Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Easter Week

If I have learned anything from the Moru community, it is how to mourn deeply and how to rejoice whole-heartedly. This week consisted of a lot of rejoicing! 

Easter celebrations started on Palm Sunday. Justin preached (his first of 4 times preaching during this Easter week!) and did a great job explaining the history of why Jesus went into down on donkey and what that represented. Everyone brought palm branches to church and it was truly a celebration of the King and the hope of what was to come. 

The next service was on Thursday. We had a Maundy Thursday celebration at someone's house. This was an amazing time! Justin preached again and then he and another pastor washed everyone's feet. After the foot washing, we had communion together. Never have I ever had such a HUGE portion at communion!!! Everyone was given a large roll to represent Jesus' body and an ENTIRE mug of kedi-kedi tea (which is made from hibiscus and has LOTS of sugar). The whole time I was eating the communion portion (which took a while!), I was thinking about how it represented my prayer for the beautiful Moru people I was surrounded by. I prayed that they would all daily partake in all that Jesus has to offer them- and that this would be enough to fully satisfy them, as the communion portions did. I prayed that God would overwhelm them with his abundant provision and that they would always walk away satisfied in Him.  

The communion rolls are on the table
Will drinking his portion of the communion "wine" 
The church gathering was on Good Friday. This was a little more somber of a service (as it should be). However, the Moru people are never fully somber, so there was still lots of singing and laughter. My favorite part of this service was that while Justin was preaching, the woman translating his English into Arabic got extremely emotional as he was describing what happened to Jesus. She is a very strong Christian, so she obviously knew this story well, but just hearing it spoken brought her to tears. This touched me deeply because it spoke to what my heart desired. I have felt very numb in this Easter season and the message has not been penetrating my heart as it should as a believer. Seeing her emotions reminded me of the weight of the story. It showed me what my heart should be feeling as I hear/ read about the brutal death of Christ. I was very touched by this and grateful for her vulnerability. 

The last service was obviously on Easter Sunday. This service was 4 hours long and consisted of 4 pastors, 2 messages, communion, 4 dances/ songs from Children's Church, over 10 Moru songs and multiple prayers! It was amazing! Justin did an amazing job preaching this service (as he did with all of the messages this week!). He explained the history of what was predicted about the coming Messiah and did a great job explaining the power of God in the Easter story. The other man who spoke also did a good job explaining what Christ's death and resurrection means for us. 

I was asked to read a passage in Mark in Moru during the Good Friday service. I practiced the 11 verses I was assigned, and then the night before, was told to add another section to the reading! Hehe. So I ended up reading around 20 verses completely in Moru! Mama Penina told me that I did so well that she wanted me to read again for the Sunday service.. haha! I didn't have as much time to practice this one, but still tried my best. It was fun to try and read in Moru. Everyone was grateful for the effort (and hopefully I didn't butcher the Word of the Lord too much... ;)). 

It was so much fun to have the opportunity to celebrate Easter week with this community. It was a gift to walk through the whole story of Christ's death and resurrection with them. Our prayer is that this message would continue to be close to their hearts (and our own). We are blessed to be with these beautiful people for this season. 


Sunday, March 20, 2016


Yesterday, Will led a discussion with the "Young Christian Fellowship" group from the Moru church. This group is aimed towards young married women. Most of the women's husbands are living in South Sudan and they stay here in Arua, Uganda with their children.

Will led the discussion from Ephesians 5 and focused on the call for men to love their wives and women to respect their husbands. We quickly learned that "discussion based" groups are not common in this culture. Typically, they would prefer to sit and listen. However, they responded well and gave us good insights into marriages in the Moru culture.

Hearing from these women reminded me of how much marriage is in crisis in this world. Satan loves to distort and pervert marriage away from the way God desired it to look. This happens everywhere, but it is more hidden in other places than it is in Africa.

We asked the women how their husbands love them well. This immediately turned into a discussion about how the men left them (all of them seemed to be shaking their heads in agreement, so we assumed this was the case with almost all of them) in Arua with the children and have taken other wives in South Sudan. They said they don't like calling their husbands anymore because when they call them, a woman will often pick up and start insulting them. It sounds like their husbands do not openly discuss other women, but it is just expected and known without it being something that can be mentioned. In this culture, if a man gets a woman pregnant, He is supposed to claim her as his wife. So, in a place with very little birth control, it is common for a man to get another woman pregnant while he is cheating on his wife. He then has multiple wives and multiple children to provide for. Due to everything happening in South Sudan, most of these men have very little money right now, so the money they do have goes to provide for their most current wives/ children, and the first wives are left in Arua without means of providing for their children and with a husband who stops coming around. You can imagine how this conversation quickly turned in a way we didn't expect when asking how their husbands love them well...

