Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Christmas 2011

Christmas here always means going to church, so it was just and added bonus that it fell on Sunday this year.  One of the churches we attend was having a dinner together after church, so we enjoyed sharing Christmas dinner with them all.  I look really thrilled to be there, wouldn't you say! ;)  I dont' know what I was doing in that picture, but we did have a great time together.  Since the preparations for the Christmas party had kept me busy, I had to fulfill my promise to make Christmas cookies with Karis on Christmas day.  Then some friends came over and we spent the evening playing games and then Skyping with our family!  It was a very nice day.


Christmas Party

We had our annual Christmas party on the 23rd.  We try to take the time every year to tell our staff how much they mean to us and invite special friends as well.  We share traditional African food of rice and sauce and I bake a boatload of cookies and cake and muffins.  50 people managed to consume 4 batches of peanut butter cookies, 4 batches of sugar cookies, 8 batches of pumpkin muffins, 4 batches of banana bread, 2 batches of snickerdoodles, 1 chocolate cake and 3 gallons of KoolAid!  Aside from that they each ate several plates of rice and sauce!   This year we made popcorn balls for all of the guests to enjoy and got the kids a little gift to take home.  It's always SO MUCH WORK, but because we have their undivided attention we get to share the reason we celebrate Christmas. 

Mike let me share the story this year and I told of God's plan from creation to redeem mankind by sending His son as the perfect sacrifice.  It was a fun night.  We hope you had fun celebrating the Son wherever you are!


Christine is Still Sick

I've hesitated to write this story as I don't know if I can do justice to the cultural knowledge you need to understand it.  I'm fairly certain that I don't even have the cultural understanding to truly grasp what is going on, but it is such a good picture of some of the obstacles we face that I want to give it a try.

Many of you may remember the name of Christine.  Those that have been here may even remember her.  She is a widow in her mid 50s that has had a very difficult life.  She is an immigrant from Burkina that has lived in Abidjan for more years than I've been alive.  She worked every day in the market for a dollar or so each day to be able to pay the rent on her house of around $30 and to have whatever else she might scrounge up to eat with.  I honestly don't know how she lives.  She is involved in the local Catholic church and they may help her a little when she's in a tight spot, but they have a church full of people in nearly as dire a need as her.  I've storied with her for a long time in her spot in the market.  Occasionally other women listen, but she's always had a bit of a rivalry going with her closest market.  They seem to be friends on the outside, but they often snip at one another and are competing for my attention.

Christine has been sick a lot of the time since I got back.  She has some grown children, but they aren't really helping her.  Some of them are still living at home and eating her food and taking up space.  If they get sick, she has to get them to the doctor.  To start with we all assumed she was just overstressed and tired.  By the first of September she was treated for malaria a few times.  After a few weeks, she finally went to another doctor who did a blood test for her.  It should have been done long ago, but she had no money to pay for it.  She was diagnosed with typhoid fever and kept in the hospital a few weeks.  This particular doctor does charity work and was treating her for free.  She's the only one of her kind that I'm aware of in this city.  She was sent home for a couple of days and quickly taken back.  They thought the typhoid fever had just flared up, but after several more weeks of treatment they've found that something worse is going on.  Many years ago, she was diagnosed with TB and that is what seems to be back.  About 2 weeks ago her doctor told her that she'd be spending the holidays in the hospital, but unexpectedly she was released only a few days after that.  I still don't have the whys of that decision or if she fled, but from then on, she's been nearly unresponsive.  She won't talk to friends.  She sits in her house and sleeps and refuses to talk. 

Christmas eve, I ran by with some food to try to lift her spirits and finally found out what was at the heart of her utter despair.  Christine thinks that someone has put a curse on her to knock her off so that they can have me as their very own friend.  Now I know my American friends just spit on themselves in sloughing that off as the most ridiculous thing they've ever heard.  Let me just say that is not at all uncommon thought here, neither that someone would put a curse on her out of jealousy, nor the idea of a curse in general.  Our friends here live in constant fear of a spirit world that I am oblivious to and even often skeptical of, but I have seen the power at work in the lives of others.  I don't have any idea how much of this power is in the minds affected and how much is pure evil at work, but I do know that it is very effective whichever way it works.  I don't suppose it matters if the evil one destroys by the power of one's mind or if he wields power over germs and sickness.

