Saturday, December 16, 2017

Christmas Miracles

The Christmas season has been difficult for me for several years now.  I'm attributing it to the fact that my worldview has changed, but only God knows really.  My favorite Christmas season is actually our last Christmas in Guinea Bissau.  It was so simple, yet incredibly meaningful.  There are several factors within why it was so meaningful. In Guinea Bissau, there is no Christmas shopping craziness, no gifts to be given out and no stress of possibly offending someone because you didn't get them something.  However, there is also no Christmas lights, music or cookies. The Christmas tradition involves clothes and food, two of life's necessities.  

Every child, and often adults, get a new outfit for Christmas and girls all get their hair done.  The weeks leading up to Christmas traveling salesmen walk from house to house selling clothes and the tailors are busy sewing, often working through the night. We could walk to any house and there would be a girl or lady getting her hair braided, often with extensions. 

Our friends, Antoinetta and Binta, helped us get this outfit made for our sweet one. 


Matching jersey's for the three amigos.


Women work most of the day cooking a huge meal.  This meal isn't for her family, rather it is to hand out to everyone that is special to her. This meal involves chicken, sometimes beef, but mostly chicken.  Meat chickens start arriving around October to be grown and sold for the Christmas meal.  These chickens are different than typical chickens that are running around, they are white and much larger. This last Christmas for us in Guinea Bissau we got chicken and I worked hard to make a huge meal to pass out to every woman in our Bible study.  This created a lot of nerves for me because...well, I'm just going to say it, I ruined a lot of meals and served some pretty disgusting food to our friends there. They would graciously accept, but I never heard anything but thank you.  This Christmas dinner I served them and they all told me how good it was and that now, I could cook African. That was one of the best gifts I could receive. Those women spent hours teaching me to cook, so for them to tell me it was good was such a blessing, they had taught a white girl to cook. 



Our kids often enjoyed meals with friends.

Those memories bring me joy, but there is another memory that blesses my heart so much more.  Our kids had been wanting to see Christmas lights. We told them there was no chance of that happening, but Lydia was determined to pray about it.  She steadfastly prayed, begging God to allow her to see Christmas lights.  People only had solar power, and we hadn't seen Christmas lights for purchase, only what missionaries had brought over, which were long broken.  Christmas Eve came and our family left for the church.  We walked under the incredible stars that constantly reminded us of God's power. We neared the church and could see someone was there. As we got closer we saw Djibi, our close friend and pastor standing at the front of the church smiling that smile that just brings joy to anyone who looks at him, but above him were Christmas lights! He had found a string of lights and decided to string them above the chalk board.  Our hearts were filled with joy, but Lydia saw God answer a prayer that seemed unanswerable.  She leaned over and whispered, God gave me lights! I have no picture of that night, we merely sat in God's presence praising Him for his almighty provisions. 

Christmas was so different, so simple. We saw our Father in new ways and had the opportunity to just enjoy the Reason for the Season. 

Friday, December 15, 2017

The American Dream?

I often weigh the pros and cons of having lived in the mission field with our kids.  I wonder did we do the right thing taking them away from opportunities of America? Did we hurt our children? Everyone seems to have special kids that have special talents and I think, did we deprive our children of finding their special talent? Then I am reminded the only thing that matters in life is serving God and how we are living for God.  We took our children away from opportunities that all children should be exposed to, like sports, music lessons, youth group, the 'normal' things in life so that we could serve the people of Guinea Bissau.  While we didn't give them the typical opportunities of typical children, they were taught to play without anything.  They didn't have toy planes, but instead learned to make helicopters out of mango leaves and a stick. Our children didn't have bow and arrows, rather learned to make bow and arrows out of sticks. They learned that trash thrown on the ground can be used for something else, most likely a toy. They never had a toy wagon, but used broken buckets with rope and drug it around the yard as a wagon. They learned that running with a stick and a tire provides endless fun.  They learned to ride a bike built for an adult when they were just a kid.  They learned an entire language, and were quite fluent at it making people we encountered outside of our village think they were all born there. They learned to interact with all sorts of people from totally different backgrounds and ages.






