In Which We Become Church Architects

Luke and I have taken on a new project. We've agreed to help oversee
the construction of the Kotobi Seventh-day Adventist church. This was
definitely a providential appointment, as the church seems to be a
perfect fit for our needs and resources. First of all, it's in
Kotobi, which is only about 20 minutes from Mundri. Second, it's a
small enough project that we should be able to complete it within our
remaining time in Sudan. Third, it's a step up from building a house,
but it's doesn't appear to be beyond our technical ability :) Fourth,
we already have the metal trusses stored in our shop, so we don't have
to pay for them to be transported up from Uganda. Fifth, and perhaps
most importantly, it's a project that both sides of the current
tenseness within the church agree upon, and support. This opens a way
for us to safely navigate through the troubled waters of the South
Sudan Field. Praise the Lord!

So, we've already met with the church elders and the supervising
pastor (Pastor Julius, whom we've been building a house for in
Karika), marked out the site, started people procuring sand and
stones, and dug the footings! Hopefully by the end of next week we'll
be ready to begin pouring the slab. The church is not going to be
very large--6x10 meters--but then, neither the number of church
members in Kotobi, or the amount of money we have allocated for the
project is very large either.

Luke and I are excited about getting to design and build this church.
We've already started sketching out arched windows in the dirt and
coming up with decorative brick designs for the back wall (the SDA
flame logo is a bit tricky to put into a brick wall, but Luke has a
few ideas!) It's going to be a neat experience. God has answered our
prayers, and yours as well. Thank you for remembering us in your
prayers, and please continue to pray for the church here, as well as
the political situation.



Technical Note

Because I am posting blogs via email, I cannot put captions under my
pictures. However, if you view the file name of the photo (either by
clicking on it and then looking at the end of the web address or
downloading it or some other way) you may be a little bit more
enlightened :)


Occupation and Recreation

Pictures of Julius' House

Sudan Update 15 November 2010

Since my last post we've mainly been working on building a house for Julius,
a long-time evangelist, in Karika, a small village about 38 kilometers
west of Mundri. The site already had a slab and walls brick walls
laid up to about waist height, built on a previous Frontline trip.
Together with Sylvester, a local bricklayer who's worked with the
Busls before we've laid up the walls the rest of the way, built some
window and door frames and installed them, poured a bond beam around
the top of the walls (to hold everything together) and then laid a few
more courses of bricks on top of that, put up trusses and half of the
tin roofing sheets, and added a small veranda on the front of the
building. Stay tuned for pictures! We've been camping under some
mango trees by the Karika SDA church while we work on the house during
the week and
returning to Mundri on the weekends.

Here in Mundri Luke and I have started a small youth Bible study that
meets every Thursday night. The group is pretty small right now but
they're interested and it's a blessing to get together with them and
study Bible prophecies that are so relevant, particularly in war-torn
and -apprehensive Sudan. We've also been assisting the local church
in a few evangelistic projects, transporting poles from the bush to
make benches, ferrying the youth choir to Lui for the start of a
series there, (it's an unforgettable experience to cruise through the
African bush with a full choir, complete with instruments, praising
the Lord joyfully from the back of your truck!) and helping wire up
the lights for the meetings being held here in Mundri.

On another occasion we rode Luke's motorbike to Eyeira, 40 miles west
of Karika, to visit the Adventist vocational academy there. We were
warmly welcomed by a few members of the school administration, as well
as an American couple, Lowell and Neria Jenks. Mr. Jenks is teaching
woodworking and small engine repair and maintains the nicest workshop
you've ever seen:) You'll probably be hearing more about Eyeira and
the Jenks, because our next project is going to be helping Mr. Jenks
add on to his shop to make space for some additional woodworking
machines and hopefully a small furniture manufacturing industry to
help support the program.

We hope to wrap things up with Julius' house this week and then spend
a week or so at Eyeira pouring a slab floor for the expansion on the
vocational building.

Other miscellaneous notes; we've made some tasty Mexican food on our
charcoal burner, including excellent corn tortillas using freshly
ground corn on our charcoal:) We've started remodeling a termite
mound behind our house into a cob oven (with a slight bit of
difficulty--apparently termites require quite a bit of convincing to
set up housekeeping elsewhere). Papaya season is starting, as well as
orange/tangerine/lime season! Luke has started seeing dental patients
in his spare time, and has successfully installed five or six fillings
using Atraumatic Restorative Treatment (ART) techniques--no shots or
power tools, and very little pain as well! He's come to the
conclusion that what South Sudan really needs are dentists--everybody
has major teeth problems!

Thank you for your continued prayer support. The church in South
Sudan is going through some problems right now, and we're trying to
figure out how to navigate through the politics without becoming
entangled--the situation definitely needs prayer, as well as the
upcoming referendum. Voter registration starts today and the topic is
on everyone's hearts and lips here.

We're also looking forward to the quickly-approaching day when Jesus
will come to claim all those aliens and strangers who are longing for
a better country--a heavenly one!



Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing
of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and
perfect will of God.
Romans 12:2



Written 3.11.2010

Today we returned from Eyera Adventist Vocational Academy (about 30
miles from Karika, where we've been staying) on the motorbike this
morning and then worked on Julius's house until sunset. Tomorrow we
raise the roof!

