Friday, December 4, 2015

P'Untcha & Fofa

A few months ago we had an interesting visitor.  A lady named P'Untcha and her niece (but she is now raising her as Fofa's parents have both passed away) came to our house because they knew there was a clinic with ex-patriots working there.  Two years ago, Fofa's tibia bone came out of her leg and eventually dried up and broke off.  She never fell or broke the bone, it just happened.  They came up to our clinic then, but there was nothing we could do, so we helped in the way we could and then they went on to a hospital in Bissau where Fofa stayed for three months.  She came back now to see if there was anything more we could do for her.

We are not medical people, but God has put medical people in our life, so we decided to start sending some emails.  We sent many, many emails and heard nothing, until our co-worker, Beryl Forrester, thought it would be good to email a British doctor living in Ziguinchor.  That was our lead, she knew a doctor in Dakar that knew someone and so we made a connection.  A few weeks later, Beryl, Djibi (a pastor in our village went to help with translating), P'Untcha and Fofa were on their way to Dakar for a doctor to look at her leg. 

They returned a week later with little news. The doctor in Dakar said her case would be a difficult one and wanted to wait for a team of doctors to come in December. We now wait to hear if they can do the procedure that would basically build her a new tibia bone and connect it to the bone that remains. He said this would be a very complicated procedure. 

Would you be willing to pray for Fofa? Pray for the doctors to have wisdom and for her to have the opportunity for help. Fofa is 12 years old and filled with love for others. She is sweet and loves the Lord. She believes he has a plan for her life and is patiently waiting for that plan. She has faith God will heal her. 

Karen with P'Untcha, Fofa's aunt

While Fofa was at our house our kids enjoyed playing with her. Micah and Lydia really hit it off with her and played non-stop. They were sad when it was time to say goodbye. In this picture they are waiting at the road for a car so Fofa and her aunt can return home. 

We never know who God will put in our lives but we must live every day knowing each encounter we have is from our Father. 

Monday, November 2, 2015

Let's Go Shopping

Shopping is always an adventure. Sometimes a seller will come to our door and the adventure is on our front veranda, other times the adventure is out in the village or another village. Here are some photos to give you a glimpse into shopping for us.  

A man came to our house with a backpack and a bag on his head.  He was selling used clothing, like at a thrift store.  We got a few shirts from him in good condition. 

This man was selling jewelry and came to our yard because of a large amount of women at our well. During cashew season there are a lot more traveling salesmen.   

We buy shoes from men like this that travel from village to village with their bikes loaded in shoes. Flip flops are $2.00, but he does have some that are $1.00.  
We buy soccer jerseys for the boys and skirts for the girls from our friend pictured here.  If we ask him for something, he usually finds it and returns to our house for us to buy it.  The only hard thing is that during cashew season he comes almost every day.  We don't possibly need that many jerseys or skirts! 

We make monthly trips into Ziguinchor for supplies.  We go for two nights and our days are spent walking throughout the city to find everything we need for the month.  We buy all of our food (vegetables for a week since they will go bad) and any other supplies that are needed.  Usually on the list is a jersey for Isaiah since he ruins his so quickly and flip flops for someone if the man in the village hasn't come.  Come, walk with us on a supply run through these photos.  

This is a typical jersey shop that we also go to for jerseys.  Our boys, mainly Isaiah, love to wear jerseys.  They don't last long here because of the rough living of boys, but they are incredibly inexpensive at $3.00 for jersey and shirt.

When we go to Ziguinchor we always get sandwiches to eat.  We go to this lady who's tent is right next to the port.  She has the best sandwiches in town that include meat, lettuce or cucumbers (depending on the season), tomatoes, french fries, hard boil eggs, and topped with sauteed onions, then wrapped in the daily newspaper. These sandwiches are delicious and low priced at $2.00 for a foot long. We don't speak a common language, but she has become our friend. 

Michael needed a battery for his motor (mo-ped type bike) so we stopped in this store in Ziguinchor.  Micah was happily helping him buy the battery. 

We got these two buckets for a great deal!
Now Michael tries to find light bulbs.
Shopping at the hardware stores is like walking into a flea market.  It is a big hide and seek game, but we usually come out with treasures.  

Here is a hardware store that we also frequent.  You can see the machete's on the right side of the picture and the heads to rakes and shovels on the left as well as many other various items.
This is the entrance to a large market in Ziguinchor.  We don't like to take the kids there too much since it is often crowded so we left the kids at the hotel with another missionary and ventured there alone. 

In the market there are shops for all sorts of things.  There are shops for purses, shops for material and shops for shoes as well as lots of other things.  I personally love to look at the fabric, however, I must look uninterested as I admire the beautiful designs or they will become quite eager to sell me fabric.   

There is also your choice of meats.  Besides beef there is also goat, chicken and fish.  

Vegetables are everywhere you look, so it isn't hard finding what we want. 

These carrots looked nice so we purchased a kilo (2.2 lbs) to hopefully last a week, if they don't go bad that is. Without a refrigerator we have to be careful not to buy too much but yet buy enough that we aren't going into market every day.
As we collect our supplies on our monthly trips into Ziguinchor, we have learned to walk carefully through the washed out roads during the rainy season.  During the dry season, the roads are much easier to maneuver.  

Thank you for walking with us on our supply run. We pray blessings to you as you may be going out to get your shopping done as well! You never know who you will meet or what new friend you may make.  We have met many on our supply runs and made many friends.  

