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 and in the 'preferenced for' section write 'Child in Crisis, Guinea Bissau'. 

Saturday, October 15, 2016


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.

Monday, June 20, 2016

I'd Rather Deal With the Witchdoctors

When we would see the local witchdoctor in a dress, walking and talking like a girl we knew it was not the man we knew him to be but his demon, which is a female.  We came to know when to expect the man to be possessed by a demon and therefore dress and act like a female.  Living in Guinea Bissau we became very used to the demon possessed, a man yelling and punching into the air, people dressing in very interesting clothing and wearing weird things on their heads all to appease the witchdoctor who told them if they did this or that they would get this or that. That was our life.  Our children came to understand it and became little prayer warriors for the people we were serving, we all did. We all would pray earnestly for Silvano who would often come to our house seeking refuge from the many demons that followed him around giving him no peace.  We learned to pray as we passed different witchdoctors houses for God to stop whatever was going on within those walls, or sticks as it may be.  We learned the culture and came to understand why it was that way and to know that they desperately needed Christ.

A man dressed for a tribal dance.
We understood in Guinea Bissau people are raised to believe that Satan is more powerful.  Children are brought up to go to a witchdoctor, taught to put food out for their dead ancestors so that they may come and eat, or to pour out wine on the sacred tree and to attend ceremonies. Illiteracy is dominate in Guinea Bissau, therefore few in the church can read the Bible. Churches are scarce, while witchdoctors are many.  In our village of around 500, we were told there is about one witchdoctor's house for every five houses, compared to two churches in Catel.  We could understand why the culture was the way it is.

While we were in Guinea Bissau, our children had an idea of life in America.  They believed children were super nice, never bullying or saying bad words.  They had this mind picture of America being beautiful in all ways.  The other day our girls went on a bike ride.  While they were out they passed some girls that were also out and and waved to them. Those girls responded by saying rude comments to our girls and finishing it with calling them punks.  Our girls couldn't understand it.  Why would these teenage girls speak that way. While we were sad for our girls, we were glad for them to see that no place and no one is perfect.

Coming back to America, we have been in major culture shock with the drastic change in culture in just three years. We made the mistake of going to Walmart after dark the other night.  I am still baffled that no one we were staying with told us it was a bad idea, but none the less, we went.  We were so surprised by the people roaming Walmart at night, we could hardly focus on what we needed, but we got it quickly and got out. I really wanted to post a picture for you of people at Walmart, but it was quite difficult to find an appropriate one.  So, visit people of walmart, if you dare, to get a better understanding of what we mean...although I don't know that it truly is necessary.

The deeper thing that bothers us is why is America like this? There are churches everywhere, practically on every street corner in some places.  People are literate, the Bible is freely available, churches are open every week, and the number of christians in America is great.  The truth of the matter is Satan has his hand in the world.  America is not immune to Satan, contrary to what our children believed.  We need to be together praying. The same way we became prayer warriors in Guinea Bissau praying against Satan's work, we need to do the same here.  While we may rather deal with the witchdoctors, God is equipping us to deal with whatever we may encounter here in America.  We are ready to serve Him in a different capacity, and to glorify Him in all our words and actions.

Friday, May 13, 2016

A Few Smiling Faces

In our last weeks in Guinea Bissau we took many pictures.  There is no way possible to share all our photos, but we thought we'd try to share some of our favorites.  

This is Abram. His mom and dad, Mai and Tamba, are friends of ours. Jada loves to play with Abram and help his mom keep an eye on him.  

Our children learned to ride bikes of all sizes!

While our neighbor was trying to get pictures of our kids some were goofing off more than being serious for photo time.  

Our friends, Djibi and Binta named their daughter after Karen.  This is Katarina holding Katarina. In Guinea Bissau Karen is too difficult for their tongues, so Karen became Katarina.  

Little Katarina is giving her new baby cousin kisses.  This is Tening and Djara's baby Jonathan.  