I celebrated by taking a splash shower with <u>heated</u> water under
the stars, adding some brought-from-home barbecue sauce to my beans at
supper, and savoring a biscuit dipped in wild honey for dessert. Now
I'm in the truck writing this blog on my laptop, listening to the
soaring melodies of Johannes Ockeghem's Requiem before retiring to my
sleeping pad under the mango trees in a few minutes.

It's been a lovely birthday:) Thank you, Lord!

And thanks to everyone who sent me birthday notes as well :)



Trip to Juba

One of the reasons we had had trouble driving through Juba on our way
up was that the vehicle registration was out of date. So this past
Thursday, Luke and I came into Juba to get the registration renewed.
We didn't expect it to be a long process, since all we needed was a
stamp and a signature on our logbook, and we didn't want to chance
getting fined again, so we decided to take the bus into town Thursday
morning, do our work that afternoon, spend the night at the ADRA
compound in Juba, then finish up any loose ends and head back to
Mundri Friday morning. It would just a brief trip in and out; no
tarrying in Vanity Fair for us!

So, Thursday morning, we got to the bus station about 8:30, only to
find that the last motatus (minibuses) had just left. That meant we
would have to take the slower bus, which was expected to arrive in
Juba around 3:00. This meant that we would be cutting things close,
but we still had Friday morning to finish up paperwork. So, we
purchased two tickets and boarded The Mundri Express. The vehicle
itself is an interested contraption: a collection of old bus seats,
wrapped in rectangular metal body that reminds one of a large tin can,
bolted to a truck chassis behind a separate driver's cab. Because the
passenger compartment was just tacked on the back of a truck, there is
a distinct lack of the kind of conveniences you would normally expect
to find on a bus, including, apparently, shocks. This makes for a
rough ride, as demonstrated by the poor shape of the seats. The poor
guy in front of Luke had no seatback to lean against, our own seat
kept threatening to split into separate parts, and the three seats
across from us collapsed completely during the trip!

We were scheduled to depart at 9:00 and were pleasantly surprised to
find the bus pulling away at 9:05. But our hopes were dashed when it
turned away from Juba and headed in the opposite direction. Had we
somehow completely misunderstood the destination of this bus? Now,
Sudan has little in the way of formal traffic rules, but the few they
do have are rigidly enforced. One of these, we've learned from
experience, is the importance of traffic circles. Perhaps, we
surmised, it was necessary for the bus to go back to the center of
town and circle the roundabout before heading on its way! As it
turns out, the driver simply needed to fuel up. After that it was
back to the bus station to pick up more passengers, a few more stops
on the way out of town, and then we were off.

The appellation Mundri Express is rather misguiding. It was most
certainly not an express trip to town. But at least we had plenty of
opportunities to stretch our legs and see the sights on the way :) We
finally arrived in Juba about 4:30, and thanks to the help of our kind
fellow passengers, managed to find the ADRA compound without too much
trouble. We spent the evening with Pastor Okayo, the district pastor
at Juba, and made plans to head out first thing in the morning.
Pastor Okayo already had guests, a mission group from Perth, so we set
up our mosquito nets under a tree on the compound.

The next morning, Luke headed out into a pouring rainstorm at 7:30 to
do battle with the traffic police bureaucracy with Sylvester, a friend
of Jared's, while I waited at the compound in the hopes that someone
from ADRA would help me change money. My day turned out to be quite
successful. I was able to get our money changed, charge my computer,
write a few of these blogs, and, thanks to the help of my sister,
figure out the settings to get internet access on our phone again!
Luke's day, on the other hand, was a bit more frustrating. Apparently
the traffic police are in the middle of changing the process of
vehicle registration, and that fact, combined with the complications
and general pace of life that accompany African bureaucracy meant that
what should have been a simple visit became quite a labyrinthine
procedure. First of all, the office didn't open until 10:00. And then
because of the rain, many employees were delayed. Then several needed
to take tea. Finally, once people started arriving, he and Sylvester
were shuttled back and forth between numerous offices, collecting
signatures and receipts and paying fees. They were just about
finished, having paid all the fees and collected all the necessary
paperwork, and were lacking only the final laminated card, when the
office closed for lunch. So they waited until after lunch. But then,
upon returning, they discovered that the power was off, and the
generators could not be started. "Come back on Monday," they told
him... So, that's what we'll have to do.

In the meantime we've had a lovely time, going hear Pastor John
Horvath, the pastor from Australia, share about the group's
experiences in Wau for vespers on Friday night, camping out under the
stars, and sharing in Pastor Okayo's hospitality. Sabbath morning I
wasn't feeling too great, but I decided to go with Luke and few others
to visit the Juba Prison. I'm glad I did; it was an insightful
experience. Before entering the prison, each person had to surrender
their cell phones (no pictures allowed) and take a visitor card.
"Don't lose it or you can't come back out," the guards told us. I
think they were joking.

Inside the tall walls was a large compound with a few hundred men
standing around. We went behind one of the buildings and found about
50 young guys, excited to have church with us. After a few energetic
songs ("Don't be lazy about praising the Lord!" the prison pastor
admonished everybody), the visitors were introduced to much applause.
I, however, was not included. "I am not going to introduce this
brother, because he will introduce himself before he gives the
sermon," said our host. Having been recently informed of this, I was
frantically looking through my Bible for ideas. I think the Holy
Spirit helped me find something, and I ended up speaking about how
immediately after his greatest triumph, the prophet Elijah fled into
the desert, scared and dejected, and how even at his lowest point, God
strengthened him and patiently waited until he was ready to listen.
As James says, Elijah truly was a man just like us, with shortcomings
and frailties, yet God used him to do powerful things in Israel.

