Friday, December 26, 2008

The Lame Walk?

Our faith is being tested. One of our friends, Evangelique, went to the doctor recently, and the doctor told her that she may be able to walk again. Doubt immediately filled our hearts and minds; why is that? Is God not greater than the ailment that has kept Evangelique bound to a hand-powered wheelchair for all of these years? Please pray with us as God's plan for Evangelique and the role that we will play in her life is revealed...

Monday, December 08, 2008

My Parents Visit

There are few things that could be more emotional for me as a missionary than having my mom and dad come to visit us here in Togo. For two wonderful weeks, we got to share our lives here with them in every possible way. They got to see the good, the bad, the really bad, the beautiful and the profound way that God is working over here. The best thing about their visit is that now they "get it". Having them play with our boys and enjoying their presence in our home was wonderful, but knowing that we no longer have to try and explain our lives to two of the people we love most is priceless. Thanks Mom and Dad for making the trip over. We'll never forget it!

Friday, November 14, 2008

Immaculee

Being a mom of two very young boys, I have found my involvement in our ministry here in Kara to be quite different than what I thought almost two years ago before we arrived. I am more involved with the people that come to our home rather than who I meet out in the villages. I am perfectly content to be experiencing ministry this way as it allows me to be involved 100% in the ministry I am first called to...my family. There are a few Togolese women that I have developed relationships with. Most of them only stop by asking for help occasionally, making it difficult to build a strong relationship. Then there is Immaculee (ee-mah-que-lay).
Her story is an interesting one. More than 10 years ago, she was Immaculee Ward, living in Boston with her husband and baby girl. Now, she lives alone in Kara. She speaks English well but desires to improve it so she can have good conversations with her daughter, who is still in the States. She is eager to help me with my French while I help her with her English. While in America, she was trained as a hair dresser and desires to use this talent here in Togo too. Unfortunately for her, Brett likes my hair long. ;) She does what she can to have money to eat and buy soap. As a mother myself, I understand her longing to see her daughter again. It is that emotional connection that keeps me doing what I can to help her make contact with her friends and family in America. I explained to her last week that I do want to help her...but I want to help her in a way that insures that she can take care of herself in the future. Please pray for Immaculee as she struggles through daily life in Togo while desiring to be somewhere else. I also ask that you pray for me to have wisdom in knowing the best way to handle her situations...to help her, not to hinder her or her relationships.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

An Erasable Message Board of Truth

On a recent trip to Accra, Ghana, I snapped this pic by the side of the road. While this is a truly powerful message that rightly deserves it's place, the message itself is not what profoundly struck me. Here's what did...

First of all, this is NOT a church sign as you might suspect. This is a sign out in front of a lumberyard! In my home culture, this sign would only find it's place outside of a place of worship, put there for passersby to read and soak up in conjunction with the insanity of everyday life. I am a huge fan of truth in the midst of chaos, but what do these church signs that read, "No Jesus, No Peace, Know Jesus, Know Peace" really accomplish for the kingdom? Not much, at least not in my humble opinion. They are more for the church goer than the pagan neighbor type. The fact that a regular business venture would put this out in front of it's cedar and mahogany planks is foreign to my cultural norms...

The 2nd and most profound thing that I noticed did not come to me immediately, but only after driving past the exact same sign 3 days later. You see, this message is written on an erasable chalkboard, and when I passed by again after my time in Accra, it displayed an entirely different message of truth about God. This next time it said, "God is Eternal".

I hope that my life is like an erasable message board of truth. I hope that everyday, the people I encounter in my life and ministry in Africa can see a new truth about God just by observing the way I live my life. May it be so for all of us; may our lives simply and distinctly reflect truths about our God, our Savior and His Spirit that dwells in us...

Monday, October 27, 2008

Prayers for the Millers and Reeves

Our teammates the Millers and the Reeves left last week for a 2 week survey trip to Rwanda. Both families plan on making the move to Rwanda sometime in the next 3 years or so, and this trip will help to pave the way for that eventual transition. They are a part of the Musanze Team, which also includes the Crowsons and the Koonces, our colleagues in southern Togo, and the Robinsons, who are currently in the States preparing for the big move. The Musanze Team, minus the Robinson family

Please pray not only for their comings and goings, but also that God would bless them with great experiences. Especially for their children, that God would use this trip to begin helping them deal with the coming uncertainty. Thanks and God bless!

How Did You Find My Blog?

Following are the top 5 Google keywords from the last week that were typed in and eventually led to this blog:

1) "Flooding in Togo" (glad I could help make people aware of this problem)
2) "Akpema" (this is the female initiation ceremony for Kabiye girls)
3) "Three village football schedule" (I have no idea on this one...)
4) "Emerson's Mission" (we'd like to clarify that it's God's mission; we're just along for the ride!)
...and finally, maybe the greatest keyword that has ever led to this blog...
5) "Madness, it's all madness!" (this was said by our good friend Faires Jones while he was visiting us here in Togo; his words will forever be famous!)

