Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Joyeux Noël

Merry Christmas! It is far from a winter wonderland today - our indoor temperature is currently (9:00pm) 87° F. We have had a very full Christmas holiday.

We did have some beautiful Christmas decorations that we got from another family that left Mali just before we arrived. We have a wonderful tree - complete with lights and decorations. And we received some packages from the States with lots of gifts. We have had a wonderful mixture of a Western style Christmas (minus most of the baggage and stress that accompany the day) and an African celebration of the birth of Christ.

Christmas Eve was busy. We had lots of visitors come by our house to greet us throughout the day. We left the house around 9:00pm to attend Christmas Eve services at Pastor Christophe's church in Sabalibougou where we've celebrated all of our Christmases in Mali. The service had a lot of music by the church choirs and several drama presentations by the youth. The dramas are always popular and the crowd really enjoyed them. The service including the dramas were all in Bambara, so our growing French skills didn't help much. But the dramas were easy to understand via the physical actions. We didn't get much of the humor, but we enjoyed them none the less. The service ended shortly after midnight and the all night party started. We chose to leave just before the music and dancing started to get a little sleep and wake up early for a little family time in the morning.

Like any normal 11 year old, Cole was the first to wake up this morning despite getting home so late. He was eagerly waiting for us to wake up and open gifts. We did have enough time to squeeze in opening a few things before leaving again for church. We arrived just as the service was getting started. The new church building at Sabalibougou isn't finished yet, but canopies were set up inside the partially completed church building to accommodate the large crowd on hand for Christmas.

Music was again a large part of the Christmas morning service. The church has both Bambara and French choirs. Each choir performed several numbers and dances. It was very uplifting. Our video of the week is one of the songs by the Bambara choir. You can view it here.

Santa made an appearance at the church service this morning. It was very entertaining to see an African depiction of Santa based on what they've seen in th West. One of the funniest things was his white gloves, which were rubber surgical gloves. Cole really got a kick out of Santa's walking stick which was a florescent light bulb. The western world is slowly beginning to creep into Mali. Sadly, the secular side of Christmas is starting to cloud was has been purely a religious day until now.

Pastor Christophe presented a message about Mary and her obedience in the Christmas story. Because he was preaching in Bambara, again we didn't understand much of what he was saying. But we know the Lord was using him to reach the people of the church.

The church was decorated in typical Malian style for the Holidays -- beach balls, flashing Christmas lights, and shining mylar decorations hanging from the ceiling. It was very festive...tacky, but festive. Unfortunately, we were too busy this year to have Christmas clothes made for our family with the special Malian Church Christmas cloth, but it was exciting to see everyone in church wearing their new clothes all in matching fabric.

The service ended at noon when a Christmas meal was served to everyone in attendance. We gathered in small groups around large bowls of food. We had yams covered with vegetable sauce. We ate Malian style...dipping our fingers into the bowl. The meal was delicious and a wonderful way to close our Christmas celebration with the Church.

We then followed Pastor Christophe home for a short visit with him and his family before finally heading home. When we arrived back home, we finished opening our presents, took a short nap, then shared a delicious chicken dinner prepared by Julie.

In all, it was an excellent, yet exhausting Christmas. We trust your Christmas has also been filled with joy and goodness for you and your family.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Pass the Tabaski Sauce Please

Today is Tabaski (also known as Eid al-Adha in the Arab world) a very important Muslim holiday. It is one of the bigger holidays in Mali. Tabaski is the day of sacrifice to celebrate Ibrahim's (Abraham's) obedience to Allah (God) by sacrificing his son Ismael (Ishmael)...but instead, Allah stopped Ibrahim at the lost moment before he killed his son and provided a ram to sacrifice in its place. To celebrate, each Malian family sacrifices a ram on Tabaski and a big feast is offered in every home. We are not going to miss the sound of our neighbor's crying sheep outside our bedroom window all week. Everyone wears their best clothes...in fact, most people will have a new outfit made just for today. It's neat to see everyone all dressed up.

If this story sounds familiar, it's because it is very close to the Christian story of Abraham and Isaac. This is one of the areas where Islam and Christianity share a similar story but with a couple of important differences.

Muslims accept the Old Testament as a valid holy book. The historical figures and accounts are part of the Muslim faith. But in this story, we see a dramatic difference that begins the separation in our faiths despite our shared history. Ibrahim and Abraham are the same person. Islam knows him by his Arabic name of Ibrahim. Allah is God...there are varying and debatable issues on this, but we won't go into them here. Ismael is the same person we know as Ishmael...the son born to Abraham and his wife's servant Hagar. The difference in the story is that Abraham offers Ishmael as a sacrifice instead of Isaac when God tested his obedience in Genesis 22. This is the start of the conflict between the Arabs and Jews (along with Christians) that exists today. Muslims believe Ishmael was offered as the sacrifice, not Isaac, because he was the most important son of Abraham.

As Christians, we believe that Isaac was chosen by God to be Abraham's first descendant and the next link in the chain of God's chosen people. Genesis 21 tells of Abraham sending Hagar and Ishmael away after Isaac was born. But God promised that a nation would be made out of the dependents of Ishmael because he was Abraham's son too. The turmoil between the Western and Arab world can be traced back to Ishmael and to this celebration of Tabaski (Eid al-Adha).

It's stories and holidays like this that provide wonderful opportunities to share our faith with our Islamic neighbors and friends. Please pray that these encounters will be positive and open doors to sharing the Gospel with the people of Mali.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Take The Money And Run

We are able to access money from our U.S. bank account via ATMs here in Mali.  Things have changed a lot in the past year.  Up until recently, there was only 1 ATM for the entire country.  When it went down, it made accessing our funds much harder.  But today, we have half a dozen ATMs with more on the way.  It has made our lives much more convenient.  We used to have the cross the Niger River and visit the ATM in downtown Bamako.  But now, we have a couple of machines less than a mile from our house on our side of the river.  Of course, everything here is still done on a cash basis, so our debit card only works at the ATM.

We learned a valuable lesson this week about ATMs.  When withdrawing money, we found out that once the machine spits out money, for security reasons, it must be retrieved in 10 seconds or less.  If you wait any longer, the machine sucks the money back in.  This happened to us.  When we withdraw money, we are charged several fees which add up to about $10 per transaction...so we make the most of our withdrawals and take out our daily maximum.  So when the machine reclaimed our money, our account was debited for $500 even though we didn't get the money.  We tried to withdraw it again, but we couldn't because the machine said we were over our daily limit.  Fortunately, we were able to go into the bank the next day and they credited it back to our account a few days later...minus the fees of course.  But we were happy to have our many back.  So be warned...next time you visit an ATM, be sure to take your money as soon as the machine spits it out.

We've also discovered the reality of fluctuating exchange rates and the devaluation of the dollar.  In the past 9 months, our U.S. dollar has dropped by 15 cents.  That means our dollar is now only worth 85 cents.  While that doesn't seem like much, it adds up very fast.  The shrinking dollar has caused our monthly expenses to go up by $400 a month!  And since we arrived originally in 2001, our dollar has dropped nearly in half.  It's a form of inflation that affects people living on the dollar overseas.  Let's hope we see a recovery in the value of the dollar soon.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Julie Parle Anglais

Julie has been working with one of our neighbors as he learns English. His name is Joel Kisoki. He lives across the street from our house. He is from DRC (Congo). His father is the national director for Campus Crusade in Mali. Joel is taking a test called TOEFL - (Test of English as a Foreign Language). The TOEFL is used by universities in English speaking countries to test the English proficiency of foreign students wishing to enroll in their school. Students from Mali (or other non-English speaking African countries) wanting to attend a university in the States must have a satisfactory TOEFL score in order to be accepted to the school.

A new TOEFL program at our YWAM base in Koutiala started this summer. Joel has been attending these. We had a chance to meet the people building the Koutiala TOEFL school in July when we attended a conference at our Koutiala base. The person heading up the TOEFL program looked familiar to Julie. She talked to him to find the connection. She found out his name was John Roberts. It turns out that John was one of Julie's former English students at Mater Dei High School the year before we left for Mali. Wow! Talk about a small world. And it was an incredible encouragement for Julie to see one of her former students turn around and teach English to others...and in Mali of all places!

