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Every Village Blog

  • 2018

    The Next Chapter

    The Next Chapter from Every Village on Vimeo.

     

    Facebook Live Update

    Did you miss our recent Facebook Live update from our Executive Director, Andrew Brown? Watch below for updates on Every Village's strategy and progress!

     

    2018 First Quarter Update

     
  • 2017

    Third Quarter Update Video

    Third Quarter 2017 from Every Village on Vimeo.

     

    Second Quarter Update 2017

     

    2017 Second Quarter Video from Every Village on Vimeo.

     
  • 2016

    First Quarter 2017 Update

     

    Why Are We Here?

    Why Are We Here?

    The official religion of South Sudan is Christianity.  “Shouldn’t we go to people who have never heard of Jesus?  Shouldn’t we go to the 10/40 window and preach the good news of Jesus?  Is this really an unreached people who need missionaries?”  These were the questions I asked myself when we were first feeling called to South Sudan.  We came because we felt this was where God was leading us.  We came because we knew beneath the “national religion” there was a deeper need for Christ’s peace.

    And what we have learned is that beneath the surface, there is a deep need. 

    We are seeing people in bondage. Recently, to celebrate the creation of Tonj state, 21 bulls were sacrificed to spirits as part of a government celebration. The strongest and best spear masters (or witch doctors) were recruited by the government for the ceremony.  The horns of the bulls are now on top of posts as idols surrounding the South Sudanese flag in the middle of Freedom square.

    We are seeing people in pain. A friend‘s husband took a second wife this month.  In a culture of polygamy, I honestly placated myself by believing that it was accepted and therefore it did not hurt like it would me.  I was wrong.  The betrayal, embarrassment, pain, and anger are just as raw and deep as they would be in me.  It would be like my husband having an affair and then marrying the woman, then having her come to live in the guest house.   

    We are seeing people in fear. The mother of twins went through an extensive ritual to protect them and bless them. When one died, she mourned the fact that she must not have honored the spirits enough.  She began grasping at anything that might protect the remaining twin.  

    We are seeing people feeling hopelessness. The poverty, hunger, and thirst take an incredible toll on the people here. 

    Far from being a place where missionaries are not needed as I originally thought, it is easy to then fall into that same hopelessness.  It seems too little for 4-6 adults to do...why are we here? The fight is too big, the laborers too few.

    But God is big enough.  Period. We are not big enough…at all. But thanks be to God, this is not too big for him.  We are seeing changes in the people around us as we continue discipleship relationships with them.  It has been such a blessing to have the honor to see God at work.

    ...A man remaining faithful to his wife even when culture and family pressures indicate he should take a mistress or second wife.

    ...A witch doctor who dedicated his life to Christ this year was approached by the governor to serve at the state blessing ritual.  He was offered significant payment.  Despite the fact that he is extremely poor, he said no and explained to the governor that he now followed Christ. 

    ...Our friend on hearing the parable of the four seeds rededicated his life to Christ and burnt his idols that day. 

    “Finally be strong in the Lord and in the strength of HIS might... For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”

    In His might we can have hope. In His might we can move forward.  In His might, our tiny work belongs to Him and He can do anything.  Thanks be to God.  

     

    Saying Yes to Jesus

    Saying Yes to Jesus

    Suffering for the Gospel. When most of us hear this, we think of the persecuted church in countries that are closed to the Gospel. We think of torture, imprisonment, and constant threats on your life. Not being able to freely speak of the goodness of Christ without fear of reprimand. However, all suffering may not be quite as severe as all of this.

    Recently, I was sick for about three weeks. I felt so bad that I wasn’t able to do much other than lay in my house. Over the past three years of my time living in Africa, this was definitely the worst I’ve felt and the longest period of time that I’ve been sick. I felt worthless, and even began to even question my purpose of being in Tonj, since I couldn’t accomplish anything or be out with the people. During this time, I began to reflect on some conversations that I’ve had in the past with some teammates regarding suffering. One instance was a recent conversation Tianna and I had regarding her struggle with acne since coming to South Sudan. As silly as it sounds, the battle with acne in South Sudan is a form of suffering. I was also reminded of a conversation I had with a past teammate during a time in Ethiopia when many of us were constantly battling sickness; sleepless nights due to countless runs to the bathroom because of something you ate or drank is a form of suffering. Even though these examples are not quite as “exciting” as stories from Paul or an undercover missionary biography, it’s still part of the cost of being a disciple of Jesus. As my view began to morph from feeling worthless, I tried to focus on being thankful to have been given the opportunity to suffer for the Gospel, no matter how insignificant it may seem. Although I may live in a place where I’m not persecuted for my faith by being tortured, imprisoned or receiving constant threats on my life, there is a cost of leaving my family, having a variety of tropical illnesses and not as many comforts as I would have in America. As a believer, when you say yes to Jesus, that means at all costs, no matter where you are or what the outcome is.

    As holidays are upon us, I know that this is a particularly difficult time for me as well as other people who are away from home, and for the families that are left behind. As we are missing our loved ones this holiday season, may we all focus on the cost of discipleship, joyfully proclaiming that Jesus is worth it!

     “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let your steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” James 1:2-4 

     

    Traveling in South Sudan

    Traveling in South Sudan

    Recently, my family transitioned out of South Sudan to Kampala for a short time of R&R. Though this time is much needed and anticipated every time, it takes work to get here. Below you can find a summary of the not-so-simple process of getting in and out of South Sudan.


    If you are leaving from Kampala…

    At least two days prior to your departure, go to the South Sudan embassy in Kampala to obtain your South Sudan visa.

    On the day of your departure:

    6:30 am – Leave for the airstrip.

    7:00 am – Load the charter plane with approximately 1,000 kilograms of cargo (including body weight). Charter planes cost a couple thousand dollars.

    8:00 am (hopefully) – Board the plane. 

    9:30 am – Arrive in Arua, Uganda. Get off the plane, use the restroom, get passports stamped to exit Uganda, and refuel the airplane.

    10:15 am – Board the plane and leave for Juba, South Sudan.

    11:00 am – Arrive in Juba. Get off the plane, DON’T use the restroom (unless you are desperate!!!), and go through immigration. Pray for a smooth immigration experience. If you are lucky, you will be out of there in 20 minutes. If you are unlucky, this could take hours! Refuel the plane.

    12:00 pm – Get back on the plane and leave for Tonj.

    1:30 pm – Arrive in Tonj! Unpack the 1,000 kgs you loaded in the morning.


    If you are leaving from Tonj…

    1:30 pm – Plane arrives from Kampala. Help unpack the plane and then repack with your cargo.

    3:00 pm – Arrive in Juba, unless you had to stop for fuel in Rumbek, then this will be later. Go through immigration in Juba. See above description of the Juba stop for more information.

    4:00 pm – Re-board the plane and head for Arua, Uganda.

    5:00 pm – Land in Arua. Get off plane and obtain entry stamp for Uganda. Head to the guesthouse for an overnight stay in Arua.

    8:00 am (next day) – Load the plane and depart for Kampala.

    9:30 am – Arrive in Kampala!

    Now, picture the dirt airstrips; only two of your landing places have “airports”. Imagine dodging sheep, goats, and cows on the airstrips. The above agenda is the best-case scenario. Usually you can count on a mechanical issue, slow immigration, extra fuel stops, or delayed departure from Kampala because you have too much cargo and must determine what to leave behind. (Oh, but don’t forget your motion sickness medicine!) I just wanted to give a little glimpse into this part of our life! 

    Other questions we have gotten about travelling in and out of South Sudan:

    Why don’t you drive? It would be cheaper. Yes, it would be. Brad has done it before when the roads were safe. For now, the roads can be unpredictable and are in poor condition. It also takes about four days, and you may not be able to find fuel when you need it.

    Why can’t you leave whenever you want to? Technically, we could. However, due to the cost of the chartered flights, we try to share them with someone else. That requires a lot of planning and a pretty strict travel schedule.


    Despite all of this, we love having visitors! Our door is always open.

     

    Third Quarter 2016 Update

     

    Honoring a Life — David Lual

    Honoring a Life — David Lual

    Eight days.

    Eight days was all it took for my heart to be forever changed. A piece of me is now taken. I am mending and filled with gratitude for the memories, but I want to let you into a private part of my heart; a two month (and counting) journey of heartache.

    Physical, emotional, and spiritual heartache.

    A few months ago, I started to visit the local government hospital to pray for sick patients. Entering into their worlds in a scary and painful time, bringing a taste of hope and life through Jesus’ love. As I met many wonderful people and their families, we chatted in my limited Dinka and their broken English. I met a tiny, tiny baby and a sick mom. One look at this child and my heart was smitten. His big brown eyes and tight grip on my finger. From then on, I went back to see him daily, sit with his mom, bring her food, and hold him.

    Eight days later, he was gone.

    Then heartache took over. Grief. I pushed it away the best I could. The pain, the loss I felt, and the aching in my heart and arms of wanting to hold him one more time. Then anger. The times I did talk to God, all I could say was how I wasn't ready to let him go, asking why did He let me love this baby if he was going to take him away, and stating I can’t do this—loving people is hard.

    It’s all TOO hard.

    But, I am so grateful for a God who is patient and gentle; so gracious and loving. I slowly crawled out of the grief that consumed me and turned to walk to Jesus. As I slowly journeyed through it, my heart of deep hurt and sadness turned to gratefulness.

    I am abundantly grateful.

    Grateful that I walked into the hospital the day I did to meet this sweet boy and his mother. I am grateful that from the moment of first holding him—when his back was stiff and arms tightened because of the pain he was in—he relaxed and melted into my arms as I held him more and more. I am grateful for the time spent looking into his eyes and holding onto his tiny hand, wanting him to know he was seen, known, loved, valued, and wanted. I am grateful for the days I had of speaking life, prayers, and singing to him, ‘Jesus loves you’ in Dinka.

    I am grateful that I entered his mother’s life when I did. When she was alone, in great pain, and unable to help her baby. When she lost yet another child to sickness. When her heart broke and we sat and cried together holding hands, mourning this sweet boy. I am grateful that I walked into her life to be in her corner; to see, know, love, and feel with her, and say she is worth it. I am grateful that the story isn't over.

    I honor your life baby, David Lual. You were a tiny boy who took a big piece of my heart. Thank you for teaching me how to love in the good, the bad, and the hard.

    “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.” ― C.S. Lewis

     

    Beyond the Gate

    Beyond the Gate

    I have had this blog title in my mind for a while now. As a mother on the mission field, my primary role is at home. I do not have the ability to go out into the community daily. When I want to, it is much harder to mobilize the troops to do so. Not only do I have to get myself ready for a cross-cultural experience, but I have to convince my children they want it too. Without things like trips to the grocery store (because there aren’t any), it is easy to stay inside the gate of our compound for days at a time.

    It is certainly much easier to stay inside and avoid the awkward silence that comes when you visit someone with whom you cannot communicate. To smile and simply say, “I don’t understand. Dinka…little.” To not have to help the children cope with others laughing at the hair on our arms or the way we talk (apparently Americans sound quite “nasally” to people here). Despite all of these things, there is a subtle suffocation that can happen if we don’t get out into the community. Not only do I begin to believe the lies of the enemy that say “why the heck I am here if I am just going to sit in my house”, but also I really do miss the people.

    I remember one particularly hard day. I had made the commitment to go outside the gate every day, even if it was just to the road. We were getting ready and the kids did not want to go. They were fighting with one another and fighting with me about going; everyone was grumpy, tired of the food, and feeling lonely. I sat in our kitchen hut and cried. I strongly, strongly considered calling it a movie day and trying again tomorrow, but we had committed to go. So, we went to visit our “next door neighbors” who live a couple of huts down the road. We had a nice visit – nothing earth shattering, but nice. We saw the rough way our friend treated her children and their intense need for someone to simply “see” them. We talked about few things and then came home. But we came home lighter...like we had clicked back into where we were supposed to be just by trying to get out

    Since then, I have been struck by how powerful it is to get beyond the gate. It doesn’t take much effort or even require that we go very far to interact with the people God has placed around us. We just have to be willing to step out and good almost always comes out of it for us.

    Most of you reading this are not living cross-culturally, and if you are, it is probably not in a walled compound like ours. But we all have walls, don’t we? “Comfort zones” is the common way to refer them.

    Living in South Sudan is already a big “comfort zone” challenger, but even beyond doing what is uncomfortable, I have realized that doing things beyond ourselves is critical for our health and survival here. It is still hard to go out. I feel really nervous every time. I feel useless, word-less, and downright silly. I feel frustrated that I do not know more of the language. And yet, every time I see a smile or am blessed when they give us peanuts or pumpkin, or whatever of the very little they have, I am set a little more free. We are called to step out. While it is scary and uncomfortable, the blessing is even more.  

     

    Rejoicing and Weeping

    Rejoicing and Weeping

    For some time now, I have been meditating on Romans 12 and the marks of a true Christian. It is a long list and I definitely still have a lot to work on as I strive to be more like Jesus from the inside out. Recently, the Lord has given me circumstances where I have been able to observe some of these verses coming to life.

    A few months ago, I was away from Tonj for a few weeks. Upon my return, my teammate Tianna shared with me how Jesus had intertwined her path with a woman who was very sick and whose baby was extremely malnourished. She had been visiting them in the hospital and at their home, praying for a miracle, as the doctors didn’t look upon the situation with too much promise. A few days after I returned to Tonj, we received word that the baby had passed. Here in South Sudan, infant mortality rate is high and I have yet to meet a woman with a handful of children who has not experienced the death of at least one of her babies. Culturally, there is a fatalistic outlook on life, so the death of a lost loved one, especially a child, should not be mourned because it is a fact of life. After receiving the news of the passing of the baby, we went to visit the woman at her home. Upon arrival, Tianna began to lovingly tell her that she was sorry for her loss and was moved to tears. I was able to see the hardness of this woman’s face soften as Tianna reached out and took her hand. Soon tears began to stream down the woman’s face. No more words were said for some minutes as the two mourned together. As I observed this, I saw the love of Jesus coming through Tianna. She had no comforting words to say, but her actions spoke louder than any words ever could. This is the heart of Jesus. He mourns with us when we mourn, and calls us to do the same for our brothers and sisters.

    Sometimes, I am known for being a realist. Stating the facts and at times being insensitive to others around me, as I don’t always think before I speak. We had interns in Tonj for about a month this summer. It’s always nice to have some new faces to give a fresh perspective on daily life here and how different it is from America, as I have become accustomed to the cultural and living differences. New experiences and things that may bring joy to others may not excite me much or even affect me at all. Unfortunately, I found myself being a “bubble popper” through my realism and lack of a filter. I was reminded by a teammate that celebrating the joys of others is just as important as mourning with them. It is just as much of His heart in showing love.

    As believers, we are called to love each other genuinely. As a church, we are called to support one another in all circumstances as we follow the teachings of Jesus. Through His example, we see that He feels what we feel, and intensely cares for each and every one of His sheep. We should strive to do the same, “rejoicing with those who rejoice, and weeping with those who weep.”

     

    Second Quarter 2016 Update

     

    Challenged to Care

    Challenged to Care

    In a nation that is struck by poverty and hindered by years of war, it is easy to become numb to the constant state of despair all around you. I am used to seeing children in torn, dirty clothes, or wearing no clothes at all. I am used to seeing men and women crawl through the streets of the market, disabled by a disease that would have been preventable with a simple vaccine. I am used to being asked for food wherever I go. I hate that I have become numb to it because it is all around me every day. But now it is the “hungry season” in South Sudan and at this time of year, the despair is too great to overlook.

    The “hungry season” refers to the months around May and June where people’s harvest from last year has run out and they are waiting on the crops for this year to be ready. The rains have come, the sorghum and ground nuts are growing, they just aren’t ready to eat yet.

    Just the other day, I held a baby on his way home from the hospital. He was admitted because he was severely malnourished. He was somewhere between 3 and 5 months old (birthdays are hard to nail down in this culture) and only 4 kgs. My heart broke as I held him. He should have only been consuming breast milk, but his mother could not produce any for him because of her own malnourishment. There is no formula available in the market, so many women who can’t produce breast milk are forced to give their babies cow’s milk; however, this mother could not even afford that. When my teammate and I dropped him and his mom off at their home, we found nothing – not even a jerry can for fetching water. We later found out that the little boy passed away.

    How do we respond to this? In our training before we landed in South Sudan, we had to write our theology on poverty. As I looked through the Bible to complete this assignment, I found that the Lord clearly desires us to help those who are less fortunate than ourselves. In the Old Testament, it is even written into the Levitical Law to care for the poor and needy, and even how to do it (Leviticus 19:9-10). God even says in Deuteronomy 15:4, “There should be no poor among you.” There are so many examples throughout the Bible of God’s compassion for the poor and His command to help them. Just a few that stood out to me are: Leviticus 25:37-37, 39-41, and 54; Deuteronomy 15:28; Exodus 22:25, 27, and 23:6; Luke 12:13; and James 2:2-5.

    But what does this look like practically? There is so much need all around me every day. I can’t possibly respond to all of it! And even if I could, there are books like “When Helping Hurts” that make me afraid of disabling people by trying to help. I don’t know the answer. But I write this because I am challenged to find it. I am challenged for all believers to look for the answer. I pray for the Spirit to tell me who to give to and how I should help. What does it look like to care for the poor and needy around us? How do we show compassion and love like Jesus did when he walked the earth?

    I do not know the answer, but one way I have discovered to discern it in certain situations is to simply be present. To sit with those in need, even if I have nothing to give but my companionship. And to pray – pray for the people of South Sudan, and our neighbors around us wherever we may be in the world, for hunger and disease to be distant memory, and ultimately for everyone to know our Savior Jesus Christ.

     

    An Intricate Entanglement

    An Intricate Entanglement

    “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

    “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.

    - Matthew 6:25-34 (ESV) 

    This scripture took on a whole new meaning when I immersed myself into the culture of South Sudan. I live among a people who (even unintentionally) simply live for the day. Many wearing clothes that are tattered and worn with holes in them. Where food and income comes from the ground, where they poured sweat and hard physical labor into cultivating (gardening). Many have the mindset of a fatalist which is defined as the acceptance of all things and events as inevitable, including death.

    The culture I came from was from extreme opposites. A culture where fine clothing and having the next best thing is a must. Food is bountiful from grocery stores to restaurants. Having a savings fund that continually grows each month for those emergencies that may come at any time is highly encouraged and taught.

    Neither is better than the other; they both have their flaws. But there is an immense beauty in living for the day. A sense of being present and intentional for tomorrow may not come.

    Trust. Surrender. Faith. They each are so intricately entangled. Even as one culture saves financially and has nice clothing and loads of delicious food, do they not worry and ultimately trust that He has them? As the other culture wears the same outfit they wore for the last three days, plant and harvests groundnuts (peanuts) that will feed the entire family that night, do they not hope and believe that He has more for them including life?

    Two opposite cultures reading the same scripture. What I hope to see in the American culture as well as the South Sudanese culture is this, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”

     

    A Different Kind of "Witness"

    A Different Kind of

    “You are my witnesses,” declares the Lord, “and my servant whom I have chosen, that you may know and believe me and understand that I am he. Before me no god was formed nor shall there be any after me.” Isaiah 43:10

    God is moving in Tonj.

    There is a man living near us who is a Spear Master. Despite what you may think, this does not mean he is good at throwing spears. Instead, it is a term for a type of witch doctor; someone who can give blessings or curses on people. In a land where spiritual warfare and animism are very real and palpable things, someone who is a Spear Master holds a position of power. To leave this position, one is at risk of losing great prestige, financial security (in a land where there is none), and retaliation from any whom he has harmed in the past.

    Very recently, this man came to Christ and we have had the immense privilege of watching his life change. We have increasingly become first-hand witnesses to his story over the past few weeks.

    I will say it again: God is moving in Tonj.

    After making a profession of faith, he waited for his family to be in town so he could be baptized. He had also been waiting for his son to be able to help him get to another village so he can burn the many idols in his possession. Among the items to be burned were his spears, as those were a symbol of his status as a Spear Master and used to curse or bless others.

    His delays were not resulting from a change of heart, but because he was making preparations to burn his idols and be baptized. This week, his house burned down, burning his spears with it. Instead of despair, this man, with so few physical possessions left in his life, was rejoicing. He said that because he had delayed in burning them, God had done it for him and he was thankful.

    A few days later, he was baptized. As I watched his baptism, I was deeply moved by this display of grace, as we witnessed God calling this man by name and giving him a new name.

    Would you agree? God is moving in Tonj.

    Today, Nathan and several others drove with their new brother in Christ to his home in a nearby village and watched as he burned his idols. Some idols were underground and had to be dug up in order to be destroyed. This was true evidence of how he has fully turned to God, by ridding himself of any temptation to turn back to the witchcraft he was involved in before.

    It makes me think about the word “witness” and what it means to be a “witness”. The most common missionary context (and the context earlier in Isaiah) is that we are a testifying witness, as in a court trial. We are to speak of what we have seen God do or what we know of Jesus, our Savior. But, sometimes God does the moving and the speaking, and allows us to witness Him in a different way...to stand as a witness and simply see the hand of God move. What an honor!

    As we watch this man step into a life of faith in Jesus, we witness the cost. This former Spear Master stepped away from a steady source of income in a time and place that is facing the most dire economic situation in the history of its people. He stepped away from the “security” he took in appeasing the spirits of nature (animism), so no harm would befall him. Jesus is worth it and he is joyfully handing over his life.

    Are we willing to do the same?

    Do we still hold onto things that are underground and unseen, things that are stealing our devotion and our joy?

    Our idols are not spears, symbolic jewelry, or wooden gods, but instead are subtler and insidious, like our jobs, entertainment, “me-time”, money, or success. We talk about them often, acknowledging that they keep our hearts from being fully engaged, but are we willing to step away? Do we stand in witness next to people, fully turning from the things that hold them back from God? Could we?

    “You are my witnesses,” declares the Lord, “and my servant whom I have chosen, that you may know and believe me and understand that I am he. Before me no god was formed nor shall there be any after me.” Isaiah 43:10

     

    First Quarter 2016 Update

     

    Where You Go, I'll Go

    Where You Go, I'll Go

    At the beginning of January, I hopped on a plane in Houston to head back to Africa to begin another two-year stint in South Sudan. During my time in the States, I was repeatedly asked why I chose to return to South Sudan, even after all of the unrest and moving around I had experience in my first two-year term. I was asked why would I return to one of the most unstable countries in the world instead of remaining in America. Why would I choose to return to a place where there is war, famine, little development or infrastructure, and a tanking economy. Hadn’t I done enough and had enough adventure from my first two years in South Sudan? Wasn’t it time to move on with my life?

    Many people assumed that I must have received extremely strong calling from the Lord to prompt me to return. However, in my decision to stay in South Sudan, there was no voice from heaven or vivid dream. No strong word of knowledge, other than that the Lord wasn’t calling me to go anywhere else.

    When I left Houston two and half years ago, it was clear from the Lord that He wasn’t calling me to live in Houston; he was calling me to live in South Sudan. Before that, I thought I was called to live in America, although I now realize that I had never actually asked Him. Right now the Lord isn’t telling me to go anywhere else; not to Houston, France, Japan, or any other place. He is telling me to stay where I am, and I count myself extremely blessed to have been gifted with a love for the people with whom I live. Two years from now, who knows where He’ll lead. Maybe He will say to stay, maybe to head back to America, or maybe He’ll lead me to a completely different nation.

    So, just as people questioned why I chose to return to live in South Sudan, I would like to challenge you to ask yourself the same question: why do you live in where you do? Did the Lord call you where you are or is that just where you randomly ended up? Have you sought His face on where He wants you to be? Is He leading you to live in suburbia, the city, the country, or abroad? Is He telling you to stay put where He currently has you, or to uproot your life and follow Him where He leads? Whatever He is asking of you, although it may not be easy, pain free, or even logical in a human sense, it will be good and beautiful because He is always good, and He calls us to things that are greater than what we could ever imagine.

     I think the song “I Will Follow” by Chris Tomlin says it well, and I pray that the lyrics will ring true in all of our hearts.

