Thursday, June 22, 2017

Our Love Story

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.

Eli's graduation
Once we started having kids and our schooling was finished (for the meantime), life seemed to fast forward a bit. We went through a rigorous 2 year missionary training course with our church and joined SIM to be sent to Sudan.

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
Landing in Sudan after so many years of praying and preparing was a dream come true. Though overwhelming in many ways, especially with 2 little boys ages 1 and 3, we couldn't wait to learn Arabic, find our place and see God move. It was a very steep learning curve and even though we'd been married for 5 years, we saw new sides of each other and were pushed to our limits on a daily basis. The most memorable thing about those first years on the mission field for us was the nearness of God. Because we knew we could not get through a single day without His strength and empowering, we learned to depend and trust on Him more than we ever had before.

Family of Five on the Yabus River
 Six months into our new adventure of life in Sudan we found out we were expecting our 3rd, Joshua. We flew to Kenya for his birth and once we had all his papers and passport in hand, we returned to our home in Yabus. During our 2nd year I remember feeling like we were starting to get our feet under us, finally able to communicate a bit in Arabic and figure out our giftings and how to use them. Eli had already been asked to lead our team of different cultures (Ethiopia, Scotland, Nigeria, India, etc) so that was a stretching experience for our young family. I found that my respect and admiration for my husband continued to grow as Eli stepped up in leadership and really shone in his ministry.

A year in Khartoum, Sudan 2011
 We began our 2nd 3-year term in Khartoum so we could focus full time on learning more Arabic. We spent a year in Arabic language classes and immersing ourselves in visits and different cultural experiences.

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
 Through many hardships, God allowed our class of 16 students to graduate in November 2013, only days before fighting broke out and our whole team had to leave.

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
 But sadly, our time in Melut was short and we were evacuated after only 6 weeks because of fighting in Melut. The college campus was also looted and we lost most of the school's belongings and everything in our home. We felt stuck. Our hearts were in South Sudan but we didn't know how much of this our family could handle.

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
 I hope I'm not painting a Fairy Tale picture of our marriage though sometimes it has felt like that. We have had to work hard in communication, serving one another, and making each other a priority in the midst of parenting, ministry and overseas life and stresses. But all that hard work has paid off. My heart is full as I come to the end of this post about our first 15 years of marriage. I never could have thought that marriage could be this sweet. Honestly, I thought we'd be bored of each other by now. But it many ways, I feel like our adventure is just beginning.

Happy Anniversary to my Beloved!

2017 - still very much in love

Thursday, June 15, 2017

When You Go Through Deep Waters...

A month has passed since the night I drove our van - the van God gave us for free when we arrived in the States -  into a deep ditch of water on a dark, rain stormy night. It was one of those experiences where I couldn't believe it was really happening. We'd just arrived in Naperville, IL and while Eli got the boys settled down for bed, I decided to run out to Walmart real quick for some things.
 It was dark and raining very hard. I was following directions on my GPS but missed the turn so I looked ahead for a street to turn on so I could find a place to turn around. As I slowed to turn at the street sign, instead of driving on the road, somehow I must have turned too soon and didn't see that there was a deep ditch full of water that was also covering the road. There was no impact. I just suddenly found myself sinking nose down in deep waters that were quickly coming in through the hood and over my lap. I grabbed my purse and pushed the driver's door open so I could get out. I remember thinking that I didn't know how deep it was - I could have driven into a pond for all I knew!

Dark and rainy so the picture isn't too clear.
 When I pushed myself out of the door, I found myself in cold water up to my waist. I got up to a dry place, off the road where I knew I'd be safe from passing cars. In what seemed like forever but was probably just about a minute or two, a police car drove up and the officer came over to check on me to see if I was alright. I told him I was shaken up and couldn't get a hold of my husband. He let me sit inside of his car where it was dry to wait for the tow truck and let Eli know what had happened.

After a very complicated tow to get the van out of the water, the kind police man drove me back to our hotel where Eli was waiting for me. The next day was a blur - moving in with friends who also lent us their van to drive, putting all our belongings out to dry to see what we could salvage, settling our bill at the tow company (they started out asking for $2800!!!) and realizing our van was totaled. However, before we even had confirmation that our van was totaled, Eli received an unbelievable phone call - the compassionate "Samaritan", as we called him, was a friend of one of our best friends, and wanted to buy us a new van! BUY US A NEW VAN! What???? Who does that?

We were in shock but also in total awe of our God. The same God who said, "I will be with you when you go through deep waters", provided above and beyond for our family and gave us the most incredible van!

Drying out all our stuff

Most precious to me were my journals from the past few years in South Sudan

Here it is!
Our new 2012 Honda Odyssey Van
To be honest, in the weeks since this whole episode happened, I have gone over the details again and again in my mind. As I gazed at the soggy and smeared pages of my precious journals I asked the Lord, "Have I really not had enough lessons on losing everything? What else do I need to learn?!"

I'm not sure why and how I drove our old van into the water ditch that night. It definitely ripped open the "scab" that was healing over my heart after losing everything in our home in Doro over Christmas. One thing I do know: God wanted to show off. He wanted to teach our family yet again that He is walking through the hard times and "deep waters"  with us. And though the lessons aren't easy, He is forever faithful and true, going before us and providing in spectacular ways. Experiences like this remind me all over again why I've committed to living my life 100% for my God. There is nothing to fear.

He's got this. HE'S GOT ME.