Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Nous avons relâché!

(Translation: "We relaxed!")
If you ever find yourself in Libreville, Gabon and wanna have a relaxing day or two, follow these simple instructions:

Step #1: For a good time (on a boat across to Pointe Denis) call: Make your reservations for the 15 minute boat ride to Pointe Denis. It leaves from the "Michele Marina" ("Port Michele") every morning 'round about 9:30am. It'll cost you 10,000 Fcfa per person, round trip ($20). You'll wanna make sure that you tell them the day you will depart, and the day you want to come back.

Step #2: Sit back, relax and watch all your cares slip away as you cross the estuary from Libreville to Pointe Denis. More info on this boat- like I said, it departs LBV at 9:30am, and then departs Pointe Denis at 5pm. You can do a day trip or stay for multiple nights. Keep your ticket stub- they'll want to see it for the return trip.

Step #3: Watch all the filthy rich people get off at the first, second, and third stops, and then get off the boat ("navette"- shuttle) at "The Maringa" ("Olando N'tchuwa") hotel/restaurant. Grab your bags and try and be the first to get the good lounge chairs near the beach. Your room will probably not be ready, so don't worry about checking in 'til later- "hakuna matata"... no worries... kick yer feet back and chillax.

Step #4: Keep relaxing! As you can see, (from fore to aft) Sam and Joe choose to play games and listen to tunes on their iPods, while Lisa and Alace caught up on life. Oh yeah... you'll wanna call "Monsieur Robert" (pronounced "Miss-yer Row-Bear") to make your reservation at the Maringa in advance;

More info on "The Maringa": You check in by going upstairs in the restaurant and tell them you've arrived. If the rooms aren't ready, you chill at the beach and they'll come get you and show you to your room. It's 40,000 Fcfa per room- you get a bed for two with a bunk bed above for one more (two if you have small kids). There's air conditioning and a tv that has no reception in each room. There's also a can of mosquito spray- you'll need that. There were so many mosquitoes in the room that we nearly sprayed the whole can into all the corners of the room and then left for our turtle walk.

More on the turtle walk: Before 5pm (17h00), you should walk from the hotel to the turtle museum. It is about a 3 minute walk, to the west from The Maringa. It has some good educational displays as well as a life-sized turtle statue. If you are there in December or January and staying the night, I would suggest a "turtle walk" with one of the guides. This is done in the middle of the night (between 10pm and midnight) along the far beach. It really is amazing to see turtles crawl up the beach, lay their eggs, and return to the ocean. READ our story about the event. So, at the museum, tell them you'd like a guide. They'll tell you where and when to meet. Be ready to give up to 5000 Fcfa to the guide for each person.

Oh yeah... meals... Unless you have a bunch of disposable income (not us!), then I suggest that you bring a cooler with drinks and food for your lunches. If you are only at the Maringa for the day, you are obligated to have your lunch there. If you are spending the night, I suggest having your dinner there, at least. Lunch will run you about 8000 Fcfa each ($16) and dinners will run you about 11,000 Fcfa each ($22).

One night was all we could afford, but it was a great 2 days and a night! We definitely relaxed!

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Hope House Christmas Party!

Today we had the privileged of spending time with thirty wonderful kids at the Hope House home for at-risk kids.

We came bearing gifts! Some children from our home church (York Alliance Church, PA) had written a Christmas card to each Hope House child by name!

Our kids had fun translating all the messages to each one. Some of the cards had "scratch and sniff" stickers- that was a new concept to them!

"Aunt Lisa", a good friend and nurse at Bongolo Hospital, shared the story of the candy cane with the kids. The kids were very attentive! She also took time to evaluate one of the kids who was bed-ridden with a fever.

Please continue to pray for the Hope House. Their landlord has recently jacked up the rent to about $1200 a month! Incredible. They are short on funding and food. Thankfully, there is land available for their very own, rent-free home to be built upon, but now we need work teams to come and assist the local believers to make the house a reality. Do you have a team that would like to come? Zap me an email to let me know.

CLICK HERE to see all the photos.

Have a very Merry Christmas and a wonderful New Year!!!

Christmas Party- African Style!

