Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Danger–Warning Will Robinson

We’ve had a couple of frightening events take place in Mali this week.  On Thursday, two French geologists were kidnapped from Hombori, a small town in Eastern Mali.  This is the first time kidnappings have happened in this region of Mali.  Then on Friday, four tourists were kidnapped from Timbuktu.  One of the hostages was shot and killed in the ordeal.  Both kidnappings are believed to be the work of Al-Qaeda.  They have kidnapped several people from the Sahara region of Mali in the past few years, however this marks the first time kidnappings have happened in populated areas.

Over the weekend, all Western missionaries and aid workers were evacuated from several regions of Mali.  One of our YWAM co-workers who was living in one of these areas has temporarily moved in with us.  We currently feel safe in Bamako, however we are unsure if these are isolated incidents or are a prelude for more things to come.  We are on heightened alert and would appreciate your prayers for this situation.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Hello Mudder, Hello Fadder

Mana CampfireThis week we helped host the annual spiritual retreat for the BCA middle and high school students.  We spent 3 days in Mana, a village about an hour outside of Bamako.  We stayed at a mission compound.  Some of the kids camped out in tents and some slept inside a couple of empty houses.

The time consisted of devotional times led by a new missionary couple.  We also had times of worship along with several team building games and activities.  For the first time this year,we also buried a time capsule which included a special item contributed by each person.  We ate like royalty thanks to one of the moms who did a wonderful job preparing our meals.

Mana Miracle TreeOne of the highlights of the retreat each year is visiting the “Miracle Tree”.  The tree was struck by lightning several years ago which destroyed much of the tree.  However, the tree is not dead and still has a few healthy branches with leaves.

Cole has attended the retreat for the last 5 years but this was the first trip for John & Julie.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

I’ve Fallen And I Can’t Get Up

Kim Nelson is the Kindergarten teacher and school principal/administrator for Bamako Christian Academy (BCA).  She was hanging some things in her classroom yesterday and lost her balance getting down from a chair she was standing on.  She hit her head on the way down, cut her hand, and dislocated her foot.  After several doctor visits, it was decided her foot injury is quite serious and she was medevaced to the States for treatment.

Kim is scheduled for surgery and will need to remain in the U.S. for two to three months for recovery.  Please be in prayer for Kim that the pain will be minimal and the injury will heal quickly.  We’re also scrambling to fill her administrator responsibilities and find someone to take over her class.

BCA is in dire need of a full-time school administrator.  If you, or anyone you know has experience in this area, please consider serving at our school for 6 months to a year.  Please contact us for more information.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

The Roof, The Roof, The Roof Is On Fire…

Roof FireWe were relaxing in our house yesterday afternoon after a long day at school when we heard a lot of commotion outside.  As we went out to see what it was, we encountered all of our neighbors yelling at us and pointing to our roof.  We ran up the outside staircase to find that the thatched roof canopy on our roof was on fire!  John and Cole grabbed our garden hose to begin putting it out and quickly found there wasn’t enough water pressure.  At the same time, neighbors began streaming into our yard and started a bucket brigade drawing buckets of water from our well and running them upstairs.  Thankfully, the fire was put out within a few minutes and there was minimal damage to our home.  It was amazing to see all of our neighbors immediately rushing to our aid to douse the flames.  In all, 25-30 people jumped in to help.  After 10 years in Mali, we had our first real taste of village camaraderie even living in the capital city.  We are indebted to everyone who came to our aid.  When all was said and done, everyone quietly returned to their homes without asking for anything in return.

With no fire department in the country, we learned firsthand how fires are put out – this is a lesson we would have rather avoided learning, but we are certainly extremely grateful that no one was hurt and the damage was minor.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Team Work

Rose Drive TeamEvery year in Mali, the missionary women in the community host a women’s retreat and conference.  It’s a getaway weekend for the ladies that’s full of good teaching, worship, friendship, fellowship, and refreshment while basking in the luxury of a local hotel.  This is especially a blessing for women that travel in from the bush.  A visiting team usually comes out to Mali to lead the conference.  Julie, along with 90 other women, attended the retreat this weekend.  As an added bonus, the team that came out this year was from Rose Drive Friends Church in Placentia, California – one of our supporting churches!  We enjoyed hosting them before, during, and after the conference.  One of the pastors from Rose Drive accompanied the team and spent the weekend with John and Cole while Julie and the women enjoyed the conference.

Rose Drive Team MealIt was exciting to share our ministries with some of our friends.  Although we only had a day with them around outside the conference, we managed to show them Bamako Christian Academy, our YWAM Bamako base, and the land we are purchasing for our new base.  We also had a chance to show them around Bamako and do a little shopping.  We even treated them to a Malian meal that we served Malian style – fingers only from a community bowl – no silverware.

These are the first and only visitors we’ve had since John’s dad visited us in 2003.  They were an incredible encouragement to us. We’re looking forward to our next visitors – perhaps it could be you!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Studio Time

Studio FakolyTiken Jah Fakoly is a well known Reggae singer in Africa.  He’s originally from Ivory Coast but now lives in exile in Mali.  His music contains a lot of political themes and he has gained many friends and enemies as a result.  His music is very influential in Africa and he’s gained popularity in the global arena too.

Our school had a chance to take a field trip to Tiken Jah Fakoly’s recording studio which is right across from our house and just down the road from school.  It is the largest recording studio in Mali.  We got a tour of the studio and an explanation of how the recording process happens and how an album is produced.  Recently, Tiken Jah added a small concert hall and night club on-site and we had a tour of that as well.  We didn’t have a chance to meet Tiken Jah, however we’re making arrangements for him to visit our school.  We’re really hoping to develop an ongoing relationship with him.  We already feel a connection with him as our family is living in his former house.  John in particular has a heart for Tiken Jah and is anxious to become friends and share the Gospel with him.  A man of his influence and stature could have an amazing impact if he comes to know the Lord.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Speaking of School…

ACSI Conference AttendeesThe past few months we have been serving on a committee to host the first ever, Association of Christian Schools International (ACSI) conference in Mali.  The conference was this weekend and we are very happy with the results.  We had over 100 people in attendance from 24 different Christian schools including pastors, school administrators, teachers, and others interested in Christian education.  The speakers were Dr. Samson Makhado, the director of ACSI Africa who came from South Africa, and Daniel Neuhaus, the director of ACSI for French speaking countries who flew in from France.  Part of our responsibilities were hosting the speakers in our home. This gave us some wonderful opportunities to talk with them and learn from their experience in Christian education.  In addition, Julie was involved in delegate registration and taking care of the speakers.  John worked with the publicity team and did a lot of the graphic design.  He was also in charge of all things technical during the conference including sound, video, and PowerPoint.

