Friday, October 30, 2009

We’ll Leave The Light On For You

It’s been a busy time of hospitality for us.  We’ve enjoyed hosting a lot of people in our guest room the past several days.  Julie will be attending a women’s conference this weekend and we have a couple of young ladies that will coming in from Koutiala and staying with us for the duration of the conference too.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Friendly Fire

A few weeks ago, we shared about a church team visiting from the U.S. that John had assisted with back in August.  Unfortunately, we ended up parting ways when it was brought to light that the team’s goals were contrary to our (the overall Christian community’s) work in Mali.  Their actions have caused a lot of trouble for the Malian church.  We found out yesterday that team returned to Mali last week and are currently here and continuing to pursue their unhealthy and dangerous agenda.  Much against the cries of Malian church and mission community, they are stirring up legal battles in Mali.  This team’s actions are putting the church at great risk and sabotaging the efforts that so many have worked years, and some have given their lives for.  It is devastating for us that this team’s self-interests are being held above the goals of the national church.  This is an extremely sensitive situation.  Please be praying for this misguided church team.  We are doing everything we can to do damage control.  With the spiritual battles that are currently going on, we didn’t expect that we would having to be dodging friendly fire too.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

A Bug’s Life

Rainy season seems to be drawing to a close.  We miss the rains and the coolness they bring, however it will be nice not to tromp back and forth thru the mud everywhere we go.  Mali’s agricultural life and economy are dependant on the rain and we’re hoping this year’s rains have been enough to produce a healthy harvest.  We could have used more rain, but we’re happy we haven’t suffered dangerous flooding conditions that many of our neighboring West African countries did this year.

The end of rainy season also brings out a host of bugs.  The mosquitoes are especially bad this time of year with so much standing water.  Not only are they annoying, but very dangerous too as they are carriers of malaria which kills millions each year and is one of the leading causes of death in Sub-Saharan Africa.  As a family, we take preventative medication every day and so far have remained malaria free since arriving in Mali.

We’re also currently being overrun with grasshoppers with hundreds swarming on our front veranda each night.  Julie is also having a special battle in the kitchen with weevils in our flour.  She still gets creeped out every time she sifts them out of the flour and they make a mad dash looking for a new place to live and eat.

But our biggest concern right now is with Nairobi eye or blister beetles.  These are small bugs that contain a powerful acid.  When they are squished, they leave a acid on the skin that causes a very painful, burning rash that lasts for several days.  We need to be careful when we find one of these bugs, to resist the natural inclination to squish them.  Instead, we need to flick them off then kill them with a rag or tissue.  We have found quite a few of these critters in our house this week.  We’ve avoided the acid so far this year (we’ve all experienced rashes from them in past years), but it’s still very unsettling to have so many crawling freely about the house.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Good Tidings of Great Joy

Much like many of the stores in the States, we’re already shifting our focus on to Christmas.  In particular, a few days ago we shared a vision of a new Christmas outreach project for Bamako Christian Academy.  Thank you VERY much for your prayers!  Although the idea was originally met with some resistance, the school has decided to go ahead and take on this event!  We are excited about this new opportunity.  John in particular is busting at the seams to get started.  This is a wonderful example of some of the new ministries we’re moving into.

Each year, our school has traditionally done a Christmas program in English for the parents and families of the school.  Although it’s been fun and educational to put on a Christmas program each year, our idea is to move this event out of the closed environment of the past where we’ve been “preaching to the choir” that knows the Christmas story backwards and forwards.  Our idea this year is to move it into an outdoor, open-air event in our school neighborhood and share the Christmas message with our neighbors and community who have literally never heard it before.  We’ll be sharing traditional Christmas carols, acting out the Christmas story, and reading it from the French and Bambara Bible.  Our kids will also have a chance to learn a couple of Christmas songs in French and Bambara along with a few Christmas phrases.  We’ll also have translators on hand to help us in the presentation of the Christmas message.

