Sunday, February 25, 2007

Fiesta Time in Africa

Last Monday (February 19th) was Julie’s birthday. Leota, one of our missionary friends, threw Julie a birthday party and invited several of our African friends. We had a chance to catch up with Matthew, Arthur, Kenya, and many other people we’ve missed. We really enjoyed sharing and partying with them. Leota now works at the American International School of Bamako (AISB) which is the Embassy school. She has privileges to shop in the Embassy commissary and used her resources to throw us an American style party complete with a full Mexican meal with tacos, burritos, nachos, salsa, and jalapeño peppers! Wow! What a difference from the African food we’ve been eating lately. It was wonderful!

After our meal, it was present time. Our friends showered Julie with gifts. She got some African jewelry, African decorations, some baking pans, and some processed food favorites from the States including Oreo cookies, A&W root beer, Pace picante sauce, and a few other goodies.

This past week, Julie had a chance to substitute teach at Bamako Christian Academy (BCA) where she will be teaching next year. Going to school with Cole was very reminiscent of the arrangement the two had going to Bamako Christian School in previous years. Both had a great week. Julie encountered students she had previously taught and met some new faces as well. Cole mastered changing classrooms for every subject (like big kids do) in just a couple of days.

We’ve been busily looking at houses. We saw several this week and found one that we really like. It’s located in Niamakoro just a couple of blocks from BCA so Cole and Julie will be able to walk to school. It’s four bedrooms and two baths and has some really nice social areas including a thatched veranda on the roof. It’s still a little bigger than we were looking for, but it is in an excellent location and priced to move. God has really blessed us with rent of only $300 a month. This is almost half of what we were expecting to pay. Renting a house here is not as simple as just signing on the dotted line. We’ve been in heavy negotiations with the landlord about the price, terms, and conditions and maintenance of the house. We think we’ve worked out most of the details. We’ll fill you in about the house and post pictures as things progress.

Now that we’ve gotten a house, it’s time to start filling it with furniture, appliances, and housewares. This is a huge task in itself. Fortunately, we met up with one of our missionary friends from Mali in California last year when he attended a conference in LA. We found out that he and his family are being reassigned from Mali to France. They are going to sell most of their household things (furniture, appliances, etc…what a coincidence!) in Mali before they go. We were able to work out buying the entire contents of their house. This works out perfectly for both of our families! What a huge blessing! Now we have everything in one place…from beds to dishes to a water filter to linens to mosquito nets to a refrigerator. Talk about one-stop shopping! Our friends have already left Mali and are in Canada awaiting their deployment to France. In the meantime, all of there things are in storage here in Bamako. On Saturday, we had a chance to see the “insides” of our house. Most of it is packed in barrels and boxes, but we got a good idea of what furniture and appliances we’ve purchased. We were amazed with the quantity and quality of the things we bought. Now all we have to do is make arrangements to have it moved from storage to our new house.

Today, we attended a graduation for the Mission Kalima Bible School. John was invited to present the diplomas to the graduates. In all, 5 people received certificates for one year of study, and 6 people received diplomas and graduated as pastors after completing 2 years of study. There were about 100 people in attendance. We had over an hour of praise and worship, then presentations by several pastors. A Nigerian pastor gave the commencement address in English (it was translated into French and Bambara) so we were able to fully understand it. Then John presented the certificates and diplomas to the class. It was exciting to be part of releasing new pastors into work in Mali!

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Can the Honeymoon Be Ending Already?

On Thursday, Cole started back to school. This is a blessing for all of us. We have found that home schooling is not a gig for us. Cole is attending Bamako Christian Academy which is a school for missionary kids operated by an inter-mission parent association. For all intents and purposes, it’s the old MAF school that Julie taught at and Cole attended last time we were here but under different management and in a different location. It has been easy for Cole to blend into the school as many of his friends still attend and he knows several of the teachers. He is glad to be back.

We got a telephone this week. If you’d like to call us, our number from the States is: 011-223-514-51-98.

