Saturday, November 12, 2011

Welcome Fall

In Alabama, fall has finally arrived. After two years, Shalene and I are thrilled to see our first cool weather. This past Sunday we enjoyed grilling hot dogs in a local park while Abigail picked up pretty fall leaves and stuffed them in the pockets of daddy's cargo pants. We have also found some great leaf peeping drives. My favorite was the drive up Alabama route 25 from Sylacauga to Leeds, AL. More than once Shalene looked at me and said, "This is just like the Blue Ridge Parkway". This is such a special time of year because in Sudan there is no 'cool' weather. There is only really hot and dry, or very hot and muggy. Nor could we enjoy the beauty of fall colors, everything just seems to sublimely go from green to brown before you realize a change has happened.

I am stepping into my new position as the field coordinator for Peru. Make Way Partners has sensed God calling for some time to engage in South America. Now we are preparing to send a young missionary couple to Peru to find indigenous partners at work fighting trafficking. Whitney has worked with Make Way Partners for four years, and her husband David recently joined our staff. They are preparing to leave for Peru in February. Every week, we meet together to prepare both for the logistics of their departure, but more importantly to prepare our hearts for the work we will be doing in Peru.

You can join us in prayer. Right now, we pray for the many logistical details that David and Whitney will face in moving. They will have to find housing, transportation, and begin many difficult processes with a foreign system.

In prayer for Shalene and I, you can join us in giving thanks for the grace and renewal that God has provided through the coming of Fall.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Warm Greetings from Alabama

Some of you know that we returned to the US in June.  We did not announce this return because it was rather sudden, and after returning we decided to take a few weeks to reconnect with our mission community here in Birmingham.  
Our return was prompted after some attacks about 40 miles from our home resulted in numerous killings and child abductions.  Romano, the Hope for Sudan founder and director, asked us to fly out to Nairobi until we understood more about the violence.  We left immediately, and upon arriving in Nairobi, I (Kevin) consulted with our directors in the US and they asked us to return to Alabama and spend the time working from our home office.

While we have been here, we have worked to evaluate what we have done over the last 18 months, and what we hope to do.  We have recognized that Make Way Partners continues to grow, and the load that places on our staff in the US is growing.  I have also recognized that I need to do less building design and construction and more spiritual formation. 

In light of this, we have decided to stay in the US indefinitely.  I will take on new responsibilities in our home office.  
It has been very challenging for us to make such a significant decision so quickly.  It also makes us sad to part with the great friends we have made in Sudan over the last 18 months.  While sad to make this change so quickly, I am excited about the work that I will be doing with Make Way Partners, and I look forward to sharing more about it in the coming months.

The work in Torit will continue as planned.  My work there has been to train local craftsmen in new building techniques.  This has been successful, and Hope for Sudan will continue to protect and care for many children under Romano's direction.  

I (Kevin) will return to Sudan to collect the personal belongings that we need to bring back to the US.  I will be leaving tomorrow, August 27 and returning in mid-September. Shalene will not be able to make the trip, she will be remaining here to care for Abigail.  I do expect that I will be returning to Sudan regularly for specific projects or trips with Make Way Partners.

Grace and peace to you,
Kevin, Shalene, and Abigail

Saturday, April 23, 2011

"Trading Spaces"

Before joining Make Way Partners and moving to Sudan, in my unrealistic image of the missional life, I said I would "live in a tent" if that is where God led . . . little did I know, that would become reality.  When I saw the direction we were headed, living in a tent for probably a year with our 9 month old baby, the struggle to hold onto my American comforts and false sense of security began.  Over time, the desire to live a comfortable, “"safe”" life was overshadowed by our deeper call and God’s aching heart to help His children vulnerable to slave raiders, poverty, and disease. 

Many people have been amazed and interested in knowing, "How have you lived in a TENT with a BABY"?   I was often surprised by this question because life became somewhat normal and tent living didn't seem very strange. We found the experience valuable as we observed the culture and weathered some of the challenges the Sudanese face by living outside. 

