‘Filling in the Gap’ with hope

“Filling in the Gap” was the phrase used by our program manager during our visits to distribute aid to the IDP camp over the last few weeks; it is also part of my vision for aiding the local community here in Nyankunde through Agricultural and Animal Husbandry Community Development. With all of the ‘refugee’ or Internally Displaced People problems happening lately, one sad and possibly devastating event occurred here in Nyankunde that I didn’t have the chance to blog about- the Out-patient part of the Malnutrition Program here at the hospital was shut down. People lost their jobs and others lost the free education on how to help feed their families.

The Malnutrition Program here at the hospital was run by Samaritan’s Purse for a long time. It included both an in-patient program and an out-patient program for those who had finished the in-patient one. Families with children suffering from malnutrition are enrolled into the in-patient program where the children are then treated and given nutrient-rich foods. After completing the program the families would then be enrolled into the out-patient program which did follow-up aid and education in how to prevent the families from continuing to suffer from malnutrition; it taught the families how to garden, provided seeds and I was looking at starting an animal-husbandry program to aid the families. The teaching ‘how to fish’ part of the program so to speak.

Unfortunately the program was taken over by another organization and though the in-patient program is still running, the out-patient side was closed down, leaving a huge gap in local community development and education. I know at least two of the guys personally who worked for SP in that program that lost their jobs because of it. One left and the other decided to stay and keep trying to help, to help fill in the gap that was left from the program closing down.

I have had a vision to help with community development here since before arriving. We have struggled with so many different things along the way that taught us some valuable lessons and even gave us a taste of the struggle that the local people have to deal with for their livelihood. During that time I was able to take a break from trying to do ministry beyond our homestead and my involvement with MAF operations. Our family and homestead had to come first, my abilities needed to be utilized by the team and I needed to stop trying to reach beyond what I was capable of – going out to the community gardens and traveling all over just wasn’t and isn’t feasible for me.

It seemed that God wanted me to take a step back and wait on Him, so I did. I focused my efforts at home more and on enriching our team. Some beautiful things came out of that and I look forward to continuing that. Our homestead has been maxed out as it currently stands. We literally cannot fit anything else within our boundaries. No more plants, animals, nothing. And I was content with what God had given us.

The Women's Retreat I put on

We had sought out expanding our homestead years ago but the man who owned the property right behind ours was unwilling to sell, so we had let that go. Dave’s closest Congolese friend just happens to be the relative local steward for that same land because the owner lives in Uganda since he fled the last war. About a month ago we checked in with him received word from Dave’s friend that the man was at last willing to sell the land but were we still interested? The land was made up of 6 parcels instead of 4 like we had thought AND the price per parcel was more than double the price we had been told years ago by another missionary. It was going to be around $5,000 just to buy the land and another $4,000 to fence it and get started. The land itself was almost triple what we had expected in price. I was shocked.

We discussed it, prayed and went and looked at the land (surveyed it) while considering whether we would buy any of it or only a small piece of the land. The land had plenty of mango trees, a few palms, an avocado tree, a couple non fruiting and even a guava tree on it along with a cement foundation that was once a house. We considered the possibilities of what the land would enable us to develop – there would be room for milking goats (which dont exist here and would have to shipped in from Uganda) and a very nice start to a barn for housing them with the cement foundation. There would be room for pasture for the goats and free-ranging for more chickens without upping our food bill. There would be room for expanding the garden for food production including dedicating some land to another missionary family that lives in the jungle where vegetables can’t grow. There would be room to grow more large space crops like sweet potatoes and grains. There would be even more room to continue to study and try new varieties of plants that could improve the nutrition of the local population.

I had already been in contact with the seed company I buy all my seeds from, Baker Creek http://www.rareseeds.com, about a donation of seeds for the community here and the malnutrition program. They graciously approved a donation of 200 seed packets which led to discussions of varieties which would do well here, etc. I had finally gotten the order put together and submitted it while waiting. That is where the land came into play. We felt that God was giving us a ‘yes’ now with the timing and we decided to pursue buying the land. Several meetings and staking out the plot were necessary after we decided to go ahead and move forward. Right in the middle of that I got word back from the company that the order had been filled and was on its way! So many pieces were and are coming together for this ministry now – even the timing of a shipping container coming that will allow for a rototiller to be shipped here, etc.

God has swung the doors wide open for us in this future ministry and it has totally been His timing. Waiting on His perfect timing has allowed us to move forward with ‘filling the gap’ that is present with hope. The owner may not have been willing to sell without the current unrest, the need is more prevalent than ever with all of the unrest in the area and the educational out-patient part of the malnutrition program being shut down, we now have some of the experience and possibly the connections to make it happen that we didn’t have before. His timing to bring hope to the local community. Hope for help starting a garden, hope for raising animals, hope for getting out of the cycle of poverty, hope for being able to feed their families and hope for a better future.

This land will not have all the answers for the community. It will not be everything to everyone. It can however produce crops and animals that will begin to benefit the community one family at a time. It can get families out of the cycle of poverty little by little, one family at a time. It can produce free seed starts to those needing them. It can ‘fill in the gap’ with hope in Jesus’ name.

This process is only just beginning and we have some things that have to happen between now and when the first seed is planted – including a furlough and building a fence. But it is on the way, little by little. There is much to be done and many roles to play in this endeavor. We created a gofundme page for those that would like to financially back this endeavor as their role they play in ‘filling in the gap’ with hope for this community. It will help pay for the land and the fencing to get us started. Are you willing to help ‘fill the gap’ with hope for the local Congolese? If so, you can find the link to our gofundme page here.

