Saturday, December 21, 2013

Prayer for Peace

I have been meaning to write a post about the recent events in South Sudan, but honestly, I have been overwhelmed....

Overwhelmed by the daily email alerts on the current situation in South Sudan

Overwhelmed by the contrast between the last week for my friends in South Sudan and the last week for my friends in the United States

This week the gap between the already and the not yet just seems overwhelmingly large...

But as I am reminded that the world is not yet as it should be, I am also reminded in this season of advent that Jesus is the Prince of Peace.

The faith and hope of my South Sudanese friends has often been greater than my own.  Jesus defeated death, and the church in South Sudan, that has known so much suffering, proclaims this boldly.

Now as I read the recent news of violence in South Sudan, I know that the church in South Sudan is continuing to proclaim the gospel of peace as they long for what is to come, a day when there will be no more death or war.

So I ask that churches around the world join the South Sudanese in praying for immediate peace and reconciliation in South Sudan.

Truly He taught us
to love one another;
His law is love and
His gospel is peace.
Chains shall He break
for the slave is our brother
And in His name
all oppression shall cease.
~ O Holy Night

*rainbow over South Sudan from my flight out of Mundri in November*

Sunday, October 27, 2013

The Equatorial Sun

The best word I can use to describe the equatorial sun in South Sudan is INTENSE.  I spend my days trying to hide from the sun under trees, in the shadow created by a large vehicle, under my hat, etc.  Some days the sun actually hurts my skin.  Michael is known for his sayings including "Never underestimate the power of the equatorial sun to reduce productivity."  

In the middle of the day when the sun is scorching the clothes on the drying line, the plants in the garden, and my skin, I try to remember the INTENSE BEAUTY that comes as a result.  I have seen many beautiful sunsets, but nothing quite compares to the glow cast on everything by the setting sun in equatorial Africa.  I wish you could all see with your own eyes the intensely beautiful sunrises and sunsets of South Sudan, but for now, a few pictures from the last month will have to do. =)

*Sunrise on an early morning walk with Larissa*

*Women greeting each other on the road at sunset*

I love the orange sunsets on the main road after a truck has kicked up some dust!

*Sunset at dinner time* 

I ran to get my camera, but I wish I had a picture of what the sky looked like just two minutes earlier.  Intense color!

Saturday, October 12, 2013

The Reality of Community

I have heard that most missionaries leave the field because of team conflict. Yes, it is true that ministry can be challenging, cross-cultural interactions can be confusing, and the living conditions may be hard, but the greatest challenges often lie in living and serving with other sinful Christians.

Our team has had our share of conflict over the last few weeks, and while it has been hard, as we address the conflict, admit sin, repent, show grace, and forgive, it has also been restorative and part of God’s sanctifying work in each of our lives.  This has definitely been true for me over the last week in particular.
I have been rereading Bonhoeffer’s Life Together over the last few days, and it has been both encouraging and convicting.  This little book is just packed with goodness.  I will only mention a couple of things here, so I highly recommend reading and rereading the whole book.  

So what have I been learning?

First, I am weak, and other Christians can be a tremendous blessing to me in my weakness.

“Therefore the Christian needs another Christian who speaks God's Word to him.... The Christ in his own heart is weaker than the Christ in the word of his brother; his own heart is uncertain, his brother's is sure. And that also clarifies the goal of all Christian community: they meet one another as bringers of the message of salvation.” p. 23

“Do we really think there is a single person in this world who does not need either encouragement or admonition?”  p. 106

Secondly, community is a GIFT from God.  It is not guaranteed to the Christian.  God is the All-Sufficient One.  While it is very good for me to have Christian community, I do not NEED community.

“It is easily forgotten that the fellowship of Christian brethren is a gift of grace, a gift of the Kingdom of God that any day may be taken from us.” p. 20

Thirdly, and most importantly for me in this season, comparing my current experience in community to previous experiences is not helpful.  In fact, it is very detrimental.

“If we do not give thanks daily for the Christian fellowship in which we have been placed, even where there is no great experience, no discoverable riches, but much weakness, small faith, and difficulty; if on the contrary we only keep complaining to God that everything is so paltry and petty, so far from what we expected, then we hinder God from letting our fellowship grow according to the measure and riches which are there for us all in Jesus Christ.”  p. 29

I have failed at this in major ways over the last year.  My sinful heart wants the gifts of grace I have received from God in previous seasons of my life as I walk through today’s trials.  I have failed to see God as sufficient. I have also placed expectations on others that have made it even more difficult for the community that I desire to grow.  I have spent a large part of the last year praying for stability in friendships.  It has been a very long time since I have had a prayer partner.  I miss the reciprocity and familiarity of those relationships.  But instead of trusting God through this rather solitary season, I either tried to force community or retreated in unhelpful ways.  In hind sight I see that God was teaching me about his sufficiency.

Getting away from abstractions, I had some very challenging interactions with men in town last week.  These interactions were by no means appropriate, but because I “reacted to the circumstances of life rather than responding to the knowledge of God,” (Lord, I Want to Know You, Kay Arthur) it became a much bigger deal to me than it had to be.  I let it get to me in a way that had me doubting my identity in Christ.  And my sinful heart led me to interact poorly with my teammates as I struggled.  I both sought support from my community in a demanding and sharp way and retreated from what support was available.  After three hard days, I took a day to be alone in prayer, reading scripture, and listening to a few sermons from my home church.  God met me in a beautiful and loving way that day.  The next day, I had some good redemptive conversations with my teammates.  I initially reacted out of unbelief, and I did not deserve God’s grace to me in the days that followed, but that’s the heart of the gospel!

