Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Finishing out my South Sudan posts......and a few updates on life since September 2012!! Happy New Year!!

As I sit here on New Year's Day 2014, I realize how behind I have let myself get on many things.  One of which is finishing with my story of my most recent trip to South Sudan.  So now, 1 year and 3 months later, I feel like it's finally time to sit down and put into words what was so hard to say for so long.  To be honest, I waited for a long time because I couldn't really put my feelings into words and I knew that to write about it before that would only be listing facts from the days and nothing else and that really isn't my purpose here.  So, here goes......brace yourself because this is going to be a LONG post as it covers the last few days of the trip AND a few other updates on life that have happened since September 2012.

Sunday morning in South Sudan (September 16, 2012) started with a bit of unsettling news.  Of course, to get the full effect, you will have to remember back to the post about Saturday and the shooting in the town where we were.  We had a few text messages from the US first thing on Sunday regarding "a situation" in Khartoum.  We talked with Jeffrey's about what was going on and what we had heard and he promised us that we were very secure in South Sudan since it was now a sovereign nation and their military is strong and will defend the country with all of it's abilities.  With this information, we continued with our plan for the day.....all the while planning to call our families in the states after we had the opportunity to worship with the local churches and come back to the compound where we were staying.
So, we went to church!!  That's the whole reason that we went, right?  To worship the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ with our brothers and sisters in South Sudan and maybe to encourage them along the way and hopefully help them with some general community health information, too.  Don and I went to O'Karri for morning worship services where Archbishop (Paul) interpreted for us.  Don preached on Romans 5:12, "Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned."  Of course, he used this passage to lead into talking about the life-giving sacrifice of Jesus Christ where, by the grace and mercy of Christ, through faith, we have salvation.  I made a sweet new friend at church - she came right up to my chair and stood right beside me until I asked Archbishop if it was OK if I picked her up (this is her sweet face right here).  She actually fell asleep in my lap during the service and Robert, the former pastor, had her mother come and get her from me since she was asleep.  After worship, we went to the pastor's office tukul for some lunch and conversation time.  Robert said that he remembered me from having been there to worship with the members of this local church at O'Karri when we were there in 2011!!  What a great memory and a great ability to show what we feel....that the key to short-term missions is to be able to strengthen the local church and long-term missionaries during their work!!  Melissa and Heidi were able to join us here for a little time of catching up.  We had told Archbishop to help us remember to tell Melissa that Jack brought her something from her friends in Birmingham.  Well, with a bit of a language barrier (his English is actually VERY good), he told her "a man from America has a package for you."  I so wish I could've gotten her expression on camera because it was HILARIOUS!!!  She didn't miss a beat, though, and just asked, "what is the man's name?".  I explained a little to her about what it was and that it was from her friends back home.  For lunch, we had Lina, bread and meat.  We asked Coffee and Repent what it is made of and, in true fashion of most non-native English speakers, they both replied, "food."  I think that they have been taking lessons from Archbishop!!  haha!

We went back to the compound and had a few minutes of "down time" and then all took turns calling our family back home to learn more about what was going on in the US.  I was able to talk with EJ and try to find out a little more about what was going on as reported on the news back home.  At that time, there was reporting of something about a YouTube clip made by an Egyptian Christian in the US and there were some more details about this video that I just can't really remember anymore.  He told me more details about what had happened in Libya and that the US Ambassador was killed and that protests had now spread to Egypt where the US Embassy was attacked and burned.  Then, apparently, it had spread to Yemen and then to Sudan where "they" attacked and burned the German embassy and breached the US embassy and, at the time we talked, all reports said that US Marines were on their way to secure the embassy in Khartoum.  Then, something spread to Tunisia and there was something about celebrating September 11, but again, I don't remember the details as much anymore.  It was also being reported that Sudan had been flying planes over the 2 northern-most provinces of South Sudan and that, this time, South Sudan had promised to retaliate.  There was also something mentioned about challenges with Kenya over the oil fields.  The state department had issued a formal travel warning to all people on 10 September, apparently, that all travel to South Sudan by Americans must be deferred and that the US Embassy can't promise protection in areas outside of Juba....we hadn't gotten that memo!!

Needless to say, I was a bit shaken!!  To give you perspective on the distance between the the town where we were (Mundri, South Sudan) to Khartoum is about 700-800 miles, which is about the distance from Birmingham to Washington, D.C.  I remember talking to my mom and explaining to her that we were pretty far away from all of the activities, like about as far as Alabama is from New York.  I'm not sure if I was trying to make her feel better or comfort myself a little more.  Debby asked if we felt threatened and needed assistance to get us out more quickly than our original plan (we had planned to stay until Thursday) and my immediate answer was "YES, PLEASE!!"  I will completely admit that I was ready to come home.....or at least get back to Uganda for a few days - this had already been a VERY trying trip in many levels with the rain and now this.  As I have had months to process all of this, the scripture that absolutely explains where I was is found in Matthew 17:19-20:
"Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, 'Why could we note cast it out?'  He said to them, 'Because of your little faith.  For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there,' and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.'"
I'll freely admit today that I didn't have the faith to amount to even a grain of mustard seed.  All I could think about was the fact that Lord may have plans to take me home to Him from South Sudan.  And, while I know that He is sovereign and His plans are far better than anything I can think or imagine, this was NOT the plan that I wanted Him to have for my life.  At the end of the day, He called me to 1 John 4:13-21:
"By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit.  And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world.  Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God.  So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us.  God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.  By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world.  There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.  For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.  We love because he first loved us.  If anyone says, 'I love God,' and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.  And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother."

