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.