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A ‘Perspective-Changing’ Event – the IDP Camp in Eastern DR Congo.

WARNING: This post contains content and images that may be disturbing to some, so reader discretion is advised. It addresses the current Internally Displaced People’s camp in the Eastern part of the DR Congo. There are images of suffering and wounded. Also, it is a long read, FYI.

What do you think of when with the phrase, “Life-changing event?” Marriage, a birth, buying a house, perhaps even a death? Yesterday I experienced what I would call a “life-changing event” or “perspective-changing event” when I visited an ‘Internally Displaced Peoples’ camp’ just outside of our neighboring city of Bunia. Although I have experienced the other types of life-changing events, there are a few distinguished events that have happened since we moved to DR Congo that have been ‘perspective-changing’ for me; one being the shooting that happened a couple of years ago and yesterday I had another at the IDP camp. For me I would call a “life-changing event” or a “perspective-changing event” any sort of experience that forever alters your perspective on the world and how you individually see things.

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A view of the camp, over-looking the 90,000+

Leading up to my visit to the camp I honestly faced a lot of anxiety and even fear over what I may see there and how it would affect me. I talked with others, expressed these feelings and mentally did my best to prepare myself for what I was going to see before going. I asked for prayer and prayed myself that God would allow me to see what I needed to see but that he would also protect my heart. Although nothing about the situation was good, it did end up being better than I expected and for that I was relieved. I went, even though I lost a few nights of sleep over what I might see, and in the end I’m glad that I went. There was much pain and suffering but we were also able to bring some joy and smiles that day with our visit, feed a few who hadn’t eaten in days and put a tarp over a few families’ heads to block out the rain. ‘A drop in the bucket,’ overall but ‘a world of difference to a few’ is what yesterday’s visit could be summed up as.

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Three of us, Jon Cadd our Program Manager, Megan his niece and myself, all hopped a plane and flew over to Bunia from Nyankunde to visit the IDP camp. I went with the intention of photographing the need to hopefully bring more awareness so that the people there could receive more aid in the middle of this crisis. Having a ‘mission’ and goal to help them through my visit gave me the courage to actually go, instead of shrinking back from what I might see and staying home. We joined Pastor Bisoke (a national pastor who works as an affiliate with MAF) and one other MAF worker in Pastor Bisoke’s van and drove the short ride to the IDP camp.

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We were not the only organization there doing an assessment of the situation

Driving up to the camp and parking you come over the hill and see hundreds of tarp shelters with a few larger relief and medical tents mixed in and people everywhere in all directions. The van pulled up to the side of the road and as the doors opened to let us out people began murmuring and crowding around the van to see who or what may be coming to their aid. I remember stepping out after Jon and Bisoke with my camera and the murmuring picked up some, concerning the camera.

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The first look of the camp before entering the aid tent

We got led into the relief tent where supplies were being stored to do an initial assessment of the current needs and levels of the supplies left that MAF had already provided to the camp. There were large stacks of clothes in bags, rice, oil, beans and some large cooking pots that the volunteers were using to feed the thousands of people. The camp was running low on rice and there was discussion with the cooks about how the pots they had were too small and required more work to use and how it was difficult to cook large enough quantities for the camp.

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Jon Cadd discussing the current level of food with aid workers

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Pastor Bisoke and Jon discussing the cooking pots with church volunteers

After the initial assessment of supplies we exited the tent to take a tour of the camp, greet people and see how things were going overall. The aid workers were doing their best to feed everyone in general from one large cooking area and were trying to get supplies in the hands of the individual families so they could begin cooking for themselves; things like charcoal stoves, pots for cooking, plates, cups, charcoal to cook on and of course food. While walking through the camp amongst the tarp shelters there were many families doing just that with small cooking fires wedged in-between the very close tarp shelters. I remember seeing one woman scooping up some lit embers at the main large fire in a small tin can to carefully carry away with her to her shelter, presumably to use to cook with or start her own charcoal going so she could cook a meal.

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Jon greeting some men sitting by their fire

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The communal kitchen area with a large used cooking pot

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IMG_6000We walked through the camp being followed by dozens of children who were all very curious about us. I would take a photo of the group and then turn the camera around for their eager eyes to examine while they smiled and giggled as seeing themselves in the image. We looked at the general conditions, the bathroom areas they had set up and then wandered over to the water area to check out the levels. The water was city water, not filtered, flowing into a large water bag in the middle of the camp that would then flow down to a water tap system. Only one of the two huge bags had water in it for the moment and many people were waiting around at the water station with buckets for the water to be given out. I didn’t know how long they had been waiting there and was even more unsure about how long it would be before they received the water they were waiting for. Walking around the camp you would see basins of water that children were drinking from.

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Discussing the current water situation

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People waiting for water

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Taking a drink 

IMG_6082As we were walking around the tents a woman with a baby on her back came up to me to tell me her story. Her name was Juliet and the baby on her back was Annok. She led me back to her ‘home’ which was only a frame made from a local type of grass stocks; she didn’t even have a tarp to live under with her three children. She shared with me that she and her children came from a remote village called ‘Rube’ and it had taken them 4 days to walk to the camp with her children. She asked me when more tarps would be brought because she and her children were sleeping in the bare frame in the rain. I did my best to let her know that MAF was working alongside other organizations to bring them aid as soon as we could.

