Missions

Chance’s Trip to Sierra Leone, Africa

In March, my husband, Chance led a missions team of four to Sierra Leone to serve. You may remember that Chance and I work full time as representatives of Lifegate in Africa.
After teaching my man how to use his iPhone camera (hello, focus?!), the team was off! Once they returned, Chance had taken hundreds of pictures, and some of them were actually pretty good! 
While there, the team helped with craft projects at schools, played games and hung out with kiddos at Lifegate’s orphanage, co-led revival services at churches, and learned tie dying from the ladies at the ministry’s trade school.
They. Had. A. Blast.
Below you will find a photo dump from the trip – with the captions written by Chance!
Here’s Ginger and I right before I left the farm. Isn’t she beautiful?!

Travel

Mickey, Julia, Fred, and I were bound and determined to not let the rainy weather bring us down as we left Peoria, IL!

As we traveled, our suitcases were not only full of our personal items, but they also included tools for the ministry (chalk lines, masonry hammer, pliers, etc.). Musa, our head of construction, was very excited to have such nice equipment. Not only will he use it for Lifegate projects, but he’ll also use it to teach trades to others!

 

Mickey is like a grandma to me and my boys. I love her dearly, and it is because of my great love for her that I pretended to kiss her while she was sleeping on the plane and took a picture to capture the moment!

Schools

Sarah, one of Lifegate’s in-country missionaries, told the story of Daniel and the Lion’s Den at each of our schools. Then, the team helped students decorate paper plates to look like lion masks. It was fun!
The students at Kassie School had prepared some songs for our arrival. They were adorable as they sang and swayed in their cute uniforms!
While visiting one of our schools, we witnessed this man working on the side of the road. He spends all day long creating a machete from old vehicle leaf springs; he heats the metal up in a small fire, and pounds and scrapes until it’s razor sharp. He only sells them for about $2 each. I’m always blown away at the ingenuity displayed in Sierra Leone!

Children’s Home

This is Mabinty, one of the older girls at the orphanage. She taught me how to play a jacks-like game using only rocks. She’s sweet AND competitive!
This is Lahai, one of the older boys at the orphanage. He’s a ham, to say the least. He loves to be the center of attention.
Lahai also loves to share God’s Word with his peers. While there, we got to observe his passion!
This is Alpha, another one of the older boys at the orphanage. He’s a quiet kid who loves the Lord.
Fatmata, the youngest girl from the orphanage, is always up for a picture. She’s such a cutie in her school uniform!
This is Matha, another one of the older girls at the orphanage. Ginger, the boys, and I have supported her financially for several years. It was so good to see her beautiful smile and talk about her future dreams of being a nurse. I was very proud the day I watched her help the Lifegate nurse do checkups on all the children; Matha was right there by her side.

Churches

When we visited each church, not only did we bring the Word of God, we also brought food! We considered it a privilege to hire local people to cook the food for the revival services.

 

This picture was snapped right after church in Brigitte Village. Can you believe all those people fit in that little building?!
This is Tommy, one of the members at Lifegate Church in Brigitte Village. One year ago Tommy was living in sin (belonged to a gang, demonstrated violence, promiscuous life), but he’s taken a turn for the better. He gave his life to Christ, and he’s a new man. I even got to see him teach a Bible story to the people of the church in Sunday School!

Trade School

Fatmata is one of the ladies who has been learning God’s Word and trades (sewing and tie-dying) since January. It was so cool to watch her work. We’re so proud of the progress that she and the other students have demonstrated in the past few months!
One day on our trip, the students became the teachers. The gals learning to tie-dye were given the opportunity to teach our missions team the trade!
Once the fabric was folded properly, Mickey learned how to tie and knot the cloth.
Julia was taught how to create specific designs by properly folding the fabric.
Of course, I was given the most complex design to create! They even trusted me with a huge needle! It was not easy work!
Julia mixed the dye and chemicals so that the fabric could be stained.
Ladies at the trade school tie-dyed 10 shirts that the team eventually brought back to the US. Ginger and I are excited to give them away this summer at VBS programs and church camps.
Since January, Lifegate has been teaching literacy classes at our trade school in Brigitte Village. Three days a week, nearly 25 students gather to learn how to read and write. This mama sees the value of education; because she loves herself and her son, she’s made learning this life skill a priority (even if it means attending with a baby on her back!).

