Friday, December 19, 2014

In the Christmas Spirit

Having fun this week making decorations with the kids. We made Christmas trees, reindeers and decorated a couple trees. Not sure the kids understood what a reindeer was. You may notice one with an extra eye and both eyes placed in the wrong place, but for many kids here having a chance to use scissors, glue and glitter is a real treat. =)

Monday, December 8, 2014

Blips, blunders, and lifelines.

I just returned from a week of drilling wells near the Niger border with the team from Friends in Action. Much like all the missions here in West Africa, the crew at F.I.A. have had many of their teams cancel their short term mission trips here to Burkina due to the fear of Ebola, and the late civil unrest and ousting of our President. But all of this does not change the need. and certainly does not lessen the work to be done. So when asked to help drill some wells this week, I was excited to join in to get the job done.
I make it sound easy enough, but I knew it would be a tough week. My mind and my body are in two very different ages of life. And there is nothing like living in the bush, without bathrooms, showers, or even tents, and working up to 18 hours a day in the 100 degree weather lifting steel rods, and shoveling gravel and sand to help communicate the reality of the body, to the fantasy land that is my mind. They were in need, and with a full staff at the orphanage and school, there was no real reason I should not be there for them.
The first well was at a Bible school in the town of Fada. It had a well, but they had an agricultural project there that helped subsidies the costs of the pastors training there. They also have opened there well up to the local community making it a very busy watering hole! A second was desperately needed. All started fine, we began to dig in the afternoon. Then it happened. We tried to start the compressor, and nothing. After a new battery and new starter brought in by bus the next morning, 16 hours later, we were back in business. We hit water, we put in our pipe, and lined it with rock and started pumping the initial water out with our electric pump. This was FINALLY the last step before heading to Well #2........ until a break in the pipe allowed our gravel to fill in the first several meters of our hole burying the pump 52 meters under the earth under a few meters of gravel. 8 hours later, we were able to remove the pump and we were back where we left off. With over a hundred empty jugs waiting, they began to pump away first thing.

Then we were headed to the bush....... DEEP into the bush. To a village of 1200 people that a pastor has been visiting for 3 years. The village tried several times to ask for a government well, but were rejected each time because the village was "impossible to reach by truck". The pastor said, "God can do this!". The village prepared for months, cutting a path through miles of trees, and building a make shift bridge over a dried river bed. One leaf spring and a few scratches later, we are in a village that has never even had even a in it, let alone large trucks such as these! Back at it, Drilling through the night hours, we are up to our knees in WATER!!!!! God provided one of the most abundant wells I have witnessed to date!
Despite the difficulties of getting there, and a few small problems, the 2nd well was relatively easy, so we head to the third site where we are told is right off the road.......... guess I should have asked HOW far off the road. As we continued back farther and farther into the bush, We soon came to realize that any village this deep into the bush had it's share of challenges! Once we finally arrived we found a large gathering of excited villagers, who again has never had a vehicle in their village. This was a tough place. The nearest hand dug well where they could get dirty water was 6.5 km away. Because of the heat of the day, and their responsibilities, the women generally left the house at 10p.m. and started their journey to the well where they would walk, and then wait in line for sometimes hours, and the make the long journey back carrying 10 gallons or more of water the entire way! Yes, I was intimidated! We began drilling late morning, our hopes were to drill and finish that night. But you never know when you are drilling. After an hydraulics failure that could have been devastating, and late drilling that seemed like it would never end, we found ourselves 270 feet down into the earth without water. It's difficult when you see such need, and run into a situation like this. I was out of time, and my responsibilities at the orphanage demanded me to return, but that's part of missions. You need to know without a doubt that God is in total control, that He loves these people more than I, and that all things happen according to his will and timing. The great news is that the team of F.I.A. has commited themselves to return tomorrow, and make the necessary repairs to take another crack at bringing water to a village that man said was impossible, but we as Christians know so much better! Through all the blips, blunders and mishaps....... God is always there.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Sometimes it's hard to understand

Took one of our older girls to the hospital today because she had a headache. Did we think she needed to go to the hospital for this? No, but our staff nurse thought she should go and we wanted to be sensitive and let her make the decision. After all, although likely uneccesary it couldn't really hurt. We figured they would run the normal tests they do checking for malaria, typhoid, parasites, meningitis..regardless of the lack of syptoms. And in the end prescribe Tylenol and Vitamin B. Vitamin B seems to be the cure all here. They ended up admitting her and will probably run these tests tomorrow.

