Wednesday, December 04, 2019

My Trip home from South Sudan


I recently traveled to South Sudan to visit the Theological Education by Extension program that is going on there.  I was impressed at the persistence of the many students and teachers who have endured significant difficulties and kept pushing forward with their studies.  Here's an example of one of the challenges: the area I visited was flooded in October and everyone's homes were knee deep in water.  Imagine waking up one morning and finding water coming in through your doorway!  It was strange to see all the huts stripped of their mud near the ground.  The flooded river had washed the bottom couple feet away and left just the sticks.  Wow, some people are so resilient.  I finished the evaluation that I had come to do and was trying to get from Mabaan, South Sudan to my family in Adjumani, Uganda in one day.  It was a little bit more of an adventure than I anticipated.


Ok, the moustache.  I know it looks awful but every November is my one opportunity to let it grow and join the thousands of No-Shave-November gentlemen around the world.  The first step of my journey was boarding an old Russian Antinov cargo plane from Mabaan down to Juba.  After a cup of tea with missionary Jono Stanley at the airstrip, I intrepidly boarded the plane with 3 other passengers.


Notice anything missing?  No seats and no heat.  I wasn't sure how to sit and when the pilot accelerated, I found myself grabbing for anything to keep myself upright.  Not much to grab.  It was extremely loud so the 3 other passengers and I simply smiled at each other.  Perhaps someone can explain this to me but when we started our descent, water vapor started coming out of the ceiling of the plane and little droplets fell onto us.  That was weird.  I admit that I prayed a lot during the flight.

I landed safely in Juba (fastest time ever for me) and hopped into a packed taxi.  The only seat that was available was the a make-shift seat between the driver and the passenger.  It was a van and they had built a little wooden box and placed an old throw pillow on top of it.  I spent most of my journey lifting myself on the armrests of the driver and passenger because my rear end was so soar.

And then this happened.  We were climbing a hill, about 5 miles from the border of South Sudan and Uganda and found 5 large trucks smashed together.  They were completely blocking the road.  I am not sure how the accident happened but thankfully no one was killed.  There was diesel fuel running down the road so I grabbed my bag out of the taxi and climbed through the wreckage to get to the top of the hill.  No cars were getting through so I started looking around for a way to get to my destination 5 miles away.


A soldier saw me looking around and asked me where I was going.  I told him, "Nimule" and he motioned me to a vehicle that had come from the other direction.  There were some people in the vehicle from a telecom company.  I squeezed in the back and off we went!

I crossed the border of South Sudan into Uganda and looked around for a taxi that was headed to Adjumani (1 hour away). There was one guy sitting in a car but he was sipping on a beer.  Hmm.  How badly did I want to get home?  Good enough, as we started talking another guy came up to the car and got in the driver seat.  He agreed to go to Adjumani right away with the one other passenger.  He drove ten feet and got out of the car and another driver got in.  No idea what is going on but was really looking forward to getting home at this point.

It had been raining a lot so the roads were muddy.  We came to a particularly muddy part of the road where a small sedan sat stuck in the mud but off to one side of the road.  The owner was out of his car looking at the sticky situation he had found himself in.  Our driver revved his engine and crashed through the mud, effectively giving the stuck vehicle and its owner a solid brown bath.  Our driver sped away while the other passenger and I protested that we needed to stop.  He just kept on driving.


About five minutes later the small sedan came tearing down the road, caught up with us, and then passed us.  We met again a few minutes later.  He had parked himself by the police checkpoint and they forced our driver to stop.  Our car was turned off and the keys removed by the police officer.  The other passenger and I debated our options, decided to wait it out, and settled into a conversation about marriage in the Ugandan context.  I found out my fellow passenger speaks 7 languages.  Incredible.  After a few minutes, the driver returned and off we went. He apologized for his mistake. 
Thirty minutes later we pulled into Adjumani town and I hopped onto a motorcycle taxi that took me directly to our gate.  "I know where you live," the driver said, "you have the white kids!"  Within a few minutes I was back in the embrace of my family.  PHEW!!  It is GOOD to be home.  

Wednesday, October 09, 2019

What we've been up to...

