As jet-lag is leaving my body, my mental faculties are beginning to awaken once again. And I need all my faculties right now.
Processing two weeks of life in a place like Sierra Leone requires it.
Since many of you faithfully supported our team in your prayers, I want to be sure to share our trip with you in a timely manner. I have some thoughts and ideas percolating, but not well enough thought through to publish. So, for now, I want to share with you a brief overview of our daily activities in Sierra Leone.
Come along with me!
We landed in Freetown at about 7PM on Tuesday, February 12th. The red African sun set quickly after that. Here we are being helped by some men to load our luggage into and onto our ride. It was a tight fit, and Cyrus hung out the window at one point during our drive to fix a loose strap. We arrived safely, about three hours car drive later, at the Campenero Hotel in the city of Waterloo – our accommodation for two nights.
The next day, we were able to wake and breakfast at a leisurely pace. Then, it was off to the sight of our church’s (Willamette Community Church) sponsored water well. The process was in it’s beginning stages and the guys in our group even got to help dig! We went from there to lunch and from lunch to Grace Village Orphanage where we had time to chat with the Sheriff’s (missionaries in Sierra Leone) and meet some of the children. It was back to the Campenero for dinner and a fairly restful night’s sleep.
Thursday, the 14th, was the day I began to become more intimately acquainted with Sierra Leone. Many hours on ‘bumpy roads’ (this is an understatement) provided ample time for conversing with our driver, JB, and accompanying pastor, Ben Margai. We made our way to Moyamba, but stopped first in Mile 91, a bustling, dry and dusty, primarily Muslim community, and met Pastor Francis and his wife, Marion. We were able to bring the good news of our church sponsoring a new well to be installed on their property. This well is a crucial need to the area as Muslims who have access to water are not often willing to share. Pastor Francis hopes a community well on his property will be a testimony of God’s love for all.
After this stop, we arrived in Moyamba and got settled in our accommodations. I met Pastor Patrick Coker for the first time and his sweet daughter, Mary. The other team members gave me a run through of toilet and bathing protocol. We ate a relatively late and, for me, an uncomfortably spicy dinner of rice and sauce with some meat. All of this occurred under the watchful gaze of dozens of curious children and adolescents peering in through windows and doors.
Friday began with a walk down to the river and the baptism of a local young woman. Next, we loaded up in our vehicle for another long and even bumpier ride to a village by the name of Gondama. This was probably the most ‘National Geographic’ location we visited during our stay. It was such a remote little village of maybe 200 -300 people that the road to get there was only wide enough for a motorcycle. When we arrived we met the chief and then helped put on an impromptu church service in the school/church building. After the service, they fed us what was probably my favorite meal of the trip – yams with a lightly fried fish and delicious, non-spicy, sauce.
The rest of our day was spent back in Moyamba at Willamette International School’s inaugural Sport Meet. We would call it a track meet here in the states. But they include some extra events like tug-of-war and musical chairs. It was incredible to watch the talent of the students. Almost all of them ran in socks. I think I saw maybe one or two pairs of spikes, but that was it. They were grouped into Houses for competition. Cyrus and I supported the Yellow House.
There were too many events to complete the Meet in one day, so things came to a pause close to sunset.
The following day, Saturday, we spent the morning with the children that Pastor Patrick has taken under his wing – vulnerable children in the community. These are children our church congregation is devoted to praying for.
That afternoon it was once again time for the Sport Meet. A few of the events later in the day were open to the community. This drew a massive crowd. My guess is that there were probably 500 -600 people completely encircling the track. The energy was palpable. We returned to our house after the meet was over for another spicy dinner.
Sunday was a day I had been looking forward to. I was excited to experience the worship service of another culture. I was not disappointed. The music was like nothing I’ve ever heard before. Simple in instrumentation, yet so full. It was here I first felt what I call the pulse of Africa – the strong, almost enchanting rhythm of its music. Video doesn’t do it justice because video only allows you to hear the music. When your’e in the midst of it you can actually feel it vibrating through your whole being. After the music, Cyrus preached a message on the importance of preaching the gospel to ourselves.
When church was over, we had our final meal in Moyamba and prepared for the long and bumpy ride back to the Companero in Waterloo.
Monday, the 18th, began phase two of our trip to Sierra Leone. Cyrus began his week long course on the Gospels at Grace Bible Institute. I began the first of two days meeting with and teaching pastor’s wives (and wives to be).
