My June 6 Ebenezer

I will always remember where I was that warm Wednesday afternoon, standing in our tiny second-floor apartment in the living room of the married student housing for the University of Oregon. I had just walked in from teaching my sweet Grade 3 & 4 class at Lifegate Christian School. I was rocking the baggy denim teacher dress of the 90’s. Kent told me right away to check the answering machine (remember those?)

Returning from Kenya in 2000. We were babies!

See, we had been applying for membership in Wycliffe Bible Translators. We had met in Wycliffe training school, served overseas together for a year teaching Wycliffe kids/doing linguistics and felt very clearly called to pursue work somewhere in the world getting Bibles in the hands of those without. Kent had applied years before on his own in the middle of a dark season and been rejected. We were told we should finish his MA in Linguistics and reapply. He was entering his final year, so in January we had a friend ask a friend at Wycliffe Headquarters if we should reapply now. The news we received was crushing. They did not want us to reapply at all.

We got that call one dark, cold January night and immediately got on our faces. How had we followed Jesus down this path for so many years and now it was blocked? All doors closed. Not just closed, but bolted shut. Had we heard wrong? Did He really want us to do something different? We surrendered it to his hands, fell asleep and waited. A few days later, a call was scheduled with the Director of Recruitment. He had some questions. Because of my work schedule and the time difference, we were meeting over the phone at 6:00am. I am not sure exactly what happened in that 45-minute phone call, but it began with a list of all the reasons they never wanted to hear from us again, and ended with him begging us to reapply and that he would like to handle our application personally! (He even drove several hours out of his way the next month to meet with us personally on a business trip – and bought us fried chicken! Grad students cannot be picky.)

We were elated to see God miraculously open this door that seemed firmly closed. We began all the paperwork. There were forms to fill out, essays to write, Bible knowledge tests, interviews and finally medical exams. We were working around our full-time student and teacher roles, so it took a few months to get it all done. The Director had told us that they met to review applications once per month and the last meeting before summer holiday would be June 6. All of our papers were in except for my medical form from my doctor, which had been mailed from Oregon to Florida several weeks earlier.

We began to wonder if it were lost in the mail, or lost in their office, or just where it went! This too, felt like another obstacle that we did not understand, and that we were powerless to move. The Director was praying that it would arrive. We were praying that it would arrive. And day after day it was not there. The Director called us the day before the vote to let us know that it had not arrived, so our application was incomplete and we would need to wait another several weeks for the next meeting to vote. It was such a disappointment after we can come so far in so many months. We tried to trust in God’s timing.

As I hit “Play” on the message machine that June afternoon, the Director had called again. He described how he took the elevator down to the mail room on his way to the 9:00am meeting just in case my medical form had arrived extra early – and there it was! Who gets mail before 9:00am on a Wednesday morning? Right on the top of all the mail for the day was the very missing letter we had been praying for for weeks! And it arrived the hour before the meeting to vote. He was able to add it to our application, deemed it complete and present it to the board. They all unanimously voted us in as members of Wycliffe Bible Translators! What a message!

Revelation 3:7-8 say, “What he opens, no one can close; and what he closes, no one can open. I know all the things you do, and I have opened a door for you that no one can close.”

We had seen God open doors that were firmly bolted and locked, and these closed doors had taught us to keep our eyes on Him, not on our circumstances. There would be several times over the next few years that I looked back on this process in 2001, and because of how it all happened, I KNEW without a shadow of a doubt that we were on the path that Jesus chose for us to walk. It was a confirmation that kept us going through 9/11 (and flying to Wycliffe’s Training Camp right afterward), assignment to Eastern Congo when their president had just been assassinated, raising support, and so much more that followed that year.

June 6 is more to me than an ‘Ebenezer’ (rock of remembrance) about membership in Wycliffe Bible Translators – 20 years, it is an Ebenezer to God’s ways being higher than mine.

Out and About in Cameroon

The last post focused on workshop issues; this one will have more other life issues. This was the longest workshop I’ve done in Cameroon, and my first time flying within the country. For instance, we stayed at a Benedictine monastery, so we were able to buy fresh milk, from the above and a small number of other cows on the compound.

Downtown Yaoundé from the air

For those looking for some perspective on the capitol city of Cameroon (where we live), here it is from the air. You can see the taller buildings and larger roads going to a center area in the top third of the above photo.

I also got a photo of our neighborhood, complete with our house, the CABTAL building, the soccer field where we get to exercise (even in isolation), and even on end of the building of our local church!

