Thursday, September 25, 2014

Medical 1 of 3: Why Medical Camps?

Some people may wonder why we lead mobile medical and dental clinics into the mountains. After all, our work’s main focus is not to provide medical and dental care to the people who live in the high valleys. Nobody on our team has a medical or dental background. So why do we do this kind of work? Let me start off by saying our number one goal is to see fellowships started and hearts changed. Actually, it’s more that just our number one goal, its the only goal. It’s the reason we left our homes and families. The reason we raise up teams of doctors, nurses, and dentists and lead them into the high valleys to conduct mobile clinics is two-fold: First, it is impossible for us to speak to the spiritual need and neglect the many physical needs. Secondly it provides our team with a “platform” to work from and a reason to spend time in a restricted area that the high valleys are located in. The situation in the area that we work in is slowly changing for the better, but the physical needs are still great. There are no roads into the area. Because of its remote nature, the whole area is largely neglected by the government. There are no hospitals and no doctors for several days’ walk in any direction. Because of that, the infant mortality rate is at 50%. Yes, half of the children born in the high valleys don’t make it to the age of two. Additionally 1 in 7 women die during child birth. Those statistics break our hearts. When I first read them, I couldn’t believe it, but when we ask mothers in the village how many children they have, they always tell us both the number of children they have given birth to and the number of children that have survived. It’s not just a statistic to the families—they live with it everyday. The good news is that in the past three years six local people have been trained in nursing and are serving their own villages. They are each supported by different non-governmental organizations. Each of them has completed the 10th grade and then completed a 3-year training course in nursing. Their training is limited, but we have had the opportunity to further some of their training and better equip them by having doctors from the outside work alongside them. Many of the nurses have been trained as skilled birth attendants. Some research that our team helped conduct last year will hopefully lead to a better infant vaccination program. We want to see hearts changed. We believe hearts changed will lead to less promiscuity which will lead to fewer STDs which will lead to healthy mothers and babies. At the same time we feel called to put our faith into action.

Medical 2 of 3: What is a Mobile Medical/Dental Clinic?

Putting the two words “medical” and “camp” together may sound very foreign to the American ear. I remember when we first started working internationally, and the organization we were partnering with was planning a “surgery camp.” Doesn’t that just sound like the worst kind of summer camp to go to? When I went to summer camp as a kid we did things like archery, horseback riding, and swimming. Nobody was getting a knee operation. Internationally, the word “camp” is used a little wider than it is in America. The word comes from the Latin campus which simply means “level ground” and that is what we are looking for in our “camps” - level ground. Or sometimes just somewhat level is all we can find. We travel to different villages, and if there is an established nurse with a health post, we set up in or near the health post. If there is no health post, then we look for level ground to set up our tent. Sometimes that is in a school compound, but sometimes it is just an empty piece of ground in the village. We usually have both a doctor and a dentist with us. We also carry about 200 lb. of medication and supplies. We set up in the health post or tent and announce to the village that we are ready to see patients. Usually that is when the dam breaks we are flooded with people until we turn them away for the night. People are registered and then get to see the doctor, dentist, or both depending on their need. The doctors are able to do check-ups and physicals, prescribe antibiotics for infections, and provide medicine for high blood pressure, STDs, asthma, fungi, and many other ailments. The dentists are able to do cleanings, extractions, tooth restorations (for cavities), and even provide dental crowns. Of course a main focus for both the doctor and dentist is education. Simple medical education about hygiene, diet, and basic teaching on how our bodies work is extremely helpful. The fact that quite a few people in their thirties and forties in the high valleys are missing half (or nearly all) of their teeth is proof that oral hygiene education is greatly needed as well. We usually stay in one place for two or three days, seeing around 60 patients a day. Usually part of every day the doctor will do house calls to those people who can’t make it out of their homes. Those are usually the hardest times for the doctors. For many of those patients, usually with failing hearts or livers,  there is not much we can do except ease some of their discomfort. Sometimes just being with them is the best thing we can do. With everyone we see, we have the opportunity to share with them and pray for them as well. After the second or third day, we pack up and are on our way to the next place.

