Sierra Leone Trip II - Part III of III
Day Seven (Feb 9)
Going back and re-reading my first entry when I was in the UK last week, I can see that I was really struggling with leaving home for so long again. I think I’m going through another tough stage today as I am really missing home. After visiting both of the sites we assessed in September this morning and then doing some souvenir shopping in the afternoon, we drove out to our ‘home’ for the next four nights – a small house near the beach about 45 minutes South of Freetown.
It’s kind of a rustic beach house, though it's nice that we get to occupy the entire thing ourselves. I finally get to use my mosquito net that I bought before the trip since I suspect there will be more mosquito’s down here next to the water, and I’ll probably use the 8 D-size batteries I lugged along with me from home too since power is only by generator for a few hours in the evening. I had to hunt around the area to find 4 suitable sticks to use to hold the net off my body – I felt like a poor man’s MacGyver! But it works and I think I’ll sleep well knowing I won’t be bit and having the net not touching me. It’s a lot more humid here next to the water than it’s been anywhere else during the trip. When we arrived they notified us that the water is turned off every other day, so there will be no water tomorrow. They have lots of buckets already filled and they said they will keep them filled for us as needed throughout the day. It’s always interesting!
But back to my struggling, I’m not really sure what brings it on but it probably has a bit to do with changing to a new place. Also, our team is ahead of schedule on work so we’re thinking that we might be all wrapped up by the end of the day tomorrow, so that makes me feel like our primary purpose for being here is complete. Of course, the next flight out (on our airline) isn’t until our flight on Monday, but mentally it’s a little more difficult when our job is mostly done. But the volunteers having time to fully complete their written report is vital. I really don’t want to send any work home with them after the trip, so the next couple of days are actually quite valuable.
But trying to think of things in a bigger-picture context, I struggle with the notion that this is something I have to do every few months – that is, leave Alisha and the boys at home and go travel to far off lands, living in a variety of situations and circumstances. I realize though I am a person who craves routine and consistency, and though those things bring me great comfort, that is ultimately irrelevant in God’s economy. So this inner struggle of not necessarily wanting to go on these trips is always met with a strong draw of going nonetheless because I really feel God continues to call me to do so. It’s a little unsettling I have to admit, but ultimately it’s what we all sign up for when we decide to live our lives for God. And while I made that decision at a very young age, I feel like walking that out is something that requires that decision to be tested regularly. (A great example from the Bible of why this is so important for us in included at the very end of this blog post).
...and, the beach. Beautiful for sure, but a little too close to the city. As we were swimming one day, I felt something hit me. After the initial panic of being attacked by a shark, I saw floating next to me the culprit: a woman's boot! Funny...but also a little gross!
The work room inside the beach house.
My makeshift, mosquito net tent. Yes, I took a lot of flack from the team for this setup...but I slept like a baby! No one said you have to be Bear Grylls to survive on an EMI trip!
Of course I don’t want to imply that following God means he will make us miserable – that is not at all what I mean! But he does want to grow us into the people He created us to be, and anytime growth is required it can be uncomfortable. There are so many reasons why I feel this is in fact what God wants me to be doing, despite my struggles in doing it. And when I get home after the trips, Alisha and I can always see God’s hand working things out and how good it was that I went.
I never want to sound like I’m complaining, but I really want to paint the work I do with EMI in an accurate light. Sure, it is a big blessing in many ways, and I get to see exciting things and tell interesting stories, and most importantly I get to see firsthand the work God is attempting to do through his people around the world. However, it honestly is a very big struggle for me because at the end of the day, it’s not something I (or Alisha either) would have ever chosen. But because of who we believe Jesus to be, and because of what that means for giving up control for our lives, we are compelled to do this for as long as we feel God is leading us to do it – whether this is my last trip or whether we do this for the rest of our lives.
I guess I will close today by asking you, whoever you are reading this, are you doing what you feel God has called you to do? That by no means suggests it has to be: a) full-time ministry (God knows we need many more solid believers ministering in the workplace); or b) something that you don’t want to do or that is really hard (I actually believe that more often than not, God wants to use us within our areas of gifting/interest). But then again, some may in fact be called to do something difficult. Whatever the case, the point is, are you willing to die to your selfish agenda? Let me assure you, just because you do it once doesn’t necessarily make it easier the next time! I seem to fight the battle each and every time I go on a trip, and in some ways, I feel like it gets harder and harder!
Day Eight (Feb 10)
Jonah’s 9th birthday! I hate to miss it once again – I have been gone for at least 4 in a row now due to project trips – possibly 5. I feel bad for little Jonah – he’s a trooper for hanging in there with dad gone every year. We celebrate before I leave each time, but I know it’s hard on him for me to be gone.