Satan is at work in Mundri, and would like nothing more than to create conflict on our team, to cause me to doubt my identity in Christ, and to lead any one of us to stop following God in the battle.  What does this look like? Satan uses my circumstances to accuse me of being inadequate and alone, but God has already won the battle and is victorious in my life.  I belong to God, and my identity is secure.  God will never leave me or forsake me.

This morning before I sat down to do write this blog post, do some homework, prepare my lesson for girls’ club, and work on the community questionnaire for my nodding disease study, I decided to listen to a sermon from my home church titled Grace and Peace.  Pastor Steve said, “There will never be peace anywhere in the world until grace reigns.” He continues saying “there will never be peace in your heart … until grace reigns.” My first thought was that there will never be any peace on our team until grace reigns. I am still learning a lot about grace, and I am thankful for the opportunity to learn about grace in community with a bunch of other sinful missionaries who minister from weakness.

“When the message of grace yields the fruit of peace then we possess and wield gospel power” ~ Pastor Steve

In the end, team life has its challenges, but it also has great rewards. Who wouldn't want to be a part of this crazy community?!

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Do No Harm?

After reading Do No Harm by Mary Anderson, our class decided that our book on development would probably be called something more like Do Good... and as little harm as possible.

Because in research, development, missions, and so many other fields, you are probably going doing to do some harm even with the best intentions.  So what to do? Well, if you don't know what to say in Dr. B's class, just raise your hand and say prayerful discernment.  It sounds like just another cliche Christian answer, but really that is one of the main lessons I learned at Eastern.   In the middle of really complicated, messy, and grey development work, we can enter into a process of prayerful discernment, trust in the guidance of the holy spirit, be humble, do our homework on best practices, keep learning from others, and a bunch of other things, but you get the idea.

This is more a reminder for myself than anything else, but since lots of people ask me what I read at Eastern and what I learned, here it is for you to consider as well.   And I would recommend the book for those interested in development.  There is a lot to be gleaned from Mary Anderson's arguments and the case studies she presents.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Lament, Hope, God’s Sovereignty, and Nodding Disease

"The laments are refusals to settle for the way things are. They are acts of relentless hope that believes no situation falls outside Yahweh's capacity for transformation."~ Walter Brueggemann

"Lament relies on God's sovereignty and not our ability." ~ Soong Chan Rah

I have been praying a lot about lament, hope, and the sovereignty of God over the last week as I prepare to start a research project on nodding disease.  I will be focusing on the cultural perceptions of the disease, but I have also added several of Scott and Heidi’s medical questions to the study.  As a grad student, I spent a large part of the last year doing research, but this time instead of sitting in a library reading scholarly articles, I will be sitting with families who have been affected by this horrific disease.

Let me start by telling you what little is known about nodding disease.  It is found only in parts of South Sudan, northern Uganda, and Tanzania, but Mundri town is one of the locations with the highest density of nodding disease cases.  It primarily affects children between the ages of 5 and 15.  The disease is named after the characteristic head nodding that occurs when the child is presented with food and they are unable to stay awake to eat the food.  This leads to malnutrition and wasting.  The disease is also characterized by seizures, and anti-seizure medications are often prescribed but have little effect. Some patients who claim to have nodding disease actually have epilepsy or another seizure disorder, but nodding disease patients often have a distinct child-like appearance, a protruding upper lip, and significant mental decline.  In most cases, the children were completely normal in appearance and mental capacity prior to the onset of nodding disease symptoms.  There is no known cure and researchers do not know the cause of the disease.  Some believe it has a genetic component; others link it to river blindness.  There is a lot that is not yet understood about nodding disease.

It is easy to share this basic clinical information about nodding disease, but much harder to share the reality of how nodding disease affects families.   Children develop sores on their legs from the chains that are used to tie them to trees so they don’t wander into the river and drown or burn themselves in the fire.  Families are ostracized from the community because of the stigma related to the disease.

And I am not talking about a handful of children and families.  It is believed that there are at least 300 children with nodding disease in the greater Mundri area.

These families have interacted with several researchers in the past who with good intentions have left people feeling like objects to be studied.  Researchers come in on an airplane, information is gathered, blood samples are taken, and then the researchers leave the same way they arrived.  The results of the research do not often make it back to the families being studied.  But the body of research on nodding disease is growing, and that is a good thing.  Doing medical research through translators in a rural part of East Africa is complicated to say the least.  And thank you, Heidi, for helping me refine my perspective on nodding disease research! One reason why it is good to have teammates. =)

So now that I have shared that information with you, I ask that you would join me in prayer.  Pray my actions and words would reflect my belief that each child with nodding disease is made in the image of God. Pray that I would be able to enter into each family’s grief with both lament for the reality of nodding disease and hope of future glory.  Pray that I would enter into the lives of families affected by nodding disease in a way that loves, hopes, laments, affirms dignity.

In God’s perfect timing, our team’s bible study last week focused on the sovereignty of God, and this week in particular I am thankful for the book of Job and for Joseph who said “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good” Genesis 50:20.

Satan meant nodding disease for evil, but God meant it for good.  I have no idea why or how that gives God glory.  I will probably never know.  But even though my finite human self may not understand the workings of an infinite God, I still trust that it is true.