Medical 3 of 3: True Development

As we said in the first of this series, our number one goal is to see fellowships started and hearts changed. That is why we are here. We believe that when people follow God and their hearts are changed that is the greatest step that can be made in community or social development. The problems we see are complex and many. Alcoholism, promiscuity, domestic violence, child abuse, child labor, and the list goes on and on. It is the same everywhere among all peoples. Do we, as westerners, have answers for all these problems? Does child abuse still happen in America and Western Europe? Yes. Depression? Yes. Theft, Murder, Infidelity, and Drunkenness? Yes. Therefore, we believe that knowledge, finance, and laws or regulations cannot solve these social issues. There has to be more. A heart change is needed, a surrender of wills to His will is the only way we see a whole community change. That is what we want to see happen.

On the other hand, since we are lending a hand in the medical, dental, and education realms, we also want to make sure that we are helping responsibly. We don’t want to condition the community to think that everything they need should come from the outside for free. People wanting to do good can destroy communities that way. For that reason, our medical and dental camps are not completely free. There is no charge to see the doctor, but we charge full price for the medications. From a western perspective the cost of medicine might still seem like a prohibitive cost, but here medicine is very affordable. Some courses of antibiotics only cost 20 cents while some of the more expensive courses are still only about five dollars. So we provide the doctor for free as well as the transportation for the medication (which usually costs almost as much as the medication itself), but the recipient must pay for his or her own medication. The dentist will provide a check-up for free, but we charge a flat rate of 2 dollars for extractions, restorations, or cleanings. In this way we hope to do our helping in a responsible way.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

When You Don't Know What to Do

Have you ever been at a crisis point? When you think you heard clearly from Him a course of action you were to take? When you confidently stepped out in pursuing the direction you felt He guided you toward? And then, nothing seemed to work the way it should have?

We've been in one of those places lately. Seven months ago, we began seeking other options for long-term stay in our country. What seemed like His direction led us to apply for a teaching position, one that appeared to be the perfect fit and timing for us. Since that time, we have experienced one set back after another. Having done everything right, things have just worked out in a way that have left us often hanging on the edge of what to do. When these things happen, does that mean you heard wrong? That we pursued the wrong thing? Or are we meant to walk through these trials? Experience these difficulties?

Though I cannot give all the details, this has been a journey of waiting, trusting, not understanding, being hit with one surprise after another, and financial stress. Our gracious Father has generously provided for everything, yet we stand again at another point that leaves me, in particular, scratching my head and feeling like I'm sinking.

It seems particularly fitting to this case that our last two sermons in our fellowship have been about waiting when you don't understand--which we are still doing. And not worrying--casting all our cares on Him and not taking them back. What a challenge!

Have you ever been there? And does it mean you heard wrong or that you were supposed to walk through something? Or will we ever know?

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Are You Crazy?

It's been good for me to write about these things over the past few months, as they stir in me the longing to go back. After reading all these posts, you're probably asking the question, "Are you people certifiably nuts? Why on earth would you do that? And especially why would you ever take your kids there?"

Honestly, I struggled with that question a lot because everyone I knew, with the exception of a few, basically told us we were crazy for even considering it. We truly believed, though, that He would not have called us into this if it weren't meant for our family to do it together. We asked a lot concerning when and how we could do this as a family.

In the weeks preceding the trip, I began to doubt. Then one day I heard the song Oceans from Hillsong United. The lyrics spoke straight to my heart. These are just a few of the ones that really touched me at my point of doubt:

You call me out upon the water
The great unknown where feet may fail
And there I find you in the mystery
In oceans deep
My faith will stand

Your grace abounds in deepest waters
Your Sovereign hand will be my guide
Where feet may fail and fear surrounds me
You've never failed and You won't start now

I think it's very possible for feet to fail on a trip like this. Fear literally can surround you--I mean, have you ever heard wolves howling in the woods outside your tent?! After hearing the song the one time, I asked the Lord, "Would you use this song to speak to me about this trip and whether it's what we're supposed to be doing?" I couldn't remember the lyrics or tune so I left it at that. I even tried to remember it and couldn't. Then, one night three days later, I woke up in the middle of the night with the bridge playing as a loud as a radio in my head. It filled me with such a sense of peace.

Spirit, lead me where my trust is without borders,
Let me walk upon the water,
Wherever you would call me,
Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander
And my faith will be made stronger,
In the presence of my Savior.

And that is exactly what He did. You get to the point where you say, "Okay, Lord. I'm okay with this since you want me to do it." But what if it doesn't turn out okay even though He called you to it? What if it costs you dearly? Can you be okay with even then? I'm still wrestling with that question, especially when it comes to my family, but I have a peace that if ________, then God. That's how Beth Moore put it, and I think it pretty much sums it up.

