Monday, December 6, 2010

A Beautiful Diversity

I’m sitting in a coffee shop in downtown Bamenda. It just opened up about a month ago, and I’ve been a regular customer since the grand opening. There is something ironic and yet natural about this coffee shop. Just as I lose myself in a corner of the shop, sipping my cappuccino, listening to Nora Jones on my computer, and reading G.K. Chesterton, I notice the glorious ruckus of Africa right outside the door. Motorbikes whiz by, taxis honk and swerve, dozens of people in colorful clothes stroll by, greetings fly through the air. I scan the shop, remembering that the woven lamp hangings, the carved tables, the masks on the wall, and even the ceramic mugs and coffee within them are not imported or made at a factory. It’s all local and handmade. Even the coffee comes from our northwest region of Cameroon. But the most ironic part of this coffee shop is how unusual its existence is. This is the only true coffee shop in Bamenda. There are other places I can get coffee, but I can’t even really call it coffee. Customers are normally served Nescafe instant coffee, with powdered milk. It’s even hard to find some of the art and handicrafts that decorate this shop—Cameroonians love to have Western clothes, Western jewelry, Western music, and Western furniture. Part of the reason I love this new coffee shop so much is that, while it is more spacious and a little more expensive than “normal” Cameroonian cafes, it intentionally supports local artists and coffee growers. But it still has enough of a familiar coffee shop atmosphere to satisfy my cravings for the comforts of an American coffee shop.

I find that most of my life here is a delightful combination of Cameroon and the West. Thanksgiving was a beautiful picture of the diversity of my life here. We had over thirty people come over: Americans, Canadians, and both Bantu and Fulani Cameroonians. Instead of turkey we had chicken, but we did manage to have quite a few traditional dishes, like cranberry sauce and green bean casserole. Fadi’s family in the village even sent down two live chickens as a Thanksgiving present. (Side Note: We didn’t end up eating those for Thanksgiving --- we wanted to keep them for their eggs. However, a few days later we chased them around the yard with the purpose of turning them into dinner, after discovering at 4am that they were roosters, not chickens.)

Lum’s birthday party was another fun mix of cultures. We invited over about ten of Lum’s friends, decorated the living room like a formal black and white party, dressed to the hilt, ate homemade pizza and carrot cake, then had a big dance party to the girls’ favorite Cameroonian music.

Even our family devotions are a mix of cultures and languages: last week we read the Bible passage first in English, then again in Pidgin, then in Fulfulde, for the benefit of the different first languages represented around the table.

It is so fun experiencing all the different people, languages, and cultures here in Cameroon and especially in the Jacksons’ home. Even though life here is a lot more familiar to me this year, living in the “Jackson Village” is always exciting.

My life here is wonderful and exciting, but I feel compelled to explain that it's not always easy. I often find myself wishing I had more alone time, or that there was an effective pest control here, or that I could be closer to my family and friends. I catch myself looking forward to future events at the expense of enjoying the present, and convincing myself that perfection awaits me in California next year. But, as Chesterton writes in his essay, "The Contented Man", "True contentment is a thing as active as agriculture. It is the power of getting out of any situation all that there is in it." So I am primarily using this blog as a tool in my efforts to get out everything I can from my life here and now. I am so blessed, and I want to be sure to notice all the blessings God gives me here. Thank you for joining me in my rejoicing as well as my struggles. Your support means more than words can express.


*Lum and Katelyn are making great progress in school

*I have had wonderful health lately

*God has given me many opportunities to use my gifts and education to meet the needs of people in our “Jackson Village”, from teaching study skills to just having heart-to-heart conversations.

Prayer Requests:

*That I would continue to find time and space to take breaks and balance the excitement and business of life here.

*That as Christmas approaches, we would remember the gift of Jesus, our Emmanuel, in the midst of our busy (but fun!) schedule.