Moving on from the Sunday that has literally changed my life more than I can really put into words, I'll give you a brief update from the rest of the week (to be honest, my notes are even really sketchy for the rest of the week, so I don't have a choice but to give anything except a brief update here).  Monday, we went to the village Lanyi and Repent translated for us.  Bethany told the Malaria story and I shared the gospel with them.  We were able to give them different scriptures this time, too, including James 2, Matthew 28:18-20, Genesis 1 and 3, Romans 3:23-24; 5:1-5 and Colossians 3:23.  The ladies received both teachings very well and expressed to us that they understood.  We also played a game to help us be able to test their knowledge of the malaria information and they demonstrated good knowledge.  Then, after the gospel was presented and the game was played, we opened it up to questions and we had some great conversations.  There were 4 ladies there and 1 of them understood a lot of English, so she participated more than the others.  We learned today that Coffee's dad is from Lanyi!!  Our truck actually did get stuck on Monday for a bit - we drove over a stick and the stick got lodged under the back wheel axle.  It took a while to get out, but Augustin (our driver) was a beast and was able to get it done and get us on our way again!!!

Tuesday, we went to Wirroh.  It was a LONG, HOT day!!  On the way to Wirroh, it was a REALLY rough road to get there!!  There was a bulldozer clearing space in the road at Lui for cars to pass.  Repent translated for us again today and had many ladies attend.  Many of the ladies were taking their children to the clinic in the village to get their immunizations.  Sarah Moses was there on Tuesday and I was able to find out the name of her baby, who should be about 2-3 years old at this point.  The baby's name is Josephina Karama.  During our teaching time, there were constantly mom's nursing babies - I tried to get a picture of the group without getting a nursing mother in the picture and it was almost impossible!!  We found out that the most recent mosquito net distribution had been in 2011 and not everyone has mosquito nets still.  We were told that in families with 6-7 children, they may receive 2 mosquito nets and are told to have the children share beds so that they can remain covered.  They were given to pregnant women and children under 5 were the first to receive.  On the way back to Mundri, Repent told me today that he had learned from me not to throw his trash on the ground, but to keep it and put it in his pocket until he was somewhere that he could throw it in a wastebasket - he had seen me placing my opened wrappers in my backpack until we arrived back at the compound and then placing them in the wastebasket.  :0)  He said the way that they do it now is not good for their country to keep it clean.  Then, we encountered a petrol truck overturned in Lui - literally on it's side (we were told not to take pictures because the Army was there).  There were soldiers from the Army out at the camp guarding the truck and the area around it to keep order and prevent the petro from being stolen.

On Wednesday, which was our last full day in South Sudan, we went to Matta/Witto.  While there, we talked with the ladies and while we were teaching the malaria information, they seemed to already know it quite well!!  Then, we told them the gospel story and there were many who didn't know that we are all born with sin and that grace is free - we can't work for or earn it.  When we asked why they would follow Jesus, they only said that we follow Jesus because he died on a cross.  We also pointed them to scriptures of the virgin birth, the fact that Christ lived a sinless life, He faced all temptations that every human faces, and after He was crucified, He was resurrected from the dead and is at the right hand of God, the Father!  At the end of the day, before we left, we asked them to tell us 1 thing that they learned on this day that they didn't know before.  This was a fantastic day!!!!  Now, for the venture back to Mundri, our ever-trusty IAS (International Aid Services) truck was STUCK in Lui!!!!  And, by stuck, I mean STUCK!!!  Augustin had done such a great job in keeping us from getting stuck and today had been no exception....he was trying his best to get us back to the conference center quickly and went around the area where he knew he would get stuck.....and it didn't work like he had planned.  We were stuck for several hours!!  We had to walk from the car to the Lui hospital (it wasn't really too far) with Coffee and we sat inside the fence of the hospital for a few hours while we waited on our friends from World Harvest to come and pull us out of the mud (or, if they weren't able to pull us out, they could at least get us back to the compound so that we could at least sleep).  At this point in the trip, I remember thinking that all I could really process was that I wanted to cry....but I knew that wouldn't do any good for anything, so I didn't.  There was still a lot of uncertainty and anxiety about the state of events that had happened throughout N Africa during the week we had been gone and we had no access to any type of media or even reliable text messaging to know what had happened in the previous few days.  All I could think was that we were SO CLOSE to going home......and now we are 20 miles from our compound!!!!  Talk about feeling completely helpless and having no clue what to do other than pray and trust our ministry partners who took great care to ensure our safety at all times.  Our friends from World Harvest were able to come and pull out the IAS truck.....with the only wench that they were aware of in this part of the country!!  This convinced me that a southern farm-boy would probably survive quite well in South Sudan!!

Needless to say, we made it back to the states just fine and here I sit, 1 year and 3 months later finally finishing the stories from my perspective.  For a few updates since that time, I'll bullet point those for you:
- December 7, 2013 - EJ graduated from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary!
- EJ proposed to me on Christmas day, 2012!!  I said, "YES!!"
- January 7, 2013 - the University of Alabama won back-to-back National Championships!!!  ROLL TIDE!!!!  OK, so this had nothing to do with me, personally, other than I got to cheer for them during the game!  :)
- January 8, 2013 - we had our first leadership meeting for the year (at work) where we found out that not all of the changes for the year were related to me changing my last name and getting married!!
- April 2, 2013 - I was allowed the privilege to attend another leadership meeting for an Area Vice President, which is my new (and current) position with my company
- June 2013 - we adopted a puppy!!  Her name is Bear and we can't imagine what life would be like without her at this point.
- July/August 2013 - I took my first actual vacation in about 3-ish years......that is, my first time off of work to rest and relax rather than go on a short-term mission trip
- September 7, 2013 - EJ and I were married!!!  We were very grateful to celebrate with parties with friends and family during July and August leading up to our wedding day as well!
- September 9-14 - I took my second actual vacation in about 3-ish years (and my first actual vacation out of the US) as my new husband and I went to Bermuda on our honeymoon!!!
- December 15, 2013 - there is uprising and fighting again in South Sudan - please be in prayer for them that God would accomplish His purposes among them!!
- December 25, 2013 - EJ and I celebrated our first Christmas as a married couple!!
- January 1, 2014 - We rung in the New Year with special friends and celebrated the birthday of a best friend......and I FINALLY got all of this written so that I can concentrate on finishing Thank You notes this weekend!!  YAY!!!!