This is going to be a wonderful opportunity to involve our kids in a local missions project and show them how they can actively share the Gospel with the people of Mali.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Melon Heads

BCA Fall Festival Watermellon Contest Yesterday, we celebrated our annual Fall Festival at Bamako Christian Academy (BCA).  We started with an international potluck lunch with parents and students bringing a special food that represents their home country.  This mini “Home Town Buffett” is always a treat and we get to try some new, interesting, and very tasty foods.  Next, we had a watermelon carving contest made up of teams from different regions of the world.  Pumpkins are tough to come by, so we use watermelons instead since we’re just entering watermelon season and they are plentiful.  We then follow-up with each family sponsoring a carnival game booth.  Our family traditionally hosts a Coke bottle ring toss which is always popular…perhaps it’s the thrill of wining a free bottle of Coke with each successful toss.

Friday, October 16, 2009

New Fall Season

We’re embarking on some new ministries.  We feel like we’re being called in a couple of new directions right now and we’re looking forward to seeing how they’re going to pan out.  Ironically enough, following our French studies this past summer, we’re suddenly facing some new opportunities in English based ministry.  We’re hoping for a good mixture of both English and French in the process.

John in particular is leaning towards working with MKs (missionary kids).  He is interested in helping them develop a heart for missions and learning how they can make some valuable contributions to working with Malians.  He has recently started doing regular chapel presentations and begun working with a student ministries team at Bamako Christian Academy (BCA) to help them develop and implement a missions vision.  He is also feeling led to help develop and teach a heath class at the school with a special focus on helping the kids understand puberty and many of the changes they are facing.

John also has a vision of doing some evangelism outreach projects with the kids.  He is most excited about doing a Christmas program outreach this year.  So far, this has met with a lot of resistance from the administration, teachers, and the few parents he’s talked to.  This has been a real discouragement.  He is going to continue pursuing it hoping it will gain acceptance as people have more time to think and pray about it.  Please be praying with us.  He has high hopes we can still pull this together for this year.

We’re also getting more involved in leading an English family Sunday school.  We’ve been somewhat involved in the past, but we feel we’re being called to be more active.  We have recently done a couple of drama presentations followed with some teaching and lessons.  They have been VERY well received and we’re looking forward to incorporating more.  We’ve discovered some neat tools, including an amazing team called The Skit Guys.  These guys are so gifted in what they do and are serving as a real inspiration to us.  Our current featured video is called “God’s Chisel”.  We had a lot of fun reenacting this as the opening class this year and it was an overwhelming success.

Last night we began a small group Bible study in our home.  It’s called Learning to Love People You Don’t Like.  It is a challenging topic for all of us.  Relational problems with other missionaries continues to be one of the leading reasons many missionaries end up leaving the mission field.  We’re hoping this study will help us and others better understand and practice the true definition of love that Jesus shares in the Bible.  We were a little disappointed that only 3 people showed up, but it went very well none-the-less.  We will continue promoting it and hope that our numbers will grow.

Stay tuned…we also have a couple of other new ministries on track ready to launch in the next few weeks.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

How Long Does It Take A Missionary To Change A Lightbulb?

[INSERT PUNCHLINE HERE]  Life in Africa can often turn the simplest tasks into huge challenges.  We have a special term for those things…WAWA (West Africa Wins Again) moments.  One of the big ministries we’re involved in is hospitality.  We have a guest room in our home that we affectionately call Baywatch Bed & Breakfast.  We enjoy hosting missionaries and other visitors and provide a place with a few special amenities and creature comforts they don’t normally have access to such as running water, electricity, a sit-down flushing toilet, hot water, air-conditioning, western meals, and English speaking companionship.

