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Missionary Doctor: Yay! I’m a llama again…

Have you seen the Disney feature The Emperor’s New Groove? It’s a favorite in our family - mostly for the humor, but there are often truths to be identified even in cartoons. The story is about a selfish Emperor who must learn the lesson of considering people other than himself. Early in the film he is accidently turned into a llama by a careless villain, and most of the storyline involves him trying to find a way to become human again. Near the end of the movie he finds the potion for just that, but it’s unlabeled among other potions for becoming all sorts of animals. So, while running around and trying to escape the villain, he tries one potion after another. He becomes a turtle, a parrot, and a whale before turning back into a llama. Here he exclaims, “Yay! I’m a llama again! …wait….”

What does that have to do with life? Missions? Togo? Well, most of you know that we spent a year at a language school in France before moving to Togo. It was the opportunity of a lifetime, but it was also very difficult. Europe was far more foreign to us than we anticipated and everything that had never seemed like a big deal was suddenly trying (like buying food). Now we’ve been in Togo for half a year and have encountered similar challenges in a whole new context. God has certainly given us grace throughout all of this and continues to remake us in His image. Yet, the strangest thing has been occurring. We recently were in the country’s capital city for groceries when we drove past a store that we recognized. Amid a foreign people who speak foreign tongues in a foreign culture in a foreign country on a foreign continent, we saw a store - a brand - that we knew. We were suddenly overcome with the warmth of home. For a moment, we felt the comfort and safety of familiarity. It was then that we realized that the store was not an American brand; it was French. It was a grocery store that does not exist in the USA. How strange a realization that was! My wife simply said, “Yay! I’m a llama again.” We could only laugh at how appropriate the reference was.

We’ve had several more instances of the same phenomenon and will now grin and repeat the quote. It has, however, made me question my concept of home. We are, like many others, a family displaced in the world, and we continue to think of a small portion of this earth as our home. Specifically, we think of home as where our families remain, though even much of our family is displaced. I realize anew that this world is not our home. We do not yet live in perfect unity with God. His plan has not yet completely come to full fruition. We have work to do. In Matthew 8 a scribe expresses interest in following Jesus, and Jesus responds, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” Do I let myself get too settled? Too comfortable? Again, in the same passage, a man says that he will follow Jesus after burying his father - at some non-descript time in the future after settling his affairs. Jesus replies, “Follow me, and leave the dead to bury their own dead.” Do I have to have everything in order before I respond in obedience to His call on my life? Does my home and family come first? Later in chapter 10 Jesus says that “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”

These words are convicting. I’m not supporting neglect of family or becoming a workaholic, yet I recognize that I cannot use the comfort of home or my love for my family as a reason not to obey in every area of my life. I hope that resonates with you too. Perhaps you are exactly where God wants you in life or geographically, but we must consider again and again whether there are things or people holding us back from obedience. At the end of Matthew 9 Jesus said to the disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” Are you a laborer? Am I a laborer? I recently told my wife that my whole life dedicated to missions would be worth it if only one soul were saved, even if that soul was my own. I truly wish to gain my life, my home – so I think I must first give it up for the sake of Christ Jesus. Continue to pray for us as we persist in looking for the good works “which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” and that people “may see [those] good works and give glory to [our] Father in heaven.” Here are some specific ways you can be in prayer for us:

