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. 


Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Goodbye Again

It is hard to believe that we have to say goodbye again. This goodbye is a goodbye that is much different. In America we can say goodbye but know there are ways to stay connected, a phone call, a snail mail letter, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and a slew of other means of communication. Saying goodbye here though is saying goodbye. We could make a phone call, but it is very expensive, we could come back to visit, but not all of us, that would cost a lot of money. When we were talking with a friend recently she said saying goodbye will be like we died because she may never see us again. 

We know we are walking in the Lord's will, but it still hurts. When we leave, we will be leaving a part of our hearts here, all seven of us. 

We appreciate any and all prayers you have for our family. Please lift up our children as well. Pray they will be able to adjust and process all of what they have experienced. Specifically, our youngest knows Guinea Bissau culture more as his own rather than American. Pray he will be able to adjust smoothly. Ultimately, we pray we all draw closer to the Lord during this transition. We also pray for the church we are leaving here. We pray they will grow in the Lord and many will see and come to know the power of the Lord. 

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Home Away From Home

Living in a rural village is tiring, to say the least.  It is difficult to get good food, life is difficult and sometimes we just need a break.  We have been coming to Ziguinchor once a month since we first came to Guinea Bissau.  Ziguinchor is in Senegal, which is north of Guinea Bissau.  When we come into Ziguinchor we can buy western type foods, enjoy internet, running water, cold drinks and relaxation.  We have always stayed at hotel Le Perroquet which is a middle of the road type hotel, owned by a French man. It didn’t have luxuries like hot water or air conditioning, but it had one room that was big enough to fit our family and was affordable.  We have seen many changes done to this hotel including an owner change.  Now it is owned by a French woman named Dominique and she has been improving the hotel by leaps and bounds.  Right before the ownership changed, we were about to be done staying there.  We were suspicious of bed bugs and it was just miserably hot in the rooms and filled with mosquitos, none of us slept well, therefore making us more exhausted returning to the village than when we left.  The first big change we saw to the hotel was, in our opinion, the greatest.  They had installed an air conditioner in one room, and guess whose room that was…ours! They chose to fix up the biggest room first, we’d like to think it’s because it is known as our room, but I’m sure it is to attract bigger tourist groups.  We were beyond thrilled though to be able to sleep in peace, and they installed glass on the windows therefore cutting down the millions of mosquitos that invaded the rooms at night.  Dominique has continued to fix up this hotel and now it is quite nice and very clean.  She has even added a beach area on the river, when previously there was only restaurant seating. The hotel is not only affordable, but a peaceful place to get rejuvenated.   

Our kids with some of the staff and the owner.  
The employees at Le Perroquet are incredibly friendly and very good at their jobs.  There is a language barrier between us, as we don’t speak French, but over the years, we have grown to be friends with the staff.  We know them by name and are always welcomed with a friendly welcome. Dominique also likes to spoil our children with ice cream, chocolate, candy or whatever she may have.  She always makes a point to talk with them (she speaks some English) and on this trip she brought out a couple games for them to play.  One of which is called Game of Seven Families, and it was of course in French.  We enjoyed playing it though and found it a fun way to learn some new French words.  

Our family with some of the staff
When Lydia got sick and needed to go to the hospital in Ziguinchor, the hotel staff went above and beyond for our family.  They made sure ‘our’ room was open for us, asked about Lydia every day and when Lydia finally was released from the hospital, she was welcomed with hugs from the staff.  They made sure we had everything we would need.  The day she was being released, we had no idea of a time frame, but they let us stay in the room until she safely arrived at the hotel. We were getting ready to go to Gambia for recovery when we realized we had no water for Lydia to take her medicine.  They quickly took note and brought over a water bottle for her, no charge.  Le Perroquet has always gone above and beyond for us, and I believe they do that for all their guests.  

Without Le Perroquet, I’m not sure what we would’ve done.  Our children think of the hotel as their second home and we all look forward to our monthly weekend in Ziguinchor.  We realize this sounds like a review for the hotel, but truly this is just us sharing one more aspect of our life here in West Africa. Living in a rural village where we draw our water from a well, have no refrigerator and hardly any privacy, Le Perroquet provided just the right amount of comfort for us. 