*That God would continue to show me how I can be an encouragement to those around me.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

The Art of Being a Guest

I went up to the Fulani village last Wednesday to celebrate the Feast of the Ram, and was reminded of the variety of hospitality methods I encounter in Cameroon. The Jacksons and many of the Cameroonian families in Bamenda have a “Welcome to the family,” hospitality.
our house and backyard

When someone comes over, he or she is welcomed, offered something to eat or drink, then everyone basically goes back to whatever they were doing before the person came, while making sure the person feels included in the family’s activities. At our house, this includes everything from preparing dinner, to working on computers, to having evening devotions, to celebrating birthdays, or even watching Jack Bower fight terrorists in our favorite TV show, “24”. Our guests also can usually help themselves to whatever they need. This style of hospitality is casual, and to be a good guest, you just need to take initiative to participate in the family activities.

Pizza Night at our house with my friends Karissa Clark and Elaine Scherrer

On the other hand, when I visit the Fulani compounds, they give a “Let me serve you,” hospitality. There are lots of hugs and shaking of hands. There are strings of greetings, asking about my health, my city, my house, my family, and other things I mechanically respond to and don’t actually understand, since it’s all in the Fulfulde language.

The women of the compound where we always stay

Being a good guest looks very different in a Fulani compound. Here are the strings of thoughts running through my head as I enter the compound: “Remove your shoes before entering the house.” “Don’t serve yourself the food, wait for them to serve you.” “Use your right hand to give or receive anything.” “Don’t make too much eye-contact with the men.” “Keep your legs covered.” “Don’t ask for more; wait until they ask you.” After practicing this art of being a respectful guest numerous times, I think it’s almost coming naturally! Last time I visited, one of the women in the village commended me on having “Pulaku,” or knowing the Fulani’s cultural standards of proper interactions.

Although it can be somewhat awkward for me to remember to do some of these counter-intuitive things, the rewards are well worth it. They are so pleased to see us putting an effort into learning their culture, and they go out of their way to serve us. If the women find out we like a certain kind of food, they are sure to make it for us. They always make sure we have enough food before serving themselves. They offer us sugar cubes for our tea, even if they only have a few left. If we’re spending the night, we get the best beds and the nicest bed sheets. I always feel very honored when I visit the village, and it motivates me to continue to try to learn the Fulani language and culture, which, based on their response to my blundering attempts at the language and manners, seems like the best way of serving them in return.

Me, Sarah (a week-long visitor with the Jacksons), Alex (a two-month boarder), and Jarrod getting ready to feast!

Carrying water for one of the older women of the compound (My first time carrying water on my head!)

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Online Giving

In the interim between the enrapturing stories of my life in Cameroon, I have some exciting news for those of you who support me financially: online giving is now available! Here's the information given by Wycliffe Associates:

You can start your online giving by going to: Put any part of the name of the Wycliffe Associate into the search engine to pull up their name and set up your giving options. You will have the ability to set up the amount, date, frequency, and method of giving (either by credit card or from your bank). Once you set up an account online, you will be able to view and manage all gifts to Wycliffe Associates yourself through your online account. We recommend this as your most convenient option.

If the search does not retrieve their name at this time, you can still use this method. On the left-hand side of the donation page is a row of folders, click on the Other Designations folder. At this point, enter your gift amount and click on the Add to Gift Cart button. Next click on the Continue to Check Out button on upper right. In the Note field by the Other Designationsgift amount, enter their ministry account number, first and last name.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Indiana Jones Ride is Wimpy

Celebrating Sala in the Fulani village this year was much different than last year (for the whole story of last year’s Sala, see the “Barka de Sala!” post of Sept. 2009). Last year I was jetlagged and in culture shock, while this year I was well rested from my 4 days in Germany and was familiar with Cameroon. Last year all my senses were on alert as I ate my first okra soup with fresh beef, watched the horse tricks, and heard and danced to the Fulani’s music. This year I was in a daze from having some kind of short-lived stomach illness which prevented me from eating at all or from dancing for very long. Lame stomach! So, while it was wonderful to see all my Fulani friends again and play with the kids a little, this year’s Sala was a lot more low-key for me.

But the most exciting difference between last year and this year was the ride back down the mountain to Bamenda.

