Thursday, December 27, 2012

Things We Have Learned From My (Linda’s) Malaria

1)      It is most definitely possible to get malaria while you are on prophylaxis. We already knew this, but we now have experiential knowledge. Prophylaxis is not the same thing as a vaccine, and unfortunately, there is no vaccine for malaria yet. What prophylaxis does is puts a small amount of treatment medicine into your body, so that if you are bitten by a mosquito which is carrying malaria, your body will be better able to fight it. Prophylaxis will also prevent you from getting cerebral malaria, which if untreated, can kill a person within an hour of his or her first symptoms. If your immune system is strong and it is one of the less severe forms of the parasite, the prophylaxis may keep you from having symptoms. However, it will not keep you from getting the malaria parasite.

We have been very conscientious about sleeping under a mosquito net and taking our prophylaxis, but we are now going to redouble our efforts to wear repellant every night, not just when we see mosquitoes about, and regularly spray our rooms. Even then, there are no guarantees, especially when traveling and staying in guest houses. For example, Eric is pretty sure a mosquito bit him a few weeks ago as he was getting out of the shower. That’s why it is also equally important to have access to treatment and to treat at the first sign of symptoms. Now that I know what malaria feels like in my body—each person is different—I will be better able to treat it at the first sign of malaria.

2)      The Tanzanians in our community genuinely care about us and will go out of their way to show it. As soon as Eric told Rev. Nzelu, his school’s principal, that I was sick, the Tanzanian community has truly supported us. Rev. Nzelu was out-of-town at the time, so he sent Gasper, the school’s driver, and Mr. Shango, the school’s accountant, to take us to Shinyanga for me to be tested for malaria. They spent their Sunday morning with us traveling around trying to find a clinic that was open, where I could be tested.

When I was diagnosed, the restaurant began packaging meals for Eric so that he could just pick them up and be with me. The daytime manager of the guest house also made sure we were able to change the sheets more regularly.

Philemon, one of Eric’s coworkers, has called or visited daily since learning of my sickness, and spent one evening helping Eric find juice and other vitamin rich foods for me. When I was admitted to the hospital, Philemon and Mr. Shango stayed and waited with Eric the entire morning and visited again in the afternoon.

Rev. Nzelu has been a vigilant watchman of my care. He has visited at least once a day and called many more times. We were invited to spend Christmas with him and his family, but since we couldn’t make it, he himself brought us two meals on Christmas day.

Several other members of the church and school board have also visited, including the bishop-elect for the Shinyanga Diocese, Rev. Makala. He came to the hospital with a “Get-Well Soon” card and prayed over me. He has studied in the U.S. before and knows what it is like to be away from family, so his prayer not only included prayers for bodily healing, but strength in times of homesickness.

If anything, this illness has rooted us more deeply into the community. We can truly say we have Tanzanian friends and look forward to being able to support them in similar ways.

3)      There are other Wazungu (white people) living in Mwadui. We always suspected we weren’t the only ex-patriots living here, but we hadn’t met any until the day before I fell ill. We just happened to run into Amanda and Andre at a store as we were shopping for supplies for Christmas cookies—which have not yet been made, for obvious reasons. Andre works as an accountant for the Williamson Diamond Mine, and he and his wife are both Afrikaans from South Africa. The Sunday I was diagnosed with malaria, they texted us to tell us that they were making a trip into Mwanza. They wanted to know if they could pick anything up for us. Eric told them about my malaria and asked them to pick up some chicken broth.

The next thing we knew, there was a knock on the door from another Afrikaans woman, named Tilla. Apparently Amanda had told her about our situation, and she was very concerned, because she had almost lost her husband to malaria once before. She and her husband have lived here in Mwadui for 7 years. With grandmotherly affection, she gifted me with soda, chicken soup, medicine to keep the fever down, and more bug repellant. She urged us to call her if things got worse, because she knows the doctor at the hospital, and she’s been through this before.

Amanda and Andre themselves visited Sunday evening, bringing with them many groceries for us. They returned again on Christmas with some festive foods, telling us to let them know if there was anything else they could do to help.

When it became apparent that I would need to spend some time in the hospital on IV antibiotics and fluids, Eric let Tilla know via text message. When we arrived at the hospital and discovered that it was divided into men’s and women’s wards, i.e. Eric was only allowed in the ward with me at certain times of the day, I could not hold back the tears. Thus, when two familiar female faces showed up in the ward-- Amanda and Tilla’s—I was incredibly grateful. It meant a lot to have someone holding my hand when the nurses had to stick me for the 5th time, trying to find a vein that was big enough for an IV. When I was released from the hospital, Tilla arranged for us to stay at the guest house on the mining compound for a few nights, so we would be close and she could look after us. It turns out that all of the South African wazungu live in a couple of mining compounds. In the past few days, we have seen another whole side of town.

We are now realizing that we are in a unique position in Mwadui, because we are working for and with the Tanzanian community, but now also have friends who work for the South African mining company itself. We are not yet sure how, but we are getting the sense that this may be part of God’s plan for strengthening partnerships between the company and the Tanzanians that live and work in Mwadui.

