"to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faithin me." Acts 26:18
The following is the account of what has been heavy on our minds this last week: both Eric's parents and his sister's family lost their houses in a tornado. It was written by Eric's brother Matthew Tuininga, on his blog...I cut and pasted it here so that more people can see and pray and also so that we have a written record for our family (we get our blog printed off in book form every year) I also added a few thoughts at the end.
On Monday afternoon around 4:00 a tornado 200-300 yards wide tore down Beech Ridge Road in Beaufort County, North Carolina, a peaceful rural road where I spent the latter part of my youth and still consider home. My family and I moved into a solid, beautiful house about half a mile back from the road back in 1999. I spent several years and summers there and many more vacations and holidays, building treasured memories and enjoying the people dearest to me in this world. My sister Elyssa (now eighteen) has known no other home.
Not long after we moved to the Beech Ridge house my sister Carla married her husband Mark, and they eventually purchased a dilapidated property about two miles down the same road. Over the years, and with a lot of work, Mark and Carla cleaned up the property and the house situated on it, rebuilt the barn, planted trees and a garden, and made for themselves a life. Over the years they had six children, including one set of twins, and have a seventh child on the way.
Tornado watches and warnings are relatively frequent in eastern North Carolina. We pay attention to them, but don’t let them upset our routine too much because nothing ever comes of them, or they are always somewhere else.
That afternoon my sister was homeschooling her son Daniel (7 years old) when eleven year old Joshua, who loves watching and learning about weather, burst into the house and told her he saw the tornado from the porch. Carla thought he was probably exaggerating, but when he insisted, she followed his lead and gathered the children in the bathtub: Joshua, Josiah (9), Daniel, Hannah (4), Judah and Micah (2). Carla is due to have a baby next week.
While this was happening Mark was in the barn. He heard a noise but didn’t realize it was the tornado until he saw debris blowing. Looking outside he saw the tornado coming from behind a wood, only a few minutes away. He quickly told the neighbor (who lives in a house on their property) and then ran to tell Carla and the kids. Mark made a snap judgment that this was a tornado his house – a doublewide – was not going to withstand. He yelled to everyone in the house to get out and run to a deep ditch about forty yards from the house (on the opposite side from the barn).
Carla told me she thought this probably wasn’t a very good idea. “Isn’t it better to be in here than to be outside, or even to be caught running when the tornado hits?” But the boys, she said, didn’t hesitate, and she followed their lead. Mark grabbed one of the twins, and Daniel, seven year old Daniel, grabbed the other. As he ran out the door and across the front yard, Mark said he saw the tornado begin to chew up his barn, about a hundred yards from the house. It was about twenty seconds, he said, from when he told everyone to get out of the house, to the point the tornado swept over their heads and over the ditch.
Carla was following but she realized that Hannah, still groggy from a nap, had gone back to her room, possibly to get her shoes. Carla went back and told Hannah she had to run in bare feet. Holding Hannah, she climbed or jumped off the 3 foot high front porch – she doesn’t remember how but she somehow injured her leg in the process. Being full-term, she had to put Hannah down. She took her hand, and they began to run toward the ditch, as fast as they could move.
About half way to the ditch Carla felt the wind pick up and said she realized they wouldn’t make it. She lay down and covered Hannah as the tornado swept over. Carla tries to describe what happened during the next few seconds but says she doesn’t entirely know. What she does know is that she saw a large cedar tree crash to the ground and land only a few yards away from them. The tree then swept toward them and she felt it slam against her shoulders. The next few seconds, she says, she was thrown around like a little child caught in the ocean’s waves, branches clutching and scraping her. All she could do was repeat the prayer “Lord save me!” She held on to Hannah, but the little girl was pulled from her arms.
Then it was over. Hannah was beside her and the wind was dying down. She saw a snake lying in the grass. They got up and moved toward the ditch just as Mark and the boys were getting out. This was the first moment Mark realized that not everyone had made it into the ditch. “Is everyone OK? Where is Joshua?” Joshua was still in the ditch, extricating himself from part of a tree that had landed on top of him when the tornado swept over the ditch. Everyone was alive.
