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02 October, 2014

So Much to Learn!

This past week we welcomed a family joining WGM Uganda for their first term. This is their “first landing” as missionaries in Uganda. Our team worked together in preparing the house for them, putting together orientation materials, praying through the house and property prior to their habitation of it and making sure we had everything in good order for them. After Jeff came home from meeting them at the airport and getting them and all their luggage off loaded into the new-to-them house he came home and said, “Do you remember the first time we came to Africa? Well, they are all just like we were, exhausted, excited and eager.” We chuckled then soon fell asleep. But the memories keep coming into our conversations even now, a week later. We are still learning a lot about cultural adaptation.

As a young couple with our one year-old daughter we arrived in the middle of the night into the Nairobi, Kenya airport after a skillion hours of travel to get there. It felt like we had missed sleep for weeks. But even in our fog we had some distinct first impressions:
  • policemen with automatic weapons looked us over as we exited the plane onto the gangway
  • the folks in immigration were very kind, quickly moving us to the front of the line saying to all the others waiting in the queue, “You don’t mind, this crying baby must be very tired!”
  • it is dark but not cold at this hour, hmmmm…..
  • we are so glad a WGM missionary was there to greet us as we got off the plane and help us through the process necessary until we got out to the vehicle he had to transport us and all our luggage to his house
  • we spelled “relief” as “t-e-a-m”---what a relief to be part of a team already in place

That state of “fog” stayed with us about a week. Our baby had trouble getting into a good sleep pattern in the new time zone. Every single interaction was full of “new” and “unknown” and took a tremendous amount of mental energy. Conversation began to feel nearly impossible. Christine stayed in the missionary home with little Elizabeth and left Jeff to venture into the unknown world with another missionary. Christine felt a bit cowardly but she could not muster the energy to face going out. In addition to sleeplessness she had difficulty adjusting to the altitude. Nairobi is a little over a mile high, which is significantly higher than the 150 foot elevation we lived at in Oregon.

We stayed in Nairobi two or three days to do business necessary to get our drivers’ licenses in process, meet our teammates and see their ministries in Nairobi and other necessary business. We then rode with other missionaries going home to Tenwek. The missionary driving wanted to stop in Nakuru for shopping. We had absolutely no idea what we needed to purchase, when we would get into a supermarket again, how to figure the Kenyan currency or product names. It wasn’t until much later we learned that raisins are sultanas, cornstarch is corn flour, bleach is jik, and so on.

At Tenwek our apartment was not quite ready for us. Another couple had recently moved out and the painting and minor repairs were completed a couple of days after our arrival. Three or four other missionary families had arrived within a couple of months ahead of us so “extra” furnishings were scarce. Our apartment had two twin beds, a dining table with chairs and a sparsely furnished kitchen. After a day or so of having only the dining chairs to sit on another missionary offered a metal framed couch that we could use. Jeff and I carried it from her house up by the hospital down the road to our apartment. We felt like we had really done something!

After a couple of weeks we found out how to open a bank account in nearby Bomet Town. We had no vehicle so we set out early one morning to walk the 4 miles or so through the hills to and from the bank. We got a bit disoriented along the way but a kind Kenyan man kindly offered to show us the shortest-distance path to Bomet when we asked him which way we should go. He led us through home compounds, cow pastures and sheep folds. It was an excellent cultural learning experience and we were so glad for that kind man guiding us and explaining his culture along the way.

After opening a bank account we bought a snack and some water then headed back to Tenwek. As we left the town it started to rain. And then it rained seriously. And then it poured. All the while we were walking back on the paths, slipping and sliding in the mud, laughing as we said, “Our friends in the U.S. would NEVER believe this adventure we are on just to make a trip to the bank!” We arrived home several hours later, muddy and tired but feeling quite satisfied with ourselves and all we had learned.

The adjustments into another culture should never be underestimated. Everything must be learned. We come with nothing, really, except our assumptions. It isn’t often that our assumptions are correct. Choosing to start with learning how to address people is a good beginning. Listening to what we were told, practicing what we were told to do the way we were told to do it and maintaining a humble posturing in every way helps decrease the steep learning curve.

A friend of ours recently made the cross-cultural transition into heaven. To us he had become an expert in cross-cultural communication. He had close friends in more countries than we could count on two hands and we were privileged to be among them. We feel pretty confident our friend had very little or no culture shock when he entered heaven.

We want to be as prepared as our friend. So, we are “listening” to what we are told all throughout Scripture. God reveals much in His word about His kingdom and how we are to live therein. We continue to practice doing what Jesus tells us to do the way we He tells us to do it. We seek to reflect Jesus accurately as we serve in the body of Christ. Humility is not what comes “naturally” to us but as we intentionally die to self so that Christ might live in us we somehow decrease the steep learning curve. God’s own Spirit guides us and gives us feedback. We practice entering into transformational worship of God so that we are bear more and more of His own image. God’s word tells us living this way will help eliminate culture shock upon our entrance into heaven.

What experiences have you had with cross-cultural adaptation? How are you demonstrating cultural adjustment living in the Kingdom of God? We would love to hear your experiences!

Jeff and Christine

18 September, 2014

A Porta Crib . . . A Ministry Tool?

Lizz with one of the babies
we cared for
We are rearranging our storage of things in our home in preparation for storing more things while we are in the U.S. for Homeland Ministry Assignment. Not long ago we shifted the portable baby crib, baby sheets, blankets and mosquito net. It stirred a flood of memories…

We received that pack-n-play as a shower gift when we were expecting our first born. It traveled on our first deputation with us. It was a priority item accompanying us on our first move to Kenya in 1990. It was the only bed our daughter knew there until our shipment arrived and was unpacked several months after our arrival.