 Our children aren't the best athletes, gifted musically, mathematicians, or had every opportunity America allows for them, but they have seen what it means to love unconditionally.  They have seen what it means to serve God even when the serving gets tough.  They have lived out loving their enemy, praying for those who persecuted them, feed the hungry, bandage the wounded, caring for the widows, and serving those who can never repay them. While we haven't given them the American dream, we have given our children the Christian dream.  When I get down because I am comparing my children to a typical American child, I need to remember that the only comparison necessary to make is to Christ.  Have I served Christ unashamedly and with complete obedience? Would I be willing to give it all up again?

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

A New Season of Life

If I were to describe my life, I would have to describe it as seasons.  Shortly after Michael and I got married the seasons started. 

First, I had a season of giving birth. For six years, I was growing life and giving birth to life, literally. Those years are a blur to me. I feel like I was constantly pregnant and some people only knew me as preggos. So much can go wrong in pregnancy and birth, we are blessed that God was watching over us.  

Then, God called our family to move east a couple states. That is when the season of ministry began. The years of giving birth literally had come to a close, but a new birth began. I started working with Michael in youth ministry and growing spiritual life.  Those years are so dear to me and I am blessed by the many people that touched our lives. Someone said to me it's like I'm spinning plates constantly keeping everything going.  It's true, that was our life. The cool part of that season is our children still talk about it today; they tell stories of students in our home, bible studies and all the crazy things they got to do because of youth and young adult ministry.  It isn't just the stories that are cool though, it is that so many young people invested into the lives of our children. 

When ministry was going good, God stirred up our lives even more by asking us to move farther east.  We were already pretty far east in America, but he wanted us to jump an ocean. With this jump, we enter our season as missionaries in Guinea Bissau. This was a season of giving everything we had as a family to serve sacrificially. I'm not going to write much on that season because, well, this entire blog talks about that life.  

In changing seasons, a complete reliance on Christ is absolutely necessary. The culture shock of moving to Africa was difficult, but when God called us back to America, that culture shock may have been worse. This enters us into a new season. I have struggled to know what my role is in this season.  Michael clearly has a role, but where am I? My heart is spread over so many places, do I have anything left? A sermon of my husbands comes to mind, "If you don't put gas in the car you won't go anywhere."  The same is true for our lives.  I may feel like I have nothing left, but God is already filling me.  When I am in worship is often when God speaks to me and makes things clear for me. I recently realized that in this season, I am investing in my children.  I am serving them that they may grow into servants of the Most Holy One.  The same way we served students, young adults and the people of Guinea Bissau, now I am serving my children. Their spiritual lives are just as important as all the other lives I have invested into. This is my season of pouring into my children. This is probably the most thankless job, but yet the most rewarding.  While I am always looking for ways to minister, I am at peace with ministering to my children. 

When we left our church in Pennsylvania, Michael's last sermon to the youth was on seasons from Ecclesiastes 3:1-8.  That sermon has stuck with me and ran through my head many times. For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven (v.1).  As I buckle up for this next ride in life, I am fully aware that God is with me and going before me.  

I have contemplated discontinuing this blog, since it was specifically for our mission work in Guinea Bissau.  However, I can't.  I have this tug on my heart that maybe someone would be blessed with reading about our life. I will randomly spill the beans on our serving God in America while raising a crazy family that is absolutely crazy for Jesus. If you like it, share it.  May God use these words to call many to him!!! 

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Through the Eyes of a Child

Our nine year old recently wrote about her experience in Guinea Bissau.  It is written by a nine year old, and that is definitely obvious, but I thought she expressed herself well.  I hope you enjoy reading about our life through the eyes of our daughter.   

Guinea Bissau is a small country in Africa; it’s capital is Bissau. Guinea Bissau is a nice place for people to go to vacation and the people there are really nice.  Some people there are not so nice.  The witchdoctors are not the nice people. They don’t really do what God wants, they do what Satan wants.  The church in Guinea Bissau is fun and happy because you see how they sing in different languages.  It is really cool to watch them and sing along with them. 

