"Hear the Word, roaring as thunder
With a new future to tell
For the dry season is over
There is a cloud beginning to swell..."
These Elevation Worship lyrics rocked my soul as I drove home from work on Monday. Perhaps because I'm entering into a new season, with a fresh overflowing of joy as I leave what felt like a dry patch. I'm excited about the new things the Lord is about to do!
Itʼs been 10 months since I last wrote here on my blog. The past 10 months have been incredibly busy and sometimes agonizingly tough, but now I'm stepping into a new rhythm. :)
When I returned to the USA from Oxford, England last autumn, I started a job at which I worked until this past August. It was a great learning experience, but it wasnʼt a good fit and caused me a lot of stress.
Just last week, I started a brand new position which is an answer to prayer, and I'm EXTREMELY excited about it! I'll be advising for a portfolio of study abroad programs in a few regions around the world - and my most popular program is in Granada, Spain!! (where I studied abroad myself, where Liasor and I met, where we honeymooned, and where I've had life-changing experiences). I get to talk with students about the Universidad de Granada and the CLM (Centro de Lenguas Modernas), which I know all too well. Talk about full circle! I'm also looking forward to working with our university partners abroad!! Last year, when Liasor and I went back to Granada for our honeymoon, I had this gnawing feeling deep down that I wanted to find a job or a project that would connect me to Spain again and utilize my Spanish-speaking skills again. Who knew that a year - and a bumpy, winding road - later, here Iʼd be.
My commute to work is much longer now, but itʼs incredibly scenic. The ride allows me to get in the right mindset before and after work, and I LOVE listening to the Bible, audiobooks, and podcasts during the drive. Itʼs like a breath of fresh air.
Continued Work with Dr. Wendy James:
Apart from our full time jobs, we've also been able to tap back into the work we did last summer in Oxford, England with Dr. Wendy James. She visited us in Rochester last week and we did some more work on her recorded songs from Bonga Refugee Camp in the 1990s and 2000s, and earlier songs from the 60s from the Uduk people. It was great making more headway on that project!
Uduk Hope Incorporated (UHI):
The past few months have been tough ones for Uduk Hope. Liasor and I have found it increasingly hard to balance working full time jobs to support ourselves while also managing all of the operational tasks of Uduk Hope on our own. Once Liasor returned from Ethiopia last winter, we set out to find more active board members, which proved difficult since Uduk Hope doesnʼt have any paid positions at this time. All of the work we do is volunteer. We were able to bring on an amazing new member, Tabitha Inna, to the team and sheʼs been a tremendous help. We spent a lot of time trying to reshape UHI in ways that would be more sustainable for us to manage, and we've finally arrived at a new strategic plan!
We're focusing on developing small businesses (local stores) in each of the four refugee camps, which will generate money to help support education scholarships, school feedings, faith-based observances, and community needs. In this way, we wonʼt have to depend on donors here in the USA to keep programs going in Ethiopia and South Sudan - although we still appreciate and accept any and all donations!
This model was already in practice on a smaller-scale in Doro Refugee Camp. Back in 2016, when we went to South Sudan, we started a local shop run by our UHI team in Doro with only $500. The shop sells salt, sugar, and tea which are in high demand in Doro. The proceeds go towards needs in the community. The local UHI team has the ability to decide based on their needs how they will use the money as it relates to UHIʼs three pillars of education, faith, and community development. Our Board provides guidance to the team on the best ways to use the proceeds.
Our plan is to start the same type of stores in the other three camps in Ethiopia that will generate revenue for community needs under UHIʼs pillars. We are optimistic that this model will allow the refugee communities to be self-sufficient and have a sustainable source of support, not solely dependent on our busy schedules and the unpredictable nature of donations.
We're expanding the store-model to the USA as well, and I'm so excited about this next initiative which was one of my dreams from over a year ago! Here in Rochester, we will hold "pop-up thrift shop" events to sell gently-used clothing and household items to our local community. Half of the proceeds will go toward Uduk Hope (pouring back into the refugee-camp stores and initiatives). The other half will go toward supporting our churchʼs Bible Quizzing team! Liasor and I are leading the Bible Quizzing team at Heart & Soul Community Church. Liasor participated in bible quizzing when he was younger, but it is a new program to me. Basically itʼs just as it sounds: Itʼs for youth in middle and high school who want to memorize passages of Scripture in a fun, and competitive way. Itʼs been such a thrill coaching our team of 7 students together. Right now we're focused on memorizing passages from Jonah and Luke. Our first competition is tomorrow!
But back to the pop-up shop: Itʼs called a "pop-up" because we will open our store periodically in different locations and communities around Rochester, and maybe in other cities in the future. Our first pop-up shop is next month at Heart & Soul Community Church! Check out the flyer below. If you are in town, please consider stopping by! You can also help by donating clothes and spreading the word! A great portion of items in the shop come from our own wardrobes as we've decided to be the first to donate to this cause. :)
I've always dreamed of running a boutique, and this feels like the best way to do that for the best reasons - at a schedule we can control. And it doubles as a way for me to clear out my closet and be a blessing to others!
New Initiative: beyondBeanie Ambassador
I'm also excited to announce a new initiative that I was chosen for. I'm now an ambassador for an organization called beyondBeanie. Itʼs a social fashion brand that combines fashion with solidarity. Each purchase supports the work of 23 talented artisans from El Alto, La Paz, and Cochabamba, Bolivia. The proceeds go toward providing essentials such as school meals, school supplies, school uniforms, and dental care to children who need it.