As I mentioned a couple of days ago, the Harmattan winds are persisting, so the air is very dusty and the visibility is poor. We heard yesterday that a Kenya Airways jet had been unable to land in the Freetown airport in Lungi due to poor visibility and passengers had been stranded for two days. After further investigation, we discovered that all of the European carriers had operated their flights on schedule the past 3 days so that brought us some comfort that our flight wouldn’t be affected. However, if the dust worsens, that is definitely a possibility.
Today was a big work day. Everyone pretty much worked all day, amidst the muggy/dusty weather and lack of power and water. We did ask for the generator for a few hours midday to charge our computers. But the biggest challenge for the day was lunch. Things at the beach are on ultra African time! So I went out to ask about lunch at 2pm and Joseph, the owner/caretaker of the place said, “Sure, what do you want?” I of course had no idea what was available, so when he offered ‘chips’ (like steak fries) I said sure. Well, the chips didn’t arrive until 3:30pm, by which time the team was really hungry. I felt bad for not asking earlier – feeding my team is probably my biggest weakness on these trips (that’s what Alisha tells me). I am used to going long periods without food because of my stomach issues, so it’s not really important to me if I don’t have food. This is a lethal combination with the African way of ‘slowly slowly’ – if you aren’t persistent about asking for something it isn’t going to come!
The plate of chips was good, though pretty small, so I was a little more persistent about asking for dinner early. I’m pretty sure I’ve offended him since he takes great pride in hosting so anytime I ask him for something I feel like it’s hurting his feelings that he didn’t do it without me asking! This is always one of the challenges of project leading – trying to meet your Western team’s needs/expectations while not offending your local host by demanding things. Things are tricky, and both sides have to give a little. The team has to be flexible and I have to be willing to be the bad guy sometimes, though I certainly try to do that in as culturally sensitive way as possible. Joseph is a really nice guy who takes pride in what he does, so it was definitely noticeable when he was a little pouty this afternoon.
Electrical engineers Ruedi (sitting) and Bill with intern Ross, fixing the generator for Joseph the beach house owner/caretaker.
I also wanted to mention that the devotion times this trip have once again been great. I am always so blessed and challenged by the perspective of the team members and what God is teaching them. The two older guys on our team, Ruedi and Bill (both electrical engineers), have a lot of wisdom and have been great to listen to. Bill is a very humble guy and I just love to listen to him because he has that rare combination of wisdom and humility. But everyone on the team has just been great once again – my favorite part of EMI trips is always getting to know the EMI team members.
Day Nine (Feb 11)
One of the volunteers shared a story about how one time, someone asked Mother Theresa what she said when she prayed to God. She replied, “I don’t say anything. I just listen.” So the interviewer asked her, “Well what does God say then?” She replied, “He doesn’t say anything, He just listens.” What a great picture of how prayer is so much more than asking God to relieve our anxieties. It’s a state of submission of our heart and mind, where His spirit can dwell in us and align our will with His sometimes without speaking a word. I want to be this way not just during prayer time, but continuously as I walk out each day. I have no idea why it’s so hard to do given the fact that I truly do want to do it. I suppose it’s a battle with the sinful nature that’s in all of us.
My prayer lately has been to see life through God’s lens instead of my own. Not just in church after a great sermon, nor just during my devotion or prayer times, but rather each and every moment, decision, action, word, or thought. I feel like I fail at that 95% of the time, even though the 5% is so good when it happens. Why then is it so hard to do it more often? I think the answer is the same as above – it’s that battle we must all fight against our own flesh, to do not what we want or think or what feels good, but what God wants us to do. Even if I could attain another 5%, I think my life would be radically different.
Well, this was supposed to be presentation day, but since Mark Palmer is the only Mercy Ships representative here from their home office and he’s in town, we decided to cancel and do it tomorrow. We also decided to move into town tomorrow to be closer to the launching dock for the boats we’re taking to the airport. (These are different from the ferries we’ve taken previously – apparently they are speed boats that get us there in 20 minutes and dock at a spot that’s much closer to the airport. Should be fun!)
We’ve gotten comfortable here at the rustic beach house, but being in a building with A/C and a good shower the night before flying out will be a huge plus. It’s been fun at the beach house, having our own place. But it’s so much more warm and humid here that’s it’s a little uncomfortable during the day when the power is off and the fans aren’t operating. Power has also been a challenge. The guy was supposed to be able to run the generator as much as we wanted, but that didn’t exactly pan out. The team has been very flexible and has done a great job. As of tonight, we are finished with our report work in-country! Only some review remains for the remainder of our trip and afterwards.