We have spent most of the week visiting with friends and reestablishing old relationships. For our Malian friends, there is no need for an appointment or prearrangement. It is much more accepted to drop in on someone unannounced. In fact, it’s considered an insult not to drop in on friends. This brings a lot of freedom, yet at the same time, can make for an unpredictable lifestyle. We have spent several hours the past week visiting with friends that have dropped in on us unexpectedly. And we have visited others the same way. It’s a lifestyle we’ve got to get reacquainted with. Meeting with our Western missionary friends is more of a formal process by making arrangements for dinner and conversation. There’s a time and a place for both meeting styles.

In-between visiting, we’ve been actively house hunting. We’ve decided to concentrate our search in an area called Niamakoro, which is where the school is located. This will put Julie and Cole within walking distance of school. We have looked at a couple of houses in the neighborhood and have been really encouraged. The prices are ½ of what we were expecting and the houses very nice. We found one house we really liked, but it was taken by someone else. But that just means God has an even better place waiting for us.

We’re anxious to get our own place. We’ve been in a communal living situation for 6 months and we’re ready to get out on our own again. It’s been hard on Julie as she shares an African style kitchen with several people. It is small, very sparse, and a lot less sanitary than she’s accustomed to. She’s really beginning to miss running hot water. Being thrust into more of an African lifestyle than we’ve led before is a challenge. The YWAM base is also a guest house for all YWAM missionaries so there’s always a lot of people coming and going. And the rooms we’re staying in are needed for others coming through soon.

This week has been taxing. Besides the shared living conditions, the novelty of taking cold showers and doing laundry by hand is fading quickly. And then there are the water problems. The water supply in Bamako is much less reliable than the last time we were here. It’s not uncommon now for the water to go off 12 hours a day. This really caught us off guard the other day, but now we know to be prepared with buckets of water on hand for the dry times.

John’s keyboard traveled with us to Mali. It has traveled a lot including previous round trips to Mali and Guatemala. Unfortunately, it didn’t fare so well on this trip. When we opened it this week, we found two keys got broken in transit. It’s still usable, but limiting. We hope we will be able to order some replacement keys.

Leading worship is also going to present some challenges as the music here is written differently than in the States. The notation is the same, however John plays mostly from chords and they are written in a different style. Instead of being noted as letters (A, B, C, D, etc.), they use the European names of the notes (Do, Ré, Mi, Fa, etc.) Yes…it constantly brings to mind the Sound of Music but that does little to help interpret on the fly what note is what. So now it’s time to learn yet another language…European chord notation! Yikes!

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Goin' To Town

We’ve been here several days now and the jetlag is still coming on strong. Cole seems to be having an especially hard time. We’re going to bed and waking up at regular times now, but we’re all waking for several hours in the middle of the night.

On Sunday, we went to a local church here in Magnambougou. It has two different services…one in Bambara, and one in French. We chose to go the French service which was later in the morning. It was a good service, but short (1 hour) by Malian standards. Having the service in one language really cuts down on the time. We met the pastor after the service and introduced ourselves. He knew who we were from our accident 3 years ago and has been praying for us. He was overjoyed to see how well John has recovered. How awesome and encouraging it was to learn about another church and meet the people who had been holding us up in prayer during our time of need.

After church, we decided to head into town to get some Malian money and do some basic shopping. We found our local sotrama stop and we jumped into a waiting van. Sotramas are the public transportation system in Mali. They are small 7 passenger minivans with the seats taken out and replaced with a wrap around bench seat. By law, a sotrama is limited to 21 passengers. It’s rare to find one with less. There’s no better way to get up close and personal with Malians than to take a sotrama. We enjoy it.

The sotrama route from Magnambougou is fast and easy and we were downtown in no time. We were happy to find the ATM has been fixed since we left and it was easy for us to get money. We’ve also been told that a second ATM has been added at another bank. This makes 2 ATMs for the entire country! It’s good to know the capacity has doubled considering this is the only access to our money. Through the wonders of modern banking technology, we are able to access our U.S. bank account to get to the money sent to us through YWAM.

After getting money, we could begin shopping in the outdoor markets downtown. We went to several vendors, picked the items we needed, and negotiated the price for each one… all this while going through the Bambara greeting structure and bantering about tribal ties. It was a very familiar process and gave us a sense of belonging.

