Friday, January 16, 2009
Miracles We Can Believe In…
Just a few short days ago, we shared with you the dramatic eventsof our robbery at the beach. Well, many of you have prayed and God hasanswered in a truly miraculous way. The Carte de Sejours (ID cards) ofboth Steve & Alace Straw have been found and returned. ....
Now for the rest of the story… We don’t believe in chance orcoincidence, but in an all powerful Jehovah Provider. I finished ourrecent email newsletter about the robbery by saying, “We are sothankful to God that no one was hurt and that this event was not asurprise to God.” Well, I could hardly believe that an email contactthat began 3 years ago would lead to the recovery of the ID cards.....
In April 2006, we received an email from a Christian girl named Serenain ..Singapore..; she had a friend coming to ....Gabon.... and wantedto find a Christian fellowship for her. We soon met Sovia and began afriendship that was an encouragement to both of us. In October 2008,Sovia was leaving ....Gabon.... and invited us to a restaurant for agoodbye meal. At the meal, she introduced us to another local Christiangirl named Rachael Lydia. We really liked Rachael and after the mealoffered to give her a ride home. We exchanged phone numbers and had notheard from her until this afternoon.....
Rachael comes into my office and begins to tell me how she received atext message an hour earlier from someone claiming to have found awallet with two ID cards and two SIM cards. He had entered one of theSIM cards in his phone and went through the address book and decided totext her about the ID cards (my note: Arnie had sold me his old cellphone- this is how Rachael's info was on my cell phone's SIM). Shecalled him back and said that she did not know the STRAWS, but she didknow some other American missionaries and would contact us. Amazingly,Steve Straw was sitting outside my office using the internet and Icalled him in to share the great news. ....
We quickly called the person and made arrangements to meet him. Steve,Rachael, and Pastor Sangoye headed out to the rendezvous and soon afterSteve called me to tell me that they had gotten his wallet back with IDcards and all of his credit cards, etc. Can you believe it? ....
(my note: I gave this man some devotional material in French as well asa reward for his work. He was so nice to go out of his way for us. Hetold us that the same evening that he found the stolen items, hisdaughter became very ill. She became listless with a high fever, turnedyellow and, later in a taxi cab, died on the way to Lamberene. They haddecided to try to get her to a hospital 3 hours away, instead of takinga chance at a hospital within minutes of his house. Such a sad sadstory and a reminder of the poor health care system here.)
We are so thankful to God that this event was not a surprise to God.....
This email could not be complete without sharing about anothermiraculous act of protection on our trip this week. We sharedpreviously with you that we were taking our kids on a Homeschool tripto Lambarene. Well, our four families the Straws, Brokopps, Kings, andus loaded up into two vehicles for a much needed trip away.....
About 70 miles outside of ....Libreville.... on a straight part of theroad, we saw 3 vehicles approaching. One vehicle was towing the otherand the 3rd vehicle began to pass the two. The small SUV that wasattempting to pass the others all of sudden lost control and sideswipedone of the other two cars. The SUV careened off into the bush andoverturned into the jungle. The other two cars went off into the otherside and one of them overturned as well. Our two cars were the 1st onthe scene and all of us men jumped out running to each of the vehicles.We were amazed to find everyone able to crawl out by themselves and hadno visible injuries.....
(my note: I jumped from the van and went down into a ditch towards themini-SUV. It was on its' roof and badly crumpled- I prepared myself forsome badly and, perhaps, gravely injured people. As I approached, Inoticed that the passenger was halfway out his side window when Iarrived and very shook up. He said he was not hurt but that perhaps thedriver was. Then, the driver appeared from the passenger window as welland crawled out. Incredibly, they reported that they were not hurt andthat no others were in the vehicle. At this time, Tim Brokopp, who wasin the trailing vehicle, made his way down into the ditch. He alsoqueried if others were in the vehicle. The two men stood up, looked ateach other in disbelief and shock. The driver, hearing the enginecontinue to surge and gurgle, crawled back in and turned the ignitionkey off. Tim and I made our way back up the bank to check the othercars.)
The accident occurred right beside a T- Intersection with severalvillage houses nearby. Several villagers had also witnessed theaccident and had begun wailing in fear of what they would find. In lessthan a minute, there were 20 something people gathering about in totaldisbelief. It was obvious that part of their disbelief was seeing 3white guys running into the jungle and mud to help rescue the crashvictims. ....
Before heading on our way, I shared with the group how we prayed forprotection before our trip and that it was God who had protectedeveryone that day. As we left, we praised God for his continuedprotection and an opportunity to be His witness.....
We are so thankful to God that no one was hurt and that this event wasnot a surprise to God! ....Arnie, Cheryl, Nicole, Stephanie, &Katie SOLVIG
God is GOOD!
Wednesday, January 7, 2009
The day after the robbery (Sunday), Arnie Solvig, Tim Brokopp, and I went back to the beach in the morning and retraced the steps of the thieves. We started from where we had last seen them disappear under the bridge. The bridge has just enough clearance for a person to go under it hunched over. Going inland from there, we followed each side of the waterway that led behind some commercial buildings and into a construction area. Using machetes and sticks, we checked through the high grass and trees. Due to the construction site, there was not a lot of overgrowth to contend with and we had pretty easy going. It was easy to see how the bandits made such a quick getaway.
