Hangin' Out in Karongue

Hangin' Out in Karongue

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Feeling the Weight

Most days we feel the weight. It's the weight that comes from living in a country that is 95% Muslim. It's that weight from looking into the eyes of your friends and neighbors and even the stranger on the street and knowing that in the deep recesses of their heart there is no hope.

It's a weight that comes from sharing life with a people that you dearly love, a people that have captured your heart, yet have never tasted the goodness and the grace of the Lord.

It's a weight that grows heavier with every call to prayer from the mosque that we hear and every person publicly praying that we see.

It's a weight that comes from telling spiritually blind men to look to Jesus and be saved, knowing that the blind cannot see.

And sometimes we wonder where the weight comes from. Is it a messenger from Satan meant to discourage us? Meant to make us see the vast task before us and think, "What's the use?"

Or is it Jesus teaching us to see others as He does so that His compassion might grow in our heart and His unfailing love might move us to action.

So with tears and prayer and the hope of a multitude from every tribe and tongue one day before the throne, we let the weight of the lostness around us drive us again and again to the Gospel.

For the Gospel is not only their hope. It is ours as well.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Being Maimouna Toubab

*I am reposting this today in honor of Hosanna's 8th birthday. Happy Birthday Maimouna Toubab!

Hosanna’s African name is Maimouna and it also happens to be the name of her best friend who lives beside us. To differentiate between the two “Maimounas” the family of her friend calls Hosanna “Maimouna Toubab” (Toubab means “white person” in the local language) and her friend “Maimouna Noire” (Noire means “black” in French). While we have all adapted well to our life in Senegal, Maimouna Toubab truly has immersed herself into life here. Much of that comes from her young age when we left the States (she was four when we moved to Canada) as well as the unique personality that God has given her. But overall, being Maimouna is a unique experience unto itself.

Being Maimouna means being free. Free to run. Free to dance. Free to get dirty. It means being free to eat fruit right off the tree and to even climb up the tree to pick it yourself. It means being free to smile, free to laugh, and free to explore.

Being Maimouna means that when you play with your friends you seamlessly transition between three languages, none of which are the language of your home country. It also means that sometimes you struggle in school because your head is filled with words and phrases and concepts that you don’t use in your English home school.

Being Maimouna means eating rice nearly every day is normal and you’re not even scared to eat off of the fish head in the bowl. It means you’ll try rat and that you want to try monkey. It means that eating five mangos a day during the rainy season doesn’t seem like too many.

Being Maimouna means that shoes are always optional, however you can’t leave home without wearing a long skirt. It means that you are the only blond haired, blue eyed girl for miles and miles around and that getting a lot of attention goes with the territory.

Being Maimouna means that playing with your friends at their house means helping them work and laughing while you do it. It sometimes means that you wash your friend’s hair and help them take out their braids. It means that when your friends play at your house the few toys that you have get shared among everyone. Being Maimouna means that you have to invent a toy “rental” system, where a borrowed toy can be exchanged for a new one the next day as long as it is brought back in semi-working condition. Being Maimouna means that you likely have fewer possessions than every friend you know in the States, but far more than any other child in the village where you live.

Being Maimouna means that you play with animals like chickens, ducks, goats, sheep, pigs, and the occasional parrot and monkey. It means that when your Daddy catches a live mouse in the house that you beg him to let you keep it as a pet. It means that sometimes when you pour the leftover rice from lunch out back, when your parents aren’t watching, that you purposefully pour it out on top of your bare feet so that the chickens and the free-range pigs will eat it off of your feet because it “kinda tickles” and the pigs are your “friends.”

Being Maimouna means that you can wear a pretty “princess” dress and still play in the dirt and get filthy with your friends.

Being Maimouna means that you live between two worlds: the world that is the inside of your home where everyone shares the same language, religion, and skin color and the outside world all around you where no matter how well you adapt you are still different. And it means that sometimes you don’t exactly know where you fit in the best.

