Saturday, July 29, 2017
Friday, July 21, 2017
We laughed as we greeted the staff of the small grocery store down the street, and they quizzed us on their names. They were excited to see Bob, especially, since he doesn’t get out to the store as often since being sick. Anwar, the butcher, came over from the adjoining shop when he heard our voices. They would rattle off a question in Arabic, then repeat it or simplify it for us until we could understand. They were excited that our Arabic is improving, and seem eager to help us practice and also impatient for us to be able to converse fluently.
Anwar grabbed Bob’s hand and led him over to his side of the store. Anwar is a large man with a commanding presence, who likes to laugh and joke. We had actualy intended to buy some meat and had just learned how to say a few types of meat used here (goat, sheep, chicken, beef). Anwar pointed to the different cuts of meat, explaining the names of everything. He also introduced Bob to the other staff, wanting to make sure that we knew everyone’s name. We were the only people in the store, fortunately, and all of us laughed as they asked us questions and tested our limited Arabic.
We finally settled on beef, and Bob successfully said the phrase we had learned “I want half a kilo of beef meat.” Anwar looked pleased that Bob was able to repeat the precise phrase he had taught him for ‘boneless meat of the cow’. Most shop keepers know enough English to use English with their prices, but we had just learned our numbers in Arabic, and were able to practice with the prices. Anwar offered to cut up the meat for us and put it in a bag. We took it over to the cashier (right next to the meat counter), and the cashier asked us “What do you have?” We realized he was asking just to test our Arabic, but we took the opportunity to say again “this is half a kilo of beef.”, and confirm the price “tul tul miya wa hamseen” (350 pounds).
We left the store, feeling grateful for the warm reception and the opportunity for some good Arabic practice. While Bob is still recovering and his activity is limited, we are trying to seize every oportunity to interact and practice what we learn in our lessons. This gives you a picture of one of those opportunities – please pray for good daily interactions, especially as we seek to build relationships using our new language.
Sunday, July 16, 2017
Thursday, July 6, 2017
This morning we were sitting under a tarp sipping tea at a road-side stand in Juba. We watched people passing on the road, women frying bean-chapati wraps, and the three young women who were busy washing cups and serving tea in their makeshift stall. Business slowed, and they circled their chairs around a bowl of beans. One of them beckoned us over. “Come, eat,” she said invitingly, first in Arabic and then in English. They added chairs in their circle, and we joined them, dipping pieces of bread in the common bowl of beans. We only know a few words in Arabic, but we were able to introduce ourselves and ask their names, and it felt like a meaningful connection. “We’re eating local food.” Bob whispered between mouthfuls, “This is what we’ve been praying for!” Truly – just because of the way things worked out, we had no yet eaten truly ‘local’ food with South Sudanese people…until today.
We returned to Juba from Nairobi on Monday. Bob is still recovering from the Epstein-Barr virus, but we are slowly re-engaging with life here in Juba as his energy allows. Before going to Nairobi, we had been in Juba for two weeks, and had just begun to find our way around the city and get settled in our apartment. But those two weeks were enough to make it feel like we were coming ‘home’ this week, even though we had been gone in Nairobi for five weeks. We were so grateful to finally unpack our suitcases after our long absence and reconnect with new friends and colleagues.
On Tuesday, as we were eating dinner and reflecting on our first day back in Juba, Bob said, “Even though I don’t feel 100% physically, I feel much more ready now emotionally and mentally to engage in life here.” And it does feel like even with our current limited activity, we’ve explored new places in the neighborhood, practiced new phrased in Arabic, taken the bus to the end of the line near us, gone to the immigration office and gotten three-month visas, and as of today had tea at a road-side stall and shared a meal. So many little steps that go towards making us feel much more ‘at home’ here than before.