4)      I share my mother’s allergy to Codeine. This discovery came about completely by accident. When my fever was rising, Tilla offered us an anti-inflammatory that was a combination of acetaminophen, ibuprofen, and codeine. Thankfully, I remembered my mother’s medical history, so when my face started to feel numb and swollen and I broke out in hives, we quickly recognized that I must have the same allergy. With haste and prayer, we made our way back to the hospital. After a shot and an oral antihistamine, I was back to normal. Overall, we are very thankful that we found this out through a small dose of codeine. Now I can add this to my medical charts, and be careful to avoid drugs with codeine for the rest of my life.

5)      We are supported by a loving, praying community world-wide. During difficult times like this last week, we especially value the support of our international community, our “cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1). During my lowest point—when I thought I had been improving on Christmas Day only to discover it was a cruel malaria trick, when I had gotten only one hour of sleep the whole night, when I could not physically drink enough to replace what I was losing, when I was waiting to hear back about whether the doctor was at the hospital yet—in that moment, Eric read aloud the comments posted on Facebook and names of people we knew were praying. I think we have prayed more this Christmas than any previous Christmas, and knowing that our prayers were joined by people all over the world—the very thought of it still brings me to tears. All we can say is “Thank you.”

6)      God can bring good out of evil. In some sense, malaria robbed us of our first Christmas in Tanzania. We will have to wait another whole year to experience how Tanzanians celebrate the birth of our Savior. And yet, this list is evidence of the fact that God can and does bring good out of evil. We will never say that we are glad I got malaria, because we wouldn’t wish this on our worst enemy, but we can now look back and see how God has carried us through this time and enriched our lives through it. Bwana Yesu asifiwe (The Lord Jesus be praised).

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

A Fantastic Fall Break (with a few bumps along the way)

Over the last two months, our lives have been fairly consumed by learning Kiswahili, and we have learned a lot! However, we recently realized that our brains were becoming oversaturated, and it was becoming more and more difficult to pick up concepts in class. We had also noticed an overall weariness in ourselves. Therefore, we decided to take a Fall BreakJ Last week we made arrangements to travel by bus to Udzungwa National Park with four other students for the weekend.

Friday came, and everyone was packed up and ready to leave, everyone that is, except Eric’s stomach. He woke up with some intestinal issues, so we delayed our trip slightly to give some time for the meds to kick in. Thankfully after an hour, he was feeling significantly better, so we called a taxi and headed to the bus station.

The bus station in Morogoro is an amazingly frenzied place, with people selling goods in every direction. As soon as we arrived (around 9am), we were bombarded by eager Tanzanians attempting to get us to come onto their bus or trying to sell us their goods. Thankfully, Stacey has lived in Tanzania on and off for the last six years, so she is relatively fluent in Kiswahili. Our taxi driver told her which bus was the safest and most comfortable. We therefore bought our tickets and boarded the aforementioned bus. We had our pick of seats since we were the first ones on the bus. What we didn’t factor into our plans was that buses don’t leave until they are full. So we waited. And waited. For 3.5 hours, we sat on the bus playing card games, evading the zealous vendors who decided to join us on board, eating snacks, reading, and waiting. People gradually filed onto the bus.

We generally didn’t take much notice when people entered the bus, but one particular woman demanded our attention. When she got on, she ardently declared that she loved us and tried to kiss Eric (on the lips). Luckily, he managed to thwart her advances. Then, after she had passed our seat, she reached back and struck me (Linda) on the head. Hard. Fortunately, it was nothing that a cool water bottle compress and ibuprofen couldn’t fix. “She’s crazy” was the explanation we received from fellow passengers. As the bus was preparing to leave, a commotion arose from the back. The woman screamed, and shortly thereafter a man returned to the front of the bus with a bleeding ear. We never got the full story, but we saw her travelling companions strap her to the seat. We guess that they must have sedated her, because we heard no more from her for the rest of the trip. While restraining her was likely necessary, it broke our hearts. The incident was a poignant reminder that mental health care is almost nonexistent in Tanzania.

Finally, around 12:30pm, we departed. The bus was vastly more comfortable than a daladala, meaning every person received an actual seat. Each row contained two seats on the left side and three on the right. The trip began on a paved road, but the last hour was completely a dirt obstacle course. There were no bathroom breaks during the trip, though the bus did stop periodically to let passengers on or off. Around 4pm, the bus dropped us off at the Udzungwa Mountain View Hotel.

The rooms at the hotel weren’t any nicer than our rooms at language school, but they were clean and cozy and we got a great deal on them. Stacey had called ahead and explained that we are in the process of getting our resident permits, so we got a hefty discount. The price cut may also have been related to the fact that we were the only guests at the hotel that weekend.

After checking in, we ordered our dinners and we walked down to the park entrance. There we made arrangements to have a guide for our hike the next morning. As soon as we got back, a heavy rain began and the electricity went out. Thanks to the power outage, we got a candlelight dinnerJ The food was delicious, a three course meal including a soup and bread, main entrée, and crepe with honey for dessert. We talked for a while after dinner, but headed to bed early since we were all exhausted.