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Washed Clean

Binta Kamara has been our house help for a year and half and has grown to be a good friend of mine (Karen’s). She is the wife of a church leader, Siga, and a mother of four boys.  I have blogged about her before as you may recall.  She has faced many trials in her life, both before and after she became a christian.  When Djibi and Michael first started talking about our church doing baptism on Easter Sunday I went to Binta to ask if she wanted to get baptized.  She was a woman that had already confessed, was living out her faith and was obviously growing as a christian every day.  The only thing that lay between her and the water was her family.  

Binta is Siga’s wife, but not technically.  In our eyes, she is his wife, but by definition here she is not technically married, truly only two of the women in our bible study are technically married.  Let me explain, here in Guinea Bissau the husband must purchase his wife.  If you are a man and want to marry a girl, you will choose someone to go and talk to the girls father.  This person you choose could be your best friend, your brother, or uncle, any male you trust, but typically a family member. This person will go to her father and let him know you want to marry his daughter. The talks will then begin about how much her father would like you to pay to marry her.  Included in that price will be everything needed for the wedding ceremony and reception (here it’s a party).  The girl will pay nothing.  As is the case when purchasing anything here, the man never accepts the first price, there are always many counter-offers.  If an agreement is made then as soon as the man has the price and purchased everything needed for the wedding they will get married.  The girl typically doesn’t have a say, however, many times the family will ask the girl if she wants to marry or not, but the girl doesn’t get the actual say. Siga hasn’t paid for Binta and therefore she must still get her family's permission to accept Christ as well as to be baptized.  

Last year, Binta had asked her family if she could be a Christian, this year she was seeking their permission to be baptized.  If she would confess or get baptized without their permission, they could take her away from Siga. This is constantly held over their heads until the man pays fully for the woman.  Binta asked if I would be willing to go to her family’s village with her to ask their permission. This included a bike ride further into the bush to her village.  We went out the Thursday before Easter to meet with her family.  Binta’s birth mom passed away many years ago, but her father is still there. We needed to get his permission as well as his three other wives, as well as her uncle's permission.  In this culture, your father’s brothers are also your dads. Her father accepted right away with hardly anything to say in regards to the baptism, but her uncle talked a lot, all in their tribe language which I didn’t understand but a few words enough to know they were talking about the baptism.  In the end he accepted because Siga is a christian and he believes it is good for the man and woman to be on the same path, basically to be equally yoked.  Binta was beyond thrilled, but you wouldn’t have known it from her facial expressions, until we got far enough away from her family's sight and ear shot.  She then stopped her bike and started talking non-stop about how they accepted and she thought her chest was going to burst from her heart pounding.  She had wanted to be baptized for a while and this was her time. On that day, she boldly walked into the water and beaming from ear to ear she answered each question about her faith with a sound yes.  

On our way out to Binta's home village we stopped to take in the view.  
The old has been washed away and new has emerged.  
Siga, filled with joy, swooped his newly baptized wife into his arms for photos. 