Check out their awesome handmade beanies, bags, bracelets, and ponchos at my personal ambassador link:
Use the code CHRISTINE25 to get 25% off any purchases!
•1 beanie = 5 meals •1 bracelet = 1 dental care
Another big update: Thereʼs a church in Salt Lake City with many Uduk members that has completed the translation of the Jesus Film into ʼTwam Pa, the Uduk language. The Jesus Film is the story of the Gospel told through film. Itʼs been an ongoing interest to have the film translated into ʼTwam Pa and that project has finally been completed.
Leaders from the church reached out to Liasor to request that he take copies of the film along with projectors and sound equipment to the refugee camps in Ethiopia, on a fully-funded mission. They knew that he had traveled to Ethiopia around this time last year and they know he has access to the refugee camps. So he heads there in December.
We're excited that he was chosen for this opportunity and we're hoping that I can come for a portion of the trip to visit him, if I can work out the vacation time at work. While in Ethiopia, he'll also have the chance to get the Uduk Hope local stores started in Sherkole, Tsore, and Tongo Refugee Camps.
On his way back to Rochester, Liasor will have a short stop (about a week) in Oxford, England to do more work with Dr. Wendy James on the translation project. It will be a rich time indeed. This all works out well with Liasorʼs teaching schedule here in Rochester, so that is a true blessing!
The difficulty will be spending a period of time apart again.
Please pray that everything works out for me to visit Liasor for a portion of his time in Ethiopia.
Life in General:
Life in general has been good. Liasor has been busy teaching, coaching soccer, and leading Bible Quizzing with me. We decorated the house with pumpkins, flowers, and scented pine cones this week and it officially feels like my favorite season. Oh, how I love fall!
I had a month away from work before transitioning to my new job. That month was a sweet period of spending time with people I love, learning new recipes, making our home nice and cozy, and going on small adventures around Rochester. I got to go on a retreat with the women at my church, which was refreshing. That resting period has prepared me to re-enter the office-life with renewed energy and excitement. My month break was also a huge leap of faith, because my contract ended at my former job while I was still waiting to hear back from this current role. I'm counting every blessing because I was not chosen for the position I applied for at first here in my office, but my current position was created so that I could also join the team. I'm immensely honored and content. My position is temporary with an end date in the summer, but I trust God that He already has plans for what the next season holds - whether that means a renewed contract or another leap of faith! But today - yes today - His grace is sufficient and I need not worry about the future - what I will eat, what I will wear, where I will work. Instead of worrying, I offer gratitude for this exciting work experience here in the present.
No matter what happens, I'm in awe of just how this new season is saturated with blessings. These blessings come with their fair share of difficulties, growing pains, and lessons learned. But after the dry season of so much searching, figuring things out, and uncertain late night prayers - this rain sure feels good.
Indeed, there is a cloud beginning to swell.
Hi all. Happy Martin Luther King Jr. Day! What a historic day to find time to write again. Also Happy New Year to all those who celebrated! (I recently learned that the Ethiopian calendar differs greatly from the widely-used Gregorian calendar; currently in Ethiopia it's the year 2010 and the new year occurs in our September).
This year has been off to a good start after being reunited with Liasor, celebrating the holidays with both our families, learning so much at my new job (in November I started a new position in my field of global/international education!), making plans for our focuses and commitments for 2018, and creating a joint family calendar!
Liasor’s Ethiopia Updates:
Liasor had a very successful time in Ethiopia with his research goals. He was granted full access in Sherkole Refugee Camp, so he was able to speak with people from all the different ethnic and religious groups in the camp. In Tongo and Tsore Camps, he was only allowed to speak with Uduk people and no other ethnic groups, but he left with invaluable research regardless. Here are some major results of his research:
Reflections on this MLK Jr. Day:
In recent weeks, I've become increasingly disheartened by the hurtful political rhetoric being tossed around so carelessly. Sometimes we forget the humanity we all share, no matter where we come from or how we look or what issues we support. Sometimes we get threatened when someone else (especially historically under-represented groups) fights for their humanity, as if by doing so it would take away from our own. It doesn’t. I remember today that Martin Luther King was an activist, not always liked or praised. His protests were often not well-received and he was jailed, threatened, and ultimately killed for his platform along with so many others who stood with him. It's easy to look back and praise what he stood for, but forget the slew of resistance and danger he faced and the unpopularity of his message at the time. Many around the world and in this country fight similar battles for their communities, their needs, their humanity, even if viewed as unpopular today. May we always stand for what is right, no matter the climate around us.
Today I remember all those who fought so I could have the opportunities I have today.
Today I’m reminded of how far we’ve come in this country in terms of race-relations, but how far we still need to go! There’s still great work to be done and systems to change, so that will be a life-long pursuit of mine. I’m reflecting on what ways in my everyday life and at work I can be an agent of change for reconciliation and improvement in my community and country.
Today, I’m also thankful for ways to do similar work for our family in Doro, Sherkole, Tongo, and Tsore Refugee Camps and I pray we can come up with useful, sustainable ways of being of support to them.
A few quotes from Martin Luther King Jr. that are on the forefront of my mind today:
“I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality, and freedom for their spirits.”
“I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality… I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.”
“Everybody can be great … because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.”
Happy Wednesday! A huge thank you to everyone who has been supporting Uduk Hope, following Liasor’s trip to Ethiopia, and has kept Liasor in your prayers. Liasor has officially wrapped up his work in Sherkole Refugee Camp for the time being and has moved on to the second camp of interest, Tongo Refugee Camp. So here is another brief update on all that’s been happening.