Life in Togo has been somewhat hectic. The hospital is undergoing a lot of change - several long-term doctors are in the process of leaving this month and next as they continue to seek God’s will for them. Inherent in that is having to say goodbye to friends and support that we’ve come to rely on personally. We also lost all three of our nurse anesthetists and so for our surgeons to do surgery, I and another family doctor have been doing basic anesthesia. I’ll soon be taking on call for the maternity ward as well as medical call. I’ve also been learning basic ultrasound skills as one of the two physicians taking care of that will be leaving. For a time, it appears that the hospital will be covered by one surgeon, one pediatrician, and myself.
Rebecca is 35 weeks pregnant and feeling ready to have a baby rather than a belly. We are blessed to have her mother coming out to help and encourage us around the time the baby is due. We are planning on hosting a couple of cousins from Rebecca’s side of the family over the next few weeks and are looking forward to fellowship with them. Several medical and PA students are scheduled to be at the hospital over the next few months and will need direction and teaching.
Our children have been battling simple illnesses on and off for a few weeks and homeschooling has slowed down for them as that is partly dependent on undependable internet. We have used some of your funding for us to purchase the roof of a small church plant several hours drive from us and are praying for that church to be fruitful (this is the same church Rebecca mentioned in our previous blog post). The Ghanaian Muslim boy who we hosted several weeks ago has kept in contact with us and professes acceptance of Christ and is sharing the gospel with his family and friends.

We are always encouraged by your notes and letters. Thank you for praying.

The Waiting Season (by Becca)

"For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God... For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience." (Romans 8:18-19, 24-25 ESV)

Our kids perform a song they've been practicing with the other missionary children of the area.


In Michigan, March was always one of the hardest months for me. It was usually cold, cloudy, and dreary, and we were generally all sick with the winter viruses that we had somehow managed to avoid until right when winter was finally supposed to be over. We were waiting eagerly, impatiently; longing for sunshine and warmth and the better health and happiness that came with it. Sometimes, we would get a brief glimpse of spring, only to have it snatched away by another snow or ice storm. We waited for the sun to return and life to begin again, but that usually didn't happen until April (if then), despite the calendar's bright assurances that spring was actually already here.


Caspian celebrated his 8th birthday this March.


Rather surprisingly, March feels similar in Togo, but for a completely different reason. March is a month of waiting here, too: waiting for RAIN. In Togo, March is generally the hottest month of the year, and it comes at the end of the long, dry season that begins in November. Everyone feels tired and hot and dusty. For the Togolese, the feeling of waiting is probably even more intense, since their very livelihood as subsistence farmers depends on the rains coming on time. Sometimes the clouds will build up, the feeling of pressure in the air will grow, and we'll even hear thunder in the distance, but the rain doesn't come. There is no relief from the oppressive heat.


Gwynevere and a friend sit outside on a hot, dry day.

Just as the earth itself seems to cry out for the sun to shine again in Michigan and bring the green of spring, the earth itself seems to cry out here in Togo for the rains to come again, to bring cooler temperatures and fresh breezes and the green of the growing season.

Walking home from church on a hot, dry day.


I don't think it's coincidence that in nature we have this season of waiting, of breathless anticipation, of desperation for life to begin. It is a reflection of what all creation is waiting for... "we wait for it with patience."


Elora loves holding our neighbors' baby monkey.


What does waiting with patience mean? I tell my children it means waiting without complaining, and that's part of it. But I think a truly patient person sees waiting as an opportunity rather than a burden; they think about how they can use the waiting time to prepare for what lies ahead. Recently, Seth and I went to visit a church up the mountain from us that had just been built and was celebrating its inauguration. On the way, we discussed how dry and hot it was. I asked what the farmers were doing right now, with no water for their crops. Our friend who was riding with us started pointing out the fields we passed. They were cleared, furrowed, and in the process of being planted. "They're already planting," she said. "They are just waiting for the rains to come, but they want to be ready when they do." While we were still at the church, a huge storm hit. It has rained almost every day since. That was April 1st. March was over, and the rains had come. The farmers knew they were coming. They hoped for what they could not see, and waited for it with patience, preparing all the while.

Elora and Gwyn get soaked playing in one of our first big rains.


There are so many waiting and preparing seasons in life. Right now I am in a waiting season that many other women experience: I am 5 months pregnant and waiting for my baby to be born. I don't think I'm quite at the "March" stage of waiting yet, which means, for now I'm enjoying the pregnancy and feeling the baby moving inside me, and I'm not yet at the always-uncomfortable-isn't-this-over-yet-get-this-baby-out-of-me stage. But I know it's coming in the next couple of months. It always does. Eventually, waiting becomes uncomfortable and we want to be done. But it would be silly to wait all that time without buying a crib, or baby clothes, or diapers. The waiting season is also a time to get ready for what is coming.