Being Maimouna means that you have to be patient. It means that going to the market in the village is a mile plus walk one way. It means that “going to the store” in Ziguinchor is two hours in the truck one way. It means that as your family tries to love those around you it sometimes looks like sitting outside and talking for hours on end.

Being Maimouna means that you occasionally ask about what things are like back where the grandparents live. And you don’t always understand it when it is explained to you.

Being Maimouna means that your parents pray for the day, in the not too distant future, when you will once again make another transition into another culture to go to college; the culture of your passport, but not the culture of your life. But being Maimouna means that the God of all grace goes with you and helps you to make sense of the things that don’t seem to fit at times. And because of that, being Maimouna Toubab is not a bad place to be.



Saturday, July 25, 2015

Building a Marriage for God's Glory

Marriage, just like all of life, is meant to glorify God. It is meant to picture the loving relationship between Jesus and His church (Ephesians 5:32). God created marriage upon the pattern of Jesus and His relationship to His bride the church, so the goal is to live and love in such a way that God is glorified and the relationship between Jesus and the church are portrayed.

We all know that a strong, God-glorifying, Christ-centered marriage takes a lot of hard work and determination. It takes following the instructions of God, the One who created marriage in the first place. This kind of marriage does not come about by looking at the pattern of the world, but by looking at the pattern of the Word; the Word of God.

The building of a strong and lasting marriage is much like building a strong and lasting house. When you build a house you want to use materials that will make it last a lifetime. You want to work hard so that it will be built into something that will stand up to the test of time. And building a strong, God-glorifying marriage is no different. Psalm 127:1 says, “Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.” Likewise we can say that unless the Lord builds the marriage, those who try to build it labor in vain.

The building of a marriage, just like the building of a house, must start with a strong foundation. And the foundation that is needed in marriage is Jesus Christ. There is simply no other foundation with which to build a marriage upon. Jesus said, "Anyone who listens to my teaching and obeys Me is wise, like a person who builds a house on solid rock. Though the rain comes in torrents and the floodwaters rise and the winds beat against that house, it won't collapse, because it is built on rock.” (Matthew 7:24-25). The only foundation that will stand when the storms of life blow hard is the foundation of the Lord Jesus Christ. A commitment to Him as individuals and a commitment to Him as a couple is the only lasting, solid foundation that can support a marriage. He alone must be the rock.

But a house also needs walls: something that builds upon the foundation and adds structure and support. And in a marriage what adds that support is love. The Bible says, “Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. Love does not demand its own way. Love is not irritable, and it keeps no record of when it has been wronged. It is never glad about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance. Love will last forever” (1 Corinthians 13:4-8). The love that a husband and a wife should show one another should reflect the love that God has shown them in His Son, Jesus Christ. A sacrificial love that seeks the other’s good above one’s own. It must be a love that is predominantly centered not in each other, but in Jesus Christ where you love one another out of the overflow of your love for Him.

Not only does a house need a foundation and walls, but a house also needs a roof; something to protect the house from rain and acts as a shelter in the storm. And in the building of a marriage grace and forgiveness serve as that roof. The Bible says, “Be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you” (Ephesians 4:32). The grace and forgiveness that the husband and wife show to one another should reflect the grace and forgiveness that God has made available through His Son, Jesus Christ. That is free grace that is not deserved or earned, but is freely and lavishly given. Grace that is not dependent upon each other’s performance or worth, but grace that reflects the blessings that we have been shown in Christ. Free and unearned grace must permeate your marriage so that it protects and shelters from struggles within and problems without.

When these things are done, a marriage will be made that will be strong and that will last a lifetime. But above all else, it will be a marriage that will bring glory to God!

Monday, May 4, 2015

Speaking with a Perfect Accent

Gayle's French is not the best in the world. And she would be the first to admit this. Her conjugations are often confused, her tenses frequently a bit off, and many times she can't quite find the right word to say exactly what she wants to say.