Those are all Liasor's updates for now. I am also doing well, in my own process of trying to find rest amidst a somewhat taxing job application process that is finally coming to an end! But God has been good and faithful, and he has surrounded me with the most wonderful community of people and family during this time. So I am incredibly thankful! I have been down at times, if I’m honest, sheerly from the pain of being far from my husband, but the people around me in this season have given me many reasons to smile, laugh deeply, and just be myself. I’m so grateful for them.
Thanks again for all your support and prayers. It means so much!
Hi all. Here’s another brief update on Liasor’s time in Ethiopia on behalf of Uduk Hope.
Thanks for your thoughts, prayers, and continued support!
Hi all. Just want to share a brief update on Liasor's time in Ethiopia as he endeavors to do research and develop partnerships for Uduk Hope Inc. He just completed a long journey from Addis Ababa to Assosa and is resting up before some big meetings tomorrow. He plans to visit Tongo and Sherkole refugee camps and at least one other camp where Uduk people and other Blue Nile refugees currently reside.
Liasor spent the first week and a half of his trip in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia. Here are a few updates and praise reports from his time there:
So over the past 13-14 hours Liasor traveled by van from Addis Ababa to the town of Assosa (which is the area where he was born in a transit camp called Langkwai). This will be his first time back in this area since his early childhood, and I have to admit I truly wanted to be there with him during this return. His taxi driver friend was not able to come with him on the long journey, but he was accompanied by his new bodyguard. Liasor also got in touch with two Uduk students who live in one of the camps outside of Assosa, one of whom is a close childhood friend. These two students traveled from Assosa to Addis yesterday to meet Liasor in the capital and then accompanied him today from Addis back to Assosa. I'm so happy Liasor has found such great connections and support from friends new and old!
Liasor, his bodyguard, and his two student friends just recently arrived in Assosa today and they are resting in a hotel there for the night. The trip took longer than expected because of youth protests along the border that blocked some of the roads. Tomorrow, Liasor will meet up with one of his uncles and they will go together to the ARRA office in Assosa to request access for Liasor to enter the camps and to conduct research, create partnerships, and potentially build an Uduk Hope team in each camp.
Liasor is nervous about this meeting with ARRA. While he is confident that they'll grant him entry to the camps because he has family there, he is still nervous about whether ARRA will approve his work and research. Please be praying for the officials to be receptive to the work Liasor and others of the Uduk diaspora are attempting to do to support their people and other Blue Nile Refugees through Uduk Hope Inc. And please pray for Liasor's continued safety and for the safety of each and every person he meets. We praise God for all the wonderful connections and friendships Liasor has developed. He hasn't been without great support since he arrived and first entered his hotel back in Addis.
Liasor will have limited internet connectivity once he enters the camps. He'll most likely be able to use apps like Facebook and Whatsapp, but he might not be able to video chat as often as we'd like which is most difficult for us personally so keep us in your prayers as well.
My quick personal updates now that I'm back in the USA: I had a lovely week and a half in Cleveland, Ohio with my side of the family. It was so refreshing spending time with my parents and siblings and extended fam. Tomorrow as Liasor heads to his big meeting with ARRA in Assosa, I'll be traveling back to Rochester, NY where I have my own big job interview. I'm looking forward to seeing Liasor's side of the family in Rochester and connecting with everyone there. See you all soon!
Happy Saturday! I'm back in the USA and Liasor is in Ethiopia, but I want to share some reflections on our last week in Oxford and Liasor's journey in Ethiopia.
I started writing this post while flying over beautiful sights of Greenland and the Labrador Sea! I had embarked on a long journey that started with a 2 hour bus ride from Oxford to London Gatwick Airport. From London I flew to Reykjavik, Iceland for a quick layover, and then it was on my second flight from Iceland to Boston that I got to see the beautiful views of Greenland. I flew with WOW air, a new airline that features purplish-pink aircrafts and incredibly affordable prices.
The last leg of my trip involved a third flight from Boston to Cleveland, Ohio (my hometown) to spend time with my parents for a couple weeks. Liasor had his own long whirlwind journey from Oxford to London Heathrow Airport, then to Hamad International Airport in Qatar, and finally he arrived in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. We had originally planned to go to Ethiopia together, but as I mentioned in my last two posts, there’s been recent unrest in and around the refugee camps we planned to visit. We received multiple messages from family in Ethiopia saying they believed this wasn’t the best time for me to visit the camps. So we decided Liasor would go forward to do research and establish partnerships for Uduk Hope Inc., the nonprofit organization we are currently leading which supports Blue Nile refugees and others in the region (many of whom are friends and family). We believe Liasor will be much better suited to navigate traveling between cities and the refugee camps to accomplish this work in this otherwise uncertain climate. It was such a hard decision for us both (the last thing we want is to experience long distance again!), but God has paved the way and has already opened many doors for Liasor to do this important work (from dear friends gifting us with plane tickets, to important meetings being set up for him with organizational leaders both in England before he left and in Ethiopia once he arrived).
Liasor gave me the following update this weekend: In the first days, he had a chance encounter at his hotel with the leader of an international organization interested in Uduk Hope's education efforts. Next week he will have a meeting with the leadership of that organization, as well as meetings with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and a university in Addis that a few Uduk contacts attend. He is doing well and asked for continued prayer for his upcoming meetings and for his safety.