Tomorrow, we transfer back to Freetown for our last day! It’s been a great team and trip and very successful project. I am seeing the light at the end of the tunnel…and it looks a lot like Alisha!
Day Ten (Feb 12)
This morning we did our closing meeting, each sharing our high & low points as well as something we learned during the trip. After that, everyone else takes turns encouraging that person. It’s always a great bonding time and a good start for the volunteers to begin processing the trip ( by processing, I mean think about: what have they learned, what had God shown them, what difficult things have they seen and what reaction will they have, how have they changed, what changes do they want to make in their lives back home in reaction to what they’ve experienced, etc.).
After the closing meeting we packed up and moved into Freetown, actually a section of town called Aberdeen, to the Aberdeen Women’s Centre (AWC) guesthouse. It is so nice to be in a clean, air conditioned room, especially the night before we depart so we can be clean and refreshed heading off to travel. We had our closing dinner at Alex’s, apparently the best place to eat in Sierra Leone. It was very good and relatively cheap – I had barracuda and calamari and it was delicious.
I can’t begin to describe the difference it makes going to bed in an air conditioned room in Sierra Leone! It is so cool and clean and your body isn’t covered in a light layer of perspiration and dust. And fortunately, no women were giving birth in the women’s clinic below us last night so we weren’t woken up by the screaming (which I’m told happens quite often – and in fact, the following morning a woman did give birth and she screamed pretty loudly!)
Day Eleven (Feb 13)
Well, it’s departure date! I am really looking forward to going to the UK and on home after that, though an email from Alisha this morning tells me she is not feeling well and is worried she has the flu. I pray that’s not the case.
But at this point in the trip I start thinking about the different impact points for me, so I thought I’d list them out. Here goes:
* I was approached twice by maintenance workers at two different hospitals. At first I thought they were going to ask me for money – however, that wasn’t the case. In each case, they were telling me they hadn’t been paid by the hospital for over two years. What they wanted from me instead was to try to do something to get the hospital to pay them. They knew we were here with Mercy Ships and since they have a lot of clout in the country, they were asking us to essentially plead with the hospital administration to pay the workers. I immediately felt great empathy for the people asking, as well as a good dose of shame for immediately assuming they were just asking for money.
This electrical panel is a success story from our September trip. One of our main 'emergency' recommendations in that report was to put a front cover on the main electrical panel where power enters the hospital site from the power grip. It was a major life safety concern, so it was very encouraging to see that it had been done!
* When at the beach house, a soccer game broke out on the beach with about a dozen late teens/early 20’s guys. I came up behind the goal at one end after a walk on the beach, so I struck up a conversation with a Sierra Leonian kid named Graham playing goalkeeper. It turns out, he is in his 4th (of 6) year of studying mechanical engineering. We talked a lot about life, football (soccer), engineering, and even EMI. I gave him the website and told him to look it up because we intend to start an office in West Africa sometime in the next few years. He was a very nice kid and it was encouraging to talk to a young person who not only had hope but was hopefully well on his way to a better path in life.
Talking with Graham, the young engineering student/goalie.
* Volunteer Ruedi brought up a comparison of David and Saul during our bible study time. The next day my daily morning devotion was about guess what – David and Saul! It was the exact point Ruedi had made the day before. The point both were making was, both David and Saul were fools many times in their lives, making mistake after mistake. However, only David was seen as righteous and ‘a man after (God’s) own heart. The difference? David was a simple fool, that is, a man who made many terrible mistakes but who quickly repented and changed his ways, giving his life back to God. Saul on the other hand persisted in his sin, never humbling himself before God nor repenting of his wrongdoings. So clearly, it isn’t the sin that keeps us from God. It’s our attitude towards our sin – are we good with it, or do we admit it, ask for forgiveness and invite God to change us in that area?
I love this shot of the beach where this little creek enters the ocean and all these fishing boats are sitting around.
* Seeing the family’s reaction to the girl dying at the Bo Hospital was not something I’ll easily forget. Family members overcome with grief, even to the point of rolling around on the dirt. It was upsetting and gave me a sense for the importance of helping the people of West Africa through the work we’re doing. Even though it very challenging and hard for me and my family when I travel on trips, I do see the importance of the work God is doing through EMI around the world.
The memorial at Bo Hospital, remembering the innocent people who were slaughtered here a decage ago by the rebel army. The civil war of the late 90's in Sierra Leone is highlighted in the movie 'Blood Diamond' starring Leonardo DiCaprio.