We have also become good friends with a woman named Leigh who is one of the TOEFL instructors in Koutiala. She has stayed in our home a couple of times when she is in Bamako for various TOEFL tasks. She has been here the past two weekends helping Joel with final preparation for his tests.

Julie has really enjoyed working with Joel and learning more about the TOEFL program. She's really beginning to show an interest in ESL (English as a Second Language) instruction. This has seemed an obvious path for Julie to follow and many people have encouraged her over the years to teach ESL. Now she's finally catching the vision herself.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Leap of Faith

We grew up in the Evel Knievel generation. As a young boy, John was fascinated with his stunts and loved anything Knievel. Julie remembers eagerly anticipating his Snake River Canyon jump. Sadly, Evel passed away two weeks ago. What a crazy guy he was. And he certainly didn't lead a very respectable lifestyle. It's amazing that he lived to see age 69.

Back in April of this year, Evel Knievel made a bold and dramatic transformation when he chose to give his life to the Lord. He was so excited, he made arrangements to announce it to the world on the Hour of Power TV show. While we're not really big fans of Robert Schuller or HoP, we found Evel's interview and testimony inspiring. He seemed eager to proclaim his testimony especially to several close, personal friends he invited to the church service. It was his way of saying "Boy was I stupid. But God accepted me anyway and has changed my life." Click Here to see his testimony and baptism. He looks and sounds pretty bad, but that's quite understandable considering the battering he put his body through during his life. It's wonderful to know that Evel accepted the Lord shortly before his death. We wonder what he's planning on jumping in heaven. ;-)

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Colorado Tragedy

We received the terrible news today of a shooting at a YWAM base in Colorado.  At 12:30am this morning (Colorado time), a gunman shot 4 people at the Arvada base.  Two have since died and gone home to be with the Lord.  One person is in critical condition.  The gunman escaped.

Please join us in prayer for our colleagues and their families in Colorado as they process this horrific event.  Also please be in prayer for the gunman that this event can be used as a turning point in his life and that he might accept the grace and forgiveness of our Lord, Jesus Christ.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Here Comes The Bride

Today we went to the wedding of one of our friends. Her name is Nema and she is the daughter of one of our team members. She is very involved in YWAM's King's Kids ministry.

A Malian wedding is a multi-step process. The first event is the legal ceremony. This happens at the mayor's office. John attended this on Thursday. Today was the religious ceremony which takes place at a church or mosque depending on the religion of the family. Nema and her family are Christian, so we attended the ceremony at a local church. There are also parties and celebrations between and after the ceremonies.

A full Catholic wedding Mass in the States is considered a long ceremony. This is nothing compared to a Malian Christian wedding. The service we attended today lasted 3 hours. But it was a very joyous and happy occasion. Most of the ceremony was music performed by various choirs and musical groups. A pastor then gave a sermon. Then the vows were exchanged and the wedding was complete.

Many parts of the wedding are similar to ceremonies in North America. Even the bride's dress is very similar and non-African in style. One big difference is that culturally, the bride is not supposed to look happy or joyful out of respect to her family. To do so would mean she is eager to leave the family.

We were a bit reluctant to go the wedding based on what happened 4 years ago at this time and under these circumstances. We had our car accident while traveling to a wedding on the 2nd weekend of December in 2003. This wedding was much closer to home, but we were still a bit apprehensive. We're happy to report that our travel was safe and uneventful.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

A Politically Correct American Thanksgiving Celebration

Today we attended a Thanksgiving party at the American Embassy here in Bamako. We have a new embassy complex that is only about a year old. We'd been to the old Embassy in the past, but this was our first visit to the new compound. It was BEAUTIFUL. An Embassy is literally U.S. property despite being located on foreign soil. We really felt like we had left Mali and entered back into the States.

We had to go through quite a screening process to get into the Embassy. We had to pre-register, have copies of our passport made upon arrival, have all bags x-rayed, pass through a metal detector, and go through a separate hand search. All cameras, telephones, and electronics had to be left at the security desk. It's actually easier to enter the U.S. directly then get into the embassy.

The Thanksgiving Party was for the kids. They were the only ones officially invited, however they had to be accompanied by a parent. It was open to U.S. citizens only (parents of other nationalities could attend if their child held a U.S. passport.) The purpose of the party was to educate the kids (many of them Malians with U.S. citizenship that have never visited the States) and tell them about the origin and history of Thanksgiving. Unfortunately, they missed the entire point of the holiday as being a response and thanks to God for taking care of the Pilgrims and we should spend the day thanking God in our modern celebration. Instead, they presented: "Thanksgiving began in 1621 when early settlers of the Plymouth colony in Massachusetts organized a feast in honor of the Native Americans who taught them how to successfully farm in the United States. Today, Thanksgiving is an opportunity to show our appreciation to others and remember our past."

It's sad that our country cannot acknowledge God...especially on a national holiday that was created expressly to honor and thank Him for His provision. That helps renew our purpose for being here...not just for the Malians, but for the American community as well.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Play Me A Song You're The Guitar Man

We'd like to introduce you to Daouda Dou. He is part of one of the worship teams we've been working with. He is a music student and attends the Mali Conservatory of Music. His passion is music and his desire is to serve the Lord as a Christian musician. This past summer, he and 5 other students were selected by the U.S. State Department to travel to the U.S. and participate in a 5 week music program. A trip to the States is nothing but a dream to most Malians, so this has been an amazing opportunity for him. He returned a couple of weeks ago and stopped by our house to share his experiences. He was very excited about everything he saw and did...especially the worship music he witnessed at a couple of churches. He also gave us a demo CD he recorded while he was in the States. Here's the sample song he recorded: Keep On Your Light.

He is eager to record a CD album of worship music. He's currently raising money to do so. He is selling handmade greeting cards to earn money. We bought several from him to help him pursue his dream. Then the Lord laid a new ministry idea on us. We brought over a lot of music and sound equipment to work on some personal recording projects. Most of it hasn't been unpacked yet because it hasn't been a priority to us. But now God has given us the idea of setting up a small music studio at our house in a room we currently use as an office. With all the equipment we brought and John's background as an audio engineer, it seems like a natural fit. We know of several Christian musicians that want to record CDs like Daouda. We're very excited about this new project!

Here's a way you can help. Daouda is an accomplished guitar player, but he can't afford a guitar of his own and can only play when someone lends him an instrument. We know of several Malian musicians in the same position. We would love to provide Daouda and others with their own personal guitars. If you have a guitar that is currently unused, or if you know of someone who would be willing to donate an old guitar to a Christian musician that can't afford to own their own, please let us know by emailing us at: jclark@ywammali.org. For more information on Daouda, please visit his blog at: http://daoudadao.wordpress.com.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Pulling an All-Nighter

Last night the Magnambougou church gathered with several other area churches for an all-night prayer vigil. The goal of the meeting was prayer for church unity. This is an area that God has placed upon John's heart and he was happy to participate in the prayer meeting. The churches in Mali are beginning to experience disunity and separation has started to occur. John is hoping to work with the pastors and churches to overcome the issues causing division.

Last night's prayer meeting was encouraging. It's wonderful to see that some of the churches have recognized the division and are hoping to work on correcting it. There were about 50 people in attendance. The meeting was very well organized and had a well laid out schedule for prayer subjects along with times of praise and worship. The meeting started at 9:00pm last night and ended at 5:30am this morning. People were beginning to fade around 4:00am, but remained diligent continued on despite the tiredness. It's been many years since John's been out all night...and it was usually never been for the right reasons. It was exciting for him to have focused so much concentrated time and energy on prayer.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Power To The People

We experienced a couple of exciting victories this week.  First, the electric company came to our house yesterday and finally did our power upgrade!  We had originally ordered and paid for the upgrade back in May.  Five months is a pretty quick response.  But we're now in "cool" season.  We don't kick on the A/C at night unless it's above 95° in the house.  We've been staying in the high 80s and lo 90s...believe it or not, these are comfortable temperatures for us.  In fact, if it gets below 85° we're pulling on blankets!  So we won't get to enjoy our upgrade for a few months when it gets warmer.  But it's certainly nice to have it finally completed after working on it for so long.

