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Changing Mental Gears

October 11, 2017

Last night I went grocery shopping.  It was one of those major, stock up, out-of-all-of-the-basics trips.  I filled my cart (literally, filled, could not put anything else on it – in and under were filled aisles ago – thus skipping eggs because of a risk of failure).  I got home and unpacked the bags and put things away and realized how much mental effort it was to grocery shop here.  Mainly, how much I’ve had to change gears in my head.

Many (every?) re-entry blog will talk about grocery shopping and how it’s so different when you return to your home country.  Mostly, the talk is about how it is overwhelming – the options, the choices, the cheap prices, the magnitude of the stores, the choices, the variety, the brands, the choices.  So. Many. Choices.  I’m sort of back to normal American status of choices.  I think.  My struggle last night was not LOOKATALLTHECHOICES, but avoiding the bug of over-stocking.

Oh?  The cans of green beans were ridiculously cheap?  Better buy ten of them!  Wait, no, I can come back if the four I really need runs out.

One time the most Western grocery store in Kinshasa had Classico Alfredo sauce for $2 a jar because it was about to expire.  Did I buy all ten of them?  You bet I did.  That stuff was like gold!

They have fall-themed [insert product here]?!?!  Buy them all because who else might want them!?!?  Wait, no, they go to the store, probably often.  Maybe a different store.  They probably already have it.

Two Thanksgiving seasons ago the same grocery store had Oceanspray jellied cranberry sauce for a $1 per can.  Did I buy all EIGHTEEN of them?  Yep!  Because I knew others would want them for their own fall feasts, so I shared them.  

I walked past the popcorn flavor powders and stared at them for a few minutes trying to decide their worth.  I remember movie nights long ago in Kinshasa when this was the main event.  Pilot/mechanic David would make batches of popcorn and his wife, Sandy, would spread out different flavored powders – cheese, kettle corn, Ranch, extra butter…  It was better than a movie theater!

Except, I didn’t buy any last night.  Because I’ve been lazy and poisoning us with the microwave stuff and it’s pretty darn tasty, if you ask me.

But I stared, and pondered, and reminisced.  This also could have been because it was 9pm and I was only halfway through my giant trip.

And there when a few more morsels of energy.

There are choices and varieties, and cheap costs on delicious things.  But there is also the slow realization that going to the store is easy.  The stores are almost always in stock of whatever our hearts and stomachs desire.  The stores are nearby for most of us.  My closest store is a decent-sized one exactly two minutes from driveway to parking spot.  The giant Walmart is six minutes.  My favorite (Winco, where I was last night) is ten.  And there’s a bunch in between.  I don’t need to stock up on anything.  I can hop in the car and go anytime, day or night.

To switch mentalities from one shopping culture to another is exhausting.  Every single thing: grocery item, piece of mail, advertisement, conversation is something I have to sort through – is this for me/us?  Is this something I must pay attention to, or can I ignore it?  Should I stock up on this information because it’s valuable, or can I figure it out later?

This is one of the many facets of reentry and why it’s so complicated.  And tiring.  And makes blogging seem like it’s been getting forgotten on the back burner, or fallen behind the stove.  Because by the end of each day, my brain is tired of making decisions and thinking and sorting information.  Thanks for your prayers.  It’s a fun challenge, and a healthy one, but a busy a season.

Bullet Point Update

September 14, 2017

• We are here!  We are ghosts only according to this blog!

• We have moved into our house and have finally found enough furniture to begin to settle.

• Matthew is finding a routine at work and is finding himself busy on many projects.  (For details on this, look for our prayer letter out soon!)

• The kids and I have resumed our school year and hope to finish this school year by the end of this calendar year.

• We are taking a pause from work at HQ to visit friends and financial partners in Alaska.  We found an amazing deal allowing all six of us to fly (it would normally be cost prohibitive).  We are glad to visit our former home and show the kids around.  We haven’t been since May 2013.

• Today we drove from Nampa, ID to Tacoma, WA, where we are sleeping and heading to the airport first thing in the morning (the airfare deal was only from Seattle).

• We arrive in Fairbanks tomorrow and will also make a stop in Wasilla/Anchorage/Kenai peninsula before heading back to Idaho in less than two weeks!

• Please be praying for safe travels, for health (all four kids have a slight cough as of today!), for rest, for good visits, and for God’s leading a few new people to join our team on this trip.  (Though let it be said that we want to see people we miss whether they feel led or not!)

• Someday, I hope to return to normal, regular updates!  Thanks for praying for us as we get our feet planted in the meantime!

