Saturday, June 24, 2017

Finding company in great books

We have been in Nairobi for nearly 4 weeks now, addressing Bob’s sickness and doing everything we can to promote his return to health. We finally got a positive diagnosis this week--Bob tested positive for the Epstein-Barr virus (aka Mono). During this month of being ‘sidelined’ for sickness, what is a good introvert thing to do? Read, of course! Bob hasn’t had much physical or mental energy, but reading a book together provided a good low-key distraction. Either together or separately we’ve been reading an eclectic mix of interesting books this month, some that have felt particularly relevant to our situation. So I thought I would share what some of them are.

1. A Long Walk to Water, by Linda Sue Park.
This based-on-a-true-story narrative describes the lives of two children in South Sudan, in two different decades. It is really written for older children (middle school?), but adults would enjoy it too! It is a great description of the every-day challenge of life for a refugee or people in a situation like South Sudan, and the perseverance and resourcefulness it takes to survive. A powerful and poignant story!

2. Into the Niger Bend, by Jules Verne.
We stumbled on this novel in the library of the guest house here in Nairobi. We wanted something light to read aloud, and Jules Verne’s humorous dialog and eccentric characters made us laugh when life felt otherwise rather discouraging. Unfortunately, this book is just the first section of a larger novel, so it left the characters stranded and under attack in the middle of the Sahara dessert, and we are not able to access the next book in the series. And because it is one of Jules Verne’s lesser-known works, there does not seem to be a kindle version. If anyone can find one, please let us know!

3. A Concise History of South Sudan, Edited by Anders Breidlid, et al.
The authorized history of South Sudan, used as a textbook in high schools within the country. We found it in a bookstore in Juba, and I thought it would be a good historical introduction to our new host country. We appreciate that it starts the history as far back as archeological evidence allows, thousands of years ago, and describes the origins and movements of peoples in the region, including the illustrious history of several kingdoms and ‘black pharoahs’. When the Bible refers to Cush (e.g. Isaiah 18), it is probably referring to modern-day Sudan. I also enjoy reading about the distinctions and origins of the many tribes of South Sudan, although it gets to be more detail than I can take in as a newcomer!

3. Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott
Another book I stumbled on in the guest house library. I don’t consider myself a ‘writer’, but this book of advice about writing was helpful and humorous. As a reader, I often fall into the perception that the book or article I am reading was produced as the words just spilled effortlessly onto the page as fast as the author could type them. The book is a good reminder of how much difficult mental work goes into writing, and of the importance of editing and revising (which I don’t do nearly enough of).

4. Extreme Prayer, by Greg Pruett
As we were praying for Bob’s recovery and asking for prayer from others, I remembered this book, recommended to me a few months ago. I found a Kindle version (e-books are incredible for those of us living internationally!), and started reading about Greg Pruett’s testimony of life and mylinistry in West Africa. I appreciate that much of his growth in faith and his commitment to pray came out of humbling experiences. Isn’t that the way with all of us? This book is a wonderful inspiration to consider God’s vision for His Kingdom and how He wants us to join him.

5. The Road from Coorain, by Jill Ker Conway
I found an online book club that is reading this book, and decided to join in the discussion. In this memoir of her early life, Conway describes growing up on a sheep farm in the Australian Outback in the 1930s and 40’s. She gives vivid descriptions of the bleak landscape, the challenges of raising sheep in the arid climate, and the unique cultures that her family mixes in. Her father dies early in life, and her family pushes on through that tragedy, drought, and the depression of the 1930’s.

6. Hinds Feet on High Places, by Hannah Hurnard
After we finished Into the Niger Bend, we stumbled on this classic, again in the guest house library, and it felt like a good one to read together. In this season of struggling with sickness and having to surrender our plans and control, this book feels so applicable and encouraging. The analogy and imagery of this story are incredible, and it is evident that this is written out of much life experience and encounters with God. One quote that stands out is when the Shepherd chides Much-Afraid after an encounter with her enemies, “When you wear the weed of impatience in your heart instead of the flower Acceptance-with-Joy, you will always find your enemies get an advantage over you.”

