Tuesday, January 31, 2006

These two girls love to be together! Sometime after breakfast I walked into my bedroom and found this sweet scene.  Posted by Picasa
Is it possible to look at this picture and not smile?  Posted by Picasa
Timo loves getting on to Tori's old bike. We put the old training wheels back on. They are so bent they do not even touch the ground. So riding this bike requires a lot of assistance! His requests to ride are sometimes irresistible! Posted by Picasa
Jonathan received some new clothes, shoes, and even a new sippy cup from Paw and Precious! These were delivered to us via the Prices. He is so cute I am just about to eat him up! Posted by Picasa
Lael started her rice cereal yesterday. She loves it! Posted by Picasa

Sunday, January 29, 2006

A New Song

This was a busy weekend!  Saturday was our monthly leadership meeting.  15 leaders, representing 7 different rural congregations, gathered to pray, sing, hear the Word of God, discuss the advancement of the Kingdom and share a meal together.  It was so exhausting simply because after 5 hours of listening to these men talk on a variety of subjects, my ears were tired!  I tell them that after 4 hours, my “Aja ears” shut down.  Language is still a challenge even after all these years.

Last year was a year of disappointments and discouragements for many people.  By the end of the year, I was hearing more about the discouragement in the church than I was about the good that was happening.  Back in December, the leaders talked a lot about it and prayed that 2006 would be different.  I believe it’s starting out a whole lot better!  Some of the testimonies that came from the mouths of these leaders yesterday made my heart rejoice…I’ll translate and summarize a few for you:

1 – “We went to evangelize in a village known for their voodoo power.  When we arrived we were asked to pray for a sick child.  It was a test to trick us.  If the child didn’t get better immediately, they would mock our God.  We prayed and prayed.  While we were praying, someone in house tried to harm us but we were not turned away.  We prayed and went home rejoicing.  We believe the child will get better in God’s time.  But we really praise God that Satan was not victorious in his scheme to trick us and hurt us.  Today we all woke up well and that proves that what they did to us had no power over Christ’s power!”

2 – “Last month, when the leaders all fasted and prayed together, I prayed God will help me get a new bike so I could do more of God’s work in other villages.  Also I prayed that I would get a new job.  Since then, I received some money to pay for a new bike and I got the teaching job I applied for back in August!  Praise God!”

3 – “I had a dream one night a few weeks ago.  In that dream, I was told to move from my home because someone wanted to harm my family.  Our family has been under a lot of persecution in the past year.  People have tried to poison our food.  They have stolen from us.  They have tried to discourage us.  All because we have turned our hearts to Christ.  I didn’t know what to do about the dream because I did not have the money to rent a room anywhere.  But just two weeks later, a friend of mine from the capital city came to see me.  He said, ‘the only reason I’m coming to see you is that I had a dream last night.  In that dream, I saw you in a new place because in your old place, someone was trying to harm you.’  I knew then I should look for a new place.  God provided the money and now my family is living in peace for the first time in several years.”

4 – “Before I became a Christian, I was healthy all the time.  Then I became a Christian and since then I have been diagnosed with leprosy.  The pagans in my village said it was because I abandoned the gods they follow.  The pagans assured me that I would die, or at least my wife would leave me because we would not be able to have kids.  Praise God that today, years later, I’m still alive, and not only has my wife not left me, but she has started a small business of her own to help our family since I can’t work in my field any longer (I also get a lot of help from the other Christians in the church).  Plus we have 2 happy kids, too.  Praise God!”  

In efforts to make the leadership training more intentional, each leader was given a practical assignment to do (some had to do with evangelism, others about praying and visiting the sick, and others about teaching the Word).  Ega (Lael’s birth father) is the group’s “leader among leaders” (chosen by the group) …he was the one that issued each assignment and I’m excited to see their respect for him and their eagerness to complete their tasks.  My role is to follow up with each leader and encourage them in their work (and to “investigate” those who aren’t doing their job!)

