Sunday, November 11, 2012

Creating Balance

If there were any lingering doubts that the Crawford boys like
(the) Ducks, let them be once and for all put to rest. :)
Go Oregon!
One of the things I learned from my former co-worker/boss/friend Mark Dew was that sometimes, you have to bring balance to a situation. At social functions, if no one was talking Mark would carry the conversation. At work, if I was insisting on one course of direction Mark would suggest that the other side of the coin be considered. During theological discussions, if one particular theology was being favored, Mark would bring up points from another school of thought. In each case, though sometimes mixed with a hint of playful contrarianism,  Mark always seemed to bring a certain sense of balance to the situation, either to ensure a successful social event, or to prevent an easy course of action at work from outpacing wisdom, or to have another equally valid viewpoint of God considered.

As parents, and in particular as it relates to our current situation living here in the UK, Alisha and I are realizing that we need to employ this nugget of wisdom demonstrated by Mark (though I’m certain that my inclusion of his name here will bring much blushing to our good friend!). What exactly am I talking about?

My sister Terri stopped through the UK for a visit! She was
on her way home from a conference in Europe with a women's
ministry she's involved with.
Back in the USA, and even to some extent during our time in Uganda, our boys have largely lived in a Christian bubble. Don’t get me wrong – we love the bubbles we’ve lived in and these days we sometimes catch ourselves longingly dreaming of being back inside one of them! However, we recognize that nearly all of the boys friends and acquaintances up to this time have been of the same heart and mind as we are when it comes to matters of faith.

Alisha and Terri, enjoying a warm autumn day in Colchester.
Pay no attention to the chattering teeth.
Consequently, we have often felt the need to show a little bit of ‘the world’ to them so as to prevent them from being so sheltered as to become vulnerable later in youth to an awakening that might lead to rebellion and a bit of sowing the seeds of the wild side. Sure, that’s bound to happen to some extent regardless, but we’ve figured that the less ‘surprises’ they encountered later, the better off they’ll be. So we’ve made a point of listening to some non-Christian (though fairly sanitized) music – their favorite was Weird Al’s ‘White and Nerdy’ – and watching a few TV shows that might show them some things that would prompt ‘discussions’ – shows such as ‘The Amazing Race’, or more ‘edgy’ kids movies such as ‘Kicking and Screaming’, ‘Harry Potter’, and ‘Home Alone’ to name a few. Nothing too crazy, but taken as independent entities, many Christian parenting resources might have counseled against showing them certain aspects of the contents of these films at such young ages. From our standpoint, however, we wanted to prompt some of these conversations as we’d watch things that were generally inappropriate for children their age. And, bringing these things up in the context of our home where we could talk about them, we hoped that the boys would see mom and dad as not trying to over-protect and shield them, but rather as willing to expose them to some things that make them feel 'older' and therefore more responsible. (I recognize some of you might laugh at what I’m calling edgy – if so, you might re-consider what you find appropriate for your kids to watch! Ha - I promise, I'm at least 50% kidding in saying that. ;) )
New Friends! We went to Cambridge last weekend to visit
Matt & Cara and their two small children. We have been
friends with Matt's older brother Jason and his wife Julie
(Julie was in our wedding) since college. We felt as if
we'd been friends for years with these DeJong's too. Matt
is an engineering professor at Cambridge and they've lived
here for 3 years. Actually, they both grew up about 15 miles
from where I grew up in NorCal and both went to UC
Davis as well, albeit a few years after we were there.

But living in the UK thus far, I think our boys have been exposed to more in the past month than the rest of their lives combined! (A good portion of this has less to do with the UK and more to do with the environments they’ve lived in up to now – a mission community and school in Uganda and a charter school in the ‘capitol’ of Christianity in America, Colorado Springs.) But suffice it to say, the days of living in a Christian bubble are no more. At first, we started to panic – what in the world have we done to our precious little boys?! Have we corrupted them forever? Have we ‘ruined’ all the work we’ve done to this point? Ultimately, we’ll never know the answer to this for sure – perhaps these things are true. However, as we’ve talked about it, we’ve realized that through some intentional efforts on our part as well as some blind luck, mixed with a double portion of God’s grace, some very positive things seem to be coming of this. Here are just a few we’ve noticed so far:
A dining hall at one of the Cambridge Colleges - setup just as
in the Harry Potter movies. Matt told us they have formal
dinners there regularly, where all students eat in black robes
just as in the HP movies.