When we were preparing to return to Juba, my Dad suggested the phrase “Walk slowly, and carry a grateful heart” to use as a repetitive prayer, or ‘breath prayer’. As Bob is stil recovering, we need to remember not to push too hard or too fast. And we have much to be grateful for, and being concsious of those things helps us to have the right attitude that can weather the challenges. Yesterday when the sun finally cooled down around 6pm, we were strolling down a dirt road in our neighborhood, watching kids playing and men drinking tea. We recited to ourselves, “Walk slowly, and carry a grateful heart” and then we started naming some of the many things we were grateful for in that day. So many things! After our weeks in Nairobi dealing with sickness and being forced to take a slower pace, we are more aware of our own weakness, reminded of our dependence on our Good Shepherd, and grateful for the simple pleasures and victories of life.
Watching the sunset from our apartment – one of the many things we are grateful for!
Saturday, July 1, 2017
In all of these cases I am impressed by the Christ Church's willingness to highlight those we too often push to the margins. The "differences" expressed by these children of God remind us all of our need to find meaning and help beyond ourselves. The wheelchair bound preacher from last Sunday cited Paul's testimony regarding the thorn in his flesh. Three times Paul petitions to Lord to remove the thorn, yet the Lord's gentle response to Paul is, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness" (2 Corinthians 12: 9a). The preacher gave testimony that had he not had the accident he probably would be arrogant. He shared how God often likes to "stir the waters of our lives," shaking things up so that we recognize our dependence on Him. The preacher also described how meat is only flavorful and juicy when it is cooked. The fire or flame of the stove brings forth these juices. The unspoken implication is that the fires of sorrow and suffering in our lives add new dimensions of growth and provide space for God's creative work to happen.
Two nights ago Kristi and I watched the movie "Joni" which chronicles the true life story of Joni Eareckson Tada who was paralyzed at the age of seventeen from a diving accident. The film masterfully shows the horrific struggles she faced during the early years after the accident, but how faith in Jesus Christ took hold of her and she then blossomed in ways unimaginable. In one poignant scene, she shares with a disabled Vietnam veteran how she would rather be in a wheelchair with Jesus in her life than be able bodied without Him. I was moved by her words which affirm how our weaknesses and suffering humble us and force us to recognize our need for love and help outside of ourselves. Our setbacks, our sorrows and our sufferings drive us to the One who can heal all of our inner wounds and pain and give our lives true meaning and purpose.
(Image borrowed from this website)
These last five weeks have been weeks of struggle for Kristi and I as I was diagnosed with the Epstein-Barr Virus. It feels like God is stirring the waters in our lives. The Lord has permitted me to fall victim to this Virus which has greatly weakened my body and caused severe achiness. Kristi and I have been forced to radically adjust and change our plans. The Lord has given us a forced season of rest. We have been obliged to stop and take a good look at our lives and to surrender all to the Lord - our health, our hopes and desires, our plans, our sense of call, our reputation and even our mortal lives. Our Heavenly Father, in His infinite wisdom and mercy, has upset our well contrived and manufactured plans. The Lord Jesus has reminded us of our need, our utter dependency upon Him alone. We can do nothing without the leadership and enabling of God's Presence and Spirit.
And so I pray,
Father, thank you for stirring the waters in our lives. It has not been fun and it certainly was not expected, but I have now come to recognize this season of being set aside as necessary for the larger and greater work you seek to do in both Kristi and I, and for that I am profoundly grateful. I bless your Holy Name. Thank you for sending me this unexpected visitor called Epstein-Barr. I love you Lord - keep me humble and needy! Hidden in You, Bobby.
I am grateful that my body now seems to be on the upswing. With my doctor's blessing, we plan to return to Juba, South Sudan, on Monday. For that we are profoundly thankful. Yet, we are also grateful for being set aside and more fully prepared for all that lies ahead in our new call. May God be glorified in our lives - particularly in those places of challenge and pain.
** This blog post is an amended entry from Bob's personal journal which he has been writing in quite frequently lately! :)