I am also thankful for Psalm 88 which cries out to God in prayer, questions, laments, and is an act of worship, but does not turn to praise like the many of the other psalms, because some days lament is all I can manage.

So as I prepare to interview families who have been affected by nodding disease, I am very seriously asking that you would join me in prayer.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Familiar and Changed

Flying over Mundri, I could already see some of the changes that had taken place over the last year and half. There were more tin roofs in town and a lot more organized gardens.  The second thing I noticed is that the main road in Mundri is A LOT worse than when I left.

It is easy to spot the changes, but starting with Bishop who picked us up at the airstrip, I noticed that one thing has definitely not changed, and that is the happy, welcoming greetings of my friends in Mundri.  Even as I sit in my room and write this post, I can hear James Wani's familiar happy laugh across the compound. Some things will never change. =)

Over the next few days I got settled back into daily life in Mundri, greeting friends, slowly remembering Moru and Juba Arabic words and phrases, fixing bikes, making sorghum tortillas, buying food in the market, sweating while biking down the red dirt road, and driving the Land Cruiser or more accurately, stalling multiple times in town on my way to church and developing an audience waiting to see if I would manage to get the car into first gear. In the end a shopkeeper came and parked the car for me.  =)

So many things are familiar, but a lot has also changed.  My role on the team has also changed significantly. And so a new season of life in Mundri starts for me.  It has been such a blessing to step back into friendships that have survived my long absence, particularly at Mundri Secondary School (MSS).  Tomorrow will be my first meeting with the young women who are students at (MSS), so please pray for me as I consider what God would have for our time together each week.  

Traveling Mercies

Thank you so much for your prayers as I traveled!!!  Everything that could go right, did go right!

Here are just a few traveling tidbits:

I really do dislike packing, but I've honed my skills as I have racked up the frequent flyer miles.  And yes, I'm the girl who wheels enormous trunks in the out doors of the supermarket to use the large scale.  =)

After four long flights, I was so happy to be greeted in Uganda by the familiar smiling face of my favorite Ugandan driver, David.

The next morning six women from the South Sudan team piled into the Hilux and headed to Fort Portal for the weekend to celebrate Bethany's birthday and connect with some of the WHM Uganda team.

These pictures don't do justice to the stunning beauty of the crater lake and the tea plantation at dusk.

Even when small things went wrong, God provided little mercies to make it right again.  For example, when I realized that my sunglasses were broken, I happened to be standing directly in front of an eye glass shop in Kampala!  I was able to get them repaired in about 15 minutes for for about $2.  =)

My week in Uganda was a real blessing, but very busy with lots of travel and errands.  I am so happy to be back in South Sudan now, unpacked, and jumping back into the familiar rhythms of life in Mundri!

Friday, August 9, 2013

Out of sight...

Out of sight, but hopefully not out of mind.  =) 

There are so many truly wonderful things about the missionary life, but it comes with its challenges.  In particular, I long for more stability and continuity in my friendships.  En masse communication through blogs is great, but the reality is that it is not a substitute for personal connections.

This desire is by no means unique to missionaries.  We were created for relationship.  But as I prepare for yet another transition, the obstacles to deep relationship start to feel insurmountable.  Time differences and bad internet connections are just the tip of the iceberg.  

And just to give credit where it is due, my family has done a wonderful job at pursuing me and persevering through the obstacles as I move from place to place!  In fact, I have often been the one who has failed to put in the work to overcome the obstacles to maintaining friendships across oceans.  

Sitting down over a cup of coffee may not possible, but there are several things that are possible that help me feel less isolated from my friends around the world.  Really I just wanted to say that while these suggestions may seem small to you, they make a BIG difference to me when I'm in South Sudan.  

1. Send me actual mail! When the MAF plane lands with our team's mail, there is nothing quite like the joy of finding an unexpected letter or package.  Packages can take months to arrive, but letters arrive much faster! Just keep in mind not to include anything that can melt in packages, and if you aren't sure (i.e. dark chocolate), best to put it in a zip-lock bag.  =)

World Harvest Mission
c/o Christine Olmeda
PO Box 355

Mail can be expensive, but the rest of these options are free!

2. Send me an email or reply to my prayer letters.  Let me know what is going on in your life.  You don't need to have big news to write. Send me a link to a news article that made you think of me. Ask me questions, including any questions your kids may have about South Sudan.  Send me a quote from a book or sermon that encouraged you.  Or just say hi.  =)

3. Comment on my blog or facebook posts.  Let me know that you are praying or thinking of me.  Let me know your own thoughts!  Be a part of the conversation.  I love learning from my friends.

These things can be a huge encouragement to me! I know that I am supported by the prayers of so many people around the world, but sometimes I start to believe the lies that run through my mind and I can begin to think that I've been forgotten.  

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

AT Water Quality Testing: Suggestions Welcome!

My week at ECHO reminded me how much I enjoy appropriate technology solutions to problems!

For the last year, I have been focusing on international development, which I have loved, but there are moments when I have really missed science, engineering, and hands on experimentation.  So even though I won't officially be involved with the water ministry when I return to South Sudan, I am thinking experimenting with appropriate technology solutions for water quality testing as a fun side project if I have the time.    

After observing a demonstration of ECHO's biosand filter, my first though was that I wouldn't drink the water.  I know how biosand filters work, but the engineer in me wants quality assurance.  The same goes for most of the other popular appropriate technology water treatment methods.  

So here is my question: 

Does anyone out there know of any appropriate technology solutions for water quality testing? 