Daily Life In Sierra Leone

 

How does one keep a chicken close by in Sierra Leone, you ask? Simply tie a sandal to the chicken’s leg, that’s how!
As for shaving cream, it’s about $5 a can in Sierra Leone, even though in the states you’ll pay about a dollar.
American-style food can be pretty expensive in Sierra Leone. A single pack of Ramen noodles was about 60 cents. In the US, they are about a dime each.
It’s much cheaper to eat African; their diet consists of mostly rice and fish.

Fundraiser

 

Lifegate is planning a banquet fundraiser on November 2 (mark your calendars!)  where items will be auctioned off.
A few of the hand-carved items include:
A chess set.
A nativity set.
And a mask.

Heading Home

 

This picture was taken the day before we left! I had a blast talking with Tyler, one of Lifegate’s missionaries (and one of my best friends) as we spent time on the beach.

Mickey, Julia, Fred, and I had just packed up and were making our way to the airport. It was so hard to say goodbye, but we knew that we had to come home and tell as many people as possible what God is doing in Sierra Leone.

Thank You

To those who prayed and supported me during my trip: thank you. Simply saying it or writing it doesn’t seem like enough, but I must express my gratitude.
Thank you for helping me go on this trip.
I was able to see people I love.
I was able to serve people who needed help.
I was able to see things that I wouldn’t have been able to see if it wasn’t for your generosity.
Thank you for your kindness.
A missions trip is currently being planned for 2018. If you are interested in traveling to Sierra Leone with Lifegate in Africa, please contact me here.

A Fellow Advocate, A Fellow Parent – Stories from Salone

[I’m obviously home from Africa. I wasn’t able to update my blog while in Sierra Leone because the internet connection just wasn’t good enough. For this reason, I will be sharing about my trip over the next month or so. This is one story from my flight over.]

Sierra Leone, Africa - Lifegate in Africa

I found my seat and settled in. I did not realize the African man next to me would be fighting off tears just a few hours later.

On my final flight to Sierra Leone two weeks ago, I was willing my travels to be over and for sleep to overcome me. I napped fitfully until my food tray was delivered. When I awoke, the man next to me was eager to talk.

I asked if he lived in Sierra Leone, and he said, “No. Not anymore.”

He, a soft-spoken man named Chernor, inquired about my trip overseas. When he realized I was also from the United States, his story began to pour out. He told me of his family who live and work in New York and Virginia. When I asked if he was returning to Sierra Leone for business, his answer broke my heart.

“No, I am traveling to visit my wife.”

You see, he and his two children had been given Visas to immigrate to the United States, but at the time, he and his wife were not married. She could not move with their family.

Her babies and her (now) husband moved halfway around the world without her. It’s hard to fathom a family separating like this.

With tears in his eyes, my seat-mate said he moved to the United States for his son. He reached into his pocket and pulled out his tattered wallet. It contained a single, small photo of his boy. He told me his ten-year-old son has autism.

I nodded and smiled. Of course he does. Only the God of the universe could orchestrate putting the mother of a ten-year-old boy with autism next to the father of a different ten-year-old boy with autism on an international flight. Only God.

The man next to me moved his boy, Gobie, and his younger daughter to the United States over two years ago. Chernor’s voice cracked as he shared the story that led his family to decide to geographically divide:

One day, his wife was walking to the market. Along her path was the school where her oldest child attended. The kids were all outside for their lunch break, so she decided to stop and say hello.

As she approached the school, she saw a large group of children huddled together. In the middle of that huddle was a small boy. His shirt was being pulled and he was being taunted. His lunch had been stolen and consumed by the bullying children.