The last Sunday of each month is our convention of all the churches in this cluster.  It was a good turnout from all the churches.  We all had a big laugh when the first lesson was announced…the topic “Wives Submit to Your Husbands”…the laugh came when someone in the crowd chided the presenter, “Where’s your wife today, why didn’t she come?”  She was conveniently out of town this Sunday.  Wonder if that was planned! :)
But the big highlight for me was what happened during my lesson.  Any of you who have ever preached, taught or given lessons to a large group, there are often times when you wonder, “Is anyone even listening?”  While I had a pretty attentive group, I had no idea what God was doing!  My lesson was on clinging to God in times of trial and discouragement.  One of my primary texts was from Psalm 50.15:

“Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you will honor me.”

At the end of my lesson, the man leading the service called me aside.  He said, “There’s someone who has a song to sing that goes well with your lesson.  Is that OK if we sing it?”  I resoundingly said, “Of course”!  Then I saw her walk to the front.  Josephine.  This is the former wife of Joseph who was once a strong leader in our church.  Last year, he lied and deceived the church and took a 2nd wife.  Then later in the year, he divorced from Josephine.  It was one of the true heartbreaks of 2005 for us.  Josephine has of course carried lots of shame from the cruel actions of her husband, and has been irregular in church attendance since.  What a joy it was to see that it was her who had the song to sing.  Josephine is also a gifted psalmist…a song writer who has contributed countless songs to the Aja church over the years.  But the well has been dry and I haven’t heard a song from her in years (apparently their marriage was in shambles for several years and we didn’t know it).  She stepped to the front and with a huge smile announced that while I was sharing my lesson, during the reading of Psalm 50.15, God had put a tune in her heart to those words.  She taught the entire assembly this wonderfully simply song talking about her God’s power to deliver us when we call on His Name.  You could see the excitement on everyone’s faces…and the Aja Christians can turn even a short simple song into a rowdy celebration…the drums got louder, the clapping got more intense, and the dancing was much more spirited!  There are numerous references in the Psalms to God giving the people a “new song” (Rev 5.9 is one of my favorites).  As a matter of fact, during the leaders’ meeting on Saturday, someone had even prayed that we’d hear new songs this year (there’s always people tired of the old stuff!)  I love thinking about God’s Spirit working mightily in a small band of believers, giving them new songs to sing.  My study Bible notes that most of the time, new songs were the people’s way of accounting for new acts of divine deliverance or blessing!  May today’s new song be one of many ways that God reveals His love and power to these people!!

Friday, January 27, 2006

It is here!

After months of waiting and many prayers prayed by many people, we were presented this morning with Lael’s official birth certificate!!!!!!!

We have been told “in two weeks” since applying for the certificate in September.  This is a huge step in the process of adoption.  The next step will be going with Ega (her birth father) next week to a notary where he will sign a written consent form for us to adopt Lael. He has been willing to do this since the first day he discussed adoption with us. At that point she was 3 weeks old.  

Once we have the written consent form, we can hand over all of our documents to our attorney who will then call for a hearing before the court.

Thank you for your prayers! Celebrate with thanksgiving this sweet answer to prayer today!

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Teammates Return * Link to Sam's Blog

Last night our teammates returned to Benin from their furlough.  It was a sweet reunion and it was so good to visit with them some last night and again this morning!  They are needing to remain in the capital city a few days longer, but we came back home tonight.  It is good to have Steven, Dawna, Ashley, Weston and Austin back with us!!  The Lord is laying out a path for our team over the next year and we are eager to join the Prices in this journey with our Master who knows All Things Past, Present and Future!  

When we returned, we checked our favorite blogs and linked on my brother-in-law’s site (Sam Jeffrey).  A family of faith recently lost a son and a soldier in battle, and Sam was able to attend the internment yesterday.  I think you will be encouraged by going there and hearing Sam’s perspective.  We are reminded of the enormous sacrifice our men and women in uniform!


Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Lael looks like a natural! Posted by Picasa
If you've read this blog at all, you'll know that Tori is a real cowgirl and loves to dress like one! This morning she thought Lael might want to give the hat a try. We all thought she looked pretty good! Posted by Picasa
Sweet Kisses! Posted by Picasa
Even our Timothy is so tender with sweet Lael.  Posted by Picasa
After school each day, Tori asks, "Can I go play with my friends?" These are some of the neighborhood kids...notice the doctor kit...Tori has a pretend clinic with her friends. One day, Kelly asked, "what do you do to pretend you are at a clinic?" Tori said, "it's mainly taking care of injuries, like when someone falls. Also, treating people for worms." Possibly only out of the mouth of a West African missionary kid! Posted by Picasa
Tori took this picture of Lael this morning. She propped her up on the couch and yelled, "MOM, quick, get me the camera. Lael looks so cute!" Posted by Picasa

Sunday, January 22, 2006

A Busy Sunday

2006 is starting off as a year of change in our churches.  In one way, I’m thrilled about the decision to do so; in another way, it sends a frantic panic through our already hectic morning routine.  The change:  rather than church starting around 9:30 or 10a, several of the churches are going for a 7:30a start time!

Whose idea was that?????

(OK, it was mine)

After years of watching these rural churches start church “whenever everyone showed up” and subsequently watching everyone then start getting hungry, tired and restless about noon (not even half-way done with church at that point)…I made the suggestion at a recent leaders’ meeting when we were talking about 2006 and making some positive changes.  Some other West African missionaries told me recently about their churches starting like around 7a, and that they were done by mid-morning.  I thought about all the times when so many church goers here have complained about getting out of church so late and not having more time the rest of the day for relaxing, homework, or other family activities.  So I threw out the novel idea.  Start earlier.  

Now if you knew my Aja friends, you’d imagine this change being hard to make.  While they are early risers when it comes to school and farm work, on Sundays, they TAKE THEIR TIME!  So it was hard for me to imagine them making the change (kinda like switching from second to first service…except ours is one LONG service).

Those of you with multiple children can imagine such a change is not easy.  Even if we get up at 6am, it’s hard to get everyone cleaned up, fed, cleaned up again, dressed, pottied (is that a word?), and out the door any earlier than 4pm!! (just kidding, but it is several hours it seems like).  So switching the start time from 10a to anytime before 8a is hard!!

Last week, I showed up to one of our congregations late, about 10:30a.  Thinking I’d still be on time for the Lord’s Supper, offering, and my lesson, I was shocked when I pulled up to find no one there.  I quickly found out that they had indeed gone to the earlier service format, starting at 7:45 and they were done a few minutes before I had arrived.  I was asked to “come back next Sunday and actually get here on time to worship with us.”  

A young man and his new bride are a part of the congregation at Dandihoue (donny-way).  I had taken a gift for them last week when Kelly was home with some sick kids.  Upon leaving last week (I guess I was there for the post-service fellowship!), he invited me to come back with Kelly so we could share a meal together.  Aware of their new time change, I got up at 5:45a only to find out that Timothy was ready to get up, too.  I put him back in his room (he shares a room with Tori and Jonathan) then took my shower.  When I got out, I heard him and Jonathan giggling and wrestling inside Jonathan’s crib.  So the clock was ticking and we started the process of getting everyone fed.  A friend was coming over later to watch Jonathan and Lael while we were going to take Tori and Timo to church with us, and then over to Vincent’s house to fellowship with him and his new wife (to try and do that with all 4 kids would be impossible!!)  Concerned about the time, we made a plan that I would take a motorcycle taxi at 7:15a and then Kelly would come a little later with T&T and the truck.  I walked to the dusty road early this morning just in time to find a “zemidjan” (zimmy-john) driving back so I flagged him down.  We winded through these small dirt paths and about 20 minutes later I got dropped off right near the church building (it’s about 7:40a).  NO ONE IS AROUND!  My first reaction, “you mean I got up at a quarter to six for this!!!”  Turns out there was a death in the village the day before so many of the Christians had spent the night with the family and they were all sleeping in a little later!  I guess that’s what we get for working in rural Africa where there’s no church websites to log onto that say, “Due to the all night mourning ceremony, church will begin at 9a rather than 7:30a.”  

