Friday, January 29, 2016

Blessing In The Curse

Living in Mali presents a lot of extra challenges and frustrations. Lack of adequate medical care is one of them. This has been the fourth time we've been forced to leave Mali for medical reasons. In each circumstance we wanted to stay in Mali, however the high risk of death or serious complications have led us to leave the country for treatment. The astronomical cost of medical care, even with insurance, has prevented us from seeking treatment in the States so we've traveled to Europe instead. We've had good results in both London and Paris.

This time around, our doctor suggested traveling to Morocco or Tunisia to save even more money. He assured us that medical personnel and facilities in both countries meet or exceed Western standards for medical care. Further conversations with friends who have made medical trips to Tunisia convinced us to give it a try.  It turns out that the total expenses for this trip are 1/3 the cost of our trip to Paris for the same treatment 8 years ago!  The care and treatment we've experienced in Tunisia has been very high quality in top notch facilities.

In the U.S., a trip to the hospital is rarely pleasant and comes with a lot of stresses, discouragements, and inconveniences. Now add in an international trip thousands of miles away to an unfamiliar country. But God had an amazing surprise waiting for us. 

Tunisia is in North Africa and is bordered by Algeria and Libya. Much of the country is coastal on the Mediterranean Sea. It is a beautiful and exotic country with much of the economy relying on tourism. The coast is lined with large 4 and 5 star vacation resorts. Unfortunately, there were a couple of isolated terrorist attacks last year aimed at tourists. These attacks became high profile global news stories and the flow of tourists instantly stopped. This has forced many of the resorts in the tourist zones to close and just a few are operating at greatly reduced number of guests. They have slashed their prices in an effort to attract travelers. This has really played in our favor. As we were searching online for a hotel last week, we came upon a beachfront resort at an unbelievable price. The El Mouradi Skanes is a 4 star all inclusive resort that boasts over 500 rooms, a private beach, several swimming pools, multiple restaurants, onsite spa, and more. Rates normally run from $1,500 - $3,000 per week. It seemed too good to be true, but we were in fact able to book it for a grand total of $275 for the two of us for a full week!  This includes all of our meals!  Yes, we are staying at a luxury beachfront resort with meals for $45/night - less than the cost of staying at Motel 6 (or Formula One for our European friends.). Half of the hotel is shut down, and there are less than 150 guests on-site, but most amenities and activities are still available. The staff is incredible and the meals are amazing all-you-can-eat buffets similar to what you'd find on a cruise ship. 

Please rest assured that we are in no danger. Tunisia has gone to great lengths to secure the country and ensure the safety of visitors. We don't see or sense any threats and we feel perfectly safe here. 

We can't begin to tell you how blessed we feel. The medical procedures have not been pleasant or pain free, however returning each day to a beautiful resort has had amazing therapudic results. God is good!

You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people. - Genesis 50:20

Mission Accomplished!

Julie had her second Lithotripsy treatment last night. It took longer and was more painful than the first, but she made it through with flying colors.  Again, we arrived back at the hotel around 11pm. We had a quick meal at the hotel late night buffet, then headed to bed. 

The Lithotripsy process breaks kidney stones into smaller pieces using ultrasonic sound waves. Although the treatment is finished, Julie will continue to pass sand and small stones for the next few days. Because of this, she's continuing to experience discomfort and pain which should last for a few days. 

A final visit to the doctor today revealed that the stones have indeed been broken up and the pieces are slowly passing through Julie's system. He did provide some pain medication and other medicine to help with this final step. Julie also found some M&Ms in a local shop which are also helping with her recovery. 

Tomorrow is a day of rest before our flight back to Mali on Sunday night. Thank you for your past and ongoing prayers. Everything in Tunisia has gone very smoothly and there have been no complications. 

Thursday, January 28, 2016

International Competition

This morning we were resting at our hotel before heading out to the medical clinic. We brought along a set of Tri-Ominos and decided to play a few rounds in the lobby before lunch.

The Algerian National Handball team is currently in town for an international tournament and they are staying in our hotel.  They were fascinated by this game they had never seen before, and watched intently as we played. They only spoke Arabic, so our communication skills were somewhat limited. But by watching, they quickly picked up the game and even started pointing out moves when we missed them. We invited them to join. Because they are professional athletes, they were VERY competitive. We had a great time!  They were asking if the game is available here in Tunisia or Algeria. Unfortunately, to our knowledge it isn't. So tomorrow we're going to give them our set of Tri-Ominos as a gift if we see them again. 