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Juliet and her ‘home’ of a grass frame

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Juliet and her baby Annok

IMG_6094Turning around I met another woman named Erima who was Juliet’s neighbor kitty-corner to her. She too, was living in just a grass frame without a tarp over her and her children. She and her five children had walked for two days from a village called ‘Blukwa’ to the camp. Neither woman’s husband was at the camp; they had stayed behind at the womens’ homes to look after the home while the women and children had fled the growing violence. Neither woman knew if their husband was still alive or if their house still stood.

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Erima and her grass frame

IMG_6137Another woman came and sought Pastor Bisoke and myself out to come and see her ‘home’ and hear her story when we were finishing with the other two ladies. We walked a ways across the camp to a grass frame covered in a tarp. She asked me to take a picture of her ‘home’ and herself next to it. She told me her name was Biwaga. She and her 5 children had come to the camp by a two-day car from a village called Chelle. Biwaga’s biggest concern was for her children now that they were living at the camp. Back in Chelle there was a local school that her children were attending but now that they were living in the IDP Camp, there was no school for her children to attend. “What am I supposed to do when there is no school here?” I looked into this woman’s eyes and told her I would tell her story and about the need for a school for all of the displaced children there. I assured here that MAF would do their best to help the people at the camp.

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Inside Biwaga’s tarp ‘home’

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Biwaga in front of her home expressing her concern over her children not attending school

As I listened to these women’s stories and took their photos I looked into their eyes and saw a beautiful strength of endurance and courage along with a hope. Hope for their future, hope that MAF would be able to help and the hope that telling their story would bring more aid to them. Although I saw many with far-away or desolate looks on their faces during my time at the camp, I also saw moments of joy, hope and strength amongst the people staying there. I cannot even imagine having the strength that I saw embodied there before my eyes.

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IMG_6255From there we made our way over to the tent that housed the wounded that had not been brought to the hospital or had returned from there. We entered the tent and went to the back where a group of Congolese sat, some with bandages covering their wounds and others without medical care for theirs. Most had wounds from a machete. The group had not eaten in four days and had nothing to cook or eat with. Jon decided that we would go to the market and purchase some things to help this group specifically that day.
So we loaded back up in Pastor Bisoke’s van and headed to the large open market in Bunia to purchase some of the needed supplies for both the wounded group and the camp as a whole. We purchased another 30 bags of rice, 2 designated for the wounded, more cups and plates for the wounded and charcoal cookers and charcoal for them so they could begin cooking for themselves. We also purchased a HUGE cooking pot to give to the aid workers who were cooking for the whole camp.

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Jon paying for the rice

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Loading the bags of rice in Bisoke’s van

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Jon helping load

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Buying the HUGE cooking pot

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Buying cups and plates

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Purchasing a few tarps

IMG_6378When we arrived back at the camp MAF workers and relief volunteers began carrying the bags of rice into the relief tent one by one. After we were able to get to the pot (the pot is so large the side door to the van had to be removed to get it in and out) it was unloaded and carried into the tent where it was met with much whistling and cheering from the relief workers. The cooks and other relief workers gathered around the new huge cooking pot and celebrated by drumming on the pot and dancing while others cheered, whistled and held up the sacks of rice in celebration. The relief and joy was evident on so many faces present in the tent.

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Unloading the HUGE pot

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Relief workers giving praise for the new pot

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Much joy over the cooking pot

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Singing and dancing

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More rice for the camp

We then delivered the needed supplies to the tent of the wounded. We were able to dedicate two sacks of rice to just them and handed out the charcoal cookers, plates, cups and some of the tarps we had purchased. It was the first time I saw a smile on some of their faces, including a young girl with a particularly gruesome wound. ‘A drop in the bucket,’ true but I brought to attention the fact that it makes ‘a world of difference’ to the people who receive the needed items and prayer. One by one you can bring them some relief in the name of Jesus and make an impact on that person’s life that can hopefully flow into the rest of eternity with them coming to know Jesus.

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Carrying the two sacks of rice to the wounded tent

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We were able to hand out pots, cups, plates and charcoal cookers

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Handing out cups

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Baby Rachelle and her aunt receiving their cup and plate

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This woman can now eat after four days without food

IMG_6474We then took two of the tarps we had purchased and hand-delivered them to Juliet and Erima. The look of astonishment and then joy on the mothers’ faces was evident. It amazed me with how a tarp could bring so much relief and joy to a mother’s face when she knows that her children will no longer have to sleep in the rain. It was difficult to look around and see the hundreds of other families who still didn’t have a tarp over their heads, to know that they got rained on after we left from the thunderstorm that came. I keep wishing we could have helped them all at that very moment being there, seeing the need, but I have to keep reminding myself of what I stated above – one by one, one by one, one by one, do what we can.

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Juliet’s face as we surprise her with a tarp

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Jon took my camera and had me give the women their tarps

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Erima spreading her tarp over her frame

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Juliet unfolding her tarp with a look of joy

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Juliet inside her now-tarped ‘home’

IMG_6182We had to leave right after that to make our plane, even though there were still requests for us to come to the big kitchen – probably to see the new huge pot being used for the first time to cook for thousands. It was so amazing and I feel blessed have been there and a part of it. So now I’ve returned home to Nyankunde and have to face the questions that naturally spring up after my visit like, ‘How can I continue to help?’ ‘Why do I get to eat Lord and there are people there who haven’t eaten in days?’ ‘How can I be complaining about – – -whatever it is – – -when there are people over there who don’t even have a tarp to sleep under?’ Etc. Etc. Grace for myself is needed here along with doing what I can to help – some of that is sorting through pictures, writing this blog, writing emails to many different people and so on. Perhaps I will have the chance to go back and visit again but I can encourage others to go and see the people there for themselves. It changed my life, my perspective, for the better and drives me to work hard to help them in the areas that I can like I mentioned above.

