To America and Back Again

We’ve been back in Africa for more than a month now, and I’m finally finding time (and electricity, but that’s a story for another blog post) to write about our 105 days in the USA.

It occurs to me that going on furlough is unusual for some of our readers.

We’re certainly not the only couple to take their young kids around the world for months of travel. But it’s definitely not exactly commonplace either. So here’s my attempt to capture how it feels to visit the-country-we’re-from-but-don’t-live-in-now.
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(CUTE KIDS ALERT: We have a “don’t just blog about your kids” policy, and I’m shamelessly taking a hiatus from it for this one. Half of the fun of furlough was seeing things through our girls’ eyes. If you don’t like cute kids, you can keep scrolling to find other posts about big bugs and stuff…)

Let me start by sketching the framework with some furlough stats:

  • We spent 15 weeks in the USA
  • We stayed in 16 different houses (+1 hotel)
  • We spoke at 22 different churches or Bible studies

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There were some flying parts:

  • We flew on 11 different airplanes
  • We flew 23,000 miles internationally and 5,000 in the US
  • We had 3 planes leave without us
  • We got 3 free seat upgrades (except we needed 4 seats – poor Naomi was left out!)
Naomi on Matt's lap

Naomi flew on our laps for about 18,000 miles

And there were some driving parts:

  • We drove 4 different cars
  • We drove in 9 different states
  • We drove 9,000 miles (which meant 2 oil changes)

 

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Sometimes the car is fun!

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Sometimes the car is not fun!

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This was after more than 30 hours of travel

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This was after more than 30 rounds of “Old MacDonald”

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34° in Central Oregon

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11 days later: 104° in S. California

At the heart of all this globe-trotting  was our desire to better connect with our ministry partners. Our service to the church in Malawi couldn’t happen without all the people back in the US who faithfully pray for us, support us, encourage us, connect us with resources, visit us, and stand behind us in countless ways. (We thank God for you people!) We also are looking for others to join us in partnership for the gospel.

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The Hamlines (L) visited Malawi last year, and the Temples (R) will be joining our team in Malawi this year.

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We created a “Malawian Market” to introduce our friends in Los Angeles to some of our favorite parts of Malawi.

In that respect, this was our best furlough yet. It was wonderful to share true Christian fellowship with so many people we don’t often see. We enjoyed every opportunity to tell others about the Lord’s work in Africa. It was also a huge blessing to hear testimonies of Christ continuing to build people’s faith. We returned to Malawi feeling physically tired, but spiritually encouraged.

While that was certainly the most meaningful part of our time in the US, there were several additional benefits too. Here were some other highlights, according to each member of our family.

Matt enjoyed:

  1. Mexican food
  2. Introducing the family to some Pacific Northwest favorites

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    At Multnomah Falls in Oregon

  3. Being a part of several big family events
    Naomi is no longer the littlest cousin

    Naomi meets her new cousin

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    Abi and great grandma Donda

Rachel enjoyed:

  1. Trader Joe’s
  2. Getting our girls together with their cousins and grandparents 151025-105925
  3. Catching the fall colors in Connecticut 151026-135519

Abi enjoyed:

  1. Libraries Abigail loves libraries
  2. Escalators and moving sidewalks

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    She’s a pro now. The only moving staircases in Malawi are ladders.

  3. Seeing skyscrapers for the first time151022-104853.jpg

Naomi enjoyed:

  1. “Papa!” Naomi and Papa.jpg
  2. The aquarium 151024-225018
  3. Drinking fountains 151110-015557

Since I’ve already given my disclaimer above, is it okay if I act like a proud dad and wrap up with a few more pictures of my girls on furlough?

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A great fishing cabin, courtesy Airbnb

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Fun with grandma

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Naomi might want to be a cactus when she grows up

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Dad, can this be my bed?

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Right now our girls don’t know Disneyland is a real place. (Shhh.)

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Naomi was fascinated by the science center. Not sure it was quite such a fun experience for this other kid, though.

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“We’re from Africa too!” (We’re still working on finding flattering camera angles.)

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After our time in Washington, Naomi asked “Cow?” every time we drove past a field.

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Poor Abi’s tummy wasn’t used to American food

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We don’t get orange pumpkins in Malawi!

Abigail and Naomi dance in the redwoods

Abigail and Naomi dance in the redwoods

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Abi’s first snowman – on the side of an Arizona highway

Naomi is TWO

Naomi turned TWO.