After a year and 3 months of being in Sudan, our season of tent living has come to a close and we are very excited and thankful to announce that we have moved into our new house!!  It has been amazing to see and hear the excitement of the people on our compound and the guys building our house.  As we were preparing to move in, I passed the cooks and the guys building.  They talked of the chai (tea) and the grilled meat we would share together in our house. They informed us of the traditional house opening party that happens when someone moves into a new house, so we invited the builders and the compound over for grilled meat, chips (french fries), and sodas.

Our prayer is that our house would be a haven of rest and peace for us and those God would bring to our door.  We pray it may be used as a place for people to take part in our lives and us share in theirs.

We hope you enjoy our video tour!

Kevin, Shalene, and Abigail

Monday, March 28, 2011

Members of the United Nations Bring Joy to Hope for Sudan

In the midst of increased tension and chaos in parts of Southern Sudan, members of the UN took time to visit our children.  The UN began hearing there is a Kuwaijah "white" couple living in Moti working with orphans.  They became very interested and paid us a visit.  They observed the classes and viewed the dormitory.  The group went back to their camp very pleased and excited about seeing the children's bright smiles and the quality of teaching they are receiving.   One Sudanese member commented through a smile, "There is no teaching happening like this in Torit." Our teachers have been trained in Zambia and use an experiential teaching method as opposed to the repetition and memorization teaching method that is used in most schools. 

"When you hear the "Boing" hop like a Kangaroo"!

Abigail singing to the top of her lungs!
Surprisingly, the next day, another group came to see the children and were also very pleased . . .  and the next day, ANOTHER group from the UN came to visit.  I began wondering, "Why all the attention from the UN suddenly?"  I concluded, word had spread throughout the camp and the UN is excited and wanted all their members to see Hope for Sudan. 

Kevin shared a few songs

Two ladies, part of one of the groups that visited, from Norway and the Netherlands, were very eager to tell us a Canadian UN police "is very good on guitar" and offered him to come play for the children.  He and the two ladies came "off duty" Thursday and played songs, danced, listened to the kids' songs, and played a large game of "Duck, duck, CHICKEN"! 
"Duck, duck, CHICKEN"

Thursday, March 3, 2011

“Jesus Power. . . ALL over the World, Master Jesus, Jesus Come Lord”

Team and kids at Hope for Sudan
Abigail blessing the children of Sudan.

These were the words echoed in the voices of the children of Sudan one night, sung with such beauty and strength; their feet stomping to the rhythm of the drum in a cloud of thick dust that lay in the shadow of the moon.  Their bodies moved as one as they sang and worshiped their “Baba”, Heavenly Father, into the night.  These children . . .  the children of Sudan . . . the children of God . . . are praying for Jesus’ power to come ALL over the world, not just America, Australia, Canada, Europe, Asia . . . but ALL over the world!  As they sang and danced, they stood in powerful intercession for the people of the world.  These children, now some young men and young women, were not too long ago fighting for their lives in the bush as they watched their parents killed or die of starvation or disease.  Now they are cared for at New Life Ministry near Darfur and Hope for Sudan near the border of Uganda.  It was an honor to share a piece of dirt floor in front of their home as together we danced in warfare for the nations. 

Abigail loves singing with the children.
The Make Way Partner’s short term mission team was here for two weeks holding a vacation bible school, medical clinic, and women’s ministry meeting.  With over 600 children cared for through your support of Make Way Partners and hundreds of sick people seen by the medical team, it may have been easy to be overwhelmed by the numbers.  Really, the overwhelming feeling we experienced was the amount of love that God gave us to pour on His people.  Each team member has stories of how someone touched THEM and how they saw the Glory of God revealed. 

Here is the story from Make Way Partners' team leader, Matt, of bringing Dr. Sivley, the dentist to New Life Ministry. . .