The research I have seen uses expensive testing techniques and requires a full lab.  I'm sure others might have more faith in biosand filters than I do, but if I wouldn't drink the water, I have a hard time recommending it to anyone.  I have also seen resources that recommend always using a disinfection tablet in conjunction with biosand filters, which is great if they are consistently available and affordable.  If you need to use a disinfection tablet in the end anyway, it seems to me like a biosand filter isn't really necessary since simple sedimentation and filtration would probably be enough to prepare the water for disinfection.  So for a lot of reasons, I want to know if there is a way to determine water quality beyond just measuring turbidity that doesn't require sending away samples.  

Ideally the testing could be done with only materials purchased or found in East Africa.  

I welcome any and all resources, suggestions, thoughts, crazy ideas, etc.  Send them my way! I haven't done much research on the topic, so maybe the answer to my question is already out there, which would be awesome.  No need to reinvent the wheel. I'd love to learn! 

Friday, August 2, 2013


I had the opportunity to spend the last week studying tropical agriculture for development at ECHO.   Here are just a few pictures and quick captions.

 One day for lunch we had a salad that contained 34 ingredients fresh from the global farm! 

Mount Victor at ECHO (elevation 24 feet) demonstrates agricultural techniques that can be used on mountainous terrain.   Different sections of the farm are set up as examples of various tropical climates including the climate most similar to South Sudan.  

  I learned a lot through the classes, but the best part of the week was connecting with and learning from like-minded individuals.  

The global farm was a truly beautiful place to explore as I meandered through the different pathways.  =)  

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Living in the Grey

My love of the sciences started when I was a little girl.  I asked questions that had black and white answers and loved solving problems.  I have always been drawn to the beauty of fractals and images with symmetry and structure.

My windshield on a cold morning in Richmond
But from the moment I arrived in East Africa over four years ago, I started to learn to live in the grey and the abstract.  It was a slow process, but somewhere in the middle of it all, I became much more comfortable asking the questions that don't always have definite answers.  Missions and international development are full of these types questions as is the Christian faith.  

I still have moments when I want everything to have a black and white answer, and I'm continually learning how to live by faith in the grey.  It is an ongoing process.  Learning to live in the grey does not exclude the scientific method by any means.   I still love fractals and solving concrete problems. I just have also come to love discussing questions that have answers that I cannot yet understand or that may not have answers at all.

This may not much make much sense to you, but if you can relate, then maybe you are one the many friends who has questioned, considered, discussed, and prayed with me in a living room, coffee shop, classroom, or car ride.  For these friends I am deeply thankful.  

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

When I Don't Trust

Support raising missionaries talk a lot about trusting in God's provision, and I am no exception. I am so thankful for the record I have of God's provision and the ways he has answered prayers.

But with three weeks left in the US, an ever increasing number of items on my to-do list, a dying computer that I really can't afford to replace, my support account still over a thousand dollars short of my goal, and more goodbyes on the horizon, trusting in God's provision becomes the thing I say but don't do.  I start problem-solving like the engineer that I am with a heart full of doubt.  I stop trusting, leave God out of the process, and act independently without asking for help.

The sinful tendencies of my heart come out in these moments when there is no buffer.  It is easier to trust in God's provision when I have plenty of time and savings to fall back on if necessary. Today I listened to a sermon on Habakkuk and was reminded that my version of not having a buffer as an American is no where even close to what is experienced by so many people around the world where God's provision is the difference between life and death.  The reality of trusting in God's provision is that God may not answer my prayers or the prayers of Christians around the world.  Yet God is always faithful.

I have experienced God's faithfulness in times of struggle and unanswered prayers in my own life, yet I so easily forget this record.  As my pastor pointed out, the stories of God's provision and answered prayers are the ones most often shared by Christians.   But if I look back honestly at my own life, each story of God's faithfulness in unanswered prayers has shown me more about the character of God than all the answered prayers combined.

In these moments when the buffer I have become accustomed to is no longer there, the true state of my heart is exposed.  So please pray against my doubt and unbelief.  Pray that I would not just say that I am trusting in God, but that my heart would actually trust God with every detail of my last three weeks in the US.   Pray that I would remember the ways God has been faithful to me in previous times of struggle, but more than that, pray that I would recognize that my concerns are small and that God is faithful even in death.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

On the Move with Jayber Crow

Last night I turned in my last grad school paper of the summer semester, which more than anything else marked the transition to summer for me.

I'm already on the road, making my way down the east coast, stopping to visit friends here and there on my way to Southwest Florida.

I am counting my time left in the US in weeks rather than months now, and my to-do list seems to just keep getting longer.

This is the stage for me that is filled with excitement as I anticipate biking along the familiar red-dirt roads of Mundri and being reunited with dear friends.  It is also a time of sadness as I say both hello and goodbye to old friends in Richmond and all over the US.