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A young girl sorts beans donated by MAF to feed her family

I will continue to give of my time and meager skills to help these people as best I can and I know, firsthand, that MAF is also doing what it can to help these people. Our program is keeping tabs on the situation with in-person visits and delivery of aid. One by one we are bringing relief in the name of Jesus to these hurting people. If you would like to give towards this you can send funds to MAF (www.maf.org) labeling it as “Congo IDP fund” for the time being. I believe a specific fund may be set up in the future for this crisis but for now that is how you can give if you feel led to do so. Please be in prayer for everyone at this camp and please be in prayer for Congo – that the violence and unrest would settle down.

If you feel led to give to the Displace People at this camp here is the MAF link to the special fund that has been set up to help those in the camp. Currently they are in need of tarps and rice the most- a tarp costs $15 and a bag of rice is $25.

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A Bachelor Pad

How do you gain more peace around your homestead, improve flock dynamics and have less stress for your hens? Build a bachelor pad! We now have all of our adolescent roosters separated from the rest of our flock in their very own bachelor pad. Peace at last.

Our back yard and porch have been a construction zone for months now. We are redoing some things with permanence in mind and expanding/improving others. Our chicken pens have been falling apart slowly over two years thanks to termites and other factors so it’s time to redo them. This time we contracted a local mason and friend to do the bottoms of the pens in cement with thick beams set into the cement; we contracted our friend to do the work because Dave has been so busy with not a lot of time for projects right now and it would provide some income for our friend. Using the cement will prevent termites and should last for years to come. We are also in the middle of expanding and improving the back porch to create a screened-in outdoor living area and our outdoor kitchen on the other side.

The chicken pens now have a cement base with inlaid posts, welded angle-iron doors that wont sag over time, a strong high-quality wire sewn to the rings along the cement and new (but cheaper) wire covering the rest of the pens and the top. The pens are also taller and stand alone from our bamboo fence – this will come in handy when we need to redo the fence someday! We also had a greens feeder box poured and have future plans to cement in another for feeding mound termites to our chickens and a covered dust bathing box.

The best addition to the chicken house by far was the bachelor pad. We separated off the behind piece of the main chicken run complete with doors to get in and out and added another coop door that goes directly into our blackout pen inside the coop. Now only the mature adult roosters that we select for breeding and guard duty will be living with all of the hens. This gives us more control on genes but it also means less fighting, less stress on the hens, less noise and fewer injuries to more important birds. We have more peace in the general flock and that is wonderful. Already the dynamics of the flock are so much better it amazes me. 10 adolescent roosters really did stir up trouble. Now with a pulley system installed on the door for them we don’t even have to enter their pen to shut them up at night or let them out in the morning. So nice!

The expansion to our back porch is in progress, though the cement work part of that is finished. The rest will likely wait until after our upcoming furlough is over and we are back home. We plan on extending the roof over the expanded part of the porch as well as length-wise on the opposite end of our porch to build our outdoor kitchen and have a place for our workers to be during their lunch break. It will be so amazing to have a screened-in outdoor living area that we can use to relax outside in during the evenings or host parties in. It will also be amazing to have our outdoor kitchen so the heat and general mess of vegetable prep work gets moved outside. It will give us options to make efficient rocket stoves for canning, etc.

Another future expansion that will help us with the back porch will be the addition of a garden shed/green house. Or should I call it a shade house? It will give me an area to work on garden things like starting seedlings and cuttings, sifting compost, storing tools and sprays, etc. Basically it will help clean out the pump house and the back porch of garden things. It will create a place free of toddlers, cats, chickens, etc. that seedlings will be safe. We may even put a rain collection system on it to have water inside for seedlings and washing equipment. I’m very excited about this and hope it will allow me to get even more out of my efforts in the garden.

Our garden is doing well right now for being in the middle of dry season with an impending furlough. I’m limited now on what I can plant (basically just lettuce and radishes) because of our timeline. I do have some new varieties I am trying right now and look forward to after furlough to keep trying some new things. Right now I am searching for a green bean that does well here and holds up well to canning; our current variety is doing very well and has superb flavor (one of the best I’ve ever had) but still cans up a little too soft. Other new fun things are a tiny cucumber the size of a kumquat, an heirloom variety of garlic and a giant radish that has a record of over 100 pounds (averaging 10-20 pounds) that supposedly has a different flavor and is good in soup. We will see.

This dry season has brought with it a battle of aphids, far worse than any previous year, both green and black. They are attacking so many of my plants and I’m having a hard time finding an organic spray that works well on them. They are destroying my mustard greens and have severely stunted half of my beans. A vinegar solution is next on my list to try before going to more extreme measures like diatomaceous earth. One unusual but good thing happening in the garden is a carrot has flowered and is going to seed – normally it takes carrots two seasons to go to seed with a winter in-between! This is an heirloom breed that was developed in India so maybe I’ve found a variety that can go to seed here! That would mean so much to local gardeners who have to buy expensive seed each time they want to grow carrots here.