Week 3 Stateside

August 12, 2017

Greetings from the US!  We have been back for two and a half weeks.  These days have been completely full.  Not necessarily full of activities and running around, but full of emotions, processing our new life and culture, and figuring out how to make things work.  America is the land of choice, so nothing is coming as easy at one might expect.  This is a very normal part of “reentry” – the process of returning to one’s “home” culture. “Home” is still a strange word to us, too.

Overall, we are doing really well.  We are enjoying being back, melting in the Idaho heat (it was over 100F/37C our first week, and in the 90’s/mid-30’s since), though being a dry heat makes it far more tolerable than Congo’s dense humidity.  We are really excited to back at our church and with our HQ MAF family and have really felt welcomed.  Of course, our family enjoys us being on the same continent, or in the case of my parents, in the same house.

We are still staying with my parents, as we process the busy-ness of life and refinish some of our floors.  Three sets of renters on old wood floors demanded a new finish.  But a new finish is easier placed without furniture and twelve feet running over it.

Not that we’ve had much time to think about setting up a house anyway.  Our first few days were in the fog of jet lag, though we didn’t experience a single midnight party session.  Then we went with our church to a campout in the woods of the middle of Idaho for a few days.  The day after we got back, we launched into many appointments as part of the reentry process for MAF.  It has been good to go over what we’ve done and where we are going, as well as check out with medical and psychology professionals to make sure we are healthy.  So far, so good!  In between those appointments, we have been meeting for craigslist furniture for our house (just starting with basics – beds and living room seating), meeting with insurance people, and having some fun with friends.

It’s been a whirlwind and every single evening this past week I’ve sat down and told Matthew, “I HAVE to blog tonight – I’ve been thinking all day about what I want to convey about our reentry” and every single night I’ve stared at the blank WordPress page barely getting my thoughts together.

The choices are exhausting.  And helping four children process the new life we have here is exhausting.  And balancing every single experience being sort of new is exhausting.  While we are having fun and feel good about being back, our brains are tired by the end of the day when the kids have gone to bed and I have the mental space to write, so I don’t.  I hope to be back at it soon!  I really do have things to say as I compare life here and there, or even just tell the story about how I went to put gas in the car for the first time in over three years and totally forgot what to do and had to leave without it.  Yep.  It was amusing, but when I tried to write about it, it just came out sad.  Ha!

We aren’t sad about the silliness and exhaustion of reentry and adjusting to this different culture.  We find it fascinating and hilarious.  Seeing the contrast, experiencing the quiet of the neighborhood and the fast driving on the highway – these are things that deserve to be written…but written about well.

I’ll leave you with an anecdotal example from today.  We drove by the highway exit closest to our house and we passed what will soon be a Dutch Bros coffee drive through.  I squealed with excitement at the thought of this treat and the kids all asked what I was excited about.  I pointed to the building that was going up and said, “See that building?  That will be a coffee stand.”

Amelia muttered from the back seat, “You told me stands were illegal here!”

I thought a moment about it before remembering our first day back, as we drove around town, Amelia pointed out that the sidewalks and streets weren’t dotted with stands – small wooden tables, with colorful umbrellas, and vendors selling everything from tissues, to phone credits, to shoes.  I explained that pop-up stands are generally illegal and she wouldn’t find those here.  Obviously, her memories from Congo, her sense of normal expectations, and my explanation were taken to heart.  Oh my, what a work we have ahead of us and these kids see their world and culture so differently from how Matthew and I see it.

Many of you have welcomed us back – and we are so grateful for that welcome – but to my kids, this isn’t much of “back” as much as it is just a “welcome.”  I am amazed at how well they are doing and how much they seem to like life here so far.  Please continue to pray for them, and for us, that we will keep their context right in front of us as we experience these changes together.

Oh, and I did figure out gas.  It wasn’t that hard.  But me parallel parking that van today…well, let’s just say, I don’t need to write about everything!

A Change in Ministry

June 30, 2017

Excerpted from our most recent prayer letter, arriving in inboxes and mailboxes soon:

In our last prayer letter, we wrote that there is a time for everything, emphasizing that the only constant in missionary life is change. We have been so pleased to serve in Kinshasa, in the Democratic Republic of Congo for nearly three years, and call this place home, in our hearts, if not in body, since January 2011. While the work here in Kinshasa is more than enough to keep anyone busy, there is a need at MAF headquarters in Idaho that Matthew was asked fill due to his strengths and skills that he has demonstrated in his role in Kinshasa and in his interactions with MAF colleagues around the globe. We have accepted that call to live in Idaho and work from there starting later this summer. This position as a Project Manager for the Tech Resources department will have Matthew operating between the different departments at MAF and with field programs in order to organize information and streamline workflow for the various projects happening across the world.

