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!
Praises:
-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

Tobaski

        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

Lasts

       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

October

       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!

Praises:
-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

Hospitality

             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

Ramadan

        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.
      

Monday, August 30, 2010

How quickly we forget

          "I will never take _____ for granted again!" How many times do we find ourselves either thinking this or saying this when we have something that we have missed for a period of time. I can't even begin to count the number of times since being here that I have used that phrase. It usually comes at the time of a cold shower, or the blessing of a warm one, that I think or even verbalize that I will "never" take hot water for granted again. Recently it has been electricity as power outages have been more frequent and for longer periods of time. We can almost expect each night that our electricity will go out between 6-8 p.m. and not resume until sometime throughout the night, leaving us in the dark, breezeless night with the humidity settling in around us like a heavy blanket. This is more of a frustration and inconvenience than anything else, but unfortunately we do rely on electricity to keep medications cold and with temperatures like ours, our little refrigerator has trouble keeping the cold in, or even getting cold for that matter when we do have electricity.
          I also tend to think about this phrase when it comes to rain, the cold, always having running water at our fingertips and having the convenience of a vehicle. But the biggest event that triggered this thought recently was the use of a washing machine!
          A few days ago, we were blessed to once again to have family here in Gambia. My (Jessica's) parents came to visit for 9 days. We decided to take a couple of days in the city to enjoy some A.C., a pool, satellite tv, hot water and much to my delight: our very own washing machine! Usually if we go somewhere with a washing machine we have to pay someone to do our wash for us, but at this particular  place we were able to do it ourselves. You may find yourself laughing at this, but after washing clothes by hand for 9 months, it is amazing to use a washing machine and to realize how dry clothes get when spun rather than hand rung! Elias and I actually made the 30-40 min. drive back to our house just to get the rest of our laundry so that we wouldn't have to do it by hand later in the week.
          As exciting as this may be, it got me thinking about how may times we say that we won't take something for granted ever again and then in a matter of weeks, or maybe a couple of months if we're fortunate, we have forgotten and begin complaining about the very thing we were never going to take for granted! Even I have to admit that before I know it, I'll be complaining about having to take the time to put the clothes in the washer, let the machine do the work and then take the time to hang them on the line. Or I will be stepping into the hot shower, because I have to without even thinking about the hundreds of cold showers that I had to take here. When we experience the infrequent power outage at home, it will most likely be followed by surprise and possibly groans if it interferes with our daily routine.
         I then began to think about how we even do this with people, especially our families. After having Elias' family and then my parents come to visit, we were reminded how nice it is to have time with family and how much we do actually miss them. Yet when we get home, we may find ourselves getting irritated with the very people that we missed so much while here. I would love to think that I will never take the blessing of family for granted, but I know that all too often that is exactly what happens. And as I thought about how quickly we take for granted our immediate family, I began to think about our church family and how this so easily happens with the body of Christ. Rather than recognize the gifts that others have to offer, we argue about our differences. Or rather than complimenting our pastors on all the work they do, we nit pick and complain about what they aren't doing.
         Which then brings me to think about how often we take God himself for granted. In times of need, we cry out with all our being, and when He answers, we promise to be more faithful, make more time for Him and never take for granted how He provides for us and blesses us. Then things get better and we find that it has been days, weeks or even months since we sat down and read our Bible or prayed to the One who carried us through our time of suffering. We forget all of His blessings such as the blessings of food, shelter, clothing, work. We forget to thank Him for our families and lift them up to him, especially when we're irritated with them. We forget to thank Him for the body of Christ and how He made us each unique yet in His image so that we can show others, who our God is and bring His kingdom here to earth. This is coming from personal convictions that I know I have to work on, but I think that it is all too common in most of our lives. My prayer is that we can strive to remember all of our blessings, big and small, and truly not take things for granted rather than just saying that we won't.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Anniversary Vacation