As I make this journey, I have been listening to Jayber Crow on audiobook.  Knowing it was one of Bethany's favorite books, I downloaded it right away when I saw it available on Noisetrade.  I'm not even at the half way point of the book or my drive, but so far I love how Wendell Berry speaks about community in a slow and humble way with a Southern accent all wrapped up in story.  I didn't realize how much I longed for a good story, but after reading a lot of academic articles and text books over the last year, I am completely engaged in the story of Jayber Crow's life and the Port William community.  Stability in relationships and community are topics I have been praying a lot about this year, but rather than continuing to ramble about community, I will just leave you with the link to Jayber Crow on audiobook.  =)

“'You have been given questions to which you cannot be given answers. You will have to live them out - perhaps a little at a time.'
'And how long is that going to take?'
'I don't know. As long as you live, perhaps.'
'That could be a long time.'
'I will tell you a further mystery,' he said. 'It may take longer.'”
― Wendell Berry, Jayber Crow

Monday, June 10, 2013

Half Way There, Livin' on a Prayer

On Friday I put on a cap, gown, and hood along with all the other economic and international development students from my cohort at Eastern University.  Friends and family came to watch us walk across a stage and NOT graduate.  We still have half of the summer term and the fall practicum to complete, but since we will be scattered across the globe in when we actually graduate, having a special service now made more sense.  

Standing in line waiting to walk in the auditorium, one of my classmates suggested "Livin' on a Prayer" as an  anthem for our commissioning service.  The lyrics to the chorus were perfect, so a few of us started singing.  

Whooah, we're half way there 
Livin' on a prayer 
Take my hand and we'll make it - I swear 
Livin' on a prayer 

After the service, I went out to dinner with my parents, and everyone who saw me in my robes congratulated me on graduating.  Meanwhile I was thinking of all the reading I still had to do for the next week.  =)  It was a great night despite the heavy rains and flooding and the fact that I still haven't actually graduated.  

On another note, after the service, as we were all mingling and taking pictures, one of the speakers congratulated me for being the only girl wearing flats instead of heels.  I wasn't sure exactly what to make of that, but at least I was comfortable and less likely to slip on the very wet sidewalks.  =)  

Monday, May 27, 2013


This year for me has been a lot about research, so when I saw this beautiful stained glass window at Valley Forge, I had to take a picture.  =)  Only one and half more semesters of grad school!

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Considering, Thinking, Reasoning

from the poem "A Short Testament" by Anne Porter

I made this image in April when signs of spring were just starting to show up in Philadelphia. I have been thinking a lot about seasons, winter, and spring recently especially in relation to community and relationships.

I generally have several thoughts running through my mind at any given time that are not quite fully formed.  And most of the time I never actually come to a conclusion.

Some days I really wish I could just turn off my thoughts and not spend so much time considering everything. Especially since grad school provides plenty of material that I must consider.

I'm so thankful for the various friends in my life who have been partners in processing and considering so many different topics including God, fractals, mystery, culture, language, community, water, and most of all, how they are related.  =)

Isaiah 1:8 "Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD"

"Science has explained nothing; the more we know the more fantastic the world becomes and the profounder the surrounding darkness." ~ Aldous Huxley

Friday, May 17, 2013

A Biblical View of Microfinance

During the fall and spring, realizing there were six weeks left of the semester meant it was time to buckle down and start preparing for the final projects.  The summer terms is ONLY six weeks, which makes it more like a sprint.  We start already talking about the details for the final projects/papers.

I am equally excited about the topics for the two courses I am taking this semester:

1. Introduction to Microfinance
2. Advocacy, Public Policy, and Human Rights

One of the reasons that I choose Eastern University was because even when you take a more technical course like Microfinance, it is approached from a Biblical perspective.

My first assignment is to answer the following question:

What considerations do you think are important for microfinance programs seeking to assist and empower the poor in order that they might be be designed and run Christianly? (Based on a Biblical/theological view of the Kingdom, the Church, and the Incarnation)

So after one short week in Richmond between semesters, I'm back in the rhythm of reading, considering, and writing papers.  And in about six weeks I will be leaving PA and making my way down the east coast back to FL so that, God willing, I can head back to South Sudan at the end of the summer!

Sunday, May 12, 2013

My Church Family

I am extremely thankful for my church family!

They welcomed me when I was weary after the end of my spring semester, listened to the things God has put on my heart this season, pointed me towards Jesus, and prayed for me. They also lent a traveling graduate student/missionary a car for the week. This is why I love my church.

On the day after I arrived in Richmond, WEPC had organized a night for a dear elderly couple to share stories of the 15 years they spent as missionaries to Congo.  In the photo they sit between their two daughters in front a display of family photos.  I was a BEAUTIFUL night to honor a couple who has faithfully served God for many decades.  This is why I love my church.  

There are very few physical places in the world that feel like "home" to me.  The sanctuary of WEPC is one of those places.   It is hard to express how encouraging and restorative it was to sit in front of a beautiful, familiar tapestry, hear Steve preach the gospel in a sweater vest, and sing "O love that will not let me go, I rest my weary soul in  Thee" together with my church family.  This is why I love my church.

Of course, WEPC isn't perfect, but is my church, and I am thankful for every opportunity I have to come to Richmond and be a part of the life of the church, even if it is for only a few days. 

As a bonus, WEPC is in Richmond, which is also home to the Japanese gardens at Maymont!

I am also beyond thankful for all the wonderful friends I have in Richmond! I had so many real, honest conversations this week.  I also got to laugh and enjoy a little bit of life together with women I have known since we were all recent college graduates and new to Richmond.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Water Innovation

This is a video about a billboard that produces drinking water from the humidity in the air.  I am all for water innovation, and I hope this idea continues to be developed!  But, let us do a little quick math together.

One billboard produces 9,450 liters of water in three months.

That is about 105 liters a day. (Not accounting for any of the water spilling etc.)

In many relief and development contexts it would be ideal to provide 15-20 liters of water per person per day, but that includes water for bathing, cooking, washing clothes and dishes, etc.  For just drinking and some cooking you would want to provide at least 2.5-3 liters of water per person per day.