When we were preparing to come here to Guinea Bissau I remember one conversation with Andrew, the long term missionary that left shortly after we came.  He asked me if I wanted a christian or non-christian woman to wash our laundry.  I said I wanted someone that was open to coming to church, but hasn’t yet accepted Christ.  My prayer was that through our daily living and friendship with her she would one day come to know the Lord.  Missionaries that were already serving here are the ones that picked Mai Mane for us.  When we came Mai was maybe 18 and had a six month old girl named Rebekah.  We instantly fell in love with Rebekah and she became part of our family.  There was no language barrier between Rebekah and us, but with Mai the gap was huge.  As we slowly began understanding Creole our friendship with Mai grew.  Her love and respect for Michael is huge. She has watched the way we interact, the way we talk to each other and to our children.  At first we noticed a fear of Michael, but now she loves him like a big brother.  Two and a half years ago I never would’ve imagined what God has done in Mai.  She started coming over to hang out with us and started being open to discussing Christ and how he gives us freedom.  She has been coming to church for years now, but hasn’t accepted Christ. About two weeks before baptism day I, Karen, asked her why she hasn’t confessed yet. She chuckled and replied, “No reason.” The next day when she was doing laundry, she told me a few things other churches say you must do in order to be a christian and so therefore she was confused.  I asked if she’d be open to Djibi and I coming to her house to talk with her.  She was very open and so that began two weeks of us talking with her and praying for her.  On Saturday before Sunday baptisms she told both Djibi and I that she still had doubts.  She came to our house that night to talk, but someone else was there so we couldn’t talk.  That night as Michael and I went to bed I was feeling sad we couldn’t have talked to Mai.  Michael reminded me that we wanted Mai to come to Christ because of Jesus, not because of us.  We prayed together that Jesus would come talk to her that night.  Sunday morning we went to church with hearing nothing from Mai.  When Djibi called the people getting baptized to the front of the church the three we knew about went up and sat down.  Then Mai stood and went up front.  It was a surprise for all of us.  Jesus indeed had spoken to her! She said she was ready to give her life to Christ and she wanted the church to pray with her that she would have great faith.  We all then walked out to the water where the baptisms would take place and when it was her turn she walked out to Michael and Djibi with boldness and a smile across her face.  Mai is not a person that says a lot or even smiles a lot, but that day her smile showed a new joy we haven’t seen before.  Mai is very shy in front of others, but when she answered those five questions about her faith she answered the loudest of all the others, ‘SIN!” (“YES!”).  
Mai is terrified of water, but here she is ready to be wash cleaned.
Welcomed into the family of Christ! 
We had to add a picture of Mai's daughter Rebekah. Here she got a short ride on 'Baba's' motor. 

We know God is big and we know he hears our prayers, but when you see it being answered, it is the most humbling experience.  Mai and Binta did not get baptized because of anything man did, but because of the Creator of our universe, because of the one that holds all of our lives in His hands.  It is because of God that lives are changed.  We are only blessed to get to be a witness to it.  

Friday, February 26, 2016

Power of Prayer

A few weeks ago I, Karen, was walking on the street when I noticed down the road, by the chief’s house, was filled with men.  When I arrived at my friend’s house, I asked what was going on.  Apparently there were some men stealing palm trees for wood from Catel and the men of our village were taking the issue to the chief.  There was yelling and arguing, but soon, the chief had it all under control and the men dispersed.  The men that were stealing the wood had paid off the 2nd chief as well as the police in neighboring villages to not come when they were called.  On this particular day the police did not come and the 2nd chief said he had visitors at his house so he could not come either.  Our village chief did his job at settling everyone down and we thought the issue was done.  

That weekend, we went to Bissau so our kids could see Bissau as well as our friends Sadja and Adramane.  What we didn’t realize was the problem wasn’t over.  We came back to the village on a Monday and that same day the chief’s son went down to Bissau to talk to the police and forestry department about the wood problem.  He went to Bissau because the police around our village had been paid off and so far were not responding.  

Thursday afternoon I was doing dishes and noticed women from a neighboring house running down the path.  It wasn’t just one or two women, but every single woman from the house, and then all the men started running too.  We stopped a few to ask what was happening.  The police from Bissau had arrived as well as neighboring police and were arresting the men stealing wood.  When someone gets caught stealing here he is tied up and the entire village has the opportunity to beat on him.  Women were running with thin sticks and men with their machetes.  We stayed home knowing this was not a problem involving us, but a village problem.  After a few hours had passed I left the house to take a Bible to a woman that had been anxiously awaiting a full New and Old Testament Bible.  We were able to purchase five in Bissau after a year or more of no Bibles being available in all of Guinea Bissau.  When I got to the road I noticed it was still full of people and many women were standing around talking about what was happening.  The people stealing the wood are not directly in our village but a village connected to ours on the road.  It is about a 5-10 minute walk from our house.  When I got to the house to deliver the Bible, all the women were talking about the fight.  The fight had escalated and many people involved in stealing as well as those not involved had gotten beaten.  The village people had arrived first to their house and fighting started, then the police arrived.  Throughout the fighting the men directly involved in the stealing disappeared.  The police were able to capture one of the men during the evening, but night fell without catching the others.  That night our village men formed a search party and in the night were able to catch one or two of the men. The police came in the morning and took them off to jail but not before some serious beatings.  