Right now I'm not just waiting for my baby to be born, but also waiting for God to show me exactly what I should be doing here in Togo. Seth has his work at the hospital and clinic, and I am home-schooling the children, but I feel that there are more ways I can contribute to the community and the ministry in and around the hospital. Recently, I realized that while I am waiting, I should also be preparing. I feel like whatever I do will probably involve working with the local children, many of whom don't speak French. So, I have started taking Ewe lessons. Ewe is the tribal language spoken by a lot of the nationals in this area, and the children speak it at home with their parents, speaking French only in school. I don't know exactly what I will be doing yet, but I want to be prepared.

Noah is one of several Togolese children who visits us regularly.
He only speaks Ewe.

Last Saturday, my two older daughters and I had the wonderful opportunity to visit a remote village named Gbadi Bena where some Togolese believers are trying to start a new church. Some of the church leaders from our town had somehow acquired Operation Christmas Child shoe boxes to hand out to the children there. Yes, Christmas boxes in April-- talk about waiting! Gbadi Bena was not easy to get to, and one of the friends I went with mentioned that most people she talked to even here in Togo had never heard of it (Google maps hasn't, either, by the way). We drove for an hour on the main road going north from Adeta, where we live, and then we turned off onto a winding dirt road going up a mountain. "This is the road to Gbadi Bena!" one of the other passengers told us. "Oh good," we thought, "that wasn't too far." What we didn't realize was that we would be on the road to Gbadi Bena for two and a half hours as it wound back and forth up onto the plateau, getting progressively windier, narrower, and more full of pot-holes. Waiting patiently to get to our destination was hard, especially for my six-year-old daughter, Elora. But, while we were driving there, one of the Togolese pastors who had come with us, Pastor Jeremy, talked to us about his heart for the remote mountain villages. "We have churches all along the main roads," he said, "but still in the mountains there are people who have never heard the gospel. My own parents were some of those people. My father finally did hear about Jesus before he died, but my mother never did." How many people are still waiting? 

The road to Gbadi Bena and the car we rode in.

When we finally got to Gbadi Bena, we discovered that the people there are in a waiting season of their own. Right now they are meeting in a house, but they want to build a church building. They have cleared the land and dug the trenches for the foundation, but they don't yet have the resources to build a church. They showed us the area they cleared, and we prayed with them that God would provide. They also don't have a pastor yet. Some of the pastors in the other churches in the area would like to help, but it is really hard for them to get to that remote of a village on a regular basis. So, they are also waiting for a pastor, or for one of the nearby pastors to get better transportation.

The area cleared for the new church building...
except for the large stump in the middle!

After showing us where the church will someday be (they hope for what they do not see), they took us back to the house where several dozen children were waiting for their boxes, singing Bible songs and listening to some women teach them from the Bible.


The children had to wait a while longer, because we then had to figure out how to distribute the boxes, because there were more children than boxes. Eventually they decided to limit the distribution to those on a previously-made list and give the rest candy. It was hard to exclude any of the children, but they all waited patiently to receive their boxes, and those who didn't receive boxes didn't even complain, but watched the others open their boxes with interest. I felt like my own kids could learn a lot from them! For their own part, Arwen and Elora were glad when their waiting was finally rewarded and they got to hand out the boxes alongside Pastor Jeremy's son, Jean. Arwen remembers helping me shop for things to put in shoe boxes like these since she was very young. We never expected to get to see some make it to their destination. Just one more thing we were waiting for and preparing for without even realizing it! 





You are probably in a waiting season in some way in your life right now. Maybe you are waiting for the right job, the right spouse, or the right opportunity. You might be waiting to get accepted into college, or to graduate. You might even just be waiting to figure out what you are waiting for! My prayer for you is that God will give you patience and help you see the ways in which he is preparing you and teaching you in this time. Thank you for your prayers for us, as we learn to wait patiently for so many things.