The next morning, we ate a tasty breakfast, and then made it to Udzungwa by 9 am. Of course, African time is different than ours, so it took a little while for our guide to arrive. Since we wanted to do the longer circuit, we all piled into a pick-up truck, and they drove us to another entrance. It’s been a long time since we have ridden in the back of a pick-up, and we enjoyed the fresh air. We fully commenced our hike around 10am. Our guide, Huruma, would periodically stop and tell us stories about the different trees and flora. Over the course of the next 6.5 hours, we saw three magnificently stunning waterfalls. We even changed into our swimsuits and took a swim in the pooling base of one of the falls. After our swim, we stopped at a campsite and ate our lunch, consisting of the bread, peanut-butter and jelly we had brought with us. Reenergized by the edible fuel, we began the trek back down the mountain.

Around 4pm, we arrived at another park exit—hot, sweaty, and elated. The pick-up driver picked us up and transferred us back to our hotel. After a shower and a nap, we consumed another sumptuous feast. This time there was no rain, so we dined outside in the cooling breeze. The hotel also arranged for a bus booking officer to stop by so we could buy tickets for our trip the next day.

After dinner, the six of us crowded into one of the rooms and watched “Amazing Grace” on Eric’s laptop. “Amazing Grace” is an inspiring movie about the abolition of slavery in England. Somehow it seemed even more moving watching it in Africa, knowing that the baobab tree at our school was once a place for slaves to rest on their way to be sold, and to hide in to escape bondage (we have been told the inside is hallow).
The following morning we arose—stiff and sore, but still in agreement that the hike was worth it. After breakfast, we gathered our belongings and waited for the bus. Remarkably, it collected us from the front of our hotel close to the predicted time. We first endured the awkward moment when the bus official made some people change seats, since he had already presold us our specific seats. We also soon became aware of the fact that this bus was not nearly as spacious as the previous bus. As we sat, we discovered that the seats were so close that my (Linda’s) knees didn’t fit straight in front of me, to say nothing of Eric’s.

The trip moved along at a solid pace until the police stopped our bus and asked everyone to vacate so they could search for any illegal items. Several of us decided to take this opportunity to use the bathroom facilities, knowing there would likely not be another opportunity. Through this decision, we learned that these squat toilets, which are the typical Tanzanian public facilities, were not free. Luckily, we had brought both money and toilet paper.  While we were eager to get home, the stop did give us the opportunity to stretch our legs.

Finally, around 1pm, we arrived at the bus station in Morogoro. Since lunch was already over at school, we grabbed a taxi and headed to a local restaurant where we knew there was ice cream to combat the afternoon heat. Unfortunately, the restaurant was closed. Bummer. Thus, we paid the extra money to go to another restaurant where ice cream could also be found. A chicken stir fry, pizza and two butterscotch milkshakes later, we contentedly took a taxi back to school. We then unpacked, had a small dinner, showered, listened some worship music and a podcast sermon, and promptly fell into bed. And thus ended our improvised Fall Break. While we were probably physically more tired the next day than when we had left, we now feel more prepared mentally and emotionally to face the last two weeks of school:-)

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Thanksgiving service

About a month ago, we received an invitation from one the staff members at school, Mama Lucia. Her name is actually Generous, but here in Tanzania parents often go by the name of their first born child (i.e. Eric’s parents would be called “Mama Eric” and “Baba Eric.” My parents would be called “Mama Linda” and “Baba Linda”). She invited us to attend the Thanksgiving service at the Lutheran Church in Bigwa. Bigwa is about a 30 minute walk from our school.

Apparently every Lutheran church (and possibly other denominations as well) picks a Sunday, usually in October, to be their Thanksgiving Sunday. On this day, people will bring a special offering from their “harvest” to be used for the work of the church. It is a reminder that “A man can receive nothing unless it has been given to him from above” (John 3:27).  In the case of the Lutheran Church in Bigwa, they have been gradually building their church structure since 2001. They currently have 3 walls and a roof. Thus, the special offering on Thanksgiving will go towards adding the next wall. For churches that are already fully built, the money collected might go towards other ministries and projects.

All of the Christian language students on campus left with one of our teachers at 9am for the walk to Bigwa. By the time we got there, we were all pretty sweaty, so it was nice to have a half hour to chat and cool off before the service began at 10ish. This time also gave us a chance to collect our Swahili thoughts, since we were pretty sure we would be asked to introduce ourselves. We were, and it went significantly better than the previous week :-) Several other ex-pats/former language students also attended.

At first, the service followed the traditional Lutheran liturgy in Swahili (call to worship, confession, absolution, readings, sermon, etc.) We did our best to follow along in the hymnals that we had borrowed from campus. We had previously asked if there was a place where we could buy hymnals, but we were told that only 500,000 of the new Kiswahili hymnals were printed. With 5.6 million Lutherans in Tanzania, they are few and far between! We were thankful to at least be able to borrow some.

Throughout the service, the choir sang various songs. We absolutely love the music in Tanzania! The harmonies are so beautiful.