Hosting an event in Africa? Tell people it starts an hour and a half before the actual start time! This photo was taken around 8:30pm... two hours after we had originally had hoped to start. HA!

Late start or not, a great time was had by all! Joe and Sam love wrestling with Pasteur Jacob.

Here's Alace and Megan with some of our good friends from the OSPAC (primary health) city clinic.

After a delicious meal that blended American and Gabonese foods, we all gathered around for scripture readings, devotional thoughts, and the lighting of the Advent candles. Anyone know the word for "Advent" in French??? No one at the party knew either!

It was a meaningful time. We are so blessed by our friends who've worked along side of us and supported us through a very difficult year. The evening's focus was on Jesus. "Immanuel"- God with us. ...He certainly is.

CLICK HERE to see more photos.

CLICK HERE to see a video of the song that the group sang at the end of the gathering.

Merry Christmas everyone!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

$510 = Priceless

Christmas is great. All our family is together again. We're having a mess of people over tonight to have a ton of food and light the Advent candles. We'll read scripture, pray, and celebrate the greatest gift of all time. The gift of God, himself, with skin on. Jesus' birth.

For our family, and many others, it's a time to send out a Christmas update and card to friends and family. We do the same, but ours comes with a twist- we ask each person to consider the crazy things that we're doing, here in Africa, and partner with us through prayer and funding. We continue to be amazed that, so far, all our needs have been met. There have been a couple of times where we took a "pay cut" due to a
season of lower giving, but we've not had to bite our nails too much.

Recently, we've seen our funds dip low again. I've shared emails with our programs' director and we've talked about the "what if's" of the situation. It's not fun to consider those things some times, but it is necessary.

From time to time we get an email about cool events from people who support us. I just got one and felt I needed to pass it along. Here you go:

Dear Straw Family,

We are so excited to read your updates. God is doing amazing things through you!!!
We sent $510... Crazy story we wanted to share...

All year we save our change in a jar knowing that at the end of the year the money will go to you. This year we took this little jar (which had $70 last year when it was full) into the bank to cash in the our surprise $239. As I walked out of the bank, I kept thinking of the loaves and fish and how God multiplied
them. I know that is what he did with that change. How could a little jar hold $239??? God that's how.

My husband also saves his scrap metal all year knowing he will send the money to you. He took it in to the scrap yard today...and $271. More than ever before!! As I you read this letter I hope you feel Gods AMAZING love and provision for you!!! Although it is not a lot...I know that it has been multiplied just for you...!

We are truly blessed this Christmas season! Our family wishes each of you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Road Trip Pics

So, in three days, we drove across the equator 4 times while logging over 1700 kilometers during 30 plus hours of driving!

For the second consecutive trip, we drove by a fatal car accident- both involving a pedestrian and a car. Also, for the second trip in a row, we drove by people stopped to assist a car that had recently, for one reason or another, shot off the side of the road- this time, it was down a deep ravine.

We only got the following photos from the trip:

This is a notorious corner on the national road between Libreville and Bifoun. The road disappears from time to time, is repaired, and then, the next rainy season, disappears once more. There are no markings, whatsoever, to let drivers know of this catastrophic road condition, once again underlining the reason why, driving only at daytime on the national road, is the only sane choice.

I can only imagine that this tanker truck driver got a little careless, got on the shoulder, tried to correct but his trailer was already taking him into the ditch. When it rolled over, it took the cab with him. Yikes.

To those driving from LBV to Cameroon... DRIVE DURING THE DAY ONLY! and... take the border crossing at Eboro, not Kye Ossi... much quieter and you're not prone to drive over motorcycles as much.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Operation Runway Rehab!

Operation Runway Rehabilitation (ORR) is a program aimed at saving old airstrips in strategic areas of Gabon. This is accomplished by engaging the local governments and local churches near these airstrips and, hopefully, a foreign sponsor.

Here is a great example of "O.R.R." in action...

Welcome to "Panga", a very remote village to the Southwest of the country (that's the Atlantic Ocean in the distance). It is a very difficult village to get to due to, sometimes, impassable roads. Nearby is another village that you can only get to by using an old ferry.