Language learning does not come easy for Gayle. While life in rural Africa can at times be very challenging, she often says that the most difficult year of her life was spent in Canada at language school. After language school Africa is a piece of cake! Since Gayle's primary ministry is to care for her family and keep all of us well, healthy, and happy, she does not get as many opportunities to put her language into practice.

And having difficulty with the language can be discouraging. Outside of our home, all of our conversations are in French or Diola with a smattering of Wolof. But as the ever courageous Gayle likes to say, "I give 'em what I got!" as she seeks to communicate with those around us.

But there is a language that Gayle speaks fluently. A language that she speaks with a perfect accent. And this language has a way of leaving a lasting impression within the heart that is even more profound than even the best French or Diola.

I see her speak it as she cleans off the dirty feet of a barefoot neighborhood child so that she can bandage a wound. I hear it as she sits with our neighbor and holds her baby as they smile and laugh together. The language is spoken without error as she cooks breakfast for and serves those who come to our morning Bible study. I hear perfect conjugations as she cares for her family in a place where life can sometimes be pretty tough. She speaks this language fluently through sweat soaked clothes, dirty feet, a loving smile, and a tender touch.   

While my "good" French often clangs like a cymbal, Gayle fluently speaks a language that any heart, regardless of ethnicity, religion, or even language, can understand. She speaks the language of love. And she speaks it with a perfect accent. And when she speaks it, she sounds just like Jesus.

"If I speak with the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal." 1 Corinthians 13:1
"Jesus said, 'A new commandment I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another.'" John 13:34-35

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Obama Underwear

Life in Africa can be hard; especially on your underwear.
We arrived in Senegal over two years ago with what could be described as a moderate supply of underwear for all members of the family. We even brought with us some “spares” that we kept tucked away knowing that we could not just run down to the local Wal-Mart to pick up our favorite Hanes and Fruit-of-the-Loom products.
But two years is a long time in the life of a pair of underwear. And after over two years of having our underwear washed by hand, then hung out to dry in the scorching heat and under the blazing sun of southern Senegal this has left a certain over-40 male member of our family with pressing needs in the “personal clothing” department. We are talking being down to a worn-out elastic waistband and not much else!
However, while in Senegal you cannot run down to the corner Super Center, you can find products here that are not available back home in the States. For instance, things like Barack Obama underwear.
So, we recently went to the market to do a little “male lingerie” shopping, hoping to pick up a few pair of Barack’s to make it through the year. Knowing that sizing is not exactly uniform everywhere in the world, and sensing that this would be a test run of sorts with the new Obama-of-the-Looms, we decided to get two pairs. Though in the real world this underwear client fits comfortably into a medium, here we settled on a large and an extra-large sensing that Mr. Obama may run a bit small. We were pleased with the color selection and chose a nice blue and copper color. The shop owner began by asking for around ninety cents for these new Obamas, but we were able to negotiate a price closer to seventy-five cents after I assured him that the fact that I was an American did not necessarily equate to a love for the man whose name would soon encircle my waistband.
Upon returning home the entire family was excited to see how Mr. President was going to help the leader of their family resist the urge to go commando for the foreseeable future. And I must admit, while I do not personally support Obama, I was hoping that Obama’s new product would support me!
Unfortunately, our initial foray into the seedy and mixed-up world of politics and undergarments proved to be a disaster. The package marked XL actually contained a pair of large underwear. Yet another example of a politician, in this case Mr. Obama, promising something that ultimately turned out to be a bait-and-switch. Then, as we tried on the now two pair of large underwear that we had, they were so small that Hosanna proved to be the only family member capable of wearing them. Truly, the Barack Obama underwear approval rating took a decided hit over this whole affair.
So, what’s the moral of this story? Never trust a politician. And if you ever decide to send us a care package, a few pairs of men’s medium Hanes would be greatly appreciated!