It was where our newborn son napped, close to the fireplace fire in the living room when he was born into a very unseasonably cool and rainy January in Kenya. It remained set up in the living room for months as a safe play “pen” for our active and inquisitive male child.

Once our son outgrew the portable crib it stayed in storage for a couple of years or so unless visitors needed it. Then one day we got a call from the hospital nursery, explaining to us that they had a healthy baby girl in the nursery that had been found abandoned after birth and she was brought to the hospital. The nursery was very crowded and they wondered if we would be willing to care for Baby Mercy until an adoptive parent could be found.

Our family was very excited to welcome Baby Mercy into our home. Out came the portable crib, and the diapers, and the baby bottles and tiny little clothes. We had such fun caring for this special little girl. All of us were involved in her care and we poured our family love into her. We prayed for a forever family for Mercy.

But our hearts were not prepared for such a quick answer to the prayer! Mercy was in our home less than one week when the nursery staff called again, telling us the local authorities granted guardianship-with-intent-to-adopt to a couple in Bomet. The wife wanted to take Mercy home that very day.

So, with many hugs and a few tears we lovingly dressed Mercy back in her “hospital” clothes, gathered her personal belongings and I carried her back to the hospital. When I arrived at the nursery some mamas were seated outside waiting their turn to enter and feed their babies. One mama I did not recognize, and every time the nursery door opened she eagerly tried to peer in as if to see her baby.

I was called into the nursery before that mama was, and I formally handed Mercy back to the hospital staff. They thanked me, noted down a few things and then released me to go on back home. I walked out with an empty feeling, but I enjoyed the thought that another lady was going to leave that nursery later with a very full heart and a new baby.

Back at home we cleaned all the baby things and put them back in storage. Many months later we learned that one of our church missionaries had died a few days after giving birth at Tenwek. The father of the baby had a four year old and a two year old at home and he was trying to figure out how to meet the needs of his little family without their mother, so he asked if the baby could stay in the hospital for several weeks until he got things sorted out.

Jeff and I talked to the nurse in charge and said that if there was any way we could help this family to let us know. A few days later, while Jeff was in Nairobi, I was summoned to the nurses’ office. When I arrived I was introduced to the man whose wife had recently died and whose baby was still in the nursery. He asked me, “Why do you want my baby?” I explained that we wanted to help him and help his baby. It would be healthier for the baby to be out of the hospital, and it would help him not to have a hospital bill accruing.

He said that was what he hoped to hear and he was ready to accept our offer to care for his newborn daughter until he could find someone to help him care for his young children. The nurse in charge asked if we could take her home that same day.

I rushed home and our young son helped me get the baby things out of storage. He helped me set up the portable crib. Together we had fun anticipating the excitement of our daughter when we would arrive home from school and find we had another baby girl with us. We also laughed to think what Jeff might say when he got home the next day and found a baby here!

So that day Baby Cherono came to live with us. She slept in that porta-crib for the next three months. Her daddy came to visit her often, sometimes with her older sister and brother. A cousin of Cherono’s father agreed to live with him and help take care of his young children. After a couple of months that young woman visited often and learned how to properly prepare and feed the baby formula to Cherono. When all was in place for Cherono to join her family, we had the “handing over.” Her family was very excited and eager to have her with them full time. Our family grieved her absence in our home but she has never left our hearts.

Over the next week we cleaned and once again stored away the baby things. Another couple of years passed before we were called by the hospital nursery about the possibility of caring for another baby girl. She had also been abandoned at birth and brought to the hospital. We took this Baby Mercy home on Christmas day. She stayed with us a few weeks until her forever mama cleared all the paperwork and was able to take her home.

We no longer store baby bottles and diapers. Those items are readily available in this city. But we store the crib just in case we have visitors that need one, or a colleague needs to borrow one. And we store the memories of special little people that slept in the crib and made a permanent impression in our hearts, the most recent of whom were little chocolate drops in our vanilla family.

11 September, 2014

Struggles, Weapons and Choices to Make . . .

It was spring of 2002 (we think) when Jeff’s rheumatoid arthritis seemed to reach a peak higher than he had experienced before. His physician in Kenya recommended he make a personal visit to his usual rheumatologist…in Oregon. So off Jeff flew.

Meanwhile, Lizz was in junior high at Rift Valley Academy and Chris and I were keeping the proverbial home fires burning. Chris got a bit bored with fire tending, though willingly carrying the weight of “being the man of the house while Dad is gone,”  and along with some friends hatched the brilliant idea of making weapons and tools to sell so they could make money.

Off they went a stick-gathering. Once they came back to our patio with their woody bounty out came the pocket knives. Diligent whittling kept the young boys occupied for many an hour over that afternoon and the next day, in between homeschool studies. Hearing their great plans of entrepreneurship was highly motivating and almost equally entertaining, to say the least.

The second afternoon the friends decided they had prepared an adequate inventory so they opened their “shop.” The small table they carried up to the sidewalk where the majority of staff from Tenwek Hospital would pass by on their way home from work proudly displayed their assortment of “spears,” “knives” and “swords.” Each boy thoughtfully ascribed a choice price to his work and did his best to hawk their wares as the staff filed by.

I observed the enthusiasm of the shopkeepers wane after many encouraging comments from the passers-by but no sales. The boys began to look a bit downcast. I saw the mom of one go and loudly exclaim over their good efforts. She commented that maybe their prices were a bit more than the Kenyan employees wanted to spend that day. She offered to get a cold drink for the boys.

A bit later I went up to see the weapon and tool manufacturers to see if they had anything to offer someone that needed a tool to use in the yard or to help scare birds off the sukuma wiki (collard greens) growing in the garden. Immediately Chris stood right up and offered a very long “spear” he had spent hours whittling to a point. The long stick was somewhat pointed and I gladly paid the few shillings requested. That “spear” was long enough I would not have to step into the muddy garden to wave it over the sukuma plants and scare off the birds. What a great deal! That “spear” proudly stood watch over the garden from its prominent placement on the patio.