"The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord." (Lamentations 3:25-26 ESV)

Missionary Doctor: Giving Thanks - Some Visuals From a Mission Hospital

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. -1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

I was encouraged today to look through a collection of photos taken at Hôpital Baptiste Biblique here in Togo. These photos (courtesy of Judy Bowen) reminded me of many things for which I am thankful. I'd like to share a few of them with you.

I am thankful for this hospital compound! We almost always have electricity and we have clean water, a home for our family, and a community of missionaries who care for one another. There are plans to expand the hospital, but even what we already have is more than many other hospitals in various places around the world.




Here is a photo of our obstetrician, post-resident Dr Potter, along with a visiting obstetrician together in surgery. And next to that a photo of myself with one of our surgeons, Dr Kendall, in what looks like a typical "consultation" here. I am thankful for our surgeons and OB/Gyn specialists. They are such valuable members of our team. I am thankful for open communication and for an atmosphere of encouraging one another.




Similar to the visiting obstetrician above, we often have short-term personnel come here to aid us and to lift us up. Here is a surgeon who came and offered himself as a servant, and next to that a family doctor and medical student who likewise came alongside the doctors here to be a blessing in service. I am thankful for the short-term missionaries and their desire to serve. I'm also thankful for the wisdom and experience they bring with them (and the chocolate they bring with them...).



Here is a little one being weighed and so full of life. To the right is an image of a child born prematurely who did relatively well for close to a month, but then ended up dying. It was touching to see how the mother cared for him. I am thankful for life. How precious a life is, even when it doesn't seem to last long by our standards.



Dr Ebersole poses with a little boy who had recently undergone an esophagectomy after having eaten lye more than a year before. Fellow post-resident Dr Tebo is pictured with a patient who is too cool to be NPO (not allowed to eat for the time being). I am thankful for our pediatricians and the knowledge and experience that they bring to the table. I'm thankful for our success stories.




Here Dr Tebo and I are introducing a paraplegic woman to her new PET cart while her daughter and some friends look on. You can see in the second photo just how happy she is with her gift. I am thankful for the generosity of donors and for the compassion that I see people show toward others. It's truly a blessing.


Here is a photo of a chaplain sharing the gospel and then one of a nurse praying with a patient. I am so thankful for our chaplains, nurses, and aids. They so often help us with the language barriers we encounter. I am amazed at their patience toward us. I thank God for a country where we are free to share the gospel, a mission focused on prayer, and a hospital where we take the time for both. I am also thankful for our nursing program here that continues to provide the hospital with excellent nurses.



Here we see Dr Ward, another post-resident, being his true self. Getting to know him and learn from him has been a lot of fun. Next is our fearless administrator making me *feel* tall. I am so thankful for laughter and for friendships. I'm glad that we can still have fun and lift each other's spirits and remind each other the reason for our joy. I'm also thankful for our administration team and for their willingness to brave so many meetings to keep the hospital running.


In this photo, I've come down to everybody else's level so that our photographer could get a decent shot while the PA laughs at me. In the next, I'm asking a patient (in limited French) if her pain is any better. I'm thankful for our photographer. I am thankful for our PAs and the outstanding work that they do. I'm thankful for my limited French and the gratefulness of our patients.


There aren't any pictures to go along with this, but I'm thankful for my family and how well they have taken adjusting to life in Africa. Also, dear friends, I'm thankful for you and your prayers for us as we continue to work. May Jesus be lifted up.

Missionary Doctor: Breath Before the Plunge

Yes! We’ve made it to Togo! We live in West Africa! We have been truly encouraged by our missions family here in Togo; they gave us a warm welcome and helped to prepare our house long before we arrived. We love our new home and our new neighbors (some of whom were already dear friends!). We did not have time for a break after our exams in France, so we are taking some time to rest here before jumping into work and school. We were able to go for a quick swim on Christmas day and then were hosted for Christmas dinner by our friends. We celebrated Christmas as a family on the 26th and had a nice family night on New Year’s Eve. The children have been enjoying the warm weather and have spent much of their Christmas break playing outdoors with friends and getting acquainted with the neighbor’s pet monkey.