Naomi is not sure about Abigails driving skills

Guess which girl wanted to buy this motorcycle?

Thanks for following along!

Overcoming Arachnophobia

Chop Chop long shotMe and spiders are like Indiana Jones and snakes. They’ve always creeped me out a bit.

Rachel and I first met a “Chop-Chop” in 2008, while we were gathering info about moving to Malawi. We were in someone else’s home when a big, hairy, crab-like spider darted between the furniture with startling speed. Rachel thought I was very brave to hunt it down and smash it with my flip-flop. Truth is, I just didn’t want it to find me later that night. We’ve never seen one in our house before…until now.

He was very still. I cautiously dropped a container over him. Sure enough, he was dead. Apparently the insecticide we use for mosquitos works on Chop-Chops too. But I still wasn’t really excited about our unwelcome guest.

So I decided the best way to overcome my fear was to photograph him. I love studying and observing God’s creation, perhaps they wouldn’t be so creepy if I learned a bit about them. So here are some facts I learned, with some photos to accompany them.

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  • They’re called camel spiders, wind scorpions, or sun spiders because they love dry, hot places. But they’re actually neither spiders or scorpions. They’re Solifugae.
  • Their legs are jointed differently than spiders, which is why they look double-jointed when they run. Why do they have ten legs? The front ones are actually feelers used for finding prey.
  • Speaking of prey, they eat beetles and termites… plus rodents, lizards, and even snakes! (Which is worse: snakes, or snake-eating spiders?)

Chop Chop profile

  • Their long hairs help them feel vibrations so they can move quickly. (Mine also has tiny wings on the back legs, which I’ll assume serve the same purpose. If you learn they actually use these for flying – I really, really don’t want to know.)
  • They can run 10 MPH (that’s ½ as fast as me!) They like the dark, and they often seem to be chasing a person when they actually just want to get in their shadow. (Or up their pant leg…)
  • They have very sophisticated eyes and can recognise forms, giving them an advantage in both hunting and avoiding enemies. (Like a guy with a flip-flop…)

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  • Their long movable jaws have scissor-like teeth that resemble crab claws. They use them to chew through hair, feathers, and small bird bones! They are called haarskeerders (hair-cutters) in Afrikaans.
  • Their bite can be painful, but is not dangerous to humans. They have no venom. (Which means the British family who fled their house because they thought a camel spider killed their dog was probably in no real danger.)
  • Soldiers on desert assignments have historically staged fights: camel spider vs. camel spider, or camel spider vs. scorpion. (No record of camel spider vs. snake, which would definitely have been worth seeing.)

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Did all that research make them less creepy? I’m not so sure. But after letting him sit on my desk a few days until I was sure he wasn’t moving, I felt ready to take this shot:

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And now if you need me, I’ll be spraying some insecticide in the attic.

The Hanging Bridge

Evidently, this is the most interesting photo I’ve ever taken:

Kandewe Hanging Bridge

To date, I have posted 241 Malawi photos to Flickr. The photo above just received the highest “interestingness” ranking of all of them. Since other people seem to enjoy it so much, I’ve decided to share this photo here too, along with more about this very interesting bridge in a remote part of Northern Malawi.

Zuwulufu Suspension Bridge

Before the Kandewe Hanging Bridge was built, people risked their lives to cross this river by canoe. An enterprising man from the village devised this bridge. Since then, everyone from businessmen to schoolchildren will cross on this bridge. Crossing it made my heart race, but it’s definitely better than braving the rapids in a dugout canoe!

The bridge was first built in 1904, so obviously none of the original materials remain. One story says that a hippo tried to cross this bridge once, and broke through!

The bridge crosses the South Rukuru River, one of many rivers running down from the Nyika Plateau in the background.

The bridge crosses the South Rukuru River, one of many rivers running down from the magnificent Nyika Plateau in the background.

High water on the South Rukuru River. Man running across bridge

LEFT: High water on the South Rukuru River. As you can see on Google Maps, there are some rocks visible in this part of the river during the dry season.

RIGHT: This guy was amused by my fascination with the bridge. “Did you know I can run across?” And so he could! He only put his hand down once.

The bridge uses clumps of trees as support pylons on both ends. During this rainy season, the river extends to the very end of the bridge.

The bridge uses clumps of trees as support pylons on both ends. As you see, during this rainy season, the river extends to the very end of the bridge.