    Where you go I’ll go
    Where you stay I’ll stay
    When you move I’ll move
    I will follow you
    All your ways are good
    All your ways are sure
    I will trust in you alone
    Higher than my sight
    High above my life
    I will trust in you alone

     

    God's Grace in Our Muddy Life

    God's Grace in Our Muddy Life

    This past summer – in the thick of the rainy season – I, along with a few other local Every Village (EV) staff members, made a trip to Wau, the second largest city in South Sudan. We occasionally make this trip to buy bulk food, fuel, or construction materials. In the rainy season, the holes in the unpaved roads fill with water and the trip takes on a whole new risk. Despite the distance being a mere 65 miles, travel speeds are slow and it can often take up to four hours (that’s an average of 16.3 mph, for anyone curious).

    Our travels to Wau were absent of any problems, as it was a sunny and warm day. We packed our Land Cruiser with bags of cement and other construction items, and started our return trip around 4:30pm. As the sun was setting, the rain started pouring, and I began to get anxious. In the poor visibility, and with the roads flooding, I feared that we could get stuck in the mud at any moment, or worse, the Land Cruiser could flip over on the uneven embankments. Thanks be to God that we made it home safely around 9pm, after which I made the resolution to never again drive to Wau in the rainy season – or at the very least, be the one doing the driving.

    The next day, I took this picture of our Land Cruiser and it got me thinking. A little over a year ago, as my family and I were making preparations to move to South Sudan, it is safe to say that I was operating on a naïve understanding of what life on the mission field looked like. I knew the living conditions would be different from that of the States, but experience has rubbed away the once glossy veneer as I have come to accept the realities of life on mission for Christ.

    Honestly, the realities are similar to what I experienced while living in the States. But, for some reason, that is exactly what caught me off guard. The mission field has times of anxiety, broken relationships, frustration, fear, and sadness. Sometimes the roads are bumpy, the visibility poor, the rain thick, and we come out looking a little rough.

    I say this not to focus on the negative, but rather to share my story of coming to grips with a realistic understanding of what life on mission looks like. Thankfully, just like a bucket of water and some soap can wash away the mud, the grace of God washes away the blemishes that threaten to conceal our vision and distract us from our focus: to make His name known and to bring Him glory.

     

    I am His

    I am His

    When you move across the world as a missionary, you can’t help but hold onto dreams and hopes for what the next years will look like. For me, I dreamt of little brown faces smiling from ear to ear. Sweet faces who were playing, being kids, or dreaming really big things for themselves. I imagined myself praying for the masses, people being healed, and the South Sudanese coming to know God like never before. It is good to dream and hope for big things, but it can certainly can be a sobering moment when you start living life on the mission field and it is simply that…just living life.

    I had all of these romantic ideas of what it is to be a missionary living in Africa. I confess: not only did society seem to put me on a “super-Christian pedestal”, but I did it to myself as well. After the moving here, God so graciously knocked me off of my pedestal and straight on my rump. I felt so little and then ashamed of the disgusting nature of my sin. But, I am so grateful it happened. I didn’t even realize that I was unknowingly accepting His glory and making my “self-glory pedestal” taller.

    As God graciously moved me out of the way so He could receive all of the glory, and for me to allow Him to work in and through my life, I realized two things.

    First, God brought me here to be with me before anything else, including ministry. He removed my entire world just to be with me. That is the God I love and serve; one who will go to extravagant lengths to pursue me, draw me away, and call me to Himself.

    Second, I was always a missionary. It didn't start the day Every Village called to officially offer me a spot on the team. It didn’t even begin on the day I walked away from my life in America, covered in tears, to board a plane flying to Africa. We are all called to make disciples right where we are – meaning in our jobs, our homes, our families, our neighbors, etc. Discipleship also includes the way I am living my life. In America, my life looked different in many ways, but really it is the same: just Tianna living life.

    I have a choice to live life as a missionary everywhere I go. Or not.

    I have the choice to be the fragrance of Christ – loving people, selflessly serving, bearing in much patience, and giving myself loads of grace. Or not.

    I have the choice to walk with Jesus daily, ask for His guidance, and be present in the life He has called me too. Or…not.

    Regardless of where I live or what title the world has given me, I will stand on this truth. I am His. 

     
  • 2015

    Fourth Quarter 2015 Update

     

    Faithfulness

    Faithfulness

    By Tianna Chapman

    Some things in your Christian life you always remember, such as when you met Jesus for the first time or when you got baptized. Something I love and never forget is when the Holy Spirit brings conviction! It is in such a loving way that after you are left feeling loved rather than condemned. 

    I have been wrestling with the topic of healing and poverty. I see so many children here in South Sudan suffering from malnutrition with their swollen bellies and copper red hair, along with fevers and malaria. As I sat in Sunday school at a local church cradling a small child with a high fever as he fell asleep in my arms, I begged the Holy Spirit to move. I ask the Holy Spirit to move in power because I know He can! God still works in the miraculous! I know it and I believe it! But why am I not seeing it?

    As I sat wrestling with this topic thinking what am I doing wrong. Am I not abiding in Him enough? Am I saying the wrong words when I pray for healing? What can I do to make the Holy Spirit move?

    But I have it all wrong, as I sensed the Holy Spirit so graciously and lovingly say, and I cannot demand or dictate how the Holy Spirit will move. I am His vessel not the other way around.

    Let that seep in real quick! That is truth!

    Now as I sit, thinking of what I can do, I have to rest in my faithfulness. God only calls me to be faithful to Him! If that means the Holy Spirit will move in power through my prayers, or me praise God! But right now my faithfulness is holding a little child with a high fever comforting him while he sleeps in my safe and loving arms. My faithfulness is seeing, smiling and waiving at the children yelling Khawaja (white person) as I drive by. My faithfulness is visiting my neighbors and praying for the sick. My faithfulness is babysitting missionary kids for parents to get rest. My faithfulness is to sit and weep with a hurting friend. My faithfulness is to war in prayer for South Sudan. How can I say that the Holy Spirit can’t or doesn't move through my simple acts of faithfulness?

    Father, I will walk in faithfulness for your glory! 

     

    Freedom Wins

    Freedom Wins

    By Tianna Chapman

    One Wednesday morning, my teammate Chris was diligently working in my mud house rewiring the electricity. Stepping from behind the door out of the corner of his eye he saw a snake. Not just any snake but a spitting cobra. One that the venom can make a man go blind if it got into your eye. I then got word that a snake was found as I was across the compound in the Beless’ home. As I asked where it was I was not expecting to hear that it was in my house! Thankfully Chris, Brad and our South Sudanese friend, John Hyena killed it. 

    Throughout the day I could easily push off any feelings of fear, but as night came the fear became very real. I was scared another snake would be in my house. What if I stepped out of my bed and one bit me? What if one is hiding under my chair? What if another one had come in, but this time no one saw it? Thinking how different the story could of went. As I tried to sleep that night, my mind raced with visions of a snake slithering into my door as I lay in bed.

    The next day I was exhausted from only sleeping a few hours. I was talking with our compound manager, Peter, and he asked how I slept. I told him I did not sleep well because I feared the snake. He said,” Tianna, why are you fearing the snake that is dead? We already killed it.” I suddenly thought how right he was.

    Why was I scared of something that was no longer a threat to me? I thought about the freedom we all have in Christ and how the enemy wants us to live in fear. I am a new creation in Christ, redeemed and transformed! Jesus has overcome the world! We have VICTORY over fear, anxiety, worry, guilt, shame, and sin. We have FREEDOM in Christ! Many people live in fear that simply is lies of a false threat, instead of seeing truth that He has overcame the world. He wins! Love wins! Freedom wins!

    John 10:10 “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” 

     

     

    Third Quarter 2015 Update

     

    Burn Our Idols

    By Christina Roberts

    For the past two and a half years, my team and I have been praying for the Spirit of God to sweep across South Sudan, for idols to be burned, and for the allegiance of people to be shifted only to Jesus. There is a decent amount of syncretism in South Sudan, meaning that people accept Jesus as a God, they may attend church, but they also still follow traditional beliefs. Many people may still have idols, charms, or shrines at their homes to the other gods, and they may still make visits to the local witch doctor.

    A few weeks ago, a man showed up on our compound. He had been very sick the night before. In the past he had attended church, but secretly kept charms for protection. He came to us looking for a pastor because he wanted to burn his idols and begin to follow Jesus. I was privileged to be present for the idol burning “party." A small fire was built, and some of our compound workers began to dance around the fire, singing a song about “throwing Satan in the fire."

    It was such a gift to be able to experience this. Countless prayers have been prayed. I have heard stories from other parts of South Sudan about idols being burned, but to experience the answer to prayer first hand was so powerful and extremely encouraging.

    Seeing this public display of allegiance shift caused me to think about how it would look in America. If we as Americans were to publicly “burn our idols” when we accepted Christ, what would we burn? Would it be a car, a house, a lifestyle, a job, comfort, a family, a dream, fitness, food, safety, a desire, social media, or a self-image?

    Are we as Christians in America syncretists as well; do we believe in Jesus, but have a false image of who He is or have secret “charms” or “idols” in our life that we are putting trust in? Would we have to continuously burn idols in our life?

    I have been so challenged by this, praying that God would show me what the idols in my life are. Let me tell you, it’s a continual process, as I routinely check my heart to see if there are things that I have elevated above God. It can be painful at times, but God is so faithful and abundantly gracious in walking me through releasing my grip on the idols in my heart.

     

    Wreck My Life

    Wreck My Life

    By Tianna Chapman

    When I said yes to Jesus just four years ago, I did not see me moving to a foreign country and living in a mudhouse. When I stepped out in faith moving to Houston, I never expected to leave my new life of freedom, fun, and comfort. When I pursued Jesus with everything I had saying, "At all costs, I am in! Wreck my life for your glory!" I knew He was calling me to more. I waited for the word that He spoke to me and the deep love He grew in me for a year and a half.

    Then the time came for me to go.

    As I walked away from my friends that are family and a life I loved in Houston to jump on a plane to move my entire life across the ocean with tons of tears and a heart aching, I cried tears of gratefulness. The enemy took much from me as I lived twenty-four years without knowing Jesus. A life filled with much hurt, brokeness, longing for love and acceptance.

    BUT GOD restored, redeemed and gave me abundant life! He gave me freedom in Him, a deep love from Him and even allowed me to SEE love through people who genuinely love me! He took me from a life that felt like a life sentence of no worth and deep wounds to freedom, joy, peace, love and LIFE!

    I rejoice for the life He saved me from and now rejoice for the life He is calling me to. I get to live among the South Sudanese, a people group I would've never met if I never met Jesus. I get to love the people that He loves. I get to watch the South Sudanese walk into freedom, joy, peace, love, and life!

    Looking back I would not change one thing, for my life is to give Him glory. As I look ahead with such joy, anticipation, and excitement, I still say, "Wreck my life for your glory!"

    Psalm 143:5-6: "I remember the days of old; I meditate on all that you have done; I ponder the work of your hands. I stretch out my hands to you; my soul thirsts for you like a parched land."

     

    Preparing to Leave South Sudan

    Preparing to Leave South Sudan

    By Laura Krone

    When I left the U.S. two years ago, one of the foremost emotions I experienced was grief.

    Sure, I was excited to move to Africa and see what God had in store, but it was really difficult to say goodbye to friends and family, leave a job and coworkers that I loved, give away my belongings, and know that things were going to be different when I came back. I would be changed by this new experience, and things back home would change too with babies being born, friends moving away, new songs coming on the radio, restaurants opening and closing.

    As I was preparing to go I felt God speaking a promise to me from Mark 10:29-30, which was a great comfort:

    “’I tell you the truth,’ Jesus replied, ‘no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age (homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—and with them, persecutions) and in the age to come, eternal life.’”

    And it has proved true: two years and three countries later, I now have new brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, nieces, and nephews from all over the world. Only now I find myself in the same position, about to leave Africa to return to the U.S., and I am confronted once again with grief at leaving the people I have come to love. There’s a good chance I will see my Every Village teammates some time back in the states, but I don’t know if I will ever see many of my South Sudanese friends again in this lifetime.

    As I prepare to leave South Sudan and experience the waves of emotion that come with both the goodbyes and the upcoming reunions, I am filled with thankfulness for the friendships of these last two years. The fact that it is so difficult to leave is a reminder of God’s faithfulness, and it gives me hope too for whatever is next. I’m looking forward to catching up with old friends in the states and hearing about their new experiences and how they have changed.

    Most of all though, I’m eager for the end of Mark 10:30, when the people I love are no longer separated by an ocean, and we get to spend eternity together with Christ.

    photo credit: Fest i Juba via photopin (license)

     

    Let's Call It What It Is

    By Kate Beless

    One of my favorite parts of the week in Tonj is when we have a weekly devotional with all of the workers on our compound. This time consists of singing praise in the local language, telling a Bible story, and then a discussion.  We always ask our compound workers to go home and practice the story and then come back the next week prepared to tell it out loud. 

    One time when I was leading the devotional, someone spoke up after I asked everyone to practice the story at home. “It is hard for us to remember the story because the demons follow us home on our bicycles and make us forget it.”  Wow.  That really hit me. 

    The South Sudanese have limited access to the Bible, don’t have consistent teaching at church, and don’t know a lot of theology, but they do not shy away from recognizing the spiritual warfare that is trying to keep them from learning and meditating on the Word of Jesus Christ. 

    I walked away thinking about everything I blame for not having time to spend in the Word – sick kids, too many chores, lack of sleep, etc…but I often neglect to consider or downplay the impact that spiritual warfare has on my daily walk with God. 

    Satan doesn’t want you or me or the South Sudanese to spend time in the Word, to learn about Jesus, to sit in God's presence, so he will do anything to distract us from it.  So let’s call it what it is – it’s often not just busyness, it’s spiritual warfare and let’s kick it in the face!!!

     

    Second Quarter 2015 Update

     

    Lessons from Onions

    Lessons from Onions

    By Christina Roberts

    "Akim! Akim!" I heard a voice outside my mudhut call for me using my Dinka name.

    I cracked the door to see one of our compound workers standing there. He had come to tell me that some of the construction workers wanted to speak to me. I had previously heard of some disputes between the workers regarding the food we provide, and sure enough, they wanted to talk about onions.

    They were upset because some people were getting onions and others weren’t; some were hoarding onions so that only a select few would get to sprinkle the top of their beans with the crunchy onion flavor. As silly as this sounds, it has been a major point of stress for me. If onions are provided, then so must a knife. The knife likes to “walk off the compound” occasionally, which results in complaints about missing knives. It’s difficult to explain the feelings of frustration due to constant demands, feelings of entitlement, and lack of gratitude (the onions are not the only thing that create strife—oil, tea, bicycles, rainboots…just to name a few).

    But then I realized, people are people, regardless if they live in a suburb of Houston or a remote village in South Sudan. As long as we are living in this imperfect world, nothing this earth has to offer will ever truly satisfy.

    I’m no different. How many times have I complained to God that He is not providing onions for me? Or that if he is providing onions, I grumble that there is no knife to cut the onions? How many times have I questioned God as to why something is not working my way or thinking that God did not provide what I thought I needed?

    As I reflected more on this, I realized there are so many times in my life that God may have not provided the onions I thought I needed or felt entitled to, but he provided something that has a far greater value than the onion I thought I needed. Or maybe there are times when I think there isn’t a knife to cut my onion, but He has already given me the tool I need to accomplish the task.

    Through this onion “crisis," I have been challenged to pray for contentment wherever I am at and to give thanks in ALL circumstances. I still have a long way to go, but this verse is an encouragement to me as I strive for greater contentment and an increased sense of gratitude.

    "I have experienced times of need and times of abundance. In any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of contentment, whether I go satisfied or hungry, have plenty or nothing. I am able to do all things through the one who strengthens me." Philippians 4:12-13 

    photo credit: Red Onions via photopin (license)

     

    Cultivating Gratitude

    By Laura Krone

    Hardly an hour goes by when we are not asked for something. The requests range from food and clothing to cell phones and bicycles. We try to help where we can, but often granting the request seems counterproductive to sustainable ministry in the community. 

    One of the most difficult aspects comes when you give what was asked and it results in complaints and arguments. Often the clothing or watch or water bottle is not what the person was hoping for, or someone else sees what was given and asks, “Where’s mine?”

    The other day in the market two street boys came up to the vehicle asking for money: one hand held out begging and the other hand clutching a used soda bottle with glue for huffing. One of the boys recited one of the few English phrases he knew, “You give me 1 pound. I am very hungry.” Whenever I go to the market I’ve gotten in the habit of buying extra bread for just such occasions, and so I handed them a couple pieces. At this point, I’ve also grown accustomed to people getting upset with me for giving them food instead of money, but this time the boy gave me a thumbs-up with a huge grin on his face and said “thank you.” 

    And even though I know God calls us to give not expecting anything in return, it reminded me just how powerful gratitude can be. In an environment where it’s easy to get burned out with the constant requests, the smile and simple “thank you” was a breath of fresh air that softened my jaded heart.

    It also reminded me of the times I fail to acknowledge answers to prayer or even offer complaints instead of gratitude for the good things God provides. I now read passages like Numbers 21 with great conviction, thinking of my own grumblings about the frequency with which we eat rice and beans. 

    In spite of the difficulties of living in South Sudan and the temptation to focus on the discomforts, I believe the Lord wants to cultivate in me a spirit of gratitude. Not only does God deserve thanks for all that he has done for me, but it is also for my joy. Even in the difficult times, he has challenged me to view thanksgiving as an act of faith, trusting his good purposes for all that he allows.

    “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” 

     

    When Your Child Has Malaria

    By Kate Beless

    It was so hot. 

    The heat just seemed to grab me and wouldn’t release its sticky grip. And to add to the discomfort, I was holding my feverish child who was clinging to me as if his life depended on it as we waited to get his injection. After three days of a high fever that wouldn’t drop, we finally were able to get a diagnosis: malaria. 

    The one thing I feared the most about coming to Africa was that my children would get malaria. 

    You hear all these things about it being most dangerous for children under five, even fatal. You hear how the malaria in South Sudan is one of the most aggressive forms of malaria doctors have ever seen. We had taken all the steps to prevent it. The kids are on a daily prophylaxis, they sleep with treated nets, we use bug repellant, and yet here we were with a positive malaria test. 

    Why did we have to face this fear? 

    Now, I don’t want to sound dramatic.  We were lucky to catch it early and he made a quick recovery, praise the Lord. But in that moment, I was really shaken up. I sat there and held him tight as he cried, “I don’t want to,” over and over and over again. He was so scared of that injection, he didn’t want anything to do with it--yet it was the one thing that was going to heal him. 

    It got me thinking--how many times do I cry, “I don’t want to,” over and over to the Lord when I have to face my fears? How many times do I kick and scream and push the things that are going to make me better?

    Yes, it's sometimes painful to face our fears--like a jab of a sharp needle in our hearts and souls. Just as a needle can pump healing liquid into our bodies, however, it is often when the Lord has us confront our fears that we are sanctified and our faith is strengthened. When we were in the midst of praying through whether to move to South Sudan or not, I will admit that I did not want to do it.

    I was so scared of moving here. 

    Yet, the Lord gently revealed to me that unless I leave my comfort zone, my faith cannot be stretched. That is an uncomfortable realization, but one that we see many times throughout Scripture and it is all meant to glorify Him!  

     

    Meet Nyatuok

    Meet Nyatuok

    By Christina Roberts

    Meet Nyatuok.

    She was born to a mother who had been plagued by the heartache of difficulty in childbearing. All of the children before Nyatuok were stillborn or died shortly after birth. Nyatuok’s name means "mud" because her parents expected that she, too, would be put in the ground under the mud.

    By God’s grace, however, she lived and now has seven children of her own. Nyatuok is originally from a town in South Sudan near Nasir, but during the war in the 1990s, she fled as a refugee to Ethiopia with her family where she has resided ever since.

    During my time in Ethiopia among the Nuer, I met Nyatuok. Our friendship began one day as she observed me attempting to wash clothes. I must have looked pretty pathetic because she quickly pushed me out of the way and began washing. After that, she came faithfully to wash clothes, enabling me to practice my Nuer as well as teaching me Nuer songs as she washed.

    Slowly, through many visits to her house and sitting countless hours with her in the hospital due to a sick child, I was able to get to know her and her family very well. Nyatuok now refers to me as her daughter and tells me that she is my mother. Sometimes, she even introduces me to people on the street as her daughter, at times telling people she has eight children instead of seven. Nyatuok is a deaconess in the Presbyterian church and is full of intensity and joy that Jesus brings. 

    Please pray for the health of Nyatuok and her family, and for all seven of her children to grow to be godly men and women, standing out in the culture and making disciples. 

     

    Culture Shock

    By Laura Krone

    After a year and a half of living in East Africa, I find myself feeling more at home in the different cultures.

    While there are still things that catch me off-guard, through trial and error (mostly error), I am learning how to navigate life here. I know that a click, grunt, or raised eyebrows means that someone is agreeing with me. I’ve learned that telling someone that they have “grown large” is a compliment, but complimenting someone’s shirt is asking them to give it to you. I now know not to offer a Kenyan a “taco” (that’s a bad word in Swahili).

    What has surprised me the last few months though is the reverse culture shock I have increasingly experienced when interacting with non-expat Americans, and it is felt most strongly when short-term teams come to visit.

    It’s fun to spend time with visitors and hear stories about life in the States, but it takes me a minute to process words like “drive-through” or “dishwasher.” Likewise, short-term team members experience culture shock as they take in life here, most for the first time. They notice things to which we have grown accustomed: burning piles of trash in town, naked children with big tummies, and celebratory gunshots at night. Some explanation is needed for things like using the latrine (a hole in the ground), taking a cup bath, or washing dishes without running water.

    Something that arose during recent trips that I hadn’t thought much about before is the culture shock the South Sudanese experience as they see us interacting with short-term team members. One event in particular stood out: our friends noticed how the visitors were serving us. They saw older men washing dishes and carrying water, and this made them uncomfortable enough to come ask us, “Why are you letting the elders do this?”

    We got to explain that these men love Jesus, and they want to be like him, serving those around them. Weeks later I heard our friends talk again about the elders who love Jesus by serving. A lot of times culture shock is difficult and feels uncomfortable. In the midst of it, it’s easy to long for familiar places and customs, but I am thankful for the ways my African friends have challenged me to examine why I do things.

    It gives us the opportunity to celebrate our differences and experience truth that transcends culture.

     

    If God Wills

    By Christina Roberts

    Most days, a good chunk of my time is spent visiting with my South Sudanese friends.

    This time consists of becoming aware of certain cultural practices, learning the language, and discussing daily life, all of which can cover a wide spectrum of topics. Usually, during our chat or language practice, a simple question is asked, such as what they are planning to do the following day, when I will see them again, or if they will go to the market later in the afternoon.

    The answers may vary, but almost always the answer is coupled with “if God wills." This is something that has really stuck out to me, as this was not a common phrase used in my circle in the U.S.

    Life in America is somewhat more predictable than life in Africa, or it at least appears that way. In the U.S., I can say with confidence I will go to the store tonight, will meet you for coffee on Saturday morning, or will go to visit my aunt in Dallas in two weeks. Yes, someone may have to cancel because they are sick or a car may break down, but for the most part these plans will come to pass.

    As Americans, we thrive on knowing that we are able to control everything, or at least on the feeling that we can control everything. The more I speak with my African brothers and sisters, however, I realize that the sense of control we feel as Americans is really something false. With such a history of war and instability, the South Sudanese get the fact that they don’t have control. In all honesty, it is a much more biblical way of walking through life, whether the individual is actually aware of the biblical truth or not.

    Through observing my South Sudanese friends, I have been convicted of my own pride and false sense of control.

    This has challenged me to adopt their way of thinking. If I walk in the “if God wills” mindset, it may help me to see a clearer picture of God’s goodness on a daily basis. With this mind set, day after day, through even the smallest of circumstances, I will see even more how He cares for me. And maybe, just maybe, I might be slower to doubt His goodness when He does allow something that I deem “bad” to happen.

    “Come now you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go in to such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”—yet  you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” As it is , you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.” James 4:13-15


     

    Guarding Against Compassion Fatigue

    Guarding Against Compassion Fatigue

    By Brad Beless

    I would describe myself as an emotionally steady person. There are times that this can be of great value, but there are times that would truly benefit from the outpouring of raw emotion and feeling, at which my even-keeled nature seems more like emotional flatline. 

