Thursday, December 1, 2016

Saying Good-bye

Back in August (on the 2nd to be exact), Kevin and I discovered we were pregnant. To say we were overjoyed would be a bit much. We were shocked but after the shock wore down, we became excited. The baby would be due mid-April when we were scheduled for furlough. We knew a great missionary midwife/OB-GYN locally who could do my prenatal care until we got to the US to deliver. We told Adah and began talking about the baby in my tummy. We planned our pregnancy announcement. Everything was beginning to feel comfortable. We could do this, we could be a family of 5!

Unfortunately, this was not to be. Friday, September 9th, I began experiencing contractions. They were rhythmic, every 3 minutes, and were definitely ones that required concentration. I began to fear every bathroom trip, expecting blood. The cramping/contractions lasted for half the night before they tapered off and I fell asleep. I woke feeling fatigued but better because there had been no blood. Perhaps it was a stomach bug? Either way, we messaged the missionary OB-GYN and began discussing a trip soon. All during that week, I rested as much as possible. I told our worker so that she could step up to help more with the kids. The week passed and I began to hope - hope the baby was growing, hope that I was not going to lose the baby, hope that all was okay.

On September 16th, my 35th birthday, I began spotting. I called Kevin in tears. I knew what was happening. We tried to plan a trip to Vanga where the midwife was located. It is a 1 1/2 hour flight or 14 hour drive. But Monday, the 19th was going to be a day of planned protest/civil unrest. We were grounded and could not leave the city. Traffic was worse than usual that Friday with people preparing for the upcoming day of civil unrest. The following morning Kevin and the other guys had to go to work to get the airplanes inside and locked up. But he and the program manager hurried home right after and took me to a hospital. He happened to know an expat OB-GYN who recommended a doctor that met us there.

At 3:00 PM our ultrasound revealed our lost baby. Instead of a 10 week and 3 day old baby, we saw the uterus measuring barely measuring 6 weeks and 3 days and a baby even smaller. The baby had died a while ago but my body was having difficulties letting go. When we lost our first baby, my body also had difficulties letting go. I lost the baby on a Wednesday evening but the placenta did not detach completely and for 4 days I suffered labor before going to the ER for an emergency D&C. As the realization hit the baby was gone, along with our dreams and plans for this baby, we quickly realized we had to make a decision.

We called our friend Shannon, missionary OB-GYN and told her what we discovered and she gave us our options. We could take a pill that would induce labor, to speed up the miscarriage process. If the pill does not work the first time, a second dose can be administered. Knowing what I experienced the first time, I could not accept birthing at home or risk bleeding out knowing that all hospitals would be inaccessible in a few days. The other option was an emergency D&C, like before. Without hesitation, I chose the D&C. I had no time to think as we all (including the doctor) piled into our truck and drove across town to another facility to do a surgery. Within an hour after arriving, everything was over and I was recovering (I will not go into details about surgery since it is a bit too much information). We were home by bedtime.

When we lost our first baby, the loss felt greater. I came home with an empty womb and empty arms. This time, I came home to hugs, kisses, and a baby/toddler asking to be nursed. Yes my womb was empty and my heart hurt, but my arms were full.

Over the next few days, we were blessed by so many people. Families brought us food, offered to watch our kids so I could rest, and I had counseling from so many women who have gone through this before. One of the things that I have learned to help mourn a lost child is to give the child a name. We named our first child Madeline. She was loved dearly for the little time we had her. This child's name was Peter and he was loved during his time with us.

As time went by, some days were easier than others. The hard days were the days Adah asked why Peter died or when I will have a new baby in my tummy. They say talking is supposed to help but some days it hurt too much to explain these things to my child. Other days were miserable seeing pregnant friends and new babies on Facebook.  But now, I feel that enough time has gone by that I can say that I have mourned. I have said my good-byes.