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Making a Difference

As a youth pastor for the last 10 years there are many times I have wondered if I am making a difference. I have often wondered if teens were actually getting it or were my just words going into the air. I went through this many times in America as I worked with youth and every time it clicked I would go to my office with a little fist pump and say yes!
As we moved to a new country and culture I began to wonder again are they getting it or will they ever? Plus on top of it, I am learning a new language and wondering if I am even communicating well or at all. We have preached, taught, demonstrated, and lived it out, but many times I wondered if they understood anything at all? The suffering and all we gave up, was it worth it?
In the sermon series I recently did, we talked about God’s roles for marriage. We looked at the consequence of sin, which we now fight against, and what it has done to marriage. We talked about raising kids and discipling kids in a constructive way. A few people in the congregation would nod their heads and agree but I was not sure if it was clicking. Then God did what he has done so many times in my life, he gave me a glimpse into the future. I walked over to our pastor’s house in the evening, later than I usually would. As I walked up to the house I noticed a large group of adults watching a war movie at a neighboring house. Then I looked at Djibi’s house and it was that moment all over again when I say “Yes!” All his kids and the neighbor kids are watching a Bible movie on the computer we had brought back for him. We had recently brought these Creole Bible movies back from Gambia. That is not even the best part! There was Djibi sitting inside his living room next to his wife reading the Bible with her and discussing it with her. I was overwhelmed with joy. He got it and was living it out! It was a beautiful picture knowing his testimony. Before giving his life to the Lord, he was filled with anger and hatred for everyone including his wife. The smiles on their faces and the joy as they sat and studied together made these last two years worth it. To top it off as if that was not enough, that coming Sunday Karen and I sat in front of the church and let them ask questions. They asked amazing questions about loving and staying with their unbelieving spouses, how to discipline their children, as well as loving and not ignoring their children. Their questions let us know they got it and were hungry for more. One church leader ended this time with more of a statement then question. He said if we live this way and treat our kids this way the village will pick on us and them. I looked at him and said I know because it happens to our family and children. We are living it with you and at times suffering it with you. I left with the challenge is it worth it? You want a different life and better life for your families and children, so you have to answer the question is it worth it? You may not see the change today, but as you grow older you will see it in kids and God willing, your grand-kids. Our Pastor says to this challenge amen and it is worth it. I walked away from church that morning on top of the world. They got it we had begun to accomplish what we came to do, it has been worth it. I do not know what they will all choose to do, but I know we have faithfully taught and lived it out and now it is up to them to apply it. All the trials, sicknesses, rashes, heat, and frustration were worth it.

Answering questions about marriage and family
We say we must consider the cost to follow Christ and sometimes the cost is tough. Before we came to Africa I had an idea of this, but as I have lived here the cost has become something deeper. I understand much better what Paul wrote about many times. For us it has been worth it and we would not trade any of it in for anything. I look forward to the years to come and watching this church grow and apply what they understand. I hope someday many years after our time here is done, that my family will have a opportunity to return and see the 2nd and 3rd generation Christians and they difference their parents sacrifice made. This may never happen but it is a dream. I love these (Yes!) moments whether it was a teen or young adult heading into the world sold out and willing to buck the normal to follow God or a forty year old Africa man willing to buck his whole culture to follow God. My prayer is we all will continue to consider the cost and say yes to Christ no matter what the cost may mean. That is the most important thing in life saying yes to our Father and Creator, nothing else matters. If we can teach our children this like our friends in Catel, think of the difference it will make for the kingdom. I strive everyday to be obedient (with a joyful heart), to run the race God put in front of me, so that one day I may also hear well done my good and faithful servant. If my children learn nothing else from our time in West Africa, I pray it will be this one lesson that has taken me some many years to learn.
Written by Mike 

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Hardships of Life in Catel

I would like to introduce you to Jonsinu. You may call him Jon. Jon has been working at our house by weeding the peanut fields. He asked us if we had work for him so he could pay for his school registration. He has been working through the hot sun and through the rain showers without complaining. He cut his finger with his machete, but after we cleaned and bandaged it he continued on with his work without even a wince. 

Jon is entering the 7th grade and is 26 years old. In 2008 his father died and he had to drop out of school. Since then he has worked, gotten married and now has a 2 1/2 year old daughter. This last year he built his own house. He says he has no other preoccupations, so he can finally continue his education. He says he wants to study hard so he can provide for his family.

In a culture of give me's Jon is working hard so he can pay for his schooling. I wish I can end this story telling you he is a believer, but I can't. His story is just beginning. We pray he comes to know the Lord. We invite him to church, we share the gospel with him, but it is not us that can change a man's heart, only our Father Jesus. Would you join us in praying for him? 

Friday, September 18, 2015

Photo Time!

It has been a while since we did a blog of photos, so we decided to post a lot of photos to give you a glimpse into our life through photos. We hope you enjoy these! 

Dave recently came down to do some work on the new clinic building.  We had missed his birthday so Jada made him a chocolate cake with peanut butter frosting.  It was delicious!

To bring some fun to our lives we decided to eat our evening meal with serving utensils.  Meals can become so mundane here being the same few meals repeated over and over, so eating with utensils made it a lot of fun.  These kids ate a lot this night! 

Fellow missionary, Beryl Forrester, had a birthday so we partied it up together! When the guys all left to run some errands in Ziguinchor the kids and I decorated his house to surprise him.  He was quite surprised and loved it.  We also made carrot cake with sort of cream cheese (we used laughing cow cheese) frosting. 