Luke and I certainly have our share of frailties, but I hope and pray
we can be used by God here in Sudan, in 2010.



This past Sabbath was a special Sabbath at Mundri; we had 8 baptisms!
Now I didn't understand exactly what this was going to entail, but I
definitely gained an education in the proper way to do a baptism in
South Sudan. After church, Pastor Nelson announced that we would be
going to the river for the baptisms. This made sense, as the church
has no baptistry. But as the congregation started to march through
town singing, I began to realize that this would be more than just a
simple trip to the river. We proceeded to parade through the entire
town, right up main street; the youth choir in front, then the
baptismal candidates in white robes, and then the rest of the
congregation following behind. We walked past the shops, past the
restaurants, past the traffic police, past a political rally, all the
way across the Mundri bridge, about two miles from the church.

By the time we arrived at the riverbank, we had gathered quite a lot
of spectators, and, not one to miss an opportunity to reach a crowd,
our friend Charles, a former Global Mission pioneer preached a rousing
sermon about Jesus' example of baptism by immersion. It was quite a
warm day, and by the time he was finished, I bet he could have
collected several more willing volunteers for an immersion!

Finally Pastor Nelson called each candidate out into the water and
baptized them, alternating between speaking in Arabic and English.
Everybody cheered and we all sang a few more songs. While all this
was going on, several Indonesians from the local UN camp drove across
the bridge to the other side of the river and commenced with their
weekly bath. I wonder what they thought of all the commotion across
the river :) Anyway, it was quite an experience; baptism is supposed
to be a public demonstration of a life-changing decision, and this was
definitely public!




Jared gave us a whirlwind tour of Mundri and the surrounding area on
Sabbath and Sunday, and then he and Eric caught an AIM flight out of
Mundri on Monday morning. Since then Luke and I have been working on
a variety of things, but primarily on fixing up the compound and
making connections with local church members, government officials,
and other missionaries in the area.

The people in Mundri have made us feel quite welcome. We were
introduced in church and have made friends with several different
church members. We've started learning our way around town and have
even located the local pita bread baker :) Mundri seems to be laid
out in a straight line East to West along the main road from Juba,
with most of the shops and government offices (Mundri is the county
seat) along the road and then people's homes further back.

Frontline Builders has a fenced compound is several hundred meters
north the road on the west side of town, in the residential section,
past the Mundri SDA church compound. The compound is very green right
now, with lots of trees--and plenty of brush! The different fruit
trees we've found on the compound so far are guavas (just finishing),
bananas (just ripening), oranges, papaya, pineapples, mangos, and
tamarind! Unfortunately we're going to miss the mango harvest, but
I'm looking forward to some delicious papaya and bananas and trying
some tamarind pods as well! There are also a few acacia, palm, teak,
and umbrella trees as well.

We've spent much of our time over the past two weeks cutting back some
of the less welcome plants from around the compound. Other activities
include fixing numerous holes in the fence, getting the solar charging
system working again, replacing the rear break pads on our cruiser,
and planting an experimental vegetable garden. Luke has lots of
different varieties of vegetables that he wants to try in the Mundri
climate, and we've planted 10 or 11 kinds of beans, 8 kinds of
tomatoes, cucumbers, sorghum, amaranth, peppers, carrots, different
kinds of greens, beets, onions, corn, cilantro, parsley, etc., etc.
Should be interesting to see what turns up.

One interesting project that we tried just the other day was making
our own hot sauce. We found a plant full of tiny red peppers. I
wasn't fooled by their cute appearance, having encountered them before
in Fiji--they're fiery! We've already burned through one of our two
bottles of Kenya-bought hot sauce, so I was eager to work on a
replacement. With gloved hands, we carefully collected a bowl full of
these little firebombs in preparation for some homemade hot sauce. We
don't have access to any refrigeration, so we decided to make a
brine-based sauce that will hopefully last a little longer. We
pan-roasted the peppers first, and then boiled a few spoonfuls in some
fresh lime juice with a teaspoon of salt, before mashing the mix and
straining the liquid into our old hot sauce jar. In the process we
spilled a little of the mixture on our front porch. I washed it off a
few minutes later, and found that the hot sauce had etched a small
hole in the surface of the concrete. I think this variety should last
just a little longer than the store-bought stuff :)

So since I've tantalized you with a bit of information about our food
situation here, let me say just a little more. Luke and I have
decided not to hire a local cook, both to economize and because as
Luke said, "Doing our own cooking and cleaning is good for our
characters." (We have compromised a bit in the area of laundry :) So,
mornings we usually have oatmeal or a little granola and pitas with
peanut butter and jelly, and--as of the ripening the first of our
banana trees--some bananas, and often some milk tea. Lunch usually
consists of some kind of beans or lentils, sometimes rice, some sort
of vegetable dish--eggplant, tomatoes, onions, cucumbers, etc., and
pitas and bananas and peanut butter. For supper we eat leftovers and
pitas and peanut butter and jelly and usually some bananas. Yes, we
do go through a lot of pitas, peanut butter, and bananas! In fact,
we're thinking about building our own brick kiln oven, and purchasing
a grinder, so as to stem the flow of pounds from our pockets to the
local bakers and peanut butter vendors!