Elizabeth is a sassy child around thirteen years of age.  Elizabeth is a bit of a “middle child” in that she is neither among the oldest nor the youngest children at New Life Ministry, she is at that in-between age.  One year ago I was sitting with James Lual Atak when Elizabeth came walking up, obviously in pain.  She and James spoke a moment in Dinka, then James asked me to look at her tooth. Sure enough, Elizabeth had a terrible cavity that was obviously causing her pain.  The extreme malnutrition these children endured before coming under our care has resulted in teeth prone to cavities.  James lamented to me that there was nothing to do for a child in this situation.  I committed to James that I would bring a dentist “next year.”  I know better than to make a promise like that, but I thought, “How hard could it be to find a dentist who will come to Darfur?”  Well, it actually turned out to be a bit more challenging than I had realized! Thankfully, God led me to Dr. Mark Sivley of Abilene, Texas and Dr. Mark committed to join our team.  Mark pulled many teeth and relieved much pain during our week in Nyamlel.  When I saw Elizabeth this year I was so happy to see that Dr. Sivley had been able to pull that hurting tooth.  Shes miled her beautiful smile, a smile no longer marred by physical pain.  I sat down with Elizabeth and told her:

“Elizabeth, last year I saw the pain you were in because of your tooth and I knew that God was telling me to find a dentist to help you.  Because of you, I went and found Dr. Mark and brought him here to help you and the other children. I am sorry that it took us so long, but I want you to know that God used you to show me this need – because of you, so many people have found help this week.”

I won’t forget the look on Elizabeth’s face as I shared this with her, via our wonderful student interpreter Mary Achu.  Elizabeth felt so special as she learned that someone had seen her suffering and remembered her.  This humble child assured Dr. Mark and I – “God will bless you for helping me.  God’s peace be with you always, you have helped me and God will never forget it.”  You can see precious Elizabeth and her beautiful smile, along with Dr. Mark, in this picture. 
Dr. Mark pulled MANY teeth!

One of the amazing tasks of the team was to JUST see and be present to witness the life of a child.  I say, “JUST” but seeing and being a witness in another’s life is no small task.  It is a task that takes being still and present in one’s own soul. 

Hundreds waiting at the door of the clinic


Women from the meetings prayed for the sick.

Indigenous Director James Lual Atak, telling the crowd to come back tomorrow.

Dr. Kim Sweet praying for a woman.

One day, as I was teaching the children crafts, I had the privilege of being a witness to a small boy.  He had colored a beautiful picture of a butterfly that represented him as a new creation.  He was so proud of his picture, but may have been embarrassed to show it.  I looked up in the crowd that had gathered around me begging for crayons, and saw this little boy intentionally making his way for me.  What stood out to me about this little boy was he did not have a huge smile on his face as if to beg for my attention.  He came with a serious face and made his way quietly and calmly through the crowd to show me his picture, trusting I would “see” him.  It was in the quietness of the moment that he knew he had been noticed and that is what his little soul needed.  The image of him stuck with me as we, too, can come to Jesus, quietly and calmly, without forcing or begging, to be “seen” by him.
One of the boys with his butterfly.

The team had a very important theme at Hope for Sudan.  They taught good hygiene and hand washing.  I have spotted the kids washing their hands after the team has gone!

 Morning assembly at New Life Ministry.  Kevin, with Abigail on his back.  He took care of her while Mommy worked in Bible school

Make Way Partners has a child sponsorship program.  Audrey Moore is the coordinator.  As a child sponsor, it is very important to write letters to the child you provide for.  Each year, during Vacation Bible School, the team brings your letters and hand delivers them to your children.  Here, Audrey is calling names to give the letters.  To sponsor a child visit the website,  Make Way Partners' Child Sponsorship program.

  The children look forward to this day all year!