As we got started, I thought to myself that this morning would be a good "closure" event- to settle our minds that we had at least tried to do something to check for our stuff, but that we'd probably wind up with nothing. So, I was pleasantly surprised when Tim yelled back to us (he was running point on this mission) that he had found some things scattered right on the dirt road ahead. It was a couple odds and ends that I had in my sack! Our hopes picked up quite a bit and we felt that we were "hot on the trail" ... 12 hours late! HA!
After canvassing the area for about 2 hours, we netted the following:
-Alace purse (empty)
-Our house key (mysteriously off of the key chains! Praise God! Would a thief stop to remove this!?!)
-Photocopy of our health cards
-My international drivers license
-Odds and ends from Alace's purse
-Odds and ends from Steve's sack
Here's what we didn't find:
-Alace's wallet, cell phone, ipod, money and resident card (carte de sejour)
-Steve's wallet, cell phone, money, cool aviator sunglasses, and resident card
-Meredith Brokopp's digital camera
Hindsight is 20/20, so here's some things we learned...
1) When you're at the beach, snap your photos of the beautiful sunset, but then pack up and get out of there. No trips to the beach that go past 6:30ish- Doesn't matter if you're in a large group or not. (note: we were taken with the brazenness of the thieves to take on our group of 17. However, many were children, so they may have thought we'd be compliant for the sake of the kids)
2) Stay alert! About 5 minutes before the bandits attacked, several us had noticed a man approach very close to our group and walk slowly past, getting a good look at all of us and our stuff. Since we were all around our fire, sharing stories, and laughing, no one said anything. It's obvious that this guy was sizing us up. The fact that none of us engaged him, even though he was so close to us, showed him that we were in our own world and oblivious.
3) Keep your stuff put away and out of sight. The first bandit on the scene went straight for my bag which was sitting, unattended, on a chair at the edge of the circle. There were many beach towels around, so there was no excuse for this being in plain view. Plus, it included our only set of car keys. We had to return to our home and get the other set.
4) If you have a Texan for a wife, consider ways to positively channel her wrath! HA! Alace says that she can't remember being so angry. We were all angry and a little traumatized at the same time.
...and many other things were learned. The event really could have gotten so ugly that we are praising God that no one was hurt and that we only missing very few things. We have two digital cameras- Alace usually has one in her bag and I have one in mine. That day, we both forgot to pack them. I had also gotten in the habit of carrying a small, external hard drive with me. It contains every important document that's important to our family or ministry. However, I had put it in my flight bag a day before. As I mentioned in my last note, I also had $400 (200,000 central african francs) that I had taken out of my wallet and left at home just before coming to the beach. For all these things and more, we are thankful. God is good and would meet our needs no matter how great the loss, but, for not having to go through the pain of additional loss, we are grateful.
We are having good discussion on how to go to the beach and "show" thieves that you're "no one to be messed with", without cutting yourself from interaction with people. For example, I may take up "widdling"! The beach is a great place to go and relax and get to know Gabonese people and their kids. It's really a shame that such a wonderful trip to the beach ended this way. We feel a little gun-shy to return, however, we'll learn from this and move on. It seems obvious to us that this event was meant to try an discourage us and frighten us from being outreach minded people. It's hard not to withdraw a little and put up the walls. We're trying to do the things that are smart and safe without shutting off people and without forgetting that we don't put our trust in safety strategies, but rather, we trust the name of the LORD, our God!
Yesterday (Monday), we went to the police and made our declaration. We were thankful that a friend of the church works in the particular department that handles these things. If you don't have a contact like this to see after your file, you usually have to hand over some cash to "grease the wheels" of justice. I'm not sure exactly what they can do, but, since many things were found the morning after the incident, perhaps other people picked up our pieces of identity (like our residence cards) and turned them in. We'll see. In the meantime, we've made sure to promptly cancel the credit cards and start the process of their replacements and our residence card replacement as well. Since our bank/debit card was the only way that we were accessing our money, we made sure that this would be expedited to us via FedEx. We have some cash on hand, however, we were a bit worried because rent is due. However, when our landlord showed up to collect, we explained the situation and she agreed to only collect half of the cash now and wait for the other half until we have our new atm/debit card in hand. That's a big blessing.
Monday was the first day for the kids to get back to homeschooling. It helped to give us all a sense of "normalcy" (not sure if that's a word) after an upsetting event.
We'll be in touch as more things unfold.
We love you all!
Steve and the gang
Sunday, January 4, 2009
This evening (Jan.3, 2009) 4 missionary families (including us) were robbed on the beach by a group of 6 men brandishing glass bottles. They took purses that were on some chairs and grabbed a digital camera out of the hands of one of the ladies. Immediately, one of the missionaries yelled and charged at them and the woman that had the camera taken from her screamed as she struggled with the man grabbing it from her. All this sent the robbers into a panic and they ran away with only 2 bags and the camera. Unfortunately for us, both bags belonged to our family. Alace and I lost our wallet with about $100. Since everything is done in cash here, you generally have a decent amount with you. By the grace of God, I had just taken $400 from my wallet prior to coming to the beach, and left it at home.