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

C’est comme ça

The phrase “c’est comme ça” in French literally translated means “it’s like that.” But when it is said with a shrug of the shoulders and a tilt of the head it conveys the idea: That’s just the way it is. Life is like that and we are powerless to change it. “C’est comme ça.”
Last night Abdoulaye came over to our house, as he does most every evening. And as he was recounting the events of his day he tells us about how the newborn son of one of our close mutual friends had died that morning. His young wife of less than a year had given birth to a son last Wednesday and the child was at the regional hospital in Ziguinchor. We knew that the child was “sick,” but everyone kept saying that it was nothing serious and the child would be back in the village in a day or two. But yesterday morning our friend’s wife called him to say that their five-day-old son was dead. Our friend had never even seen his son due to a traditional belief that says that Diola men cannot see a newborn child who is younger than a week old; even if it is their own child. They believe that if they see them the man will become sick and begin to swell up. After telling us the news about the child Abdoulaye shrugs his shoulders and says, “C’est comme ça.”
I went to see our friend this morning. I suspected that he was at his “shop” where he serves as one of the village barbers. I found him there and shared with him our condolences and the fact that our family had been and will be praying for him and his wife. He then called his wife, who is still in Ziguinchor, so that I could speak with her. She only speaks Wolof and Mandinka so our conversation was quite brief, but afterward I asked her husband how she was and he replied, “Oh, she is very good.” When I asked him what had happened he told me that the child was born “tired” and with some kind of sickness and that he just died. He told me that his son, the one he had never set eyes on, was buried yesterday afternoon in Ziguinchor at the hospital there. He then began to bemoan the fact that it cost over seven dollars to bury him there when they could have done it much cheaper in the village. He then said with a shrug of the shoulders, “Dieu sait. La vie est comme ça.” “God knows. Life is like that.”
Other than my friend being a little quieter than normal and the occasional woman stopping by to poke her head in the shop to say something to the effect of, “Hey I heard that your baby died yesterday. I am sorry. Life is like that,” life went on pretty much as normal. While I was there he washed a young woman’s hair and shaved an older man. Not much seemed to be different. It was just…comme ça.
When a newborn baby dies in our home culture we say, “What a tragedy.” Here we shrug and say, “Life is like that.” Here in Senegal death is not the stranger that it is back home in the States. Death, the thing that we run from and avoid at all costs back in our home culture, is accepted here as a reality of everyday life. People are born and people die. C’est comme ça. Death comes many times without much warning and when it comes it is accepted as just the way it is. To be born is to await death. There is a certain familiarity with death here that we do not share back where we come from.
There are some things about life here in Senegal that I will never get used to. C’est comme ça.

Friday, January 30, 2015

730 Days in Senegal

Two years spent in Senegal translates out to 730 days. Just for fun, we tried to quantify what that experience was like. While some of these numbers are estimates (I mean let's be real, who actually counts how many mornings they eat bread?) we feel like this is a pretty good reflection of the...how shall we say it..."it's not bad, it's just different" nature of life here in southern Senegal.

So, here is two years/730 days in southern Senegal by the numbers:

690 mornings that we ate French baguettes. Yea, I am sure that some of you are like, "Wow, I would love a French baguette for breakfast!" Sure, baguettes are good, but try one for the next 100 consecutive days and get back with us!

3 times eating indoors in the village. Life is lived outdoors and we, like our Senegalese neighbors, eat all of our meals outdoors. So what were the three special occasions that kept us inside? One time we were all too sick to go out. Another time we were watching a movie on the computer and kind of hiding out. And the last time, well, we had something really good for dinner that we did not want to share!

9 malaria tests taken. Since we are nowhere close to good medical  care, when someone shows symptoms of malaria that seem to linger we give them a home test to be able to rule out or confirm malaria.  

0 cases of malaria in our family. Praise God all 9 tests came back negative! Which meant that we then had to break out the "medical manuals" to try and figure out what was going on.