Our neighborhood

Back to the monastery, apparently this order likes to keep busy, and to make things to sell to the community. This is where they make essential oils (from lots of things, with lots of cryptic names —cinnamon was the only one I recognized):

They also have a place behind the building where we stayed, where they microbrew a beer made from locally available ingredients. But as with many places, innovation, industry, and tradition go hand in hand. They also have a talking drum prominently displayed at the monastery entrance:

Talking drum at the monastery
Hear the two tones of the drum

I didn’t ever hear anyone play it (other than me, in the above video clip), but these drums (found across Africa) are dear to my heart. They probably make no sense to most English speakers, but when you speak a tonal language, these drums are putting out the information that you normally use to make words. So the fact that these drums are used to communicate language, which is then understood at a great distance, is a testimony to the importance of tone in these languages. Imagine you had a drum you could hit that made the ‘p’ sound, and another that could make a ‘b’ or ‘k’ sound, and you could just pound out letters (on a drum carved from a tree, no less!), and so beat out the sounds of a word. Anyway, I think it is cool that something so uniquely African exists, that recognizes the unique value of tone in African languages.

Chufie’ workshop

several of us from the workshop
Hanging out at the end of the workshop

I just got back from a workshop where we tested out AZT in a longer workshop, and things went well. I say “longer”, because it was supposed to be three weeks, but we had to isolate after the first day, because of a COVID-19 exposure (the first in our whole community in months). But we got tested:

Our first (negative) test

And then again:

Our second (negative) test

Anyway, it was good to get back to the workshop:

guys working

When we debriefed the workshop, I had two main questions for the guys. First, was the tool easy enough to use? One guy responded that he didn’t really know how to use computers, but this tool was easy to use. So that was great news. I had suspected this, and worked for it, but it was good to hear we’re hitting that target.

The other question was about engagement and involvement: did the guys feel like they were actively taking a real part in the work? Again, they answered yes. In the picture above, the guys are talking through a decision, before telling the computer “This word is like that other one”, or “this word is different from each word on this list”. Framing this question is important, because this is a question that people can discuss and come up with a real, meaningful answer, without knowing much about linguistics. If we were to ask them to tell us if this phrase had a floating tone in it (yup, those are real), we would be asking them to guess and make up an answer, since they would have no idea what the question meant —probably just like most people reading this post. :-) But floating tones are important, and we need to analyze them correctly; we just want to get at them in a way that enables the fullest participation of the people who speak the language.

I didn’t come up with this on my own; far from it, I’m standing on the shoulders of giants, who pioneered how to engage people meaningfully in the analysis of their own language. What’s new here is that these methods are modeled within a computer program, so the user is clicking buttons instead of moving pieces of paper around on a table. Buttons are not in themselves better than paper, but when we work on the computer, each decision is recorded immediately, and each change is immediately reflected in the next task —unlike pen and paper methods, where you work with a piece of paper with (often multiple) crossed out notes, which then need to be added to a database later.

The other major advantage of this tool is the facilitation of recordings. Typically, organizing recordings can be even more work than typing data from cards into a database, and it can easily be procrastinated, leaving the researcher with a partially processed body of recordings. But this tool takes each sorted word (e.g., ‘corn’ and ‘mango’), in each frame (e.g., ‘I sell __’ and ‘the __is ripe’) it is sorted, and offers the user a button to record that phrase. Once done, the recording is immediately given a name with the word form and meaning, etc (so we can find it easily in the file system), and a link is added to the database, so the correct dictionary entry can show where to find it. Having the computer do this on the spot is a clear advantage over a researcher spending hours over weeks and months processing this data.

Once the above is done (the same day you sorted, remember? not months later), you can also produce an XML>PDF report (standing again on the giant shoulders of XLingPaper) with organized examples ready to copy and paste into a report or paper, with clickable links pointing to the sound files.

Anyway, I don’t know if the above communicates my excitement, but thinking through all these things and saying “This is the right thing to do” came before “Huh, I think I could actually make some of this happen” and this last week, we actually saw this happen —people who speak their language, but don’t know much about linguistics meaningfully engaged in the analysis of their language, in a process that results in a database of those decisions, including organized recordings for linguists to pick apart later —and cool reports!

Screenshot of PDF (which has clickable links, though not visible in this screenshot)

A New Thing

Something very new and exciting is happening at our house! We have a new arrival.

It’s a bird!

It’s a plane!

No, it’s an app!