Some other things happening amidst the construction have been two batches of kittens and some canning. The kittens are adorable and bring much joy, especially to Daniel, but they also bring me work with feeding them (bottle feeding in the beginning because their mom didn’t produce enough milk), monitoring our toddler playing with them and locking them up each night so they are safe. We have found homes for all but the crippled runt and they will be going to their new homes starting today. This is only the first batch. The second batch are only two weeks old but we will be looking for homes for them soon. The canning has been a catch up and also preparing for Dave being gone for three weeks. I used to can a lot but this last year has been so crazy hard that I just didn’t do much of it; now with focusing more on our home I’ll be able to do more of it and it will make life easier for me when it comes to meals. We are looking into ways to get more canning jars here so I can do a lot more canning. Im really excited at the prospect. Having meals where all I have to do is open a jar or two and reheat will be a huge relief.

A few other things have been difficult in-between the last time I wrote and now. We have had to deal with driver ant attacks lately which are never pleasant and I helped out with a wedding that ended with the husband being admitted to the hospital the evening after the ceremony and he died a week later. We have started to use the technique of lighting the ants on fire to kill them instead of just spraying them with diesel. This has been much more effective and gets rid of them instead of just redirecting. For the wedding I did the Bride’s hair, eyebrows and nails and took wedding photos for them. I still can hardly believe that he went into the hospital that evening and died a week later leaving his young widow behind picking up the pieces. Such a shock.

So things are plodding along, growing and expanding and always changing. Dry season has been so hot here lately and dry the world around us is slowly turning brown. The air is often filled with smoke with a constant cover of haze from people burning their fields all over the countryside. The grass has started crunching under my feet as I walk and deep cracks are appearing in the ground all over. Just now a cloud cover with a nice breeze has blown in to make it rather pleasant compared to the scorching sun earlier today. I’m going to go take advantage of that by going out to work in the garden now.

Holiday Homestead Happenings: Dec 2017

There have been several changes around our homestead over this Holiday with more to come in the coming months. We got some long-standing projects done, are redoing some previous ones to be longer-lasting and have a handful of newer ones coming down the pipeline.

The garden has had several setbacks in recent months due to both theft and then our ducks getting into the garden. Not only were thieves stealing produce from our place but some of our son’s toys were also going missing. For added security we are employing a temporary night guard for the times when Dave is gone and we are putting up razor wire all along the back fence to prevent entry. The razor wire, admittedly, is a disappointment (having to stoop to that) but the theft has stopped at last, which is encouraging. We were able to recover one of the stolen toys and now are careful to lock everything up at night. The ducks have decimated my salad and cabbages a couple different times unfortunately which has been frustrating and disheartening (of course upon discovery there are always threats of eating them but I do love them around the yard).

We are in the middle of redoing our chicken/duck runs with more permanence in mind. The bottom is now made of cement with large posts set in it, a strong high quality chicken wire at the bottom and then the rest is filled in with normal chicken wire. They are also taller and now have large angle-iron doors that wont sag and get stuck. We hired a friend to do the cement work this time as Dave has been shorter on free time lately to do projects. The duck pen is done and now we will start the larger chicken run while using the finished smaller one in its stead.

We also had a very large hatch out of kuroiler eggs from Uganda over Christmas day and have around 100 chicks. With the loss of so many babies through out our time here we have decided to start vaccinating our chickens and will do the first round for the entire flock sometime this week. If it works and saves our chicks it will be worth the time and money. We are still searching for fertilized turkey eggs to hatch out and start raising them again. We also had the addition of a litter of 5 kittens and will be looking for homes for them once they are weaned.

Some of the large changes inside the house have been the addition of our fake fireplace (a long-standing project), a new bedroom set and my amazing Christmas gift of a new improved stove. The fireplace has been something I’ve wanted since before our first Christmas and it is finally done and was done in time to enjoy for Christmas with stockings and decor. It is my new favorite place to sit in my rocker – facing the fireplace. I added twinkle lights to some logs for atmosphere and it is quite nice and relaxing. Our new bedroom set we bought in Uganda and it has a nice bed frame, two night stands and a dresser custom made to fit the wall between our bedroom door and master bath door. The old bed we had made here in Bunia and it was poorly done and ended up having to be cut apart to be transported here and then put back together. It squeaked terribly any time you moved and had wobbly posts that were unsightly. It is so nice to especially have a dresser! My amazing new stove is already making life nicer cooking wise; I finally have a stove that I feel compliments my cooking abilities.

Some of our upcoming projects will be a new mosquito net for the bedroom in a “curtain” pull-around style that is suspended on runners on the ceiling. The netting was out of stock the last time we checked but should be back in stock sometime mid-January so once it is I’ll get started on that. Another huge upcoming project is a back-porch extension/expansion. The East side of our porch will be extended (the roof is missing over the area where we have our pizza oven) and we will move all work/operational things over to that side of the porch. That will enable us to expand (widen) the West side of the back porch, screen it in or hang our mosquito net tent and create an amazing outdoor living space to enjoy.

Another completed project for the year was butchering our pig. We raised him for almost an entire year off of house scraps and got a lot of meat for sausage, hams and bacon along with plenty of fat for rendering lard. We will be updating our pig pen before doing another pig but as we wont be getting another one until after our furlough this summer, we have plenty of time.

The upcoming year is going to be very busy and full with non-stop events and challenges including MAF events, audits, trainings, conferences and even a furlough. We appreciate all of your prayers and understanding in the coming year as we will be constantly busy; even to the point of not having time to blog. Thank you for all the support this last year and as we look to the upcoming year know that we are giving praise for you. Hope you had a Merry Christmas and will have a great New Years too.

I’ll be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams.

Is Christmas a joyful time for you filled with family and friends? Is it full of traditions and wonderful memories? What does Christmas time mean to you? Do you know that Christmas time is often the hardest, most emotional time of the year that can be filled with grief for a lot of missionaries? Do you know it can be one of the most confusing and challenging times of year for those of us on the field? Let me give you a glimpse into my mind during this time of year in hopes that you will know how to better support the missionaries in your life.

