Tag Archives: missions

When God answers “Yes” and it Hurts

It was a year ago today that I was enjoying one of the most thoughtful gifts anyone had ever given me. My aunt paid for me to fly across PNG and paid for my registration fee so that I could attend a Thrive Retreat, an amazing retreat designed to encourage and sustain North American women who work around the globe. I almost did not go. It was my first time spending a night (well three nights) away from my son, but my husband graciously encouraged me to go and the time was incredibly refreshing. I had an amazing roommate who also knew what it was like to live in a remote village. The speakers were challenging, the music uplifting and the small group discussions were especially life giving. Just being with other women who understood the joys and challenges of living and working in a country different from your passport country was beyond incredible. In our small group discussions, we were encouraged to honestly share prayer needs or personal struggles. I remember sharing how hard it had been for me to make friends in the expat community.

During my first year in PNG, after spending a good chunk of time in my husband’s village (where I am the only foreigner) I was so excited to attend a conference which was being held on one of the larger missionary bases in PNG. The conference was over the 4thof July weekend, and I was so excited about the possibility of connecting with some fellow Americans around my same age. As the days drew to a close, I found myself surprised at how hard the expat community, in which you have no connections, can be to break into. In PNG, I find that it is easy to get to know someone new. When someone comes into a room they often take the time to personally shake hands and greet each person there. Then there is the Wantok system where if you are travelling and see someone else from PNG or someone carrying a bilum (a string bag from PNG) often there is an instant connection and friendship simply because you are from the same place. This beautiful idea does not exist among Americans. Without having a previous connection or a mutual friend it is rare for two strangers, even from the same place, to strike up a conversation. I felt this deeply as I stood in line at the grocery store on the mission base. I was surrounded by Doritos and other familiar brand names that I had not seen in months. Two Americans around my age laughed and talked loudly in the line in front of me. Everywhere I looked, I saw people who looked similar to me and a lifestyle that felt familiar. But, even though we shared a common space and accent; no one made the effort to even say a simple, hello. No one bothered to ask me where I was from. I went away from that conference with several new PNG friends, but not a single new expat contact. As I shared a bit of this experience with my new small group friends at the conference, (several of whom lived on the very base I had visited) my group leader commented that often, “it takes a friend to be a friend.” Wise words that reminded me that maybe I needed to be more intentional at pursuing friendships with expats and not just expecting them to magically happen or waiting for someone else to always initiate.

Less then two months later, God answered my prayers for an expat friend in a similar stage of life. My heart longed for someone who understood the joys and pains of raising toddlers, someone with whom I could have a conversation with without worrying so much about saying something culturally inappropriate, a friend to pray with and pray for and a friend to share things with. God graciously allowed me to meet Erin. I first met Erin’s husband at a Bible Study that I love but do not often have the chance to attend. When I heard that their family had two boys one just a bit older then my son and the other just a two months old I got excited about the possibility of meeting someone who could relate to late-night feedings and attempting to have a conversation while managing an active toddler.

We met for the first time at the Bible study Christmas party. My almost two year old had never seen a Christmas tree before. He loved the colored “balls” and with lightening speed managed to throw and break several of the ornaments on the tree in the lobby of where we were meeting before I could get to him. Great first impression, right? But somehow in the midst of sweeping up broken Christmas ornaments and attempting to get toddlers to, “please just eat something.” We managed to exchange numbers and a friendship started to grow.

Now, nearly a year later; I cannot even properly express how much this beautiful friendship has meant to me. Our boys have become best buddies (even though half the time they are fighting with each other). We have laughed together, cried together, prayed for each other and shared so many sweet every day memories. As we’ve celebrated birthdays, enjoyed play dates, and have had many fractured conversations while our boys also bonded; my heart is just so thankful for Erin and what her friendship has meant to me this past year. Erin, and her whole family really, have an incredible gift of hospitality and connecting people. Through her I’ve meet even more incredible friends who have become like family.