The goal of the conference was to promote the importance of Christian education and organize the Christian schools in Mali.  The conference sessions went very well and everyone learned a lot.  We finished the conference by forming an association of Christian schools in Mali which will allow us to pool our resources and help each other in addition to capitalizing on the vast resources ASCI has to offer.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

It’s A Girl!

Clarks   1We have a new addition to our family - a new little girl that recently moved in with us.  Her name is Anne-Marie and she is 8 years old.

Anne-Marie’s parents serve with YWAM in a village 2 hours outside of Bamako, where we live.  Her father is Malian and her mother is from South Africa.  Because of her mom’s roots, she does speak English fluently as well as French and Bambara.  She has had a difficult time in Malian schools and we offered to take her into our home so she can attend BCA, the school for missionary kids where we are serving.  We converted John’s office into a bedroom and she moved in two weeks ago.  We were initially concerned about the cultural adjustments as our home life is very American.  But Anne-Marie seems to be adapting well and enjoys the new lifestyle – especially eating American food – which we thought would be a problem, but it turns out she loves American food.  So far, she seems to be thriving.

When we asked her if she considered home, our house, or her home in the village, she immediately answered our house.  We’re so grateful for her excitement and enthusiasm for this arrangement.  The plans are for her to go home on weekends once or twice a month.  Having a new little girl is introducing a lot of new dynamics into our family.  We know it’s still early on, but so far, so good.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Teacher, Teacher I Declare

Professor JohnSchool started last Thursday.  This year marks a VERY big change for our family as John is also teaching full time at Bamako Christian Academy (BCA) this year.  Because of a dire teacher shortage, John offered to step in.  He is teaching 3 high school science classes and 2 high school Bible classes in addition to 2 elective classes.  As you can see, he’s even dressing the part.  Between the two of us, we are teaching a majority of the high school classes.  We have 8 high school students (including Cole) in 9th through 11th grade.  If you’re a teacher, we’d LOVE to have you come out and teach this year.  You’ll even get a cool lab coat too.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Wheels On The Bus

Bani BusWe’ve been quiet recently because we’ve been out of the country for the past week.  We went to Dakar, Senegal for our YWAM West Africa regional conference.  Senegal is Mali’s neighbor to the west.  We had a really good time at the conference, but the trip there and back was grueling and exhausting.  It was a 34 hour bus ride covering 850 miles each way.  YWAM chartered a bus which made things a little easier than public transport.  We were VERY fortunate to have a brand new bus!  It was air conditioned and even had a bathroom which is unheard of in Mali.  The drivers were just using it for storage until we asked if we could use it.  In fact, they didn't know how to empty the waste tank, so we weren't able to use it on the way home because it filled up on the trip there.  Viva Africa!

Not only was the trip long, but the roads were so bad that in some places we traveled for hours no faster than 10-15 MPH.  The border was another story all together.  On the trip to Dakar, it took us 3 hours to cross the border.  There are several border check points the bus needed to stop at and we were constantly battling with the truck traffic.  The line for trucks to cross the border was well over a mile long.  Truck drivers in Africa need an amazing amount of patience.

When we reached our hotel, our group had filled it to capacity so our family stayed in a bungalow at the hotel owner's house about a 1/2 mile away.  Dakar is notorious for power problems and there are usually more blackouts than times of power.  Thankfully our hotel had a generator so there was power all the time.  Unfortunately, the place we were staying didn't so we arrived to a room with no lights or fans after an exhausting 34 hour bus ride.  It was very discouraging to say the least.  We ended up sleeping on lounge chairs outside the first night.  But we had a wonderful view of the sky and witnessed the August meteor showers.  It was beautiful.  And the lounge chairs were a step up from sleeping in the bus the night before.  Thankfully, we were hooked up to a generator the next day and had power for the rest of our stay and were able to sleep in beds in our room.

West Africa Conference in DakarThe conference went really well and we're happy we went.  It was nice to see some of our YWAM friends from other West African countries.  In all, there were 120 people from YWAM bases in 8 different countries.  We also had a good speaker and a couple of excellent workshops.  The conference was translated into French, English, and Portuguese, so we didn’t have to struggle deciphering the French.

The apple doesn’t fall very far from the tree as Cole has been showing a lot of interest in sound technician work.  He and John worked together running the sound system for the conference, and by the end, Cole was doing it on his own.

Dakar BeachIn the off-time, we had some good opportunities to relax and explore.  We were within walking distance of the beach.  So this summer, we've touched both sides of Africa and had a chance to splash in the Indian and Atlantic Oceans!

We were very close to a lake called Pink Lake, due to it’s unusual color.  It takes its color from salt and minerals in the lake.  It is said to be even saltier than the Dead Sea in Israel!  The salt is mined by hand by people literally scraping it off the bottom of the lake and dumping it into canoes one bucket at a time.  Women used to be the main workers but they are now prohibited from mining the salt due to massive infertility problems because of the salt and minerals in the water.

Dune Buggy ColeOn the last day, John and Cole took a dune buggy ride which was a LOT of fun!  Cole got to do most of the driving which was a huge thrill for him.

Border Flood - Senegal MaliWe left Dakar on Saturday night at 11pm.  It was another long, exhausting trip.  This time when we reached the border, it took us over 5 hours to cross.  There was a rainstorm the night before that dumped 5 feet of rain in the region. The border was flooded and at times, our driver maneuvered our bus through 3 feet of water. He must have known the road well because everything was under water and it was impossible to see where the road was.  Thankfully, we made it through safely. The luggage compartments flooded in the process. We'd heard about situations like this, so we packed everything in a rubber duffel bag which kept our things dry.