The next morning as I was preparing breakfast I surprisingly encountered a small furry rodent that had chewed its way into a baggie in my cupboard. Ugh! I wondered how to get the thing outside. I decided to use the broom and dustpan, but couldn’t figure out how to keep the door open while I rushed it outside.
Chris with his "goodies" Jeff brought
from America (2002)

Ah, the young man of the house could assist! I stood at the bottom of the stairs and called upstairs to Chris that I urgently needed his help in the kitchen.“Son, there is a rat in the kitchen cupboard and I need your help to get it outside.” Chris ran to the top of the stairs and dramatically commanded, “Mom! Get the spear! This is exactly why you have that spear! Get the spear!”

I nearly started laughing, well actually, loud guffaws were choked back as I answered, “Well, Son, it is a great “spear” but it won’t fit in the space of the kitchen to get the rat that is in the cupboard. Come on down and we will figure out another way.”

And so we did and the rat was successfully evacuated from our kitchen. I was so grateful for the thoughtful preparation of the appropriate weapon by my man-of-the-house and thanked him for his bravery in helping with this problem, being flexible enough to go with Plan B and all.

Fast forward to summer of 2014. Furry rodents are a problem on our Kampala compound from time to time. The day I discovered one had gnawed on a piece of our carefully guarded chocolate was the day Jeff bought traps. They are STRONG traps and it took all four of our hands to get them baited and set. Jeff carefully, gently, cautiously carried a trap into the small pantry off our kitchen.

I watched Jeff make it safely into the pantry and then I turned to place something on the kitchen counter beside the stove. As I did so, I was astounded to see the furry rodent calmly sitting just behind the stove. Ugh! That brazen little thing, sitting so proudly in the kitchen while we are erroneously setting a trap in the pantry. Ugh!

I got Jeff’s attention right away and we wondered how in the world would we get that rat in that location. We had to do something. We were not about to let this candy-stealing thief just run away! And then it came to me, “Jeff! Get the spear! Seriously, it is the only thing that is long enough and you can just spear the thing from above. It will never know what hit it!”

Jeff's "trophy"
It took a few minutes to convince him, but would you believe it, Jeff went to the living room where his spear (a real African warrior one, not the one lovingly made by Chris so long ago) is on display and actually thought about using it. But then, he chose the second best thing…our Pokot “coat rack” that has a more slender point.

Jeff skillfully wielded his weapon of choice. It found its mark and the rodent was successfully evacuated from our kitchen. I was so grateful for the thoughtful weapon selection by my man-of-the-house and thanked him for his bravery in finishing off the pest.

We know “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.” (Eph. 6:12) But sometimes God uses my struggles over furry rodents and the dilemma of weapon choosing to remind me to be diligent in learning ever better how to wield His weapon of choice, “which is the word of God.” (Eph. 6:17c)


27 August, 2014

What if ...? Would...?

I enjoy learning as much as I enjoy anything. I like to read and I like to study. I do both whenever I can. In recent months my daily schedule has been flexible enough to allow me snatches of time for these favorite activities. There is a lot of information input processing in my mind, heart and spirit. Jeff helps it all take shape as we talk, share Scripture research and pray together. I am grateful for him in my life!                                                       
Early in August I completed my examination of the book of Daniel. I still don’t have it all sorted out but I know I am learning a lot! Previous to Daniel I slowly moved through a lengthy study in the book of Exodus. There are lots of holy gems there! Many thoughts are rolling around in my head. I notice most of them begin with, “What if?”         

What if we, the Redeemed of the Lord, served our King as Daniel served the kings of Babylon throughout his captivity? What if we carried out the spiritual disciplines as faithfully as Daniel? What if the only thing in us found to accuse and convict us was being guilty of consistent prayer to the Most High God? What if we were as bold as Daniel and his fellow Hebrews in speaking truth, given to us by Truth Himself, to the political leaders of our time?

What if we, the Redeemed of the Most High, proclaimed His kingdom and His righteousness as eagerly as we proclaim our food and entertainment choices? What if we stimulated one another with songs of praise and psalms and testimonies of God’s faithfulness as willingly as we challenge one another with good causes? What if we poured blessings over others as boldly as we pour cold water? What if we made known our repentance and God’s forgiveness as often as we make known our disdain for others’ choices and actions? What if we wanted others to know as much about God’s work in our hearts as we want them to know what we went and what we did today?

What if we took God at His word and did all things without grumbling or complaining? What if we did not think of ourselves more highly than others? What if we had the attitude of Christ Jesus in all things? What if our thoughts centered on what is good, right, pure, lovely and…? What if it was obvious to others that we are disciples of Jesus Christ because of how we love each other?

What if we worked as hard to prepare for the culture of heaven as we do to keep from sacrificing any of the comforts of our own culture? What if we lived like the Church of Acts and there was no disparity between neighbors? What if we really, really were sharing, kind, patient, humble, gentle, forgiving and longsuffering?

These things I ponder. What if? And then I wonder, would…?

If we did these things, would our social media postings, tweets, likes and comments look any different than they do now? If we did these things, would the news media have any different stories to report? If we did these things, would there be fewer hungry, lonely, homeless, thirsty and ill people in the world?

If we did these things, would missionaries get to be like Moses, who told his contributors to stop giving because he had already received enough donations to fully fund the mission? If we did these things would we look at others and, like Christ, feel compassion for them? If we did these things, would our world be completely different? If we did these things, would it be as in God’s word, that others would see our good works and glorify God?