    Marriage--and now parenting--have made me increasingly more aware of my deficiencies for compassion and empathy. Now having moved to South Sudan to work in humanitarian aid and discipleship ministry, I continue to recognize this deficiency in my life.

    For example, earlier this month I was guided to a village by motorbike to speak with the elders about their need for a water well. When I asked them how long it currently took to fetch water, he looked up at the sun (judging it to be about midday), and responded by telling me that the women had left at first light that morning, and still had not returned back from their trip to get water. And this is for water that has a good potential of making them sick!

    Now, I know my reaction should have been intense compassion and empathy for their dire situation. But instead, as more and more of these direct and pointed requests for water wells have come my way, I find myself looking for an out, like wanting to press the ‘delete’ button on an email instead of intentionally diving into each person’s situation and responding with compassion and care.

    I would not diagnose myself with compassion fatigue just yet, but I can understand the reasons it can occur and the paralyzing effects it can cause on ministry. So understanding my deficiencies and fearing the slippery slope towards emotional flatline, I have begun meditating how to guard against compassion fatigue.

    During His ministry on earth, Jesus was met with a relentless onslaught of needy requests. Despite this, Matthew 9 details how Jesus went around healing the sick and answering questions in place after place, and “when He saw the crowds, He had compassion for them…” (vs. 36a).

    How did Jesus guard against compassion fatigue?

    Matthew 14 sheds more light on Jesus’ methods. At a moment of intense sadness due to the loss of John the Baptist, it says that Jesus withdrew on a boat to a desolate place to be by himself. It was after this time alone that Jesus felt compassion on a crowd of needy people and healed their sick and fed over 5,000 people a meal. Again, in Luke 5, we find Jesus intentionally spending time alone to refocus and pray. 

    Time alone to pray and seek God is the method of guarding against compassion fatigue that Jesus models over and over again. The closer I am to God and the more aligned my heart is with His, the greater capacity I have at demonstrating Christ like love and compassion to everyone around.

    I have a long way to go and much to improve on, but holding firm to Christ the Rock is the best guard against compassion fatigue there is! 

     

    I Would Choose the Goats

    I Would Choose the Goats

    By Laura Krone

    The other day while I was driving our Land Cruiser to town, I was reminded of the passage in Matthew 25 about the final judgment, when Christ “will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats”--the sheep representing those who will inherit the kingdom of God, and the goats representing those who will go into the eternal fire. 

    I discovered a pretty good way to separate sheep and goats: drive a diesel truck down the road with the horn blaring towards a flock/herd of sheep and goats. The goats will quickly scurry out of the way, but the sheep will stand there dumbly staring at you until you turn the vehicle off the road to go around them… and then they will run in front of the vehicle. (Don’t worry--I haven’t actually hit any sheep.)

    So I thought to myself, "Why does God pick the sheep? The goats are cuter, smarter, cleaner, better-smelling, and tastier than the sheep. If it were up to me, I would choose the goats."

    But if it were up to me, I would probably have picked an extroverted, relational doctor or teacher or car mechanic (someone with practical skills) to be a missionary in South Sudan, not an introverted, task-oriented engineer. Apart from the fact that I look and sound different than most people around me, I often feel like a fish out of water in a role that’s more about building relationships than solving problems.

    The Lord has been reminding me recently though that he is in the business of choosing the foolish to shame the wise and the weak to shame the strong “so that no human being might boast in the presence of God” (1 Cor 1:27). What a gift it is to be in a role where it’s not as easy to get confused and think that I deserve the credit instead of God. I have the opportunity to see my weaknesses display his strengths, to come to him in dependence and rejoice at witnessing him show up in powerful ways.

    So as unflattering as it is to be compared to a sheep, I’m thankful to have a wise and loving shepherd leading and guiding my paths. And what a privilege it is to be a part of seeing the Lord seek out and rescue his lost sheep. 


     

    Ruined for Life

    Ruined for Life

    By Cassandra Ginter

    It's decision time for Blaise and I. We are currently in the middle of deciding whether or not we are committing to another term in South Sudan. It's a big decision with massive implications.  And honestly this decision we are in the midst of making now is far harder than the one we made to come here in the first place. 

    Because there is no easy answer; we are ruined for life. 

    Even on the very best days in South Sudan, the ones in which everything goes right and I feel like my being here is worth the time, money, and pain it has cost us, I still want something from life Before. I want to spend an afternoon browsing through the pretty things in the Home section of my local Target, pick up a burger in the drive-through of pretty much anywhere, sip on a Venti Six-pump No-water Chai Tea Latte from Starbucks (if you're reading this from the States, I encourage you to go to your local Starbucks and try one of these...just don't tell me about it). I want to sit on my aunt's couch and talk about life, about God, about faithfulness. I want to adjust the furnace or air conditioner to make my house exactly the perfect temperature. For that matter, I want to need a furnace. I want to load Clark into my car (oh I miss my car!) and drive to see his grandma, visit for the afternoon, sip coffee, and enjoy seeing family ties deepen. Even on the very best days here, life Before beckons me.

    But for us, there will never again be life Before.

    Our life here and our journey over the last couple of years has radically and permanently altered us. We've suffered heartaches and traumas that the world will never hear about, we've lived a lifestyle that is in almost every way opposite the lifestyle we once lived, we've experienced life in community with all its beauty and challenges, we've wrestled with some incredibly weighty and impenetrable darkness, we've almost learned a language rich with tones and nuances, we've made friends who have changed, challenged, and encouraged us, we've walked through valleys that have broken us. 

    There can only ever be life After. 

    Even if our choice is to return to the States for good or even for a little while, it will not be the same.  Oh sure, there may be trips to Target, afternoons with family, date nights at Starbucks. On the outside, it will look like our life is similar to Before, yet I know now--long before stepping foot back on American soil--that I will never again be able to drive to the store without thinking of our treks through the bush in our Land Cruiser to pick up dusty lentils from the market.

    I will never again be able to sit around a table full of delicious, American food without thinking of the meals I've shared with friends and teammates out here, sitting around in a circle, eating our beans and rice out of bowls balanced on our laps while the wind whips dirt in our faces and flies land on our spoons.

    I will never again be able to use the restroom inside my own house without thinking of emergency runs across the compound to use the latrine in the middle of the night. 

    I will never again be able to talk with a friend in the States without thinking of the deep, pouring-out-my-heart conversations I've had with people here, people I'd only just met but who I felt like I'd known for a lifetime.

    I will never again be able to hear a foreign language spoken without thinking of sitting under a shade tree with our friends, struggling over the tones of Nuer or Dinka or Luo, laughing at my own mistakes, and feeling victorious when I got it right.

    And there are so many other things that are too intangible to put into words. It's the way we feel out here. The way there are moments throughout the day in which we look around and know that this place is where God intended us to be, at least for this season. The way we're exhausted and a little bit defeated at the end of every single day, but also incredibly hopeful that God is doing something in and through us even when it doesn't feel like it.

    So even if we choose to return to the States, to seemingly pick up where we left off, there really will never again be life Before, only a wrecked and ruined life that will forever be known as After.

     

    First Quarter 2015 Update

     

    Home Sweet Home

    Home Sweet Home

    By Christina Roberts

    I recently moved into my new home in Tonj, and it has been wonderful to have a nice place to call home.

    My new house is a square structure, five x five meters, made of mud bricks, and has a thatched roof. Definitely nothing too lavish compared to American standards, or at least the part of America that I come from. Scorpions hide under boxes and in the walls between the bricks. Mice come in to feast on whatever crumbs are left out. But despite how lowly it may seem, it is quite a large estate in comparison to homes here.

    When you have a friend who has a family of seven or eight that all stay in one hut smaller than yours, it’s definitely humbling. When you are preparing to burn an old cardboard box because you see it as trash and someone asks if they can have it to sleep on--whoa--it’s overwhelming. When your friend who wears the same holey shirt day after day generously brings some food to share with you, it’s very sobering.

    After a year and a half of constantly moving around and living among these conditions, alongside those that physically have much less than I do, I still struggle with how God may be calling me to live and what He is leading me to do with my physical possessions. I pray Jesus would enable me to walk in ceaseless thanksgiving, with tremendous generosity and moral clarity as I seek what He is leading me to, and that it would all be done with exceeding joy.

     

    Hauling 500 Gallons of Water

    Hauling 500 Gallons of Water

    Pictured: An Every Village well in the process of being constructed in Tonj.

    By Laura Krone

    When I lived in the States, I never thought much about water.

    When I needed to wash my clothes, I went to the washing machine, pushed a button, and the appliance began to fill with water. When I was thirsty, I could put my glass up against the refrigerator door, push a button, and first ice and then water would come out. When it was time to bathe, I would go into the bathroom, turn on the shower, adjust the temperature, and wash myself in water clean enough to drink.

    This last month in South Sudan, however, a significant portion of my day was devoted to moving water. There is no water source on our compound, so we drive our vehicle to a well nearby to fill jerry cans for our personal use and the construction happening on our property. We average around 1-2 jerry cans (5–10 gallons) per person, per day for personal use, but with the construction, the amount increases significantly. One day when we were pouring concrete, Christina and I calculated that we hauled around 500 gallons (100 jerry cans worth) over the course of the day.

    Any time I’m tempted to complain, I only have to look to the South Sudanese ladies around me who often walk several miles to the nearest water source and carry the 44 pound jerry can back to their homes on their heads to supply water for their families. It’s humbling to see them move with such grace as I struggle to balance a jerry can on my head between the vehicle and my mud hut.

    Since I’ve had so much time to think about water this last month, it’s struck me how amazing it is that the Spirit of God is described like a stream of living water:

    “[…] Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, ‘If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.’ By this he meant the Spirit […]” John 7:37-39

    For those who trust in Jesus, it’s like he comes and installs a tap of clean, life-giving water within us. No walking for miles to reach the source or carrying heavy loads to receive it. His Spirit is freely available to us. I hope I never take this tremendous gift for granted!

     

    This Wasn't in My Life Plan

    This Wasn't in My Life Plan

    By Kate Beless

    As a going away present when we moved to Africa, a friend gave me a devotional, Streams in the Desert.  

    It has been a wonderful resource for me because it is not a devotional that will give you “warm fuzzies” inside. Instead, it speaks truth and calls out the many emotions that sometimes come with walking with Christ. On December 21st, the devotional was a reflection on Deuteronomy 1:36: “…except Caleb.  He will see this land because he has followed the Lord completely.”

    An excerpt from that devotional really spoke to me. It reads:

    Every difficult task that comes across your path--everything that you would rather not do, that will take the most effort, cause the most pain, and be the greatest struggle--brings a blessing with it.  And refusing to do it regardless of the personal cost is a missed blessing.”

    Becoming a cross-cultural missionary was never in my life plan. I struggled with the Lord calling us over here because I was full of fear, anxiety, and knew I would miss “home." However, now that I have interacted with cross-cultural missionaries while being over here, I have realized a very select few of them actually felt the excited and yearning feeling we all think people who move across the world to do missions get when they are called by the Lord to go. 

    This doesn’t mean they don’t enjoy what they are doing--it is just hard to take that first step and then to not jump on a plane and go home on the hard days. We see this in the Bible as well. As I started reflecting on men and women like Moses, Jonah, Esther, and many others (even Jesus asked, “Is there any other way?”), I realized the Lord knows we will wrestle with the calling to step out of our comfort zone and into what may be really hard to do His will. But he promises His blessing. 

    Moving this far from home has been the most challenging thing I have ever done. But, I have seen His blessing. I have seen His sweet love for us. I have seen how He gives us what we need at exactly the time we need it. I have seen how the Lord desires to bless us. He is a loving Father and loves all of His children--American, South Sudanese, and people from every other nation--immensely. 

    How deeply we can experience it if only we are willing to step out on faith!

    “And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully.  Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.” Ephesians 3:18-19  

     

    Caring for South Sudan's Women

    As I was praying for some of my South Sudanese friends recently, I was overwhelmed with God's heart for them. These women are married and have many children, yet I sensed that, in many ways, God could see them as widows.

    Many women in South Sudan do not live with their husbands. There are many reasons for this. Sometimes their men have to go where there is work. Sometimes they are estranged because of some conflict. Sometimes it’s because their marriage is more of a contract of utility than a relationship. There is too much to unpack here about the cultural norms, so I can’t explain as much as I would like--but just know this is not a cultural critique but rather me sharing the struggles of some of my friends and women like them.

    God is passionate about caring for widows and orphans. He is passionate about caring for those who are disadvantaged and downtrodden. The Bible mentions widows and orphans as examples of people that should be cared for. So children that are without the love and care of parents or women that are without the provision and protection of husbands are very near to God’s heart.

    I hope you will join me in praying for these women and their families. Please pray the blinders of cultural norms would be removed and that the truth of God’s Word would penetrate hearts. Please pray God would raise up some pictures within the culture of what God wants family to look like in South Sudan.

    I have been blown away at the privilege of knowing these women and getting to see how everything from water wells to Bible storying can positively affect the families of South Sudan. Sometimes it still takes my breath away that God has made me one of His ambassadors, and I am overjoyed that I get to go and love on his behalf.

    "All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us.”

    2 Corinthians 5:18-20

     

    Loved And Lost

    Loved And Lost

    By Keisha Pierce

    “Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.”

    -Alfred Lord Tennyson

    I love this quote! I first heard it in the movie Moulin Rouge (no judging!). I haven’t thought about it in years, but it’s been on my mind recently.

    As we drove away from Gambella and headed to the airport after saying our goodbyes to our Nuer friends, tears streamed down my face. How could God do this to us? How could he put us in a situation where we gave so much of ourselves and now had to leave it all?

    Loving someone takes from you. It costs you, and it’s all worth it. That’s what I heard rise up within me as I questioned God that morning. I don’t know why we had to leave so abrubtly, but this time, this opportunity, this privellage--it was so worth it!

    Y’all, I still cry when I see pictures of our friends. I feel a little bit like an emotional wreck! I’ve compared my emotional response to a breakup between a girlfriend and a boyfriend except...

    None of our time was wasted. It was all for the glory of God. Some plant, others water, but it’s God who makes it grow. He who began a good work among the Nuer will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. Not to us, not to us, oh Lord, but to your name be the glory.

    We head out to a new people group in a few short weeks. Pray for us. Pray that our mourning would soon turn to dancing. That fear of loss would have no room in our hearts. Pray that we would do it all over again. That we would do it better. Give more. Love more. Serve more. That we would love well and point to this King. Our Joy! He is so worth it!

     

    Little Moments

    Little Moments

    By Kate Beless

    Brad and I have been apart more than we have been together since we landed in Africa November 1st

    Trying to figure out a new culture, a new way of life, pack everything up, and take care of our two-year-old and five-month-old (who keeps getting sick) by myself has been tiring. Sometimes I don’t handle it well.  The mornings are the hardest as it feels like everyone needs something at the same time. 

    One recent morning, our two-year-old was whining for his toast while the baby was fussy and always wanted to be held. To be honest, I really needed to use the ladies’ room. Hoping mass chaos would not break out in the one minute I needed to myself, I rushed off.

    All of the sudden I heard the baby’s crying turn into laughing, and I walked out to find my two-year-old playing with him and making him laugh. It melted my heart, but also brought with it a sense of peace. You see, since arriving in Africa, I have felt weighed down by being obedient. In part, this is caused by the less-than-ideal circumstances of being a “single mom” for so much longer than planned. 

    I have felt called here by the Lord, but I was finding no joy in the calling. I only was here out of obedience, and that is not a good feeling. It can make God seem like a big bully, like an unloving God who doesn’t care about our needs.  But in that moment, I felt the Lord saying, “I love you, Kate. I want to bless you. I want you to have joy and peace.” 

    That moment was an answer to so many prayers. Prayers that my boys would not just be brothers, but friends. Prayers that Asher would adjust to the new baby well. Prayers that Michael would be able to thrive despite all the transitions since his birth. But also prayers that the Lord would give me a peace and joy about being in Africa. 

    God desires obedience, but he also loves to bless us, and I was reminded not to overlook his blessings. Sometimes, they can be found in small, little moments.

     

    Changing Seasons

    By Christina Roberts

    Recently, God asked me to do a very difficult thing.

    I had to say goodbye to the people I had lived with, learned language with, done life with, grown to love, and became like family with for the past year and a half. I knew that one day I would have to say goodbye, but I didn’t think it would be so soon or because of the circumstances.

    I wasn’t ready. Tears streamed down my face as I said my last goodbyes and embraced my beautiful Nuer friends. As we drove away towards the airport, I knew that I was leaving a chunk of my heart with them. I questioned God as to why He gave me such a love for the Nuer and such a desire to be with them when I couldn’t stay. I didn’t want new friends from a different tribe. I was perfectly happy with the ones I have among the Nuer.

    Back in Uganda, one of my friends reminded me of how fortunate I was to have been able to spend that time among the Nuer. She encouraged me to not be afraid to invest in the new place I am going, and to not forget the power of intercession for my Nuer friends.

    God accomplished whatever purpose he had for me among the Nuer. He had me with the Nuer for a season, and maybe I’ll one day be reunited with them. I may never see fruit or know what my particular purpose was other than that He called me to the Nuer for a time. He gave me these people to love for a short while, and I don’t know if I could have loved them any more. He is now giving me others to love, maybe for a short time, or maybe for many years.

    If I loved the Nuer more than I ever thought possible, I know that Jesus will provide an even greater overflow of his love for this new tribe. While my heart still hurts when I think about not being with the Nuer, I am filled with hope and expectation as I look forward to what the Lord is going to do during this season in Tonj.

     

    Living Stones

    By Laura Krone

    I have been reading the book of Nehemiah this month, and it has reminded me of God’s faithfulness in answering prayer. In 2011, after preaching on Nehemiah 1, my pastor challenged us to pray that God would give us a passion for a people or place similar to Nehemiah’s heart to restore the wall of Jerusalem. A news article on Ethiopia caught my attention, and for several months I prayed that God would use me to touch people in East Africa. A year later I had the opportunity to travel with Every Village to South Sudan for the first time, and almost four years later I’ve now lived in three different countries in East Africa!

    In many ways, South Sudan reminds me of the state of Israel in Nehemiah’s time--both having experienced long periods of conflict with large numbers being displaced from their homes as exiles/refugees. It gives me hope, though, that like the wall of Jerusalem, God can restore this war-torn nation, only this time not through the rebuilding of physical walls, but through living stones--South Sudanese who love and follow Him.

    “As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” 1 Peter 2:4-5

    Please join us in praying that God would bring a swift end to this conflict and a lasting peace to South Sudan. May He raise up men and women with hearts transformed by the gospel to lead their communities in reconciliation and hope. 

     

    Corn and Leaving Ethiopia

    Corn and Leaving Ethiopia

    By Laura Krone

    We knew going into Ethiopia this time that it would likely be our last rotation among the Nuer people. It had been almost a year since the start of the conflict last December with no signs of Nasir reopening in the near future. From what we have heard, it sounds like all of Nasir has been looted, homes have been burned, and there are no civilians living in the town. As much as our hearts long to be able to return, we also know that it won’t be the same place that we left. 

    I had prepared myself for this to be our last three months in Ethiopia, wrapping up relationships with our coworkers and friends, but we were surprised when we arrived in Ethiopia to find that the visa regulations had changed and we would only be able to stay for one month, until the end of December. It didn’t feel like enough time to say goodbye to people who had become like family.

    When we left for Uganda in November, there was no work for the ladies who help around our compound in Ethiopia, so we asked them to plant a garden while we were gone with hopes of fresh vegetables in early 2015. They did an amazing job, and we were greeted with the sight of cornstalks taller than my head when we got back.

    It was bittersweet, though, to watch ears of corn begin to grow and green tomatoes appear knowing that we wouldn’t be there to see them ripen. I was reminded of 1 Corinthians 3:5-7:

    “What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.”

    We weren’t there for the planting of our garden, and we left before the harvest came. We really only took part in a few weeks of watering. In a similar way, we weren’t there when the gospel was planted among the Nuer people over 100 years ago, and I don’t believe that we’ve seen the fullness of the harvest yet, but it has been a privilege to journey with our Nuer friends this past year. I am a different person from having known them, and I pray that somehow through our interactions they felt nourished and strengthened in the love of Christ. 

     

    A Christmas Eve to Remember

    A Christmas Eve to Remember

    By Christina Roberts

    On Christmas Eve in Gambella, Laura and I were invited to attend the annual Christmas Eve Machin, which is basically a church parade through town. Each Nuer church in Gambella formed a group, complete with drums, flags, and wooden crosses. Everyone then proceeded to sing, dance, and march through the streets of town.

    Hundreds participated, so many that the crowd of people stopped the traffic of the local Bajaj (rickshaw) taxis. As we danced down a dirt road, there was so much dust in the air that had been stirred up from the ground it was as if we were caught in a dust storm, and it was difficult to breathe. At one point while crossing a bridge, there were so many people dancing at once that the whole structure was shaking (this was slightly terrifying).

    After dancing/marching/singing for about three hours, I was so tired, sweaty, and covered in dirt. Laura and I went home, but our Nuer friends went on to church to pray and worship late into the night. In fact, we later found out that many spent the night at church so that they could take part in the Christmas morning church celebrations.

    It was a very joyous time as we celebrated the birth of our Lord and Savior with our Nuer friends. It was so great to experience how different cultures worship God—with their enthusiasm and loud singing, drumming and dancing. As much as I love Christmas and the traditions I have with my family, it was refreshing to see how Christmas is celebrated outside American culture. The main focus of Christmas was not the decorations, food, or gifts, but one of joyful worship, reflecting on the gift of Jesus.

    I now know that I definitely want to be a part of the Nuer celebrations in heaven!

     

     
  • 2014

    Fourth Quarter 2014 Update

     

    God Uses Our Parenting Tactics to Teach Us

    God Uses Our Parenting Tactics to Teach Us

    By Kate Beless

    I am the parent of a two-and-a-half-year-old. 

    The world is so new to him and it has been so interesting to watch him learn, especially what is appropriate socially. My two-year-old, probably not unlike most two-year-olds, has a hard time sharing, waiting, not screaming, and taking turns. Most of our play dates consist of me refereeing and trying to stay patient when I explain to him for the umpteenth time why he needs to share. 

    To help him wait more patiently, we have taught him to count to ten (sometimes it takes a few times counting to ten…), and most of the time our conversations end with me explaining to him that even though he doesn’t like what I am asking, I never ask him to do something that is not for his benefit. I tell him that we have to think about other people, not just ourselves (in the best language you can explain that to a toddler with).  

    The day I am writing this is December 17th. According to the plans that were set before us before we came over to Africa, we were supposed to have our feet on the ground in South Sudan on December 15th

    Instead, the kids and I are still in Kampala and Brad is in South Sudan wrapping up construction on our houses. I don’t know why God has delayed our start in South Sudan, and I wrestle with why He brought us thousands of miles away from our families, especially during the holidays, just to wait in Kampala and be separated from each other. 

    “How does this benefit your Kingdom, Lord? How are we going to reach the South Sudanese from Kampala? I am tired of waiting.”   

    These are the questions I have asked Him, not in anger, just in confusion. 

    That is when He gently reminded me of the same thing I tell Asher--that He never asks me to do something that is not for my benefit, and that essentially the world is not all about me. To agree to live in the will of God is scary, but freeing.

    It is scary because I am completely surrendering my plans, my wants, my goals, and saying that I know God’s are better, even if they don’t feel that way in the moment. It is freeing, though, because it helps me to understand more and more that this world is not my home, that I am living for something more eternal, and that I know that God’s kingdom being glorified is more important than myself. 

    Isn’t it cool how God uses our own parenting tactics to teach us as well? Maybe I will go count to ten now.

     

    I Can Rest in His Radical Love

    By Jared Pierce

    Proverbs 3:5-6: Trust in the Lord with all your heart,  and do not rely on your own understanding; think about Him in all your ways, and He will guide you on the right paths.  

    It’s a familiar verse but I struggle to apply it to my life many times. This is one of those times.