While it is hard thinking of the goodbyes in our near future, as well as goodbye to a lifestyle we have focused on for the past six years, we are anticipating seeing new ways that God will use our family as we work from HQ and can serve in a totally new capacity. Lisa hopes to continue to use her gift of hospitality, focusing perhaps on the team Matthew works with and with new MAF missionaries coming through Idaho for training. The kids are excited to live near Grandma and Grandpa (Lisa’s parents) and experience parks and libraries on a full time basis.

This move will not be without challenges as our family goes through reentry (the process of adjusting back to one’s original culture) and figures out how to balance life in the United States with still being global-minded missionaries. We haven’t lived with the intention of putting down roots in the contiguous 48 states for our entire 11 year marriage!

We could really use prayers as we pack and move, say farewell, and leave our relationships and work here on good terms. Please be praying especially for our children as they adjust to a new lifestyle. We plan to continue to homeschool and jump right into our church that they know from our time in Idaho, so hopefully this will provide some sense of stability.

We understand you may have questions or want to discuss this decision further – please visit our blog for current updates and more details, or let us know!

The above is from our latest prayer letter that should be hitting inboxes and mailboxes alike in the coming weeks. I understand it may seem like it is coming out of nowhere. I’m sorry for the shock, if there was any. We always hesitate to put anything on the internet before it is as certain as can be, so we were waiting until we had something concrete before announcing it (in this case, plane tickets). But getting details of departure, jobs here worked out and coordinated, and everyone on the same page took up most of the time since we were offered the job, and suddenly here we are. But we have tickets [reserved, subject to change, because Murphy’s Law says…].

So, to help you process this gigantic change of ours, I’ve given you a little FAQ before there was even a chance to ask anything with any level of frequency. I hope this is helpful. I was recently told that less is more, but then I am also my mother’s daughter and tend to give out all the details right away. So, take it or leave it. #sorrynotsorry

Q: Wait, what? You’re leaving Congo? But….?

A: Sadly, yes. The job offered was such a perfect fit for Matthew and it really came to light starting at the leadership conference he went to at HQ in April. He had lots of conversations with various leadership people at MAF from all over the world. This and many other factors led to this job offer. We will miss Congo, our team, and many aspects of life here. A lot. It has been hard to pack up. Hard to say goodbye. Hard to pass along most of our material goods, seeing with them the life we prepared to live here for many years. Hard to realize how valuable we were to various parts of missionary life here and how cutting each string has hurt on both sides. I don’t say that to toot our own horns, but it is an honest reflection of the difficulty of leaving. Congo will always be part of our family and Matthew will still be involved occasionally with his new position, so we haven’t cut it out completely, thankfully!

Q: When do you leave?

A: We fly out July 26-ish. The newest MAF family moves into our house July 8. We will be spanning that gap at a friend’s house down the street, who will be on furlough.

Q: What about the people who help in your home – will they be able to find work?

A: We have three wonderful guys who rotate through being our household helpers and security guards. They will all continue on at this house doing a trial period with the new family that lives here. Then, after some time, the new family will decide if they are a good fit for their lifestyle and needs. The other people who were sometimes in our home or helped us also have other ongoing jobs with other families, plus now new potential opportunities with a couple of newly arrived families. I am praising God that our departure doesn’t leave anyone without work!

Q: What about your stuff?

A: We were able to sell almost everything. There were several new families who had recently come to Kinshasa, or who are on their way, and between all of them, most everything went. We were able to sell things at a fraction of the local value so that other missionaries can be blessed (hopefully) with needed items. We also wanted to honor the many things you all purchased off of our Amazon wishlists by passing them along to continue to be in service here in Kinshasa.

Q: And your chickens? And goat? And quail? And guinea fowl? And cat?

A: Our animals have all found new homes with other missionaries. Our birds have all found comfort together at a large parcel outside of town with friends who have retired here. Our goat went to live with a sweet family who serves here with Wycliff Associates. And our cat went to another MAF family who arrived in March and instantly loved her.

Q: Where will you live?

A: MAF headquarters is right outside Boise, Idaho. We lived there previously for eleven months during training in 2013 before moving to France. If you have a really good memory, you’ll remember we own a house there. While renting it has been fantastic (mostly thanks to an outstanding property manager), our latest renters were already in the process of moving out, so the house will be ready for us. We will be able to “land” at my parents’ house, who live about ten minutes away from both MAF HQ and our house, while we recover from jet lag and purchase furniture basics (we didn’t keep anything from our time there in 2013 because we expected to be gone a lot longer).

Q: If we were supporting you financially, do we stop now?

