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Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Life & Times of Louis & Amber - Packing the Container

As we prepare for our return to South Africa and the establishment of Restoring Hope Village our plans include the shipment of a container full of materials and goods important for the work there.  You may remember about a month ago that we sent out a couple lists of things that we wanted to collect.  Two weeks ago I made the comment to Amber that we wouldn't have enough to fill the container.  Not that we didn't have a good response or a lot of things, but we've shipped a container before and we know how much can fit in those things.  I was convinced that we would be short.

Was I ever wrong!  In the last two weeks things started to pour in.  Our emails have been forwarded two or three times and people we've never met have given things for the ministry there.  The container is filling quickly and we have more than enough.  God is good.  So many have been involved and we are grateful for the willingness to give to the overwhelming need in South Africa.

The last couple weeks we have been crazy busy, running around fetching loads of donated items.  We have spent hours on the road, and as everyone in Iowa knows, the roads and weather conditions haven't been peachy.  It has been a good chance for Amber & I to spend some quality time together, although I think our kids are getting tired of being strapped into the car seats.  Meredith likes for us to tell her stories as we drive, but Drake doesn't really like anything about it.  Fortunately they have been with my family for the last week or so.

Last time we shipped we rented the container, so it arrived on the back of a semi and we had two hours to load it full.  Fortunately we had the use of a warehouse in Ankeny and we were able to prepare beforehand, loading lots of boxes on pallets.  This time everything has been collected in two storage sheds in Slater.  We hope to sort and pack a bit more efficiently, although last time was pretty amazing.  RHI owns a container that is parked at Slater Baptist Church.  The church is graciously allowing us to sort and pack in its big gym building.  You'll see in the pictures that we've taken full advantage of that, spreading our things as far as the eye can see.

Amber and Lois have arranged a great packing system.  We sort everything into piles - kitchen, clothing, toys, books, etc...  From there they are sorted and packed, all clothing into small bags and everything else into boxes, tubs, dresser drawers, cabinets, and any other open space that we can cram full.  The clothing that goes into bags is sorted by size and gender, then folded and labeled.  We then take those bags and pack them into any open crack or crevice in the container, ensuring that we use every square inch possible.

One challenge is that we have to record everything that is packed, both for our records, and for the customs manifest that must be included with the shipping documents.  Amber devised an ingenious recording plan using color coded labels, clip boards, abbreviations, and lots of other things that make sense.  So far it has worked famously.  She had to explain it to me three times and I'm still not sure I get it, but everyone else seemed to.  Maybe that says more about me than her system...

The container is now 3/4ths packed.  The remainder will be filled over the next couple days, as we attempt to be discerning as to what is most important of the remaining items.  Anything that does not fit in the container will be put in a garage sale this spring, with the proceeds going toward the establishment of Restoring Hope Village.  Over the last week we have had dozens of people help with sorting and packing.  We couldn't have come close to where we are now without their help.  It has been an enjoyable time for us to spend with everyone, especially during meals and breaks.  One day the Schwan's truck went by and Brian flagged him down.  Just because it's barely above zero doesn't mean we can't enjoy some ice cream.  Not that anyone has ever accused Brian of being impulsive.

Special thanks to the mothers of RHI's field staff, as they have done everything from packing, preparing food for the volunteers, and watching our little ones as we work.  A huge thank you to Brenda DeTar and her boys who have been there every day to help.  And to everyone else who stopped by as time permitted, we greatly appreciate your assistance.

Here are some things for which you can join us in praising our Father:
-Safety on the roads
-Generosity of those who gave
-A whole container full of good, quality, usable items
-Help from so many volunteers
-Health throughout this process
-A nice, big, warm location to sort and pack
-Mick Wenger finding us a huge discount on a lawn tractor
-The funding to ship the container
-Casey's doughnuts (see previous post)

Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Life & Times of Louis & Amber - Amber's Priorities

Growing up in the Midwest, crime wasn't a part of our daily routine.  Typically it didn't affect our activities, thought process, or decisions.  I remember as a child when we would leave home for a week or more without even locking our doors.  My first real experience with illegal behavior came when a crime wave struck western Ankeny, specifically in the apartments on College Ave.  I had left my book bag, complete with Greek textbooks, notes on intercultural communication, and for some unknown reason, a calculator -I say unknown because I attended Faith Baptist Bible College, a place not exactly known for producing mathematicians.  Unfortunately this bag also contained my checkbook, forcing me to go to the credit union and close my account.  That's the real extent of crime that had affected me prior to our arrival in South Africa.

South Africa is ranked highly in international crime statistics.  There was some level of culture shock for us as we became accustomed to bars over all windows, gates on all doors, 5 different locks just to enter our apartment, and ensuring cars are always secured and anything within them covered.  In fact, when I preached once I shared an illustration about fences.  The people there were shocked to learn that in the US fences were generally to keep children and dogs in, not to keep other people out.  The first night we spent in Welkom was an adventure of its own.  Amber wakes me up in the middle of the night saying breathlessly "I heard gunshots".  Of course, she wouldn't allow me to return to my dreams without me first investigating said gunshots.  After a bit of sleuthing, we located the source of these "gunshots" that oddly enough were spaced exactly 5 seconds apart.  One of the girls at the home was struggling with TB and had to use an oxygen machine to breath.  She was staying with some short-term missionaries and so was living just down the hall from us.  The hose on the machine was kinked, causing the machine to go "thump...thump" every 5 seconds or so.  We were thankful that real tragedy was averted and that we didn't get to experience crime firsthand for several months, until the copper thief incident in October that year.