After this conflict different people were summoned to court.  Through this process lies and truth were told and from this arguing started throughout the village.  The most unfortunate part of this was one of our church leaders is in the middle of it all.  This church leader started going through the village spreading lies about the chief and his family as well as cussing out and insulting the chief.  From the story we heard on Sunday after church, this same church leader (who did not come to church that morning) called his family from his original village to come up here to attack Catel for revenge.  A woman from Catel was in a neighboring village when she saw a bunch of men get off a car with weapons in their hands (we assume these weapons were machetes and huge sticks). The woman came back to Catel and immediately told the chief. Police were called and a village meeting was called.  What came to be was the National Guard of Guinea Bissau came to our village that evening and, along with the men of our village, were all prepared to defend our village. Most women and children in the village evacuated for their family’s houses outside of Catel.  Michael sought the council of our church leaders and village leaders as to whether we should leave or stay.  We knew we were not directly related to the problem and what we had heard was the group of men were coming directly to the houses of people in which they had conflict.  We felt at peace with the decision to stay in the village, but we were prepared to leave at a moments notice.  As the sun set we could hear the vehicles coming into the village filled with soldiers.  It was almost dark when four of the neighbor children started walking over to our yard all looking a little nervous.  We told them to go home, but they responded telling us they were told to come sit here.  I went over to talk to the adults and that is when they asked if the children could sleep here.  A few minutes later the only two women left at their house came over as well asking if they could sleep here too.  We had also called a few other women we knew didn’t have anywhere to go to offer for them to sleep here.  We had moved a full and twin mattress into our room on the floor for our children to sleep with us.  We put a mattress in our hallway outside our room and laid a couple mats on the floor of the kitchen for the neighbors. About 8:00 p.m. Michael’s phone rang.  Djibi was calling because the soldiers posted outside our house wanted us all to be quiet and shut off all lights.  We all hurried inside, locked all the doors and were silent.  I have never before seen nine children be so quiet without one of them being asleep.  The only thing left to do was pray. We were all praying for God to put his army of angels around our village. Our village is usually alive with various noises, whether its women cooking (they eat supper after dark), children crying, arguments, motor bikes and cars, drumming or music. This night, our village was silent, there was not a light or a sound anywhere. It was almost as if everyone was holding their breath.  Soon after though, we could hear one motor running. It seemed to be running back and forth.  We found out the next day it was that same church leader running the men to various parts around Catel to be prepared to attack.  The soldiers stopped him running and did not allow a single car to pass through Catel until 5:30 the next morning.  By 9:00 p.m. the children in our house were mostly asleep so all of us adults also laid down, but none of us slept.  Instead, we prayed.  Each time one of us drifted off to sleep we would wake to the smallest sound.  Around midnight a dog must’ve been passing on the path because we heard it start barking and the soldier outside shooing it away and then hitting it with a stick to get it to go away.  We prayed all night until sunrise. Once the sun came up our phones started ringing with friends checking on us, while others stopped by to make sure we made it through the night okay.  Throughout that day women and children began returning to Catel, but that night brought us all to prayer again.  This time the threat wasn’t so imminent but it was still there.  The National Guard had threatened the family that if one person was hurt in Catel, their children in jail would be hurt, if one person in Catel died one of their children in jail would die.  While we don’t want anyone to get hurt, ultimately we want them to turn to Jesus, we knew this threat should keep them away. We were all told that the National Guard would not return that night so there was a group of young men that spread out and walked the village until sunrise. Rumor is that the troops actually came back secretively and guarded the houses in danger.  