After I picked my jaw up off the floor, because although I've worked here for 4 years, I wasn't expecting this one, I tried to compose myself and figure out what to say.  I've never in my life prayed "God help me say the right words" as I have here!  In that short instance I decided not to tackle the validity of the curse, argue who may have made such a curse or even assure her that she'd be fine.  What was impressed on me in the moment was to remind her who Jesus is, the authority and power He has and at the same time warn her that we are all to be ready to stand before a Holy God.  I wanted her to understand that we are all ashamed, in filth and without hope if we stand on our own merits and that only Jesus can cleanse and restore us.  She listened.  She's not looked at me in weeks, but she looked me in the eye and heard what I said.  In one hateful moment she sarcastically retorted to a comment that I had made, "So you think I'll get better?!"  It was the perfect chance to say that none of us is guaranteed tomorrow and we must all be ready.  God laid in on my heart also to reassure her that He never leaves us and His plans are for our good even when we can't see it. 

In all honesty, I really only held it together long enough to get out of there!  The idea that she may die had already worked it's way into my thoughts as I saw her sitting there a complete skeleton.  The thought that she figured she'd been cursed on my account was enough to make me cry buckets.  In a moment, I wondered if my presence does only cause suffering.  Then I remembered we are all under the curse of our sin and we surely will die a spiritual eternal death without the news of salvation.  For that reason, He calls His own to share what He's done for us.  So I must keep on and so must you.  When you look at your neighbor who seems to have it all together on their own, think of a skeleton wasting away because of the curse of sin and death.  If you don't do something, Christine's possibility will be their reality.

Sorry, I didn't realize this story was going to turn into a lecture!  On a happy note, Christine called me Monday to wish me Merry Christmas.  She sounded upbeat and her reaching out is something I haven't seen in a while.  I'll try to keep you posted, but pray for her body as well as her heart.  I'm not sure about her soul.  She has a lot of good answers to my questions, but on a deeper level, I really don't know where her heart and her hope is.

With Love,

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Christmas Misadventures

Those that have been following my ridiculous self for a while will remember that 2 years ago around Christmas, I had my first encounter with a pickpocketing ring that hauled off some of my hard earned cash.  Christmas in the big city always brings out the best and worst in humanity, so I had another round with the wrong side of the law this year too!

I had had a particularly hard day.  It had been a full day of homeschool, learning 3 stories in my spare time (which consists of basically memorizing around 15-25 verses of scripture per story), got the family lunch, went out and taught the 3 stories, fielded many difficult questions about who God is and what we have to do to please Him, taught one of the stories in Moore (which I struggle with for every word), handled a rowdy gang of women half of whom wished to have a loud discussion and the other half wished to study the Bible and pray.  I had gotten a call during my last group to let me know that a good friend that was deathly ill had been released from the hospital.  I had no details, but normally they don't let deathly ill people out of the hospital for their continued health.  I was really worried about her.  I was definitely feeling the weight of the day and I knew that I still had to get home and make supper for the family!  Traffic is a bear in the city during the holidays and arriving home without being killed or killing someone is hard work.  We'd made it nearly home, I was out with a female colleague that day.  Just when we'd nearly made it, disaster struck.

I was in bumper to bumper traffic waiting for a light and inching forward.  I spotted a well known trouble maker headed toward our truck.  He usually just aggravates people for money or tries to wash their windshield to make them feel like they should pay him.  I kept sight of him in my peripheral vision, but my main worry was the traffic and the light.  He slowed as he saw my vehicle and walked past too close.  I barely saw him reach up and slap my sideview mirror with his hand as he passed.  I fussed and said that guy hit my mirror, while my colleague  rolled down the window to flip it back out straight.  About that time, I see him sidle up to my window holding his shoulder.  OH BROTHER! was my first response.  I really thought he was going to be silly and beg money out of me pitifully.  My colleague wagged her finger at him and told him what he'd done was wrong and all of a sudden I saw the anger and hatred spark his eyes.  He tore around to her side and started a screaming match.  As soon as traffic began to move he went in front of our vehicle and blocked my path.  We stood there locked in a stare down with no way to move, other than run over the punk, which I did consider.  A crowd started to gather.  He spouted off that I hit him and he'd not move until I paid him.  In normal African fashion, a spokesman came to deliver his demand.  I retorted that HE hit my truck and HE should pay ME!  Finally the crowd pulled him out from in front of my vehicle and I took off.