These are just the top 5...somehow, people continue to find us in weird ways!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

500 and Counting!

508 to be exact. That is how many CFA we can currently get for 1 of our American dollars. The CFA (SEE-fah) is our local currency here in Togo. We get paid in American dollars just like everybody else, but we must then withdraw money from the ATM here in town to pay for anything and everything. Living in a 100% cash society has it's challenges, and the fluctuation of currencies is just one of them.

For several months the exchange rate was about 420 CFA for each dollar, which meant that we had a lot less money. Let me give you a simple math example. If I take $1,000 worth of CFA out of the ATM at 420 CFA for each dollar, I get 420,000 CFA. If I take out $1,000 worth of CFA at 508 CFA for each dollar, I get 508,000 CFA. The difference in these two transactions is 88,000 CFA, or about $175!!! As you can see, a lower exchange rate greatly reduces our buying power here. Considering that we take thousands upon thousands of dollars out of the ATM each year becaause we live in a cash based society, having the CFA back up around 500 is a huge blessing to our personal lives here, and it also lets us help people more in our benevolence ministry.

It's interesting to me that the quick rise of the exchange rate has come hand in hand with the economic crisis is America. I'm not an economist, and I don't claim to know why these two events are linked, but they are. We have been praying for everyone in America as the financial crisis continues, but it may help you to know that your missionaries are a little better off now than they were a few weeks ago :)

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Reflections on the GracePointe Group

I want to share some of my thoughts on the first group of visitors from GracePointe, our sponsoring church in Montgomery, AL. No disrespect to Charles Campbell, who was truly our first visitor (singular) :)
This group brought an amazing set of gifts to the table. It was well balanced, and the 5 of them meshed together incredibly well despite many differences, like life stage, age, personality, and on and on. One of the best things about living in community as Christ-followers is that none of that really matters! Even taking that last sentence into consideration, describing this group in many ways involves putting them into groups but please note that this group was in no way divided!
First Let me talk about Scotty and Faires. These two guys provided the spiritual guidance and thoughtfulness that the group needed. Scotty is a great preacher, and like all great preachers, he always has a word from God ready and appropriate to any given situation. The man lives and breathes the Word of God! He was also very gung ho and ready for just about anything at anytime. He provided us with some comic relief as well, sometimes in the moment and sometimes upon further reflection. Scotty loved the beauty of the area of Togo where we live, espcially the coconut trees :)
Faires is a man that is very intimate with God; he knows His heart and is known fully by Him. It's great to be around someone who is so in tune with spiritual matters. He also knows his place in relationship to God; I heard him call himslef a sinner living only because of God's grace on more than one occassion. Faires is very tough as well. There are very few 67 year old people who could endure the physical hardships of a trip to Togo with it's 10 hours car rides, awful roads and hot weather, but Faires is not your typical 67 year old man. I'm only 31, and I hope that in 36 more years I will be half as tough as Faires! The man is also genuinely funny. He kept us all rolling with his often random comments coming from the backseat of the car or with a playful jab at one of us. "Madness, it's all madness!" will forever echo in my mind :)
When I picture Scotty and Faires, I see them sitting together in our rocking chairs out on the front porch. Those two spent HOURS out there!The conversations about God that streamed in through the windows at all hours of the day or night were a blessing to me, even if they didn't know I was listening...
Betsy and Sheal Lea...what a tandem! These two are obviously good friends, but they are friends in a way that doesn't exclude others, but draws them in instead. Betsy is my sister-in-law, but you can just scratch the in-law part. She is my sister, and I love her very much. She holds the distiction of being the first member of the Emerson side of the family to make a visit over here, narrowly beating out my parents by a month or so. Betsy experienced life here to the full. She has the ability to realize the meaningfulness of a moment while she is still in the moment. She is also a very thoughtful person. We felt loved and cared about by her in a major way. She is an emotional person, sometimes more so than she lets on, and she allows God to use that emotion to bless others. Betsy is also a true seeker; she loves God and wants to know Him more. She is mostly quiet about her spiritual side, but that is not because it is small or not important to her. Her love for God runs just below the surface, and it guides her actions daily. She played alot with the boys too, which is not a stretch for her since she has 3 of her own, and Caden will definitely remember her being here and spending time with him :)Shea Lea is awesome. She is fun, outgoing, energetic, organized and mindful of others. She brought something extra to the group, that "go get 'em" type attitude that can be very infectious (although Faires never quite caught it!). The rest of the group claims that they would have been lost without her organizational skills, and we could see that in her as well during her brief time here. One of the greatest things about Shea coming here was how passionate she became to be an advocate for us and to even join the GracePointe Missions Committee. We love knowing that we have another strong person fighting for us back home :) On a personal level, I realized that Shea and I have tons in common. We grew up during the same era, and we have lots of common experiences in our pasts. I enjoyed getting to know her as a friend during this trip! To top it all off, she makes awesome balloon animals, and she was a big hit with all of the Kabiye kids she interacted with :)Finally we come to Susan. Let me say first thing that Susan was one of the best visitors we have ever had over here, and a personal favorite of mine. She is the kind of person who loves people and refuses to let language be a barrier, using instead an endless supply of smiles, hugs, hand gestures and silliness to connect with them and communicate God's love. It pains me that an accident where she hurt her foot and neck cut down on her time out and among the people. Seriously, it pains me! I loved watching her out in the village those first couple of days, and the picture of Susan smiling and laughing as some village children touched her hair will be the one that I always carry with me. Susan is also a wonderful mother figure to April and I. She has that loving quality and compassion that only mothers who have raised grown children truly have, and she embraced April and I with that love. I know that God smiles when he watches Susan live her life, and she is a joy to everyone around her as well :)In summary, we were incredibly blessed by these 5 as individuals and as a group. The only thing we would have changed would have been more time with them, as they only had about a week to experience a month's worth of our lives and work. They just scratched the surface, but they did it with joy, great attitudes and a desire to learn. To Scotty, Faires, Besty, Shea Lea and Susan: We love you deeply, and we thank you for making the effort and sacrifice to come so far and visit us. We now have 5 people who better understand our lives and care immensely for us, and that will live on for a long time to come. God bless you!