We arrived home exhausted but very glad to be back on Monday morning at 5am.  Although the trip was long and grueling, we are very thankful we didn’t have any breakdowns or accidents.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Bowling for Birthdays

Bowling AlleyA lot has changed in Bamako the past 10 years.  The city has grown quite a bit recently and it’s beginning to feel a little less like a “capital village” and more like a capital city.  In fact, Bamako is the fastest growing city in Africa and the 10th fastest growing city in the world!  We were very excited to hear about a brand new bowling alley that just opened.  We decided to check it out for Cole’s birthday.  That’s another thing that’s changed dramatically; when we first arrived, our son was just turning 5 years old.  Those days are long gone and we’re proud of our mature, young man.  Happy Birthday, Cole!!

Saturday, August 13, 2011

The Decade

MAF Family Photo 2001We first arrived in Mali on August 13, 2001.  That makes today our 10 year anniversary as missionaries in Mali.  We are a LONG WAY from where we were a decade ago – physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

The title of our blog is 6892 Miles From Disneyland because our lives used to revolve around the Magic Kingdom.  We used to live only 2 miles from Disneyland and spent countless hours at the park, pioneered an on-line Disney community, and hosted several special events at Disneyland.  John was also a Disney historian and used to conduct historical tours of Disneyland.  Soon after Cole was born, we opened the Anaheim Visitor Center across the street from Disneyland.  Now we could make a living sharing our love of Disneyland and Southern California with people visiting the area.  As John operated the Visitor Center with his partners and employees, Julie was teaching English at Mater Dei High School.

AVC StorefrontIn 2001, the area around Disneyland and the Anaheim Visitor Center was transformed into the Anaheim Resort.  At the same time, the new Disneyland Resort opened complete with the new California Adventure theme park, Downtown Disney shopping and entertainment center, and new hotels.  Business was booming and we doubled the size of the Visitor Center to better service the additional tourists.  We were living a dream.  Not only were we doing what we loved, but we were being entertained, wined, and dined by Disney, Universal Studios, Sea World, Hard Rock CafĂ©, and the likes.  Disney even hosted us and all of our employees at the private exclusive Club 33 at Disneyland.

Then something we were completely unprepared for happened.  In April 2001, God called us to walk away from everything and take a one year short term mission trip to West Africa.  This is a whole story unto itself, but we had an amazing peace about it and made one of the biggest decisions of our lives.  A few months later, we were stepping off a plane in Bamako, Mali.  We served with a mission agency called Mission Aviation Fellowship (MAF).  Julie taught 5th-8th grade in a small school for missionary kids while John worked with MAF’s IT and communication division providing voice and email communication via shortwave radio for missionaries living in the bush.

DCF 1.0That first year passed very quickly and we soon found ourselves back in our former lives in SoCal.  John returned to the Visitor Center and Julie resumed teaching at Mater Dei.  It didn’t take us too long to realize that we had undergone major changes in Africa and felt we no longer fit our former lifestyle.  We soon made the decision to return to Mali with MAF.   This time we knew it was a long term decision.  We sold our condo, cars, and most of our belongings.  Unfortunately, there wasn’t enough time to sell our part of the Anaheim Visitor Center, so we literally walked away and left it in the hands of our business partners.  This was a major sacrifice but one we’ve never regretted.  And other sacrifices followed.  A few months after returning to Mali in 2003, we were involved in a tragic car accident in the bush that left 4 people dead and sent John to the hospital in London for 3 months and left him with permanent injuries.  Through it all, all we wanted was to return to Mali.  After several months of physical therapy in the States, we were released to return to our ministries in Africa.

In 2005, MAF made the decision to close its operations in Mali and we were forced to return to the States.  Thankfully, several months later, God led us to an opportunity to return to Mali with Youth With A Mission (YWAM).  We were very excited to go back to Africa after we had thought all of the doors had closed.  We started this blog when we joined YWAM, so you can read much of the rest of the story by looking back through our older posts.

Yes, a lot has changed in the past decade, not the least of which is John’s appearance.  Gone are the days of short hair (ask him what that’s all about) and wearing a suit a tie.  The 5 year old boy we arrived with is now a handsome young man.  And Julie, who never saw herself as anything but a high school English teacher has now expanded to teaching multiple subjects in many different grade levels.

Many of you knew us before the transition while others have joined us at various parts along this incredible journey.  Thank you to each and every one of you for helping the Clark family thrive 6892 Miles From Disneyland.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Frog Prince

It’s currently rainy season in Mali.  This time of year frogs seem to appear out of nowhere.  It’s not unusual to find them hiding in various places in our house.  Last night was a reminder when we found one in our kitchen, one of their favorite hang outs.  They also seem to like our guest room which is often a surprise for our guests.

The frog population seems to be down this year because we haven’t been having a very good rainy season.  We’ve only had a few days of good rain throughout the past 2 months.  This is a huge problem as all the food production in Mali is dependent on the rains.  We’ve been hearing from a lot of areas around the country that many of the farmers haven’t started planting yet.  This could have a devastating effect.  Famines are happening right now in East Africa and we dread that happening here too.  Please be praying for abundant rains over the next month and a half to make up for a sparse rainy season.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Bringing Down the House

Carport CollapseWe woke up on Sunday morning to a loud crashing sound.  We thought it was thunder and went back to sleep.  When we got up in the morning, we discovered that our carport had collapsed on top of our car.  Thankfully, the roof rack on the top of our car caught the weight of the roof and kept it from damaging our car.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Monkey Business

JackLiving in Africa, one of the common questions we get is, “do you have a pet monkey?”  Now we can answer yes.  We’ve heard lots of horror stories from others who had pet monkeys and we thought it might be a big mistake.  But when some friends of ours offered us a monkey, we went against our better judgment and decided to adopt it. We’ve had him for several days and we are very happy.  Jack is very well behaved and we’re all getting along perfectly.  He seems to be happy living with us too.  We arrived home a couple of days ago and Jack’s leash had come untied, but he didn’t run away.  He was sitting and waiting for us.  Jack & JulieJack is especially fond of Julie and enjoys grooming her when she is sitting outside.  It’s cool having a pet with opposable thumbs.  We can probably expect a lot more monkey videos from Cole.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Help Wanted

One of our main ministries is serving at Bamako Christian Academy (BCA).  The school is currently offering kindergarten though 12th grade.  Our students are mostly missionary kids.  Because English education options are so limited on the mission field, many missionaries need to take time out from their ministry and work to homeschool their kids.  But BCA provides a low cost, English speaking Christian school option, freeing missionaries in our area from the need to homeschool.

