Thursday, February 28, 2008

Let the Games Begin!

The conference started tonight with praise and worship in English, French, and Tamasheq. We have a worship team that's come from Norway and another from Switzerland. The team from Switzerland is headed by a man named Rolf Schneider. He is a well known worship leader in the Francophone world and plays in important part in both YWAM's and the French speaking world worship ministries. In the U.S. and other Anglophone countries, we have an abundance of worship music and many different sources to draw from. Unfortunately, most of the worship music we have in English has not been translated to French. And original French worship songs are rare. Rolf and a few others in YWAM Switzerland have been working hard to translate and publish many of the songs that are so familiar to us in English. We currently have 3 YWAM music books that are the cornerstone of the French worship community.

In the French speaking world, Rolf is the equivalent to Michael W. Smith or Chris Tomlin. It has been a wonderful encouragement to meet him and work with him. Last week Rolf spent a few days in Bamako leading worship and teaching a seminar on praise and worship. I (John) was really excited to have a chance to play keyboard with him during the worship times.

Our conference will be running from Thursday to Sunday. The schedule includes worship time, seminars, and prayer for Timbuktu, North Africa, and West Africa.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

How to Build a Tabernacle in Ten Easy Steps

Last night all the people who have arrived in Timbuktu so far got together for a worship and prayer meeting. It was WONDERFUL to be reunited with the DTS team from Norway again! We were all very excited to see each other again. I (John) had the chance to spend some time praying with Jakob (from Greenland!) who is the only guy on the team. He is doing very well and seems to be growing a lot. I'm looking forward to sharing this week with the team.

This morning we had a time of prayer and dedication at the conference site. Afterward, I began setting up the sound and technical equipment. A group from Norway donated an incredible sound system. I am really looking forward to working with it.

The teams that have been here the past couple of weeks have built an amazing meeting tent for our conference. It is built in Tamasheq (the nomadic people who live in the Sahara) fashion. It is made out of dried grass mats attached to a wooden frame. It is quite impressive in size measuring about 1500 sq. feet. There is also a large stage in the front. The type of construction is very practical by keeping the sun out while allowing the breezes to pass through. It lowers the hot desert temperatures (110° - 120°) by 10 - 15°. Everything here is sand including the floor of our meeting tent.

Our tent is built on the grounds of an elementary school operated by the Assemblies of God church. It's a wonderful and quiet location that should serve our conference well.

Monday, February 25, 2008

They're Only Dangerous When They Wiggle Their Ears

I (John) arrived in Timbuktu tonight. It was a long trip. Last night we stopped to sleep at a YWAM base in a small town called Douentza. We arrived a little after midnight. We got stopped at a police checkpoint around 10 PM. Because armed bandits sometimes attack cars traveling through the desert at night, the military provides escort caravans. There needs to be at least two cars to make the trip. We waited awhile but no one else wanted to join the caravan and decided to travel on their own. We decided to do the same and ventured off on our own. Thankfully we made it without incident.

I slept on the roof of one of the buildings under a nearly full moon. In the morning we caravaned with two other YWAM cars we met in Douentza for the remainder of the trip to Timbuktu. Out in the middle of the desert our car shut down suddenly. We were able to track the problem to a bad electrical connection. When I was packing, I debated about bringing an electrical test meter for the technical work I will be doing at the conference. I decided to bring it at the last minute and it proved invaluable in troubleshooting the problem! We fixed a broken wire and were back on the road in about an hour. I use the term "road" loosely. It is a rough washboard dirt road. In several places the road was so rough that we ventured off into driving in the sand instead. A 4X4 vehicle is definitely a must for this trip...especially when driving through the sand.

Our last obstacle before reaching Timbuktu was crossing the Niger River. When we reached the river bank, we waited about 45 minutes for a small ferry to take us across. It was a three car ferry very similar to the Balboa Island ferries back in the OC. It was a beautiful and relaxing way to end the journey. During the crossing we watched the sunset over the Niger River. It was also very exciting to see a small group of hippos on the river! Our boat captain pointed them out to us. Unlike the Jungle Cruise at Disneyland, he did not take out a gun and start shooting at them. ;-)

It was only about 15 minutes from the river into the city. We were almost at our destination when our car ran into a hole in the sand in the middle of the road. Our car got trapped in the hole and we pulled it out with one of the other cars from our caravan.

