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!

Furlough Family Times

While we were in the States this summer, we were able to spend time with extended family on both sides – Floreen and Smith.  It’s a tradition now to do a nice family photo whenever we’re all together.  Oh the joys and benefits of being married to a photographer!  =)

Here are this year’s family photos.  I’ve linked to larger versions if you want to see them.  Matt edited out all the funnies though, like the fact that in the Smith photo Abi was rubbing Brian’s head…

Floreen Family Photos 2014 1Floreen Family, May 2014
Back row: Micah, Brent, Titus, Bekah, and Silas Hisayasu, Lorraine and Eric Floreen
Front Row: Mikayla, Ben, Leilani, and Cathy Floreen, Rachel, Naomi, Matt, and Abigail Floreen

Floreen Family Photos 2014 2Smith Family, July 2014
Back row: Erin Aiken, Kirk and Mary Beth Smith, Rachel and Matt Floreen
Middle row: Shiloh Aiken, Abigail and Naomi Floreen
Front row: Brian and Beckett Aiken

Floreen Family Photos 2014 3

And then there’s just us, August 2014

Our church asked for an updated picture of us to put in the church’s missionary calendar, so we did a quick shoot and came up with a pretty decent shot.  We only had to photoshop one girl for this one, which, based on the fact that we had to combine 4 pictures to come up with our current prayer card photo, was pretty fantastic!

“Real Missionaries”

This May we’ll round out a full 5 years as missionaries in Malawi.  And it’s starting to show.  =)  You know all those weird things you hear about missionaries… they’re starting to happen to us.  I re-use tea bags now, we don’t really have any idea what current fashion trends are in America, our daughter’s favorite animal is an impala and she has no idea what an escalator is, and we’ve started glueing our shoes back together.

Real Missionary 1

Literally glueing them together.  Matt ran the soles off his shoes.  Not the tread, the soles.  We don’t go on furlough for another 3.5 months, so they’ll have to do for now.

If all those weird missionary things are the price we have to pay the privilege of living and working in ministry in Malawi, we’ll take it!

We’re Home!

There’s no place like home! And I’m not just saying that because I’m from Kansas!

We got back to Malawi on October 23rd, and, despite the jet lag, we’ve enjoyed settling back in to our home over the last week and seeing so many people we love here. There’s nothing like going away to show you how much your heart is tied to a place. We love that the Lord has put Malawi in our hearts and grown our love for it and the people here over the last 3 1/2 years.  We’re home!

The winner for how to deal with jet lag: Abi.  Apparently the best way to deal with jet lag is to watch an Elmo video at 3am, while wearing sunglasses.

A Passport for Abigail

In our latest newsletter, we introduced everyone to little Abigail Elizabeth, and asked you all to pray that we would be able to get her birth certificate and passport quickly so that we can return to Malawi on the 15th.  God is answering your prayers!  We were able to pick up Abigail’s birth certificate early last week, and on Tuesday of this week we had our appointment at the Federal Building to get her passport expedited.  They said it would be ready Friday and they’ll overnight it to us, so we should have it in hand by Monday at the latest.  Yay!  The Lord has been very kind to us and it appears we won’t have to change the dates of our return tickets.  Everything is on schedule for us to fly out next Wednesday!  Thanks for your prayers!

Abigail's Passport Photo

She was mostly awake and alert for her passport photo…

Abigail at the Federal Buildingbut the passport interview put her to sleep!

Blueberries

Since we arrived in the States about a month ago, we’ve been able to stay with the Floreen family in Camarillo.  We’ve enjoyed daily life with them, and been able to do some special things as well.  Last week Lorraine, Matt’s mom, took us blueberry picking!

Lorraine and Matt in Blueberry Field

Camarillo is an agricultural area, so there are all kinds of farms here!  The family who owns this blueberry farm allows friends and family to come pick for free just a couple days every year.  Yay for free berries!

Matt Picking Blueberries

Matt’s professional berry picking theories came in handy…

Blueberries in a Basket

So we came home with LOTS of berries!

Rachel in the Blueberry Fields

And ate a few!  Rachel must have eaten more than a few.  =)

The Good Old US of A!

Any of you who have been out of the States for an extended period of time will know what these faces mean:

There’s a mixture of “Wow, this is great!” and “Woah, this is way too much!” in those faces.  =)  Despite the fact that we’ve both traveled quite a bit and both lived overseas for extended and varied times before we were married, coming back to the States still takes a few days to get used to.  The biggest culture shock we’ve experienced so far has been merging on the freeway.  You realize too late that you can’t change your mind as you go speeding down the on-ramp at 70 mph, hoping someone will let you squeeze your little car into the flurry of activity… and all this on the right hand side of the road!

Besides the shock of merging in traffic, our adjustment back to the States has been fairly simple.  It’s almost like the “African file” in our brains closed and the “American file” opened up.  Everything American seems normal in this context.  The internet is fast and reliable, the electricity never goes off, there are white people everywhere, the pace of life is quick and full… and while we notice these differences, it all seems normal.

With very little culture shock, we hit the ground running – meeting with people, stocking up on home and office supplies to take back to Malawi, figuring out medical status and plans for Baby Flo, spending time with family, and sharing with churches. We’re so thankful for all God has allowed us to do in these first weeks, and we’re looking forward to the coming weeks of spending time with so many more of you.  If you’re in the southern California area, we’d love to see you in the next couple months.  Send us an email or a comment, and we’ll make a plan!