       From August 3-10 we went to the city for a week of vacation to celebrate our anniversary. Overall the week was pleasant and restful, only after following a few days of stress which God used to bless us in the end. We chose a hotel with self catering apartments on the beach so that we would still be able to cook our own meals while enjoying the ocean that we rarely see at home.
       The first day that we arrived we found out that we had to supply our own cash power which is basically like phone credit but for electricity. This was a little frustrating, but we went out and bought our cash power while getting groceries with the team and all was well...until we got back to the hotel that is. Upon entering our cash power into the meter we discovered that the meter was broken and since the power can't be transferred from meter to meter our money would either go to waste or the meter had to fixed. We opted for the meter being fixed. So for the first few hours we had no electricity until they decided to wire our meter to another meter to use the left over cash power on that meter until our meter was fixed the next day. We readily agreed to this arrangement which in the end provided us with just enough cash power for the week.
        The next day however we woke up and discovered that our computer cord had been fried by the power outages and flipping of breakers the previous day and throughout the night. Unfortunately, while we love our Mac laptop, finding Apple products in Gambia is like finding a needle in a haystack that may or may not even be in the haystack. We did find one man who said he could get a cord in a couple of days, but then we found another man who thought he could fix the cord. So we left the cord and agreed to come back the next day. This took about half the day which also added to our frustration, but it was turned around into a blessing considering we were in the city where we were able to easily check about power cords and return in a day where as if we had been in Brikama the travel would have been even more difficult and stressful. We were also happy to arrive back at the hotel and find that the satellite TV had been fixed and we were able to enjoy some different shows that we have never seen or at least not in about a year along with some of our favorite movies that were playing.
        So once again the next day we set out and discovered that our cord could not be fixed, but it could be spliced to another power cord until my parents arrive with a new cord. We also discovered that the man that would "repair" our cord had an Apple cord but it was 24 V instead of 16 V which would have fried our computer. With this knowledge we decided that rather than wait another day for the other place to get an Apple cord which may also be 24 V we would trust these men who actually knew what they were doing to provide a temporary fix. This was a success and the rest of the week went quite smoothly!
        The rest of the week we were able to enjoy swimming in the ocean, see a sea turtle be set free that had been caught in a fishing net, just relaxing and of course celebrating our two year anniversary in West Africa! We decided that the hotel we went to wouldn't be our first choice for another vacation, but it served it's purpose and God was faithful!
         Here are some pictures from our time in the city:
kitchen/dining room area

living room


balcony

bedroom



View from our balcony


enjoying the ocean

Apparently every Sunday during the off season until Ramadan there is a beach party where thousands of Gambians go to swim, eat, dance and just have a big celebration. We were unaware of this initially when we went swimming on Sunday, but Sunday evening after going out for dinner we decided to walk back to our hotel along the beach and this is part of what we saw. The picture doesn't do it any justice compared with how many people were really there. It was really nice to see this though since Gambians don't get too many opportunities to enjoy the beach. 

Prayer requests:
-My parents will be leaving on Monday the 16th and arriving on the 17th. We would like prayer for safe and easy travels and just a blessed time with them here.
-Our teammate Lori leave on Sunday the 15th to return to the States. Please pray for all of her travels as well
-For rain! We need a lot of rain this month or there will be problems and it is actually very dry!

Praises:
-We had a wonderful vacation overall
-We have met a new friend who is a Peace Corp worker, but lives in the Methodist Mission here as well
-We will once again be able to enjoy time with family!












Thursday, July 22, 2010

Women of the Gambia

        Here in Gambia women work harder than any other women I know. Every day is spent either in their gardens in the hot sun, cooking for their family along with others that happen to be there, pounding different items such as rice, cous, millet, fish, etc, washing laundry and taking care of their children among other things.
        One example in particular that comes to mind is one of our youth. Her name is Miriama and she lives in Pirang at the house where we do our weekly Bible study. Each week we arrive and Miriama is busy at work until the rest of the youth come and then she sits down for our study and as soon as it is over she is back to work. Some days we arrive and she is busy hauling water from the school that is some distance away from the house. Other days she is pounding, washing clothing or doing some other work in the house or outside with others that live in the compound. While Miriama is a prime example of a hard worker, she is by far not alone in the heavy workload that women face.