My friends cooking out in the rain and mud
 The last month has been insanely busy - truly the kind of busy that usually makes me a little crazy. But by God's grace and the help of sweet friends, I've been taking one day at a time and these ministry opportunities have brought so much joy to others but especially to Eli and I.  I recently told a fellow missionary, "In America it feels like we can take charge of each day, make our list, and get it done. Here, it's more like your day takes charge of you." Meaning, I can set out with a "plan" for the day but most days what actually happens is much different from what I expected. And I'm learning to adjust to that and be ok with that - many times it's even better than I could have planned!

I got to cook inside! With Ella
 These are pictures I took last Sunday when we planned to host almost 30 of Eli's partners in ministry - the teachers for the Theological Education program that is going on in town here and also in several of the nearby refugee camps. But due to a constant drizzle all day and the fact that Sundays are usually very busy for pastors, we had 10 come. But we had enough food for 50 so you can imagine what a party it was!

Ella and Grace put together a beautiful salad
 The cooking took all day but my friends and neighbors came and we had such a good time working together.

The group of pastors/teachers we hosted on Sunday


 Eli did a SWOT analysis with the teachers so they discussed the strengths and weaknesses of the program so far (it's been going strong for 7 months) and opportunities and threats. There was great participation and discussion and overall very encouraging to hear how excited these men and women are about the program and how needed it is here in our part of Uganda.

I had so much leftover food that as soon as our guests went home, I packed up food and sent it to 3 different families. One friend who just had a baby, one who was sick with malaria, and then also to the ladies who helped me cook. I still had MORE food leftover and there was a ladies group meeting at our church property right next door to us the next day, so I invited the ladies over for lunch and they helped polish the rest off. Carson helped too.

Carson joined right in to eat with our friends from church


So let me review: cooked for an army and hosted a living room full of friends on Sunday, hosted more friends on Monday (which is supposed to technically be our day off) and then found out that Tuesday was Harvest Day at our church property. The groundnuts/peanuts were ready and the church members had a goal to finish it all in one day! That meant digging up the plants, shaking the dirt off, and then pulling each nut off the root. Guys, it was actually sooooo much fun. Josh, Carson and I stayed and helped for almost 4 hours!

Uncle Franco showing Carson how to pick the groundnuts off the plant

The Men's harvest corner

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Carson never misses an opportunity to beat on a drum!

Actually such a fun afternoon!
I can't tell you how great it feels to finally be feeling a part of the community, not only in our neighborhood but in our church too. Relationships don't develop overnight or even in a month. They take time and doing life together. And it is such a privilege to be doing life and making memories with these beloved friends.

Some other events I don't have pictures of but that also happened this week:
- praying over a young mama who'd been attacked by demons and leading her to a saving relationship with Jesus
- Bethany spending an afternoon at a burial for a neighbor's 16 year old daughter who died suddenly from an asthma attack.
- Eli finding out one of his students passed away unexpectedly and spending a whole day at the family's home and attending the burial.
- home schooling our 6th grader
- filling out home study paperwork and making phone calls for our upcoming adoption

And so on.

But we are about to catch our breath this weekend. Tomorrow, Thursday, we drive to the capital city where Isaac and Evan will fly to meet us for their 4 - day midterm break. We've rented an AirBnb apartment and we're going to relax and enjoy being a family of 6 for a few days.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Adopting Again


I have to admit it was kind of fun to surprise everyone on social media this week with a picture of Carson saying "Big Brother 2020". We didn't share any details in our post, and many of you have asked questions so I thought I'd share more here on our blog for those who are interested.

Exactly 2 years ago, Eli and I began the process of adopting domestically in the States. As we prayed and researched, something we agreed on was that if God gave us a child through adoption, we would try to adopt again due to the 10 year age gap between Joshua and the next sibling. Our older sons are growing up, heading to school, and in a way, leaving the nest, and we didn't want Carson to be alone. We are thrilled that Carson will not only have a sibling closer in age to him, but he will also have a sibling who shares the story of adoption and a similar shade of brown.

In February of this year, the Lord started stirring something in our hearts to begin researching and gathering information about what it would look like to adopt from Uganda. It makes the most sense to us since this is where we live. That very month we got an email from a stateside adoption agency that I'd reached out to back in 2017, asking if we were interested in international adoption. And what do you know, the lady who emailed us was the program coordinator for Uganda and Ghana!