I covered topics such as loving God and loving others, the three enemies of believer and how to respond to them, and what to do with suffering. This was by far the most uncomfortable teaching I have ever done. Between the oppressive heat and humidity, the lack of knowing my audience, some of the women’s lack of literacy and Biblical understanding, and the cultural differences; all of these made for what should have been a disaster, yet for what turned out to be a show of God’s work and not my own. On a fun note, Amy and I taught the ladies the sign for I Love You 🙂
I suppose that sums up Tuesday as well, so I’ll move on to Wednesday.
Cyrus continued his class on Wednesday, while the rest of our team (Chris, Amy, and I) headed toward Freetown with Ben Margai for a Worship Leaders seminar. A few dozen worship team leaders and participants gathered to hear from Chris (our church’s worship director). Following his message, several of the attendees performed some of their music for the entire group. It was a pleasure to observe this group of people and to enjoy their gifting.
Wednesday evening we braved the outdoor Waterloo market with Emily, one of the missionaries hosting us in Waterloo. We bought fabric for matching team clothes and followed Emily down the cramped and noisy food aisle/road while she picked up a few things she needed. It was so crowded and required such attention to move through that I didn’t have as much opportunity to observe the vendors or diverse food offerings as I had hoped.
On Thursday morning, Amy and I went back to the Grace Village Orphanage with another missionary, Rachel. We did crafts, and read books, and sang songs with the children who weren’t in school at the time. Later in the afternoon, Amy and I worked on a project sorting clothes for these rapidly growing children!
Friday was test day for all the Bible Institute students and our whole team pitched in to help Cyrus grade exams. After lunch and a little time back at our lodgings, our trip came full circle. We went with Peter Sheriff, Emily’s husband, back to the sight of the new well. It was finished. Chris, Cyrus, and Peter spoke to the community about the Living Water only found in Christ, the lock on the well pump was removed, and clean water began to flow!
Saturday was a leisurely day spent partly at the beach and partly packing up to head home. At times the beauty of the beach caused me to forget that I was actually in one of the poorest countries in the world. Money cannot buy beauty that comes from God alone.
Sunday we went to church with Peter and Emily in Waterloo, had lunch, and then hit the road for the airport. All our hearts were longing for home by this point. From the time we left Waterloo until we arrived back in Albany, nearly 43 hours elapsed. It was a long journey home from which I am still recovering.
I hope this gives you a small glimpse into our trip. There are feelings and experiences I still can’t quite put words to, but I hope to get there soon. Until then, if you have any questions, please ask! I don’t know what everyone would like to know, so let me know. That was a fun sentence 🙂
Thank you once again for all your prayers and support!
Many people have asked me, over the last couple weeks, how I’m feeling about this trip to Sierra Leone. Excited? Yes. Nervous? Yes.
But feelings are something I’m not so great at, so those two options seem only partially true. I have a hard time answering the ‘how are you feeling’ question in normal situations. And in this abnormal one? Sheesh! I have almost no idea where to begin to discern all the emotions welling up inside. Sadness when my kids cry as they say goodbye. Fear when I consider how little control I have over all that is to come. Angst when I contemplate the fact that safety and ease are not promised by God – in fact He often uses trials to bring about our growth and His good. Anticipation for all the new sights and sounds and smells. Curiosity about a drastically different culture. Uncertainty regarding who and what and how I will be teaching next week.
I’m sure there are more feelings in there that I have yet to realize.
But last night I discerned, in the midst of all these feelings, there hides an underlying thread of reluctance. Maybe even resistance. I know it’s God’s desire for me to go, He’s made it abundantly clear. But a lot of me still doesn’t want to go.
Call me Jonah.
Maybe not quite like Jonah, because I have no animosity toward the people we go to see. But there are so many compelling reasons for me to stay. Kids, home, ministry, safety, comfort.
But God says go.
God sent a giant fish to course correct Jonah. God is sending me in ‘Air-Whale.’
Obedience is complicated. Ideally, I would always obey with enjoy and enthusiasm. Ideally, My kids would too. 😉
But my reluctant, self-motivated heart sometimes holds too much sway.
And it begins to become too much about me.
Jonah, it wasn’t about you and your comfort and your desires. It was and still is about God and His glory and His Loving-kindness.