Most of our cooking and daytime living centers around a little room in
the small house on the compound. We store our food and things in the
room and cook and sit out front. But as darkness falls, we retreat to
our mosquito net-ensconced beds in "the loft." The loft is a
second-story platform with a thatched roof across the compound.
Because the platform is open on all four sides, it's a little cooler
than sleeping inside; the only drawbacks are that wasps seem to like
sleeping in the rafters as well, and that the termites don't
sleep--instead, they appear to enjoy dragging mud up from the ground
to the second story and building tunnels through my clothes. I've
since relocated all three of the above: the wasps, the termites, and
my clothes!)

Because darkness falls fairly early, we usually have a little time to
read in the evenings before going to bed. Luke has been reading me
humorous excerpts from Bill Bryson's "The History of Nearly
Everything," among other things, and I've been reading a bunch of
different books as well. In addition to the Books of John and James,
which I've been reading for devotions lately, I've been learning a lot
about African history through such books as "Emma's War," about South
Sudan's fight with Khartoum, "Wizard of the Nile," about Joseph Koney
and the LRA, "Into Africa," about Livingston and Stanley, and "Heart
of the Nile," about Sam and Florence Baker's explorations in Sudan.
I've also been delving into some of Luke's agriculture books, as well
as a book about the new shape of world Christianity and the EGW
compilation "Adventist Home." I'm going to need to procure some more
books soon, I think.


The Trip North

The Trip North

Well, we're here.

Actually, we've been here for two weeks now, but I haven't had
internet access until now. Thank you for your prayers and your

Wow, so much has happened! The trip north from Nairobi to Mundri took
about three and a half days--long days. The four of us, Luke and I,
Jared, and Eric left Nairobi about noon on Tuesday, the 28th of
September. We slept around a fire the first night beside the road,
high up in the Kenyan mountains. We were surrounded by beautiful pine
trees, and it got quite cold--not exactly what I had expected! The
next day however, we descended into the furnace. The winding road
took us abruptly out of the woods and down into the desert, and the
scenery changed to scrub brush, termite mounds, and camels.

I really enjoyed seeing all the different vistas, which was fortunate,
because I had an unobstructed view of these changes from my perch on
the back of our loaded truck--the seat I maintained for the entire
journey :) We arranged the luggage so that Luke's motorbike was in
the middle of the truck bed with our bags on either side, our
thermarests and blankets arranged on top, and then a large tarp over
all that with tie-downs running over everything. Don't worry Mom, I
was in no danger of falling off; the two of us who were riding in the
back reclined underneath the tie-downs. I even managed to doze a few
times :)

Anyway, we continued through the desert, stopping at a town called
Lodwar that evening. Jared has a friend, David, who works at the
petrol station in Lodwar, and he invited us to his compound for the
night. I was really touched by David's generous spirit. Not only did
he allow us to spend the night at his house, and feed us two meals,
but because he has a job that provides some amount of steady income
(although meager), he has taken on the task of providing for his
brothers, his mother, some of his wife's siblings, nephews in school,
and so on. He really takes Paul's injunction for believers to care
for their family members seriously.

The next morning we made it to the Sudanese border, and after quite a
bit of negotiation, paperwork, and taxation, we were allowed into the
country. As Jared and Luke were busy with all that, I made friends
with several of the soldiers sitting around. They were quite
interested in America and seemed to think that all of my explanations
were hilarious. One of the things that struck them as particularly
funny was my attempt to explain why I was not yet married. Most of
them had several wives, but I, a comparatively wealthy, healthy man of
marriageable age, had none. When I explained that I was waiting to
find the right one, they roared with laughter. "You have spent 23
years in America and you haven't found the right one yet?" they asked.
"Maybe after another 23 you will find her!" "Perhaps I will find one
here in South Sudan," I said. This was greeted with additional
laughter, and they kindly explained that I didn't have enough cows to
buy a Sudanese wife. "You would need at least 100 cows," they told
me. Apparently I'm too picky for an American wife and too poor for a
Sudanese one. I guess I'll have to wait a while longer :)

We spent a short night a little ways into Sudan, at the town of
Kapoeta. It was considered a full day of driving to reach Juba, and
we needed to go at least 4 hours past Juba, to Mundri. Friday morning
we headed out at 4:00 am, and fortunately, due to the hard work of the
UN World Food Programme workers who were doing some road renovations,
we made it to Juba around 2:00. After some more hassles in Juba,
which left me with a distinct aversion to the town, we left for Mundri
around 5:30, less some money, and carrying another passenger (a friend
of the military police who stopped us at the checkpoint on the way out
of town and who wanted a ride to Mundri.) This made for a rather
crowded four hours, as the volume of the money we left behind was more
than taken up by the person we picked up. Needless to say, we were
grateful to arrive at Frontline's compound in Mundri shortly after
9:00 pm Friday evening. It was quite the trip, and we're very
thankful that God kept us safe and enabled us to arrive without any
major delays. I hope to be able to post some pictures of the trip in
a little while.




Thinking back over the past week, the string tying up the bundle of
disparate experiences seems to be learning. This Sabbath finds me
more educated, in a very diverse group of fields, than the last one
(although I suppose that should be the case every week). May I share
some of my new knowledge with you?