At the end of the traditional service (about 2 hours later), they began the time of gift giving. It began with someone bringing forward a small cake. They explained that they would cut the cake, and then people would “sponsor” bites for each other. Each bite was 10,000 shillings (about $6). Talk about your fundraising mark up! However, it seemed like the event was more about the relationships than the actual cake—a chance to honor each other. Mama Lucia  wanted to give a bite to all the ex-pats she had invited, but could not afford it. Therefore, she brought up one man and one woman from among us to be our representatives. I (Linda) asked Stephanie how our bite tasted, and she said it was pretty good:-) We and the other ex-pats also decided we should sponsor some folks, so we picked children from the congregation. They were so sweet and shy when we brought them forward! By the end of the cake, the congregation had raised 840,000 shillings (about $525), more than twice what they were expecting from the cake!

Then people took turns giving monetary gifts. Each person came up and announced to the congregation what they were contributing and everyone clapped in thanksgiving (a little different than passing around the offering plate). All the ex-pats decided to pool our money and announced our contribution as a group.

Finally, the auction began. Because not everyone had cash resources, people brought what they had: bananas, chickens, grains, clothe, pigs, etc. One of the chickens had been sitting by us for a good share of the service:-) Pastor Tobias bought us a bunch of bananas since by this point it was 2pm, and we were all extremely hungry. My fibromyalgia pain was particularly high on Sunday (we later discovered it was because of impending rain), so by 2:30pm I had a raging headache. Mama Lucia took the two of us and Emily back to her house to rest before lunch. When the rest of the group (some of the pastors, church leaders, and ex-pat missionaries) later joined us for lunch at Mama Lucia’s house, we learned that the pastor had asked for us in the service (“Where are the 3 missionaries from the U.S.?”). Apparently they had wanted to offer a blessing for us. Oops!! We felt pretty badly about it, but having these awkward moments is one part of cross-cultural exchange.

Around 4pm, we returned to our dorm, full of the delicious foods that Mama Lucia and her family had prepared. We were exhausted, but full of gratitude to be included in the events of the day and in the community!

** Pictures of the event will soon be posted to Facebook. Even if you do not have a Facebook page, you can see them at

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Morogoro: Part 3

Some things haven’t changed since our last post, and some things have.

We are still eagerly plugging away at learning Swahili, and it is still tough! We still regularly enjoy walks to stretch our legs after sitting all day. We still enjoy the gorgeous views. We still dread riding in a packed daladala to go into town. And we still have a similar schedule to the one previously mentioned.

So what has changed?

Different Sense of Community-  When the German students left, the number of boarders dramatically decreased. We genuinely miss their energy and enthusiasm for life, as well as all the field trips we experienced while they were here. Yet, we are also enjoying this new era in a smaller, more intimate community. All the boarders now sit at the same large table during meals. We spend weekend evenings playing games and watching movies together. We will often sit and talk even after we have finished our meals or snacks. Two of our favorite boarders are little Yasmin (age 3) and Yara (age 2). They remind us of our nieces and nephew (miss you three!). Yasmin and Yara tend to seek us out at meals. Yasmin is especially fond of Eric who lets her play with his iTouch after he has finished eating. Last night she ran to him as soon as she saw him heading towards the dining hall. It was precious!

Visits to the Orphanage- Since the last post, we have also begun visiting the local orphanage every Saturday. Our first trip was on Linda’s birthday, and in one visit, we were hooked :-) Emily, one of our friends from the States, joins us every week. We love playing ball with, wrestling with, cuddling and reading to the kids.

Internet- We finally got tired of paying by the hour for the school’s slow internet. The final straw was when we couldn’t manage to download Skype to Linda’s computer. We kept getting kicked off at the end of the hour, and we would have to start all over again.
Therefore, we went to town and bought an Airtel USB internet stick. It uses a cell phone signal to connect us to internet. It has been vastly better consistency and speed-wise, at least on Linda’s computer. Eric’s computer still doesn’t like to connect to the internet here, and we aren’t sure why. Even on Linda’s computer, we still have moments when we are reminded we are in Africa (i.e. we want to throw the computer out the window). Yet, we are thankful that we can now use Skype to talk with family and friends (audio-only).

Kiswahili Worship Services- We’ve attended a few more worship services in Kiswahili. One was the graduation of the Form 4 students (seniors) at the Secondary School on campus. We didn’t stay for the graduation, since the worship service itself was already 2.5 hours long and numerous family members were waiting outside to get in. While we didn’t understand most of what was going on, we LOVED the music because each grade formed their own choir, the teachers formed a choir, and there was a visiting choir. In addition, it seems like every time we sing we are part of a choir, because the entire congregation breaks into harmony.

Last week, we were also invited to a Thanksgiving service at another local Lutheran Church. That was quite the cultural experience! I think I will save the details for a later post.

The Weather- We are now hitting the end of dry season, and this has been an especially dry time across Tanzania. What does this mean? We have seen a lot of people carting water by bicycle. Our own water access has also been sporadic. We still have access to clean drinking water thanks to the kitchen staff. However, some days we don’t have warm water for showers, and some days we aren’t able to use the showers at all (all that comes out of them is watery mud). On those days, the staff provides us with buckets of water, so we can at least take a bucket shower. Since some of Tanzania’s electricity comes from hydro-electric power, the lack of water has also affected our electricity. So far we’ve always had lights at night, but sometimes it’s not available during the day (i.e. we can’t use the fan we bought during the heat of the afternoon.) We are praying for good rains during the rainy season (starting the end of October), because we know how much the farmers need it and we like warm showers :-)

So that’s the news from here! We hope and pray you all are well, and always enjoy hearing from you.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Linda's Birthday (Sept 24)

Today I celebrated my 28th birthday! Being in Tanzania has definitely made this a unique birthday. It was a beautiful day, and I wanted to share some of my joys.