Unfortunately, we have a shortage of teachers for the upcoming school year.  Currently, Julie is the only high school teacher committed to teaching next year.  We are in dire need of a Math and Science teacher.  But we have many other opportunities as well including, history, art, music, Bible, French, and PE on all levels.  We also have a need for a school administrator/principle.

Tired of the same ol’, same ol’?  Looking for a change of environment?  Why not consider a short term teaching opportunity at BCA.  It’s easy to adapt your teaching experience to our school.  Our school is English speaking and utilizes an American based curriculum.  We have both part-time and full-time teaching positions.  We’re looking for people who can serve anywhere from 6 months to 2 years.  Click here for more details.  We’re located in the capital city of Bamako with comfortable housing with running water and electricity.  If this peaks your interest, or if you know of someone who might be qualified, please let us know.  We’ll be happy to provide more information. 

Sunday, July 03, 2011

Welcome Home

ElephantsWe arrived back home last Sunday afternoon. We had a WONDERFUL and very relaxing trip to Kenya. It was exactly what our family has been needing. We broke up our trip into two segments: city and beach. Although we live in a capital city, it is far from the modern world and developing conditions are a discouraging part of everyday life. We were in need of a big city experience. In addition, we’ve really been missing the beach. So we planned half of our trip in the capital city of Nairobi, and the other half on the beach of the Indian Ocean in Mombasa. In the middle, we took a 2 day African safari through one of Kenya’s famous game reserves.

Thank you for your prayers. Our vacation went flawlessly and was the perfect match of rest and adventure combined. We’ve been quiet for the past week as we ease back into life after vacation. In addition, our internet connection has been coming and going making it difficult to communicate. We’ve backfilled our blog to fill you in on the highlights of our trip, so keep reading below. In addition, we’ve posted several photos on Flikr for you to look at. And don’t forget to check out Cole’s monkey video.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

A Nice Place to Visit…

Corruption Runs RampantToday was our final day in Kenya and we embarked on some souvenir shopping to end our trip. In all, we’ve had a fabulous time in Kenya and it was everything we needed it to be. But at the same time, we’re all looking forward to being back home in Mali. Although Nairobi is more developed than Bamako, we found it is still very much African and we experienced frequent power cuts each day, tap water that was undrinkable, and low (sometimes no) pressure showers.

Cole on SafariKenya is a notoriously crime ridden country where theft and crime are very common. It goes beyond pickpockets and purse snatchers into crimes called necklace snatching. When walking down the street, or sitting in a car at a traffic light with the window down, it is not uncommon for someone to grab any jewelry you’re wearing including watches, bracelets, and necklaces right off your wrist or neck. They’ll even grab cell phones out of people’s hands even as they are using them. It was also important to avoid being on streets at night. We were worried about these things and took many precautions, especially during our time in Nairobi. These precautions paid off as we were never the victims of theft. We are so grateful for God’s protection from this. Corruption is also a terrible problem in Kenya. Several places we went had signs saying “Report Corruption Here”. What a terrible and dark environment in which to live.

Clarks in MombasaOne of the things that drew us to Kenya for vacation was to be in an English speaking country. However, English speaking doesn’t always mean American speaking. We had to speak very slowly and deliberately to be understood because people had a difficult time with our accent – and even then, we found people often heard something entirely different than what we said. It made for some humorous memories that will continue in our family for a long time.

June is rainy season in Kenya and we saved a lot of money by staying here outside of tourist season. We were worried that we would be rained out of a lot of activities. But thankfully, it didn’t rain until today, and it was a light rain that didn’t affect our plans. All in all, it was a fabulous trip and one that will last in our memories for a lifetime.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Shop Till You Drop

ChicKingShopping day! We were able to find a small mall and a large Nakumatt store, which is the Kenyan equivalent of Super WalMart. We picked up a few things we can’t get in Mali and looked around in several different stores. We were also able to find some primary reading books that Julie is eager to use in her reading ministry with the Nigerian women in Mali. This is going to be a wonderful new resource.

There are no Western fast food restaurants in Kenya – not even a McDonalds. We were hoping for some comfort food and finally stumbled upon a Middle Eastern fast food chicken restaurant called ChicKing. It is very similar to KFC. This became a frequent dining establishment for us over the next few days.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

At the Movies

This morning we boarded a plane for our return flight to Nairobi. What took us 18 hours by train, we accomplished in only 1 hour by air – and for the same price! But we would never trade the experience we had on the train.

Once back in Nairobi, we checked back into the same hotel which felt comfortable and familiar. After lunch, we began to take advantage of being in a big city. One of our first stops was a movie theatre to see the latest Pirates of the Caribbean IV movie. It was nice to sit in a theatre and watch a movie in English while eating hot buttered popcorn. After the movie, it began getting dark and we headed back to our hotel for dinner and some sleep.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Jesus is Our Fortress

Fort JesusToday we toured the premier landmark in Mombasa – Fort Jesus. Fort Jesus was originally built in 1593 by the Portuguese to protect the harbor of Mombasa. The fort changed hands nine times between 1631 and 1875. When the British colonized Kenya, Fort Jesus was converted into a prison and remained so until 1958 when it became a national monument and museum. Fort Jesus was the first fortress outside of Europe designed to withstand canon fire.

Fort Jesus CanonsAfter Fort Jesus, we toured around a bit of Old Towne Mombasa then explored modern downtown in search of lunch. After lunch, we headed back home to Amani Acre in a tuk-tuk – a small three wheeled taxi. They are just like the ones seen on the TV show Outsourced.

