[A prayer letter from Johann and Louise Vanderbijl out of Gambella, Ethiopia]
I was trying to explain the difference between ‘simple’ and ‘complex’ to my English students the other day. “Simple,” I said, “is something that is easy to explain and easy to understand because there is usually only one thing to think about. Complex, on the other hand, is something that takes a long time to explain because there are so many different things to keep in your head at the same time…things that are often strange or unknown to the person you are trying to talk to which makes it harder for them to understand.”
Life in Gambella is not simple.
We returned in January filled with new and exciting ideas about what we were going to do with our students only to have our very first week turned upside down by deadly ethnic clashes. Nothing has been the same ever since. We now teach two sets of classes in two different areas of Gambela, as neither ethnic group can meet with the other at present. Our Anglican brethren on both sides long for fellowship with each other and will often pray for each other, ask about each other, and send greetings to each other through us. They have responded negatively to other denominations in town that are calling for total segregation.
It is both painful and pleasing to see this…pleasing in that they have transcended traditional tribal barriers and painful in that they are being forced to stay apart because some on both sides do not share that unique oneness in Jesus. It is refreshing to see that our brethren here are not slow to see the spiritual forces of darkness behind the killing and the hatred – not flesh and blood, but principalities and powers in the heavenly places – and so they turn as one united body together against a common spiritual enemy and fight their battles on their knees, fasting and praying for peace.
At the same time, city water has been very scarce and the power has been sporadic. Some of our brethren in outer lying areas do not have food as all the roads were closed during the unrest. And it is hot…very hot. Temperatures are now often between 45 and 55 degrees Celsius with an increasing humidity, even at night. Our students tell us they can’t sleep…we know, because we can’t either. When the power goes off and we don’t have fans going, it feels like we are living in an oven.
Add now this: my dear old heart that just doesn’t seem to be able to handle this extreme environment anymore. I had a really bad episode of Atrial Fibrillation in Addis in December last year just before we went to South Africa. While in South Africa I heard that I ought to have a heart ablation, a procedure in which the surgeon cauterizes the areas where the impulses enter the atrium and cause the heart to beat very fast and irregularly. I had hoped to put this off until July, but the other morning I woke up with A-Fib in spite of the high doses of meds that I am on to prevent this from happening. See? This is so long and difficult to explain! It is complex – not the sort of thing I would have planned for us at this time.
The long and the short of it all is that we are closing the College a week early to go to South Africa so that my ticker can get a service…of course the pacemaker and other problems complicate things, but it just wouldn’t be my life if it was simple, would it?
We are thinking about changing the dates of our current semesters so that the College will be functional only during the less extremely hot seasons…the rest of the time…well, we will have to figure that out as we go along. We remain committed to the Lord’s work and the people here in Gambela…we just have to figure out creative ways to keep me healthy!
We have been moving at quite a pace with our dear students as we have had to cram our lessons into shorter hours because we are now dividing everything into two. We have also had to make up for the lost week in the past two days and have given them projects and assignments to do for next week. After that, they all go to their respective field education areas where they will be engaging in a research project as well as teaching Bible Stories chronologically. They are all so very, very smart and we are very, very proud of each one. So many strikes against them from the start and so many strikes against them as they simply try to live here, but they are troupers and keep on keeping on for Jesus!
We will send out an update once I have had the procedure done.
We love you all and are so blessed to have you as partners…we are not alone…the Father is with us, and you all are with us too. We are encouraged.
Many blessings and tons of love.
Johann and Louise