March 2017

Community Celebrations

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While at homebase this past week we celebrated

“International Day of the Woman”

It is an interesting holiday as the culture in general is suppressive to women (they have very, very little freedom). We do not quite understand how women are honored or viewed on this day in the context of their culture. As a national holiday, many businesses and schools were closed. We saw celebration and a day filled with fun activities. It is celebrated differently per which village you live. We do not know the origins of the day and with such language barriers we do not know what was all spoken at the ceremony. They did have a woman from the village speak and the chief honored Ruth & Linda by thanking them for everything they have done as well as giving a blessing for them to stay and continue helping the village. Our prayer is that God would open all eyes to see women as His beautiful creation; priceless and worthy of respect; and as Christ loves the Church, so should a husband love his wife.


International Day of the Woman Sneak peek:

Bike Race (for girls=unmarried women)- which we participated in! Since we (sheltering wings) have been appointed a “guard/helper” by the village chief, he was able to get us two bikes to use at the last minute. We were told we’d race to the next town (about 5 miles away) and back. Did this happen…lol…not quite. Not only were we were excited to support the women, but now we also had the chance to finally do some physical activity! We did bike- probably about 200 yards. As we began, we were very confused b/c everyone (4 other girls along with Britney and myself which came to a grand total of 6 ladies for the big race;) biked like she was taking a leisurely stroll. Perplexed at what was going on, we simply stayed with the girls. Finally, about 100 yards out of town we all came to a stop. We thought we were waiting for others to catch up (wrong again). Come to find out, we had stopped to begin the race. The nice little stroll we had was merely to reach the starting line.  As we biked out of town, we had a crew of men follow along. When we came to the starting point, one of the gentlemen drew a line with his foot in the sandy, red dirt. The starting line was ready. The next thing we knew, the girls took off. Man, oh man did they fly! The race had officially begun. We popped on our bikes with hopes to catch up; however, once we started to peddle faster and faster we realized the bikes did not have gears nor breaks…. whoops. Thus, you can only go so fast before you feel like your wheels are out of control.

We know you are now anxiously awaiting if we caught up and won, we did catch up, but it would not have been right to pass them. We came in dead last.

Oh, how did the girls stop? The men at the finish line caught them. Luckily, we could slow our bikes down, so we did not need their kind help. LOL, it was fun.

After the race, they held a ceremony under a grove of mango trees.  The chief and elders of the village were present, as well as the mayor of our neighboring village, the village teachers, and doctors. At the ceremony, they had a small parade which consisted of the students rhythmically marching followed by the women marching and singing.  After some introductions, the women danced together in a circle. There was also a dinosaur dancing at one point (comic relief) and some men. Hopefully you can see in the picture how they dance- easier to see it than explain. It is all how they move their feet; it appears they are sticking out their buttocks, but the movement is all in feet.

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What seemed to bring everyone the most enjoyment was the dance of the masks. Depending on your village (like the national day of the women), the festival of the mask differs. There is a national day which is known as the festival of the mask. We will try our best to explain what we have been told about this festival. On this day people pray to the mask for rain. The mask also goes around and “hunts” for boys. These boys will be caught and whipped in some villages. Why? Still really do not know and have not had the opportunity to ask someone who truly understands the reasoning (maybe a rite of passage-a mark for the boy to become the next mask..?) In other villages, the mask will hunt for a human sacrifice. Does this still really happen, yes. Thank God not in our village! The current mask will then pick another young man to become the next mask- whomever the mask picks must oblige. Some villages have one mask, some have a few, some have animals, some have colors, etc. In our village, we saw three masks each dressed in different colors, representing different genders. They also had a group of young men/boys dancing along. These boys were dressed simply in pants and some were holding a whip. Come to find out these boys were in training for the mask positions. What they do during training, we don’t want to know. In our village, the masks are volunteers and we think they just dance. The dance is very specific and rhythmic- it is like a musical, so a “dansical.” How they can wear what they do and dance how they dance without passing out is beyond our comprehension! Crazy!! We were told that in older generations the boys in training would dance naked. Once again, thank you Lord of the change with the new generation!