Friday, October 10, 2008

Africa Moment #9 - Ghana 4 Obama

I guess this is more of a series of Africa moments. I have been informally interviewing alot of Africans lately, and they have so far been 100% for Senator Obama. It would be completely normal to see dozens upon dozens of Obama '08 bumper stickers, shirts, hats and even large banners on the streets and malls of just about any town in America. But to see this in Togo and even more so in Ghana just seems strange.
It shows me that the world is watching; it also shows me that many of these residents of small West African nations care more about who is president in my homeland than I do! I readily admit my apathy towards politics, but this election has something special about it, and its not Senator McCain :) Not since I was living in Italy in the fall of 2000 and saw the craziness of the Bush/Gore debacle unfold from afar have I been at all interested in who is running things. This year I may just drive the 6 hours down to the American Embassy and cast my vote. It would be incredible to think back and realize that it was a group of Ghanaians I met at the Accra airport while waiting for visitors to arrive that inspired me to jump back into the politial process!

Friday, September 19, 2008

Childhood Memories of Church

I have some vivid memories of what church was like when I was little. I remember how my friends and I would wait completely impatiently for the mandatory Wednesday night pre-Bible class worship time to be over so we could race upstairs to our room... Who finished first on a weekly basis was of the utmost importance in our lives. I remember every Bible class teacher I ever had, from Miss Ruth, to Miss Cindy, to Mr...oh wait, men aren't allowed to teach Bible class to kids until they are in high school :) Before that, it's a woman's role (please acknowledge the bleeding sarcasm in that sentence!).
What will my kids remember about church? I ask myself that most Sundays. Will they have any recollection that they were the only kid with the same color skin as them? Or will they be color blind, as we all should be? Will they remember chasing chickens and goats? Or will they remember being chased by African kids who would give anything just to touch their curly blond hair? Will they remember being passed around from woman to woman, each one taking their once in a very long while turn with the Yovo baby? Or will they remember passing person after person on the road, wondering if they have yet come to know Jesus? Will they remember playing on the wooden logs being used to prop up the falling mud wall of the church building? Or will they remember playing on the jungle gym at our traditional Sunday afternoon lunch spot?Whatever it is that my boys remember, I desperately hope that they remember it well. Our time in Africa will always be a part of who they are, and I want that to only be for the better. I pray for my boys each and every day, that they will be better people for what they have experienced here. Their memories will be different than just about everyone else's, and I trust that God will use their unique upbringing to bring glory to His name...

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Light And Momentary Troubles

We have become somewhat accustomed to the trials of living in Togo, often expecting bad things to happen for no good reason. What we have not learned is how to predict the crazy things that happen to our family. What kind of things you ask? Well, let us give you a small glimpse into the "light and momentary troubles" we have experienced these past few weeks. We don't write this to gather sympathy but to remind ourselves to see God's blessings amidst the trials.

First this...
Can you figure it out? That's the dryer on the right of the picture. Here's what happened...We had called our friend Adam (who is an amazing electrician!) to come fix a few small things for us. When he arrived it was raining; when he left it was raining. Not 3 minutes after he left we noticed the microwave was not on. Through some investigating of our own we discovered there were several sockets in the kitchen not working. We attempted to figure out which breakers ran those sockets. As Brett was flipping switches, we heard an odd buzzing sound. Within seconds we were smelling smoke. As we searched for the source, we discovered the smoke in our small laundry room. Thankfully the fire had stopped when we turned the breaker off. The wall around the socket was black and the dryer plug was completely melted into the socket. We quickly called Adam to return! He worked all afternoon to repair our problems (including the non-working sockets in the kitchen), even cleaning the black soot off our wall. Now this is NOT a common practice in Togo. Most workers do their work and leave their mess for someone else to clean up. But Adam, he took the time to not only clean up his mess but also the damage that had occurred before he even arrived. Aside from the cost of a few parts for the job, his labor only cost us $10! This is not the first time Adam has been a blessing to our family.

