learn about and accept Jesus Christ as their messiah and king.  Many of them have become followers of Jesus only in the last year.  This was their first Easter; their first time to celebrate that Jesus rose from the dead.  This was special. 

I woke up at 4:20 am so that I could take the motorcycle into town to meet up with a couple men from the Maban church (the local tribe here in Doro).  We got into two large lorries and rumbled down the road to go to the refugee camps about thirty to forty-five minutes away.  We had arranged to pick up the new believers from these camps and bring them into the main town where we would all worship together.  When we arrived at 6:30 am, we found that people were not ready like we had agreed.  This was going to be an interesting day.  The church service was supposed to start in the main town at 6 am (which means 7:30 am) and if no one was ready, we were going to be very late.  
As we alighted from the lorry and went to the church leader’s house, we found that he had just woken up and was beating a drum to call everyone to come.  A full hour and a half later we finally piled into the lorry and headed back to the church in the main town.  We met up half way with the other lorry who went to a different camp to pick up believers and eventually were on our way (a full two hours late now).  There were other adventures along the way like one truck ran out of gas and the guys stopped a fight between two people on the side of the road…but we eventually pulled up to the church.

Pulling up to the church

The entire group of believers were singing as we drove up to the church in a cloud of dust.  It was over a hundred degrees by now and sweat poured down people’s faces.  They formed themselves into a group and marched into the church singing Allela Farhan Allela or “Today we are happy!”  The church literally half emptied out as there was no more room for others to come in.  It is hard to describe the intensity and volume of the singing as the congregation joined in.  These are believers who had never met each other and yet their praises to Jesus on this day instantly bonded them.  Tribe, denomination, culture, weather, history: these all take second place to the fact that at this moment believers have gathered to worship their king, the one who has saved them and now calls them his children. 

The Ingassana and JumJum believers marching into church singing

Believers from the Maban Church come up and "cheer on" the new believers, snapping their fingers in time with the singing

The service eventually ended and many people went home but the youth moved outside under a huge tree and continued singing together.  An hour later, we gathered the visitors into the lorries to take them home.  Suddenly, all the youth from the Maban church began climbing into the lorries too.  They wanted to escort these new believers back home.  To say we were a bit of spectacle going to down the road does not quite capture it.  You’ve got about a hundred mostly youth singing in the back of lorries as we rumble down the road.  There were some serious stares, let me just say that.

Maban youth and visitors singing together under the tree after the service

One young Ingassana girl is playing a drum made from a mortar shell

Musa plays a rababa which is a lot like a guitar

I got home at 3:30, just in time to take a bath and change my clothes and we were off to another sort of celebration.  Samaritan’s Purse had invited SIM and MedAir to come and celebrate an Easter meal and games together.  It was a very different kind of gathering but one full of meaning too.  We were mostly foreigners who had come a long way to share the love of Christ through clean water, health, food distribution, sanitation and the teaching of God’s word.  

Trying to play horseshoes with teammate Khamboi

We all were pink from the hot South Sudan sun and sweating uncontrollably but this is where God has brought us.  We are doing the best we can to glorify our God through the work we do but our main goal is to point people to the one who can truly give them life and health.  The kind that doesn’t ever fade.  The life, abundant life, that was made available to us through the life, death and resurrection of our Lord two thousand years ago.  He is Risen!

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Day Off in Doro

Joshua in our market 
This year Eli and I committed to making sure we take a day off every week. Since our weekends are full of ministry in the camps, we chose Monday to be our day off. Some Mondays are a real challenge to actually get a break when the rest of the neighborhood is starting their new week. Last week we hosted the Commissioner on our day off! This week, our Monday Rest Day was a big success and we're feeling so refreshed by it.

Yesterday started out slowly, sleeping in and having a leisurely breakfast. Around 10 am Joshua and I went on a date to the Bunj market which is a 10 minute drive from our home. It was fun to explore around the market looking for what we needed and also finding new things that have come in from Ethiopia and Uganda.

Hole-in-the-wall shop
 I couldn't believe my eyes when I spied Coffeemate powdered creamer in this shop!

Josh and his buddy Nathaniel
 After our afternoon rest, we walked down to the river with a few friends to cool off in the water.

The water felt so good!

Eli made the kids laugh with his magic tricks

The kids even braved a water/mudslide

Fun and pain all at the same time

We finished off the day with a big bowl of chocolate peanut butter popcorn, cold sodas, and Mythbusters. I'm so thankful we had a successful day off!

Friday, March 18, 2016

Evan's Unforgettable 10th Birthday

Starting the day with 10 candles in a coffee cake 
Yesterday was Evan's 10th birthday. It was his 1st birthday in Doro and as we reflected on his 10 birthdays, we realized that he rarely has had a birthday in the same place 2 years in a row! What an adventurous life he's had so far! Not only did we start off the day with yummy coffee cake for breakfast but I declared it a holiday meaning, No School. The boys were thrilled!

In the afternoon friends came over to help fill water balloons for the party.

Filling them was a game all in itself!

Everyone was wet in no time

We still ended up with a good number of filled balloons

Part of the obstacle course Eli made

Another fun game Eli did with the kids

All we served was cake and juice but it was a treat for everyone

No one could possibly look cuter in those party glasses!