Two neighbor kids, Sally and Beniceo, playing at our house.  The photo bomber is Zeke who is now serving with us in Catel. 

With so much of how the kids play in our yard being filled with violence we wanted to find an alternative way to use their creative energy.  There was a sand house building competition in our front path/yard.  This one in front won. When it was finished it even had a thatched roof and a veranda, very authentic.  

We started having some of the teenagers in the church over to practice looking up Bible verses quickly.  Lydia and Jada's friend, Elizabeti, liked it so much she wanted to turn it into Bible studies.  She has come many times to study the Bible with the girls.  

Hair cut day! Nothing is ever done in secret when you live in a small village.  I cut three boy's hair (well one young man and two boys) with a huge audience each time.  Not to mention all the little boys asking me to cut their hair too.  I told them all that my razor only can cut white people's hair.  :) 

Oh these four.  We could just name them all trouble, walking trouble. These four spend almost every day together and often times get into trouble together.  This particular day they had just gotten back from looking for fish out in the rice fields.  

I don't really know how to explain this picture, other than invasion of the flying termites!!! In the rainy season on nights after lots and lots of rain these flying termite drones come out and are drawn to light.  This night our new homeschool room, that was apparently built on a nest of them, was invaded.  When we woke up the next morning we could hear a buzzing sound through the door to that room. When we opened it we saw that the room was alive.  Yes, ALIVE.  These bugs were covering the floor of the room as well as in every nook and crany of the room, including their school books.  It was a rough way to wake up, but hey we still had breath so it was a good day.  

Every Sunday we cook for any children that are in our yard during the time we serve lunch.  We never know if it is going to be just our kids and the neighbor kids or much more. This day we ended up feeding 25 kids during a heavy rainstorm.  It was complete chaos, but was a wonderful blessing.  

What was just a typical soccer game in our yard turned into a mud fest when a downpour started.  Isaiah, however, enjoyed mud wrestling. 

Our children enjoy playing Uno with their friends on quiet days.  Uno is a game our kids have taught many children to play.  

Last, but definitely not least, is a picture of Rebekah.  If you don't know yet, Rebekah is our laundry lady's daughter.  She is like another child for us but her favorite is Michael. The other day I was at her aunt's house and Michael walked up, Rebekah took off running, throwing whatever was in her hands down and took a flying leap into his arms.

We hope you enjoyed these pictures! It is a joy to be a part of the lives of people in each of these pictures and so many more that aren't pictured.  Blessings to all of you! 

Transformation from Darkness to Light

Binta is a small, fiesty, mother of three boys and a wife to one of our church members.  When I first met her two years ago, my first impression was that she was a tiny, little lady that seemed nice, but was quite shy.  As the days went on and I got to know her a little better I quickly realized she was much more than that. She may be small in size but she is quick with her temper and wasn't shy about letting it be seen.  I had seen her beat her children many times and my children had witnessed her attempt to slam a wooden stool into her husband's head (she missed).  She had been beaten by her husband many times and when you looked into her eyes they were dark and lacking of life.  Her children also were filled with anger and often were beating up on other children.

Her story doesn't end there, she is also from one of the poorest families in our village.  In fact, her immediate family, (her husband and her with their children) do not even have their own house. They have one room in her brother-in-law's house.  As if this is all not difficult enough, Binta has struggled getting pregnant and has had many miscarriages.  She has suffered much, as have so many women in Guinea Bissau.

Binta has been coming to church for a long time and has heard the Word of the Lord but had not committed her life to Christ.  Her husband is a believer, and has made many mistakes along the way. Binta is a woman that needs Christ and she has finally made the choice to give her life over to Jesus.  A little over a year ago Binta sat in front of our church congregation and confessed her life of sin and committed to live her life for Christ.  Her transformation has not been a small one.  She is a dramatically different person today.  She speaks with love and kindness.  She reminds her children of God's Word through her disciplining. I have seen her endure another woman insulting her and speaking badly to her and she did nothing.  It reminded me of when Jesus was beaten and spit in the face and he did nothing in return.

One day I was sitting with Binta on a bench outside of a house on her compound when her four year old son and his cousin got into a fight.  The two boys proceeded to start punching each other but quickly stopped when Binta called to them to come to her.  They slowly came over, possibly anticipating a beating, and when they got to us, Binta gently spoke to them and asked them to tell her what Jesus says about hitting others when they hit you.  Her son slowly lifted his eyes up to meet his mom's eyes and started to quote a Bible verse. She then asked them to apologize to each other, which they did, and then they walked off with their arms wrapped around each other as if nothing ever happened. Binta had been transformed.  She was no long filled with anger and hatred, but is filled with love and compassion.  She has the fruits of the Spirits and they are overflowing out of her.  

A few weeks ago we had a women's Bible study and I used Binta's life as an example.  The other women there all nodded their heads in agreement and the oldest woman there, Mama Mane, kept repeating "Amen" over and over and saying it was true. I used the example of how Binta treated her children before she was a Christian and how she treats her children today. This is what Christ can do.  Christ can transform our lives to reflect him.  I think of Galatians 5:22,23 - But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.  When we are true believers, our lives should reflect these fruits of the spirit and that is exactly what Binta's life does. 

We can only praise God for this transformation.  She is an example to all of us and we pray that she will continue to grow in the Lord.  

Binta collecting salt dirt from the dried up rice fields.

