One year later

While on the phone tonight with Gary and Stacy, it occurred to us that it was exactly one year ago today that I arrived in Botswana. Wow!! What a year it has been! In some ways I can't believe it's already been a year, and in other ways I am amazed at how much has happened in the past twelve months.

On December 30, 2007 there were so many people I'd never met or even knew about who now, on December 30, 2008, are such a huge part of my life. I knew I'd make new friends here, but I had no idea how many of them would become so important to me. One year ago I knew that I would be teaching and be a boarding mistress, but had no real clue what to expect. A year later my heart is so full of love for the 44 boarders I lived life with this year and the 14 incredible kids I taught.

In the course of this year I have learned so much about myself and watched the Lord working in new ways in and around me. I've said before that I sometimes wonder if I'm really a missionary to myself! There are certain things about yourself you just don't see until you are stripped of all that is comfortable and put in positions where you have to rely on the Lord in ways you've never had to before. Some things that have come out in myself I've been excited to see and proud of. But much, much more of what I've discovered have been things that I am not proud of at all and see a serious need for God to change in me. Although this is very difficult at times, I am so thankful for this purification time and character-building season in my life.

I have been absolutely overwhelmed and moved to tears many times during this year by the amount of love I have felt from so many people. You'll never know how much each individual prayer, e-mail, card, package, or phone call has meant. It's amazing to be a part of this body of Christ and feel so loved and taken care of, even while I am thousands of miles away! Thank you to each and every one of you for walking this journey out with me, whether you've been here since the first blog post or this is your first one to read. You are an important part of this time in my life and I appreciate you much more than you know!

You can click here to read my first post from Botswana a year ago. As a side note, I think it's pretty neat that I spent my first night here playing dominoes with friends and was doing the same thing tonight, a year later :) Also, here is where I posted the pictures from the beginning of my time here.

From here....

to here....

What a year it's been!!


Christmas is definitely my favorite holiday. I love everything about it: the Christmas tree, the beautiful music, driving through decorated neighborhoods, and fellowship with family and friends, all playing a part in us celebrating the birth of Christ. This holiday is always a special one for my family and I. This year, Christmas 2008, is the first one I've celebrated away from home and I've been sad about that thought all year. I knew, however, that this would also probably be a special one for me since I would be spending it in Africa.

Christmas Day has now come and gone, and I am happy to say that it did turn out to be a special one for me. I spent time with the two families who are also here at the mission right now, the Witts and the Lackeys, along with Monty and Semakaleng, who are also staying here. We gathered for lasagna and fellowship at the Witts on Christmas Eve, and took some time out to sing (and sign) Christmas carols. I spent the latter part of the night talking to my family and friend, Stacy, on the phone. I opened my presents while on the phone with my mom, along with a curious kitty beside me, looking on. :)

Christmas morning began with a yummy brunch at Ms. Pat's house, followed by us loading up in a couple of vehicles and taking Samaritan's Purse Christmas boxes to the hospital. We began in the pediatric ward, singing a couple of carols and sharing the Christmas story with the children and their moms. We then handed out boxes to the eleven children who were there. We moved on to the maternity ward and also gave gifts to new and expectant moms. It was especially neat to see two brand new sets of twins! The moms were especially grateful for the boxes full of goodies for their newborns.

As I spent the remainder of the day reading and reflecting, I realized what a truly special gift this day was. I may never again have the opportunity to spend Christmas in Botswana, so I really tried to enjoy the day. I'm so thankful that God has allowed me to be here, serving Him among the people of this land and celebrating His birth alongside them.

Here are some pictures from Christmas day:
Monty loading up the presents on the cart...aka hospital bed

Kevin and Mmapula taking them into the hospital

A mother and daughter, spending Christmas in the hospital :(

Ms. Pat and Mason sharing the Christmas story


Sweet little boy with his new gift

We couldn't leave without giving gifts to the nurses

Monty and Semakaleng
after a productive afternoon!

A time to rest

I am about halfway through my Christmas break here. Our break is pretty long since it is also the end of the year break. Teachers will start back to work on January 13, so I still have quite a bit of time off. I was really scared of this break for a few reasons. One is that I always slightly panic as the time nears for school to be out because that means no students in class and no boarders at home. Since that is pretty much my whole life, I always wonder what in the world I will do!