...Except maybe little Claire

Water fight
Besides the non stop fun all day, Evan was showered with love by our teammates. At the end of the day Evan realized that one of the perks of being on a big team is that he got lots of treats from everyone and he felt so loved. 

Thursday, March 10, 2016

What's a pedicure in Mabaan county like?

In the heat of the afternoon I walked over to some of my dear neighbors this afternoon with a small bag of sugar and a bottle of fun nail polish. One of my friends had complimented my toe nails last week and I told her I'd bring it over and paint their nails one day soon. Today was the day. Before we got around to painting our nails however, babies needed to be held, coffee beans needed to be roasted, kudra (greens) needed to be plucked from their stems and the pigs needed to be constantly "shooed" away. Please look closely at the picture above and you can see everything I've mentioned.

Little Rahab could hardly contain her excitement when she first laid eyes on the bottle of bright pink nail polish so I did her nails first - little fingers and tiny toes. Thanks to the dry heat, it dried instantly and she walked around showing it off to all the older ladies.

In the shade we sat, 2 of us on a mat on the ground with 2 babies on our laps, 2 mischeivious  3-year olds and about 15 pigs, a pregnant sheep and 2 panting dogs. No joke, all these animals were crowding around us because the dogs were looking for shade and the pigs and the sheep kept trying to steal the greens we were preparing for the evening meal.

Soon the strong, gingery coffee was poured and as I waited for mine to cool a bit I got up to go paint one of my friends' toe nails. We chatted about things like sick neighbors, the prices of things in the market, and whose baby got a new tooth this week. It was lovely chatter and my heart overflowed as I painted the dry but beautiful feet of my friends. When I came home to report to Eli about my afternoon while I began fixing our dinner, I commented that somehow these wonderful ladies have accepted me and welcomed me into their "circle" of friends and though I don't always use the right Arabic word or understand what's going on around me, there is love present.

Today Simon spent most of his time on my lap. He loves playing with my necklace and pulling my hair but I can tell he knows that I love him. I've known him since the day he was brought back from the hospital. Today just before I got up to head home, he peed all over my lap. His mother, my dear friend, was mortified that he'd done that but I just stood up, brushed it off and said, "He's giving me a blessing." And what a blessing he is!

I am so thankful for afternoons like this when I can surround myself with this beautiful culture of love and community. All I can hope is that my presence with them on these hot hot afternoons are as much of an encouragement and blessing to them as it is to me!

Monday, March 07, 2016

Bits of Pieces of our life lately

Life long friends 
One of the highlights of this last week was when one of the boys' best friends since 2007 in Yabus came to visit us after we hadn't seen him for a few months. Just before Christmas, their friend German moved back to Yabus with his family and we weren't sure when we'd see them again. It was a wonderful surprise one morning in the middle of doing school to find German and Butrus (another friend) at our door! They had walked all day the day before to get to Doro. They didn't come just to see us. German's parents sent him with money to buy things in our market that they can't get in Yabus. It was so special for the boys to catch up and Isaac gave German the Christmas gift he bought for him while we were in Kenya - an English Bible.

Kaya Church
 2 Sundays ago we worshipped with one of the young churches in the furthest camp, Kaya. Our Mabaan pastor friend and his wife, and our teammate Merina came along and we had a sweet time of fellowship and encouragement from the Word of God.

So you can see what our drive looks like - the roads are great!

Boys making friends
 Every Saturday and Sunday, while we're out in the Ingassana camps, our boys are amazing at making friends and making the most of the hours while Eli and I are teaching. Last weekend they took cards along and played games.

Doesn't take long to bond

Friends from Melut days
 Yesterday a family who graduated from Gideon Theological College in Melut came to visit. I had visited Miriam and her five children earlier in the week and then they came to see us. Her husband (a GTC grad) is now getting studying for his Master's degree in Ghana. This is the giant baobab tree in our backyard where we often host our visitors.

Evan and his good neighbor friend, Santi
How many boys can squeeze on one tree branch?
 One of the things that brings me so much joy in my life here in South Sudan is watching my boys thrive, make friends, and be out in the community. I am so thankful that they feel at home here and can make friends so easily.

Josh with the hen he named Midnight

About a month ago the boys decided they'd like to start raising chickens. They even used some of their own money to buy a few hens. All the chickens have names and are already multiplying. One hen has 2 chicks and another hen is laying eggs.
Evan with Caramel

Since we have a major animal lover in our family, we end up caring for some of the most interesting creatures. A few weeks ago this Abyssinian Roller bird landed in our compound and was too sick to fly. Joshua tried to feed it water and ants but it didn't survive. Sure is a beautiful bird though.

My friend Jawahir and her newborn daughter
 It was a joy to visit my friend Jawahir yesterday and celebrate the birth of her first daughter after four sons! She lives in Gendrassa and is married to an Ingassana man.

3 countries in an "airplane"
 This is a picture a teammate took of the boys playing on the other missionary compound with their S. Sudanese friend and their little Ethiopian buddy. I love how they can take a pile of junk and turn it into a game.

Father and Son bonding