As an added bonus, we also received the paperwork on our car this week!  WOW!!  Two major projects completed in the same week!  Again, we began processing our car back in May.  Since then, we've had to go to the Transportation Ministry once a month for a 30 day temporary permit.

Julie continues to feel well.  Unfortunately, Cole has been sick all week and has stayed home from school.  John had started attending an excellent workshop at the YWAM base at the beginning of the week about the love and grace of God.  He was really getting a lot out of it.  But with Cole home sick, he missed a majority of the teaching this week.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Git Along Little Dogies

Thankfully the past couple of weeks have been uneventful. But that doesn't mean we haven't been busy. Julie is feeling 100% back to health...something she's not felt for a few months. She and Cole are back into the routine at school while John is working on employee and financial issues with the school, and several projects with a couple of pastors.

It's amazing how we adapt to our different surroundings and become accustomed to sights and activities that once seemed very strange to us. It's now often easy to lose sight of how different our world is in Mali. Our trip to Paris helped highlight some of the stark reminders of living in Africa once we got back...things like cows wandering around on the soccer field outside our front gate. We still stand in awe at the diversity of the world.

Our thoughts and prayers are with our friends and family in California during this horrific fire season. We know that everything there has been focused on the fires. As a sign of the size of the tragedy, the SoCal fires have even been headlining the BBC World Service news headlines here every day. We've also had a couple of people email us pictures of the devastation. Special prayers go out the Nellis family who pastor a church in Rancho Bernardo that burned to the ground. Even though the sanctuary was destroyed, the offices received little damage. We're glad to hear that crews are beginning to contain the fires and the weather is calming a bit. May God give you grace and peace during this difficult time.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Home Is Where The Heat Is

We arrived back in Bamako on Sunday night.  We enjoyed Paris and being back in the developed Western world for a few days.  Who knew a McDonald's could be such a welcome sight.  It was also nice to shop in a few stores for things we've been missing.

Paris was also a wonderful opportunity to practice our French in a different environment.  But we quickly discovered that our African French is very casual and was often frowned upon.  So we adapted to speaking a more formalized and civilized French.  But the good news is that we adapted well and survived unassisted utilizing only French.  We were a bit surprised that the American Hospital of Paris was more French than American.  But again, our basic and growing French skills got us through.  It's exciting to see the language progress we're making.  Even Cole is embracing French and was eager to look through French comic books and read signs as we walked around the City.  But eventually, the culture shock of the Western world began to take a toll and we were eager to return to Africa.

It's good to be home.  It is a challenge adjusting back to the temperature in Mali.  The weather in Paris was beautiful...ranging from 60° to 75°.  We enjoyed taking hot showers in the morning and walking out into the brisk air.  Now we're back to 90° nighttime lows and looking forward to a cool shower in the morning.

Julie was able to return to school today; it felt like a normal day.  There was no physical discomfort and the day was uneventful.  It's good to be back home and sinking into our routine.  Thank you again for your prayers.  It's exciting to share the results of your intercession for our family.  Please continue to pray for our financial situation as we recover from a very expensive event.

Friday, October 12, 2007

43 Kilometers From Disneyland...Paris

We are grateful for Julie's continuing good health. She is once again pain free. She has a lot of energy and is eating well. We have been staying with the Rempel family and it has been a wonderful blessing to reconnect with them and help encourage each other. Unfortunately, they are hosting others in their apartment this week, so we have moved to a hotel just around the corner. It's nice to be in the same neighborhood since we've become familiar with traveling the Paris Metro subway system from here and are familiar with the shops and restaurants in the area.

We are eager to return to Mali, however we're currently waiting for some money transfers so we can finish paying for the hospital and doctor expenses before we leave. Unfortunately, our insurance company will not pay directly so we must pay everything out of our pocket and hope to be reimbursed later. But we remain confident that God will provide. It's also reassuring to be here a few extra days to ensure Julie's health remains stable.

As we're waiting for our departure on Sunday, we've been taking in a few sites around the "City of Lights". Paris is an incredible place. The museums, buildings, and monuments are nothing short of amazing. Before Julie's release from the hospital, John & Cole visited the Paris Opera House...the setting for the Phantom of the Opera. After Julie's release, we started some family sightseeing. At Cole's request, we visited the Louvre Museum to see the Mona Lisa. As an added bonus, we also saw the Venus de Milo along with hundreds of other works of art. We finally had to leave after several hours as it became overwhelming to take so much in at one place.

Because Disney has been such a big part of our lives in the past, we also spent a day at Parc Disneyland. The Disneyland we know so well in California pales in comparison to this park. But as impressive as it is, it just doesn't hold the same place in our lives anymore. Although we enjoyed the day, we also left asking ourselves why we had devoted so much of our past lives to something so artificial and meaningless. It gave a whole new meaning to our lives as missionaries.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Pay the Piper

Julie is continuing to recover and is doing very well.  A follow-up with the doctor yesterday confirmed that the stone has broken up.  It will take several weeks for everything to completely pass out of her system, but it should be relatively unnoticeable.  Infection has been a problem throughout this entire episode, so we remain watchful for complications.  Please continue to pray that Julie will be free from further infection and we can safely return to Mali.  We will be staying in Paris until Sunday to give things a few more days to settle and be sure everything is back to normal and take care of some of the financial matters.

Please focus some extra prayer on our financial situation.  Our insurance company is now saying they aren't covering our evacuation or any of the medical bills because they consider this a pre-existing condition.  Julie has never had a history or symptoms of this in the past, so this is a big mystery to us.  They are saying that kidney stones can often take several years to develop and Julie probably had it before they wrote the policy.  It's difficult to be very far from home during a crisis situation and then handed thousands of dollars in bills that must be paid before we leave the country.  But we remain confident that our God is bigger and more powerful than any insurance company and He will resolve this.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Freebird

Julie was released from the hospital today!!  We are all very excited.  She is doing well.  She is pain free and has a lot of energy.  She was even up to riding the Metro home from the hospital.

She has an appointment with the doctor and an x-ray scheduled for Tuesday to follow-up on things and check her progress.  Because of the complications in the hospital and the way this issue has been dragging on for so long, we've decided to stay in Paris for an additional week to ensure everything is finished and this is all well behind us.  Please continue to pray that Julie's health will improve and this episode will be finalized once and for all.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Same Song Second Verse

Julie had another bad night in the hospital last night.  She suffered from nausea most of the night and got very little sleep.  The doctor has changed her medication to try and ease the discomfort and help Julie return to normal.

Due to the continued complications, the doctor has kept Julie in the hospital for another night.  She is eager to leave, but at the same time wants to be sure everything is better before she ventures out on her own.

The past few days have been a real roller coaster ride for Julie.  She's cycling between feeling good enough to go home or thinking she has one foot in the grave.  Please continue to pray that this will come to a close soon.

We are currently scheduled to leave Paris on Wednesday, however that date is very much in flux right now.  At this point, our plans we have reverted to one day at a time.

Friday, October 05, 2007

It Always Looks Better On Paper

Things haven't gone as smoothly as planned in Julie's treatment.  During our flight to Paris on Wednesday night, she started experiencing intense pain.  It was a very difficult flight for her.  When we arrived in Paris, we decided to go directly to the hospital instead of stopping at our friends to drop off our luggage and catch our breath.  Because it was rush hour, it took over an hour to reach the hospital from the airport.

Julie was admitted to the hospital yesterday morning and they began treatment immediately.  Following the procedure (lithotripsy), Julie was feeling more pain, still had a fever, and was nauseous.   Unfortunately, the procedure didn't go as well as the doctor was hoping.  The stone wasn't broken up as much as planned and had began to move.  A new infection had started as a result.  Although we were hoping this would be a simple outpatient visit, Julie stayed overnight at the hospital last night (Thursday night).

Today she is feeling much better thanks to IV pain and antibiotic treatment.  X-rays and sonograms this morning show the stone is still there and is moving around (it's too big to exit the kidney).  This afternoon, she began passing small fragments of the stone so it looks like it might be finally breaking up (a day after the procedure).  She's staying in the hospital again tonight (Friday).  The doctor feels hopeful that stone will continue breaking up in the next 24 hours and she'll be able to leave the hospital tomorrow.

