Sunday, August 30, 2009

When Two Worlds Collide

We were only back from Switzerland for a few days before we really hit the road running.  Julie and Cole are back in school and fully involved in Bamako Christian Academy.  John spent several days working with a short-term team that came out to visit a Malian Christian school project they’ve been working with.  This team is not associated with YWAM or any other projects or churches we’ve been involved with but it’s always wonderful to reach out and help new people.  John acted as their guide and accompanied them on many visits to their school in a village just outside of Bamako.  He also made arrangements for translators, transportation, and other needs of the team.

Unfortunately, we found out late in their visit that the team’s vision and goals were much different from ours and we ended up parting ways.  Much against the pleas from us and several pastors, they overstepped some very big cultural and ministry boundaries and caused quite a bit of damage not only to their project, but to the overall image of missions and Christianity in Mali.  At one point, we were faced with an angry mob and had to literally flee a village from a large group of people that wanted to talk with the team.  But even more sadly, the team is dealing with their issues contrary to how the Church and Christian community in Mali has advised.  Their actions have seriously damaged the name of Christianity here and have the potential to set back the work of the Church in Mali by years.

The team has since left, but there is a lot of hurt left behind.  Please be praying with us that we can be part of a healing process.  Also, please keep this team in prayer as they left Mali very bitter and angry.  Pray they can find peace, healing, and forgiveness.   We also need the same.  We have been very hurt by what’s transpired over the past several days.  This situation has come at a very inopportune time.  In addition to the Muslim holy month of Ramadan just beginning, there is currently a lot of unrest in Mali.  All missionaries have been evacuated from the north of Mali and there are large protests happening around the country.  We do not fear for our safety at this time.  We would like to see it stay that way.

One positive thing that has come out of this has been a test of our new French skills.  As we’ve been sharing this issue and seeking counsel with our YWAM leadership, we feel we’ve been able to effectively communicate in French everything that’s been happening.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Teen Beat

Cole_Angel We’re still in denial that Cole turned 13 today!  It’s hard to believe he’s a teenager already.  We are proud of our son and the way he is growing up and maturing.  He was just turning 5 when we first landed in Mali, so he’s spent a majority of his life in Africa.  Today was also the first day of school for him and Julie.  Cole was reunited with one of his classmates from his kindergarten class who returned to Mali this year with his family.  He is also really excited about taking algebra this year.

Stay tuned…our next big family milestone is just a couple of weeks away when we celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary.  Where has the time gone?

Friday, August 14, 2009

Got Milk?

One of the things we’re already missing from Switzerland is fresh milk.  We had not had real milk since last summer.  In Mali, we use powdered milk, and only sparingly due to the taste and consistency.  We can also get UTC milk from France, but again, it’s very different from fresh, pasteurized milk.

We’ve been busy unpacking, getting our house back in order, and visiting with a lot of our friends.  It is traditional in Malian culture to visit someone when they return from a trip.  We’ve had a lot of people coming and going the past couple of days.  We’ve also been busy distributing gifts which is another cultural tradition.  We brought back a lot of chocolate to share with our friends.  We also brought back a few Swiss Army knives for some special people.  Many of our Malian friends have not seen one before and are amazed at all the tools in one place.  It’s fun to see the look on their faces as we show them all the various tools.  We were also blessed with some baseball caps by one of the computer stores John worked with.  A clerk gave us about 20 hats with their store’s logo (STEG Computers) to distribute to our African friends.

Yesterday, John also delivered the equipment he purchased to the pastors and organizations that requested it.  They were very happy to receive new computers, projectors, printers, and digital cameras to help support their ministries and be able to more effectively share the Gospel with others.  John really enjoyed providing this service.

