Sunday, April 13, 2014

Things Don't Always go as Planned

When someone decides to be missionary or even go on a short-term mission trip, one of the first pieces of advice experienced missionaries give them is this: be flexible. I thought, “Well, that should be simple enough. People will be late sometimes. Power will go out sometimes. No big deal.” Never did I imagine how little would go according to our plan!

John-Mark with his parents, siblings and missionary pilot, Chick Watkins

“The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps.” – Proverbs 16:9

Our trip to Liberia went so smoothly—all flights were on time, baby was quiet, dog was quiet, and all of our luggage arrived. People pushed us to the front of the lines at check-in, customs, security points, and immigration. People helped carry our luggage, push the stroller – anything we needed.

Audrey, our very experienced traveler

However, nothing has gone as smoothly as that since getting to Liberia. We intended to spend a couple weeks in Monrovia, move up to Voinjama, and then have John-Mark hit the ground running with his translation. Our two weeks in Monrovia turned in to six weeks, during which time John-Mark’s computer was stolen from our car, making it impossible for the translation work to begin. But through the generosity of some special family members, we were able to replace his computer pretty quickly.

John-Mark working on translating Genesis into Manya

Opening gifts from grandparents and friends in the States
Of all the things that have not gone according to our plan, perhaps the hardest for me has been the delay of the container holding almost all of our possessions. We packed our things in June 2012 and thought for sure it would be here shortly after we arrived. The container has STILL not left the US. We’ve gone without the maternity clothes I packed, our solar system and battery set-up for power, a generator, a washing machine, medical supplies, building supplies and amenities and decorations for our house, among many other things we were counting on having. It’s been a little sad not having the presents Audrey got at her baby shower, the Christmas presents we got from Christmas 2011, a rocking chair I had bought special, looking so forward to rocking Audrey, or any of the other things we had purchased in great anticipation of living in rural Liberia. Nonetheless, friends and family have sent us maternity clothes, toys, toiletries, and many other things we’ve needed to help replace some of the more necessary items. And, the biggest surprise has been that the office next door to us allowed us to run a wire to their huge generator. So, we have free power from 8am-6pm at least five days a week. This massively cuts back on the time and money needed to keep up a generator. A truck battery provides enough power to have lights at night, so we haven’t really missed the solar system.

SO thankful for the maternity clothes that friends sent from the States

Of course, the coolest thing that hasn’t gone according to our plan was the Noah’s birth. When we arrived in Liberia, 17 weeks pregnant, we agonized over where the baby should be born – Liberia, Ivory Coast, the hospital, or at home? Who would deliver the baby? What was the contingency plan? How much time before the due date should we return to Monrovia? We came up with a plan, one that we all felt very comfortable with. But, once again, God had an even more amazing plan, one that we could have never come up with on our own. Noah wasn’t born with the help of our very experienced American midwife friend. He wasn’t born in the privacy of the house we were renting at ELWA beach. Instead, Noah’s birth was incredibly quick and easy.  He was born at my in-law’s help, caught by my husband and mother-in-law. He came into the world hearing his grandma praying, with his grandpa cheering in the adjoining bedroom, and his sister and two of his uncles just down the hall. He was hugged and loved welcomed by his family immediately. Though I was in shock for a bit, it could not have been a more incredible experience. 

John-Mark, Sara, and Noah moments after Noah's birth

Noah with his TUM (traditional untrained midwife) aka "Grandma"

We certainly never expected to have so many car problems. I believe every road trip except one resulted in a break-down or serious car problem. Being quite pregnant on the side of the road with a poodle and a baby for hours and hours was quite miserable. It was very discouraging being homebound and going for months and months without a vehicle, although eventually we did get a reliable motorbike.

This is after two days of breakdowns

Waiting on the side of the road for the tow truck to get repaired to get us home

a 40 mile drive to the airstrip took 5 hours due to these muddy roads

 And yet, God used that to introduce us to a really great alternative. We were welcomed in by Samaritan’s Purse to actually use their airplane! We now have a one-hour plane and two-hour drive from the airstrip to Voinjama as opposed to a 9+ hour drive over extremely bumpy roads. We also have two working vehicles, one in Lofa and one in Monrovia. So that is a big blessing too.
With our pilot and friend, Chris.

The day before Noah was born -- So grateful for this flight so Noah wasn't born on the side of the Lofa highway

Now of course there was the time I planned to have leftover lentil curry and fresh homemade chapattis for dinner… and the next thing I know we are being invited by the President of Liberia to have dinner with her at the Presidential Palace in Voinjama!

At the presidential palace with President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf

After dining with the President

When we came to Liberia, we had big ministry plans - plans to work and live alongside John-Mark’s best friend. It was supposed to be great – someone we could actually trust here 100%. Sadly, this turned out to be the furthest thing from the truth. Because of a huge betrayal and ongoing lies from this man, we’ve had to sever our working relationship with him. John-Mark has been deeply discouraged, unsure of how to move forward.

In addition, we are currently displaced in Monrovia, living with John-Mark’s family. We came for a conference and groceries. Now, the deadly Ebola virus is in Liberia and also just miles away from Voinjama in neighboring Guinea. Our two-week trip is turning into at least a two-month stay. Though it is hard to not be working in the same capacity as we were in Voinjama, there have been many benefits to being in Monrovia. For one, our children are bonding very deeply with their grandparents and uncles here. It has been so sweet to see Audrey and Jonah playing for hours together, doing Bible stories with Grandpa before bed, and swimming and playing games with Grandma. I, too, have deeply benefited from getting to know my in-laws even better, growing to love and appreciate them all the more.
Isolation ward established for potential patients with Ebola at ELWA hospital

Nurses preparing for Ebola patients at ELWA hospital

So thankful to have family here!

So, while things don't often go as we had expected or hoped, God has re-directed our steps, provided for us, taught us invaluable lessons on contentment and patience, blessed us, and given us incredible stories to share.