Wednesday, December 22, 2010

We're home!

      For all of you avid blog followers, we apologize that this is coming about three weeks late, but we are indeed home safely! We arrived in Albany, NY at about 6:30 p.m. on December 1st where we were met by my (Jess') parents. We collected all of our luggage then headed off to Subway for our first meal stateside. We then headed back to Lowville quite exhausted and running on fumes. Elias was able to stay awake a bit longer than I could, but the first few days were quite challenging to adjust to the time change.
     For this post I am going to copy and paste our final newsletter so that all of you who don't get our newsletters can also get a taste of what our final month looked like. So here it is:

Our final month
The first day of November marked our final month in Gambia. We knew that this month would fly by in a whirlwind of packing, moving and wrapping up. 
            The month began with our final three weeks of Bible studies with our groups. For the most part this went quite well. Some of the youth were sad to see us go while others simply acknowledged that it was time for us to leave. During this time we were able to meet our goal of finishing the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus. 
Also throughout this time we began packing up our small, one bedroom house. For a long time I didn't think that this would be a very big job. While we had a decent amount of "stuff" that we had accumulated I felt that it was nothing compare to packing up our apartment in the States before leaving. In reality this was true, but the job was bit bigger than what I was expecting. Thankfully, with my (Jessica's) parents coming in August we were able to send quite a few gifts and souvenirs home with them making room for the items that we needed to take home. The rest of the things that we used this past year either stayed at the house for the new tenant or went to Gary and Denise. 
After our final week of studies we devoted one week to pack and moving to Pirang along with trips to the city for forgotten items. On Saturday the 20th we borrowed the truck from Jeremiah (the director of MEHDA in Pirang) and officially moved out of our house and into the guest house in Pirang. We stayed here until Monday and then we headed off for vacation until Friday. On Thursday of that week we were blessed to have Thanksgiving with Gary and Denise along with EMM workers Beryl and Andrew from Guinea-Bissau. 
Our five days of vacation were a nice time of rest and reflection on our past year in Gambia. We took a time of talking about all of the positive things about the past year and the culture. We chose not to mention anything negative as it is too easy to get caught up in the negative and let it overpower the positive. This was a really wonderful time of reflection and it was a true blessing to see all the things that God has done for us and through us this past year. 
Upon returning from vacation we were left with only four days to wrap up our remaining "to do's". Saturday we went to visit our groups in Gunjur Beach and Madina Salaam for one last time. We too a small bag of rice to each group and had a wonderful time of fellowship and goodbyes. Sabadu from Gunjur Beach even gave me some beautiful Fula fabric as a gift, that is woven by locals from the Fula tribe. 
Then on Sunday we went to visit the Kiti group one last time. This was the group that we were closest to since we were able to spend the most time with this group and through that time we had developed the deepest relationships out of all of our groups. We went early for church and stayed through for lunch and some time of visiting before saying goodbye and heading back to Pirang for supper. Elias was able to visit with some of the men and male youth while I learned how to "properly" crack and shell peanuts leaving my fingers rather sore, but my heart full that I had been able to once again experience a part of daily life in the village. 
Monday I had my hair braided in preparation for our journey back to the States. Tuesday was once again a whirlwind of packing and last minute running before heading off to the airport at 5:30 p.m. for our 9:00 p.m. flight
After a few hiccups, we were through security and waiting in the gate. Overall traveling went well and we were both touched when the pilot for our flight into Dulles said "welcome home". A few hours later we flew into Albany where we were met by my parents.
Our last few days in Gambia we were able to really see the beauty of the country and realize just how blessed we were this past year. While we looked forward to coming back to the States for a long time, we recognize that this is our temporary home and we never want to lose sight of that. We want to strive to keep God first in our lives and marriage even when life gets busier than it was in Gambia. This will be a challenge, but it is one we are praying that we will be able to maintain. Thank you for all of your prayers that covered our time this past year. The power of prayer is indescribable and made our time so much easier than it would have been without this covering. 
Getting my hair braided by one of the girls from Pirang