While Kent and I were cloistered with our kids during months of lockdown last spring, we saw trips and plans blow away like sand. He typically travels to villages where they want to work on their writing system, but we would never want to be part of bringing a remote group Coronavirus. There was no end in sight to the lockdowns, and no guarantees that the pre-COVID world we freely traveled would ever return. We could see that Kent’s alphabet work needed to shift to a certain extent in order to continue. We urgently want to see languages written/recorded before they die out and disappear. We urgently want to see communities have access to important written materials, Scriptures, health manuals, etc.

One afternoon as we were pondering all this, we dreamed up a new thing. What if there was a cell phone app that would allow the rural, local communities to work on their languages without a lot of help and training, and we could consult at least in part, at a distance? We could get a computer program to do much of the work that we would usually do in a workshop setting in a village. We would need something low-bandwidth for Central Africa (where most of the remaining unwritten languages are in this region). We would need something that was easy to use for folks who don’t have computer experience. It would need to handle databases that can archive online. There were several criteria.

We spent a few weeks corresponding with various IT colleagues in our offices around the world, hoping to find that others had already developed something close. There was one program which did part of what we needed, but we soon learned that it would not be supported in the future. There was another more complex program which required extensive training, but sadly it required constant internet access, which does not work in Central Africa. So finally, Kent decided he would just need to learn programming languages and write the program himself.

We named it A to Z and T, as it helps identify the vowels (like A), the consonants (like Z) and the tone system (T) in languages. AZT is a Dictionary Checker, and Orthography Checker and can record and play back audio of each word in the context of phrases (in various tone frames). It has the potential to be able to build alphabet charts or alphabet books. This all used to be done on paper cards sorted into piles. Now the computer does the sorting, but we kept the cards in the logo.

It was amazing to see Kent’s decades of linguistics, phonology and tone research merge with his love of computers, and to see that God wastes nothing. It is ALL useful! Beginning in July, he began to construct the bare bones of the program. Along the way, I consulted on the interface and making it easy to use and easy on the eyes. We have often wished for a way to work together better, but never imagined it would be like this. We spent September and October adding various functions. It is not yet ready for cell phones, but it is working on computers.

And this week Kent is running it with language data for the first time. It could be the birth of a new era in language development. There is a lot of potential yet to come. We are praying that God would use AZT far and wide to accelerate writing systems for unwritten languages throughout Central Africa.

ARC-EN-CIEL

The ‘Arch in the Sky’ is the way the French say ‘rainbow’.

The little prop planes we took over the rainforest in Congo didn’t have instrumentation to fly through clouds and storms without visibility. So often we would get up in the air and then need to fly around isolated thunderstorms. Once we got to see lightning strike the earth from the top down! It was amazing. Another time we flew right up into a huge rainbow. I watched out the little round window to my right as the rainbow suddenly surrounded the entire plane!

I have been pondering circles, see SHALOM post here, and the rainbow is light and water surrounding us in a perfect circle. I used to always think about Noah and God’s promise in Genesis never to destroy the planet with a flood ever again. It made me smile to think of God’s promise every time I spotted the beautiful arches in the sky.

In the book of Revelation, God takes it to the next level. We get a glimpse of what the throne of God looks like and guess what is there?!

“And around the throne was a rainbow…” Rev 4:3

God is Light, in Him there is no darkness at all. And the full spectrum of light includes every color. God is surrounded by a rainbow. I have been thinking a lot about how this sign of promise is not only for us to look at, but it is also a sign for God to look at.

I have always loved color and blending/mixing colors. My childhood bedroom had rainbow plaid wallpaper, rainbow heart bedspread and a rainbow suncatcher (hey – it was cool in the 80s). But now I know the throne room of Almighty God is surrounded by a rainbow, the complete arc-en-ciel. Last month, I had been feeling compelled to paint this full-circle rainbow and kept putting it off. I had other things to do. Other tasks were more urgent. I delayed and delayed. I spent time in prayer one weekend and felt that I should paint it even more urgently. And still I put it off. You’re on thin ice when God asks you to do something and you drag your feet.

I kid you not, 24 hours after the prayer weekend ended (and I still hadn’t painted that rainbow circle), I went to take in laundry off the line and found two of the brightest rainbows in the sky I have EVER seen in my life. All the neighbors came out. Everyone stopped making dinner. We all just marveled and took pictures for at least an hour.

It felt like a clear nudge to me. I painted those circles the next day! They say a wedding ring is a symbol of covenant love because it does not have an ending or beginning. It surrounds. So is the rainbow like that? Like a heaven-sized wedding ring promising relationship? It feels like a hug from God for me to even think about it. Sneak Peek at my painting:

The Light is brightest on the inside. The darkness is on the outside. I will have to write more on this later. So many things in this Light… in these colors.