Today, Binta works for us by cleaning our house Monday - Friday. This little bit of money helps her to be able to buy fish and a little bit of vegetables for their daily rice dish, pay for schooling for her boys and buy clothes for her family. She enjoys interacting with our children daily and our children call her mom. When they see her they run into her arms and she interacts with them much like Michael and I do. When she is at our house if she sees one of our kids goofing off during school hours she will ask them if they should be doing school.  Our children have many moms here...we aren't sure how much they like it, but we sure love it!

Our children have enjoyed playing pranks on her with a toy lizard friends sent over for them.  Our children will hide it in different places just to hear her yelp and run. We all bust up laughing and then she ends up laughing along with us. She also enjoys it when we have baked a cake.  She loves the baking we do in our house as well as the occasional delicious American breakfast.  Her favorite is Amish baked oatmeal. Binta is a part of our family. 

I have been blessed to see this transformation in her life.  Binta is illiterate and will probably never be able to read, but her faith is real and she is growing in her walk with Christ every day.  

Saturday, August 29, 2015

A Life Story - God's Unending Protection

It was a warm day, partly cloudy and not a raindrop all day, after days of rain.  The sky was a beautiful blue with huge, puffy clouds. Our yard was filled with boys playing soccer, there was a calm in the day between clean up from lunch and when I needed to start cooking supper.  Michael had a meeting coming up but encouraged me to go out to see a few women before he needed to leave. I never made it past my first stop.

I left our gate and walked toward the road to Aminata's house.  When I got to her house, her mom was sitting on a small wooden stool eating plain rice out of a bowl and Aminata was nearby bent over at the waste, washing laundry by hand.  As is custom, her mom offered for me to eat with her, in which I replied, no thank you and found a wooden stool to sit on.  The stool was a tiny stool meant for a child, but it was the only one around, I sat it close to the house so I could lean against the mud brick house.  I quickly realized the stool was much to small for me and was quite uncomfortable.  I figured I wouldn't be there long so I didn't say anything.

Our visit started normal with greetings and asking how each others days were going.  I mentioned that we were going to Ziguinchor for the weekend so we could talk to our families, and that sparked a conversation that I never anticipated.  Aminata's mom was quite interested in my mom and dad. She wanted to know how old they were, keep in mind Aminata is my age. She was intrigued to know that both my mom and dad were alive.  She wanted to know if they had white hair, which would tell her if they were old or not.  I asked her if she knew how old she was, and she clapped her hands, threw her head back with a chuckle and said with a bit of a twinkle in her eye, "I don't know." She then went on to tell me that her mother forgot about her, which means her mother did not take note as to what day she was born.  She told me that in those days nobody took note as to what day they gave birth, it is only something they do today.  She was very interested to know if my mom was her age or not, so she started asking me how many children my mom had and their ages, asking me to calculate it to see if I could figure out her age.  I told her I imagined her to be close to my mom's age, maybe a little younger, based on the fact that Aminata was my age and she had older children as well.

I don't remember the exact path that led us to our next topic, but eventually Aminata and her mom started talking about the Guinea Bissau War of Independence (read more about it here).  Her mom began to talk about how she was single when the war broke out but by the middle of the war she had given birth to her second child.  She had never been to school, so she could not read or write, therefore she did not know dates of the war, her wedding or birth of her children.  She told me she had given birth to her first child in Guinea Bissau, but her second was born in Senegal because they needed to flee Guinea Bissau because of the war. They remained in Senegal, making it their new home.  She said she remembers the day Guinea Bissau was declared free because her husband went to Bissau for the party celebration.

They continued their life, now in Senegal, giving birth to several more children.  I wish I could tell you their story ends there, but unfortunately it doesn't.  They began seeing rebels passing through their village, using their village as a passage between Senegal and Guinea Bissau.  The rebels were hiding in Guinea Bissau and beginning a war in the Casamance of Senegal.  This is known as the Casamance conflict, a civil war in Senegal. The day that Aminata and her mother both remember was a day they will never forget.  It was the dry season and they had already planted their gardens.  In their village every house except for one had a grass roof. Amanita's mom had just given birth a week before to their last baby. Rebels entered their village and began burning the grass roofs and all their gardens. They burned the entire village except the house with a metal roof and they took all their life stock as well, every animal in the village. All the people of the village were chased out into the bush in hiding and slept all the ground that night, keep in mind they had a one week old. The next day, the men came back to the village to find rebels had burned everything, their kitchens, gardens, clothing, homes, everything. This family had fled their homes in Guinea Bissau to escape war and now were fleeing their homes in Senegal because of war. They were frightened, homeless, and only had what was on them. They returned to collect what wasn't burned, put it on their heads and started by foot to find a new home where they hoped was freedom.

Listening to their story, my heart was touched. God protected this family before they even knew there was a God. Aminata is now active in our church and has given her life to the Lord. Her mother also loves the Lord with as much understanding that she can. She faithfully comes to church and often seeks prayer. God protected this family through two wars and today they have the ultimate freedom, freedom in Christ.


Friday, July 24, 2015

You know you live in Guinea Bissau when...

You know you live in Guinea Bissau when it starts raining and everyone runs for buckets to put out to collect the rain water. 

...when you have to check for lizards before entering your bathroom. 

...when you rejoice for rain but a part of you is sad because your batteries won't charge. 

...when you can only charge devices or computers a few hours a day. 

...when you wait on the ice truck that may or may not come. 

...when you put your mattress on the roof to sun bleach. 