Happy 2014!!  I can't wait to see what adventures the Lord has in store for the years to come!

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Saturday - we FINALLY were able to get started doing what we came for!

Buagyi (sorry - it's a bit long; a LOT happened)

This morning, we were up and ready at our usual time to have breakfast at 7:30 and to be ready to leave the center at 8:00.  We actually left around 8:15 and started on the road to Buagyi - we were originally planning to visit this village on a different day, but given the events of yesterday, we had to shift our plans as we knew that we could get to Buagyi without too much trouble.  The ride there still had enough adventure with the treacherous places in the road and it seemed as if more and more drivers were being risky in trying to cross the muddy areas.  At one point, Agustina, our driver, asked us to all get out of the vehicle so that it would be a little lighter as he tried to cross the muddy road and then we would walk across and hop back in the truck and be on our way on the other side.  We were able to get some text messages out to friends and family to ask them to pray for no rain for the next few days due to the fact that we know if it rains anymore, we will not be able to get to the villages that we plan to visit because of the additional damage it will do to the roads.
Of course, we had to take advantage of a photo op here!!

As we continued on the way, there were other places that were a little "sketchy" (I think that's the best way to describe it) and we sped through the mud here.  But, if you've ever been driving in some thick, muddy roads, you know how trucks tend to react, so it pulled a little to the right and we almost hit the side of a parked truck that wasn't able to pass.  We would've literally T-boned that truck....we came within about 3-inches of hitting it.  So, to try and lighten the situation a little, as Agustina was backing up to go around the truck, Bethany and I began to sing "Hakuna Matata - it means no worries....." (I think my dad would be so proud that these words came out of my mouth since he tells me that all the time!!).

We arrived at the village around 10:45 and got settled in and met the Pastor, Chief, the ladies that Bethany and I would be spending time with and a few other people who were there.  The community health worker, Darius, was there and was our interpreter during the day.

Once all of the greetings were exchanged and those there had met our whole team, we each went into our classrooms to begin doing what we came here to do.  Don was in 1 classroom and was getting a map of the village to see where all the clans are located in relation to the significant landmarks (borehole, market, school, etc....).  Jack was in another classroom teaching the pastors and church leaders that were present Romans 1-8.

The ladies that came to talk to us in Buagyi
Once Bethany and I got settled, we moved right into the malaria teaching and Bethany did a great job leading this part.  The ladies seemed to enjoy hearing that, although they said that they knew most of it already.  Repetition is key here, though, so it never hurts to say the same thing several times and several ways to reinforce the importance of the point.  One of the things that we made certain we did was ask them if they had any questions about the information that we presented and they did.  I was excited that they spoke up to ask them, too.....even though we didn't necessarily have great answers for them.  One of the questions was how to get rid of/control mosquitoes in/around the latrines in the village.  Our best advice was "just go really fast," but, of course they had already thought of that one!  And, they countered it, too, so Darius took over and answered that question for us.  We were quite grateful!  To end the malaria talk, we had a game for them to play to test their knowledge on the information and they really liked that!!

After the game, we moved right into talking about another “sickness” that everyone on the planet suffers from and only 1 can cure!  I led this portion and started off with Genesis 1:26-28 and focused on the creation of man and the perfect relationship with God that was established and how God had already provided for every need even before He placed man on earth.  That was immediately followed with the fall of man found in Genesis 3:6-7 and that led us straight to Romans 3:23-24 to talk about the sufficiency of Christ to overcome sin!  The next topic we discussed was the necessity of faith and we focused on Romans 5:1-5 for this.  Then, I asked them if they were promised tomorrow and some said "yes" while others said "no."  So, we turned to James 4:13-15 to show them that no one is promised another minute and how there is an urgency to submit to Christ and His Lordship before the end of their lives.  They seemed to understand well what we had taught them.  At the end of this teaching, we asked them if they had any questions and the ladies present didn't really have any, but Darius spoke up and asked a few questions that he had.  Here they were:
What a great experience - answering Darius's questions with truth
  • He has a friend who is growing weary waiting for the 2nd coming of Jesus and wants to know how to encourage his friend as he waits and looks for Jesus. (we took a quick journey through scripture to find the answer to this one)
  • Darius asked if people who go to hell will, after a time, be allowed to come back and rectify their lives?  Or, after a time, will they be allowed to go to heaven? (I pointed him to the story of the rich man and Lazarus to answer this question)
  • He asked if the thousand year reign had already begun - For this, we went to Revelation, which led to other questions!!

Every time that he asked a question and we answered it, Darius would interpret the question and the answer for the ladies present to make sure that they also got the knowledge.  During this conversation, too, Darius made some great points about Satan being limited by God's authority.  This was awesome news for us to hear that he understood this concept.  However, he didn't completely understand that bad things can happen to people even if they aren't living in sin - so we took a journey through Job for a little more explanation.  This went on for about 1.5 hours!!  What a great interaction to have today after yesterday having been so frustrating.

