Next Steps . . .

Do you ever marvel at the turns your life takes? I’m sitting in the Kanga coffee shop in Davao City, Philippines, looking at the woman I fell in love with 40 years ago. To me she is even more beautiful today than that day I noticed – really NOTICED her (might it have been that tight green sweater and sparkling green eyes?). I’d known her for several years already, but never dreamed she might “like” me. Then a couple years later as we stood at the altar, no wait, the judges desk (in Walla Walla, WA where we ran away to be married), I couldn’t believe she was truly mine!

We’ve been on a wild journey since that day (Feb 17th, 1972). We abandoned ourselves to follow a Jesus we barely knew and have over the years continued to revel in the power of His work in our lives. We have 3 children who’ve grown into amazing individuals – each of whom married equally remarkable people. In three weeks or so, our 5th grandchild will be born.

And we’re at another crossroads. We have spent the last 7 or 8 years preparing for this next step of the journey. Sherry has been here in the Philippines for almost 3 months, completing an internship as a midwife; after our return to CA, I’ll be leaving for 2 months in Bolivia, hand-digging water wells among the Quechuas with an organization called Water For All. After that, who knows? We’re looking for some direct and clear guidance as to what the future might look like. All we know is that we have committed the rest of our lives to living out (as best we can) God’s word through Isaiah . . .” to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke . . . to share [our] food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter – when [we] see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from [our] own flesh and blood? . . . and if [we] spend [ourselves] in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then [our] light will rise in the darkness, and [our] night will become like the noonday. The LORD will guide [us] always; he will satisfy [our] needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen [our] frames. [We] will be like well-watered gardens, like springs whose waters never fail. . . (Isa 58:6-11).

I invite you into the journey with us!

Hand-dug wells in Bolivia!

It’s been a long time since I’ve posted to my blog . . . We’ve been back in the States now since the first of July last year and I’ve been focused on working and getting ready for our next trip. Sherry has been in Davao City, Philippines since February, completing an internship in midwifery. I’ll meet her there at the end of her stay and we’ll return together. After nearly 40 years together, it’s been a real challenge for me to be living alone for these past 7 weeks! Having run away and gotten married at 18, neither of us has ever lived alone – and the longest we’ve been apart is about 10 days or so! I confess, I’m hopelessly codependent with her 🙂

This past March 15th – 20th, I spent with Water For All in San Angelo, Texas, learning about hand-dug wells. The training was interesting, especially since everything that might go wrong . . . DID go wrong. But how better to gain an understanding of what might occur overseas than having to deal with it in the training? I especially enjoyed getting to know Terry Waller and Kim Edlund, the two guys running the Water For All organization. They invited me along for a drilling trip to Bolivia during the months of July and August this year. Never been to South America, but I’m planning to go!

Discouraged . . . ? Maybe not

Well, we’ve been back from Africa just over 60 days now. I’m trying to examine my perceptions and understand why I feel discouraged. It was a great trip. We spent over 2 months in the Sudan, working alongside amazing people. We saw incredible things take place and marveled as God protected us in the midst of extraordinary insecurity – with armed rebel warriors inside our compound multiple times. Temperatures soaring to between 120 and 130 degrees f became common and ceased to be noteworthy. We truly participated in ministry, humanitarian acts of kindness and tasted the bread of everydayness with Sudanese friends. We shared life with passionate and caring folks from all over the world – from Sudan, Michigan, Canada, Georgia, Maryland, Kenya and California.

Wait . . . maybe I’m not so discouraged after all.

Nairobi, Sudan and Mambas

I’m not gonna lie to you. I think I’d rather be in Sudan. In Bor its hot (I think we averaged in the 120’s the whole time), muddy, full of bugs, snakes and scorpions – and oh yeah, people shooting at each other. But Nairobi? Posters in the guesthouse where we’re staying warn that you can basically expect to be mugged, especially if you look like a tourist, so they request you NOT leave the premises after 6:30 pm. And there isn’t a lot I can do to hide the fact that I’m not from these parts ☺ There are millions of people in this city, and I think every one of them has a vehicle that belches 6 pounds of carbon with every lurch forward (of maybe a foot at a time) in the unbelievable traffic. The diesel exhaust lays like a blanket over the entire city.