The bridge is constructed from bamboo running the length, to provide strength, and roots running the width, to provide flexibility.

The bridge is constructed from bamboo running the length, to provide strength, and roots running the width, to provide flexibility.

Be careful where you step. My foot, and the holes, for scale.

Be careful where you step. There were a lot of holes as big as my foot!

Some well-meaning donor provided two steel cables and some cement pillars to reinforce the bridge. You can see one slack cable on the bottom right. It seemed to me that they weren't doing much anymore.

Some well-meaning donor provided two steel cables and some cement pillars to reinforce the bridge. It seemed to me that they weren’t doing much anymore.

These men are repairing the bridge with cord made from bark.

Sometimes, the old ways are best. These men are maintaining the bridge with cord made from bark.

It's not just for adventurers. People of all ages cross this bridge every day.

It’s not just for Indiana Jones. People of all ages cross this bridge every day.

The South Rukuru River was in flood stage as we went. It had recently washed away a concrete bridge about 50 km downstream, but the old bamboo bridge flexed and remained.

The South Rukuru River was in flood stage as we went. It had recently washed away a concrete bridge about 50 km downstream, but the old bamboo bridge flexed and remained (there’s a sermon illustration in there somewhere…)

I watched this guy with a bike approaching, and asked if I could take his photo. To him, having someone take his picture was much more unusual than crossing a bamboo bridge with a bike over his shoulder.

I watched this guy with a bike approaching, and asked if I could take his photo. To him, having someone take his picture was unusual, but crossing a bamboo bridge with a bike over his shoulder was totally normal.

The hardest part for this guy seemed to be the steep descent at the beginning.

I learned a few tricks from watching him. The hardest part seemed to be the steep descent at the beginning.

There are no handrails on the bridge. Most people employ the "lean over and grab the side" technique. This is what I used. :)

There are no handrails on the bridge. Most people employ the “lean over and grab the side” technique. This is what I used. :)

Children running and playing on the bridge. I didn't try this technique for crossing. :)

These kids enjoyed running and playing on the bridge. I didn’t try this technique for crossing. :)

The water was so high, I used a pole to get my camera out past the trees. These kids were fascinated to see my antics!

The water was so high, I used a pole to get my camera out past the trees. The kids were fascinated to see my antics!

Want to see more? Every week, I try to pick five Malawi photos from my archives and post them to Flickr. You can view 240 slightly less interesting photos here. :)

 

Seasons

Malawi is in the tropical zone. For comparison, we’re at the same latitude (13° S) as central Brazil and northern Australia. And Lilongwe is about the same distance south of the equator as cities in Thailand, Honduras, and India are to the north of the equator.

We definitely don’t get the distinct summer-fall-winter-spring seasons like I (Matt) grew up with in Washington and Canada. But don’t think that means it’s the same all year-round. Here are a few Malawian seasons we’ve grown to expect every year.

The Dry Season
June to December

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By the second half of the year, the rains are finished and the maize has turned brown for harvest. One color dominates the landscape: brown. Our neighbor’s roof will change from green to tan as a layer of dust coats everything.

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Advantages of the dry season: harvest time is a happy time in Malawi. And many dirt roads in Malawi are only passable during the dry season!

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The Smokey Season
May to September

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During the dry season, the city gets very smokey. Wood fires are the main method of cooking in Malawi, but as the weather gets a bit colder (60°s), people also make small fires for warmth at night. Also, after the crops are harvested, the easiest way to clear the fields for next year is to burn them.

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Our bedroom one morning

This isn’t our favorite time of year. All this smoke makes it difficult to do some things–like breathe. But it’s not all bad: the smokey air makes for spectacular sunsets, and it’s a sign that the rains are almost here!

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…and sunrises…

The Rainy Season
December to April

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It’s the rainy season now. And we love it!

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Within a couple of weeks, the color palette of the whole country changes. From pale browns to vivid greens: everything is transformed.

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This is especially significant in a country where millions of people grow their own food. The rains wash away (legitimate) fears of starvation, and represent the hope of God’s provision for yet another year.

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The ditch under our driveway. This day, the water was going over too.

The rainy season brings its own challenges, though. Our roof can’t keep up with the biggest downpours. During heavy rains, you’ll find us distributing buckets throughout the house to catch water leaking through in new places. But we’re thankful to have a roof. I just saw a nearby police house which had its roof ripped off by the abrupt thunderstorm winds.