 


So here we are. It’s 2017 and we’ve arrived! Is that it? We’re here in Africa. We obeyed. The hard part is over, right? Moving here was one single act of obedience. It took us only two days to physically move here. What now? Yes, there is work to be done and there are many things to learn, but our mission today is largely the same as it was in France and in Michigan: daily obedience to God. That, in sum, is to know Him and to make Him known. We hope and expect to grow, but our location does not transform us and neither does our proximity to a ministry. We must endeavor to seek the face of Jesus no matter where we are or who we are with. Perhaps I’ll even say that it’s our New Year’s resolution to be intentional about our time spent in prayer and in the Word of God, just as it should be each year. I hope the same for you. Growth and transformation into Christ can be hard. I read an excellent quote from Elisabeth Elliot that goes:

"Our vision is so limited we can hardly imagine a love that does not show itself in protection from suffering. The love of God did not protect His own Son. He will not necessarily protect us - not from anything it takes to make us like His Son. A lot of hammering and chiseling and purifying by fire will have to go into the process."

May we abandon anything that distracts us from our Savior and chase fervently after anything that puts us at the center of His will.

A couple of the doctors working in our hospital have taken on an extra workload to allow me to settle in and rest. This is another example of the kindness and love that has been shown toward our family since our coming. We have used this time to unpack and organize our home. We have some shopping to get done, but I hope to otherwise spend some time reviewing a few of my medical texts. It has been more than a year since I’ve practiced medicine (other than looking at a few ears and adjusting some backs and necks - you know who you are). I am truly tempted to be fearful regarding my own insufficiency. I was reflecting with Rebecca over all the years of preparation for coming to this place and this time, but I wondered aloud if even that was enough. She encouraged me with this quote by I. Lilias Trotter taken from Gold Cord by Amy Carmichael:

"So many questions lie ahead concerning the work, and a great comforting came this morning in the chapter in Job (Job 28) about 'the way' of wisdom and 'the place thereof' (verse 23). It tells how God finds the way for the wind and the water and the lightning, and it came with a blessed power what those ways are. The way for the wind is the region of the greatest emptiness, the way for the water is to the place of the lowest depth, the way for the lightning, as science proves, is along the line of the greatest weakness. 'If any man lack.' There is God’s condition for His inflow of the spiritual understanding. Praise be to His name."

May we be empty of all that is not Him so that He may fill us up and may we rely on His grace which we know is sufficient for us.

I have been encouraged during this time of still before busyness. This is similar to only a few weeks ago, on the night before our weeklong French exams started, I was feeling very anxious and I lay awake in bed praying when I was suddenly overwhelmed by peace and even joy. I knew that this was from the Lord, but that the feeling would not likely last. I held on to the knowledge of that peace and joy throughout the following week. I often remember a line by V. Raymond Edman that goes "Never doubt in the dark what God told you in the light." It’s important to hold on to our knowledge of God’s presence and His promises because our emotions waver and our senses are deceitful while the truth of His Word is unfaltering and eternal. That’s what He is giving me now. I am excited, at peace, joyful, and content. It’s not always going to feel this way, yet pray that I will hold on to the knowledge of His presence in the coming months.

May we seek truth in His word daily that we would be able to present ourselves as holy, acceptable, living sacrifices by the renewing of our minds.

We do have some exciting news to share. We are expecting our 5th child at the end of July! We hope to have the baby here in Togo. Rebecca has been in good health and we certainly appreciate your prayers for a healthy baby and mama. The three older children want a boy, but Gwyn is holding out for a little sister. I’m voting for twins….

At this juncture, we wish you all a very blessed New Year. We pray that you each choose to daily turn yourselves toward Christ and His will for your lives.

Be praying for:
The pregnancy.
Our health as a family.
Continued progression in French (slightly different French now that we are here).
Our spiritual well-being and that we would daily choose to live in obedience.
Clear direction in ministry for us and for our team here in Togo.

"Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid." - John 14:27

Fall Update (by Becca)

Dear family and friends,

It has been a long time since our August update, and the end of our time here in France is now in sight! We have 31 days left here.

I'll say it again, because I can't believe it myself! We only have 31 days left before we leave for Togo.

We will miss Albertville, France, very much. It has been such a beautiful place to live, and explore, and learn French. We feel incredibly blessed to have been able to spend a whole year here.



This is literally the view right outside our apartment!
Since our last update we have been very busy. Our three older kids went back to French school, and Gwyn started going to preschool for the first time. Seth and I went back to language school for our last semester of learning this year.

In October, we had a short break, during which my parents came to visit. We took advantage of their time here to visit some of the local attractions: a few castles and other medieval buildings, a 19th-century fort (which happened to have a kid's play area with bouncy houses where our kids had a blast), a waterfall, and a city filled with beautiful canals.














All in all, it was a wonderful visit. Now, however, we are in our countdown phase to Togo!
Here are some prayer requests we would like to make as we enter our last month here in France:

  • Good health! We've been struggling a lot this fall with the local respiratory viruses. Please pray for healing and that we would not catch any more colds in these next couple of weeks so that we will have the energy we need to prepare for our move.


  • Exams! We have our final exams coming up. Please pray that we will study well and do well. Our exams will be taking place from December 8 through December 13.
  • Paperwork! Moving to another country involves all kinds of hoops to jump through. We are so blessed to have the great team at Samaritan's Purse and in Togo who really help make the process go more smoothly, but it is still a process. Please pray that we will do everything we need to well and on time.
  • Packing! Of course, we need to pack everything up, something which we will only have about one week to complete after our exams are done.
  • The trip! We are flying out on December 23. Please pray for a safe and smooth trip and that all our luggage will make it with us, as well.

  • Finally, while all of you in the U.S. will be starting to prepare your Thanksgiving dinners, I will be taking our kids to the international vaccine clinic to get their yellow fever shots (Happy Thanksgiving, guys!). So please pray that that will go well, too. Obviously, Thanksgiving is not a holiday here in France, and we will really miss being with family on that day, but like you, we will take that time to remember that we truly have much to be thankful for!

    In Christ,

    Becca

    Summer Update (by Becca)

    Hello Family and Friends!

    We hope you have all been having a good summer.
    We know we have, although we have definitely missed Lake Michigan and its beaches!
    Here are the things we've been up to this summer:

    We sat on some steps at the Colosseum! But now I'm getting ahead of myself...

    In the beginning of July, there was a graduation celebration for many of our friends here at the language school who were finishing their language learning and moving on to Africa or elsewhere in France. Some of the students here finish their school year in June. Others (like us) finish in December. All throughout the month of July, our friends here were moving out. It was hard to say good-bye to the new friends we had spent the last 6 months with, and the campus has been very quiet without them. We are thankful for the time we had with them, though.

    Our children finished up with their French school year at the beginning of July as well (French school goes from September to July, with longer breaks in the middle of the school year than in the U.S.). However, we were still in classes until the end of July, so our language school provided a summer program for them and some of the other missionary kids who were here, which they seem to have enjoyed quite a lot!

    They made a "mummy" while learning about Egypt.
    The second week of July, I presented my first all-in-French devotional to the students (some of whom were new students here for the July summer course, so it was actually a bigger group than I expected!). I spoke on how, as missionaries, it's often hard to know where home is, and how we have to remember that our true home is in heaven. I encouraged my fellow students to remember that, as we mourn all the things we've had to leave behind, Jesus is calling us to store up treasures in heaven (Matthew 6:19-21). As we wonder where we will be a year from now, Jesus reminds us that even He did not have a place to lay His head (Matthew 8:20), and the servant is not greater than his Master (John 13:16). As we worry that we will never get back home again, Jesus promises us that He has a home for us, ready and waiting (John 14:2-3). Studying for this devotional (even in French!) was a great encouragement to me and I hope it was an encouragement to the other students as well. (Assuming they understood my French!)