And now they are moving. Her husband recently accepted a new job in a different country and, as often happens in the expat community, we got together recently for one more goodbye party. It hurts to see them leaving. Honestly, I’m still probably in a bit of denial about the whole thing; but I know God has great plans for their family as they start this next journey and I’m just so thankful that our paths crossed. We do not know when we will see each other next. Maybe we will have to take a trip to Canada to catch up again if our home assignments ever overlap. But another thing you learn when your life involves a lot of traveling is that friendships, the real ones anyway, continue even over distances of thousands of miles. God brought us together, and I am sure He will allow our paths to cross again in the future.

We have an Irish wall hanging up in our living room that a good friend gave to my husband and me as an engagement present. As people weave in and out of our lives the words serve as a fitting reminder that God goes with us and watches over us wherever our journeys take us.

 

May the road rise to meet you

May the wind be always at your back

May the sun shine warm upon your face

And the rain fall soft upon your fields

And until we meet again

May God hold you in the hollow of his hand.

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She is the Reason

One of the main questions we were asked last year when we went back for our first furlough was, “why widows?” I guess people wanted to know if the need to work with widows was really worth traveling half way across the world and allocating resources towards. A fair question, but to be honest, the question and the frequency that it was asked surprised me. I hadn’t prepared an answer for that question because over the last few years I had seen and heard so many stories of injustice, heartache and need that I didn’t question why God had led us to work with widows in Papua New Guinea. So, I often found myself giving weak answers like, “there are many widows due to short life expectancies in PNG especially among men” and “there is a lack of government (and even church) support systems in place for widows,” all true facts but they fail to truly show the full picture of just how difficult life can be for widows here.

We were away in the village when we received news that the husband of one of the members of our support team had passed away suddenly. It was a shock. She is still young and has been apart of our support team these last three years as we launched the Widows Encouraging Widows Fellowship that meets monthly in the capital city.

Her husband died unexpectedly in his sleep, and as terrible of an experience as that must have been her story gets more heartbreaking. Not long after her husband’s death, her in-laws came. They took her car (a car she had paid for with her own money) they took the family laptop, they even took her rice cooker and cooking utensils. They left her simply with her clothes and nothing else. And, as if that was not enough, they even managed to change names on her husband’s bank account and empty that as well. They did not manage to take away her physical house because it is a company house, but I know of cases here in PNG (even among some of the widows we work with) were in-laws went as far as to kick the wife out of her home after the husband passed away. Coming from a western context, it is honestly hard to fathom that these types of things happen but they do! Too many widows here find themselves in very vulnerable situations without the proper law or family support to protect them.

When it comes to working with widows, James 1:27 states, ”Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this, to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” So, if you ever need a reason to work with widows, there is a clear one. As a couple, we felt God leading us to work with widows during a prayer trip to Mombasa, Kenya while volunteering with YWAM. Simon had recently graduated from Bible college. I had finished an amazing but hard season of working at a children’s home in Kenya. We had recently gotten engaged and were looking forward to our upcoming wedding. We both knew that we wanted to continue to do mission work as a couple, something we had both been doing individually before we met. But the question was- where and with whom? We didn’t want to just go for the sake of going. We wanted to go with purpose and with God’s guidance and blessing. It was during our time in Mombasa that Simon received news that Yasameng’s son had passed away leaving two young children ages two and four. Yasameng lives in the village where Simon grew up. She lost her husband when her son and daughter were only two and four. Now that sad history was repeating itself again. You can read more of their story here. One of the first projects God put on our hearts was to help finish building a permanent house for Yasameng, her daughter-in-law and two grandchildren. This project is almost finished now. During our time in the village a few months ago, Yasameng shared with me that when she is out working in her garden she often looks up at that nearly completed house, amazed and reminded that even in the midst of hard circumstances, God does care and people all over the world care as well. She said that she is strengthened daily by this knowledge.

That is why we are here in PNG, to simply be a channel of love and support to these precious women and their children. The problems can often seem daunting but when faced together, especially as the body of Christ, there is new strength. As the Psalmist says in Psalm 121 “My help comes from the Lord.” It is our prayer to be apart of that, helping in whatever ways we are able.

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Yasameng standing on the porch of her nearly completed home.