We spent the rest of the afternoon resting and walking along the beach collecting shells to help us remember our wonderful time in Mombasa.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Circle of Life

Giraffe - YumFirst thing this morning we headed out for another game drive before breakfast. Morning is supposed to be the best time to see animals. We soon came upon a hyena eating what was left of a giraffe that had been killed by a lion a couple of days ago. We also spotted a lot more elephants and deer. When we got back to camp for breakfast, our fellow campers showed us pictures of a lion they had just seen on their game drive. We were disappointed we didn’t’ see it, but have been very excited about all the other animals we have seen.

GiraffeAfter breakfast, we packed up and left the campsite for our final game drive as we headed out of the park. We saw several giraffes, gazelles, and ibex along with a couple of herds of elephants. Just as we were leaving the park, we saw several wild camels too. In all, we were very pleased with our safari. We saw over 20 types of animals, including 3 of what’s called the BIG FIVE game species (lion, leopard, elephant, rhino, & buffalo).

Stopped by Water BuffaloWe count our safari as one of our greatest adventures in Africa. With our California tourism experiences, our safari was reminiscent of the San Diego Wild Animal Park or Lion Country Safari. However, this is no zoo. It is not a controlled environment. There are no zoo keepers and no one attends to the animals’ needs. This is the wild and the animals all fend for themselves. The food chain is in full operation here. The carnivores eat the other animals in the whole Circle of Life thing. All of the animals are protected species and hunting is illegal. But poaching is still a big problem because of the vastness and isolation of the parks which encompass hundreds of square miles. There are a few park wardens to help control poaching, but sadly it remains a profitable business. In Mali, it’s possible to find fresh ivory, leopard skins, zebra skins, and animal heads for sale in the market – all products of illegal poaching in Kenya.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Lion Country Safari

Safari JeepToday marks the pinnacle of our trip – the beginning of our 2 day African safari. We were picked up at 6:30 in the morning by Nicholas, our safari guide. From there, it was a 4 hour drive to Tsavo East – one of the larger game reserves in Kenya. We got so caught-up in the excitement that we even bought safari hats from a vendor at the park entrance. They’re the African safari version of Mickey Mouse Ears hats at Disneyland.

We booked with a company called Wildlife Kenya Safaris. We would highly recommend them. Our jeep was a specially equipped Toyota Land Cruiser designed for safari purposes. Every seat was a window seat and special sunroofs allowed us to stand up for an unobstructed 360° view.

Elephant PatriarchWithin a few minutes of entering the park, we encountered our first animals, a group of wild wart hogs. In Swahili, they are called pumba – sound familiar? A few minutes later, we spotted some zebras. Then came the elephants. And boy, did we see a lot of elephants throughout our safari. Nicholas knew where several watering holes were located which gave us the opportunity to see a lot of animals – some of them quite up close. We also came across a large herd of water buffalo. They had the habit of standing and staring us straight in the face. Continuing on, we encountered baboons, an ostrich, and several types of gazelle, ibex, and antelope.

Safari Tent - Sitting AreaAfter a couple of hours, we headed to our camp to get checked in and have some lunch. We chose to stay in a campsite rather than a safari lodge and we’re very happy we made that choice. Our camp was situated in the middle of the game reserve. Our lodging was a large, luxurious tent. It was about 15 x 25 feet. It had electricity and even had a complete bathroom with sink, toilet, and a shower with hot and cold running water.During lunch, we had to shoo off several monkeys that kept trying to sneak up on our table and steal food. Cole got a special kick out of this. He took a video that we’ve posted as our video of the week.

Lepord in a Tree Looking for LunchAfter lunch, we headed out for another game drive. This time we encountered several giraffe along with more water buffalo and elephants. Around sunset, we came upon a leopard sitting in a tree in the middle of a herd of water buffalo. We stopped and watched for several minutes, anticipating he was going to pounce on some dinner. But the sun was setting and we needed to head back to camp before dark.

Clarks and MasaiAgain, because it was before tourist season, our camp was very quiet. Our camp could accommodate over 60 people, but tonight, there were only 4 other people besides our family. After dinner together, we sat around a campfire. We were then escorted to our tents by a traditional Maasai tribesman. His job was to guard our campsite and keep wild animals out the camp because we were camped deep in the wild bush. We had to really rely on his ancient skills as he was only armed with a flashlight and a stick. Once in our tents, we had to remain inside for safety. Several times throughout the night, we could hear lions and other wild animals outside our camp. It was really cool.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Father’s Day

Mombasa ChurchToday we attended church with Martha. It was within a quick 5 minute walk from Amani Acre. It was a small church of about 20 people. In Mali, our YWAM team visits a different church each month and helps lead the church service. In Mombasa, the local YWAM base does the same thing, and this Sunday, they were leading at Martha’s church! So we had a chance to meet the local YWAM team too.

Mombasa ResortMombasa is the home to dozens of world class, 5 star vacation resorts. Being Father’s Day, John was treated to a special Father’s Day brunch. Together with Martha, we dined at the 40 Thieves Restaurant at one of the resorts. We sat on the beach while a jazz band played and watched as camels walked along the shore.

On the way home, we stopped at a real grocery store! This was our first trip to a full size grocery store in almost a year! It didn’t have the selection of Western brands and products we were hoping for, but there were ample supplies all kinds of food including fresh, sliced bread – something Julie has been craving for months.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

All Aboard

Mombasa TrainLast night at 7:00, we boarded the train from Nairobi to Mombasa, the coastal shipping port of Kenya. The trip was one of the highlights of our vacation. We had our own first class compartment with seats for all of us that converted into beds for the night. We also had a small sink and closet too. The train cars are over 50 years old, so things were a bit worn out and not everything worked, but it was very pleasant and comfortable anyway. Our cross country trip was 18 hours and included dinner and breakfast in the dining car. While we were at dinner, the porter made up our beds in our compartment. Because tourist season hasn’t started yet, the train was very quiet and uncrowded. The car we were traveling in only had one other couple in it. And believe it or not, the price for all of this was only $50 per person.

