A Window on our Kids

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When we take the children with us to Namalu, the nearby trading center, they always attract a curious crowd – even when they’re in the vehicle! It’s not easy getting so much attention. Still, we’d like to give you a window into their lives so you can better understand what the Lord is doing with our family and walk with us in prayer.

School

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On weekdays, Joshua, Emmalene, and Hannah attend the classes at the mission’s Karamoja Education Outreach (KEO). Rashel takes them, and together they are learning things like Bible stories, memory verses, numbers, vocabulary, etc. Here’s Joshua, learning from Master George (he is back by the chalk board).

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Everyone enjoys recess, including Hannah, here playing with a jumprope…

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…and then after recess, she and the other children line up to go inside again.

Alongside KEO, we’re working through some of our regular homeschooling materials, but right now our primary focus is learning the language.

Critters

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Our garden spiders are B-I-G. Joshua seems to have no fear of them, but I wonder whether their bite matches their size.

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Here’s Joshua with a bunch of our wonderful MKs. They were walking on the compound when this little black mamba took fright and fled; but one of the guards caught it and killed it. We thank God for his protection.

Other missionary kids

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The mission recently held a meeting in Karamoja, so the rest of our team down in Mbale all came up. Any time you get to be with other missionary kids, it’s awesome!!

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For our kids, that’s pretty often. They play regularly with the Okken kids, who live just a short walk away from us. Here Emmalene is sporting braids that Megan Okken made for her.

Missionary associates

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We love our missionary associates! Here Angela is walking Emmalene and Hannah back to the mission compound after Sunday evening devotions, which we had at the clinic this particular Sunday. We pray that our daughters will learn to love the Lord the way these young women do.

Food

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Food can make you feel more at home. Although we like trying new things, it’s nice when you get to eat things that are more familiar – like homemade pizza, which we usually have about once a week.

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We also get to enjoy tropical fruits like these. Here we have (clockwise from the top) pineapple, soursop (aka heart of bull), lemons, mangoes, passionfruit, tamarind, bananas, and papaya. Everything but the pineapple grows right here on the compound, and many other things besides. The papayas are up really high on the trees, so Joshua and I took a really long stick and knocked down a few ripe ones.

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For Joshua’s birthday, we made donuts for dessert. The girls love to help Mama in the kitchen.

Birthdays

Speaking of birthdays, in the few short weeks since we arrived, we have celebrated two – three, if you include Mama!

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Their gifts from us were new Bibles all around. Here they are, very pleased and on the way to church. May God write his word on their hearts!

Chores

Yes, we have chores here, too. Every morning, Emmalene takes the clothes to the outdoor washing area; Joshua tends to the chickens. We’re thankful that they are doing this work faithfully.

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The job of the chickens is to lay eggs. We’ve had them for about two weeks now. So far, they seem to think they are on vacation, but we hope they will start laying before long.

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We burn much of our trash here, and Joshua often helps out. This is our trash pit.

Play time

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It’s not all chores, of course; there is lots of playing, too. Here Emmalene is pretending to be a Karimojong woman. She is balancing her toys on her head, just like the ladies here often carry parcels, bundles of sticks, etc.

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Yes, you can be a princess in Karamoja! Emmalene was delighted when our container arrived – she really wanted to wear this play dress again.

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There is a swing out behind the house, and the girls enjoy playing on it. (Sometimes bigger people do, too.)

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Once in a while, you just need to cuddle up to Mom and hear a story.

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Many of the Karimojong boys have little steerable wire cars. They’re really clever little contraptions. Here Joshua is starting a wire car project with one of the boys. It’s not finished yet.

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When the container arrived, Joshua was overjoyed to have his Nerf guns again. Thanks to the generosity of many people, we have lots of toys, and the children have sweet memories of those who have given.

Walk with us

We hope this brief look into the lives of our children will encourage you to pray for them – and for all of us. Outwardly, our lives may seem unusual, but we are just an ordinary family! We have ordinary joys, struggles, needs, and temptations, and we daily require the same extraordinary gospel of grace that we have come to give to others. Please pray we would know and delight deeply in Christ’s work for us, and that our lives and the lives of our children would exalt him.

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Crickets in Karamoja

If you’ve been looking for updates here recently, you’ve probably noticed a lot of silence. The metaphorical blog crickets have been chirping gently, just as they are in this warm African night. “Is it really that quiet over there?,” you may be wondering. In truth, it’s been very busy! But besides our ordinary labors, two things in particular have recently held our attention.

Sickness

Since arriving in Karamoja, we’ve struggled with various illnesses – some mild, some major. Upper respiratory stuff has gotten the kids and me down a few times, sometimes with fevers. Everyone but Rashel has a little cough that doesn’t want to leave; it’s probably allergies – part of getting used to a place. When things are more severe, we are so grateful to God for the mission clinic! It’s just a short walk away.

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This picture is from a few weeks ago. Hannah and I are in the clinic waiting area. We were both feeling miserable, but our malaria smears came back clear. We’re doing fine now.

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Rashel, on the other hand, was hit with a really bad case of strep throat (or something like it). It came on fast, and before long, she had a very high fever and was having difficulty swallowing fluids because of intense throat pain. She was so sick she missed church, which is saying something! The clinicians put her on first one and then another antibiotic, and then this past Monday, because she wasn’t getting enough fluids, she was given two IVs of saline solution. Here she is, laying on the examination table at the clinic, waiting for a treatment. While we were there, she said, “It’s good that the Lord gives us sickness, just like the Karimojong, so we can sympathize with them.” In that sense, getting sick is actually an important part of ministry here. Even so, we are praising God that she made a good recovery and is back on her feet again!