Thank you for your prayers and words of encouragement.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Paris - Not Hilton for a Change

The doctor has determined that Julie's kidney stone is too large to pass on its own.  And we even got an unexpected second opinion from the States via our blog.  We originally posted the sonogram more as a novelty, but Julie's sister is a radiology technician in SoCal.  She had a doc in her hospital take a look at it and he confirmed the doctor's opinion here.  It's amazing how technology is bridging such large gaps.

Arrangements have been made to medevac Julie to Paris for removal of her kidney stone.  We will be leaving tonight and plan to stay for 1 week.  Julie will be treated at the American Hospital of Paris.  From what we've seen on the net, it looks like a very nice hospital.  And one of their specialty areas is kidneys.  They are planning on a procedure (there's a big fancy medical name for it...but we'd rather keep things simple) that will break up the stone with sound waves eliminating the need for invasive surgery.  It could possibly be an outpatient procedure.

Because this is a medical issue, we feel it's important to keep our family together in case there are any complications so all three of us will be taking the trip.  Unfortunately, the insurance is only going to cover Julie's trip.  But we're glad at least that is covered.  Please be praying with us for financial provision for our $2500 deductible and the remainder of our expenses.  It's so cool to see the way God is already providing.  We have been able to connect with friends in Paris who were former missionaries in Mali...in fact, it's the same family we bought our furniture and household items from earlier this year.  They have offered to have us stay in their apartment with them.  We look forward to sharing all the other cool provisions that we know will come through during this difficult time.

Julie is currently pain free and in good spirits.  Thank you for your continued prayers.  They are working REALLY well!!

Friday, September 28, 2007

Between A Rock And A Hard Place

No...this picture isn't an announcement of a new family member. It's Julie's latest sonogram of her kidney stone. She has spent the past week resting and waiting for the stone to pass. Unfortunately, there has been no movement. The good news is that she's been relatively pain free.

We do have access to semi-modern medical facilities and western trained doctors. It's nothing like the services we have available in the States, but it's suitable for most situations. The doctor Julie has been seeing has been very attentive and proactive. He has had a couple of sonograms performed the past week to check the size and nature of the stone and to note any movement. At this point, he feels we have reached the limit of what can be done in Mali and he's advising traveling to London or Paris for further treatment. He's currently working with our insurance company to come up with the next step in treatment.

Please keep this in prayer. We are hoping the stone will pass naturally during this period of waiting and it will be a non-issue. The time and expense involved in another medevac for our family would be really trying...especially financially. We know that God is ultimately in control, but it's times like these that put our faith to the test. Thank you for your prayers.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Ladies and Gentlemen, Julie Has Left The Building

Thanks for your prayers for Julie.  After spending 3 days and 2 nights at the clinic, the doctor was able to identify Julie's sickness as a kidney stone.  Although not exotic and exciting like a tropical disease, we were very happy and relieved to know it isn't something life-threatening.  It doesn't make the pain any more bearable for Julie but she is now at peace.

Because Julie was so sick, she was unable to keep any of the medicine down.  This led to another overnight stay last night.  After giving her initial treatments and anti-nausea medicine via IV, things began to calm down.  She is now able to keep the medicine down and she began eating for the first time in 3 days.  The doctor released her from the clinic today to finish her recovery at home.

This episode was also a huge test of our French comprehension.  It's difficult enough to get through normal day-to-day situations in French, and the added challenge of medical terminology put things to a real test.  Thankfully, we communicated successfully and were able to make it through with our developing language skills.

Again, thank you for your prayers.  They played a pivotal role in her diagnosis and recovery.

Friday, September 21, 2007

SPECIAL PRAYER SOLICATION

Julie has been struggling with sickness for the past couple of months. She's been treated for parasites and internal infections. The past couple of days she's been very sick. She has been running a high fever, vomiting violently, and suffering a severe case of the chills. It sounded like a classic case of malaria and we began treating is as such. But she was unable to keep down the medicine. We took her to a Malian clinic today to have her put in an IV malaria treatment. But it turns out that 2 subsequent malaria tests came back negative. The Malian doctor we are working with specializes in tropical disease and he thinks she is suffering from one. He has a few ideas but it is going to take several tests to narrow things down. We spent 12 hours at the clinic going through preliminary treatments and testing. We ended up leaving Julie in the clinic overnight. She is currently feeling much better after receiving several IV treatments for her fever, internal infection and to re-hydrate her.

Please be in prayer for Julie. Whatever she is suffering from has been taking a big toll on her and her ministries. This weekend in particular, she will be missing the annual Mali missionary ladies retreat that she has really been looking forward to.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Missionary to the Stars

We learned a while back that our house used to be occupied by Tiken Jah Fakoly - a famous Reggae singer from Côte d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast - Mali's neighboring country to the south). We have people come to our door once or twice a week looking for Tiken Jah. He originally came to Mali a couple of years ago seeking refuge. Côte d'Ivoire is currently involved in a civil war and Tiken Jah's music was critical of the government who put a price on his head forcing him to flee to Mali. While he lived here in our house, he also set up a recording studio just up the street. Tiken Jah has since relocated to Paris, but his studio is still in operation and is a hubbub of activity in our neighborhood.

We pass by the studio daily and greet the people outside. Today, John stopped to talk with a man at the studio. He spoke English, so John had an opportunity to have an extended conversation with him. His name is Abou. It turns out that he's Tiken Jah's brother who is visiting Mali for a few days. Today is the start of Ramadan, the holy month of prayer and fasting for Muslims. Abou asked if John was fasting today for Ramadan. John said no, we are Christian. Abou went on to talk about being Muslim and how similar he felt Muslims and Christians are. He was quite confused on a lot of Christian beliefs and it was an open opportunity to share with him about the God of love and the importance of Jesus. He was open to learning more about Christian beliefs and getting answers to some questions he had. It was a wonderful time of sharing. John hopes to see him again soon and continue the conversation. Please keep Abou and Tiken Jah in prayer. Although John didn't meet Tiken Jah today, we think we'll see him eventually. Please pray that Abou and Tiken Jah can understand the truth of Jesus and understand the important differences between Islam and Christianity. May they both come to know the truth and hence be set free.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Lavese Las Manos

September 10th has been declared "Wash Your Hands With Soap" day by the Malian Health Ministry. Hand washing is common here, but using soap isn't. As a result, thousands get sick and die each year because of this simple lack of hygiene. So today has been set aside to help encourage people to use soap whenever they wash their hands. Just thought we'd pass this hint along to you too. Please wash your hands today with soap!

Many of you have been experiencing a heat wave in the States over the past couple of weeks. It's been just the opposite here. Being well into rainy season, our temperatures have been been quite low by Mali standards. The highs have barely been crossing the 100° mark and the lows have been dipping into the mid 70's. It's strange to think that the weather in California has been hotter than in Mali.

And speaking of weather, we have had a very abundant rainy season. Now we're reaching the point of too much rain. One village in particular named N'Jifina received unseasonably heavy rain that flooded and washed out a good portion of this village of 2,000. Please be in prayer for the people of N'Jifina who were left homeless and lost their few personal possessions.

Cole and Julie have been adapting to their new school schedule. Cole is really enjoying being in 6th grade with the "big kids". It's hard to believe he's in middle school now. We remember when he started his school career in kindergarten here just a few years ago. One of the things we are really excited about is that he's beginning to embrace French. We are getting very good reports from his French teacher and he's eager to work on his French homework each day. When we go out to a restaurant, he's now proud that he can place his own order in French. This is an exciting milestone for us.

Julie's classroom has been completed and she'll be moving in this week. She's excited to have a more permanent home and a room to call her own. She's also rebounding from a sickness she's been battling for the past couple of months. She went to the doctor this week and lab tests pointed out a parasite problem and intestinal infection. He prescribed several medicines and after a couple of days of taking them, Julie is feeling much better now.