After shopping, we walked to the Sunday evening English church service to regroup with many of our old missionary colleagues. We had a great time of worship and teaching followed by a lot of hugs, handshakes, and catching up with old friends.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Parlez Vous Français?

We’ve been gone from Mali for a year and a half, but it feels like we’ve been gone just a day. It’s been easier than we thought to begin slipping back into the African lifestyle. Even the languages are coming through, despite our distraction of learning Spanish in Guatemala. John has received several complements from friends who are surprised that he hasn’t forgotten how to speak Bambara (the local dialect for this region of Mali).

Living at the YWAM base will be a very good experience for us because nobody here speaks English and for the first time, we’re really living in a language emersion environment where our French skills are “sink or swim.” Most of the people at the YWAM base are not Malian, but are from other African countries. They speak French, but not Bambara, which is a struggle for John who usually speaks by mixing both languages to communicate. Because Julie’s focus has been French all along, she seems to be progressing well. Please keep us in prayer as we develop our language skills.

Because we’re in Francophone Africa, YWAM here goes by the French name of JEM – Jeunesse en Mission (Youth With A Mission). We’ll probably call our organization by either name.

The temperature here has been milder than we were expecting. Daily highs have only been in the mid 90’s and it been dropping into the 70’s at night. A nice breeze has been blowing which is also helping to keep things cool. This is a blessing considering the base doesn’t have air conditioning or even ceiling fans. We do have a small tabletop fan in our room which is helping.

Yesterday, we visited Mali Communication, the telecommunication company that was established by John and the former Malian employees of MAF in 2005 when MAF left the country. It’s located in the old MAF office building. It was a joy to see our old friends again! Business is good and they are doing very well on their own. John will begin working with them again as part of his ministry. It’s exciting to rejoin the lives of our Malian friends.

Yesterday we also had a chance to look at a house. It was beautiful and in a good location in Badalabougou. It had 4 bedrooms, 3 baths, and a swimming pool. It is very reasonably priced, however we feel it’s too much house for our small family, so we’ve decided to keep looking. Please keep our house search in prayer.

Last night, we had dinner with Jean-Patrick, the director of YWAM West Africa, and his wife Ruth. We talked about our possible ministries and some of the things we might be doing along with how we can begin our work with YWAM Mali. They have a 10 year old adopted Malian boy named Emmanuel who connected well with Cole. Although there is a language barrier, they got along wonderfully. We found out that Emmanuel later told his parents that he thinks Cole is going to be his new best friend. We’ve been hoping Cole would make some African friends. This is a great start.

Today, we got a tour of Bamako Christian Academy, the replacement for the MAF school that closed when we left in 2005. This was also a project we helped get started, but this was our first view of the end result. It was very impressive. Cole will be starting school here next week and Julie will begin teaching here full-time next school year. It was good to know the location of the school in relation to the YWAM base. We now have a pretty good idea of the places we will be going to on a regular basis. This will help us in choosing the best area to live. Now we can really begin our house search.

After our tour, we had dinner with the school administrator and her family and did a lot of catching up on what’s been happening since we left.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

The Eagle Has Landed

We arrived safely in Mali! We left L.A. at 3:30pm on Tuesday and landed in Mali on Wednesday at 9:30pm. Factoring out the time change (+8 hours), it takes about 24 hours in travel. We flew from LAX to Paris to Mali via Air France. Our flights were uneventful and everything went smoothly. Even our check-in process was quick and easy, especially considering the extra luggage. John did lose his cell phone on the first plane, but he packed a backup just in case. We were hoping to keep our Stateside phone number, but that’s now gone with the phone.

Our last American meal was at LAX at Wolfgang Puck’s. We also stopped at McDonald’s during our 4 hour layover at Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris. Cole is especially going to miss McD’s the next few years.

In Mali, we were delighted that all of our baggage arrived with us! We were also happy that none of our RubberMaid containers broke…something we’ve had trouble with in the past. Thanks to our good Malian friend, Abou, we had no problems clearing through customs in Mali which can often be a real problem.