This week we had a widow get bit by a carpet viper and go to the hospital. They gave this long list of medications for us to locate and bring back to the hospital. Everything was available in town except the anti-venom couldn't be found. More than 24 hours after she got bit we finally located anti-venom. Talk about cutting it close.

The roughest thing this week was a boy with a life threatening illness was being treated in a pediatric clinic, but his mother became impatient with how long it was taking and left withh her son so she could get back to her bean field.

We are constantly shaking our head. We ask God to show favor in these situations and help us rest in the knowledge that He has it covered. It's just hard sometimes.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Feeding the Hungry Scientifically with Aquaponics

Over 80% of the population in Burkina relies on farming to provide food for their families. The growing season is about three months long and if the rains start too late or too early this can devastate crops and leave families short on food.

The main component of most people's diets is a starch and a sauce. Very little protein is eaten because it very expensive. Protein will usually come from dried fish ground up and added to sauce, beans and a peanut based sauce. Because of the lack of protein many children are malnourished and wounds have a difficult time healing.

With these facts in mind we were very excited when we caught up with a friend in the U.S. who has an aquaponics farm. We took this idea back with us in hopes that this could be something used here in Burkina to extend the growing season and to make a plentiful protein source. Aquaponics is a system where water from tanks is pumped through tubes and back into the tanks. In the tubes are plants that grow in a medium that uses no soil. In the tanks are fish. The fish fertilize the water, the plants soak up the nutrients and clean the water and the filtered water goes back into the tanks.

We knew that this was going to be an experiment and that we would be learning along the way. We had many things to take into consideration as the nearest Home Depot for us in on another continent thousands of miles away. What energy source are we going to use to pump the water? What medium are we going to use to grow our plants? How are we going to construct our tanks? What are we going to feed our fish? How are we going to keep the right balance of Ph, ammonia, nitrates, nitrites...well, you get the idea.

Checking on plant growth
Trip to catch starter fish

So every day we feel like we are in science class and every day we learn something new. We are using solar power and car batteries to pump our water. We are seeking out the man who sells coconuts so we can get the husks to try as a growing medium. We are saving egg shells to help regulate the Ph. We have started a worm farm to feed the fish. We are figuring out the best way to construct a tank for holding water. We currently have cement, but that messes with the alkaline so we have painted the inside of a tank to see how that works. In the village we are thinking of something totally different for holding water...maybe animal skins or holes lines with plastic sheeting.

Worm Bed...Fish Food!
Painted tank in front. Unpainted in back.

In the end we hope to have a system that is inexpensive, uses all materials found in a village and runs using wind power. We have a long way to get from here to there but we are driven by the fact that this could be a life changing thing for the people here.

What might we learn tomorrow?

A Place for Women

This country can be a very harsh place for women. From the time girls are young they are put to work, often not having the opportunity to go to school. If girls do enroll in school, they often do not make it past a 6th grade level. Culturally, girls here are very timid and submissive. They would never think to say "no" to a man who tries to take advantage of them. If they become pregnant they have now embarrassed the family and are very often sent away from home and are not allowed to return. When a woman marries and has children, those children become the property of the father. If the father dies, his family can come and take the children if they choose and certainly they can take all of her belongings. If the woman remarries it is likely that this new husband will not accept her children and she will be forced to leave them with relatives or abandon them completely. Many times women will choose not to remarry because of this. Without remarrying a woman can find herself in a very uncomfortable situation. The family of her husband has an obligation to at the very least give her and her children a place to stay, but they often make her life miserable and do not help her in any other way. She usually cannot go back to her parents home because they cannot afford to help her and her children. Sometimes a family member will take her in, but will not accept the children. We have seen mothers leave their children in orphanages or in foster homes or on the streets because they are desperate and cannot care for them. Then there are women banished from their village, accused of witchcraft. This happens when misfortune or deaths occur and village elders need someone to blame and banish a women to "get rid of the problem". We see this usually with older widows, but sometimes with young mothers whose husband have left for neighboring countries looking for work.

Our hearts have been touched by the many stories of the vulnerable and disadvantaged women who we have met. There have been many women who have stayed in our clinic at the orphanage for a few days to a few months while social services seeks out their families and tries to find a place for them. We saw a need for a facility to help women in these situations. A facility that could be a place of refuge and a place of learning, where they could gain skills and be empowered to care for themselves and their children. Most importantly a place that would share with these women that their strength, refuge and hope comes from God. Out of this was born the idea for the Sheltering Wings Women's Crisis Center named "Village of Hope".