Hmmm, what if…? Would…? I wonder and I pray. “Oh Head over all, create in us a clean heart. Give us, Your Church, pure and God-centered hearts. Transform us into Your likeness, oh Bridegroom, so that we reflect you accurately. Let it be so and let it begin with me.”


14 August, 2014

Play date, Sheep and Angels

Thoughts today are running backward again, flipping pages in my brain to a story of years ago. Perhaps this is a sign the story is to be shared. Here it is….

Once upon a time, long (well, not soooo long) ago, in the land of Kenya, lived a daddy, a mommy, a preschooler and a baby. They lived down by the river but the preschooler’s friends lived up near the top of the hill. One fine day a friend called for the preschooler to “come up to my house and play.” A play time was arranged.

The preschooler (Lizz) & the baby (Chris)
This mother gathered up the baby in her arms, took the preschooler by the hand and off the three went up the hill. They walked on a sidewalk along the edge of a sharp drop off down toward the river, beside a dirt, rural road. Cows and sheep were grazing on the grassy roadside. The mother and preschooler chatted about the animals and fun-to-be-had with friends.

A few steps beyond a grazing ram they approached a ewe with a small lamb hugging close to her side. A couple more steps and the mother had a fleeting thought, “I wonder if the ram belongs to these two, and if he does, will he mind our walking by?”

Out of curiosity she turned to look over her shoulder at the ram. She was shocked to see the ram nearly upon her, head down and running full steam. She grabbed the preschooler and swung her behind herself, hugged the baby tight and tried to dodge the ram. His hard forehead hit her square on her shin. Her leg nearly buckled beneath her but she grabbed up the preschooler and tried to hurry off.

The ram was not to be dissuaded. He backed up, put his head down and charged again. Again the mother, now holding a scared preschooler AND the young baby, tried to dodge the ram. He was quicker on his four feet than she on her two and he hit her again.

The mother tried to limp off but the ram hit her again. She narrowly avoided being pushed backwards over the steep drop off. Her prayers were now audible, no longer just in her head. The ram did not let up. He took a few steps back and charged again.

This time the mother’s leg could not withstand and down she went, flat on her back. The two young ones in her arms were now screaming with terror. The mom’s prayers were escalating in volume as well. The ram backed up and waited a moment. The mother was unsure what to do. It was difficult to try to get up while holding both frightened children. She started to roll to her side.

And then the ram charged again. All that the mother could see was the ram’s head moving in the direction of her baby’s head. The mother quickly rolled all of them to the other side and the ram narrowly missed them.

The mother began screaming for help as loud as she could in as many languages as she could remember. The ram charged again and once again the mother rolled them all away from his head. He quickly put his head down hard on her shin again, temporarily pinning her in place. All three people were screaming loudly.

Just then the mother heard another voice. All she could hear was the voice shouting, “Sheep! Sheep!” As she rolled onto one shoulder away from the ram she saw a young man at the top of the hill running toward her. Then there were two, then three young people running down the hill to them. The ram had time to charge once more before the men reached him. They had grabbed sticks on their way down and began beating the ram back, forcing him away from the mother and her children.

A missionary nurse was among those who ran down the hill and she gently helped the mother let go of her children and handed them off to others. The nurse then helped the mother to her feet. She was shaken but able to stand. Her sobbing quickly diminished and she was able to comfort her crying children. The nurse escorted them the short distance back to their home, where they sat holding onto each other in a tight grip. The preschooler and the mother kept asking, “Are you OK?” Both wanted to be assured all was well with all three of them. The nurse stayed and offered comfort and prayerful words of thanksgiving for protection. She called the daddy and asked him to come home and help his family. He came quickly.

That evening in their family devotions the preschooler recounted the story several times, always ending with an emphatic, “God’s angel ‘tected us!” The family’s prayers to God were of thanksgiving for the ‘tecting angels providing God’s protection from harm. They also expressed thanks for the many people around the world that pray for them, asking God to keep them safe and to help them always know what they should do.

That missionary family has never forgotten that scary scenario. They have never forgotten that God has ‘tecting angels serving to watch over them. They still remember that many people all around the world are praying for them.

Thank you for praying for us. And today we wonder, were you one of them praying for us in 1993? Did God ask YOU to pray for ‘tecting angels to keep us safe from a charging ram? If so, now you know the rest of the story!

07 August, 2014

Safari, Screwdrivers and Mud

We haven’t done much, or maybe nothing, with "Throwback Thursday" (TBT). However, today shall be different. We can thank Eloise Withrow Hockett for this. Her accounting of a recent trip with colleagues into Mt. Elgon National Park in Kenya brought this memory flooding back. We have enjoyed talking about it and laughing. Then we asked ourselves, “Do we still remember the all important lesson? Are we still living it out?”

It was our fifth wedding anniversary. We went with 2 and ½ year-old Elizabeth to visit WGM family of ours living in Kitale, Kenya. We had been living in Kenya for almost a year and had never visited Larry and Joy so that weekend seemed the perfect time.

As we arrived at their house, Larry was out in the garage. He had washed the car, cleaning it inside and out. We had a lovely evening in their home. Joy made a wonderful supper and told Elizabeth, “After supper I will give you some candy corn. This is Halloween night and someone in America sent Aunt Joy and Uncle Larry some candy. We will share it with you!”

We had such a good time together that evening, laughing and sharing together. Elizabeth fell asleep before anyone remembered about candy corn. We all slept through most of the heavy rain in the night.

The next morning we all piled into the car Larry had so nicely cleaned. We carried a packed lunch, binoculars, plenty of bottled water and a few toys to entertain Elizabeth in the car. We were excited for our safari. Larry and Joy told us we might see Colobus monkeys, elephants and a variety of other forest animals.

We arrived at the gate into the park. The officials there greeted us, took down the vital information about our vehicle and its passengers and on in we went. They reminded us we must exit the park through this same gate because every night they checked to see if all vehicles leave the park.