This sounds like a fairly stupid incident, but I was pretty scared and fairly humiliated by what passersby that hadn't seen him hit my truck would think.  I was really afraid for a few days in that area as he and his gang are usually close.  He had murder in his eyes during the incident and I wasn't sure what exactly he might do if he had another chance.  Mike wanted to go back up there and "have a talk with him."  Our househelper was fit to be tied to go with Mike in case he needed help "talking".  I was certain that somebody would get hurt if that happened and begged them not to go.  For a few days as I rode around with Mike, I avoided the intersection, but to do so really makes it hard to get around.  Finally, on Christmas Eve, I headed back through, figuring I'd have to find out sooner or later what he intended to do to me.  I will have to admit that I had thoroughly outfitted my phones with all possible numbers I might need to call!  Sure enough, there he was.  It was my first time driving again after the problem and I drive straight up to him!!!  He saw my truck and ran toward it.  I plaster on a smile, check all of my escape routes and look right at him.  "Merry Christmas!" he says smiling sweetly.  "Merry Christmas to you" I echo.  I wave, he waves and walks off.  He didn't even beg for money, which would have been his usual routine.  Whew!  A Christmas miracle for sure.

Crazy times!  We'll hope I can manage to stay out of trouble next Christmas.

December Catch Up

I'm going to try to play a little bit of catch up in these next few days.  So much has happened and that I want you to know about.  My intention is to do it little by little so that you will understand. 

First I wanted to catch up on my little groups and some of what Mike has been up to.  Mike has begun storying with a family that has been a long term project not only of ours, but of many colleagues before us.  This is a family very tied to Islam with some of them having responsibilities in their local assembly.  The younger brother has long had contact with the mission as a guard, but was reassigned a couple of years ago to a different job.  We have kept in contact with him as we have frequently visited his home and invited his family to ours.  His situation in the family, as younger brother, keeps him from feeling like he can make a decision against family wishes.  I have storied with one of his sisters, but she moved away while we were in the states.  During our visits with them this year, it became apparent that this young man, Seidou, and his family were open to the stories.  Right now, they are all saying, "It's all the same thing and we serve the same God."  Pray with us as Mike teaches through the evangelistic stories that they will see God we serve is different from what they have learned and beyond that, the only way to find peace with God is through His Son Jesus!  Pray also that the younger brother will have the courage to follow Truth even if it is difficult.

Mike's been sharing with his "drinking buddies" too, tea drinking buddies that is!  He's been able to share with them some about our faith and tell the creation story.  Pray that he knows how he can best share with them.

I've been sharing with the same people in Vridi and my friend in Marcory.  Alima, my Muslim friend in Vridi, is still listening as we moved into the Jesus stories.  I was worried about her because she gave me a speech a few weeks ago about her being who and what she is and I need not think I'm going to change her.  She refused outright prayer, but is unopposed to a blessing placed on her as I leave.  The language barrier has increased as the wording of the Jesus stories is super important and there are often times quotes which are hard to share.  I can handle old testament stories in Moore as they seem to be easier, but every time I go now, I am stretching my language to the limits.  Her French is just not good enough to do more than chitchat in!  Distractions are also a serious problem.  She has a little one that is about 18 months old and since we are sitting out in the road, he needs to be watched carefully.  Also everyone that walks by is someone to talk to and often friends drop by just to chat for a few minutes.  I always wait for a good time to start the story and usually the first part goes alright.  Then as the story heats up distractions come by the truckload just like ants scenting out a picnic.  I tell you, Satan is fighting hard for her!