The other day we were preparing for guests when the light went out in our guest bathroom.  We tried replacing the light bulb with 3 spares we had on hand and none of them worked.  (We always test them at the store when we buy them as the failure rate is pretty high on new (Chinese) bulbs here.)  John dragged out a ladder and checked the light fixture and everything seemed to be okay.  The light in the guest bath is the only one in our house that uses a standard screw-in light bulb.  All the rest of our lights are big, ugly florescent garage type lights, so we couldn’t verify if the problem was the light fixture or the light bulb.  John went out looking for a replacement bulb and had to walk to 3 different stores to find one.  After an hour and a half, we finally had light in the guest bath again.  Ugh!  Never take the simplicity of changing a light bulb for granted.

Next will be the shower.  We imported a special hot water heater from England for our guest bath last year.  We ran it for a couple of weeks until it started a fire in our main electrical circuit box.  Our next big project is going to be running a special wire from the guest bath directly to our electric meter to bypass our sub-standard house wiring.  Oh…where is Home Depot when you need it!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Mille Bornes

Memorial StonesWe have passed several big and exciting milestones the past few months.  We’ve decided to mark these and other special moments by creating physical memorial stones.  There are a couple of really cool stories in the Bible when people marked important places and and events with memorial stones.  In particular, Genesis 28:10-20 and Joshua 4:1-21 have served as an inspiration for us to mark these times and victories so we won’t forget them – especially when we’re lost in times of struggle and difficulty.

We’ve decided to take things a step further by painting our memorial stones.  We have had a lot of fun creating these.  In addition to reminding us, they have also been conversation pieces and opportunities to share about our blessings when people visit our home.

To date, we’ve painted rocks to mark the start of dedicated family times together each week, our summer trip to language school in Switzerland, our 20th wedding anniversary, and Cole’s 13th birthday which we also marked with a special right of passage party with several other families and boys his age a few weeks ago.

One of our favorite family games is a French card game called Mille Bornes (1,000 mile markers.)  We’ve enjoyed tying the theme of this game in with making our own mile markers.  TRIVIA:  When the French colonized Mali, one of the legacies they left behind were borne markers on the national roads.  They are placed every 5 kilometers to mark the distance to approaching towns.  If you receive our printed newsletter, see if you can find one of these bornes in our masthead picture at the top of the page that we’ve been using for the past 9 years…we’ve customized it a little to fit the title of our newsletter.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Spirits In The Material World

There are many definitions of the term “spiritual warfare” and different views of the spirit world.  We have come face-to-face with some very strong spiritual forces of late.  Ephesians 6:12 has taken on a very real meaning in our lives and ministry.  Throughout the past few weeks, we have become witnesses to the strength and power of the spiritual world both in terms of good and evil.  We have a whole new understanding of the Holy Spirit and His role and influence in our lives.  The Holy Spirit has played an instrumental part in the restoration of our marriage and ministry.  On the opposite side, we have also had some very real encounters with Satan and his evil spirits.  On one night in particular a couple of weeks ago, we were so disturbed that we needed to get rid of an African shadowbox picture that had been hanging in our house and had been identified as something containing evil spirits.  We literally took it outside our house and burned it at 3 o’clock in the morning to help rid our home of evil spirits.  Unfortunately, it didn’t end there.

This past weekend, we had an even closer encounter where actual verbal battles took place with spirits in our home.  This is a difficult and controversial topic for a lot of people so we won’t go into a lot of detail.  We’ll just summarize by saying we have a much different and very real view of the spirit world now.  We see things in a completely new light and have a lot more respect for what spiritual warfare means.  While it wasn’t played out in the Hollywood portrayal like the Exorcist, Ghost Busters, or Poltergeist, we did get very close and saw some very real manifestations of spirits.  We had the strength to see the situation through and with God’s help, we were able to declare victory and literally clean house and cast them out.  It was not pretty, it was not easy, and it’s something we don’t want to see again.  However we were never scared or felt it beyond our control because of the authority we have in Christ.  We feel much stronger now as we know that we will have ultimate victory if and when we encounter this type of situation again.  It also becomes one of our primary calls for assistance from you, our prayer warriors.  You play an extremely important role in helping with these battles.

What’s In A Name?