I want to personally thank each and every person who helped us. The people who cooked, the people who called, the people who watched the kids, the people who did Facetime with us, the people who sent private messages and emails, the people who counseled us (medically and mentally), the people who cried with us, the people who prayed for us and with us, and the people who comforted us.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Our Little Girl's Clavicle

A little over a year ago (May 2015), sweet pea fell while getting out of the car. She managed to land on her shoulder in such a way that her (left) clavicle was fractured. We were so blessed at the time to know a visiting family (both husband and wife are doctors) who was living above the newest hospital/clinic. They personally escorted me through the whole process, including x-rays. With their help, we were able to find her fracture and sew up an adult sized sling to fit her.
The left side of the photo is normal and the right side
(G = gauche = left) shows the stress fracture.
Fast forward to October 2016 - sweet pea comes home from school crying. The driver told me that she fell at school (while playing with another child). I took one look at the way she was holding her arm and knew just what had happened. I left baby boy with my worker and drove sweet pea to the hospital/clinic I visited before with her the year prior. We got lucky. There was a nurse on call who spoke English and helped me to translate correctly to the pediatrician what I thought was wrong. He walked us down one floor to the x-ray room and helped us get set up for x-rays. As soon as the film pulled up, the doctor called me into x-ray technician room and pointed to the x-rays. Here is what I saw...
The left side of the screen shows a normal clavicle.
The right side clearly shows a clavicle that is broken.

When her arm is lifted, the two broken pieces overlap. 
Yep. Broken. The exact same side as before. After waiting 10 additional minutes, we walked around the corner and met a Middle Eastern orthopedist who also spoke English. We talked about the x-rays. Sweet pea definitely broke her clavicle and it will heal. The only concern is if it will manage to heal straight. Kids are resilient but also quite active. So we are to keep her arm immobilized in a sling while she heals. (Coincidentally, they only had an adult size small which I had to sew to fit just like the year prior). 

I was once again completely blown away by my medical experience here. I was able to walk into a hospital, speak to a pediatrician, get x-rays, speak to an orthopedist, get a sling, and be home within 2 hours all for less than $200. There are many things lacking in the health care system here, such as medication and appropriately sized slings for children. But since this is the week of Thanksgiving, I will say I'm thankful for the medical care and options that we do have!

Friday, November 18, 2016

Happy Birthday Baby Boy!

This past week we celebrated our little boy's 2nd birthday! Our amazing kiddo turned 2 on the 11th, so these photos are a week late. We celebrated his actual day of birth privately. Our little boy got to open presents from his grandparents and great aunts while sister was at school. When sister came home, we did all of brother's favorite things - went swimming, watched a movie and enjoyed popcorn, and enjoyed banana bread with whipped cream for dessert. It was a good day.
Two days later, we celebrated with friends. We decided to have a water party for our little "guppy." It was an excellent idea since it is so hot this time of year. We blew up some baby pools and filled them with water, water toys, and kids!
We were able to come up with a plastic sheet (thanks for another MAF family) to use as a "slip n' slide." Both big kids and little ones thought this was absolutely amazing!
 We provided the kids with water guns and let them chase the parents and adults.
After the kids got tired of playing in the water, we ate snacks and had cupcakes. Baby boy loves singing "Happy Birthday" and blowing out candles so this was another favorite part for our happy kiddo!

 Overall, it was a great birthday!

Friday, September 9, 2016


The past couple of months have been difficult on our little girl. Her life has been filled with so many changes and transitions. We broke our school routine to head to the United States. We lived with grandparents and went to a preschool there. After getting accustomed to life there, we packed up and headed back. But when we came back, we had one less family here, meaning two less friends for her. Next, another friend who lived nearby moved and then left for their US visit. Then school started with a new teacher and a new classroom. On top of that, there is a new family with new kids to play with. But another family here is getting ready to leave on their US visit.

Our girlie has been quite confused by the comings and goings of people, lamenting the changes. For a child who thrives on routine and patterns, these changes have a big impact. They affect her in ways I cannot begin to understand. And no words seem to comfort her. I wish I could explain these things to her and tell her things will be different, but that would not be true. As a missionary, our life is full of constant transition – people come and go, we move constantly between two worlds (here and there), workers change, and we have an irregular pattern of visitors.

The other night at dinner, our little girl pushed her plate away and began to cry. She said she wanted her friends (who are now in the United States). I gave her a few minutes to let her emotions out. I began to explain to her when she turns 5 she can see them (because that is roughly when we are scheduled for our furlough). She said she didn’t want to wait, she wanted her friends now and she was mad because they couldn’t be together. Thoughts began rolling in my head. Why does my child have to go through this God? Why can’t she have a “normal” life with constant routines, friends and patterns?

And just like that, God gently answered me by asking me a question: what makes your family any different from any other?

Umm, well, we are missionaries with lots of transitions???