My mixed group including the young Catholic widow and a young married nominal Muslim is always interesting and challenging.  They ask such hard questions and I have to think so hard about the background of them both as I story and answer their questions.  The joyful part about Agira is that she seems to be seeking so strongly.  Among my favorite comments by her are "Pray for me that God will change me and make me a better person", "How can we have a restored relationship with God?", and "God's word is just so interesting."  She is pushing for the story as soon as I arrive and demands to hear a story if she's missed one.  Marie is also fun as she asks for the scripture references so that she can read and study when she has time.  She's also asking the hard questions and digging deep into the stories.

My last group in Vridi is in the courtyard of a lady that attends the Baptist church we visit frequently.  She had wanted to tag along with me to my other groups and I suggested we start one where she is.  She's got a ragtag bunch of ladies there from all kinds of different churches.  Knowing the theology of our local Baptist church I can only imagine what they hear in theirs.  They are almost all single mothers.  Some are widows, some were never married and some are living with men now.  They are listening well to the stories and some of them are sharing them with others.  Their group is always very loud.  They bossy and often times obnoxious, but God is working in their hearts.  He is also answering amazing prayers from that group.  They can swell to a group of more than 10 sometimes and almost all of them have seen God work in their lives in answer to prayers we've prayed as a group.  Several of them are retelling the stories to their friends and acquaintances. 

Aisha, my Marcory friend, is still listening too.  She seems to be whole heartedly interested.  I'm not sure what she'll decide at the end of the story set, but I can see God working in her heart.  She comes from an ethnicity that to be that group is to be Muslim.  It will be a hard choice if she chooses Jesus.  She seems to be leaning back into her old answers, such as, I just have to pray everyday and God will help me.  However, she is also quick to point out to me friends that she has seen a change in their behavior after having chosen to follow Jesus.  I'm just trusting Him to make it all clear to her.

We are also seeking to build relationships with pastors and their wives so that we can be and influence and a help to them.

That is what is going on from a ministry perspective.  We ask that you pray for these groups.  We know that not even our faith comes from ourselves, we ask that you'd pray that the Father draws these to Himself.

Stay tuned for more crazy stories and some pictures too!

With Love,

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Ben's new Guitar!!!

Well, here's the story.  We bought Ben a guitar for his birthday in October.  About a week after it broke, to the point that it could not be repaired.  He loved that guitar and has asked and asked for it.  So while I was out today I saw this guitar.  It has strings just like his old guitar, but this one makes music like an electric guitar when you strum the strings!!!  Ben is actually dancing and spinning around as he plays his new guitar.  I guess you had to be here to get the full effect.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Christmas Time is Here!!!

 Ben helping us put the branches on the tree and fluffing up the branches!!!!
 Karis putting on the branches!!!! 
 Caleb helping with the tree and branches!!!
 Me, Ben and Caleb putting on the lights!!!!
 It is the hottest time of the year, so it is hard to get into the Christmas spirit.  We played Christmas music to help, but it was really hard to think of it as Christmas!!!
 This little light of mine, I'm going to let it SHINE!!!!
 Hey this one stopped lighting up!!!!
 A wreath of lights!!!

 Heather and Karis adding the finishing touches to the CHRISTMAS TREE!!!!
 Ben tying bows on, ok he was just throwing the ribbon onto the tree and Heather was coming after him tying them on the tree.
All done and we have three happy campers!!!  Now for some AC and Christmas movies!!!!!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Bamba's Wedding

 Bamba aand his wife Colette.  This was at the Mayors office.  The 2nd of the three wedding ceremonies.
 THis is Bamba and his wife standing in front of a bush just before we did the religious service.
 My first wedding ceremony and yes it was in French!!!  I have never led a wedding ceremony so I asked an Ivorian Pastor for information and he gave me his outline for the Church Wedding.
More from the Religious Ceremony.


Monday, November 28, 2011

A Baptism, a Holiday, a Wedding and a Baby Dedication!

We made homemade Thanksgiving decorations since we can't buy them here.

 Ben and Caleb just hanging.

Getting ready for the baptism in the tub.  Since we don't have a building, we have to think outside the box a bit!

Singing before the fun begins.

In between the two backsides you can just barely see the baptism.  The location wasn't conducive to photography!

There's the newly baptized woman and also the bride to be.

The groom is proud to have dunked his lovely bride.

I found these critters peeking out from a tree in the yard!

Much more Ben's style.  He doesn't like to be cramped!