Since in the US most people are unfamiliar with liters, keep in mind, the average soda bottle is 2 liters and below is an image of a 20 liter jerry can.

So getting back to the math, the billboard can provide 7 people with 15 liters of water per day or 35 people with 3 liters of water per day.

Of course, I am totally unfamiliar with the context.  I don't know the typical local water usage per family.  I don't know what other sources of water are available. I don't know how they use the billboard water in comparison to how they use the well water.

My main question stems from the fact that the video implies they are able to provide for the water needs of hundreds of families.  But when I heard the numbers, I had to wonder how they are able to achieve that with only about 105 liters per day (a little more than 5 full jerry cans).

I had a chemistry professor as an undergrad who was a strong advocate for quick mental math and the memorization of estimates for key values in science.  He argued that as good scientists and engineers we should be able to hear a speaker or read an article and quickly consider whether their argument was reasonable based on the values they were presenting.  I have come to see the wisdom in his teaching methods.  I must admit that I have forgotten a lot of the estimates he asked us to memorize and I'm no longer as quick as I used to be with mental math, so please feel free to point out any mistakes I make.  =)  But I have become pretty familiar with basic numbers when it comes to providing safe drinking water.  So when I watch a video like the one above, I can quickly come to my own conclusions.

There was a time when solar panels were at this stage of development as well, and now they are used all over the world.  So I really do hope that engineers around the world continue to innovate and develop new ideas like providing drinking water from a billboard!

Sunday, April 21, 2013


Apparently I like color. =) 

And I know my outfit doesn't exactly match, but I was determined to wear a spring outfit and fun colors even though it is still kind of cold in Philly. 

This is the day that the Lord has made;
    let us rejoice and be glad in it.
~Psalm 118:24

*Photos taken at Philadelphia's Magic Gardens on South Street

Harvard International Development Conference

Last weekend I was in Boston with several of my classmates for the International Development Conference at Harvard.  Of course the events of that Monday have dominated the news around the world for the last week.   Friends of mine have expressed their thoughts on the bombings on their own blogs, so if you are interested, check out these two posts.  I will only be sharing about my weekend and the conference.

ParadoxUganda: Not Quite at Home

Kriegers Living on Grace: Boston

As a budget traveler, I am so thankful for the hospitality of my friends in cities around the world.  Boston was no exception.  I was welcomed into the apartment of a dear childhood friend late on Thursday night.

Friday was a gloomy cold day, but I was determined to see some of Boston.  So despite the rain, I walked a most of the Freedom Trail.  It was a great way to get a sense for the city and see some historic sites. 

*St. Francis of Assisi statue that was part of the Old North Church*

The conference started Friday night and continued all day on Saturday.  I had the opportunity to hear many influential voices share their thoughts on the future of the development industry, local ownership, climate, the role of government, etc.   I was really thankful for the opportunity to consider a different perspective, since many of the speakers came from bilateral or multilateral agencies (IMF, USAID, World Bank, UNDP, etc.) or have been advisors to presidents of countries around the world whereas many of the students and professors at Eastern University are more involved in grassroots ministries, local churches, and NGOs.  

The conference had several interactive workshops and two case competitions.  I had the opportunity to participate in the case competition on South Sudan, and my team won!  As they were presenting the awards, one of the judges quipped that we had 3 minutes to present an intervention that we had developed in only 30 minutes to address a problem created over more than 30 years of conflict.  Of course our hastily composed intervention developed by graduate students from all over the world (but none from South Sudan) in the halls of Harvard, worlds away from the streets of Juba, is not the way to go.  But it was a fun exercise, and I got a certificate and free water bottle and flash drive out of it.  

My two main thoughts at the end of the conference were:

1. I understood most of what the speakers were discussing which means I have learned a lot of the last year.

2. I am thankful that God brought me to Eastern University.  It is the right program for me.

Monday, March 25, 2013

From Guns to Coke Bottles

This article caught my eye this morning for two reasons: 

1) I have a fascination with Mozambique even though I have never been there 
2) In one short article, the author manages to hit several of the major themes covered in Economic Development last semester  

After reading the article, one line stuck with me.  

"But now the walls bear images, not of clenched fists or of AK-47s, but of the ubiquitous Coca-Cola bottle, or of smiling faces boasting the virtues of one or other mobile phone company."  

It reminded me of this verse from the book of Isaiah.  

They will beat their swords into plowshares
    and their spears into pruning hooks  ~ Isaiah 2:4 

*Sculpture titled Let Us Beat Swords Into Plowshares at the United Nations Art Collection* 

Personally, if I were to repurpose a metal symbol of destruction, I'd make it into a water tap.  =)

I have been thinking a lot about the importance of symbols in communities, especially since I was assigned to do a group presentation on symbolic interactionism for my Community Development class last semester.  

So today the article has me considering symbols of peace and prosperity in different times and worldviews. Rather than try to express those thoughts in written form, I will just leave it as an idea for you to ponder.  

*RAWTools turning weapons into farm tools - These guys spoke briefly at the Justice Conference*  

Friday, March 22, 2013

World Water Day

Today is World Water Day! Since I have spent a lot of time thinking about water, here are a few things I would love for you to think about today.

For many people around the world, getting water is HARD WORK! Water is heavy (about 8.3 lbs per gallon varying slightly with temperature and pressure).  I tried a couple of times to carry water on my head, and only managed to carry the smaller size jerrycan (10 liters) a relatively short distance.  People around the world work hard for their water while we just turn on the faucet.  And the majority of the people gathering and carrying water are women and children.