But everyone experiences transitions – transitions throughout their whole life! We transition from an infant to a toddler, a toddler to a child, a child to a teen, and teen to an adult. Even as an adult we transition – transition from students into workers, transition into spouses, transition into parenthood, transition into grandparents. But more importantly, we transition throughout our lives as Christians.
I am not the same Christian I was when I first found Christ. I have grown and learned and made mistakes and repented. I have studied the Bible and am constantly finding new things about God. I struggle with new types of sins the older I get and begin a whole new type of transition where I relearn the words of God trying to find out how best to live my life. And I struggle. Boy do I struggle…with these transitions.

Perhaps I should stop lamenting about my daughter’s plight for un-changing permanence and instead find a way to better equip her for the many upcoming transitions she will face throughout her life.

"There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance, a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing, a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away, a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak, a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace. Ecclesiastes 3:1-8"

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Weather Flying Over the Jungle


Life as a pilot here is seldom glamorous or easy. It is very challenging work demanding quick decisions at high stakes. It’s almost always hot - really, really hot. Except in dry season, then it’s just moderately hot. Fortunately during the dry season, we don’t have to deal with the weather as much, it’s just hazy - really, really hazy. Sometimes the visibility drops to less than a mile in nothing but haze. Because the Congo is both in the northern and southern hemispheres, one part is always in dry season and on the opposite side of the equator is rainy season.  Therefore we frequently have days where both seasons are encountered.

 We received a call on a Sunday regarding a man who was involved in an accident and needed to be evacuated to receive medical care. He was at one of the more remote strips, just at the outer edge of the range of our aircraft. A majority of the flight would be in dry season haze, but before I departed Kinshasa early Monday morning, satellite imagery had already indicated there were buildups and large storm systems billowing to the east of my destination. After a quick intermediate fuel stop, I continued northward. 347 miles to go. The closer I got to the equator, the more and more I could see the last hour of the trip would involve lots of twisting and turning to stay out of the clouds. Eventually, I could no longer avoid clouds and could only fly through. 80 Miles to go.

Not my picture, but it is what a trusty Cessna 206 looks like over vast jungle.
At first it wasn’t too bad, very light rain, and little turbulence; but I began to spend more time inside clouds than outside them and they began to get angry… the downdrafts became significant and the rain loudly pelted the windshield. Something needed to change.  As I left one particularly rough cloud, I caught a glimpse of a hole down and began a steep spiraling turn. This allowed for a maximum descent rate while keeping the speed in check and also kept me in the center of the hole so I could see. The bottom of the clouds was about 3,000 feet above the thick jungle canopy. 30 miles to go. I continued on underneath the clouds and I could now see the rain shafts, and deduce where the turbulence and wind was going to be. But again, the clouds continued to get darker and darker and lower and lower.10 miles to go. 

The clouds were higher to the west, the visibility was still decent, and I could see sunlight poking through and lighting up the trees, so I made a contingency plan to head towards that direction if things got to dicey on my current route and continued on. The bases of the clouds had forced me down to 500 feet above the trees, which I had set as my own personal minimum. Under no circumstances would I go any lower.  7 miles to go. I started seeing some dirt roads that looked familiar leading up to the airstrip but my heart sank as I came upon a huge rain shaft, about 10 miles in diameter centered where the tiny airstrip should have been.  Many times, rain is only an inconvenience; we typically can fly through it with little issue and still be able to see what we need to (as long as we are not in the clouds). But this was - excuse my southernism - a real “frog drowner.” Visibility would have been nil no matter what techniques I would have employed had I flown into it. I flew around the rain shaft to the north to see if I could sneak in on the back side but all I saw was a seemingly solid wall of rain. The other potential issue with rain shafts is sometimes they are caused by microbursts, or very strong and very large downdrafts of air- also something you don't want to fly into at all-much less when you are low over the jungle.
This is not my picture, as I was a bit to occupied to take one. However, this is a good example of what a small rainshaft looks like from the air.
I had plenty of fuel, so loitering in the vicinity to wait out the storm could have been an option. However, to the east (weather here flows east to west typically, not west to east like it does in the states) it just looked even darker, lower clouds and more rain as far as I could see. I had no choice but to turn around turn around and fly the 3 hours back empty. The injured person would have to wait another day. I radioed one of our other planes to let them know my plan and see if maybe they had any other suggestions. They affirmed my decision. I had to return to the only place that had fuel for the airplane within a 350 mile radius. I pointed the nose south west towards higher ceilings and better visibility and began plotting my way back. It was still difficult work; I had to fly nearly 30 miles out of the way to avoid the massive (and still growing) cumulonimbus clouds before I could turn back on course. As I flew further south, rain gave way to dry season and I found myself once again in calm haze.