During the course of the discussion, one woman asked me how to keep respecting your husband even when he does not love you well. I responded from my own experience and explained that the Bible doesn't say to only respect your husband if he is loving you, but that we are called to respect no matter what. I explained this takes a lot of prayer and can only be done through God's strength. The translator told the woman everything I said and then added, "She (me) is only saying this because she has a good husband. She is a kawaja (white woman), so she doesn't understand". They went on to discuss how "white people" have an easier time in marriages and how they wish they could have married a white person so their marriage would be good. Thankfully, Justin calmly explained how the same sins exist in the West, but are just more hidden. He explained that it is not a culture that they should want to immolate, but Jesus Christ. He did an amazing job walking them through respecting even when the situation is saturated in sin and how Christ is the only one who can give them the strength to do so. He explained that God does not force us to stay in abusive, adulterous relationships, but that He can provide strength in the midst of these or provide a way out (when there are Biblical reasons for doing so). The women responded extremely well to this and said that this was the encouragement they needed to keep going. They said they knew Jesus was able to give them the strength to endure and that they needed us to continue to pray for them in this process.

Please join us in praying for marriages in South Sudan (and the world). Pray for the men to have changed heart and to love their wives well and commit to one woman. Pray for the women to chose to respect even when it is hard and to lean on Christ as their first love and their strength. Pray for the children who are caught up in all of this and often live without fathers present- and without good examples of loving fathers.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Rabuuna Fi

I have found one of the hardest parts about being in the mission field in rural Africa is that you are always surrounded by horribly depressing news. It's constant. There are always people suffering around you. You constantly hear about things like the death of children (usually due to curable diseases which aren't treated in time because of bad medical care or a lack of medicine because the family could not afford it), lack of everyday necessities like food, and water; and political unrest which causes fear and distress in the people.

Here are a few things I feel weighed down by this week.

The aftermath of an attack in Malakal, South Sudan.
Photo Source: NY Times
The political state of South Sudan. This week, South Sudan has gotten a lot more publicity in western media than usual. Unfortunately, the publicity was for horribly disturbing reasons. The UN accused the South Sudanese government of "using rape as currency" for their soldiers. This isn't new news, but it is getting more publicity right now. The government told soldiers that they do not have enough money to pay them sufficiently, so as compensation for their work, they can take whatever they want from the places they overtake, including raping the women and children if they desire. I can hardly type those words without wanting to throw my computer across the room. The reality of this is so extremely evil to me that I can't even fully take it in. To read an article from PBS that explains this a little more, click here. For a more detailed account of this (with very disturbing statistics and stories) read the NY Times article here. There was another article put out this week from Time that I am not even going to link here because it was so disturbing and graphic that I couldn't even get through the whole thing. However, I believe it is so important for those in the western world to expose themselves to what it really happening in the world. Parents are having to watch their children be raped- for no reason at all! They didn't do a thing other than be on the "wrong" side of a political crisis due to their ethnicity. It's so alarmingly disgusting that it has to bring us to our knees in prayer.

The ad that was put on social media
to try to find Joseph
Bishop Bismark's missing son. As I've mentioned before, our closest ministry partner in Mundri is Bishop Bismark. He is our "go to" resource in knowing what is really happening in South Sudan. He has had an incredibly challenging year as he has tried to inform us from afar, care for his family (who he re-located for Kampala, Uganda for safety) and care for the many Moru people he is connected to in Mundri and the areas they have evacuated to. He has been extremely busy and under a lot of stress. Two weeks ago, he got news that his son, Joseph, was missing. Joseph is in his early 20's and told his mom he was going out to a cafe in the evening to use the Internet for school. He didn't return that night and they have not be able to find him since. Seriously, this is the stuff from nightmares. Bishop and Rina have been searching Kampala in all the ways they know how. They have looked at morgues, prisons and many other places. They put out an expensive ad in the newspaper and have spread the news on social media, but still have not gotten any closer to finding Joseph.

Stories from war: We had a Moru visitor this week and she was sharing with us about her experience during the last war in South Sudan. She explained that during the last war, she and her family evacuated by foot to Congo. At one point, they didn't have any food or resources and decided to go to Uganda to see if life would be better there. They walked for 3 days straight with no food or water. During this journey, she was 5 months pregnant, had a baby on her back and was carrying everyrthing else she owned in her hands and on her head. It sounded like she did not have any shoes and was wearing scraps from a parachute because she didn't have any other clothes. This story was from the 1990's, but it made me wonder how many similar stories are happening just like this in South Sudan and other countries right now. Stories like this are common during war times in Africa and South Sudan seems to be just as unstable (if not more) than it was back then.