It was a very long and tiring trip. I can now attest to Timbuktu's reputation of being located at the edge of the world. But it is good to be here. I will be staying with a family from Brazil. Wow...now I have to learn Portuguese. :-o

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Conquering Mali With the Vikings

We've had the leader of the YWAM Tombouctou base and his mother staying with us the past few days. They are both from Norway. The mother speaks Norwegian only so our conversation has been rather limited. But it's still been wonderful visiting with her. John left for Tombouctou today with them in their car along with another Norwegian. He's also going to be meeting up again with the Norway team he did orientation for a couple of weeks ago. It will be interesting to see how much Norwegian John picks up on this trip.

It is going to take two days to travel to Tombouctou. Please be praying for safe travel...especially since they'll be driving at night which can be very dangerous.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Tippecanoe and Timbuktu

Please be in prayer for our YWAM Mali team as they travel to Tombouctou (Timbuktu) for a prayer and worship conference called FEET 2008. John will be going, but Julie and Cole will be staying in Bamako to help maintain the base and assist people coming and going for the event.

Tombouctou is a very big Muslim spiritual stronghold. It is considered a very important holy city in Islam ranking just behind Mecca and Medina and Jerusalem in its religious importance. It is also the home of an important Islamic university (built in 1581) and library housing over 100,000 ancient Islamic writings dating back to the 12th century. It is also home to one of the oldest mud mosques which was originally built in 1327. It's pretty amazing that a mud building is standing after nearly 7 centuries.

FEET 2008 has five goals including praying for Tombouctou and making God known through worship and praise. For more information, be sure to check out the FEET 2008 web site by clicking here. We covet your prayers during this conference. We're sure there is going to be a lot of opposition and spiritual warfare.

Also, please be praying for John's travel. He will be leaving for California immediately following his return from Tombouctou. More than just a legend, Tombouctou really does exist...and it lives up to to its reputation as being one of the most remote places on earth. It literally sits on the edge of the Sahara Desert and is very difficult to access. There is no paved road and public transportation to Tombouctou is limited to 4 wheel-drive buses that can travel through the sand of the desert. The travel is 1-2 days under ideal circumstances. Any travel delays or breakdowns will result in him missing his connection to California. It is possible to fly from Tombouctou, unfortunately air travel is only scheduled Wednesday - Sunday.

One of the primary goals of FEET 2008 is prayer for Tombouctou. You can participate by praying wherever you are in the world during February 28th - March 2nd.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Hate to Eat and Run...

Julie's birthday was today. It was a very busy day helping out many different people with several projects and tasks. Our house was like Grand Central Station with people coming and going all day. In fact, the day didn't come to an end until after 1am when we had a visitor arrive from Tombouctou (Timbuktu) who will be staying in our guest room for the next week.

In between, we did manage to find enough time to have a rushed meal at a local restaurant and sneak in some present opening and birthday cake time. Considering the circumstances, Julie was very happy with her gifts and other surprises. It was difficult not to be able to dedicate the day to Julie and really share some quality time...but this is the nature of our busy lives and growing ministries. Please be praying for some downtime when we can reconnect as a family.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Look What Dragged In The Cat

Coming home from school on Friday afternoon, we saw a group of kids gathered around something in the middle of the road. As we got closer we saw it was an injured kitten. No one wanted to touch it or try to help it...in fact, they were afraid of it. The kitten didn't belong to anyone, and no one wanted to claim it. It was crying in pain and couldn't seem to walk. So we decided to pick it up and bring it home.

After some food, a bath and some TLC, she seems to be doing better now although she still has some obvious injuries and limps quite a bit when she walks. We've named her Purrcilla. Our other cat Anakin isn't thrilled with Purrcilla, but he is tolerating her. We were a little worried about leaving Purrcilla outside as she really can't defend herself, but the first night, Anakin protected her from a cat that came into our yard. He seems to have taken on the role of a big brother.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Homecoming

Thank you for your prayers with our insurance situation for Julie's medevac to Paris. The insurance company approved and processed our claim. They didn't cover everything we filed for, but they paid for most of the claim. It's good to have this behind us. We want to express a special thank you to those people who donated money to help pay the costs not covered by the insurance company. In all, God has provided for 100% of our expenses!!

We received a surprise invitation from Rose Drive Friends Church (one of our supporting churches) this week. They have asked John to speak at their missions conference in March and will be paying for his trip to the States. John will be in Southern California from March 6th to March 18th. He would really enjoy to the opportunity to get together with you and share all the wonderful things that have been happening lately. He'd be especially blessed to meet over a meal at a much missed restaurant like Rubio's, El Torito, Pizza Hut, Carl's Jr., and even McDonalds! Of course, a trip to Disneyland is always a possibility too. Please drop us an email and he'll be happy to arrange a time to get together with you.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

