Saturday, October 11, 2014


In Nasir we were spoiled to have a Doctors Without Borders hospital a short distance away. Although there was only one occasion when one of us needed treatment, we felt blessed to have access to good medical care in such a remote place.

The town where we are currently staying in Ethiopia is another story. While in many ways it is significantly more developed than Nasir, the choices for medical care are limited.

The local clinics, staffed by persons with basic medical training, take the shotgun approach. It seems that everyone who walks in with a fever has malaria, typhoid, and anemia. People walk out with bags of malaria medicine, antibiotics, iron supplements, and pain pills with little to no instruction on how to administer them. The Nuer name for these places, Duel Waal or “House of Drugs,” seems appropriate. It’s not surprising that drug resistance is rampant.

The local hospital is slightly better. You may get to see a doctor, and there’s less chance of being given a false positive for malaria or typhoid. But you have to make sure to bring your own food, water, sheets, and a friend to follow your paperwork through the convoluted, overworked bureaucratic system.

Faced with limited options for physical remedies, the spiritual route becomes more appealing. But there are only two choices: the power of God through Jesus Christ or the power of Satan through the witchdoctors (which is out of the scope of this post).

The Bible is filled with stories of healing and instructions to the church to pray for the sick. With so many of our friends suffering from various illnesses (most of which are not malaria, typhoid, or anemia), we are committed to lifting them up in prayer, believing that God’s healing power is the best option.

I can’t say that I understand how God heals. It seems like sometimes it’s flat out miraculous while other times he uses the natural systems he designed to bring it about. So far I haven’t seen anything “radical,” like the lame walking or the blind receiving sight, but then again, maybe I have been too afraid to pray these kinds of prayers.

I do believe that it’s God’s heart to heal and restore, and it’s my hope that those around us would experience physical healing as well as the equally awesome power of God’s love and forgiveness.

Monday, August 4, 2014

The Search for Nyibol

When we arrived in Ethiopia back in March, the first thing we did was begin searching for our friends from Nasir. We would stop individuals on the street, asking if they had any news from South Sudan. We were able to reconnect with most of our friends, but had been unable to reach Nyaret and Nyibol, the two ladies who served us so faithfully in Nasir.

Although sickness had prevented us from traveling before we left for Uganda in June, this past Saturday we decided to make the trip out to Matar, a town about an hour from the South Sudan border where we had heard Nyibol was staying. Early in the morning we loaded up in a Land Cruiser and set out to try and find Nyibol.


After four bumpy hours we made it to Matar and began to canvass the town, stopping people to ask if they knew her. We heard vague responses that she had been there a few weeks ago, but no one knew where she was now. Then, out of nowhere, we ran into her son, who told us she was in the refugee camp near Nyinyang, about 30 minutes away.

Although us kuwayni (foreigners) did not have approval to enter the camp, some of the group went with Nyibol's son to find her while we waited under a tree outside the entrance. (We were so blessed to have her son with us, because there’s no way we would have found her amidst the 40,000 people living in the camp.) Finally we saw the car coming back and there was Nyibol!

It was a sweet reunion, and there were many rounds of “Male, male migoa, male midit” before we all got back into the car to return to Gambella. On the drive back, Nyibol told us some of her story. Back in March she suffered a gunshot wound and had been transported to a MSF hospital in South Sudan. After she was discharged, she walked for 10 days back to Nasir before finding her way to the refugee camp in Ethiopia.

Perhaps the craziest part is that as we were driving, we got a text from Jared that Nyaret, who we thought was in South Sudan, had just shown up in Gambella!

This morning we met together with Nyaret and Nyibol. We praised God for the amazing way that he reunited us after months of praying to see each other again. We believe that only the Lord could have led us to Nyibol and brought Nyaret to Gambella, all in one day.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Living in Community

Because of the conflict in South Sudan, many people have fled across the border to Ethiopia. Some are living in refugee camps, but others have gone to surrounding towns to stay with family. When you add the flood of NGO workers to the area, you have a major housing shortage on your hands. Consequently, it was a gift from God that the Pierces, Christina, and I were able to find a small house for the 7 of us to share.

As much as it’s an adjustment to live with a family of five, I know that it’s just as much of an adjustment for them. It’s not easy to be a parent with an audience – having to go to another room to discipline in private, trying to keep things clean or keep the children quiet on a Saturday morning.

It’s also not easy to be the audience. There’s a certain amount of rule breaking that kids get away with when mom or dad is in the other room, but when there are four adults instead of two, not much goes unobserved. When do I say something and when do I keep quiet? When it looks like someone might get hurt? How much is interfering with someone else’s children and how much is part of “it takes a village?”

We’re also not talking about the few hours you spend with your roommate or family after everyone gets home from work or school. This is 24/7 living with the people that are your coworkers, friends, and small group. You eat together, work together, pray together, and battle sickness together. You don’t ask each other “How was your day?” over dinner, because you already know the answer.

Sometimes it can be frustrating, feeling like there’s no place to retreat, but living in community is also freeing. I’m pretty good at covering up my sin for a two hour weekly small group, but when you live together there’s no hiding your issues. My teammates know when I’m having a bad day; they see my frustrations and my selfishness. And it’s a good thing, because it forces me to face it.

In spite of the challenges of intense communal living, I’m so thankful for my teammates. I’m a different person than before we started living together, and I have a much better perspective on parenting. I can’t think of anyone else with whom I’d rather have shared the last 11 months, 3 African countries, and 8 different living arrangements.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

The Holy Land

At the end of June, Christina and I traveled to Israel to meet up with our families for a week. While just visiting the sites would have been amazing in and of itself, it was even better that I got to experience it with my mom and dad, whom I hadn’t seen in 10 months. We rented a car for 3 days to drive up to Galilee and then down to the Dead Sea, but we spent most of our time walking around Jerusalem.

Old Jerusalem is truly an intersection of faiths, with the Armenian, Muslim, Jewish, and Christian Quarters all within less than a square kilometer. One hears church bells echoing amidst calls to prayer and sees mosques next to synagogues next to cathedrals. Most of these buildings were built on top of holy sites, where significant events were believed to have taken place.

One of the most prominent sites in the Old City, the Temple Mount, is highly contested among the different faiths. Now host to the Muslim Dome of the Rock, it is also believed to have been the site of the Jewish Temple before it was destroyed in 70 A.D.

During a tour of the tunnels along the Western Wall of the Temple Mount, we reached a place where women were praying and small scraps of paper with prayers written on them were stuffed into cracks and crevices in the wall. We learned that this is said to be the closest point along the Western Wall to where the Holy of Holies used to stand, where the presence of God dwelt.

Of all the holy sites, this one in particular struck me with sadness. People travel from far away, desiring to be near to God, and the closest they can come is outside of the wall around the location of where the holy place used to be.

I realized that I take for granted that for those who believe in Jesus Christ, the temple is no longer about a physical, earthly location but the presence of God living in the hearts of his children: “Do you not know that you are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in you?” 1 Cor 3:16. His Spirit is with us wherever we go.

So while it was amazing to spend a week in Israel and experience many of the sites where Biblical events took place, I am thankful that intimacy with God is not dependent on location. Those living in a remote village in Africa can have the same access to God as someone standing at the Western Wall in Jerusalem.

“For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own, for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.” Hebrews 9:24-28

Saturday, May 31, 2014

The War Hits Home

On May 4th Nasir was finally taken by government troops. This did not come as a surprise to anyone, as Nasir had been the headquarters and recruiting grounds for the rebel forces for months, but the news still hurt. We were so thankful to hear that there were few civilian casualties (unlike other clashes in the past few months), but my heart still grieves with those who fled their homes, many traveling for days on foot to reach the refugee camps.

We heard the news on a Sunday afternoon here in Ethiopia, and we spent our normal team devotion time praying for Nasir. Slowly we were joined by friends: Mary Nyakuoth, a Bible school student, and Nyatet and Mulan, teenage girls who live nearby. We took turns singing and praying in English and Nuer, and we read Psalm 46 together:

“God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. […] He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth; […] Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”

A week later we heard that following the fighting many compounds in Nasir were looted, including ours. Although we haven’t seen the damage, it was reported that what wasn’t taken was intentionally destroyed. We don’t know which side was responsible for the looting, and it really doesn’t matter. I’m asking God to help me to forgive those who have taken our belongings and praying that the things taken would be a blessing to them. I’m thankful that our treasure is in heaven “where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.”

Although in many ways I feel helpless in the face of this conflict, I am thankful for the privilege of being here during this time, meeting friends and colleagues as they come across the border. In a very small way, we are able to share in their sufferings: rejoicing with those who rejoice and mourning with those who mourn.

My prayer is that a lasting peace will come swiftly, for the glory of God and the good of all the people of South Sudan.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014


Before I moved to East Africa, I used to think that I understood hospitality. I liked to throw dinner parties; friends from out of town would crash on my couch for a weekend; a group of girls would meet in my apartment every week for dinner and Bible study. “Hospitality” was something for which I could plan, schedule, and budget.

Hospitality among the South Sudanese looks different. Visits are not confined to people you know, they do not have time limits, and they require no prior notice. The minimum expectation is that when someone walks onto your property, you stop whatever you are doing, arrange a seat for the visitor in the shade, and provide a drink.

Hanging out in a shady spot for a language lesson

Many days we could literally spend the entire day entertaining guests, and I confess that there are times when I dread seeing our gate swing open. Yet while these cultural expectations can grate against what I am accustomed to, I think they fall much more in line with the Biblical definition of hospitality.

Usually when the Lord is trying to teach me something, he gives me an opportunity to practice it. One night around 11pm I woke up to the sound of voices and our dog Brown growling outside. I opened the door to my mud hut and saw about 10 people sitting on the ground outside in the dark. They were pastors and their families who had just arrived from Nasir. Their vehicle had broken down, so they had to walk the rest of the way. We didn’t have enough beds for everyone, but we were able to offer them food, water, and a place to stay for the night.

The next day our team was able to reflect on the experience, and we realized that in the United States we had never even had the opportunity to host complete strangers like that. It is unfortunate because Hebrews 13:2 says: “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.”

So while there are times when I wish there were a less open door culture, I am thankful for how the Lord is stretching and shaping my understanding of hospitality to be more in line with his Word. He is gently showing me ways I selfishly hold onto the time and resources he has given me, and he is revealing his faithfulness in multiplying the gifts offered back to him in praise.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

New Land

After a week and a half of staying at Zola’s Lounge a.k.a. “The Nightclub” (see previous post), we were able to move to more peaceful accommodations. We met an American missionary couple who worked with a local church to allow us to stay in their guest quarters. We have been so blessed by their hospitality. The best part is that we are now staying in the middle of the South Sudanese community in "New Land." I feel more at home going to sleep to the sound of drums rather than Brittany Spears and Justin Bieber.

I am also living in a mud hut for the first time! We were surrounded by mud huts (or “duels”) in Nasir, but our own houses were made from concrete blocks. The huts we are staying in now are really nice – a tarp on the ceiling prevents the bats from roosting in the top, a plastic floor covering makes it easy to sweep, and there are a light and an electrical outlet too. Aside from a couple of encounters with rats and a sweet stray dog that sometimes sleeps in the corner, there haven’t been too many critters.

The mud hut that Christina and I share.

"Brown" - the stray dog that has adopted us

We have resumed daily language lessons with a tutor and spend time practicing in the community. It’s encouraging to hear less “kawaay” (which means foreigner) and more “Nyewec James” (my Nuer name and my father’s name). We have met many who (like us) have come to Ethiopia due to the conflict in South Sudan.

God answered our prayers a few weeks ago when Jared bumped into one of our colleagues who had just arrived from Nasir. The phone lines have been shut down since the war started in December, and we haven’t been able to get in touch with our staff. We have been concerned for our friends, and we were glad to hear that for the most part they are okay. We grieve to get reports of those who have sustained gunshot wounds, lost their husbands, or fled to refugee camps.

Please continue to pray with us for a lasting peace to come to South Sudan. We especially lift up those who have been displaced from their homes, have been injured, or have lost loved ones.