Actually my presence there (after last week’s embarrassment) got the troops going a little faster and we started by 8:30a.  It was a great service…a full house and a lot of excited praise time!  (There was the one incident with the drunken older man who wandered into the open air assembly, pungently odorous from the mourning ceremony’s free liquor, yet lifting his hands in the air, dancing joyfully and screaming praises to God.  He was politely escorted outside). I gave a lesson on evangelism and reaching others for Christ.  

Speaking of lessons, last week, we had a funeral and I was asked to give the sermon.  After it was over, Ega (Lael’s birth father and one of our church leaders) called me over and said, “In all the years you’ve been here, that was your very best lesson ever.”  The topic:  death.  I’m still trying out some more upbeat lessons to take over the #1 seed.  Evangelism didn’t do it.

Back to today, after the service, we were invited to Vincent’s house.  We were served a heaping portion of steaming hot beans!  Plus poured over the top was this spicy oil that set our mouths on fire!  Before we even started the meal, we noticed Vincent pull out 2 large orange Fanta drinks and set them on the table behind his wife.  She then served us the beans…but no one served the Fanta!  You’d think they would have noticed the smoke billowing from our ears and poor Timothy and Tori panting away with their tongues hanging out begging for every last sip of clean water we had brought with us.  It was a very generous gesture, but we were convinced that we couldn’t eat any more spicy beans until they popped open those Fantas!  Finally, Vincent said, “oh honey, get those drinks, they may be thirsty.”  Finally!!  We downed them so fast.  (Being around many of my Aja friends at meal times, I notice most of them only drink at the end of the meal anyway…strange to us Americans who expect a 96oz Diet Coke on our table before our meal is ordered and then about 3 free refills during the meal!)  

Kelly read an exhortation from Colossians 3 and then we both prayed for their marriage. Sweet Timo was running around chasing goats and either Mommy or Daddy was trying to chase down Timo.  Needless to say, we were exhausted when we got home about 1:30p!

After a brief rest, I was scheduled to go with one of our church leaders to visit his mother who is not a believer (it was close enough, so I was going to walk there).  Right as I was getting ready to leave, Tori said, “I wanna go with you!”  Not uncharacteristic of her loving heart but uncharacteristic of her desire to leave the Sunday afternoon movie to go with her Daddy to a Bible study meeting, I first said, “No, it’s a long hot walk.”  Then I realized what was fueling her desire.  “But Dad, I’m not going to walk.  I’m going to ride my bike.”  She has been permitted to ride her bike around the immediate area of our house, but we do not yet allow her to ride unsupervised all around the neighborhood and the surrounding villages.  But since I was going, she knew this was her chance to hit the road with that new Christmas bike!!  We got out on the road, and with amazing confidence (too much for her Daddy if you know what I mean), she made me pick up my walking pace to keep up with her!  It was a fun outing, and certainly made a great memory for me.  I know such opportunities will someday soon not be afforded us when we return Stateside (those real-deep-into-the-African-bush home visits).  So I was thankful Tori wanted to spend her Sunday afternoon with her Dad.  After a couple of hours, we returned home where Tori challenged me, “Dad, you know I am a big girl now and I could go all the way there again without you next time.  I’m a lot bigger now that I’m 7!”  Such confidence!


My SuperBowl XL prediction includes the Broncos and Seahawks:
Final score:  DENVER 30   SEATTLE 14

OH, I meant to say Steelers and Seahawks:
Final score:  PITTSBURG  24   SEATTLE 10