Train CompartmentWe traveled all night stopping often at various village stations to pick up and drop off passengers. With the full moon, we had a beautiful view of the Kenyan savanna. Much of our trip was along one of the major game parks. But unfortunately, we didn’t see any animals. We’ll leave that for our safari in a couple of days. And from the stories we read in the museum, we’re happy we didn’t have any animal encounters.

There was one delay this morning when a train in front of us derailed and was blocking the tracks. But it was fixed within an hour and we were back on our way. This is remarkable for Africa, where train derailments are common and travel delays are often counted in days, not hours.

Martha & JulieMombasa is an island on the Kenyan coast. It was necessary to take a ferry to reach our accommodations. We stayed at a missionary guest house called Amani Acre which is operated by Africa Inland Mission. A woman named Martha Pontier is the caretaker and manager. She is one of our fellow missionaries from our home church in California and we enjoyed meeting her and getting to know her. Amani Acre far exceeded our expectations and was a wonderful breath of fresh air – literally. Our accommodations were a beach house that was 75 feet from the white sand beach of the Indian Ocean. Cool breezes blew in through the windows and filled our lungs with fresh, ocean air. The area is actually a beautiful coral reef teaming with exotic and beautiful sea life. And because it’s on the equator, the ocean water is warm and inviting. When the tide goes out, it’s possible to walk out onto the reef and see amazing tide pools.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Rallying Together

Today we ventured out of the hotel to explore a bit. To our surprise, we soon came upon the starting line of the Kenya Safari Rally, one of the toughest car rally races in the world. It was fun looking at the cars in the staging area then seeing them race from the starting line to begin the three day race through Kenya.

Later in the day, we visited the Nairobi Railway Museum. It was fascinating to learn about the history of the Kenya and Uganda Railways. Like the U.S., the railroad played in important part in Kenya’s history. Sadly, over 2,500 people died constructing the Nairobi to Mombasa line that we will be traveling on tonight. Many of them died by wild animal attacks including some who were pulled out of their railway sleeping cars by lions at night. The museum also had an excellent collection of old steam locomotives and vintage train cars we could explore. This helped build our excitement for our train trip tonight.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Just Flew In From Mali and Boy Are My Arms Tired

We left Mali last night at 7:30 and arrived safely in Nairobi, Kenya this morning at 5:30. Africa is a huge continent and it took us 7 hours to fly to Kenya plus a three hour time change. We got processed through immigration and received our visas very quickly then headed by taxi to our hotel in downtown Nairobi. We were all pretty tired so we crashed in our hotel room for most of the day. We’ll be spending one night here before heading to the coast via train tomorrow night.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Out Of The Office

We’re excited to be leaving on vacation today.  We’ll be spending the next 12 days in Kenya for some much needed R&R.  West Africa (where we live) is very different the Lion King Africa that most people envision.  We don’t have any wild animals apart from a few elephants and hippos.  We’re looking forward to seeing lions, giraffes, and the other animals associated with Africa.  In addition to our safari, we’ll be spending half our time in the capital of Nairobi and the other half in Mombasa, on the coast of the Indian Ocean.  We’ll be living off the grid without telephone or email.  We’re looking forward to sharing all about Kenya upon our return.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Bursting at the Seams

This morning we awoke to the sound of rain.  It was interesting because the sun was shining and birds were singing – not usual signs of rain.  As John got up to check things out, he stepped onto the floor and realized our house was flooded.  Sloshing through the water, he opened the bathroom door and found the sound of rain was actually a burst pipe.  The bathroom was under an inch of water and much of the rest of the house was flooded too.  Thankfully, all of our floors are tiled so cleanup was relatively easy and damage was minimal.  We’re preparing to leave for Kenya in 3 days and are very grateful the pipe broke now rather than after we’re gone.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Greatest Thing Since Sliced Bread

Because cotton is one of Mali’s primary exports, cloth and fabric are plentiful.  This helps make clothing a valuable part of Malian culture.  One of the easiest and least expensive ways to buy clothes is to buy cloth and have clothes custom made by a tailor.  A complete outfit with pants and and shirt is only about $20.  The tailors are very creative and the clothes they make are beautiful and interesting.  The variety of fabric is endless and the patterns are very colorful and often unusual and amusing.  John recently had a new set of clothes made.  Rather than pre-buying fabric, he left it to his tailor to pick out the fabric.  He picked up his clothes a few days later.  The first time he put them on, Julie burst out laughing.  The fabric pattern features loaves of sliced bread in a plastic wrapper.  It’s even more interesting because this type of bread isn’t available in Mali.

John loves his new clothes and continues to receive a lot of compliments from Malians whenever he wears them.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Yin Yang

Today we have another term – probably one you’re more familiar with.  Yin Yang: the ancient Chinese philosophy that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.  We’re happy to report that we’ve been experiencing the YANG to our WAWA day YIN.  We made another trip downtown to make a second attempt at seeing the doctor.  We braved the market and once again met up with our contact.  At least this time, we had a better idea of who we were looking for.  Julie’s appointment was for 4 pm and the doctor finally showed up shortly before 6 pm.  The consultation went very well.  After performing a sonogram, and talking to Julie about her symptoms, he confirmed that she has been passing the last remaining kidney stones in her system.  He prescribed some medicine to help with the pain and other symptoms and we were on our way.  We feel very confident with his expertise and are glad we were persistent enough to try seeing him again.

In case you’re wondering about the cost, the doctor visit was $12 and the sonogram was $30.  This is the full amount – not insurance co-payments.  The prescriptions were a total of $25 for three medicines including a new and promising antibiotic.

Julie is feeling much better.  The pipe in our bathroom has been fixed.  We’re in the process of replacing John’s lost wallet  And lastly, we finished things up yesterday by booking tickets for a family vacation to Kenya next month.  We were able to use our frequent flyer miles to pay for all three of us.  It’s really helpful to have something for us to be looking forward to.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011


We have a term in Mali called WAWA, which is an acronym for West Africa Wins Again.  We use it when situations and circumstances become overwhelming and you just feel like throwing in the towel.  WAWA days tend to show up especially during hot season when the weather is miserable and it’s just too hot and tiring to do anything.