Frozen made it to Guinea Bissau.  Micah gave her Frozen glasses to her friend, but not before Katarina tried them on.

Matchu is Isaiah's best friend and much like one of our own children. 

Jada absolutely loved all the babies in the village.  She was the mom to all the kids.  

Mama Mańe is one of our favorite people.  Her faith is so simple and so real.  She often would ask us to pray for her children.  

For children's church they would often act out bible stories.  Here Josiah is Jesus's friend, Lazarus.  

Sweet little Rebekah.  She is one little girl that we will all miss!

We are thankful to longer be risking our lives by taking public transportation.  We always prayed our way in public cars...especially ones stacked this high.  

Children love to see themselves in pictures, but this is what happens when I turned the camera around so they could see themselves while I was taking the photo.  Pure joy and happiness.  

Isaiah gave his bicycle to his friend, Matchu.  Matchu was beyond thrilled to have a bike.  Matchu has a dog that he named Isaiah on one of our last days in the village.  
Rebekah absolutely loves babies.  She has asked her mom to go to the market to buy a baby. When her mom told her they don't sell babies she told her mom to take this one.  Rebekah is always saying the funniest things.  

Here is what was the West African team, minus Beryl Forrester. The Shirks are continuing to serve in The Gambia for two more years.  

When it was time to take our luggage up to the road there was no shortage in helpers.  

This is one of my more favorite pictures of Mai, Rebekah's mom.  She rarely smiles, especially for cameras. 

This was our sending off party on the morning we left Catel.  

Djibi went with us to the airport.  While there we were taking pictures and Djibi decided I needed a picture of him crying.  If only this was a video because he is making crying sounds but looks like he is smiling. Right after I took this picture he busted out laughing at his attempt to make a crying face.

We hope you enjoyed these photos! Each of these people are so very special to us.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

It's All In the Name

Have you ever wondered what a baby dedication looks like in Africa? Traditionally, they are called "coming out" for in this culture the mother and baby stay in the house for one week. At one week they leave the house to a party and naming ceremony. Traditionally these parties would include a ceremony to the ancestors and a sacrifice of some sort. 
The Christians here in Catel have kept the tradition of staying in the home and coming out after a week. There is still a party and they name the child, but instead of a ceremony to idols it is now a baby dedication. 

The church here has started naming their children with Biblical names. This party which has friends and family, is now a witnessing tool. We share why we do this dedication, the baby's name and significance of the name as well as read scripture. It allows our church families to witness to their family and friends, read scriptures to Muslim family members, pray, and sing. All the while respecting and holding on to the parts of the culture that are important and unique to their tribal culture. 

In this picture Michael stands with Djibi (in the middle) and Adramane (on the left) while they are praying over the baby and reading scripture about his name, Jonathon. I have had the privilege of naming several babies that have been born into our church family since living here. Each name has been a biblical person and it has provided an opportunity of teaching the significance of that person in the Bible. Sometimes the name has been tied directly to what is going on in our village. For example, during a recent time of trials in the village (written about in the blog titled "Power of Prayer) a baby from our church family was born in the midst. We gave him the name Jeremiah in hopes that he would be a light with a message to share with the people of this village. 

At the end of the baby dedication the women sing some worship songs. This is also another way to reach others as the songs speak biblical truths. 

The rest of the day is spent sitting around waiting for the rice dish to be cooked and served. There is usually someone getting their hair braided, music with dancing, hot tea and milk being cooked by the men and passed around, and women in the back of the house cooking all while children are running all over the place playing. We are usually all exhausted by the time lunch is served around 5:00 p.m. and head home shortly afterward, usually being the first to leave, but never empty handed, guests are typically given a can of pop to go home with.

That is how we spent our day today. So as I write this we have just put our children to bed at 8:15 and now Karen and I are collapsing into bed exhausted. 

Please continue to pray for these church families as they have adapted the coming out party. Pray it can be a witnessing tool to bring others into the light.