There are seasons of trial where we could all use a big hug from God, where we could all use a few minutes remembering his promises to his people. This ‘light and water vapor’ – it surrounds us all the time. We just can’t see it with human eyes all the time. It surrounds us. And it surrounds him too. Many many hard days this year, I have stopped to marvel at the spectrum of light that surrounds his throne.

We will be there.

It will be glorious.

And all will have real and complete justice and healing.

I have great hope in the mucky moments here and now because I can look to what is coming.

Hope you can too.

SHALOM

Have you ever studied the Hebrew word ‘shalom’? It is a fascinating study! It means SO much more than the English word ‘peace’. It involves a wholeness, a wellness that surrounds all of the soul. My journey back to painting and the arts began in therapy in 2013. I was finding it difficult to describe my feelings and impressions after life in Congo. My therapist asked, “Could you paint them?” and immediately I rejected the idea. “No, I don’t think so,” I replied.

Oh me of little faith.

Suddenly, 2-3 images in bright color flashed across my mind. I reluctantly agreed to carry the basket of children’s finger paints back to my apartment and see what would come of it. (It has taken a few years to embrace this idea of being called to art. I’m a work in process.) One of those first paintings was of shalom.

We had lived and worked several years in the UN Peacekeeper’s zone in post-war Congo. We were accustomed to a measured level of civil unrest; we knew the sounds of different guns in the distance. But three weeks before we were due to move away, riots over international politics broke out one Tuesday afternoon. Gunfire and RPGs (and fires) raged on for a couple days in town and Anna and I had hunkered down across town with friends. Our friends decided to evacuate, and several of us were hidden under blankets in the back of armed police trucks to reach the airport on the edge of town.

Something in the situation didn’t move me to leave. I wanted to stay. I still had three weeks of packing to do and goodbyes to say. Kent and the boys were still at our house. Anna and I were transferred to the airport to be ‘safe’ behind the barbed wire next to the Bangladeshi UN Peacekeeper camp.

I asked to be brought back into the city – back to our house. Initially, the police refused, saying it wasn’t safe enough. But after a few hours of flights loading up to evacuate, things were calming down in the city and they agreed to take us. We waved goodbye to the dearest of friends and returned to the back of the police truck and under the heavy blankets. I have never doubted that I would be ready to die should He ask it of me. But I had always worried about what would happen to my young children. Anna was only 5.

And under that scratchy, woolen blanket bumping along dirt roads at top speeds, I was surrounded by a peace beyond words. I knew I was going Home. Earthly home, or heavenly home. Home either way. We were both safe under the shadow of his wings either way. [Spoiler alert: We made it back to our earthly home just fine. And just in time for a very memorable family Thanksgiving the next day!]

The image in my mind was of wholeness, of wellness… of shalom. It’s a circle, whole and complete, never-ending. It is soft and gentle like bulletproof memory foam. I think this is what the Psalmist was talking about in Psalm 17:8-9 “Hide me in the shadow of your wings, from the wicked who do me violence…” Ruth was hidden under the shelter of wings. Many have described God’s peace as this soft, safe shelter. Complete shalom.

Years later, that feeling of complete safety is a clear memory. I have been pondering circles and circle images ever since. I would post you a picture of my shalom painting, but it is currently in storage in the US. Here is a quick digital sketch.

As a person who has been prone to fear and worry since childhood, it still doesn’t really make ‘sense’ that I had so much peace in that moment. I am not naturally a peaceful person. I could never have drummed up enough myself!

Philippians 4:6-7 says, “Do not be anxious about anything,
but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving
let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God,
which surpasses all understanding,
will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

That shalom feeling could not come from me.
It surpassed understanding.

Jesus gave it to me.

He has more than enough for you too.

Today was the Wycliffe World Day of Prayer and our theme was… you guessed it! Shalom. We prayed for shalom over so many conflicts and difficulties around the world.

Do you have a situation where you need shalom?
At school? At the office? In your family? In your country?

Our world seems to need a lot of it in 2020.


Praying shalom for you.

Hope for Current Events

Every time I get a chance to read about how my passport country is doing, it is difficult to digest. Division seems to rule the day. One friend genuinely fears for her safety as a young single mother of two, afraid to walk her city. Another friend is marching across the landscape with her children, trying to be heard – trying to ensure their future safety. Online, people post cheap shots in both directions and true listening is elusive. Last night on a main-stream news from Wisconsin, two men from opposing sides faced off on the street. In the clip, one man shouts, “I just want a real dialogue!” When his ‘enemy’ responds, he shouts over him. They both shout over each other. Neither hears the other. Neither is listening to the other.