The chief in Guinea Bissau is also very nice.  My brother really likes the chief and wants him to become a christian because right now he is a muslim.  I really hope he soon will become a christian.  Our cook in Guinea Bissau was very, very nice.  Her meals were really good.  My favorite meal she cooked was yassa.  Yassa is basically onions, meat, tomato and other vegetables all together.  It is really good.  Some other meals she cooked was white chep and red chep,  they are the same thing except one is white and one is red. Aminata, our cook, would put cabbage, but we don’t put cabbage in it because we don’t like it, and other vegetables in it like potatoes and sometimes sweet potatoes. 

I used to do preschool with my little brother, Isaiah, because he was scared to go by himself.  One time I went with him and they put the preschool clothes on me and I became a part of the preschool.  I was really happy because the preschool teacher is really nice.  She realized that Zane and I weren’t good at speaking Creole so she helped us become friends with the other kids and we learned Creole better.  

My friends there in Guinea Bissau, I miss them a lot and I bet they miss me, but it is good to know that they are doing good in their education and that they have parents that love Jesus and they are becoming strong christians. 


These are our neighbors we played with every day.
Before we went to Guinea Bissau, the kids were bullies.  One of the kids that wasn’t a christian yet bullied me and he said a bad word to me.  He said if I went to his house he would beat me up. I was scared at first, but I went home to my parents and they helped me. One day, I went to his house because some of my friends lived there, he was there, but he didn’t say anything to me.  I was really happy because God helped me and he helped him to not be mean to me anymore. Now, that kid is a strong christian. 

The mission house didn’t have a school room at first. My mom and dad and some of the other people from the church helped us to build a school room, which we basically added on to the house. We made the school room and added shelves and desks, some tables and we put in linoleum. That was the only room that had linoleum in our house.  The school room is still on the house, one of our neighbors went into the back of our house one day when we were in school and he drew on the wall. We were upset that he did it because it was really new and we didn’t want it drawn on like the other walls of the house. 

The pastor’s house is where some of my friends are, so they are also the pastors daughters and sons like I am.  When we moved there the pastor didn’t really preach a lot, only my dad did and sometimes the other church’s leaders preached.  When we left to go home for furlough or other things, we heard that he started to preach again and I was very happy. I call him Baba because he is like another dad to me and like another family to me.  


This is Baba with his wife and two of his nine kids.
I really like the clothes in Guinea Bissau. When we moved there, we had to wear skirts a lot, but we figured out that I could where shorts so I started wearing shorts a lot.  The boys already wore shorts because they can’t really wear skirts.  Every single day after school and after a little bit of resting time of playing legos for us kids, the kids would come in our compound and play all day until it was time to go home so we could eat.  So every single day, after school and after playing inside, we would go outside and play all day long.  We were only inside to get a drink or if we got hurt.  There are no bathrooms inside, so we had to go around the house to go to the bathroom.  The bathrooms in Guinea Bissau are outside, so at night, I would ask my dad to go with me to the bathroom because I was scared of the dark. I would have to go to the bathroom outside where I didn’t really feel safe to go to the bathroom because there was sometimes lizards and snakes in the bathroom.  Funny story to tell you guys, one time I was going to the bathroom. I went to the inside bathroom, which means it had a roof, we had two bathrooms, one with a roof and one without.  I opened up the door and there sitting on the wall was a snake! I was so scared that I never went into the bathroom again unless someone was coming with me.  So, I always went to the outside bathroom, or the one with no roof. It was so scary! One day, Josiah was cutting weeds around the bathroom and all of a sudden he had this big red mark on his back and we didn’t know what it was.  He was outside cutting with no shirt on, so we didn’t know what it was. Mommy put some medicine on it and we finally figured out it was from a big furry caterpillar.  Life in Guinea Bissau.  

While we were there for three years, people came to visit us off and on and one day, this kid who was 18 years old came to live with us for the rest of the time we were there.  His family came to visit him with his little brother, David. This kids name was Joseph but we called him Zeke.  Zeke had an older brother too, but he didn’t come, only his younger brother came.  Another funny story to tell you guys, so one day, we came home from walking around the village talking to people. We saw that Zeke had burnt his feet because he played soccer with no shoes, on the very hot sand and it was almost time for us to go home. Now his feet are better.  It was really funny.  