Since I wasn’t feeling well the day we arrived in the village, and since there were some Sala guests who wanted to get back to Bamenda early, Chris and Karen agreed to take us back down that first evening. However, we anticipated some complications. Complication #1: a dozen people (including 4 small children) wanted a ride down in the Land Rover. Complication #2: It’s rainy season, meaning there is a torrential downpour every afternoon and evening, making the dirt road very slippery. Complication #3: We waited to leave until it was almost dark.

Despite the impending difficulties, we all packed into the truck, with kids on our laps, and started our decent. The drive started out as any other drive on a dirt road in the rain would be: there were quite a few bumps and there was quite a lot of sliding. But thanks to Chris’s mad driving skills, we didn’t blink an eye. However, as we kept driving, the rain kept pouring and the sky grew darker. Finally, the dreaded event of any off-road driver happened: we got stuck. Not just stuck on a flat part of the road either—stuck on a steep, muddy slope, with a deep ditch on the closest side of the road. After some tire squealing, all of us passengers, kids, babies and all, slid out of the car and onto the embankment on the other side of the narrow road. We women did our best to be encouraging and stay dry, while the two men worked on pushing the truck up the hill while Chris gunned the engine. Just as we were praying for more help, some Cameroonians came down the road, and gladly helped us! And just as someone said, “If only we had some dry mud blocks,” who should appear but women carrying dry mud blocks down that treacherous road! Wow, God, you provide so specifically! The blocks did the trick, and the truck bounced and skidded up the hill.

The rest of the ride was free of interruptions, but we were holding on for dear life. Holding onto dashboards, safety handles, and the children. The truck was still sliding down most of the road, but in the competition between the mud and Chris’ driving skills, Chris was winning. At one moment, the truck spun around and came dangerously close to rolling backwards off the side of the road, and it looked like the mud might conquer Chris, but Chris came out the champion! The dark and stormy night, including the frequent lightning flashes, made the ride even more thrilling. At one point I exclaimed, “The Indiana Jones ride at Disneyland is wimpy! I’ll never be able to enjoy it again after this!” But we finally got safely home, passed the advil bottle around, and settled down to a movie to unwind.

After a turbulent end to a brief and mellow Sala celebration, the Jacksons and I are back on a relatively “normal” schedule. While life here isn’t as exciting as it seemed at the beginning of last year, it is very exciting for me to see how much Katelyn and Lum have learned and grown since the beginning of last year! It’s also nice to be familiar with how life works here—in Cameroon and in the Jackson’s home. I’m looking forward to building on the relationships I established last year and seeing what God has planned for me in the coming year.


*I had a wonderful four-day transition in Germany with my friend Anna

*I arrived in Cameroon safely, with all of my luggage

*I recovered quickly from whatever illness I had my first weekend here

*I’m getting resettled in the Jackson household

*Financial provision

Prayer Requests:

*That I would continue to transition smoothly into the lifestyle and pace of the Jackson’s home

*That I would stay healthy

*That I would have wisdom as I decide what weekly ministries to begin again this year

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Thank You and Looking Ahead

Dearest Friends and Family,

Thank you so much for all your prayers and support this past year. It has been amazing to see God’s faithfulness displayed in the love and generosity of people I care about so deeply. Your support made so much possible in my ten months in Cameroon. My students Katelyn and Lum have grown in their skills and knowledge. Several Cameroonian children in our neighborhood learned to read better in my weekly reading classes. I got to partner with the Jacksons in their children’s ministries, including a neighborhood Bible Club, a Bible Club at a school for disabled children, and physical therapy on horses for some of the disabled children.

From eating fried grasshoppers, to rallying Bible Club kids’ attention, to celebrating holidays with the Fulani people, this has been a transformational year for me. God taught me so much through the challenges and the joys of this past year. He taught me to appreciate and relate to different kinds of people. He gave me an awareness of His faithfulness in the simple as well as the magnificent. He gave me a fresh perspective of hospitality and selfless love.

Near the end of my ten months, I decided to commit to Cameroon for one more year, sensing that my ministries and my growth experiences there are not quite finished. So at the beginning of September, I will return to Cameroon for another school year! I am excited to move back in with the Jackson family and continue the work God has for me there.