After spending Monday and Tuesday finishing our leach field ditch and
measuring, labeling, and sorting several hundred panes of glass for
the windows in the orphanage, we packed all Jared's things from his
house along with our bags in to his old Land Rover truck (see the
previous post for a picture). While waiting for Jared to finish up a
few things, Eric Johnston, Luke, and I decided to try out Jared's
kite. At the orphanage site there is plenty of open land and it's
almost always windy; perfect for kite flying. Jared's kite is a 5.5
meter, two-handled kite, and is quite a bit bigger than any I've ever
flown before. Wow! It's a totally different experience than the
little kites you fly as a kid. It was kind of like trying to wrestle
a powerful flying horse with a devilish sense of humor all around the
field :P But it was lots of fun, and a good workout too!

Next Luke and I got another opportunity to practice an essential
skill--essential at least in Africa--riding in the back of a truck.
Africans have developed this into a fine art, perching atop mounds of
sundry luggage with apparent ease. I have yet to master it, but
thanks to Luke's advice and lots of practice (around town in Nairobi,
5 hours out to the orphanage on Sunday, seven hours back on Tuesday,
etc.) I've learned a few tips. First, it helps to come prepared: a
Thermarest is crucial to long-term comfort! Second, a tarp is also
critically important, both for protection from the rain and to deflect
the cold wind. With these two components and room to stretch out,
riding in the back is actually preferable to the cab. Unfortunately,
with all of Jared's furniture, and Moses and Thomas, two of Jared's
employees along for much of the ride, stretching-out space was a
little limited, but we managed :)

Back in Nairobi, the learning experience shifted into high gear.
Before we could leave, there was two vehicles that we needed to make
some minor repairs to; the orphanage's Land Cruiser Prado and
Frontline Builders' Land Cruiser truck. Both needed to have the front
ends rebuilt; the Prado also needed to have its 4WD hubs switched to
the more reliable manual version along with a few other things, and
the truck needed new front shocks and some work done on the rear
bushings. Because much of our days were spent running errands and
going through the process of getting travel permits for S. Sudan, we
got a little behind on all this work. We planned to start driving
north on Sunday, so things were starting to get tense when Thursday
evening rolled around and we were about halfway finished with the
Prado and hadn't yet started on the truck. So we decided to utilize
some of the free time between dusk and dawn :) Unfortunately, one set
of nuts and lock washers on the right axle inside the spindle on the
Prado didn't fit very well, and the snap ring wouldn't quite go on.
After putting all the pieces on, discovering the problem, stripping
everything back to the knuckle, including removing the studs from the
spindle, putting it all back together again, having it still not work
and disassembling and reassembling yet again, finding a prodigal
gasket and going back to put it on, I have learned quite a bit about
the inner workings of Land Cruiser axles! We ended up going to bed
about 3:00, because we were missing a bearing on the truck. Thank

Friday was one of those days where, as Luke said, you probably would
have accomplished about as much--and been much cheerier--if you'd just
stayed home and had a party. Practically everything went wrong; parts
were the wrong size or missing altogether, shops were closed for lunch
or for the weekend, traffic was terrible, we were 15 minutes too late
to pick up our travel permits, the pump broke back at the orphanage
(Jared had to go back today to get the water working), and last but
not least, a swarm of bees from next door, upset about having their
honey stolen by the neighbor, made things very unpleasant for Luke as
he tightened the last few bolts before Sabbath! Guess what Friday's
lesson was?

Fortunately we closed out the day with a delicious supper of
freshly-made salsa: tomatoes, onions, garlic, chiles, cilantro,
lemon, and salt. Mmmm! And then it was Sabbath. We sang some hymns
and fell asleep in the living room. God's day of rest is definitely a

Jared and Eric left today to go fix the pump. Luke, Linda Shin (an RN
who works at the AMS clinic in the Mara), and I stayed here, listened
to lots of wonderful music and a good sermon, and then did a little
exploration of the area on Luke's new motorbike. We happened upon a
nice little surprise, the Langata Botanical Gardens, during our trip,
and stopped to walk around. We saw lots of different flowers and
birds, and even a little three-horned chameleon :)

Other highlights from the week: receiving a nifty rugged blanket with
water-resistant canvas on one side, complete with a little carrying
case, perfect for sleeping out in the bush, from Andy Aho, learning
how to ride a dirt bike, reading two excellent books --
'Cross-Cultural Servanthood' by Duane Elmer (thanks Mindi!), and
'The End of Poverty' by Jeffery Sachs. Really good reading; I
definitely recommend them for anybody interesting in working in the
third world!

So, that's the news. I'm blessed beyond belief; good friends, honest
work, lots of learning experiences. Even when things were going crazy
Friday, I couldn't think of any place I'd rather be, or anything else
I'd rather be doing. God is good.



First Week at Jared's Orphanage

I like Kenya. The weather is pleasant, the scenery reminds me of Arizona, there isn't too much malaria, we've already seen a variety of wildlife, and I've met some new friends. We weren't planning on lingering here for quite this long, but I'm glad things have worked out this way.

