Thursday, February 2, 2017

Out on Bail

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Did some time in our National Prison recently! Our national Baptist Women wanted to do another project this year there.  Since I'm usually game for a project, we went in with them.  Thanks to generous giving to a great organization called Baptist Global Response, we were able to prepare 700 kits containing food, toiletries and some comfort items for the youngest at the prison.  Prisoners here are and depend on family to survive.  Those that don't have family to help them, suffer greatly.  Those who do have family still lead very difficult lives.  We wanted to share the love of Christ in a physical way with those incarcerated.  My team and I were chosen to visit and share with the minors as well as buying for and packing the kits beforehand.  In addition to the normal hardships one would expect in prison of being separated from society at large, our inmates face serious over crowding problems and lack of provision for very basic human needs.  They eat VERY little that is given by the prison itself.  Most family members try to get to the prison often to help out with food.  A dear friend with an incarcerated brother spent months going to the prison each day to take him food to eat.  So we wanted to meet some basic needs while going with the gospel in an attempt to share Jesus love and carry out his desire for us to care for the "least of these."


 
Just one of the loads bought and taken to the Mission for storing and packing


The weeks leading up to the event were incredibly busy just trying to locate, purchase and transport that many goods.  So many days we worked from before dawn until past midnight.  I really do like projects like this, so some of this was fun for me.  There is a point, though, where you can have too much of even a good thing!  I wore my team out on this one.  Day after day, I shopped and loaded down our pickup and rented other vehicles to help haul the load.  The only storage space we had was on the second story of our office building.  After several days of hauling, I was headed out to buy more.  On the way out the door, our 17-year-old Caleb said, "Mom, when you get back I'm not going to be here."  "Oh, where do you have to be today?" I asked a little surprised because there isn't too much going on.  "Anywhere but here!" Ha!  We did everything possible to make it all fun, but hauling tons of goods up a flight of stairs is just plain old hard work.  We had throwing contests for distance, speed, record numbers at one time, record numbers caught, etc.  One big challenge everyday was finding small loads that Ty our two year old could carry.  Can't leave him out of anything!  On pack day, he insisted on being quality control!

The parking lot was turned into a warehouse on packing day.

Dried fish went into the women's kits as they are able to cook a little.


To get our warehouse sorted and ready to ship I called in 10 of my closest personal friends (also known as anyone that would answer their phone and not hang up on me after hearing my request), my sweet African sister, my JourneyGirls, and my kiddos to sort and pack.  We made kits for minors, kits for women, kits for little ones housed with their mothers, kits for those in the prison hospital and kits for those that receive few or no visitors.  Merely tying the top of the bags at the end of the day took an hour or so.  Unfortunately we couldn't finish the task in one day even though we started well before dawn went way past dark.  I worried that we may not even get all of the bags made before the big day, but thanks to a lot of hard work, we finished on the eve of the trip.






My sweet African sister, kids, journeygirls and precious friends showed up for a day of dawn to dusk packing.


 This was my second trip to the prison, but it was nearly as nerve wracking, if not more so than the first visit.  Those that have followed me for a long time remember the last trip.  This time we added some new stressors to go along with all of the usual ones.  Because of the 700 kits, we had to rent a huge truck and driver to help us get them all to the prison and we still had to load up the mission pickup.  The truck should have been at the mission before 6 AM to start loading, but the driver we hired called at 6:15 to say he was having trouble with his vehicle and couldn't get there.  He had called a friend with a truck but that friend was 30 minutes away on a good traffic day! Some might say I get a "little" high strung as we approach a big project, but let me just say that I nearly LOST it when he told me that! I had only one phone number of someone that might be able to help us and he didn't answer his phone at 6:15, go figure!  I was obligated to take this unknown guy that was WAY too far away.



Rented truck on the big day



I counted each second until his arrival as I paced our mission yard.  Mind you I could barely move from days of loading and unloading and lifting and moving and sorting, but I did laps anyway.  Finally he arrived and we all worked to load the goods into the vehicles.  As we completely filled our rented truck, the driver said, "Lady, you are lucky I came instead of my friend." "Why's that?" I asked.  "Because my truck is much bigger than my friend's.  You never would have gotten all of that in his," he returned.  Luck, my friends, had nothing to do with anything.