Thanks for listening over these months, and I hope you'll enjoy snippets from P.J.'s current trip soon, too.

The Road Home

These are just some photos from the way down. When we reached the lower areas, we began to see beautiful trees, delicious rosehips, and seabuckthorn berries. They were definite sweet rewards for all that hard work! It took us two and a half more days from the town we reached after the pass to reach the town where the airstrip was. One of the days, the trail was mostly gone so we had to make new paths along with hundreds of sheep, but He got us through it. And we got to spend our last night in a tent inside that cool cave! Guaranteed to not get wet as our tent's plastic window in the fly disappeared about halfway through the trip so it was no longer waterproof.

This water just screams, "Please swim in me! I'm so clear!"

Some of the trail is just broken rock crumbles.

That's how we do it!

The Last Pass: Part 2

This was perhaps one of my most difficult days--almost too difficult for me to describe in words. The wind was bone chilling, the kids were exhausted, and they literally cried all the way up and down the pass. It was hours. It distressed everyone, but there was nothing we could do. They were dressed very warmly so I think not sleeping well and the irritating wind were mostly to blame. I told the horse guy, "We need to get out of here. If we stop, they will only get colder. We need to go no matter how much they cry!" Eventually, it got so difficult that when I saw P.J. coming up over the pass behind me, I burst into tears and walked away, hoping that maybe their dad could fix something that I couldn't. Again, it was not one of my finest mothering moments, but it just broke me to have them absolutely inconsolable, mostly because they were tired and irritated by the wind. I felt that day that my daughter would never forgive me for how impatient I was with her, that she'd hate me forever, but I'm happy to say that she loves to snuggle me still.

Eventually, we reached the point where she just couldn't ride the horse any longer, and that man who had proudly led her horse for 4 weeks, put my little girl on his back, covered her with a blanket, and carried her fast asleep that way for several hours. He was exhausted, but I will be forever grateful for how he made things better when I couldn't. She was much more pleasant that evening after all that napping, too!

The Last Pass

When we began our descent from the more northern valleys, we were in pretty good shape. The walking had become easier, the complaining less. We were in for a very difficult walk. First we walked through a canyon like this, with markhor and blue sheep scrambling along the edges high over head. The grass is more of a thorny brush than anything.

Then the number of small stream and river crossing increased. I fought with anything to always find a route that did not involve me walking through those icy waters with my bare feet, though I did once or twice. Walking sticks can go a long way in keeping you from falling in!

Yep! That's me!!
When we finally reached our campsite near the bottom of our final pass, the craziest thing happened. Suddenly a kind of pellet snow began to fall, almost as hard as hail, and the ground/tents/animals/baggage were a blanket of white within 15 minutes. We were so grateful for the kitchen tent we had brought out of storage so those walking with us who didn't have tents could huddle inside it for the night. It was frigid that night. Little Girl woke up so many times because she was cold.

Our tent covered with snow at the far right

Then it got worse because the next morning was icy cold and windy, and we had to climb up a mess of a hill covered in ice, snow, and mud. For every step forward, your feet slid back about 2 in the muck. We worried about the horse slipping down with the kids, but her 4 legs seemed much safer than our two carrying the kids.

And then we reached the top and saw this. It was one of the most glorious sights you can ever imagine, though the wind did not let up one second for us to really enjoy it. By the time I was there, my fingers could barely move. But wow, what a Creator we have! Look at His handiwork!

Thursday, May 1, 2014

General Cuteness

We interrupt the chronology to share a few photos of just pure cuteness.

Aunt Jemima?
Mad at Sissy
Kids on horseback together
Training in the first days: "Now what do you do when a yak comes on the trail?"

Sometimes You Stumble

Some trails are easy to walk. Some are just downright annoying. Often we ran into trails made of tiny little rocks. You have to sort of experiment here and there to figure out what walking techniques best fit what trail. And sometimes you're just going to fall on your butt--repeatedly. Sometimes due to these mule fellows with giant bags tied to them, too. At least that's what I did on the way to the next village.

This was the area we spent the most time in, and the people at this school were incredibly kind toward us. Their school even had wood planks on the floor so it was warmer to sleep on. Here the kids made lots of friends, as the school was still in session, and we got to poke a LOT of fingers. I determined I just wasn't cut out for poking kids' fingers.