We have decided to adopt from Uganda using this US based agency and we're hoping it will help make the process a little smoother. Before we could truly begin, we needed to first get approval from both of our missions (as you know we are seconded to Africa Inland Mission) and then apply with the agency. That all happened in August and now we are well on our way into the mountain of paperwork.

This is how the process/timeline has been explained to us:

1. It takes 3 months for the paperwork and homestudy to be approved in Uganda to adopt.
2. Once our homestudy is approved we can be matched with a baby in one of the 2 orphanages that our agency partners with.
3. Before we can bring the baby home, there will be another couple of months of investigation where lawyers and investigators make sure the baby truly is an orphan and adoptable. Once that has been determined, we can bring baby home.
4. Once we bring baby home, that begins a one year period that we need to foster before we can finalize in court.
5. We finalize in Ugandan court and then we finalize in the U.S.

So yes, this will be quite the process but our whole family is on board and super excited. When we first broached the subject with the boys, I said, "OK guys let's take a vote. Who wants to adopt another sibling?" Before I even got it all out, all 3 big boys' hands shot in the air and they helped Carson raise his hand too! It was darling. I love that we are doing this as a family.

We would so appreciate your prayers for us as we begin this journey. In the meantime, we continue with life and ministry here in Northern Uganda and trust that God will bring our family's 7th member in His perfect time.

Sunday, September 01, 2019

My fight with malaria


Usually I share everything on social media as it's happening in my life but the last few weeks I've been quiet. See, I got really sick with malaria. It started out with what I thought was just a virus: fever, chills, body ache and headache. But when I was only getting worse after five days, we decided to go get me checked out at a clinic. (We happened to be in Kampala still because we'd come for a conference and I got sick the very day after the conference finished.)

At the clinic they discovered through blood work that I had a serious case of malaria and I was also pretty dehydrated because I'd been throwing up so much. So they hooked me up to an IV for fluids and intravenous malaria medicine.

Even after the 5 day treatment, I still wasn't feeling better and my eyes were doing a crazy bleeding thing so we went back to the clinic, only to be shuttled on to the nearest hospital. I was admitted on a Saturday and discharged on a Tuesday. Those days in the hospital are kind of a blur as I was so out of it but I will tell you this, that I am so thankful for the marvelous staff of doctors and nurses, even the sweet ladies that brought me meals even though I couldn't touch them. It was a very good experience as far as medical treatment in a different country.

Another amazing grace of God is that my parents live only 4 hours from the capital where we were, so they dropped everything to come and help us with the boys. We also had dear friends jump right in and feed and entertain our kids, even sleep over night with them. We surely can't imagine going through this without the wonderful people and support we had.


I've now been out of the hospital for 5 days and am feeling almost back to myself. My appetite is back and I'm getting stronger every day. I think my energy will be lower than usual for a few weeks as my blood rebuilds but I'm so very thankful to be alive and for my God who walked with me every step of this valley, even when I was so out of it I could hardly pray.

We're planning to head home to Adjumani by the middle of the week and will gently ease into a new routine of homeschool with only one student - Joshua (his big brothers have started a new school year at Rift Valley Academy.) 

Thursday, August 08, 2019

Parenting


I got to be a part of a very cultural experience yesterday - a parenting seminar with mamas from our church here in Adjumani. Several women have stood up in church recently asking for prayer for their rebellious children and asking these questions: what is happening with our children of this generation? What can we be doing better as parents?


 It was so neat to be involved in this special day. Ironically our facilitator for the day was our single assistant pastor but he did a good job giving us all plenty of opportunities to discuss, share experiences, ask questions, and pray for one another.
One of the most meaningful things to me is that despite how different our cultures are, we still struggle with similar things.

I will say though, after 5 hours of focusing and trying to catch everything in Arabic and then trying to communicate from my heart in Arabic, I was exhausted when I got home.


Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Sleep Training and School Fees

A peek at Carson in the baby monitor
    This week I'm feeling pretty exhausted - not just physically but emotionally too. The culprit: our teething 14 month old who we've been trying to sleep train for the past week. Between teething, sickness and travel over the last few months, we began some bad sleep habits and now are trying to get back to where we were before - Carson sleeping through the night in his own room, in his own bed. As many of you mamas know, sleep training is hard no matter what method or plan you decide to follow.
     Even without sleep training, life has been very full. The big boys and I have been working really hard to finish our school year in the next few weeks before Isaac finishes his term at Rift Valley Academy. We want to be on the same schedule as him so that we can take breaks when he comes home. Eli has also had a lot on his plate but it's been all good stuff: teaching a class at a local Bible school (which he loves!), recording the Women's Group at our church singing Arabic hymns to share with churches all over South Sudan so they can add to the songs they sing in church, continuing the Theological classes by extension and then of course the things we need him for around the house like: fixing our gutters to collect maximum amount of rain water, helping Evan with his mechanics project, and taking Carson on afternoon walks to see the cows (to give Mom a break.)
     The other day I was sitting in Carson's room feeding him his bottle before bed and thinking about life. I started doing the math in my head of how many hours I spend trying to get Carson to sleep or the hours (part time job that it is) to teach my boys 5th and 7th grade...and it hit me.
THESE THINGS MATTER. 
I'm tempted to look at my life and think, "wow, the days are passing so quickly and what am I doing? I'm spending half my day teaching math and grammar lessons and the other half keeping my eye on a very active toddler." But oh, how precious it is! 
    I sat there in my chair, reveling in the thought of how cherished these days are and how much I will miss them not far in the future. All I can say is: Thank you Lord for giving me eyes to see how important, how valuable these days are.
    Another thing God allowed me to see this week as I sat in the baby's room was that even though I so often feel like I'm not doing enough outside of the home (SUCH A LIE BY THE WAY!) God is using the windows of time I do get with people. I often belittle what God is doing around us and through us. But you guys, it's big!
     Several things that were such a joy to me this week were:
1. Helping my friend Joyce with $4 so she could take her 1 year old to the clinic because he was sick. Now he's got medicine and is getting better.
2. Paying school fees for a sweet neighbor boy.

If we didn't live here, I wouldn't have been able to do these 2 things. They are simple but you know what? Especially paying a kid's school fees can change his life. I'm not sharing this to pat myself on the back. But I'm sharing it because it was through these simple things this week: sleep training and paying school fees, that the Lord gently reminded me of how important these things we do are. 
We tell ourselves our lives aren't making an impact.
We let ourselves get tired of the day to day. But -

THESE THINGS MATTER.

      
Carson and Godfrey, the boy we're helping through school.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Thanking the Lord for 12 years on the mission field!

The face of determination 
I remember this moment so freshly in my mind. I had just stepped off the little plane with my two babies to our new home in Sudan and boy was I in for quite the journey that first year!
We were only 26!


The boys helped unload our stuff from the plane

This was our home

Isaac was a month shy of turning 3 when we arrived and made friends right away with our little teammate.


A little boy's paradise


So thankful that one of our teammates was a nurse. Eli wasn't so thrilled!

All this work to make peanut butter!
 I was a young, new missionary, ready to do whatever needed to be done!


We had to learn to watch out for all the critters


One of my favorite memories that first year: Eli made a paint brush out of hair from our pet donkey's tail.
Our donkey Teddy was used to haul water from the river to our compound.

This was their usual wardrobe

A church built on the top of a huge rock

My first Sudanese friend, Halima
She owned a tea shop in the market

Creative solutions for the hot days

Our shower - yes it was outside and roofless

My first garden: I was very proud of it.

Our team in 2007

All I can say is thank you Jesus for protecting us and blessing us from our first year through to our 12th!

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

A Typical Week in our Life

On one of our major road trips
Last week our home church in the States asked us to do a week of daily postings on Facebook sharing what a week in our life is like here in Northern Uganda. It was so much fun to take pictures throughout the day that people might be interested to see and document what we did in a week. So I thought it would be fun to share the same photos and stories here on our blog.
The first photo shows that traveling has become a big part of our lives as this is Isaac's first year at Rift Valley Academy, a school for missionary kids in Kenya. Every 6 weeks we drive to the capital city to either pick Isaac up for his month long break at home, or for his mid term break which is 6 weeks into his 3 month term. We're so thankful that we now live somewhere close enough to see Isaac this often!!! It is worth all the miles we trek in our car!