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After the dancing, they had an award ceremony for all the bike racers. We were called forward in front of the entire village to receive a consolation prize. It was extremely uncomfortable and awkward as we stood in the spotlight to receive our gift and have our picture taken. Despite feelings of embarrassment which flooded within and overflowed to our faces, we were humbly grateful and moved to receive a national day of the woman shirt. Later that day, the children excitedly requested us to wear our shirts to a soccer game and cheered when we changed into them. Their elation was priceless and unforgettable, it was as if we were now one of them. Thankful to God for that moment!

Later in the day, there were soccer games played and late night dancing. From what we could see everyone dressed in their best for the dance. It really was a fun day of activity and cultural exposure.

Also, this past week we had a sponsorship distribution. Each child in the sponsorship program received a huge bag of rice and a gift (soap, lotion, cookies). One child received a bike.

Periodically throughout the week, woman along with their babies would come for formula.

We went to the market in a village not far from us, which is every Tuesday. We are limited to what we can buy do to sanitary measures and longevity of product.  Without the help of a fridge, it is challenging to keep things fresh for a while when they are good and ripe. You can bargain at the food market, yes, they try to “rip you off” (get the most $ for their product). We are still learning what is reasonable for certain products. We also painted the pavilion, which will be used to help teach preschool/tutor children.

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Another highlight of the week was playing with the children- teaching them games as well as having them teach us their games. Games are similar yet different, such as ring-around the rosy, bacon in the middle; however, hopscotch is the same. They love balls! They prefer to bounce them verses throwing them (so it appears). They also like Frisbee which was new to them.

They love affection and desire to be noticed. As soon as you extend a hand they want to take hold of your arm. They also try to sneak in touches of your hair, lol. The older girls braided our hair the other day while trying to watch the soccer game- a regular braid. They love to help us carry things, wash things, really anything- they even sat and listened to us read the birth of Jesus in English and then in French, mind you, they speak Dioula (Jula). We know God’s word does not come back void; no matter what language!!

God has placed some children on our hearts, two older boys to be specific. There are also a couple of older girls we have been able to bond with- starting too.  They speak and understand some French.

On Sunday, we officially said goodbye to the last of the sheltering wings crew; therefore, we were feeling a little sad, but God is good. Monday, we welcomed in another missionary, Dawn. She teaches the women how to make soaps, how to sew, really anything crafty.  We are excited to observe her work with the women and learn more about her project.  We will have her company for a few weeks- Yeah!


Prayers: Two boys- pray able to reach their father and encourage them to go to school so we can sponsor them. Pray we can build a relationship with them. Prayers for the children whose eyes seem empty and hopeless- it breaks your hearts


Praises– Meeting other missionaries from different organizations and learning about their projects, praise God for time of rest and rejuvenation, praise Him for a wonderful church service on Sunday (we sang “Great is thy Faithfulness”), and praise Him for the power of prayers and the gifts you have blessed us with!!

 

Love and Miss You!

 

March 2017

What’s Happening:

Left the capital, and spent a few days in a neighboring city.


I encountered my first, and probably not my last, bout of sickness. Not sure what I ate or drank, and while our bodies all respond differently to the same things, my stomach responded like I had food poisoning. But, praise God we were in a larger city where I had access to a toilette, a bed, & air! I also did not start throwing up until after we arrived – Praise God it did not begin on the road. While I was resting the next day, Britney went to see some of the sights – a local grocery store- to give the best picture imagine a 15 by 15 outside shed lined with differing things, like a small gas station would have, and attached to the front is an overhang where there are a few freezers for cold items, she was able to get a SIM card for our phone, buy us a tea kettle for our home, and the closest thing she could find to saltine crackers for my stomach.


Intermediate Travels

We stayed in what used to be the capital and is now the the 2nd largest city. Most people here speak Julua- rare to find French speakers.