When we arrived back at the compound in Mundri, we had a little time to take showers before dinner.  For dinner, we had "greens," rice, and bread.  Don asked Paul (Archbishop of the whole world - please see posts from November 2011 for explanation), "back home, we call these greens, what do you call them?"  Paul answers, "Greens."  Then, he continued, "Agba is our word for green."  So, I chime in and say, "instead of Louanne, which is very hard to say, you can just call me Agba since Green is my last name."  And, so goes the accumulation of names for me in South Sudan!

It didn't rain today!!  YAY!!  However, it was quite hot on the journey to and from the village.

We took a little time to debrief tonight from the day's events and even talk a little about future trips to this area and focus points of those trips.  When we had been doing this for about 20 minutes, the gentleman that was our security at the compound came in and turned off all of the lights to the compound and told us all to be very quiet.  About that time, we heard a gunshot, then another.  He told us that we had needed to turn off all lights so as not to draw any attention to ourselves.  So, there we sat for over an hour in the compound, dark and trying not to talk above a whisper.  Can I tell you that those 60+ minutes were probably 60 of the longest minutes I can ever remember?!?!  During this time, the security guard walked around the premises simply making sure that no one got into the compound where we are. 

After this (it almost felt like time stood still, so I don’t know how long it really was), our security guard came back and told us that all was clear and that the police had found those responsible and arrested them.  He also told us that the soldiers had gone without pay for 3 months now and they received their pay this weekend and some of them came into town and drank too much alcohol and began to shoot their guns in the air.  They finally told us that it was all clear and we were good to go.  We asked if we could use the latrine and they said that we could - then, I'm pretty sure that they were making fun of us when we asked if we could use our flashlights.

Just before going to bed, I told Bethany the one scripture that came so easily to mind was Psalms 46, which reads:
“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.  Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, through its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling. Selah. There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High. God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved; God will help her when morning dawns. The nations rage, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts.  The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.  Selah.  Come, behold the works of the Lord, how he has brought us desolations on the earth.  He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; he breaks the bow and shatters the spear; he burns the chariots with fire.  ‘Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!’ The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.  Selah.”  (emphasis added)

That is one thing that this event forced us to do since we have been so eager to complete what's on our schedule and get everything done and He has challenged us each day with something....yesterday was rain; today was misbehaving soldiers.

Tomorrow, we plan to attend worship services at 2 different churches and then will come back to the compound, have lunch and Jack will spend 3-4 hours with the local pastors talking with them about creation and the fall of man and using that to lead him into teaching from Romans 1-8. 

Friday, September 14, 2012

Friday - OH, the adventures that our first full day here brings.....

Today, our plan was to load up in the LandCruiser and head out to Matta - the farthest village from where we are staying in Mundri.  We estimate it should take around 3-ish hours to get there.  Once we started our trip, though, it was easy to see that it was going to be a LONG day (and a LONG week for that matter) because the roads were really washed out due to all of the rain.  If you aren't aware, there are only about 10 miles of paved roads in the young country of South Sudan and they are in the capitol city of Juba.....a little over 100 miles from where we are staying.  So, you guessed it.....7 consecutive days of rain, red dirt/mud road = TRAVELING FRUSTRATION!!

Early on in the trip, Jack made the statement, "just imagine, this is the good road."  Of course, I just couldn't let that go and I had to reply, "I think this is the only road."  And, yep, for where we were coming from and going to, this was our only option!!  Jeffreys actually told us earlier in the day that the worst car accident that they have ever had happened about 5 days prior when 12 people died as their LandCruiser was swept away by the river.  And, if you've never had the privilege of spending much time in one of these LandCruisers, I will testify:
#1 - Toyota makes a mighty fine automobile!!!!
#2 - They aren't afraid to take these things across puddles of water (running or standing)
#3 - These vehicles were able to get us into/out of places where other vehicles were getting stuck pretty badly.
Our trusty transportation for the week!!  You'd be surprised at what this vehicle can go through.....

The road is BLOCKED!
So, as we continued down the road, the conclusion I came to about the rain is that it's GREAT for temperatures (lowers them drastically - if you've ever felt the heat of the Sudanese sun, you'll be able to well sympathize).  BUT, it's BAD for the roads (which means at times, no one can pass in certain places), bad for the crops as this year, they have not survived well due to the increased rain fall, and it brings lots of mosquitoes since they love standing water!  Another story that Jeffreys told us as we were on our way to Matta was that the week before, there were 60 trucks (picture 18-wheelers here) lined up for 4 days because 1 of them was stuck in the muddy road.  We made it to Lui and past 3 of the other villages on the agenda for the week, then a couple of miles later, there we were.....stopped!!  Along with a number of other South Sudanese people who couldn't pass the road here.  Agustina (our driver this year) parked the truck and went to assess the damage as someone had told him just as we were stopping that there was no longer a road up ahead.  What he found, though, was that there remained a road, it simply was impassible at this point because of the number of vehicles that were stuck.  Jeffreys told us that once this truck was pulled out, we will be able to pass and we were determined to make it to this village today.

Just an example of the trucks trying to get through the roads
While we were waiting, a Sargent with the medical corp (Santiago) walked over to our truck and began to talk with Jack.  He told us that he and some others in his unit had been stopped here for 2 days already due to the road conditions and he was trying to get back to work.  Jack began to ask him questions about his faith and salvation.  Santiago told Jack that he does pray twice a day.  So, Jack followed that up with a question about who he prays to and I honestly didn't hear the answer to his question.  But, the next thing I did hear was Jack asking him if he had a personal relationship with Christ and Santiago said that he doesn't.  So, right there, on the side of the Juba Road, Jack was able to share the gospel of Christ with him!  If this is the only reason we came this far to stop, it was totally worth it!!