Mission truck taking on more than its share



So a little later than we had hoped we headed off with out mission pickup loaded down and the huge rented truck loaded.  The trip to the prison is a 45 minute drive and I tried to get my thoughts straight for the presentation to the minors I was to do.  Our Baptist Women President had asked me to do a backyard Bible club style lesson with singing, games and story.  That might seem like a good idea to some and when she calls the juvenile detainees, children, it seems like an OK idea, but when you are thinking through with the two young ladies assigned to your care to work on your team, it doesn't really sound so great.  I mean we are talking about teenagers that have done something bad enough to get themselves thrown into the national prison.  We were brainstorming about games a couple of weeks before and after about 20 minutes of what about... uh, no that's a bad idea... we finally came up with a few possibles.  Our initial short list was "quiet mouse", "I spy" and "statue"! ;)  We ended up going with blind man's bluff.  I can list at least 15 solid reasons we will NEVER play that one again!!!

(story continues in next blog)

Please Don't Send Me Back to Jail



Part 2


Anyway, we finally go to the prison and I was a little nervous, but not too bad.  I'd briefed my girls on what to expect, we had all of the bags ready, the lesson was ready, I'd sent in papers on my girls and my sweet sister who I had roped into helping me with the lesson for the little serial killers in training (big grin here, I really do love the little rascals) and we were on our way.  We get there and worse thing of all things, I've "gotta go."  We started trying to figure out a way to take care of that on the free side of the fence.  I can do most things, but prison toilets, ummm NO!  Fortunately we sweet talked the police officers that camp outside of the prison to allow us to use there's.  Phew!  One averted disaster!  While we were taking care of that little need, the rest of the lady's showed up and we rolled on up to the prison gate.  This place is a massive compound surrounded by a huge concrete wall topped in razor wire.  After that wall and gate there are other fences and more razor wire and more walls.  

The first obstacle is the gate and I had to enter without the support of my African friends that I usually keep within reaching distance.  To add to the stress of the moment, upon pulling up to the gate one of the guards pointed out my VERY flat front tire.  Great, I'm headed into the prison and don't have the wheels I need to get away should things go wrong.  Sadly, only drivers were allowed in with the vehicles.  I had been psyching myself up for the VERY THOROUGH pat down which in any other circumstance would be considered a sexual assault, but frighteningly enough, they don't do that for drivers.  So I waited and waited and waited for my friends.  They came through over the next hour one by one all except for the precious face that I was looking for, my African sister.  I was concerned but problems with unloading the goods and whiny hired drivers was taking my full attention, so I wasn't as worried as I would normally have been.  Finally we were all unloaded, the tire was changed and I was headed back out to park the truck outside of the walls.  I nearly got myself thrown in the tank for wearing my visitor badge out of the gates.  You get screamed at for all sorts of rules that nobody knows except for those doing all of the screaming around here.  Now my main focus returned to my sister.  There was some ridiculous problem with the scan of her ID card, when I scanned all of ours at the same time and sent them all in together.  She was in good company of another 5-10 ladies that hadn't sent in the proper ID.  She just happened to be the only one that had sent their's in but wasn't being admitted.  I got pretty serious about getting her in at that point.  I'm sorry, after all if you are sending me into the lion's den of baby federal offenders, SHE's GOING TOO!

After much tense deliberating, she made it in and we all headed off to our assigned work.  The game was very stressful and I got that frisking that I missed at the entrance, but the kids had a good time. They listened very well to the story of the Prodigal Son and pulled out really great lessons from the story on their own.  Many chose to pray to give their life to Christ, but that usually happens with a large group here.  I pray that the seed of the gospel produces fruit in their life now or in the future.

We had some difficulties with some of the kits that we had prepared to be handed out.  I won't go into great detail here but there is a bit of corruption and disorder around here from time to time.  A load or two of the kits went off and disappeared.  The rest were used as best as possible to meet real needs.  Another team met with a group of men that gathers at the chapel.  They reported having a good devotional time with those.  Another team went to the women's building.  It was a little unclear whether or not the gospel was shared there, but each kit contained a tract.  