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Beneath the Wrinkles and the Dirt

Screen Shot 2018-04-23 at 9.01.47 AMI chose peanuts—twisted up, knobby raw peanuts right from the highlands soil, still attached to their stems, with dirt clinging to every crevice of their wrinkled skin. We flew back early for the retreat. The flight went as well as a solo flight with a two-year can go. It had been a long day, well a long week, OK a long five weeks of village living full of the typical emotional highs and lows. But, we made it.

The assignment was for each retreat participant to bring an item that represented where she was in life at that moment maybe spiritually or emotionally—an object to help give the group a snapshot of what you were carrying with you to the retreat. My mind was blank. My thoughts went back to a similar type of icebreaker assignment in college that had seemed so easy. I had my pens to represent my love for writing and my little stuffed elephant made from colorful African cloth to represent my time growing up as a missionary kid. Now, life felt too scattered. Yes, I am a tired mom. Yes, I am carrying burdens and hurts that many missionaries face. Yes, my life is often in transition. What one object comes close to showing all the facets?

I thought about bringing the boarding pass from the latest flight. Oops, already threw that away and took the trash out to the road. When you travel as much as our family does you stop saving boarding passes for scrapbooks. Then I thought—peanuts. Yes, that is me right now—dirty (it takes a few good showers to really get all that village dirt washed off). Raw—emotionally from seeing so many problems spiritually and even physically that I don’t have the strength or knowledge to “fix.” (I got to bandage a bush knife wound this trip and if you know me at all you know that is waaaaaay out of my comfort zone).

I often feel knotted up and tangled like that bunch of peanuts, but peanuts also represent another aspect of “me.” They reflect how the same thing can be so different in so many countries. Peanuts here in Papua New Guinea are often eaten as a snack and usually sold still on their steams tied up in a little tangled bundle of four or five peanut clusters. Sometimes they are lightly roasted in the fire (sill in their shells), but often they are eaten raw.

Where I grew up in Congo, peanuts were also a popular snack; but they were shelled, roasted and salted. I still remember the plies of bright red peanuts sold along the side of the road. They were sold by the can (an empty tomato paste can) and so yummy; still by far my favorite way to eat peanuts.

And, of course, we love our peanuts in the US as well with our staple peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and snacking on cleanly shelled and packaged roasted peanuts.

As this past weekend’s retreat came to a close, we were encouraged to reflect back on our found object and see if we saw it in a different light. I was surprised and encouraged to find that I did.

The peanut is a humble legume for sure, but this time I was able to look past the dirt and crack open that protective shell just a bit to consider the heart. It is a versatile and nutritious substance. It takes time and patience to crack the shells and get to the “meat” of the plant, but it is worth it. There is more to the knobby, twisted peanut then first meets the eye and living a sometimes complicated life I relate to that so much. Underneath the dirt, and rawness of reality I do feel so blessed to be here in PNG. Is it challenging? Yes, but it is also a rich experience if you are willing to take the time to crack open the different elements that make up life here.

On a side note, I highly recommend the Velvet Ashes retreat to anyone involved in cross-cultural work: deep, refreshing, honest and challenging. I am coming away from a challenging season emotionally and am blessed to leave the time of retreat soaked in gentle truths and covered in a sense of fresh joy knowing that God does sustain, and He can use each one of us even in humble or desolate seasons.

“Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest awhile.”

-Mark 6:31

If you had to pick an object to represent where you are in life right now what would your object be?

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Don’t Live a Dead Faith

There is a custom in my husband’s tribe when it comes to nicknames. If you share, say an orange, with a friend from that moment on instead of calling that friend by his or her given name you can agree to call each other “Orange”. The tradition can go even further. You can agree that if one of you forgets and uses the person’s name instead of the new nickname the person who forgets then has to buy the other person say a coke or whatever is agreed upon.

So when you hear someone called “peanut” or “carrot” you know that at one point, usually early on in the friendship, they shared that particular food. The little guy we have been taking care of for the last several months calls one of our neighbors “Lolly” the name of a favored gum because when we first moved in she shared a lolly with him.