New sweet friends, baby cows who love trail mix and let you ride them -- what's not to love?

A Happy Occasion

When we left the last area that I posted about, we walked about a half day along some snaking trails and reached a school where we were graciously welcomed to stay. It was the weekend, and no kids would be needing the classrooms so we were grateful for a place out of the wind to sleep and a kitchen with a warm stove we could sit by. Their stoves are very similar to a wood burning stove you might get in the West. If you're wondering at all what the trail here would be like, think grey and like snake lines in the dirt. Looking from afar, the trails look so small you think, "We can't possibly be getting ready to walk there!"

And yet there you find yourself a few hours later. Notice the fields in the lower part of the picture and the light white horizontal-ish line near the middle. That's a trail!

Then sometimes, as a sweet reward for hard work climbing, you get to enjoy a Snickers bar on top of the world with those blue skies staring at you. That's no Photoshop folks!


In that village, we got to celebrate the fifth birthday of our baby girl. Thanks to a little advanced packing, we had candles and chocolate frosting for the pancake tower. Pretty impressive, right?! 

Bits and Pieces

Hope you've enjoyed the posts from our fall trip. Now that I'm nearly done, P.J. will be back with new stories and things to post in the coming months. To finish up my journey, seeing as I stopped at 17/18 of 35 days, I'll be posting pictures and little snippets with them. I pray that these will give you a real glimpse into what life can be like for these people and for us when we're there on a trip.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Day 18: Things I've Learned

Today we were still in the same village, and this is the last memory I recorded in my journal because the schedule just got crazy after this. I will continue to share the journey in pictures, but this was my last entry. It might make you laugh...

Things I've learned thus far in this adventure:
  1. Mules fart a lot!! I mean, I've never seen an animal with soo incredibly much gas, and when you're following a couple feet behind five of them all day, it gets pretty smelly. Unbelievably smelly! It's hard to catch your breath between extreme hiking, altitude, and mule gas.
  2. My husband is a superhero. I knew he was super before, but even though carrying Little Boy has been incredibly taxing, he never complains. And he has to listen to the rest of us all day!
  3. I need You a a lot more than I realized given that I have so many glaring character flaws that this trip has revealed.
  4. Our kids are okay at high altitude. They did 18,000 feet without a hitch.
  5. Life is really awful for some kids in the country where we live. More awful than one might imagine. 
  6. I'm so weird simply because of the color of my skin and where I grew up.
  7. Homemade dehydrated food really works! So far no one is complaining about the food, and we have been able to eat vegetables other than potatoes. Whoo hoo!

 The camera can't really capture it, but when you don't have a sink and you bathe once a week, your hands get disgusting.

Day 17: Glorious Sunshine

Today we walked only a few hours from our last camp to a new location, the second village where we'd hold the clinic. The path between villages was mostly a ravine that wound through mountains, making it unbelievable that one would find any villages in the area. Thought I was tired, today I discovered something that would impact the whole trip: When your heart is not in the right place, looking up can change your attitude. Whenever I felt discouraged, tired, impatient, or unpleasant, I turned that around and sang songs that praised who our Lord is--how great He is, how strong He is, how He works all things out, how He never lets our feet fail. What a difference that made in my heart! And the most beautiful thing of it all was that as we wandered through these hills, we experienced more of His glorious sunshine on us. It was the first time we'd been able to peel off layers during the trip.

Don't judge my crazy hair/face. I was busy prepping lunch.
In good local fashion, we surprised a man by arriving on his doorstep looking for accommodation. Despite this being a busy season with the barley harvest in full swing, he agreed and gave us the run of his home. It was so gracious and wonderful to spend the next couple days enjoying this sweet village during harvest time.

When we'd make our evening potty trip outside before bed, we'd be met with tons of glowing eyes from all the horses, mules, and cows gathered in the yard for the night. I often wondered what they thought of these crazy humans who put some kind of crazy brush in their mouths at night...or who shared their stall for a midnight bathroom visit.

Any nighttime bathroom trips meant going up and down ladders like this in the dark by headlamp.

Thursday, April 10, 2014


We met a new friend today, too. As I was bathing (in a very conservative way) down by the river, I kept hearing a funny sound. Thinking someone was playing a joke on me, I looked around, but what I found was this cute furry little goat.

