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 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.