Miriama pounding rice

carrying water, even the smallest children start carrying things on their heads

        Another example is the compound that we hold studies at in Kiti. Any day of the week that we come to Kiti the women are going about their various work. The only time that I have seen them rest is Sunday afternoon where they take time to braid each other's hair.
         This isn't to say that men don't work here, and there are some very hard male workers here in Gambia, but while it is a fairly common sight to see men sitting under a tree in the afternoon drinking tea, the women are usually busy at work. This is an example of the oppression that women still face here in Gambia. While it may not be as extreme as in other cultures, men are still viewed more highly than women as a general rule. Women however, are beginning to stand up for their rights a bit as they become more exposed to western culture and see how other women live. This can be seen in areas such as clothing and marriage. While skirts are still the most common form of clothing for women, more and more women are choosing to wear pants or jeans, especially for special occasions. Women are also stepping out and saying that they want to be their husband's only wife rather than being one of 3 or 4 which is also still quite normal.
        Unfortunately this heavy workload has not come without consequence. Many of the women here suffer from back pain  and hip or leg pain from carrying water, bending over their gardens for hours at a time, washing clothes by hand, hours of pounding and pregnancies/childbirth. Each day I am thankful that I don't have to garden in the sun on days that are 110 degrees or more for a living. As I watch the women, I know that I could not physically do the work that they do and I continue to develop a whole new respect for them. I am also reminded how tremendously blessed I am to have been granted the life that I have. We wouldn't consider ourselves patriotic people, but I will admit that I am continually made more aware of how different my life would be if I had been born and raised somewhere else.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Family

         Recently we were blessed to welcome Elias' parents and sister into a little bit of our life here in Gambia. We picked them up from the airport early on the morning of the 23rd of June and said a bitter sweet goodbye on the July 4th. During their time here we were blessed to have some peaceful days of rest along with showing them a little bit of our daily routine. We took two days at a hotel, called Hibiscus House, that Elias and I had been wanting to go to ourselves and enjoyed sun, a pool and each other's company. We returned from Hibiscus house and the following day headed out to Kiti so that they could meet the youth that we meet with their and some dear friends that we have made by going out there. While we were there, we again encountered true Gambian hospitality by receiving cashew apples and a typical Balanta dish that they cook in this compound made with rice, fish, mango and palm oil. The compound was also in the middle of the process of preparing palm oil that would be put into large jugs and then sold at the market. From this process they are also able to make their own soap, so I explained to some of the youth that in the United States many people are trying to live more naturally and make their own things where as here in Gambia they have no choice, it is just second nature. The palm oil making process would seem quite primitive for us, for lack of a better would. No fancy machinery just fire and big metal oil oil drums with hoses connecting the ones that need oil transfered from one drum to another.
         Also while in Kiti, we showed Elias' family the nearly finished pig house project that Tiu Jon has been working on throughout our time here. When I say nearly finished I mean the outside is finished but the flooring still needs to put in. After lunch and time conversing, we had our lesson with the youth, took a few pictures and headed on our way, having to refuse the gift of a liter of palm oil that would be difficult for the Zehr's to take home, but choosing some homemade soap instead.
        Monday we borrowed the car to go grocery shopping since the five of us filled up the car without any room for the rest of the team. We make a stop at the Brikama craft market to pick up some hand carved items then headed off to the pool that is next to the ocean so that the family could experience both  at once. We then picked up our groceries and headed home, returning the car to Pirang for the rest of the team to do their shopping the next day.
        The rest of the week was spent bird watching, taking trips to the Brikama market where we get some of our veggies, when their are available, fish, chicken and almost anything else you can think of other than most American foods. Joe and Malinda (Elias' parents) along with Elias all purchased Gambian clothing that they now have to remember their time by. We were also able to make it for a morning of My Sister's Company, which EMM will soon be handing over to the local women, and purchase a few fair trade items that the women make there.
         Friday, Gary and Denise offered to let us use the car, so we took a trip down to Gunjur Beach so they could meet the compound we work with down there along with being able to see the local fishing boats. Unfortunately now that we are in the rainy season the car couldn't make it whole way so we had a bit of a walk down to the see the boats, with a quick stop at the compound where we do studies. We then walked down the beach, stopped to check out rooms at a hotel for future reference for Elias and I, then headed the long, hot trek back. By the time we reached the car we were hot, sweaty and tired and bordering on arriving late for our Bible study in Pirang.
         Saturday was our last day with the Zehr's, and since it was "clean up the nation day" otherwise known as Set Settle, we did not return to Gunjur Beach for our morning Bible study, instead, the Zehr's packed and then we spent quality time together.
        While we couldn't show them everything we do, it was a blessed time of allowing family to have a glimpse of our time here from cold showers, to hand-washing clothing, to local food thanks to our wonderful cook Agnus. We will admit, going from five down to two was a bit lonely the next day, but the blessing of family being here with us outweighed the loneliness by far.
        I wrote earlier that the goodbye was bitter sweet because their coming was amazing, but it also marked a huge mile marker for us and our time left here. We are now down to less than five months which can feel long, but when we break it down and think about all we have left to do, it is actually relatively short. Also, we only have a little more than a month before we have another blessing of family as my parents will be coming to visit in August!
        It's easy to get used to not having family around, but it doesn't take long to be reminded of what a God given gift family truly is. Here are some pictures of our time with the Zehr's:
Pool time at Hibiscus house