"From two to three"
In our last few weeks in Gambia we decided to make an addition to our family. As we have mentioned before, there are many dogs around our house in Methodist Mission. In Late August-early September one of the dogs that we had named Betty, had puppies. We heard the little pups crying in the woods in front of our house. After a few weeks, Elias decided to venture out and find the little guys. A little while later he came back announcing that there were two male puppies that he had found. 
We are unsure if there were more in this litter or not since there were a few large monitor lizards that had been coming around and bothering the mother. It is not uncommon for monitors to eat puppies so it is possible that a few were lost to this. On the other hand, the mother is getting quite old and has had many batches of puppies leaving the possibility that she only had two pups this time.
We figure that the puppies were about 3-4 weeks old when we found them and from this time on we would go out and give their mother some food and water and hold the puppies. One night however, it began to pour and their mother came to us in distress, so we ventured out and brought the puppies to our flower bed in the front of the house where they would stay dry. From then on we played with and cared for the the puppies that we had named Pickles and Scrumpy. 
Our cook Agnus quickly decided that she would take Pickles once they were weaned, which left us wondering what we would do with Scrumpy, who at the time was quite quiet and anti-social. Agnus then told us that there was a woman who worked at the Methodist Mission dental clinic where she cleaned who was looking for a dog. We thought at this point that we now had homes for both puppies, but we then found out that the women who wanted Scrumpy doesn't feed her dogs or give them water. After caring for this little guy for a little over a month we knew that we couldn't let him go to a home that wouldn't love him. So, we made the decision to bring him home with us!
We had friends who had done this back in July so we knew it was possible. We then began vet visits to a German vet and had him vaccinated and de-wormed. We then set out on the challenging job of finding a kennel for traveling However, we knew that this decision could not affect our remaining time for our ministry. I was slightly concerned about this, but it worked out and he didn't detract from our remaining time at all, he just created a bit of extra work. In the end everything worked out and he is now in the States with us trying to adjust to the cold! He's doing quite well and we are very happy with our new family of three! 
                                            Scrumpy at 3-4 weeks when we first found him
                                                             Playing with Pickles
                                                                    Getting bigger!

                                                                      Our final family picture before heading home!
-We were able to finish strong!
-We have made it home safely!
-We have left with some beautiful new friendships and some very promising future leaders!

Prayer Requests:
-Please continue to pray for us as we transition back to American culture and the cold.
-That the youth will continue to grow in their faith, knowledge and leadership abilities
-That the church will continue to grow and more and more Gambians will come to know Christ.

So, this was our final newsletter. If you have any additional questions or if you would like to hear more about anything please let us know and we will fill you in. I will do my best to update you on our readjustments and where we are at now. We are currently living with Elias' parents in the apartment attached to their house. I (Jess) have been officially accepted in to massage school in Albany so we are now in the process of trying to find housing and a job for Elias before I begin school on February 22. We know that God has a plan for us, but please be praying for as we continue to adjust and seek God's will on employment and housing. Right now we haven't heard anything on job availability and we are hesitant to do anything with housing until we know how much we can afford, and until we know that Elias has a job. Maybe this is lack of faith or maybe this is time that God is giving us to readjust. We just continue to seek and pray that God will reveal his plan to us. Thank you again for all of your prayers and support! We couldn't have made it through this past year without the power of prayer! Many blessings to all of you and Merry Christmas!

Friday, November 19, 2010


        This past week was the Muslim celebration of Tobaski. If this holiday is new to you, you are not alone, we had to look it up to know what this big celebration was all about. According to the "Access Gambia" website, this is the holiday that remembers Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son, but at the last minute was provided with a ram from God in place of Isaac because of Abraham's faithfulness. Some of you may be scratching your heads as you know this to be an Old Testament story, but the Koran uses many stories from the Old Testament. 
       On this day, the ritual is to sacrifice a ram, but if a ram is not available or too expensive a sheep, cow, goat or chicken will suffice. The animal should be slaughtered using a sharp knife while Allah's name is being spoken and then 2/3 of the meat should be given to friends, family and the needy so that nobody goes without. Almost everyone gets new, very expensive, clothes made to wear for this celebration and they celebrate all day long. Parents buy their children sugary, western treats as well on this day.
      After living in this culture for a year, we tend to struggle a bit with this celebration. We have no problem with our Muslim brothers and sisters having a celebration, but we struggle with how much money is put into this celebration. Many Gambians have to ask for financial assistance to send their children to school, but they can spend $100-$200 American dollars on new outfits! This is not to say that everyone spends that much, but there are some, maybe even many, that would easily make that price range. This is on top of the cost of the animal that is being purchased for this celebration. 
      As Christmas approaches I think of how closely this reflects our own culture. We complain throughout the year that we don't have enough money for this or that, but then we spend a ton of money that we don't have on material gifts that we don't actually need. This causes me to think about how in our marriage and family, Elias and I can make sure that we are preserving the true meaning of holidays such as Christmas and Easter and not allowing them to get lost in the materialism of our culture. 
      Also as a side note for those of you who aren't aware, Elias and I will be heading home on Nov. 30th and arriving on Dec. 1st. We are excited about coming back the U.S. and for what God has in store for us stateside, we just ask for prayer as we finish up our last 11 days here. It is is bit of a stressful time, but we know that God will be faithful! Thank you all for your support during our time here and I will try to make a few more posts before we go home and continue with a couple after we return. Blessings to all of you!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010