When we moved to Guinea Bissau, I was only five years old and Isaiah was only four years old. My older brother, Josiah, was eight, my older sister, Lydia, was nine and my other older sister, Jada, was 11 years old.  Now, I am nine, Zane is eight, Josiah is 11, Lydia is 13, and Jada is 15. Anyways, back to Guinea Bissau. Life in Guinea Bissau was hard and tough, but we got through it, even though we kept getting sick, boils and mango worms. We still managed to get through it, which was tough, but we did it.  We did it by the help of the people there who helped us know what sicknesses we got and what mango worms were. My mom would pull out the mango worms with the help of Zane’s best friend, Matchu, which in English means boy.  Isn’t that a weird name? We also had help from Delores, who was a missionary nurse and now lives in Gambia. We also had a mission team come and a nurse came with them and she cut out Zane’s first mango worm. God helped us a lot to get through all of what we went through in Guinea Bissau.  

Thursday, October 27, 2016

A Story of Hope

You may remember a story from a previous blog (December 4, 2015) about P'Untcha and Fofa.  Here is a continuation of her story written by special guest blogger, Beryl Forrester.  Spelling and names are different but all the same people.  Evalina is Fofa's birth name, Fofa is her nickname.  

Evalina’s Story
More than two years ago, in 2014, a middle age woman named Poncha appeared at our Catel clinic with Evalina, an eleven year old orphan girl. They came from Bissau, Guinea Bissau’s capital city, in search of medical help for Evalina. Some months earlier Evalina suffered an injury to her lower leg while she was playing in their neighborhood.
Poncha is Evalina’s auntie, who took her sister’s daughter in when both of Evalina’s parents were deceased. Because the family has very limited resources Evalina was not given the medical attention she needed for the injury. The wound became infected and in a few days her tibia bone was actually protruding out through the wound. 



Karen with Poncha 

With that condition Poncha took Evalina to a hospital in Bissau and was told that they were unable to help Evalina. Through her network of friends Poncha heard positive reports about the Mennonite clinic in Catel. That is how she made her way to Catel, accompanied by Evalina, now in considerable distress with her worsening wound situation in 2014.


Delores Shirk and the clinic staff quickly realized that the situation had gotten far worse than anything we were able to address at our clinic.  
At that point the entire EMM team, including Mike and Karen Baker who were still in Guinea Bissau, began to discuss what measures could be taken to save Evalina’s leg because without help she was likely headed towards an amputation. We were aware of two sources of potential help for this precious child. One was EMM’s ‘Child in Crisis Fund’ and second was a Christian hospital some 200 miles north of Catel in Theis, Senegal, 40 miles east Dakar.
I made contact with Dr. Chagas, a Brazilian missionary doctor in Dakar and he agreed to examine her to see if there would be a possibility of saving her leg with a bone graft.
In late November, 2015 Poncha, Evalina and I were on a ferry headed for Dakar and Dr. Chagas’ office. His observation was that the condition was very complex and was more than he could undertake alone. He needed to consult with some of his medical colleagues in Dakar to see if they could attempt to save her lower leg. We returned to Guinea Bissau somewhat hopeful but without any clear answers. After many weeks of waiting we were finally signaled to return to Theis with Evalina on May 4, 2016.


Waiting for transportation on the road.  The stick resting on Evalina's leg was her cane, or walking stick.
The Christian community in Theis under the leadership of Annelise Goldschmitt, a Mennonite missionary from France, welcomed Evalina and Poncha, knowing this would be a long term medical event. They located a room with kitchen facilities for the two visitors and found friends for them who could speak their native Bissau Creole.
Happy to be going home.
The surgery was finally performed in June including a bone graft and the insertion of a metal tube. After a few bouts with infection and her leg in a cast for several weeks, Evalina regained her mobility and a shoe-lift with a full leg brace and crutches were made for her. 
Evalina is now thirteen and the doctor is hopeful that as she grows her shorter leg will extend so she will be able to walk without aids or devices. Let’s pray that will happen.
On October 24, Evalina and Poncha returned to their home in Bissau, ready to pick up where they left off 6 months earlier.

Evalina is a cheerful, gregarious young person and she has great potential as a testimony to the goodness of God and His people who gave her hope and a fresh chance at living a normal life.