While sharing women's stories and the vision for this center, God moved in miraculous ways. We received funding for building facilities, for purchasing equipment for the technical center and for monthly operating expenses. People have partnered with us to change the lives of women and rewrite their futures.

The start of the wall being constructed. Now 95% complete.

Walls going up inside old classrooms to make bedrooms.
Murals being painted at entrance.

We have put up a wall, are renovating rooms, and have equipment on order. We are putting together a team of teachers and mentors and we are excited to see how God will use this place.

Friday, August 8, 2014


Fatimata came to the orphanage when she was 4 months old. She got sick and was sent to the hospital. She has spent the last three months at the hospital. First they treated her for malaria, then malnutrition. After three months she returned from the hospital looking worse than she went in.

During these three months were any other tests done? No. Is she any better? No. Is there anything more they can do for her? No. Do they have any idea what the problem is? No.

I can't tell you how many times that a diagnosis is unable to be made here. I want to pull my hair out sometimes. How is it that a child can be treated for 3 months and come back like this?

Is there anywhere else we can send her? We are told no. What do we do? This is not the first time we have been in a situation where we feel like we are on a death watch.

There may be hope! One problem that we saw immediately with Fatimata is that every time she has a bottle, she vomits. Maybe we are on to something here. An allergy to milk maybe? Or a digestive problem of some sort? We are just taking guesses.

We received a donation of some special hypoallergenic infant formula specifically for babies with digestive and allergy problems. With nothing to lose, I decided to give it a shot. So far, so good! Baby Fatimata is keeping it down.

Praise God for prompting the person to send this formula. Who would guess that this donation may likely save a baby's life!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

It's great to get wonderful news!

There are some incredibly hard and frustrating days here in Burkina. Yesterday we encountered a problem when two of our interns were supposed to board a flight and return home. At the entrance to the baggage check in area a security guard turned them away. We were told that they could not enter and get there boarding passes because the counter for their airline was closed. We clearly could see through the glass that it wasn't. In fact, we witnessed the same security guard allow others to enter and check in at that very counter. We were told to go to the airline window in the lobby. We were told that there was nothing they could do and to go to the Agency in town the next morning. How frustrating it was to know that the plane was sitting there and would continue to be there for another hour while we could not find anyone willing to assist us. Come to find out that this has been happening to other people who are even at the check in over two hours prior to there flight and for no apparent reason. Unfortunately the girls could not fly out that night, but did get new tickets with a different carrier for this evening. Getting them to the airport over four hours early and waiting until they were checked in, with boarding passes and through security we could breath a sigh of relief. What kept our spirits up is that God has a plan and this must have been a part of it. To spend an extra day with us? To have a milkshake from the Rec Center? Perhaps to meet and talk to someone on the new flight?

So when today I received a very encouraging email with a very good report I was so grateful for God's timing

We met Florence when her mother brought her to the malnutrition clinic that we hold in the village of Kabo. She was underweight because she wasn't getting enough food do to having a cleft lip and palate. We have been helping the mother with milk and brought them to a pediatric clinic to see if she could receive surgery. We were told to bring her back when they had specialists for this condition in town. We were then told that she should wait until at least the age of two to have this surgery. Florence did gain weight with the help of the milk we were giving and her mom stopped bringing her to the program. Many months went by and then we saw Florence once again at the clinic. She had lost a significant amount of weight again and her mother said that it was becoming increasingly harder to feed her. It became clear that if Florence was going to have to wait much longer for surgery it would be a death sentence for her.

Through connections that only God could weave together, we were able to connect Florence's parents with Medical Missions West. This mission helps children receive life changing/life saving surgeries in the U.S. Florence got on a plane and arrived in the U.S. this past April. The email I received today says that Florence has received surgery for her lip which was very successful and is scheduled for the palate surgery in October. If all goes well she can fly back to Burkina in December. In the past four months Florence has gained 7 lbs. and has gained the energy to start walking! I think the pictures of Florence say it all.


Sunday, July 13, 2014

Without an exit strategy.

One of the great things about having an orphanage is that the moment a child comes into your care, you know their life is going to change. By the time they get to us, virtually every other option has been exhausted. We try to do what we can to make this the very best environment for kids that we can while they are with us. We feed them well (we like fat babies), we educate them, we develop them, and most importantly, we love them. For this reason, one of the first things we do when we receive a new child is to work on their exit strategy.