After about 4 hours in the car, we decided to change our plans for the week and pray that the rain would hold off and that the roads would be pass-able by early next week so that we could try again.  These villages are ~45 miles from the compound and with dry roads, it takes over 2 hours to reach!!

After we got back to the compound and settled down for the evening, we began to have some conversation with Jeffreys.  This man is such an incredible man of God and he's impressively well versed on American politics and history, too.  This is even more amazing since he doesn't even have daily access to the internet (he has to arrange time to visit a local NGO office so that he can check his e-mail).  He told us of research that he'd done on the faith of Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, and John Adams.  He is convinced, based on what he knows of their lives, that these men were Christians.  He said, though, that there was 1 person he had been researching that he wasn't convinced is a Christian - Thomas Jefferson.  This man is so aware of what happens on the US political scene because, whether people at home know it or not, there has been little assistance given to this very new country by our current administration.

Throughout the day, all I could think of was that God has the power over all wind, waves, and rain and He chose to bring this area this much rain at this time and He also orchestrated our trip from the USA to Mundri, South Sudan and the 5 villages that are part of our agenda.  All I could focus on was Mark 4:36-39:
"And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was.  And other boats were with him.  And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat was already filling.  But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, 'Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?'  And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, 'Peace! Be still!' And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.  He said to them, 'Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?"  And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, 'Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?'"

Thursday, September 13, 2012

South Sudan 2012 - yep, we're going back!!

We spent all of the day Tuesday and Wednesday (11-12 September) flying from Birmingham to Entebbe, Uganda (through Detroit and Amsterdam).  We stayed overnight in Entebbe at the Lake Victoria View Guest House and had a "good rest" for the night - all of about 5 hours of sleep!!  It was great not to have to sleep on a plane, though.

On the 1st long Amsterdam

When we woke up this morning, it was VERY chilly in Uganda!  So chilly that I wish I had brought a coat with me....I wasn't expecting that at all!  Then, we loaded up and hit road to the MAF (Mission Aviation Fellowship) hanger at Kajjansi Airfield.  This is where we'll be loading up and boarding our 12-passenger plane to get into South Sudan.  Our pilot this trip was Simon (the same guy who took us into Mundri last year).  As we were boarding the small plane, Simon informed us a particular piece of global news that he thought we might want to know about (or maybe he thought we already knew, I'm not sure), but he told us of an attack on the US Embassy in Libya and the death of the US Ambassador there.  There was no other news to report that he was aware of, so we prayed, made the final preparations for take off, and we were officially on our way to Mundri!  Of course, we had to register our exit with Uganda in Arua, Uganda.  The next stop we made was just across the border to drop off 2 other passengers on the plane with us.
One of the benefits of flying in such a small plane is that you never really get up to an incredibly high elevation.  So, you can have a great view of what's going on down below.  As we were flying over Uganda and the southern most parts of South Sudan, I couldn't help that notice that most of their fields look ripe for harvest.  This is the end of the rainy season, so that makes perfect sense that they would be ready.  But, I notice very few people in the field who seem to be bringing in their harvest.  I also took a look around the plane at the 3 other members of my team and couldn't help but think of the spiritual harvest that is also waiting to be sowed and how few people actually brave the challenges of travel that it takes to actually make it into the areas we are going to.  It reminds me so much of Matthew 9:36-38:
Bethany and me while stopped at the Arua airfield
"When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.  Then he said to his disciples, 'The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.'"

That's EXACTLY why we're here.  We're here to help point the people that we'll interact with during this week to Christ and also to help encourage the workers in the local ministries and churches that are already established there.  The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.  As Don (our team leader) pointed out on this plane ride, "you have to really want to come here in order to do it.  It's not an easy place to get in and out of." He's exactly right!!  It's a place with very little resources and almost no conveniences of the western world...the only way there is by small plane that lands on a dirt/grass air strip (there is a road that runs through Juba that will also lead to the border so that you can cross into Uganda, but this still takes a VERY long time).

The White Nile River in South Sudan!
As we continued our flight to Mundri, the closer we got to the town, the more we could see the effects of a particularly harsh rainy season they have experienced.  The rivers were very swollen and overflowing their banks in many places in the country.  Simon, our pilot, had already told us that some roads had been flooded due to the excessive rain, but you don't really grasp what that means until you see it first-hand from the air.  But, from this viewpoint - you can get a very clear picture!

Once we arrived at the Mundri Conference Center, we were taken to meet the acting commissioner of the county where we were staying.  When we arrived back at the center, we were all quite exhausted after having traveled across 8 time zones with only about 6 hours of "good" sleep, so we decided we would "take a rest" (that's what we all call in the US taking a nap).  When we awoke, we were still very tired, so we covered a few logistical items for the day on Friday and then decided we would just all get in bed early.  So, as Bethany and I were in our room, all of a sudden she says to me, "it's only 8:15?"  I replied, "yep," to which she then asked, "you got anything you want to talk about?"  Of course, since we had been together for about 36+ hours traveling and experiencing the same things, I couldn't think of anything else to talk about at the moment, so my speedy reply was, "nope; I'm good.  Thanks!"  Then, we settled in to try and recover a few extra hours of sleep before we had to be ready for breakfast on Friday by 7:30, then ready to leave the compound by 8:00 to make it to our destination.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Our last day in India....for this trip!