A: Short answer: no, we are still missionaries with MAF – our work may change scope and location, but we are still missionaries, supported by a financial team, doing the global work to further the Kingdom. Our living in the USA does make it a bit less appealing, I admit. You won’t get fun pictures that tickle your senses that you’re making a difference in a poor country. But I hope that you can prayerfully consider how giving toward our ministry still impacts the entire mission of MAF on a broader scale, and Matthew’s new work will impact the field and the resources that MAF has across departments and programs. In turn, this still leads to the wonderful result of reaching isolated people with Good News through aviation and technology. So, we ask that you stay on our team (or join it, because we do need new people!) to see the work continue. We can see how God has orchestrated our journey so far, and our moving to HQ is part of the story in its entirety.

Q: So, when do we get to see you?

A: Perhaps you do support our ministry and are wondering when we will take our furlough to give you face-to-face updates? Perhaps you just want to see us since suddenly we’ll live in the same hemisphere? Maybe you’re wondering how to avoid us altogether? Well, furloughs and deputation (the process of gathering and encouraging a team of financial supporters) work a little differently for the MAF missionaries who live in the US. We are still working on learning the finer details of the new process, but as we know, we will share those with you!

Q: Are you excited to live back in the US?

A:  Of course!  All of the sadness and challenge of departure is completely mingled with happiness at living in our home culture.  We are excited about Matthew’s new role, about being near people we love, about autumn and leaves, winter and snow, and some heat sometimes.  We are excited about FOOD that we greatly miss right now.  It is a strange line because we are feeling sad and happy at the same time.  And sometimes the happiness feels like we are betraying the things we love about Congo.  It’s not rational, but it is a difficult reality.  It is something we are actively processing, but overall YES!  We are most definitely excited!

If you have any further questions, please do let us know – we are an open book! We are excited and sad at the same time – so many changes with so many emotions. And, most of all, please continue to pray for us as we make this transition. It is no small task for us, but we hold onto the hope that this monumental task for us makes even the slightest difference in growing the Kingdom of Heaven.

Pousse-Pousse Man

June 27, 2017

I have a funny story to tell.  It has no deep meaning or reflections.  It’s just…a little funny…and a little sad…and I cried with laughter as I tried to recount it for you…my laughter definitely inhibited some of my story-telling abilities.  You’ll just have to draw humor from picturing yourself in the circumstances.

A pousse-pousse (rhymes with moose-moose) is a cart with two wheels in the middle and a bar on one or two ends.  They are a normal mode of transporting goods in this city.  They “drive” wherever they want, even in the middle of the road, pushed by however many people are required.  You can find them containing anything from brand new furniture to an unbelievable number of 50kg bags of cement to entire cars to everyday trash.

For us, every Friday, a man comes with his pousse-pousse to pick up our trash and leaves that we haven’t burned.  He likely takes it, sorts it, finds useful things to resell or reuse and deposits the rest.  In this city of somewhere around 15 million, there is no city-wide waste system.  But we do what we can.  Our pousse-pousseur comes on time and seems resourceful.  Once he sent his wife to get a bunch of large, dried sticks from a bush we had cut down.  She bundled them and took them home for cooking fuel, on her head, of course.

Last Friday, the kids were playing outside when I heard a knock at the gate.  I was expecting a friend, but when no one came to the door a few minutes later, I stepped out on the porch to see who it had been.  I saw the kids gathered around the pousse-pousse while our guard and the pousse-pousseur gathered the leaves and trash bags.  I noticed the kids seemed really intent and excited about something in there.  Not knowing what in the world it could be, I called out to them.

“Mom!  We found something so cool!”

Noooooo, I cringed inwardly.  A trash bin from who knows where filled with who knows what.  Nooooooo, you did NOT find something cool.

“Don’t touch it!” I shouted.

“Axel already has it!”

Nooooooooooo!!!  “What did he find?”

“Superman!!!”

Let me explain, because this toy was certainly special.  It was missing a leg AND an arm.  It was also missing paint from his nose and parts of his face.  It was made of cheap plastic and definitely not a licensed Superman toy.  The pousse-pousser told the kids his cape had fallen off.  I’m skeptical he ever had one.

I said fine, but don’t let Piper have it.  Oh, too late?

Fine, but don’t bring it in the house.

Ok, bring it in the house, but wash him when you wash your hands.

Obviously, my standards are not what they used to be.

The afternoon went by and I had long forgotten about Superman, when we had the kids come inside and shower.  Axel decided Superman needed to shower, too.  Excellent idea, I thought.  At that point, his other leg had fallen off.  No big deal.

Later, it was time to head out to our neighborhood restaurant with a friend to relax after a busy week and Axel now wanted to bring Superman along.  Since this restaurant has a reputation for slow service, I allowed it.  After all, he had been cleaned twice, surely he was now presentable for dinner.

During the time waiting for our food, Axel dropped Superman on the ground (the restaurant is outdoors) and that is when the magic really happened.  His chest LIT UP RED!