John also has one friend in particular who visits him at our home every week.  He is a refugee from Congo that is having trouble finding work and supporting his family in Mali.  We’ve been able to give him a few small jobs here and there, but he really needs something more stable.  John found out he was a barber a couple of weeks before we left for Switzerland and helped encourage him to look for work in local barber and beauty shops.  But unfortunately, he doesn’t have any of his own equipment so he can’t get a job.  We were very fortunate to find a nice haircutting kit (electric clippers, combs, scissors, etc.) in Switzerland for 1/2 price and brought it back for him.  John presented it to him yesterday.  He was really excited and eager to begin looking for work with his new tools.  Ironically, John obviously won’t be taking advantage of his services.  Please keep Patrick in your prayers that the Lord will lead him to the ideal shop to begin work immediately.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

You Are Now Free To Roam About The Cabin

Air_France_ Afrique_Occid_Equat_V_Guerra_1948 We arrived back home in Bamako, Mali last night at 8:00pm local time.  The weather was a very pleasant 85° F.  It wasn’t staggering and hot, but a nice welcome home to Africa.  We were met at the airport by Issouf, our YWAM Bamako base leader.  It was a wonderful reunion with much more to talk about now that we’ve expanded our language skills a bit.

The trip was very pleasant and uneventful.  We were very thankful that Isabelle Clot (our house hostess) offered to drive us to the train station in Neuchâtel eliminating one train connection and a long hike uphill with our luggage in Montmollin.  We had a movie-like send-off in the train station with Hermine who met us to bid au revoir.  The biggest stress point of our trip was loading all of our 11 pieces of luggage on the train in the 40 second time that it is in the station.  But we made it and the rest of our trip was flawless.  We traveled from Neuchâtel to the Geneva airport by train, took a short 1 hour flight from Geneva to Paris, followed by a 5 hour flight from Paris to Bamako.

We are very happy that all of our luggage made it through.  We were a bit concerned with all the computer and electronic equipment we brought back for some pastors.  But all the boxes came through just fine and nothing was stopped or questioned by customs officials in Mali which is often the case.  We also loaded up an ice chest of chocolate, cheese, and sausages.  Thankfully everything was still cold even after 12 hours of travel.

We were very blessed to walk into our house that had been freshly cleaned a couple of days ago.  No ant colonies, no termite mounds, and no layers of dirt and dust.  Our cat was extremely happy to see us as was Cole to see him.  We slept very well last night and are looking forward to a couple of days of rest in between the unpacking and salutations from our African friends.

Monday, August 10, 2009

And They Lived Happily Ever After

Neuchatel Castle All good stories must come to an end and it’s time to close the book on this chapter of our lives.  It’s hard to believe that the time has passed so quickly.  We are very sad to say goodbye to Switzerland.  But we’re leaving feeling refreshed and much better equipped to communicate in French.  It has been a true blessing to discover this little corner of the globe.  We have been living in a fairytale setting and literally walking in the shadows of the Neuchâtel castle almost every day.  We have awoken to sheep bells and cowbells ringing each morning like wind chimes and glance out our window at Lake Neuchâtel on one side and the forest on the other.  Our days have begun much like Belle in Beauty and the Beast walking through the village and hearing, “Bonjour, Bonjour, Bonjour, Bonjour, Bonjour.”  It’s been such a wonderful experience, but it’s time to return to our home in yet another fascinating yet very different part of the world in West Africa.  We are eager to be in our own home again and sleep in our own beds.  We return to Bamako tomorrow (Tuesday).  Thank you again for being a part of this phase of our ministry.  Please continue to check in here for regular updates on our ministry in Mali.  We already have several things lined up and we’re going to hit the ground running with very little time to recover.  Please keep us in prayer as make this transition.

Pour tous nos nouveaux amis de Neuchâtel, merci pour votre hospitalité et l'amitié.  Vous avez été une véritable bénédiction pour notre famille. S'il vous plaît continuer à rester en contact avec nous.  Dieu vous bénisse!

Sunday, August 09, 2009

School’s Out!

inlingua Wow, we made it!  We had our final French class on Friday.  We are very happy with how things have gone.  We have learned so much and are eager to begin applying it in Mali.  Because we have taken in so much information in such a short time, we have a lot to sort through as we search for the proper words and grammar structure when we speak.  The important thing is our family has developed new habits in adopting and using French.  The anxiety we once felt has faded and we’ve gained a new sense of confidence in speaking.

  It has been especially exciting to hear Cole open up and speak French.  We’ve had suspicions that he knew a lot more than he had been letting on, but we’ve never witnessed it.  He is probably the strongest speaker in our family and he’s really helping a lot with our French exercises.  We are really proud of him.  It was a big sacrifice for him to spend his summer vacation in language school.  But he’s happy he joined us and has been learning alongside us as a family.  He was also the teacher’s pet in most of our classes and gained special favor and received small gifts from them along the way.  He is especially “gifted” in correcting our family’s pronunciation and grammar errors when we’re speaking with him and others.  But hey, you can’t correct mistakes if you don’t know you’re making them.  We’re glad we have someone who’s not shy about helping us.  We hope our friends in Mali will extend the same grace and assistance.