The director of the prison has changed recently and everything was much more difficult than it has been before.  One of the good things that we were able to learn on our side is that the minors have a different director that is open to groups coming to share the gospel with their "kids" whenever.

It was a long hard project.  Lots of things went wrong.  Despite all, the minors heard that no matter how far they had strayed from God, He's willing to accept and forgive them when they turn to Him in repentance and faith.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Count the Cost

A thought has been tumbling around in my brain for nearly a month now.  I don't know if it was inspired by the Spirit or was just a crazy thought, but the Lord has been using it as I've continued to mull it over.  It is the idea of counting the cost.  I oftentimes mention this idea as people think through the gospel and what they want to do about it.  Jesus said it is wise to count the cost.  Sometimes people use that as an excuse to not deal with a decision and that's not good.  Choosing not to make a decision in itself is making a decision.  However, this particular thought came on a different topic.

It was around 10:00 PM.  It was pitch black outside in this tiny village that has no electricity.  We'd been on the road in one shape or form since around 7:00 AM.  We had just come down a road measuring only 60 kilometers for 3 hours that tested the suspension of our 4X4 truck and the skills of our driver to the limits.  We'd had no substantial food all day because there are no drive-thrus in our neck of the woods.  The food we had packed to snack on in the car was getting pretty old by this time.  The worst part was that after a few hours sleep and a really long ceremony the following morning, we'd have to turn right around and make this drive all over again.  The thought that came was, "If we had known it would be like this, would we still have come?"  This particular time, the question was easy enough to answer.  We would have.  We had gone to support the president of our national Baptist convention in the loss of his father and help to lay him to rest in honor.  If that meant sore joints and hungry stomachs, so be it.

The line of thought set off an idea and I thought about the host of things that we embark on, never knowing or understanding what will happen as a result of our choice.  I thought through all of the really happy events where we see the starry eyed version of what will be; marriage, raising children, serving Christ, etc, what if we could see in our mind's eye not only those amazingly good things we imagine but also the terrible loss and heartbreak to come, would we make the same choice.  My little sister made an observation recently on social media that sums up what my thoughts were.  Each of these events shapes us, molds us and changes us.  Without the blending of lives through marriage, without the terrors of raising toddlers, without the joys of watching first steps, teaching little ones to read, watching teenagers make the right choice on their own, answered prayers, friends and family that share life with us,  without the stretching of faith and knowledge and depth of dependence on God that comes through trials, I'm not who I am.  If we allow God complete control, He can use each moment to teach us, give us compassion, make us obedient, make us faithful, grow our faith, help us to give comfort in the same manner He has comforted us, learn forgiveness, etc. Given the choice, I would have chosen to skip a lot of trials.  I guess that I'm grateful that we don't always know what is to come.

We recently watched the movie "Insanity of God".  It was powerful and touching and inspiring to me.  We all do need to count the cost of following Christ, but as the movie so plainly stated, "Jesus is worth it all."  So far in my life, very little suffering or sacrifice has been asked of me.  May I always be found willing to go wherever He asks and do whatever He gives me to do.  It is the spoiled brat that thinks only of themselves.  Jesus, make me more like you, ready to lay down my life every day.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

50 Years!







I'm getting old.  Twenty years ago, the idea of 50 years seemed ever so long.  Not so much now.  Twenty years ago some of my parents friends started to turn 50, now some of my friends are getting towards that age!  I started thinking about this because we just celebrated 50 years of Baptist work here in the Ivory Coast.  In many ways, that seems like a long time.  When I get down to the reality of what year that was, it's not so far off.  One of the ideas shared throughout the week is this will be the only 50 year celebration that the leaders of today will celebrate.  Our kids and those not yet even born will celebrate the next one.  We need to make a difference today by planting churches!

We had a wonderful week of Baptist Pride, while pastors and laymen, deacons and church leaders, church secretaries and church members of all ages joined together for a week of good teaching, fellowship, sweet times of prayer and worship and celebrating who God is and what He has done in our country over the last 50 + years.  Travel in our country is still more difficult than back in the US and trips need to be wrapped up during daylight hours, so although our country is small, we don't get out of the big city too much.  It was so great to see so many friends and fellow workers from around our country and those that we work alongside of in our city, but just don't always see.  The schedule was really hectic, so some of the hoped for moments to just talk and chat didn't happen, but we sure did a lot of neck hugging!