    I have my understanding of what the Nuer need. We have been privileged to work among them for more than a year now, so I have formed my limited understanding of what they need based on much observation. My understanding is that they would benefit greatly from an outside perspective of the love of God. My observation has been that there are not a lot of examples to point to of sacrificial love. Without some picture of what sacrificial love looks like, it has to be difficult for the love of Jesus to really sink in.

    In my personal culture, I can find with a little effort examples of husbands that love their wives sacrificially. I can find parents that work hard and sacrifice for their children. So I started to wonder if perhaps the Lord had chosen us to be a living example of sacrificial love and to speak of His sacrificial love and how it naturally flows into our lives as followers of Christ.

    Now, as we face the final days that we have with Nuer, I have to reconsider everything that I thought I understood. So it is not, at least immediately, God’s plan to reveal himself through us, foreign missionaries. And we won’t get to spend the time and life with them that we thought we would.

    I am encouraged, though, that the Lord must have bigger plans. As hard as it is for us to leave, we have to trust that the Holy Spirit will reveal Jesus in heart-transforming ways, even without anyone from the outside here. I have met men during my time that have a Spirit-driven desire to see the Church be more beautiful and more refined. They're willing to stand for truth even if culture will push back. In a time like this, I really am grateful I don’t have to lean on my own understanding and that all I have to do is submit to God in the ways I go.

    I am grateful I can indeed trust that He can use whatever vessel He desires to bring the heart transformation we long to see.

    I can rest in His radical love for the Nuer and His radical love for us.

     

    Generosity and a Jerry Can

    Generosity and a Jerry Can

    By Christina Roberts

    Here in Ethiopia, we are blessed to have a grid for electricity as well as city water. However, the power and the water are never on all the time. The water is turned on every three to four days, and the electricity comes and goes as it pleases. I am still trying to figure out if there is rhyme or reason to the electricity and water supply.

    We have three large water storage barrels that we use when the water is off. We have never run out of water completely, but we have come close. Our backup plan is to pay for jerry cans to be brought in from a local borehole.

    The electricity will usually be out during the day but on at night for lights and fans. However, every now and then it will be off for days at a time. Usually, multiple days without power and a shortage of water don’t come together. Yet there are those rare occasions when they do. When this happens, I must confess, I get rather annoyed.

    A few weekends ago, it happened.

    The water hadn’t come for three days. With the seven people on our team plus two guards, we were running out.

    Then the power was shut off.

    When the power is out at night and there are no fans, no one sleeps well. The house is very hot and if one person moves, either inside or outside, everyone hears it.

    By day five of no water, we had less than a quarter of a barrel left. A few friends had already come by the compound with jerry cans asking if our water was on. This informed me that there was a shortage of water all over town, meaning that the option of deep well water was quickly diminishing, if not already gone. Thus, bathing is only to happen if an emergency.

    Lack of sleep, heat, and little water unfortunately put me in a not-so-good, very grumbly mood.

    While visiting with my friend Nyaret, I made a comment about how I hoped the water would turn on soon so that I could bathe, as it had been four days since my last bath. Immediately, she perked up and told me that she would go home, get one of her jerricans and bring me water.

    Whoa.

    I knew that she only had two jerry cans and that water was difficult to come by. I couldn’t take her water, especially when she has seven kids. Without hesitation I told her no, that I was okay and the water would come soon. She didn’t say anything more about it, and after we were finished chatting, she left.

    About thirty minutes later, the gate swung open, and in walked Nyaret with a jerry can on her head. I tried to tell her that I would be okay and she needed to take the water back to her family, but she insisted I keep it.

    Talk about being humbled. This small act of kindness made a huge impact on me. In my time of need, my friend provided water from her already small supply. I thought I had sacrificed to come help the Nuer by working for an organization that provides access to clean water.

    In reality, the Nuer have helped me and taught me so much about life, family, caring for others, and sacrifice. In the Nuer culture, if someone is in need and no matter how much or little another person has, they share it. It’s completely biblical. Unfortunately, I am usually not so quick to give like that, especially when it is something so precious.

    I pray that I will one day be as generous as Nyaret, sacrificing whatever I have, small or great, for the glory of God and to show the love of Christ to those around me. 

     

    Remember Your First Love

    By Jared Pierce

    I have been thinking a lot lately about life and what is primary.

    What in our lives should we put first?

    Of course, because I follow Christ, what is supposed to be primary is obvious: Jesus. It’s the next step in my thought process, though, that's been challenging me. How do we put Jesus as primary? Is it by devoting our lives to service? Is it by replacing “secular” activities with “holy” ones? Is it by standing up for the truths revealed in the Bible? Is it by doing something God wants us to do? 

    Of course these things fit “inside” of the answer, but as I read Revelation 2 and what it says about the Church in Ephesus, I have to think that doing for the Lord is a secondary priority to “remembering our first love." So often, though, my next thought is, "But I'm American, and so the proof is in the pudding. If I love Jesus, I will serve Jesus, so I simply must quickly turn my affection into action. I need to get busy and do before someone starts quoting James 1:22."

    I would never argue that doing nothing is the answer, but I keep finding myself just barely getting a glimpse of the feet of Jesus before I start feeling like I should run and help Martha. Perhaps more tragically, I have found myself at times trying to sit at the feet of Jesus only to become a better servant of His. I got it backwards.

    I try to make Jesus a means to my service or fruit instead of making Him my deepest affection.

    This is my struggle. I am not trying to make it yours if you don't struggle with this, too. I hope you read this and you feel like you have permission to be with Jesus a lot more than you thought was okay before. I hope you feel permission to say no to a service opportunity or a church activity in favor of spending time in the presence of God to love and be loved by him.

    I think we might have to park our ideas about “our impact” and “our legacy." We will have to tame our cultural urge to produce a product at all times. Only then will we be able to feel comfortable making the trade from “doing for” to “being with.”

    Let’s try and just spend time “remembering our first love." 

     

    Community: Learning From the South Sudanese

    Community: Learning From the South Sudanese

    By Laura Krone

    The South Sudanese operate on a level of communal living that I’ve never experienced before.

    There seems to be no need for “alone time,” and most of life is lived outside among friends and neighbors. It’s rare to go more than a day without seeing a close friend. The only reasons to be alone inside the house are if you are sleeping or sick, so we frequently get asked what’s wrong when we spend more than a few minutes inside.

    In the same way that time and space are communal resources, possessions are also shared, especially among family members. If you have something that someone “wants” (and I say “wants” because there’s no Nuer word for “needs”), there’s a strong cultural expectation that you give it to them. The subtle way to ask for something is telling someone you like it. We’ve learned that compliments are not part of Nuer small talk, because we’ve unintentionally asked for some of our friends’ belongings this way.

    At first the constant asking really grated against my expectations of friendship. Aside from occasional rides to the airport, I didn’t have a lot of experience with relationships where people routinely asked for things.

    For a long time my first instinct was to say “no” whenever possible, telling myself I didn’t want to create dependency. But as these relationships deepened it became harder to say no, and I could tell it hurt the friendship. Also, as I read passages of Scripture on giving and sharing with those in need, I felt increasingly convicted that in most cases it wasn’t the correct response. 

    Having lived this past year in countries heavily reliant on outside aid, I have witnessed forms of dependency that result in a loss of dignity and feelings of helplessness, which I have no desire to replicate. Rather, what I feel the Lord calling me into is a life of interdependence that points back to him as the ultimate provider and operates out of love, not guilt.

    I still struggle to hold my possessions with an open hand and constantly have to pray for wisdom to know when and how to give, but the Lord is slowly changing my perspective to see giving as an opportunity for blessing instead of a burden. I am thankful to my South Sudanese friends for helping me understand more of what it means to live in Biblical community.

     

    But Then I Heard His Voice

    The call wasn’t completely clear, as the network in South Sudan is far from perfect, but I could hear the excitement in his voice. Blaise had been in South Sudan for several days, leaving Clark and I to survive on our own in Uganda. He was with a short-term mission team, and they had been in Mvolo, making plans for our new radio tower.

    When I talked to him that night, they had just arrived in Tonj that morning. I, however, had been at home alone with a three-month old baby for four days. I was frazzled, exhausted, and honestly ready to call the whole thing and go back to the States, where at least I would have family nearby and food delivery services.

    But then I heard his voice.

    He said that it felt really good to return to Tonj. He said that David and Albino, our radio staff and dear friends, gave him hugs so big that his feet were lifted off the ground. He said he knew that my heart was still aching for Nasir and that I didn’t want to hear what he was about to say. He said that landing in Tonj felt a bit like going home.

    Tears slid down my face as I sat there in the dark, baby lying next to me in bed, listening to the fuzzy airwaves and my husband’s voice thick with emotion. He was right. My heart does and will always ache for Nasir, but the tears were not entirely of sadness; they were also of gladness, of excitement, of a sense of calling.

    Was there a bit of disappointment mixed in with those tears? Sure. For us, starting over in Tonj means closing the door on Nasir. The dreams I had for life, ministry, and friendships there are laid to rest, but when I heard the sound of my husband’s voice--the steady assurance that this, too, could be home for us--I couldn’t help but dreaming new dreams. 

     

    Normal Life

    As we were wrapping things up in the States, I was talking to one of my friends, and she asked me what my daily life would look like in South Sudan. 

    I replied by telling her that I would be learning the local language and building relationships with local people. I told her I would primarily be doing this by inviting a lady to help me learn how to do laundry, cook, navigate the market and clean in Tonj. In response to this she said, “Oh, so you will be doing what you do in the States, just in South Sudan.”

    This statement sums up one of the most challenging thoughts I have wrestled with in the whole process of deciding to move our family over to East Africa. So often I would think of my ministry “starting” when we got on the plane. Ministry doesn't start when I decide to “go on the mission field,” however. It doesn’t start when I am doing a certain church activity or serving at a certain place.

    We are called to make our whole lives centered around advancing God’s Kingdom, whether that is in Houston or South Sudan. We didn't have to move our whole lives across the world to “do” ministry. Africa is just where the Lord has called us to live our lives and in result, where he has called us to be in ministry.

    We still go to the grocery store. We still walk around our neighborhood. We still cook dinner, do laundry, and strive to raise our kids with God’s grace and wisdom. Daily activities look pretty similar here to life in Houston, and some days that is all we do--the daily activities. But that doesn’t mean we can’t advance the Kingdom at the same time. 

    How we interact with our neighbors, the cashier at the grocery store, or our staff plays a role in furthering God’s kingdom. It's the daily things that sometimes take the most obedience and intentionality to stay centered on the gospel. 

     

    Kuoth Ja Thin

    Kuoth Ja Thin

    Since meeting Nyabuol over a year ago, I have always known her to be “ciek mi buom buom,” or a strong woman, full of life as she is hilarious and extremely joyful. After being reunited with Nyabuol at the refugee camp, she shared with us all that had occurred since we had seen her in December.

    There was a dispute with her son-in-law regarding the dowry paid for her daughter. As a result, her son-in-law shot her. When she was shot, she passed out and was taken to the MSF (Doctors Without Borders) compound in town. The bullet entered through her stomach and exited through her back.

    Her wounds were so bad that she was flown to another MSF location in South Sudan for better care.

    Nyabuol remained there for a few months, having many surgeries to repair her mangled organs. When finally released from the hospital, she walked for 10 long days back to Nasir with little to no food. Shortly after reaching Nasir, she was relocated to the refugee camp where we were reunited with her.

    As Nyibol shared her story, she paused periodically to look up, point to the sky, and say, “Kuoth ja thin,” which means, “God is there.”

    Nyabuol now walks with a limp and battles infection from the bullet wound. Nyabuol was a very thin woman to begin with, but after all this she is even smaller. However, she is still incredibly strong, and she hasn’t lost her humor or her joy.

    Nyabuol regularly talks about the time that she “died” and how God saved her life. When I see the scar that covers the entire length of her stomach and the hole in her back from the bullet exit, I can’t help but think that she really shouldn’t be here with us today. She is a constant reminder that “Kuoth ja thin.”

     

     

    God Is Greater Than Google

    I have always liked to do whatever I can to “fix” things or figure them out. 

    In college, I went to my professors' office hours consistently to make sure I was on the right track. In teaching, I was always talking with my mentors to try to “get it right,” and when Asher was born, I was always on Google trying to figure out how to get him to sleep, what milestones he should be reaching, and anything else baby related. 

    So naturally, as we have started our transition to South Sudan, I have wanted to find any resources I could to help things go smoothly.

    I have been on Google researching how to adjust kids to jet lag, dosages of malaria medication, what immunizations to get for the kids, and what freeze-dried foods are important to bring and how much. But there are some things that are simply out of my control and can’t be researched.  

    God has been teaching me something that I should have learned a long time ago, and that is the power and the peace of prayer. When Asher is acting out with his behavior because of all the transitions, I pray every night that he can feel the peace of Christ and that his little heart will not be troubled. When Michael is getting his immunizations ahead of schedule, I pray for his health. When I think about the ministry we have been trained to do, I have to pray for the Lord to take control because it seems to big, almost impossible, for me and Brad to tackle on our own.  

    Though I am tempted to say, “All I can do is pray,” when it comes to these things, the fact is that prayer is not “all” we can do, but THE thing to do! I am so tempted to think that prayer is the last resort sometimes, the hail Mary pass when I have to throw up my hands in helplessness. But this simply could not be further from the truth. 

    Prayer is the most powerful thing we can participate in as believers. John 3:36 says “He must become greater and I must become less.”  I am excited to see, as I learn more about prayer through our journey to Tonj, how powerful the Lord is and how much greater He is than my measly efforts to control everything.

     

    More Relationship

    I have come to realize that for a few years now I have viewed God as my personal trainer. I don’t know why I started seeing him that way--it’s not one of the pictures the Bible paints for us. The Bible reveals Him as our helper, our comforter, our refuge, our salvation, our defender, and my favorite right now--our Shepherd. So then why did I start thinking he was my personal trainer? Let’s start with the truth….

    I happen to know that he loves me too much to leave me the way that I am. He is creating a masterpiece, and he uses a chisel. He wants me to be more surrendered. He wants me to fear less. He wants me to trade living my life my way for living it as worship to Him and for the good of others. Many times, He accomplishes good things in me by asking me to do hard things. To give up dear things.  To step outside my comfort zone. He may allow painful things to happen. So where did I go wrong?

    Well, as I gazed at the Lord, I saw him always looking at my flaws. When I tried to discern what He wanted me to do, I just could not imagine that He would have me do anything except the hardest of options. I always expect Him to say, “Give me another 20 push ups,” and never, “Well done,” or, “Do what you enjoy.” I misunderstood God’s heart and it robbed me of the joy of seeing part of God’s beauty.

    This is where the refreshing reality comes for me, and I hope for you, too:

    God’s singular purpose or highest goal is not to improve me. 

    Our Father’s heart is not only to create a race of super-efficient, surrendered soldiers. He is not out to create our acceptability or make us lovable. His primary goal is not to accomplish things through us. 

    His love is not single-faceted, only seeking our good through hard things.

    It is a radiant, brilliant, shining, multi-faceted love that is unstoppable. He loved me just the way I was at the beginning and He still loves me 100% now. 

    Psalm 23 says that he leads His sheep to quiet waters and green pastures. God is not a personal trainer pushing us to achieve more on the spiritual bench press. He is a shepherd leading us through the hard things, and we can know it is toward the peace and provision of more relationship with Him.  

    How is God doing when I react to the latest hard thing meant for my good as an angry mess of tears, confusion, retreat, and refusal? Is He nervous that He and I will be exposed as failures? Is He freaking out, yelling, “Don’t you know it’s for your own good, bonehead?”

    Nope. 

    I think His face is beaming with joy that I belong to him no matter how hard my head is. Love like that transcends accomplishments, approval, abilities, maturity, and improvement.

    Which is good, because those things are never the point. More relationship is.  

     

    Two Jerry Cans

    Two Jerry Cans

    In the grand scheme of things, our life in Ethiopia is pretty cushy, both when compared to the living conditions of the majority of human history as well as our neighbors. There are still times though when I compare it to certain aspects of life in America and find myself feeling discontent.

    One day in particular, the power and water had been out for longer than usual; our electronics were dead and our last barrel of water was almost empty. For several days, I had had one of the intestinal infections that frequently plague our team, and I really just wanted to be somewhere with indoor plumbing.

    That night as I lay covered in sweat, I kept thinking: does God really love me if he called me to live in a place like this? My dad always loved and cared for our family so well, and I can’t picture him moving us to a place where it gets up to 130°F with no air conditioning, no running water, and constant sickness – not without a good reason. So either God loves me less than my dad, or he does have a really good reason. 

    The Lord reminded me of John 10 – how he has other sheep that are lost, whom he desires to bring into his flock. And as Jesus freely and lovingly laid down his life that we could be reconciled to the Father, so he invites us also to enter into difficulties that others would know that love too. 

    I think the Lord also desires to set me free from the lie that circumstances are somehow a measure of his love. I want to be able to walk joyfully through any struggle, believing Romans 8: that nothing can separate us from the love of God. How powerful would it be if instead of longing for difficulties to end, I could learn to worship in the midst of them?

    I am continually humbled by how the Lord provides for our needs. The next day, our friend Nyaret brought us one of her two jerry cans of water, which held us over until the city turned on the water the following day and we were able to refill our barrels. Her act of love blessed us beyond just the gift of water.

    God is so faithful, and I can confidently say, “The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.”

     

    Healing

    Healing

    In Nasir we were spoiled to have a Doctors Without Borders hospital a short distance away. Although there was only one occasion when one of us needed treatment, we felt blessed to have access to good medical care in such a remote place.

    The town where we are currently staying in Ethiopia is another story. While in many ways it is significantly more developed than Nasir, the choices for medical care are limited.

    The local clinics, staffed by persons with basic medical training, take the shotgun approach. It seems that everyone who walks in with a fever has malaria, typhoid, and anemia. People walk out with bags of malaria medicine, antibiotics, iron supplements, and pain pills with little to no instruction on how to administer them. The Nuer name for these places, Duel Waal or “House of Drugs,” seems appropriate. It’s not surprising that drug resistance is rampant.

    The local hospital is slightly better. You may get to see a doctor, and there’s less chance of being given a false positive for malaria or typhoid. But you have to make sure to bring your own food, water, sheets, and a friend to follow your paperwork through the convoluted, overworked bureaucratic system.

    Faced with limited options for physical remedies, the spiritual route becomes more appealing. But there are only two choices: the power of God through Jesus Christ or the power of Satan through the witchdoctors (which is out of the scope of this post).

    The Bible is filled with stories of healing and instructions to the church to pray for the sick. With so many of our friends suffering from various illnesses (most of which are not malaria, typhoid, or anemia), we are committed to lifting them up in prayer, believing that God’s healing power is the best option.

    I can’t say that I understand how God heals. It seems like sometimes it’s flat out miraculous while other times he uses the natural systems he designed to bring it about. So far I haven’t seen anything “radical,” like the lame walking or the blind receiving sight, but then again, maybe I have been too afraid to pray these kinds of prayers.

    I do believe that it’s God’s heart to heal and restore, and it’s my hope that those around us would experience physical healing as well as the equally awesome power of God’s love and forgiveness.

     

    I Want to Build Something For You, God

    I want to build something for you, God.

    The desire comes with mixed motives I'm sure. It's hard for us as believers to meditate on the gospel and not come away with a burning desire to advance the Kingdom of God. To see our Jesus lifted high. He is just too good to keep Him all to ourselves.

    On the other hand, when I am confronted with a lack of tangible fruit in some area of life, it's revealed that maybe my desire for this advancement is also motivated a bit by my desire to feel good about what I do. I want to feel like my life counts, like I'm successful, effective, and equipped. This desire is not bad, either. I believe this is a God-given desire.

    It's when I find myself chasing significance and accomplishment apart from Jesus that I begin to walk away from the life God wants for me and toward the bits of death we call sin.

    God may be responding to my statement, “I want to build something for you God.”

    He may be saying:

    I want to build something WITH you, son.

    I want you to stop looking at your building project long enough to turn toward me and to take my hand. I want you to find my heart. Let’s look at this building together. Why don’t you ask me to move the bricks that are impossible for you to move? Why don’t you look at the things you are not equipped for as things that you need my help with, not things that prevent your success? After all, I don’t need builders. I can speak buildings into existence. I don’t need your service. I washed my friends' feet when I was with them.

    I came to serve, remember? What I really want for you is more relationship. I want you to walk in the joy of holding the shepherd’s hand while we go together and carry out the ministry of reconciliation. I have given you an amazing mission to go out and restore people to their passionate, loving Father. Not because I am helpless to save them without your excellent work and strategy, but because you will get to know my heart as you seek as I seek and love as I love.

    I could be wrong, but as I consider these statements, I think I find every single one is scripture. Help me if you think I am wrong. 

    He wants to build something with us.

     

    Third Quarter 2014 Update

     

    Wounded Soldiers

    Soon after returning to Gambella, we were informed that there had been more fighting in Nasir. Some of the wounded White Army (rebel army) soldiers had been brought to the Gambella hospital for treatment.

    Here, if you go to the hospital, all that is provided in regards to accommodations is a place to lie down. if you’re lucky, you may get a bed with a mattress, but nothing else. Your family is responsible for providing linens, food, and taking care of you---keeping you clean, aiding you in using the facilities, etc.

    Since the wounded were not from Gambella, many of them had no family here to take care of them. We soon found out that many of the local churches had banded together to raise money for food, and the women were cooking for the wounded.

    Each day, many of our friends would go together to the hospital to visit the men. This was so encouraging to see the local church reaching out to care for those in need.

    One of these days, Jared, Laura and I went along with them. When we arrived at the hospital, we were taken through three wards, two of which were previously tuberculosis wards that had been converted to accommodate the wounded. All three wards were packed full of those wounded in the fighting. There was also a surgical ward nearby that was very active.

    The rooms were damp, dirty, poorly lit, and there was no privacy. A musty odor filled through the room as a result of the stench of human excrement, soiled linens, and a leaky roof.

    Seeing the degree of some of the wounds was a lot to take in: men wincing in pain as they gasped to take their next breath; those with freshly amputated limbs; some were so weak that they could barely move; family and friends sitting by the unconscious, waiting anxiously for the moment when they would awake. 

    As I looked around, I realized that some of these men were really just boys no older than 15.

    Before coming here, I had just heard stories of fighting. Seeing this glimpse of the effects of the war really hit me hard. This fighting is real. People are dying. Families are being torn apart.

    My heart is so burdened for the South Sudanese people. Many of them I now consider my family. I pray a lasting peace comes soon.

     

     

    A Whistle or a Chicken?

    A Whistle or a Chicken?

    One afternoon, I went to visit a friend’s house.

    Ben, the middle Pierce child, decided to go with me. After visiting for a while, we left and went to the thuk mitot (small market) to grab a few things. Ben is a hard worker and is always looking for ways to earn money. When he earns money, he then--of course--has to find a way to spend it.

    As we walked through the thuk mitot, I could tell Ben was on the lookout for something. When I asked him what it was, he simply told me he had some money and wanted to buy something fun, maybe a whistle.

    We stopped at many different shops and finally found a whistle. As Ben was weighing his color options, a boy walked up to make a purchase. I noticed he was holding a rooster. I jokingly made a comment about Ben buying the rooster. Ben, however, did not see this as a joke; his eyes immediately lit up and he enthusiastically said that was a great idea.

    As we began to negotiate a price with the boy, I remembered how noisy our roosters were in Nasir and also that roosters don’t only crow in the morning, but all day long. I didn’t want to give him the okay to buy the rooster without asking his parents, so we asked the boy to follow us home to get an answer.

    Unfortunately for Ben (and fortunately for the rest of us who like sleep), when we arrived home, Jared and Keisha said no to the rooster. They did, however, say he could buy a chicken since they are not as loud. Arrangements were made with the boy to bring back a chicken. A few days later, the boy showed up with Ben’s chicken tucked under his arm.

    I'm sad to report that his chicken only stayed with us one day before flying over the fence and getting lost. No worries though, the Pierce kids now have a mama goat, Nana Montana and her baby, Himalayas. I’m sure the two of them will bring about many more stories!