Add to that the work of accessing an improved a water source, well you get the idea.  I posted this picture because I think it shows visually some of the work involved, but let me tell you that digging trenches through the hard S. Sudanese soil is the really hard work.  It just doesn't make for as dramatic of a picture.

In my Relief and Disaster Mitigation class we studied the Sphere Handbook.  It provides minimum standards as well as indicators for humanitarian response.  In practice, the indicators often serve as goals for different sectors when responding to emergencies.  Just to give you a sense of scale, in a refugee camp the water goal is 15 liters per person per day and no more than a 30 minute wait at a tap.  The typical large jerry can shown below holds 20 liters of water.  I took this picture on the day of a convention at the ECS church in Mundri which meant extra long lines and water shortages in the system.  This was an unusual day in Mundri town, but many disaster response situations will not even achieve the goal of 15 liters per person per day for drinking, hygiene and cooking.  I've seen different numbers floating around, but it is no secret that Americans use a lot of water every day.  Since I'm talking in liters, the average person in the United Kingdom uses 150 liters of water per person per day, ten times more than the goal for disaster response.

Even though I am no longer serving as a water engineer, I will always care about water issues.  I hope today you consider the water you drink and pray for those who don't have access to safe drinking water.  Pray especially for individuals affected by disasters and conflict who are living in camp situations where water is often very scarce.  

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Back to Mundri!

It's official! Or as official as it is going to get until I work through details and paperwork with WHM and Eastern which could take a while.

I'm heading back to Mundri for about 7 months for my field practicum, which will complete my MA in International Development from Eastern University! 

I get different reactions when people hear that I have lived in South Sudan and that I am heading back.  A lot of people are surprised and ask me why I am going.   

I have heard all of the reasons I shouldn't go.  In fact, I have considered many reasons that will never even cross your mind.  I have counted the cost.

I am not a unique person who doesn't like stability and comfort.  I have spent a lot of my life traveling and moving, but I still long to be a part of a community of friends that is steadfast and unchanging.  Even if I lived my whole life in the same small town, things would change.  The only truly steadfast person in my life is God.   

I am going back to South Sudan. Not because the cost is small.  But because of the one who paid the cost I could never pay on the Cross.  Not because I made and impulsive thoughtless decision.  But because of the call from God that I have doubted and prayed over repeatedly.  Not because I'm a special person who finds the life of a missionary easy all the time.  But because of the one who carries my burdens and gives me strength. 

I could come up with a million reasons not to go including the fact that I am not guaranteed success in ministry.   Missionaries are definitely not granted an easy button for life from God.  But I truly love partnering with Christians in Mundri and seeing God at work in a place that is now a part of "home" for me.  Some days things will be really hard and there will be sacrifices, but I can tell you first hand that there is also tremendous joy in the missionary life.

So I'm headed back to Mundri, and if you wanted to know why, I hope this post helps you understand a bit more of the answer to a question I struggle to answer myself some days.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Airport Ads and Reminiscing

I spend a lot of time at airports.  Before a long flight I tend to wander the airport just so I can move my legs in anticipation of the hours of sitting ahead.  While waiting for flights I get to see a lot of airport ads.  I always look for the HSBC ads which are usually clever.  This campaign in particular made me smile.  First, as a student of international development, I agree that local knowledge is immensely important.  But mostly, it sounds like a Michael-ism.  "Never underestimate the importance of local knowledge" fits right in with "never underestimate the power of the equatorial sun to reduce productivity" and "never underestimate the usefulness of a short length of pipe" and all the other valuable lessons Michael taught his engineering apprentices.  Michael usually shares those pearls of wisdom after singing the following lyrics.

"I have only come here seeking knowledge, things they would not teach me of in college" ~ Wrapped Around Your Finger, The Police  

And I definitely learned a lot of things not taught at Penn State!  Before starting on our first water tower, Michael had me practice with Kyle by making a work bench.  Kyle and I planned, discussed, measured, and cut the angle irons with a hack saw.  As we were getting ready to weld them together, we realized that even with two engineering degrees between us, we had still cut every angle iron on the wrong plane creating spear like pieces. Good thing Michael had us practice first! Now you know why Michael kept singing those lyrics.  I definitely lacked practical skills when I arrived in S. Sudan.

So now back to the airport ads.

Recently, I have also taken notice of the strange but humorous Oxfam ads.   Since I'm guessing you can't read the small text, it reads "unique gifts that help fight hunger, poverty, and social injustice."

So next time you are at the airport, walk around and check out the ads.

And if you want to realize how little you know and what it means to minister from weakness, apply to be an engineering intern in Mundri.  You will learn from the men of the local water office, your teammates, and lots of other amazing people in Mundri town.  You may even get Michael to sing you those lyrics!

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Brazilian Treats

Many of my all time favorite foods are all Brazilian.  First of all Starbucks in Brazil came up with the brigadeiro frappuccino!!! AMAZING!!! Although I must say the conversation with my aunt was better than the drink itself. =)

Of course I stopped for pão de queijo. =)

So far I have also enjoyed passion fruit mousse, goiabada with queijo mineiro, guaraná, and AMAZING coffee!!! I have a whole week left of all my favorite special treats that are only available in Brazil (and some parts of South Florida).  These foods remind me of family and bring back a lot of good memories.  Good thing I am only in Brazil for a little over a week because I may be physically unable to pass a shop that sells pão de queijo without buying one.

