Wednesday, January 29, 2014
Wow, five months can really go by fast. It’s hard to believe that August 3 was so long ago (feels like just a few weeks). Our most recent (and longest) visit to the States was indescribable, but I’ll go ahead and attempt to give an overview here, as I sort of “debrief" myself :).
Family & Friends: Hands-down, the thing we miss most about the US is the relationships. It’s kinda good that we don’t even realize that we’re missing it while in Vanuatu, but it tends to hit us like a ton of bricks when we get to experience it, especially for a prolonged amount of time. We love Vanuatu, feel like it’s our home, and truly have a “family” here. But, we’ll always be just a shade shy of being ni-Vanuatu (due to culture, custom and language barriers), which means we cherish times with our American friends and family. We had some INCREDIBLE times over the past five months, making new friends, rekindling old friendships, and spending a lot of quality time with family and great friends. What a blessing! Of course, experiencing that kind of relationship non-stop for so much longer than we’re used to makes it that much more abrupt to return to our Vanuatu-life. Rest assured, we’ll get back into the groove here as soon as possible, but we will continue to cherish in our hearts our wonderful time together, and patiently look forward to our next opportunity.
Holidays: As I’ve hinted at in the last paragraph, spending time in the US was a great blessing. At the top of our list was the blessing of opportunity to be with our families at Thanksgiving and Christmas for the first time since 2004. Thanksgiving isn’t really celebrated in Vanuatu (of course), and though Christmas is, it’s hard to catch the spirit when it’s so hot and humid (December is the beginning of summer in the southern hemisphere). We were in Houston for Thanksgiving with my extended family (fun, food, football and films), and spent Christmas in South Fork, CO, with both sides of the family (more fun, food, skiing and sledding). My mom said all she wanted for Christmas was all her kids and grandkids together, and she got it!
OC: I can still vividly remember receiving an email early last year from Kent Hartman at Oklahoma Christian University, asking us to consider applying for the Visiting Missionary position there for the Fall 2013 semester. We were interested in the opportunity, but both Shawnda and I dismissed the possibility pretty quickly, assuming we just had too many other things on our plate. Little did we know that this was a door God was opening at JUST the right time. First, it coincided with our previously scheduled furlough quite nicely. It also allowed us to have our “own place” while on furlough, which meant we weren’t living out of suitcases the entire time. The house they provided was perfect for homeschooling, having overnight guests (including our parents several times), and having students and friends over for dinner. We were in the same town as my brother and his family for the first time ever, and enjoyed the opportunity to assemble with them regularly at the Edmond Church of Christ (where our Bible class availed us of wonderful new friends…some of whom we’re hoping will come visit us in Vanuatu - hint, hint). Our experience as Visiting Missionaries was second-to-none. The administration, faculty and staff treated us wonderfully, and we thoroughly enjoyed getting to know so many students (who, oddly enough, simultaneously made us feel both old and young!). Lord willing, we’re looking forward to hosting four of them as interns or apprentices next summer, and hope that a few others will come visit too (hint, hint). God knew just what we needed at this particular juncture in our life, and He provided.
Extras: Being in one place for an extended amount of time meant that Titus could attend weekly occupational therapy sessions. As we’ve suspected for quite some time, he has a mild case of sensory processing disorder, and these few months of therapy helped us all better understand how to help him cope with his sensory issues (and he thought it was the best thing ever). Alexis is officially a ballerina, having taken several months of ballet lessons from the Tippy Toes Studio in Edmond. They provided a very laid back atmosphere, which was exactly what we were looking for. Alexis is looking forward to continuing her career in Port Vila, and Titus is looking at starting Karate or Archery for his extra-curricular activity.
Difficult times: I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the struggles we have faced over the past several months. Thankfully, we’ve had opportunity to visit with most of you regarding the specifics of our situation. Losing a sponsoring congregation after almost 9 years together (as well as a few other financial supporters) was a very difficult process to go through, but like they say “what doesn’t kill you, only makes you stronger.” There were some dark days as we wondered whether or not we would have the funding to return for Phase 3 of our work in Vanuatu, but the Lord provided richly for our needs, with our final $500/mo need being met the morning we departed from the US. Another positive is that we were never treated harshly, and even the relationships that were ended were done so amicably. In the midst of our experience, I was visiting with a good friend about what we were experiencing and mentioned feeling lost in it all, and he (very wisely) responded, “Eric, you aren’t lost, you're growing.” It got me to thinking that Scripture does indeed use some “painful” terminology (e.g. pruning, discipline, etc.) to describe Christian growth. Looking back, it was actually an amazing experience … as one door closed, God opened another. And I believe we really have come out the other side stronger and more faithful Christians, better equipped than ever to serve in God’s mission. And we couldn’t be happier with our new sponsoring congregation, the Perkins Church of Christ (located in NE Oklahoma).