1)      Our boys seem to be telling us everything. All the nitty gritty details, including bad words, jokes and innuendo that they’ve heard at school here.  What more could a parent ask for? When there’s open communication, then parents have a chance to speak into the lives of their children regardless of what’s going on in their world. And most importantly, they know what’s going on in their world in the first place.

2)      The boys seem well prepared for this and seem to be passing the test. They know that the kids and most adults around them don’t share their faith, and are recognizing the fact that their inappropriate talk and behavior is a direct result of that.

3)      They’re viewing the inappropriate behavior and language as bad! J

Guy Fawkes day is celebrated like the 4th of July back home,
though there's a completely different back story. Google it,
too long to explain. Also, sorry about the demon eyes.
4)      Certain ‘taboo’ subjects and topics of conversation that are difficult to bring up are coming up naturally, giving us a chance to speak about what God’s perspective might be about them. Sometimes, when these things don’t come up, I think it’s hard as a parent to just randomly bring up a topic that is otherwise not something you would talk about. When a situation is presented to the boys in their daily lives, it gives us the opportunity to seize the moment.

5)      We have seen the boys start asking questions about their faith – the first step in making their faith their own. Plus, I love a good theological discussion myself so I’m looking forward to having three more participants around the house.
We went to Luton this past weekend to visit our good friends
Joe and Jess (and baby son Nathan) from Uganda. Joe took us
to a Luton Town football (soccer) match while we were there.
Luton used to be in the Premier League, though poor mgmt.
led to their rapid fall through the leagues the past several years.

So while our boys have had to grow up a bit thus far here, even in the short three months that we’ve been here, we’re realizing that God had prepared them for this journey just as he’d prepared Alisha and I. We often think our kids are just little ‘trailers’ attached to us, and the big things God wants to do in our lives seem to crowd out anything he might want to do in our kids’ lives. But we don’t think as much about the fact that God is working things out for the good of all of us who love him, and that certainly includes our children. For this reason, we feel very fortunate that we included the boys in the decision to move to the UK.  Ultimately, we feel he wanted our whole family to move here, so it’s vital that the boys have at least some sense of that in their own hearts, even if only on a very elementary level.

The boys were full-fledged Hatter's fans thanks to Joe's
'spare' Luton Town jerseys, hats, scarves, etc.
So, back to the point I was making in the beginning – about bringing balance. Where once we were trying to bring a little ‘edginess’ into their world to push the boundaries of their ‘Christian bubble’, now we’re realizing that we need to turn it around and create a bit of a bubble in our own home to make sure they see the stark differences from the world around them.  Again, I’m certainly not meaning to somehow equate the UK with some den of inequity! Of course there are many wonderfully kind and even Christian people here in England. I’m only speaking of some of the kids the boys happened to run into at their school.