Off we went. We all enjoyed the monkeys and their fun antics when leaping from one tree to another tree. The new-to-us birds, butterflies and flowers were wonderful. We were all having a great time!

Until we got stuck. We were stuck-stuck. The road puddle depth could not be seen and as the vehicle went down the mud grabbed tight and wouldn’t easily let go. Stuck we were. Larry, Jeff and I got out to push while Joy expertly took the driver’s seat. Elizabeth was placed by a bush and told to stand there while we got the car “unstuck.” Joy gunned the accelerator and we pushed…and got splattered with mud. The vehicle finally surged forward, slipping and sliding until Joy “landed” it a short distance away on solid ground.

When we got back in the vehicle Elizabeth was quite frightened. She told us clearly that she did not want to do that again! She did not like seeing all that take place, especially the spinning of the mud from behind the tires. So, when the next time came we got her out of the vehicle and put her behind a bush where she could not see the car but we could see her just fine. That worked well the next couple of times we landed deep in a muddy hole in the road. After each time Elizabeth carefully handed us wet wipes to help us wash up.

Late in the afternoon, as we were making our way through the forest back toward the gate through which we entered the vehicle once again went down and the mud gripped it tight. Larry tried to go forward and back but there was no moving the car. He and Jeff got out to assess the situation and from their exclamations Joy and I could tell it was not good news. The men discovered the car was high-centered on the rise between the two tracks of the road. Ugh!

Larry decided he should get the machete and shovel out of the back of his car. He went around and opened the back of the station wagon. He stood there and was very quiet. Then we heard, “Uh oh. Oh, my.” The other three of we adults looked at each other. Joy called out, “What, Larry?”

Larry came back around the car, shaking his head. “Well,” he said. “I cleaned the car yesterday. I took out the machete and the shovel and stood them in the garage while I thoroughly cleaned everything. I put my tool bag back in, and the car jack, but then the Stanfields arrived and I forgot to go back and put the other things in. I have looked and all I can find to help dig out this mud is two screwdrivers.”

We adults all looked at each other and then burst into laughter. Oh, we laughed so hard! “What an adventure we are having,” we said between laughs. Soon we settled and had prayer together. After a bit more talking a plan emerged and we each went to fulfill our part in the strategy to dislodge the vehicle.

The two men each gripped a screwdriver, got down on their bellies and started chipping away at the mud. I got Elizabeth situated in a clearing behind some very low bushes off the side of the road and gave her a book or two to use. Then Joy and I went searching for large stones we could place under the wheels of the vehicle so they would not just sink down when the men lowered the mud ridge.

And so our time passed. Chipping away at the mud, stones put under the wheels, then more chipping and on went the repetitive cycle interrupted only by we adults gathering together to get a drink of water and to pray together. We could see the sun getting lower. We knew the rule was to be out of the park before dark. We kept at it.

Meanwhile, Elizabeth was playing nicely. We could hear (and watch) her talking and singing while arranging stones and leaves and small fallen branches.

Larry was beginning to feel the stress of the situation. The guys tried to increase their rate of chipping but the mud just would not give way. We ladies kept a steady supply of large stones available. Once again we stopped to pray, acknowledging God’s sovereignty and power. We committed it all to Him.

Soon thereafter, Joy and I paused as the stone pile was more than adequate beside the vehicle. We watched Elizabeth. She had several stones lined up in two nice rows. Branches were at the stones, along with leaves she had arranged. She stood in front of the rows of stones and we listened in.

“Now sit quietly, children. Thank you for coming to our Sunday school. It is now time for prayer, and then we will sing a song or two. Everyone close your eyes and pray.

“Dear God, we are here in this special Sunday school class. We are praying for our missionaries. You know they are stuck in a forest and they need to get out. You be with them. Help them not to get scared. And God, help them get out before they get in darkness. Help them to get home so they can have the candy corn Aunt Joy forgot to give them when she promised it to them. Amen.”

Joy and I looked at each other only to discover we each had tears in our eyes. Then we heard the men exclaim and we saw them grabbing for stones. We hurried to hand them stones to place under the wheels. We told the men the prayer we heard prayed in the Sunday school taking place just off the road. Larry said, “Well, God hears the little children! We prayed several times but when she finished praying the mud gave way. Let’s hurry and get out of here and get her some candy corn!”

Sure enough, within 10 minutes Larry was able to drive the car out of that hole. We cleaned up and quickly reloaded the car. Dusk was turning to darkness! Larry drove as quick as was safe. Even so, it was well after the fall of dark when we arrived at the gate.

The official who came to the car told us, “See that lorry (truck)? We are loading it now to go searching for you. What happened?” Larry told him and the official laughed when he heard the only tools we had were screwdrivers. He then expressed both his sympathy to us and his relief they did not have to out searching.

You can be sure that when we got back to Larry and Joy’s house Elizabeth was well satisfied with candy corn. Before we all headed to bed we prayed and asked the Lord to help us always remember to pray in faith, just like a 2 year old leading Sunday school in a forest.

We have never forgotten. The prayer is still often referenced in our family. Our faith continues to grow.

What life lessons are you hoping never to forget? Has a child ever been the one God used to teach you? We would love to hear your stories!

01 August, 2014

SURPRISED! But not so much.

A book we want to publish one day is a photo essay of things people carry on their motorcycles. Here in East Africa a motorcyle used as public transport is called a boda boda (bode-uh, bode-uh). It never seems to amaze us what can be carried on a boda boda. Just when we think we have seen it all we get surprised.

This past week we were surprised as we drove through a small community near Lake Victoria. We were bouncing along on the rough, narrow dirt road. As we rounded a curve a boda boda came whizzing past us. We looked and looked again. (Well, I did. Jeff was driving.) Sure enough, we were surprised!