This is my third Christmas on the field and to say I’ve learned a lot is an under statement; so is it to say I have a lot more to learn about what we need as a family during Christmas time. Last year I explained how the Holidays are work here and what that looks like. This year much is the same as that post but overall I would say I’m doing better emotionally this year than the previous two. Either my expectations have been better adjusted after the previous two years or perhaps my “family time emotional bucket” is more full going into this season from my Mom and Aunt’s visit in October- November. Maybe it is a little of both. For whatever reason I am coping better with the changes and I dont find myself crying as much as I have in previous years.

Yes, crying. Crying is a part of Christmas time for many missionaries, including myself. Have you ever actually listened to ‘I’ll be home for Christmas’ when you’ve been far away? How about ‘I’ll have a blue Christmas?’ ‘White Christmas’ in the tropics anyone? Even other Christmas songs that are traditional for your family stir up treasured memories that also can bring a pang of loneliness and grief.

Christmas is the time of year when it’s hard to not feel forgotten for many missionaries. Everyone you love back home is so busy with everything that comes with the season and not having a physical presence in their lives anymore is hard. No more shopping trips together where you hide presents in your carts from one another, no more sharing a time together over some hot cider, no more hugs and shared smiles, no more snowball fights, no more laughing together at the annual ‘white elephant’ Christmas party, etc. Instead you sit on the other side of the world remembering those times while pictures of them happening without you pop up on Facebook. At times it feels like your presence before didn’t matter because neither does your absence now. Take a break from the busy and let your missionary know you remember those times you shared, what they meant to you and most importantly that you are thinking of them still. Let them know that you miss them, that you still care and do whatever you can to make them feel remembered and connected during this potentially lonely time. Skype them, call them, write them, send a Christmas card, send a package, repost that old memory photo on Facebook. Remember them (but don’t be shocked if they cry when you do 😉).

Christmas time is a time of grieving. Grieving that you took the time you had with your family for granted in the past. Grieving that you don’t have time with them now. Grieving for the traditions that are now lost to you. Grieving because you’re now conflicted during the time of year that used to be happy. Grieving the loss of some team mates that were around for Christmas last year and helped you get through it. Grieving because you’re confused. You might have a missionary who is dealing with grief during this time of year and all that comes with that process. Don’t be surprised if your missionary is very emotional in one way or another – gushy in sentiment, closed off from the pain, cries at seemingly nothing, etc. We need Grace and compassion here – we miss you so don’t be shocked when I cry at seeing your face on skype or that photo.

Confused you say? Yes, confused. The calendar says it’s Christmas but it looks like summer. Your mind tells you its supposed to be cold and snowy outside but instead it’s 90 some degrees out. Normally you loved this time of year and it was a happy one – now its difficult and emotional. Confused about what traditions to have with your family in your new situation. Confused about what you and your family need during this time of year. What do I need to make it feel like Christmas? Don’t be surprised if your missionary can’t answer this question, especially if they are newer to the field. Look at us, we’ve already had two years and are going into our third of trying to figure this out. Piece by piece. This may take some patience on your part, hang in there with them because it is a journey.

Christmas is tiring here. With all of the above mentioned going on plus it being a lot more work is it any wonder? If Im being honest I almost didn’t decorate this year. I was sick after Thanksgiving which is my normal decorating time and once I felt better physically I was down in spirits and wanted to forget the whole ordeal. Couldn’t I just ignore it this year? I did force myself to get started and once I did I was more and more happy about doing it but it was a close one this year. Your missionary is just finishing up another year of ministry (or their first/partial year) and you can expect them to be tired in more way than one. Emotionally, physically, socially even spiritually. Pouring yourself out into ministry and being pulled and/or needed by people all the time is utterly exhausting at times. More grace, more patience, less offense. You reach out and send that email but no response. Trust me, I’m guilty. I got your email. I read it. It touched me that you remembered me/us. It filled my tank a little, thank you. Now, can I empty it some to write back? . . .oh shoot I forgot that and oh no, the baby needs changed . . .oh there’s another person at my door needing something from me and that little bit you put in my tank is now gone . .or perhaps, I literally cant even think of another line to say right now I’m so empty. Please forgive me if I’ve done this to you. Forgive your other missionaries too. We need those emails but literally might be so empty you never hear back from us about it. I’m sorry and I’m sure they are too. We still need you.

So if you have a missionary in your life that you support and appreciate take just a little time this busy Christmas season to reach out to them. They may be having a hard time right now and need encouragement. They may be lonely and need to be reminded that you haven’t forgotten them. They may be grieving and need you to listen to them. They may be confused and can’t answer your questions so be patient. They may not get back to you until Christmas is over if at all; don’t hold it against them. They need you. We need you. We cannot do this without you. You are our team of supporters. Think about that this season. We cant do our ministry and time here without our team that pours into us and supports us. So thank you. Thank you for everything you do for us and the other missionaries in your life. That is what it’s all about and it’s what Christmas is all about in the end; Christ and following Him. God Bless you all and Merry Christmas.

-The Petersens

September-December Recap 2017

To say this is the busiest time of the year is an understatement. Reflecting on this last year reveals just how eventful this last year has been; some good and some bad. Between the emotional transitions of people leaving and now dealing with a heavier workload from a smaller team, I now feel busier than ever and more needed than ever. After God led me through a refocusing time I’ve been able to see more clearly what God wants from me as a part of this team; not just using my skills on the side “to help the team out” but really investing in the team whole heartedly through my God-given abilities. My work for the team still comes after my family and always will but it isn’t further down the line than that any longer.