     

    An Unlikely Reunion

    An Unlikely Reunion

    When we arrived in Ethiopia back in March, the first thing we did was to begin searching for our friends from Nasir. We would stop individuals on the street, asking if they had any news from South Sudan. We were able to reconnect with most of our friends, but we had been unable to reach Nyaret and Nyibol, the two ladies who served us so faithfully in Nasir.

    One Saturday we finally decided to make the trip out to Matar, a town about an hour from the South Sudan border where we had heard Nyibol was staying. Early in the morning eight of us loaded up in a Land Cruiser and set out to try and find Nyibol.

    After four bumpy hours we made it to Matar and began to canvass the town, stopping people to ask if they knew her. We heard vague responses of people who had seen her a few weeks ago, but no one knew where she was now. Then, out of nowhere, we ran into her son, who told us she was in the refugee camp in Nyinyang, about 30 minutes away.

    Although us kuwayni (foreigners) did not have approval to enter the camp, some of the group went with her son into the camp to find her while we waited under a tree on the side of the road. (We were so blessed to have her son with us, because there’s no way we would have found her amidst the 40,000 people living in the camp.) Finally we saw the car coming back and there was Nyibol!

    It was a sweet reunion, and there were many rounds of “Male, male migoa, male midiit” before we all got back into the car to return to Gambella. On the drive back, Nyibol told us some of her story. Back in March she had suffered a gunshot wound and had been transported to a MSF hospital in South Sudan. After she was discharged, she walked for 10 days back to Nasir before finding her way to the refugee camp in Ethiopia.

    Perhaps the craziest part is that as we were driving, we got a text from Jared that Nyaret, who we thought was in South Sudan, had just shown up in Gambella.

     

    This morning we were finally able to meet all together with Nyaret and Nyibol. We prayed, thanking God for his amazing provision of reuniting us after months of praying to see each other again. We believe that only the Lord could have both led us to Nyibol and brought Nyaret to Gambella, all in one day.

     

    Do I Have What It Takes?

    Do I have what it takes?

    It’s a question I had before I left the states and it is still the main question after a year of being in Africa. It's a question that's shaped my past, and I think it will be a question that has the power to shape my present and my future.

    I have a hunch that I'm not the only one. You and I don’t just ask ourselves this question, we spend our time trying to look for evidence of the answer. We look at the results of our work or relationships and we critique ourselves about the quality of our results. If we don’t find flawless execution and better-than-average results, we begin to critique our personalities, skill levels, and our natural abilities.

    We find things that could have been done better if one of these things were different. We look at ourselves and notice we aren't perfectly suited for what we do today. We might look for something we are better at. We might start to avoid situations that make us uncomfortable. If we are really “spiritual,” we pray for God to improve us.

    Soon, our gifts and talents are our Lord instead of Jesus.  

    Do I have what it takes? That is not a question we need to answer. It’s a question we need to go to war against. It's a question in direct opposition at times with the question we should be asking.

    We should be asking, "What does God want to do in our lives? What is he calling us too?"

    Beloved, it's not even about the results. We are off track from the beginning if we think God wants more from us: more results, more success, or more impact. Jesus doesn’t want more from us, He wants more of us. He wants us to be consumed with Him because He designed us to be consumed by Him. When we are consumed by Him, we bring Him the most joy and we ourselves receive the most joy.

    He wants to lead us to places where we will find more of Him not to find a more significant life. He wants us to stop trying to find the way we can bring him the most success and start trying to find the way we can find the most of Him 

    The application of this differs slightly from person to person, but all followers of Jesus are, by nature, missionaries. We can stop asking if we are good missionaries and start asking instead, "Lord, where should we go? Lord, who should we talk to? And Lord, What do you want us to say to them?"

    My guarantee is this: He will lead us not to comfortable places but to ones filled with more joy and more Jesus. 

     

     

    Rest

    Rest

    Since moving to Gambella in March, we have moved around three times.

    I am so grateful to the Lord for providing the compound we are now living on. It is smack dab in the middle of the Nuer section of town, which is awesome. However, it can be very busy as there is a lot of traffic right outside our gate that sometimes wanders onto the compound.

    The compound is very small, and usually at least two or three locals are present, which means a lot of closeness. Living in a small house with six other people, there is not much alone time. Laura and I share a room with a woven rug hanging as a divider to provide a little privacy. Given the living conditions and the cultural aspects of it being completely okay to poke your head in the window, sometimes it feels like I am on 100% of the time. So, as much as I love what I do, as we headed to Kampala assignment this time, I was honestly very ready.

    This Kampala assignment, I met up with my mom and cousin in Israel. Israel is a beautiful country. It was a wonderful time spent with family and seeing places I read about in the Bible. One night, we stayed in Tiberius, which is on the Sea of Galilee. While there, I began to think about the story of Jesus getting in a boat to get away from the multitude of people that were constantly following him. There are many accounts of Jesus going to a place to be alone to pray. Solitude. He needed a break. That’s what I needed.

    I had been feeling slightly guilty about being so ready for a break this time, but I saw that it isn’t a bad thing to need to rest. Even from the creation of the world, God set in place for us as humans to need to rest.

    I am very thankful that Every Village has worked into our roles the time for rest.

     

    Living in Community

    Living in Community

    Because of the conflict in South Sudan, many people have fled across the border to Ethiopia. Some are living in refugee camps, but others have gone to surrounding towns to stay with family. When you add the flood of NGO workers to the area, you have a major housing shortage on your hands. Consequently, it was a gift from God that the Pierces, Christina, and I were able to find a small house for the seven of us to share.

    As much as it’s an adjustment to live with a family of five, I know that it’s just as much of an adjustment for them. It’s not easy to be a parent with an audience--having to go to another room to discipline in private, trying to keep things clean or keep the children quiet on a Saturday morning.

    It’s also not easy to be the audience. There’s a certain amount of rule breaking that kids get away with when mom or dad is in the other room, but when there are four adults instead of two, not much goes unobserved. When do I say something and when do I keep quiet? When it looks like someone might get hurt? How much is interfering with someone else’s children and how much is part of “it takes a village?”

    We’re also not talking about the few hours you spend with your roommate or family after everyone gets home from work or school. This is 24/7 living with the people that are your coworkers, friends, and small group. You eat together, work together, pray together, and battle sickness together. You don’t ask each other, “How was your day?” over dinner, because you already know the answer.

    Sometimes it can be frustrating, feeling like there’s no place to retreat, but living in community is also freeing. I’m pretty good at covering up my issues for a two hour weekly small group, but when you live together there’s no hiding your sin. My teammates know when I’m having a bad day; they see my frustrations and my selfishness. And it’s a good thing, because it forces me to face it.

    In spite of the challenges of intense communal living, I’m so thankful for my teammates. I’m a different person than before we started living together, and I have a much better perspective on parenting. I can’t think of anyone else with whom I’d rather have shared the last 11 months, three African countries, and eight different living arrangements.

     

    God Has Us Here For a Reason

    The last three months in Africa have been filled with illnesses and sicknesses that the Pierce family has never encountered stateside--funky, not-so-familiar names like Giardia, Amoebic Dysentery, and now Brucellosis.  As painful and inconvenient as these yucky bugs are, they pale in comparison to the suffering around us.  

    My heart breaks when I see children walking around with poorly healed limbs, now debilitated, because they had to lie in bed while their bones healed improperly without a cast. Malnourished children, thyphoid, and tuberculosis are common. Men, women, and children die of unknown diseases, malnutrition, and complications that can’t be resolved.

    I see the terrible suffering of these people each day. I want to do more. I want to give more. And maybe the Lord is asking me to. When I put it before the Lord, I can’t help but see a bigger picture.

    As long as governments continue to worship the idols of power and wealth, and their allegiance is not to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords--wars and famine will happen. Medical development and farming will be limited due to instability and corruption. More and more people will die. Displacement and instability will limit access to basic medical care and sanitary living conditions.

    Near the refugee camps in Ethiopia, housing is scarce. Families pile other displaced family members into their mudhuts, so when one person gets sick, everyone gets sick. I am brought to tears as tragedy continues to unfold before me. But the answer isn’t better healthcare. BILLIONS of Billions of dollars are sent to countries just like South Sudan every year to help save lives and improve access to healthcare. Why isn’t the aid working? We know the answer. This battle is not against flesh and blood. 

    Why would we invest two years or more of our lives here unless we had hope? Hope that we might have the opportunity to serve, love, and disciple a few South Sudanese men and women. Hope that those who don’t know Him might come to know our only hope, Christ Jesus. Hope that those who DO know Christ as Lord might be encouraged that, despite the suffering and sorrow they are enduring, they are born again into a living hope that cannot be destroyed by war or famine.

    Please join us in prayer for South Sudan. For the leaders. For the soldiers. For the widows. For the orphans. For the dying. For the lost.

    God has us here for a reason. Despite the sadness and grief that we see and experience here, we are blessed to be here. We are blessed to war in prayer for this nation, for these people, and to gather you with us in this fight. Thank you for your support.

    “Put on the full armor of God so that you can stand against the tactics of the Devil.  For our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the world powers of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavens.”

    Ephesians 6: 11-12

     

    Second Quarter 2014 Update

     

    Safety Nets

    I am a huge fan of safety nets in life. I don’t know how much of it is dictated by my culture and how much of it is my need to have numerous back-up plans, but I have always been a firm believer in having safety nets. It’s why I have health and homeowner’s insurance; it’s why I have a savings account; it’s why I have external hard drives for my computer; it’s why I have surge protectors for my outlets. 

    It is also why I strongly advocated for Blaise and I being placed in a temporary assignment in South Sudan where we would have access to Western medical care during pregnancy. I was fine coming to South Sudan while pregnant--that was the plan in the beginning--but I was not okay with being somewhere in which I wouldn’t be able to have regular prenatal check-ups and sound medical advice should something go wrong.  For many reasons, including that one (our partner on the ground runs a Primary Health Care Center), Tonj was a perfect fit for us when returning to Nasir was not an option.

    Then something we didn't expect happened.  Due to challenges in restocking the clinic because of border clearances, the Primary Health Care Center here in Tonj transitioned to a Health Care Unit temporarily. With this transition, the expat staff left for a month-long break, and we were still here without prenatal medical care. Without that safety net I had counted on when I came here. While I fully understand why this happened, it didn’t do anything to reduce the incredible fear that snaked its way through my body and clenched around my heart.  Both midwives...gone.  The American MD...gone.

    My knee-jerk reaction was that we, too, should leave immediately. I mean, how could we stay here alone? What if something happened? What if I went into pre-term labor or developed a complication? What if...? What if...? What if...?

    We had conversations with Every Village in which we felt fully supported in either direction--staying or going. But we prayed about it, and despite the fear gripping me, we both felt like God wasn’t quite done with us here in Tonj. There was more radio work to be completed, and there was more He wanted to do in our own hearts. We felt like He just kept pressing on us that same question that had been weighing on us for months: Do you trust Me? Only this time, it was:

    Do you trust Me alone when all of your safety nets have been taken away?

    Oiy! That’s a really easy question to answer (“Of course I trust you, Lord!”) but a much more difficult answer to live out.  There are days when I wake up and wonder what on earth I am doing here in the middle of South Sudan, nearly eight months pregnant, with no medical care. There are days when I cry out to God, “Why on earth did you bring us here just to abandon us?” But then I remember His promise to never leave us or forsake us, and I know that we are not here alone; He hasn’t abandoned us. It doesn’t mean that I don’t still have fear, and some days I want so badly to give in to those fears and leave, but the answer in my heart is,

    “Yes, Lord, I do trust you.  You are the only safety net I need.”          

     

    Visitors

    Visitors

    With the unrest in South Sudan, we periodically hear rumors of skirmishes nearby. Although Gambella is safe for the most part, we are still cautious and keep on the alert.

    During our stay in the mudhuts, I was awakened one night by rapid footsteps of at least half a dozen people coming up the path towards my hut. Because of all the rumors I had been hearing, my heart began to race. Were we being ambushed?

    My hut was at the front of the small compound (and I was by myself), so I would be the first hut to be reached. I flipped on my head lamp and quickly scanned my eyes across the room looking for something to use to protect myself just in case.

    There were voices outside, but no great commotion. After a few minutes, I heard Jared speaking with a man and then lots of movement coming from the storage hut.

    I soon ventured outside to see about 10 people (men, women, and children) spread out on a mat preparing to sleep.

    It turns out that a pastor from Nasir had come to Gambella with his family. According to culture, if someone shows up, you give them a place to stay and food to eat, and we were able to do just that.

     

    The War Hits Home

    On May 4th Nasir was finally taken by government troops.

    This did not come as a surprise to anyone, as Nasir had been the headquarters and recruiting grounds for the rebel forces for months, but the news still hurt. We were so thankful to hear that there were few civilian casualties (unlike other clashes in the past few months), but my heart still grieves with those who fled their homes, many traveling for days on foot to reach the refugee camps.

    We heard the news on a Sunday afternoon in Ethiopia, and we spent our normal team devotion time praying for Nasir. Slowly we were joined by friends: Mary Nyakuoth, a Bible school student, and Nyatet and Mulan, teenage girls who live nearby. We took turns singing and praying in English and Nuer, and we read Psalm 46 together:

    “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. […] He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth; […] Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”

    A week later we heard that following the fighting many compounds in Nasir were looted, including ours. Although we haven’t seen the damage, it was reported that what wasn’t taken was intentionally destroyed. We don’t know which side was responsible for the looting, and it really doesn’t matter. I’m asking God to help me to forgive those who have taken our belongings and praying that the things taken would be a blessing to them. I’m thankful that our treasure is in heaven “where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.”

    Although in many ways I feel helpless in the face of this conflict, I am thankful for the privilege of being here during this time, meeting friends and colleagues as they come across the border. In a very small way, we are able to share in their sufferings: rejoicing with those who rejoice and mourning with those who mourn.

    My prayer is that a lasting peace will come swiftly, for the glory of God and the good of all the people of South Sudan.

     

    We Are Just Regular Missionaries

    In January, while in Kampala, we had the amazing joy of meeting with other refugee missionaries that had been working in South Sudan. We got to spend time with them in prayer for the South Sudanese people that we love so much.

    But a question kept coming up as I was introduced to different people.

    "What do you do there?"

    An innocent question, but granted most of them were doctors or in charge of orphanages. They had, what I perceived to be, “real jobs."

    “Ummm…” I would begin to respond. “We are just regular missionaries. We drill water wells and have radio towers that share the gospel through Bible stories, but my main focus is discipleship.”

    They were always so excited and would talk about the need for discipleship in South Sudan. But somewhere in the back of my mind I felt small. I had to fight Satan's lies that my job wasn’t as important because I wasn’t a doctor or nurse.

    In the midst of the trials, God continues to push us into beautiful discipleship relationships. As I was walking home this week with some new friends, Nyateth and Nyamulan, a child with special needs passed us by. I clearly heard the Lord say, “Go back. Pray for her."

    I immediately obeyed, but not without questioning. “Lord, surely you aren’t wanting me to pray for healing. Do I have that much faith?” I began to pray and the Lord led me to pray blessings and protection over her--that she would know the love of her heavenly father and that others would love her in the same way.

    That was it.

    The girls were a little shocked that I would turn us back to pray for her. Nyateth and Nyamulan are teenagers. They enjoy spending time with us and it seems that they look up to the ladies on the team like big sisters.

    This is what I do in Africa. I just live. And God uses it. He uses it to demonstrate his love for someone who might not always feel loved.  He uses our lives to demonstrate to James our guard what it means for Jared to love his wife and children well. He uses it to demonstrate forgiveness, as I have to ask for it often. It’s our lives on display to a watching people. It’s His light in us, shining in the darkness.

    What a privilege we have! It’s an honor, and it’s beautiful.

    You have the same privilege. Jesus calls us to make disciples. This is no menial task. It’s our lives, and--ultimately--it’s the eternal lives of others.

    Be encouraged, beloved. He is worthy!

     

    The Praise of the Nations

    The Praise of the Nations

    Every Sunday afternoon, we have team church.

    This is where we spend time in worship, prayer, and discussion about a passage from the Bible. Sometimes we have other "Khawajas" (Nuer/Arabic word for "foreigners") join us.

    This day, Jared was sick, so it was just Keisha, Laura and me. We had recently learned that fighting had spread to Nasir, so we decided we would spend the time worshipping and praying for Nasir. Like most days of team church, we sat outside in our plastic chairs in a small circle.

    As we were alternating between singing and praying, two of our young friends, Nyatet and Molan, wandered onto the compound and sat down with us. Neither of them speaks much English, but they soon realized what we were doing. Many of the people in Gambella have relatives in Nasir, and these girls were no different. Immediately they began to pray with us. Soon after, another one of our friends, Mary, joined us as well.

    The time of prayer continued as we would sing a song and pray in English, and then they would sing and pray in Nuer. This was such a beautiful time as we praised God and prayed together for Nasir in two completely different languages.

    I was reminded that God’s love and worship supersedes language and culture. It was a beautiful glimpse of what heaven will be like: people from every tribe, tongue, and nation praising God together. 

     

    I Used to Think I Understood Hospitality

    Before I moved to East Africa, I used to think that I understood hospitality. I liked to throw dinner parties; friends from out of town would crash on my couch for a weekend; a group of girls would meet in my apartment every week for dinner and Bible study. “Hospitality” was something for which I could plan, schedule, and budget.

    Hospitality among the South Sudanese looks different. Visits are not confined to people you know, they do not have time limits, and they require no prior notice. The minimum expectation is that when someone walks onto your property, you stop whatever you are doing, arrange a seat for the visitor(s) in a shady spot, and provide a drink.

    Many days we could literally spend the entire day entertaining guests, and I confess that there are times when I dread seeing the gate open. Yet while these cultural expectations grate against what I am accustomed to, I think they fall much more in line with the Biblical definition of hospitality.

    Usually when the Lord is trying to teach me something, he gives me an opportunity to practice it. One night around 11pm I woke up to the sound of voices and our dog Brown growling outside. I opened the door to my mud hut and saw about 10 people sitting on the ground outside in the dark. They were pastors and their families who had just arrived from Nasir. Their vehicle had broken down, so they had to walk the rest of the way. We didn’t have enough beds for everyone, but we were able to offer them food, water, and a place to stay for the night.

    The next day our team was able to reflect on the experience, and we realized that in the United States we had never even had the opportunity to host complete strangers like that. It is unfortunate because Hebrews 13:2 says: “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.”

    So while there are times when I wish there were a less open door culture, I am thankful for how the Lord is stretching and shaping my understanding of hospitality to be more in line with his Word. I am also thankful that the South Sudanese are a gracious people, quick to overlook my cultural shortcomings.

     

    Rats!

    Rats!

    I have been living in a mudhut for the past month.

    The roof is made of grass, but the ceiling is a plastic tarp used to keep bats out and and acts as extra protection from the rain. When moving into the huts, we had been warned to make sure everything was locked up in containers because of rats. These rats were on the prowl. They would crawl across the ceiling and come into the huts, chewing through bottles of shampoo, lotion, or anything they could get their teeth on.

    The first few nights, we had no rat problems. But then, one night while in the storage hut, I saw a rat crawl down and back up the side of the wall like Spiderman.

    This gave me the heebie-jeebies.

    After observing this, I began to be awakened by the scurrying of feet across the tarp. Countless times, I would lie in bed listening to the scurrying, fearing that the rat would fall out of the ceiling onto me. I reasoned that this was an irrational fear because the rat just wanted food or something to chew on. Also, it was probably more afraid of me than I of it.

    I then realized that there was a hole in the tarp from a rope extending from the roof, which was used as a clothes hanger. The rat was crawling down the rope into the hut. I cannot even count how many times I woke up because of the rat knocking things over. I would quickly flip on my headlamp to see him scamper up the rope back into the ceiling. After a many nights of being woken multiple times, I began to sleep with earplugs.

    Since it was dry season and mosquitos were rare, I was sleeping without a mosquito net. Then it happened. One night, I was awakened because I felt something on my side. I sat up rapidly, flipped on my light to see the rat jump off the bed and scurry up the rope into the ceiling.

    BLAH! BLEH! EW! ICK! GROSS!

    I immediately put up my mosquito net, to keep the rats out, not the mosquitos. Let’s just say, I didn’t get much sleep that night. I did however spend a good amount of time plotting the demise of the rat, and I also named him.

    His name is Mr. Peebody.

    In my head I came up with many creative plans of how to get rid of him. Luckily, it was an easy fix as I was able to patch the hole in the tarp.

    Mr. Peebody hasn’t ventured down since that fretful night.

     

    No Instruction Manual

    There are times I just don’t know what to do.

    One of the hardest parts of this journey in Africa is that there is no instruction manual.

    There are no classes I can take.

    Or if there are, our situation would change before I’d be finished.

    There's a temptation to let my mind linger on the uncertainty of every day. To dwell on the questions:

    Am I doing enough? Am I doing the right things? Is anything going to happen because of any of it?

    Many times I have succumbed to the tidal wave of questions. Faithfully though, the Lord will step in and rescue me from all of them. This month His rescue came yet again, this time in James, John and Moses.

    We asked God for a way to communicate with Nasir.

    James, one of our compound guards, randomly runs into me in the center of town one day.

    We asked God to bless the radio work.

    John, one of our radio guys, comes to Ethiopia for some other business and found us here.

    We ask the Lord to make us a blessing to the people around us.

    Moses, a pastor from Nasir, comes to our borrowed compound in the middle of the night with his family and needs water, food, and a place to sleep.  

    There isn’t an instruction manual. I don’t think I will ever “know” what to do. I may never see the fruit of the work God is doing. Even so, He regularly encourages us with the circumstances of life. He shows us He is in control of our lives and ministry. He says to us, “a life given to me is never wasted…never fruitless…never without significance."

     

    Update from Gambella

    After a week and a half of staying at Zola’s Lounge a.k.a. “The Nightclub” (see previous post), we were able to move to more peaceful accommodations. We met an American missionary couple who worked with a local church to allow us to stay in their guest quarters. We have been so blessed by their hospitality. The best part is that we are now staying in the middle of the South Sudanese community. I feel more at home going to sleep to the sound of drums rather than Brittany Spears and Justin Bieber.

    I am also living in a mud hut for the first time! We were surrounded by mud huts (or “duels”) in Nasir, but our own houses were made from concrete blocks. The huts we are staying in now are really nice – a tarp on the ceiling prevents the bats from roosting in the top, a plastic floor covering makes it easy to sweep, and there are a light and an electrical outlet too. Aside from a couple of encounters with rats and a sweet stray dog that sometimes sleeps in the corner, there haven’t been too many critters.

    We have resumed daily language lessons with a tutor and spend time practicing in the community. It’s encouraging to hear less “kawaay” (which means foreigner) and more “Nyewec James” (my Nuer name and my father’s name). We have met many who (like us) have come to Ethiopia due to the conflict in South Sudan.

    God answered our prayers this week when Jared bumped into one of our colleagues who had just arrived from Nasir. The phone lines have been shut down since the war started in December, and we haven’t been able to get in touch with our staff. We have been concerned for our friends, and we were glad to hear that for the most part they are okay. We grieve to get reports of those who have sustained gunshot wounds, lost their husbands, or fled to refugee camps.

    Please continue to pray with us for a lasting peace to come to South Sudan. We especially lift up those who have been displaced from their homes, have been injured, or have lost loved ones.

     

    10 Things I Understand Better About the Bible Because I Live in Sub-Saharan Africa

    10 Things I Understand Better About the Bible Because I Live in Sub-Saharan Africa

    Living in Sub-Saharan Africa has increased my understanding of some of the stories, common themes, and issues faced in the Bible. Here are a few things that I can now relate to:

    1. Washing feet. I now understand why the washing of feet was a common practice. Walking everywhere on dirt roads and dusty streets, my feet are filthy at the end of the day.

    2. The miracle of Moses safely floating down the Nile. The Nile is a wide river, with rapids and dangerous animals. It really was an act of God for baby Moses to float in a basket all the way down the river to the safety of Pharaoh’s daughter.

    3. Flies. In the 10 plagues, I don’t think I ever quite understood how annoying and dirty a plague of flies is. There are so many flies here, and escaping their irritating buzz and tickly feet is almost impossible.