He was very friendly, and with no people or animals in sight, we concluded he must have gotten lost and separated from his herd. The kids fell in love with him. He happily sat beside they while they played with him and petted his head.

We’re not sure what happened to Melman as we finished our trip to the next village with our little princess riding in on her white horse. He just couldn’t keep up with us so he got left behind, despite having been dragged by his horns part of the way.

Yep, the horn dragging was caught on camera.

Day 16: Service and Refreshment

We made a mistake last night. While camping by this beautiful river, we left our cooking gas outside. I, trying to give my amazing husband a rest after all his mornings of being the first up in camp, decided I would go heat the water to make hot chocolate and coffee. It was sooo cold outside! The leftover water from the previous night’s pots was frozen, and the mules were trying to lick it out of the pots. After chasing them away, I lit the stove. I waited and waited for that water to boil. When 15 minutes had passed, I went back to the tent. I went in and out checking on the water that just refused to boil. When 30 minutes had passed and I was chilled to the bone, my servant heart disappeared, and I marched back to the tent, giving up on the task. Never leave your gas cans outside in the mountains where it gets cold!

On a more positive note, we had a glorious morning of sunshine. We all took baths at the river and washed clothes. It was even sunny enough to dry them! Our tents really appreciated getting dried out before being packed away.

Unbelievable cold water, but very nice to be clean!

Days 14 and 15

This morning we left the village, heading off to another “in between” place before our next destination. We left in sunshine, but hit nasty weather just when we were stopping for lunch. Looking back we all laugh, but we were a pretty pitiful looking bunch huddled around the small pot of hopeless macaroni and cheese. It was hopeless because it just never thickened so we all ate this terrible macaroni soup in sleet.

To get past the soup, though, we reached this beautiful camp spot, but talk about cold! It was so cold no one wanted to volunteer to make dinner so we all crammed into one tent and ate a dinner of granola bars and trail mix. We knew it was cold, but we woke to a complete white out in the morning! Fun for the kids, but absolutely frigid. 

After that morning, we made the trek almost to the next village, and to make it a more enjoyable, restful next day we decided to just stop there and rest for the night.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Day 13: The Way Home

Today our team continued to do the clinic while the kids and I held down the fort to keep anything from mysteriously walking away. I now know what a zoo animal must feel like, eyes peering over the wall at you all day and analyzing your every move. Pure curiosity about these strange white people who brought their children to this place where none have been in probably 30 years. We did have some laughs though. First, the curious onlookers kept trying to communicate the few English words they knew to me, as they don't speak the national language that I can understand. They kept saying something that sounded like, "Ice!," then smiling and running away. No idea what they were actually trying to communicate, but it provided some comic relief to the whole zoo situation.

Second, we ran out of water this morning, and since the team along with our mule and horse guys were all away, I locked the kids in our "upper room" and went to the river myself to get the water. It was all of about 5 minutes, grandparents. As I carefully maneuvered across rocks into the river, I bent down to hold the jug in the water when I noticed an enormous yak in the water, about 30 feet in front of me. He looked straight into my eyes and grunted a bunch of times. He would not break eye contact so I froze. I thought, "If I just stand here very still, I won't get stampeded by a yak who is freaked out by a white lady." He continued to grunt as I played statue for what seemed like an eternity before he lost interest and moved on without goring me. Whew!

On a more sombre note, the horse guy told me today, "I don't want to go back the way we came. It's too dangerous. Big people get hurt this way so we can't take your kids there again." Knowing that is our planned exit route did not give me much confidence in the safety of our return.

Day 12: Where Am I?

Just to prepare you, the posts from these days are not the most pleasant. It was one of the hardest places I had ever been in, especially as we continued to get hammered with rain and sleet off and on.

Today I walked with the team to the location of the clinic. The people are wonderful, appearing somewhat rough, but actually very kind. In the full sunlight, I got to see more of what this village really looks like, and it's grim. The school did not receive foreign sponsorship for the year so it has been closed. You can see here first hand what good a school can do and what harm its absence can do. The children are so dirty, and I'm not saying that in a judgmental way. If you could hear me, you would hear the voice of a mom who wants to hug those little babies and clean them up so they'll not get sick, not one who is judging them. When the focus is survival here, things like brushing hair and teeth or washing hands are just not on the list of priorities. As previously mentioned, the few toilets here let straight down into the roaring river below. Everyone else just uses the bathroom wherever they see fit. Trash is everywhere. When you walk down the narrow lanes, you walk through a mixture of animal waste (to be expected in the presence of massive herds), animal parts like legs, ripped cloth, random old shoes, thousands of empty drink cans, etc. There is very little actual mud under the road to be seen through all this stuff on top. I have never seen anything like it.