It was actually also the birthday of the daughter of two of the other students. Little Yara turned two today:-) Her dad had ordered a cake from town, so we all enjoyed cake at breakfast. Eric bought me a quilted satchel and beautiful wall-hanging from the campus store. I love them both! I also received a piece of dark chocolate from our friend Emily and some Korean instant coffee from Amani.

Classes were classes, but at lunch break the kitchen staff had prepared another cake specifically for me. It didn’t have icing and was more like a sweet cornbread, but it was really delicious. Everyone dug into their second cake of the day:-)

We discovered there is an orphanage within walking distance, so after class, one of the teachers took us (Linda, Eric and Emily) over there. After a very pleasant half hour walk, we arrived and were almost knocked over by children literally jumping into our arms. We spent the next 45 minutes wrestling, snuggling and laughing with children. At one point Eric had three children treating him like a jungle gym. We also got to hold some of the babies. It was so fun!

On our walk back for dinner, some kids were looking up into a tree. When we looked up, we saw a family of little monkeys jumping from tree to tree eating fruit! Another special birthday memory:-)

At dinner, they had my favorite fruit (pineapple). After dinner, I got to make some international calls before starting homework. And then after homework, I got to go online and see the birthday wishes many of you left me. Thank you all so much! It was all around a great birthday!

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Morogoro: Part 2

We have been in Tanzania for two weeks now and we are settling into a rhythm.

Our Weekday Schedule
6-6:30am      Wake up - Depending on whether we need to study or shower
7am             Breakfast - Usually it is a buffet of yogurt, bread with butter and jam, uji which is a type of porridge, some kind of fruit, and sometimes eggs.
7:30am         Head back to our room to take our malaria prophylaxis and other meds and grab our books.
7:45am         Morning Prayer with the other students and teachers. We will sing a Swahili hymn and hear a scripture reading in English and Swahili. Then, someone will offer prayer (usually in Swahili) and sometimes we all say the Lord’s prayer in Swahili. After one final Swahili hymn, the day of classes begins.
8am             Class - We meet in small groups based on when you arrived and how long you are staying. Eric and I are together with our own teacher. The teachers rotate every week so we have a new one each week. This helps us get used to different styles and different ways people speak Swahili
10am           Tea Break - They offer tea, coffee, hot chocolate and some kind of snack such as popcorn, banana chips, fried dough, etc. Usually by then our heads our about to explode, so the break feels amazing.
10:30am       Class
12pm           Lunch - A typical lunch buffet is rice, beans, potatoes, a vegetable sauce, greens and some kind of fruit.
1pm             Break - This gives us a chance to rest, study, write emails, etc.
2:30pm        Class or Lecture - We will either continue working on our Swahili or hear a lecture on a specific topic. So far we’ve heard lectures on “Tanzanian Beliefs about the Spirit World,” “Malaria,” and “The History of Christianity in Tanzania”
4pm             Tea Break
4:30pm         Free Time - Usually we will go for a walk, go into Morogoro, or try to get online. Our favorite walking destination has been a baobab tree that is climbable. Trips to and from Morogoro require us to ride on a daladala (a 15 passenger vehicle that Tanzanians manage to fit 26 people into with a combination of sitting and standing.)
6pm             Dinner - Similar to lunch. Sometimes we will have noodles instead of potatoes. Other options may include chicken, fish, goat m, hot dogs, or occasionally pizza (though the toppings are a bit different- light on the cheese because it is so pricey, cut up hot dog, onion and pinapple)
7pm             Free Time - Usually this is when we do our homework and studying.
8:30 or 9pm  Internet - So far this has been the best time to get online, though it is still very slow. About all we have time for in an hour is checking Facebook and all of our emails. Twitter thus far has been impossible, but we are still working on it. Right now we use the school’s wireless internet and pay by the hour.
9:30-10:30    Get Ready for Bed - Shower and possibly some for-fun reading or a MASH episode (We brought the series.)
10:30-11pm  Bed Time

Field Trips and Extra Activities
The last two weeks the school has had a big group of college-age German students (about 25 students), so there have been a lot of extra activities. One evening we took a field trip into Morogoro so we could find our way around. Another night we had an International Dinner where everyone was asked to prepare a dish from their home country. We had dishes from Germany, the U.S., India, the Congo, Korea, and Tanzania and it was all delicious! One day we went for a 6-hour hike in the Mountains of Morogoro. The views were incredible! One night they brought in Traditional Tanzania Dancers and Musicians. And then yesterday we went to Mikumi National Park and saw elephants, zebras, giraffes, warthogs, hippos, impalas, etc. in their natural habitat. It was absolutely amazingly unforgettable! For pictures of all these events, go to You don’t need a Facebook account to see the pictures.