    4. Women and water wells. Many Bible stories involve water wells and women carrying water. Obtaining water for a family is the woman’s job here. She may spend hours walking, waiting in line at the well, and carrying the water. Fetching water seems to become somewhat of a social event, as the same women use the same well day to day.

    5. Life in water. Throughout Scripture, there are many accounts of people searching for water or God providing water miraculously. Jesus even alluded to water by calling himself the living water. Along our journey, there have been a few times where clean water is very difficult to come by. Recently, we stayed in a place in Ethiopia where there was no running water and the only water we could get was muddy river water. Luckily, the water dilemma only lasted a short time. This experience really helped to enhance my passion for clean water being available for all people.

    6. Power in blood. I have never lived in a place where I would have experienced the slaughtering of an animal for food. Watching a goat being slaughtered or even a chicken being beheaded just for us to eat really caused me to realize the power in the blood of animal sacrifices in the Old Testament. I am so grateful that we do not have to make sacrifices for sins anymore, and that Jesus’ blood was the perfect atonement for sin.

    7. Communal living. In Acts, the early church is portrayed as a group of people who lived very communally. No one claimed anything to be his own; they shared everything. If someone had a need, those living in community with him banded together to provide. Living in Nasir, on a compound with nine other people, results in communal living. We have our own houses, but we share pretty much everything. I love it.

    8. Frankincense or sweet aroma incense. Offerings of incense were to be made to the LORD in the Old Testament. After the birth of Jesus, the wise men brought frankincense to Jesus. In this part of the world, incense and frankincense are burned regularly. Although I am not a huge fan of the smell, people here really like the sweet fragrance. It is a good reminder that our prayers are offered up as a sweet aroma to God.

    9. Livestock. Throughout the Bible, livestock is a main theme. It is used as payment, in parables, in measuring ones wealth, to communicate messages, etc. Before moving here, I understood that livestock was just part of the culture. After seeing disagreements over cattle, donkey carts hauling loads, the pride of the people in the number of cows they possess, or the intricate way they shape of the cows’ horns, my understanding of the impact of animals in the Bible has deepened.

    10. Living one day at a time. Jesus told us not to be anxious about the days to come. He told us not to worry about what we’ll eat or drink or do. So far, in my life this has never been more real until this past year. Many mornings I wake, not really knowing what I will do that day. I have to ask God to show me what he has for me that day. Fairly often, my days look nothing like I would have ever imagined myself. God always provides and is always faithful.

     

    Ministry with Refugees

    Due to the continuing conflict in South Sudan, part of our Nasir team has been temporarily reassigned to Western Ethiopia, which has a large Nuer population that frequently travels back and forth to South Sudan.

    We landed in Ethiopia Monday morning and set out to find housing. We ended up visiting several guest houses, but due to the influx of refugees from South Sudan, options were limited. We finally found a place with several rooms and a small fenced area for the children to play.

    Unfortunately, we realized that what seemed like a quiet restaurant/hotel by day turns into a nightclub in the evening, complete with a subwoofer and strobe lights. We also discovered that the bathroom fixtures are mostly for show – the water is not connected. The hotel provides buckets of water to take cup baths, wash dishes, and do laundry. The first few days we received brown water that clearly came straight from the river until we negotiated a higher price for well water.

    While parts of Ethiopia are much more developed than South Sudan, clean water continues to be a challenge. Every time we walk by the river we see people hauling water, bathing, washing cars, and watering cattle, side by side. This experience has given me a renewed passion for bringing clean water to communities in South Sudan.

    After a few days I found myself readjusting to the heat (110°F in the shade) and life without running water, but the biggest challenge has been experiencing the culture shock of moving to a new country for the third time in 6 months. By the time I left Nasir it felt like home – I knew my way around and ran into friends every time I went to the market. Now it feels like I am starting over.

    Thankfully I am blessed to be in a place that puts the American South to shame when it comes to hospitality. People have literally walked the extra mile to help us find our way around. And amazingly we have already run into people here that we had met in Nasir. The Pierce children especially were local celebrities, and people from Nasir remember them.

    We desire to return to South Sudan soon, to be reunited with our friends and colleagues there. Please pray with us for peace to come quickly to South Sudan and for those affected by the conflict.

     

     

    Life Without Clean Water

    We arrived in Western Ethiopia, only to find that the housing arrangements we had made were no longer an option. We quickly had to find housing in a town overflowing with NGO workers.

    There was only one option. We booked the rooms and started moving in. We quickly found several disappointments in the rooms, but the biggest one was that the water wasn’t working. Now, we are professionals at living without plumbing. But in Nasir, we have this beautiful thing called a water well.

    Day one, the water we were brought looked clean. We bathed with it and began filtering it for drinking water.

    Day two, the water we were brought was brown. Very, very brown.

    The water had come from the river. The river that hundreds of people bathe in daily. Cars are washed in it, and occasionally you’ll see a herd of cattle bathing in it. And I’m sure you can imagine all of the other lovely things one would find in such a busy body of water.

    What were we to do? It is the dry season here and water supplies are running low. “It should rain in a few days,” the staff at the guest house told us. So we braced ourselves and went a few days without bathing.

    By God's grace, it did in fact rain.

    During that interim period we purchased bottled water to do the daily necessities like brushing teeth and, of course, staying hydrated in 110 degree weather. But what about everyone else? In a place where bottled water costs more money than coca cola, we were fortunate. Not everyone here is as fortunate as we are.

    We rarely get to see such a vivid picture of life without clean water. But this week, we did.

    We appreciate more the work of Every Village and other organizations that work to bring clean water to people. Lives are saved because of it. Lives are saved over something I have taken for granted.

    If you are the person who helps raise money for water wells, or if you are the person writing the check, thank you! We are so grateful for those that sacrifice to give the gift of water. 

     

    Does God Know Me?

    Does God Know Me?

    I had only been teaching the class for a little more than a week when the student raised her hand in class and asked if I thought God knew her. 

    I said, “Absolutely, He knows you! And He loves you.” 

    When class ended, she approached me and said she needed to talk. We went to the counseling room and, in her very limited English, she shared with me that she is being abused by a relative with which she lives. My heart was immediately shattered into a thousand and one pieces, and suddenly the question made sense.

    She wanted to know if there was someone out there who knew and cared about her and her situation. 

    I shared with her just how much God loves her and asked if I could pray with her. As I was praying, I could feel the presence of the Holy Spirit in that room and I was moved to tears. I wanted her to tangibly feel the love of Christ flooding her life and to know that no matter what she is suffering through, she is not alone. 

    That day led to follow-up conversations (and action on the part of the center to connect her with counselors and social workers), and about a week later she asked if I could teach her to pray, a request for which I was so thankful.

    I was only volunteering at the center for about a month while we’ve been here in Kampala waiting to go back to South Sudan, but that entire situation reminded me that God isn’t limited by time, space, or power. 

    Because we are unable to go back to Nasir right now, Every Village is sending Blaise and I to another village called Tonj, South Sudan for the next three months.  It has been so easy to think that, because it’s only a temporary assignment, not much will happen in terms of ministry.  We don’t speak the language there and we’re essentially starting over in forming relationships and making connections for community development. 

    Yet God moved so powerfully in just a month of me teaching English to beginner-level students at a local center for adult refugees.  How could I possibly believe that in three months He won’t do the same in Tonj? Why am I always so tempted to “put God in a box?"

    I am incredibly thankful for my time at the center and for those types of  conversations with my students.  It was a powerful reminder that God is so much bigger than I could ever imagine and that He works through our obedience.  As we prepare to head to Tonj, I am begging Him to help me just walk faithfully to where He leads and then get out of the way! 

     

    End It

    While living in Houston, I became involved in an organization that combats sex-trafficking. Since Houston is sadly a major hub for human trafficking, I really had a heart for everyone involved in this trade. Whether a consumer, a pimp, or one offering services, all are in bondage. It was my desire to help raise awareness to end modern day slavery. Because involvement in this ministry was basically in my backyard, making the decision to leave such a pressing and in-my-face-issue when I traveled to Africa was difficult. I figured that moving from the physical front lines in Houston to a village in South Sudan meant the best way for me to still be involved in the movement to end human trafficking was to pray. However, human trafficking is an issue all across the globe, and the Lord has opened some doors for me during my stay in Uganda. 

    Living in Uganda for a time has enabled me to research the rates of trafficking here. My findings were that, due to poverty, low employment rates, plus a few other factors, many women, men, and children are being sucked into slavery. Uganda is a big hub for child slavery.

    Children are forced to work as cattle herders, miners, beggers on the streets with the money going to their oppressor, workers in bars or restaurants, and prostitutesᵃ. Women are targeted as well. Many times, Ugandan women unable to find work are lured by men whom they have learned to trust (usually a boyfriend, a good friend, or another woman who is caught up in trafficking) into going somewhere internationally in promise of a high paying job. Upon arrival, the promised job is discovered to be a lie, passports are seized, and they are forced into sex slavery.

    In fact, it was reported in 2012 that “over 600 Ugandan women were trapped in Malaysia’s sex industry”ᵇ. Uganda is also a destination country for trafficking victims from all across Africa. These victims--women, men and children--may be sold in cattle markets and forced into both domestic and sex slavery within the country. It has also been conjectured that trafficking of children is directly linked to child sacrifice, which is still practiced by witchdoctors in some parts of the country ͨᵈ. All of this breaks my heart.

    Being delayed in Kampala has been very trying, but God has been faithful. He has enabled me to actually play a physical role in fighting human trafficking. It is nothing that I have gone looking for, but something that has fallen into my lap.

    I have a new friend. I’ll call her Jane. I believe she is being lured in to a situation that will lead to enslavement. I cannot relay much as to maintain privacy, but all signs point to what seems to be a trafficking ploy. I can already see how gracious God has been in protecting Jane. I continue to pray for God’s wisdom on how to handle this delicate situation and for His mighty hand of protection and His intense love to envelop Jane. Will you join me?

    http://www.makeeverywomancount.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=4657:uganda-combating-human-trafficking-of-women-and-girls-in-their-search-for-better-economic-opportunities-a-growing-epidemic-in-the-east-african-nation&catid=70:16daysactivism&Itemid=187
    http://www.monitor.co.ug/Magazines/PeoplePower/Human-trafficking--The-modern-form-of-slavery-/-/689844/1974562/-/rj8l5s/-/index.html
    ͨ http://gvnet.com/humantrafficking/Uganda.htm
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/8441813.stm

     

     

    God is a God of Miracles

    A few months ago in South Sudan, Brooke (my two-year-old) and I were hanging in a hammock. Abruptly, the string holding the hammock up snapped and we fell from about three to four feet above the ground. Brooke got out without a scratch. I had terrible pain in my tailbone, spine, and hip.

    Because the clinic wasn’t easy to get to, I decided to give it a few days and see if it healed on its own. The pain was excruciating and only seemed to get worse. I stayed in bed for two full days, but on the third day, the pain was nearly gone.

    A few days ago, another accident occurred. I found Brooke trying to climb down the stairs that has just been mopped. I scolded her and warned her that she could fall and get hurt. I swiftly picked her up and, at that very moment, we both went sliding down the staircase--her head hitting every step.

    Miraculously, Brooke escaped with just a small bump on her forehead. My fate didn’t look as promising. My hand was badly mangled and fingers weren’t pointed in normal directions. The X-ray technician said it looked bad. The British doctor with 30-plus years of experience said I definitely had one, possibly two bones broken in my hand. Then the X-rays came back. “Did they x-ray the correct hand?” the doctor asked. Indeed they had. Second miracle of the day--I had escaped the fall with some bruising and swelling, but NOTHING broken.

    1. Our God is one of miracles. If you need a miracle today, no matter how big or small, call on some brothers or sisters and have them pray with you. Let's lift one another up, encourage one another and ask God to show us His power.

    2. I grew up without my father. It wasn’t the ideal situation, but God is our perfect father. He is there when we fall. In the small falls and the big ones. If you don’t know God as father, ask Him to show you. I pray that you will know Him as He is. One of perfect love, perfect strength, one who is passionate about you!

    3. This is for parents: As I slid down the stairs with Brooke in my arms, every part of me wanted to protect her from the fall. But there was nothing I could do. The situation was completely out of my control. We don’t have control of our kids, but praise God that they are His. Let’s be faithful to shepherd them, care for them, and love them well. But at the end of the day, they are His children. Praise God! The perfect father, who looks after His sheep. He’s bigger, stronger and greater than anything I can offer them in my own flesh. 

     

    Radio Training

    How does Every Village plan to transition from prerecorded radio broadcasts produced outside of South Sudan to dynamic community radio stations developing content within their own context? With the help of South Sudanese trained to write radio programs, conduct interviews, record music, and serve as DJs, all in their native languages.

    In the middle of January the South Sudanese who will be working at the stations in Nasir and Tonj met in Kampala for 6 weeks of radio training. Our team was scheduled to be back in Nasir before the training started, but given our extended time in Uganda we were able to participate both as teachers and students.

    The training has been led by radio experts from 4 different continents, and the topics have ranged from equipment and technical issues to journalism and interview techniques. There was a week devoted to learning how to setup the sound mixer, record interviews, and use sound editing software led by an engineer from HCJB. The next week Jon Hull from Houston’s KSBJ came to discuss the role of a radio presenter.

    The best part of training though has been getting to know my South Sudanese colleagues a little better. Daniel is genuine and encouraging; Kang is passionate about community development in Nasir; Albino is thoughtful and diligent in his work; David is always ready to pray and talk about the gospel; and Marco seems quiet but is really smart.

    Even though I did not expect to be in Kampala long enough to take part in the training, I am thankful that the Lord has allowed it to happen this way. I am excited to see how the Lord will use each of my colleagues to advance the gospel through radio in South Sudan.

     

    Waiting

    We wait and we watch. We wait as fragile peace is compromised. We are forced to watch as innocent people are abused and killed by those fighting for power.

    As I watch, ceasefire or not, I see only one solution.

    One way that South Sudan will be changed. One way it can be saved.

    Of course it’s the gospel, but just to be more specific--I am not just talking about individuals being rescued from their sin and missing out on the punishment of that sin. I mean the gospel lived out in lives. I mean the kingdom advanced so completely in human hearts that they forgive the unforgivable. I mean people knowing Jesus to the extent that they don’t need other things. I mean that they know the fullness of Jesus and don't need more revenge, power, significance, or money.

    Personally, I have days where I feel the undertow of all of those “more” desires in myself and have little hope of ever seeing these things happen. I also have days where I can feel the strength of the Spirit in me and I know that it already has satisfied me.

    I have hope for the people of South Sudan because it is never too late and it is never too far gone. I know this because of my own story and because of the stories from scripture.

    I have hope for South Sudan because our God is not only big enough, He has done it before.

    I have hope for South Sudan because I know the power of the gospel to transform.

    As you pray with us for the nation of South Sudan and her people, pray with faith-filled confidence.

    Pray with hope. Pray with the awareness of the power and majesty of our King.

     

    Leaving Nasir for the Holidays

    It was Monday afternoon, December 16th. Laura and I made our way into town to grab a few things from the market before going to the airstrip to meet the plane that was coming to take us back to Kampala for our first Kampala Assignment. The plane carried a man from an organization based in another African country that builds radio studios. He was coming to survey our current radio building in hopes of expanding it in the future.

    We had planned for him and the pilot to stay the night before we all flew out early the next day. After making a few purchases, we walked the rest of the way through town toward the airstrip. After passing the commissioner’s office and the education building, we saw a small crowd of people standing under a tree near the Nasir milk bar and livestock auction pin.

    We wondered what was going on. As we approached, we realized that one of the street evangelists was preaching. He has been known to talk a lot, so Laura and I hoped to sneak by without him noticing us. Unfortunately, walking by unnoticed somewhere in Nasir is just about impossible (as there are probably less than 20 non-African people in the town). He called out to us, beckoning us to come join the crowd listening to him. We kindly informed him that we were on the way to the airstrip to meet a plane.

    As we walked away, he informed us that there was a conflict in Juba. This was the first news of the conflict that we had received. We just wrote it off thinking he was making it up or that it was some small skirmish since we hadn’t heard anything until now.

    When we got to the airstrip, we met up with Jared and Blaise and waited for the plane. Immediately after the plane landed and the pilot and passenger disembarked, a few airstrip security guards raced out. They began to question the men, as to who they were and why they had landed. We soon learned that there really was fighting in Juba, and the airspace over South Sudan had been closed. I began to worry that we wouldn’t be able to fly out the next day.

    The rest of the day was a blur as we all hustled to get everything prepared to leave. Early Tuesday morning, we said our "see-you-laters" to our friends and compound employees and made our way to the airstrip. Soon, our wheels went up--we were on our way.

    Originally, we had planned to refuel in Juba. Luckily, Bor had fuel, so we went there to refuel instead. As we landed in Bor, a few South Sudanese men along with a UN officer came to meet the plane. They were slightly more cautious than usual as we disembarked, checking all of our paper work and asking questions. As we waited for the plane to get refueled, I realized that there really was no one else flying, as the airport was pretty empty.

    Just as we were getting ready to board the plane, a vehicle drove up and two Americans got out. It was a man and woman, asking if there were any available seats on our plane. They were scheduled to leave a few days later for the holidays. But with the current situation, if they didn’t get out with us, they were uncertain of when the next flight would be. Amazingly, we had two extra seats.

    Soon, we discovered they were from Texas AND they were Aggies! They both worked for A&M’s Borlog Institute, stationed in Bor teaching classes at the University. It turns out that they also knew one of my good friends who had spent some time in South Africa. SMALL WORLD! After another stop in Arua, Uganda, we made it to Kampala safely.

    A few days later, we learned that the fighting in Juba had spread to other parts of the country. Bor, the same place where we had refueled, experienced some fighting as well, as the rebel troops had taken the city.

    God has been extremely gracious and caring to our team. We were originally scheduled to fly out December 20th, but the date got moved to December 17th. If we had stuck to the original plan, we would have been in South Sudan as the fighting escalated. His hand is all over our team in more ways than I can even express.

    For he knows our frame, he remembers that we are dust. As for man, his days are like grass; he flourishes like a flower of the field; for the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more. But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him, and his righteousness to children's children, to those who keep his covenant and remember to do his commandments. The Lord has established his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom rules over all. Psalm 103: 14-19

     

    Christmas in Kampala

    Christmas in Kampala

    Christmas time for me includes lots of family.

    Baking parties, food, games, movies, hanging out, football, caroling, Christmas Eve candlelight service, and reading from Luke together—all traditions that have been observed by my family for years.

    This year, I was in Kampala, Uganda for Christmas with the Nasir team.

    Christmas Eve was a great time. We had our big Christmas feast and then sat around chatting and catching up on the YouTube videos we had missed while in Nasir. The day was filled with lots of laughs. I was presently surprised that I wasn’t missing my family too much.

    Later that evening, after watching Polar Express with the Ginters and Laura, I decided to make Christmas cookies. Every year, making and decorating Christmas cookies is something I do with my mom and siblings. As I was slathering icing on the cookies, I began to hear the roar of laughter coming from the house next door. It was 10pm by now, and as I listened more, I deduced that all the commotion was from a family gathering together on Christmas Eve.  

    Listening to this directed my thoughts to my own family, and how I wouldn’t be with them on Christmas. Suddenly, I could feel the tears welling up in my eyes. I tried to fight them back, but soon they were streaming down my face (it didn’t help that the song “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” was playing in the background). After finishing the cookies, looking like a soggy mess, I made my way up to my room to call my mom (I’m so thankful for Skype). Talking with my parents cheered me up and helped me to see the bigger picture.

    Yes we are apart, but we are all healthy and safe. I was reminded of the unrest in South Sudan, and how much of the country seemed like it wasn’t going to have a merry Christmas.

    So I began to reflect on the true meaning of the Christmas season. If it wasn’t for that starry night in Bethlehem, I wouldn’t be in South Sudan. Christ came to earth so that we can be reconciled to God through His blood. In doing so, He left his throne in heaven to come down and be born in a lowly stable amongst the cattle (after living in Nasir for a few months and being constantly surrounded by livestock, I understand this better---it’s smelly and noisy). Why? Simply, because He loves us, and His love is what saved me.  His love is what has led me to South Sudan. His love is what will bring true peace to the South Sudanese.

    Since we’ve started a new year, would you make a commitment to join me in prayer, daily warring for the Prince of Peace to pour out His love on the South Sudanese?

    “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD almighty will accomplish this.” Isaiah 9:6-7

     

    Lessons from Kampala

    January 17th, 2014, our intended date of return to South Sudan, has come and gone, and we are still waiting in Uganda. We left Nasir in the middle of December for our regularly scheduled “Kampala assignment,” but due to the continuing conflict, particularly in Upper Nile State, we have not yet been cleared to return. It has been heartbreaking to watch as what began as a political clash in Juba has since spread and fractured the country along tribal lines.

    The cell phone towers have been down, and we have been unable to speak with our friends in Nasir. We hope that they are doing well, and we are eager to hear from them. Both the uncertainty of the conflict in surrounding areas and the inability to communicate with our staff on the ground have kept us from returning. Every Village has committed to reevaluating the situation on a weekly basis, and we are praying that we will be able to return soon.

    While waiting here in Uganda cannot compare to what those in South Sudan are facing, it has been challenging time, not knowing what the future will hold. Will it be a week or a month before we go back? Will Nasir be the same or different from when we left? As we wait, I sometimes feel like Tom Hanks in the movie The Terminal – can’t go forward, can’t go back.

    One positive thing about being in Kampala is that it has allowed us to meet missionaries serving in other parts of South Sudan. I have been encouraged by our times of fellowship and prayer. I have enjoyed comparing stories about cultural misunderstandings, language mishaps, snake encounters, and donkey cart dealings, and to hear the wisdom of those who have served faithfully for many years. But better than sharing stories has been meeting people who share our love for the South Sudanese, who are eager to return in spite of difficult circumstances.

    So while there have been many times that I have sounded like the Israelites sitting in the desert, wondering why God led them out of Egypt only to have them stranded in the desert, I know that God is faithful. He can be trusted with the next two years of my life as well as the future of South Sudan.

     

    I Want to Tell You About How BIG Our God Is

    Okay, so I want to tell you about how BIG our God is. I’m not sure I can really actually do that, but I want to try. But before I do that, I want to tell you about what He’s been showing us about His love for us and His love for others.

    God loves you and me. This BIG God came in the flesh to a pain-filled world, becoming the perfect sacrifice and taking our punishment for sin.

    I know the beautiful and precious story of the gospel very well. It’s the only story I hear over and over again that can still bring tears to my eyes.

    As God has been showing me His desire for me to live a life as a servant, He took me to the cross.

    Philippians 2:5-8

    In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God,
 did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing
 by taking the very nature of a servant,
 being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man,
 he humbled himself
 by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!

    It was in His love for us that He humbled himself. And so as I was seeking a formula for how to become a humble person, he showed me.

    It is loving others.

    Now how in the world am I supposed to do that? How can I love someone sacrificially as Christ did? We know that it’s Christ in us loving others. But I wanted to know what specifically is keeping this hindered in my life.

    And then He showed me.

    I can’t love others sacrificially until I better grasp His love for me. I have this idol of self, which just won’t go away. He loves you and me perfectly. He loves us better than we love ourselves. When I get that, I can let go of trying to protect myself and love others freely.

    I want that! Don’t you?

    I’m praying: God, help me to better know your love for me. Help me to let go of myself so I’m freed up to love others. And then Lord, FILL me with your love. May it pour out, may it overflow.

     

    Cowdu?

    In Nasir, it is common place for girls to get married in their late teen years and start bearing children soon after (a man wants as many children as he can have). Very rarely will you find an unmarried Nuer female over 20 years old. Accordingly, in Nuer culture, a girl is not considered a woman until she is married. So, naturally, some of the first phrases we learned in Nuer had to do with basic introductory conversations—What is your name? Where do you live? Do you have a husband? How many children do you have?

    Every afternoon, Laura, Cass and I spend a few hours out in the community practicing our Nuer with neighbors or people in the market. After a few afternoons visiting with people, we realized that everyone was very interested in our marriage situation. In fact, so interested that fairly often people would ask if we had a husband before even asking what our name was. I thought this to be a bit strange at first, but with a culture so centered around childbearing, I just figured it was a practical question.