    See that weird face I'm making? That's the only way you
    can pronounce French correctly... or so our teacher tells us!
    At the end of July we had our second set of exams. In the French language system, there are levels called A1, A2, B1, and B2. We had finished A1 and taken those exams in the spring, and now we were finishing A2 and taking those exams. We were a little concerned, because we had had less time to study the A2 material (we had more vacation time during our A1 trimester, during which we were able to do extra studying), but praise God, we passed our exams and actually did pretty well! We are so thankful that we have been able to progress in our language learning and we thank you all for your prayers and encouragement in that. Our plan is to be half-way through the B1 level (the B1 level is split into 2 trimesters) before we leave for Togo in December. This should put us at a level in which we can communicate fairly well with the French-speaking people of Togo.

    After our exams we were finally given some much-needed vacation time! We have the whole month of August "off" from classes (although we plan to spend the next week and a half studying in preparation for the beginning of our next and final trimester).

    As soon as our vacation time started in the last week of July, we took off on the train to visit Paris for a few days as a family. It seemed strange that we had been in France almost 7 months and had still never been there! We are glad we finally got to go. It was a very fun trip.

    We had  all just had ice-cream cones in front of the Eiffel Tower...
    hence the chocolate all over the two younger girls!
    After our Paris trip, we celebrated Arwen's 9th birthday on August 1st. I can't believe our oldest is already 9 years old and so grown up!



    Finally, on August 7th my sister Cynthia and her husband Michael arrived for a 10-day visit. We rented a van and traveled Italy and the south of France with them for about a week. It was a blast! (Though we realized in Italy how much we had come to rely on knowing the local language in France! It was frustrating to not be able to communicate all over again.) We got to see the Colosseum, the Vatican, several amazing monuments and galleries in Florence, and we spent a lovely day swimming in the Mediterranean Sea near Nice. We finished our trip by driving through the "Grand Canyon of Europe," the Verdon Gorge. That was a breathtaking view! Earlier this week, Michael and Cynthia left to spend some time in Paris before heading back to the U.S. We were very sad to see them go, but we are so glad we got to have that fun trip with them.

    Enjoying some amazing pizza and pasta with Michael and Cynthia in Rome.
    Now that Cynthia and Michael are gone, and we have less than 2 weeks of vacation left, we are planning to buckle down and get in some much needed French study time. We will also be trying to deep clean and reorganize our things, as we are mindful that in December we will have to be ready to make our next overseas move to Togo, right after our level B1 French exams! Finally, there are many new missionary families moving into our language school this month in order to start their classes in September, and we are going to do our best to welcome them as others welcomed us when we arrived: making them meals, showing them around town, and helping them understand life in Albertville as they adjust to a new culture and a new language.

    So, to sum up our summer:
    Praises:
    ~ We passed our exams!
    ~ Everyone is relatively healthy (we had lots of nasty viruses in the winter, but we are all doing a lot better now, praise the Lord!).
    ~ We have been able to relax and spend time with family.

    Prayer requests:
    ~ That we would be able to get some good review time during the next couple of weeks.
    ~ That we would be a blessing to the new missionary families that come this month.
    ~ That my parents, who are planning to come visit us in October, would have a safe trip.

    Finally, we want to thank those of you who have consistently written to us, prayed for us, encouraged us, and financially supported us. Right now our monthly financial support is at about 30-40% of our monthly goal. Thanks to some very generous one-time donations, we have been able to pay for language school, living expenses, and day-care for our youngest child, but as we get to the end of the year and look to our move to Togo, we will need to rely more and more on monthly donations. We would like to ask you to pray that God will provide, and if you or anyone you know would be interested in supporting us on a monthly basis, please contact us. We can tell you how to sign up to make a tax-deductible monthly donation through Samaritan's Purse online, or you can download this donation form, fill it out, and mail it to Samaritan's Purse: Donation Form 
    Thank you again to those of you who have been faithfully supporting and praying for us! We thank God daily for you, and are are so honored to have you on our team as we prepare to serve the Lord in Togo.