On Sundays, we get up and go to the English worship service at 7am and sometimes to the Swahili service at 8:30am. Otherwise the weekends are pretty low key and unstructured (with the exception of meals. No sleeping in if you want breakfast). Almost all of the German students left today, so it has been pretty quiet. There has been a small short term mission group from Oklahoma staying here the last few days and we have enjoyed their company.

We have spent the day cleaning our dorm, washing our underwear by hand (we can pay to have everything else washed, but having someone other than family wash your underclothes is taboo), and organizing life. Last week, I (Linda) successfully cut Eric’s hair for the first time and it turned out really well! Power goes in and out. However, we were able to get this post up, so obviously the power has come back on after being off most of the day.

So that’s a little taste of our life right now. Thanks for your loving support and we learn to navigate this new world!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

In God's Time...

We were just recently reflecting about how many things came together in God’s time and not our own (including this blog).

Departure—We had hoped to leave in September for 2011 rather than September of 2012. However, last year we had no idea that Linda’s sister would be getting married in August of 2012. Going overseas a year later than we had planned gave us the opportunity to participate in all of the wedding celebration. Linda was able to attend the Bridal Shower, Bachelorette weekend, Rehearsal, and Wedding as Karen’s Matron of Honor. The “delayed” time also gave us a chance to see all of our grandparents again right before we left (Eric’s during a family vacation in Colorado and Linda’s at the wedding).

The Money— One of our big stressors in our last month in the U.S. was trying to sell our car. We had one offer through Craigslist that was over $2000 less than the value of the car, and we struggled with the decision of whether or not to just accept the loss. During our prayer time, we felt like God was telling us to wait and be patient. When no more offers came in and we discovered that the previous buyer was no longer interested, we began to wonder if we had waited too long. Then, less than a week before our departure we heard from the sister-in-law of one of Eric’s high school classmates. Three days before we left, she test drove it, and the day before we left, she bought it for more than the previous offer! Because it wasn’t an anonymous Craigslist sale, we didn’t have to worry about whether or not the money was good. We would have preferred it if the sale had happened sooner, but God answered our prayer in His time. Like manna in the desert, sometimes the provision is no more and no less than needed.

The Healing— The Friday (5 days) before we left Linda pulled a muscle in her back. “Not good timing God.” Being Labor Day weekend, Linda’s doctor was unavailable and we weren’t sure who else to call. We had so much to do in terms of errands and packing, not to mention moving us and all of our stuff across the world. On Sunday, Linda’s pain level was making her wonder whether they would even be able to make the trip that week. She asked people to pray for some significant healing by Wednesday. That day a friend mentioned that one of the members at our church is a chiropractor. He was willing to come into the office on Labor Day and fit her in the next day as well, all for free! With his help and God’s healing touch, Linda was significantly improved by Wednesday and able to endure the LONG journey overseas. This was yet another reminder that God provides.J It is not always when we want it or how we expect it, but it happens. The question is, “Do we recognize it?”

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Morogoro: Part 1

We have arrived safely in Morogoro, Tanzania! Actually we arrived safely on Friday, but this is the first day we have had access to internetJ

Overall, our trip went very smoothly. Our flight to Dallas on Tuesday was delayed by two hours, but we were able to relax with Linda’s parents that night and run many errands on Wednesday before our evening flight.

Dallas to London-- Our flight from Dallas to London actually felt relatively short (only 8 hours). We sat next Blanca, a woman from Mexico who was heading for France for friend’s wedding. On the far side of our row was Michael, who with his wife and three children (sitting in front of us) was moving to Glascow, Scotland. He will be getting his PHD in history there, writing about how Scottish Presbyterianism influenced American Colonialism and the American Revolution. They were both wonderful companions during the flight and made the journey seem shorter. Eric and I both got 3-4 hours of sleep that night. In the “morning”, Michael shared with us that he had experienced some insomnia during the “night”, so while he had walked the length of the plane, he had prayed for us and our work in Tanzania. We continue to be amazed by the beautiful encouraging people God puts in our lives!

10 hrs in London— One of Linda’s friends from her Social Work program now works in London so he had given us detailed directions about how to get around in London (Thanks Daniel!) When we arrived in London, we paid to have our carry-on luggage stored and took the underground into Central London. Everything in London was far more expensive than we expected, so we decided to go the cheapest route. We bought sandwiches at a local store and had an outdoor picnic in Trafulgar Square where a big screen was set up to show the Para-Olympics (side note: the U.S. is totally missing out by not broadcasting the Para-Olympics. It’s truly a shame and we should all write NBC. While we had lunch, we watched a former U.S. soldier who had lost his eyes in Afghanistan which a gold medal in swimming. It was awesome!) We then spent the rest of the afternoon touring the National Gallery (free) and seeing the outside (the free part) of Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, the London Eye, Westminster Abbey, the Royal Guards, Parliament, etc. Walking around helped us stay awake for most of the day, though we did take a brief nap in one of the parks. Finally, we headed back to the airport.

London to Dar Es Salaam— The next flight felt much longer even though it wasn’t that much longer (10 hrs). We were seated in a two-person row on a half-empty plane, so we did have a little more space to spread out. However, even though were both tired, Linda had a lot of trouble sleeping thanks to her back. She caught up on movies instead.