During the April break, I was blessed with the opportunity to get to know people on staff here at the mission and was able to build many sweet friendships. During the August break I went home to America, so this is my first real time off since April. I would be extremely excited at the chance to hang out with all of my friends at the mission, except that they are all gone now! It's been a crazy couple of months where a lot of changes have happened and every single one of my close friends have recently moved, adding to the anxiety of this approaching break.

Now that I am halfway into this time off, I've been pleasantly surprised with how the time has gone. I rarely take time out to just rest, something I know is important for all of us. It's just difficult to find that time with 32 teenagers around constantly. So, the first blessing of this break has been just to have the chance to rest. I am staying at a precious house at the mission that belongs to one of the missionaries who is home on furlough right now. I am loving being at her house and hanging out with her cats. I've been reading, watching dvds, listening to Christmas music, catching up on emails, and spending a lot of time talking to my family. It's been a nice change of pace for me. I've also spent some time with my friend, Angela, who is still living in Maun, and a fellow missionary and friend, Sarah.

I think the next couple of weeks will continue to hold days of rest and regrouping in preparation for a busy 2009. On January 17th, I will be meeting the twenty new girls joining us in boarding, bringing the total to 32 girls (along with 34 boys), and on the 19th I will begin teaching two classes in one (standard 5 and 6). So, I definitely see the importance of this time of rest! Even though I was quite nervous about this time, I am beginning to thank the Lord for the blessing of having time to just be still and enjoy an intimate Christmas with Him.

Here is a picture of the house I am staying at:

And the beautiful front lawn:

Missing these guys...

This is a picture of the Walker Family (except for Michael, who's taking the picture) and the Pelotshweu family. These guys have been my family during my first year in Botswana. God ordained a beautiful friendship with Gary, Stacy, and Angela long before I even moved here. Thanks to the internet, we were able to stay in contact after first meeting during my scouting trip in March 2007. We were all excited about me arriving in Botswana so we could finally hang out in person!

If you've followed my blog at all this year, you have most likely seen Gary and Stacy's names many times. This past year they have been my best friends, ministry partners, my domino/phase 10 playing partners, co-boarding parents, and people I feel completely comfortable being myself around. Time with them would always include a)laughter, b)talking about the Lord, c)smack-talking between Gary and I, and d)encouragement between each of us. They have blessed my life in so many ways already, and added a special blessing to my life by asking me to be their daughter, Tshepiso's god-mother. I miss that little girl terribly already, but consider it an honor to pray for her from afar. I'm so thankful that she has Gary and Stacy as her parents and look forward to seeing the strong, godly woman she will grow to be.

Stacy's sister, Angela, was my first roommate here in Botswana. We only actually lived together the first couple of weeks I was here, but she was a wonderful blessing to me during that time. She has also become a sister to me this year and I've especially loved our intense domino competitions. In the beginning it was always guaranteed to be an 'A' champion...until Gary and Stacy began their team-cheating, of course. :) I am thankful that she will be returning later next year and we can have a few more months of hanging out before I move back home. (Hurry back, Amashi!)

The Walkers are a very, very special family who immediately made me feel welcome and comfortable here at the mission. I appreciate and respect their wisdom and love for Christ and others so much. I learned a lot from this family by watching them the past twelve months. Their love for each other is incredible to watch and anyone can feel that love after spending just a few minutes with them. Their kids are amazing and will most definitely become great godly leaders.

I will (and already do!) miss each and every one of these guys so much. There is a huge hole left in their absence, felt by every person who's lives have been touched by them. But I know that God has moved them on to the next season of life and has great plans for them all. I also know that our friendships will continue across the miles, which I am very grateful for.

I love you guys!! Thank you so much for your amazing friendships!

You can keep up with The Walker Family at their blog, and The Pelotshweu Family at their blog.

A little of Philippians 4:13

A while back I posted about the new ministry opportunity God had given me at church to sign the service for Monty, a young woman who is deaf. I was excited to serve in this way and be able to use the sign language I learned years ago. To say I was rusty is putting it mildly, as I hadn't used sign language much at all in the past few years, other than teaching basics to my students. I am definitely in no way qualified to interpret a whole 2 1/2 hour church service. However, with there being no one else at the church who knows sign language, the responsibility fell on me. Each week I have had to ask God to help me through the service to know how to best interpret it for Monty. This can be an exhausting, frustrating ministry, but God has taught me something very important over the past few months. With Him I can do much more than I could ever imagine. When I tell Him "I can't" and give Him all my good reasons why, sometimes He answers, "With Me, you can."