After spending 18 months in South Africa, our mindset had changed to the point that locking doors and other advisable precautions were becoming second nature.  On our return to the States last fall it was a bit surprising to see so many windows without large iron bars.  Although much of our time has been spent in small-town Iowa, we still lock our car doors whenever we leave, a habit for which we have taken no small amount of grief from the local Midwesterners.  All this to build up to the latest revelation I've had about my sweet, dear wife.  Isn't it strange that you can know someone so well, for so long, and yet still be able to learn things about them?

We will be shipping a container of important supplies to South Africa.  Over the last couple weeks we have been preparing, a large part of that being driving around to pick up donated items.  Since our minivan frequently can't handle the amount of things we pick up, Slater Baptist Church has graciously allowed us to use the church van for collections.  So the other day we woke up early, bought day-old Casey's doughnuts for breakfast, and drove over to the church to get the van for a day of collecting donations.  Before our return we had a list of things we were excited to experience again.  One of those high on the list was Casey's doughnuts, although now that we've been here a few months we have resorted to day-old.  So between Huxley and Slater we partake of these delectible treats, and on arrival at the church we begin transporting all necessary gear from our minivan to the church van.  Amber then, following the habits we developed in South Africa, begins covering all valuable items left in the van.  After observing her activity for a moment, I realize that she neglected to cover the iPod and other such items, choosing instead to use my coat to cover the half empty box of day-old Casey's doughnuts.  And that's when I learned just how important those things are.

If anyone knows someone in the marketing department at Casey's, let them know that Amber would be happy to do a testimonial about their doughnuts.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The Life & Times of Louis & Amber - Miscarriage

This past week has been a bit of a roller coaster for our family.  Throughout our time back in the States we have received encouragement on so many levels we can’t even begin to express our thanks to God and to those who have blessed us in so many ways.

Early in January we learned that Amber was expecting our third child.  This was cause for great excitement, and not just a little surprise.  This isn’t the first time God has proven to us He is in control.  During our preparations to move to South Africa over 3 years ago we thought we had things all figured out.  Meredith was 18 months old.  That meant we would be able to get pregnant and have the baby, all while still under corporate insurance.  Then the baby would have been about 6 months old at the time of our move to South Africa.  Everything seemed to be going according to our plan.

That’s when we found out, in early January 2007, that Amber’s pregnancy was ectopic, meaning the egg had implanted in the tube rather than the uterus.  Not only was this not a viable pregnancy but it could be potentially fatal to Amber.  Thankfully, the doctors found it early and were able to resolve the danger without surgery.

For almost a year after that we were unable to get pregnant.  God eventually chose to bless us with Drake in September 2008.  I think all parents will understand when I say it is hard to remember a time when Drake wasn’t part of our lives.  And looking back, we understand that if our initial planned pregnancy hadn’t failed, we never would have had the little guy we so intensely love.

Fast forward now to our current furlough.  Since we are in the midst of fundraising, our future is a bit uncertain.  We are confident we will be returning to South Africa soon, but don’t have a specific date.  Knowing that, we thought it advisable to delay any additional children until our return.  Of course, we’ve all heard the proverb “Man plans, God laughs.”  That’s how we felt in early January when we learned the news that we would be expecting a new arrival in August.  And we immediately began making plans for that new information.

Then last week we learned that once again, not all would be according to our plan.  Amber began to experience a few complications.  We went in for a checkup and the ultrasound could not detect a heartbeat.  Babies have a heartbeat at 18 days, according to a billboard in Des Moines.  They can usually be detected at 4-5 weeks.  According to calculations, our baby should have been about 10 weeks, but was measuring at 5 weeks.

Additional tests confirmed that Amber was indeed miscarrying.  While this was difficult news to digest, we know that God is in control.  He has demonstrated that continually and how could we doubt Him now.

As we reflect on this latest event in our life, the one thought that keeps returning is of the children of South Africa.  While unexpected, we so desired and anticipated this new addition to our family.  The disappointment we feel is only for a brief season.  Having been in Welkom for almost two years, we saw multitudes of children in desperate need.  There are children who were wanted but the parents have died.  There are more children who were never wanted and have never experienced love. 

We have learned that people are the same all over the world.  So often we have a stereotype in our minds, but as we’ve come to know and love these children we see they are no different than our own.  They have the same needs, desires, dreams, fears.  Maybe this is just an emotional response to loss, but we can’t wait to get back and meet the children God is preparing for us.  He knows all and is already making straight our paths. 

I’ve been an expectant father twice now, and the anticipation we feel for the commencement of The Village is similar.  You just know that you’ll fall desperately in love with your new little one.  And you know your life will never be the same after that child becomes a part of it.  We get the privilege of having that experience over and over again.  We hope and trust that God will bless us with another of our own, but if He never does, we still get the blessing of adding maybe dozens.  Keep praying that we can get back there soon.  God is doing amazing things.