Global Outreach

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Travel in, to, and from African nations has always been a challenge. Airports are crowded and chaotic, flights are sporadic and often changed. There are visas to purchase, sometimes at the airport and sometimes ahead of time, occasionally on websites that don’t work, and even once in a while, an exit visa to procure before you can leave your host country. You can never check in online, and the internet doesn’t report flight updates (due to the “low likelihood of accurate information”). Upon arrival into said international airports, there are many forms to fill out, many lines to stand in, and not always many people who speak your preferred language or understand the fact that you may not know what you’re doing. Once you’ve made it through the gauntlet, your luggage might or might not have arrived and if not, who knows where it is and if/when it will ever arrive (and if it does arrive, where it should be held or sent to so that one day you will see your luggage again). Finally, will someone be there to pick you up? Hopefully yes because your cell phone doesn’t work in this country.

As residents of various African countries for now 10 years, our family has accepted this level of craziness as a necessity in order to travel. We jump in knowing it will be hectic and chaotic but also having a pretty good sense, by now, of how this is all going to go down. I know what lines to stand in, what forms to fill out, and even can converse with the customs agents, a bit. We know what’s likely to cause trouble, when the next flight will probably be available, what the form for lost luggage looks like, and when our missing bags stand a high likelihood of arriving. So, we know what the process is and we have decided that it’s worth it to get to where we want to be going.

And then, 2020. When our country's airport reopened in November, it was a whole new ballgame. Covid tests needed to be obtained to both enter and leave the country. People were often not clear on the timing of the test (2 days? 72 hours? From boarding or arriving? when the test was taken or when the results were issued?) or what type of test was necessary. Quarantine was necessary for a few days, then a few weeks, then depended on the incoming test results, at home or at a hotel, and the list of hotels approved for quarantine changed often. It felt like every week the rules changed, sometimes while people were actually in transit. We had teammates get stuck in multiple other countries, sometimes for weeks. Positive tests, false positive tests, mistimed negative tests that needed to be repeated. So many covid tests.

Like many of you, Eric and I had travel plans cancelled. We recognized that we needed a vacation and watched and waited as new regulations arrived, were changed, were dismissed, were reintroduced. We made plans…maybe a trip to Tanzania, or Kenya, or…but in the end, the risks and costs of travel seemed too high (not even the risk of getting sick, which is always a possibility, but the risk of getting stuck somewhere or not being able to return to our home in Kibuye).

So finally, it was time to return to the US for our every 3 year annual “home assignment.” We hadn’t been on a plane in 21 months, which is pretty much a record for us (and when you live in one of the world’s smallest countries as an ex-pat, is pretty remarkable in my opinion). I booked our airline tickets and made arrangements for a short vacation en route. And I will admit to you, I was scared. I had been looking forward to our break for so long that I was afraid something would happen and I would be disappointed yet again. 2020 for so many of us was a year of constant disappointments, uncertainty, and fear...and it felt far too dangerous to hope for anything anymore. I felt like one more experience of dashed hopes might send me over the edge.

We wrapped up our time at the hospital and headed down the hill for our covid tests in Bujumbura. Our flight was scheduled for a Wednesday night, and so in order to make sure we had results in hand we needed to get the test Monday before 1pm so we could hopefully receive the results Tuesday before 9pm (we were told that we could maybe do the test Tuesday and get results Wednesday, but there was a good chance that the results wouldn't arrive before we needed to board our flight, so). The day of our test results I could hardly eat. The hours crawled by and every time Eric got a text message I got a sinking pit in my stomach, convinced that it was the guy who had gone to pick up our test results, telling us they were positive. But that night, we had five pieces of paper in hand, confirming five negative test results. Our plane was on time the next day. We had no problem with our connecting flight. All our luggage turned up. And other than a slightly late airport shuttle to our hotel, the flight went as smoothly as anyone could have hoped for. Well, other than the fact that Toby used 10 barf bags between the two international flights, but that’s another story. ;) Jet lag was minimal, the vacation was wonderful, and we were reunited with family a week later. Most boring travel story ever.