As it turns out, a Frenchman once landed near the village to have access to his beach-side cabin. We conducted several visits to the site by car and, the day of our landing there, had a team on the ground.

As you can see, the grass was high, but the landing surface was, otherwise, solid and in good shape.

Upon touchdown, I chatted with Antoine, a local church elder. With the local Panga church's help, we'd like to see airports like Panga put into service.

Here's everyone's part:

Provide 2 people to keep the runway clear on a weekly basis. Cut the grass low (machetes and weed-wackers) and remove debris. Also, when we have a flight scheduled for their area, they would don an orange vest and direct foot traffic away from critical areas.

Provide documentation stating that the landing zone is protected and exclusive in use. Also, streamline the process for the certification process- possibly assisting in the reduction or removal of fees, or paying for the fees with their funds.

Provide periodic short term work teams for partnering with local church on airport projects and financial assistance with worker pay and equipment (lawn mower/weed wacker).

We already have a few airports in mind for the first installment of ORR. It is our hope that we soon have ceremonies to open these sites with, perhaps, local dignitaries on hand and the unveiling of a windsock and plaque.

BE A PART OF O.R.R.!!! Email me if interested-

Why Airplanes are Better...and Needed

So, we thought it would be nice to drive to a remote part of Gabon with the Kelly family to rest and relax during their last week in the country. Here's the fun that followed...

Here's Tim pointing the way to the best passage way. That's me in our Nissan Patrol.

Here's Tim's car right after coming through a bad section where he almost flipped over... TWICE!

As we were leaving this area, others were still coming (even though they had been warned) and were getting stuck. This guys' car is buried up to the door handle on the right side!

Yep- that's me on the left (white t-shirt) digging out the mud/clay that had become part of the underside of our car! The white vehicle was the first car in our set of vehicles that went through this section and got stuck. I hadn't realized how bad it was and was following too closely to stop in time. I had stopped at a "high" point about 20 feet behind him. I got out of my car, walked across the expanse of the road and determined that, if I could get to the other side, I'd be in good shape.

What i hadn't factored was that, as I drove perpendicular across the road, my tires would drop so low in the old tire tracks, that I would "bottom out". When that happened, I immediately became "glued" to the earth.

In this photo, you can see that I'm getting pulled out with a cable, thanks to Tim K. You can also see that it doesn't matter which way you turn your tires, you WILL travel in the same tire ruts as the cars before you.

So, you'll be happy to know that, after getting freed from this tight spot, we were able to find our way back to a better road and a not-so-remote place, but still very nice, and rest and relax eventually!

Sadly, once rainy season begins, you just never know if roads are going to be passable to get you from one place to another. So, unless you have everything you need close by you and surrounded by pavement, you can very easily become shut off from vital services. This is just one scenario... this scene gets played out all over Gabon. Our aviation program aims to bridge those gaps and provide a lifeline to HOPE.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Walls... Come Tumblin' Down!

Anyone remember that John Cougar Mellencamp song? We had our own version of "walls tumblin' down" recently. We've built a new ally along our "annex" building and put a cement slab where our generator will go. Then, with the gate in place, we were ready to break down the old wall...





We'll be using the ally for the storage of all the things that you see piled in our driveway, plus the aforementioned diesel powered generator.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Thanksgiving on the Equator

Good news-
we CAN get a whole turkey at the grocery store, here on the equator in Africa!

Bad news-
like many things, IT'S STINKIN' EXPENSIVE!!!

Good news-
Last year, during the days after Christmas, turkey's were marked down to a more reasonable price! So we grabbed one for our freezer and... 10 months later, VOILA!!! Good eatin'!!!

Pre-Feast Activities... an air-conditioned room and video for the kids!

Does putting oven mitts on and getting the turkey out of the oven for Alace make me a "hunter-gatherer"??? This guys says "oui".

Gotta have a kids table... it's in the contract.

"All the trimmings" included two types of mashed potatoes and two types of stuffing!!! Can you say that about your feast!?!

So, we were very thankful for a delicious meal and great friends to share it with this year. We're thankful for people that support us with encouragement, prayers, donations and more. With you, we're teaming up to show God's love to central Africa and beyond. For this, we are truly grateful this thanksgiving.