It needs to be said that our team was a tremendous help to us while Rashel was ill. They are such a blessing and encouragement from the Lord. We are so glad the Lord has put us together with this group of lovely Christians!

The “can”

Back at the end of December, we packed our container, and it began its voyage around the world. (An aside: we never could have done it without the help of our wonderful family and a team of folks from Reformation Fellowship in Roseville, CA! Thank you for supporting us, and for showing us the love of Jesus!) From the dock in Oakland, CA, the “can” went to Mombasa, Kenya, where it was unloaded and shipped inland to the Uganda border. We were told that the tax inspection would take place on the mission compound. We were told that there should be no problem getting it through customs; since I already had a work permit, the fees would be minimal. Well, according to the eternal counsel of God, nothing quite happened the way we were hoping! The inspection took place in Mbale – nearly everything was taken out, even the smallest items were counted and logged, and then it was all put back on to the container. Bob Wright, our resident deacon, oversaw the whole process and did an amazing job. I wasn’t on site – but it must have been a crazy amount of work. We were levied a substantial amount in fees, but not as much as we feared.

Then it finally came, just over a week ago!

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Here we are starting to unload…

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…these are some of the guys who helped: Jesse Wright, Emmy (one of our Bible study teachers), Jesse Van Gorkom, and Lokwii David (one of our translators, who is also helping me learn Karimojong).

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And here is Bob. What took huge amounts of effort to pack only required an hour to unpack. What a blessing, to be able to close the door on this process!…

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…Well, not quite. We still have a lot to unpack. Right after our stuff arrived, Rashel came down with strep, and I had a touch of the flu, so things look pretty much the same as they did when things first came. But we are making progress, and the kids are thrilled by each new rediscovery. And for those who remember loading the 800 lb. piano – there it is on the right! There are some minor exterior scratches, but otherwise, it’s just fine. It even sounds like it’s still in tune!

Please pray for us: that the Lord would preserve us from illness, and that we would be able to get our things organized quickly. And when you hear the crickets, please continue to lift us up before our Father!

More updates coming soon!

Dirt

Dust. Mud. Earth. Soil. You can’t get away from dirt here in Karamoja. It gets on your clothes; it circulates in the air; it is part of life. It constantly reminds us: we were made from the dust of the ground, and – until at last death is swallowed up in victory (as it shall be, praise God!) – to dust we will return.

No one knows the number of their days, but for the people of Karamoja, they are commonly fewer than average. Life expectancy here is short. Our neighbors are dying for the gospel we have come to tell, that the Maker of dust took on our dusty nature, died and was buried in the dust, was raised up from his earthy tomb, and reigns undying in heavenly glory. Such good news! By faith in Jesus Christ, God raises men from sin and death and makes them live in joy forever!

One way we announce this glorious message is by visiting nearby villages to teach stories from the Bible. These Bible studies offer a snapshot of life and ministry in Karamoja. The pictures below are from a recent study in the village of Nariko.

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As you leave the mission and walk westward, Mt. Kadam rises before you. For a mountain-lover like me, this scene does not grow old! But we have a false start. I discover a thorn in my sandal, and we turn back quickly. Caleb Okken’s Leatherman takes care of the problem, and we are back on the road.

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So much dust. It’s the dry season right now, and as the lorries pass, the dirt billows around you. That’s Pastor Dave Okken walking in front of me, about to be slammed with a cloud of dust.

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Recent fires obscured the path. (Fires are often lit to clear the ground for future planting.) We are backtracking to try to find our way.

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Finally, a real trail! And there is Nariko ahead of us. It takes 30-45 minutes to get here when you don’t get lost.

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We arrive at the village tree, exchange greetings, and then the story begins. Usually, our translator Emmy teaches this study, but today Pastor Dave is teaching in English and Emmy is translating.

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A small group of men is here. The work of carving a cattle yoke (the stripped log in the foreground) is set aside, and they listen. We are scattering the seed of the word. But will this soil bear good fruit? “O Lord GOD, you know!” (Ezekiel 37:3)

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This aged man is soil in which it seems the seed has taken root. He is literate, but now has trouble with his eyesight. This is a common complaint and a serious problem: if you can’t see, you can’t read, even when you have that skill.

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The study has ended, we have said our goodbyes, I’ve refilled my water bottle (I drank a total of 40 ounces this trip), and now we are stepping back onto the main road. A little up the way, on the other side of the road, fire is devouring the grass. Birds of prey are searching for escaping rats.

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We are back now. My sandals are designed for airflow, not keeping out dirt! My feet don’t seem very beautiful, do they? Even after scrubbing, it looks like the dirt has been ground into my skin – it will not come out easily.

In nearly every way, our work here lacks outward glory. It was the same for the Lord Jesus: he walked the dusty, filthy roads of Palestine, announcing the gospel of the kingdom of God. The feet of God the Son were dirty! And the soil of men’s hearts seemed to bear little fruit. The message of the kingdom was offensive to many and unimpressive to most. He was despised and rejected and finally killed. Yet hidden from human eye was this astonishing truth: in the person of the God-Man, the very Salvation of God was revealed. “God has given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son” (1 John 5:11).

By humble means – like walking to villages with the Word of God – the Karimojong are hearing this blessed news. We are dusty; it may seem there is little else to show for our labors. But this does not discourage. We trust the risen Son is being made visible when his servants have dirty feet.