...when drinking a warm coke is a treat. 

...when you suck the chocolate out of the wrapper. 

You know you live in Guinea Bissau when you know what the 24 hour rule is. 

...when a 12 passenger van fits 34 people. 

...when 80 degrees is cold. 

...when you think you might freeze at 70 degrees. 

...when you warm your shower water. 

...when you use rain water to shower. 

...when you sweep your yard. 

...wake up to women at your well. 

You know you live in Guinea Bissau when you use a brush to scrub your feet. 

...when you scrub your flip flops daily. 

...when you travel three hours one way for a tank of propane because the only gas station near you blew up. 

...when you feel like it's Christmas when you receive a package. 

...when you call your cupboard the refrigerator. 

...when you talk with other missionaries and the topic always goes to where you can find western food. 

...when rain or soccer games stop life in the village. 

...when your dresser is a suitcase. 

...when you know why there is a teapot of water in the bathroom. 

You know you live in Guinea Bissau when cashews are considered currency. 

There could be so many more but that is all we have for you. 

We hope you enjoyed these!! 

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Storms of Life

It seems as though we have faced many trials since we answered the call to Guinea Bissau.  Through all the trials though, we have seen God. He has never left us or forsaken us.  This last trial was a hard one though.  When you face something yourself it can be hard, but when it is your child, it seems unbearable.  The only thing we had was Christ.  

Josiah got pink eye on a Friday, so I went to the clinic and bought an ointment and started him on it three times that day.  He cleared up that same day and Saturday he had nothing.  Sunday, Lydia woke up with the exact same symptoms, her eye was stuck shut from gunk and swollen, so I started her on the same ointment. I put ointment in her eye three times a day but her symptoms continued to worsen. Monday afternoon she started with a high fever, so I again went to the clinic.  Our nurse thought malaria, so we started her on malaria meds as well as an antibiotic because she complained of a sore throat.  She started sleeping Monday afternoon and continued until Sunday.  She would wake for a short time to take medicine or for me to clean her eye, but she would go right back to sleep.  Thursday I added an eye drop to try to stop her eye infection, but her eye continued to worsen.  By Thursday evening, our nurse wanted her to go to a nearby hospital.  She went by ambulance, as we have no car, and the doctor at the hospital prescribed the exact ointment and eye drop we had already been giving her.  Friday her eye worsen drastically and by Saturday she felt an intense pain in her eye.  Her fever continued this entire time with the exception of Friday afternoon when our church came to pray over her and anoint her.  That was the only time she had a low grade fever and was awake for several hours.  All while Lydia was battling this, three of our other kids had some sort of illness as well, whether it was boils, returning pink eye, or severe stomach pain, they were all battling something except our one daughter.  We were praying for a miracle.  We were all believing in a dramatic miracle, praying it would lead many, if not all, in our village to the Lord. 

While we didn't see a dramatic transformation of her eye, we did see little miracles along the way.  We were able to have internet and ask for prayer all while supposedly the entire internet of Guinea Bissau was down.  We got an email from GB news saying the mobile internet was paralyzed and not working, all while we were using our mobile internet to read the article.  Our phone worked with internet until I posted on FB for prayer, then the internet stopped. We believe God wanted us to seek others for prayer and once we had done that we no longer needed the internet.  

We called our friend that drives us to Ziguinchor each month to come get us Saturday morning to go to the hospital. He came, drove us to two hospitals, the first one didn't do eyes, and then waited with our other children while Michael, Djibi and I were in the ER with Lydia.  He didn't leave until he knew Lydia was being cared for and he never once came and asked us if he could leave or how long it would take. His only concern was Lydia. His time is money, the time he waited for us meant he lost a car load of people for his normal Ziguinchor to Sao Domingo run, but he didn't complain or charge us extra. He even told Michael to call him when we wanted to return to Catel so he could take us back, so he could know Lydia was okay. 

When Michael got to the hotel, they told him they had no room.  This is the hotel we stay at each month we come to Ziguinchor.  Djibi had called that  morning and reserved the only room that holds our family.  There Michael was at the hotel with four of our children, not able to speak any french and being told there was no room.  He sat at the table, prayed with the kids and then the man that we know came to him and told him his room was available.  We have no idea what happened except one moment there was no room and after prayer, there was room.     

Every step, whatever we asked for prayer on was answered, whether quick travel, understanding, translation, or issues with nurses. This was a work of how powerful our God is and that we are in this together. We may be the people living here and serving, but we have an amazing amount of support that helps make this possible. People need Jesus and we are all a testimony whether in Africa or America to serve our ultimate goal of sharing the gospel. We are in this together.

Going to the hospital in our neighboring country was a decision only led by prayer. We wanted the Lord to do the miracle, but now we see that he had a plan for us to meet the people we met in that hospital and to be an example to more than just the people of Catel. At the hospital we wanted a private room for Lydia, but that was not an option.  We were in a room with five beds and about seven cribs, but there were only three patients in that room.  We bonded with those other families.  There was a language barrier but God is bigger than language barriers.  The one dad could speak Creole, another dad spoke English and we had brought Djibi with us and he as well helped translate. Through these relationships we were building, we were able to share the gospel with a family in the hospital. Michael was able to read the Bible with the husband and pray with him. We got to be examples to the nurses and the doctors. God opened all these doors for us to bless many while we were at the hospital. God works in every situation for his honor and glory and keeping that as a focus gets us through the dark and rough times no matter the outcome. 