Unfortunately, yesterday was a WAWA day.  Julie has been experiencing a lot of pain and complications related to her kidneys.  Yesterday was a holiday in Mali so we had trouble finding a qualified doctor that was working.  Through a friend of a friend, we eventually arranged to meet with a specialist who is supposed to be one of the best (and few) urologist in Mali.  The man knew the doctor and made special arrangements for an appointment despite the holiday.  We were to meet him downtown in the central marketplace.

Our experience with the most crowded days at Disneyland pales in comparison with the throngs of people, vehicles, vendors, beggars, and merchandise all sharing the same small and congested alleyways that make up the central market.  With every step we have to avoid being hit by cars, motorcycles, pushcarts, and people carrying things on their heads let alone trying to avoid all the garbage on the ground.  On top of this, we’re constantly accosted by people trying to sell us everything from underwear to bananas to t-shirts of Muammar Gaddafi.  And to make things more interesting, we were to meet our contact in the witchdoctor and traditional medicine section of the market.  Here we were surrounded by interesting wares including monkey paws, dried chameleons, decaying animal heads of all kinds, cola nuts, leopard skins, and dead alligator parts – anything needed to put a curse on someone.

We were told to look for our contact who would lead us to the doctor’s office which was buried deep in the market.  He was described as a young black man with short hair – a perfect description of 99.99% of the men in Mali.  Thankfully, we tend to stand out in the crowd, so he eventually found us.  It was a huge discouragement when he told us the doctor had already left for the day so our difficult, hour long trip into town was for nothing.  In addition, John lost his wallet in the market which included his ATM card and drivers license.  Unfortunately, his license can only be replaced in person in the States which leaves him with no ID and takes away his ability to drive in Mali.

We also had guests staying in our home and as they were preparing to leave, a pipe broke in the guest bathroom.  We had to turn off the water to the whole house until it could be fixed.  John returned home after dropping our friends off at the airport at midnight and worked until 2 a.m. to get the pipe blocked off and water turned back on.  And these are just the main highlights.  We’re glad this WAWA day is behind us and we’re looking forward to putting off the next one as long as possible.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Bill Pay–The Easy Way

In this day in age, on-line banking and on-line bill payments have become the normal way of taking care of personal finances.  Mali is still a cash based society and these types of services are non-existent here.  In fact, something as simple as paying our utility bills is a very time consuming and involved process.  It is not possible to pay on-line or even send a check in the mail!  We must visit the electric company in person and wait in line for often times 45 minutes to an hour to pay our bill in cash.  If there’s a problem with the bill, things become even more complicated.  This month our bill was three times what it should have been.  There were unexplained charges for several hundred dollars.  In Mali, relationships mean everything and normally the only way to resolve a problem is through knowing someone in the company to fix it for you.  Thankfully, we were able to find a friend of a friend to act as our advocate with the power company.  He spent several hours negotiating with several people until he was finally able to resolve things.  It turns out the charges were someone skimming money from our bill for their personal gain.  Unfortunately, in Mali, corruption is very high and this type of activity is not uncommon.

So next time you pay your electric bill, be thankful for how easy and fair the process is.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Easter Best

Easter 2011Today we had a special morning Easter Service for the Bamako English Fellowship.  Instead of meeting at the church, we had the service on the lawn of one of the local mission compounds.  It was a treat to sit on some grass.  The weather was pleasant with temps in the low 90s.

We enjoyed celebrating Easter with some wonderful Easter music.  John was the pastor for the service and gave the Easter message.  To mark the occasion, he wore shoes – something he hasn’t done since being in the States last year.  Even more impressive, he put on a tie for the first time in 10 years!  It was a strange reminder of John’s suit and tie corporate days.

After the service, we had a pot luck and fellowship time with many people from the English speaking community.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Haunting Memories

We're currently in Koutiala for our YWAM Mali annual meeting. Each year everyone at our 6 bases gets together to review the past year, talk about new ministries, and look towards the coming year. It's interesting to see friends we don't see very often and hear about everything happening at our different bases.

Because our car accident a few years ago happened on the way to Koutiala, the road trip is always very difficult for Julie as she is haunted by memories of the accident when we're on that road. She spent several days psyching herself up for this trip and reached a point of being okay to travel. We left yesterday traveling on the YWAM bus from Bamako to Koutiala. On the bus, the travel time is about 7 hours. About a third of the way through our trip, we came upon an accident that had just happened. A bus and a car hit each other head on at high speed. The bus fell down a small embankment. As we arrived on the scene, people were wandering around dazed and confused. There was flaming debris on the side of the road. We stopped to help and they began loading injured people on our bus so we could take them to the nearest hospital which was about an hour and a half away. As we were making room for the injured, a bigger bus arrived with a lot more room and they transferred the injured on it. Julie was overwhelmed with the situation and the parallels with our accident. The memories came flooding back to the point she became physically sick.

Thankfully, we arrived safely in Koutiala a few hours later. Julie was still shaken, but recovered from the incident.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Visa – It’s Everywhere You Want to Be

Wow!  Have we really been gone that long?  It seems like just yesterday when we received our first passports.  Here we are 10 years later with our passports about to expire.  Thankfully, it was easy to get new ones from the U.S. Embassy here in Mali and we received them last week.  In doing so, we realized our Malian visas had expired in January.  So we went about renewing those too.  Americans have a special 5 year visa available for the same price every other nationality pays for a 90 day visa.  What a huge blessing that is.  Unfortunately, the penalty for letting our visas lapse was close to the same price as the 5 year visa.  Ouch!  It’s weird to have passports with only one page marked.  It’s also sobering to think that this could be the last Malian visa we get for Cole.  He’ll be 19 when his expires and who knows what he’ll be up to then.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Peace, Love, and Worshipmania

Worshipmania FlashbackTonight we led a worship service at the English Fellowship downtown.  We decided to take a different approach and have a little fun while resurrecting some songs that haven’t been sung in years.  We called it Worshipmania Flashback and all of our songs were circa the 1960s and 70s.  It included timeless classics including Kum Ba Ya, Pass It On, Seek Ye First, and They’ll Know We Are Christians By Our Love.  We also had a Keith Green tribute and finished the service with Day By Day from Godspell.