As I was thinking about the mission team returning to their home countries, I was reminded of a walk I had taken.  Not in the hot sandy African bush, but in the climate controlled Galleria mall in Birmingham, AL.  After Kevin and I had returned from this same mission trip 3 years ago, we were walking through the mall.  As we walked, we encountered the stores packed full of everything one could want or imagine to take home and probably collect dust on the shelves.  We listened to the jingle advertisement of the latest exercise equipment and the rumble and chatter of people who may not even imagine life outside of their comfortable world.   My soul was reminded of the children we had “left behind” singing and dancing in the bush with joy that they had a roof over their heads, food to eat, and a Father God who loves them.  I was reminded that there are many, many, more children alone in the bush without shelter, food, and maybe without the knowledge of a Heavenly Father.  I was also reminded, as I stood in the climate controlled building with many choices of food at my fingertips, that even though I was in a comfortable place, the people I left in Sudan were still there dancing and singing in the hot dusty air and some in the bush scavenging for food and struggling to survive. 
Daughters of the King

I think about the mission team's thoughts and how their souls may fit back into life in the Western World.   I am continually thinking about how my soul interacts in my “home away from home” and in a different culture as we now remain in Sudan.  That walk in the mall is now a memory as we are, too, part of the ones, joyfully, “left behind”.

Those that have gone back to your home countries, remember the children you met and the experiences you had and share the stories of the people of Sudan.  Those whom have not yet come and are called to support and pray for, remember the children who have been saved through Make Way Partners’ children’s homes, New Life Ministry near Darfur, and Hope for Sudan, near the border of Uganda, and the ones desperately in need of rescue.

To view the picture albums from Vacation Bible School at Hope for Sudan and New Life Ministry, visit our Picasa Web Albums.

The whole team

There are many ways you can help and partner in saving these children.  Visit  Make Way Partners  website to find out how.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

"Away in . . .the Bush. . . No Crib for a Bed. . . ."

 Imagine a noisy, bustling hospital room, many people sticking you with needles in precarious places, all dignity lost, and all the modern equipment and medicine to bring life into this world. 

Next, imagine a young, simple couple in a manger with the only witnesses to new life emerging, the animals it housed and Father God . . . no modern medicine, equipment, or fancy birthing techniques. 

This was the picture I held as I approached the “delivery room” of a simple bush woman, a servant, a friend.   In the stillness and simplicity of the moonlit night was a woman participating in the dance her body was created to do, give birth.  There she was perched against her outdoor bamboo kitchen with her body held strong and dignified, squatting on a cement block as she prepared to give birth in the sand.  A few sisters gathered around and simplicity was our companion and the grace and mercy of the Lord at our right hand.

The day of her delivery, the mother had been to our home (tent).  I had taken her to her home with a load of fire wood.  She left the vehicle at her path and hoisted the heavy load onto her head. Little did she or I know she would deliver that night.  Women here have no way of knowing the sex of the baby or when the baby is due.  They often wait for weeks expecting the baby to come any time.  I was surprised to hear she did not have a “plan” for whom she would contact when she went into labor nor anyone to help her.  I exchanged numbers with a pastor neighbor, since the mother has no phone, and went on my way.  I got a call from that pastor at around 11:00 that night telling me to come and bring her husband, brother to indigenous director Romano, who was working and sleeping on our compound.  We quickly and calmly gathered a few supplies, surgical gloves, sterile scissors, and blankets and loaded into the land cruiser bound for the laboring mother.  I did not know if there was anyone to help her, but I had a peace that she and the baby would be ok and I would know what to do if and when I needed to do anything. 

I was thankful when we arrived to find 3 women gathered around.  The scene was calm unlike many other births I have heard about in Sudan.  In my effort to try to “sterilize” the delivery, I gave the birthing companion the sterile gloves.  Surprisingly she took them and struggled to figure out how to put them on.  She managed to get one on when the baby came. 

As Jesus was birthed in the stillness of the night and laid simply in a manger, this bush baby boy emerged into the night and entered into the beauty of life and the pain of a land ravished by war.  The courage and strength of the mother were amazing as she eased her baby from her body.  Her birthing companion sat beneath her with strong and graceful hands ready to cradle the baby as it emerged. 

