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.