Driving by a house in the UK, what are the chances of seeing
a Ducks' jersey hanging out front on gameday?! Ok, the real
story is that I gave our friend Joe this Ducks' jersey as a gift
back when we were in Uganda. We came to visit them, so
he hung it out front so we'd know which house was theirs.
So, these days we’re queuing up the Newsboys and other Christian music in our household, and breaking out the old veggie tales videos and Christian books we brought over. We’re also reinstating our ‘Sticky Situations’ reading time at night. (Side note:  If you’re a parent of young kids and haven’t heard of the book ‘Sticky Situations’, you need to go on and order it today! It’s a great little activity book that takes about 10-15 minutes each night and gives your kids a chance to show you how good of a job you’ve done at raising them with Christian values by testing them with ‘sticky’ situations that have multiple options to choose from – sort of a ‘choose your own adventure’ of character building!).
Anyway, it’s taken us this long to realize this paradigm shift that needs to take place in our house, but rest assured, we will continue to look for ways of implementing these kinds of things into our home. Thanks for the lesson Mark, though it took us a decade or so to apply it!
Some random pictures...
Not approving of the misspelling of his name.
Homeschooling is underway in our household! This was a
science lesson. Lesson learned - both red and blue balloons pop
if you poke them with a pin. Next week: green and yellow.
(Rest assured, I am *not* in charge of curriculum).
Homeschool writing assignment, at the duck pond. Graysen is
pondering if using alliteration (the "dark and dirty duck pond")
would detract from the point of his metaphor, that is, that we're
all like sitting ducks in this world without the 'pond' of God's
love. In the end, he went ahead and used the alliteration and was
subsequently docked 5 points for being too young to use such
sophisticated literary tools. Also resulting from this incident,
Dad is no longer allowed to grade writing assignments.
(Yes, this is all just a bunch of jibber jabber.)
Graysen working hard at 'Crogwarts' (no relation to the
school for young wizards in the Harry Potter series -
when we found out about 'Hogwarts', we couldn't believe
the coincidence.)
Jonah at homeschool - we make them wear uniforms still.
Makeshift Halloween costumes, thrown to-
gether at the last minute after trick-or-treaters
began showing up at our house after we'd
told them no such thing happened in the UK.
Overall, only a handful of houses in our
neighborhood were participating, and we
learned later that the giggles and funny looks
the boys received were due to the fact that
typically, UK children *only* dress up in scary
costumes for Halloween.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Next Step in the Journey

I spy a large eye! The boys stopped to view
the London Eye as we walked around the city
a couple of weeks ago.
Part II - Family Update

In the last post I wrote about Brodie’s schooling situation here in the UK. So you may be wondering about Jonah and Graysen and how they are getting on in school. Well, their journey has been pretty different from Brodie's. Thus far, it most reminds me of Proverbs 16:1, “We can make our own plans, but the Lord directs our steps.” Our “plan” for Jonah and Graysen in coming to the UK was that above any particular school, we most of all just wanted to get them placed at the same one, largely for their emotional stability.  So, we noted that prominently in their school application.
We always like to stop by in front of the Ugandan Embassy
 in London near Trafalgar Square. :) Good memories.

So the first day of school came and went and we had still not heard anything from the admission’s office. We were told that it could be up to two weeks into the school year before we heard anything. Fortunately, our notification letter came that very day.  Since the school closest to our home (which we’d heard wonderful things about) was full, and there weren’t any spaces available at the other nearby primary schools we have chosen (we were allowed to put down three choices), Jonah and Graysen were placed at the nearest school having spots for both of them.  This was the ONLY school that had a place for either of the boys and we were thrilled that they would both be able to attend the same school - just as we had hoped.  So, they started school just having missed the one day, and very pleased that their P.E. kits were the same color as the Oregon Ducks football uniforms. :)

After a LifeSprings Ministries retreat in Zurich, Brad's sister
Terri came for a couple of days. It was so encouraging to
have her in Colchester. We introduced her to Costa
coffee - our new favorite treat! :)
Things seemed to be going well the first day, though this would soon begin to change fairly quickly in a number of ways that probably aren't best discussed in a blog. :) Without getting into all the nitty gritty details, in short, we slowly began to feel God prompting us to consider a new path for them (still just talking about Jonah & Graysen).  In the end, this has ultimately led to our decision to pull both of them out of school at the half-term break (this week), after which I will begin the very new adventure of home schooling! There is no one single reason why we’ve decided this, but a number of factors have led us to this point.  The very large class sizes, the social challenges the boys have faced with some of the students at this particular school, some academic concerns, and the fact that we have a special opportunity this year with me not working have all led us to feel that this is what God had intended for this year. Of course, as a 'fleece' in all of this, we still do have them on the waiting list for our neighborhood school and would put them in should spots open up.