       As our time here comes close to it's end, we are beginning to experience certain things for the last time.  This past week we had our last Bible study with three of our four groups, which also meant that we rode our bicycles for the last time to these groups. We have also finished our last week of having our cook, Agnus, come and cook Gambian food for us. I'm sure we'll still have a few more opportunities to eat Gambian food, it just won't be in our own home.
       Some of these "lasts" will be sad, such as saying goodbye to friends that we have made. Others however will not be so sad, such as taking our last cold shower here, our last time washing laundry by hand (which will hopefully be tomorrow!) and our last time sighing as the power goes out once again.
       It doesn't seem quite real that our time here is going to come to a close so soon! This Saturday we are planning on moving out of our house in Brikama, staying two nights in Pirang and then heading off for vacation for a few days at the ABWE guest house. This will be a time of reflection and relaxation before we head back to Pirang for our final four days.
        Leaving is always a bittersweet time, but we look forward to the next chapter of our lives as this one comes to a close. God has truly blessed us this past year, through both the easy and the difficult and we look forward too all of the blessings yet to come! Thank you to all of you that have supported our time here and made our time here that much more sweet! Blessings!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010


       First of all, I have to apologize to all of you who have been actively reading our blog throughout our time here and have not had any new posts for quite a while now! It seems as though the longer we're here, the worse I'm getting at making regular posts. I also owe a special apology to those of you who don't receive our newsletter and therefore rely on our blog posts as your only source of information regarding out lives here. Hopefully this will get you up to date a bit and I will try to be better at making posts for our last month here.
        October seemed to pass by rather quickly. It wasn't that it was unusually busy, it just seemed to go fast. We have been able to have quite regular studies with our youth and we are hopeful that we will finish teaching the life of Jesus to all of them, which is our goal. We have been feeling quite blessed by some of our groups as they have been quite active in their participation and have been asking some great questions! On the other hand we have had some groups where participation has been decreased due to some of our main participants moving away for school. This has been a bit disheartening, but there are still one or two that try to come out and we know from God's word that where two or more are gathered, God is present!
         We also had to discuss our goals and vision for leadership for our groups when we leave. Our original vision was to have each group choose 1-2 leaders from their group that we would mentor into leadership to take our place. However, as our studies progressed we realized that this may not necessarily be a realistic goal. Reading comprehension is quite low and the Bibles that we have are in english, which is the second or third language of all of the youth. Biblical knowledge is also somewhat low and many of the youth that we have provided Bibles for are receiving their first Bible. This means that they have not been able to study the Bible on their own until this point. This isn't to say that the leaders haven't been doing well leading their fellow youth by conducting our time during, but Elias and I have felt that it would be best if we continued to teaching until we leave to provide a more firm foundation of basic Biblical information. We feel as though that we should then be replaced by two Gambian leaders who are currently in other leadership positions and have a broader knowledge of the Bible. It is our vision that these leaders would then continue to mentor our current younger youth leaders into leadership throughout the next 1-2 years. We feel that this time frame would give the younger leaders more time to gain a firmer knowledge in the Bible before transitioning into the role of leading their fellow youth. The two young men that we have chosen are both taking a pastoring course that is being taught here by Canadian professors. One is Raymundo Manneh, the pastor of the Kiti church and the other is Sang Jatta, who is developing into a rather strong leader.
          As for the weather this past month, we have been experiencing quite a few changes. The month began with almost no rain, but extremely high humidity. October is typically one of the worst months and as we continued to have electricity issues, it also brought many hot and sticky days and nights. As the month progressed, humidity continued to be high and rains were scattered. However as we progressed toward the end of the month the humidity began to decrease and now that is it November the nights have been cool enough that we have chosen not to use the fan and have had to cover up with our sheet and fleece blanket! This is not to say we won't still have hot nights, but the weather should get progressively more pleasant throughout the month and should be almost in it's prime around the time that we leave on the last day of November.
          I could continue on, but to prevent this post from being too long, I will save some of the other information for a few different posts. I hope all is going well and we thank you for all of your prayers and support! We hope to see many of you soon!