I am praying for more doors to continue to open in Ethiopia that could hopefully lead to partnerships for Uduk Hope. I’m also praying for successful research to determine how Uduk Hope can support refugees in the Ethiopian camps along the South Sudanese border similar to how we have begun supporting the people in Doro Refugee Camp on the South Sudanese side of the border. Most personally, I want Liasor to stay safe.
Although Liasor and I are in different places and our time in the U.K. has come to a close, I want share a bit about our final week together in Oxford, England, where we were working for the past three months.
In the last week we did as much as we could to wrap up our translation/archival project with Dr. Wendy James before taking off. Much of the work will continue remotely and there’s a great chance we’ll meet together again with Wendy in 2018 either in Rochester, NY or back in Oxford to continue the work we began. We made a lot of progress translating songs on video from Bonga Refugee Camp from 1994 and 2000, and I got to complete a catalogue to organize and categorize the many hours of footage. Liasor began translating songs and conversations from Uduk communities from the 1960s as well. I personally learned so much this past summer with the opportunity to dive into this work and be surrounded by the language and the history. Some of the topics Liasor translated discussed tough subjects like the loss of life and displacement from home. Others were more lighthearted, like love songs or songs poking fun at others. It was very reflective, engaging work that I look forward to tapping into again. In the coming weeks, I look forward to sharing some of Wendy's videos with our family and larger Uduk community in the USA.
This summer, I got a lot of personal work done: I took an online course that I've been wanting to take for over a year now; I redesigned my personal website and blog (check out the different pages!); I began planning for some exciting ventures for 2018 which I’m currently writing grant proposals for; and I reflected on my next career steps and how to plug back into language learning when I return to Rochester. I also got TONS of rest. I think I slept in almost everyday of our time in Oxford, apart from the times when we had early morning meetings or church.
I’m also so thankful for the church family we found in Oxford. Our last day together in the city fell on a Sunday and we heard a very powerful message at church, ending the summer-long series on the Sermon on the Mount. Sunday’s message was about the need for obedient, habitual commitment if we desire to excel at anything in life, including our walk with Christ. To build a spiritual foundation that doesn’t shake when the wind and the storms come (because storms will come in each of our lives), we have to be in the habit of daily constructing our foundation (through reading and putting Scripture into practice daily and through committing to communities where we are growing and loving one another). And none of this should be out of a legalistic desire to simply follow rules and commandments, but rather out of the wonder of the love we have been given and the fact that we have a Father who wants us to know and grow closer to him and to those around us. The church community prayed for us, for our futures, for Uduk Hope, for the struggles the refugee communities are facing, for recent events all around the world, and they prayed for Liasor and me during our time apart. They also asked for ways to support us and our work. The love we felt was overwhelming and it was a very emotional Sunday.
My good friend, LaVonia, also came to visit which brought great fun to an otherwise busy last week in Oxford. It was wonderful catching up and sightseeing with her. We got to show LaVonia our daily lives in Oxford and our favorite places to hang out. One of the best moments was when we took LaVonia to our favorite pub, Rose and Crown, for great conversations together.
We originally planned to visit Ireland and family in Germany, but those trips didn’t work out in the end. I was especially disappointed about not making it to visit my uncle and family in Germany, like I usually do each time I'm in Europe, but I'm determined to save up and make that trip happen next summer, Lord willing!
Now I’ll spend the next week in Cleveland, Ohio while Liasor spends the next week in Addis, the capital of Ethiopia. From then, I’ll travel to Rochester, New York to pursue some career opportunities there and connect with family, and Liasor will travel on to Assosa, Ethiopia (the area where he was born, in a transit camp called Langkwai). In Assosa, Liasor will begin planning to visit the refugee camps close by.
I’m so so thankful for the past three months that we had in Oxford. It was such a sweet time all around. We got to work on an engaging project, build relationships with great scholars and friends, and get to know a new city together. We also got to go on our Spanish honeymoon a couple weeks ago (although this whole time in Oxford felt like an extended honeymoon to me)! I miss Liasor so much, and I can’t wait to see him in December (it seems like an eternity away). In the meantime, I’m looking forward to spending some great time with both our families and making my next career move.
Thank you very much for thinking of us and praying!
P.S. Here are some beautiful aerial night views of Boston and Cleveland. (The first two photos are Boston and the others are Cleveland. In Cleveland you can make out Tower City and Progressive Field). :)
Liasor and I have been back to work in Oxford for a little over a week now, but we wanted to share some photos and reflections after a wonderful honeymoon vacation in Spain.
Rewinding back to when we were planning our wedding a few months ago, we really loved the idea of going to Spain for our honeymoon because 1) we had met each other in Spain and 2) we had never been back to Spain together since then. But financially, it just wasn't a possibility at the time. We looked at other locations closer to home, but nothing affordable was panning out. We weren't sure what we were going to do about a honeymoon, until one of our close friends gifted us their lake house in the Finger Lakes region of New York for a honeymoon week. We were so blessed by that gift, and I experienced the beauty and the peace of the Finger Lakes for the first time.
We still held onto the idea of one day going on a belated Spanish honeymoon, but we figured it wouldn't happen until maybe a few years down the line. When we found out about our current opportunity to work abroad in Oxford this summer, we were overjoyed and decided that we would try to save up and still make a trip to Spain a possibility (since it would be relatively closer and cheaper to travel to Spain once we were in Europe). And this month, we made the trip happen!
We started out with a week in Granada, the city where we met. (For the story of how we met, check out our wedding website here). During our time in Granada, I took a day trip to Córdoba (where I taught for a year from 2013-2014) to visit former colleagues and friends. The year that I taught abroad in Córdoba was the first time Liasor and I experienced international long distance. (For former blog posts on my time teaching in Córdoba, check our my travel page here). Finally we ended our Spanish honeymoon in the beach city of Alicante, a city that Liasor had visited before and wanted to experience again with me.