But the house was gone. Literally gone. Most of the foundation was still there, but the rest of the house consisted of a pile of rubble several dozen yards away. The tree that had been swept over Carla and Hannah was lying in an adjacent field. The top story of the barn was gone and only one wall remained of the rest. The van was upside down and the car totaled. The entire property, including most of its beautiful trees, was entirely laid waste. In this picture you can see the bathtub in which Carla and the kids had taken shelter before Mark told them to get out.
This is the foundation of Mark and Carla’s house.
The tornado didn’t stop there, of course. My younger sister Elyssa was reading in the living room of my parents’ house when she heard my Mom, who thankfully was not napping in her upstairs bedroom as she usually does in the afternoon, yell that a tornado was coming. Glancing up, she could see the tornado out the front window, sweeping towards the house. They took shelter in an interior bathroom.
Within two seconds the tornado hit the house. It tore off half the roof (above my parents’ room and my old bedroom) and sent the top of the massive chimney crashing through the back deck. Huge trees were down everywhere and a barn full of massive farm equipment a few hundred yards from the house was completely destroyed, but just about everything inside the house was fine. It was pouring rain, of course, so that would not last long. Mom and Elyssa could see the tornado moving down the field away from the house.
Almost immediately neighbors, friends, and folks from our church began to arrive. A pale-faced man with a quivering lip told Mom that Mark and Carla had lost everything but that they were OK. They went to see Mark and Carla and found Carla in a brace with an ambulance getting ready to take her to the hospital. No words can describe the entirety of thoughts and emotions, of course. Only “‘Thank You Lord,’ a hundred times in the ditch,” Carla said. Carla had felt the baby move inside her, so that gave her great relief. Her face covered in grime, she said to my weeping mother, “we’re OK Mom. Everyone’s OK.” Hannah had blood coming out of her ear but seems to be fine. Carla’s whole body still aches with pain, and she is covered with bruises and scrapes, but aside from that, the doctors determined, she and the baby are fine. She came home from the hospital on Tuesday.
Soon well over a hundred people were helping my parents (my Dad had come home) save their possessions from the rain, and looking through the rubble of Mark and Carla’s house to see what could be salvaged. There was little in the latter case, but there were some things to be saved. The boys found a precious piece of jewelry that both my older sisters wore at their weddings and that my younger sister wore as a bridesmaid at mine. With the help of the neighbors my parents have saved just about everything of value from their home, though it is clear that the house itself is finished.
I loved that house. But things are just things, and it is not the house that I can’t stop thinking about, or that has left me in a daze over the past couple of days. I can’t stop thinking about my precious sister, in the thirty-ninth week of her pregnancy, being thrown around on the ground by a tornado even as it utterly obliterates her home some twenty yards away. I can’t stop thinking about the few seconds between the time when they were all in that bathtub and the moment when the tornado struck. We almost lost them, it was a matter of seconds and inches. I can’t stop thanking God for his mercy.
There is no doubt my brother-in-law Mark saved his family. Thank you, Mark for your wisdom and decisiveness. The boys were so courageous, taking care of themselves and helping their younger siblings at the same time (seven year old Daniel was an absolute hero, carrying his two year old brother all the way from the house to the ditch!). And Carla no doubt saved little Hannah’s life.
But our loving God, whose ways are mysterious and beyond understanding, saved them all. Our Lord, who did not think it too much to take on human flesh and pay the ultimate price for our sin, continues to show us mercy in ways that can only look to us like the miraculous.
God is our refuge and strength,
a very present
help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way,
mountains be moved into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam,
mountains tremble at its swelling. Selah
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
habitation of the Most High.
God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved;
God will help her
when morning dawns.
The nations rage, the kingdoms totter;
he utters his
voice, the earth melts.
The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob
is our fortress. Selah
I don’t know who wrote it, (update: we later found out it was Eric's sister, Elyssa) but on my parents’ living room window, where my sister Elyssa had been reading, someone has traced in the filth, “I will praise you in this storm.” Yes, our gracious God, our Savior. We praise you and we thank you.
A few thoughts from me...
It's times like this that can become very hard to be so far away. We long to help and be there! But we are so thankful that the Lord has raised up his church and that they have become the very hands and feet of Jesus. They have gone above and beyond to wash clothes, dig through rubble, bring meals, offer housing. What a blessing!
It has also been interesting to talk to the Ugandans here. So many are eagerly and earnestly in prayer for their brothers and sisters across the world. Many have also been quick to tell us that they believe that demons are in storms like that. Interesting thought...and who can look at a storm that drew a direct line between two very strong Christian homes...one that became an F2 tornado immediately before hitting the VanEssendelft's house and stayed an F2 until immediately after the Tuininga's house...who can see that and say that Satan had no part in that destruction...that he didn't delight in the chaos and damage. As American Christians, I think we would do well to learn from our Ugandan brothers and sisters and at least explore and acknowledge the spiritual warfare in all of this. And yet...the story doesn't end there...it ends in world-wide prayer to an almighty God...it ends in the church rising up...it ends in praise to the High King...it ends in the sanctification of God's people...it ends in the glory of God!! What Satan and his demons mean for evil...God always means for good!! So, yes! Let's praise Him in this storm and may the local church in Belhaven, Eric's family, and the church world-wide not grow weary in doing good, even admist the threats of discouragement and destruction by the evil one...all to the praise of God's glorious grace.
Life has been cruising along at top speed...and been quite...well...normal, actually. I'm grateful for all of the "mundane" moments in which I can serve the Lord, my husband and my kiddos. I'm also grateful that the past weeks have been weeks to fill with extra times of prayer, extra time to read and extra time to learn. But our "mundane" days are also filled with much beauty and I don't like for weeks to pass by without some record of that...so to that end...here's a little of what's been going on around here...
:: The kids' pigeons finally laid some eggs. Yesterday I climbed up, stuck my camera in the jerry-can and took this picture...today we found the empty, pecked-through shell on the ground...I haven't actually climbed back up to see the baby bird yet, though.
::We've been spending lots of time with these dear friends before they head back to America. They officially got the legal guardianship they petitioned for in January. Now they are working through immigration and then they will be off...much to the breaking of our hearts. In the mean time Talitha enjoys a lot of time with her little friends, who are more like cousins.
:: I'm working on taking updated pictures of all the kids. I haven't done that since half a year before we left Oregon...yikes! Here's a little preview of what I've done so far. I may have to post more of Talitha's shots one of these days because they were oh so cute! :) (Actually, I just created an album on facebook, so you can check them out there)
:: This kitten somehow got into our house and within 3.9 seconds had a name, a flea collar and a bowl of food given it. Sweet kitty, but really kids? I'm not sure this one is here to stay...but if he does, just so ya know, his name is Checkers...
:: For the past year, I've been struggling to keep my iron up...head rushes and dizzy spells were abounding...ugh. We consulted an endocrinologist and it was suggested that Celiacs might be a possible cause. I wasn't able to do any of the testing here, but decided to go off gluten just to see what happened. The difference has been astounding, so I'm pretty sure we are on the right track. While I really miss my bread...and biscuits...and cinnamon rolls...and pizza dough...and...okay, I'll stop depressing myself now...I'm so thankful to be feeling better! I'm quite impressed with how many different kinds of flour I can get here, but I'm also super thankful for friends who already have stuff in the mail to me. :) I've gotten a few recipes for cookies and muffins down, but I'm still struggling to make a decent loaf of bread. Hopefully one day I'll get the hang of all this. Are you gluten free? You are more than welcome to share your favorite recipes and tips in the comment section!
::April Fool's Day reached new levels in the Tuininga house this year... one little brother woke up with Kitty whiskers drawn by a sister. The Sisters woke up with no clothes in their closet thanks to a brother. Our morning tea came in two different colours...yellow and red. Mama's school box was locked even though she never locks it and Daddy's computer mouse some how ran away to hide and left this poem behind...
decided to run away
It was tired
of being pulled on all day.
As it left
the top of your desk, it cried,
work I have supplied,
So I am off
to run and hide!”
To keep from
being called a fool
On this the first
day of April so cruel,
find your mouse
him for all the work he actually does in this house!
It’s very difficult for Americans to put themselves in the
shoes of rural Ugandans. I try to do so,
by thinking of what they can afford with the money they earn. If they have a job, which few do, it can pay
$4 per day. Many people do not have
jobs, and so have to scrape by on far less.
In America, many jobs pay $100 per day or more. How can we imagine what it is like? I often make the following calculation: since
a Ugandan earns 10,000 UGX (Ugandan shillings) per day (if they have a nice job), and an American
with a job might earn $100 per day, I will take 2 zeroes off the 10,000 UGX per
day and it becomes 100...or $100 USD. Now what if we
do that to the prices of common items for sale in Uganda? What if we take off 2 zeroes? That helps you to “feel” the pinch of what a
Ugandan can afford, even one with an envied job. So, imagine that you are earning your current
salary in America, and you go to Wal-mart, and discover that…
A single banana costs $2.00
Butter is $25.00 per stick.
Milk is $56.00 per gallon (yes, fifty-six dollars)
Eggs are $3.75 for one single egg
An apple costs $20.00 (apples are luxuries in Uganda!)
1 mango is $5.00
1 watermelon is $50.00
1 pineapple is $30.00
A whole chicken is $200.00
One pound of meat is $36.00
1 pound of flour is $10.00
1 ear of corn is $3.00
1 bottle of soda is $10.00
1 pound of sugar is $10.00
1 pound of salt is $20.00
1 pound of rice is $13.60
A small piece of chicken and a plate of rice at a cheap
restaurant costs $20.00
Rent on a small (100 square feet) one-room, windowless apartment with shared bathroom in a
poor section of town is $300.00 per month. Renting a 3 bedroom house is at
least $4,000 per month.
What about clothes:
A new pair of trousers is $250.00 (You can find one used for
A new button shirt is $200.00 (You can find one used for
What about transportation?
A gallon of gas costs $136.00 (yes, one hundred and thirty
A cheap small car costs $50,000
A ride across town on the back of a motorcycle costs $10.00
How much of this could you afford? This is the reality for all but the
wealthiest Ugandans. This helps you to
see how difficult it is for most Ugandans to eat well and be well-nourished. Many children and adults might get meat once
per month, or less. Many might drink
milk, once a week at the very most.
We have the great privilege to love these brothers and
sisters, who are in this type of financial situation. If God has blessed us with so much more, we
have the great privilege to be “generous and ready to share” (1 Timothy
6:18). We have the great privilege to
imitate Christ: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though
he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, that you by his poverty might
become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9). Are we willing to become poor(er) so that
others might become rich(er)? Are we
willing to make real sacrifices, like Jesus did so that others can be lifted
up? Most Ugandans we know are not
lazy. There are some lazy
drunkards. But many are diligent
hard-working brothers and sisters who are greatly encouraged when far wealthier
believers show them the love of Christ.
What a privilege! What a
Mbale hosted a 12 K race today, in honor of Woman's Day. The Orthodox Presbyterian Uganda Mission put together a smashing team composed of Dr. Jim, Haily, Emily, Morgan, Katelyn, Eric, Timothy and me.
The race was advertised as being an 11K. When we plotted the given race course on the internet, it was actually a 15K. So I contacted the organizer. He switched the route and handed out new maps. It was still 13K...so I contacted him again and sent him a screen shot of a proposed 12K route...not quite 11K, but to get it to 11K would have required some major re-routing. The organizers liked the new route, so 12K it was. All of the signs advertised it as starting at 9:30, but a few times we were told 7:30, so we called to find out and the organizer insisted that it was 7am...at 6:30 am this morning, he even called us and told us to come now...so we did...and then we waited until 8:45 or so when it started. But we had a reason for waiting...we were waiting for the guest of honor to show up...Rebecca Kadaga...she is the head speaker of parliament. She came finally came in with her police escort and said a few brief words and flagged us off.