Dar Es Salaam to Morogoro— Thankfully all our luggage made it safely to Dar! J In Dar Es Salaam we were picked up by Abdallah, the same driver who drove us back in February. Instead of having to catch a bus to Morogoro, he drove us and all our luggage himself. We both slept some during the 3 hr trip, but Linda’s back was ready for a bed by the end.

Since arriving in Morogoro— We have now moved into our dormitory. All our meals are provided and have thus far been very tasty. On Friday, we caught a lecture with the other students on Tanzanian beliefs about the spirit world. We also unpacked and went to bed right after dinner. We were beyond exhausted!

On Saturday, we went into town to get some cash and buy a new SIM card for our phone (our one from February didn’t work). What we thought would be a 1 hr trip turned into a 4 hr trip since we were in a car full of people all getting supplies (a good example of “African time”). Saturday afternoon we rested, called our parents, and started getting to know our classmates. There is one family from Zambia and a girl from Korea who have been boarding here for weeks. The rest of the boarders, like us, arrived this weekend. There is only one other American girl and the rest (about 25 students) are from Germany. So the dormitories are full of languages we don’t understandJ. However, everyone’s English is also fairly good and we heard there are more American students living in town who take classes during the day.

On Sunday, we went to the English service at 7am and then went to the Swahili service at 8:30. We figured we should start becoming accustomed to the sound of Swahili. Plus the choir at the Swahili service was spectacular. We even knew a few songs from our Valpo days (Thank you Dr. Brugh!). This afternoon we again rested (jet lag is brutal) and went on a tour of the campus with the other students. We also were able to finally access internet cards. We have to buy them an hour at a time, and they only had 2 hours available tonight. Hopefully we’ll get more tomorrow because the internet here is incredibly slow.

So there’s your extended update! I will try to keep the rest of them shorter, but we’ve had a lot of time on our hands the last 2 days which gave us a chance to document our journey in detail. Tomorrow we begin classes so we’ll have less free time. Thanks for reading and for all of your prayers on our behalf!!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

What Are You Willing To Sacrifice? From April 12th Lutheran North Chapel service

Linda and I had the opportunity to present and give the message at a Chapel service at Lutheran High School North in St. Louis, where Eric had taught for 7 years.  The message gives all of us something to think about, so we thought we would post it here.


(Eric) What are you willing to sacrifice?

This question has been on our minds and hearts a lot lately. As you know for many years, I have felt called to work in Africa, but the time never felt right. When I married Linda, who also had a passion for international ministry, we strongly sensed that the time was now. We knew that it was going to take a lot of sacrifice. Honestly, one of the hardest sacrifices I had to make was leaving a place I loved and students I cared for (i.e. you). Yet, sometimes God calls us to make these sacrifices.

(Linda) As we started down the process of finding a placement, we soon had to sacrifice something else. Our timeline. We had hoped to leave by the start of this school year, working in positions that would pay us. The months wore on and nothing seemed to be coming together. Either a placement would want Eric, but not have any position for me. Or they would have a spot for me, but not a married couple. We finally realized the best way was to raise our own salaries and go with a volunteer missionary organization.  But this takes a LOT of time. We waited until we had two options and after praying about it, we felt that we were called to Jos, Nigeria. We knew there were safety risks there, but there were also a lot of other missionaries there and a system in place to reduce the risk.

(Eric) In December, we traveled to Nigeria, excited about the ministry we thought we would be doing in Jos. When we got there, our story took another turn. The Lutheran Church of Nigeria didn’t want us in Jos. They wanted us to work in Obot Idim in Southeast Nigeria. This change would mean more sacrifices. There were no other missionaries in that area, so we would lose all of that support. The place also had a long history of kidnappings. People looking for money would kidnap ex-patriots (i.e. non-Nigerians), government officials, or wealthy Nigerians in order to hold them for ransom. Sometimes those who were kidnapped did not survive. As we saw the needs at the school there and in the community, it wasn’t a perfect fit for our skills, but we knew we could help. So the question was before us “What are we willing to sacrifice?”

(Linda) Our story took yet another turn. While we were in Nigeria, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Tanzania contacted our organization asking if we could come there. We dismissed the idea, because we were in Nigeria. It was too late in the game to make any changes. We came back and talked with family and friends and the head of Global Lutheran Outreach. He asked us if we wanted to consider Tanzania, and we said the only way we would is if their needs fit our skills exactly. We also realized that we felt more called to Obot Idim than we felt to Jos. Yet, we still felt unsettled. Why were we unsettled? We didn’t know. Then, we found out a little more about the jobs in Tanzania. They seemed to fit us. What were we going to do? To consider Tanzania meant more money and more time. And I struggled with this. Why did I feel more called to Tanzania than to Nigeria. Was it because I was afraid? Was I really willing to risk our lives? In my quiet time, I started to focus on stories where God called people to sacrifice. One day I landed on the story of Abraham and Isaac.

