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