Reading Hinds Feet on High Places at the guest house in Nairobi

We are so grateful for the company of these books that have inspired us, spoken truth, or provided an escape from the drudgery of being sick. Any other books you want to recommend to us?

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Surrender

“Father…not my will, but yours, be done.” 
Luke 22: 42


On Wednesday morning of this week Kristi went for a bird watching jaunt with the Nature Kenya group.  I stayed at the guesthouse and took some time to rest and do some therapeutic, meditative coloring.  While I was tempted to color in the page with the theme of “Healing,” I was drawn in my spirit to color in the dramatic “S” for “Surrender.” 


Surrender feels like the greater, all encompassing theme of our lives, while of course we are earnestly seeking and praying for healing.  We came to Nairobi three weeks ago from Juba regarding a couple of health issues which were badgering me.  First was a fish bone I swallowed in Kinshasa which left my throat perpetually disturbed.  Second was an inexplicable tiredness and lethargy that still won’t let me go.  Over the last three weeks we have been to see the doctor four times and had two multitudinous rounds of tests performed. 

Last September we surrendered to God our desire to have children.  Right now we feel like we are having to surrender something we too often take for granted, our health.  During these weeks of convalescence we have to take things day by day, depending on how I feel and how much energy I have.  We have also had to surrender our plans to the Lord.  Our plan was to begin language learning three weeks ago and jump in with both feet our new life and ministry in Juba.  Instead, we find ourselves exiled by choice in another country, shuttling back and forth across busy Nairobi to see doctors, also resting and rejuvenating ourselves physically, emotionally and spiritually. 

Bob under his favorite tree at the Amani Gardens Inn 


The peace and tranquility of Amani Gardens
has been a 
salve to the soul


While we fully anticipate and hope/plan to return to Juba, we have even had to surrender our sense of call.  Indeed, we feel called to serve in South Sudan, but when one’s physical well being gets pummeled, you begin to ponder your call.  It has felt like everything is up in the air until the ever elusive signs of improvement in health and well being reveal themselves.  As our days prolong here in Kenya, it feels like we also need to surrender our reputation, not knowing whether or not we are able physically to fulfill the call set before us. 

For me personally, I have also had to re-surrender my life to God during this time.  Last week on Wednesday night Kristi had just sent out a prayer email to friends and family when I was suddenly hit with a terrible case of the chills, complemented with a fever which seemed on the verge of spiking.  As I haven’t had a fever in years and am not well acquainted with having chills in such a deleterious manner, I felt in my heart that maybe God was now calling me home to Him; I had to surrender my desire to live and be at peace with the possibility of my days on earth ending here and now.  Thankfully, by God’s grace, my fever turned after a few hours in the night.  I rejoiced the following morning, feeling that my life was restored.  On that note, it has felt like a spiritual battle with forces set against us and against the good future God has for us.  Yet, we are confident that in the strong, all powerful Name of Jesus we will prevail! God has even spoken to me reassuringly in a dream about His guiding Hand of protection.       

Our hope and prayer is that this time in Nairobi will prove to be a time to recover physically from these ailments, to recover emotionally from the last few months of huge transitions related to our call, and to regain our spiritual bearings before re-engaging our new role in South Sudan.  Our time here in Nairobi has proven to be a soul searching time, as we have had to surrender our health, our plans, our sense of call, our reputation and even our mortal lives to the Lord.  Our firm desire and resolve remains to get well and return to Juba.  Pray with us for God’s healing and that it would come very soon!  Most importantly, please pray with us that our will aligns with God’s will as we embark upon this new season of life and ministry.  “Asante sana!” (Thank you so much!)   


“S” for Surrender

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Detour

We felt like we were starting to know our way around Juba --finding things in the market, taking rickshaws, and practicing new phrases in Juba Arabic. We were reviewing our language learning books and preparing to start lessons this week with a tutor. And then a few physical/medical issues stopped us in our tracks and forced us to change our plans.