While we were in the hospital we learned that Gambia has the #1 eye hospital in West Africa and the guesthouse we often stay at had openings and were quite flexible with us.  We also learned that a nurse was at the guesthouse already and a physicians assistant was coming.  This was God's plan.  The woman that is a PA was coming to Gambia for the first time to serve for 6 months, and it happened to be the exact week that we were having medical problems.  That is only God and His perfect timing. 

Lydia's eye looks amazing and she hasn't had a fever since she was in the hospital. Josiah started the eye infection, but the pediatrician at the hospital thought they were twins so he saw him also and started treatment right away. He was also put on an antibiotic and has recovered, never getting as bad as Lydia. Micah started a fever and pink eye, but because we are here at the guesthouse the PA looked at her and put her on an antibiotic and we started the same eye treatments. 

Through this, we have had a chance to share verses about not being afraid and trusting in God. We have seen the faith of our kids and us tested and grow in this trial. We were praying for a miracle so that people of Catel and the hospital could put their faith in Christ, but maybe God wanted our children to have a deeper faith in Him.  We don't know how God worked through all of this, all we know is for our family we have grown.  

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.  James 1:2, 3

Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock.  And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock.  Matthew 7:24, 25

The rains fell, the floods came in, the winds blew and beat on our house pretty badly, but we did not fall. We are all stronger because of this. I do not mean stronger physically or emotionally, but spiritually, and that is what matters. One day we will all stand before God and we want to hear well done my good and faithful servant.  

We praise God for all he has done in this situation and will continue to do as we serve him in West Africa. We thank all of you for praying with us in our time of need. We could feel the prayers and the Holy Spirit surrounding us. Our church in Catel came that Friday to pray and they said they could feel the Spirit at our house. We praise God in all of this. He never left us. We were praying for one specific miracle, but God had many little ones he wanted to do.  He didn't answer our prayer the way we were asking, but he answered our prayers the way that was best for us.  

When you have trials, it isn't because God left you, it's because he wants you to grow.  We pray that you are able to see God in a new way through our story and if you haven't put your faith in Jesus, we pray you do.  Why wait? This is the time, this is your time.  Trust in the Lord. 

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

A Young Man's Journey - by Michael

I have been asking my wonderful husband to guest blog for almost two years and today he has finally done it! I hope you enjoy it.

When we returned to Guinea Bissau in February we were met with several new believers in the church and three of which were baptized on Easter Sunday. It was neat to see the church grow in our absence and the great work our church leaders did in the church. 

One of these boys is Timotio (Timothy in English). Timotio is an amazing young man, he is probably 16 years of age and suffers from epilepsy. Our church has been helping him with the medicine to control his illness. He pays for half of it and we cover the rest. It is neat to see him want to pay his part as that is not common here in West Africa. At the end of April he had a seizure at his home and fell into hot boiling water and burned his lower back and top of his rear end. Djibi, Adramane, and I went out to visit him about a week after the accident happened to check up on him. Upon arrival we found a much greater burned area than we had first thought and the family was applying treatment from local plants, which was not providing much help. We quickly asked if they were open to white medicine and prayed for him. The sun was setting and we needed to get back to Catel, so we promised to come back the next day with dressings and medicine. We have since returned four times, basically every other day, to clean the wound and apply new dressings. After one week the improvement in his spirit and wound was remarkable. Not to mention the testimony to the family from the church. Each time we visit we spend time praying and singing songs. How quickly the wound has healed is a testimony in and of itself, but that is not the best part of his story.

Timotio's faith is remarkable in such a horrible situation. He thanks God and prays continuously. He is apologetic to us for not being at church and begs his parents to bring him even though he can not walk very well at the moment. The journey to his village is 12 kilometers, that is 7.4 miles one way. Every Sunday he would walk this journey to and from church. With our visits, we have gone by motors and bikes and have never gotten to his village in less than a half hour. Our pastor Djibi said, “Timotio’s legs have strong faith.” Timotio never complains and faithfully attended church every week up until his accident. When we could, we would take him home or half way home. He never asks for money, food, or a bike. Twice he has had seizures at church. He gets up, leaves the church and just starts praying and asking God to help him. 

This young man’s faith, his dedication to the Lord and the distance he travels, with a smile on his face, is an inspiration to me. Could you imagine faith like this around the world in church? I spent 10 years as a youth pastor working in the American church and frankly, we complain about everything from the temperature in the building, to the type of music, and even that the sermon was too long, or too short. We leave early for sporting events or anything else that comes up and stare at our watch the whole time we are at church. Maybe if we stop complaining and started being thankful for all God has given us our faith would become strong like this young man. Perhaps it is time to shift our focus on our maker and not our lives with all we think we need to do all day. With a 7.4 mile walk to church every Sunday imagine the time we could spend talking to and thanking our maker. This young man’s faith is simple and real because he has nothing else to hold on to or to interfere with his relationship. His room has a foam mattress, one blanket, one flashlight, and a picture of his mother. That is it. As mennonites our anabaptist roots are founded on simplicity and radical faith, two things I see in this young man. I think we can all learn a lot from Timotio and my challenge is to look into our hearts and do some spring cleaning. What do we need to let go of? What do we need to confess? What do we need to stop, to make time for God? Perhaps start walking to church? Everything we do, or do not do, boils down to a heart issue, what is the issue of your heart? My prayer is for God to continue chiseling me and strip away all that is of this world, to mold me and to see my joy come from God and only God, not my surroundings. Lastly, I pray to have a joyful, simple faith like I see in Timitio, he is truly an inspiration to me.