I am also excited to partner with you for another year. More than anything, I need prayer. Pray for save travels. Pray that God will keep my focus on Him and his heart for the work in Cameroon. Pray that God will give me wisdom as I minister to the Jacksons and the Cameroonian children. I’ll continue to post updates on my blog this year.

Another important way you can support me is to contribute financially. I need approximately $500 a month for 10 months for living expenses. Even if you can only give $10 a month, or give a one-time gift, it will help. I encourage you to pray about how God is leading you to support me. Notice that this year you will send donations to Wycliffe Associates, not Grace Bible Church. All your gifts are still tax-deductible.

Thank you so much for your overwhelming support this past year and for considering how you can support me in the upcoming year.

With love and gratitude,


Send all contributions to:

Wycliffe Associates

P.O. Box 2000, Orange, CA 92859

Make all checks payable to Wycliffe Associates. Include Code M08793 on the check (do not include my name!)

Friday, July 16, 2010

Hello, California!

For those of you who haven't heard yet, I'm back home!!!! It is so good to be back, with reliable showers, reliable internet, reliable electricity, and reliable stock in grocery stores. These fantastic grocery stores make it possible for me to easily catch up on my 10-month lack of Salt and Vinegar chips, cheezits, Beringer's white zinfandel, and strawberries. I have also taken full advantage of the availability of coffee shops! Oh, America the Beautiful!

Before I kissed the ground of California, I spent 10 days in England with my dear friend Sarah. She was taking a 2-week grad school course, so I stayed in a house with all the students, and had lots of time to rest, process, get used to Western culture, and have fun. Sarah and I went to the Lake District for the weekend, and I went on a couple of day trips while she was in classes. It was such a blessing to have that time of relaxation and transition, and to have time with such a wonderful friend.

Now that I'm officially home, I have had a fabulous time catching up with my family and with my Nor-Cal friends (and my 2 So-Cal friends who stayed with me last weekend--thanks, Ben and Laura!). My mom and I went to Ashland 2 days after I flew in to see the plays at the Shakespeare Festival. It was amaaaazing! And it was a nice, relaxing place to recover from jet lag and have some good mother-daughter time.
My family and I are going on a few other short trips this month to see relatives and spend some time together, and then I'm headed south for most of the month of August! I am sooooo excited to go to the La Mirada area to see friends and my church down there.

These past few weeks I have really experienced God's faithfulness and blessings. I praise Him for making all these enjoyable experiences happen--some of them happened so smoothly I am convinced God was intimately involved with these events! It is so wonderful to experience His love through the people I interact with here, in a different way than in Cameroon. I find much to rejoice about during my time here, and am confident that he is replenishing my joy to make me even more effective with the coming year in Cameroon.

I hope I can see the majority of you blog readers/supporters while I'm home. Don't wait for me to call you, either! I would love to hear from you! My cell number is the same.

May you find joy in everyday things,

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Blisters from Cooking? Seriously?

The Land Cruiser bounces through a pothole and swerves to the left to avoid hitting a chicken crossing the road with her babies. After a narrow miss, the car turns into a road that looks more like a dried-up riverbed, throwing us passengers from side to side. After a few painful minutes on this “road”, we screech back onto the main road and pass a man conspicuously peeing into the ditch. At last, the car turns into a small market area, eases down a narrow alleyway between two houses, passes through the front yards of a few more houses, rolls over the edge of a garden, and slows to a halt. After this very typical journey, we have finally reached Bafut, the village where Lum grew up, and where Lum, Fadi, and I would spend the weekend.

We are greeted by several children screaming with excitement, dressed in very well-worn clothes—one of which has on pants that are completely ripped down the back seam. Then, Lum’s mother welcomes us into her home and proceeds to fill our bellies to the brim with amazing Cameroonian food. I go through all the standard greetings: “Na, dey fine, how fo you?” “Bamenda is fine, how is Bafut?” etc. , and get to hold Lum’s new baby brother.