Guys, you have never seen three adults and three kids (Piper got to stay home since she was already in bed) so shocked in your life.  There he was, lying on the ground, with a red light beaming from his chest as if he had just landed from whatever planet Superman is from.  We were in awe.  He had showed up as trash, been through two showers, and NOW HE LIGHTS UP!

Clearly, this toy was thrown out before his time.

SupermanToy - 1

Discovery!

SupermanToy - 2

Piper is especially curious

SuperMan3

Now legless, Axel had just discovered his newest talent – lighting up! But his finger is covering the magical red beam. (Photo Credit: Steven Fountain)

Description [Blank] -or- How to Cook

June 6, 2017

Tonight we were having dinner with a family recently returned from furlough.  They had traveled around the US and their home country in Europe, spending time with supporters and churches and friends and family over the past six weeks.  So I asked them, “How do you describe life here?”  And then we all groaned.  Because the one thing that anyone who has lived here longer than a few weeks can tell you…you can’t.

One simply cannot describe how life is here.  The highs or the lows.  It’s easy to try to spell out the woes of life, but Kinshasa life itself isn’t all bad.  We all tend to talk about life from the perspective of its challenges and how to overcome them.  It is this very thing on which history is built.  So, to try and describe life here comes down to the details.

Our guest told a story of how they hosted someone from a Western country who had come to visit their ministry (they are not with MAF, not that it matters to this story) for three days.  He was telling it this way: “They came for 72 hours and not once did the power shut off or we run out of water.  There wasn’t even a good traffic jam or police stop!  He didn’t get a real taste of what life here is and then told me I had exaggerated the difficulties!”  He wasn’t mad when we he was telling us this, but confounded!  How can we be accurate in our telling without sounding like we are whining?  How can we explain unless someone experiences this for themselves.  Mostly, we cannot.

It is important to try, though.  We must try and describe our daily lives to you all because you are the reason we are here.  Well, no, God is.  But, then, God uses you all to allow us to actually, logistically live here.  By praying and giving financially we are here, the rest is by the grace of God.  So we, missionaries in Congo, try to help you understand to what you are giving.

The best way I can think of is to try and describe a normal process.  How about pancakes?  A classic breakfast, easy enough to prepare.  Let’s go.

Step 1:  Flour.  Is it sifted and free of ants and other creepy things?  It’s very moist, so use slightly less!  Wipe the dust out of the bowl.  Not that it has say long, just since yesterday, but it is very dusty here.

Step 2:  Baking powder.  Easy enough.  Oh, wait, it clumped again…grind it out.

Step 3:  Salt.  Hang on…I found the ants behind the salt, they found a bit of spilled something.  Argh.  Pause breakfast, set ant traps from the borax/sugar mixture.

Step 4:  Eggs.  Break into bowl to check for rotten-ness.  Yes, this is a good practice no matter where you live, but I can assure you, especially if you buy your eggs from an unknown source, rotten ones are far more likely here.

Step 5:  Sugar.  Just a sprinkle.  Oh, it clumped from humidity.  Oh, and the ants.  So many ants.  Pick ants out of sugar…close enough!  Yay for extra protein!

Step 6:  Milk.  Find milk powder, measuring cup, filtered water…oh I forgot to refill the filter last night and I used all the water for my coffee this morning.  Refill gravity filter and wait.

*Twenty minutes later*

Back to the milk.  Whisk.

Get out pans to begin getting them to temperature (I use cast iron because somehow the pancakes taste better) and set them on the stove.

And the power just went out.

I happen to have a gas stove, so I can light it with matches, no big deal.  Find matches.  Go through three before one doesn’t break.  Because quality means something else here.

Get pans going, finish stirring, adding a bit of water for the right consistency.

Step 7:  Look over to find the flame has gone out.  The gas has run out.  Thankfully, I always have a spare bottle.  A bottle lasts our family a month.  We have a gas oven and stove.  The gas is not always available and the cost has risen by 20% since January.  Send husband outside to swap bottles.  This only takes two minutes, thank goodness Matthew is home!

Step 8:  Restart fire and find butter for the pans.  Oh, the house helper who is welcome to use the butter for his bread for breakfast, used the last and I need to get more out.  Of the freezer.  Spend a minute sawing the frozen butter…  Back to the batter…oh man, a fly has flown in and stuck to the top.  Ew.

Step 9:  Begin flipping pancakes…

You get the idea.  And there is no syrup unless you made it with maple flavoring.  We like jam on ours.  Sometimes peanut butter if our friends, the Rices from Vanga, are staying with us.