So much has happened in the last few months that I cant hope to cover it all, which is the main reason for the silence on my end. September we had the EDRC Women’s Retreat that I was primarily responsible for planning and putting on. Right after that my Mom and Aunt arrived for a visit from the States, my Aunt left, and then the entire team and guests (including my mom) travelled to Uganda for our family conference. My mom was with us for just over a week after our return from conference and then we were into November by the time she left us to return home. Then I had MAF’s Day of Prayer that I was planning and executing followed by Thanksgiving. I had a medical ordeal mixed in there where we thought I may have shingles for a bit but it turned out to be a nairobi eye bug sting, thankfully.

Now we are into December which means decorating, wrapping presents, parties and get-togethers, as well as putting together ‘Christmas buckets’ for all of the MAF workers and ours. This requires knowing how many you need and how much of each thing goes in each one and then purchasing the various items from different places and coordinating a time for the expats to put them together. Typical things in the bucket are rice, beans, palm oil, sugar, tea, matches, two kinds of soap, candy, milk powder and even a solar lamp. The day to do this this year also happens to be Daniel’s 3rd Birthday so we will be celebrating the following day on our first day of Christmas vacation.

Following that is of course is Christmas and somewhere in all of there are a few movie nights and some other missionary families coming and leaving. So yeah – busy!

The Women’s retreat was A LOT of work but it was so so so worth it. We all had a relaxing and unifying time with each other and we each learned something new about ourselves and grew in our relationship with God. There was talk of doing one annually. But we will see what happens.

My Mom and Aunt’s visit was a very special time for me and for Daniel. My Aunt stayed for 10 days and my mom was with us for an entire month. Honestly I have a hard time describing how important and meaningful this time was for me. I felt so supported by them for coming and by the others who had contributed to the financial gift allowing my Mom to come visit. You cannot put a price on family time or memories and somehow having them here made it feel more like home and gives me the courage to keep serving here. It is such a huge sacrifice living here anyways but that burden, that often brings missionaries off the field, is lifted just a little when your family can come be with you on the field; when they begin to understand your life more and are equipped better themselves to have empathy and wisdom concerning your life and decisions. They are making a huge sacrifice having you live so far away – it’s not just the missionary family themselves – and when they can view why you are doing what you do and the difference you make serving it eases that sacrifice on their end too. I suddenly don’t HAVE to explain the background of everything in conversation with them and I know they understand somewhat of how Im feeling about things. The joy of having them here lasts well beyond their physical visit. I wouldn’t trade that time for anything and it brings me to tears even now as I type this . . .tissue break. I praise God for that priceless time together.

Family conference is always a nice break for us in certain areas of our life but we never seem to get much sleep. I don’t have to cook, we get to primarily speak English and worship in English, you don’t have people pulling you every which way all day. There is a big pool and even a spa. We also had a day trip this year as a family to a local Ugandan nursery to pick up some new plants for our yard and garden including fruiting trees, strawberries and mulberry bushes. My mom was with us to babysit Daniel during sessions which was also another HUGE blessing.

About a week after my mom left was MAF’s International Day of Prayer which our Program Manager had asked me to plan, while mixing things up this year from the previous years. So this year we moved things indoors, starting with a breakfast as usual. That led into worship time that had a couple new songs that had to be translated into swahili for the men and we provided both English and Swahili lyrics so all the staff could sing in their heart language, celebrating our united differences. Then I did a presentation of videos followed by a slide show teaching the men about MAF and the impact it has worldwide and slowly brought it in closer and closer to home until they were able to see the impact we are having here. My main question for them was ‘are they working for MAF or are they working as a part of MAF’ with emphasis on how the menial everyday tasks are our foundation – how it’s all God’s work, from washing planes to raising children, etc. We then spent time in prayer for our team followed by a nice lunch. That afternoon we prayed for MAF around the world and ended with some dessert.

Thanksgiving was shortly after that and this year trying to source turkeys was a handful. In the end we were able to have a team member in Uganda find some live ones for us there and butcher them, then send them over. I pressure cooked them each for an hour so they were tender and it was lovely. We had all the traditional foods including orange sweet potatoes from our garden. It was a good time together as a team.

So now we are onto December which is also busy but still has that joyful feeling of the Holidays surrounding everything you do. Now that you are somewhat up to date on my business for the last few months, I’ll save a more in-depth look at what is happening around our place this December in the next post to follow. Till then . . .

Homestead Happenings: August 2017

There have been so many changes and events happening in our small community of missionaries that I really haven’t shared anything about our homestead in quite a while. Sickness coupled with emotional turmoil of so many families leaving, all friends, didn’t leave much margin for blogging about our homestead. Though I did do a few write-ups on how empty this place feels now and how I’ve experienced some personal growth in my own life and ministry focus. So here is what we’ve been up to lately on the homestead front.

Our most recent and current project that we are working on is quail. I wont go into this too much as I’m doing a separate post including all the details but know we are adding them to our homestead very soon. Another week and we will know more but in good faith, construction on housing has already begun and will be finished this weekend to await their arrival.