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This IS the road.

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Another power outage…

But this is my favorite time of year. There’s a tangible sense of gratitude for God’s provision of rain.  I love the dramatic clouds, the lightning storms, and the rich colors.

Rainbow

Another treat in the rainy season.

The Termite Season
December or January

You know those tall termite mounds you see in the movies about Africa? Yeah, we’ve got those. In town, the mounds don’t usually get very big (especially because the mud is sought after to make bricks). But termites like that are one of our most persistent garden pests. Usually, they do what you expect termites to do: creep. But for one or two nights every year, right after the early rains, the termites take to the sky.

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Millions of them pour out of their underground lairs in a frenzy of termite colonization. They find ways into every room of every house, fluttering around until they’re trapped. Then they drop their wings off and move off on foot, finding a place to burrow. They’re like the insect version of the Green Berets. 

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I remember the first morning that I saw a floor covered with thousands of tiny wings. I imagined an army of chameleons had snatched the insects out of the air during the night, leaving the wings behind. I’d never seen an insect drop its own wings off!

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But that doesn’t mean termites don’t get eaten. In fact, Malawians treat ngumbi like manna from heaven, sautéing them, and eating them as a garnish. They taste a little like corn flakes. I especially recommend them with cajun seasoning.

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We may not get snow at Christmas, but we’re thankful to live in a place with such interesting variety throughout the year. And just in case you’re still feeling sorry for us because we don’t get autumn colors, here’s a picture with some unexpected color from Mount Mulanje last September:

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Welcome, Naomi Joy!

1 day old.

We thank God for the safe arrival of our second child, Naomi Joy Floreen! She was born here in Malawi on Monday, October 28th. She’s twelve days old, and beautiful.

Naomi surprised us with her small size: only 5 lbs, 15 oz. Her big sister Abigail was born at 9 lbs, 7 oz, so we haven’t had many baby clothes small enough for Naomi to wear. She doesn’t seem to mind: this is the hot season in Malawi!

Naomi is in excellent health. She has a voracious appetite, so she won’t stay small for long! Our biggest challenge is trying to keep her awake during the day so she’ll sleep more at night. God has blessed us with a very easy baby!

Rachel is also recovering well after a normal delivery. She had a milk duct infection last week, then an allergic reaction to the penicillin they gave to treat it. We’re thankful for access to several types of antibiotics, and both the infection and allergic reaction are gone now. Rachel feels ambitious, but knows she should take it slow. For now, she isn’t teaching Bible study or running the nursery, and people from the church have been helping with some meals.

Naomi and Nurses

1 day old. With the nurses at Nkhoma Mission Hospital.

Abigail was born at the magnificent Glendale Adventist Hospital in Southern California in 2010. Naomi was born in the Nkhoma Mission Hospital about an hour outside of Lilongwe. Those two experiences formed a study in contrasts–we may write about the differences in a future blog post. This time, some things reminded Rachel of a Hungarian youth hostel. The short version is: more chickens and mosquitoes, less electricity and hot water… but another awesome doctor and a nursing staff that took great care of us.

(Oh, and this time it cost $90. Total.)

Naomi and Rachel

1 day old. After a pretty good night’s sleep.

I admit, there were some risks in having a baby in one of the poorest countries in the world. (Malawi has the world’s 24th highest maternal mortality rate, and 10th highest infant mortality rate.) While we did as much as we could to minimize those risks, our hope was ultimately in the Lord. It took much more faith to have a baby in Malawi than in Glendale! Thank you all for your prayers for us!

Abigail is fascinated by her baby sister.

Abigail is fascinated by her baby sister.

You might wonder: Why did we choose to deliver in Malawi? Cost was an issue. And practically, we knew that eliminating jet lag, trans-continental flights with a 3-year-old, and the frantic scurry for a birth certificate and passport would make it a more pleasant experience. But our main reason? We didn’t want to be away from our church, International Bible Fellowship, for several months. God has united our heart to these dear friends in Malawi, and we wanted to be with them as we welcome a new child. We hoped, perhaps, that our presence might be an encouragement to our friends who can’t go to another country for medical care.

But we seriously underestimated how much of a blessing our church family here would be to us. We have been wonderfully overwhelmed by the love they have shown to us: meals, babysitting, advice, text messages, visits, errands, prayers, flowers, and so much more. It has also been wonderful to get congratulations from our friends in America and beyond on Facebook and email. So please join us in thanking God for His kindness to us!