It was so great to take a break from cozy, chilly Oxford and soak up the sun and <extreme> heat of Spain.
Here are images from our 10-day vacation.
Our time in Granada was so sweet. I really enjoyed walking through memories: from taking our old route to school together to meeting up with former teachers and church family members - our hearts were completely full. We even accidentally ran into my former host mother, Camila, who was taking a walk in my old neighborhood. It was so good to run into her! She immediately took us to her house and we had a lovely evening laughing and catching up together. She and her family vividly remembered Liasor and how he used to meet me at the front door of their apartment. They were thrilled that we are now married.
Oh Córdoba. The city where I grew so much on my own. It was good to be back and meet up with people I care about, but I realized that I have less of an emotional attachment to this city. After a long, hot, full day of meeting up with friends and colleagues, I almost felt relieved to head back to Granada. When the bus pulled into the station and the driver announced that we were back in Granada, I felt a strong sense of familiarity rush through me. Homecoming. Back in the city of my love story. Even though I lived in Córdoba for a longer time than Granada, this trip allowed me to reflect on how much more Granada means to me and how much my time in both cities contributed to my life narrative. In Granada, I had been much more plugged into a church family, which is one of the main ways Liasor and I grew closer back in 2012.
The pictures below show my favorite tea shop in Córdoba where I used to go when I needed to get away from it all, the street that I lived on (called Mucho Trigo, which means 'a lot of wheat'!), and the door to my old flat.
We ended our trip with a few days in Alicante, Spain on the beach. It was so nice to finally make it to the beach after a mild summer in Oxford. Overlooking the beachfront in Alicante is the Castillo de Santa Barbara (castle). Liasor and I went on quite an arduous hike to get to the castle, and later we found out that there was an elevator that most tourists take and we also found out that there was an easier route to the top that we had missed. But our longer, harder trek allowed us to witness some of the most breathtaking views at sunset.
Now we have one more week in Oxford.
In my last post, I mentioned that there has been unrest in the refugee camps along the Ethiopian/South Sudanese border which we were planning to visit. Because of that unrest and uncertainty, we've decided it will be best for Liasor to go on to Ethiopia alone while I return to the States. I'm saying a special prayer for Liasor's safety as he heads to Ethiopia. I'm also praying for open doors for partnerships and meetings on behalf of Uduk Hope Inc. I'm proud of the work he is doing, and just this past weekend Liasor got the great opportunity to present at the Society for the Study of the Sudans U.K. 2017 Symposium held at the University of London. He was the first person from the Blue Nile region, and more specifically the first Uduk person, to present at this conference. He spoke on the complex relationships that affect the state of the Blue Nile refugees and offered thoughts on the way forward. It was a moving and powerful speech. Liasor was only notified of this opportunity to speak a week in advance while we were on our honeymoon in Spain! He did a great job no matter the time constraints, and I know he will continue to fight to find ways to stand up for and support the Uduk people and other Blue Nile refugees. I recorded his presentation and I will either try to post the video in my next blog post or he will post the video on his personal Facebook page.
There will definitely be challenges ahead since we'll be spending several weeks apart so I am truly thankful that we were able to spend such a beautiful time together in Spain and I look forward to savoring this last week together in Oxford.
Happy Labor Day!! September is finally here, which marks our last month working in Oxford. But currently we're in Spain for a short vacation and belated honeymoon trip!! We've just arrived, but before unplugging from social media I wanted to share a few updates from the past few weeks.
-We've been working hard on translating and cataloging Dr. Wendy James' work and we're getting closer to setting up a digital archive. The work is extremely interesting and engaging, but we find ourselves exhausted each night after full days of translating for Liasor and editing and cataloging for me. But with a month left, we're trying to work even harder to get as much done as possible before we leave. I've been learning so much from this work, and this project has given me the chance the dive deeper into books and resources on Sudan and South Sudan along with information and archives on the Uduk people. It's been a rich learning experience that has also brought up tough questions surrounding global power dynamics and the authority and authorship of history. But more on that some other time.
-We've also been working hard casting vision for Uduk Hope, making plans on building a stronger organizational team, and designing an exciting venture for Uduk Hope that we'll hopefully get to implement in 2018, Lord willing. Please be praying for direction and for the blessing of project grants.
-Finally, we've been thinking a lot about jobs for when we get back to Rochester!
We've gotten a lot closer to our church community here and the pastor asked us to speak to the congregation about Uduk Hope on Sunday September 17th, so please be praying about that. We're looking forward to sharing.
We've also gotten very close to a Ghanaian couple at church and we've spent time at their house enjoying great conversations. I know we'll stay in contact long after our time here. They gave us a tour of the town of Iffley where they live on the outskirts of Oxford. It was such a beautiful town!
We also got to visit Cotswold Wildlife Park with Wendy and it was fun seeing the gardens and the animals.
Then my dear college friend, Bettina and her husband Will came to visit us in Oxford, which was one of the highlights of August for me. We had a wonderful, relaxing day catching up and visiting good places for food and drink.
Here are some photos featuring Liasor's awesome iPhone photography skills:
Hard Decisions For Our Upcoming Trip To Ethiopia:
We've been excited about traveling to Ethiopia in October, but recently we've received news that there is unrest in the refugee camps we're hoping to visit. We're trying to decide whether we should still go, whether it would be best to return to the States, or if I should return to the States while Liasor continues on to Ethiopia for a short while to visit the people including family and make much needed connections with organizations on the ground.