We helped with Milk distribution, which supplies mothers with formula to feed their child. Most women who come are not the child’s mother. They are typically women who choose to step in and provide for the child as their own. Many mothers die within the first week after giving birth. If a female family member does not request to care for the child/or children (we have seen multiple sets of twins) most of the children are abandoned. Few fathers choose to step in and take care of the child. The loss of the mother is connected to the newborn. If a mother dies after labor, the husband and family blame the child. They see the child as a curse. Along with the milk distribution program, there is a foster program in place. The nationals within the Church are being taught the importance of caring for and loving children whom are not blood related. The desire is to teach them that a child is a blessing from God.

It was touching to met some of the foster families already in place. To show thanks and appreciation to one family, we took them a gift. The gift included a live goat, three chickens (male and two female) and a pound of rice. When you visit someone, the family offers you a seat, water to be shared (each person sips from same cup), and then you visit for a while. We asked to pray for the family before we said our goodbyes. They were very grateful and said it was as being so thirsty in the desert and then someone stopping to give you a drink of water.

Later that evening, we had dinner with Dramone who is the national now in charge of the milk distribution program. His wife prepared a chicken that was gifted to him earlier that day. For dinner we were served chicken, veggies (onions, cucumber, and peppers), and homemade kettle popcorn. The popcorn was intentionally made for us b/c Philip, the man who began the foster & milk distribution program had taught Dromone and his wife how to make kettle corn. It was incredibly thoughtful and kind. When you go to one’s home they are very hospitable and offer as much as they can.

After that we headed out to see a miracle healer, a Dutch evangelical proclaiming the name of Jesus. We were of course leery – it is going to be a Leap of Faith sort of film…? But honestly, it was not. Yes, there were thousands of people, but people were not falling down, speaking in tongues or anything that sent big caution signs. What we heard did not contradict biblical absolutes, he spoke of Christ and what He did….and miraculous healing did take place. God can do the impossible in the name of Jesus; however, we are just not used to seeing that type of gift in action- in truth specifically. Not to sure how we feel about it- we, including all the missionaries, were on guard and praying for spiritual protection before we went. And the hope is that people seek out truth in the local churches and God uses it for His glory.

Finally, we went back to our home and passed out. Goodbye last night of precious cool air.


Home Base

Next morning we officially left for our new home. It is quite the adventure to get there. We enjoyed a more “lush” view as we drove, but driving there is like extreme off roading in America. You never would expect to find such a village all the way out in the bush, but it’s there and it’s real. It is dry season so the bush is not luscious and everything is still very brown but it is greener in the south and we can see the beautiful sky again.

Our New home: It is beautiful- we refer to it as “sophisticated camping.” In our house, we have a living space, two bedrooms (one Britney and I will share and then one extra for guests and storage), a small room to bucket bathe in and a little terrace off the front. We have a separate squatty potty that we all share. The squatty potty is a hole dug in the ground surrounded by concert. You squat and literally aim for the hole- which I have only made good aim a few times. We have a little can with T.P. in it to wipe, another can to throw away your used T.P, a watering can to rinse the floor you most likely just peed on, and hand sanitizer. We’ll let you know how pooping goes when it happens- I joke that I might just take a bag in the bedroom. There are flies in the squatty and it smells like a johnny. With all that said, its perfect – it works and it’s much more than people have here. Okay Ash wrote the “its perfect part” so I will give full disclosure – it is difficult at least for me and something I give over to God everyday (the toilet part). Our kitchen is a separate building. We have a propane stove, a sink, a counter top table and wire hanging for fruits and veggies. Ruth and Linda have their home, which is the same layout as ours. On their terrace, they have a coffee table with chairs- this is where we eat meals and gather for devotion in morning. Oh, we also have a room outside next to the squatty potty for bucket bathing as well and have found we prefer to bathe out there. You can gaze up at the stars and its cool. Just pay attention because some nighttime critters will come to join you. We wash our hair with a bucket outside in the open so our hair doesn’t create havoc for the “drains” (the little hole in the cement in the back wall for water to drain out). And every part of life is seen by an audience as people come all day long and stay, and groups of children are consistently hanging out.