The other crazy occasion we experienced occurred about 3:30 one morning. Yes, I said morning. The weather has been very comfortable during the rainy season allowing us to sleep with the windows open (sorry Southerners who are experiencing heat during the day and night, but you have A/C anywhere and everywhere!). We were startled awake by the window blowing our curtains parallel to the ceiling. We both bolted out of bed and began rushing around closing windows as we knew the rain was either falling or would be very soon. I (April) began with our room as Brett (I learned later) headed for the playroom. We met at the boys' room. As I walking down the hall to the living room, I watched Brett slip and fall. The following thoughts happened at lightning speed: how could Corban's slobber still be on the floor, oh wait, that's water, oh my goodness, I can see the water in the air, oh no! the rain is flying in the windows! Brett are you OK? Quick, close the windows. It was at that moment we discovered that EVERYTHING was wet...tile floor, rug, couch, toys, computer, wooden chair (that we now know is stained because it was running off the chair onto the floor), pictures, walls, car seats and shoes (that were on the porch). We mopped up what we could, turned on the fans, and went back to bed. What else could we do? Nothing. Everything seems to be back to its original state and has dried out nicely.

We praise God that no one was injured during these two crazy experiences. It has taken me several days to put this post together. During that time Satan attacked our family once again. Brett seemed to catch a virus the guys on the team were passing around and Caden has something that is causing him to have diarrhea. I have never changed so many cloth diapers in one day! This is part of the reason it has taken me several days to write this post. So I ask you to pray for our family. For healing. For protection. For peace. For wisdom to see the blessings amidst the trials.

May we all learn to see the blessings of God during the times of joy and the times of stress.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Well Project Update

The well project that many of you have been praying about and even contributing funds to has had to be put on hold. Because of the excessive rains, the ground has become too saturated to drill. David Reeves (the lead guy on the project) decided to stop until at least the end of September and maybe even into October. This also has the advantage of allowing the villagers to finish up their work in the fields and harvest their crops, which will free more people up to help in the drilling process.
The drilling is very cheap to do but is also very labor intensive. Free labor is easy to come by when you are offering people a clean water well right near their home! Here are some pictures that I took out in the village of Ewede that show a little bit of the process. Basically you have two people shoving the pipe with the drill bit on the end into the small hole (about 4 inches in diameter) while two or more people pull on the rope that is attached to the pipe to help pull it back out of the hole. By some process I don't really understand, the water, dirt and sand is sucked up through the pipe and spit out onto the ground beside the hole. I can tell you from personal experience that this is hard work! It seems to use muscle groups that I have apparently never used even once in my entire life. Of course, the Kabiye take it all in stride an work as tirelessly as I would if I were merely raking leaves or washing my car. Seriously, those guys are amazingly tough and hard working! I always tell them, "Malaki tumiye ne mo noo deke", which means, "I only do work with my head". They always laugh at me in a slightly dismissive way :)Finally, this little guy wants to know, "Are YOU praying for the Kabiye and the Well Project?!?!?"

Monday, August 25, 2008

Africa Moment #8

If you're ever living in Africa and missing the comforts of home, why not try "Al Donalds"? They may only have one arch, but they have lots of mediocre, over-priced food, and that is all we really want, right?

Yes, it exists (in Lome'), and yes, we ate there. You even get your food in a dirty black plastic sack!!! Ah, Africa...

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Internet, Schminternet

Who needs the internet, really? Truth be told, we all do, in one way or another. Here in Togo, we have set up our lives to be somewhat dependent on a reliable internet connection, and as I sit here and type, I realize that we may have made a mistake on the front end :)

So few things are reliable here. After our house was struck by lightning almost 2 weeks ago, we didn't expect to have our phone line repaired (and thus our internet) for quite awhile. Even after visiting the telephone company office and being assured that a technician was on his way, we knew better than to really think that it would happen. And so, 2 weeks later, our phone line is finally fixed...but the internet still is not working. I'm sitting at a local restaurant that happens to have wireless internet (a marvel in and of itself) and pondering my next move. We have set up our lives to be dependent on the internet; after making that bed, we are now lying in it :)

My mom said that we must be doing some good things over here because bad things keep happening to us, and maybe there is wisdom in that. We will continue to take it in stride, and we ask everyone back home to do the same with us. We may not get back to you in a timely fashion, but we will eventually, we promise. We love and value you all so very much!

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Severe Flooding in Togo

You may remember that last year there were dangerous floods that killed and displaced thousands of people in northern Togo. Well, chaos is reigning once again, but this time the entire country is being affected. Torrential rains have done much damage already, including flooding fields, knocking out bridges and even taking lives, and the rainy season is not even close to being over. I am not exaggerating when I say that the country in many ways is teetering on the edge of disaster. You can read more about the current flooding here and here.