-Our studies are going well and we should be able to finish the life of Jesus!
-We have had some really nice team time this past month.
-Our electricity issues seem to be improving/possibly fixed after being unreliable for the past 3-4 months

Prayer requests:
-That we would finish strong in our relationships with those that have been a part of our lives here for the past year.
-That God would prepare us to transition back to the United States gracefully.
-That we will handle frustration situations with mercy and compassion.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010


             I think that we have determined that if there is one thing that we want us to take away from our time here it would the Gambian view on hospitality. This view isn't unique to Gambia, but it's quite different from our cold climate culture view.
            At home, for someone to come to a meal, we plan on them coming, then we make sure our house is clean and we make something that's not too expensive and can stretch a bit, but that is also tasty. We might bring out nice plates and silverware, or put a nice tablecloth on the table. No matter how we go about it, we  usually prepare in some way, yet we still usually withhold the best, saving it for ourselves and our families.
           Here in Gambia hospitality is much more relaxed and in many ways I would say it comes more from the heart. On any day, at any given time we could show up at one of our groups and if anyone was eating we would also be invited to eat. It would never cross their minds to think "well I only made enough for 5 and now there's 7 of us", rather, the thought process would be that it would be rude not to offer their food to us. In fact, food is one of the few things that they can offer us, so at times it can be offensive if we don't eat at least some of the food that we are offered. Also, it is always guaranteed that we will have plenty of fish is in our section of bowl, even if that means that others go with less, since we are the guests. In addition, whatever crop is in season we are usually offered and/or sent away with. Stools or chairs are made available for us to sit on, and in some cases the conversation then moves away from the flies.
              While my parents were visiting, we headed out to Kiti and Tiu Jon had just finished sealing two new rooms with concrete. These are going to be where his sister is staying, but at that time they were still drying. He was so proud of these rooms that he invited all of us to sit on mats on the floor, chat with him, host our Bible study inside and even eat in the new rooms! This resulted in rice on the floor and then it needed to be swept, but I feel that this showed his true heart of hospitality. He wanted to give us the best that he had. He could have proudly showed us the room, then had us eat outside, but instead he welcomed us in to enjoy what he had worked so hard to construct.
             I have to admit, I am not the best house keeper. While I enjoy cooking and preparing meals, cleaning is not my strong point. I find that both Elias and I are are fairly careless as we set things down, which leads to items piling up. I also have a hard time finding space for all of the odd items that we own. This results in me scurrying around as I try to make our apartment at least presentable for whoever is coming, or being embarrassed by by what I see as a mess, even if the other person doesn't notice. I feel like I'm rarely prepared for people to just show up, which is fairly common here in Gambia, and when they do I have trouble focusing on them rather than that cleaning that I should have done before this point. I also find myself being the person that says "but we don't have enough food for anyone else". In many ways, with our American cooking style this is true. We don't all eat out of one bowl until we are full, instead we have our own plates and we take our portion. Since there are only 2 of us currently and we only have a fridge that comes up to my hip, with a tiny freezer that doesn't usually freeze and electricity issues, I try to make small meals with little to no leftovers. I also can't store many extras for this same reason if they need to be kept cold. But, I have found that even with this cooking style, there is always enough to share. If that means taking less for ourselves and improvising later, then so be it. Not having enough to share is usually more of an excuse for not wanting to share our precious meat that we only get about twice a week rather than a reality.
            As I think more about this, I'm reminded of the story in the Bible about Mary and Martha. Jesus came to visit and Mary sat at his feet and just listened to him speak, but Martha let herself get so distracted by making everything presentable for Jesus, she missed out the true meaning of hospitality. Mary was the better hostess because she gave her guest her time and attention, Martha on the other hand wanted to please her guest so much that she end up neglecting him instead. I feel like the Gambians are Mary. Guests arrive, they are welcomed in and given what's available at that time. They are attended to and given the time of their hosts. We however tend to more like Martha. We spend time preparing for guests, but when they arrive we hardly enjoy them because we are distracted by all we need to do, and we deprive them of the best gift, our time and attention. This is not to say we are all like this, or that we always do this, but as a culture in general we are much more work oriented than relationship oriented.
             As I go home I want to take Mary's spirit of hospitality that I have found here with me. I would love to lean to keep a tidier home so that I'm prepared for guests, but even when I'm not prepared I want my attention to be focused on them and not on what I should have been doing to prepare for their arrival. I want to give the best of what I have available  and put relationship first. Elias and I have both come to value this and we pray that we can keep this desire as we step back into a time and work oriented culture.