I’m tempted to skim over this story and move on instead of pausing to reflect on what COULD have been and what WAS. I often find myself dwelling on and retelling the disasters and bad outcomes, instead of reflecting on God's providence and unseen miracles in the mundane, "boring" parts of life. Now, I don’t write any of this to minimize the pain and suffering of many others’ trips and journeys. I don’t know why our trip was so much smoother than others’ trips and it’s certainly not because God loves us more or we prayed harder or anything else. But in reflecting on this whole experience, I'll admit that my fear came from a lack of control over the circumstances. And maybe on some level I felt like God was going to “take away” this good thing (a break, a longed for vacation) in order to teach me another lesson, instead of giving me what I felt like I needed.

This past year has caused me to be afraid to hope for things, fearing they will end in disappointment. I wonder what it says about my view of my loving heavenly Father, that I feel like he’s up in a distant heaven waiting to push a button and “ruin” my life. Is it not true that my heavenly Father knows what I need, more than I do, and is so happy to bless me with it? This has been a hard season for all of us, and I don’t know what lies ahead. But I do feel like we need to be able to hope, to look forward with great anticipation, knowing that perhaps my plans won’t come to fruition but there are good things waiting for us all the same. We don't always know when or how, but in the waiting I can hope and rest free of fear, knowing that a good God loves me and is directing my steps.



Eric’s InterVarsity group (UW-Madison) held a retreat in the Mission House in May. Covid guidelines were carefully observed.




“What do you know about your history?” This was the question that Julio asked Elin, a leader in the Embera Katio community, as they traveled down the river 2 hours in a motorized canoe. This is the first time Julio had been invited into this community of 400 people. Through the certificate programs he is teaching Old Testament to a group of Indigenous Pastors. As much as he was looking forward to teaching, he was interested in learning from them. His journey began as he traveled from Medellin to Monteria by plane, Monteria to Tierra Alta to Puerto Frasquillo in car, and then 2 hours in boat to the community. Being in the boat took Julio back to his childhood and he relished the time talking with Elin as they traveled.


Elin, a pastor in the community, shared how difficult it had been for the younger generation to connect with the older generation, especially in manners of faith. He also shared that he really didn’t know much about his people’s past. In the church he had been taught to put aside his community’s culture and history; he was taught they were unimportant. Julio has been studying the Embera culture and history to understand more and be able to teach in ways that are accessible and relevant. In their conversation, he asked Elin what their understanding of God was before the Christians came. Could it be that God had been revealing himself to this community through creation? (Romans 1:20, Psalm 19:1-6, Job 12:7-10, Isaiah 55:12)


Then, Julio encouraged him to talk with his grandfather about his ancestors and their past to see the connections between their understanding of the world and what he had been learning from the Bible about God. Two days later, Elin shared with Julio that he had stayed up late talking to his grandfather. He asked him questions about his culture, his ancestors, their faith, and history. Elin was able to share about what he had been learning about God as creator in the Bible in Genesis 1 and 2. His grandfather replied, “I guess the God of your faith maybe is not so much different than ours.” Elin was able to see how important it was to talk with his grandfather, to understand the past of his community. At the same time, he was able to share from Scriptures with his grandfather. Together they are learning. The two days Julio spent with the leaders in the community were eye-opening for him. As he taught Old Testament and the prophets, he was able to engage in conversation and learn more about their life in community.



 “We are grateful for Clay and his commitment to raising awareness and support for Project Blue and other clean water initiatives that are tangible expressions of love for God and love for neighbor and they are carried out in a way that respects the dignity of all people. CWRD Project Blue partner organizations are creating sustainable systems that bring clean water to areas where there has not been access. Partners are working tirelessly with the participation of the whole community through the entire process; from the vision to the planning to the labor to the maintenance, the community is the owner of the project.”
























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