Long time no write.
Thank you for your patience and kindness, which so many people have shown to us in the last few months.
Two supporting churches raised the funds to fly our family home to visit America from December 18 through February 11. We relearned how to sleep through the night, basked in the safety of family and Christian friends, participated in the fellowship of an influenza epidemic, and sought counsel for our decision–whether to return to Africa or find a new ministry elsewhere (probably in America). I hope to soon share some of the counsel we received, as well as Scriptural thoughts that have touched my heart during this time.
Well, we came back.
February 12th we arrived in Johannesburg, South Africa; on the 13th we drove the 5.5 hours to our home that we built in Elim village (in a 20-year old truck with an oil leak, loaded with luggage and two German shepherd puppies); and on the 14th, we began a move to another rental house in a nearby town. We hadn’t packed one thing for the move, nor was it private as one to five people watched us for most of the move. Two weeks later we are “settled” in a still disorganized fashion in a smaller, not-as-designed-for-us, less beautiful house–that God has graciously given to us for a wonderful price. We are thankful.
We are still not at peace, however. On our upcoming agenda:
- start homeschooling on Monday (with very little prep!)
- renew our visas (we are looking into “permanent residence,” which is gumming up the process a bit–really there is SO much more to say on this topic)
- renew our ministry here and begin some new ministries
- sell our house in Elim, if possible
- (contingent on some of the prior points) purchase a new home
- many other more minor details
In short, here were the options that we discussed for our future after the attack:
- Continue ministry in Elim, living in our house in Elim, with upgraded security.
- Continue ministry in Elim, living in a nearby town (under half an hour away from Elim) with upgraded security.
- Go back to America and join or begin a new ministry there.
- Switch fields within Africa, which would allow us to minister in a potentially safer place with a not-too-drastic change in the language group.
- Switch mission fields completely to another country, probably one where we could use English.
We did not seriously consider number 5, as it was too big to think about, and seemingly couldn’t be settled unless the other options were already canceled out.
We did lightly consider other fields within sub-Saharan Africa. We thought we could maybe go to a lesser reached area, and still use our knowledge of the Bantu language group (the family of Tsonga and Venda, the languages we’ve already invested in here in S. Africa). But when we would discuss a place, inevitably we would hear from other missionaries in that country or area who had been through armed robbery or something almost as scary. So I wasn’t interested in going to a less safe position at that (this!) point.
While we thought more seriously about going back to America permanently, my husband is gifted with the desires to evangelize the least reached. He is a missionary, and we still thought we could work out a way for him to continue in that calling without hurting our children or my personal sanity. Seth had to answer how to balance two Scriptural principles: to provide for one’s own household (1 Tim.) and to endure all things for the elect’s sake that they might be saved (2 Tim.) He wrote a thoughtful answer to that difficult question here.
At first, we were leaning towards staying in our house in Elim. Eventually we decided to move to a nearby town. Part of that decision is related to the interesting demographics of S. Africa. Part of that decision happened because of our particular demographics directly around our house in Elim.
First, the latter: our house. In 2014, threats to our security intensified greatly. Until that time, we were only troubled when we were away for furlough. However, our neighbor directly to our north not eight meters from our house has been growing up since the first time he stole from us eight years ago. This year he turned 18, and he broke in several times this year, including during the night while we were there sleeping (twice), and stole valuables and not-so-valuables (don’t ask why he took my rose-printed valance?) The police can’t (or more likely) won’t keep him locked up. He’s the reason we installed burglar bars on all windows, alarms on the doors, a lock on the gate, and…almost bought a dog. He is always watching.
In July a new neighbor moved in to our west, not ten meters away. He was in prison for thirteen years. For what, we ask? “Oh, I take things. Everything. Whatever I see.” Great. His sons, the age of our neighbor to the north when he first began training for a life of crime, stole our children’s bikes and other things. I wasn’t too concerned about him though, as he’s a harmless sort of crazy now…
Then our final immediate neighbor, ten meters to our south, moved her convict brother into her house to “watch it” while she was away in Joburg. We didn’t know it. He moved in two days before the attack, and apparently according to some news I will spare you for sake of length, was watching our house instead of hers. It seems that he called his gang to come attack us that fearful night. The lady later returned, and when we confronted her that either he needed to leave or we would, we were given no assurances that she preferred us to him, nor that the village would kick him out (which they have done with other undesirables). So…
Put that way, we were surrounded on all sides (okay, the east side is a graveyard!) by criminals who had a criminal record or had directly stolen from us. The next layer of neighbors after them included a person who was also damaging to my psyche after a personal attack made on us at the end of our first term here. So I felt that we were layered in enemies “devising wicked imaginations on their beds” towards us. Oh, and the police are no help. Many are corrupt.
But add to that the more general S. African demographics: no whites live in the village (to my knowledge, except for ourselves and our teammates). All whites live in European-like towns, where blacks may live as well (and there is no problem here using the terms “blacks” and “whites”); but no whites live in rural areas. When we live in the village as the only drop of milk in a sea of chocolate, it’s like we paint ourselves with a blinding neon light: “Money! We have money! Come get it!” In town, we would be one of many neon lights. :) And not the brightest. So even though we did not have the nicest house in the village, and even though we had more security than other nicer houses in the village, we were still the major target because of our skin color and nationality. “White man, give me…” were his first words. And then, “U.S. dollars!”
I am hoping that by moving into town we will be less noticeable as a target, and that we at the least may be removed from our immediate neighbors who make it their daytime and nighttime job to figure out how to get past our security and think of us as a never-ending well of resources from which to dip; whereas, our job does not allow for constant thought on who might be watching us and wherein our security is weak.
I hope that gives you a small picture of our decision. It was an incredibly difficult, emotional decision. It was difficult to move. We had made our house in Elim beautiful. Just this year, we remodeled our garage into a pretty new homeschool room (that I never got to use!) and had a well drilled for consistent water. Our garden is gorgeous, thanks to years of effort by Seth. As we carted our stuff out of the house in the seeming safety of a warm African summer’s day, we found ourselves asking, “Why are we moving?” But we think we are doing what God wants.
Please friends, do not cease to remember us in our prayers. And we thank God every time we remember you.