I crossed the Kasai River and began my descent and soon thereafter landed (my bladder was sooooo happy), and spent the night in one of the villages MAF used to call home. The next morning was clear and calm and I took off with a re-fueled airplane. The weather this time was much different. The system had rained itself out overnight, leaving a high overcast layer keeping the earth below much cooler.  I landed with ease at Djolu, loaded the passengers, and was on my way back in no time. I apologized for not being able to retrieve them the previous day and they graciously understood and applauded my decision to turn back. It had begun to rain very hard about 45 minutes prior to my arrival the previous day and the rain didn’t let up until nearly 4 hours after I made the decision to head back - long after my fuel reserves would have been depleted.

After my return to Ndolo, our chief pilot congratulated me on a well-made decision, and setting an MAF Congo record for the most miles flown to get around weather (700 total). At this airstrip, and many many others, MAF is the ONLY operation to go there. This is just another reason we are here. 

Friday, May 20, 2016

Sometimes I Don't Like it Here

This is not a one way street. The cars to my left were impatient
to get out and took over the left hand side of the street.

When Kevin and I began our journey into ministry, we both felt led as individuals, but also felt told to go as a family. We were both interviewed separately, as well as together to determine if we both felt called to this path. We began training together, attending orientation and many other classes together. We did ministry partnership together and even did language school together. We have been on this journey together, every step of the way, each of us called on this path.

But from the moment we landed in Africa, our paths have split. Kevin goes into the hangar each day, working on what he was called to do, what we were called to do as a team. He repairs planes that take vaccines to villages, he flies doctors into remote places that have no names, he walks alongside other pastors as they go from village to village, and he talks to our national workers daily and is eagerly learning their cultures and languages (he can honestly greet you in over 5 languages now). But what do I do each day? What do I contribute to our “team”?

I have said over and over that our life is very much a roller coaster here – ups and downs, twists and loops, fast moments and slow moments. And sometimes I don’t like it here. I do not feel very valued here when I have my low days. It is hard to remind myself that God has personally called me here when street children bang on my car demanding I give them something; when a police officer pulls me over for having my “blinker on too long” and demands I give them all the money in my wallet; when I have to spend 20 minutes arguing with the person trying to cheat me out of my phone units when I know exactly how much each unit costs; when a vendor stands at my car window while waiting in traffic trying to get me to buy something I don’t need and tries to tell me I must give him money to eat when I buy nothing; when a bus cuts me off in traffic causing me to swerve into another lane and each person in the bus proceeds to stick their head out the window and point and laugh at me while I am now stuck behind them in traffic for 20 minutes and the driver continuously taunts me by sticking his hands out to point at me and clap; when someone only sees me as an easy means for money and not for my value; when I make my daughter scream while removing mango fly larva from under her skin. Yes, sometimes I absolutely do not like it here. It is hard. I do not get to see the things that Kevin sees daily. Where he is told how much he means to someone, where a man cries because Kevin gives him his first Bible written in French/Lingala, where a child’s life is saved because of an emergency medical flight my husband does, where people sing and clap with joy when the plane flies in, where an entire village receives a much needed measles vaccine during an outbreak, where crowds of people wait to talk to the pilot who makes the world different and better for them.

But some days are good days. Some days I make an impact on the hearts of people placed in my path. Some days I get to teach my house helper a new skill that she can use to make herself even more valuable to the expat community and better provide for her family. Some days my value towards our ministry goes beyond supporting my husband in his role, beyond ministry to my children, and goes towards our team mates. Sometimes my impact is supporting other spouses in their roles with physical, mental/emotional, and spiritual support. These are the days I cherish and I see where God has placed me in the paths of others to help them through their low days. So it is perfectly okay to throw in the towel at the end of the day and declare that you “don’t like it here” and confess your weaknesses. It is okay to have bad days. As long as in the end I still see God at work around me and I don’t limit what He does. It is on these days that I am reminded of my calling.