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Yesterday Lael was 6 months old. Laurance had been telling me that as soon as Lael was 6 months old she would do her hair. Yesterday Laurance came to my house with a little bag of rubber bands and went to work on this sweet head. It really did not take very long. This look is called "petit bon bon", this means little candy! She is so sweet. Ever since, Tori and I have been calling Lael our petit bon bon! These last 6 months have been a wonderful time for our family. Lael is a continual source of joy. We love her so much and at this point cannot imagine our life without her. Please continue to pray with us that we will be able to obtain her official birth certificate and start the next step in this adoption process! Posted by Picasa
Oh she is so very precious! Posted by Picasa
Isn't it fun to think of Lael as a wildcat? For those of you who don't know...this means isn't it fun to dream of the day when Lael will be going to Abilene Christian University? She already looks excited to wear the t-shirt! Posted by Picasa
Last weekend Tori and Timo decided they wanted to do the dishes! What parent can say no to this request? Posted by Picasa
Cowgirl Tori and her trusty horse  Posted by Picasa
Here is a picture Tori drew of herself and Lael. I guess you can see that Tori imagines that Lael will have the same interest in being a cowgirl! We'll see! Posted by Picasa
If Tori has an extra 30 seconds she immediately starts drawing a cowgirl and a horse,,,,she has some sweet cowgirl dreams for her future! Posted by Picasa
Here are a few more family pics from last week when we were attempting a family picture. At one point we thought we might have to settle for just a girls and a guys picture. We finally were able to get something of us all with the self-timer on the camera. :) Posted by Picasa
Aren't these some handsome guys? This is Kelly talking by the way! Posted by Picasa

In the Shadow of a Cow

Over the past month, I have participated with an evangelism team made up of Christians from Kaiteme (ky-uh-tim-ay) and Ainahoue (yee-nah-way). I have joined them on several occasions, but they really kept it up during the holidays when we were out of town. In the village of Missebo (mee-say-bo), I accompanied Mathias (mah-tee-ahs) and several others from the team around the village announcing our plans for the following week. We were greeted warmly, but I could sense a resistance from certain ones. This village is a stronghold of our enemy, a village well-known for its voodoo powers and the powerful god of Jagli (jog-lee). I don’t know much yet about this god, but Jagli is revered among the people of Missebo. As we announced our plans for the next week’s lesson, I was reminded of our battle as we walked pass the large hut in which the idolatrous image of Jagli was housed. The image was large, ominous and secure in imposing its’ obvious influence over the lives of these people. In the minds of the people of Missebo, there is no match for the power of Jagli.

A week passed and I was eager to be a part of this week’s activities, so I arranged my schedule so I could go. As we pulled up to the normal meeting place, I was struck by two things: (1) very few people and (2) a cow.

The first oddity did not surprise me, although I was hoping for an already-assembled group of people. Mathias had been at my house that morning where we spent some time praying about Missebo. He spoke of his personal efforts during the week to remind people of the meeting. He did speak candidly about the conversations he had broadcasting our intentions to proclaim the Word of God. Not everyone was eager and receptive. Mathias told me that on numerous occasions, certain ones would take him into their homes with hushed voices trying to reason with him about the futility of our efforts, touting the unlikelihood of the people of Missebo turning their backs on Jagli. Still others would flaunt their weapons of witchcraft in efforts to intimidate Mathias. I was not stunned to see a vacant seating area, as well, because it is not the custom of the Aja people to arrive in advance of their guests, but rather to begin assembling upon the visitor’s arrival.

The second peculiarity was most certainly that single cow tied to the tree right next to the meeting area. While at first I assumed someone was permitting their one head of cattle to graze on the grassy area next to the carpenter’s shed right off the main road, I became suspicious because I know that most Aja people do not have cattle. And those who do, have more than one. Then I asked one of my colleagues about it.

“It’s the sacrificial cow for the ceremony,” explained Senou (see-new).
“What ceremony?” the missionary asked.
“For Jagli.”
“Oh they haven’t announced the exact date, but soon.”
“How many days long is the ceremony?”
“Well it depends, but a minimum of 3 days, possibly 2 weeks.”
“On what does it depend?”
“The power of Jagli is known all over West Africa, and people will be coming from Nigeria, Togo, and Ghana and even as far as Ivory Coast to participate. The fetish priest will decide once all the participants have arrived on how many days it should last. If the people are going to travel that far, they don’t want a short ceremony.”
“You mean people will complain for not having enough money for transportation to take their sick children to a good hospital in the capital city, but they’ll travel in a 3-day expensive taxi ride to come to pay homage to one of their voodoo gods?”
“That’s the power of Jagli. People are scared of Jagli. They know if they don’t venerate this god, bad things will happen to their family. Sickness. Death. All kinds of bad things.”