We've been here a week and a half, spending about half ourtime in Nairobi getting supplies for Sudan and running errands, and the rest at Jared's orphanage project. The orphanage is five hours west of Nairobi, on the eastern edge of the Masai Mara game preserve, near the Tanzanian border.We drove out to the project on Friday and saw two giraffes on the way! Did I mention how neat it is to be here in Kenya? :)

The Masai Development Project Orphanage

Jared's Mansion

On Sabbath we sang and hiked and rested. If I had known what we would be doing for work that week, I think I would have rested some more. I also listened to two excellent sermons by Eugene Prewitt on revival and country living. I guess we've got the country living part down, hours away from civilization in the African bush :) Sunday, after a pancake flipping contest (which Luke won handily with a neat double flip), we started work with a bang, digging the first of several ditches. Monday we scraped cement off window bars and I helped supply the masons with stones and concrete to finish the interior walls in the dormitory. Tuesday and Wednesday were spent with a pick and shovel, clearing out somemore ditches for a leach field. With all that digging, we had no problems falling asleep at night!


Wednesday evening we drove through the bush down to the Tanzanian border and saw lots of wildebeest, antelopes, dikdiks, and some zebras! Thursday we headed back to Nairobi for more errand running. We met up with some Peace Corps volunteers Thursday night for supper at an Ethiopian restaurant! I enjoyed using some of my rusty Amharic to order our food :) Friday we picked up Eric Johnston at the airport and ran some more errands. Eric is here as an SM from Southern and will be working at the orphanage and with Jared's uncle for nine months.

One of Luke's errands

On Sabbath we went to church at Maxwell Academy on the campus of the East Central Africa Division. It's interesting how similar the academy here is to academies in the States--and all the connections we had in common with the expats there. Pastor Crutcher and his wife from GCC, a family from Union Springs Academy, and some SMs from Union. Amazing how meeting friends of friends makes for such entertaining conversation :) After lunch in the cafeteria we went hiking in the Rift Valley. The geology in the Rift Valley is fascinating. It's basically a huge crack in the earth where two tectonic plates are pulling apart. Because there's so much less pressure on the crack, magma pushes up through the crust more easily. Hence all the volcanic activity along the Rift, and the presence of the mountains for us to climb. (Don't worry Mom, the ones we were on were long extinct :) Bob and Joy Butler graciously invited us to their home for supper and we spent the evening visiting with them.

The plan is to head back out to finish up a few more things at the orphanage, put in the windows, finish the leach field, and a other odds and ends, before coming back to Nairobi, purchase the last few needed supplies and leave for Sudan a week from today. We'll see how that works out!

It's good to hear from everybody back home. We're excited to see how God has worked things out for us so far. Thank you for your prayers!



First Update

Dear Friends,

Our very fine African adventure has begun.  Luke and I left Tuesday in a flurry of preparations and last minute errands.  Bags had to be weighed, repacked, and reweighed.  Money had to be changed (post-2001 series, please), and friends and family needed farewells.  In what may be the first miracle of the trip, a package of LSAT study materials and a letter for me made it into the PO box at Collegedale literally moments before we left for Atlanta.  Thank you Lord!

Thanks to Emily, Luke's extremely gracious sister (thanks again for the burritos!), we made it to ATL in time for our flight, only to realize that Luke had left his laptop bag back at home :(  Anybody coming to Kenya in the next week or so?  

Those seat-back display screens have been upgraded since the last time I've flown.  Luke and I learned lots of interesting trivia facts and figured how to play Othello on our way to Amsterdam, and we started to learn Arabic and sent text messages en route to Nairobi--all via the little display in the seat in front of us.  Amazing!  The food was pretty good as well, although we were definitely glad to supplement it with Kristin's granola and Mom's trail mix.

Upon arriving in Nairobi, we realized that we didn't know "the precise address of our stay in Kenya," as requested on our visa forms.  Fortunately this oversight apparently wasn't a deal-breaker, as the customs officials were more interested in whether or not our money was counterfeit or not.  Outside we met up with Jared Busl and Andy Aho, and after a few errands, we eventually arrived at Andy's house outside Nairobi.

Our tentative schedule for the next week or so includes finishing up an orphanage for the Masai Development Project that Jared has been working on near Masai Mara, getting supplies here in Nairobi, and doing some maintenance on our little Toyota truck.  Apparently the front axle needs some TLC before we hammer it for 1500 km on our way to Sudan.

Thank you for your prayers and for all the encouragement and help!



Sudan Information

What's Going On?
Many of you have asked for more information about what I will be doing in South Sudan. I will be updating my blog with new information along the way, but here's what I know for now.

South Sudan has been hit hard by years of civil war with North Sudan, unstable neighbors, marauding militia groups, tribal unrest, and uncooperative weather patterns. The 2009 UN Human Development Report ranks Sudan 150 out of 180 countries on the Human Development Index, a composite measure of national health, education,and quality of living prospects. To put this in perspective,that's just below Haiti and Papua New Guinea. The average life expectancy is about 58. Around twelve and a half million people don't even have access to clean water. (more info)

I can't do much to change these figures. But, I can make a difference for some people. Luke Fisher and I will be working under the auspices of Frontline Builders, a non-governmental, OCI-affiliated organization that has been working in South Sudan since 2001. We will be based in Mundri, several hours west of Juba, the capital of South Sudan.

Our primary mission is to serve in whatever capacity is most needed. Some of the things we will probably be doing include lay evangelism training, basic medical and dental work (Luke is an RN), agriculture, possibly some building, and lots of planning and praying about future possibilities.

Who's Going?