Just monkeying around!

A couple of other monkeys

Thanksgiving with friends

Z finally filled his plate when he was sure that everyone else was taken care of!  

Crafts included candle making while Auntie Barbara was here this time!

Auntie Barbara is a face painting genius!

Ben and his beloved Mater

Trying to lose use of his other eye now!

If we'd had a funeral to attend, we could have covered most of the important life events.  I am glad that no such opportunity presented itself.  We wouldn't have had time for it if it did.

I think I've given up on keeping you up to date on everything that is happening around here.  I am so behind that I'll never get there.  We'll sum it all up by saying Mike got home (Yay!), we had visiting missionary friends (yay!) and we've told some stories.  Everything else is just a jumble at this point.

Last week was very busy.  We had a baptism on Wednesday.  Bamba's wife-to-be asked to be baptized before the wedding on Saturday and so we accomplished that.  Since Mike didn't feel like risking life and limb to go back into the lagoon again, we started looking for other options.  Mike got the Mission to loan him a bath tub that was just sitting around.  He built a make shift frame for it and voila, he had a portable baptistry.  Bamba baptized her with Mike standing alongside.  I think he was supposed to pull her out if Bamba held her down too long or something!

Thursday we celebrated Thanksgiving along with all of you.  It wasn't so different her, besides the temperature.  We don't have family hanging around out here, so other missionaries are our family.  We only had one of those on hand, though, so we had to invite a few Indians to this Pilgrim party!  We invited out househelper and the other missionary's helper.  That still wasn't enough, so we invited the office staff too!  When we moved beyond double digits, we decided to hold there.  Africans can eat once they get started!  We couldn't have turkey as it is fairly rare and expensive around here.  Nevertheless, the two big chickens I cooked cost nearly $40.  OUCH!  I think next year we'll tell the Indians to bag their own food on the way to the feast!  Hee hee.  Our missionary friend had some canned sweet potatoes, canned cranberry sauce and canned pumpkin, so we didn't miss out on some important parts of the meal.  The kids and I decorated cookies, which we usually do at Christmas, but we couldn't pass up the chance to use the maple leaf cookie cutter we were given in Vancouver to help us feel like fall!  All in all it was a nice day.  I got to talk to my family for a few minutes on the computer to top it all off.

Saturday was the big wedding we've been waiting for.  Mike got his debut in weddings.  He did wonderfully even in French with a rowdy crowd.  We left the house around 9 AM and got home just before 5 PM.  AAAAHHHH!  Here a wedding has three components.  The village part was done a few weeks ago when the groom wannabe presented the potential brides family with the presents required to give her up.  This was comprised of some fabric, a sheep, some sheets and some cash in lieu of alcohol.  After her family gave their blessing they came back and planned the civil ceremony 3 weeks later to be followed the same day by a church wedding.  The civil ceremony has to take place at the mayor's office and then the couple rented a room for the church ceremony and reception.  They are a part of one of Mike's group, so no church building exists.  It was a very nice day.  They honored Mike and I by asking us to be their witnesses.  That means for the rest of our lives, they'll come to us for marital advice and if there is trouble.  Yikes!

Last but not least we had a baby dedication for one of our Vridi friends on Sunday.  It was a long hot day to follow our other long hot day, but it was nice.  They gave the baby my African name as a middle name, so that was very sweet!  Ruth Esther had a lovely service, and Tauntie Esther took lots of photos! ;)  I'll try to get some of those up another time.

It's getting late around here and tomorrow holds another big day.  I am looking forward to being with my Vridi buddies in the afternoon after I finish teaching the kids.  Pray for Christine if you will.  You'll remember her name as my older widowed friend.  She's been in and out of the hospital for a couple of months now and they are saying her typhoid fever is back.  We are hoping they can get that taken care of and she can come home for good soon.  Christine has never made a decision as far as I know.  She knows a lot of stuff and has heard so many stories, but ultimately she is holding onto the hope that Mary along with her good works can get her in! 


Thursday, November 17, 2011

Ben and Donald Duck

Ben takes after his Daddy when it comes to cartoons. He loves watching Donald Duck. Watch as he cheers when the video starts.

Monday, October 31, 2011