As Chernor’s wife approached, she realized that boy in the huddle was her son. Her autistic son was nonverbal and had delays; he was the one being mistreated by his classmates.

The teacher didn’t seem to find anything wrong with this behavior. In Sierra Leone, special needs and differences are commonly associated with witchcraft. Disabilities are not understood, but rather they are feared.

But Chernor’s wife knew differently; that was her baby boy being mistreated. She immediately withdrew Gobie from school.

Gobie stayed home with her, but Chernor reported that she was completely heartbroken. When he and the children were approved for a visa in 2014, but Chernor’s wife was not, there was hardly a discussion. Gobie needed to come to the United States. He would benefit greatly from services not offered in Sierra Leone.

Gobie has not seen his mom since they immigrated. Her visa could take at least another three to five years before it is approved.

Chernor’s worry lines ran deep as he told me of the stress he manages trying to keep his wife from slipping into depression while fulfilling his parenting duties on the other side of the world.

To help lift his wife’s spirits, Chernor returns to visit her a couple times every year. He loads his phone with videos and photos of their babies. He tells her stories of how they’re doing in school and the places they’ve visited with their aunts.

Chernor spoke of the changes that need to be made in Sierra Leone. One might think he’d focus on the unfair government restrictions for issuing visas, or the delays in the red tape, but instead he talked about education and awareness.

His desire is to see his country, his people, understand that all lives have value. He longs for trainings to instruct teachers of the different types of special needs. He wishes for social reform that citizens of Sierra Leone might not allow their special needs children to continue wasting away, but that there might be a way to educate them and support the families raising them.

He, just like I — as a special needs parent — wants to speak for those who cannot speak for themselves. He ultimately wants the best for his son.

Counting Down

We’ve attempted to maintain an upbeat attitude about Edward’s half-body cast. It’s cumbersome (he weighs almost half as much as I do) and restrictive, but we’ve managed to make this experience as fun as possible:

Special needs, adoption blog

Meet our very own Spider-Man!

We’ve also encouraged Edward to gain as much mobility as possible (again, he weighs half as much as I do — my back and arms are perpetually sore). He has learned to “crawl” across a room and roll over as needed (in my defense, I didn’t realize he was going to start practicing these skills in his sleep. He rolled out of his bed last week!)

Despite our positive attitudes and go-get-’em spirits, the countdown is ON.

At a doctor’s appointment last week, we were told the date this cast would be removed:

October 11.

Edward will probably receive a new cast on that date, but we are praying for a single-leg cast which will allow much more movement and independence.

The doctor made it a production to tell Edward he only had two weeks left in his cast. Edward caught the excitement and clung to her words.

Poor, sweet Edward thought she meant two days.

The day after our doctor’s appointment, Edward woke up and held up two fingers. He then put one down to tell me he only had one day left in his cast.

And thus, our countdown became necessary.

Special needs, adoption blog.

I attempted to explain “weeks” to a disappointed Spider-Man. I quickly abandoned this complex concept and created an entirely new countdown — 13 days until the cast is removed.

Days continue to tick by. Today is just eight days from the removal of Edward’s cast.

As we constantly check the date for Edward’s cast removal, I have an additional countdown taking place. Every morning when we discuss the number of days until his cast is cut off, I silently add just one more day.

I’m counting down to an event of my own. I’m leaving for Africa on the day after Edward’s cast is changed.

Spider-Man and his brother, Louis, will be staying home with their father as I board a plane to visit my best friend and our missions organization.

You see, I’ve been counting down for much longer than Edward has.

My best friend and her family moved to Sierra Leone one year ago to serve as full-time missionaries for Lifegate in Africa (the organization Chance also represents full-time). Since she and her family boarded their flight, I’ve been planning a trip to go visit them.

I knew though, I could not leave Chance alone with our three boys.

Last November, we realized how severe Nasko behavior truly had become. We determined we needed help in raising him, so we began to search for a group home. Our process was slow and draining, but I knew I could not leave the country until he was safely placed in his new home. The boys were too much for just one person to handle.