As we reflect on this trip, it has turned out to be everything we were hoping it would be.  One of the things we’ve been especially pleased with is that everyone has spoken French with us.  As we’ve gone about our day-to-day activities, there hasn’t been any indication from people that they have difficulty understanding us, nor have we had many problems understanding others.  From friends at church to complete strangers, everyone has been treating us like French is a natural language to us.  No one has asked what our native language is and then switched to English to make things easier.  This happened to us a lot in Paris a few months ago.  Perhaps that’s the nature of Switzerland.  Because there are four different languages officially spoken here, French is a second (or third) language for a large part of the population.  So we fit right in with the Swiss Germans and Swiss Italians.  In fact, most of our classmates at Inlingua have been Swiss who are needing to learn French.

Thank you for your involvement, prayers, and support in this phase of our ministry.  But please don’t stop.  Now we really need your help.  We’ve just taken the first step in really adopting French and we still have a long road ahead of us.  We’re looking forward to sharing about a whole new level of ministry experiences with our new French tools.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Remain Seated Please. Permanecer sentados por favor.

Bobsledding Cole Yesterday we spent the afternoon with Jean-Patrick, Ruth and Emmanuel Perrin.  Jean-Patrick is the regional director for YWAM West Africa and serves with us in Bamako.  The Perrins are very good friends of ours and have played a vital role in our ministry in Mali.  Even more so, the have been wonderful councilors and teachers to us.  Their family is Swiss (along with French and Malian citizenship too) and are in Switzerland for a couple of weeks for a family wedding.  They invited us to their family’s home in the village of Fleurier about a half-hour train ride from Neuchâtel.  We took a wonderful walk through the fields and forest surrounding the village.  There is a ski area not too far outside the village and a bobsled attraction operates year round.  Cole and Emmanuel enjoyed riding it several times.  Emmanuel is Cole’s age and they get along very well.

We had a wonderful outdoor dinner (on one of the 5 days it hasn’t rained) of grilled sausages and cheese.  Many Swiss families live in large houses with different members of the extended family residing in their own apartments on each floor of the house.  At the Perrin’s, home we met Jean-Patrick’s parents along with his sister and her family.  We had a great time getting to know all of them.

Jean-Patrick and Ruth speak fluent English and we’ve usually communicated with them in English in the past.  This is the first time we’ve really sat down and talked with them in French.  When it was time to go, we asked Jean-Patrick if he noticed any improvement in our language.  He said yes… a big improvement.  It was very encouraging to hear someone who is close to us say they recognize a change in our French ability.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Climb Every Mountain

Funiculaire de Chaumont Between our class time and homework, we’re doing as much sightseeing as we can.  Today we took yet another funicular to a small village named Chaumont at the top of a mountain overlooking Lake Neuchâtel.  The funicular ride was about 15 minutes and we climbed about 1000 feet in altitude in the process.  The other funiculars we’ve ridden have been much shorter and function automatically.  This one had an operator who controlled the speed of our trip as we traversed some pretty steep slopes and crossed over a couple of harrowing bridges.  At times it felt like we were on a roller coaster.  When we reached the top, we explored a little bit of the forest along with climbing to the top of a lighthouse at the peak of the mountain for a stunning view of 3 lakes in the area.

Hermine and Wycliff Friends We’ve made a lot of new friends and have been blessed by the friendship and hospitality of the people we’ve met here.  We have especially enjoyed several visits with a wonderful woman named Hermine who has invited us to her house for a meal each week.  She acts as a liaison for the missionaries visiting Neuchâtel with a special interest for those taking language classes at Inlingua.   She has been instrumental in helping us from the very beginning aiding via email as we planned our trip from Mali.  She has been wonderful in her help for getting us registered for the school and finding housing.  We’ve been joined at her house by some Wycliffe missionaries that are also studying French at Inlingua.  They are here for 6 more months and will be serving in Cameroon when they finish their classes.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Swan Lake

Swan - Lake Neuchatel We are surrounded by so much beauty in Switzerland!  We have especially enjoyed working on our homework by the shore of Lake Neuchâtel.  As if the beauty of the lake with the Alps in the background weren’t enough, we have the added bonus of enjoying the grandeur of wild swans that live around the lake. But we have been warned that as stunning as they are to look at, they can be quite dangerous.  They are very strong and powerful and are able to break an arm using their neck.  So we continue to admire them from a distance.