In the past few weeks, the "sign language section" has grown. Semakaleng is a 14 year old girl who is deaf, who the mission has been supporting for many years now. Her life story is heart-breaking, but her sweet smile can warm anyone's heart. Since Semakaleng is an orphan, she usually spends her holidays here at the mission. God has opened up a wonderful door for Monty to be her care-taker, which has resulted in a beautiful friendship between the two, and she has now joined our little sign language section.

We plan to find a qualified interpreter soon to better serve Monty and Semakaleng in interpreting the church service, but until we do I will continue serving, knowing that God has called me to this role for this time. It's so much more than I ever thought I could do, but God has helped bring to life Philippians 4:13, reminding me, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." I pray that each of us will learn how to step out in faith more, resisting the temptation to tell God "I can't" and realizing that actually with Him, no matter how much it may stretch us, we can. This is a vital lesson He continues to teach me, especially every Sunday morning.

This is Monty and I after church a couple of months ago:

End-of-year girl time

Since this is the end of the school year for us, it is also the end of the boarding year. Next year things will change some as we welcome 20 new girl boarders and a new boarding mistress, and half of my current boarders will move to the other side of the hostel with the new boarding mistress. So, before all the changes occur and the girls head their separate ways for the Christmas break, we decided to have fun girl time. I took the girls in three different groups to my favorite restaurant for milkshakes and card games. We had a craft night in my classroom, we exercised to my new dance aerobics video, and we had a fun slumber party where we watched girlie movies, had sugary snacks, and slept on my classroom floor.
Here are some of those fun moments captured:

Our various "milkshake outings"

Craft night

Slumber party with fun, girlie movies

Finally asleep

I love my girls so much and will really, really miss them over this long break. I look forward to seeing them all again in January, as well as meeting the 20 new girls that God will put in my life. Until then, I think I'll just enjoy my quiet, restful break. :)

Christmas at OIS

Last week we had "Christmas at OIS" where the primary school had a fun celebration with singing, dancing, awards, and receiving gifts.

Mason opened the celebration in prayer

The Standard 1 class performed for us

Each teacher gave out awards

Most of my class with their awards

A fun dance from the young kids

Precious little girls!

My student, Shattie, sang a solo

We ended the day by giving out Samaritan Purse Christmas boxes and the kids were thrilled!

We all had a great time and feel like the Christmas season has officially started. :)

Thanksgiving continued

The Saturday after Thanksgiving, the Americans around here got together for a fantastic meal. Here are a few pictures from our feast:

Jana cutting the turkey

Our awesome food spread

All of our yummy pies

My table group

The food was excellent, the fellowship was wonderful, and our feast made it really feel like Thanksgiving, even all the way in Botswana!

Water...Check; Electricity...Check; Internet...Check; It's going to be a good day!

Day-to-day life has been interesting around here lately. For a few weeks it was an almost daily occurrence to wake up and find that we didn't have any water. Nothing like a cold sponge-bath to put you in a good mood in the morning! :)

As soon as the water situation was sorted out, internet became an issue. I have had trouble for weeks now being able to access the internet from my room. Because of this, I mostly had to go to the offices to send emails and things, which on an end-of-the-term teacher/boarding mistress's schedule is pretty hard to do. (I am so sorry if you have sent an email and I haven't responded yet. I am getting all caught up this weekend, though!)

And the latest issue has been electricity. For the past week we have lost our electricity at school and at the boarding hostel every day or evening for hours at a time. This means doing everything in the dark, just using one flashlight. (Since we lost or broke the other ones at the hostel, all 12 girls and I were sharing mine!) And if I wanted to dry my hair or iron my clothes in the morning, I'd have to go to someone else's house on the plot to do that. Not only that, it meant a few mornings without coffee. Yikes!

Oh, and scoripions? Check. I've killed five in or around my room in the past two months! Not to mention the two HUGE ones that were killed around here this week!

The good thing is that today we have perfectly running water, the internet is working great in my room right now, and the electricity is going strong...and no scorpions today! I pray that it stays this way for a long, long time to come. :) One good thing that's come out of this, though, is that I have learned how to appreciate these things that I have so often taken for granted before.

(Now that my internet looks like it is up and running, I should be posting lots of pictures and updates in the next couple of days!)