Riding behind the driver of the boda boda was a young woman. Draped across her lap and the seat-space between her and the driver were two large and overlapping pigs, heads down, snouts and ears flapping as they bounced along. They were not piglets, nor were they state-fair-sow-with-13-babies-size, but they were big enough to consume all of the space allotted to the young woman and them.

We commented, “Wonder what it feels like to ride this road on a boda boda with a large pig on your lap as you bounce along, each bump met with slamming against another pig.” I still wonder…

Does it feel like being a missionary on home ministry assignment, knowing that in order for you to return to the land where God has led you to join Him in proclaiming His kingdom a volume of money must be pledged and given by folks listening to God speaking into their lives, but the pledges and donations are not forthcoming?

Could it be compared to having your loved one get sick in a land where scary tropical diseases and parasites abound, access to health care is limited and then when you do get them to a health care provider, he says, “Hmm, we need to run some tests. This could be serious.”?

Is it anything like praying without ceasing for one the Lord has laid on your heart and you invest some of your resources to share life with her and point the way to Jesus, then she chooses to disregard God in the choices she makes?

Is it possible it is something like working with government offices in a land not your own, and every time you are asked for more documentation and sent to yet another desk or office the task that seemed so simple in the beginning now feels monumental?

Would one say it is comparable to entering a new service location, knowing for certain God Himself led you there, but your heart gets discouraged amidst the “not knowing” and limited ability to function as you expected and your ideas of ministry seem to fade into the distance while you learn how to greet people, where to get food, how to dispose of your garbage and how to find rest in the new environment?

How it compares to living out the gospel among people who perceive they are too poor to make any difference, and everything that is said or done to empower them to bring positive change is met with requests for funding or provisions?

Now that I think about it, maybe we shouldn’t have been surprised by what we saw on that boda boda. I guess it wasn’t so unfamiliar after all. It seems we have already seen it… in the mirror, in Scripture, in our co-laborers. And it is doable. Not so bad, once you get used to it, especially when the driver is our God.


11 May, 2014

The Only One(s)

We took time to get away from our usual routine. We had much to think about, pray over, plan and discern. We needed to listen, to think and to share together without much interruption. We needed rest and quiet. We headed into Sabbath.

We drove to the forest. The place we stayed was nicely tucked into the “thick of the forest edge.” Our cabin was surrounded by tall trees and their plentiful undergrowth. The cool, fragrant air soothed our souls and spirits. The absence of city noise refreshed our hearts and minds.

We noticed there weren't too many people close by. We enjoyed the peaceful scene while sitting on our cabin porch. We commented we were grateful no other cabins in the vicinity were inhabited by noisy tourists. What a relief.

We went to supper after an afternoon nap and great conversation. We continued our pleasant speaking throughout the meal. The staff members were friendly, attentive, courteous and prompt. The food tasted so nice. It wasn't until we were about to leave the table that we realized we were the only people in the dining area. But, since Americans tend to eat the evening meal much earlier than our African friends we didn't think too much about it. However, out of curiosity we did ask the waiter as we were leaving, “Are you expecting many other clients for dinner later?”

His reply struck us on several chords. “Not really. You are the only clients tonight. We are all here to serve only you.”

The only ones? Oh.

We pondered on that for quite some time. God surely knew we needed tranquility and peace. But really, the only ones? What does God intend? We are the only ones. What is God teaching in this? Verbal exploration of this served as our next day’s breakfast table conversation.

We recently celebrated Easter. Jesus did what He did to save every one of us. He would have done it if I had been the only one. If we were the only ones ever, Jesus still would have endured the cross to redeem us.

God loves us as if we are the only one(s). He always has time for us, is always with us and is always at work for our good. His ever-present love treats us as if we are the only ones.

We are called to be as Jesus, to be His body. Called to love each other as if we are the only ones. Called to be as Jesus, always having time for others, always fully present in each interaction and always at work for the good of others, as if each one is the only one.

Am I willing to “say” this to the lonely woman standing on the corner, or to the dirty child running past me or to the mother crying at the bedside? “You are the only one(s). I am here to serve only you. You are of value. I love you, even as Jesus loves me, so you are loved.”

Somehow I feel a little uncomfortable. Is it because I am one of the only ones? Or is it because I am told to go and do likewise? It is costly, to love as I am loved, but what if, for them I am the only one?


19 April, 2014

Dawning Realization . . . .

Easter is always very special to me. It is my special “Valentine’s day" with Jesus, Lover of my soul. Over many years Jesus and I have exchanged Easter gifts. Here are some of His gifts to me:
  • 1985, the gift of His resurrection power as I struggled in learning to once again live my daily life in recovery from viral encephalitis; He raised me to once again be able to think and walk and do
  • 1986, the gift of love shared with Jeff Stanfield
  • 1989, the gift of hope evidenced in the birth of our daughter on Easter eve
  • 1991, the gift of faith as we celebrated our first Easter in Africa, at our new home in Tenwek
  • 1996, the gift of the empty tomb at our first Easter with Mom Stanfield in heaven
  • 1998, the gift of comfort in the midst of a terrible malaria epidemic
  • 2009, the gift of joy as I mourned in our first Easter with our daughter far away on another continent
  • 2013, the gift of fellowship through our first Easter in the “strangeness” of learning to live in Uganda

And this year, as Lent was soon to begin, Christ quietly invited me to go into a whole new place with Him. I admit that I was reluctant at first, saying within myself that I hoped I didn’t have to go. I didn’t really want to partake of that particular “cup.” I was willing to let it pass. But the more I listened to Christ, the more I knew He was inviting me to join Him there…and how could I not?