We have sheep, goats, donkey, cows, and dogs to keep us company as well as the women and children. Everyone comes to greet you- and they stay and they stay. Babou, the chief’s assigned watchman and helper for Ruth and Linda has made his personal meeting space right next to their porch.

We can hear the Muslim call to prayer in the evening and the morning; as well as the rest of the village waking up. The animals can be heard all throughout the night and as the medical clinic is right behind our house there is a steady flow of motos coming and going till very late. So, although we are in a village out in the bush, life constantly surrounds us.


Ashley – I am excited to make our new place of rest feel more like home, and begin to work with the children. I already have ideas about what we can do, but I need to first just take the time to be and see. What I feel is helpful, may not actually be the case. The Lord will direct us, in this we trust and have confidence. We still need to organize and settle in a bit first.


Britney- I’ve seen pictures, videos, and heard about life here but it doesn’t even scratch the surface of the feelings I have being here. It’s overwhelming knowing that as these are the most difficult living conditions I’ve ever lived in, what I have here is luxury comparative to what the villagers have. Going to see and give gifts to the family was quite a moment for me and then at Dramone’s house later. I cannot explain it. I praise God that He loves us all the same whether we use the squatty potty or a porcelain throne made of gold. He calls us and sees us equally. I praise God that people love Him regardless of their conditions and how amazing to think that one day we will all praise Him together as one body in His presence with no poverty, greed, hunger, selfishness, pity, jealousy, sadness, or division.


Prayers

  • The Holy Spirit be poured out over the village- each house, each mosque and each individual. May they be drawn to the Lord.
  • Language barriers to be broken- a Pentecostal moment.
  • A cool breeze throughout the day, the air can be pretty stagnant.
  • Guidance with interacting with the children. It is difficult to repress the desire to give and give. We have to be respectful of what our other missionaries have put into place as well as set up our own boundaries.
  • Physical strength- against heat, bacteria, any contagious infections from the children (it is common for the children to have ring worm- on their heads even), and stomach/bathroom difficulties.
  • Prayers for the men and women here. Thus far, we have learned the woman does most the work but has few rights. The women take care of children, work in the cash crop fields to make money, work their families crop, and take care of the home. We truly need a rival among the men.
  • Pray for the Lord Jesus to move in their hearts so they may love women as Christ loves the church. We need strong men to rise up as leaders those who passionately love the Lord and treat their wives (women in general) different from the ingrained culture.
  • Pray that we can see through Christ’s lens of compassion and not become overwhelmed by the need.

What we have disclaimed is real, raw and just factual. We pray it does not come off as disheartening, because Yay God. There are so many things we praise Him for.

The things which on the surface appear and are difficult, uncomfortable, foreign, outdated, and unnatural to us are the exact things for which we praise and thank Him. We praise Him for our well and running water in the kitchen, we praise Him for our squatty potty, our cock roach/ bug invested shower, our block of foam for a bed, for the bah -bahs and cries of the goats and sheep, for our propane stove, for our chairs, for our water filter, for our French press and coffee, for the brilliant sun, the magnificent light of the moon and stars, for the cool breeze you eagerly await, for shoes, for sunscreen, for food, for the random wild flowers growing around our home, for the mango tree grove growing next door, for the work being done here, for afternoon siestas, for the smiles on the children’s faces, for the kindness of the women, and for sounds of life and laughter. We praise Him for the opportunity to teach the children games today, such as, freeze-bee, hop scotch, catch, and ring-around-the rosy- (even one of the women wanted to learn and tried to play while her baby was strapped to her back!) How beautiful and strong these women are! There are woman breaking up concrete to sell with a child strapped to their back. So much for which to praise Him. Praise Him for the goat I now see drinking water from the bucket on the terrace that we wash our hands in. We praise Him for your prayers and His word which give us comfort, wisdom and strength.

Even in extreme poverty you see how the Lord provides! You see His immense beauty in places which people assume have nothing to offer or consider insignificant or don’t give any mind to at all. In all of creation He shows Himself, so all may know He is Lord.

 


We love and miss you all!


“The Heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hand”
Psalm 119:1

 

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