John has wanted to take off his technical hat and focus more on other ministry, but it seems the Lord wants him to do both. He had a chance to preach at the Sunday Evening English Church last week. He has been very busy the past week helping restore several computers back to good health. He's also been busy planning a wireless network installation for several YWAM families and our base in Koutiala. He'll be traveling to Koutiala in a couple of weeks to begin the install.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Blog of the Century

Wow! Can you believe that our blog is 100 posts old today? It feels like we just started this. What a cool way to keep you up-to-date on what's happening in our lives and ministry. We love to hear from you too. Be sure to check out the "Comment" feature and share your thoughts with us.

Cole and Julie have started school at Bamako Christian Academy. Cole is now in sixth grade. He is happy to have returned to the familiarity of the facilities, the predictability of routine, and the companionship of friends. This year Julie is teaching fifth grade language arts, Bible, American history and music.

As this school year gets underway, Julie has already learned the value of flexibility. A garage is being transformed into a brand new classroom for Julie’s fifth grade class. We’ve been able to witness and be involved in the physical construction progress from walls, to electrical wiring, to flooring this past week but it means that Julie’s classes have been housed temporarily in the assembly room. Completion of the new classroom is expected next week.

We invite you to pray for our school throughout the year. At this time we are still in need of two full time elementary school teachers for grades 1 & 3. These classes are currently being covered only by temporary means. God has been faithful in meeting the needs of the school these past two years. We go forward in confidence that we will have full staff soon.

John too will be involved in BCA this year in his role as Treasurer of the school board. The whole family is looking forward to a challenging and rewarding school experience at BCA.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

You Say It's Your Birthday

Monday we celebrated Cole's birthday. It's hard to believe, but he's now 11 years old! Because amusement parks have played such a big role in our family, we decided to celebrate by enjoying the day at Luna Parc...Mali's version of Disneyland. (It almost hurts to use both places in the same sentence!) Luna Parc is different from *any* other amusement park experience we've had. Admission was only 100 francs (20¢) and the rides were 300 francs (40¢) each. And you get exactly what you pay for. Luna Parc resembles a scary abandoned amusement park from an episode of Scooby Doo. All of the rides are in horrible condition and it's a wonder that they even operate. They are the rejects from the worst traveling carnivals and fairs.

Because it was Cole's birthday, we put our faith and trust in God to the full test and went on a couple of rides with him. After all, to an 11 year old, an amusement park is still an amusement park. We went on a Ferris wheel and a "new" ride for Luna Parc that was similar to on Octopus ride. Cole really enjoyed it. But he was content with riding just the two rides...the others rides didn't even appeal to him.

The trip was also a cultural experience that tried our patience and put our Christian virtues to the test. Standing in line is not an African concept. So getting on a ride is a matter of running, pushing, and shoving to get to an open car. And there is no concept of vehicle capacity. A two person car often would be holding 3-4 kids. And forget about ride safety...people waiting would be standing within the ride area as the ride vehicles came within inches of crashing into them. We have such a better appreciation for ride safety basics (remain seated keeping your hands and arms inside...etc.) after experiencing the carnival anarchy of Luna Parc. Our day was stark reminder that we really are 6892 miles from Disneyland.

Last night, we had a special treat of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese that we brought with us from California for this occasion. This is Cole's favorite meal and one that he's been missing since we left the States. Cole has sacrificed a lot by growing up on the mission field. But it's resulted in minimal expectations, learning to be content with what he has, and finding joy in small things. Rather then asking for a new XBox or Wii, he was content with getting small gifts (some we bought secondhand from other missionaries) including a geometry school kit (he is really excited about the compass), a Swiss Army knife, and a fountain pen. He was thrilled with these simple gifts. He also received a couple of packages from people in the States that had small LEGO sets which he really enjoys.

It was cool to celebrate this happy occasion. We feel so blessed to have Cole as a part of our family.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Maiden Voyage

Our car paperwork is finally complete!! We can now drive the car we purchased 3 months ago. The last bit of paperwork (the equivalent of a "pink slip") was held up because the Transport Ministry wanted to see a passport to be sure the name is correct on our car papers. But even after providing a copy of John's passport (having a middle name listed on the passport really confused them as Malians don't have middle names), they still misspelled the name as Jonh Clark. And our insurance is listed under John Clarl. "Close enough for government work" takes on a whole new meaning here. Oh well. At least we can drive.

We took our maiden voyage on Friday to drop Amy off at the airport. We have really enjoyed being with her the past week. She also had a chance to visit several people living in Mali that used to live in the country she's currently working in. She's starting some new work in children's ministry and had a chance to gather lots of information and materials from the people she met with. So her unscheduled trip to Bamako turned out having a lot of unexpected blessings.

She was able to get her passport reissued at the American Embassy on Thursday. They processed everything the same day. And the visa for her working country (name omitted for security reasons) was granted the following day. Even an airline ticket was available for Friday. And we were blessed with having money on-hand to help with her passport and travel expenses until she gains access to her money back home. It's been wonderful to see God bring all the pieces together. We are going to miss Amy but hope to meet up with her again. Please keep her and her ministry in prayer.

We've also posted a new video this week. It's of Cole performing with a group of YWAM kids at our conference in Koutiala last month.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Home!

We returned from Kayes today. It was so good to be home. When we arrived, we were greeted by Anakin who was once again very happy to see us. He is fat again, so his time with Felix seemed to go well.

We were so looking forward to reliable (by West African standards) water and electricity again. Unfortunately, we found the power wasn't working at our house. We checked with our neighbors and they had power, so we decided it had something to do with the electricity upgrade we've been waiting weeks for. Since we didn't have any food in the house anyway, we decided to unload the car then go out to dinner to a local restaurant and deal with the power later.

It was wonderful to have a western style meal again! John has really enjoyed the African food we've been eating for the past two weeks, however it was beginning to wear thin on Julie and Cole.

When we got home, the power was still off so we called the electric company. It was 9pm on Sunday night, so we didn't have very high expectations of it getting fixed until Monday or Tuesday, however they sent a crew out and the power came back on within 45 minutes. Woohoo!!

We have two American ladies staying with us for the next couple of days. Paula was our driver to and from Kayes. She lives at the YWAM Koutiala base. Amy currently lives in a neighboring country. Unfortunately, her purse including her passport, bank card, etc. was stolen in Kayes. She will be staying at our house while she gets a new passport and is able to return home. The Embassy won't begin processing her application until Thursday so she'll stay with us this week. We're looking forward to getting to know her and helping her get resituated.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Let's Get This Show On the Road

We've had a video projector for several years, however over the past few weeks our family has been blessed with getting a generator, large outdoor movie screen, and a sound system to help us with outdoor evangelism events. We are now completely self contained for showings of the Jesus Film and other Christian movies. This week is our first chance to try everything out. It took awhile to figure out how to put the movie screen together, but once it was up, we found it did a wonderful job. It's viewable from both sides so we can assemble groups of people both in front of and behind the screen. On Wednesday, the rain didn't come so we were finally able to set everything up and hold our first outdoor event in a large field in a Kayes neighborhood. The generator started easily and operated flawlessly. It's been really cool to see all these tools come together as we share the Gospel with the people of Kayes.

On Thursday, we fired up the generator and the sound system and began singing worship songs to help assemble people. The neighborhood kids were the first to arrive (they actually came early and helped us set up) and soon the adults began to come. We played several songs then performed a short skit about the danger of sin. Next came movie time. Because it was our first time setting up, we started late on Thursday night. Because the Jesus Film is 2 hours long, we decided to show a shorter movie instead called Le Combat (the battle). It is about a man in Ivory Coast who rejects the animistic ways of his tribe and becomes a Christian. At one point, his friends turn on him and try to place a curse on him. Instead, the curse gets turned on his friends and one of them gets very sick. In the end, his family becomes Christian too. Mali is a very animistic country, so this movie carries a powerful message. On Friday we showed the first half of the Jesus Film and on Saturday we showed the remainder. We showed both movies in Bambara, the most widely spoken dialect in Mali.

All three nights went very well. We had between 100-200 people attend each night. The people were very interested in the films and most stayed after to hear a testimony and the Gospel message.