We could feel others praying for us, for our entire village.  Throughout the night we received messages of people praying through the night in America.  One friend told me she wouldn’t sleep until our sun rose here in Guinea Bissau.  It was such a comfort to know the amount of prayer support we had.  Tuesday nights our church gets together for prayer.  That night, we prayed solely for our village and those whom seek revenge on our village.  As were were walking home, I asked Djibi how his wife was doing.  Djibi said she was doing okay, but still worried and not eating well. In a previous blog I wrote a story about a woman that lived through fighting in GB as well as in Senegal.  Well, Djibi’s wife, Binta, lived through the same fighting in Senegal, but in her area, it was much, much worse. She saw things that no teenager should ever see.  She remembers they had to hide out in the fields by day not eating or drinking until the sun set when they would seek refuge in a safe village.  This threat to our village brought back all those memories and she was scared.  I stopped by her house on the way home from prayer to encourage her.  She told me a little about her story, but couldn’t bring herself to tell it all.  I encouraged her and reminded her when she started to feel fear creep in to ask our Lord for his peace.  She was thankful for that reminder and said that God has increased her faith this week.  Djibi then told us about a vision he received from the Lord. Monday morning he was sitting on his veranda praying after the sun rose and God showed him one gigantic white head, but within that head were hundreds and hundreds of white people praying for Catel.  He said he knew there were people all over the world united together praying for our village.  

Many of you reading this blog right now were a part of his vision.  You all came together and covered us in prayer and we are incredibly thankful.  We praise God that we, brothers and sisters in Christ, are spread all over the world, but we are united together by one Spirit, His Spirit.  The power of prayer truly is powerful! 

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

It's All Who You Know

In a relational culture, it is all about who you know.  It is considered rude to not greet people as you pass them in the village and people you know you should go through the slew of greetings.  How did you sleep? How are you? How do you feel? How is your family? The greetings can go on and on. When we stop and take the time to greet people, we find we get treated nicer.  When we go into a store, we greet the employee(s). After going through greetings, we usually find exactly what we need a whole lot quicker than we would have without greeting.

With not having a personal car we have made many connections with public transportation drivers.  Sharif and Agustu are two drivers that have become friends of ours. At least one of them always finds us in either the Sao Domingo or Ziguinchor garage (garage is like going to a bus terminal, but we pick up cars instead of buses). Many times, I, Karen, have been in the Ziguinchor garage getting harassed by men when Sharif comes up, gives me a big hug and then doesn't leave my side until I am sitting in the car that will take me to Sao Domingo.  One time a man would not stop talking to me so Sharif told him to get away from his ‘wife’ or he would call my real husband.  That man ran away so fast, I never even saw which way he went.  

Agustu is a driver of a smaller car that seats seven.  We made connection with him through Sharif, who drives a big car that seats closer to 30, we use him to haul materials needed for the new clinic that is being built. Agustu has become our personal driver that we call and he will come to our house and take us directly to Ziguinchor.  We don’t always use him, but when we have a lot of bags we call him.  It is so known that he is our driver that other drivers, when they see us, will say, “These are Agustu’s people.”  Agustu has become not only our driver, but our friend.  He has taken us to his house so we could meet his family.  If we call him to pick us up and then realize we forgot something, he will drive us to pick it up.  He doesn’t just drop us off to pick it up but he will go to purchase it to make sure we get a good price.  Agustu is also the driver that took us to the hospital when Lydia was sick.  When the guards at the border questioned why we weren’t getting out of the car, Agustu explained to them about Lydia and got us through quicker than ever before.  Once we arrived to the hospital (the second hospital we attempted, the first one said they don’t do eyes), he waited at the car with our other kids so that Michael could go into the ER with us.  He never once questioned us anxiously, or demanded that they go.  He said he would wait however long it took so that Michael could be there with us.  After it was decided that Lydia would be admitted, Agustu then took Michael and the kids to the hotel.  He also told Michael that no matter what he wanted to be the one to take us back to Catel so that he could know Lydia was okay.  Agustu is more than a driver for us, he is our friend.  

These relationships are not only because of us, but because of missionaries that have been here before us.  It was Sharif that drove us to Catel that very first day we came, we only continued the relationship.  That is very true for many of our relationships here.  We have made new ones, but we have also carried on old ones.  We are very thankful for the many missionaries that have served before us here in Catel. Through life we can often be deceived that our choices only affect ourselves, don’t believe that. We see the effects every day from the choices others before us have made.  We are blessed by the people that came before us. If you are reading this and are one of those people that served before us, thank you. 

