Beautiful Things

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Just in time for Christmas

All of us journeyers have been dealing with the same question this week: What is Christmas going to be like this year?

This Christmas will definitely be a different one- probably the most different. We all have family traditions and yearly celebrations that we won't be home for. We all have people that we will miss sharing this holiday season with. It is so easy for us to think about all the things we're missing, but what about all the amazing experiences we'll get to have because we're here? Instead of thinking, "well, this is only one year, then next year I'll be home again", I need to be thinking, "wow, this is one year that I get to be in AFRICA with my little Journey Corps FAMILY!" 

This is yet another issue of comfort. Christmas plus 90 degree weather does not make sense to me, but it's our reality- and why not enjoy it! If I was home, I would probably be complaining about the rain and how cold it is! There will be many years of cold Christmas' to come, but a Christmas in the tropics, now that is not so ordinary! I get a little uncomfortable when I think that things may be a little different, but this year is meant to be different! It's going to be beautifully different and totally orchestrated by a God who cares more for me than I can begin to understand.

I can't even believe how blessed I've been with communication here. I talk to my parents on the phone almost weekly- and it doesn't cost an arm and a leg (I hope!)- I've heard the voices of the dearest people to me and seen far away faces smiling back at me through video chat! I even hear Pastor Al's Christmas sermon series through Clovis EVFree's podcast! I mean, what else could a missionary girl ask for?!

The answer: NOTHING. 

As much as I cling to the traditions of home, Christmas is not about baking cookies, sitting by the fire, watching old movies, or walking down Christmas Tree Lane all bundled up. Christmas is not about giving and receiving gifts, eating too much ham (or tamales), stockings and Santa Clause, or listening to Nat King Cole. Christmas is not about twinkling lights, singing carols, tinsel, or little elves in funny hats.

Christmas is about God's love for the very people He created and who turned away from Him. Christmas is about this Almighty Creator finding a way to bring those wandering children back to Him. Christmas is about reconciliation, redemption, and reunion with a very personal God, who sent His son to a broken world as a baby.

Christmas is about a God who loved us enough...
               to walk the earth with us,
                       to live among us,
                               to go to the cross for us,
                                        to make sure we would never be apart again.

Christmas is about LOVE.
 Unexplainable, undeserved, unrestrained LOVE.

"But now you have been united with Christ Jesus. Once you were far away from God, but now you have been brought near to him through the blood of Christ"         -Ephesians 2:13

God has been so good. He's teaching me to trust in His plan, in His will. He takes my hand and guides me. He shows me how to follow when I'm terrified that I don't know how.

So what exactly are our plans for Christmas here in Bouake? Well... we plan on joining an all night fete with the local Baptist church in Bouake. We'll be singing, dancing, praying, and eating all Christmas Eve! Then we'll have our Village Baptiste Christmas celebration and meal. The part I'm excited for.... Christmas night, when we'll all be so worn out and stuffed with too much food, sitting around our little tree with its strange bubble lights, sharing quiet moments together and exchanging our little hand made doodads. I'm excited. This is going to be a year that we remember, not just because we were away, but because we were together.

Merry Christmas from Cote d'Ivoire! 

Monday, December 20, 2010

Thoughts on comfort and having multiple names...

Holly, Kati, and I spent our first weekend in an Ivorian home. The home of the Yeo Yeneyela family. Yeneyela and Awa spent the week before on campus at ICA with us, so I was able to get to know them and their baby boy, Solomon. To be completely truthful, I was NERVOUS! I had no idea what it would be like and there were so many questions. We had visited many courtyard before, but would their home be like that? What would their bathroom be like? What about drinking water? What about FOOD? Lots and lots of questions. So Friday afternoon, Rod drove us out to Brobo, dropped us at the Yeo house, and then he was gone.

We survived! We more than survived! Life was so relaxing and they made us so comfortable in their home. The 3 of us shared a room at the end of a short hall, which had a queen sized mattress on the ground and a mosquito net hanging above it. A mosquito net! I've been here for almost 2 months and that was my first mosquito net.