But for now, Jonah and Graysen are eagerly looking forward to having school in their home, having 2 vs. 30 kids in their class, studying about England and having mom for a teacher.   I am also looking forward to teaching these sweet and energetic boys and am thrilled to be planning and organizing our new home-schooling adventure (read: I am hyperventilating at the enormous undertaking of being responsible for their learning this year!  Brad was very kind to remind me that I am, in fact, a teacher. However, it feels much different outside the safe confines of a school, where both curriculum and structure are provided. :) ).   
Terrri and me outside the Castle in downtown Colchester.

Please pray that God will equip Jonah, Graysen, and especially their teacher :) for the year ahead. I’ve been researching curriculum and the requirements of homeschooling –and my mom arrived last week with a suitcase full of homeschooling curriculum for grades two and four from the USA.  She and my dad passed through Heathrow airport on their way to Israel (a trip with their church planned over a year ago) - I am amazed at how perfectly God fit the timing of all this together. 
There you have it – the crazy rollercoaster of life.  Just when we think we have figured out a plan, God begins something new and makes a way through the wilderness to take care of the gifts He gives us.  Before we moved here, we really thought we might end up home schooling Brodie with Jonah and Graysen enrolled in a primary school here. But now it’s turning out to be the exact opposite! Who knew?! Thanks for reading this and following along. We don't pretend to think that our little problems and dillemas somehow are special just because we're living somewhere else. Our problems seem so small compared to things others are struggling with. However, God cares about us all and wants to be a part of all of our goings-on, big and small, in North America and the British Isles!  We love you all and love the fact that we are all in ministry together. Thank you for your prayers for this new season of life.  J Alisha and the boys xoxoxo
On their way to Israel, my parents had a one-night layover in
London so we all decided to go see the Windsor Castle
(complete with a tour by audio headsets!) So fun to have
Grandma and Grandpa here for the day.

Friday, October 19, 2012

A Crawford Family Update (By Alisha)

Brodie, Jonah, and Graysen ready for school
 in the UK
A view of our street in Colchester. Our house a few houses
 down on right. Though it looks like people are driving on
the right side of the road, those are actually parked cars.
You can park any direction you want here. 
When we arrived in England on August 15th, we were still uncertain which schools would have a spot for our boys.  Though we had hoped to have all of this sorted out before reaching this side of “the pond”, that wasn't the case.  Life for our first few weeks in the UK was filled with shopping, gathering, setting up a home, meeting the neighbors, getting acquainted with EMIUK, and visiting many, many primary and secondary schools.  Each time we arrived at a school, at times visiting the same school several times, we were confronted with a kind, but firm, “No, the school is all full and we do not expect any openings.”  The teacher in me was at times panicked by this response and as the days passed, I grew more and more uncertain of the boys schooling situation. 