It is oases like the Mayfield guest house and the people who come here that make visiting this city wonderful. Just tonight we met a young lady who is a nurse, working for the past 2 years at a clinic north of Werkok, in Nuerland, just east of Malakal, near the Sudanese border with Ethiopia. Sherry learned a new treatment for snakebite . . . Tazer! Yes, they treat snakebites with a stun gun! Even the deadly green and black mamba bites are rendered powerless with a few hundred thousand volts! I wonder if they found this out by accident . . .

More later . . .

Not like a Lost Boy . . . but still a long walk

I should have known something bad was going to happen when we had to be pulled out of the mud within the 1st 5 minutes of our drive to town. I had arranged to ride to Bor with Paul Anyang, one of the local guys who takes people to and from Bor for 10 Sudanese pounds each way. I had to make good on my promise to pay the first installment on our tractor and none of our vehicles could make the drive . . .

Riding with Paul is an experience. He has an Isuzu SUV (not sure the model) that is a 4WD vehicle – but only 2WD now because some parts are broken. It had rained several times and the roads were pretty muddy. After getting pulled out BY OUR NEW TRACTOR, we hit some places where the water was as much as 3 feet deep, but the ground was solid underneath so we passed right through. It did look pretty scary, but turned out to be no problem. As we left, I’ve never seen a 5-passenger vehicle so loaded. There were 5 people squeezed into the back seat; 2 ladies piled on top of bags of “stuff” in the back and a 9-year-old girl on my lap. Because I have white hair, I’m automatically assigned the front seat ☺

Once we were in town, Paul dropped us all off about a half mile from the Governor’s office and I walked in. The Director-General of the Ministry of Agriculture was out sick with malaria and he was the one who was going to walk me through the process of making my payment. He did send his driver who picked me up and took me to the Ag Ministry offices. There I met Solomon, a very gracious official who took about an hour to get a 3-line letter written and copied. The letter was my “authorization to make an installment” on the tractor. Once we got to the Ministry of Finance, we went into an office that had 4 desks with 1 man at each. I kid you not, each person in the office had to write something on the authorization letter and hand it to the next guy. From there, I got escorted to another office where I found one guard and next to him a cage, completely enclosed with bars, where the “cashier” sat. I was summoned into the cage and the cashier said, “Give me the money!” Overall, it took almost 4 hours to make the silly payment!

Then the ride back. Like the ride into town, we were packed to the gills. We stopped several times while Paul negotiated fares or whatever. We were constantly hounded and people who wanted a ride to Werkok yelled him at repeatedly. By the time we got started it was about 5:00pm. At 5:25 – about 1/3 of the way, we got a flat. I thought, “no problem, we’ll just change the tire and be on our way.” Not so much. Paul had a flat a couple of days before and it wasn’t yet repaired. We had no spare and we were about 13 miles away and it would be dark in about an hour and a half. Paul just stood there staring into space – I had no idea what he was thinking, until he stopped a truck coming towards us heading back to Bor, never said a word to us and got in! He left us there on the road and headed back into town!

We started walking through the mud and potholes filed with water . . . and two and a half hours later (yes, in 2 and a half hours I “walked” over 12 miles; the Sudanese walk so fast I could barely keep from running) I stumbled onto the compound, with some massive blisters on my feet and drenched in sweat. But I was home, and home safe. No problem. Welcome to Africa.