We are going to miss the amazing things we’ve discovered and the opportunity to experience the Swiss lifestyle the past few weeks.  It’s hard to believe that our time is quickly drawing to a close.  We are down to less than a week.  We leave for Mali next Tuesday morning.  But we are looking forward to being back home and being able to experience a new dimension of life in Mali with our expanded French skills.

Thank you for your prayers and support while we’ve been here.  We’re very happy to report that Cole is feeling much better.  He has shed all symptoms of being sick and has been able to fully participate in school and other activities.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Running Like Clockwork

Swiss Train Clock - Montmollin We are reminded every day of the Swiss obsession of time and precision when looking at the clocks throughout the train stations.  The Swiss train clocks are world famous and have a distinctive look and function.  Each clock is synchronized to a master clock once every minute so they all display the exact time no matter which station we’re in or what clock we’re looking at.  The most interesting feature is the second hand which only takes 58 seconds to travel around the dial.  As part of the synchronization process, the second hand pauses on the 12 at the top of each minute as it waits for a special pulse from the master clock that advances the minute hand and starts the second hand again.

The Neuchâtel region of Switzerland is known as Watch Valley and is home to the most prestigious watch makers in the world.  In some of the factories, it can take up to 3 weeks for a watchmaker to painstakingly assemble just the face of a single watch.  The work is done with microscopic  tools with the watchmakers viewing their work through special glasses and intense magnifying glasses.  When we think of a fine quality watch, Rolex is usually the name that comes to most people’s minds…a symbol of fine craftsmanship with a price tag to match.  But in reality, Rolex is considered on the low to medium scale of watch quality in Switzerland.

Automates - Trio Yesterday, we had another opportunity to view an example of Swiss precision.  We visited a special collection of the Jaquet-Droz Automates at the Neuchâtel Museum of Art and History.  Pierre Jaquet-Droz was a famous Swiss watchmaker in the 18th century.  In his fascination of micro machinery, he created 3 robotic dolls that can do some amazing things.  From 1768 to 1774, he made a total of 3 automates.  L’Ecrivain (writer), can handwrite a message of up to 40 characters on a small piece of paper.  Keep in mind, this was made long before the invention of the ballpoint pen, so he uses a quill which he stops and dips in an inkwell periodically during this writing session.  The message can be changed at will by setting a special disk inside the automate.  Le Dessinateur (draftsman) can draw a small picture of a dog, a chariot being pulled by a butterfly, an English royal couple, or a portrait of Louis XV.  La Musicienne (musician) is a woman that plays a small pipe organ.  Her hands move up and down the keyboard with each finger depressing the keys as she plays a complex piece of music.  In addition, her head and chest move as she appears to breathe.

Automate Workings The automates are only demonstrated once a month, so we’ve been anticipating this visit throughout our stay.  A Swiss clockmaker maintains them and wound each one up and demonstrated how each one works.  He also opened the back so we could see the elaborate clockworks inside and explained the history, details, and workings of each figure.  This was an extra test of our French comprehension.

There is a lot of history behind the name of our blog (6892 Miles From Disneyland).  Walt Disney and his creations (predominately Disneyland) were a central part in our lives before heading to the mission field.  John was especially versed in the history of Walt Disney and his creation of Audioanimatronic figures like Abraham Lincoln and the Pirates of the Caribbean.  In the early days of developing this technology, Walt and his team created The Dancing Man.  This figure is in a box  and stands about 4 feet tall. There is a lot of machinery that controls a small puppet man that is programmed to dance.  It is housed in the Disney archives and is not on display to the public.  We did have a chance to see it several years ago during a special Disney historical exposition.  Now we realize that Walt Disney was actually 200 years behind his time and the Jaquet-Droz automates are far superior in their design and function.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Say Cheese