Please pray for our country and it's people as you read this post. Keep all of us in your prayers in the coming weeks, asking God to bring order to the current chaos. The flooding will surely affect our lives in some ways, in fact it already has, but it will be nothing compared to the suffering of the Togolese people living in villages and rural areas where the water gets out of control. Please Lord, have mercy!

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Akpema (God-Honoring Edition)

The traditional Akpema dancing
This past Saturday we attended an Akpema ceremony in the village of Kaacaade. Akpema (Ahk-peh-mah) is a traditional Kabiye ceremony that signifies a young girl is passing into womanhood. You can read a short article about it here. Normally this ceremony involves sacrifices, nudity in front of wide-eyed young men and sitting on a rock in front of village elders. Once on the rock, it is said that if the young woman lies about her sexual history, a swarm of bees will be released. If she has had an abortion, a python will appear between her legs.We enjoyed a great meal of rice with hot sauce and sulum after the ceremony, Yum!

It is easy to see that this is not a healthy cultural tradition that should be carried on in it's traditional form. Our team has encouraged the Kabiye Christians to come up with spiritually healthy alternatives to these traditional rites and ceremonies, and on Saturday we experienced our first taste of what that can look like.
video
While still incorporating aspects of the traditional ceremony such as ritual dancing and singing (see video above), the Christian Akpema put on by this Christian family also included songs of praise, prayers, blessings on the young girl, and the taking of the Lord's Supper. Afterwards a huge meal was served, and a joyful, happy atmosphere was in the air.This little girl had the best time out of anyone in attendance. Her joy was evident!

What a blessing it was for our family to attend this ceremony! Not only was it a very interesting and thought provoking afternoon, but above all, God was honored within the Kabiye culture. We have not come here to change this culture or to make the people like us and adopt our cultural norms; we have come to preach the Word that testifies that Jesus is Lord, confident that God will work within this culture to advance His Kingdom. To see that happening makes our insides sweet!The team ladies with the young girl, now a woman!Corban loved the singing and especially the drums


Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Elise' and Eli

A few weeks ago, a man named Assiki came into our lives. His wife, Lydia, was having an emergency birth at SOS, the crisis pregnancy clinic here in Kara, and he came to our house to ask if we could help them. We're not sure how he found our house (we haven't asked), but we're glad that he did. We had been praying that God would give us people to have relationships with in our neighborhood, and even though Assiki and his family live in a village about 10 minutes away, it was close enough :)Well, it turns out the birth was twin boys!!! They are named Elise' and Eli, and they were born 8 weeks premature; so far they are doing well. In the States they would undoubtedly still be in NICU or at least under pretty constant watch, but we are in Togo, and they were sent home just 3 weeks after they were born. We were able to visit them at their home recently, and we prayed for them and let them know that we are here to help whatever way we can. Assiki and Lydia are not yet Christians, and we are excited to see what develops in their relationships with God in the coming weeks and months. Please pray!!!We included this picture of Caden with the twins to give some perspective. Caden weighs about 25 pounds, and when this picture was taken, the twins weighed 1.6 and 1.8 kilos, respectively. That's about 3.5 pounds and 4 pounds! Please pray for their health, which is in God's hands...

Thursday, July 17, 2008

I Love Our Community of Believers

Sometimes they can be frustrating, but I must say that I love our Kabiye brothers and sisters so very much. Today one of the village church leaders rode his bike about 20 km all the way to my house just to let me know that his son has accepted Jesus and is going to be baptized next weekend. He asked me to come and to bring my whole family to celebrate with him. Praise God! I thank Him for sweet little joys amidst the hard work and struggles :)

UPDATE: Eyabene spoke to me in Kabiye, which I don't understand as well as French, and another teammate just informed me that 1) he was talking about his daughter, and 2) she's not getting baptized, but rather they are attempting to take a Christian approach to the female initiation ceremony. Ah, the joys of language learning! I'm actually impressed with myself that I understood as well as I did :)

Sunday, June 29, 2008

The "Rabbit Guy"

If you keep up with our family blog,
you might remember this guy:

He came to us with rabbits and has faithfully come to our home every day since Oct.'07 to feed and take care of them. We have increased his jobs as he has shown incredible responsibility for a teenager. He now takes care of our first set of bunnies, walks our dog daily, and even found us a bird for a cage we bought on the side of the road. One of the things I love the most about this young man is how he plays with Caden. He lets Caden hold the rabbits (sometimes a scary thing to witness), kicks soccer balls with him, helps him learn to learn throw balls, pulls him in his wagon, pushes him on the swing, and brings his nephew over for Caden to have someone to play with.

Just yesterday when I told Caden he needed to have shoes on if he was going to stay outside , Caden grabbed his sandals from me and took them to AklaEsso (his name means, "Who is greater than God?").