Future: Twelve months ago (though it seems like just yesterday) we were excited to announce our “missionVanuatu:2025” initiative. The primary reason for the 12 year timeline was the ages of our kids (now 7 and almost-6). Our primary mission field is our children, and we are very considerate of how a major culture change would/will affect them. It was our understanding that the “danger zone” for such a move was between the ages of 8 and 16, and since our children were right at that age and we didn’t think it was time to leave Vanuatu, we thought it best to commit to stay throughout their high school years. Having now had the opportunity to visit with some who have done extensive research in this “Third Culture Kid” area (another blessing of being where we were, when we were!), we better understand that the “zone” really starts around the age of 10 or as late as 12, which means we do still have a three to five year window. As we discussed with most of you in person, our interest and hope is still to remain in Vanuatu through 2025, but keeping our children’s ages in consideration, wisdom dictates that we should firmly commit to the next four years, and reevaluate our future at that time. We would appreciate your prayers as we seek to do God’s will over the near term and long term.
Last but not least, a special thanks to those who supported us financially during our stint in the US - it was truly a blessing for which we are very grateful. Have a blessed 2014! We are praying for you all…
Monday, January 27, 2014
NOTE: There was a popular string-band song in Vanuatu when we first moved here that repeated the line “Oh my, Vanuatu” several times. It was usually played in the arrivals lounge of the airport. Over the years, our team adopted the saying, reciting it tongue-in-cheek whenever we experienced something that could happen“only in Vanuatu.” I thought I’d start sharing some of those funny/frustrating stories this year…
Upon our arrival back into Vila, we learned that some Christians were in town from South Tanna Island, as their young son was in the hospital (he had gotten into the fire in their kitchen and burned his foot very badly, having to have all five toes amputated as a result - unfortunately a fairly common occurrence in the islands). While we were there visiting the family, I was reminded of a funny story that happened at the hospital two years ago.
Pierre is the eldest brother of Flexon (a Christian in Vila) and Alsen (a Christian in Tulwei Village, Malekula). While we were living in Tulwei, Pierre and his family regularly attended studies and assemblies, and we had several Bible studies and religious discussions. For several years, Pierre had suffered from a couple of different ailments - (per my novice diagnosis…) epileptic seizures and an abdominal hernia. He had been to the hospital on Malekula several times (there aren’t actually any MDs there), and had also spent a few months in the capital city at the public hospital a couple of years back. Having witnessed the pain he endured, and the tremendous load placed on his wife and eldest daughter because of his inability to go to the garden, we offered to take him to Vila with us to see one of the private doctors (hoping that they would do more than “take some tylenol and don’t do any heavy lifting…maybe it will be better in a couple of years”).
The private doctor did her examination and wanted us to go to the public hospital to have an x-ray and some blood work done. After waiting about an hour (it seemed longer) in line to check in, we were finally given some paperwork and told to go to an adjacent building. We checked in there, and had a seat. After another hour of waiting, we heard a ruckus down the hall. A man (obviously inebriated) in his late 20s, who was being pushed in a wheelchair by a very embarrassed friend, was cursing loudly, throwing his body around, grabbing at spitting on people as he passed by. All of a sudden, the x-ray door opened up and the man was ushered in immediately.
So, I turned and looked at Pierre and said, “from now on whenever I bring someone to the hospital, we’re getting a wheelchair and they’re gonna act like that, so we can get faster service!” Once he realized I was only kidding, he chuckled. After another 30 minutes or so, we were finally called in. As we like to say, “oh my, Vanuatu!” Come to think of it, almost every Vila Central Hospital visit is an oh my, Vanuatu moment ;)
|We spent a few days at VCH back when Titus was just a few days old|
Tuesday, January 21, 2014
So many of you prayed that we would have a safe trip back to Vanuatu, and God answered! In fact, I’m not sure things could have gone any better.
To save $400 in airfare, we decided to fly to LA on Saturday afternoon instead of waiting until Sunday like we normally would. We had six bags (weighing exactly 49.9 lbs each), four roller carry-ons, and four backpacks. It took two vehicles to get us and our stuff to the airport, but this was actually our lightest luggage load since having kids … we considered it a success.
We checked-in curbside with Southwest airlines … allowing two bags free per person is wonderful, and curbside means they don’t even weigh your bags (unless they're obviously overweight). Since we had the allowance, we went ahead and checked two of our carry-ons, so we wouldn’t have to mess with them in the airport and plane. That experience is well worth tipping the skycap a couple dollars per bag! We always fly Southwest because of their baggage policy, our experience with their friendliness, and their one-way fares.