Saturday morning started off a cool, comfortable hotel room even though I had to wake up a little early to dress my wound and make sure that it was safe from the elements.  We made sure all of our things were packed before we went downstairs for breakfast.....and the reality hits!  We are headed home TODAY!!!  Like, a little after midnight we'll be boarding a plane to head back to the US.  It’s over!!  It’s so bittersweet because in one way, I do miss being able to talk with my family, small group and friends, and I’m excited to see them, but I know that there is so much work to do to share the true gospel with the people here that I don’t want to leave.  As I said in my last post, I know what awaits me at home and I know how easy it is to let this just be an experience and then to get sucked back into the materialism and the fleshly desires of this world and to not be intentional to pray for the people I’ve spent the past week living alongside.  And, it was just a week!!!  7 days we were in the country (3 full days of travel make the total trip 10 days, but we were only in the country 7 days)!!  I remember the first conversation I had with Spencer about the agenda as he reminded me how hot it was going to be (which he felt the need to do every time we talked about India).....all I could think was, “WOW....this is AMBITIOUS!!!”  And, when I say “ambitious,” what I really mean is “I don’t see any way possible that we will be able to do this in this kind of heat and still be effective witnesses of the gospel.”  WELL....little did I know (truly, I do know this, but I get reminders on a daily basis because I forget it often), God has this whole thing rigged!  In ways I can’t really describe, He sustained us, He energized us, He gave us the words to speak and allowed us more opportunities to share His love, grace and mercy than I could’ve imagined.
The BrookHills Young Single's well

Now, onto what we did Saturday....after breakfast, we loaded our luggage into the taxis and headed out to visit the Neverthirst office in Kolkata.  Andrew and Roshni taught us a little more in depth about the differences between the 2 programs that are in place at Neverthirst and how they operate differently.  They have a program called Water is Life and the other is the Adopt-a-Village program.  The one that was the focus of our visit was the Adopt-a-Village program, so we got to see first-hand what goes into the efforts associated with this program.....and it’s totally worth every cent donated to the organization.  I’m sure that any of us would be more than happy to share with you why when you have time.  After spending a little more fellowship time at the office, we then prayed over all of the prayer requests for the month of May together as a group and gave God praises for the things that He has already done and is continuing to do to bring His great name great glory amongst these people by meeting a physical need that leads to the ability to be able to meet their spiritual need, which only can happen through Christ.
After our visit at the Neverthirst office, we did a little sight-seeing in Kolkata before heading to the airport to fly to Delhi.  And, to be honest, I have mulled over what to say in this paragraph for about a month now, which is why this post is so late in getting finished.  I want my heart to be communicated clearly and I haven’t been sure how to do that, so I’m just going to try....and hopefully you will see a glimpse of what I saw.  Our first visit in Kolkata was to Mother Teresa’s house.  This was, well, interesting to say the least.  Honestly, it was quite creepy, to be completely blunt!!  They have literally memorialized EVERYTHING of hers!!  And, by everything, yes, I mean everything down to her toothbrush!  There were Saris that she wore, her china and silverware, quotes from her and many, many more things that they had displayed in display case after case.  Now, please don’t get me wrong, I completely understand that Mother Teresa was a very influential person and she did some amazing work, specifically amongst the “untouchables” in East India.  However, the thing that bothered me most was that her theology was “Jesus +.....” not “Jesus alone.”  Scripture knows nothing of “Jesus +....” and it broke my heart to see the wonderful works that this woman did and how she literally gave her life to this work, but when you measure her life against what scripture says, I am not certain that she lived by faith alone.  The reason that I say this is because of various quotes of hers posted throughout the display hall and on pamphlets that were handed to us where she clearly pointed to Jesus + a work (be it the rosary, ministry activities, or any other good work).  The point here is that, again, scripture knows only faith in Christ for salvation, not plus anything else...including the rosary or any ministry activity.  the other thing that struck me to the core was that so many people were there to come and see this place.  In a country that already worships more false gods than you or I can imagine, they are coming to visit a place where a woman did such great works, but all of these remnants of her mortal life are memorialized here.  Now, I do measure her life against the words of Paul written from prison found in Philippians 1:15-18, “Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will.  The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel.  The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment.  What then?  Only that in every way, whether in pretense or truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.”  So, I have no doubt that God used her life to lead people to Himself, but I do believe that many are deceived still.
Not to be so hard on Mother Teresa because you may very well be asking, “well, you hypocrite, you travel to the other side of the planet to share the gospel, isn’t that a work?”  And, my answer is, definitely, that is a work!  I don’t deny that a bit, but I don’t do it to earn my salvation.  My salvation is secure in Christ (and was secure in Christ) alone before I ever realized that only 5% of the world’s population lives in the United States of America, which was the only place I ever felt the need to share His gospel for years!  God has used various events in the past 6 years to transform my heart to show me a love for a people on the other side of this world that I can’t explain in’s simply a matter of trusting Him and following Him where He leads....with no reservations!  It’s following the words of Christ as he explains the cost of following him in Luke 9:57-62, “As they were going along the road, someone said to him, ‘I will follow you wherever you go.’  And Jesus said to him, ‘Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.’  To another he said, ‘Follow me.’  But he said, ‘Lord, let me first go and bury my father.’  And Jesus said to him, ‘Leave the dead to bury their own dead.  But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of god.’  Yet another said, ‘I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my house.’  Jesus said to him, ‘No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.’”  Note the urgency here....and what’s so scare to me is that these men were with Christ, in the flesh!!!  And, they had doubts and they had earthly desires that they wanted to take care of first.  And, Jesus said, “no.”  The reason that’s so scary to me is that how much more do we want to take care of the worldly things first, then follow Him; when what He’s saying is to follow Him.....period!  No reservations, nothing held back.....follow Him!  So, the question, then, isn’t, “are you willing to work for your faith?”, but rather, “how is God going to work through you because of your faith?”  And, that’s what I hope you’ll see through the stories here and through my life as well because I hope that my faith is evident by everything that God calls me to do.  And, yes, I ask the Lord every day, “Is this still where you want me today?”  Today, I have confirmation that I’m EXACTLY where I’m supposed to be in the job that He’s given to me to hopefully be an influence to those He’s entrusted to me in that setting and to lead the amazing ladies in my small group that He’s entrusted to me.  Now, as for tomorrow, I’ll ask Him again, “is this where you want me to be today?” and I’ll wait for His answer.  Because I have found that life outside of His will is miserable, even though you can be surrounded by friends and a host of other “good” things of this world.  But, I’m convinced that to be in the middle of a hut on the other side of the world in heat over 110-degrees Fahrenheit with humidity like I’ve never experienced in the USA in my life with no power and a pretty large wound on my hand is far better than living a mediocre life with good things and selfish pleasures in the comforts of the USA.
I completely realize that I’m posting this on July 4....the day that we celebrate our independence as a nation and I know exactly what I just wrote in that last paragraph.  I get the inconsistencies, I promise I do.  Please know that I do love the freedoms that we celebrate here in the USA.  But, as I celebrate in this, my mind can’t help but drift to the only freedom that exists to man and that’s freedom in Christ and there are people who live on this planet in places where they will be born, live their whole life and die without having the opportunity to hear His gospel!!  These places exist, so in the celebration of our nation’s independence, my mind drifts to these people and my heart hurts because they don’t know the only giver of life and peace in Christ.
To be honest, I’m not really sure how to close this one out, other than to say that after our visit to Mother Teresa’s house, we headed to the airport to fly to Delhi, which began the journey back to where I am today.....completely certain that for today, I’m supposed to be here in Birmingham, AL.  And, as for tomorrow, I’ll see what God’s answer is to the question of, “where would you have me today?”