My Scripture reading of the day included Zephaniah 3:


“What sorrow awaits rebellious, polluted Jerusalem, the city of violence and crime!
No one can tell it anything; it refuses all correction.
It does not trust in the LORD or draw near to it’s God.
Its leaders are like roaring lions hunting for their victims.
Its judges are like ravenous wolves at evening time, who by dawn have left no trace of their prey. Its prophets are arrogant liars seeking their own gain.
Its priests defile the Temple by disobeying God’s instructions.

But the LORD is still there in the city, and he does no wrong.

The remnant of Israel will do no wrong;
they will not tell lies or deceive one another.
They will eat and sleep in safety,
and no one will make them afraid.”

Whatever the current state of your city, whatever the current chaos in the media, whatever your level of fear, perceived or real… there is hope. The LORD is still there in the city. He is where you are. And He promises a time when we can eat and sleep in safety when no one will make us afraid. It may not happen right here, right now. We may have to wait for eternity for that much peace, but there is HOPE now because we have the LORD with us in the city.

In the meantime, I pray Zephaniah’s ancient words of Truth for the Church: that we would not tell each other lies, that we would not deceive one another, that we would obey God, humbly accepting correction.

Listening to one another.

1 Peter 4:8 “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.”


In this song When It Was Over, Sara Groves sings this verse after a fight between husband and wife, but I think it can easily apply to any division in human relationships.

There is a Hope.

There is a Love.

Even in current events.

P.S. Some of you may remember how roses remind me of HOPE from a post in 2009.
Well, this week we planted our first roses in Cameroon!

How to Leave Your Kid on the Other Side of the World

This is all new to me. I’ve never sent a kid to college. And certainly never sent one to the other side of the world during a pandemic! There were so many skills I felt he needed. So many supplies, life lessons. So many adult things he knew nothing about. We held a little James-specific TCK Boot Camp: Banking, buses, bike safety, phone plans, health insurance, modern food systems, choosing a church and job applications. Just in case it helps another Mom going through it… I’ll detail a bit about the process.

PREPARATIONS: MOM-IN-A-BOX & HOMESICKNESS PREVENTION

Last year a good friend of mine put together what she called ‘Mom in a Box’ for her daughter heading off to college. Mom-in-a-Box included a first aid kit, some essential snacks, vitamins and a document that included subjects like: Sickness, Finances, Job, Church – things that you might definitely want to ask Mom about that first year away from home. Sickness includes which vitamins to take, which hospitals are in-network for us, etc. For James, I expanded this to include a Contacts list and a Food Source list. Contacts includes full names, address and phone numbers for local family/friends who have offered to be there for him when we cannot. Under each name I included tags: Emergency – for those who would do anything for him 24/7, Guest Room Offered/Ready – for those who offered him a place or had one ready now, and then other tags like Files or Storage – in case he needed to find things we left behind in a garage. Under Food Sources, I listed his closest grocery stores and where to find some of his favorite allergy-free foods.

I both Emailed him this document and printed it hardcopy. I filled the box with every medicine, vitamin, cream he could need, three jars of organic chicken soup, tea (for when he’s sick), a sewing kit, and an envelope. In the envelope, I wrote out 12 little post-it encouragements with prayers for his year. I only told him about them the day I left and encouraged him to pull one out and read it each month or on a hard day. I won’t be local to send him little things or visit, so I tried to front-load the Mom encouragement inside Mom-in-a-Box.

I know there is absolutely no way to avoid all homesickness, but as a TCK who has grown up in 5 countries on 3 continents, sometimes you need a piece of a place that feels like home. I wanted to provide James with that, and I’m a quilter. I quilted him a graduation stole with a fabric for each place he celebrated a birthday. I quilted him a Fibonacci Sequence quilt out of African cotton wax print (kitenge) for his bed. For graduation, he also asked for two African-style shirts and I made him matching masks. These fabrics can surround him with his TCK heritage when he needs it. This could also be done with family photos, a flag from your country other traditional wall hangings to remember your last feeling of ‘home’ on the other side of the world.