The next day and a half is full of playing tag with kids and helping Lum’s mom around the compound (Sorry about the lack of pictures--I forgot to bring my camera). Lum, Fadi and I cut up loads of tomatoes and vegetables, and I get to help with the whole process of making water fufu, a starchy, kind of sour-tasting food that we eat with a main dish of green vegetables. I have a whole new respect for Cameroonian women and all they have to do to just prepare one meal!

Recipe for Water Fufu:

Wash and drain 20 lbs of cassava root into the biggest pot you have.

Pour the now mashed potato-looking substance in huge bags to sit overnight.

The next morning, squish the fufu around in water to smooth it out (It should feel like you are a little kid playing in the mud again).

Stir the fufu with a large wooden pounding stick in a large cauldron over an open fire.

Continue stirring, even when the fufu gets so thick it feels like you are rowing a boat through a river of firm butter.

Embarrass yourself by passing the pounding stick off to the 60-something-year-old Cameroonian sitting next to you in the cookhouse, who can pound at that fufu with more force than you can possibly muster-up.

Take the stick and your pride back and stir until you get blisters.

Keep asking the pro Cameroonian, “Now is it done?” “How about now?” “Is it done now?”

Continue the process of stirring till your blisters pop and the Cameroonian woman takes pity on you (or is disgusted with you) and takes the stick back.

When the fufu is cooked to a consistency that only a Cameroonian can detect, watch as this amazingly strong old woman heaves the pot off the fire (since there is no way you’d be able to lift that monster!).

Roll the fufu into cylindrical shapes with your hand and a small plate.

Pass the plate off to the Cameroonian woman after she keeps shaking her head at your attempts to roll the fufu correctly.

Enjoy your completed water fufu!

It was indeed satisfying to eat something that was made with my sweat and blood, and to find that it actually tasted the way it should, even though I helped make it!

Even though I’ve been living in Africa for almost nine months, it still amazes me how people here live lives of such simplicity, and how much hard work it takes just to feed a family. It is so humbling to see Cameroonians serve visitors with such hospitality, work so hard without complaining, and even are willing to care for other children who are not looked after by their own parents. I pray that God will help me work and serve with a similar selfless attitude in all that I do.

It’s also fun to have these types of unique experiences. It’s been really difficult to make this final push till the end of the school year, but God has been really blessing me over the last few weeks by giving me joyful reminders about why I’m here and choosing to come back next year. I got to take a dirt bike taxi up to our Fulani village a few weekends ago, which was refreshing. Then two weeks ago our whole “Jackson Village” had a great time hiking in the beautiful mountains of Mbingo for Mother’s Day.

Also, my reading class has doubled in size and it really seems like the kids are learning. Lum and Katelyn’s skills continue to improve. Chris, Karen, Jarrod and I have been having a blast playing card games in the evenings and weekends. Katelyn and I took the horses out jumping. And mango season is still going strong!

Praise God for these much needed times of refreshment and joy, and please pray that God continues to give me strength and perseverance for my last five weeks in Cameroon.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

The Decision

Dear Friends and Family,

Thank you all for your prayers about my decision regarding next year. I’ve made a decision: I am returning to Cameroon in the fall! I will come home to California in early July, and will split my time between northern and southern California till early September, when I’ll hop back on a plane to Africa. Although I’m already dreading saying goodbye to everyone again, God has given me a lot of peace and excitement about returning for another school year.

When it comes down to it, where else can I:

  • Eat fried grasshoppers as a snack
  • Watch a cow get slaughtered, then eat the beef that day
  • Eat fresh passion fruit, guavas, mangos, and papayas
Deciding whether I like my grasshopper snack
  • Take a shower with a gecko
  • Ride a horse bareback and barefoot, as I follow a taxi, who’s following a motorbike, who’s following cow-herders, who’re herding cows
  • Hang off the back of a Land Cruiser as we go off-roading
  • See a dozen chickens crammed into the back of a taxi
  • Be one of eight people in a 5-passenger car
  • Milk a cow in a remote village
Going up to the village on a motorcycle-taxi
  • Eat fish eyes
  • Get in an argument with a vender over twenty cents
  • Get three marriage proposals a day, just for being white and, in the words of one admirer, “tall and clean”
  • Shake ants out of my clothes and toothbrush as a daily ritual
  • Be given a vaccination by a Cameroonian nurse who was trained by reading books about medical “theories”
  • See live chickens sitting in the kitchen, waiting to be made into dinner
  • Help de-feather dinner
The chickens I helped de-feather; christened "Lunch" and "Dinner"