Day 11: A Fresh Start

We woke up today feeling refreshed after having spent our first night inside. Top that off with some sunshine this morning, and we are feeling great. Today we will not start any activities for the clinic, which means we got to do laundry in the river, and have a somewhat relaxing day. We've washed some clothes along the way, but we were in need of some clean clothes and sunshine lest we have no more socks. Yes, this is the same river that people slaughter animals in, drop waste from the few outhouses there are, and get their drinking water, but it was freezing and fast flowing so it did the trick. It also cost me my favorite sock liner as the water was just too fast to get it back. Ugh! After a morning of freshening up and having enough sun to just about dry everything, the clouds rolled in...again, and sprinkles of rain came. From this village, you can see bad, snowy weather in the mountains all around. This does not bode well for our further travel. Top it all off with the case of the missing thermal shirt...yes, the kind that you need to stay warm during a trip like this, and yes, the kind I only brought 2 of. I just keep trying to tell myself whoever took it needs it more than I do.

This was my headquarters in this village. The kids and I usually hung out in this dungeon, AKA camp kitchen, during the clinic hours. It was warm and protected from the wind, a perfect place to enjoy some flat bread with peanut butter and a cup of tea.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

True Roughing It

Before you think this post is about how much "roughing it" we've done, stop that train of thought because it's not. Now, admittedly the trip we made and that P.J. makes multiple times a year is not for the faint of heart. It is crazy hard in a way I could never comprehend before doing it. But these are some of the things we have access to that make a trip survivable:
  • Down sleeping bags rated for -18 degree temperatures
  • A four seasons tent that is warmer inside than outside
  • Sleeping pads that insulate our bodies from the cold ground
  • High quality thermal under layers
  • Warm wool socks
  • Quality waterproof hiking boots
  • Comfortable backpacks
  • Water bottles
  • Camp stove and light food
You get the picture, right? It is physically demanding and cold, but we have good equipment. Let me introduce you to this couple.

They made the same trip we did. We met them on the way down from the second pass. As I staggered on my way down from the dizzying height, I was amazed at how this elderly couple was moving as fast as they were. They camped at the same camp as we did and went on the next day to the same village we did, even waiting for us so they would know the way in the dark. Only here's the thing. They did not have a tent, sleeping bags, or sleeping pads. They did not have a shelter. Period. They did not have state of the art warming clothing or shoes. They had everyday clothing. Honestly, I have no idea how they survived what we had come through. Their clothes smelled of smoke and wetness, and the woman had an awful cough that our doctor said was likely tuberculosis. I think someone at the camp lent them a teapot so they could have warm drinks, especially after having slept outdoors on a night that turned out to drop snow. 

That first village felt like a real treat to me after 6 days, but to them, I would imagine it was like having found gold.

Day 10: The Big Push

When we woke the morning after crossing the passes, the camp had a nice dusting of snow. Absolutely breathtaking, but as you might imagine, frigid because you can't really escape anywhere to get away from the cold. It was an interesting camp though, a gathering place where many locals camp on their way to and from villages, a place with large stone corrals for holding herds of animals that pass through. Our partner was excited as we had finally begun to see the faces of the people we were coming to see. As the warm sun came out and we set off, we were told the journey would be about 4 hours to our first indoor destination--well for us, maybe 6, they said. Our guides had been there before, but their recollection of how long it would actually take turned out to be pretty fuzzy.

The last few hours of the walk, we walked in cold, wet, freezing rain. When we reached a field of grazing yaks, our guides confidently told us, "It's just another 30 minutes. We can make it by dinner." The doctor with us, by that point, was having a day much like many of mine: too little strength and too much discouragement. We convinced her that rather than setting up camp in the rain again, we should just make this last 30 minute push to the village. I have never walked so quickly uphill in all my life! An hour and a half into the "30 minute" walk, it started to get quite dark so I hung behind to make sure our doctor was not left alone walking in the dark. Piles of mani stones along the trail made it clear that we were getting close to people. Although it was a terribly rainy, cold walk, we finally entered our first village after 6 solid days of walking.