Blessings to all who have made this intervention possible through supporting the EMM ‘Child in Crisis’ fund.


Guest blogger - Beryl Forrester, EMM missionary in Senegal, West Africa

To give to the Child in Crisis fund go to emm.org and in the 'preferenced for' section write 'Child in Crisis, Guinea Bissau'. 

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Breath

I've always been the early riser in our family.  When the kids were really little I would try to wake up before them, waking up at 4:00 in the morning only to hear the pitter patter of their little feet soon after I woke up.  I came to enjoy that time one on one with them and I would often read God's Word out loud determined (often desperate) to read some scripture before the chaos of our day started.  Now, when I wake up I am reminded of my children getting older and how one day I will not need to tip toe by their rooms in an effort to not wake them, as they will have their own homes and hopefully tip toeing by their children's rooms trying to get time with our Lord before their house wakes up.

This morning as I sit reading God's Word I am reminded of the need for God that I have.  Wednesday night at church, Michael talked about our breath prayer, the prayer we just say without thinking about.  I have not been able to stop thinking about my breath prayer, wondering what it is.  The only thing I can think of is, "Lord, I need you." When we lived in Guinea Bissau it was an obvious need.  I needed God to get through every moment of every day.  I needed him when my muscles were weak, but yet I needed to draw water.  I needed him when I would try to school my children with my yard full of other children wanting to play and a constant flow of interruptions.  I needed him to help me to understand the language, to be able to speak back and for him to help communication to be understood.  I needed him when I led Bible study. I needed him all the time. Here in America, I understand the language, water comes from a tap, children aren't constantly in our yard fighting and screaming, and there are rarely interruptions, so initially, I found myself wondering how I needed God.  I knew I needed him, but the need seemed different.  This morning God whispered that need to my heart. I need God to help me school my children, to help me to be an example to them.  I am a missionary to my children and I need God to help me every moment of every day, but it is more than that, a breath prayer for me is my breath.  God is my breath, my life, I need him to function.

I have struggled and tried to push him away and stand on my own, but that is when my life crumbles.  That is when I have nothing to give my family and no joy in my heart.  Being a missionary it just seemed so obvious the dependence on Christ, but here the dependence is just as urgent.  We live in a sinful world and we need to commit every breath to Him.  It is God who gives us breath. What is your breath prayer? Are you breathing for Him?    

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Where are you from?

Adjusting into America should be simple, right? I mean we have been here over four months now, we should be adjusted.  In reality, our world is upside down.  Some days we are all normal, adjusted people, but then there are days when everything is just so strange.  Our youngest doesn't quite understand why anyone would want heat in their house, why soccer jerseys aren't church clothes and if the tap water is safe to drink. Then there are the things that are just plain overwhelming, like choosing what gum, cereal or chips to buy. We find ourselves only shopping the outer rim of a grocery store because the aisles are just too overwhelming.

We dread the question, "Where are you from?"  Where are we from? It is such a good question. Are we from Indiana? That's where we grew up, but our youngest has never lived there. Are we from Pennsylvania, we all have a life there, but again it doesn't hold our most recent memories.  Do we say Guinea Bissau?  Our answer typically reflects how talkative we are feeling at the given moment we are asked; if we say Guinea Bissau, usually a lengthy conversation takes place.  This is all part of re-entry.

Part of our adjusting is allowing room for our Guinea Bissau life to meet up with our new America life.  If I needed to title these pictures I would say, "You can take the kids out of Guinea Bissau, but you can't take the Guinea Bissau out of the kids."

In GB we lived outside and would eat outside.  The kids love getting the opportunity to eat outside again.  

Rice for supper!  How else to eat it but out of a community bowl and outside!

At a friends house they needed to clean catfish, so Lydia was eager to help clean the fish as she was taught in GB. 

While we are no longer serving in Guinea Bissau we still need prayer.  Adjusting back to America has proven to be almost as difficult as adjusting to Guinea Bissau.  Maybe it's because our adjustment is also to a whole new area of living with a new job and new friends.  Whatever we are dealing with though we know one thing that continues to be true...Deus i bon. (God is good.) We serve a faithful God that loves us and cares about each one of our needs.