Day Twelve (Feb 14)
Well, the travel out of Sierra Leone last night was interesting. Just as we stood up to get in line for boarding, they announced that the flight would be delayed at least 2.5 hours due to technical difficulties. It was pretty disheartening, especially since the airport in Sierra Leone is one of the most uncomfortable places I’ve been in the country. It’s very stuffy, warm and muggy with only a couple of small windows cracked and a few fans. Fortunately, I carved out a seat right in front of one of the fans, so that made it tolerable. But the psychological side of things was difficult – I know from past experience that if they need any parts at all, that would cancel the flight as they would be forced to wait for another flight from Europe to bring the part.
Anyway, it all worked out and we finally boarded 2 hours into the delay, but then had to sit on the plan for an additional hour and 15 minutes before takeoff. Apparently, the plane had struck a bird on its approach into Freetown, so they had to meticulously check and then test both engines.
Fortunately, we finally did make it into Brussels and onto our connecting flights without a hitch. So here I sit, in the hotel bar in London, all by myself and able to reflect on the trip. It’s funny – I really miss the team. After just meeting most of them for the first time only two weeks ago, these trips force us into such strong community that I feel a big void not having them around anymore. We all really connected on this trip. I feel so blessed to have been given the opportunity to get to know this team – it really is a great group of guys. I always feel this way after a trip – so connected to the volunteers who travel with me. It’s a shame that those friendships for the most part don’t last beyond the trip due to geography. Every now and then, a few of those friendships do last, and it is such a blessing to me to get to keep in touch with them. Someday in heaven, maybe I’ll throw a little reunion party for all my former EMI volunteers/friends. Anyway, suffice it to say, as I say each time, I was tremendously impressed with the team and really feel God hand-picked the exact people to come on this trip.
This picture shows the kitchen for the hotel/restaurant where we stayed and ate dinner 4 nights in Bo. I'm not talking about the building, but the courtyard itself serves as the actual kitchen. Fortunately, none of us got sick, but you can see the kind of sanitary conditions that exist that we don't even think about when we're there.
By contrast, this is a picture of us at Alex's, considered by many to be the best restaurant in all of Sierra Leone. It's a nice setting on this little bay off the Atlantic Ocean, but you can see how filthy and trash-littered the water is beyond. I will say the food was good though!
I’ll close by going back to what became the theme of this trip for me, that is, the difficulties I once again had with leaving home juxtaposed to the feeling that this is what God has for me and our family for this time in life. I recently heard a sermon about how when King David was a young boy, he ran into battle with Goliath, succeeded against all odds, and then gave praise to God in his life. He never counted the costs, or hesitated at all in putting his life on the line. In fact, he didn’t even feel like he was putting his life on the line because he knew he was walking out the steps God was leading him to walk out.
However, later in life, when his army went out to battle, instead of going with them as was customary for Kings in that day and time, he stayed home in the comfort and luxuries of his home and life as a King. As a result, he left himself vulnerable to a great fall since he was no longer walking out the steps God wanted him to walk out. So, after seeing his neighbor’s wife bathing on the nearby roof, he chose to commit adultery, which ultimately led to a series of actions that were major failures in his life – including such sins as adultery, lying, deceit, and even murder.
You see, as he got older in life he became more and more reliant on the creature comforts in his life and less willing to step out in faith where danger might be lurking regardless of what his responsibilities were or what God wanted him to do. Because of this, his life was ruined in many ways (though fortunately he eventually repented and lived out his days in a right relationship with God).
I think this example directly relates to my situation. Sure, I would love to stay home from EMI trips and relax in my nice house in front of the Fox Soccer Channel, watching games with my boys and just enjoying all the comforts and benefits of our family’s life together. However, I would do so at my own peril. God doesn’t call us to be comfortable in this life. He calls us to follow and obey him, regardless of what stage of life we’re in or what that might cost us. Leaving Alisha and the boys home while I travel the world on EMI trips is very difficult for me and never something I’d choose to do. However, I want to fight the temptation and lure of comfort and be sure to do what God asks of me, no matter how hard it may seem at the time. That’s where I can find true comfort resting in the security of living in His will for me and my family’s lives. Of course, it’s quite ironic that I am living out that total security by traveling through war-torn regions of Africa!
L to R: Austin, Ruedi, Aaron, Barry, me, John, intern Ross & Bill
Intern Ross put together this little collage of pictures of me (he also did one at the start of this post). No matter where we go in Africa, there is always a group of kids around waiting to just follow us around most of the day and asking for us to take their picture!