What a delight to be indoors though the rain poured outside, to have a warm fire to sit around, surrounded by warm friendly faces. A simple dinner of butter tea, potatoes, lentils, and rice never tasted so good. A few brave souls around the fire even cracked into some pickled chicken feet to celebrate! On top of that, we got to sleep inside a building that night. Yes, on the floor as usual, but so nice to be indoors and to have a toilet with a door, even if it was just a squatty.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Going Around in Circles

Let me interrupt the string of "unpacking" posts from our trip with a little nugget of my day yesterday. Over the past few months, we have made a number of trips to immigration since you cannot get the kind of visa we have all in one chunk. Yesterday we were to make our final trip to immigration for the last big chunk before our visa change. We left home at 10, and since I was meeting someone afterward, P.J. and I drove separately. I hit numerous "bumps" along the way that already had my nerves ratcheted up a few notches. We sat in traffic at one junction for what seemed like ages before I told him, "Tell me how to get there, and you go on ahead so you can get in line." I had driven there before, and the directions seemed simple enough so he went on. We sat in the jam for almost 30 more minutes after he left, but we got moving.

Then it happened: one wrong turn. Just one little wrong turn. Normally, you can just turn around and correct something like that, but for some crazy reason, I never got back on track. I asked probably 8 different people to point me in the right direction, and not a single one seemed to have sent me the right way. I drove in circles all over creation for 2 solid hours. There were moments of tears, panic, begging for a sign to know where I should go, and just saying, "I can't do this." Honestly, I have never felt so helpless, inadequate, and downright stupid in all of my life. My lovely children were sitting in the back quiet as little mice, which made the situation more bearable. Have you ever just had one of those moments when you just realize, "No matter what you think, you're really not in control." Any one of those people could have pointed me in the right direction, and yet none of them did.

By the time I found something I knew, 2 more hours of driving had passed for a total of over 2 and half hours trying to get to a place that should have taken less than 30 minutes. I called to tell P.J. where I was as he was just going to have to come find me, and over my apologetic tears, he said, "Don't worry. It's done. I got the visas, and that's done." Seriously?! I missed the whole process, and yet it still worked out. The funny thing is our little girl was so annoyed in the morning at having to go to immigration again that she was overjoyed when she realized we had done it all without ever getting there!

This whole thing got me thinking about the thousands and thousands of people around me--even around you--whose lives are like that everyday. There are over 2 billion people searching for the right way, and most of them currently have no chance of finding a person who can actually point them in the right direction. My heart's prayer is that they would not spend their lives going around in circles, but that they would have opportunities to meet the Way, the Truth, and the Life. 

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Day 9: Refinement

Let me set the stage for this post by sharing this photo. This is the weather we would be walking through today, except imagine the clouds grayer in early morning. From below, you could hardly see the seemingly "neverendingness" of the first pass we would be walking up through, with a second pass right up on its heels.

Given that the start of a two pass day fell after my sixth night of little sleep, I began the day in tears, begging the Lord for His help, as I knew I had nothing in me that could accomplish what we needed to. I did not dress my children or self warmly enough in the morning, as I never expected the weather we would encounter most of the day. It looked like this...

If you're not sure what will break you as a parent or a person, I can tell you two things that will: 1) When you have no strength and you beg God to stop horrible weather, and He chooses not to; and 2) When your child is crying for what seems like hours, and you can't fix it. I experienced both today. I will never know why God did not stop that snow from falling when we were so cold, but I do know that He carried me when I couldn't do it... or at least let a horse do it part of the way. When my little girl was so cold, I made her walk with me up the pass to warm her feet, and He even helped me carry her part of the way up on my back. If you know me, you know I don't exactly look robust. We made it over two passes, the second of which was over 18,000 feet. At the top, her horse guide wrapped my little girl with her tear stained cold face in his big coat. As we mounted her back on the horse, other porters warned, "It's really downhill. Be careful." He proudly said, "You wouldn't believe what this girl has ridden a horse through. She can do it."

We did make it that night though there were times I thought I would just keel over, and no one would ever know I was gone. Though I threatened to throw my child off the horse if she didn't stop crying. Though the kids were so cold when we arrived I thought I had made a huge mistake. But. We. Made. It. 

Our gracious teammates had our tent nearly up before I even arrived in the camp so I could get in and warm the kids up. They brought hot tea and a warm dinner, asking nothing of us in return. And you know what? I finally slept. We all slept... like 12 hours!