How Can You Get Involved?
  • Pray! "The prayer of a righteous man availeth much" - James 5:16
  • Pray some more! "And it came to pass at the seventh time, that he said, Behold, there ariseth a little cloud out of the sea" - 1 Kings 18:44
  • Send us encouragement: Luke, Joel
  • Keep checking my blog for updates - If you would like to receive the posts via email, let me know!
  • Donate - If you feel impressed to give funds, you can donate either through OCI (tax-deductible, be sure to designate your donation "Frontline Builders - Mundri") or directly to me, via Paypal (not tax-deductible.)


Thank you. Your prayers and encouragement mean a great deal to me.

Excelsior - Ever Upward!



This past weekend I had the privilege of witnessing one of the most beautiful events I have ever seen. Baptisms are always wonderful, and I particularly appreciate it when they're outside. This particular baptism took place in Upper Saranac Lake, at Camp Cherokee, a place very dear to my heart, which was another factor in the specialness of the occasion. But the best part about this sacred event was that the lady getting baptized was deaf. And blind. She is also one of the sweetest people I've ever met.

Winnie Weisgerber Tunison has been deaf since she was born and blind since she was forty. She been married for forty-three of those years to John, an incredibly kind gentleman with a terrificly dry sense of humor to boot. Winnie is not only sweet, she's also very sharp. When I talked with her, she told me a little bit about her experience going to Gallaudet College (where she graduated summa cum laude) and about how she checks her Facebook account with her Braille laptop. She has two daughters and several grandchildren around the country, and she enjoys visiting them when she can. Green is not her color, although she likes yellow, she signed, and she particularly loves butterflies and orchids.

Butterflies represent freedom and sensitivity, she told me through an interpreter. They are free to fly wherever they please, and they also gain information about the world around them through their antennae, or feelers. Orchids are fragile, costly, and beautiful. They require special care, but they reward dedicated caretakers with delicate blooms that are highly prized for their rarity and beauty. Winnie can relate.

Winnie's primary connection to the outside world is through her hands. She not only speaks through them, but she can also hear and read. By placing her hand on the hand of someone who is signing, she is able understand what they are saying with remarkable accuracy. It was through her fingers that she learned about Jesus and about His soon return, and after studying for some time, she decided she wanted to be baptized.

Winnie couldn't see the sunlight flashing on the water or the flower petals that were sprinkled in the lake; she couldn't hear us singing Shall We Gather at the River; but then, that isn't what it was about, really. Winnie was testifying to the metamorphosis of her heart.

May I be as responsive to the Spirit's call, as open to His penetrating light, and as sensitive to His touch as Winnie is.



Sailing Faster than the Wind! (Updated)

This article details the story of a wind-powered vehicle that traveled straight downwind at 2.8x the speed of the wind! It's hard for me to wrap my mind around the idea, but their physics check out, apparently!

Here's the official site.
God's physics continues to amaze me



This Winter

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Mundri, West Equatoria, South Sudan
Frontline Builders
Luke Fisher
7.9.2010 - 10.2.2011
Agriculture, Evangelism, Friendship-Building, Planning, Health Training, Construction



Updates: Summer 2010

A lot has happened since my last post. I graduated from Southern with a B.S. in Business Administration and a B.A. in History on May 2, alongside my lovely sister, who finished up her B.S. in Nursing, and my cousin, who also got a degree in Business Administration. And guess who that beaming beauty in the middle is? :)

I attended a couple of weddings--most notably that of my sister and Barry Howe on June 6 :D More pictures here

The rest of my summer (June 19 - August 8) was spent at God's retreat in the Adirondacks, Camp Cherokee.

It's been a terrific couple months, spent with wonderful people, doing awesome things, in gorgeous places. I am blessed beyond belief!

I'm excited to see what God has waiting in the wings for the next act!



One Argument for Human Freedom With Sovereign Power

This is an essay I wrote for Honors Seminar this semester.

If God is, man is a slave; now, man can and must be free; then, God does not exist. I defy anyone whomsoever to avoid this circle . . . Michael Bakunin, God and the State[1]

This provocative statement forms the heart of Michael Bakunin’s passionate argument against the tyranny of religion in general and of God in particular. I tend to believe that God is and that man can be free. Here’s why.

The first three words of Bakunin’s statement assume at least two things: that God is all-powerful, and that He is like humans—that His motivations and thought-processes are fundamentally no different than ours. I have no problem with his first assumption; it is the second part that prevents us from seeing eye to eye. Is it possible that the universe could contain a being with motivations that are completely foreign to our way of thinking? Is it not reasonable to imagine that if an alien being exists, it would have alien thought-processes and alien abilities? If you will allow for the possibility of sentient existence other than humanity, then you must allow for extra-human thoughts.

This is a difficult concept to identify, let alone allow credence, because we are steeped in human reasoning. Why should we as humans imagine anything other than what is natural for humanity? Powerful humans have exhibited a despairingly consistent tendency towards oppressive behavior over the past few millenia; hence the axiom, “power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”[2] Time and again through history we have witnessed power and tyranny stalking hand in hand, from Periander and Dionysus I of Ancient Greece, to Caligula, to Pope Pius II, to Stalin and Pol Pot of the previous century. It makes sense then, that if God, a being to whom is attributed power of infinitely greater scope and magnitude than the most tyrannical human, were anything like us, His sovereignty would inherently preclude individual freedom.