I had been in Papua New Guinea less than two weeks when my brother-in-law organized a welcome gathering for me. My husband’s tribe is about an hour flight from the capital city where we were, but a lot of tribesmen and their families live in the city and many turned up to the gathering to officially welcome me to the Kukilka tribe. It was one of the most beautiful experiences I’ve ever been apart of. As we ate chicken, caucau (sweet potatoes) kumu (greens), and bananas, several people got up and gave speeches thanking me for joining their tribe and expressing their gratitude that I was willing to leave my family and country and join them by choosing to live in Papua New Guinea.

I first met Alex that night. He broke a cooking banana (called a Kenga) in half and shared it with me. Now we call each other Kenga. Alex is a taxi driver. He and his wife have two children a girl who is in seventh grade and a little boy who is five. Alex’s brother recently died of a heart attack, and earlier this year tests showed that Alex has a blocked coronary artery putting him in danger of this same fate unless something is done soon.

In the past, this life giving procedure was not available in Papua New Guinea. Those who could afford it flew to another country to have the surgery done which of course costs an enormous amount of money. Now the hospital here in the city is able to perform the operation. At the end of this month several doctors from Australia are traveling to Papua New Guinea specifically to help people with this condition. Alex is now on the list to see these doctors when they come and hopefully get the treatment that he needs. The trouble is that, as a taxi driver, Alex doesn’t have the 45,000 PNG Kina (around 15,000 US dollars) needed for the operation and hospital stay.

My husband put together a committee to help Alex raise the needed funds. So far the committee/community has raised about one ninth of what is needed. One thing that we seek to do as missionaries here in PNG is to help people rethink certain mindsets and behaviors. Helping Alex is one practical way of doing just that. My husband doesn’t want to see people just contributing to someone’s funeral after they have left this earth, but to take action and take care of their families and tribesmen while they are still with us. Change can happen. Lives can be saved, but it takes action not just talking. It takes people being willing to “put their money where their mouth is.” Like the Biblical book of James says, “faith without works is dead.” We don’t want to live a dead faith. We serve a living God. A God of action and as children of God we need to be active as well. Not just praying about things but doing what we can to actually bring change.

There are just two more weeks left to raise the needed amount for this operation, but I’m excited to see how God will work through His people to bring in what is needed. If you would like to contribute to this need. You can do so online by clinking here. Any amount is appreciated. It’s a big need and a daunting goal at times especially with the time limit, but God has a way of working through His people in a big way. He has already started to do this, and I am excited to see how He continues to work. It’s a story. His story and our story. It’s excited to be apart of change and to be able to see a man given a second chance at life.

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Popcorn Man

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We’ve been working on learning letters. “B” and “P” ended up sounding the same, so I tried saying “P” popcorn over and over. I guess my little guy liked the sound of the word popcorn. It made him laugh. As far as I know, he has never had popcorn before in his life. But, it is a fun word to say; and it did the trick of distinguishing the letters “B” and “P”.

When I first meet Bradley, I was told that he was deaf and a little bit mute. He didn’t communicate much at first. He played by himself more then he did with other kids and ran around naked most of the time. Adults tended to put up with his quirky behaviors to a certain extent but would then chase him off to go and play somewhere else.

People simply called him Boss. So much so that it took me awhile to find out his given name. He responded much quicker to Boss then he did to Bradley, and seemed content to go about his day climbing trees and drifting from place to place.

Our hut quickly became his new favorite attraction, thanks to the abundance of fruit that people had given us. Other village kids were shy when it came to interacting with me. Some of them had never seen someone with my skin and hair color before. When sharing our wealth of fruit with the neighbor kids, they would come up shyly and respectfully say thank you, giggle, and then run back to playing. Not Bradley. First thing in the morning he would run up to our hut grab the orange or passion fruit and hang around for more. He became my little shadow tilting his head back and forth and looking up at me with his irresistible little grin. After a while someone would chase him off telling him to go home and put some clothes on. He usually came back wearing an oversize t-shirt and would hang around some more.

Even though people told me he didn’t speak properly I couldn’t tell much of a difference because I only knew a few words in my husband’s local language. I communicated with him like I did with the other kids—mostly smiles and gestures. One day I was rewarded with a big hug from my new little friend.