Day 8: Howls

Today was another difficult day of walking through mucky and slippery terrain. I wished we could have stayed in the last camp to rest, but no one wants to make the already 6-day walking journey any longer than it already is. The weather has been unpleasant with rain off and on. I am told this is very unusual for these trips. By late afternoon, we reached our fantastic campsite for the night where we can even see the start of the first pass we'll make our way up in the morning. From far away, this site looks like it could not possibly be the least bit flat, but it is surprisingly so, aside from the sections giving in to natural erosion. We can see the nearest village off in the distance.

The guys in charge of the animals tied them up quite a distance from the camp in the crook of the mountain. Right before bed time, they went to light a fire in that area. Why? It keeps wolves away apparently.

We woke in the night to sounds of howls. If you've never heard wolf howls aside from those on your television, you might not be sure if it was a howling dog or wolf. I knew our proximity to the village was too far for those howls to be any dogs. Talk about wanting a tent made of something stronger than fabric! That's when you know you're really out in the boonies!

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Day 7: Washing Up

As we packed up from the previous night's camp of terror, we watched hundreds and hundreds of sheep parade around the side of the mountain and through the leftovers of the camp, likely on their way down to the city to be sold and butchered. Our kids loved it! It was like a sea of sheep. On the steep hillside nearby, our horse and the 5 mules grazed nearly out of our sight they had climbed so high. Further still above them was a small herd of a sort of mountain goat. Gorgeous!

We met a man on the trail who had his arm in a sling.  When I asked him what was wrong, he said he fell, and it popped out of socket -- a month ago! He had finally finished his work in the fields so he was now on his way down to seek medical attention. We gave him some ibuprofen to take the edge off, but weren't sure he even needed it at this point.

Today's trail is a washed out in many places due to the rain and softness of the soil. Little Girl is awesome on the horse, but so scary to watch on tiny treacherous trails. At times, I have to just close my eyes. When we reached our campsite for the night, we made sure we were far from the possibility of any falling rocks or debris. We got to have our first outdoor bath in a freezing stream down below the camp. Although it was frigid to the point of being painful, it was refreshing.

Day 6 - The Hedge

Here's the journal entry from September 27th, Day 6 of our trip, and my 31st birthday.

"My birthday. Honestly speaking, worst ever. We walked from about 8:30 until 5:30 where we finally decided on a spot. It was terribly cold, too high, and not flat, but the best we could find before dark settled in. This area has very loose crumbly soil that makes the trail precarious, very much like sliding through ash. We expected a long day today, but I think we walked slower than anticipated. I have a terrible headache, and Little Boy is coming down with something. As we set up camp, mysterious white clouds rolled in. The horse man seems to think it means rain will fall."

That night as I lay in the tent, I recalled how few people we had seen and what a perfect target we would be for marauders (if that is even a thing that happens there!). I prayed, "Lord, would you place an army of angels around this camp? Keep us surrounded and safe." The rain began to sprinkle on our tents after we had gone to sleep or at least attempting to sleep while sliding down to the bottom of the tent. During the night at three specific times, I heard what sounded like a gas stove lighting and thought the animal tenders were cold and making hot water. When we woke in the morning, we knew what the sound really was-- 3 landslides that stopped a small distance from our tents.

As we left that camp with thoughts of what could have been disaster for us all, I remembered the hedge I had prayed for. God put it there not to keep people out, but to keep that gravel from rolling us away. It was a reminder that, though it seemed like the world was a million miles away, He was as close as ever.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Journal Entry: No Sleep!

When you think you're tough, that you're going to be fine because you have to since you can't take medicine for acclimatization, you may be in for a surprise. I have been. Two nights of very restless sleep and only a slight increase in altitude while everyone else snoozed away. While I probably need another day of hiking up then back down, I think we need to start heading out today. It should be a short walk of just a few hours.

Later that day...
How am I going to do this? The walk started out fine and flat along a riverbed, but later became a lot more difficult than I thought it would be starting out. Little Girl is doing well getting used to her horse--still trying to figure out how to self-correct when the saddle is slipping from side to side and how to hold on during uphill and downhill times. Our campsite is idyllic with a little stream running through our patch of trees--the dinging bells of animals in the distance. The kids are so excited to sleep in the tent for the first night. No mosquitoes, tasty first camp meal. I hope tonight will bring better sleep.