  • Go to the zoo and see monkeys running free, pet a hyena, shake hands with a baboon, and be face-to-face with a lion
  • Be a cultural and racial minority in a ballroom dance class
  • Practice speaking five different languages in one day
  • Live with such a hospitable family that every day I need to recalculate how many dinner plates to set on the table
  • Be part of a community made up of people from all over the world
  • Teach an eight-year-old to read, and see his face light up when he discovers he can now read a book on his own
  • Hear the exclamations of delight from thirty handicapped kids as they open up their Operation Christmas Child gift boxes
  • Watch my two students develop skills and knowledge because of how God is using me in their homeschool education?

In the next couple months, I will begin raising more support for next year. But I would like to ask you to start praying now about how God is leading you to support me, whether it is through prayer, a one-time financial gift, or a monthly financial commitment. God has worked such wonders through your faith and sacrifices this year, and I am confident that he will continue to do the same in the year to come!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Normal Life

I realized a couple of weeks ago that I’ve made the shift from finding life in Cameroon novel, to finding it normal. I mostly understand Pidgin and can speak a little of it. I like Cameroonian food. I’m comfortable traveling in Bamenda by myself, I’m not as aware that I stand out as a white person, and it seems strange when I’m in the market and don’t get several marriage proposals. As life continues here, I’ve avoided updating my blog in favor of waiting for something “new” and “interesting” to happen. I had fooled myself into thinking that there was nothing noteworthy about my daily life to write about. After I realized my self-deception, I started opening my eyes to the “new” and “interesting” things God does here every day. While this update isn’t as much of an adventure story as my first Sala celebration, it’s a whole new kind of adventure to experience daily life here over an extended period of time.

Babysitting for another missionary family, and using a "baba" for the first time to hold the baby on my back!

Although I only have two students, it seems like I’m only now beginning to understand what makes them tick and how to best help them, and I still feel I have so much more to learn. But by the grace of God, the results of six months of study are paying off. Lum and Katelyn’s reading and writing skills have noticeably improved, which is evident even in their poems about farting and stories about being attacked by snakes in the jungle. They are also ever increasing their knowledge of and interest in Science, Math, and History, especially through creating Science picture books and raps, as well as reports about American revolutionaries. It is so exciting to watch this process unfold, and be a part of it! And the two of them are not the only ones who are learning. I am getting such great opportunities to develop my teaching and relational skills, and have noticed that God has not only used teaching to develop my creativity, but my humility as well. I am glad we still have three more months for the three of us to learn from each other.

Our Easter Egg Shell Animals

It has also been exciting to see the pay-off of our weekly ministries. Karen is testing her new Sunday School curriculum at our Bible Clubs, which are going well. The students in my reading class are getting better at recognizing new letters, sounding out new words, and comprehending the storylines of the books I read aloud to them. The handicapped kids still give us the biggest smiles I’ve ever seen in my life when we visit them, and we have even started helping give five of them physical therapy on Karissa’s horse Prince. It’s amazing to see how walking twice around a soccer field and giving a horse a banana can increase children’s physical and emotional health.

And then there are the seemingly small and insignificant aspects of my weekly routine in which I find such joy. I love Saturday mornings, when I can sleep in, then get out of bed only long enough to bring a mug of coffee and a bowl of homemade yogurt back into my bedroom, and spend a couple hours in quiet reflection. I look forward to each Friday’s movie and pizza night, where we can all crash from our long and exhausting week. I still get excited anytime I can go horseback riding. Also, the Jacksons and I recently started ballroom dancing classes in Bamenda, and the delight of whirling and twirling around the dance floor gives me not only really sweaty clothes, but a recharging that provides me with the energy I need to continue with my other weekly commitments.