This goes on our list of things we'd never imagined we'd do - Play Tri-Ominos with the Algerian National Handball team. 

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

A Stone's Throw Away

Yesterday, Julie received treatment for her kidney stone. We started by visiting a doctor in a neighboring town. We then went to a local clinic for X-rays and sonogram. Unfortunately, the lithotripsy machine, a highly specialized machine that brakes up blockages and stones using sound waves, was broken. So we needed to travel 2 hours to another city in Tunisia for the procedure. The treatment took about 45 minutes, but it was very painful and uncomfortable for Julie. Unfortunately, the doctor discovered another kidney stone in her other kidney, so it will be necessary to return tomorrow for a second treatment. 

It was as long day. We didn't arrive back at the hotel until 11 pm. Julie was pretty battered and in a lot of pain. She was also pretty demoralized knowing she has to go through it again. Thankfully she had a full day to rest today. Please be praying as she continues treatment tomorrow and for the pain she has during her recovery. 

Monday, January 25, 2016

Touched By An Angel

We have arrived safely, but exhausted in Tunisia. We left Mali at 2:00 am and arrived 4 1/2 hours later in Tunis, the capital of Tunisia. We were met at the airport by a medical concierge who has taken care of all the details and arrangements for Julie's treatment. He is here to assist us every step of the way, including driving us 2 hours from the airport to the clinic. He will be taking care of ALL the logistics, including transportation for the duration of our stay. This is a HUGE answer to prayer!  God has provided an angel to help and guide us in an unfamiliar country and culture. And he speaks English too!

We had a tour of the medical clinic today and have made plans to meet with the doctor first thing tomorrow morning to begin (and hopefully finish) the procedure.  Until then, we're crashing in our hotel. Thank you for your ongoing prayers. 

Sunday, January 24, 2016

A Rolling Stone Gathers No Moss

Waving goodbye to Bamako for a week. We're on our way to Tunisia for treatment for Julie's kidney stone. We arrive at 6:50 am then another 2 hours to the hospital.

Please pray for a quick and uneventful treatment. Julie's currently scheduled for a 3 day hospital stay - a surprise considering it's normally an outpatient procedure.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Here We Go Again

Things have been going very well in our ministries and we're seeing God do incredible things.  We're in the process of starting several projects including a new Alpha Course, new classes at the English center, and a church plant that is scheduled to launch in three weeks.  We're really excited about what's taking place.  Unfortunately, the enemy has taken notice too and he's doing his part to disrupt what's happening.

Julie has been sick and in pain for the past two weeks.  A few days ago, she was diagnosed with another kidney stone.  After several tests, it was determined that the stone is too large to pass and must be surgically removed.  Unfortunately, resources are not available for this in Mali. Multiple doctors have recommended Julie be medevaced immediately to a country where the procedure can be performed.  This happened in 2007 as well, so it's not unfamiliar territory.  But because of this, our current insurance company considers it a pre-existing condition that is not covered under our policy.  (Those of us living internationally aren't covered by the new laws about pre-existing conditions in the Affordable Care Act.)

We are leaving Sunday night and will be gone for a week.  In researching the various options, Tunisia seems to be one of the lowest cost but quality care choices.  We do not know anyone in Tunisia, and it’s a new country and culture we have not experienced.  Please be praying with us that all the details will come together and finances will become available to cover the medical and travel expenses.  Also, pray for Julie's health and well being and for the doctors that will be treating her.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Dreadding the Future

Radio LibreIf you’ve been following our blog, you’ll recall that John has been trying to meet Reggae singer, Tiken Jah Fakoly.  We had a chance to finally personally meet him.  Last night, he was scheduled to do another live concert at his night club across from our house.  We passed by the club several hours before the concert on our way home from teaching English, and noticed his car was parked in front of the club.  We decided to have dinner at a rooftop restaurant that is part of the club, in hope of bumping into him.  It was early, and we were the only ones at the restaurant.  As we entered, we passed by an open door of a private salon and saw Tiken Jah sitting alone.  As per Malian culture, we greeted him as we passed by.  He came out to meet us and we spent several minutes talking with him.  He said he recognized us.  We shared that we live in his old house and invited him to stop by sometime.  We also talked with him about his school building initiative and learned about some of the things he’s doing to help Africa.