Written by Michael 

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Life of a Guinea Bissau Christian Woman

I (Karen) want to introduce you to a woman that faces a struggle as a christian like no other believers in our church.  She is a widow with three children.  She has been a widow for several years and has a desire to marry once again.  Her family is also wanting her to be married, because for this culture, it is a shame to not be married.  The job of a woman in this culture is to be married, birth children, cook, clean, draw water and care for her husband and family.  In their beliefs, there is no other purpose for women. Women are to do everything for her husband and his mom.  However, for this christian woman her desire to be married is not solely based on her culture.  She is forming a new culture in her faith.  Her desire to be married is to serve her husband in a Godly way and to have a partner in this life.  She seeks to be married to a christian man.  

The problem she faces is finding a christian man.  There have been many men that have come seeking her for a wife, some for their second, third or even fourth wife, but all are non-believers.  Currently, she has one man, an unbeliever, that has come to her family to ask permission to marry her. If her family would accept this proposal she will then need to spend a week with the man and act as husband and wife for him to see if he still wants her.  If they would end up being married, this woman would have no choice in her life.  If he would want to do a ceremony to an idol, she would have to cook for it.  If he beats her or her children, she cannot say anything about it.  If he would decide she cannot attend church or talk about her faith, she would need to be obedient.  

This woman has been asking for prayer for this situation.  She does not want to be married to this person.  Her prayer is for her family to not accept his proposal.  I have read scripture with her and we have talked in depth about what Christ asks of her life.  She has been begging me not to forget to pray for her.  There are no christian men in our church that she could marry.  She is losing hope that she will ever get to marry a christian man.  I have repeatedly encouraged her telling her that God will bring someone when He wants her to be married.  She asks us all to pray that God will answer this prayer.  

I share this with you so you can understand just a little bit about what people here face, but also to ask you to join us with praying for her.  We believe that God cares about everything, even bringing her a husband.  Please pray for this woman that her faith will remain strong and she will not doubt God’s faithfulness.  Please pray that God will bring a christian man into her life.  

Saturday, April 18, 2015

My Baptism - by the oldest Baker Bean

My mom and dad popped the question around March 18, 2015.  They asked me if I wanted to be baptized.  Of course I said yes! I wanted Catel to know I believe in God and that he is my Savior.  I could not wait for the date to be settled.  Finally, I found out I was to be baptized on Easter and I was going to be baptized with four other people, Elizabeti, Tomas, Timotiu and Ambros.  While I waited I asked my friend, Saba, to come to the baptism, she said yes. Later I learned she also was coming because Tomas is her brother.  I read a lot before I was to be baptized.  I read three sections from Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective.  I also helped with every day chores like always.  The chores I do are drawing water, watering plants, running or biking to the store, and the hardest one, scrubbing my little brother Isaiah.  You would think he rolled in the dirt he is literally black by the end of the day.  

Finally, Easter Sunday came and I put on shorts and a flowered shirt.  I had my junk skirt, a shirt and my hairbrush in a bag for when I got out to the water.  The junk skirt was to get in the water with because my Dad said that the water ruins everything.  Well, I went to children's church, and after that the grownups sang a few songs.  We then headed out slowly but loudly with songs of praise to the river.  Finally, we got there, but some of us kids ran ahead and found baby crabs and some kids stayed with the grownups.  When we were all there we sang a few songs and me and Elizabeti got shorts on.  The five of us who were getting baptized stood in a straight line and it began.  We all got baptized and the grownups wanted to take more pictures so we all got back in the water. The water was freezing! We then all prayed together and got in another straight line. Djibi, the guy who baptized me with my dad, lost his balance and fell causing me to lose my balance and I went under the water.  I came back up laughing and coughing while Djbi was trying to say sorry.  

This is me once I came up from the water. My dad and my African dad baptized me.  
Afterwards, we were trying to get out and the older kids around my age decided to jump from the bridge into the water.  The little kids did not think that was fair. Even though they could not swim they jumped in. Then while we all were trying to pull them out of the water somebody shoved a one and a half year old in my arms saying he wants baptized. Of course he started crying because of all the commotion so I gave him back and helped get more kids out.

On the way back to the church everyone sang and danced while we walked back into Catel.  Once we got back to the church the grownups sang and danced for a long time.  As they were singing people just started running around the church in circles. Everyone was so happy and celebrating the birth of Christ and our baptisms.  

This is what you call a crazy baptism! 

This is by our special guest blogger, the oldest of the baker beans.  

Thursday, April 16, 2015

No Smoking

Be thankful for what is in front of you, rather than constantly hoping for what you don't have. I have found myself saying that to our kids a lot lately.  It is actually ironic because I have been hoping for a four burner stove with an oven for a long time.  The entire time we were in America I was looking forward to getting the stove on our way back into Catel.  When we came back, we decided it wasn't wise for us to get the stove on our way back to the village, so we decided to wait for our first trip into Ziguinchor.  During our first trip into Ziguinchor we decided to wait until the next trip.  We thought for sure next time we would buy the stove. Buying the stove would be easier for me to cook for our family and I would have a wider variety of options with the oven. The next week we went into Sao Domingo for market day and on our way home we passed by the gas station where we buy our gas from, the gas station was no more.  A large rock truck sparked a fire, or the man's cigarette, at the gas pump and everything burned up, the truck included.  Now, we have lost our ability to buy gas (propane) for cooking.  About a week later we ran out of propane and Michael bought me a little propane tank (it's maybe 18 inches tall) with a burner on top for cooking.  It has made cooking so much more challenging.  The gas is difficult to regulate and where the pot sits is far away from the actual burner making everything take so much longer to cook.  This has been a challenge in front of us, but I am thankful for this little burner.  No longer am I hoping for a stove with an oven.  I am thankful I still have a means to cook for my family inside and I do not have to go out with the women to get firewood to cook over outside.  