Thank you so much for all your prayers—they have truly sustained me. I know that your prayers have been a huge part of why I have been unusually healthy this year, why I’m learning and growing so much, and how I’ve been able to see and take joy in how much God has been working here. Please keep praying for wisdom about what to do next year and how to continue being a strong support in all my ministries here. I can also use prayer for comfort when I get homesick, continued physical health, and sustained energy for the rest of my time here.

Also, many thanks to those of you who support me financially. Along with covering my living expenses, your money has made it possible for me to give gifts (financial and material) to my Cameroonian friends and those in need, like Christmas stockings to some Cameroonian kids who have never had stockings before, makeup kits for a girls’ Bible Study and makeover night, and a monetary gift to a widow that occasionally works for us.

Makeover Night

I’m also using the money to help provide resources for the handicapped students to make items they can sell to make money for the school. All of this is possible because of God’s abundant provision through your generous and sacrificial support. May you see clearly how God is blessing you because of your support.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010


Although I know I don’t have to make a decision yet about what I’m going to do this fall, there’s already a tug-of-war in my heart between coming back to Cameroon or staying in California.

I love it here: the colors, the hospitality of people, the scenery, the marketplaces, the slower pace of life. It never ceases to amaze me just how many people (or pineapples!) can fit in a taxi. Also, the drivers here are very skilled—swerving around bumps, potholes, other cars, and goats. And people here love hosting. I can just drop in at someone’s house, and they’ll eagerly shake my hand, usher me into their home, and offer me something to drink.

Likewise, it is so fun having an open house, where people drop by our home all the time. It’s fun playing games with the kids and drinking coffee with the adults. Hiking and horseback riding never get old, either, and I love the new experiences, like helping pluck a chicken.

I also love feeling useful—watching Katelyn and Lum improve with homeschooling, teaching reading classes, leading Bible club, and loving on the handicapped students. In some ways I feel like I’m just getting started with all these ministries, and that there’s so much more I could do.

Then the other side of the rope starts tugging. I miss home: my family, my friends, my church, my car, cheese-its, Starbucks iced coffee, and frozen yogurt. I miss being there for important events, like weddings. I miss making brunch on Saturday mornings with my housemates and going to my friends’ weekly pasta nights. I still have a desire to minister to inner city kids and teach in California.

As both ends of the rope tug at my heart, I just have to keep coming back to the only thing that remains the same. Psalm 83 reminded me this morning of how blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord. His dwelling place is lovely, and he never tires of showering blessings on his children. Even the sparrow doesn’t have to worry about finding a protected place for her nest—God always provides abundantly. So I don’t know if I can expect the tug-of-war to resolve anytime soon, but I do know I can always find security in who God is, and in who I am in God, and that God will direct me in his time. My friend Sarah gave me a really great verse that applies perfectly to this struggle: "Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, 'This is the way; walk in it.'" (Is. 30:21)

Please be praying for wisdom and peace, as I continue to pray for God's direction for my future, and wait on his timing.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Christmas in Cameroon

Our Christmas traditions began early in the month. Actually, it began as soon as our Thanksgiving guests went back to their own homes. While we washed the mounds of dishes, we belted out Christmas carols, and that night, we watched a Christmas movie. When December rolled around, we began the Jacksons’ advent traditions. Each morning and evening we read a portion of Scripture to track the stories of all the important events leading up to the birth of Jesus.

In the midst of all of this preparation, the Jacksons and I heard that this year, Operation Christmas Child had decided to bring shoeboxes of gifts to our Cameroonian province! In fact, they were taking the gifts to the handicapped kids at the school where we do Bible Club! Not only that, but they were going to videotape the process to make into a promotional video for next Christmas!

It was so wonderful to see the kids’ eyes widen, mouths open, and hands clap with glee at all the gifts they pulled out from their shoeboxes.

I got to color with a deaf girl in her new coloring book, teach a boy in a wheelchair how to play his recorder, blow up balloons for a child with down-syndrome, and toss a ball back and forth with a girl who has no arms! She would pick up the ball with her toes and fling it up into the air! I created a photo album you can see here:

It was such a delight to see the generosity of people around the world put into action. Children who are normally ignored or even left by the river to die were able to experience some of the joy of Christmas through the love of people on the other side of the world.

