Welcome to Africa!

Welcome to Africa! I have officially been in Benin for a week and all I can say is "wow". As i write this i just have to laugh thinking about what i thought my first week would be like verses the reality of what it ended up to be. Grab a coffee and sit up straight because here is the breakdown of my first week in Africa.

Arriving in Benin was great as we were welcomed by 3 friends from our past Mercy Ships training in January. As we traveled out of the airport with our duffels containing all of our life supplies, i took a deep breath and realized that I was officially in Africa and that this was now my new home. As this concept slowly seeped into my brain an unknown African bug decided to give me a little welcome bite too. I shrugged it off and thought that this was going to be the first of MANY bites. hehe!

My first few days on the ship were good. I made sure to find out about all the different things that were taking place on or off the ship. Running groups at 6am Monday - Friday, ultimate frisbee, soccer games, worship services, hiking trips, beach trips, market trips, and small group meetings. Oh yeah and on my days off I can also sign up for prison ministry, gardening, orphanage work, Jesus film showings, etc. As you can imagine I was VERY excited about all of these opportunities and instantly started planning how and when i could fit them all in. But most of all I was excited to start working on the wards as a nurse and also to start and or continue building relationships with people both on the ship and off.

So to start off my week i was feeling pretty good. I went on a couple runs in the morning; I signed up for activities on my days off; i went to the worship meetings that are held during the week; things were looking good. Or so i thought. Now if you recall i mentioned my little "welcome bite" and me thinking not much of it. Well this little bug bite was turning into something much worse. Everyday the redness around the bite would double in size. I kept pushing it off and hoping that it would just go away. Day by day the redness would continue to fall down my arm and the girth of my arm continued to increase. Finally i realized or stubbornly decided that i needed to go and see the doctor. Over the next few days my condition continued to worsen and the streaks now continued down my arm and around my elbow and my forearm was about double in size (classic signs of cellulitis). At this point I had been on oral antibiotics which proved to not be as effective as hoped. My neck and back ached, my stomach turned, my fingers thobbed, my head spun; I just hurt. I sat there in bed just praying that God would ease the pain enough so that i could fall asleep and forget about the pain shooting through my body. The next day i started on IV antibiotics.
As i lay there i thought back to what i imagined my first week in Africa being and realized it was exactly the opposite. Instead of running around and getting involved in all the differnet activities on the ship I would find a quiet spot and just sit and read. Instead of going over and meeting new people I would sly away to places where no one was. As most of you know this is completely anti-Becca.

During these times of solitude and silence the only person I truly wanted to be with was God because honestly he was the only one that could comfort me or give me strength. I knew that he was the only one that was going to get me through this. And even more than that i knew that there was a reason why he was letting me have this illness at this exact time at this exact place and that he is in control of it all.

After my third sleepless night waking up with night sweats I decided to just go sit and pray. As i sat there and felt the pain throbbing throughout I prayed the same prayer i had every morning and every night. " God, help me to know and love you more." Thinking back over the last few days of having this infection raging through my body, I thought about how close I had become with God during this time. All the hours i would have spent running around outside or going out and doing differnet activities instead i spent my time and my focus with Him. For the first time since starting this whole ordeal I thanked God for letting me know him more and for teaching me how to truly rely on Him and think about Him every minute of everyday (literally everytime my arm throbbed or my body ached i would pray...).
So after finally coming to grips with this whole crappy infection this is my conclusion of this whole situation.
First off God doesn't give us anything we can't handle. I have learned to be content (or at least try to be content) in whatever condition God puts me in. And that God will remedy sickness in His time. ("Practicing His Presence"). Even though this infection is really bad imagine if i was like most missionaries around the world living in some bush in the middle of Africa. God placed me one floor above a state of the art hospital.
The second thing I learned is how easy it is to put God aside. As soon as I arrived in Africa I started planning out my days and weeks of what I was going to do and who i was going to meet. Instead I had to be antisocial and even had to call out of work which was by far one of the hardest things i had to do. But God even used this to show me it isn't about serving people, it isnt even about serving the people of Africa it is ONLY about Him. We have to make God our focus and priority at all times.
The third thing he taught me was the power of prayer. Everyday as I would go to the doctor and they would try to figure out what was going on in my arm I finally realized how serious the infection truly was. I didnt want to draw attention to my sitation and i definitely didnt want to make people worry but i realized that prayer was going to be the main thing that got me through this season of my life. My church, my family, my friends, my Gates family, and even new friends i met while on the ship, all were praying for my arm to heal.
And the last thing I learned from this is how much the devil would love me to leave this place. What is the chance of getting bit by an African bug as you get out of the airport and having it turn into a raging cellulitis? hmm interesting! Anyway well all i have to say is Im not going anywhere so bring it on!