Can a self-avowedly omniscient God exercise voluntary restraint? I don’t believe this negates God’s sovereign power—indeed, it might stem from His omniscience. Even in human culture, recognizing and abiding by self-imposed limits does not indicate weakness, but rather strength of character. If an extra-human being with extra-human abilities exists, then it makes sense that this being could exercise extra-human restraint. This is especially plausible when we realize that coming from outside of humanity, this being would necessarily draw motivation from a source that is entirely foreign to human inspiration.

In addition to being all-powerful, God claims another fundamental quality: love. By definition, love is other-centered. Love is not selfish; it does not seek power over others—to dominate them for selfish reasons—but to serve them. If we can conceive of a God who is an extra-human Being, with extra-human power, motivated by extra-human love, then it is not inconsistent for Him to exist along with human freedom.

The way to escape Bakunin’s circle is by recognizing the possibility that the character of God is so incredibly different from us (a presupposition he already granted by assuming Divine omniscience) that not only could He do something we have not been able to do—possess sovereign power while allowing freedom of choice—but that He does so on the basis of His incomprehensible love for us.

[1] (New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1970), 25.

[2] John E. E. Dahlberg-Acton, letter to Mandell Creighton, April 5, 1887, Essays on Freedom and Power, (Boston: Beacon Press, 1949), 364.



Art, Religion, and Entertainment: A Quote

It has been said that in ancient Greece, art killed religion; later in Christian Europe, religion killed art. That alone is worth some reflection. But we can add that in modern America, entertainment is killing both art and religion--a situation that leaves very little space for the Christian artist.

William D. Hendricks, Exit Interviews (Chicago: Moody Press, 1993), 196.

A little snippet from the best class ever--Dr. Ashton's Music in the Christian Church!



Logic, Faith, and Feelings?

God created us with feelings; what is the proper role of those feelings in the context of the Christian walk?




Do short-term mission trips = Christian tourism?



I have a theory

Feelings (preferences, mood) should stem from logical actions--not the other way around.






Well, we're back. Thanks for your prayers. God blessed our endeavors immensely. The trip to Haiti was a whirlwind of airports, work, friends, heat, and miracles. I should have some picture up shortly.

Please pardon my infrequent posting--I'm trying to graduate in a month :)



Away Message

Flight canceled, flight found; trip delayed, trip is a go. God is good.

We leave tomorrow at 3:00 am and should be back in approximately eight days--Lord willing.

Thank you all--your support has been uplifting and overwhelming. Please continue to pray for us!



Sign of the Times


Quote from 25 Feb. NY Times article, Watch How You Hold that Crayon, by Peg Tyre

In Manhattan, the brutally competitive nursery and kindergarten admissions process is leading many parents to sign up their toddlers for therapy. “Preschool admissions tests loom large,” said Margie Becker-Lewin, an occupational therapist on the Upper West Side.

Preschool admissions tests?!? Sounds like the parents are the ones who need the therapy!



Wedding Questions?

So as most of you probably already know, my sister is getting married in June. I just found out pretty recently myself, so if you didn't know, that's okay :) Anyway, if you're interested, I just found
this interesting website on which you can ask them such intriguing questions such as:

"If someone offered to pay you and Barry $100 for every day you delayed your wedding, what would you do?"

Wouldn't you like to know that? :)

Congrats Christy and Barry, and I'm looking forward to playing you-know-who's canon at your wedding :P

This is the earliest picture I could find of Christy and Barry together. See, she's already piqued his interest.


Unnecessary - Joel's Necessity Network... Part 2

To understand this blog, you'll need to be familiar with Joel's Necessity Network Part 1. In brief, I posited that only three things were absolutely necessary in life:

  • A saving, love relationship with Jesus Christ
  • Bringing others into a saving, love relationship with Jesus
  • Wisely managing the resources God has given us to fulfill our commission in Necessary #2

Now for Part 2...

Notice what is lacking from the list. It is not necessary to have a good time. It is not necessary to be comfortable, or even safe. It is not necessary to have the approval of your family or friends. It is not necessary to save the environment, or to make the world a better place.

Let me be very clear. These things are not bad or sinful in themselves; they are simply not of primary importance. If you were in the military and your commanding officer commissioned you to carry a message to another unit, would that mean that you shouldn't grab your boots, or eat supper, or shine the buttons on your coat? No, it just means that these activities are not your top priority. Your job is to carry out your mission effectively and efficiently.

Do you understand my point? I'm not bashing environmentalism, or humanitarianism, or activism, or consensus, or safety, or fun. I'm simply pointing out that as Christians, our first, last, and overarching priority should be Christ and His Kingdom.

Don't try to excuse my point by bringing up Augustine and his idea about how the City of God is dependent on the City of Man. Yes, I appreciate our civic structures, yes, I believe we should vote, yes, the environment is important, yes, the situation in Darfur/Afghanistan/Somalia/Sri Lanka/Haiti is something we should be concerned about, BUT. . . Ultimately, primarily, we have something much more precious and important to offer -- Living Water, the Bread of Life, Overcoming Peace, Eternal Joy, Everlasting Life.

Love your neighbor as yourself, feed the hungry, defend the widows and orphans, help the poor, heal the sick, but do this with the knowledge of the End and a mission of leading others to Christ.

"Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness"