a wall-jumper in North Africa

When I emailed this friend to ask her for this interview, she responded, “It would be an honor to testify to God’s provision, nearness, discipline, and spiritual blessing that He has poured out on me, despite my frequent unbelief. ” And that’s exactly like her. She has just had a (fifth) baby, is homeschooling four other children, is learning French, and is preparing to return to a very challenging  context–nevertheless, she was glad for any opportunity to glorify God and proclaim the name of Jesus. I thank God for her and the bright and burning light that is her surrendered life. 

An Interview with Sonja

Could you please tell us about your family?

The Lord has been merciful in giving me a husband that loves Jesus and points me to Him.  We have been married for 10 years and in that time the Lord has given us 9 little souls.  Four of those souls are with the LORD and five of them are with us: ages 9, 7, 4, 2 and 1 month.

Where are you living? Why are you there?

We have lived in two different North African countries over the past 6 years.  Our heart is for the Lord to establish His Church among one specific people group where there are only 3 known believers.  Currently we are in Québec learning French before returning, Lord willing, in May to the country we serve in.

What does it look like being mommy where you are? What are some of the challenges you face? What are some of the particular joys you experience where you are?

There are some things about life in our country that are similar to life in the UK or the States and other things that are very different. My kids still need to: eat, sleep, take baths, play, be potty trained, learn their ABCs, be taught about Jesus, be disciplined and shepherded, and be listened to. We just do it in a much different context.

Living in the Sahara Desert means constant sweating during the day, since temperatures during the day range from about 110-130 F. We sleep on the roof in mosquito net tents at night because it’s significantly cooler up there. Many days, the inside of our house is 105 F and we have no way of cooling it down because we don’t have electrical power lines. In fact, we didn’t have fans, lights, or refrigeration until my husband (who is NOT an electrician) rigged up some solar panels on our roof so we could have enough power to charge our computer and phones and have cold water. Not having electricity makes all of the things I mentioned above more time consuming. We don’t eat toast, make smoothies, grind coffee, bake bread with electrical appliances so if we want something like that we have to do it by hand. Our “dish washer” and “laundry machine” are our own hands (as well as our wonderful househelper). She has a soul and it is a bit more complicated than pushing a button.

There is no running water in our house. Instead, we had a tap outside the house that city water came to a couple days each week. There is not a schedule for when it comes on. Each time that we see the tap dripping, my husband would connect a hose to the tap and feed the hose into our kitchen where we had a large barrel. Once the barrel was filled we moved the hose to the other two large barrels outside where we stored our water for washing clothes and taking “baths.” For us a “bath” means using a cup to dump water on our bodies. We rarely use a towel because we dry off very quickly in the heat. There were days when our barrels were down to the bottom and we just sat around the table and prayed that the Lord would turn on the water that day.

There are no libraries, bookstores or toy stores there. I don’t know about you, but one of my favorite places to be is in a library or bookstore so it is something that I miss intensely when we are there. Most often now when we travel back to Africa from the States, we fill our tubs with children’s books and other resources for teaching them. There was one particular day that I remember allowing myself to linger in thoughts of self pity because I couldn’t take the kids to a park or museum. About a month later, our family was flying in a 12 person airplane over the Sahara Desert and the Lord reminded me that He had just given us a pretty amazing field trip.

I would summarize the joys that I experience there with Ephesians 1:3 “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing.” There is rarely a moment when I forget that I need Him and because of that, I find that He has poured out spiritual blessings in our hearts. Because our water taps, electrical lines, and libraries are open and running daily in the West, it can be easy for us to forget that these are mercies from God and we are completely dependent upon Him to sustain such graces that we don’t deserve. It’s much more difficult for my wavering heart to miss that in Africa. We see we need water. We call out to Him and He answers. We come to realize over and over again that we are weak and He is strong. This is a great spiritual blessing that He has given to me and to my family.

Can you tell us a bit about a hard time (recent or past) and what encouraged/helped you during that season?

I have to say that living overseas has not been easy and so there are several difficult times I could share about – the year we lost three babies, the evening when neighbor boys threw glass bottles at my husband, the time the rebels were coming to town, the day when the government searched our house and my husband went to prison, the time I was pregnant there and gave birth to our fourth child next to the goats, or the week when my daughter was two weeks old, my husband was close to dying of malaria and my son stuck a rusty bungee cord hook in his mouth . . . leading to an infection–to name a few.

He is sovereign and over all these things. He sits in heaven, seeing our pain and even planning it. AND He loves us. He weeps with us. He is there. And He is worthy to receive the praises of all peoples. That’s what keeps us stepping into this life.