18 cases of "mystery rash." Yea, it is as weird, and maybe as gross, as it sounds. And everyone of us have gotten it at one point or another, although certain teenage boys among us seem to be the most susceptible. Thankfully, after a week or so, and some oil and cream being rubbed on it (and one time some fresh garlic; sorry Ez, we were trying our best!) it has always gone away.

520 days that we have eaten rice. (There was a lot of debate on this number with some family members arguing that they were sure the number was closer to 720, but we safely settled on 520.) Yes, we eat a lot of rice.

3 traffic tickets. One for talking on a cell phone while driving.  Guilty as charged. (I also should have received a ticket for stupidity as I did this as I drove directly in front of the police station in Ziguinchor!) One for too many people in the truck at one time. Again, guilty. One for running a red light. Yea, I'm not so sure about this one. I am still amazed that there was actually a red light in Senegal that worked that I was able to run!

Too numerous to count: times we were harassed by police and threatened with a ticket. Suffice it to say, life can sometimes be a bit...complicated. I can now boast that I have seen the inside of numerous police stations in Senegal and the neighboring country of The Gambia.

0 bribes given to police. Hence, the reason why I am well acquainted with the interior of police stations!

1556 meals prepared for guests who have eaten with us. Yes, we always have someone eating with us. We are convinced that there is some sort of high-pitched signal that can only be heard by Senegalese ears that goes out right before we are preparing to eat alerting those around us that "soups on!" Good Senegalese hospitality, which we try to practice in abundance, says that when someone comes over and you are eating that you feed them as well. So, most days we have someone with us when we eat. Not to mention the weekly times when Gayle and the girls cook for all those attending our Bible study.

1 mattress eaten by termites. I know, this sounds really weird, and believe us, it was.

Way too numerous to count: insects killed, cold bucket showers taken, "different" things eaten (monitor lizard may top the list), times a member of our family who may or may not be joyfully skipping through menopause complained about the heat, gray hairs accumulated, times I honked the horn before nearly hitting a person, another vehicle, or an animal, and smiles and laughs shared with Senegalese friends.

730 days of God's continued faithfulness. "Through the Lord's mercies we are not consumed; Because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness" (Lamentations 3:22-23). Praise God, this is a number we can count on each day!

Two Years Ago Today...

Two years ago today our family arrived in Senegal. We arrived to a new life, a new ministry, new challenges, and new adventures. We arrived holding loosely to our "plans" for ministry, anxious to see where God would take us and how He would get us there.

And two years is a long time that seems like just yesterday. But, conversely, two years is just a blink, that some days seems like an eternity. Such is the paradox of life and ministry in Africa.

This morning over breakfast we all talked about the things that, by God's grace, we have seen and experienced over the past two years. In some of those moments we laughed. In others we cried. There were times of awe at the faithfulness of God.  And other times of frustration and confusion. And everything, truly every other type of emotion, in between.

But for the last two years we have shared life. We have shared life with one another in our family in a closer way than ever before. (There is something about a living space of less than 400 square feet that can really bring a family close!) We have shared life with our Senegalese friends, neighbors, and brothers and sisters in Christ. We have celebrated with them, mourned with them, danced with them, and walked side-by-side with them for the last two years.

But this journey has been shared with the God and King of the universe who promises to walk with His people. We, like Moses, dared not go out into the unknown in a foreign land without the presence of God, saying, "If Your Presence does not go with us, do not bring us up from here" (Exodus 33:15). But God has intimately been with us saying, "I know you by name" (33:17). Jesus does not simply send His people to go and do His work and accomplish His purposes; Jesus goes with His people as they are sent by Him. His is not an invitation to ministry, but rather an invitation to journey with Him and share life with Him in new ways. This, more than anything, has been the sweet grace of the past two years.

Only God knows what the future holds for us. We pray that it is full of continued opportunities to share the love and truth of God among a people who are without the hope of Jesus. But we are assured of one thing: the Presence of God will be with us. And that sweet manifestation of His grace to us in Christ is enough.