All Good Things Must Come To An End

Today marks the end of the Africa Cup of Nations tournament for 2008. Egypt beat Cameroon 1-0 in the final match tonight. We're glad that CAN 2008 is over, but we're sad at the same time. It's been incredible to have so many people gathered outside our house each night for the games and the Jesus Film. We even had neighbors watching the Jesus Film from their rooftops. What an amazing event this has been. It's opened up the door for lots of new ideas that we're looking forward to doing. We'll keep you posted as they materialize. We've also had the opportunity to get to know many of our neighbors. We feel we've built a lot of bridges and started some new relationships the past few weeks.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Please Do Not Feed The Animals

Julie and Cole visited the Bamako Zoo on a school field trip today. We were both a little anxious as we remembered our first family trip to the zoo back in 2001 which seemed to have included more dead animals than live ones. Well, the Bamako Zoo did not disappoint and this year there were other surprises waiting for us.

Within five minutes of our arrival, a fourth grader was bitten by a hungry monkey. The monkeys are out of their cages, tethered to a fence by ropes and guests must gauge their distance carefully. We saw chimpanzees, baboons, leopards, lions, hyenas, an ostrich and a wild boar - thankfully all of these animals are in cages and can be fed if you're brave enough to put the food up to the bars.

The manatee had died but we were able to touch its preserved body because the display case was broken and the body was exposed. The final highlight for Cole was being chased by a runaway horse and its donkey companion which are let loose to stretch their legs at regular intervals during the day. He was very glad that the lion and leopard are not allowed such privileges. Julie was a little disappointed that the national zoo of Mali did not have a 'mali' (the Bambara word for hippopatamus), though there was a pool built for one at one time. There was a 'bama' ( Bambara for crocodile) though. He stayed at the far end of his habitiat which is probably just as well considering the close encounters we'd had with the other animals. Yes, all in all, it was a memorable day at the Mali National Zoo. And we lived to tell about it!

NOTE: We've added the ability to click on the photo of the week to see a larger, more detailed version of the photo. Try it out and let us know what you think.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

A Good Year

Wow...it's hard to believe, but today marks our one year anniversary of our arrival in Mali with YWAM. It's been exciting for us to look back through this blog and relive everything that's happened and seen just how busy we've been. Over the past couple of months in particular, we feel we've crossed over the plateau with French and feel we are really starting to grasp the language. We still have a long way to go, but we're happy with how far we've come. Bambarba is coming along too, but at a little slower pace.

Even though we've lived here in the past with MAF, our experience with YWAM has been very different. God has really worked in our lives the past couple of years and developed us in ways we didn't think possible.

Thank you for your prayers, thoughts and support for our family. You are an important part of our ministry. We look forward to see what's waiting ahead in the coming year. Stay tuned...

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Super Sunday

As most of you were watching Superbowl XLII in the States, we were watching yet another soccer match as part of the CAN 2008 games. Tonight's game was a quarter final match with Cameroon vs. Zambia. It was a late game that didn't start until 8:30pm. The score was tied at the end of regulation time. Because this was a final match, the game continued into overtime to break the tie. It finally ended at 11:00pm with Cameroon advancing to the final rounds. Because the game started late, we started showing the Jesus Film an hour before the game started. We continued showing more during the halftime break and finished the film after the game. It was a L-O-N-G night. But several people did stay to watch the end of the Jesus Film.

Thank you for your continued prayers for this ministry...and especially for peace and safety during the Mali matches. Unfortunately, Mali lost their game last Tuesday night eliminating them from the series. But thankfully, there were no protests or uprisings following the game...either at our house or the streets of Bamako. The Malian president appeared on television the night before the game appealing for peace after the game. His announcement and your prayers ensured a peaceful ending to Mali's bid for the African Cup.

We've continued showing the games even after Mali was eliminated. Turnout has been sporadic depending on who's playing and the match level of the game. On one night, we had only 6 people watching at halftime when we started showing the movie. The crowd continued to grow during the movie and at the end of halftime, we had about 50 people watching. We made the decision to keep showing the movie instead of returning to the game. The people were quite content with that decision. It's amazing to see how powerful the draw of the Good News is!!

We've had several people coming to help us set up. It's been very encouraging to have our friends come and participate in this ministry. Even kids are getting involved in helping. They are always the first to show up and really enjoy assisting in the setup. And they are always so entranced and engaged in the Jesus Film. Please pray for these young lives.

We have just 3 games left in the CAN series. Most of them are day games, so we will not be setting up to show them as we can't use the big screen during the day. But we will be showing the final match next Sunday and follow with the Jesus Film after it gets dark after the game ends.

It's exciting to begin to see results of this ministry. We're now being approached by several neighbors and people are returning to our house the day after the film to ask questions. Please be praying as we develop new relationships with our neighbors.