Cole was on a different team as part of YWAM's King's Kids ministry. He and a group of about 40 kids performed several singing and dancing numbers they have been rehearsing the past couple of weeks while we've been in the seminars. The King's Kids were supposed to perform with our team on the nights we got rained out. Thursday thru Saturday, they moved over to the other team. We would have really enjoyed seeing Cole involved in his own ministry.

Our family will be leaving for Bamako tomorrow. The rest of the evangelism group is going to stay in Kayes for another week. Please be praying as they continue to show the Jesus Film and share the Gospel.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Rain, Rain Go Away

Thank you for your continued prayers for rain in Mali. We have had some excellent rains throughout the entire country which has really helped the water situation and is wonderful for the crops. It's good to see the rivers rising...the Senegal River here in Kayes and the Niger River in Bamako. But the rain has also presented some obstacles for us. As we walk around Kayes, we're constantly trudging through mud. Cole has enjoyed this aspect.

We started our evangelism efforts on Tuesday evening. We split our group into two teams and headed out to different neighborhoods in Kayes. We set up outdoor evangelism events in both locations. Our goal is to show the Jesus Film, perform some skits, and share testimonies and the Gospel. We began by going door-to-door and inviting people to the events. Because Mali is such a social culture, this is very easy to do. As we walk down the street and greet people sitting in front of their houses, things naturally progress into conversation, and before we know it, we're invited to sit down and share some more. Unfortunately, it began raining on Tuesday just after we started our door-to-door campaign. But the rain actually benefited our time with people. When the rain started, we were invited inside where we were able to spend more time talking to them about Jesus.

Unfortunately, our team's outdoor evangelism events were rained out on Tuesday and Wednesday nights. The other evangelism team was able to move their event inside a church building close to where they were planning their meeting. But we were still able to share with people door-to-door. Afterward, we had a time of praise, worship, and prayer.

Rain is still very important to Mali this time of year, so our prayer is not for the rain to stop, but for the timing to change to morning rains leaving the afternoon and evenings clear for our outdoor events.

Monday, July 30, 2007

On The Road Again

We arrived safely in Kayes late Sunday afternoon. The paperwork still isn't complete on our car, so we weren't able to drive. Instead, we rode with Paula, one of our American friends from the YWAM Koutiala base. The drive took about 8 hours. The road is paved and in fairly good condition most of the way. There is a stretch of about 35 miles an hour outside of Bamako that hasn't been paved yet. With the rains, we were concerned that it might be muddy and impassable, but it turned out to be in pretty good condition. It is a washboard dirt road, so we needed to travel 20-30 mph through this stretch. We were very happy to reach the pavement again.

Kayes (pronounced like kite without the "t") is a town of about 90,000 people. It is in southwest Mali on the Senegal River close to the border of the country of Senegal. It is considered one of the 3 hottest places on earth and is often referred to as the "pressure cooker of Africa". In 1892, it served as the capital of the French Sudan before Bamako replaced it 6 years later.

The base for our evangelism team is a grammar school in Kayes. We're broken into several groups sleeping on the floor in various classrooms. There's no running water, and only latrine toilets...which is a tiny room with a small hole in the ground. This also serves as the shower area when you bring a bucket of water along. God has shown us some mercy and provided a house for our family a couple of miles away.

Although we're in a house separate from the camping conditions at the base, our living conditions are not without their challenges. There is another family plus some singles sharing the house with us. In all, we are 13 people living under one roof. The real challenge is that the house only has one bathroom. This has been really tough. And to add to the problems, the water here in Kayes has been very unreliable. On many days, we've had water for just a couple of hours a day (usually while we're gone). We're doing our best at keeping a couple of barrels filled with water when we do have it to be able keep the drinking water filter full, to hand flush the toilet, and to take bucket showers. It is nice to have the privacy of our own room and a bed to sleep in, however the water and bathroom situation are wearing on our spirits.

The Summer of Service is an evangelism outreach for anyone who wants to participate. We've spent the past few months recruiting people from Bamako. Although it's a YWAM event, it's really designed to involve people from outside of YWAM and work side-by-side spreading the Gospel in Mali. It also involves several seminars and teaching sessions to bring people closer to the Lord and give them a better vision of what we hope to do during the Summer of Service. Most of the teaching mirrors what we learned in our Discipleship Training School. This is a way to expose others to some of the great things we've learned and help them grow in their walk with the Lord. It's been encouraging to see the variety of people that have come from other countries to be part of this event.

This first week will be strictly classes and seminars. The next two weeks will be classes and workshops during the day and outdoor evangelism events around Kayes at night.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head

The rainy season has arrived in Mali!  We've had a least one good storm just about every day for the past two weeks.  This is such a blessing.  The Niger River is rising and there is now enough water again to supply the city and the hydro-electric plant.  So our scheduled power cuts have ended!  Now we're back to the power simply going off randomly for a few minutes each day.  And the rains have staved off water rationing meaning there are no scheduled water cuts either.  Of course, now we have to navigate through muddy roads and paths and plan our travel between rainstorms.

Rainy season also marks the end of hot season.  Our daily highs are now staying below 100.  And the lows are dropping down into the high 70's.  The other night when we were walking home from church, one of our neighbors stopped us and asked how we could be out on a night like this without a jacket.  We were dressed normally in short sleeves.  We looked at the thermometer when we got home...it was 78°.

We're getting ready to leave Bamako again.  We're heading to a town called Kayes (pronounced Kye).  Kayes is located 10 hours driving time from Bamako near the western border of Mali.  We're going to be participating in a 4 week YWAM evangelism event called the Summer of Service.  We're expecting over a hundred people from several countries to participate in street evangelism, door-to-door witnessing, and outdoor events.  The churches in Kayes have been instrumental in helping put all the pieces together including event scheduling, lodging, and meals.  It's been exciting to hear about the unity of the church in Kayes and how they're all working together to help organize this event.

We haven't been to Kayes before, so we're looking forward to seeing a new part of Mali.  But we are apprehensive about our minimal language skills and we're not looking forward to the camp-like living conditions.  Please keep us in prayer as we face these challenges.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Felix And The Cat

We returned home for our YWAM conference in Koutiala on Saturday. We were greeted by our cat Anakin as soon as we opened our gate. He was very happy to see us. He has spent the past 2 weeks outside in the rain. We hired a guardian named Felix to watch our house while we were gone and he did a wonderful job feeding and looking after Anakin.

What an amazing conference we had. We came back with our minds overflowing with vision and new ministry ideas. We also received a lot of encouragement, refreshment, and invigoration. We met a lot of new friends that we are looking forward to staying in touch with and hopefully working with sometime in the future.

We were really blessed to have such an amazing group of speakers lead the conference. Not only did we have Loren Cunningham - the founder of YWAM, but we also had Joe Portale who pioneered YWAM's presence in West Africa and started the bases in many of the countries here. We wouldn't be in Mali today without his vision and answer to God's call to begin the work in Africa. We also had several other people on the team whose YWAM history goes back 30-35 years. These are the people that were the beginning of YWAM. What a source to learn from and what a vision to share! Darlene Cunningham (Loren's wife) was originally supposed to attend our conference, however her mother (92 years old and still regularly travels to the mission field!) was ill so she remained behind to be with her. One of John's main responsibilities was to set up a video teleconference with Darlene so she could speak at one of the conference sessions from her home in Kona, Hawaii. (Can you believe technology today?!) Most of the pieces were in place when we arrived in Koutiala, however John had to finish uncompleted work on the Internet antenna. To do so, he climbed to the top of a 60' antenna tower...not bad for a "one armed" man.

Thank you for your prayers for the family of Charles Tudienu and all of us in Mali mourning his loss. It was a tragic and expected turn of events during our conference, but the Lord has been using it to help us grow stronger and firmer in our faith. We had incorrectly posted that he we in his 30's. Charles passed away at the age of 48. Although this seems young to us in the western world, one of the harsh realities of Mali is the reduced life expectancy of just 47 years for men.