Several weeks ago, AklaEsso's father passed away. He came to work one afternoon and Brett noticed he seemed sad. (He is usually a very smiley guy.) When we found out what had happened, we gathered what food we had that we could send home to his family. About a week later, his mother, aunt, and sister all came to greet us and thank us for the food and more specifically for the work we give AklaEsso to do. We were proud to share with his family how thankful we are for him and the work that he does.


On Saturday, AklaEsso was baptized into Christ!

He invited Brett to the baptism and he gladly accepted the invitation. You see, AklaEsso's father at one time had told his son that he was not allowed to go to church. We prayed and were making plans to talk with his father when one day he just decided to allow AklaEsso to return to church. We praised God with him and continued to pray for his spiritual journey. Witnessing this incredible step was a joy to see and a blessing to be a part of.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Planting New Hope With Tears

The following is something one of our interns, Ben Fulfer, wrote in response to a few things he has witnessed recently while experiencing life with the Kabiye. We thought some of you might enjoy seeing things through a new set of eyes. Please take the time to read this...you will be blessed.

Trees are something to admire. They do so much and they do not get any props for it. A few things they do for us humans are the following: they give us shade, they let off oxygen (which we need to breathe), they can provides us food (fruit trees), they give us wood, and the list can go on and on. So when I went planting Mango trees in Africa for a cluster of small churches in the local villages I was excited. The trees were giving so much to those churches. We planted Mango trees, ninety three of them to be precise, around three churches. Those churches could now have a way to have shade, food (both mentioned earlier), but they also would gain respect by others in the villages. By planting these trees we were planting so much more than just planting more than bark and roots and leaves but we were planting hope for that church and the lives of the people in the villages. The people around those villages would see those trees as a beacon for something more to their lives, at least that is our hope. The feeling that was pumping through my veins as I saw the brilliant faces of the families we were helping you realized that these trees were a lighthouse in a dark place. The fruit from their branches would bring up strong willing kids and bring income for the church at the same time. I could not help but be filled with hope.

There is another thing that I could not forget about trees. That is, they do not sprout up in one day. By planting these trees we were depending on that church to take care of these trees and groom them into their full potential. They needed to bring water to the roots of the young trees. They needed to know that without their help this trees would not make it. But with their help these trees would grow to be strong centers in their churches. The bringing of life to these trees inspired and made me wanted to jump with joy.

A few weeks ago as we were digging wells in the village of Lassa Tchou and a older woman came to us telling a sad story. She told us of the recent death of a lady in the village. The lady who died had left a 9 month old baby behind. This baby's father, a man not of faith, decided that the baby was lost and left the village, in turn leaving the baby to die. The woman told us that the grandmother was taking care of the baby as best as she could but the baby had no way to get the milk it desperately needed (the lady was trying to get one of our team's girls to breast feed as we later found out). Well over the next few days and weeks we prayed for this baby. We continued to call and ask about the health and situation of the baby. We were told by his family that he was doing okay, but was not eating. So just a last week one of the missionaries went to the village and picked up the baby for they feared the babies condition was getting worse. When she (the missionary) got their she found a baby that looked more like a skeleton. The bones of this poor child of were so apparent and visible. She rushed him to a local hospital where the doctors tried to get the baby some food. The news came that the baby should pull through which relieved us all. However around lunchtime at that same day we got the news that the little boy died. The rest of the day was a rush of emotions as the missionary, myself and one other intern took the boy's family and body back to Lassa Tchou. When returning to the village we saw the village come and share a few words to the family. We (missionary, myself, the intern, the grandmother and what I assume to be an aunt of the boy) went into a hut and prayed over the lifeless body of the boy.

That day rattled me personally, for so many thoughts went running through my head. How could God, a God who had showed me two days earlier the hope of new life through planting trees, show me the terror of the loss of this baby's life. I hated the fact that this boy's life was taken and he had not even had the chance to experience life. I thought it was so unfair that I get the chance to experience all I have in this life, and that boy got to experience next to nothing.

On the car ride out to the village I watched the baby's family and the tears welled up in my eyes. I badly wanted to say something but I did not have any words (plus I do not speak their language). I wanted to know why God did not come down and show the boy the same hope he showed in the trees that I planted a few days earlier. The boy's family were not Christians, what did that show them? Did they show them they should come to Christ and watch their children die? This thoughts came like rapid fire to me and I was a crying mess. I tried so hard to fight it off for Africa culture does not show much emotion. But the pain was to real to bare.