We wanted to create the full mood, so we brought along a lava lamp and even dressed for the part.  If only we could have arrived in a VW bus.  It was scary how realistic the look was.  It took a few moments for some of our friends to recognize us when they walked into church.  We also had a few visitors this week who will probably forever think of us as those crazy hippies who never left the 70s.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Traffic Stop

We just entered into a new ministry.  There is a huge problem with sex trafficking in West Africa.  In Mali, it’s estimated that 20,000 young girls are brought in from Nigeria alone and forced to work in the sex trade.

We have some Nigerian Christian friends we’ve been working with since we arrived in Mali in 2001.  Recently, together with their church, they began reaching out to some of these girls and helping them find hope and freedom through Christ.  They’ve even invited several girls to live in their home to care for them and help them leave prostitution by teaching them viable job skills.  They have approached us for help.  They’ve asked Julie to help teach them to read and John will be sharing messages from the Bible and helping them find their value in Christ.  This weekend, we invited several of the girls to our house to watch the movie Les MisĂ©rables – a powerful film about redemption and grace based on Victor Hugo’s classic story.  They were very touched by the movie which had several parallels to their lives.  We are looking forward to helping these girls, and others find a new life after such tragic circumstances.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Seeing 20/20

Cole’s glasses broke a few days ago as he was playing with some friends.  We were able to patch them together temporarily until we can order some new ones.  He’s been complaining that his glasses aren’t powerful enough, so today we took him for an eye exam at a new eye doctor in our neighborhood.  It turned out to be quite an African experience.  The was exam was delayed several times due to power outages.  Cole was also challenged reading the eye chart that was being projected on the wall because it was out of focus.

The doctor didn’t have the big binocular looking device that’s used in the States to test different lenses.  Instead, Cole wore a special pair of glasses that the doctor inserted different lenses into and could adjust the focus of each lens.  After 2 hours, Cole completed the exam and we left with a new prescription in hand.  In all, the bill only came out to $12.

When we got home, we ordered new glasses online.  We have been using a site called EyeBuyDirect.com.  Their prices and selection are amazing.  If you are in need of glasses, we highly recommend giving them a try.  You can get glasses from as low as $7.95 complete with frame AND lenses!  If you order glasses, be sure to use coupon code IF93EXDN37 for a 15% discount on your order.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Family Reunion

We are happy to report that Julie was discharged from the hospital today!  It appears to be the same thing that sent her to the hospital a few weeks ago – an internal infection coupled with Malaria.  She also passed a kidney stone in the process.  The doctor feels the Malaria preventative she’s been taking has been doing more  harm then good and causing a host of health problems.

It’s good to have Julie home again.  Cole is also feeling better too and will be returning to school tomorrow with Julie.  John on the other hand, has gotten progressively worse.  He’s having a full battle with the flu – an ironic sickness to have as hot season has just started.  He’s been doing most the family care the past few days despite his sickness and is looking forward to a couple of down days to rest and recuperate.  He’s anticipating being back on his feet shortly.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

The Waiting Is The Hardest Part

Julie continues to be treated in the hospital.  The doctors ran several tests today including a sonogram, x-ray, blood tests, etc.  We are still waiting for the doctors to analyze the test results and determine what treatment is needed.  Nothing will probably be decided until tomorrow.  Right now, Julie is resting a little easier and is being kept on IVs to help with her nausea and other issues.

John and Cole are about the same – still very weak, groggy, feeling icky.  Hopefully a new day will bring some positive changes.

Monday, March 07, 2011

General Hospital - The Sequel

We've had a busy weekend. We hosted a new girl in our home and did an introduction to Mali orientation with her. Her name is Anna and she will be living and working at our YWAM base in Fana.

Unfortunately, as we were finishing up with Anna, our whole family took sick. It's very difficult for all three of us to be down at the same time. Julie seems to have gotten the worst of it. We took her to the doctor tonight and they immediately checked her in to the hospital. They'll be running some tests in the morning to figure out what she has. Right now she is miserable and in need of your prayers. Hopefully our next update will be better news.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

A Thief In The Night

We had someone break into our compound last night.  When we woke up this morning, our front gate was unlocked and wide open and our outside lights had been turned off.  We also noticed a couple of things missing from our front porch and someone had rummaged through a storage box.  We didn’t lose anything of value and we are grateful that no one got into the house.  But it’s still a disconcerting feeling that we had an unwanted visitor.  It appears that our guard tortoise wasn’t quick enough to apprehend the thief.  Perhaps we should investigate something quicker on its feet.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Ooh! What’s That Smell?

We tackled a big cleaning project this weekend.  Our home office has slowly transformed into a storage room over the past few years.  We’ve been wanting to clean it out for quite some time, but there’s always been something more important (or fun) to do first.  But alas, something died in the office several days ago so we were forced to dig through everything and find it.  It turns out it was a gecko that got squished behind our file cabinet.  We have geckos living and running freely throughout the house.  Who knew that something so small could make such a huge and terrible stench.  Thankfully we have both a functional office again along with a room we can walk into without gagging.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011


As you were celebrating Presidents’ Day in the States on Monday, we also had a holiday in Mali called Mawlid an-Nabi (or several other names depending on the country).  It marks the birthday of the Islamic prophet Muhammad.  Interestingly, different Muslim sects celebrate it on two different days.  The Sunni Muslims celebrate it 5 days earlier.  So the holiday falls on a different day depending on which country you are in and who the dominant Islamic influence is.  Mali, wanting to be politically correct with the various Islamic sects, declares both days as holidays.  So we celebrated Muhammad’s birthday today and last week also.

Unfortunately, the celebrations in Mali were marked by tragedy this year.  On Monday, there was a big religious and prayer assembly at Mali’s largest soccer stadium.  The stadium was filled beyond capacity.  One of Mali’s top Imams (Islamic religious leader) led the service and prayer time.  Following the service, there was a stampede as people were leaving the stadium.  There were 36 deaths as a result.  Last year, Mawlid was marked by a similar stampede tragedy in Timbuktu.