Friday, September 10, 2010

The Fish Market

        After this title I feel like there should be that music that goes "dun dun dun..." in a movie that signifies that nothing good can come from the current situation. This is how I feel about the Brikama fish market.
        When we first moved to Brikama there was a large structure being built in the middle of the market that was hidden behind walls. We spent a few months wondering what it would be and when it would be done. One day however, the walls were down and what was revealed to use was a large building with concrete tables. We still had no idea what this building was going to be used for, but all we knew was that it was in the middle of the market. We eventually found out that it was to be the new fish market.
        Prior to this building fish would be sold in various parts of the market from bucket or a little stand made of wood with a tin roof. It was fairly easy to pic up fish on your way to buying other items if you so desired. This did make the majority of the market quite smelly and it wasn't uncommon to try and avoid fish parts or fish fluids when trying to maneuver the narrow walkways throughout the market. But now a building has been erected for all the people selling fish and with large ice chests to keep the fish. This isn't a bad idea. All the smell is condensed in one building and you know when you enter into the building that you will have to avoid fish parts and fluids, for which drainage has been made.
       However...I for some reason, find the fish market to now be extremely intimidating! I hate the thought of having to go and pick out fish. I never thought I would actually have to experience this part of the market until we were in Ramadan. Our cook, Agnus, informed us that during Ramadan, fish would not be available until the afternoon or evening. We usually have Agnus go on Monday morning with money to pick out what she would need for the week, but since fish was not available in the morning and she lives quite a long distance from the market, she asked if we could go in the evening and get it. As much as I dreaded it, I knew we had to agree.
      So one day, when we had the car and my parents were here, we ventured for the first time into the dreaded fish market. The closer we got the stronger the smell became, and as we passed by buckets of fish parts we were greeted by swarms of flies that had been feasting on these fish remains. Then we arrived at the area where the fish is actually sold and we have to face all these tables where everyone is looking to sell you their fish, yet we have no idea what kind of fish we should even get! So, we chose the first table we came to, bought 3 fish for 10 Dalasi, about $0.37, and headed home. The next day we discovered that we bought the worst fish that we could have chosen as it is very boney and has a strong flavor that neither my father nor I appreciated very much. But, much to our demise, we would get another chance the following week to try again.
       The following week went a bit better as it was later in the day and there were less vendors and less fish. This time we went after the smaller, less boney fish and we were successful! This being said, I don't think that trips to the fish market will become a regular part of my week if I can possibly avoid it. Thankfully Ramadan is now finished and the job of fish buying will return to Agnus.
So it may not look that menacing, but believe me, this is only the outside!

Picking out the boney "bongo" fish, when little to our knowledge, the small fish sitting next to it was the better option.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010


        This week will mark the end of the month of Ramadan. Since the last new moon, all of the Muslims here have been fasting from both food and drink each day from sunrise to sunset. This has marked some changes of daily life for both Muslims and non-Muslims alike. Rather than being able to go to the market at any time of day and get water, icy treats, bread or even fish, most items don't appear later in the day when people would begin preparing to end their fast. To go to the market in the evening however, the market comes alive and their is more food available than we would even find at any other time of year.
         For those of us who have tried fasting in any form we know how difficult the discipline can be. However, here it is just that much more difficult. Just because they are fasting doesn't mean that the work stops. The women are still out in the fields working in the hot sun with no water all day. For me, this puts up some red flags when it comes to health. "You can't be out in the hot sun in 100% humidity and not drink any water!" is what my brain is yelling at me. Yet, since they don't typically drink enough water according to our American standards anyway, they do it and don't realize the effects that it has on their bodies. I was even told by a Christian friend that her Muslim friend who was pregnant was trying to fast, and thankfully after trying and finding it extremely difficult, she heeded the advice of our Christian friend and chose not to fast for the safety of herself and her baby.
        Overall this is a challenging month for Muslims, yet they remain faithful to what they believe. This brings some questions to mind regarding faithfulness. If you think of what you believe to be truth and then imagine that it would require you to fast everyday from sunrise to sunset for a month while maintaining a vigorous work schedule, would you remain faithful? I am thankful that as a Christian I don't have this demand put on me and that I can choose if and when I want to fast, for how long and the activities that I do during that time, yet I have been challenged by the dedication of the Muslims here and I am challenged to think about my level of dedication and commitment to what I believe to be truth and the calling that I feel that God has placed on my life.
        We ask for prayer for our Muslim friends as they finish this time of fasting, and we ask that they would remain healthy and strong.