I never want to be God, he has a hard job. However at the same time he is really good at what he does. I do not know why he allows children who are 9 months old die because they cannot eat. I do not know why he allows war to ravage our world. I do not know why he does a lot of the things we does. I know that God has given us free will and the chance to choose what we want with our lives. How cool is that? That the most powerful being allows us to choose our lives! However with that choice comes the messy sections of our lives. The dark places, for sin is ever apparent. God showed me over and over in my life that he can work through hard, messy, crappy situations. You know what, he can't stand that those things happen. He was hurt to his core just like I was that the boy died. However, God is so powerful that he can take that bad situation and make something new. I pray that through that situation something radical happens. What that looks like I have no idea. I hope that some how that those people saw Jesus through what happened through last week. Maybe the family of that boy saw some kind of love that they never have before, maybe their grief will spur them to ask questions about this universe. I have no idea. I just have the prayer that God will work his unmatched power in this crappy situation. Let us look at this way. While I was there crying for the immense pain of the family, I hope those tears fall and start making a puddle. A puddle of hope that begins to water a seed that God planted. And that seed turns into a tree that bears fruit that is eternal.

So I hope this inspires Christians to stop looking at things in the way of good and bad. Let us start looking at everything through the eyes of Jesus. Does that mean bad things will never happen. No! Does that mean we have to be super happy all the time and being that annoying non-sensitive kid. No! What it means when we laugh, laugh with the voice of God. When we dance let us dance with a total jig towards God. And when we cry let us cry tear of hope. For through my laughter God can show joy of bigger things. And through my sight we can see faith of the full potential of God's plan. And finally through my tears I hope to being planting new hope, and maybe I can enjoy some sweet mangos while I am at it.

You can read more about the Lassa Tchou (la-sa cho) infant who died by clicking on Becky Reeves' blog.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Language Learning

I want to give an update on my progress and also share some thoughts on language learning. After returning from our furlough during the month of April, I jumped right back into my Kabiye studies. The process looks a little different now than it did before furlough, but the idea is still the same: get out and speak it!Working on a lesson I wrote with Eyabane, a leader in the church in the village of Kaacaade

Instead of having class 4 times a week and studying straight out of the book, my language teacher and I have adopted a strategy of thirds. One-third book study, one third translating (English or French into Kabiye), and one-third heading out to the village together to get practice/correction/guidance in a hands-on way. So far, I am enjoying and benefiting most from the translation portion of my study time; I think this is because it helps me to see more clearly that Kabiye people don't say things the same way that I say them. Seeing something in English and then turning it into Kabiye sheds alot of light on the Kabiye way of phrasing things. The cool thing is, I am actually starting to think that way sometimes :)
Playing a Mancala-type game with my friend Nestor in the village of Legue Legue
Language learning is a funny thing. Just when you start to feel a little confidence in your abilities, you get knocked down and have to drag yourself up again. The ups and downs are full of both joys and frustrations, with very little in between, at least for me. I have found it to be an ever-evolving process, with some strategy or approach working well one day and then being barely useful the next. I have also found that it is a series of milestones and small victories. In the picture above, I am playing Mancala with my long-time friend, Nestor. We met on my internship 5 years ago and have spent alot of time together since then. Over the years, we have probably played about 20 or 30 games of Mancala, and I have never won; until this past Saturday!

Yeah, it's just a small victory, one win out of 30, but it gave me great joy. I immediately saw it's symbolic nature in relation to my language learning, showing that while they may be few and far between, a series of small victories will eventually win me fluency in the hardest task I have ever taken on: learning the Kabiye language.

Finally, I want to stress how I have seen that language is gift from God that only He can give. He formed the Kabiye language and knows it even more intimately than the Kabiye themselves. Please Lord, open my mouth to speak and my ears to hear!

Monday, May 26, 2008

2008 Interns

Our summer interns (there are 12 of them) are on their way to Togo. Please be praying for safe travels and for God to impact their lives this summer.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Semi-Final Furlough Thoughts

I know that I'll post again on this subject once I have done some processing, but for now I want to just throw some stuff out there while it's still fresh :)

- On the 8th day God created Malibu, California. My word that place is amazing!

-On our last Sunday at GracePointe, we were fairly anonymous; no big parade or blowing trumpets for our imminent return to Togo. And you know what? That was just the way we liked it. Being a missionary means that quite often you are in the spotlight. Whether you're the only non-Kabiye at a village church service or the only people who can pronounce the word Kabiye in an American one, the spotlight often burns bright and definitely gets old. I don't know how preachers do it every Sunday. Kudos to you, gentlemen!

- I'm just going to be open and honest here: sometimes when people find out that you are a missionary, you end up getting stuff or services for free. And you know what? I love it :) God touches peoples hearts in many different ways, and I am thankful for the ones to whom he gives a deep love for missionaries. You know who you are, and thank you...

- Having a brother who is also a great friend really helps fill my life with joy...and to think that he used to literally torture me...proof of God's redemptive nature :)

- I love it when people get excited about coming to visit us. There were several people while we were home who expressed an interest, and even if only half of them follow through, we'll be busy with visitors in the years to come...

- I really enjoy seeing movies in the theater. The atmosphere, the popcorn, the giant thing of pop, the candy, the cuddling up next to April (when the boys aren't there), all of it. We took Caden (and sort of Corban) to see his first movie, and it was a blast. We saw Horton Hears a Who and we highly recommend it. "A person is a person, no matter how small"...