Please be praying about our decision and that the unrest in the camps would calm down. I would love to visit Ethiopia; it's been a lifelong dream to go and now it's also important for Uduk Hope. But although we feel safe traveling to the cities of Addis and Assosa, the fact that the refugee camps (Tongo, Sherkole, Tsore) are unstable makes us really wrestle with our next steps.
As I mentioned we are currently in Spain to spend 10 days for our vacation and belated honeymoon. We're starting out in the city of Granada where we first met in 2012. This is our first time back in Granada together since the days that we fell for each other. I can't wait to step into nostalgia together and make new memories in a city that means so much to both of us. I haven't stopped smiling since we stepped off the plane!
From Granada, I'll be taking a day trip to Córdoba, the city where I taught for a year between college and grad school. It'll be great reconnecting with friends, students, and fellow teachers. I can't wait! That trip will have a great amount of nostalgia for me as well. We'll end our trip in the beach city of Alicante. I've never been to Alicante, but Liasor has once before and he's excited to show it to me.
Here are some quick shots of our hotel. I love Andalusian architecture!
That's all the updates for now! Please keep us in your thoughts and prayers!
Until next time,
I often get lots of questions about my hair and the hairstyles I do, so I will dedicate the next couple posts to highlighting some of my favorite natural hair styles.
The first style: THE CURLY PUFF
First and foremost, I cannot achieve this style when my hair is freshly washed, in its most natural state. This style came as a result of wearing my hair in braids for a few days and then taking the braids down.
If I were to pull my hair into a puff right after washing it, it would look like the picture below. I love both styles, but when I put my hair in a puff right after washing my hair, my tight little hair coils tangle around each other and I have to spend hours detangling them again and again. Not fun. So I mostly create styles that stretch out my natural hair texture to avoid tangles (I'll write more on this soon). I still love doing an occasional wash-n-go style but not very often.
So how did I get the non-tangly, curly puff in the first picture?
First I braided my hair in about 10 cornrow braids. Here is a GREAT instructional video on how to cornrow:
I could have stopped at this step, wearing the cornrows for a few days and then take them down to create the curly puff. However, I don't enjoy wearing cornrows outside of the house yet because I'm not so skilled at making them nice and neat (I'm still trying to inherit my mother's amazing braiding skills!), so I chose to cover up my cornrows by crocheting mambo-twist extensions into my hair. Check out the tutorial video below from a Natural Hair Youtube Channel I follow. I've used videos like the one below to learn how to crochet extensions into my hair, to give my natural hair a break from time to time.
Click Here to Watch one of my favorite YouTube tutorials on How to crochet extensions into cornrows/braids
Crochet braids are a great protective style! Natural afro-textured hair can be rather fragile and break easily, so wearing protective styles where you can tuck your hair away for a couple days is great for hair growth and length retention.
The twist extensions I purchased were super inexpensive at my local hair store. I do NOT like spending much money on my hair if at all possible, and I'm a huge fan of DIY natural hair care. I used the 1B (extremely dark brown) hair color, and added in a few burgundy-colored twists for a fun look.
When I finished crocheting the twists into my hair, this was the final result:
It looked so natural, and it gave me a HUGE break from doing my hair each day.
After wearing this style for about two weeks, I took the twist extensions out, and I was left with my cornrow braids underneath. I then un-braided my cornrows, which gave me a super curly fro like the one below.
Then I pulled my hair back with a silk hair scarf and tied it on the top of my head to achieve my favorite curly puff ever!
I wore this puff for three days and each day it became puffier and puffier until it was no longer a curly fro, but an awesome huge afro puff! I loved it, but it was time to tuck my ends away to protect my hair from wear and tear. So I took down the puff, detangled, washed, and deep conditioned my hair. (I'll write a post on my wash-day process soon!). Once my hair was freshly-washed again, I went on to try another protective style.
There are a lot of great protective styles that you can do using your own hair (without extensions), such as buns, mini twists, and much more!. Just type "protective styles for natural hair" into Youtube, find a Youtuber with a similar hair texture as yourself and have fun with trial and error. I'll try to write a blogpost soon showing some of my favorite protective hairstyles that I do using my own hair, which are the styles I usually wear 90% of the year. More on that coming soon!
Happy Monday! Just want to share a few updates on our time in Oxford.
Over the past few weeks, Liasor and I have been working on translating a few T’wampa songs that Wendy James collected when the Uduk people were in Bonga Refugee Camp in Ethiopia in 1994. Liasor has been doing the translating and I’ve been working on organizing and editing the translations once they're in English. It’s been fascinating work primarily because Liasor was living in Bonga Refugee Camp at that time, and he was super young then.
In addition to working on the songs, we've been looking through videos of Wendy’s time in Bonga Refugee Camp in 1994 and I got to see footage of Liasor’s preschool classroom. Liasor was definitely in that classroom, but neither of us could make him out because there were a lot of kids and the video was taken at a time when they were all playing, so we couldn’t nail down faces. It was so moving to see Liasor’s classroom and playground and get a glimpse of his life at five years old. I’m hoping to come across a video where we can see young Liasor up close. I also got to see Liasor's awesome preschool teacher from 1994. She’s an Uduk woman named Martha who has done many amazing things and currently helps run one of the refugee camps in Ethiopia where some Uduk people currently are. Maybe when we go to Ethiopia in the fall we’ll get to meet up with her. It's been a great pleasure working with Wendy to label and organize video clips like this one.