When Nasko moved into his new digs this summer, I was able to purchase tickets to go to Sierra Leone.

As Edward counts down his days until this cast is removed, I am mentally adding one day; I’m counting down the days until I see my best friend and her family again.

I, too, am counting down.

Lest you think I’m just heading to Africa to get manicures (ha!) or eat bon-bons (again, ha!) this is also a trip for raising awareness. I will be capturing media and writing every day.

Please follow me on Facebook and Instagram in order to see my pictures and video. Also, if you’ve never signed up to receive my blog posts by email (see the bottom of this post), that is a great method for keeping up — time zone differences will cause me to post at different times than usual.

I covet your prayers as I continue counting down to my trip and the day Edward receives his new cast!

Too much life to live…

…not enough time.

Today, I’m taking the time  to update the important (and not-so important) moments of our lives.

1.  Today is the day that the minister of justice is supposed to review our Bulgarian adoption documents.  Eeek.  Assuming all goes well, Madame Justice will approve us to travel in the next few weeks.  Eeek again…

2.  My grandmother has been in the hospital.  She had a large mass removed from her colon.  The biopsy results of this mass will be given to us this Friday.  In the meantime, I am enjoying the amount of family that has descended upon us.  Grandma is currently staying in a temporary-care nursing facility about 20 minutes from our house.  This makes for unexpected family-time and washing our guest sheets and bath towels almost daily…

  

3.  Yesterday, three of our former youth group students came to visit us.  The youngest two were in fifth grade when Chance and I first entered ministry back in 2004.  All three are now in college.  [Reality check:  C and I are getting old.]  We enjoyed having the three of them here.  The kids [who are no longer kids!!] could still quote biblical lessons and life lessons that were taught to them by Chance.  It was humbling to see how God has worked in their lives.  Beginning in 2004, C and I thought we were just living life and inviting these kids to live it with us.  God was shaping the hearts of His future leaders.

      

[Austin, Becca, and Brock – this’ll teach ya! Next time, don’t tell me that you never read my blog!!!!]

4.  I’m going gluten-free.  Heaven help me.  My doctor and I think that lactose wasn’t the entire issue.  Since giving up gluten four days ago, I’ve lost two pounds.  You think through your daily meals and figure out what is left to eat if you can’t eat any dairy or gluten.  Ugh.  Chance keeps saying, “I said ‘For better or worse,’ but I never said ‘For dietary changes.'”  Love that man…

    

5.  This is the beginning of VBS week at church.  That translates into crazy evenings, no family dinners, and less sleep.  It also translates into tons of children encountering Jesus.  Gotta keep the two of those in perspective.

6.  We’ll have to miss Thursday and Friday of VBS though, because Chance is performing the wedding ceremony of our chiropractor-turned-friends, Daryl and Wendy.  Think Daryl will be available to pop my back on Friday night?  After bending over and squatting with VBS kiddos all week, I might need it!

7.  In July, Chance is leading a missions trip to Toronto Canada.  While there, we will be re-creating this week’s VBS.  I’ve already offered to pay the way of ACC’s decorating crew.  I am not worthy…

8.  In the past few weeks, I’ve knit a penguin and a few flower barrettes.  I’m enjoying the fact that all 150 dolls have been knit!!!  [another blog post… another time…]

9.  One night this past week [days are running together], C and I had a former professor and his wife over for dinner.  They have recently taken a leap of faith and become missionaries through G.O. Ministries.  They are making long-term plans to move to the Dominican Republic in order to train the local church leaders.  Awesome.  God is breaking our heart for missions.  Praying that it continues and we don’t become complacent.

10.  Chance and I have been discussing “abundance” lately.  We have so much.  Others have so little.

11. My “nephew” Joel had his cast removed.  He’s still not walking or bearing weight on his left leg.  Praying for a quick recovery and proper healing for that boy.

  

12.  My house has been overtaken by laundry, work reports, and in-general uncleanliness and I’m trying to think of a good “number 13” to keep me from dealing with it…

13.  I’ve got nothing…