Isaiah pretending to be the driver's helper for this car.  
We don't have any pictures of Sharif or Agustu to post, but we have this picture of Isaiah.  Here the driver's helper rides in the back of the car.  He watches for people that need a ride and gets them in a seat.  The helper is also who you pay when riding transportation.  If the car fills completely with no space inside for the helper, he then stands outside the car holding on to the ladder that goes to the roof of the vehicle.  Our kids are always begging to stand outside on a car. On our way into Ziguinchor one day, Isaiah made friends with the helper and at a stop Isaiah jumped up on the back and started pretending to be the helper. 

Life is about relationship, in fact that is what Jesus came to teach us. It was not about God's rules, although they are important, but instead our relationship with God. As you go about your relationships today, whether old or new, do not forget how you treat others affects more than just yourself. In fact it may have a lasting effect on those who come after you. We hope you are blessed today as we have been by those we know here in West Africa.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Trash to Beauty

Flowers are beautiful. Every time we go in to Ziguinchor we are reminded of Gods beauty through flowers. The hotel we stay at has beautiful flowers. Our children love to look at them, touch them and smell them. When one falls they are so excited to collect it and often they give me one. The flower that falls away from the plant that is rooted in the ground and surrounded by others will wilt and eventually dry up and need to be thrown away. As I type this I sit with a single flower in my lap that is starting to wilt. 

This flower made me realize Christians are the same. If we are removed from other believers, we will fall, wilt and eventually die. We need each other, the nutrients from the soil and to be watered. 

When we drive into Ziguinchor we pass a trash dump. This trash dump was used up until maybe 6-9 months ago. It was constantly being burned and having more trash dumped into it. It was foul smelling an so ugly to look at.

 However, when we drive by it now, there are beautiful flowers growing out of the pit. 

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This trash dump reminds me that no matter the trash in our lives, He can make us beautiful.

When we put our faith in Him, he makes us new. He takes away the trash and makes beautiful flowers grow. 

Humility in Marriage

Marriage is on our hearts and minds a lot here.  It always seems like there is a problem and a need for prayer. In this culture, there isn't much privacy. Most all work is done in their yards and as you pass by, you can see clearly what people are doing.  It may be wash day and the women of the house are bent over a washboard and big bucket scrubbing laundry. Each morning and evening you can walk through our village and see women bent over with a broom sweeping their yards. Some mornings we can hear the thud of women pounding rice for hours.  On one particular day Michael was walking through the village and he saw a husband and wife fighting.  It wasn’t just any fight, but an all out physical fight.  Michael was taken back by the fight, not only because he saw a husband hitting his wife, but the wife was also hitting her husband with an equal amount of strength.  Michael, along with other men that were around, interceded and were able to calm the husband and wife down and help them to reconcile.  This is the normality of life here. 

We had a woman recently come to us for prayer.  She told us that she was coming secretly and she did not want others to know she was coming.  She was worried of what others would say.  This woman is an older woman, a mother, a grandma.  She wanted us to pray for her child who is making some horrible decisions.  This child has already had one divorce and was on her way for another one.  The mother was devastated.  She told us she came because she believed the only thing left to do was to pray.  She said only God could help her daughter. The woman continued to tell us she couldn’t understand why her daughter was acting the way she was.  This woman proceeded to tell us a little bit about her life story.  One sentence has stuck with me. She said, “I was married to a mean man who treated me badly, but I endured because he was my husband and my family.  I didn’t run away, but I endured and now God has blessed me.” The strength of this woman amazes me.  She sat there beside us with tears in her eyes, begging us to pray for her daughter.  We all three started praying together, her in her tribe language, Michael in English and me in Creole and God heard all three of us.  The faith of this woman is humbling.  She cannot read, will never understand the depths of the Bible, she will never be a theologian, but her faith is the same. One day we will be together in heaven.  Our education is not what matters, our profession will be nothing one day, but our faith will remain.  The verse that comes to my mind is 1 Corinthians 1:27, “But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong.”

We, Michael and I, are so thankful for God leading us to serve in Guinea Bissau.  We have learned so much through our time here and God isn’t even done yet! One thing we have learned is humility.  If I were to say one thing that makes our marriage a happy marriage it is humility.  Being humble to admit when we are wrong, being humble to allow each other to speak without interruptions and being humble enough to be quiet when you know you are right, rather than fight.  The woman that came to our house in secret for prayer was filled with humility.  I can only pray that God will continue to fill me with humility and with love for others.