Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Heart of Sin

John Teaching Kings Kids.jpg YWAM has a ministry called King’s Kids that is a youth program that focuses on evangelism through song, dance, and performance.  This week, there is a King’s Kids camp in Bamako that about 30 kids are attending.  The weeklong camp is allowing the kids to draw closer to the Lord, learn new things in classes and study sessions, and develop new song and dance routines that they use to share the Gospel through evangelistic performances and events.

John was asked to teach a couple of sessions about technology at the camp on Monday and Tuesday.  He shared about the good and bad of technology and how to best use technical tools while avoiding the pitfalls and temptations it can bring.  John talked about 5 main areas of technology that are changing life in Mali:  Television, Computers/Internet, Music/MP3, DVDs/Movies, and Cell Phones.  Even though Mali is one of the poorest countries in the world, technology is making major inroads bringing both good and bad to the country.  This is something very close to John’s heart and an area he was eager to share about.

One area especially is television.  Having watched TV erode our society and morality in the States during our lifetime, it is especially hard to watch it happening in Mali too…and at a much faster rate.  Television is still a relatively new item in Mali.  Since 2001, we’ve seen it grow from a few TVs scattered among the wealthier people to something that is now expected in every home.  Keep in mind that the average per capita income for Mali is $270 per year.  A TV can cost an average family between 6 months to a year salary!  But one of the hardest things has been the programming that is attracting people.  Every night a 7pm Mali comes to a grinding halt as a telenovela (Brazilian soap opera) captures everyone’s attention.  People stop on the street and gather in front of TVs set up to watch Au Coeur de Péché – The Heart of Sin.  The title says it all.

This was the second landmark teaching opportunity for John in the past few days as he once again did his entire presentation in French without the help of a translator.  This is an exciting step that will hopefully lead to a lot more opportunities to share with the people of Mali.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

PowerPoint to the People

Yesterday, John was invited by our friend Edward who is a missionary with Campus Crusade, to teach a class on Microsoft PowerPoint to a group of students from Bamako University.  Many of the students are specializing in business studies.  Edward has a ministry working with students to teach them practical business skills they don’t learn in school.  He uses this as an opportunity to develop relationships with students which gives him a chance to share the Gospel.

Unfortunately, most of the students don’t have access to a computer and many have never used one before, so teaching them how to use PowerPoint was quite a challenge.  John focused on the basics of business presentation and how to put together several different types of presentations including marketing, sales, training, and reporting.  Then together as a class, they put together a simple PowerPoint sales presentation.

The students were very excited about learning to use a business program like PowerPoint and they asked a lot of questions and expressed a lot of interest in John coming to teach other computer classes.  It looks like a new ministry has opened up for John.  Please be praying for direction in this new area.

This class marked an important milestone as John taught only in French without the need for an interpreter!

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Joyeux Noël

Christmas 2008 sq

We wish you and your family a wonderful and very Merry Christmas.

From the edge of the Sahara, we are far from a white Christmas…in fact, we’re experiencing more of a red Christmas.  The dust storms are coming in and there is a brown/reddish haze in the air all the time.  Our temperature today topped out at 98°, so we’re a long way from braving the winter weather many of your are experiencing in the States.

Each year at Christmas, the Malian Church commissions a fabric that people of the church buy then have made into clothes to wear to church on Christmas day.  We picked up our clothes from the tailor a couple of days ago so we blended in well at Church this morning.

Last night we attended Christmas Eve service at our friend Pastor Christophe’s church in Sabalibougou.  This has become our family’s tradition in Mali.  The service ended at midnight and we returned home to get some sleep for Christmas day.  We awoke Christmas morning and spent time opening gifts.  We received a couple of wonderful Christmas packages from the States along with a few gifts we picked up for each other in Mali.  After our gifts were opened, we donned our Christmas clothes and headed back to Sabalibougou for Christmas day service.  It was complete with lots of singing, dancing, and a wonderful Christmas message.  Following the service, the church hosted a wonderful lunch of African rice with vegetables and meat.  It was one of the best meals we’ve had in Mali.