I got to celebrate Christmas with many Cameroonian children this year. After the excitement of Operation Christmas Child died down, the Jacksons and I hosted a Christmas party for our neighborhood Bible Club kids. It was a hilarious chaos. About 100 kids crammed into our living room for 3 ½ hours. During the program, some were singing Christmas carols, some were talking to each other, and others were shoving each other around.

We were able to maintain some kind of order, but with that many kids, nothing can go exactly to plan. There was almost a constant flow of kids arriving, a never-ending bathroom line, and Cameroonian babies don’t wear diapers, so we had to clean up a few accidents throughout the party. We also led the kids in a Christmas Bingo game, and passed out small gifts for each child. But my favorite part was when we had the kids act out a Christmas pageant.

I don’t think any pageant ever turned out quite like this one did. I wrote up a transcript of exactly what this ended up looking like, with sheep stealing baby Jesus, Mary asking “How can I be a virgin?” and more. I just posted that transcript as a Note on my Facebook page, but I can't figure out how to post a link of it for those who don't have Facebook.

The festivities continued as we hosted a Christmas Eve party for about 30 people, and opened stockings Christmas morning. The stocking-opening was quite the memorable event, as we had Fadi’s younger siblings staying with us, and it was their first time getting Christmas stockings.

One of the girls even took everything out of her stocking, admired it all, then put it all back in. When Karen asked her what she was doing, she said, “I want to open it again!” Another girl, who doesn’t speak more than a few words of English, was able to use one of her new words when she exclaimed in a loud voice and a broad smile, “Bubbles!” when she pulled that gift out of her stocking. The girls also really enjoyed their sunglasses and play cell phones. :)

The excitement of the Christmas Eve party, the fun of watching Fadi’s younger brothers and sisters enjoying Christmas morning, and the dry, hot weather was helpful in keeping my mind off of how much I missed being home this Christmas. But there were a couple times when I missed my family and friends to the point of tears.

My mood quickly picked up when, two days after Christmas, we piled a week’s worth of camping gear and food in two trucks and headed for the beach! It was such a refreshing week, full of lounging on the beach, exploring the jungle, stalking monkeys, building a hut, sleeping under the stars, and playing a midnight game of Red Rover in the ocean to welcome in the new year! I created a photo album here:

It was also a good time of processing the past few months, thinking about what God had been teaching me, and making goals for the next semester. It is evident that God has really been building up my endurance and my ability to give and receive grace as I get used to staying in one place for 10 months. I’m also learning how to manage my time so I can be effective in ministry and teaching and not get burned out. At the same time, God is teaching me to surrender to Him on a deeper level and to focus more on people than efficiency. Praise God for his never-ending grace through my never-ending growth process!

After a very eventful Christmas and New Year’s season, the Jacksons and I are mostly back on a routine. The girls and I have renewed energy for this next school semester, and I’m reorganizing my weekly commitments so it’s not as overwhelming as it got by the end of last semester. Unfortunately, as we get settled back into a routine, we are also fighting off some illnesses. A flu bug and a cold have been traveling through our house for the past couple weeks. We have a theory that the dry season is mostly to blame, because there is a lot of dust and pollution being blown about each day. Waiting for the rainy season to come back is a good reminder of how we should long for God like the dry land longs for rain. After experiencing an African dry season, I have a better idea of how deep that longing should be.


--After a great deal of rescheduling and doubting whether Operation Christmas Child was actually going to happen, it happened! With great success!

--I really enjoyed Christmas, even while missing home

--God refreshed my body and soul during this holiday, especially at the beach

--No one got malaria as a result of the feast we gave the beach mosquitoes

--God is actively at work in my heart, constantly challenging me to grow and giving me the strength to do it

Prayer Requests:

--Health for everyone in our household

--Wisdom for how to re-prioritize my commitments so I can give my all and not burn out

--Wisdom for how to develop the girls’ skills and increase their knowledge in this second semester

--That I would stay on a schedule of having daily quiet times with God