at Hibiscus house with the famous Journal and Republican

spending time in Kiti

palm oil process 

again

ready for the market

with some of the Kiti crew and the journal once again

bird watching in Pirang with our friend Armstrong

standing in the roots of the big tree in Pirang (and it is really big!) 

our last day in our Gambian clothing

Monday, June 21, 2010

Spiritual awareness

       I know it has been awhile since we have posted. Things have just been so crazy here right now! Just a quick update before I get into what I'm really writing about. It has rained twice now and it looks as though we will be getting rain again within the next couple days, which means humidity is high, but right now we are enjoying a nice breeze. Since our last post, we have a new member to our "team" here in Gambia until July. One of the members of the Guinea Bissau YES team has joined us up here until their team heads home in July. Lori is currently traveling in Germany with her sister-in-law and will return this week, so the team leaders from the YES team came up to stay with their team-mate. In exciting news, Elais' parents and sister will be here on Wednesday until July 4, so we are looking forward to a wonderful and fruitful time with them, showing them our work and allowing them to experience part of our life here. Gary and Denise will be returning next week, so we also look forward to catching up with them on how their time has been. Overall our work with the youth is going well, but now that the rains have begun we will see some changes in participation as some will be traveling and the work load will increase.
      Now onto what the post is really about. In the United States, we aren't as aware of the spiritual world as people are here in Gambia. We may or may not acknowledge the fact that their are spiritual beings present in the world other than God and Satan. Some of us are aware of the spiritual warfare going on around us every day and others of us either don't believe or are uncomfortable thinking about the spiritual realm. Here in Gambia that mentality is very different. Nearly everyone is aware of the spiritual realm no matter what their religious beliefs.
      While Islam is the most common religion here, you will also find idol worship, Christianity or a combination of Islam and idols. In one of our fellowships that we meet with, in the window of one of the houses, there is an idol that one of the non-believers put up. It is not uncommon to either go to an idol for medical problems after visiting the local marabou.  A marabou is a witch-doctor and are quite common throughout the country. People tend to go to the marabou for various medical issues or even to curse each other. I know that I wasn't completely convinced about curses before coming here. I didn't doubt that they could be done, but I didn't have much knowledge about them. Most pregnant women won't tell you when they are due because there may be someone who wants to hurt them or their baby by placing a curse on them. We also have friends that are involved in youth ministry through soccer and have seen their players drop in the middle of a game, or a goalie miss an easy block because they have been cursed.
      The thought of spiritual warfare has always been a bit unsettling for me and in the U.S. it was somewhat easy to "ignore" or at least not deal with. Here however, the spiritual world tends to be more "in your face" and is very hard not to see, even if you don't want to see it.
      Being here in Africa has definitely opened our eyes to an aspect of the spiritual world that we were not fully aware of before. We still have much to learn, but we certainly have received more exposure here than we had in the States. Thankfully we have a God who is greater than any other spiritual power on this earth. While I said before that spiritual warfare is a bit unsettling, we take comfort in the fact with the simple act of prayer, we give God full control of our lives and allow Him to fight the battle for us. Please continue to pray for the Christians of the Gambia, since while it is not illegal to be a Christian, it is not easy either under the heavy blanket of spiritual oppression.

Prayer requests:
-For the bondage of spiritual oppression to be broken and for the Christians who have bravely stepped out in the name of Christ
-For the Zehr family as they travel to see us over the next 2 days
-For Gary, Denise and Lori as they are all traveling
-For the YES team who will be returning to the States in about 3 weeks
-For our continuing youth ministry. That the youth will understand what we are sharing and the leaders will step up and beginning leading their fellow youth more.