On our last evening in Congo three weeks ago, we celebrated with a nice dinner of fish. Bob ate his with bidia, which camoflauged a fish bone in his mouth until he felt it poking his throat on the way down. We hoped that the bone had not gotten stuck in his throat, but when he still felt like something was caught there two days later, it was hard to be sure. We saw a doctor as we passed through Ethiopia en-route to Juba, who said that there was no bone in Bob’s throat, but that there was some inflammation where perhaps the bone had poked him. He gave Bob some antibiotics and sent us on our way. Good news! Except that, two weeks later, Bob’s throat still periodically felt sore or clogged, and it was disconerting that it did not seem to be healing.

Just as we were wrestling with these thoughts of Bob’s throat, he started feeling very weak, achy, and tired. We went to the doctor in Juba, thinking perhaps he had malaria. The malaria test was negative, but the doctor prescribed the treatment for malaria anyway, given that it could be in the early stages.   He also examined Bob’s throat with a flashlight, but did not have any equipment beyond that to asses what was irritating his throat. After a couple more days of resting, praying for healing, and seeking guidance but not feeling any better, we decided to come to Nairobi to see a doctor and get more tests.

We arrived in Nairobi on Monday of this week, and saw a doctor and had a battery of tests on Tuesday. We are very grateful for the encouragement to come and get treated, for the reassurance of ruling things out or knowing what is going on physically, and also for the time and space to rest and recover. It is humbling to be forced to change plans and accept physical limitations. We had only been in Juba two weeks before suddenly leaving again for Nairobi. But sometimes being humbled and forced to change our timetable is exactly what we need to ensure that we depend on God and the people around us rather than just on ourselves. So we are waiting and trusting God to restore health and energy so that we return to Juba and to language learning. And in the mean-time we enjoy some ice cream, cool weather, and bird watching while we pass the time in the big city of Nairobi.

Amani Gardens Bob reading

Relaxing in the shade at the guest house in Nairobi

IMG_3891

We appreciate the lush trees and flowers at the Amani Gardens Guest House

Friday, May 26, 2017

Connecting through Language


The other morning Kristi and I found ourselves in a lively conversation in the doorway of our apartment with Isaac, one of the guards, and Susan, who cleans all the apartments on our floor.  What was striking about this conversation is that most of it was in Juba Arabic**.  It began with the basic greetings that we have been learning, but quickly shifted to new vocabulary as Isaac and Susan saw pictures of our families on the wall mounting and began pointing fingers and asking questions.   We quickly learned the word for father, “abuu,” mother, “uma,” and sister, “okut.”  Susan pointed to Kristi in one picture from 8 years ago, and I responded, practicing in Arabic, “My wife.” “You have two wives??”, Susan exclaimed, and we laughed and assured her that no, it was really Kristi in the picture. We then learned that Susan was one of three wives, and has 10 children.

Later that morning a colleague asked Isaac, “So are you now speaking Arabic with Bob and Kristi?”  While our Arabic is still quite limited, we are making a little bit of progress each day.  Yesterday I was literally overjoyed when I figured out, after she had just left, what Susan had asked me – “Ita rija kalaas?”  (meaning, “You have returned?”).  I just about jumped off the couch and shouted when I realized she had introduced the verb “return” and the perfect tense which ends with the word “kalaas.” 

While learning vocabulary and grammar can certainly be an arduous affair, it can also be fun as it connects us to the people we have come to live amongst and serve.  In so many ways language is about connecting with people.  Even as we go down to the small shops along the way to buy this and that, if we can greet folks and say a few things in their language, it builds instant rapport.  While many people here speak some English and we can technically “get by” with English in our respective work roles, the Arab influence in South Sudan is still quite strong, so learning Arabic will help us build relationships with those we rub shoulders with everyday and strengthen relationships with colleagues.  It also helps us as we travel around the city and shop. 

While we served in Congo, we had no choice but to learn the language of the people.  Learning and speaking Tshiluba and then French built a permanent bond.  We hope that a similar phenomenon can happen here.  Having learned Tshiluba and French gives us confidence in learning a new language, Juba Arabic.  Of course many African tribal languages are spoken here also – Anywaa, Madi, Bari, Shilluk, Dinka and Nuer to name just a few.  Sadly, it will be impossible to learn all the mother tongues of folks we will grow to love, but hopefully we can learn a few greetings and phrases from these languages as well, showing an interest in them as valued persons with deep roots in this place.  So, with all that sharing about language, we close with the familiar Arabic blessing, “Salaam alekum.”  May God grant you peace.   