And so it came about that I found this year’s Easter gift from my loving Heavenly Father within the boundaries of a local hospital in Kampala. Within that place I saw some of the best; surgeries that corrected deficiencies, loving care that brought smiles to faces and hope to hearts, resources used in appropriate and timely ways, drugs “curing” illnesses and satisfied clients heading home.

Within that place I saw some of the worst; horrible wounds that will leave inner and outer scars forever, malnourished children crying with hunger, weeping mothers, babies with burn injuries and family members heading home without the loved one they left in the morgue.

I experienced a wide range of emotions throughout my weeks of orientation in the hospital. I enjoyed “doing nursing” again. I felt desperate for God’s intervention. I longed for relief for myself and my clients when the situation was difficult at best. I felt peace in God’s Presence throughout it all. I felt angst when others didn’t seem to sense the urgency for intervention that I did. I felt anxious while trying to get a venous catheter into a child’s vein. I felt profound sorrow as others experienced loss. I felt a sense of pride when I successfully placed the first IV I have inserted in years. I felt overcome with love for my Saviour as I heard the choir singing in the hospital chapel. I felt great joy in seeing the wide smile of a frustrated mother who could not speak a language understood by the staff until she realized I was understanding her Kiswahili.

Through it all I sensed Christ guiding, encouraging and strengthening me. I felt Him nudging me to “look deeper” in each facial expression and each situation. When I felt reluctant in the early morning darkness to return to the unfamiliar for another day, I pictured scenes of Jesus walking the Via Dolorosa and somehow found His courage in me to go on. If He could do that for me, I could do this with Him.

Gradually I became aware, experiencing a dawning realization that my gift from Him is that very “with-ness” of Him. My heart has been longing for more of being with Him since I came to this city. It has been hard learning to live well within the walled and gated, noisy and fast-paced city. I was already in a very new place, but Christ took me to an even more foreign environment to help me find the more familiar...more of Him. The absence of fear gives testimony to His perfect Love. More of Him, of His abiding Presence, His being with me.  Another cherished gift, one that I shall draw from all the days of my life.


29 March, 2014

Some thoughts on Lent, Grace and “Matatu Philosophy”

While traveling 10 hours from Tenwek (home-home) to Kampala (home) last week we were intermittently amused and dismayed at some of the “matatu philosophy” displayed on the back windows of the taxi vans (matatu—pronounced “mah-tah-too”).Proclamations such as, “Redemption,” “Repent!” and “Behold the Lamb of God” directed our thoughts to Lent.

The “matatu philosophy” statements remind us of what Jesus Christ has done for us. Our redemption came at great cost, given to us as a great gift. Ephesians 1:7—8a tells us, “In Him we have redemption through His blood [His great sacrifice], the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace which He lavished on us [His great gift to us].”

No matter how casually one may proclaim on a matatu or read thereon, Christ’s grace, lavished on us is not cheap. The grace through which we have redemption and forgiveness of our trespasses (sins) is not cheap. His shedding of His own blood was not a casual act. He deliberately chose to allow Himself to suffer, lose blood and die so that we might “be made alive together with Christ. This He did, being rich in mercy because of His great love with which He loved us.” (Ephesians 2:4-5b)

While living next to and working in a hospital for decades we saw many trauma patients (many from accidents involving matatu). We helped many people who lost a lot of blood. None of them chose to shed their blood. Remembering those injured patients guides us into a greater understanding of what Christ chose to do for us. This is Lent.

Grace. What a costly gift Christ chose to give. We choose to receive this gift. Now it is up to us to steward it well. And as we do, we notice something…the gift-value increases significantly as it is shared with others.

“Matatu philosophy” may not be the best way to increase the value of this gift, but it does remind those of us who have accepted the gift to steward it well. Grace is not cheap.

11 February, 2014

It’s never easy, and it doesn’t get any easier….

I have heard it presumed that missionaries are “super spiritual” and for them it is easy to trust God. I have been labeled a missionary now for over 20 years and I have yet to find any part of trust to be “easy.” The very existence of living in a marriage relationship, “raising support,” living in Africa, parenting, the nursing profession and being a Christ-follower implies measures of autonomy, fortitude, self-reliance and “guts.” But it doesn’t imply easy. It is never easy.

I have long loved God’s Word. I believe God is Who He says He is. I believe God does what He says He does. I believe God’s Word is alive and active and always relevant.  I believe it when it says we who choose the Way of Christ are in a battle. I believe it when it tells me to trust God. I know it is never easy.

October of 2009 found us in a battle of great intensity. Living on the edge of a small village containing some of my dearest Kenyan friends we were keenly aware of the battle for souls raging in the village. We prayed at home. We prayed with our Kenyan friends. We went on prayer walks around the village. We enlisted other prayer warriors to join in the battle. We prayed Scripture. We stood firm.

And while standing firm, our son was afflicted. We continued in prayer, caring for our son. We experienced victory and souls found their freedom in Christ. It hadn’t been easy, but we trusted in our Warrior God and He accomplished His plan.

We met November of 2010 with a confidence that God had healed our son. Our son was doing well. Plans were in motion for him to pursue the calling of his choice. We parents were planning to visit Uganda soon. God might be inviting us to join Him there. We prayed much and made plans to travel.

And while we were planning, our son was again afflicted. The phone call came. We hurried across the Rift Valley to spend time with him. He was injured but not struck down. Relief was visible on our faces when we actually got to see him and be with him. We praised the Lord for His protective, loving care.

I awoke from a deep sleep that night with an overwhelming emotion spewing from my heart and mind. “God, I am so, so disappointed in You.” The words came unbidden from my mouth, from somewhere deep and unacknowledged within me. I couldn’t believe that was in me, but I could not deny it either. I felt the strong emotion pulling me under and again the thought formed, “God, I am so disappointed in You. I thought you had healed my son and he would never have to suffer from this again.”