Please continue to keep his wife Natalie and his young daughters Marie and Rachel in prayer. The grieving process has been complicated by the international ties of the family. Charles is from Congo and Natalie is from Switzerland. Natalie's wishes were to bury Charles in Mali, however his family has requested he be returned to Congo for burial there. Natalie will be traveling this week to Congo to meet his family for the first time and attend the funeral and burial.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Fallen Soldier

Our spiritual battle continues and we're continuing to suffer grave causalities even during our conference in Koutiala. Shortly after writing our last blog entry, we learned that one of our YWAM colleagues here on the Koutiala base died suddenly today. He went home to take a nap in the afternoon and his wife came home a few hours later and found him dead in bed. He was in his forties. He left behind his wife and two young girls. We are all in shock and the base is filled with grief and mourning. Please join us in prayer as we process this loss.

It's a Small World After All

We've spent the last week in Koutiala attending a YWAM West Africa leadership conference. We are blessed to have Loren Cunningham, the founder of YWAM as our keynote speaker for the first few days of the conference. He shared some amazing stories, insights, and visions for YWAM. He has brought us a lot of encouragement. He is a man with some incredible mission experience. In fact, he's one of only a handful of people that have visited every country on the planet. It was really cool meet him and we even had a chance to share some one-on-one time with him.

Typically, when we think of missionaries, we tend to think of people from the Western world (North America and Europe). YWAM takes a unique approach to missions by challenging and empowering people from all over the world to take up the task of world missions. YWAM's vision is to not only have bases in each country, but to send missionaries from each also. Loren pointed out an interesting view of the "Great Commission". Over the past 50 years, the Bible has been translated into hundreds of languages...and every one of them includes the call to go into all the world and preach the Gospel to every nation...meaning Jesus meant the challenge for everyone...not just the Western world. It's exciting to see this in action as we meet missionaries from all over Africa. We also have several Brazilian missionaries serving with YWAM in West Africa. Just 30 years ago, YWAM began brining the Gospel to Brazil. Churches were few and the idea of Brazil sending out missionaries seemed preposterous because it was considered exclusively as a mission field by the local church and other mission agencies. But today, Brazil sends missionaries to several Portuguese speaking countries. What an exciting shift in such a short amount of time.

There are 95 people in attendance at the conference representing 9 West African countries with a YWAM presence. In all, the conference attendees originate from 27 different countries (we even have someone from Fiji). Together, we speak 54 different languages. But the conference is presented in just 3 languages - English, French, and Portuguese. Believe it or not, there are only 2 other Americans besides us serving with YWAM in West Africa. This is a perfect example of how YWAM's philosophy of empowering every country works.

The subject of this conference is YWAM's values...what we believe in and how to put it into practice. Although the conference is targeted at YWAM leaders, we are finding it extremely helpful in better understanding YWAM. We have learned some excellent principles and we look forward to putting them into practice.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Have Car Will Travel

Thank you for your prayers about a car. We got our car this week! It's a 1995 Toyota station wagon. It only has 177,000 km on it (about 72,000 miles). The price we paid was less than what we'd been saving for (before the customs charges). And John's keyboard even fits in the back! It's not a 4x4 like what we've been used to out here, but we think it will suit our current needs. We're looking forward to the flexibility and freedom of travel.

We were hoping to take our car on a trip this week. But unfortunately, the paperwork hasn't been completed yet. We started the paperwork process 1-1/2 months ago and paid the customs and registration fees ($2,000 - OUCH!) but the person we trusted to take care of everything has been working at an African pace and hasn't finished all of the details yet. This has been very discouraging. We stressed the need for the car this weekend, and he kept saying everything would be fine and there's nothing to worry about. It's a very typical Malian response to everything, meaning it's difficult for us to trust people's assurances and to have confidence in their guarantees. We are most often let down. So we just expect things not to get done...and when they do, it's a pleasant surprise. It's a frustrating, but necessary way to live in Africa.

Tomorrow, we leave for a 2 week YWAM multi-national conference in Koutiala. YWAM Mali recently acquired a minibus, so we'll be able to travel via the YWAM bus. We're very excited about the conference. Being so new to YWAM, we still have a lot to learn about the organization. This conference is all about the core values of YWAM. Over the next two weeks, we'll learn about YWAM's beliefs and methods and how to apply them in our daily lives and ministry. One of the most exciting things is the keynote speaker for the conference is Loren Cunningham, the founder of YWAM. Wow! What an amazing opportunity! In an organization the size of YWAM (16,000 full-time missionaries in 149 countries), we never expected to have the founder come and visit us. We look forward to sharing about the conference in future posts. John has taken the responsibility for brining Internet access to our four YWAM bases in Mali. He hopes to complete the Koutiala base on this trip, so hopefully we'll have Net access and ability for email and blog updates.

Please keep our travel in prayer. It's been 3-1/2 years since our accident on the road to Koutiala, but it still remains a challenge for Julie. We think the reason our car wasn't ready in time for this trip might be a protection from God.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Rolling Blackouts

Things have been pretty quiet since our last blog entry.  Thank you very much for your prayers.  We received a lot of encouragement and prayer support from our last post about spiritual warfare.  We are feeling the protection of your prayer.  Things are currently calm and uneventful, however we realize that the battle is far from over and we are expecting more in the future.  But for now, we're enjoying the peace.  Please keep your prayers coming.  They are needed!

Please also add a request for rain for Mali in your prayers.  Mali's electricity is generated from a hydroelectric plant on the Niger River.  Right now, the water level in the river has dropped below the point of being able to operate all the generators.  As a result, we are experiencing a big shortage of electricity.  Mali has began rationing power and we are currently scheduled for 6 hours of power cuts per day as the electricity is rationed and distributed only to certain areas at a time.  Today, our outage was extended to 10 hours.  It is discouraging to have the power out for such extended periods...especially in the hot season when fans can make such an important difference.  We're also learning to adapt by not relying on our refrigerator and doing shopping daily.

We have had a few of rainstorms that have helped cool things down into the 90s the past couple of days, and hopefully it's helping to raise the river level too.  It's good to know that rainy season is about to start.  The rain is also vital for Mali's crops.  A good rainy season is very important for the country's food supply which relies entirely on rain for irrigation.  Even the Muslim president of Mali has asked the Christian church to pray for rain.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

War of the Worlds

We enjoy sharing various details of our lives and ministry in Mali with you. It is fun to talk about how different things are...transportation, shopping, paying bills, etc. along with changes in our family (like a new cat!) We are also excited to communicate the ways we see the Lord working in Mali and the ministries He's privileged us with being a part of.

There are also serious circumstances we run against when we need to appeal to you for extra prayer. This week, we entered one of those circumstances in the form of an intense spiritual battle.

What does a spiritual battle look like? It can take on many different forms. In Africa, the spirit world constantly collides with the natural world and there is a lot of interaction between the two. We see some pretty freaky things. The Magnambougou church is currently involved in a very strong spiritual battle. There have been a lot of causalities in the church. This week in particular, a young man in the church died as a result of the warfare. Our association with the church and several prominent members of the church has drawn us into the battle too. We have seen and been involved in some very real manifestions of the spiritual world. A few days ago, John encountered a demon face to face. They were locked in a passionate and forceful verbal showdown. John stood firm in his position. He quoted scripture, sang worship songs, and declared his authority through Christ which eventually forced the spirit to leave. The spirit said "You haven't seen the last of me". John said, "I know. I'll be waiting for you." And we are waiting. We're expecting a lot to happen in the next few weeks.

We realize this sounds hooky spooky and many people will say we just have overactive imaginations. But the truth is, the spirit world is a very real part of our lives.

For we are not fighting against people made of flesh and blood, but against the evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against those mighty powers of darkness who rule this world, and against wicked spirits in the heavenly realms.
Ephesians 6:12

We are in need of some special prayer right now. Please pray specifically for protection for the Magnambougou church, our family, and others involved in the conflict. Please also pray for strength and courage. We know that victory ultimately belongs to Jesus, and us as His servants. But in the heat of battle, sometimes the truth can be lost in the struggle. Please pray that we will remain strong and firm in our convictions.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Here Kitty Kitty Kitty

We have a new resident living at our house. Cole has been longing for a pet cat and the opportunity recently came up to adopt one from a family leaving Mali. When we got him, we were told his name is Anakin. He is named after the Star Wars character Anakin Skywalker who transforms from a sweet innocent boy into mean spirited Darth Vader. Our cat is loving and gentle purring in your lap, and without warning, a moment later he will lash out with his claws drawn, hissing and biting. His name seems very aptly chosen.