(Eric) In the story, Abraham was told by God early in his life that he would have descendants more numerous than the stars.  There was one problem though.  He had no children.  Until one day God performs a miracle, allows his wife the age of your grandmother to give birth, and they have one son, named Isaac.   God knew that Abraham was faithful to him, but for reasons Abraham did not know, God tested him.  God called Abraham to go to a mountain.  Then God called to him to sacrifice his only son.  Now, this means for Abraham, that if God allows him to go through with this, he will possibly not have any descendants.  But Abraham trusted in the promises of God.  He took Isaac on to a mountain to sacrifice him.  Abraham raised up the knife to kill Isaac.  God saw that Abraham truly trusted in Him, and provided a ram instead.

(Linda) As I read this story, a prayer came to me. “God, is Tanzania the ram?” God didn’t provide the answer immediately. However, as the weeks went by and we got more information and talked with more people, we realized that while we were willing to sacrifice and potentially give our lives wherever we went, God had provided a ram. When we went to Tanzania in February, we realized the work they needed us to do fit EXACTLY with our passions, our interests and our skills. So this is where we are headed.

(Eric) There is still much sacrificing. It’s not over. And there will be many struggles. But we know it’s going to be ok, because God made the ultimate sacrifice. He provided the ultimate ram. When it looked like Isaac would be lost, God provided the ram. When it looked like we would be lost, God provided his son. That knowledge is worth sacrificing everything.

So we ask you, what is God calling you to sacrifice? Time? Money? Popularity? Don’t worry, He’s not calling you to sacrifice school ;-)  But this is a question that we all must ask ourselves. And no matter the sacrifice, God promises that He will always be with you.  Forever and ever Amen.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

God's Plans

Well, we've moved into a new phase of our journey. Since we returned from Tanzania in February, we've felt a new sense of clarity about our decision. When we looked back at what we had been praying for in a location, we realized God answered our prayer exactly. Here is what was on our wish list to God when we started our search last July.

-          A place in Africa to fulfill Eric's childhood dream (or perhaps a better word is "call") to work in Africa
-          A place where we both can use our skills meaningfully (preferably with a job description, accountability, and team environment)
-          A place that struggles deeply with issues such as poverty, malaria, HIV, lack of education, etc.
-          A place where we can learn and grow and step out of the fast-paced, perfectionistic culture of the U.S.
-          A place that is consistently warm, but not so hot at night that my sleep would be further disrupted (related to my fibromyalgia diagnosis)
-          A place that has access to medical care should we need it and/or should God bless us with a child (just to be clear, no plans of that right now)
-          A place where we can feel safe to walk around and visit our neighbors
-          A place where we feel supported by the local church and can have meaningful friendships with people native to that country
-          A place with at least one other missionary family in our area who can guide and encourage us as new missionaries
-          A place where at times we can step away from our work and have new adventures (even missionaries need a vacation sometimes)
-          A place where we can use English in our work, though we are willing to learn a new language as well
-          A place where we have the ability to step out of the urban environment and see God through the beauty of nature
-          A place where we could speak about our faith and share the love of Christ

As the months of searching for a place like this wore on, we started to lose hope and considered compromising. We thought maybe we were being too picky and asking too much of God. The call to Obot Idim, Nigeria fulfilled many of our desires, but we left Nigeria with several concerns.
1)      The heat can be incredibly intense there and we weren't sure how that would affect my fibromyalgia
2)      We would not have been able to visit with our neighbors on our own due to safety concerns.
3)      There were no other missionary families in the area where we would be.
We were willing to go to Nigeria despite our concerns, but then God surprised us by giving us exactly what we asked for in Tanzania! We are amazed and truly grateful.

The only item on our wish list that God did not grant was our wish for paid positions (i.e. a salary). Yet, as we begin our journey of "Support Discovery" in earnest, we are starting to realize why God may have said "no" to our previous request.
1)      The numbers are daunting and scary for us. We need about $35,000 to pay for our one-time out-going costs (items such as a vehicle with four-wheel drive, extra luggage costs, a refrigerator, a stove, furniture, etc). Then we need about pledges for $60,000 a year for our ongoing costs (rent, gas, electric, gasoline, medical insurance, legal fees, etc). We know that we can't do this on our own, and that knowledge truly humbles us. We need other people and we need God to move in a mighty way if we are going to leave by September.
2)      If we had found a position that paid us, then we would not have nearly as many people praying for us as we begin our new lives. When I moved to Papua New Guinea years ago, I found such strength and comfort in the fact that so many people were praying for me and supporting me. There were many days in PNG where I took the knowledge that people were praying for me and God was with me dried my tears and gave me hope. I see now that had a lot fewer costs as a single missionary supported by a family of missionaries in PNG than we will have as a married couple trying to set up a household in Tanzania. However, greater cost means even more people are going to be invested in our ministry. Even more people will be praying for us. The thought brings tears to my eyes- happy tears.

In the past few weeks something happened that put an end to any remaining doubts we had regarding if we should be going to Nigeria rather than Tanzania. The LCMS decided the risk was just too great and pulled out their missionaries. While we were in Dallas, TX in March, we were able to meet with the Rasch family, a missionary family we grew very close to during our time Nigeria. We still aren’t exactly sure why God had us go to Nigeria only to change our plans right after the trip, but maybe it was for this reason: that we can now be an encouragement to families who had only a few days to say goodbye to a life and friends they have known for many, many years. Their lives are forever changed by this experience. Our prayers are with all the missionaries of Nigeria and the church at large. We pray for peace.