    So, Laura and I both got very familiar with the phrase “han ka na kwen” meaning “I am not married." After giving this answer, it was almost always followed by laughter. At first I felt a little like I was being made fun of, but then reasoned that they were probably just laughing because I was a “nyal midit," a big/old girl, since I was not married.

    About six weeks went by with this being one of the first questions asked. Sometimes it was presented in strange situations. For instance, one time as I walked back from the market, I began to practice my Nuer with some young boys. Of course while chatting, one of the first things they asked was if I was married. Why did they want to know? I was confused.

    Then one day, while in a language session, some light was shed on the situation. We discovered there was another way, besides what we had learned, to say “what is your name?”—ciotdu pronounced chiodu—. It sounds very similar to “do you have a husband?”—cowdu pronounced chooowdu—.

    With the combination of our limited Nuer and the difficulty we have determining and pronouncing tones, words that seem vastly different to the Nuer are vaguely different to us. (Try saying elbow and eyeball…they sound very similar. English does it too!) So for a good six weeks, when asked, “What is your name?” I simply responded “I am not married."

    And this is why I got laughed at…not because I am a 24 year old girl.

    We all got a good laugh out of this, and I’m sure many more language mishaps will occur in the future. Thankfully, there is grace, and these mess-ups sure make for great learning experiences.

     
  • 2013

    I Don't Wrinkle My Nose Now

    In November, we hosted our first short-term mission team from the States. It was a lot of fun and it blessed us beyond words.  The team came and worked hard to complete projects in our homes and on our compound that we haven't had any spare time for.  They also spent a lot of time just hanging out with us. Almost every day, Blaise and I got to spend time just sitting in our living room sharing stories, struggles, testimonies, and triumphs with individuals from the team.  The team also got to do some really cool community outreach in a nearby village.

    It was also really interesting because with them here, I realized just how much I've adjusted to life in Nasir. Things I once would have wrinkled my nose at are now an almost-daily part of my life.

    Here are the things that I really noticed...

    • We eat food with bugs in it, because it's too time consuming to pick them all out.  Mostly we just eat weevils, but sometimes other things fly in there, too, and we just keep on eating.  

    • I use towels a bit longer than I probably should before washing them, because a load of laundry takes a lot of time and energy (and towels are the hardest to scrub and wring out).   

    • I get cold at night and have to use a comforter on my bed in order to sleep comfortably.  Cold.  In Nasir. 

    • I get a little upset when no one in our neighborhood is burning cow dung in the evening, because I know that the bugs will be worse that night.

    • I eat fresh bread and Ethiopian food from the market without even hesitating to think of the sanitary conditions in which the food was prepared...because it’s bread...and meat.

    • I drink unfiltered water offered to me when I visit friends’ homes, because it would be rude not to drink it.  

    • We cheer on bats and lizards as they work hard to catch bugs...just a few less that we have to deal with!

    • I don't even offer my English name to people anymore, because they'll actually remember and be able to pronounce my Nuer name, NyaMouc.

    • Every time someone tells me a story, I assume that it's really a parable and they are actually trying to indirectly give me advice.

    • Whenever someone yells "SNAKE!" I come running with my camera...never mind that I have no idea what kind it is, never mind that it could be poisonous, and never mind that I'm defenseless.

    • I get REALLY excited about restocking supplies like Ketchup and Doom.

     

    Are You a Woman or a Girl?

    “Are you a woman or a girl?” – one of the most frequent questions that I am asked in South Sudan. This question confused me at first. Even though I am shorter than most Nuer women, surely they could see that I am over 18. I would test out my newly learned Nuer phrase, “I have 25 years,” which did not seem to answer the question. Finally, one of our translators explained that they were not asking my age but if I was married.

    In Nasir, the average age for girls to marry is somewhere between 15 and 19. I have been told that it is impossible for a girl to be 25 and unmarried, and apparently some people think I am lying when I say that I am a “girl." Others offer up potential candidates who would be willing to negotiate cows (the bride price) with my father.

    In some ways marriage in Nasir looks very different than what I am accustomed to: men often have more than one wife; outward displays of affection are absent; and women bear most of the responsibility of caring for the family, working sunup to sundown hauling water, grinding grain, and washing. One measure of a wife’s value is how many cows her husband paid for her, which I have been told depends on her appearance, her strength, her behavior, and level of education.

    The last few months have challenged me to think differently about what marriage is and what it is not, and to take a closer look at my own culture’s views. Through these cross-cultural observations, God has revealed ways in which I have created an idol of this relationship, ascribing characteristics to it that can only come from God. Biblical marriage may reflect attributes such as provision, security, comfort, and companionship, but it is not the source of any of these things. Whether single or married (happily or unhappily), only in a relationship with Jesus Christ can true contentment be found.

    Sometimes I wonder why God has led me to a place of ministry where I have no peers, no one in the same season of life. Perhaps to show that in Him there is a different kind of family, connected not by marriage and children, but by the blood of Christ.

     

    Before We Got Here

    It’s raining in Nasir.

    This unfortunate news came Sunday evening, and we were scheduled to fly into Nasir on Tuesday.

    Things were not looking good. The flight wasn’t surely cancelled, so we prayed for the rain to stop so that the airstrip wouldn’t be too wet to land.

    Monday morning we received the call that it had rained in Nasir overnight, and the airstrip was too wet to land on Tuesday. My spirit sank. We all really wanted to get to Nasir. Our stay in Kampala had been great as we transitioned to living in Africa, but we were ready to move past this middle ground and get to work.

    Not to mention, three weeks in a house with nine people was getting a bit trying at times.

    Okay, I could wait a few days for the airstrip to dry out. But then we got more bad news. The first flight we could schedule with MAF (our charter organization) wasn’t until October 27th. Great. A month just sitting around.

    These were my initial thoughts:

    It is what it is, but I wasn’t too happy with it, and I knew I needed to check my attitude.

    We all began to pray for a miracle to happen, that we would get a sooner flight. Emails to prayer warriors in the states were sent. As I prayed and worked through my own discouragement and negative thoughts, I was reminded again that God controls everything and that I needed to surrender my attempt at control. I also became aware of some selfishness rooted in myself, as not all of my motivation for getting to Nasir was selfless.

    I was really looking forward to getting my own space and to start getting the ball rolling.

    As I prayed through all of this, I received many words of encouragement from people back home. One of my good friends back in Houston reminded me that I’m here following God's will, not my own agenda. Even if I was to never get to Nasir, that’s okay because He called me and I’m giving Him glory by being obedient.

    He's placed the team everywhere we should be thus far, and He's going to continue to do the same. I will always be exactly where I need to be in His will, and I need to just focus on the reason not the problems.

    So that’s what I’m trying to do, be where God needs me to be each day and be who God needs me to be each day. During the time of waiting in Kampala, I tried to focus on just being and not always having to do, spending my time just listening to the Lord’s leading, seeking Him and learning to hear His voice.

     

    A Walk With Samuel

    As I walked with Samuel across the dry cracked ground of Nasir in the dry season on our way to the market, we began to talk about things that he had heard about America.

    The conversation quickly turned to the spiritual condition of our respective home nations.

    We talked about the people in them that were Christians by name only. We talked about the danger of false teaching and how important it was to have the Word of God as the guide to truth. It broke my heart as we talked, and it became finally fully clear that while Samuel called himself a Christian and went to a local church--he was convinced that Jesus was not God.

    He thought he was saved, but insisted that the Jesus he knew was not God. The discomfort of the heat and the walk faded as I realized that our purpose for God calling us here was being confirmed. One-on-one discipleship is for some people here in South Sudan the only way they are going to hear the hope of the Gospel.

    It was apparent that for some, it was going to take a face-to-face conversation with someone that they trust before they would consider the Gospel as truth. An ongoing relationship may be the only way to provide enough specific teaching to correct some of the false teaching that plagues this country, because the people have so little access to the Word of God.   

    While I realized that one-on-one discipleship was a necessity, I also became overwhelmed by the task. We are only nine people among 8 million. I understood in a new way the urgency for high quality, locally produced radio that has the capability of reaching the community at large with the truth.

    Radio carrying oral Bible stories seem like the only way to give all the people of South Sudan an opportunity to hear of the love and grace that Jesus has offered. I was suddenly grateful for all the hurdles that we had to jump the week before as we pursued improvement and sustainability of local gospel-centered radio.

    All the frustrations we had experienced recently seemed worth it and I am grateful for the opportunity to be part of what God is doing here in Nasir.


     

    Amath, Amath

    Living here in Nasir tends to reveal much about a person. Coming here was a stripping away process--stripping away bits and pieces of my identity, stripping away my comforts, and stripping away the façade.  I learned an important, and startling, lesson over the last six weeks...

    It turns out, I'm the same person here that I was in the States.  

    WHAT?!? There was no complete transformation on the flight over? There was no miraculous turning into a perfect, grace-filled, selfless woman? 

    The sin.  The junk.  The ugliness.  It's all still there.  One difference, however, is that here I notice it so much more because I cannot escape using my normal means.  I cannot spend countless hours on Pinterest.  I cannot meet up with friends for coffee.  I cannot wander from store to store aimlessly shopping.  Don't misunderstand me, in and of themselves, there's nothing wrong with those things. But I used them to hide from myself, to hide my sin, to hide from God's conviction.  With all of those things gone, and with the addition of some new and interesting stressors, that ugliness has reared its many heads.  

    But the beautiful thing is this: while the flight over didn't magically transform my heart and remove every impure motive, deformed desire, and sin issue, God is the source of all grace and He is working on my heart amath amath (slowly, slowly). All of the ugliness and sin that I covered up in the States is raw here, but I'm begging God for the courage to face it head-on.  To war against it.  To confess it to others.  

    So no, there was no miraculous transformation. I'm still me. But each day God transforms me a little more, and isn't that a miracle?

     

    Messy

    It’s been a while since we’ve blogged. Not because nothings been going on…but because much has been going on.

    I’m sure by now you know that we’ve made it to Nasir! God was so good in providing everything that we needed. It’s been an interesting six weeks here. Despite the differences, hardships and challenges, it’s a wonderful gift to know you are exactly where God wants you to be.

    The last six weeks has been filled with killing mice, scorpions and most recently chickens, as I was desperate for meat. And then there is another dying. A dying of oneself. It hasn’t been a very gracious battle.

    As I arrived in Nasir, I quickly realized that my biggest fears in coming here were coming true. My #1 job here is to be a mother to my children. “But God," I would cry out, “why couldn’t you just let me be a mom in Houston! Why would you drag me here, to these difficult conditions, just to be a mom!” Of course the enemy creeps in with his lies and his schemes of making one feel isolated as they are engulfed in the sin of being so focused on themselves that they can’t remember the truth of who God is!

    But once I crawled out of the pit of self pity and back onto the alter as a living sacrifice, God reminded me of these things. God is good, all the time He is good. God loves us more than we love ourselves. God has a heart for the lost. God always keeps His promises.

    My struggle just might be the same as some moms back home. Feeling small. Feeling like others are doing more “productive” things. Others have more important ministries. These are more of the enemy’s lies to keep our eyes off of Jesus.

    A pestering idol in my heart has been an idol of productivity. Having to do something so that I can prove myself. Prove myself to others…to God. But I know the truth; any fruit that comes is not of myself but Him. My job is not productivity but faithfulness.

    As he strips away the idols in my heart, I recognize my foolishness. His love for me is greater than my love for myself. And so, the idols, they destroy me. But He builds me up. He gives life and gives it
    abundantly. So I said, "Okay God, I’m all in. If my job here is to 'Just be a mom', I’m all in. But change my heart God. Give me joy God." And guess what? He is. And as I lay myself down, and my eyes are turned on Him, my heavenly father lavishes me with gifts.  Gifts like seeing His heart for my children. Gifts like grasping the weight of discipling my children. And then He gives me two gifts named NyaRet and NyaBul.

    NyaRet and Nyabul are two beautiful women that work on our compound. With homeschooling and being a mom, I may only get 30 minutes a day with them. But this time is cherished time. It’s intentional. It’s prayed over. It doesn’t look like everybody else’s time but...Oh man. Did you catch that? I was about to compare myself to others.

    I’m a work in progress. A mess actually. But, I love Jesus. And this messy life of mine is all His. I’m all in. And I think that’s all He asks us for.

     

    Language Learning in South Sudan

    Though the truth of Jesus Christ transcends language and culture, we believe that learning Nuer, the local language here in Nasir, is an important part of loving and ministering to people well. That is why for our first year on the field, we are devoting 30 hours a week to language learning, both through tutors and practicing in the community.

    The South Sudanese are quick to encourage us, saying Nuer is an easy language and we will learn quickly, but we know that it will take a lot of practice and commitment to get there. Though the characters of the phonetic Nuer alphabet appear similar to English, they make very different sounds. For example, it does not matter if you substitute f for p or s for th, but there are 4 different n’s that must be spoken very precisely (n, nh, ny, and ng). We are also learning to think of Nuer as a song, humming each new phrase to hear the tones correctly.

    In our eagerness to speak with people, we have made our fair share of blunders. For instance we realized after a couple of days that we had been thanking people for their barn instead of their help. A few weeks ago we finally figured out that the words for husband and name sound similar, as well as married and food, so when people asked us “What is your name?” Christina and I had been replying “I am not food.” We wondered why everyone thought it was so funny…

    My favorite part though is walking past a lady on the way to the market, dignified and stone-faced, usually carrying around 40 pounds on her head with perfect balance. I love watching her face light up as I greet her in Nuer, and, in spite of her load, how she goes out of her way to speak with me. We chat until we reach the end of my Nuer, which right now does not take long, but it gives me the motivation to persevere. I look forward to the day when I can finally hear these ladies’ stories without a translator!

     

    Conservation

    So we got a dog. She’s really cute. Her name is ZaZu. From the beginning we knew she was not here for the purpose of being a family member, but more of an alert system for snakes, rats, and other vermin. So before ZaZu was even here, we decided she would eat table scraps.

    For the first few days, it worked well. ZaZu was getting plenty to eat from the food we couldn’t finish each meal.  But as our eyes began to become more aware of our surroundings and as we came to the realization that some of our meals cost more than 30 times what minimum wage is here, our eating habits began to change.

    Soon, we found our bowls empty after each meal. When we made too much food, we creatively found ways to stretch it to make it last another meal. So then, what do we feed Zazu? Dog food here is pretty expensive, so we asked around. What do other Mazungoos (foreigners) feed their dogs? The Answer: Posho and dried fish.

    Posho is kind of a flour that thickens into this strange doughy substance. The dried fish is smaller than sardines and very….chewy.  The cost for Zazu to eat this stuff is about 5,000 shillings per week, a little under $2.50 USD.

    When it came time to serve Zazu his first meal, we didn’t know how to make it. We had our guard, Mr. Cehphus show us how to cook it. It turns out this special meal we were making for Zazu is a common meal eaten by many locals as well, including Mr. Cehphus.

    This by far is the hardest part of being in Uganda for me. I love Uganda: the traffic, the crazy driving, the steep hills, fresh fruit and beautiful views! But in this country, we are considered rich. And we are rich compared to the most of this world. But it’s so obvious here. And so less obvious when we are in the states. I don’t like being so different from everyone else. It’s a painful reminder that many people aren’t nearly as spoiled as I am.

    So with that, we do our best to conserve more. Utilize our resources to the best of our ability. Because when we spend less, we can give more. We can bless more. And blessing people in the name of Jesus brings beauty to brokenness.

     

    Slow Down

    Preparing to leave the country for two years was a lot more hectic than I ever imagined it to be.

    My last month in the states was spent traveling, shopping for unusual supplies, meeting with donors, and spending time with friends and family. It seemed as though I did not have a moment to spare. During my last two weeks in Houston, I began to become very overwhelmed with all I had to do: cancel my gym membership, alert the banks of the move, get my last immunizations, get my international driver’s license, write countless thank you notes--the list went on and on. Also, my social calendar was full to the brim with meals and outings with friends and family as my departure date approached.

    I began to get stressed about being able to fit everybody and everything into my schedule, but then a good friend reminded me of the story of Mary and Martha in Luke 10:38-42. Martha was busy scurrying about, trying to complete many tasks, while Mary sat at the feet of Jesus listening to him, strengthening her relationship with Him. My friend reminded me that people are more important than things.

    It was more important for me to spend time with my friends and family than to make sure I had every last item packed. I asked God to help me manage my time well and to love others well in the midst of my preparations for the move. I don’t know how this was physically possible, but somehow I was able to see and spend time with almost everyone I needed to before leaving (also with the help of my friends who threw me an awesome surprise going away party). God is good. Yes, I got to Africa missing a few items. Yes, I left a few tasks behind that my mom so graciously offered to complete for me, but I’d rather have left some things that can be replaced than to have lost time nurturing relationships, which cannot be regained.

    “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” -Luke 10:41-42

     

    Radio Can't Replace Us in the Great Commission

    Mid-September, Blaise, Christina, Laura, and I travelled to Limuru, Kenya (a suburb of Nairobi) for an African Christian radio conference.  I really had no idea what to expect, and to be completely honest, I was dreading it a little bit because I hadn’t yet gotten settled in Kampala and was still trying to get over jet lag.  I didn’t really want to travel anymore; however, the conference was completely amazing!

    There are the obvious reasons: we knew virtually nothing about radio and it was an amazing educational experience, we met many other organizations whose main goal is to partner with new radio stations and help them get started, and we were able to share our vision with others working in South Sudan in various capacities and discuss ways in which we can pray for and support one another. 

    But then there is the added benefit of getting to fellowship with believers from all over Africa and around the world.  I cannot begin to tell you how encouraged we have been by others who have years and years of experience as missionaries all over this continent. It was AMAZING to hear African pastors tell us about their churches sending out missionaries to other parts of their home countries and to other parts of Africa. It was affirming to hear seasoned missionaries tell us that the best way to reach the unreached people groups is through one-on-one, face-to-face discipleship. The radios across the continent are incredible in that they get the Word out there for everyone to hear, but the message was clear: nothing can replace actual human beings going out, physically living among the people, loving them in the name of Jesus, and discipling them well.  Radio is an amazing tool--maybe one of the most powerful tools here in Africa--but nothing can replace man in the Great Commission.

    It was completely inspiring to hear so many people who are this passionate about our God and about seeing the Gospel literally reach to the ends of the earth.  Not only does it affirm our role in South Sudan, but it is just one more way in which I know that the Gospel is true.  Nothing is more impactful than praying and worshipping with believers from so many tribes, tongues, and nations!

     

    Moving to Africa

    On September 4th, after many months of preparation and “see you laters,” I finally boarded a plane bound for Africa. The trip involved five airports, three continents, and 30 hours of travel. I flew by myself from Wichita to Chicago to Istanbul, where I met up with the rest of our team. From there we boarded a plane that took us through Rwanda into Uganda. By God’s grace, all nine team members and 25 bags made it safely to Uganda in spite of tight connections.

    God worked in an unexpected way on the last flight from Rwanda to Uganda when a German aid worker sat down next to me. I learned some German in school, but rarely get a chance to use it. Despite being tired, she humored my attempts to speak with her as we talked for a while about our work.

    She slept for most of the flight, but during this time I felt the Lord leading me to pray with her. I protested saying “Lord, she’s tired – she doesn’t want to pray with me,” but God reminded me that true rest is found in him. There have been times that I have ignored that scary prompting from the Lord to share with someone, but I decided that now would be a good time to learn to obey his voice. So, at the end of the flight I asked her if I could pray for her. She agreed and thanked me afterwards.

    I don’t know the effect of our short encounter. Maybe she has already forgotten all about it. I just know that God promises in Isaiah 55: “… so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.”

    Who would have thought I would go to Africa and get to speak German? It is exciting to see how God can use unexpected avenues to share the love of Christ.

     

    Life Feels Deeper

    I thought this all through training before I got to Uganda, and it is definitely true now, too.

    Life feels deeper to me. Not better, not worse, but deeper.

    The balance of contentment and discontentment is in the same place, but life is deeper. It is not that we are in Africa that makes it that way. It is that we are on mission with our glorious, pursuing, missional God. Context and geographical location are secondary. No matter where we are while on mission, it is hard. So hard that it requires daily divine intervention. Each day we surrender a little more of our will for more of His. Each day we die to our selves just a bit more so that He lives a bit more through us.

    This process is not something that can be done with our ambition or talent or resolve. It is a miracle. It forces you to go to God moment by moment. It forces you to rely more completely on His provision. In the midst of reliance, intimacy increases. Maybe God calls us to join His mission not just for the sake of drawing others closer to Himself, but also to draw us into circumstances that He can use to draw us into the depth of life that is abiding in Him.

    Along the journey of the good works that He has arranged for us, we find that the Lord has us at the destination already: Resting in His arms.

     

     

    A Week With My Grandmothers

    Recently, I was able to spend a week with my two sweet grandmothers, Momoo and Grandma. For over 40 years, they have both lived in Odessa, about a mile away from each other, and they would get together multiple times a week. But now, Grandma is moving to Colorado to live with family as it is not safe for her to live alone any longer.

    The week spent in Odessa was a busy one, painting and fixing things as the house was about to go on the market. In the midst of all the work, one morning Momoo hosted a going away party for Grandma. It was such a blessing to see all the people who came to say goodbye. I heard many, many stories of how Grandma has for years faithfully served in the church, participated in prison ministry, volunteered at the crisis center, taught Sunday school (which she has recently stopped doing…she is 84), and the list goes on.

    What a woman.

    During lunch one day, Momoo (who is almost 88) told me how she and a woman in her 70s teamed up to teach about 20 second graders in Vacation Bible School this summer. Whoaaa. Talk about purposeful retirement. I was blown away. I am so extremely blessed to have such amazing women as models of what a servant of Jesus Christ should look like their entire life. I pray that I can be half as selfless and giving as they are. These two really are the epitome of a Proverbs 31 woman.

     

    “She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue. She looks well to the ways of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness. Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her: “Many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all.” Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. Give her of the fruit of her hands, and let her works praise her in the gates.” –Proverbs 31:26-31

     

    He is Immeasurably More

    This is hard. This is painful. This is joyous.

    Walking away from all that we hold dear and moving far away to a very, very, very remote place, God said so.

    Philippians 3:8 says, "Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ."

    I have always loved this verse. I’ve always felt it as a true statement, reflecting my adoration for my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. But then, He actually asks me to give up a few things, things I unknowingly held dear. As the rubber hits the road, I recognize areas that I held a little too closely to my heart.

    The worst of it is that these things ARE rubbish. My house, neighborhood, my wardrobe, my salary, living standards, etc. On top of that, I haven’t had to give up ALL things, as Paul writes. I have my amazing family that I get to serve with in Nasir. An amazing family and church body supporting me here in Houston. We get to do missions full time and get paid to do it! And of course, I could fill your day with all of the amazing ways the Lord continues to blow me away by his provision.

    I’m in awe of this amazing God, this compassionate father who gently shows me the idols in my heart. And as I slowly open my hands to release these things I once claimed as “mine,” I can rejoice and say, “He is immeasurably more!”

     

    The Hunt is Over

    So, we are gathering supplies for Nasir.  Lots of supplies.  I have had a lengthy list of stuff we shipped over a couple of months ago.  That was a good start, and we are honestly getting really close to having everything we need [insert excited high-fives here].

    But one item has been elusive: the kerosene camp stove.

    We will not have a range/over unit like we're familiar with here, but instead will do all of our cooking on a camp stove.  No big deal.  The big deal is that it must be kerosene, specifically.  And there are surprisingly few camp stoves that burn kerosene fuel.  The stoves that you can buy in your local camping section burn propane or some specialty fuel mix made by the company that manufactures the stove.  Because we must fly our fuel into Nasir and because charter companies will not fly propane (kerosene is a more stable fuel than propane), our options are limited.

    So, after weeks of Google searches and reading through a lot of End Times blogs, forums, and reviews, we have finally found a kerosene stove! I only found one company that stocks it, but very soon this double-burner beauty will be ours!

    Image Source here.

    The hunt is over.