9 days old. First family picture.

9 days old. First family picture.

A Visit from Bryan

A couple weeks ago, we had a fantastic visit from Bryan Martin. Bryan went to seminary with Brian Biedebach, and when the Biedebachs delayed their return to Malawi, Brian and the leadership of GMI started looking for someone who could come fill the pulpit for a couple weeks in their absence. What a breath of fresh air! Bryan came all the way from New Zealand to preach for 2 Sundays, to encourage us, and to see a bit of the country and the ministry here in Malawi. We also lined up opportunities for him to speak twice in chapel at African Bible College, to take the first week of Brian Biedebach’s Sermon Preparation class, and to spend time with many of the Malawian and expatriate families in our church and community. I don’t think he had 10 minutes of time to himself in the week and a half he was here!

But what a great time for us! We so enjoyed long conversations about Malawi, ministry, life, and theology. Bryan has a very evident love for people, and we were the grateful recipients of his care for the whole time he was here. Bryan, thanks for your willingness to come and serve us. You have truly encouraged our hearts for the ministry God has here!

Bryan Martin

The Biedebach Family

We mentioned the Biedebach family in our latest newsletter, but we realized that many of you may not know who they are. Here’s your introduction!

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Brian and Anita, Ami (6), Bradley (4), Benjamin (2), and Allison (6 mo)

What a blessing it has been to work with this family! They have fed and housed us, helped us find our feet in a foreign country, invited us into ministry and relationships, challenged us to love Christ more, and taught us a hundred things about what it means to love and serve the church.

The Biedebachs left for furlough 3 months ago, and it looks like it will be another couple months before they are able to return to Malawi. They plan to stay in the States to get some help for Anita who is suffering repercussions of long-term (9 months!), undiagnosed appendicitis. For updates on the Biedebachs and Anita’s situation, you can check out their blog. But here are some favorite and recent pictures of our dear friends and partners in ministry.

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Ami, Bradley, and Benjamin fill out the percussion section, helping Brian lead music for youth group.

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October 12, at the airport, on their way to America!

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We’re just a bit jealous of these more recent pictures, as the Biedebachs got to spend an evening hanging out with Matt’s parents in Camarillo, CA.

We do miss the Biedebachs, but we know that God has plans for them in these unexpected months in the States, and His plans are so much better than ours. And really, 2 more months of Costco, mild California winter, and Grace Community Church… that’s not so bad! We hope they can enjoy this time of rest, and we look forward to having them back in Malawi soon!

Introducing….

Baby Floreen!

Baby Floreen
For those of you as unskilled at reading these pictures as we are, Baby Floreen is at the bottom of the oval shape, between the two plus marks. Though only about the size of a blueberry right now, we decided it would be a good thing for Baby Floreen to get used to being in pictures at a very young age.

We’re planning to return to the States for delivery. We are officially due the 23rd of August, but are still working with airlines and doctors to figure out when we’ll be flying to the States. We’ll let you know! For now, Rachel feels like she just got off of a 35 hour plane ride… turbulence, airplane food, exhaustion!

And if you’re wondering, no, the baby’s name is not going to be “Florence.” I spelled Floreen several times for the ultrasound tech, and finally he said “Is this close enough?” Um, sure. =)

Christmas in Malawi

Christmas in Malawi was fabulous! We did miss the cold weather and snow, but we had no lack of good friends with whom to share the holidays!

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We hosted 2 church Christmas parties in our home. We had about 60 people come to the parties over the 2 nights, playing games, talking, and eating lots of food.

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We sang carols, read the Christmas story together, and had a great time!

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We’re so thankful we were able to spend these days of celebrating Christ’s birth with our church family!

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We hope these holidays have been full of times for you to reflect on the wonder of God’s plan of salvation, and on the beauty of His Son, Jesus! We are truly blessed to love and serve Him as we head into 2010! Happy New Year, from our family to yours!

Our Fierce Guard Dog!

We finally found him – our fierce and ferocious guard dog! He’s only 8 weeks old now, but this Great Dane / Rhodesian Ridgeback puppy will be one LARGE dog someday… soon.

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His name is Simba. We thought that meant “lion,” but apparently Shumba means lion, and Simba means great or powerful. That works, we’ll keep it!

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For now he’s practicing his ferocious moves on a pig’s ear. That ear doesn’t stand a chance!

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Watch out bad guys!