TCK BOOT CAMP

[These activities will need to be determined by where your kid will be and what they need specifically.] James had his driver’s license already, which was helpful for many other things like getting his student ID card. He wasn’t going to own a car, so instead purchased a bike, was given a helmet and awesome locks. He has complicated food allergies, planned to live on campus and get around by bike and bus, so our boot camp focused on that. We complicated things a bit further because he won’t be 18 until October, so he can’t have his own credit card yet and I had to co-sign anything to do with finances in person. We traveled to his college town 10 days before he moved in and stayed nearby so we could get to know the area well, and I’m so glad we did. We could take our time purchasing items for his dorm room ahead of the crowds, check out different churches, tour the nearby grocery stores, try out a couple allergy-friendly restaurants, etc. Here are the topics we covered and practiced in Boot Camp:
Cell Phones: plans, payment, apps, cases, cords, etc
Groceries: sourcing clean foods, reading ingredients, budgeting, dorm cooking
Transportation: reading bus routes/schedules, biking rules & safety
Banking: deposits, ATMs, cash-back, app management
College: campus tour (with specifics in mind), ID card, first semester books

James is a kid who is usually up for an adventure if someone else plans it, but who doesn’t naturally go explore new things. This Boot Camp had some days where I required weird jobs and forced him to do them. I had a long list of tasks to master or practice and most often he could choose between, for example, planning a bus trip across town to Trader Joe’s, or walking the college campus to find his dorm room window and get his ID card and books. Our bank account appointment was thankfully on our first full day in town and they gave him his debit card on the spot, so over the next 10 days I had him do much of the purchasing on his own and then we could log into the banking app and check his account as we went. Once, the register asked him if he wanted cash back. He just froze. He’d never heard of it. These are the little things that make coming from overseas a challenge. And I’m thankful we took our time working through them day by day together.

James planned a bus route for us across town to Trader Joe’s

On top of life skills, I was teaching COVID safety as we went: Not to open doors with hands when possible, washing hands whenever possible and always before eating, etc. He would be managing it all on his own this year. He registered himself for an Amazon Student account and we ordered something to a nearby drop box. He picked it up on his own. In the grocery stores, we scouted out his favorite allergy-friendly options and noted which places have higher/lower prices. A few times I would challenge him to find three sources of broccoli (his favorite veg) and compare prices: frozen v. fresh v. steam bags. We blocked up the ice cream aisle reading ingredients and ranking which brands were better for his allergies. The one practice we didn’t fit in was a solo trip to the barber, though I did talk him through what is expected (a tip at the end) and we located a good one within walking distance.

There were two other things we did, which prepared him more on an emotional level. First, we booked an afternoon having lunch with the MK Care Coordinator of our organization. This man has kids like James on his heart, and got to debrief him about his life overseas and transition to the US, which opens the door for future connections there. Second, we participated in a campus ministry camp (all virtual this year), which placed James in an online small group of other Christian incoming freshman in his department (math/science). These were the first students he met, and his small group has gathered already a couple times at a park in these first 2 weeks. They text each other often, and it made James feel a bit of connection before beginning all virtual classes on a campus of 70,000 students.

Our final goodbyes

THE DROP-OFF

We moved him in on a Tuesday morning and spent most of the day unpacking and settling his room. We planned to stock his fridge and go out to lunch Wednesday before I left town (and flew out Friday). Having a plan is important!! We found the outlets in the dorm were all far from his desk, so in the evening I ordered a curbside pickup of cords at Lowe’s. I checked out of our AirBnB. He texted me his food wishlist and it was easy for me to find because we had toured every store in the area. We went out to lunch and got to debrief his first 24 hours of dorm life. I told him I would not park and come in, but just drop him and go. We planned out when to call and check-in. And that was it! I drove away. I didn’t want to. I had to. I did pause to bawl a moment in a parking spot. I am human. The waves have been coming for a year, and will continue another year I’m sure. It wasn’t easy, but all the planning and preparations gave me a lot of peace of mind that we were ready for whatever this first year on the other side of the world may hold!

Looking back over all the years of James’ childhood, it is obvious without a doubt that God has plans for him. It was not easy to do it solo, but better than not doing it at all. I felt the prayers for God’s Peace and Strength with me every hour. It is painful to leave the country and not take your kid with you, but I have no doubt God will continue to be faithful to James. And the Family Weekends and Holiday Breaks we will miss this year we can all surrender to Jesus. He is worthy. How to leave your kid on the other side of the world? It can only be done in obedience and worship! I also recommend having people pray! This song came on the radio on multiple stations in multiple towns across Texas as I drove away from my son: You Get the Glory.