Governors and Tractors

One of my last blog entries talked about “waiting . . .” and feeling a bit melancholic about my time here at Werkok, after having such wild success meeting with the Governor early on about our Ag project. I think now I know what I was waiting for! When Sherry and I returned from Uganda several years ago, we wondered at what training we might seek, to make us more useful in Africa. Sherry received her graduate degree in Nursing School and I got a degree in Animal Science, followed by a graduate degree in International Development. My thought was that I could use the animal husbandry as a part of development to have some type of significant impact in the lives of even a few people. I dreamed of farms and animal projects, but wondered how they fit with the hospital. Almost immediately after arriving in Werkok, Sherry was immersed in the life of the hospital and in the lives of the hospital staff and patients who have grown to love her (no surprise there). I was here . . . still just sort of . . . waiting, for our AgSudan project to take off, and trying to busy myself in whatever construction projects Dave (Mueller) needed help with.

A few days ago, here in Werkok, we received a visitor from an organization called World Gospel Mission (WGM). Reuben is a specialist in Community Development, with particular expertise in agriculture. When I described my “dreams of farms and animal projects,” he got all excited and said that when he was here last October, he prayed for exactly the same kinds of things – and that I was the answer to his prayers! We started brainstorming last night about how we might provide some hope and empowerment for a group of “women-at-risk,” and talked more this morning about whether we might have enough time before the rains really start, to cultivate several acres for planting either sorghum or maize. If it was to happen, we needed to get our hands on a tractor – TODAY! We’ve had over a week of no rain, following several days of rather heavy rains, so everyone is madly tilling the softened soil to get ready for immediate planting. About 3 weeks ago, Governor Kuol Manyang promised us a tractor, which was to be delivered by the Commissioner of Bor – but we still haven’t seen it, so Reuben and I decided to head to Bor to “collect the tractor promised by the Governor.”

Getting with a Governor isn’t an easy thing. We arrived at about 12:30pm and found him there, but in meetings that had started early in the morning and still continued. His secretary, Jacob, suggested we get lunch and come back at 3:00pm. After a wonderful meal of ugali, 2 goat dishes, cow pea greens and pinto beans, washed down with 2 ice-cold Cokes (at the Freedom Hotel), we headed back to the Governor’s office. He had left directions for us to meet with the Minister of Agriculture. Reuben, Jacob, another aide named Bol, and I piled into the Land Cruiser and tracked down the Minister, and caught him napping. He roused himself (he’s rather elderly), met with us and told us we could certainly have a tractor, after we paid an installment of 10,000 Sudanese pounds. This caught me completely off guard. When the Governor told me we could have a tractor – twice – there were no conditions. I had heard some buzz that there was some sort of price that might be charged, but I had no idea that it was the equivalent of nearly $5,000! I only had $1,500!!

As the Minister of Agriculture explained the new deal, and sent us on a wild goose chase to another government official, I wondered if we shouldn’t again try to get some clarification from the Governor. We went back to his office and found him gone. Jacob said he had meetings all afternoon with UNHCR folks and other Ministers . . . but if we wanted to wait, we might try again at around 5:00pm when he might return for a few minutes. We headed back to the Freedom for another round of cold drinks and at about 4:15 trudged back to the Governor’s office. He was there. Jacob said he’d been waiting for us and he would take us in to see the Governor momentarily. The Governor looked tired after an entire day of meetings, dealing with inter-tribal warfare and insecurity, UN folks wanting info about Darfur and we were talking about a tractor. He remembered our AgSudan plan, remembered Mamer, and remembered our meeting with him last March. When I told him I was confused about the Minister of Agriculture demanding 10,000 Sudanese pounds (as a down payment) for the tractor, he shook his head, called his secretary and asked her to call Dr. Biar. About 15 minutes later, in strolled the elderly Minister of Agriculture we had caught napping and who had sent us to another official. Governor Kuol told him basically that he was to find a way to give us a tractor – today and for the $1,500 I had with me! He reiterated that the money wasn’t the issue; what mattered is that we had committed to invest in the lives of the people.