The neighbor kids making a pyramid. The boys
have loved having kids about their age around
our house. This picture was actually taken in
September. Getting colder here now.
Leading up to our time in the UK, Brad and I both thought it might be very likely that we would need to homeschool Brodie for our time in the UK, since according to the age-based system here he would be placed directly into secondary school (AKA high school in the U.S.) at age 11! This was an unsettling feeling.  With each school we visited, (all of which seemed huge and overwhelming), it seemed that homeschooling became more and more likely.  But there was one school, St. Benedict’s Catholic College (a catholic school but free for the public) that felt different and “peaceful.”  Although the school politely informed us that there was a waitlist to get in (and that 9 of the 10 admissions requirements related to whether you were Catholic or not!), we submitted an application anyway.  With this application, we were required to attach a recommendation letter from Brodie’s youth pastor in Colorado Springs.  I quickly sent an email to the pastor, but because he was away on a retreat, it would be days before he could get back to us.  We decided to write a brief description of our family’s plans with EMIUK instead and sent in the application with the promise of getting the pastor’s recommendation as soon as possible. 
Jonah looking at the swimhole the boys later waded in.
This was September as well, in a quaint little town called
Dedham. Very fun place for a family day.
A few days later, after receiving the recommendation for Brodie via email, I printed the letter and drove to the school with the boys to personally deliver it rather than sending it to the county where we had sent our application.  When I arrived at St. Benedict’s, the lady in charge of enrollment said, “Oh yes, I have a letter about your family right here on my desk (somehow, Brodie’s information must have been sent to the school from the county admissions office).  She then added with a smile, “Brodie has been given a place at St. Benedict’s.”  I was speechless, thankful, and on the verge of tears all at the same time, excited that God had answered our prayers, but still wondering if our prayers were even the right thing for Brodie!  I thanked her profusely and headed back to the car with a very excited Brodie at my heels.  Still bewildered at how Brodie was accepted, we headed back to the school the next morning to purchase Brodie’s P.E. kit, blazer, tie, and full uniform to begin secondary school in just a few short days. Oh my!  
My mom, Karen, came to stay with us while Brad was on his
project trip to Guinea in September. We had a great time
 exploring Colchester. We spent the afternoon on Saturday
at the Castle Park near the city center. 
The following day a notice arrived in our letter box (here the mailbox is in the front door so mail comes flying into your house unannounced, which kind of reminds me of Harry Potter with the exception that the mailman is not an owl J).  Amongst the pile of mail scattered on the floor was an envelope from the county school admissions office. Assuming this was Brodie’s acceptance letter, I opened it and was shocked to find that it very clearly stated that Brodie had NOT been accepted into St. Benedict’s and had instead been enrolled at a school I’d never heard of.  UGH! My heart dropped and thoughts of confusion filled my mind.  Being a Friday afternoon, we raced down to the school again to try and sort out the predicament we were in.  Upon arriving, one of the groundskeepers (who recognized us from days before) asked if we needed help as the office had just closed for the weekend.  When I explained the problem, he paused a moment and said, “I bet my wife can help us with this.”  She soon appeared from somewhere on campus (lovely lady), listened to my panic, and quickly called the administrator who had helped us with the uniform purchase and whom is also in charge of enrollment for the school.  After conversing for a few minutes over the phone, the lady hung up and said, “As far as we are concerned, we accepted Brodie into the school, and we’ll take him.  Bring him to school on Tuesday to start with everyone else and we will let admissions know that we’re enrolling him in St. Benedict’s whether we have space or not!” What?!J 
We spent a Sunday after church with Mike and Marietta. 
Mike is the director of the EMIUK office.  This picture
was taken near Felixstowe, on the North Sea coast. In
the background, you can see the shipping cranes from
what we're told is the largest port in Europe.
Looking back on this situation, I have two thoughts:  God is unbelievably good, and His ways are far higher than our feeble minds can ever comprehend.  I’m also remembering the story of Esther – not for Esther’s role, but for what God did for Mordecai.  God has His way of stepping in just when we need Him most, and when He does, nothing can stop His amazing plans. God is definitely watching over Brodie, once again.  And as I thank God for all He’s done in Brodie’s life, I also thank each of you who have lifted so many prayers on his behalf.  We are so grateful for the team of supporters we have praying us through this journey with EMI.  Thank you for being in this together. 

Downtown Dedham is a very beautiful
place. The boys normally complain about
pictures but since this one involved
climbing, they were all too eager.
We have been amazed at how well the staff, with over 800 students, has watched over Brodie, guiding him and nurturing his growth and involvement at St. Benedict’s.  As I write this blog, Brodie is on a field trip to a retreat center with the 20 students in his “form”.  To help the students along in their years at St. Benedict’s the students have a small core group they meet with every day called a ‘form’ – very similar to the ‘houses’ in Harry Potter for those of you who have read those books. By the way, we started reading Harry Potter this summer as someone suggested we do it to prepare for coming to the UK. Whatever your opinion about those books, they’ve been an enormous help to our boys understanding and being excited about being in this culture since so much of those books is played out in our lives here – the cultural stuff, that is, not the witchcraft!  Last night was actually my parent conference with Brodie’s form tutor, who had wonderful things to say about how well Brodie is enjoying his time and thriving at St. Benedict’s.  We couldn’t be more thrilled.  God’s plan is perfect, and far better than we could have ever imagined.  Who would have thought – Brodie in secondary school at age 11, and doing so well! J 

So that’s Brodie’s situation. You may be thinking, “What about Jonah and Graysen?”  This is long enough, so I’ll pick up the story there next time. Check back in a couple of days.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Engineering Ministries International - Guinea Project trip, Sept 2012

Sunset out over the Atlantic Ocean. The land you see are
small islands that are a part of Guinea. With the routine
display of tumultuous skies offshore, it's not hard to imagine
that the powerful hurricanes in the West Atlantic and
Caribbean Seas typically originate off the West African coast.