It’s not about me; this trip, this life. It is and always will be about God and His Glory and His Loving-kindness.
As my feet obey, Lord, gather up my heart to joyful participation.
Hope to check in here again sometime soon!
It’s partly the expression of my inner rebel; partly the rewards reaped from such an endeavor. This thing Cyrus and I did last year, having an UNword – a word we were diligent to delete from our vocabulary – well, we’ve found it to be a positive, beneficial, forward moving practice for us each individually and as a family.
Our UNword for 2018 was the word busy. I lost count of how many times I was on the brink of using the word in everyday conversation and had to bite my tongue. Not for the sake of an arbitrary challenge, but in an effort to think more precisely, better understand the motives of my heart, and to communicate more clearly. If you’d like to read more about how we decided on the word busy, click here.
We will continue to be careful in our use of the word busy. And since we valued this challenge so much, we’re at it again for 2019!
So, drumroll please, our UNword for this new year is the word bad.
This short little adjective, we’ve come to recognize, can do a lot of harm to our thought processes, our perspectives, our attitudes, and our relationships.
Our kids are quick to label foods they don’t care for as bad.
We call circumstances bad and color the whole day bad because of a few moments.
We judge others as bad, attempting to remove their speck before we remove our log.
We name ourselves bad, in direct opposition to the names God has given us.
This word, bad, is a dangerous word because it covers a multitude of issues with one vague, imprecise, gray colored brush stroke.
Using the word bad doesn’t help us to get to the real problem, and therefore it prevents us from getting to the real solution!
If I am having a bad day, what else is there to do besides wallow in my circumstances and seek some sort of temporary relief? But what if, instead, I more precisely declare: “Today I was hurt by someone’s untrue and harsh words towards me.” I can do something with that! I can seek restoration in the relationship, or I can pray for that person, or I can bolster myself by renewing my mind with what I know IS true according to our Heavenly Father. Calling a day bad will never bring me to this place.
Bad can be an adjective that leads us to cowardice, apathy, and having an unhealthy victim mentality. It doesn’t acknowledge responsibility. If it’s that thing or person or situation outside of me that is bad, then certainly I have no responsibility toward it.
When I use the word bad, it tends to reveal a heart that elevates myself above the Living God as judge and determiner of value. I see pain as bad, while all along God is using it for my good! Some of my kids view a bedtime as bad, but it is ultimately for their benefit! Throwing around this label of bad onto things and people, skews my perspective and can harm my desire to Aim at Heaven.
I believe that a healthy and God honoring perspective seeks to be honest and to bring all things into the Light. I can do that by being specific rather than vague. Instead of calling things bad:
I will call sin, sin.
I will call hurt, hurt.
I will call pain, pain.
I will call conviction, conviction.
I will call sorrow, sorrow.
I will call injustice, injustice.
I will seek to call all things by their true name so that the truth of God may minister precisely and effectively in my life. I will seek to do the same in the lives of those He has placed before me to minister to. To Him be the glory!
These are a few of the reasons Cyrus and I are choosing to UNword bad for 2019. Truth be told, I’ve already said it a number of times accidentally. This is going to be a much harder word to remove than busy! But, we look forward to how this practice will refine, challenge and teach us this year.
Do you think this is a practice from which you could benefit? We invite you to join us in UNwording bad. Perhaps this has sparked an idea for a different UNword for your year. Ask someone to join you and give it a try! Let me know if you do, and what your UNword is for 2019 if it’s not bad. I’d love to hear from you so that we can encourage one another in this goal!
My first instinct is to apologize for a late Christmas Greeting, but don’t you think this is a season meant to linger anyway? So, here is our family’s Christmas greeting to you (the digital version, since there was no paper version this year).
We started a new tradition this Christmas season – puzzles! We worked on and completed (!) two, 1,000 piece puzzles as a family. I was pleasantly surprised by how much we all enjoyed this slow and simple activity. Also, I’m so thankful to be in a season of family life where such an activity is possible (no more toddlers of destruction running around the house 😉 ).
Anyway, I mention all this because doing complicated puzzles is a fitting picture of what it means to be a member of the Kingdom of God’s Beloved Son – Jesus Christ. Each piece of the puzzle looks strange and indiscernible on its own, seemingly useless and out of place. But once it is placed within the context of the entire puzzle, its purpose and the beauty of its presence becomes clear. So it is in God’s reality. We are pieces of a bigger picture. We are meant to fit in with the bigger plan, not to be independent. The beauty of the Grand Design is only seen once each component is in place, and the beauty of each component is only fully realized as it serves the Grand Design.