God held me close. He soothed my soul. Then He gently inquired, “Daughter, do you trust Me?” 

“What? Trust You?  Of course I trust You. Here I am, walking with You. I am where I am because I trust You…” but I could hear the hesitancy creeping into my thought-voice.  “I do trust You, don’t I?”

“Daughter, you must know for sure, for certain, beyond any doubt if you trust Me. Where I am inviting you to join Me, through what lies ahead for you and your family, for what is before you…you must know that you know that you know that you trust Me. No matter what. Come what may. Do you trust Me?”

Thoughts swirled in my head, but my heart readily answered His Spirit voice, “Yes, I trust You. No matter what. Come what may. Regardless of what is ahead. Though you let myself or someone I love be slain, I trust You. Apart from You I am nothing, I have nothing, even my love of family is nothing apart from You. I trust you, God.”

“Then be at peace. My peace I give you. Rest in peace.” And I did just that the remainder of that November night in 2010.

July of 2011 we finalized packing up our household. The final items of our son’s childhood were packed for travel. We were leaving home-home. For good. Because we trust God. Come what may, for whatever lies ahead in this vast unknowing before us, we trust God. I knew that I knew that I trust God. But those steps out to the waiting vehicle that would carry us away were some of the most difficult, least easy steps I have ever taken.

August of 2012 we said, “See you later”…however much later, to our son, daughter and son-in-law and newborn granddaughter. We bid our “See you agains” to parents and other family members. We left our knowness and ventured into the unknown of entering Uganda. Before our departure we made sure we spoke all that was on our hearts. Nothing left unsaid was our motto, so we laid it all out. All because we trust God. None of the going was easy, but it was right.

Every month since then, we have reminded ourselves that we trust God. He is in control even, or most especially, when everything else in my life seems out of control.

 In a recent spiritual battle I felt myself almost begging God to change hearts and decisions and restore what had gone wrong. I read and prayed Scripture. I felt God’s assurance that He is for me, for those I love and serve, for His own purpose to be accomplished. But still, I felt almost desperate. And then I heard….

“Daughter, you trust Me. Remember?”

At once my soul was soothed and my spirit calmed. “Ahh, yes. We already settled that. I do trust You. Thank you for reminding me. I trust You, God.”  (“But I want the other person to change. I want Your Church to stand up stronger. I want….but I trust You.”)

Waiting on God builds trust, but it is never easy. And over the years, I can knowingly say it does not get any easier. But the calm that comes and stays, the underlying joy that doesn’t depart, the firm assurance that God’s Word is true and He is Truth all together form  a firm foundation that is not shaken. It is settled. I trust God. I am not “super spiritual,” I just have enough experience under my belt to know that if I can’t trust God, I have absolutely nothing to hang onto. Nothing. Only God.  Even though it isn’t easy I trust God…and I always find He is enough. Trusting Him is enough. Every time.

What a relief! I’m glad that is settled. I need to remember I trust God, because it won’t get any easier….


18 January, 2014

A kingdom of one. Whose kingdom is it, anyway?

The word kingdom isn’t used very often, but we do hear it used from time.  “Animal Kingdom” is often used to refer to “a category of living organisms comprising all animals”.  Disney has gathered a group of animals together in what is popularly known as “Disney’s Animal Kingdom.”   
We read in history books about ancient kingdoms, identified as a group of people living in one geographical area being ruled by a king. There are still some kingdoms in existence today, though their influence is not as strong as they were in the past. The United Kingdom is often referred to as the UK.  Here in Uganda there are four kingdoms that remain a part of culture, a part of life and are still recognized by the government.
One characteristic of kingdoms is that they have one ruler.  For the United Kingdom it is now a queen.   Here in Uganda each kingdom has a king.  The role of the king in any kingdom is to lead, guide and rule over the kingdom.  
The role of the people within kingdoms is to follow and submit to the authority of the king over them.  Each kingdom can only have one king.   Could you imagine the difficulties if there were two kings in a kingdom?  The king has been given the authority, and is assumed to have the wisdom, to lead. 
As people, regardless of our culture or geographical location, we all allow some “king” to rule us, putting us in his kingdom.  The question we each need to ask ourselves is, “Whose kingdom do I belong to?”
Sometimes the attitudes behind slogans can draw us into kingdoms we might not otherwise enter. The slogan makes the king sound like one we want to follow. Everywhere we turn we are confronted with and potentially influenced by slogans such as
“Just Do it!”
“Have it Your Way”
"Because I'm Worth It"
"Yes, You Can"
"Get. Watch. Do What You Want."
Each one of these slogans can influence us to put our allegiance to the king of self. This can easily turn into having a kingdom of one, where self is on the throne.  In this kingdom of one the focus is all about me, myself and what I need, want or desire.     
Recently,  I’ve been reading the book A Quest for More: Living for Something Bigger Than You” (Paul David Trapp).  In it the author talks about this kingdom of one, of self, as the “little kingdom.”  The kingdom is little in the sense that it is a kingdom that has shrunk down to only the size of my life.  Here is an excerpt:  “In a fallen world there is a powerful pressure to constrict your life to the shape and size of your life. There is a compelling tendency to forget who you are and what you were made for. There is a tendency to be shortsighted, myopic, and easily distracted. There is a tendency to settle for less when you have been created for more.”  
Further, Trapp writes, “There is woven inside each of us a desire for something more— a craving to be part of something bigger, greater, and more profound than our relatively meaningless day-by-day existence.”  We were created to be part of a big kingdom of The One (and only).  We are created for the Kingdom of God, with Christ at the center.    
Daily I choose the answer to the questions, “To whose authority do I submit to? Whose kingdom am I in?”   The challenge before me is to remember I do belong to the big kingdom. The big kingdom of The One, God’s Kingdom, in which Christ is on the throne, not me.