The poor Minister of Agriculture was a bit frustrated. He was told to give us a tractor for the $1,500, but the Finance folks were already gone, the technicians assembling the tractor components were gone, but I was still standing with him, smiling and telling him I had this window of dry weather and needed the tractor now . . . and how could we work this out? He made some phone calls, the Director General came (I have no idea who this guy is or what he does, but he was the keeper of the tractor keys) and said that with the Minister’s and Governor’s signatures, I can pick up the tractor tomorrow morning at 8:30am. “Don’t worry about the money; you can bring it sometime on Monday,” was the Ministers comment as he left. Really? They’re letting us take the tractor before we’ve paid them? Were my ears deceiving me? I could almost hear the Lord laughing with us as He moved the hearts and hands of Sudanese government officials!

Werkok Memorial Hospital – Hope for the Hopeless!

Well, its been a wild ride for these past several weeks! I looked over my past messages and see that they’re a little on the dark side. I’m not gonna lie to you, this has been one of the hardest things I think we’ve ever done. However, coming out of a bit of a funk, I have to admit that I completely see God’s hand in our lives and in this place (Memorial Christian Hospital, Werkok). It is the one beacon of hope for the people anywhere within at least a 2-hour driving radius. Twice now, we’ve had some folks (3 white guys from Nashville) working on a mission school in Jaleh bring some of their injured to us. The first one was a young man who’d had his finger crushed by a 50-gallon drum full of fuel. When they arrived, the end of the finger was hanging by a thread. Dr. Ajak and Sherry put it back together and when we saw the same guys again two days ago, they said he now has feeling in the finger and is able to move it!

When they came this time, they brought a young girl who’d been attacked by a crocodile! I’ll leave details of the story to tell you in person! So many other things . . . malaria, scorpion stings, new babies being delivered. Two of the ladies who’ve recently delivered babies here are widows from the recent fighting and without this hospital would have had no support.

Everyone in the vicinity says this is the best hospital – even better than the one in Bor, which is the nearest city. The Governor of the State even chose to bring his wife and mother here instead of the hospital in Bor! It is an amazing privilege to share a part of being Jesus’ hands and feet to the people of Southern Sudan!

April 21st – Long day

Last night was a good night of sleep. It didn’t start out hot and didn’t get too cold. I even had to cover up with a top sheet ☺ (JP, you’ll be delighted to know that for awhile once we return, even I will be freezing anytime the temp goes below 75 degrees. Amazing how cold 75 feels when the daytime temps hit over 120!).

I was feeling a bit melancholy this morning, meditating on the verses in Luke 8, but especially verse 1, where it says, “After this, Jesus traveled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God.” (NIV) I was trying to imagine what it would be like to do that here in southern Sudan. Everything about life here in Sudan is hard – even for the Sudanese. Late this morning, I had a conversation with John Kuol (compound manager), who commented on how hard life is here in Werkok. Today, we don’t have a working vehicle except two motorcycles, one of which is less than reliable, meaning that we’ll likely have to walk the 25 km to the airport. We don’t have consistent communication except for a satellite phone, which is expensive and gets prepaid minutes added from Grand Rapids, Michigan (though telephone and internet through the VSAT is supposed to be up and working any time now). We’ve been virtually without outside communication since our arrival here on March 21st, a month ago today.

The day after a hard rain, you can’t imagine the bugs. You lift the “toilet” seat and hold your breath so you don’t breathe in one of the hundreds of newly hatched flies that rush you, celebrating their new metamorphosis from maggot to bomber. As I sit typing, I have to constantly be shooing these little black beetles off my screen. I’m being dive-bombed by crickets and flies and flying ants. I’ve picked at least 30 beetles or ants out of my hair and another 15 or 20 from the back of my neck or inside my shirt – all within the past hour or two. All afternoon, we fight horseflies, which bite. I mean BITE! To the point that they actually draw blood; and snakes, and scorpions and 2-inch-long cockroaches . . . During rainy season, you can’t sit outside past dusk because of the clouds of mosquitoes – and if you’re in a tukul, you climb into your mosquito net early, trying to at least postpone the inevitable malaria.

And Luke talks about Jesus “traveling about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news . . .” The times I’ve read these verses from my home in southern California, I never realized how differently they’d look, when reading them through the lens of East Africa. I have a new appreciation and deep respect for missionaries here, because “traveling from one village to another” is unbelievably hard and uncomfortable work! God Bless you Dave and Joy, Ian, Forrest and Cameron!