We got to meet a wonderful scholar who came into town to meet Wendy. He is a linguist studying the Koman language family, which T’wampa is a part of. He taught us a cool way for me to learn the tones in T’wampa (T’wampa is a tonal language so saying a word in different tones can completely change or obscure meaning). He showed Liasor a way to help me recognize the tones through whistling. It’s a very simple trick, but it has been incredibly helpful for me. Granted, we spend most of our lives speaking in English or occasionally Spanish, but I am determined to learn T’wampa too.
We also connected with a professor of international education and refugee issues through a chance meeting (we stumbled into an academic building and ended up explaining our interests to the staff at the main desk, and they set up a meeting with this professor!). She took us out to lunch and we talked at length about our interests and work and heard about her incredible work. She gave us advice, then she gave us access to one of the university libraries so we could look at relevant books. She also helped us do a little research on academic programs that might be of interest to us in the future. She was incredibly kind and helpful!!
In other personal updates, I had a wonderful birthday two and a half weeks ago. At first it started out as a rainy day, but rain begets cozy moments so it was all good. Liasor and I went to a couple amazing restaurants and we also went to Liasor’s favorite bookstore, Blackwell. We looked through some great literature on education and ESOL and Ph.D programs and bought a few books. It was perfect, in the nerdiest sort of way. We ended the evening punting on the Cherwell River with amazing views of the University Parks. I didn’t know what punting was before coming to Oxford, but essentially it’s boating in a flat-bottomed boat called a punt and using a pole to push against the riverbed to propel the boat forward. It’s very physical work, but lucky for me Liasor did all of the punting. It was very beautiful, sweet, and quite romantic!
Another MAJOR update: We finally made it to the church that I researched a few months back. It’s called Trinity Church Oxford and it’s a very multicultural, multi-national, gospel-centered community. And it’s a small church, where people really get to know each other. After attending last week's service for the first time, we were already invited to dinner with other awesome couples and were invited to upcoming events. We felt so welcomed and I’m excited to get to know the members there. Yesterday we went back to the church, and the warm welcome continued. Everyone we met so far has an awesome story, and many are doing inspiring work or research connected to the University of Oxford or other amazing organizations.
We also made it to the Ashmolean Museum of Oxford where there was a special exhibition showcasing the drawings of Raphael, brought together from various international collections. We also got to visit the Ancient Egypt/Ancient Sudan/Nubia exhibit which was wonderful. I’ve begun dreaming of one day seeing the Nubian Pyramids of Sudan in person.
The past few weeks have had many highs, but there were also some low points. I mentioned last post that our family has experienced loss related to violence in Doro Refugee Camp in South Sudan. We are continuing to pray for that situation and for our family. I'm continuing to pray about how to help Liasor through that grief.
I've also been tempted a lot lately to compare my life to others' and to the photos I see or to articles I read that tell me where I should be in life by age X. I know full well that I should pay no serious attention to these things, and I know we only see snapshots of each other's lives and often life is much messier than what we portray, but sometimes I'm surprised by how easy it can be to measure my life by human standards instead of by God's standards. I'm challenging myself - like I did last summer - to search for moments of thankfulness and to celebrate the moments that do feel picture perfect, while also being open and honest about the not so beautiful moments with those who care, giving thanks even in pain. And I'm striving to keep my eyes fixed on Christ and what He says, and not on what the social sphere will inundate me with. I got really stuck in a rut yesterday, worrying about what jobs we'll have when we get back to Rochester in December and wondering about future career choices and where we'll live and blah blah blah. Then right when I needed it most, God gave me a great reminder in church yesterday about not giving in to my worries. He has provided everything we need, and not only that, He has given us jobs right now in a different country with the amazing opportunity to work and travel. How do I so quickly leave the wonder of the here and now and fly away to some land of overwhelming anxieties? So last night I updated my list of 1000 gifts, gifts for which I am thankful. I felt so much peace and I was reminded not to compare and covet, but rather to trust. And to give thanks with however much or little I have. Today I am thankful for:
-the simplicity and comfort of clothes drying on a line
-a mild summer that allows me to wear my favorite layers
-a great start to my 26th year of life with Liasor by my side
-our cozy family of two figuring out the routines of life together
- Sainsbury's Spanish Honey and Ginger yogurt
-finally submitting edits for our wedding video
-finding a gym, a Zumba class, and a hip hop dance class nearby
-the smell of fresh rosemary while cooking
-dreaming big dreams of potential endeavors that I hope to undertake in 2018
-the existence of Uduk Hope which serves as a medium to support our family in refugee camps
-video chatting with family
The verse that was highlighted during Sunday service was Matthew 6:25-27, 33-34:
"Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?
As I mentioned in the last post, you've heard a lot from me. Below you can hear Liasor's thoughts and heart regarding the last four weeks.
It has been about a month now since my wife and I left Rochester by way of Cleveland, Ohio for this part of our adventure. To me it still feels like just a couple of days ago. In the time that we have been here, a lot has happened. I am still hard at work for Dr. James (Wendy) translating her research, as Christine mentioned in an earlier post. Christine has been offered work by Dr. James as well to help type up many of the things that I am translating and the old notes that Dr. James never got a chance to type up herself. We received news of the passing of my mother’s brother, my uncle, and are learning a lot about leading an organization like Uduk Hope Inc. remotely. We recently celebrated Christine’s birthday and are now in the process of finalizing our plans for weekend trips to Ireland, Germany and to our honeymoon vacation to Spain before heading to Ethiopia. So yes, a lot has happened and it has been and continues to be an emotional rollercoaster but also a learning experience that I wouldn’t trade for anything.