Of course then it hit me…the two were really one. Fear of Jagli (with its sacrificial cow displayed prominently in the village, right next to our meeting place) made certain that people were not going to gather. We prayed that God’s Word would be proclaimed that night.

We finally were able to begin, having witnessed about a dozen to 20 people in attendance (mainly young people who are often more receptive to hearing God’s Word). As the presence of the beefy beast could be heard chewing its cud just behind my right shoulder, Senou reviewed some previous lessons. In the shadow of the sacrificial animal of Jagli, Mathias then rendered a powerful personal testimony accompanying his lesson on Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego. Mathias is a masterful storyteller, and his own well-known personal history of idolatry and witchcraft mesmerized the crowd. Soon more and more showed up. The voodoo practices of Mathias’ family are notoriously celebrated in the Missebo and Ainahoue region. Mathias was bold in his proclamation about Christ’s power to set him free! Praise God for Aja men of this caliber!!!

As I drove home that night, I pondered the importance of what we did…not just for the people of Missebo (after a good reception, they invited the evangelism team to return next week). Having the opportunity to stand alongside these men on more than one occasion, I was reminded that these are more than just training exercises…this is the real thing. Light shining in Darkness. The training they receive is valuable for the longevity of the movement of God among the Aja people. Each time they go out to testify to non-believers, they grow in confidence. They grow in their own faith, realizing that it is God speaking through them as His ambassadors. Most of them are so bold in their witness among their peers. That challenges me.

One day soon, when we return to America, will I be the same? As the years turn literally into months before we leave this area of the world and relocate back to the States, I am faced with that challenge. I wonder how much I have really changed....all the experiences over the past 7 years, as well as a greater understanding of Scripture (and much more experience using it to touch the lives of non-believers)....I wonder how God will use it. I remember one of our dearest elders putting his hand on my shoulder the Sunday night prior to our departure for Benin in 1999 saying, "Randy, I'm praying that you'll have a great blessing of fruitful ministry among the Aja people...but know, too, that I am praying that through this experience, God will make you a more effective witness for Christ when you return." I remember that SO vividly. He wasn't saying that condemning my witness at the time, but he knew these encounters on the fields of Benin would change me and have the potential to make me bolder.

Am I ready to be called upon...for God to call upon the "American Randy" who was always pretty bashful about his faith in public and especially around non-Christians? What's God going to ask of me? Am I ready to respond when God calls the "American me"? The “Aja Randy” is characteristically much bolder in my witness than I remember of the “American Randy”. Perhaps it’s the ability to hide behind the mask of another language where I don’t have the concern of “what my friends might think”. Or perhaps I have even higher expectations of the “missionary”…to be more courageous in my faith than I do of the “American Randy.” When I stand alongside my Aja brothers, they teach me so much more than they can even imagine.

Please pray for the village of Missebo (mee-say-bo) and for the proclamation of Light in this stronghold of Darkness! Pray that those of us who stand up boldly to proclaim our faith here, will be confident and unashamed to do that no matter where we live.


Thursday, January 12, 2006

A new family photo!! Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Tori and I went back to school after our holiday break. It was a very long day but we are glad to be getting back into the groove of school. She worked very hard. Today she did very well in Math, especially her addition facts. She and I both were excited about this. Her penmanship is always improving, as well as her spelling and ability to read. I am so proud of her. I am presently looking into curriculum for second grade. We will have to purchase it in the near future so that it can be brought to us with visitors coming in the spring. I am using the Alpha Omega Curriculum at the moment. Is anyone out there using something that is really great and we should check out? I am very interested in ideas!  Posted by Picasa

Friday, January 06, 2006

We have assembled all the necessary documents and are waiting on Lael's birth certificate....once everything is done, we'll get a hearing before the judge who will review our case for adopting Lael. Please pray with us that very early on in 2006, she will officially be Kadi Lael Vaughn! She will be 6 months old on January 18th. She is a continual source of joy and delight for our whole family! Posted by Picasa
Jonathan is catching up to Timo...these two are becoming inseparable! Posted by Picasa
"Psst...you wanna know a little secret?" Posted by Picasa