It was also neat and humbling to see missionaries that were here for quite some time in those earlier years.  One of my favorite couples from the week invested more than 30 years of their life here, but were gone before we got here.  They talked about watching these pastors that we know now as leaders of some of our oldest churches, come to Sunday School for the first time.  How neat to see that happen and to know that right now, we don't know who we may be talking to, teaching or working with that God will use to be leaders of the future.

We capped off the week with a huge day of celebration.  We made a nuisance of ourselves in the whole city where we were as we paraded through the city on foot and by car.  The victory cry that rang out through the city that Sunday morning was, "JUBILEE!"  The parades were paused at different moments in different parts of the city to pray that God brings deliverance to all those that have long been slaves to sin and death in that area.  It was funny to hear the reactions of those in the city.  The general consensus we heard from our car was, "We don't know where those people go to church, but we'd sure like to go, too."  Most Africans that we have met, love parades.

Sooo, come see us.  You never know when a prayer walk might break out into a spontaneous parade with a band, African dancing and...  "JUBILEE!"

With love,
Heather

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Out of the Ordinary

Some people ask what we do on a regular day.  My answer is always the same, "There are no regular days."  Fortunately, it our out of the ordinary kind of life is usually pretty interesting and all of the out of the ordinary encounters that go along with it. 

We've been doing a lot of evangelism this month with two of our newest church plants.  They wanted to have a film projection this last month, so we had activities scheduled throughout the week to lead up to that.  A couple of days at each location were scheduled for door to door evangelism.  I have a story that I use almost every time I do evangelism mostly because it tends to work no matter what religious or educational background someone has.  As you can imagine, that gets very boring for me, but I have to keep myself interested in the story or nobody else will be interested.  We get all kinds of receptions here.  It can range from anything from rapt attention to slightly hostile.  Because on the surface people tend to slightly interested in talking to me and figuring out exactly what I am up to on their turf, I have a hard time knowing at the outset how the telling will go.  It's those extraordinary encounters that keep us talking.  One of the volunteers that was here this last month got a chance to preach and he used the parable of that soils.  One of the encounters that happened recently fell so neatly into one of those categories that I saw it happening nearly from the first.  Odette was a perfect example of a rocky soil.  Odette is a young lady in her 20s that we found at work selling lunch.  She gladly accepted us.  The way that Odette listened to the story was any storytellers dream.  She was involved, excited and mesmerized by they whole thing. As soon as the story was over, she wanted to know where our church was.  She prayed to accept Christ with no hesitation.  She promised she'd come watch the film and come to church.  She asked us to pray right away that her husband would come to Christ.  That was the last we saw of her.  She will be followed up on.  Someone will go visit her multiple times, but unfortunately this or something like it happens more often than not.  Each time someone is so excited about the gospel, I hope that they will be the good soil that produces a harvest, and sometimes they are.  I had a little whisper in my spirit about Odette.  As I was so excited about her response, I felt that nudge.  I pray that the gospel will take deep root in her heart.

We had another really strange day this week.  I spent the whole day going from one doctor's appointment to the next with different people.  Ben is learning to ride his bike and I had gone out with him to help him practice around 5:00.  We weren't out long and on my return, I was greeted with the bad news that my African sister's husband was being rushed to the hospital with abdominal pain.  Mike took off in the truck to join them, but I stayed home with the little boys.  I'm not a very good stay at home person, but I knew the pastor needed Mike's support more than mine.  As Mike rushed them from hospital to hospital, I prayed and waited for word.  Getting good care here is very difficult if you don't have lots of money to spend on it.  The pastor needed a simple ultrasound, but he was in agony for nearly 18 hours before getting that done.  God's healing hand was on the pastor and even before he got his ultrasound, the problem resolved itself so that he went home from the hospital soon after his long awaited ultrasound.  Meanwhile on the other side of the city, we had our own emergency.  All evening I was waiting to see if I was needed.  With no news, I just kept waiting at home and as the evening wore on, it became a little too dangerous for me to take an hour taxi ride, so I just stayed.  Near 11:30, I heard a strange noise coming from Ben's room.  I went in to find Ben barely able to breathe.  I called one of our single girls that are here working with us to come sit with Ty and ran Ben to our closest hospital.  Fortunately it is a 2 minute walk away.  For some reason Ben had what seems to have been an allergy induced asthma attack, although that has never happened before.  He had seemed stuffy and had a little cough before bed, so I know it didn't come on fast, but since he was asleep, I didn't realize he was getting bad until it was really bad.  Thanks to God's healing hand on him as well, one nebulizer treatment took care of the problem.  I think we can do without more weird days like that.