This is what happens when you smoke at a gas pump.
Up close and personal with the burned truck.

On the floor is my new cooking source.  Behind on the counter is my old stove, which is now unusable. You can kind of see the large gas tank underneath the stove behind the washcloths.  The red bins hold our veggies. 

Being thankful for what we have can seem impossible with a world of wants in front of us.  When things are taken away we realize what we had and therefore realize we need to be thankful for what we still have.  

Monday, February 23, 2015

It's Different This Time

When we first came to Guinea Bissau in August of 2013 our children were wide eyed, curious and everything was new to them.  This time, they knew what to expect, everything from driving to the airport to arriving in our village.  When we got off the plane in Dakar, Senegal the children weren’t wide eyed with adrenaline, but rather tired and ready to find a bed.  They gained their energy once we met up with a fellow missionary, Beryl, then once we were in the car going to the guesthouse, they fell asleep.  Last time they were wide eyed looking at everything taking it all in.  I remember sitting there thinking, our children’s world view just got blown open, this time I thought they are quite accustomed to life in West Africa.  Once we arrived at the guesthouse, our children regained their energy with excitement to go and play with everything they had missed.  They ran to the tire swing and pushed each other with laughter flowing from their mouths.  They ran in search of a ball to play basketball and then onto our apartment where we would sleep for the day.  Our children wanted to experience everything that had become so familiar.  Michael left to take our bags to the ferry and I only wanted to sleep.  My eyes were heavy from lack of sleep on the plane and it was only 1:00 am for us even though the sun was telling us differently.  Eventually the children calmed down and they all lay down and slept for almost the whole day.  We woke up around 2:00 pm (Senegal time) and began preparing for the ferry, our next leg of the trip. We were happy to meet up with another missionary family that was also taking the ferry down to Ziguinchor, therefore making our ferry ride more fun than usual. 

Once we arrived in Ziguinchor, we said goodbye to our friends and began the wait for our bags to be unloaded from the ferry.  Michael stayed with our kids and I left, with our fellow missionary, Delores, to get our supplies for in the village.  On our way out Delores and I saw two men standing across the street waving with huge smiles on their faces.  It was Djibi and Adramane who had come up to meet us. We went over to meet them and were embraced with huge hugs as they were so happy to see us.  We then left them to buy our supplies and then to return to meet up with the rest of our group to then began the third and last leg of our trip. 

After a long time of loading 20 suitcases and nine backpacks onto the car, Michael worked to get a good price for our car eventually agreeing on a price that was too high, but we were all tired and ready to go home.  The car was loaded on the top and inside and we began the trek to Catel. The driver began honking to announce our arrival in the village and we began waving to the faces we had grown to call our friends.  Children ran after our van and a stream of people began arriving to our house as we disembarked from the van.  We were greeted with smiles, hugs and dancing.  We were so happy to be back and I believe from our greeting from the people here, they were so happy to have us back.    

This time for our arrival in Catel, we could understand what people were saying to us.  Our children also could instantly talk to their friends and play.  We all knew what to expect and knowing what to expect makes your experience entirely different.  

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Flying on an Airplane

We have been singing a song from Barney for the past couple days.  If you have children, and your children liked Barney, then you may know the song, but for those of you that don't know, here's a YouTube video of the song so you can get it stuck in your head the same way it is stuck in mine.  

After being back in the states for 4 1/2 months, being in limbo not knowing when we would get to return to Guinea Bissau, we have tickets! We will be returning to Guinea Bissau in February! When we told our children a cheer erupted.  For our children to be so happy was yet another affirmation from God. They are ready to see their friends again. As one of them said, "I am ready to go home." Home is where your heart is.

God answered prayers with Michael's knee as well.  He is able to put off surgery and return with a knee brace.  We praise God for this answered prayer.

We are excited to return to Guinea Bissau, but at the same time we know we will face homesickness and long to be back in our home culture.  We are blessed to have been able to spend this time home.  We have been able to see so many people that we love and have prayed over us, we got to spend time with our family, and be here for births, birthdays and holidays.  These memories will help to get us through when the homesickness sets in.

Our home church has been amazing and we are blessed to be a part of it.  Most recently, the children's ministry has put together a 'store' for children to purchase items needed for our preschool in our village.

It has been amazing to see the love poured out for a preschool so far away.  Each child that placed something in the suitcases have blessed another child across the world.  We are all called to be servants of Christ and that is just what these kids were doing.  I also believe that the excitement for this 'store' gave our kids an excitement to return to GB.  Not only did the children (ages 3-11) at our church bless a preschool, they also blessed our kids.

We realize that we are always saying thank you, but we cannot say thank you enough.  Thank you to all of you that have prayed for us, been friends to us, fed us, clothed us, housed us, help provide for our physical needs, encouraged us, laughed with us, cried with us, the list goes on, but in the end we continue to say, "Thank you!".  We can never pay you back, but our Lord will bless you.