Day in the Life: Quarantine Day 11

[Before I journal out what a typical day of Quarantine in Cameroon is like, I want to say there are some big differences between Quarantine here v. in the US with unlimited high-speed internet streaming services, curbside pickups, Amazon deliveries and Door Dash from your favorite restaurant. In Cameroon, power and internet are a costly privilege. I am Quarantined on our office compound where there is a backup power generator, so if it all cuts out – it is back on within about 60 seconds. Still, I have traded streaming music/movies for using my list of downloads while power lasts, and singing or listening to a flock of tropical birds outside when it doesn’t. I’ve traded curbside pickups and Amazon deliveries for friends and neighbors sharing/swapping. And I’ve traded restaurant meals for my own kitchen creativity (and some simple meals)… Add the cool, wet season of tropical ‘winter’ and a whole lot of bugs – and it’s the same! Just about…]

6:30am – I wake up to birds praising their Creator and the slam of a screen door nearby. All windows are open louvers with screens, so noise travels! Slowly getting up, I put my clean coffee mug outside on the front porch chair and set up my own seat for morning coffee.

7:00am – Kent arrives before his work day to pour me coffee with whipped cream! He backs away, so I can reach out to pull the coffee inside, and then sits down on the other side of the porch. Once I am back behind the screen door, he takes off his mask and we share long-distance coffee. We talk about the kids getting out the door at 6:45, or what’s going on in the house or at the office. We often share thoughts about current events. Today it’s about Critical Race Theory and how the Church should respond. Basically, we pretend to solve all the world’s problems in our 45 minutes… 🙂

8:00am – Kent rushes back to set up an online portal to a linguistics conference in the Netherlands he and another colleague are attending virtually all day. I pray for them, finish Bible reading and throw some breakfast together. Goals of the day are blogging, Email, finishing my 1000-piece puzzle. It’s hard not to count the hours left – three more full days! Joel and Anna haven’t seen me except on phone calls for 5 weeks. Feels like forever.

1:00pm – My puzzle is almost done and I need to stop or I won’t have anything to do for the next few days. I watch one more episode of a TV series I downloaded, but it’s the second to last one I have. Unless I want to rewatch the whole season again, I’ll need to find something else to do. I decide to save it at least another day. I could reread a book, but decide to read online instead.

1:30pm – Kent texts me from his conference that Anna is in tears about online school because her computer is down (that she built). I call her. She doesn’t pick up. Teenagers and their headphones with loud music! I call her brother and finally get her on the phone. She needs to be creative and not put more on Dad today. She agrees to try working on her brother’s old dinosaur laptop that sounds like a jet engine.

3:00pm – My friend Lori knocks outside. My first week of Quarantine, I was the only one, but now there are 4 households of us and we are allowed to walk outside on the path between 3-6pm at a distance. I’m late for walk-time! I change into exercise clothes and begin putting on my shoes when Anna calls in tears. She just saw an Email saying that her Zoom violin lesson across the globe started a few minutes ago. She’s panicking and not sure what to do. I postpone the walk by an hour, calm her down, and log in to listen to her lesson with her from here.

4:15pm – Violin Lesson salvaged in spite of high winds and rain ( = spotty internet/power). Hopefully I can still get in a walk! I find my fellow-Quarantiner and we start around the 1/4mi path. After one lap, it starts sprinkling and the hills in the distance disappear behind a looming wall of water. We make it a fast 2 laps and retreat to warm up inside. It is ‘winter’ with weather in the 65-80 range and it often rains during our ‘outside time’. It makes taking out trash and drying laundry a bit complicated. Thankfully, no laundry or trash runs for me today! I have a thick blanket on the hard tile for a yoga mat and can stretch out.

6:00pm – I decide to cook a real dinner, not just eat fruit & cheese. I have chicken drumsticks, a moldy onion, a questionable zucchini and some drying out carrots. I clean up the onion and sautee it with peeled carrots. I add water and chicken to simmer, and am pleasantly surprised by the zucchini – not one worm inside! It gets sliced up and steamed on top of it all. I found a steak seasoning mix that I spice it with and serve topped with butter and sea salt. Food for a king! I notice a little river of ants coming in a crack in the wall, but can’t figure where they are feasting… ominous.

9:00pm – After eating my dinner, chatting with family and reading a bit more (only a few more puzzle pieces!), it’s time to get ready for bed. The empty apartment gets dark quickly after 7:00 and then the bugs feel free to take over. I catch a mosquito in mid-air and feel victorious. Last weekend a big rainstorm brought in several huge cockroaches and I had to convince both myself and them that I was in charge. But I drew the line at the enormous spider in the bathroom! I just couldn’t get close enough to kill him with a shoe. He disappeared somewhere near the back of the door and my towel. I named him Henry. We are peacefully coexisting. I pretend he’s not there, and he pretends that I am not there.
I use a different towel.
And I bring my broom in with me –
just in case.

10:00pm – I’ll wash my 3 dishes tomorrow. And handwash a few last things to wear. Lights out. I’ve had lots of time to chat with Jesus. To puzzle. To sleep. To fight bugs. The crickets are chirping. All that goes through my head is spider nightmares, so I sing a praise song half asleep. Think on only what is good. Most of all I am thankful that I am not sick and not bringing COVID back home next week!

Pandemic Super Summer

When James graduated high school here in Cameroon in June, we had little reassurance that he would make it across the globe to begin college. All borders were closed. Europe was closed. The US would welcome us home, but there was no way to get there without going through Europe. Could we rent him a fishing boat to sail across the Atlantic? We debated delaying his studies by a year. We debated cancelling our own trip to the US. But we didn’t have peace about that. We had medical check-ups we really needed to take care of. We had family we needed to see. And most of all, James was ready to move to college and begin life as an adult.

The day before our “scheduled” trip (3rd itinerary attempt) the transformer in our neighborhood blew, and fried the motherboard of our backup power system. We gave away or tossed the contents of our fridge and defrosted the freezer and put cell phones and laptops on a friend’s generator. We unplugged everything and left the washing machine with dank, soapy water for a neighbor to handle later. The day before travel, I hauled the sewing machine next door where it was hooked up to a generator and I sewed masks for our trip. It would take 30 or so hours to travel, so we would need several masks for each of the five of us. The generator was very powerful and the sewing went very fast!

After two date cancellations, we were SO grateful to fly out July 9 (on Joel’s 16th birthday!) At the time we left, the COVID numbers were much lower here than in the US and Texas in particular was in the middle of a surge in numbers. It was easy to fear. As I packed our bags, my assigned Bible reading included Psalm 91 and these words hit me:

Those who live in the shelter of the Most High
will find rest in the shadow of the Almighty…
He will protect you from the deadly disease.
He will cover you with his feathers…
Do not dread the disease that stalks in darkness…
For He will order his angels to protect you wherever you go.

It felt a little presumptuous to me at the time to believe that we could travel so far and be exposed to so many people to a hotspot big city and then all return without any of us catching Coronavirus. I had only a mustard seed of faith that He could do that for us. Every time we would have to pass through a crowd in the Paris airport, or eat strange airline food in tight quarters, or hear someone on the plane cough, the fear in me would rise. I would almost hold my breath, trying not to panic through the stifling masks. And He would gently repeat to me, “Do not dread the disease.” It became a phrase on repeat in my brain throughout our trip. Do not fear. Do not dread. Even if this Almighty protection was temporary, it is still better for me to stop the fear. It gains nothing.

By a miracle of God’s goodness, we were able in the midst of pandemic social distancing to accomplish:
32 Flights flown (4 each to Texas and 3 each to return), even more security checks!
5 Wellness Check-ups
4 rounds of bloodwork
3 Follow-up Visits with Specialists
5 Dental Cleanings
2 Follow-up Dental Visits

12 months of prescriptions and supplements acquired
6 Houses stayed-in
1 Car driven

4,325 miles driven
2 stops at Buccee’s
8 or so hours sitting on hold
39 Amazon Orders
Countless outdoor meet ups with so many!
Countless cups of ice cream and blueberries consumed!

Some people brought us food. Some people cooked us food to share on the back porch. Someone helped pick up books we needed for school this year. Someone lent us another book. Someone gave us their home for a week while they were away. Someone gave us use of their pool. Someone gifted us a week at their condo. Someone gets our mail all year long and keeps our important papers filed. Someone let us haul boxes in and out of the storage area in their attic. Someone quilted James’ graduation quilt. Many gave him graduation gifts that allowed him to furnish his dorm room and set up a bank account with healthy savings. Even though we were socially distanced, we felt very close and supported and loved by our church and our team.

One friend hearing about the crazy circumstances and struggles we had asked, “Have ANY of your trips to the mission field been EASY?” … Um… I couldn’t think of one. There was the trip we all got ill. The trip we had things stolen. The trip of tummy bugs. The trip of visa stress. There really is always one obstacle or other. We’ve come to expect it. And despite the obstacles of 2020, this summer we were equipped to return to Bible Translation work to thrive in Cameroon another year. This super-packed summer of business and activities really was a miracle!

Praise God with us for all He accomplished!