I tell all of these stories that are weighing on my heart this week to simply give you facts of what is happening here. However, if you were to hear these stories from anyone in South Sudan, they would most likely end the horrible details they share with you with the phrase, "RABUUNA FI". Rabuuna fi means, "The Lord is here". You will not hear a story without them ending it on this phrase of truth. This has been so challenging for me because I often don't know how God could possibly be present in the midst of such horrific tragedy. However,  over and over again in Scripture, God reminds He people that He is THERE He is PRESENT. Why do we as Christians need so many reminders of this? Probably because this world has so much evil in it, we often lose sight of how a God good can be present in the midst of it. But He is. He is there.

Joshua 1:9 says, "Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go." This is not only if you go to "safe places", NO! God is everywhere.

Psalm 46:1-3 say, "God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore, we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging." Despite circumstances, God is ever there.

At our pre-field training, one of the instructors used to say the line, "What does God do when the missionaries leave?" He would say this facetiously, but his point was that God doesn't need us in order to be present in a place. He is there already. He choses to use us at times, but even without us, His Spirit is moving and living in ALL places.

So, when I think about the atrocities happening in South Sudan, the pain that South Sudanese are dealing with as they try to survive in the midst of war crimes, rape, etc. When I think of Bishop Bismark and his wife, Rina as they are dealing with the heartache of a missing son and the terrors of what could have happened to him, all I can say right now is, "Rabunna fi". God is here. And just as he is here, he is there in South Sudan and he is present in the situation with Joseph. No, this doesn't mean the issues are solved and everything will be right in the world again with this reality. But what it does mean is that He knows, and He is present. Our job when we pray is not to ask God to be there in these places, He already is. Our job is to ask His Spirit to move and change hearts, to find missing children and protect those who are in harms way. His presence is a given, the question lies more with our belief of what His presence means and what He can do.

Please join me in praying that God's presence would change hearts of the leadership in South Sudan. Pray for leaders who desire to serve the Lord and see God "make all things right". Please also pray that God's presence would be with the people of South Sudan. That He would protect the innocent and provide for the needs of the suffering. Pray that because "Rabuuna fi", it would bring comfort to Bishop and Rina as they search for their missing son. Pray that God would bring Joseph back to his parents safely and alive. Pray that God would protect Joseph in the meantime and be enough for him.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Something Will Come Up

On Friday I asked Will how he was feeling about the wide open weekend we had ahead. I asked if he minded that we didn’t have much going on for a couple days and wondered if he had anything specific he needed to do. He responded with a simple, “I’m not worried about it, something always comes up, this is Africa.”

I thought back to the past few weeks and quickly realized how correct he was. First, we were about to leave for a language lesson and and realized the car battery was dead. Then, we fixed the battery only to have it die again the next day. The next week, we ran completely out of water in the house. The cistern was empty and we had to figure out how to have a truck deliver water, while also contacting the city water company and asking them why they haven’t sent water for several months (a pipe was broken and still is not fixed even though they are “working on it”).

So, when Will said, “Something always comes up”. I simply agreed and wondered what in the world would be ahead. Then came Saturday morning. Justin woke up with a pain in his back and sides. This quickly turned into body aches and a fever over 102. For those of you who have been too/ lived in Africa, these symptoms quickly make you think, “Ah, that sounds like malaria :(”. Per the suggestion of our nurse friends here, he started on malaria medication right away. With the addition of new symptoms and a really rough of not being able to keep liquids in, our friend suggested we get him to the hospital for testing on Sunday morning.

The amazing thing about our friends here in Arua is that they don’t actually just “suggest” things, they said, “He needs to go to the hospital, we’ll be there in an hour to pick him up and take him there”. We are so grateful for this kind of support (esp. because the car battery I mentioned above was still not working at this time, so we were immobile). Our friend Heather came to get Will and Justin and brought them to the hospital for testing.

The private hospital room
“Testing” quickly turned into needing to stay overnight so they could push more fluids and give more medicine. Justin was put in a private room... in the pediatric unit :). They were grateful to have their own space, but let me try to convey, this is not a luxury suite by any means. Justin had this own bathroom attached to the room, but there was no running water, so it only had a squatty potty (not fun with GI symptoms). It also did not come with toilet paper, so I had that sent to them (seems mandatory to me, but I guess I’m spoiled…). They also only had power part of the time. The power came on in the evening, but the lightbulb in the room was dead, so they sat in the dark for over an hour until someone finally replaced it.