(sorry this is such a long email but i am hoping next week will prove to be less painful.. you guys are in my prayers and please continue to keep all of us here in yours as well)


Plans made in jello; Our European road trip!

My original ship date was the 10th of August but due to the swine flu our date got pushed out to the 19th. My friend Christina and I had been in contact earlier in the year to try and coordinate flights to Africa so when our date got moved we  should travel around Europe. Once in Texas another friend of ours, Leah, was in the same boat so here began the story of the 3 Amigas!

   Our adventure started off in Paris, continued on in Munich, then over to Switzerland, and then back to Paris. Here are a list of things that I NOW think are funny but at the time didn’t think were funny at ALL: our hostel address was a restaurant, it cost 50 euros for a 10 minute taxi ride, climbing 4 flights of stairs with 100lb bags, my license expiring 10 days prior to the trip and not realizing it until trying to pick up our car at Hertz, the GPS and her annoying directions (definitely a love/hate relationship), eating bread peanut butter and water for 4 days straight, 30 euro tolls, having to pay to use the bathroom, illegally jumping on a train without even realizing it.  The rest of the stories are currently under investigation by the European government and therefore can not be released indefinitely.  Sorry.

Even though there were many annoying and stressful things about this trip, the good definitely outweighed the bad.  The countryside’s that we drove along were magnificent, quaint, and peaceful.  The long drives that gave each one of us ample time to praise and thank God for this wonderful opportunity; for our family and friends, for our Gates family, for our churches, for His plans for each one of us.   Learning more about the Dakau concentration camp (the first concentration camp set up by Hitler) and the many innocent and brave men, women, and children that were killed during this horrific time in history. After our time in Munich Christina randomly suggested hiking the Swiss Alps so off we went. On our way to our Swiss hostel we stopped often to take pictures of the many breathtaking views that we saw.  At one point we pulled off to take some pictures by this aquamarine colored lake.  WE took a couple pictures and then realized that we could get a much better picture if we were on top of the car.  So as i lay on top of our car a police officer pulled up in front of us... eek! Now mind you, Christina and I had been switching off driving even though my license was expired but also knowing that for safety sake we needed to split up the driving.  So when the officer came over both of us were freaking out inside trying to formulate our stories so when we were brought into the torture chamber of the Swiss Police our stories would be the same.  As the officer stepped out of his cruiser, our innocent smiles blossomed and he asked "…photo? would you like me to take a photo?" PHEW! “Why of course!”


The next morning at 7a our adventure began.  We had perfect weather throughout the day and ended up doing a 7 hour hike through the Swiss Alps.  At every twist and turn I was amazed at the intricacy of Gods creation but also the splendor of what he has made.  Walking through the mountain and reaching elevations of about 8000ft was definitely a struggle and at times I had to stop every 20 steps or so just to catch my breath, but it was worth every step.   That night we stayed in Geneva with Christina's friend Ian and his family.  WE spent the next couple days hanging out with Ian's family, enjoying home cooked meals, sitting on couches, having great conversations, running through the woods, walking dogs, playing card games, going to church etc.  This was a perfect ending to a perfect trip.  To be able to be back in a family environment was exactly what we all needed.  Ian and his family opened up their house and made it our home.