Pierre We have a young man working for us as a guardian and caretaker.  His name is (was) TiDiane (pronounced T-John).  He’s a wonderful Christian young man that is very involved in ministry and his church in Magnambougou.  Unfortunately, he’s been living with some very difficult and dangerous circumstances.  His father is a very big and well respected imam (Islamic leader…similar to a pastor in a Christian church.)  He is responsible for leading and teaching in several different mosques and villages.  In addition, he serves in the capacity of a powerful witchdoctor.

TiDiane has been in the process of being groomed by his father to follow in his footsteps to become an Islamic leader.  At an early age, he was taught to read and write Arabic and learn and memorize the Qur’an.  Not too long ago, TiDiane’s brother became a Christian and soon led TiDiane to Christ also.  This really upset their father who began by throwing them out of the house and cutting them off from the family.  Over the past several months, their father’s heart has softened and he has gradually been accepting his sons back.  But in the process, he is still making the lives of his sons very difficult and often threatens them with injury and death.  They are both living back in the family compound but are not allowed to live in the house.  It’s a very complicated relationship we don’t quite understand.  Their father is especially troubled about TiDiane as he had such high aspirations for him being a Muslim leader.  He has placed several curses on TiDiane which have resulted in physical injuries to TiDiane. 

Several days ago, TiDiane was late arriving at our house.  He came in limping and had a lot of difficulty walking.  He explained that his father had cursed his knee the night before.  John sat down with TiDiane and prayed with him.  He specifically prayed for his knee and placed his hands on him during prayer.  After praying, they talked more about the situation.  John was curious why TiDiane seems to be a bigger disappointment to his father than his brother who led him to the Lord.  TiDiane explained how his father had been investing in his spiritual development as an Islamic leader.  He also talked in detail about his name.  TiDiane is just his “short” name.  He has a very long and complex Muslim name with each name a reflection of the power and authority his father has vested in him.  Upon hearing this, John felt led to free TiDiane of this bond.  He gave him a new Christian name of Pierre (Peter) and shared Matthew 16:17-19 with him.  Pierre’s face instantly lit up.  He began thanking John.  Suddenly he stopped, and looked down at his leg.  He began freely bending his knee back and forth then began walking around in circles.  He looked at John and said, “Je suis guĂ©ri!”  (I am healed!)  He continued walking around and saying it over and over.  He said all the pain was instantly gone and his knee felt normal.

Pierre is very proud of his new name and is eager to share it with everyone he talks to now.  This is one of those missionary stories you read about in books or magazines.  We never thought we’d be experiencing things like this first hand in our life and ministry.  What an exciting opportunity this has been for us!

Over the past couple of weeks, there has been a young boy from next door constantly in our compound whenever Pierre is here.  Pierre seems to have adopted him like a young brother.  The boy rarely leaves Pierre’s side and is eager to help Pierre work around our house and yard.  They often sit down and Pierre has been spending countless hours sharing the Bible (in Bambara) with the boy teaching him about Jesus.  Please be praying for Pierre (especially his situation with his father) and Bakary, the young boy that he’s currently teaching and shepherding. 

Monday, October 12, 2009

The Good, The Bad,& The Ugly

Yes…it’s been a long time since we’ve posted an update to the blog.  Thank you for your continued interest and prayers.  The last month has been very busy and overwhelming for us on many different levels.  We have been going through a lot of extreme circumstances…both good and bad.  These back-to-back highs and lows have been very confusing to us.  This is when we need to be communicating with you the most, but we’ve been too caught up in our circumstances to take the time to sit down for a few minutes and share.  Quite honestly, we’ve been waiting for things to stabilize enough for us to understand them ourselves and be able to communicate what’s happening.  And in the middle of it all, we’ve been launching into several new projects and ministries.

There is no way we can summarize everything, but we’ll try to catch up with a few highlight posts over the next few days.  Please rest assured that we are physically safe and sound.  But we have become ever aware of the huge spiritual battle we’re involved in.  Please continue praying.  We feel things are beginning to settle down a bit and we’re regaining our vision now that the dust is starting to clear.