Monk's Head Cutter There has been no shortage of opportunities to eat cheese in Switzerland.  We’ve been introduced to several new kinds cheese and styles of eating it.  Neuchâtel is famous for a cheese named Tête de Moin, or Monk’s Head cheese.  It is served with a special cutting machine that creates very thin slices and forms them into a flower shape.  Unlike the US, there is no yellow cheese in Switzerland.  All the cheeses are white or light brown in color.  We’ve asked several people what kind of cheese we call Swiss Cheese in the States is and no one’s been able to come up with an answer.  Even Wikipedia refers to Swiss Cheese as a generic name for several related varieties of cheese.  In all, there’s really nothing Swiss about it.  We’re also learning many new ways to serve cheese and have had several versions of fondue.  Last night, we had dinner with the Clot family (our hosts) as part of the Swiss National Day celebration.  They served cheese fondue formed by melting the edge of a large cheese wheel on a vertical BBQ grill then hand shaved off onto a plate and served with baked potatoes and other vegetables.  It was WONDERFUL!

Montmollin 1 Aout Fete Unfortunately, Cole wasn’t feeling well enough to join us.  We decided not to go into Neuchâtel, but to join the Clot family for the local Montmollin festival instead.  At 8:00 pm, the bells at town hall summoned us to the start of the festival.  We walked to a picnic area overlooking Lake Neuchâtel where the villages of Montmollin and Montezillion gathered together for a festive village celebration.  There were many picnic tables set up and the adults sat and talked while traditional Swiss orchestra and accordion music played over a sound system.  Several people had colorful handheld candlelit Chinese lanterns which are another traditional part of the August 1st celebration.  Bonfire We were served a dinner of bean soup and bread accompanied by wine and soft drinks.  In the meantime, the village kids and teens were lighting off skyrockets and fireworks all around.  One of the village officials welcomed us, then a young teen girl active in local politics gave a short patriotic speech.   We all then sang the Swiss national anthem.  At 10 o’clock, it was dark enough for the village to launch its own fireworks show right above our heads!  Once the show was over, a large traditional bonfire was lit and we stood around it as we watched fireworks shows from Neuchâtel and other villages around the lake.  It wonderful to be Swiss for a day.

This morning on the way to church, we could see the picnic area from the train station and the bonfire was still burning but had dwindled to size a small campfire.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Serving You Since 1291

Salutations de Suisse Today is Swiss National Day, the day Switzerland celebrates its independence and sovereignty as a country.  The first celebration was in 1891 to mark Switzerland’s 600th anniversary when the Federal Charter was formed in 1291.  Fireworks are one of the most traditional ways to celebrate.  Because August 1st falls on a Saturday this year, the celebrations are happening all weekend.  Last night from our house in the hills overlooking Lake Neuchâtel, we were able to see 7-8 different fireworks shows launched from different villages around the lake.  Tonight we will be heading into Neuchâtel to watch a big fireworks show on the lake and take part in festivities in town.  It’s also traditional for kids to march through the streets at night with paper lanterns to mark the occasion.  Alphorns Because Switzerland is such a mix of different cultures, there are many different ways to celebrate.  There are traditional music festivals including accordion music, polka, yodeling, and alpine horns.  There are also flag twirlers (much like high school flag teams) that dance and spin Swiss flags.

Switzerland is a complicated country with a rich and diverse history.  The official name is the Swiss Confederation or Confoederatio Helvetica.  Its international abbreviation is CH.  Switzerland is made up of 26 cantons, or states.  The population is 7.7 million people.  It is multilingual with 4 different languages being officially recognized as national languages:  German, French, Italian, and Romansh.  The government is democratic.  The Swiss Parliament oversees the country.  The Federal Council is a board of 7 members which act collectively as the head of state.  One of these seven members is elected as the President of the Confederation.  The President serves a one year term.

Matterhorn Interesting facts on Switzerland:  It is one of only a few countries whose flag is square rather than rectangular.  Switzerland has not been involved in an international war since 1815; avoiding both WWI and WWII.  It hosts many international organizations including the International Red Cross, the International Olympic Committee, and the World Trade Organization.  Switzerland is not a member of the European Union.  Switzerland is close to 16,000 sq/miles.  Around 60% of this area is comprised of the Alps.  Two of the more famous peaks are Mont Blanc and the Matterhorn.  The Matterhorn is 14,692 feet high.  Disneyland’s Matterhorn is a replica scaled back to 1/100th-scale.