Will's tent set-up outside of
Justin's window
They also learned quickly that nurses are there to give medication and that is all. They are NOT there to make sure you are comfortable, have food to eat or anything else at all. It is simply for medications. Will ended up sleeping outside Justin’s room in a tent and the nurses were upset by this because they wondered who would “take care of Justin”. When they came for his 11:00pm meds (at 11:45, of course), they asked who would give Justin food since his “friend” was not around. Will yelled through the window from his tent and told them where the biscuits were. Still, they were not satisfied.. hehe.

Justin was able to leave the hospital on Monday afternoon. They returned to the house and he has continued to recover here. Two missionary nurse friends have come to the house to give the rest of his IV meds. We are beyond grateful for the support we’ve had here! From friends to give rides to the hospital and arrange for the doctor to be there when you arrive to nurses who will come to your house to give medications, it has been amazing to see the mission community in action! We were also clueless on what you needed to bring with you when you stay in a hospital here, but our friend Heather packed her car with bed sheets and pillows (they do not provide these in the hospital), jerry cans of water for “flushing” and washing hands, and drinking water. She also told us to bring a bucket (just in case) and lots of food and more drinking water. We would have been clueless without her assistance (and Justin would have been laying on a sheet-less bed).

So, as always, Will was right. Something did come up for the weekend, but we are grateful for the community and for God’s healing. Justin is starting to feel much better and even be able to eat a little bit again. We think he has malaria and some kind of stomach infection. He has been taking it easy this week and we are hoping he will make a full recovery soon. We feel so grateful for hospitals, doctors, good friends and God’s healing in the midst of the unexpected weekend plans.

The sign outside of Justin's room. If that name isn't reassuring, I'm not sure what is.In case you can read it,
it says, "Emmergency casualty" 
The squatty potty in the "Luxury suite".

What's a night's stay in the hospital without some hospital room rules?

Friday, March 4, 2016

Stories from South Sudan

We had the privilege of having 5 members of the Serge Bundibugyo, Uganda team come and stay with us in Arua this week! It was so refreshing to spend time with them and get to know them all better. We felt very encouraged by their prayers, food and laughter.

Since they were not able to be here over a Sunday for church, we invited a few of our Moru friends over to where we are staying on Tuesday so the team could meet them. We asked them to share their stories about living in South Sudan, how and why they had to leave and what they are doing here in Arua. This ended up being a really special time of fellowship!

Four people from the church came and told their stories. One man (probably around 25 years old or so) shared that he was captured by SPLA soldiers when he was around 12 (during the previous war). He was taken as a child soldier. Fortunately, he and a few other boys were able to escape one night after only a few days of being kidnapped. What was amazing is that one of the Bundi team members later asked all of the Moru friends if there was ever a time in their story when they doubted God. A time when they though He has abandoned them and maybe wouldn't come through. The man who shared about being kidnapped said that he never doubted God's sovereignty or ability to save him. He said that even when he was captured, he knew in his gut that God would get him out. He knew God would come through for him. What faith!

Momma Panina shared that her husband was in Mundri this past May during the bad time of fighting. He was working with a ministry called SEM and was badly beaten while soldiers were looting the ministry compound. They stole everything and beat everyone who was there at the time. He recovered and is now in Juba, but it was very scary at the time.

Stories from South Sudan are always hard to hear, but also always paired with hopefulness and a positivity that can only come from the Lord. One of the women who shared told me later that her husband was a pastor and he brought she and her four children to Arua during the last war. He returned to Mundri and ended up taking another wife (I think she said multiple more wives) and left her in Arua with no money or resources to care for her children. Her kids don't have money for school fees and she struggles to feed them on the regular basis. After saying all of this, she said, "but God is greater". I'm trusting with this woman that God absolutely is greater and will somehow bring hope and redemption to this desperate situation.

We were all able to pray for our Moru friends after they shared their stories. It was emotional, but so encouraging to see the Body of Christ circle around them and pray for hope, provision and peace. My prayer is that we will hold these stories in our hearts and remember to pray for them often. I don't want to be someone who gets depressed and bogged down by these depressing realities, but rather someone who takes these stories to the cross and pleads for redemption and hope. All-the-while, remembering that "God is greater". He is greater than war. He is greater than poverty. He is greater.