And just like that, we’ve come back around to the fact that normal life carries on and I can’t explain to you why life is difficult.  But if you had to prepare three meals a day like this, perhaps then you would understand?  And if it’s almost 100F in high humidity.  There is only rare, very expensive takeout.  On missionary salaries.  And, in case you’re about to ask, I have indeed have all of these things happen during one cooking session.  More than once, actually.  And more…I didn’t mention the very normal thing of children interrupting every five minutes…where is Piper???

It’s always an adventure.  And it’s tiring.  And it’s challenging.  And it’s fulfilling.  And it’s inexplicable.  And it never stays the same…

The Guy on the Hill

April 20, 2017

Monday, a big truck was parked in the street across from our house and men were working on it all day.  The guy in the house across the street owns these trucks, used to transport goods around town and, perhaps, into the interior.  Either way, the very loud THWUMPs, BUMPs, and BANGs kept jolting me, both physically (vibrating the windows) and emotionally.  I couldn’t really place where the extra stress was coming from…I felt fragile and slightly out of sorts.  Was it because Matthew is in the US for management conference?  Was it because I was stressed about a series of airport pickups and drop-offs that I was responsible for coordinating (and it wasn’t going well)?  Surely it wasn’t some random noise across the street bothering me so much.

Then, the kids and I sat down to dinner and the THRUMPs started again, very methodically, but every once in a while, a beat would be missed.  And one of the kids named the source of my stress:

“Mom, it sounds like that one time, when the guy on the hill was angry.”

Ah, The Guy on the Hill.  I have gone back and forth about mentioning The Guy on the Hill.  I share so many positives about life here, so many things I’m learning, and even when it is hard emotionally and spiritually.  But I don’t share about any danger…because we aren’t in any.  Not any more than anyone else, anyway.  And our neighborhood is the most peaceful of all.  Even if the city erupts into all kinds of protests, we know our neighborhood has such a low likelihood of being involved, we don’t even worry about it.

But, then there was The Guy on the Hill.  When the current president didn’t step down on time after elections failed to be organized, the opposition party and the Catholic church stepped in to discuss the best course of action.  Then, when the opposition party leader died in early February, a few other fringe guys, wanting to lead actions against the president, made a little fuss.  But this guy, who has a religious and political cult, decided he wanted to make strong statements and posted them on YouTube.  Bad idea, dude.

The military and police decided that he was a national threat and one evening, the day before Valentine’s Day, they wanted to go to his house and have a little chat, probably resulting in taking him into custody.  Except it didn’t go as planned.  This guy wouldn’t come out of his house.  The authorities demanded he come out.  I really don’t know how things escalated, but suddenly there were cars on fire and munitions being spent.

We were sitting at our house, hosting two other individuals in our home, and chatting about the day (the kids were asleep already) when the gunshots were heard.  At first, we thought they were leftover fireworks from New Year’s, but we quickly realized things were not okay, somewhere nearby.

A few quick calls and Matthew knew from our neighbors much closer to the action that something was happening on the hill (immediately behind the house where we lived our first year, and across the street from where we lived before moving into our current house, which is just around the corner).  Matthew called around, and it seemed isolated to only this spot.  Watching Twitter and African news websites and a story emerged about two hours later, mostly getting the facts right.

So, we holed up in our room, not sure how far out things would spread or for how long.  We took a quick inventory of edible food, moved our water filter into the hallway (away from windows and easy access) and filled a few buckets of extra water just in case.  We were on lockdown.

By midnight, the gunfire had ceased.  The report from our missionary neighbors who could see up the hill said it seemed calmer.  We went to bed.

At 5am, things began again – we were awakened by gunfire.  It only lasted a couple of hours and then ceased.

For three weeks.  Three weeks, the police and military guarded the road up on the hill and the compound, where this leader stayed his ground.  Rumors spread about the leader’s whereabouts – that he’d disappeared, that he was going to stay in there forever, etc.

But, one Saturday three weeks later, as we sat down for lunch around 11:30am, with chicken pot pie fresh from the oven, some shots rang out.

This time, the fighting wouldn’t stop until the leader had been captured and stability restored.  Our neighbors closer to the action, after three weeks, had befriended some of the military guards on the road, so they were given about a ten minute warning that they were going in to finalize the problem.

Seven hours we holed up in the house.  The kids watched THREE movies, they’ll tell you, while we listened to boom after boom after boom.  We weren’t in any targeted danger, but it was close enough that stray bullets or fleeing individuals could pose a problem.  And the noise and the unknown of how long it would last was stressful.

But, by the evening, he had been captured, a few photos popped up on Twitter of his arrest, and the police and military men went cheering through the streets of the neighborhood.