Holding the baby, one of the women took 3 pieces of plastic from a plastic bag and tied the umbilical chord.  I brought out the scissors and motioned for someone to cut the chord.  Well, that someone was me.  I was nervous not really knowing where to cut.  I asked and pointed, “Here?”  The ladies nodded.  The night air was cool so I quickly wrapped blankets around the baby while the mother waited to deliver the placenta. 

I sat swaddling the little boy like, I am sure Mary, mother of Jesus, did on that still, peaceful night.  The women and I joined in a quiet chuckle in celebration and joy of this new life we beheld.  Father God was smiling as His hand had guided this life out of his mother’s body. 

When the mother was ready, she stood gracefully and walked into her tuckle (house).  I laid her baby boy beside her in swaddling clothes on the dirt floor.

Sadly, not all births happen this way in the bush.  Often there are many, too many, women gathered around shouting, pushing, pulling and causing chaos.  This rumble of activity, in an effort to be the one in charge, causes stress for the mother and causes her body to tense and work counter productively.  Many unnecessary behaviors and preventable problems occur during child birth.  With malnutrition and the lack of medical attention, in the event of an emergency, many women and babies die.  I was thankful there were no complications in the birth I witnessed and no medical intervention was needed.  The simplicity and grace of this birth were a beautiful miracle.

When I visited the mother and baby the next day, she informed me she and her husband named the baby boy Kevin.  

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Referendum and a time for rest

Recently we were in Nyamlel, Sudan at New Life Ministries with our mission team.  Early in the week, in the middle of the night, we were awakened by gunfire in the distance.  Startled, we slept with one eye opened and our souls aware.  This is not an unusual sound, but it usually brings concern.  It was not until I returned to Torit that I realized the likely reason for the gunfire.  It was in celebration of the referendum results.

Phillip and Linda Byler are the Sudan team leaders for mission agency, African Inland Mission.   Here is a clip of their post on the referendum.

The last six weeks for South Sudan have been nothing short of AMAZING! Worldwide media predicted dire impossibility of a credible or peaceful referendum. Yet, while thousands around the world were praying, it happened in a quiet and beautiful way. Unanimously the international observers have declared the voting free, fair, and credible. Resoundingly the South Sudan people have pressed their thumbprint on the open hand and registered a vote for separation. Predictions are that over 95% have voted for separation from North Sudan.  Meanwhile the international crisis against oppressive governments triggered by the Tunisia uprising has also
affected Khartoum by weakening their political clout against the south. One month ago, my best- case-scenario was not this good.

South Sudan will not officially become a new nation until July 9, 2011. Meanwhile they need continued massive amounts of prayer to achieve the challenges of creating a new African Nation out of the war
rubble of past decades. By God’s grace it can happen.

 Kevin, Abigail, and I went to Kenya during the referendum process to stock up on supplies, visit the doctor, and take our first vacation living in Africa. We visited the port town of Mombasa, Kenya.   We stayed in the African Inland Mission guest house on the Indian Ocean.  It was beautiful and quiet.   We recognized, though, we are in Africa and not FULLY able to relax.  The guest house had tight security and, to get to the ocean, we had to unlock 3 heavy pad locks.  We couldn't leave anything on the beach, even to go in the ocean, AND we were always stared at being the few white people in bathing suits on the beach.   These are a few conditions we have to become accustomed to living in a different country.

We enjoyed family time and time for reflection of the milestone of the past year living in Sudan.  A few of the highlights were a lunch boat cruise aboard the Tamarind Dhow, swimming in the ocean, walking out onto the coral reef, and Abigail and I watching Daddy fishing with a Kenyan guide in a dugout canoe.

We ended our Kenya visit by welcoming our mission team from the US and Australia.  We flew back to our home in Torit with them to hold a Bible school with our kids at Hope for Sudan and New Life Ministries, in Nyamlel.  The two weeks with them were beautiful.

Kevin, with class mates, in his bee suit
We flew out of Nymlel and the team dropped Abigail
and I off in Torit.  Kevin flew on to Nairobi for a week-long bee keeping 
course.  He learned much and is eager to bring bees to "bee" the newest members of Hope for Sudan!