When our time in the village was coming to an end, Bradley’s parents and grandmother agree to let us take him back with us to the capital city. We hadn’t planned on doing this, but seeing Bradley’s need for some one-on-one attention really tugged at our hearts.

We’re not sure how long Bradley will stay with us. Today marks four months of having him as apart of our little family. To tell the truth it’s been an exhausting, but rewarding experience. Everything was new for him—the plane ride, turning on a light switch, turning on a water faucet, wearing shoes. Communication has been a huge challenge, but Bradley has improved so much. He is not deaf and definitely not mute. As time has passed, he has learned quite a bit of Pidgin English and some English as well. He’s slowly learning to play with the neighbor kids here. “No hitting, no pushing, and no pinching” are still frequently used phrases, but they are slowly starting to sink in. He makes friends wherever he goes (the casher at the grocery store, the security lady at the local nature park). He just runs up and starts interacting with people in his own little way, and his contagious belly laugh over the smallest things usually wins them over.

We’ve almost got the alphabet down. The other day in the grocery store I saw a bag of unpopped popcorn and asked Bradley if he wanted to try it. “Yeah, yeah, yeah,” was his response as he shook his hands up and down in excitement. He liked it—the popping sound, the fluffy white popped kernels, but mostly he just liked gobbling it up as most five-year-olds do. I left him unsupervised for less then five minutes and came back to half a container of salt poured into one of the bowls of popped popcorn. Oops, my bad. Note to self, don’t leave the salt anywhere near where he can reach it. But, the popcorn and abundance of salt were mostly salvageable. He’s a handful no denying that. But, even on the extremely overwhelming days when my husband and I ask ourselves, “what were we thinking?!” the reward of seeing him improve each and every day makes it so worth it. I love my little popcorn man.

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Building a Home and a Future

 

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Their hut is like most of the traditional homes in this mountainous area of Papua New Guinea. The sides of the house are a beautiful weave of bamboo mat and the roof is made from stiff, dried grass. It’s a beautiful home, but a temporary one as the walls and roof deteriorate over time. Dishes are washed outside and set out to dry on a platform made from sticks then covered with fresh banana leaves. The shower hole is literally that. A ditch off to the side of the house has been dug and the water dammed off so that a small stream and a jug provide a place for washing.

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Off to the right side of the house, there is a shelter covering neatly stacked boards. Further away, to the left of the hut, the ground has been cleared and posts are cemented in place providing evidence of the beginning construction of a more permanent home. But, apart from the gathered building materials and the cemented posts, nothing more has been done on the house.

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Solomon was three when his father passed away. His sister Naomi was just one. Now they are both a year older and their mother, Ai, wonders what they will do when their village hut begins falling apart. “My current concern,” Ai shared regarding her husband Alfred Doa’s death, “is having the boards how will I as a widow manage to build the house? That troubles me. When the village hut falls apart there is nobody to build. It would have been better if he had built the modern house before his passing.”

Ai and her children live with her mother- in-law, Yasameng, who is also a widow. Her husband passed away when her two children, Alfred and Esther, were very young. The same age as her grandchildren are now. Yasameng remained in her husband’s village not remarrying, but instead she focused on raising her young children. She vividly remembers her thoughts as she sought to raise her children on her own. “Where can we draw strength and support to live life without their dad and my husband?” She remembers thinking. “I thought a lot about what the future would entail.”

Yasameng was invited to join a prayer group and through this group she received the strength and encouragement she needed to face the daily struggle of raising her children as a widow. As they grew, both children were able to finish primary school, although neither had the opportunity to attend high school. Both Alfred and Esther married. Alfred Doa and Ai were married for five years before he passed away a year and a half ago.

“Since Doa’s passing I have again been concerned about my grandchildren,” Yasameng shared, “and also concerned about the project of the house he left uncompleted. Since I’m loosing my strength and advancing in age how will I be able to see these two grandchildren grow up? Who will be able to help support and raise these children?” she asks. “The uncompleted house, with some building materials left behind, is a big concern to me. How will I be able to get the remaining building materials to build the house for my grandchildren?”