My Job: Translations
I am hearing first-hand accounts from multiple people, from the 1960s to the year 2000, about life in Sudan and constant forced migration of the Uduk people due to civil war. These individual accounts tell of how the Sudan government sent soldiers to the Blue Nile, home of the Uduk, to destroy every part of their life and livelihoods. Dr. James' research is particularly interesting, because it was done in interview format. The most interesting part of it all is the fact that Uduk people in many different places tell a similar story without her having to guide the questions. In many of the tapes, she would just turn on the camera and record as people had their natural conversations, then if she did not understand something, she would follow up with questions. For me, it is like having found a treasure map where X has been marked and I know exactly how to get there. I am on my way to that X which is fully understanding the breadth of my people’s history more in depth than I could at any graduate institution.
Doing this work is helping Christine, Dr. James, and I have a deeper relationship. We spend many hours watching videos, sorting out titles and learning the language through conversation and recorded songs. About two weeks ago, we met a gentleman from the West Coast of the United States who came to stay with Wendy so that I can help him with a few grammar points for his Ph.D. in Linguistics. His research was the most interesting thing that I have personally seen. He is comparing the language family called the Koman languages of which the Uduk language (T’wampa) is a part. We saw and discussed many similarities between these languages. His theory is that the Koman languages all came from one original language, and by understanding the similarities between today's few Koman languages, we can reconstruct the original language. It is so interesting that I have asked him for a copy of his book once he publishes it next year. We are very grateful for the opportunity to be here with Wendy and to meet many awesome people in academia.
Sad News from Doro Refugee Camp.
As many of you may know from an Uduk Hope newsletter update, there has been continuous violence in and around Doro Refugee Camp which we visited last summer. The Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N), the army that fights against Sudan to see the Uduks and many others return to the Blue Nile region, had a major disagreement in the structure of their leadership. The SPLM-N declared that their leader and his immediate commanders are no longer representing the interest of the people because they are turning down several peace deals. As a result, they forced the leader Malik Agar out of power. This caused widespread violence in many refugee camps where supporters of Malik Agar attacked anyone they thought was responsible for this. My mother’s brother was in his plantation farming with his son (my cousin) on a regular day as he has always done since the people fled from the Blue Nile. As they were farming, a group of soldiers attacked them. To save his son’s life, he distracted the soldiers as my cousin ran away. My cousin later confirmed that his father died, but before the family found out I received a call with the news. I knew that this would be hard on my mother because she had just lost one of her best friends to this same violence two weeks prior. I called my mother and let her know.
There isn’t a single Uduk family in the United States, Canada, Australia or in East Africa that hasn’t personally experienced this kind of pain, dating back to the 1960s. In my lifetime, the people have been forcefully displaced at least 6 times, meaning on any random day bombs start to fall and many people run their own way to save their lives. These are the stories that I am currently translating, of how people are burned alive in their homes and churches, of how children are left behind, of how hunger and war continue to leave people without families. Some 60 years later, the same pattern continues to emerge. I feel the sadness of my people’s story and experiencing how it has affected my own family, someone ought to do something about it. The argument is that the SPLM-N is that someone. I leave for God what is God’s. Despite all this pain, I continue to translate for my own understanding with the shared hope of Dr. James that the younger generation will not forget where they came from.
Christine’s Birthday and the Future
It hasn’t been all sad though. Oxfordshire is one of my favorite places in Europe. On Wednesdays and Sundays, there are many open markets across town. An open market is a public market that is outside where there are many things to buy. We found a gym and signed up for it so that we could exercise and feel good about our health. But to be honest, we haven’t been going that much. Hopefully that changes soon. It was Christine’s birthday not too long ago. Birthdays are usually easier to plan in a city or town that you know like the back of your hand. Though I have been to Oxford before in 2012, I had no idea what we were going to do for her birthday. Christine, being the smart one, knew this. She was a champ about it. We started out going to the city center (downtown) where we bought some things and had a great lunch. We spent a lot of quality time together in a bookstore getting excited about our knowledge base and research. Then later that day, we went to a boat house where I attempted to guide the boat on a tour. It was cute, but I wouldn’t do it again just for the fun of it. That proved to be more of a workout than 3 visits to the gym. Christine really enjoyed it and for me that is all that matters. Now that we have settled in, we are thinking about our near future goals.
Currently we are trying to figure out dates for our trip to Germany and to Spain. We intend to visit family in Germany for a weekend and spend a week in Spain celebrating our marriage where we first met. Before all this, we are thinking of a weekend trip to Dublin, which is not very expensive. We only wish the other two trips would be the same but going to Spain is very expensive so we are saving money for it properly. I am most excited about Germany because I have not been there yet. Christine will be the veteran this time around. We also found an awesome church family in Oxford which reminds me a lot of Heart and Soul Church, our home church in Rochester. The sermons are powerful, the community is diverse, and people are really interested in making a global impact through prayer and deeds. The most wonderful part of traveling worldwide is connecting with God’s holy church and the body of Christ. His love is not limited to one geographic location and we are experiencing that now in hard times and in good times. I miss having a guitar readily available like I did in Rochester, but YouTube worship is good so I am thankful for having access to internet and for being able to easily communicate with family in the United States and in South Sudan. In the next blog, I'll share a little bit about our Ethiopia plans and give further updates on our life here in Oxford.
I pray blessings on you and your family as you read this update.