The children were all spooked and crying as they watch the 4 men run after the bandits. We realized the we were all leaving the women and children, so 1 of us returned to get stuff packed up and the kids into a car.
Thiefs are really looked down upon here, so chasing and yelling is the thing to do in hopes that you'll get a community response. However, the robbers knew where they were going and ran under a bridge and up a riverway to the backside of some large buildings. We didn't think it was wise to follow them too far.
I'm calling credit card companies and starting to work through the process of replacing our carte de sejour, as well as our house keys and other things. It's all just stuff.
We are so thankful that no one was hurt. We came together as a group after gathering ourselves together and prayed for the bandits. We pray that our families will not be undanted in our growing love for Gabon and the beautiful people here.
I'll be in touch with more details.
ps. Here are the names of the missionaries involved:
Arnie & Cheryl S. and 3 kids
Tim & Meredith B.
Us and our 3 kiddos
One other non-C&MA missionary couple and 3 kids
pps. You all would have been proud of Alace. When the bandits all ran under the bridge and we thought they had stayed under there to hide, she walked to the overpass and yelled down... "come out of there you cowards!!!" ...she later realized that she said this in English.
Saturday, January 3, 2009
The Rose Bowl was actually on our satelite television! We just got it as a Christmas gift. We had no idea that it would happen, but... it was a Christmas miracle!
Too bad the Nittany Lions didn't get their Christmas Miracle and do well during the game. I guess it was nice that PSU kept USC to only one touchdown in the second half and then scored more points in the second half than any other team against USC this season. However... all those penalties and poor defense did them in. It was about 3am when the game was finally over here. A little bit of a bummer... I was the only one who stayed up for all of it. Joey and Sam hit the sack at halftime.
The water service has been terrible lately. Rumor has it that workers are on strike. When the water IS on, we try to do as much laundry, take showers, and wash as many dishes as we can. We also fill up as many containers as possible for later. However, the water service may only come on from around 11pm to about 3am, so this means many late nights. But, we're thankful when it's on and we've actually had a couple of afternoons when it surprised us and came on. We keep our shower turned on so that we can hear running water to alert us to jump into action.
One night when it turned on, I sprang into action to wash up some dishes. I stopped up the sink, turned on the hot water, added liquid soap, and then turned to make some instant coffee to help me kick it into hi gear. When I turned back to the sink, the water was scalding and I adjusted the temperature. However, there was way too much scalding water in the sink and I felt that it would a sin to just let it drain when water is at a high premium. So, knowing that we needed some water to put into our filter to give us our drinking water, I thought that I could kill two birds with two stones and put the scalding water into the filter. "Of course!", I thought... "What a genious I am!" ... momma didn't raise no fool.
So carefully, I took a bowl and, using a corner of the sink with the least amount of suds, I carefully drained scalding water out of the sink and transferred the water into the top of the stainless steel filter next to the sink. After several transfers, I was able to refill the sink with colder water and get the temperture back to a more usable condition. All this confirmed to me that I have been endowed with an intellect beyond compare.
Pride goeth before...? Ah yes, down from the heights I came, later, when, while attempting to use the filtered water to fill all our water bottles, realized that the filter had not done away with the soap in the water but had, instead, seemingly made bubbles multiply in the process! So, two days later and gallons of filtered water latere, we are still getting bubbles in our water! Well... didn't moms and dads use soap to help with behavior modification? Perhaps that's just what we all needed... or, perhaps, just me.
So, that's life lately.
Friday, January 2, 2009
There is not too much Advent emphasis at the churches here. In fact, there is some feeling that the holiday is simply pagan and not at all tied to the birth of Christ. Coming from a rich tradition of annual Advent worship, this saddened us. However, thanks to an email and attached files from AJ, we did our own Advent candle, scripture reading, and some singing- as a family on Christmas eve, and then with a group of ex-pats on Christmas day. My language partner, Romaric, said that, although he didn't understand everything, it was a wonderful time that he'll never forget. I have to say the same. Each of our family read scripture, described each Advent candle, and then lit it. We ended in prayer and song. Very cool. Not quite the same as the traditions of our home church, but very meaningful and Christ-centered. It was so good for our hearts.
Thanks so much for your prayers. God is so good. Our aircraft fund continues to grow, little by little. We are ready for air operations to start in the next month or two, so we are praying for the progress to continue there.
Also, January is the time that you do reflection on the past and planning for the future. We are prayerfully mapping out these plans and submitting end-of-the-year reports and beginning-of-the-year reports. There is excitement as we take out a map of Gabon and realize that there are over 20 people groups that are have between 0% and 2% Christian! However, there is an intentional effort by the Gabonese Alliance Churches to reach into them and, with the airstrips that are nearby, we'll be joining the effort to establish Christ-centered faith communities. Please pray for this effort.
Steve and the crew