So here’s a look at our family’s piece of the puzzle for 2018. We are grateful to be loved by the Father and Architect of all reality, and hope and pray that you know and receive His great love for you too!
I (Cyrus) continue to serve as the Associate Pastor at Willamette Community Church. August marked my first full year at this ministry and the relationships with the staff and congregation continue to grow and become more pleasant. I am thankful that I have been used by God to minster to people in many different capacities – men’s ministry, community groups, a trip to Sierra Leone in April, leading a Bible Conversations hour, marriage ministry, and the list goes on! It is such a blessing to use my God given gifts to serve the Lord and minister to His people. Another blessing has been the participation in some activities that had been set aside for many years – fishing and hunting! The whole family has enjoyed the benefits of these adventures :). Being in creation is refreshing and I look forward to sharing these experiences with my all my adventurous kids.
I (Kim) am experiencing a new stage in life. Now that the youngest of the family is five years old and in Pre-school every morning, life looks much different than it did even a year ago. I have had the privilege of being involved in women’s ministry at our church in some leadership and teaching capacities. I help lead our Moms group, helped lead our fall Bible study, and am also continuing to gain experience in Biblical counseling. Through these activities, I am discovering more and more about who God is and who He made me to be for Him. I continue to blog occasionally (though I have sort of a love/hate relationship with it), which is where you are right now, in hopes of encouraging others as I have been encouraged in the Lord!
Ruth is eleven years old and started Middle School in the fall. Can you believe it!?!? Though life has it’s challenging at this age, Ruth is making it! In the spring, Ruth participated in Track and Field and was finally old enough to give the hurdles a try. I think she’s hooked. She continues to play the violin in a local youth orchestra. Probably the most exciting thing for her right now is that she earned a part in her school’s musical – Alladin Jr.!
Lydia is ten years old and in 5th grade. Lydia also did track in the Spring and is really beginning to excel at the High Jump. And since Lydia is a kid who NEEDS to have a physical outlet, she is currently giving swim team a try. She’s seems to be enjoying it for the most part. Lydia is currently in her second year of learning the Cello. We love listening to her play and she is improving so much!
Charis is nine years old and in 3rd grade. The biggest milestone for Charis this year was that she finished eye therapy!! Almost two years ago, the eye doctor discovered that Charis had several issues with her eyes. But, after a lot of hard work, she is done. And she actually enjoys reading now. We are so thankful that these issues were caught early and resolved completely. Charis also did track with her sisters in the spring and her specialty was the long jump. She showed a lot of promise in sprinting as well. Like Lydia, Charis is also learning to play the Cello. She started in the fall and has hopes of eventually transitioning to the upright bass.
Caleb, seven, is now in 1st grade. He is excelling academically and he loves his teacher! Caleb also gave Track and Field a try in the Spring, but he was much less enthusiastic about it than his sisters. He continues to surprise and delight me by breaking some of those ‘boy’ stereotypes I held. Though he can be rough and tumble, he is also very sensitive, expressive, and cerebral. We often refer to him as our “little professor.”
Lukas, five, is in Preschool this year. He is enjoying the new friends he has made at school and church. As much as Caleb didn’t want to do track in the Spring, Lukas wanted to do it! He’s just not quite old enough yet. We see Lukas’ personality develop more and more these days. He is energetic and stubborn, but also has some of those ‘baby’ of the family traits – like trying to get out of trouble by being super sweet. The girls have started calling it ‘cute-ing.’ “Mom!” they say, “Lukas is ‘cute-ing’ me to try to get what he wants!” Mostly, he makes us all smile and laugh 🙂
We’ve been privileged to have a couple family adventures this year. In March we went to Disneyland with my parents and had an absolute blast! It was the first time for the kids and we have great memories of our time there. Right after Disneyland, we joined up with a group from our church for a mission trip to Mexico. This trip was such a blessing. We met some fellow ministers of the Gospel and were encouraged by them and sought to be an encouragement to them. Another exciting thing about the trip was that our kids were able to be immersed in the Spanish language. Our kids attend a dual language school and have been learning Spanish since kindergarten. I was amazed by how fluently they were able to converse with native Spanish speakers and I think our friends in Mexico were equally surprised. As a parent, it was just amazing to be able to watch our girls serve others by translating and building relationships with other kids. What a gift it is to be bi-lingual!