April 20th – Rainy Season

We rose at around 7:00 am this morning to sunshine, with a few clouds off to the North and East. By 8:15, the sky had begun to darken and by 8:30 am it was almost as dark as evening, just before African darkness begins to swallow you up. By 8:45, the wind erupted into a maelstrom, clubbing us and scattering the stackable (Costco) chairs, along with anything that wasn’t tied down or wedged against an immovable wall; it ripped the shade cloth on the porch to shreds and we had to lever shoes under the door to keep it closed. Horizontal rain rushed under the ridge cap on our roof, inciting a whole team of intruding streams into the room. Lightning and thunder so close and powerful that the ground and walls trembled against its might.

It rained off and on for about 6 hours, often with rain that looked like almost like solid sheets. John (the local Sudanese compound manager) and Josh and Aaron had gone to town to take Junko (the visiting Pediatrician from CHOC who lives only about 10 miles from us!) to catch her plane to Nairobi. They returned at about 7pm – all of them covered in mud, with stories about how difficult the trip had been. It took them over 3 hours to travel less than 20 miles. At one point, they went for over 100 meters never seeing the road because of the entire thing being under at least a foot of water. They got stuck in the mud several times, had to push the car out and once had to be towed out of the mess. All this even with John, one of the best drivers I’ve seen. Imagine the massive potholes and furrows created by huge, overloaded trucks trying to get to Bor or even all the way to Juba . . . then imagine the same road being traveled by drivers who have never had driver’s training and don’t really know how to drive, let alone attempting some of the worst conditions I’ve ever encountered!

John said that if it rains even once again, the road will be completely impassable. No wonder the ex-pats (foreigners) try to get out before the rains really start! According to everyone we’ve spoken to . . . the rains have actually started a month early this year. Now, I’m sure you’re wondering, just like we were, how WE will get out if it rains again? The reality is that our best bet will be to strip down our belongings to what we can carry in our backpacks . . . and walk the 25 km or so to get to the airport! Good thing my orthotics didn’t disappear with my black shoes 🙂

APRIL 17th

It started out like a normal evening; we’d had a good day of work around the compound. Josh and Aaron had made good progress on the VSAT. It was set on the pole, trenches dug for the coaxial cables and the lines laid. Just waiting to try and point the dish, capture the satellite signal and set up the software for the modem. Visitors were coming, too. In fact, 7 representatives from Samaritan’s Purse, Canada had arrived about 15 minutes earlier and gone off to visit a small clinic about 20 minutes away. I’d set up 3 tents and got all their mattresses and linens ready; Sherry had been busy cooking and cleaning all day.

I think it was Sherry who first noticed that all the villagers were running. The people here NEVER run – unless something (usually bad) has happened. In fact, when you run for exercise, you’ll generally get chided and often yelled at, because when people see anyone running, they think there is a problem and they want you to stop immediately! It turns out there was indeed a problem. We caught bits and pieces as packs of men ran by, all carrying their guns. In the little village less than a mile away from us, 2 children had been abducted from the side of the road by a small group of Murle (neighboring tribe) and the entire village was running to try and find them. Then, a pickup truck came barreling down the road and turned into the hospital compound to deliver one of the young moms who’d been shot in the leg above her knee, shattering her femur. She was in incredible pain and we were praying she wouldn’t lose her baby as she is 7 months pregnant

After a preliminary surgery to attempt removal of the bone fragments and any visible bullet remnants, Dr Ajak took the injured lady to Bor Hospital, where there was x-ray equipment to make a complete diagnosis. . [As of 25th April, the lady is doing well and Dr. Ajak saved her life!)The crazy thing was that we, along with all of our visitors had been in Sudan long enough now – that none of us were terribly surprised or shocked about the evening’s events. Once the immediate excitement died down, we all just sort of went back to our regular conversations! Imagine. After only 5 weeks here, we’ve begun to grow accustomed to the violence. I hate that.