Praises:
-Overall our ministry continues to go well and there continues to be interest
-We have had a bit a of a breakthrough with the women of Kiti as they have agreed to me, Jess, come and do church in their compound with them since they feel as though they have too much work to actually attend church at the church building
-We will soon have the blessing of sharing part of our lives here in Africa with family!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Rain!

       This past week has been quite eventful as will the remainder of this month. Saturday we had the blessing of seeing two friends from HDC (where we trained to come here). Jess Mengel had went to visit the team in Guinea Bissau and travelled up here with one of the team members who will be staying here for the next month and half! So on Saturday after going to Gunjur Beach, to find that no one was there for studies, we headed home, showered and headed off to Pirang. We spent the afternoon enjoying the company of Jess and Bree, Jess who we haven't seen since November and Bree who we haven't seen since January. After a supper of spaghetti we said goodbye to Jess and headed home. Sunday we had church at home and then headed off for Kiti in the extreme heat and humidity for studies. We were able to see the pig house, which is almost finished! It just needs a roof and the floor, but since no one knew when the rains would start the roof was the first priority. Tiu Jon was disappointed that we couldn't stay and eat, but it was getting late and we had to ride our bicycles home. Monday we were preparing for our cook, Agnus, to come when we hear someone at the door. We went out to see some other missionaries that we had met a couple of time from the Netherlands had stopped by. Ester and Anor stayed for a couple of hours and it was nice to have another white, young couple who is going through the same things as us to talk to. Hopefully we can continue to build this relationship and support each other until we leave.
         Monday night was quite hot. We both took cold showers before bed to try and cool down enough to at least fall asleep. At around 4 or 4:30 in the morning I was half awake when Elias starting tapping me and saying "listen!". The sound we heard was, you guessed it, rain! It wasn't just a light sprinkle it was a hard rain that brought a wonderful cool breeze with it so that I was able to cover up! The only thought that crossed my mind about the rain not being good was, "what about the pig houses?". We prayed that they wouldn't be affected by the rain before the roof could go up. Tuesday morning was nice and cool as we got ready to go into the city for groceries. But once the sun came out, the humidity was higher than ever (in the 90% range). The day was sticky and hot, but we got done what we needed to get done including get a new, real, mattress!
       We them came home and sat under our ceiling fans until around 6 pm when the electricity went off. This isn't uncommon, but there were other houses in Methodist Mission with their lights on. Apparently the provider for the city had an issue and the power didn't come back on until 6 pm yesterday. This made for miserable sleeping and a hot day yesterday, plus we didn't know when it would come back on and we needed to keep Elias' medications cool. Thankfully we got a cooler from Pirang some places in the city still had frozen ice. So we loaded up the cooler with medications and prayed for the electricity to come back on. Needless to say, last night was much nicer sleeping.
         Also, the director of the church stopped in last evening and was asking about how our youth work was going and asked Elias if wanted to go to Kiti today to put the roof on the pig houses. We asked if they were affected by the rain and he said no! Praise Jesus! So Elias is now off to build a roof while I catch up on work here at home.
        I apologize for the length of this post, but there has been so much going on, I haven't had time to update. Here are some of our latest prayer requests:

-That we will know how to best mentor the youth into leadership and how much we should or shouldn't do when it comes to leading at this point
-That God will open doors for new chances to share the gospel with other outside of the youth, I have a special heart for the women
-For travel:
     -Jordan and Jeweli Ritz, team leaders for the team in GB, as they come up next week
     -Elias' parents and sister as they come in 2 weeks!
     -Gary and Denise as they return here in three weeks
     -Lori will also be traveling next week to Germany to see her sister-in-law

Praises:
-The rains have begun!
-We have another young couple to share and fellowship with
-We will have family visiting very soon!
-Some of the youth are really flourishing and excited about what they are learning, which makes us excited to teach them

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Mid-point reflection

      For those of you that don't receive our newsletters, this was one of our articles from our May update:

        We have reached the half-way mark! As I reflect over the last six months I see how much we have grown and changed in how we live, how we relate, how we see the world, and what we consider "normal". Six months ago we stepped off a plane into a new and unknown country and culture. We left the airport in the dark passing through towns that would look completely different come daylight, and wondering how far we would have to travel to get to the village of Pirang. As I smelled the smells and saw the small shops, memories of Bolivia flooded back to me, but I would quickly learn that even though we were in a warm climate culture once again, Gambia would be very different from Bolivia. 
Our first month was spent in Pirang where we adjusted to life without electricty and the world of hand washing clothing. I began to learn to become more creative in cooking without an oven and with limited meat. Shower time was my least favorite time of the day as I dreaded stepping into the cold stream of water. I also adjusted to wearing a skirt nearly every day.
As month two rolled around, Elias and I moved to Brikama making our own new "normal". Little by little we began to find new goodies in the market that one month ago seemed so huge and scary. Our days were busy with language study and trying to move past the fear of venturing out to some of the villages, that we would be soon traveling to every day, to develop relationships. 
We then went through another change of ending our time of language study and beginning our work with youth. We had to readjust our schedule once again to find what worked for us and the different groups. 
        With our new ministry came more use of public transportation and bicycle riding along with the challenge of preparing weekly lessons in both english and kiriol. Also throughout this time, I began experimenting more and more new recipes trying everything from my own mayonaise, which didn't turn out so well, to making homemade bagels, french bread, yogurt and granola bars. 
Things that once seemed so foreign and strange have become quite normal for us now. I now find myself not thinking twice when I step into a cold shower, even though I still rather enjoy a warm one. Laundry day comes once a week, and while Elias is counting down the numbers of time we have left of hand washing, and it gets done in a couple of hours. Each day I wake up and even if I'm not going any where I put on a skirt and one of my ribbed tank tops. We both know that we are only allowed about 3 outfits per week, no matter how sweaty they get, for the sake of laundry. Three days a week we hop on our bicyles, and yes many times I do ride in a skirt which was quite strange and frustrating at first, and either ride to the bus park for public transportation or straight to the village we are working with that day. Then one day a week we walk to the bus park, hop onto public transport and ride to and from our other study. I know that grocery shopping comes once a week meaning that we need to decide if two meat meals for that week will be ground beef and chicken, ground beef and fish or fish and chicken. The rest of the week our meals consist of meatless meals that we have grown accostomed to such as cheese quesadillas or cheese and veggie pizza (cheese only makes one vegetarian meal per  week since it is costly). I also have to think about what will fit into our dorm size fridge. 
Each day we mix up powdered milk unless we splurged on some real milk. We drink water only from our filter and heat up water to wash our dishes. We have come to acccept that no matter how many time we sweap and mop our floor it will never be truly clean and the dust will just come back later that day or the next. We groan when the power goes out once again and praise Jesus when it comes back on. I know which fellowships have "nice" pit latrines and which ones I would prefer not to use and I no longer worry about how I smell because I just blend right in. 
No matter where we go and how strange it is, life does become "normal". I put normal in quotation marks because what really is normal anyways? Everyone and every culture lives life differently, but for them that is just how life is lived. We have had to adjust to a new way of living that has challenged us, but has forced us to grow. We know what we appreciate from home, but we also know what we can live without and that God will be faithful through it all. We have learned things about ourselves and each other that we would have never known without this exeprience. 
Every day God continues to form us into the people He has made us to be. We just have to be willing to let Him. We see how He is working in us as individuals and as a couple and we like what we see. However, we are exremely thankful that He's no where near finished with us. We are excited to see what else He has in store for us this second half of our journey.  

Also, a quick puppy update. Unfortunately all 7 of our puppies have died due to infection and poor mothering from our young and inexperienced mother. We are saddened by this, but it may be for the better since they wouldn't have been cared for in this culture.

Praises:
-We have made it half way!
-Our ministry is going well, the youth that are involved seem quite interested
-We were able to take a short retreat to regroup and rest

Prayer requests:
-That we will have open doors for opportunities with non-believers
-That we will know how to mentor our leaders into their leadership positions
-For Elias' parents and sister who will be coming in less than three weeks! That they will not have trouble with visas, that their travel will go well and we will have a blessed time with them.