Hauling water for laundry
Until today, this is how I've been doing laundry. City water doesn't come very often so we depend on our rain barrel a lot. We have a washing machine that runs off our solar power but I try to use as much rain water as possible to save what's in the main tank for the taps, showers, and toilets inside.
I said until today, because Eli figured out a way to install a pump to pump water from the rain barrel up to our main tank so we should be good for water now. Yay!

Studious 5th & 7th grader
This is what I spend most of my week doing: home schooling these two amazing boys.  We have tried to get on Isaac's school schedule so that we can take off of school when Isaac's home and work hard when he's working hard at school too. 

Carson joins in for some of the subjects

Eli working hard in his office
Although Eli's favorite thing to do is teach, since he is running the ministries alone (without teammates), he also has a lot of admin - budget, emails, phone calls, ordering books, grading papers, etc.) He usually spends the mornings in his office and then goes out to the refugee camps or has meetings in the afternoon.
Eli meeting with our church leaders under our mango trees.
Eli also really enjoys conversations with pastors and church leaders sitting under our mango tree.

Evan's new project
One of Evan's 13 "Tasks of Manhood" that we gave him on his birthday in March was to completely take a part and put back together a motorcycle. Eli found an old, cheap moped and Evan and his friends have been loving taking it apart and learning mechanics as they go. When Evan gets stuck, Eli jumps in to help.



Carson loves being outside visiting with neighbors
After a full morning of school, the boys and I all take off out of the compound. They go off and play with their friends and I do the same thing. :) Most women do their hard work in the mornings like working in the garden, washing laundry and cooking. Then they just kind of hang out in the afternoons. When Carson wakes up from his afternoon nap, he and I head out to greet and visit different neighbor friends. Sometimes we stay close to home, other times we might go to visit a friend who just had a new baby or we try to go meet someone new.


My friend Justin getting her hair braided.


Everyone loves Carson!
Carson is quite popular in our village. He doesn't always love being held by everyone but they all sure love him. His name is hard to pronounce so he goes by John which is his middle name. I've even been in town and people know his name!

At "De-de's" house

De-de means Grandma in Maadi language. This is De-de Grace and she is our village grandmother.


A trombone lesson with Dad
We don't want Evan to lose what he worked so hard to learn last year with the trombone so we do music class twice a week. Eli played the trombone in high school and college so he is helping Evan learn some new songs (another one of Evan's 13 tasks.)

Joshua coloring on our porch with his friend Amani

Some of Eli's Bible students
Eli is running 4 different TEE (Theological Education by Extension) programs in and around Adjumani and in refugee camps. The way the program works is that the students read their books on their own during the week (around their regular jobs) and then they meet on Saturdays with a facilitator/teacher to review and discuss the material. They also have to write papers and take tests as part of the program.


So glad to have a few women in the program!


The church where they meet

I'm so excited that the rainy season has finally begun!
Though it's still very hot and muggy and the rains haven't picked up like they should in this season, everyone is planting, including me! I've planted a vegetable garden, an herb and lettuce patch and lots of flowers! Hopefully we'll even get some grass growing here pretty soon!



Isaac at school
An update on Isaac: for those who don't know, at the beginning of May Isaac broke his arm up near his shoulder while playing rugby at school. He has to keep it immobile and in a sling for 6 weeks. Eli and Evan took a 2 day journey to visit him at school and make sure he was doing alright learning how to do everything one handed. He has been so brave and had such a good attitude through all of this. We are so thankful to the Lord for giving Isaac this special strength and stamina, especially with us being so far away. We also thank God for Isaac's dorm parents and friends who have taken such good care of him. This picture was taken by a close friend whose son also goes to school there (seated in blue next to Isaac). She just went for the weekend and took some treats and love to our boy and sent us lots of good photos and videos of how Isaac is doing. The day after Isaac was injured another friend/guardian of Isaac while he's at school drove from Nairobi to spend a few hours with Isaac and then another friend just sent him a little care package. So Isaac's getting an outpouring of love and that's been a very big help - not only for Isaac but for us too.


Treats brought from Auntie Emily :)
S