When we arrived, Awa greeted us with a big smile and open arms. Yeneyela took us for une promenade through town. We stopped and greeted at so many houses along the way, and my french slowly deteriorated the more houses we visited. Brobo is spread out and village-like compared to Bouake. Yeneyela and Marius (a close family friend and former student) showed us that almost every house was in some stage of preparing atteche- which is a staple food in Cote d'Ivoire made from manioc. When we returned (2 1/2 hours  later!) Awa had a snack ready for us: aloco (fried plantains) and an omelet! Then I occupied Solomon for awhile, cut onions and tomatoes, made passion fruit juice, and experienced bathing from a bucket!
Bathrooms here are not about comfort, which- I think- is a high priority in the States. At home, you relax in the bathroom- here it's all utilitarian, it's strickly necessity. The bathroom was inside, which I was thankful for. Many courtyards we've seen, there are rooms outside with a hole in the ground. There was even a toilet- it didn't flush, but it was a toilet!

Dinner: AGOUTI! We ate rat- a giant rat with onions and tomatoes and noodles! I tried to get away with taking a small piece of the meat, but Awa just put another larger peice on my plate! It wasn't too bad in all actuality... just had a funny after taste. After dinner, we all sat and watched a John Wayne film dubbed over in French- it was wonderful!

The next day was filled with more visiting- including a lengthy stop at the village Chief's courtyard. The chief was a woman! I was shocked- totally counter cultural! She had a very "official" demeanor toward us. She gave us all Baoule names- Kati, Holly and I were all given the name Affoue, which means "saturday". Yep, we were named after the day of the week. I am quickly becoming a woman of many names. In Baoule: Affoue; in Dyula: Sarata; and to the French speakers, I'm still Naomi (but pronounced now-me). Culturally speaking, I feel so honored to be given a traditional name- they are sharing a familiarity with me. Sometimes, though, I look forward to phone calls from my parents and my name not sounding weird.

The Chief and the 3 Affoue's
Kati pounding palm nuts
Over the next few days, we fell into life with them. It was simplistic and wonderful! We ate more food that we were unsure about by the looks of it, but it was all pretty tasty. Yeneyela was given a copy of our CD, "Take These Feet" and would blast it from the household stereo. It was a strange feeling- hearing our music projected in an African courtyard! We spent time with the local church youth at a prayer meeting and I was so encouraged by their hunger for God and knowledge of Him. Yeneyela took us on his moto into the bush to see his garden. It was an adventure to say the least. We got lost and scraped up by low hanging branches, but it was so much fun! On Sunday, we went with the Yeos to their little church- which was actually an unfinished cement block building. It had a tin roof attached with wiring and 5 wooden benches. It made me think about how excessive our church buildings can be at home. There is so much debate on what color the carpet should be and other trivial things, when this group of 15 believers are worshiping and dancing barefoot on a dirt floor. Their offering of worship was genuine and simple, but fervent and powerful. Rod spoke in french at the little chuch on John 9 and what it means to be blind. I found it to be an incredibly fitting message for me to hear in this little place and I was thankful that God gave understanding despite the language barriers.

Rod took us home after the service, back to our walled in village, back to pancake and scrambles eggs for Sunday lunch, back to our little America. It's difficult finding a balance. I loved living with the Yeos for a weekend, I loved experiencing life with them. BUT I was tired! We all were. It was nice to be back in our own rooms and free to speak english with eachother. It was nice to be comfortable. However, I'm learning that God needs to be my comfort zone, not speaking english, or my own bed sheets, or baked potatoes for dinner, or pictures from home. All those things are able to be lost, but God is not. He is the steady, constant, perfect thing.

There are mare thoughts that follow this, but should be saved for another day, since I've apparently started writing a novel. So this is to be continued...

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Last Two Weeks

There is really no way for me to sum up the last 2 weeks, so here are some moments that stick out!

Experienced my first Snow Day! All Journey Corps events were canceled one morning and paper snow flakes were everywhere telling us to go back to bed and enjoy a day off. It was an incredible blessing! Thanks to Beckie for her late night stealth work in the dorm.