- I always thought that my nephews would bring me great joy, and then my own sons would come, and that joy would lessen. I was wrong...

- It's kinda too bad that most fast food is horrible for our bodies, because some of it is really, really good...I had this thing called (not making this up) "The Baconator" at Wendy's, and it was good, really good. Too bad my heart stopped momentarily just after the last bite...

- There are alot more people in America who seem to be strong in God's Kingdom than I previously thought. Maybe it was just a oversight on my part, but I am encouraged for the future of the Body in America. Lots of people, young and old and in between, are on fire. Maybe I just have a better understanding now of what "strong in the Kingdom" really means...

More later...

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

More Furlough Reflections

One week to go for furlough 2008. It's been a great ride in every way, but we're getting close to being ready to be home in Togo. We say close because how can you want to go anywhere when you're enjoying Malibu??? :)

- HD television really is much better than the regular stuff.
- Drivers in this part of California are incredibly kind and courteous to pedestrians, and those same pedestrians do a great job of respecting laws and using common sense. This is literally the exact the opposite of my life in Togo.
- Tonight we sang songs old and new with a few thousand other believers, and I cried through the first 4 songs. My respect for corporate worship has never been at a higher level in my entire life.
- I love watching the NBA playoffs!
- Bonding with our sponsoring church takes a great amount of energy, and it is worth everything we've poured into it.
- We love our families, and not just because they are our families; we truly enjoy being around them.
- We have incredible friends and we are humbled by their love for us.
- We saw Uncle Sam Shewmaker and his better half Nancy tonight. What a blessing they have been to our lives and so many others!
- The #1 thing I would add to the list of things I can find to drink in Togo would be the Aloha Pineapple Smoothie (with an immunity boost) from Jamba Juice. #2 would be Blue Moon :)
- Theology in the Church of Christ is changing, and the change is for the better. Much of the messed up theology from the Church of Christ I knew growing up will soon be gone. I pray that my generation and the ones to come always search for a better understanding of what God wants from us and are always willing to grow and change as the Spirit leads.
- Everything is easy here in America. Seriously. REALLY easy!

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Our Home in Togo

Here is a video of our home in Togo. After many questions and requests for pictures and video of what our home is like, here is our response! You might want to grab a snack, it's kind of long...

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Furlough Reflections

Well, furlough '08 is 4 days old already. Here are some thoughts I've had since arriving on Thursday...

- I like brushing my teeth with cool, fresh water straight from the tap.
- Cold weather is so underrated that it sickens me.
- What is cold or hot depends completely upon perspective.
- I have a really great family.
- Everything is easy here.
- I really like my life in Togo.
- People watching is really fun when you haven't watched Americans in a whole year! What a funny bunch we are!
- I truly do understand why people don't like it (or even hate it in some cases), but I really like Walmart. Sorry.
- March Madness!
- I wish Netflix delivered to Togo.
- Worshiping, fellwoshiping and serving with hundreds of other believers is a gift from God and a part of His plan for our lives that should be cherished and held onto with the utmost urgency.
- If this economy is headed towards (or is already in) a recession, you sure wouldn't know it by outward appearances only.
- Order and chaos both have their place in this world. Too often one is viewed positively and the other negatively.
- Kohls is a great store and I love shopping with April!
- My brother and sister-in-law are really great people that I have loads of respect and love for.
- Having a 2 year old is simultaneously the greatest and most frustrating thing on the face of the earth.
- Having a sweet 4 month old is mostly just great :)
- Seeing people that you haven't seen in 12 months is great, but at times a little awkward. However, I love the genuine hugs that we have received from so many people since we arrived on Thursday. God is giving us what we need!

More later...

Saturday, March 22, 2008

The 2008 Kabiye All-Church Retreat

The '08 Kabiye ACR is underway! This year's retreat is co-hosted by the villages of Kaacade and Hade Te Yo, and it was planned almost entirely without our help, something we are very thankful for. We began on Friday night with singing and prayer time, and continued today with more singing, teaching times, and lots of great fellowship and prayer. I even gave my first talk in Kabiye! It was short, only about 5 minutes, but it was alot of fun. My Kabiye brothers and sisters were so gracious and patient with me...

Here are some pics of the night. I will update more next week, hopefully even with video of my lesson. Please be praying for this gathering and for all of the Kabiye churches and believers to be one in Christ!Under the shelter they built specially for the ACR.
Three robbers attack during the Good Samaritan skit!
The poor guy was left for dead...these guys did a great job with the drama!
Trying to get the generator running so we could have lights. Pretty much every single warning in the owners manual was violated at some point during the setup process...C'est Afrique!
Kpatcha and Jean-Marie in deep discussion...

The retreat will wrap up on Sunday with a holy gathering and time of worshiping the Lord. May God's Spirit continue to be poured out on us all!