The chickens are doing well despite some recent deaths, both adult and chick. Unfortunately we only have 1 Australorp chick left due to a freak accident (no I don’t want to talk about it as it upset me greatly) but we will try again in the future. For now we are going to bring in and hatch some kuroiler eggs to improve our lines and egg production. If you remember the last times we tried this we shipped in live chicks that already had disease that spread it to the rest of our flock and then the survivors were wiped out by driver ants or there were power troubles for hatching eggs. So we are bringing in eggs again that we will disinfect and hatch this time. Hopefully the results will be good this time around as the power issues on our base are under control for the moment.

The garden is doing well and I’m continually learning more and more new things about how different varieties work here and which ones don’t, new methods of growing different plants, etc. Always learning. With learning comes some failures – like my attempt to grow local pumpkin on our un-framed trellace; it became far too heavy and the trellace collapsed long before it even had fruit on it. I left it as is and it is bearing but it is far from the beautiful spot in the garden it once was. I’ll get it cleaned up after the pumpkins are finished and we will rebuilt the trellace with a frame.

Another lesson learned was the need to spray our purple cabbage more often. Part of this problem was due to all the sickness (including three bouts of malaria in 3.5 months, 1 normal and 2 serious) that didn’t allow for much gardening during those months so not enough spraying happened. Most have been eaten by caterpillars beyond human use but there are 3 that are maturing and we may get a taste before we rip them out. Another lesson from the garden was learning the best method to grow tomatoes with. Local Congolese people wedge a stick in the ground and tie their plant to it and up until now I have always used cages but no more; I am now a huge fan of the string method (what the nurseries use) and am going to work towards almost exclusively growing tomatoes this way.

The string method is where you suspend a string 9 feet up that you twirl your tomato plant around as it grows. It gives more support than a cage, your plants grow straight, wind doesn’t bother them and there is no flopping over or outgrowing the cage; even in rainy season here when you get a downpour that creates a soupy mess they wont fall over or break like what happens to a plant in a cage. It also allows more time for a longer harvest in our never ending summer so I get the most out of each plant that I can. I also started pruning my tomatoes this year and the results have been truly amazing with healthier plants (but don’t forget to disinfect between plants like I did) and bigger and better tomatoes. The two methods combined make for a very clean, healthy and productive tomato patch (as long as you don’t spread disease through your clippers). I’m never going back.

Our sweet corn attempt ended up in another bust despite resorting to hybrid treated seed. It actually ended up worse because we had small plants that tasseled early gave small ears and this time they weren’t even sweet; at least the heirloom varieties were still sweet along with those other problems and you could get a taste. I’ve given the rest of that variety of seed to our worker to see how it does in his garden and plan to plant some local field corn in my garden to test what may be going on and if its our soil for some reason – any ideas anyone?

Our nursery seedlings, the green peppers and eggplant, are all doing well and producing wonderful large vegetables. I think I’m going to make them a staple in the garden if I can. I still haven’t figured out how to get either to germinate myself yet (future attempts coming in the “fall”) but I’m not giving up yet. So much variety of food could be opened up to us with them (fresh salsa for example).

Some of the other experiments that I’ve been working on in the garden have been doing a technique called ‘vernalization’ where you trick plants into thinking that they have been through a winter by putting them in the fridge so they will grow or go to seed if they are a two season crop. I just completed this with some garlic that you can purchase local (imported from China) and they were planted in the garden and are growing. We will see if anything comes of them but I have also ordered an heirloom variety that will hopefully come over with my mom in October that we can grow. So far it is a success but we will see if the end results bear heads of cloves or not. Another vernalization project I was working on was carrots for seed. Everyone here has to buy carrot seed each time they plant because carrots require a winter to go to seed in the second year (overwintering). I put the selected carrots in a bag of rice (other online sources said wood chips but with our humidity I thought this might be better) for about two months but then a few days ago I noticed mold growth inside the bag. Most of the carrots had some mold growth on them unfortunately which I had read was the problem with trying to vernalize carrots. I decided to just go ahead and plant them instead of throwing them out and we will see what happens. It wasn’t as long as they should have gotten but perhaps I’ll try again and change out the rice part way through.

Another exciting addition to our garden is strawberries. I dug up some transplants from another missionary’s garden to start our own strawberry patch. They died back but are sprouting again. We also hope to add some blackberries and maybe one day raspberries (sourced from other missionaries in Uganda) to our place.

Right now it is the middle or later half of the rainy season despite it starting late and grain is cheaper right now than during other times of the year. So, trying to be financially minded, we are purchasing a year’s worth of grain (hopefully or at least very close to it) that will be stored in large barrels that will be used to mix our various feeds for our different animals. We are using grains and legumes that can be sourced local (corn, sorghum, millet, amaranth, beans, soy beans, peanuts and maybe sesame seeds) along with imported vitamin sources to cover what the feed can’t. Free ranging in the yard each day also helps with this and it helps keep any tick populations under control so win-win. The large sacks of grain and legumes get delivered on motorcycles right into our yard for 2,000 Congolese francs (1,500CF/$1 currently). We will receive another few sacks later this week and then roast the beans (you have to cook beans before use along with millet, amaranth and sorghum) and put into storage barrels to mix feed. Feed recipes are calculated using the nutritional values of each kind of grain and which bird at what stage you are mixing for – for example our quail will need 25-28% protein vs. the 16-18% that our adult chickens need.

So some of the other things that are being worked on on the side of daily life are seedlings (rather a constant thing), constantly hatching out chicks of one kind or another, Dave is obviously flying and more-so right now as the only caravan pilot for the moment, and I am working on a ladies’ retreat for all the expat ladies here in Nyankunde. Perhaps I will give more details on that later but I don’t want to spoil any surprises for the ladies. Busy busy busy. Speaking of that I’d better get back to it!