Friday-Saturday Sept 21-22
So much has happened in the last few days it’s hard sum it up in words, so I thought I’d use the rapid fire bullet method:

Once on site, nothing seemed out of the ordinary at all. That's
one thing I've learned through living in and traveling to Africa
all these years: 'riots' always seem to sound worse in the news
than they are in person.
* We were notified early Friday morning that all off-shore activities were suspended until further notice due to an uprising in town. Ironically, the disturbances had nothing to do with the anti-American protests from earlier in the week, but instead were a result of tribal tensions boiling over between the two predominant tribes here in Guinea.

* I went down into the medical wards on board tonight and spent a little time with the patients. It’s sad to see these people, mostly children, with major abnormalities – either facial tumors or leg deformities. The really sad part is that some of the kids were awaiting biopsy results. If the results come back bad and they have little chance for long-term success, they will be discharged without surgery – there are too many people whose lives can be spared to work on people who have certain terminal illnesses. Plus, the risks of doing surgery are unwarranted when they have little time left. So if someone is terminal and the surgery won’t make a big difference, they dismiss them. One such little girl, about 7 years old, I saw down in the ward with a huge tumor between her eyes had her mom staying in the ward on the ship with her. The tumor greatly disfigured her face. The next day when we returned from being out in town, the girl and her mom were out front on the dock leaving the ship. Not good news since she clearly hadn’t had any surgery done. It was especially sad as it looked like her and her mother seemed somewhat unaware of the fate they’d been dealt as they were very smiley. It was a tough thing to see.
You wouldn't want the 3 people on the left operating on
you, that's for sure!

* Three of the team members went down in the hospital yesterday to watch a surgery. Since there are no lawyers involved keeping people out, the ship allows a small number to view certain surgeries. Our 3 EMI’ers were in there for about 3 hours – except for one of them, who passed out after several minutes and had to be helped to his own recovery bed! Of course, we didn’t give him a bad time about it or anything. And to be nice, I promised I wouldn’t mention intern Brian’s name.
* We presented our report to a small group of about 30 attendees Friday night. The presentation went very well – the team did an excellent job of presenting.
At the presentation in the 'International Lounge' on board
the ship. The room holds over 500 people, so the 40 people
in the room made what by EMI standards is a large crowd
for a trip presentation, feel more like a sparse turnout.
* We depart today, Saturday. However, around noon the uprising in town restarted. I’m currently on the ship typing this, bags packed and ready to go on a moment’s notice. The problem is, Conakry is like a long, slender finger so it is very easy for the end of the ‘finger’ (where we are) to be cut-off from the inland area where the airport is.  This bit of drama is still unfolding so we’ll see…

Sunday Sept 23
Well, we made it out safe and sound afterall. Mercy Ships took our trek to the airport pretty seriously – we had a 5-car caravan with our flashers going and the driver’s in full ship uniform to look important. Also, the ship’s Captain, the Director of the ministry, and the Purser were all stationed in a make-shift command center keeping in constant radio contact with our little motorcade. In the end, other than seeing a dozen riot police nearest to where the hot spot allegedly was, everything appeared to be completely normal.
The flights home were uneventful – which is always the best-case scenario for flying. I will say, it was a night and day difference (literally!) to be returning to the UK instead of the US. No jet lag and half the flying time. Re-entering the UK was no problem with the visa in my passport, and it has been great being back home with Alisha and the boys.

Great people make for a great team. And this was,
once again, a great team.
As I’ve reflected on this trip, once again I’m amazed at how connected you can feel to people after such a short time. Here I am missing our EMI team - people who two weeks ago I hadn’t even met yet before. It’s a good lesson to me, as I tend to resist going out and meeting people sometimes. I think God has wired us to be in relationship not only with himself, but with other people as well. And when we step out of our comfort zones and invest in other people, we find out how much other people have to offer us (and how much we have to offer other people as well). Being ‘home’ in the UK now, I realize that not having friends here is something I need to be diligent at working on. It would be far too easy to hole up and just live my nice life out here. But I don’t want to settle for that, even if it is more ‘comfortable’.  So a big thank you to Tony A., Tony S., Beth B., Clare T., John A., Brian K., KC M., and Ruedi T. for reminding me that there are some truly outstanding people out there in this world.
These two cats were so cute. The one of the left is the mom,
with the other one of her kittens now grown. However, they
were together every single time we saw them, sitting, laying
down, or walking around. The full-grown kitten still nurses
too, so the apron strings have clearly yet to be cut.
Walking around on the site, it's hard not to daydream about
what it would be like for a hospital like this to be your reality.
I imagined bringing one of my boys, sick with some illness,
to this hospital and how desperate and hopeless I would feel.
Intern Brian, holding a wad of 5,000 Guinean
Franc bills. I think the amount in his hand here
is the equivalent of around $50 US Dollars.

Touring the engineering plant in the bottom of the ship, we
came across so many knobs and buttons. I know we were
all a little curious to see what would happen if we pushed or
pulled something. The temptation got the best of me, and
clearly volunteer Tony doesn't approve.
The tide varies significantly in Conakry, so when it goes out
it leaves behind enough trash on the beach to disgust anyone
with even the slightest glimmer of an environmental conscience.

Random Shots...
Above: The section of the hospital where the hospital director
has brought 'urban renewal' to the hospital grounds, trying
to making the hospital a more sanitary environment.
Middle: The fleet of Mercy Ships vehicles. The ship has a crane
that lifts them on board when it's time to head out to sea.
Bottom: Flying into and out of Africa can be a tricky affair. It's
a rare day indeed that pilots aren't forced to dodge thunderstorms
on take-off and landing.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Engineering Ministries International - Guinea Project trip, Sept 2012

There are some big trees in Africa!


Tuesday-Thursday Sept 18-20
These days were a little quieter for us, as we completed our investigations at the site and spent the bulk of our time in front of computers, working on the report. The team has been very well organized and as of tonight, Thursday, they are pretty much done with the report and presentation. We present on Friday evening at 6:30pm so it will be interesting to see who all from the ship shows up.
Before Ruedi arrived, we really didn't even look at the local
hospital workers (nor they at us) when we were talking to
them since we were communicating with the translators.
A few things I’ve been thinking about this week in regards to being in Guinea. This is my first visit to a ‘Francophone’ country in West Africa (i.e. a French-speaking country), and I have to say it is much more of a challenge being here that I was expecting. One thing I’ve always enjoyed about visiting Africa is connecting with the people, talking with them about whatever and just enjoying hearing them talk and interacting with them. But since very few of the people we’ve run into speak English, this has largely been impossible. It’s really been a bit of a bummer as that usually is one of the things I like most on these trips.
The language barrier has also made the work side of things more of a challenge as well. I realized this more fully after Ruedi arrived (he speaks French) and our team finally had a member who could communicate directly with the hospital workers. The countenance and mood of the workers noticeably changed when they were able to communicate with us directly, instead of through an interpreter. I saw them now joking and laughing with us, and seeming to enjoy having us there – all because one of us could communicate with them. It really was a very stark contrast with their demeanor from before.
Ruedi (far right), testing out the site electric system with
the hospital maintenance guys watching on.
Another thing I’ve noticed walking through town is how similar African countries really are. Of course I’ve noticed this many times before, but again I was struck by the similarities even though the language was different. It really is incredible, when I think about it, how such a vast region with so many different cultures and people groups, could share so many cultural traits. Comparing it to Europe, where you have many different cultures and languages and people groups all within a very small area, it’s so interesting that such a large area is really so similar.
Ruedi and I have become good friends, having done two
projects in a row together.
And in that same vein, it’s amazing that the struggles and difficulties are so similar as well. The filth and poverty in Africa is staggering. On one hand, it’s fun to drop into it for a couple of weeks and experience some of the sights, sounds and smells of poverty almost as a novelty. But this is their existence, day in and day out, generation after generation. It’s all they know, and for the foreseeable future it’s all they will ever know. Thinking about it takes me right back to the theological level I was at a few days ago, where I wonder how God can care about each and every individual in this world on such a personal level, and at the particular level on which they exist. The struggles for some in this world are so basic – life and death issues lay close to the surface for the vast majority of Africans. By contrast, the struggles for Westerners in large part seem so trivial – how can God sort that out and operate in a world of such inequality? The cookie-cutter I try so hard to put God in so I can comprehend him really is torn apart whenever I’m in Africa. It’s of course good, but it’s also a little un-stabling, which I think might just be where God wants us to be given that many of His attributes are unknowable for our finite minds. Though he does want us to know him, in some ways I think he wants this to be balanced with the recognition that in large part, he is unknowable! In that way, knowing God is really to know that He can’t be fully known or understood.
But the process of leaning into Him in prayer, and learning to listen to Him throughout the day as He seeks to reveal Himself to you – that, is ‘knowing’ God. So in many ways, I think knowing Him actually has nothing to do with knowledge itself, but rather our pursuit of knowing Him while recognizing that we are fully known by him. Ok, my head is going to explode if I keep going on about this any further!
'USA Tony' - not a doctor, but a Star Trek fan.
I wanted to close this post by sharing a clever depiction that one of the volunteers, Tony Antich, wrote to describe life on the Africa Mercy ship and how it is similar to one of his first loves - Star Trek. Since I am not a ‘Trekkie’, this was largely over my head, but perhaps some of you will enjoy it:

Tony, explaining his 'Star Trek' theory to an ignorant bystander.
“Being on the Mercy Ship is like being on the Starship Enterprise for the Star Trek TV series.  The Mercy Ship is primarily inhabited by “Vulcans” (AKA Nerds).  We get permission from the ship’s Captain before we can “Beam Down” (AKA Using the gangway) to the Guineans.  The Guineans are a friendly people living in a harsh, hot and humid environment.  The Guineans speak a strange language which requires the use of our “Communicators” (AKA translators).  The Guineans will respond in a positive and friendly way to smiles, hand gestures, touching, and holding hands.  They are brightly dressed and can easily be identified probably in the same way they notice us with our “Life Support Systems - LSS” (AKA backpacks) firmly attached to our bodies. Our LSS carry a days’ worth of nutrition including a “Liquid Supplement” (AKA disinfected water) which is necessary for survival in the Guinean environment.  Failure to abide by this protocol can have deadly consequences.
The 'Starship Enterprise'
Why am I always pointing on project trips, and what am I
pointing at?!
In order to get to the hub of Guinean medical support we require a “Pilot” (AKA driver) for the “Shuttle Craft” (AKA Land Rover) in order to transport our test gear (no phasers - just a lot of equipment like metal detectors, measuring tapes, clip boards and calculators).  We always return via the shuttle craft and then beam up to the comforts of our floating vessel.  Failure to abide by the ship Captain’s rules on check in and check out protocols will result in a second shuttle craft being sent on a search and recovery mission.  Prior to entering the vessel we enter "Security Check" (AKA security card scan and photo recognition) and “Decontamination” (AKA wash your hands and wipe your feet).   In less than a week from now we will be beamed ashore again where we will enter the safety of our shuttle craft and transported to the “Central Wormhole Port” (AKA airport).  Once in the “Wormhole” (AKA Brussels Airlines jet) and travelling at “Warp Speed” (AKA a matter of hours) we return to our “Home Port on Planet Earth” (AKA the USA or UK).

I title this picture: 'Centered'
I feel like I photo-bombed these kids' one chance at
having their picture taken. #ruiningitforthekids
Just as in the Star Trek TV series there is a young cast member who wants to stay behind and improve relations with the Guineans.  In our case, it is John who is on our exploration team and wants to live with the Sierra Leoneons and Ghanaans.”