My Little Blue Dress

On Black Friday 2011 Melissa found a great little blue dress with a bright colored flower print in a pile of clothes like the one shown above in Mundri, South Sudan while we were out doing our team Christmas shopping.  I bought the dress for a few S. Sudanese pounds.

The dress was made in Vietnam and then made its way to a clothing rack at an Old Navy in the US.  It was purchased and then somehow made its way to East Africa.

I wore the dress for Thanksgiving 2012 on Staten Island with a cardigan and tights to help it make the transition from summer to fall.

Now the dress is with me on spring break in Brazil airing out on the balcony of my aunt and uncle's apartment after a long flight in a suitcase.  Who knows what other travels are in store for my little blue dress.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Justice Conference

PhillyBloco performed! They are a Brazilian music and dance group with lots of energy and drums.  The convention center wasn't a great space for them, but they still got people dancing and enjoying the music.  I've seen them live in a smaller venue, and they are great live!

But I didn't go to the Justice Conference for the music.  I went to primarily to connect with people and secondly to hear some great speakers.  The highlight of the main conference speakers for me was a panel discussion which included Dr. John Perkins and Lisa Sharon Parker who is shown on the screen in the above picture.  Personally, I enjoyed the depth and thoughtful reflection of the discussions at the pre-conference breakout sessions more than the dynamism of the main conference speakers, but there was a lot to consider and learn throughout the whole conference.

So here for your consideration are a few thoughts presented by the speakers that I am still pondering.  Since I was scribbling notes quickly, I can't guarantee that these are direct quotes, but I'm hoping they are close or at least capture the speaker's point of view.

1. Dr. Nicholas Wolterstorff - None of the current writings on justice start from the wronged.  They start from the intellectual puzzles.

2. Dr. Nicholas Wolterstorff - We will get all mucked up if we start with the gray cases, so start with the easy and then get to the gray ones.

3. Dr. Nicholas Wolterstorff - Justice at many points requires freedom, but freedom without justice is only for the powerful.

4. Dr. Soong Chan Rah - (In many cases) Incarnational ministry has become a way for us to become the Messiah.  We empty ourselves to go to the poor to bless them.

5. Dr. Soong Chan Rah - Lament relies on God's sovereignty and not our ability.

6. Dr. Soong Chan Rah - It is our responsibility to lament.

I haven't watched this video, but from the description it seems like it may be similar to his breakout session talk.

7. Ken Wytsma - Quoting Eugene Peterson - You can't hurry lament.

8.Gary Haugen - Do-gooders show up late and leave early.  Perseverance is necessary.

9. Gary Haugen - ...the hidden glory of a long and faithful love

10. Gary Haugen -  Love that overcomes monotony and tedium (and frustration).  This is the love our Maker sees and honors.  A long obedience in the same direction.

11. Gary Haugen - ...ordinary unglamorous work of justice

12. Gary Haugen ... prayer not as a matter of discipline but desperation

13.Gary Haugen - The book of justice is long and boring...I love it when we read it together

14. Dr. Nicholas Wolterstorff - True love is never unjust.

15. Dr. John Perkins - The church lives out its call most fully when it is a community of faith with arms wrapped around a community of pain.

There were a lot of other great things to ponder, but those were just a few that I thought I would share with you.

The BEST part of the conference was the opportunity to connect with friends.  I had many great conversations between sessions and at lunch catching up on life and discussing the thing we heard from speakers.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013


A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to attend the Faith and International Development Conference at Calvin College with several of my classmates.

There were two things I loved about the conference:

1. The opportunity to have candid conversations with the speakers and exhibitors after sessions and over meals.

2. Processing the things we were hearing from the speakers with my classmates.

One our professors has already stated that our cohort is more cynical (doubtful as to whether something will happen or is worthwhile) than previous cohorts especially when we process together.   We test everything we hear or read against our own experiences and the body of academic work we have already read on the subject.  We read critically, which is a good practice for grad students.  Because of this, our professors are great at leading us in always looking for the positive aspects of every theory or method even if there are significant drawbacks and flaws. 

At the conference I realized that without the direction of our wise professors, I have the tendency to not just critically analyze but to be critical especially when discussing something with my classmates.  We have honed our skills, and we are great at picking apart case studies.   But those are academic cases studies, and now we are at a conference listening to the real stories of development practitioners.   Somehow it is easy to forget to show grace.  I forget to allow for the possibility that others have been led by the Holy Spirit to pursue a different model of ministry than I would have chosen in similar circumstances.  I have made plenty of mistakes myself and I will continue to make mistakes even after studying international development and getting a degree.  There are rarely right and wrong answers when it comes to development practice, and the phrase "prayerful discernment" seems to be the answer to every difficult question that comes up in class.

So after this realization, I ask that you will pray for me (and for my classmates) to follow the lead of our professors in looking for the good in every ministry first especially outside of the classroom.  Also pray that we truly will rely on prayerful discernment and that it won't just be the answer we give in class when things are complicated.  

The Justice Conference is next week, and I'm really excited!  I will once again have the opportunity to hear speakers and learn about new ministries, so I will get another chance to analyze critically without being critical. 

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

WHM South Sudan Video

Check out the new WHM South Sudan video.  It is only a little over 5 minutes long.  Enjoy!

It was great seeing lots of familiar faces throughout the video including these friends from the local water office!