Anakin is a Malian cat with typical Malian cat coloring (no, not black!...that’s the people). But he doesn’t seem well adjusted to the heat. He often pants like a dog and has a miserable look on his face like he’s about to die of heat stroke. Another un-catlike trait he exhibits is that he comes running when we call him. I guess we have the best of both worlds with a mix between a cat and a dog.

Anakin and Cole have become good friends. And Cole’s experience at the Jedi Training Academy this past year at Disneyland is coming in handy with his battles with Anakin.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Please Wait Here

Next time you’re writing a check for your electric bill or paying it on-line, think of us. Postal service in Mali is extremely limited and most people don’t have a mailing address. This means all bills are hand delivered to each house. It’s then up to us to pay them in person at the appropriate office. Because everyone pays their bill in person, the line to pay bills is very long...in the case of the power company, it usually exceeds an hour’s wait. Today, John went to the power company office closest to our house. He waited over two hours in line. When he finally reached the window to pay, the attendant’s computer said there was a problem with our bill and we must go to the regional office. Ouch! Two hours in line for nothing!

John waited an additional 45 minutes in line at the regional office. Again, when he reached the window to pay, they said there is a problem with the bill. With his language skills exhausted, John called a friend on his cell phone to interrupt what the attendant was saying. It turns out the power company was questioning the last meter reading. Before we could pay, John would need to take a meter reader to our house to verify the current reading. Because we don’t have a car, John rode on the back of the meter reader’s motorcycle. After jotting down the current reading on our bill, they returned to the office. After a couple of people verified the new reading, John was directed back to the cashier line to pay. Fortunately, he was allowed to go to the front of the line and didn’t have to wait all over again. In the end, we paid what the original bill said…165,600 francs…about $330. This is just for 1 month of water and electricity. Hot season is nearing its end, and hopefully we’ll see our bill drop in the next month or two.

In all, the process took 4 ½ hours. It’s a good thing we have our Disneyland experience behind us and waiting in line is nothing new to us. We’re hoping they’ll come up with a FastPass system at the utility company soon! ;-)

Sunday, May 27, 2007

If My People Pray

Today marked the Global Day of Prayer. This is a day when churches around the world unite together to pray for local, national, and global issues. In Mali, Christians from all around Bamako gathered at Mali’s Cultural Arts Center to pray together. Mali is still a predominately Muslim country with Christians accounting for less then 2% of the population. Today, over 3,400 people assembled in Bamako to pray. The Arts Center was nearly full! But with all those people in the building and the soaring temperatures outside, it reached about 110° in the auditorium. Whew! But despite the heat, it was so exciting to share with so many Christians together in one place.

The program began with a wonderful worship team that led us in both French and Bambara songs. Then the head of the church association in Mali (AGEMPEM) spoke on the power and importance of prayer. We then spent the next two hours in prayer for specific issues both local and global. The feeling of power and unity was awesome.

The host and MC for today’s events was Issouf Ag Amini, who is our YWAM Bamako base leader. The Bambara translator was Daniel Coulibaly, who is our French teacher. And the worship leader was Pastor Abel, the pastor of the Magnambougou Church we often attend. It was exciting to know many of the people involved in organizing this event. We’re hoping to be more involved next year.

A condensed version of the Global Day of Prayer in Mali was shown during a Christian television program broadcast on national TV. Our video this week is a short edited version of this program.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Happy Africa Day!

Today marks Africa Day, which celebrates the founding in 1963 of the Organization of African Unity - now called the African Union. Today is considered a national holiday in most AU countries including Mali.

You can help celebrate by listening to Network Africa - a BBC radio program with the latest news and information on what's happening in Africa. We wake up to this radio show each morning. The roster crowing during the opening segment of each show has become our family's signal of the start of the day.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

We’ve backfilled a few blog entries to compensate for a lack of posts the past couple of weeks. Please read back a few entries before this to catch up.

You've Got a Friend in Me

One of our dearest friends in Mali is named Abou Traore. We have known him since our arrival in 2001. He was the former office manager at Mission Aviation Fellowship (MAF) and served as John’s right hand man when he was the MAF Program Manager. Abou still remains an important part of our lives and we consider him one of our best friends in Mali.

Although Abou worked for MAF for 18 years, he has never received Christ and is a devout practicing Muslim. Many missionaries have shared the Gospel with Abou, but he has never become a Christian. Abou is well connected within Mali and maintains an important position in his family. He also has many valuable friendships and relationships. This has been one of the main stumbling blocks in his acceptance of Christ. If he were to become a Christian, he would lose a lot of his position and relationships. The fear of being ostracized has kept him shackled to Islam.

Because of John’s past position as Abou’s boss, it was difficult for John to share with him and have Abou accept things without viewing it as a directive from his boss. In fact, Abou has “accepted Christ” many times in the past when each of his past directors would share the Gospel with him. Now that John’s relationship is strictly as a friend to Abou, he can share with him on a different level…not as his boss, but as his friend. This week, John had the opportunity to really begin talking with Abou for the first time about Christianity. Abou had many questions and seemed interested to hear more. John is really looking forward to many more conversations. This has taken on a bit more urgency as of late, as Abou’s health is beginning to fail. He has been diagnosed with heart trouble and he’s needed to change many aspects of his lifestyle to compensate. Abou’s health problems are what actually opened the door for John to talk to him about Christ because John shared his concern for Abou’s health and ultimately his concern for Abou’s eternal destination. Please add Abou to your prayer list. We love him and care for him very much. One of our greatest joys would be to see him come to Christ.

Another plug for Skype (no…we’re not making a commission). We received a Skype telephone this week. This means we can now receive Skype calls just like a regular telephone call. It works independently from our computer so we don’t have to have the computer on or be in the same room to get calls. Our Skype name is clarkorama. We look forward to hearing from you! Please remember that we are on GMT standard time...currently 7 hours ahead of Pacific Daylight Time.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Batman

It was interesting to see flocks of bats flying around Sunday morning on our way to church. We usually don’t see them during the day. As we were walking through the market, we saw a man who had caught some of them and was butchering them in the street. I guess this goes on our list of things you are probably not likely to see in your neighborhood.

John attended a youth meeting on Sunday at a church in Torokorobougou. The youth meet monthly to discuss various issues and how to address them from a Christian perspective. The topic of this meeting was culture and how it relates to Christian life. They broke up into small groups and each one addressed different areas of culture. The group John was in discussed how Malian culture views marriage and how intermarriage among some tribes in Mali is forbidden. They also talked about how some of churches in Mali are endorsing these cultural views. Other groups talked about dress (both Malian and the influence of western fashion) and mass media. At the conclusion of the small group discussion, they reassembled and each group reported on their discussions. It was very interesting to hear how mature they were in their observations and where we are supposed to fit as Christians.

We have seen some dramatic changes in Malian culture since arriving in 2001. It is frightening to see how the influences of western culture have suddenly descended upon Mali and how their values and focus have suddenly changed in their adoption of materialism and mass media. When we first arrived, there was only one TV station in the country and very few Malians owned a TV. Today, almost every house in the city, (huts included) has a TV antenna. Several French and European TV stations are now broadcasting in Mali and the content of many of their programs is morally objectionable. The society in Mali has always placed a very high emphasis on relationships and visiting and talking with friends has always been a high priority. But now, the TV has taken the highest priority in the home. Now when visiting with friends, Malians no longer sit around and talk. They now turn on the TV and watch in silence together. Coming from the U.S., we know where this is ultimately going to end up.

The cell phone and cyber cafes have also had huge impacts on Mali. It is very difficult to watch a country change their values in such a short amount of time. This is something that’s been especially heavy on John’s heart. That’s why he was asked to attend the youth cultural discussion. He had a chance to share on values and his observations of the changes taking place in Mali and how the western world is deteriorating due to the things Malians seem so eager to adopt.

John was encouraged that several of the breakout groups during the youth meeting began to identify some of these issues on their own. It was exciting to see them use some Bible passages to begin looking at how to address the changes happening in Mali.