Friday, May 18, 2012

Friday was a bit different.....

The day started off well, at about 5:30-ish.....then it started going downhill from there.  I was moving a fan in our room when one of the wires on the back gave way and either it pulled my finger in it or it allowed my finger to be caught by the fan blade.  So, when Heather said, "something got caught in the fan," it took me a minute to reply and say, "yeah, it was my fingers."  Then, she graciously informed me that she saw blood, which made us grab up the bottled water and run for the shower to clean it out.  As Heather was so sweetly helping me to clean my wound, she informed me that she doesn't do blood.  So, while Megan was grabbing the first aid kit, I asked if Brooke or Mike were already up because I figured a mom or dad would be good at something like this....don’t ask, but this seemed like great logic at the time.  There were a few other moments thrown in there in the following 15 minutes, but I’m not sure that everyone involved wants them posted on a blog, so I’ll let those slide for now.  Brooke did come to help me finish cleaning out my wound and then came the conversation/debate of, “do I go to a a village in India......3 hours drive from any major city in the country?”  Well, I've never had stitches as a result of injury....only surgery, so this kind of freaked me out a little more.  Again, I thought, “we are about 3 hours away from any major city, in a village in I sure I want a MD to look at my finger and stitch it up?”  NOPE was the prompt and certain reply.  But, everyone didn’t jump on board as quickly as I did about this not going to the doctor thing.  So, we put some Neosporin (+ pain, by the way) on it and continued to apply pressure to stop the bleeding.  After a while, we bandaged it and wrapped the bandage very tightly to keep it nice and clean.  I even decided to make a $40 phone call back to the states just to get my brother’s opinion....or support, really, for not going to the doctor.  I really just wanted someone in my family to tell me that I wasn’t crazy for not going to the doctor and I knew that I couldn’t talk to my mom or dad.  My mom wouldn’t have been able to rest until she could see me and my finger had already been healed.  My dad, on the other hand, would’ve been a much more interesting conversation, most likely with him wanting to get on a plane to come and find me and make sure that I was OK.  So, I knew Danny was THE person to go to on this one.
I skipped out on the village visit today, thinking that the cleanliness of the multiple layers of exposed matter on my finger was quite important.  I joined the rest of the group at the school, though, to end our time here with a bang. It was a far more emotional time than I had thought it would be, too (the kids just as much as us were sad about our leaving).  The church presented us with shirts and spoke some very, very kind words to us.  We were able to sing a few motion songs with the children and take some pictures before we were allowed to serve them lunch and then head back to the compound where our cars were waiting for us to eat lunch and then begin our journey back to Kolkata.  Of course, we took advantage of a few photo ops during that time and got some great team pictures.
It only took us about 1.5 hrs to get back to Kolkata, which we were all surprised by (including Andrew) since it takes 3 hrs to get to the village??  We still aren't sure how this happened.  We were excited about it, but a little frightened that we were able to make it so far in such a short amount of time.
When we arrived in Kolkata, we had a few minutes to take a “rest” and I took full advantage of the air conditioning and light and sanitation and I re-dressed my wound.  Then, we went to the "new market," which is actually the oldest market in Kolkata, for some shopping.  While we were out, we went to a mall for dinner and we wanted something that was as close to American as we could find.....we settled on Chinese. We were able to meet a new Neverthirst employee, Dianne, who is now living in Kolkata and we were able to talk with her more about her work in India as well as her adjustment since arriving there.
Serving dinner to the kids at the school
What an event-filled, crazy, overwhelming, and emotional day!!!  It is so hard to believe that we’ve already been here for a week and that this is the last night in India, truly, since our flight leaves at 12:50 a.m. on Sunday morning.  It’s very bittersweet, to be’s HOT in Kakdwip/Kolkata, but I am going to miss those people; I haven’t gotten more than 2.5 hours of sleep at any one time on this trip, but I would be willing to stay for another month to see these kids get a grasp of the true gospel and then to start making disciples!  As hard as this past week has been, I’m almost not ready to board that plane to get back to the US.  I know what awaits me when I get back and I know how quickly I tend to forget these sights and sounds and faces and I don’t want to do that!  I want to pray intentionally for them and I want to be involved in helping them grasp and share the gospel with others.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Starting our day at the market....this should be interesting...