Nativity Set The children built a wonderful nativity set at the church.  Traditional western style nativity figures were outside a handmade African stable.  Inside the stable was a large doll representing the baby Jesus.  It’s interesting to see Malian’s interpretation of Christmas decorations.  Many businesses are decorated with Christmas lights and gaudy tinsel decorations.  There are also large light up Christmas decorations adorning many of the streets…the big difference is all the decorations stay up year-round here.  Because Mali is a Muslim country, Christmas really doesn’t get celebrated outside the church.  Today was just like any other day for most Malians.  Looking around town, there was no sign today was Christmas day.  It was wonderful to spend our celebration in the church remembering what the true meaning of Christmas is all about without getting lost in the pomp and circumstance, and more importantly, the stress of the holiday.  May you and your family feel the peace and love this Christmas holiday is meant to represent.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Amber Alert

One of our Malian employees at Bamako Christian Academy received a call from his wife that their 6 year old daughter had disappeared.  The wife and daughter went to the market together and the mother sent the girl home early.  When mom got home a couple of hours later, she found that her daughter had never made it home.  The family and neighbors began a frantic search.  After a few hours, they located the little girl.

There are conflicting stories of what happened, but things are leaning towards her being abducted by a couple of men.  Thankfully, it appears they didn’t do anything to her.  The police have taken one of men into custody.  Now the process begins to sort everything out.  The police have received reports from some people who say they saw the men take the girl.  They’ve also received reports that the girl was simply wandering around.

Please keep Thierry and his family in prayer as they work through all the details.  They have had to pay the police a large sum of money to begin the investigation.  Please pray that the police will resolve everything fairly and the truth will be revealed.

We are thankful that no harm came to the girl, but it serves as a reminder that crime is everywhere…including Mali.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Supply and Demand

Kalima School Gift Presentation Bamako Christian Academy (where Julie teaches and Cole attends) has a Student Ministries program that allows our kids to reach out to Malians with their own mission projects.  Last month they held a bake sale to raise money for school supplies for La Victoire Christian School - a local Malian Christian school.  They were able to raise enough money to purchase notebooks, pencils and rulers for one of the classes.  Because of the poverty in Mali, most kids don’t have even the most basic school supplies.  And when it comes to books, they are usually shared by several students.  Often, an entire class will share one book.

Kalima School 1st Grade Class Another contrast between the two schools is class size.  Where BCA has a total enrollment of 35 students in K-12th grade, La Victoire has 65 kids in just the first grade class alone.  The class is taught by one teacher with all 65 students in the same classroom.  The students also sit 2-3 to a desk and practice their lessons on chalk slates like classrooms in the States 150 years ago.

Today, the BCA Student Ministry leaders (Cole is currently the vice president) went to La Victoire Christian School to present the supplies they purchased.  Believe it or not, it only cost $30 to provide basic supplies for the entire class.  They were very excited to receive the supplies.  We’re hoping Student Ministries will embark on more projects like this.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Hallelujah

Messiah Concert Back in October, someone from the U.S. Embassy began organizing a choir and orchestra within the English speaking community to perform Handel’s Messiah.  There have been about 45 people involved including several people from the mission community, several different embassies, along with Africans from a few different countries.  They were able to assemble a full choir and a small orchestra including a few violins and a couple of wind instruments.

Julie has been attending rehearsals for the last several weeks and yesterday we attended the performance.  They did a WONDERFUL job.  Our featured video is a segment of the Hallelujah Chorus.  You can view it by clicking here.

The concert was held in an upscale hotel downtown.  It was interesting to have carpet under our feet for the first time in months!  The juxtaposition of extremes in Mali continues to fascinate us and this concert was no exception.  We spend a majority of our time living in third world living conditions.  Spending a couple of hours in a modern, western style environment was quite a treat.

TRIVIA – At the first London performance of the Messiah, King George II was so moved by the words and music of the Hallelujah Chorus, that he stood and remained standing for the rest of the chorus.  According to the protocol of the time, when the king stood, everyone else stood too – thus initiating the tradition of standing for the Hallelujah Chorus.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Olly Olly Oxen Free

Wow...Sorry for the break in communication!  Please rest assured that we are alive and well.  We're not sure why we haven't been keeping up with the blog.  But we're going back to our regular schedule now.

It would be very difficult to catch up with everything that's been happening the past month.  We have had a variety of experiences that run the full spectrum from good to bad.  Here's just a brief summary.  Grab a cup of coffee or hot chocolate as we catch you up on the past few weeks.