After one last treat (Jamba Juice) with Mema and Papa, we headed to the security checkpoint. Apparently, the TSA is trying out a new system where everyone leaves everything (travel liquids, laptops, etc.) in their bags, and keeps their shoes and light jackets on. You still have to empty your pockets, but it was much less hassle - we were glad to have been randomly selected to pass through that line (not only was it faster, but it was also a much shorter line).
We got to the gate just prior to boarding time, and got on the plane during the family boarding process. The flight was uneventful, and we arrived at the gate in LA on time. We headed to the baggage claim area (after stopping by McDonalds for a snack), where I left Shawnda and the kids with their hamburgers. I went outside to look for abandoned luggage carts, and found two pretty quickly (they cost $5 each from the kiosks … I’m a cheapskate, I know). All eight of our bags came out, we loaded them onto the carts, and pushed them out to the curb. Both kids wanted to go with me to the rental car place, so Shawnda stayed with the bags and the three of us walked over the rental car bus loading area. After just a few minutes, we were on the bus headed to the Dollar Rental Car building. We checked in there no problem, got our minivan, and headed back to the airport (BTW - GPS on the cellphone is such a blessing!). We got our bags loaded, asked Siri “where is Four PoInts by Sheridan?”, and were on our way once again. We’ve learned that this system works better than trying to get all our bags onto the rental car shuttle bus, off of the bus, into the rental car center, and into the car. It took us almost nine years, but we’re getting the hang of this traveling stuff.
I checked in, got back to the car, and we found a family-favorite nearby for dinner - In-n-Out Burger. The place was beyond PACKED, so we decided to get ours to-go. After a yummy burger & fries and showers, we were all sound asleep. Bonus to rental car: we left all but two roller carry-ons and our backpacks in the minivan overnight, which meant we didn’t have to mess with them. I told you we were getting the hand of this! And if you’re worried about theft in the parking lot… I would have been alright if one or two bags went missing - ha!
After a good night’s sleep, we found our way to a nearby Middle School where a local church meets on Sunday mornings. We were warmly greeted by several, and quickly found that we knew some people in common (it’s a small world). The preacher introduced us at the beginning of services, and asked me to get up a say a few words about our work in Vanuatu. We were greatly encouraged by our time together with these Christians.
After a quick lunch, Shawnda took the kids down to the pool, and I got to watch the Broncos playoff game. Being so close to the airport, the hotel where we stayed recently instituted a new policy, which means you can stay a full 24 hours without paying an extra for the room - what a deal! About 5 hours before our scheduled departure, we packed everything up and got into the minivan. I dropped Shawnda and Alexis off with our luggage at the airport, and Titus and I returned the rental car. We caught the rental car shuttle back to the airport, and found our way to the Fiji Airways counter in the international terminal (no abandoned luggage carts to be found, so we had to pay for two this time). It was about a 30 minute wait to check in, but the kids did well. We had a very kind agent check us in, we made our way thru security, and found our gate. They have totally redone the international departure terminal since we were there last, and it was quite impressive. We had some Chinese food and waited for our plane. The kids made some friends and played with them until it was time to board.
The flight was full, which means no opportunity to spread out, but thankfully we were close to the front (and would be able to de-board first), because our schedule only allowed us one hour to transfer planes in Fiji. Air Pacific recently changed their name to Fiji Airways, and got new Airbus 330s in the process. The planes are new and seem to have an inch or two of extra legroom, which was much appreciated. They are a bit smaller than the old Boeings, and take about 30 minutes longer for the Los Angeles to Nadi leg of the flight. The kids both slept pretty well on the flight (we took off in LA at 10:30pm Sunday, and arrived in Nadi at 5:30am on Tuesday, having crossed the international dateline).
Folks flying to Port Vila were ushered to the front of the line at the Nadi transfer desk, and we got through without much of a hitch, and found a sit close to our boarding gate. After a quick trip to the bathroom, we boarded our final flight to Vila. We were on the back row of the plane, and once again had an uneventful flight. We got thru Immigration, Baggage and Customs with no problems, and Flexon was there to greet us outside (along with his son, Renzo). He called his bus driver to come and pick us up, and we enjoyed visiting with him while we waited on the bus to come.
We hadn't been able to make short term accommodation arrangements from the States, as the place we normally stay was over the threshold of giving us our usual local discount. We stopped by a couple of places, and ended up taking a room at the second place. It’s a one bedroom apartment with a bathroom and a kitchenette, and there’s a small swimming pool outside. It’s no frills and pretty small, but hopefully we’ll be able to find permanent housing quickly.
As I mentioned, your prayers for a safe trip were answered, and we ask your continued prayers as we find housing and get re-settled. God is good … all the time!