What have you learned about sharing your faith with your children? What ideas do you have for helping children to embrace the family’s situation and calling?

It’s important to share your life and faith with your children and to give them categories for understanding what they see. Starting when the kids were young, I brought them with me to the market and let them see the people and hear the language. They saw color, people with no legs, crowds. Then I shared, in a simple way, how these physical things pointed to something greater. When we had to leave a country on short notice, my husband laid down next to our 5 year old and cried with him. Let them walk with you to visit the neighbor lady or widow down the street. Encourage them to see God’s plan for the nations by praying with them for your neighbors. Lord willing through all of experiences they have shared in with us, they will see that we are really weak and needy, but that God has been strong for us. We are really clueless, but He has directed each of our steps.

What words of wisdom or challenge might you have for mothers in different contexts?

A couple years ago we took our kids to the pediatrician for vaccines before going back overseas. My husband and I observed how calmly our one year old waited for his shots. In contrast, our older two (then 6 and 4) were screaming uncontrollably in anticipation of the shots. They remembered that it hurts to get a shot and worse than the actual pain of the shot was the anticipation of it. We, as their parents, made the decision to give them the shots, despite the pain involved, because we knew the benefits the vaccines provided.

The first time I gave birth, I didn’t know exactly what it meant when people said it would hurt. Of course there was a lot of pain but the time leading up to the birth was mainly filled with the excitement for the arrival of our first child. However, after delivering several babies, I have experienced the extreme pain that comes with contractions and pushing. As I anticipated labor and delivery this time, I felt a lot like our older two as they anticipated their shots. All the while knowing that there was no other way to see our baby without going through this intense pain. Even as I labored, I found myself groaning and saying “I HATE THIS!” I guess that hating the curse is okay. And the joy that we experience holding our newborn is the reward.

Over the last couple years I’ve contemplated the difference between suffering that comes to us and is out of our control (natural disaster, sickness, death) and suffering that we willing step into. When we left to live overseas in early 2007, we didn’t know all that life there would entail. We went anticipating all the exciting new things we would experience with the knowledge that it might be hard. After living overseas for parts of the last 6 years, we have had some very difficult times.

Now when I contemplate going back, it is with a kind of subdued spirit that knows what going back could mean. It is with not only the knowledge that we most likely encounter difficulties, but with the heartfelt experience of pain. My flesh does not like pain. So if you asked me today, are you looking forward to going back? I would have to say that it’s a lot like the time before getting shots, or delivering a baby. My flesh does not want to walk towards difficulty and pain.

But, then I am reminded of Christ. He chose to walk to the cross. He knew the suffering that was before Him and yet He stepped towards it, believing there was something better to come because of it. In the same way, we ought not to run from pain, hardship, or persecution, but rather, step toward it “for the joy set before us” and for the joy of others.

Unreached peoples, just like your family, friends, and neighbors, must see and hear the truth of Christ’s love. God means for this to happen through the selfless, suffering love of His people. And as you contemplate suffering, be very careful of the phrase, “We have to be wise.” Christians use it to live safe and comfortable lives. At just the moment you are being asked to step out in faith, not knowing where the money will come from or if you will die, you will hear from many in the church “You have to be wise.”

How can we pray for you?

Pray that the Lord will continue teaching me “the secret of being content in all circumstances” and pray that I will walk as an empty cup, cleaned and filled with Himself so that the only thing that others see is Him.

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6 Responses to a wall-jumper in North Africa

  1. Juli says:

    Thank you 🙂

  2. teamtabb says:

    Sonja, I think we’ve met only once, but I wanted to say hi, and to say thank you for this very thoughtful post. It’s insightful to hear how our friends on the field can feel about life overseas, and going back after furlough, and about God’s sufficient grace at work in your life. The Lord has used you to sharpen my view and strengthen my steps for walking in faith. Thank you!

  3. Cara says:

    Wow. Just…wow. Thank you for these words. Thank you for being faithful. Thank you for sharing how you see God in the day to day trials. Thank you for your honesty! This has been so encouraging to me.

  4. Abigail says:

    Sonja, you and your dear family are loved and prayed for and remembered. May Christ be your portion and reward as you get ready to go back.

    Much love, Abigail Dodds

    p.s. Betsy, I’ve never commented before, but I am so appreciative of this series. Thank you.

  5. Alex says:

    When you talk about suffering, Sonja, I listen. I listen because you know God, his word, and what it means to step toward suffering for Christ’s sake. Thank you for these honest and inspiring reflections.

  6. Pingback: Do #2: Be an appreciator | part of the main

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