Thank you for continuing to follow us and being part of our work here in Gambia!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Puppy update

      Our puppies our now 2 1/2 weeks old and are beginning to open their eyes! The other week our neighbor Linda had mentioned that would like to move them to a different location. We searched and didn't find a nice place for them, so they stayed where they were. Being "wild" dogs, things are a little bit different than when we prepare a nice place for them to have their puppies in the states. We usually have a nice big box or pen with some old blankets where they can be comfortable. I would have loved to put a nice blanket down for our furry friends, but we don't have an old one and we don't have a nice place indoors for them. We hate to see them crawling around in the dirt becoming more flea infested by the day, but that is life here and we need to accept it as it is as they will have to learn to find food and fend for themselves as they get older.
       Now back to moving of the location of the puppies. Our mama, Tia, had chosen a nice concealed area, but unfortunately the path was becoming quite worn from all the visitors, making finding the pups a bit too easy. Lately some of our dogs have been digging in our flower beds for some reason. Therefore I didn't think too much of it when Tia came around last night, dug for a bit then laid down and stared at me. She didn't stay long and then she was gone to check on her babies. This morning however, I heard the squeaks of puppies quite loudly from my bed. I wasn't completely awake so it didn't register that they couldn't possibly be that loud from their prior location. Elias then came in the room asking if I was awake and telling me to look out our window. I sat up, put on my glasses and looked outside to find the litter was now sleeping peacefully under one of our plants in our flower bed.
      We haven't completely figured out the reason for this move, but Tia has not enjoyed being so far away from us and the rest of the dogs. She has been coming around more and more often to just sit and be with us and her siblings, leaving the puppies alone. We think that she just wanted to be closer to us and the rest of the dogs. We have to say we don't mind the puppies being close by to keep a watch on them and visit them as often as we like, but it did come as a bit of a surprise. Unfortunately, since the move we did lose another pup. She was our favorite and this morning when I went to go see her she was cold. We have since wrapped her in paper towel and laid her in a shallow grave, marking the location with a cross that Elias made. We aren't sure what happened, but Elias is convinced it's because Tia leaves them too often and isn't a good mother. I'm not sure how wild dogs mother so I'm not convinced it's because of that, but there is no way for us to know. Here are some updated pictures of our little cuties:

they are under this plant, which as a disclaimer practically dies every day because of the heat despite our efforts to keep it alive
here are the five of them before we discovered that the dark one had died


even though they are dirty, they are still cute and we can't resist holding them every now and then

Blessings to all of you and thank you for experiencing our time in Africa along with us through our blog!

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Public Transportation

        For any of you that have been in a developing country, you know that taking public transportation is always an adventure. Here in Gambia it is no different. You never know what kind of van/bus you will be riding in when you enter into the bus park, but you can guarantee that it will be nothing like anything you've seen in the United States. Sometimes you climb up in and there are nice, new padded benches, and other times the benches actually move around the floor a little. I have also been in transports where the floor itself moves.
       Most transports have 2 large back doors, like a delivery van, for entering and exiting. Some also have a sliding side door, or a door that used to slide and now opens by hinges. Then they always have your two front doors that all vehicles have. Some that only have 2 back doors for main entering and exiting make it fairly difficult to get in and out of considering the vans are usually quite full. This also makes riding long distances fairly uncomfortable and smelly since it is a hot climate, with many people, in a small space that is all metal making it feel a bit like a toaster oven. 
      The benefit to public transport here compared to many other countries though is that there is a limit to how many passengers the van can legally carry. All passengers have to be seated, there may be "too many" on a seat by our standards, but the more that can fit, the more money the driver and his apprentice make. In many other countries, you are fortunate to get a seat and then there is always more room for standing passengers (this was my experience in Bolivia and I have heard stories of it being the same way in other countries). To enforce this law there are various police check points set up along the roads that look into the vans to make sure that it is not overcrowded. It has not always been this way, but not too many years ago this became a law and has been enforced since. 
      Now onto our most recent transport adventure. Last evening we were coming home from Pirang and right as we reached the road, what looked to be a transport was coming along. We flagged the van down and hopped in. This van was different however. The seats looked like mini tour-bus seats and there was even a baggage rack above our heads. Elias and I looked at each other and questioned whether we were actually in a public transport or if we had just flagged down a group traveling into kombo, the city area, from up country. People will flag down any vehicle passing here and many times pickup trucks, cars and SUV's will pick up people on the side of road as they pass. As we continued on I noticed more and more the bright red dust that is only found farther up country where the main road is no longer paved. I first noticed the dust on the floor. It was so thick that I couldn't actually see the floor itself. Then I noticed it on the seats, on people's clothing and then I even notice it in their hair and skin. This is the same dust that caused Elias and I to come home early from the youth camp we went to in December as it was too much for Elias' lungs. It covers everything and as dry season progresses it becomes worse. Soon however, the rainy season will be here making travel more difficult and muddy instead of dusty. I'm not sure where the transport was coming from, but it must have been a decent distance as people were coming in with duffle bags for their stay. 
       As I said before, you never know what you will find when you climb into a transport, but it will never be like anything you have seen or experienced in the United States.