The Betheden dorm is officially decorated and ready for Christmas! We have a tree, fitted with ornaments and lights that we found in the basement- it's a beauty!

Our Christmas Tree lighting celebration!
Time is an interesting thing here. I feel like it has lost a lot of its meaning. Coming here I had "1 year" burned in my brain. Well in the first few weeks, time was crawling by and our days were incredibly long. Now the days still feel long and full, but the weeks fly by. I can't even think of this year as one unit of measuring my time here- it's too overwhelming to think that way. It's one day at a time here! Everyday is full of new discoveries and knowledge. New ways of seeing God. 

Rod took us into town one night after dinner. It was a quiet night on the streets of Bouake. We stopped and greeted in a Muslim courtyard where only Dyula was spoken. I only understand the standard greetings in Dyula, so beyond the first 2 minutes I'm totally lost. While sitting there, we heard a bunch of clanging bells and a huge group of young people entered the courtyard dancing and singing. They were bringing blessings! It was wonderful! All of them (20-25 people in all) sat and sang and talked with us. There is a lot of hope in this place. It was beautiful.

My new favorite thing here: walking in Le Compement! It's a village-y type area right across from our campus. Most of the people who live there are from Mali, Burkina, and Ghana. Everyone speaks Dyula- so I've been learning a lot more! People just love it when you come and say hello and sit with them. It's something that would seem awkward to do in America, but here it is a way of building relationship and showing respect. Making lots of new friends! Please pray for these relationships!

Second favorite thing here: walking "en brusse"! Talk about freedom! Rod took us for a walk into the wilderness and explained which plants and trees are helpful in the bush. I'll tell you what, there aren't many that don't have some purpose! It was great!

Finished Shadow of the Almighty, Jim Elliot's autobiography. It was amazing. So now I'm on to the rest of the stack that I've pulled from our lovely campus library, next one being.... [drum roll please]... These Strange Ashes, by Elisabeth Elliot. What can I say? I just can't get enough of this woman's story! This one, however, is about the year she spent in the west jungle of Ecuador as a single woman ministering to the Colorado indians. I'm really loving the missionary biographies! Any suggestions?

My dreams are wacky! Last night, I dreamt I was walking around in the African bush and then I came across Sequoia Sandwich Co. Talk about a weird mix of worlds! All I can say is that in 10 months, when my plane lands, I'm going to enjoy eating a loaded potato there.

Baked potato- Africa style! yes, that is bacon.

We are hosting the Yeo family here at ICA this week. They have an adorable little baby named Solomon. Awa, his mama, sent me away with him away one afternoon- which gave her a chance to relax. So now Solomon and I are fast friends- he's the happiest baby- always giggling, and once you start walking with him he's out like a light. This experience is redeeming my SCARY weeks in the nursery at Clovis EVFree! 

There is a lot of political craziness in Cote d'Ivoire. I've held off on writing about this mostly because I worried that the information given by international media was sensationalized and would worry people. BBC has been pretty right on as far as we know and the situation has come to a stand still of sorts. For those of you who haven't heard what is happening here, Cote d'Ivoire is the only country in the world right now with 2 presidents! If you'd like an actual account of what's happened in the last few weeks, I encourage you to read BBC's coverage of the Cote d'Ivoire elections. To put any worries at ease, we are probably in the safest place possible in Cote d'Ivoire. We are 6 hours north of Abidjan, where most of the violence has happened. Not to mention we live in a walled in compound with a whole troop of the French military! 

Spent time at the local orphanage with Kati, our lovely German friend! I had a great time singing, holding, and playing with the kids. They just want to feel loved. They just want to feel accepted and that they belong. How often we feel the same way! I felt overwhelmed with knowing how God loves them, and accepts them, and has made a place for them. For us all. I can't wait to go back- I need to. If only just to remind them that they are dearly loved by our Heavenly Father. 

Psalm 86: 11-13
"Teach me your ways, O Lord,
That I may live according to your truth!
Grant me purity of heart,
So that I may honor you.
With all my heart I will praise you,
O Lord my God.
I will give glory to your name forever,
For your love for me is very great."

P.S. I'm real excited for Christmas!