Being flexible is an absolute requirement around here. Even in our ordinary activities, nothing is ever normal! ;)

With love,
Heather

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Life Goes On


nv/f/vf .   g d    (That's Ty's contribution!)

I don't get as much time as I used to for blogging, so it seems like every time I sit down to do so that so much has passed that I don't know where to begin. 

There is a very neat part of this culture where kids go off to spend time with relatives, occasionally friends, for the summer.  They might be gone a couple of weeks, a month or the whole summer.  We were blessed this year to host the youngest Kassou in our home for nearly a month.  Yassoua (his name means boy) came to stay at our house the 5th of June and we returned him to his family on the 1st of July.  I've never even been privileged enough to have one of my nieces or nephews stay more than a few days, so this was a scary and exciting time!

Yassoua has spent a few days with us a couple of times and one of his brothers had once or twice, but we aren't talking about a few days here.  I was so pleased that we were considered close enough to be chosen.  I love my sweet African sister Viviane and her precious family.  Yassoua came into a different world where English is spoken more often than not, hot water comes out of a shower head, kids sleep on a bed with a couple of dogs, a slew of programs are watched on our TV but almost none in French, hamburgers and chicken nuggets and macaroni and cheese are dinner favorites, there is almost always chocolate in the house, outside play with Dad means baseball time, Mama likes to wear pants at the end of a long tough day, etc.  We had a good time together.  Ben and Ty especially liked having a big brother around again, when they weren't trying to kill each other, of course.  This is one of the super fun things about living overseas.  Our kids have the opportunity to enjoy and experience things from this amazing culture.

We had one of our super fun, super stressful events last month.  VBS is not something that is done here.  In fact, there is very little if any evangelism done with people under 18 here in this area.  There is no literature, so everything has to be either made from scratch or translated and pieced together.  This year I translated and pieced.  We had lots of fun with the kids.  It is so neat how little it takes to get a smile here.  A coloring page and crayons can bring a smile for hours and draw in half of the neighborhood.  This is the second year we've been doing this and so the kids are starting to get more used to the idea.  The first year, we had to "shake down" half the kids to get our crayons back.  I always wish I had enough to just let them keep them, but we need our craft supplies to keep going.  Another big hit is game time.  Duck, Duck, Goose, Red Rover and tag could last for hours!  This was the first year for an actual craft time.  White paper folded to make a card and a few coloring pencils to draw with were so great, that when we brought out the craft sticks, yarn and markers on day three, we were barely able to drag the kids away!  Around 40 kids prayed to receive Christ.  We had kids from all religious backgrounds and were so glad to get a chance to make a difference in their lives.

From an American perspective, it was a hard few days.  We had 175 kids divided into three classes.  We had between 10 and 15 adult volunteers each day, most of which were not accustomed to working with kids.  The joys of the week completely outweighed the hard moments.

In other news, my traumatizing truck rides with strange passengers continues.  We have lizards everywhere around here.  We have big ones and little ones.  I actually like lizards fine except when they live under the driver's seat of my vehicle and run out and around the truck periodically to scare me.  I'm beginning to think somebody is trying to give me a heart attack!

On and on each day goes, the next one usually even more interesting than the last.
With love,
Heather

Monday, June 6, 2016

Fathers









We were so very glad to have our fathers here with us during the month of May.  We love to have people with us here and especially family.  We kept everybody running to do pastors' conferences and marriage conferences, visiting friends, preaching, and repairing everything we could find that needed to be worked on.  Everyone enjoyed the guys visit and we can't wait until they are back again.