It was exciting to see all the people who came to the airport to greet us. Besides John-Patrick, our YWAM director, we had many African friends and a couple of missionary colleagues welcoming us back. What a warm feeling!

We had a temporary home waiting for us at the YWAM base in Bamako. We’re in a neighborhood called Magnambougou, (it’s going to take us awhile to learn to pronounce this) about 3 miles from where we used to live in Badalabougou. The base is located in a 4-plex apartment building which we share with the Islamic Relief organization…we don’t even need to leave the base to begin our ministry. Our family is sharing an apartment with an African couple from Cote d’Ivoire. It’s very basic living conditions, yet comfortable. We have two bedrooms for our family. We’re back to sharing a bathroom again with our housemates. It’s time to get used to sleeping under mosquito nets and taking cold showers again. But we’re grateful for a place to live while we look for our own home the next few days.

Ah! It’s good to be back home in Mali!

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Leaving On A Jet Plane

Wow! It's hard to believe our time in Southern California has gone by so quickly! Over the past few days we've had the pleasure of sharing with more friends and family. We had some wonderful visits with people we haven't seen in quite some time. Julie even had a chance to do a chapel presentation at Anaheim Discovery Christian School where she taught last year.

We had a speical treat on Thursday when we visited with some missionaries we met in 2001 just as we were getting our feet wet with MAF. They have decided to relocate to Mali to start a new ministry in March. They are planning to live in Bamako, the same city we'll be based in. We had a chance to share a lot about living and ministering in Mali. It seems strange to be the ones mentoring new arrivals to Mali.

Calvary Church of Santa Ana (our home church) re-commissioned us and prayed for us on Sunday. We felt especially blessed standing before the congregation as our pastor prayed for our minsitry in Mali.

In between the all the visiting, we managed to finish the last of our packing. We fit all of our earthly belongings into 12 pieces of luggage which will accompany us on our flight to Mali. Whether we're ready or not, it's time to return to Mali.

Please be praying for housing in Mali. When we arrive, we will be staying the first few days at the YWAM base. From there, we're not sure where we're going to live.

We do have a wonderful praise item to share about our 2006 income tax. We were busily filing our return online late Saturday night to get everything complete before we leave. Someone in our family shared about a speical low income credit we might be eligible for. It turns out we qualified and recieved a $3000 credit as a result. What a wonderful unexpected blessing! This will really help us in purchasing a car in Mali. I guess we'll now add W to our mailing list as a new supporter! Praise God for watching over us when we need it most.

We are leaving for Mali this afternoon at 3:30pm on Air France. We have a brief stopover in Paris and will eventually arrive in Mali on Wednesday at 9:20pm. It's a long flight, but we're looking forward to sitting still and resting for a few hours for the first time in several weeks.

We're not sure when we're going to have Internet access in Mali, but as soon as we do, we'll post to the blog and let you know we arrived safely.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

6 Miles From Disneyland

Time is begining to tick down quickly toward our departure for Africa. We have been very busy the past week seeing people, packing, and closing up final details before we leave. Cole sure is glad our vacinations are now done! It's been hard to say good-bye to so many people we love. We're going to miss all of you very much.

It's been exciting to share with several church groups. We've also had a chance to reconnect with a lot of old friends and family members. Your prayers and encouragement have been very uplifting during this stressful time of transition. We value your relationship. Thank you for being there when we need you.

Yesterday, we put meetings and packing aside to enjoy a day together as a family at Disneyland. We had a wonderful day. Cole is a big Star Wars fan and especially enjoyed taking part in the Jedi Training Academy where he learned from a real Jedi how to effectively battle with a light saber. This was put to the test when Darth Vader himself showed up and Cole faced him in a one-on-one battle.

Disneyland is a very different place for us than it used to be before went to the mission field. It is still a wonderful and magical place, but we realize the error in the level of our past devotion and obsession with everything Disney. For 18+ years, Disneyland was something we worshiped and gave a majority of our time and attention to...especially after we opened the Anaheim Visitor Center. That level of concentration on Disney has now been replaced with something far more meaningful. We have traded our "Magic Kindom" values for true Kingdom values. We feel elated to be focusing our lives on Christ and sharing His love and message with the world.