**The localized form of Arabic in South Sudan is colloquially called “Juba Arabic” – a pidgin form of Classical Arabic.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Stuff

In the midst of our multiple recent moves and transitions I’ve been thinking a lot about possessions. After more than a year in the U.S., we packed up to return to Africa. I struggle every time we go “across the pond” with the tension of wanting to ‘pack light’ and not have too much stuff, versus wanting to have some of those things that will make life easier or which we can not get in Africa—like a bar of chocolate, a fun movie, or enough vitamin C. Most of our possessions had been left in our apartment in Kananga, because we anticipated returning there to continue working. In the process of moving to South Sudan, we anticipated returning to Kananga to say good-bye and collect some of our things. But because of current insecurity around Kananga, we had to plan for the contingency that we might have to cancel those plans at the last minute. Packing felt particularly challenging to me, wanting to bring enough to ‘survive’ if we could not go to Kananga, but also not bringing much since we anticipated getting most of our clothes, books, and other things from Kananga to take to South Sudan.

In the midst of our preparations, we heard from a few colleagues who had been evacuated from South Sudan during times of insecurity wihtin the last 5 years or so…at least two of those colleagues lost everything in the upheaval. They left their homes with a backpack and never returned. One warned us not to take anything to South Sudan that we did not want to lose. But, at the same time, we want to feel ‘at home’ in Juba and settle in there. So how to pack??

Just before we left the U.S. in April, I started reading the book Missions and Money, which explores the issue of ‘affluence’ in the Western missionary movement. Our Western culture is significantly more affluent than the countries we are sent to, especially those that Bob and I have found ourselves in. I am challenged and convicted by reflections from both westerners and Africans about the gulf that can exist between us because of our western sense of self-sufficiency, the value we place on privacy and private ownership, and our abundance of ‘stuff’ that we are so attached to. How can we preach Jesus’ gospel - ‘good news for the poor’—if we are clinging to our Western comforts? And truly, in our personal experience, one of the hardest aspects of living in a country like Congo is being confronted with the struggles of poverty in the people we relate to on a daily basis.

We gave our map of the tribes of Congo (a treasured
posession!) to Pastor Mboyamba’s family

When we arrived in Kananga, I was grateful to see everything in our apartment still there, safe and sound. We collected books – some that have been so useful or insightful to us that they feel like old friends. But at the same time we realized that most of what we found in our house, we could live without, or we could buy another in Juba. We started making piles of clothes, books, kitchen supplies, linens, and other things to give away. We had joked before that our apartment was almost like a museum of local paintings and carved figures—so we picked just a few pieces as momentos and piled up the rest to let our friends choose from. As Bob described in his post about Kananga, whenever friends came to see us and say good-bye, we invited them to take something. Some would ask for something specific – a basin, a radio, a skirt, or a picture of us. It was a little scary for me at first, inviting people to take whatever they wanted, but also very liberating. One friend in Kananga joked that you never realize how much stuff you have until you have to move! We gave away nearly half of our clothes and books, and even with the remaining, it felt like we had too much. Finally, we squeezed our stuff into five suitcases – two of them just for books—and took off from Kananga.

Donating some books to UPRECO, the seminary in Kananga

Our baggage as we leave Kinshasa for Juba

We landed in Juba last week with 6 suitcases, and found two there which had been brought previously by our very kind colleagues. A lot of stuff can fit into 8 suitcases! We unpacked, and are settling in to our very nice and modern furnished apartment here in Juba. And now I find myself constantly adding to a mental list of things we need – a frying pan, bowls, tupperware…and of course shelves and baskets to put all the stuff into! I’m trying hard to take it slow and try to get by with less, even if it means washing dishes after every meal or not having exactly the right utinsel. But mostly, I am grateful for this upheaval and long period of transition that has helped me realize how little is really essential, and the value of focusing on relationships and memories that last forever.

“Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” (Luke 12:34)

“Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5)