Our kids asked a lot of questions about The Guy on the Hill.  I showed them a picture of him getting arrested, so they would know it was over.  But every time we hear a car backfire, or some sort of explosion (happens often, for some reason), or we have a PPUD (potential political unrest day), the kids wonder if they’ll have to stay in the corner of the boys’ room, watching movies, while Daddy spends his time pacing the hallway on the phone, and Mommy frets.

Thanks for praying for us and our safety.  Thanks for praying for our kids.  They do get to experience a lot, not all of it is positive, but all of it shapes who they will be.  We pray that they will have compassion for those who live under these stressors every day and for those guys on hills who aren’t making wise decisions.

Most of all, pray that Congo can move forward peacefully.

Five Years Ago Today…

April 3, 2017

Today is kind of a goofy anniversary.  Five years ago to day we landed in Kinshasa for our first, short-term, assignment.

I say it’s goofy because it is fairly meaningless.  I mean, we were initially assigned to live in Kinshasa on January 12, 2011.  So, in a way, here has been our “home” since that date.

But, initially, this was a short-term thing.  We were here one year and left again, at that point seeking long-term missionary status with MAF.  Once arriving back at HQ in Idaho, we were accepted as staff but didn’t have an official assignment.

Then we were assigned as management to eastern Congo during our time of support-raising, but being made aware that a more pressing need was assisting current management here in Kinshasa, our plans were rerouted toward Kinshasa once again in March of 2014.  And once again, Kinshasa was our mental and emotional home.  We landed a second time on July 14, 2015 and, minus our trip to the US last fall, we have been here ever since!

So, today marks five years of….something.  Technically, because short-term staff with MAF-US aren’t on the payroll until they get on the airplane for the field, it is also our anniversary with MAF.  But we celebrate it on the day we were accepted as short term staff over a year prior.

A lot has happened in five years.  We’ve learned and experienced a lot.  It’s hard to say what has changed us.  Mostly, I hope it is the Holy Spirit working on our hearts to draw us closer to God.  But I also think I’m more used to cockroaches.  All in five years’ time.

Let’s see what the next five years will be!

Piper Turns One: A Reflection

March 29, 2017

Today is Piper’s first birthday. I suppose it is normal to become reminiscent about how a year has already come along and how we can’t imagine life before she was part of our family. Those things are true, and I mean them, but her birth is not something I’ll soon forget. So, for me, as much as it is also Piper’s birthday, it is the anniversary of her birth, or That One Time I Had Unplanned Major Surgery in the African Jungle.

I’ve written the story here, so you may reminisce if you desire (or read it for the first time if you must). I think of it in random highlights:

Like, how did I give birth in a place with no toilets? Or without running water? Who does that? How did I get through the heat? I am writing this today while sweating, because it is the hottest time of year, and the power is out. But in the village where Piper was born, the only power is the power you supply yourself. We had a few fans, but no air conditioning…and the humidity is enough to stop you from doing anything.

I remember my dear dear friend, Shannon, also my epic OBGYN, joking with us and being excited as we started the induction, but then as things turned increasingly serious, I remember her yelling (in French!) because the hospital personnel were not moving fast enough. And Matthew was yelling along side of her. I was happily headed into shock, so the yelling was neither here nor there, but just as much noise as the goats outside the [open] hospital windows.

I remember being wheeled to the neighboring building for the c-section in a plastic chairs with after-market casters. And feeling the first cut of the scalpel. I hold to the fact that this was a very cool experience, to feel it, because I don’t remember it hurting as much as everything else was.

It is still a bit of a mystery as to why the Pitocin didn’t advance labor, why Piper didn’t drop properly, or why there were such bizarre, intense pains between the contractions that made my labor pains feels easy breezy. Everything checked out once she born. But, whatever the cause, we are all incredibly grateful for the best outcome one could have imagined.

I remember, because my husband brings it up about once a week, coming out of the drug haze. It was not a shining moment, but those who were present definitely found it funny.

I remember Piper fussing about being hot that first night. There was a fan on one side, and she was happy, but when I moved her to nurse on the other side, she complained until she was back in front of the fan. To this day, she hates being hot. She gets this from her mother.

I remember not being able to move in the little hospital room, chosen for me because it was the only private place AND it had an electric outlet (and we brought the fan from the house).

I remember swearing as they took out my catheter without any sort of gentleness. African women must be super tough, because they acted surprised to hear that it hurt.

I remember getting into a tall vehicle the next day and being driven quite skillfully by Ryan, Shannon’s husband, despite the roads being more akin to dumpy sand pits. He did a great job.

I remember Piper getting a fever that first night, the German monk pediatrician coming over. While he and Shannon were inspecting Piper in the living room, I couldn’t move from the bed in the bedroom. That was scary.