As good as an environment we can offer, and as much love as we can give, this does not compare to a forever home. We strive to make our orphanage as family oriented as possible, and I am papa to many as Amy is mama to the same. We are very intentional with our affection, and purposeful with development as any family would be. But even with all this, we are and institution. We could never be a true home for these children. So we quickly bring them in, and diligently work to get them out!

Some are easy. A healthy new baby comes in who has lost their parents, or whose parents do not have the capacity to care for the child. Easy! Papers get signed, the child is in the system, and quickly people line up from all over the world to adopt their new cute little Jimmy or Julie (or more accurately Bassirou or Latifatou.) Then there is the child who lost his or her mother in the birthing process which statistically happens in 10% of all pregnancies here. The father not always able or willing to care for the child, yet does not want to sign away the rights to that child either... this is more difficult. We work diligently with Social Action and speak with, and some times go toe to toe with, the father to do what is right for the child. Not as easy, but it's an exit strategy with some work attached to it. And then we have special needs kids. This is any child that may have a handicap or, as we see more and more, the child may be infected with H.I.V. We have had 3 children this past year with H.I.V. in our orphanage and this is where we see God shining more than ever. All 3 of these kids were quickly adopted! People seem to be lined up for kids like these. We have a young boy now, who is blind, deaf, and possibly has mild Cerebral Palsy. Came to us at 3 days old, in failure to thrive, premature and hours, if not minutes, away from a very short life. But Harouna is now being adopted into a "SUPER WOW FANTASTIC" type of family in the U.S. that are eagerly awaiting the arrival of their newest little gentleman!

But what do we do when things are even more difficult. What if that handicap is so severe, there may be little to no hope for an adoption? We are still finding the answers to this question. We recently received an angel named Sonia. An amazing little girl, with severe handicap. We do not know the extent of her abilities or inabilities. We believe she suffers from severe Cerebral Palsy or something similar, and may or may not be deaf and blind. Amy and I know a few families in the States who had and have angels like Sonia. I was privileged to know and care for a boy named Brandt when I was just 12 that was very much like to Sonia. Our pastor has a beautiful young lady named Amber who shares a similar if not the same handicap. Each family I have known has loved their child with a deeper love than I could even comprehend, but that did not make their job as a parent any easier. Having a child like this changes your life. It is not easy. And looking from the outside in, most would never choose to endure most of these hardships.

Social Action came to us thinking we would never accept a child with this condition. This could be a life long commitment. There may not be an exit strategy for someone like Sonia. We were not even the slightest bit hesitant! This IS why we are here! This IS the least of these! And God IS the king of Exit Strategies! This one goes far beyond our abilities, and we really could never plan and exit strategy for this. This just like every other, from the easiest to the hardest, is a plan for God to design, present and accomplish. So we wait with great expectation!

Monday, June 16, 2014

TOMS've heard of them, right?

In one week we will be back in Burkina Faso and one of the things that we will jump back into is the distribution of TOMS Shoes to thousands of children.

We have partnered with TOMS Shoes for a year now and I think now is a good time to reflect on this past year and what this partnership means.

A year ago we were just getting started. We had some basic ideas of how we were going to tackle giving shoes and where we planned to give them. We have really learned so much in this past year. We learned how many distributions we would need to hold each week to give all of the shoes that were sent to us before the next shipment arrived. We learned how to handle 2000 children at a time excited to receive shoes. We learned how many volunteers we would need for any given number of children expected to show up. We learned how many shoes to bring so that we had enough, but not too many. We learned that the children of Burkina will stand for hours out in the sun and wait patiently without cutting in front of someone else or pushing and shoving. We learned that there are some pretty big feet in Burkina. We learned that there are some pretty damaged feet in Burkina. We learned that the children didn't want to dirty their new shoes so they didn't put them on right away. We learned that children in Burkina never get tired of chasing a balloon or trying to catch bubbles.


And we learned a lot about TOMS Shoes. They really do give hundreds of thousands of shoes to kids in need. They continue to support the communities so that children will receive shoes every 6 months and not just one time. They encourage the education of health and hygiene during distributions. The shoes they send are sturdy, quality shoes. They provide every tool necessary to help facilitate these distributions. They help offset the costs for their partners and don't want giving shoes to be a burden, but an enhancement to the work their partners are already doing. They encourage hiring temporary help at distributions which give some income to local people. We have been able to hire people with disabilities who would otherwise not find work or worth, to help with distributions.

