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.