In spite of these challenges, Yasameng continues to look to God for strength. “I have come to know that life with God is a huge strength for us,” she shared. “We believe that the Lord will be able to sustain us in life in the midst of all these concerns and worries that we have. However, the practical needs that we have in front of us include raising my grandchildren and gathering the building materials to complete the house- practical needs which still concern me.”

“The building materials are there and I keep looking at them with my eyes,” Yasameng said, “but I can’t do much. If Solomon and Naomi had happened to have been in primary school when their father passed away, it would be a different story, but that wasn’t the case. So much concerns me as a grandmother,” she confessed. “They are still young and I am gradually loosing strength.”

Ai continues to hold on to the dreams that she has for her children. Solomon recently started preschool, and she wants Naomi to receive a good education as well. “My biggest dream is for Solomon to complete his education,” she shared. “And then find a job which can take care of him and his sister. However, in order for him to accomplish such a desire, there is the financial need of his education.” This need continues to concern his mother. “I don’t want him to experience the same thing that happened to his grandfather and his dad. My dream is to help raise the kids so that they can grow up to be a man and a woman who live a healthy and decent life.”

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***

My husband and I are working to help these two ladies as they seek to raise their children. One practical way we want to help is to finish building their house. We would also love to see Solomon and Naomi complete school. If you feel lead to help this family by sponsoring one of the children’s education or by helping them to finish building their house, please contact us at siruthpotinu@ gmail.com for more information or click here to donate as well.

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Humbled by Love

My ten-year-old nephew just stopped by our little grass hut, “I want to kill a kakaruk (chicken) for you.” The meal was in need of some rice, so I dragged the 10 kg bag of rice over to the door and scooped three mug fulls into his tin pot. I guess it’s chicken for lunch today.

Since coming to my husband’s village in PNG nearly a week ago, I haven’t cooked a single meal. People stop by the house daily to drop off fresh fruit and vegetables and sometimes even eggs and scones (bread rolls). We ventured into town a few days ago and while shopping I loaded about a week’s worth of boxed chocolate milk into our shopping cart. Life without electricity makes it hard to have a fridge, so I figured that the shelf milk would be a nice way to get some calcium since these boxes don’t need refrigeration. A couple people must have noticed my love for chocolate milk and for the last two days two different family members have dropped by the house to add more boxes of chocolate milk to my growing collection.

It’s so humbling to be shown love in such practical ways. I’m the first foreigner from my husband’s tribe in Papua New Guinea to marry someone from their tribe and then come to live in their village. To be honest, everyone’s kind reception has been so overwhelmingly loving. A generous crowd met us at the airport hugging us and crying with joy. We then piled into two buses which took us from the airport into town. In town, we caught another couple of buses which took us as close to the village as the roads allowed. From the end of the road we walked. As we got closer to the village, first the kids appeared yelling their welcome and running to greet us.

Further up the road we meet the mothers and some of the elderly men of the village. Even though rain was starting to fall, they stood on the road waiting to greet us. Only one little girl started to scream when she saw me. She had never seen a white person before, and I guess the experience left her a bit frightened.

Coming down the main hill to the village the light rain turned the mountain path into a bit of a slip and slide. When I started to slip, two people grabbed my hands and helped me make it down the mountain in one piece. It’s humbling to feel so helpless needing basic assistance for something as simple as walking down the road, but it’s so beautiful to see such kind demonstrations of love. Yesterday, when we were out on that same road two of the guys had taken the time to cut steps all the way up the slippery part of the path so that I could walk up and down the hill without any problems. It’s hard to even find words to express my gratitude except to say that I’m so humbled by everyone’s love.

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Once we made it down the path and through the welcoming arms of everyone who came out to say hello I was shown to our new house—a beautiful two bedroom grass hut complete with passion fruit and oranges hanging from the ceiling as a welcome gift. Again, I was blown away. We had told everyone that we were fine staying with my husband’s mom until we had a chance to build our own house, but my husband’s brothers decided that we needed our own place to live in until we have time to build something more permanent. Again, I was blown away—such love. I am humbled and grateful to have been given so much especially by people who, according to the world’s economic standards, have so little. What love.

Our beautiful little hut

Our beautiful little hut

What a welcome

What a welcome

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