     

    Life is a Mission Field

    My hair had gotten long over the last few months, and I decided to cut it before moving to South Sudan, a place with high heat, high humidity, and no hairdryers. There is a local hair salon in my home town where I’ve gone a handful of times over the last few years.

    The last few times I’ve been there a woman named Amy has cut my hair. As we talked, I got to share with her about my work with Every Village. She in turn told me about her passion for God’s Word and missions around the world.

    Then she said, “But you know, this chair is my main mission field.” She explained how most of her clientele were returning customers, and as she gets to know them, people open up more. Sometimes she shares her faith or a prayer, sometimes just a kind word.

    In Acts 17 when Paul reasons with the people of Athens, he says that God has placed each person in a specific time and place that they might seek him. I think God also strategically places believers in Christ in neighborhoods, office buildings, and hair salons--that they would be his witnesses.

    “From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us.” Acts 17:26-27

    Now that ministry is my full-time job, the question “what do you do?” brings with it the opportunity to share my faith. I have had some great conversations with hair stylists, bank tellers, dental hygienists, and lawyers. My only regret is that I didn’t have these conversations sooner. How many times did I miss out on hearing about Amy’s faith simply because I didn’t have the courage to bring it up?

    I want it to be true in my life that my mission field is wherever I interact with those who don’t know Christ, regardless of my job description. I want for the joy I have in Christ to spill over into every part of my life, and lead me to boldly proclaim who he is and what he has done for me.

     

    The Deep End

    A few weeks ago, I kept the Pierce’s middle child while they prepared to move. Ben is a well-built 4-year-old full of energy, so we spent a lot of time in the pool. His parents told me that he was a good swimmer. This proved to be true, or at least while we were in the shallow end.

    After a little coaxing, I eventually convinced him to jump off the diving board into the deep end of the pool. I told him that I would be right there in the water when he jumped in, but that since he was such a good swimmer he would be fine without me. Ben finally mustered up enough courage and plunged into the water. Immediately, he began to panic, arms flailing. It was like he had never known how to swim. As I pulled him toward me to calm him down, his arms wrapped tightly around my neck. He exclaimed that the water was too deep and that he could not swim. His fear of the deep water had made him completely forget everything that he knew.

    There have been times in my own life when I have jumped into water that seems to be too deep for me. Like Ben, I panic, trying to keep my head above the water, forgetting God’s promises and forgetting to trust that He’s right there to keep me from sinking. It’s like everything I have ever learned from His word has completely left my mind. This reality hits close to home as I prepare to move to South Sudan. The entire task set before me is way over my head. At times, I feel as though I am sinking and may drown. But God is faithful, and I must continually remember that the Lord has called me into this “deep end”. It is His work in Nasir, not mine. It will be His power that keeps me afloat.

    I am reminded of the story in Matthew 14:29-31 when Jesus walks on water. “Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”  Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him.” What comfort I find in the fact that “immediately Jesus reached out his hand.”

    There was no delay.

    Despite Peter’s fear and lack of faith, Jesus was right there to catch him. My heart is so full of joy knowing that Jesus does the same for us, even in our own fear and doubt. Whenever we feel like we are drowning in deep water and don’t know what to do, Jesus is just an arms’ reach away.

     

    The Cost of Freedom

    The last two years I have spent the 4th of July at my roommate’s aunt’s house. Everyone dresses in red, white, and blue; her uncle puts on great American records; her aunt makes the best American food; and after the meal we read the Declaration of Independence together. As we’re reading, I always wonder if the people who wrote this document realized how it would drastically alter history, how we would still celebrate the day of its signing over 200 years later. It reminds me that great days in history may not have seemed that way to the people in the midst of them, but simple actions and normal people can have great significance.

    This year it was not just July 4th that was on my mind, but also July 9th, the second anniversary of South Sudan’s independence.  Similar to the U.S. after the Revolutionary War, South Sudan is still recovering from the effects of many years of harsh civil war, and for the South Sudanese, the cost of freedom is poignant and personal. It reminds me that though we are 237 years removed from our own nation’s founding, we profit from the sacrifices of normal men and women who valued liberty above their own lives.

    I am thankful for another kind of freedom that came at great cost – one event in history that cancelled the debt of men before God and established a new kingdom that will reign forever. Jesus Christ, God in the flesh, laid down his life for the forgiveness of sins, and his resurrection is proof of his victory over death.

    In Revelation 1 it is written about Christ: “To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father—to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen.”

     

    2013 Houston Gala

    The 2013 gala was our biggest yet.

    Over 500 people joined us as we celebrated what God is doing in South Sudan.

    God moved powerfully as we enjoyed incredible food, a photo booth made out of our hand-held radios, deep times of prayer, and a rich community full of people passionate about the South Sudanese.

    Below you'll find a few of our favorite photos from the event. If you'd like to see all the pictures from the photo booth, head over to our Facebook page.

    Before the night began, we prayed God would move powerfully in the room and ignite a deep passion for the South Sudanese in the hearts of attendees.

    Reception at the Royal Sonesta Hotel.

    The photo booth made from the solar-powered, hand-held radios we distribute in South Sudan so people can hear the gospel and community development teaching in their own languages. The yellow cans are used by people in South Sudan to collect water.

    These three had fun! See more photos from the photo booth here.

    Operations Director Andrew Brown shares about our four-step process: trips, water, missionaries, and radio.

    To date, Every Village has distributed 18,000 hand-held radios. 

    Executive Director Peter Swann celebrates how transformation is happening in South Sudan. Our theme this year---The New Has Come!

    At the end of the evening, we commissioned our long-term team headed to live in Nasir in the coming months. Everyone in the room stood and prayed together.

    Again, we are thankful for your support and prayers. Hope to see you at this event in 2014!

     

    Meet the Missionaries: Blaise Ginter

    Our long-term missionary team started training, and we want to give you the opportunity to virtually meet each of the six adults moving to Nasir, South Sudan later this year. This is the final installment in our series intended to introduce you to new members of the Every Village family!

    Blaise Ginter

    When did you first learn about South Sudan?

    My wife brought home a book about the Lost Boys, and then I went on a short-term trip.

    How did you know God was calling you to live in South Sudan?

    I felt a burden after hearing about the war and the things the South Sudanese endured, but after I took the trip to Nasir--I knew without a doubt.

    When was your first trip abroad? Where did you go?

    My first trip was in 2011 and I went to Nasir, South Sudan.

    What excites you most about being in South Sudan?

    The people, the relationships we will build, and knowing I get to be a part of God's kingdom advancing.

    What has God been teaching you recently?

    To rely completely on Him instead of myself.

    Biggest thing you'll miss when you're in South Sudan?

    The people here, my family, and friends.

    Have any special talents? What are they?

    Sure. I can draw pretty well.

    Favorite thing to do when you're not fundraising or training for life in South Sudan?

    Movies or music.

    What's one fun thing you have to do before you move to South Sudan?

    I want to Go Kart again. 

    If you'd like to support the Ginters financially, go here.

     

    Meet the Missionaries: Jared Pierce

    Our long-term missionary team started training, and we want to give you the opportunity to virtually meet each of the six adults moving to Nasir, South Sudan later this year. This is the fifth installment in our series intended to introduce you to new members of the Every Village family!

    Jared Pierce

    When did you first learn about South Sudan?

    The first time I remember hearing about Sudan (before there was South Sudan) I was sitting in a Sunday school class for the first time where Executive Director Peter Swann was teaching. At the time, the only remarkable thing I remember was how passionate Peter was about this country I had never heard of before and wondering, "what is that about?"

    How did you know God was calling you to live in South Sudan?

    I was minding my business at the Every Village Annual Gala in 2012 and, as I sat there, God put the people of of South Sudan heavy on my heart. I knew I was in trouble as soon as I felt that weight, but then He used James 4:14 to hammer home for me that this was His story and South Sudan was written into my part of His story. Since then, God has confirmed that call many times in many ways.

    When was your first trip abroad? Where did you go?

    My first trip abroad was in October 2011. I went to Mvolo, South Sudan.

    What excites you most about being in South Sudan?

    The potential. The potential for the country to thrive and grow. The potential for the millions of smiling hopeful faces. Above all, the potential for what God can do to change South Sudan for His glory.

    What has God been teaching you recently?

    Freedom. He continues to show me that it is impossible to sacrifice for Jesus. Each time He calls us to lay down something that has made us comfortable or feel secure, it only affirms the reality that Jesus is better. Every time I think I can't, He does, and so the confidence that He is building, is for me, great freedom. Freedom from things that hold us back from more of Him.

    Biggest thing you'll miss when you're in South Sudan?

    I will miss most my friends, family, and our church.

    Have any special talents? What are they?

    Not sure if it is a talent or not, but I think what has served me well so far has been that I am just not scared to try anything. If it is trying to repair something or do something for the first time, I just go for it. I learn best by experience and to my surprise, I get a pretty good number of things done "right enough." 

    Favorite thing to do when you're not fundraising or training for life in South Sudan?

    There are lots, but my top one is a date alone with my wife, a close second is tickling my kids and listening to them laugh, and third is learning something new. 

    What's one fun thing you have to do before you move to South Sudan?

    Maybe a trip to Lego Land or Disney World.

    If you'd like to support the Pierces financially, go here.

     

    Meet the Missionaries: Cassandra Ginter

    Our long-term missionary team started training, and we want to give you the opportunity to virtually meet each of the six adults moving to Nasir, South Sudan later this year. This is the fourth installment in our series intended to introduce you to new members of the Every Village family!

    Cassandra Ginter

    When did you first learn about South Sudan?

    I learned about South Sudan by reading Dave Eggers' book, What is the What, a fictionalized account of the real-life Lost Boy, Valentino Achak Deng. It was a book I picked up in the bookstore because the cover looked interesting. I had no idea what had been happening in Sudan, but the book painted a vivid picture of South Sudan's culture, the brutal civil war, and life in refugee camps. That book was a gateway for me to additional reading and research on South Sudan, which turned into a burden and passion to go.

    How did you know God was calling you to live in South Sudan?

    The initial calling to go to South Sudan came in the midst of me reading What is the What. I felt an urgent calling to go on a short-term trip then, but it was on that first trip I really fell in love with the South Sudanese and began to seriously pursue missions. The calling to live in South Sudan long-term was something I felt on that first trip, but God revealed it to me in greater detail over time as I walked in increasing surrender to Him. It was through specific Scriptures and a lot of prayer that the calling was repeatedly affirmed and has continued to be affirmed since we first committed to go.

    When was your first trip abroad? Where did you go?

    My first trip abroad was to Nasir, South Sudan in July 2010 with Every Village (then called Aid Sudan).  

    What excites you most about being in South Sudan?

    There are so many things about South Sudan that I love, but the most exciting part of being there is doing life alongside the South Sudanese. Getting to live with and love our friends there in the name of Jesus Christ is what it's all about for me. I cannot wait to see lives transformed, captives set free, and believers encouraged! The other very exciting part of living there is getting to train teachers. I am a teacher in the US, and I cannot wait to begin working with the teachers in Nasir to improve instructional strategies. I am also really excited to learn so many new things: the Nuer language, the Nuer culture, how to live simply, and even how to play soccer!  

    What has God been teaching you recently?

    Surrender has been the biggest lesson in my life over the last several months. It's a recurring theme God continues to press upon me, and it's one with which I still struggle; however, I have really sensed His patience with me and His desire for me to live fully and live free in Him.    

    Biggest thing you'll miss when you're in South Sudan?

    I will miss my family and friends terribly. Until I moved to Houston for training with Every Village, I had never lived more than two hours away from my family, so it will be hard not to see them for so long. Right behind family is American food. Food is so cultural, and it will be one of the most difficult pieces of my home culture to surrender when living in Nasir.  

    Have any special talents? What are they?

    God has gifted me with an eye for photography. I absolutely LOVE using pictures to tell stories! I also really enjoy writing, and while I'm not sure if it's a special talent, it does bring me great joy. I love to use the written word to encourage others.

    Favorite thing to do when you're not fundraising or training for life in South Sudan?

    I absolutely LOVE to read, so whenever I have any free time I can usually be found with my nose in a book.

    What's one fun thing you have to do before you move to South Sudan?

    Before moving to South Sudan, I would like to celebrate every holiday and birthday that we'll miss with our families while we live there. What's more fun than Christmas in July?

    If you'd like to support the Ginters financially, go here.

     

    Meet the Missionaries: Keisha Pierce

    Our long-term missionary team started training, and we want to give you the opportunity to virtually meet each of the six adults moving to Nasir, South Sudan later this year. This is the third installment in our series intended to introduce you to new members of the Every Village family!

    Keisha Pierce

    When did you first learn about South Sudan?

    As the Lord was stirring us to more missional living, we stumbled upon a class at Houston's First Baptist Church led by Peter Swann called the "Big Time." When he first said Sudan, I had no clue where to find it on a map.

    How did you know God was calling you to live in South Sudan?

    My husband felt the Lord calling us initially. When he shared this with me, I wasn't exactly sweet and loving. I did tell him I would pray about, and within 24 hours the Lord confirmed this call. He had me on my knees in tears as he told me this was "His story," not mine.

    When was your first trip abroad? Where did you go?

    I hope this doesn't disqualify me, but I've never been abroad. My first trip to Nasir, South Sudan is this week! I have been blessed to be immersed in many different cultures here in the states.

    What excites you most about being in South Sudan?

    The Lord has given me a promise for South Sudan--joy-filled children overflowing in the churches there. I can see the promise so vividly and, although there's no promise I'll get to see it for myself, I'm anxiously praying for it and am so thankful I have the confirmation that this is where I'm supposed to be for the next two years!

    What has God been teaching you recently?

    Can I have a few hours of your time? If I had to limit it to a few sentences, I would say God calls us all to be "missionaries." Yes, I get the privilege of doing it full time, but we're all called to be missionaries. Whether it's at work or at home with your kids, you have a mission field and it's not any less important than mine. My prayer is that all of us live intentional lives, asking ourselves daily, "Who are we discipling?"

    Biggest thing you'll miss when you're in South Sudan?

    Of course my friends and family, but absolutely the amazing restaurants here. Ask me again when I've been there 6 months because it might change to something really boring like electricity!

    Have any special talents? What are they?

    I have a knack for losing things. I'm a pretty good cook, and I love to sing and worship the Lord!

    Favorite thing to do when you're not fundraising or training for life in South Sudan?

    If I didn't have a deadline for something, I would just play with my kids. I don't get to do that enough. I love the outdoors--camping, hiking, kayaking, etc.

    What's one fun thing you have to do before you move to South Sudan?

    I would love to take a family trip to Sea World or another similar amusement park.

    If you'd like to support the Pierces financially, go here.

     

    Meet the Missionaries: Laura Krone

    Our long-term missionary team started training last week. We want to give you the opportunity to virtually meet each of the six adults moving to Nasir, South Sudan later this year. This is the second installment in our series intended to introduce you to new members of the Every Village family!

    Laura Krone

    When did you first learn about South Sudan?

    In the fall of 2011, my church offered a short-term mission trip with Every Village for the following summer. I had been praying about how I might serve in East Africa, and I started researching more about South Sudan.

    How did you know God was calling you to live in South Sudan?

    After returning from a short-term trip with Every Village, the Lord gave me a desire to be a part of the gospel going to the ends of the earth. A couple months later, God led me to begin praying about joining the Nasir team. He made the calling clear through Scripture, the Holy Spirit, and answered prayer.

    When was your first trip abroad? Where did you go?

    In the summer after my junior year of high school, I spent 5 weeks in Berlin, Germany improving my language skills, learning about German culture, and exploring the city.
     
    What excites you most about being in South Sudan?

    Seeing lives changed and God glorified through the spread of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

    What has God been teaching you recently?

    God has been demonstrating his sovereignty over every area of my life, teaching me to trust in his perfect plans, to believe in the truth of his promises, and to surrender my desire for control.
     
    Biggest thing you'll miss when you're in South Sudan?

    I’ll miss my family, friends, Grace Bible Church, coworkers, being an engineer--even the hard hat and steel-toed boots.

    Have any special talents? What are they?

    I enjoy playing music, particularly the piano and violin.

    Favorite thing to do when you're not fundraising or training for life in South Sudan?

    I love being outside on a beautiful day--playing sports, hiking, and going to the beach.

    If you'd like to support Laura financially, go here.

     

    Meet the Missionaries: Christina Roberts

    Our long-term missionary team started training on Monday. We want to give you the opportunity to virtually meet each of the six adults moving to Nasir, South Sudan later this year. This is the first installment in our series intended to introduce you to new members of the Every Village family!

    Christina Roberts

    When did you first learn about South Sudan?

    I first learned about South Sudan when I went to Hope Church and saw how passionate everybody there was about the South Sudanese.

    How did you know God was calling you to live there?

    Long story short… He began to give me a strange feeling inside every time South Sudan was mentioned. He gave me many different scriptures to help confirm the calling and a peace about it that I can’t explain.

    When was your first trip abroad? Where did you go?

    My first trip “abroad” was to the Bahamas in 2008.

    What excites you most about being in South Sudan?

    The spread of God’s glory. I know God deeply loves the South Sudanese, and I am so excited to see all that He will do there.

    What has God been teaching you recently?

    He has been teaching me that I must completely surrender everything in my life and trust Him 100%, even though I may not understand His timing or His ways.

    Biggest thing you'll miss?

    The biggest thing I will miss in South Sudan will be my close friends and family.

    Have any special talents? What are they?

    I am learning to play the Ukulele.

    Favorite thing to do when you're not fundraising or training?

    I like to spend time doing outdoor activities and being with friends.

    What's one fun thing you have to do before you move?

    I really want to go to the beach and wakeboard at least once.

    If you'd like to support Christina financially, go here.

     

    Every Village 5K: April 27

    On April 27, lace up your shoes and grab your kids for our annual 5K. This year, we're running for transformation in South Sudan. We'll have food, fun, and competition--all for the glory of God in South Sudan. You can use your strides to support God's work in the country we love so much.

    Learn more and register here. We're excited to see you!

     

    Love Well

    Love Well

    This year, send a different kind of valentine.

    Instead of chololates and flowers, give the gift of clean water. Give a gift--$20, $100, $1,000, or $15,000--and we'll send your loved one a valentine telling them they're helping solve the water crisis in South Sudan.

    Learn more, spread the word, and buy a valentine here.

     

    46 Cents

    46 cents.

    An amount so miniscule, it can’t even buy a Coke any more.

    Yet so big it can change the world.

    That’s what was given toward a missionary home complex in Nasir, South Sudan. All courtesy of two kids overhearing their parents' conversation.

    I had come home one Monday evening, updating Shauna on the state of funding for Every Village’s missionary complex. It has been going well, and God has been providing powerfully. He’s so passionate about getting His gospel to those who don’t yet know Him.

    But all this is intensely personal to us. This is going to be their home, and we are so fired up about this. So, there was no little passion in my voice while giving Shauna the update.

    The next thing I knew, Allison was asking how much remained. I responded by explaining it was over $36,000. She responded by explaining that she couldn’t think that big.

    I turned back to Shauna as the kids scurried off, returning a couple minutes later with great urgency in their steps. They ran up to me, opening their hands and revealing a collection of coins--46 cents worth.

    This, they explained, was their contribution. It was what they had to give, and they did so joyfully.

    I immediately got tears in my eyes, telling them they were going to make me cry. They didn’t get that, but they got the intensity of my hugs. That whole encounter did something to my soul.

    I’ve been thinking about that. I expect the missionary home complex to get funded – that’s the Lord’s business. But this encounter was about so much more than that.

    It was about giving eagerly: with passion, with commitment, with sacrifice, and with absolute joy. It was also about our kids never minimizing their gift. They were doing their part, and doing it with all they had.

    Our kids discipled their dad. I saw something profound in them. I saw that my resources or abilities may feel paltry to me at times, but my Father doesn’t think of them that way. I saw that the key isn’t in the gift itself. The key is in the state of my heart.

    So, this week, may God find me faithful – living with passion, surrender, and joy. May He find me at home in giving all I have. Even if it’s just 46 cents. 

    -Peter Swann

    A version of this post first appeared on the Hope Church blog.

     

    Listen to the Radio

    Want to listen to what people in South Sudan listen to when they tune in to our broadcasts? Now you can. Head over to our radio page to hear a stream of our programming. With a dismal literacy rate, radio is the only way many people access the Bible, health & hygeine training, and news. As you listen to the radio, pray for a movement of the Holy Spirit to flood South Sudan. We hope you'll join us in praying God uses the radio to grow churches and spread Good News.

    We're incredibly grateful for your support.

     
  • 2012

    Buy a Shirt, Someone in South Sudan Hears the Reason for the Season

    Buy a Shirt, Someone in South Sudan Hears the Reason for the Season

    With Christmas just around the corner, consider giving your loved ones a new Every Village shirt. From now until January 2, your purchase sends a radio to someone in South Sudan--letting them tune in to the reason we're celebrating. Learn more about our radio programming here.

    With each shirt comes a card for your loved one.

    Like what you see below? Go here to make your purchase.

    Have a very merry Christmas.

     

    We Love These Kids

    This week, three kids came into our office with jars they'd decorated to collect money for Radio10. They all raised money throughout the month of October, gathering change and cash together so people in South Sudan can hear the gospel and community development teaching in their own language.

    "We did anything to raise money," one kid said. "We went to our grandma's house and did chores."

    Kids were an integral part of our Radio10 campaign this year. They inspire us to continue seeking transformation in South Sudan.

    Thank you for joining with us. Learn more about radio here.

     

    Welcome Melinda Parrish

    Melinda Parrish joins the Every Village team this week as our new Administration Director. After gaining experience as an international accountant for an oil and gas company and also as an external auditor, she joined the team in Houston. Melinda brings a unique skillset and passion for God's work in South Sudan, and we're thrilled to have her on board. Below, she answers a few questions about getting started with us.

    What led you to Every Village? 

    I met Executive Director Peter Swann at Hope Church in February of this year. He called me at the end of September and asked if I’d be interested in interviewing for this position. He was fully expecting a quick no, but little did he know--I had a desire and calling to work in ministry. I am so thankful and beyond ecstatic to be here!

    What are you excited about as you transition into this position?

    I’m excited to work for an organization that is passionate about reaching the nations with the gospel.

    Describe how you felt the first day on the job.

    Like a kid on the first day of school: excited to be among peers, yet nervous as to who I would sit with at lunch. Joking aside, I felt very welcomed by the entire team and can tell this is going to be an awesome adventure!

    What's one thing in South Sudan you'd like to experience?

    A deep connection to the people AND to learn a tribal dance.

    When you're not on the clock, what are you doing? 

    My time outside of work consists of spending quality time with my family and friends, reading, playing tennis whenever I can find an opponent, volunteering time to my church, and planning my next adventures in travel.

     

    Radio10 Begins

    Radio10, our annual campaign for hand-held radios, is underway. We're just over a week in, and we're well on our way to funding 4,000 radios. The month started with a launch event featuring Robbie Seay Band. The cost of each ticket funded a radio, and participants prayed over radios that are headed to South Sudan.

    People gave generously to send radios to South Sudan. Below you can see Allison and Timothy as they count their money and give it away so our friends in South Sudan can hear Good News.

    Are you interested in helping fund radios this month? Visit the Radio10 page to watch a new video and start another radio's journey.

     

    Hallie Dollins

    Hallie Dollins

    Hallie Dollins is 8 years old, and she's helping lead countless others in a movement for transformation in South Sudan. She took something she loved, lemonade, and turned it into two radios for the South Sudanese people--giving our friends access to the gospel and community development teaching for the first time.

    We're blown away by Hallie and have great respect for her. She teaches us about generosity and selflessness, values we desire to more fully encompass as we work for God's glory in South Sudan.

    Thank you, Hallie, for radically loving Jesus and for using the gifts He's given you to bring hope to our friends in Africa. With each pour of lemonade and each transaction, you were sending Good News to people thousands of miles away.

    Interested in helping with radios? Join us for Radio10.

     

The Next Chapter

The Next Chapter from Every Village on Vimeo.

 
 

Facebook Live Update

Did you miss our recent Facebook Live update from our Executive Director, Andrew Brown? Watch below for updates on Every Village's strategy and progress!

 
 

Stay tuned for new blog posts coming soon!

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