Thursday didn’t start out like the other days.  We woke up early, as we had every morning, but then we headed into town.  Our goal was to shop at the local market to buy the things that we needed so that we could cook an “American” dinner for everyone at the church compound.  We decided we would fry chicken, have some baked potatoes, another vegetable (we were undecided because there were a few things that we couldn’t describe very well with the language barrier) and a banana split type dessert.  Well, we had a few challenges with buying what we needed to make the above meal a reality.  We did find the ice cream pretty early in the trip, so we went ahead and got it.  We were able to find 1 package of “processed cheese,” which, in Brooke’s words, was “almost like Velveeta, but imagine a white cheddar cheese popcorn flavor.”  We couldn’t really find aluminum foil, but we still felt like we could improvise a little for the baked potatoes.  We found some okra and green beans and a few other vegetables that we could cook, but we felt like the green beans would be the safest option, so that’s what we picked.
While at the market, we also got a few items for the kids at the school to be given on behalf of St Mary’s Church.  We found some “good quality” pens for the older kids and some other appropriate pens for the younger children and we found some sporting equipment for them too.  The kids will now have good cricket bats, volleyball sets, badminton sets, and a few other things.  By this time (about an hour and a half), of course our ice cream has melted, but it’s ok, right?
Diving into Genesis....getting ready for our role-play for the evening.
After this adventure, we headed to the school to work with the children (much later than we had anticipated).  We had a great plan for them since our day was so scattered and we started it off by demonstrating what we were going to ask them to do.  We acted out the story of the “Rich Young Ruler” for them and asked them a few questions to make sure that they understood the story.  Then we gave them an assignment to complete during the day and to have ready by the evening when we came back.  We had come to realize that they have very little exposure to the Old Testament, so this sort of gave us the idea for our plan for the day.  Each team (6 teams in all) were to put together a roll play based on a part of Joseph’s life from Genesis.  Our teams were the exact same as the ones from Wednesday, which meant that I had a team of all boys.  What I didn’t know was that there was a little 13-year old who came out of his shell and finally let me know that he can actually speak English quite well!!  Like, almost as good as an interpreter.  He started asking me questions for everyone else in the group that they wanted to know and then told me that his hobby was learning about America!  HA!!  What an awesome thing to finally learn......I had been trying so hard to keep things simple and talk through another interpreter, but God had already provided a sweet little kid in the group with that knowledge!  HOW AWESOME!!  His name is Girish, by the way.  Our group was to act out the story of Joseph interpreting Pharaoh’s dreams, so after they read through it a couple of times and came up with an idea, I felt like we were good to go.
After we left the school, we went back to the church property for a late lunch, a “brief rest,” and then we loaded up and headed to the village we were visiting for the day.  We only had 1 village visit for the day because of the changes in schedule.  Since we had to make a few changes, what we did at this village was simply engage them in conversation and discussions regarding their newly installed well.  Of course, on our arrival, we were greeted by the people in the village with coconut water.....again.  In this particular village, there are currently over 100 families using the water from this well.  They told us, too, that their pond where they washed clothes and bathed had now dried up, so they use the well water for everything (drinking, cooking, cleaning, bathing, etc....).  They allow everyone to use the water from the well....not just those that helped to raise the money for the repairs and maintenance.  This was a very productive visit with the people here and was a really good change of pace....especially because the ride to get to the village was a good bit longer than the others had been.
After the village visit, we went back to the school and hung out with our groups a little more to finalize our skits and then just spend some more time getting to know them.  It was a fabulous night and, I have to admit, I was pretty impressed with how well these kids acted out the stories from the life of Joseph.  Then, as with every other lesson, we quizzed the kids to see how well they understood the information.  We made this one a little interesting, though, and played a game of snakes and ladders just to add an extra element of excitement.  There was a little time left to still visit with the kids after we finished the game and Girish was there with more questions for me.  One of the questions that he had for me was, “when are you coming back?”  My reply was, “I don’t know.”  He immediately turned around and went to the pastor to ask clarification on how to ask the question.  He came back and asked me again, “when are you coming back?”  I replied, “I am not sure.”  Again, he turned around (a little frustration on his face at this point) and went to the pastor to ask clarification on how to say it in English.  When he came back and started the same question again, I said, “I don’t know.”  I saw a VERY frustrated look on his face as he started to turn again back to the pastor.  I said, “no, I understand what you’re saying, I just don’t really have an answer for you.  I don’t know my plans yet for when I’m going to be back here.”  It was absolutely precious!

After we finished at the school, the ladies headed back to the church compound while Mike stayed to teach his final lesson to the pastors.  We got back to the church around 8:30 and then immediately dived in to making the “American dinner” for the people at the compound.  Our cooking facilities were not at all like what we have in the US, but we were able to work through it.  First, we battered and fried the chicken and then covered that until the rest was ready.  We realized that none of our options to have a baked potato were actually going to work, so we decided we would peel the potatoes and mash them (mixing in a little “processed cheese” and butter) and that would suffice.  While this was cooking, some were also snapping the beans and getting them ready to go in the pot to be cooked.  Once all of our food was done, the cook for the church compound added a pot of rice, which was ready in a matter of minutes.  The food was brought upstairs to the dining area and everyone sat down as we served them dinner.  It was a pretty good end to a very long day.  I can’t believe we only have 1 more night left in this village.