Since posting this post I have taken a few picture of the bus park and the transports:



Monday, May 10, 2010

A Sunday in Kiti

      On Sunday Elias and I headed off at around 9:30 on our bicycles to the village of Kiti for church. We had been wanting to do this for awhile but spending all day at Kiti in the heat sounded a bit daunting to be completely honest. This week however, we gave ourselves no choice. We decided the previous week that we would meet with the leaders of the youth group, to begin training them to replace us, right after the service. 
      As we got closer to the church, there is a smaller dirt path that we have to ride on. At the end of the path there is a cashew tree. To summarize an embarrassing story, the combination of the low hanging branches and loose sand resulted in me (Jess) running straight into a bunch of leaves and branches. With my pride hurt and the help of my husband to get the dirt off, we continued on to the church where a couple of the members had viewed the event. Thankfully, no one said anything so I can only hope that maybe they didn't have as good of a view as I had originally thought, or they decided that it would be best if left unmentioned. 
     Once inside the church, the pastor called Elias aside and returned about 15 minutes later announcing that Elias would be preaching that morning. This wasn't the first time Elias had been asked, but it was his first time agreeing to preach. So the pastor, Raymond, gave Elias his half completed notes and had him preach on faith. I have to say I was quite proud of my husband. It is never easy to preach from part of a sermon that was prepared by someone else. 
    After church we met briefly with the leaders, Zil and Ezekiel Manneh, to let them know our vision and how we typically prepare lessons. They informed us they didn't have Bibles so we promised to get them both Bibles as soon as possible so that we can begin preparing lessons with them. We then left our bikes at the church and headed to the compound of one of the elders in the church who we know as Tiu Jon, or Uncle Jon. We have found Jon to be very different from many of the Gambians. He is very easy to talk to, he doesn't make fun of our language blunders and he doesn't ask for anything unless he absolutely needs it. Elias said that his mouth was goat instead of his mouth was broken on Sunday and Jon didn't even chuckle, but I have to say I was having a hard time keeping in my laughter which provoked laughter from one of youth. 
     We spent the day drinking Gambian tea called atia (the spelling may be incorrect) and just chatting. I learned how to make a mango, rice and fish dish that Elias and I really enjoyed last time we ate lunch in Kiti. The day went quite quickly and we felt that it was a really successful day! By just being in the compound talking and spending time with families from the church (even though they don't all attend), I feel as though a new bond was created. We have spent time there before, but not since we began the lessons. That evening the youth seemed more interactive and open to us even though we weren't necessarily talking to them the whole day. 
     We also felt as though we made some breakthroughs with our understanding of the youth. We thought that more of the youth had stronger english language skills than they have. We knew that one of the boys who came yesterday couldn't speak english so the youth decided that rather than having someone translate, it would be better if we taught in Kiriol. What a difference it made! Some of the youth who have seemed very inattentive and disinterested in the past paid attention the entire time! One even admitted that he didn't want to answer questions because he felt that his english was terrible. It was so exciting to see the difference teaching in their heart language made, compared to a language that they have to struggle to understand. We also noticed how much praise and encouragement when they answered questions helped. We have known that praise does wonders, but in a culture that is full of put downs and discouragement, youth seem to come alive when they are praised.
    We see so much promise our groups and we are praying that they will be open to God doing wonderful things with them. We both came home tired, but extremely satisfied as it felt that we are finally bonding with the culture and developing relationships that we will be sad to see come to an end in  November. 
tea and mango time!

Elias and Tiu Jon studying the lessons we do with the youth

lesson time

Our new friend Holly-stein, since we think she looks a bit like a holstein cow. She is three weeks old and probably the smallest goat we have seen so far. Her mother died, so Tiu Jon is caring for her by giving her water, rice and scraps. She loves to be pet and you can see that she is barley longer than Elias' hand!