Julie had another medical scare when she started experiencing the same symptoms she had last year with the kidney stone incident.  After a couple of doctor visits and several lab tests, a kidney stone was ruled out.  BUT...this time the doctor found gall stones.  He said normally that shouldn't be a problem and gave Julie a prescription to help settle things down.  When Julie asked what the medicine was, he said "Really, it's just clay that you mix with water."  It's fascinating how sometimes technology can't outdo the basics God provides.

A couple of weeks ago we experienced a big conflict in our family and our marriage was put under great stress.  It took several days, but we were able to pray through everything and resolve the conflict.  Thankfully, our marriage is now stronger than ever, however this time was very frightening and a reminder that we need your prayer to help fend off the attacks and lies of Satan as he attempts to destroy us and create disunity in our family.

Aside from the problems, we're happy to report that there have been some exciting things happening lately too.  John has spent the last few weeks acquiring a computer, projector, and printer for a Malian pastor who works with a mission called Tentmakers International that specializes in training people how to serve as missionaries while supporting themselves with a job.  Pastor Tiowa is the head of the Africa branch and is currently coordinating training and equipping many people from Mali and other African countries.  Thanks to on-line shopping, purchasing the equipment was easy...it was finding someone who would agree to transport it in their luggage from the States to Mali that was the difficult part, even though John arranged to pay for the extra baggage fees.  After several weeks, he was finally able to find a missionary who agreed to bring it over.  John was able to train the pastor and a couple other people how to use the equipment and last week Tentmakers International had a dedication ceremony to officially open their new office in Mali and present themselves, their computer and other office material to the Christian community.  It was exciting to be part of launching a new ministry organization.

We celebrated a simple Thanksgiving holiday.  Most of the Americans we know already had other commitments or plans, so we shared a meal just with our family.  Julie did a wonderful job preparing a wonderful meal including homemade stuffing (no StoveTop stuffing here!), pumpkin pie from scratch and several other Thanksgiving trimmings.  We were not able to get a turkey, but we managed with a chicken instead.  We were able to by a roasted chicken from a street vendor that made a wonderful centerpiece for our meal.  It will be nice not to have to eat turkey leftovers for the next couple of weeks.  Having simple holidays really helps bring the true meaning of our celebrations to light as we don't get lost in all the preparation and other details of the day.

We have been active in our YWAM worship ministry.  We have had some really good worship times the past few weeks.  This ministry is really starting to take off and grow.  We've also been busy in our TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) English tutoring with two of our students preparing to take the TOEFL test this week.  Please keep Daniel and Abel in prayer as they take the test and await their results.  They are both eager to pass so they can attend seminary in the States.

On Sunday night, Bamako Christian Academy presented their Christmas program.  Julie stepped back as the director this year when another teacher expressed interest in leading the program.  Julie enjoyed the less stressful role as assistant director.  Cole had a narrator part this year.  He did an excellent job!  He really struggled during practice time saying the word "abolitionists" in his script.  But when performance time came, he nailed it with no problem.

Tabaski, the Festival of Sacrifice was this week.  This is one of the biggest holidays in Islam.  It is a day to celebrate when Abraham was going to sacrifice Ismael but God stopped him at the last minute and provided a ram instead.  If this story sounds familiar but a little different, it's because Islam recognizes Ismael instead of Isaac as the chosen son.  With the familiarity of the characters, it's an excellent point to start a conversation with our Muslim friends and talk about God, forgiveness, and atonement.  On Tabaski, it's tradition for each family to sacrifice a ram or a goat and prepare a big feast for family and friends.  They even set aside 1/3 of the meal to give to the poor.  Maybe we can learn something from this.  In many ways, Tabaski is like our Thanksgiving celebration in the States.  But instead of picking up a Butterball at the supermarket, you buy your sheep from a local shepherd who's leading his flock for sale through the streets.

Julie will be participating in a community concert presentation of the Messiah this weekend.  There are about 40 people in the choir.  Many come from American and European embassies, mission agencies, and NGO non-profit organizations.  There are also several African participants.  We'll share more details after the concert.

We have several YWAM short-term teams coming to serve in Mali over the next couple of months.  The first arrives from Canada on Saturday night.  They are an English speaking team, so John is going to coordinate and assist with much of their time in Bamako.

It's been getting cold the last few nights.  We're now shutting our windows and turning off our fans as the temperatures drop into the high 60s at night.  In the morning, we're donning jackets as we venture out into the cold mid-70 degree mornings.  Who knows...it could turn out to be a white Christmas after all!