After leaving Geneva we went back to Paris to meet up with 3 more “Gates Family” members; Julle, Elliot, and Heather  We spent the next 2 days biking around Paris, exploring the different monuments, and just being together.  Then on the 19th we all hopped on a plane and flew over to Benin, Africa.  


What was the point of this trip? Why did God screw up my plans of being able to be on the trip on the 10th and push it out to the 19th?

As I reflect back on this random vacation and sit here looking out my little port hole window I can see exactly why God placed this trip in my life. Traveling around Europe was an unbelievable trip and a portion of my life that i will always reflect back on.  I have been praying to God asking him to help me to grow closer to him and to know him and love him more, and that is exactly what he did.  

Every hour of our day we tried to think of God; sometimes even more often.  I think God planned this trip for me to help me grow closer to him and to learn how to make him a part of all aspects of my life.  Secondly I believe God put Christina, Leah, and myself on this trip to sharpen each other; iron sharpening iron.  It was such a blessing getting to know both of them more and even more of a blessing knowing that they will forever be a part of my life.

Now that I am on the ship I realize how important it is to #1 keep my focus on God at all times and in ALL circumstances (good or bad) and #2 to continue to build relationships with each other and to love one another. 

I John 4:7 “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God.  Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.”



Our trip to the DR...

A lot of you may be wondering "when are you finally going to Africa? 17 day vacation in the Dominican?" I know I know but the main purpose of this trip was to be able to put all the things that we have been talking about and learning about from class into practice.  The long classroom hours on knowing God and His character, spiritual warfare, worldview, hot/cold culture climates, living in community, conflict resolution, and PRAYER.  This trip covered all of these topics and more.  As i stated earlier there was 11 of us who were a part of this team.  God picked each and EVERYONE of us individually to make up this team.  Together we were able to accomplish so many things but also were able to truly be Gods hands and feet.
Most of the mission trips I have been on have impacted my life deeply in some way, and this trip was no different.  Working in the community of Aguas Negras (translation: black water) I was able to build relationships with the people and really see the power and need of prayer. 
Above is my little amigo Daniel.  He had been playing with matches and ended up getting burns on his head, arms, and legs.  He started off very timid with us but day by day as we went back to change dressings and other times just to visit he finally started to open up to us.  By the time we left his mother was doing all the dressing changes and we were able to just come over to play.  I now have an even GREATER respect for child life specialists.   Another exciting adventure (for lack of a better word) that we embarked on was a little hiking trip.  6 of our team plus 15 teenage boys and 4 guides? decided to climb a mountain that supposedly would take about 2 hours.  Well long story short 3 and 1/2 hours later after getting lost for an hour and having to back track, going through a corn field, stepping on fire ant hills, going down 15 foot drops holding on to tree roots and getting covered in some weird oily plant; we did it!  We were all exhausted but it was such a great accomplishment for us all well besides the weird rashes that we all got up and down our extremities. 
   Over the 17 days that while in the DR we not only saw patients and went on  hikes but also were able to build shelves in the school, doors to the bathrooms, tables, kitchen counters, tile floors, painting, organization, teach first aid classes to boys and girls club, home visits, built walls, took down walls, put in A LOT of fans (yay Barry), worked in a health clinic, work in a feeding program, deliver rabbits and build rabbit hutches, trash clean up, paint houses, help prepare meals, etc.  I want to make a special note to those who did the construction projects and commend them for there patience, love, and drive to not only start and finish a project but also to be willing to teach some of the boys and girls even if that meant the project would take 3x's as long to finish.  
The relationships that we made with the "shoe shine boys", the families that we visited, the teachers of the school, the people in the community, and even in the lives of one another was so beautiful and definitely a gift from God.  
Now I am back in Texas and just tying together loose ends.  Myself and Leah will be leaving on Monday to meet up with Christina in Dallas and then on to Paris for our European adventure.  God has been so good to me throughout these past weeks and i know a huge part of that is because all the prayers and support you have shown me.  
Psalm 16:8 "I have the Lord always before me.  Because he is at my right hand i will not be shaken."