And really, it's about the healthy feet and smiles. It's been a good year partnering with TOMS!!

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Thinking of Our Home

Well, our time in the U.S. is halfway through and I am starting to have dreams of home. Home is Burkina now and there is much there we are missing. Our thoughts are of many things. The children at the orphanage and the tests that they are taking, are the toddlers learning something new, did I miss a milestone with one of the babies, how is our dog doing without us, did our TOMS shoe delivery arrive, what visitors have I missed, is everything green now with all the rain, how are the chickens, guinea hens and rabbits? Yes, I have even been thinking of the rabbits! Are any of them pregnant? How many babies might there be when we get back?

This Friday we travel from Hollywood, Florida to St. Louis, Missouri. We will make a stop in North Florida and then Georgia on the way and expect to arrive in St. Louis Sunday night or Monday morning. This will be the first time we have seen our daughters Delaney and Haley in a year! I cannot tell you how excited I am to have them in my arms again. Delaney is graduating high school and we could not be prouder of her.

We have four more weeks of cherished time with family and friends and then we make that long journey back home. I wonder what else will be popping into my head in these upcoming weeks.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

What happens when an animal is stolen in Africa?

If you have visited Burkina Faso or have seen pictures then you have probably wondered..."with all those animals running around in the street, how do people know which ones are theirs and how would they notice if someone stole one of their animals?"

This week we got an inside look at animal theft and how it is handled. Barto, one of our beloved boys at the orphanage came to us saying that he needed a picture of his father's donkey. Someone had stolen their donkey and they knew who had it, but needed proof that it was theirs. Many people have visited Barto's fathers home in the village and, as luck would have it, many pictures have been taken with the donkey.

All week long Barto and his father went back and forth to the Gendarme (military police). After the first time he brought pictures, they said that they wanted more pictures. We sent a few emails out and received more pictures. This alone is very interesting because #1: out in the bush who has a camera? and #2: if someone in the bush had a camera, who would use it to take a picture of their donkey? We really felt that Barto had a fighting chance of proving that the donkey was his father's. There were distinguishing marks on the donkey that were clearly in the pictures.

All of this was not enough. Its seems that they called in the donkey's mother and a veterinarian to determine if this donkey was in fact the mother of Barto's donkey. When I heard this I figured that things must be pretty slow for the Gendarme if they are going to perform a paternity test on a donkey. Barto told us that they looked in the mouth of the maternal donkey and were able to determine how old she was and how many children that she had. Then they looked in the mouth of the stolen donkey and came to the conclusion that they could not prove that the donkey was theirs. Hmmm.

Today, Barto came to us saying that although he knows the truth, he is going to end fighting with the Gendarme, and he is at peace. There is a saying here..."WAWA". It means West Africa Wins Again.

There is another often used expression in French..."Ca va aller". It translates literally "it's going to go", but it means "everything is going to be alright". He doesn't know it yet, but Barto will be getting a new donkey.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

How to Make a Box Drum - Africa Style!

Drums are very poplar instruments used throughout Burkina. There are a variety of different styles of drums, but in the village church you will always find someone playing the box drum. With a box drum you play by sitting on the drum and using your hands and feet.
We recently made a box drum at the orphanage that was to be transported back to the U.S. Of course I documented this so that if anyone wanted to make their own they could follow these simple steps.
1. Make a wooden frame about 20 inches square.
2. Inspect your animal skin that has been soaking for at least 24 hours in water for imperfections. This is donkey skin and we were told it is the best to use for the box drum.

3. Find an old bicycle tire and trim off the sides.

 4. Place the animal sin over the wooden frame and trim off the excess. The skin should come down at least 8 inches over the side of the frame.

 5. With at least 4 people helping, stretch the skin tightly over the frame (hair side facing out) and nail the tire rubber in place to secure the skin.

 6. Now you can trim the skin so it is just below the rubber.

 7. The drum needs to sit in the sun for one day before you can shave the fur from the skin.

 8. When it has had several days to dry, you can start making sweet music.

IMPORTANT TIP: If you are wishing to transport a box drum on an aircraft, don't try to do it if your drum has had only one day to dry. The smell is pretty strong and will alert the dogs at airport security and they will confiscate your drum!