I will share more about the VBS and some pics on another blog post.

We have recently heard of pockets of tribal violence and fighting throughout Southern, Sudan.  Please continue to pray for the peace of Sudan, the youngest nation in the world!


Kevin, Shalene, and Abigail

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

tis the season of . . . Anticipation

As I thought about our Christmas season in Sudan, the word that came to me was anticipation.  This season marks a year since we have moved to Africa.  Last Christmas, we were in Birmingham, AL.   Both of our families came to visit us and participated in helping wrap up our lives in the US, pack, and eagerly anticipate with great joy and fear our move to Sudan in early January.

The year was filled with anticipation as we awaited supply trucks to come from Nairobi carrying supplies for the construction, as we watched our fence being built to secure a home for the orphans, as we laid our first brick to begin Hope for Sudan, as we little by little made our home and anticipated building our permanent home, as we anticipated the arrival of the land cruiser, as we eagerly anticipated  the end of the rainy season so we could bring the land cruiser to the compound,  as we anticipated the arrival of our diamonds, AND as we came full circle and again anticipated the celebration of the coming of baby Jesus.

In the first few months of living in Sudan and in anticipation of all these events, I sensed my soul begin to loose sight of the beauty and value in the simplicity of our every day pioneering life.  I was encouraged to keep my focus on what the Lord wanted to teach me in each moment of each day. My soul began to come alive as I became still . . . waited, listened, and observed the people, events, and life around me.  The anticipation I felt was exciting, but it was in the small "happenings" of daily, simple life in the beginning stages of Hope for Sudan that began to deepen and enrich my soul.

In part of my anticipation of Christmas in Sudan, I thought about some traditions we could begin as a family.  Before leaving Alabama, I made an Advent Christmas tree to count down in anticipation the birthday of Jesus.  In the evenings, Abigail crawled up in Kevin's lap as he read the advent scriptures and then excitedly put the numbers on the tree.  As we have anticipated and made many preparations for our "babies" to come to Hope for Sudan, in celebrating advent, we shared in the experience of the Israelites anticipating and preparing for the coming of baby Jesus. 

I had a Masai man in Nairobi make our 6 ft. Christmas tree out of banana fibers.  Abigail and I made decorations and we squeezed it into our tent.

 Abigail enjoyed opening some gifts from family. 

She saw the ball on the Santa hat, got excited, and said "ball".  She LOVES balls!

With every pump by hand to get water from our well, we anticipated the arrival of our electric pump.  On Christmas Eve, Kevin, missionary Phillip Byler, and some of our workers spent the day installing a new electric pump and erecting a water storage tower!

Christmas morning, I ran over to the dormitory to capture the moment of our children receiving their first set of new clothes on Christmas.  I didn't know how significant this was until we took a drive into town later that day. We passed by people that, the rest of the year, wore filthy tatered rags.  It felt like we were driving through a card with almost everyone we passed, having new, very bright and clean clothes and shoes.  They experience great joy to wear bright beautiful clothes for that one day a year.  

As the kids dressed, they anticipated going to church under the mango tree to celebrate Jesus' birth . . . and to show off their new clothes and shoes!  Abigail greeted them all and then placed her chair right in the middle.

The kids  formed a dance group and they presented us with song and dance.

Kevin told the Christmas story. 

 In the evening, two Catholic missionary priests, Father Harold and Father Sylvester from the US came with some local youth to show an animated video of the birth of Jesus.


The priests brought coloring sheets of Mary holding baby Jesus and crayons.  This was probably the first time any of the children had held a crayon.  The kids caught on quickly and colored beautiful pictures!

The priests, Romano, his wife Susan and boys shared a Christmas meal of grilled meat, mashed potatoes, deviled (angel) eggs, and pineapple upside down cake with us around our table.

 The season was a beautiful celebration of the many anticipations of the year and culminating the year in anticipation of the coming of our Lord!