Whew! If you’ve made it this far into the letter, thank you for loving our family and having a genuine care and interest in us! We are so thankful for all the beautiful cards and letters that were sent our way this Christmas.
We love you!
P.S. – I’d like to offer you a little gift, straight from my heart. The most life transforming thing I have ever experienced is getting to know the Love of God better and better. It was with great trepidation that I agreed to speak at our church’s women’s retreat back in April. I was able to share more specifically about how learning of God’s love is so simple yet so profound. The retreat theme was “Rooted and Grounded in Love.” Unbeknownst to me, a couple of the sessions were recorded! So, I’d like to share them with you because I think we can all always benefit from a reminder of God’s love. The two recordings below are sessions two and three out of the four sessions I taught. May you be blessed and drawn closer to your Creator and Savior!
For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God. Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.
The attack assailed me – swift and unexpected. I was turned the other direction, fortifying different strategic locations. A word. A thought. A deception. It sneaked in and lodged itself in a vulnerable and fatigued corner of my mind. Fiery darts robed in questions. Questions craftily construed by the Enemy.
They say there are no dumb questions.
But I say there are downright evil ones. Questions meant to condemn, not to bring to light.
These are the questions upon which our Enemy relies.
Who do you think you are? He taunts me.
The burning interrogation paralyzes me. The Accuser knows only a question is needed, not a blatant accusation. He needn’t condemn, only touch a nerve that triggers self-condemnation. He knows how my flesh will answer. I’m nobody, not worthy, arrogant to think I should attempt anything, others despise me and look on me with disgust. I should stay home, say no, retreat.
Only a second and a half does it take for my mind to be lit ablaze by my own untrue responses to ill-intended questions. I am overcome.
But I’ve been here before, Enemy. And I’ve learned. It may take an hour and a half to stand firm against what you started in a moment, but you won’t overcome this time. I don’t have the answers, but I know Who does. I have an Advocate.
I’ve attempted a steel-hearted approach before – sticking my fingers in my ears and turning my face away, hardening my heart with self-willed firmness against your blows. But my self-made shield is like jello compared to the defense I’m learning I already possess!
My heart is growing softer, and softer is stronger.
Softer surrenders to what is Truer and Stronger than you.
A softening heart toward the Omnipotent One is my greatest defense.
Go ahead and try me, Deceiver.
Who do you think you are, to counsel others?
I am one in whom the Holy Spirit dwells. I am one to whom the wisdom of God Almighty is available. I have been justified and taught of Christ. I am a vessel through which God’s wisdom can flow.
(James 1:5; 2 Cor. 1:22; Romans 5:1; 2 Timothy 2:21)
Who do you think you are, to teach and write?
I am one who believes the truth and listens to the truth. I am one who is supernaturally gifted to build up the body of Christ. I am one who is obedient to the call of God.
(Proverbs 21:28; Romans 12:6-8; 1 John 2:3-6)
Who do you think you are, to lead?
I am one who was created to do good works. I am one who has been given the truest example of leadership in my Savior – becoming a servant of all. He teaches me that leading isn’t about becoming greater than, instead it’s about becoming less than. You tempt me to pride, but God guides me to humility.
(Ephesians 2:10; Mark 9:35; James 4:10)
Who do you think you are, to walk in confidence?
I am one who stands perfect and spotless in Christ. I am loved. I am sealed for eternity. I am never forsaken. I have Christ in me, the hope of glory.
(Romans 5:8; Colossians 1:27; Hebrews 13:5; Ephesians 1:13)
The fiery darts of the Enemy assail me, but I know where my protection is. It’s not in a hardening heart, buffeting itself from destructive blows. No. My protection and salvation comes from letting an ever softening heart settle into an armor form-fitted to me.
When the fiery darts would burn me up and destroy me, I am untouched. Because my faith-shield was forged by the Living Water. His is a pure and powerful water able to extinguish in a flash the scorching arrows of the enemy. I am unscathed because I brandish Christ. He is the answer to all the Enemy’s questions. He gave an answer for us once and for all at the cross and when He rose victorious from the grave. A soft heart knows it is powerless to fight alone, so it robes itself in the strength of God’s might.
“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil.” Ephesians 6:10