We sat down for dinner as he was leaving to go home and rest before the concert.  After dinner, we did the same and returned later that night.  Koko Dembele, another famous Malian Reggae singer also performed before Tiken Jah came on at 2am.  The club was full, and the crowd was enthusiastic all night.  We left early (around 3am), tired, but excited about seeing this ministry move forward.  John’s hoping to develop a relationship with Tiken Jah and other musicians.  Who knows, maybe John’s long hair will transform into dreadlocks as he becomes part of the Reggae scene in Mali.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Seems Like Old Times

Mali Communications FriendsToday we visited Mali Communications – the company that was birthed out of MAF’s closure in 2005.  These are some of our first and closest friends in Mali.  We had a wonderful time sharing and catching up with everyone – Abou, Lassana, Mama, and Salif.  It’s been way too long since we’ve seen our friends, yet it seemed like it was just yesterday.  We’re looking forward to continuing our friendship now that we’re back in Mali.  We had an especially good time sharing with Abou and Salif.

It was strange to meet in John’s old office.  Almost nothing had changed over the past 11 years.  Much of the equipment and technology John helped install was still in place and the walls still had the same paint and patterns from our MAF days.

Saturday, January 09, 2016

The Force Awakens

Star-Wars-the-Force-Awakens-Poster-CroppedMali is a country filled with juxtaposition. On one hand, we live in the bustling capital city of 2.5 million people. It is the fastest growing city in Africa. On the other hand, our trash pickup is done by a man with a donkey cart, most of our streets are dirt roads, and the streets are filled with raw sewage that doesn’t make it to the open sewers on the side of the road. Trash fires are abundant, and the majority of families do all their cooking over charcoal fires.

Now add into the equation that last night, we saw the new Star Wars film in 3D in Bamako’s only movie theater! Even better, the movie was in English with French subtitles, so we didn’t miss out on any of the dialogue, including Chewbacca.  Now we can relate to most of our friends and family that have been part of one of the biggest movie phenomena in recent history. Even though neither one of us are big Star Wars fans (we’ve left that to Cole), we really enjoyed the movie. It was also a special treat to feel like we were in the Western world for a couple of hours as we were watching the movie – complete with air conditioning, cushy theater seats, popcorn, and soda.

Thursday, January 07, 2016

Teamwork

John has been helping with a team that arrived last night from YWAM in Norway. The team is made up of mostly Americans with a few other nationalities mixed in. He helped pick them up from the airport at 2am on Tuesday night/Wednesday morning. Yesterday, he spent time doing an orientation on Mali. The team will be spending 9 weeks in Mali working with various YWAM ministries around the country. Today, John took them to the bus station early in the morning for their departure to Koutiala, their next area of ministry in Mali. Julie has been sick for 3 days, so she hasn’t been able to participate in helping with the team. Thankfully, she’s feeling better today and will hopefully continue on her road to recovery.

Saturday, January 02, 2016

Reggae Revolution

Tiken Jah ConcertTiken Jah Fakoly is a popular West African Reggae singer that lives in Mali. He is close to our age and our house in Bamako is Tiken Jah's old house, so we feel a couple of points of connection with him. His music is a reflection of his passion for bringing an end to the injustices in Africa and seeing a united African continent. He also values education in Africa and has funded the building of several schools. He is having a great impact on society and the people of West Africa. John has had Tiken Jah on his heart for several years and has been looking for opportunities to talk with him and share the Gospel. It’s exciting to imagine what his influence could do if he became a Christian and used his music to bring others to the Lord.

Tiken Jah has a recording studio and night club just across from our house. We pass by almost every day and have gotten to know many of the staff members. We’ve met Tiken Jah a few times in passing, but haven’t had a chance to really strike up a conversation with him.

Last night, Tiken Jah was live in concert at the club. We decided to check it out as a means to begin looking for opportunities to get to know him. Between the opening acts and Tiken Jah himself, the concert was 4 hours long. Although neither one of us are big Reggae fans, we are feeling a draw to the club, its patrons, staff, band members, and of course, Tiken Jah himself. Although 2016 has just begun, the New Year has already brought us a new ministry.  We will be spending more time focusing on this particular location as a point of ministry. Please be praying for opportunities to share the Gospel, especially with Tiken Jah.

Friday, January 01, 2016

Happy New Year!!

Happy-New-Year-2016

As we look back at last year, we and lot of changes throughout the year, including living in South Africa, Northern California, Southern California, and Mali.

Hopefully during 2016, we’ll be able to keep our feet grounded in Mali and have a bit more stability this year. We have a lot of new and exciting ministries in the works and we look forward to sharing them with you as they happen.