The pediatric nurse slept on the couch, Piper got IV antibiotics on her first night (my first kiddo EVER to receive antibiotics), and the fever left and never came back. I also had a matching IV port for my own antibiotics. I got painkillers for the first two nights and then switched to Ibuprofen for the rest of my recovery. I swear it really wasn’t that bad if I rested well. However, I am not a strong person.

I remember that Piper was our first and only child to do well at breastfeeding. This was a saving grace that we needed desperately. The three previous had been such struggles with varying results.

I remember getting on a small airplane on Day 4 (yay MAF). I remember that the immigration officials still wanted to bother us both in the village and in the city. They charged Piper for immigrating, despite a significant lack of paperwork. This is how Congo works.

I remember getting a fairly nasty infection in the incision site because heat and humidity just can’t be avoided in this climate. It took two different antibiotics, and twice-daily packing for two weeks before it healed. It’s fine now.

But, through it all, I’d do it again for our sweet little princess. I mean, only if I had to. Because it was kind of a nightmare. I’m not sure I’m any tougher for it, but it’s a good story to tell.

But, seriously, when the next one comes along, I’m going to deliver in a place with toilets.

IMG_3750

Piper Pretty in Pink

Challenging Myself and My Hospitality

March 7, 2017

I write a lot about how hospitality is my thing.  I’ve only recently come to realize that it is truly my ministry here.  We host visitors, house MAF staff, host team events, parties, meetings, have dinner with a LOT of people…the list goes on.  We open our home often and, in that effort, try to give a relaxing, enjoyable time to whoever needs it.  And if you lived in Kinshasa, trust me, you would need it.

A friend recently asked on Facebook if, in showing hospitality, that included Congolese nationals as well.  I really had to think about it.  We rarely host Congolese in our home.  That is a fact, even if it is a sad one, but I realized I couldn’t answer that question when it was asked of me.  (This friend didn’t ask “why,” she merely asked “if,” but I wanted a “why,” if only for myself.)

So, why is it so rare?  The answer that would be satisfactory to everyone who reads this blog would be very very long, because living cross culturally is complicated and if you haven’t experienced a cross-cultural life, it is difficult to explain.  That is my challenge, though.  I like challenges.

In case you’re wondering the obvious, we like Congolese people.  I am constantly in awe of them as an ethnic group (made up of at least a bazillion tribal groups) – what this country has had to endure and still to have joy…it amazes me.  We know many Congolese people, we work with them daily.  I literally speak two languages daily, and hear three.  I could not still be here without my Kinois friends (Kinois is one from Kinshasa – pronounced KEEN-wah).  Matthew manages mostly national staff in his job, as we have twice as many Congolese employees at both the office and the hangar than missionaries.  In other words, interaction is frequent, all day, starting at 6:30am until long after dark.  It is mostly pleasant, minus a few bad apples that exist in every walk of life on every continent.  So, we aren’t deliberately avoiding anyone in our share of hospitality.

But, yes the inevitable But, living in a place not your home culture is wearing.  It pulls at your proverbial clothes, it drips on your metaphorical head, it strains and it is hard.  Anyone saying it isn’t is probably lying or new.  Ha!  So, for us, our particular strain of hospitality is on a bit of escape from the strains of living cross-culturally.  A good example of that is our recent murder mystery party.  It included people of several nationalities, here in country for many different reasons, all serving cross-culturally.  And it was an enjoyable night where we all felt like we could forget the difficulties of life here.

When we offer to have village missionaries stay with us, they always compliment our awesome shower, the fact that we keep our house “like an icebox” (our friends usually bring sweatshirts when they come over), and we aren’t apologizing for it.  It’s a WELCOME sense of “ahhhhhh, a bit of an escape.”  This is what we enjoy bringing to others.  We are affirmed in its value.

What I’m NOT saying, and please reassure yourself, is that we are trying to get away from our Congolese friends.  Right now, our particular focus is on offering a comfortable place to stay/eat/sing/fellowship and get a tiny break from a stressful week/month/year.  It is this positive thing, it is not avoiding or negative.

I have aspirations of having more margin in my life to have Congolese friends and coworkers over.  This NEEDS to be a priority for us.  But we aren’t there yet.  It is all a work in progress.  Less than a year ago, we had a newborn, a new house, and I had had major surgery.  By the time we were settled and I was recovered, we took a break out of the country.  I’m not trying to make excuses, but the reality is that having people over who are from a different cultural background, who speak a language different from your heart language, is hard.  It’s work.  It isn’t a carefree, easy affair, but it’s worth it.

So, pray for us in this.  Pray that we will work towards expanding our types of hospitality.  Pray that we will have the personal, emotional margin to do this more often.  Pray that we don’t make too many faux pas in the process.  Pray that we can be the hands and feet of Jesus to those around us, from Congo or not.