Over this past school break (our Christmas break and the Ugandan school year break) we had many kids coming and going on our compound. We got to know the group quite well and made great efforts to get to know their parents, if possible. We were also able to often include them in our family devotions. It made for a busy couple months, but a good couple months. Once the school year started, though, it became clear that we needed more structure to the time. First kids began bringing their school friends so that we couldn't keep up with getting to know them and then a few began to try to skip school trying to use our compound as a place to hang out...not good!
So our friends gave us a great idea of hanging a red sign and a green sign on our gate. When it's red, the kids can't come in. When it's green, they are welcome. It has worked beautifully.
Now, the kids and I pick a couple hours a week to open our gate and let our little friends come play. We also decided to become much more intentional about the time. Each of our kids pick an activity to take outside and do with some kids. We bring out crayons and coloring sheets, the football (soccer ball), a jump rope, and books to read. We also work on literacy. Many of our coloring sheets are geared towards practicing phonics and I also try to sit down with any kids who want help learning to read. I was amazed the first day we did this how many fourth grade kids could neither identify the name nor tell me the sound of the letter A. And on some days we are still able to do devotions with all the group. We usually have between 20 and 30 kids come.
This ministry is hard. I'm not going to lie. I've already seen that Satan hates it. The first school day we decided to be very intentional about our time with the kids, was the worst school day we have had all year. The kids can be rough...especially when they first start coming. We've already seen that after a few times of coming and being accepted and loved on, some of the worst (some of the kids that when you meet them on their first day and say in your un-sanctified state, "I don't like that kid.") have become so sweet and respectful. Here is one of them...
His name is Junior and he is one of the poorest of the poor. He was so stubborn the first few times! But wow has he changed! He's the sweetest little guy now! And some of the kids...well they are still stubborn...but for those, we've had a chance now to sit and listen about what their home life is like...and well...as much as my flesh is annoyed by stubborn kids...the Spirit continues to remind me of the need to love the un-lovable and to love them as I love myself.
We also had one afternoon where we were sitting around coloring and chatting and some heads poked into the gate...having obviously never been here before. Immediately, all of the kids at the table said, "oh mama Dianna...please don't let those ones in...they steal our pencils at school and beat us." I started to head to the gate to talk to them...completely unsure of what to say, when more kids from the other side of the yard came running with all their might to tell me the same thing and beg me not to let them in. Now, having heard it from two separate groups, I felt confident that the report was true. So I greeted them and said, "These ones tell me that you have been stealing their pencils and beating them." The kids, who were quite a bit bigger, hung their heads...not offering excuses. "So...if you give back their pencils and greet them at school tomorrow nicely (a common gesture here of reconciliation), then you may come in and play next time." The next time came around and when I walked out I saw them sitting at the table coloring. I inquired to all of the kids, if the terms had been met and they all readily agreed that they had and they played nicely together the rest of the time. We all found it quite humorous as we gathered around the supper table that night.
This is also a difficult ministry because on the days that we open our gate, our schedule feels like "go, go, go" We have to be up in time in order to eat breakfast on time in order to start and therefore finish school on time, so that we can clean up in time to open the gate in time, so that the kids have a decent amount of time to play (1 to 1 and a half hours) before we have to send them home so that we can eat supper on time and still go to bed on time...whew! (Maybe that's why this blog has been so unusually silent these days? haha!) But again...the Holy Spirit presses in and says, "Will you not give up a few afternoons to let me do some kingdom work?"
Please pray for these afternoons...that God would use them in mighty ways to breath life and Holy Spirit warmth into the dry dusty hearts of many and use these dear ones to make his kingdom a strong and mighty kingdom...it's worth the couple hours of my time...and worth a few minutes of your time on your knees.
Yesterday, we had the pastors of the OPCU churches and all of their wives over for lunch and a time of singing and prayer. Fellowship with this group is so rich and such a blessing. We enjoy these times so much. Sadly, I wasn't feeling well yesterday, so while I managed to make it through the dinner, I didn't take out my camera. But there were so many little blessings of yesterday I wanted to record, despite the lack of photographic evidence.
During devotions following dinner, Eric's phone began to ring and ring. He kept silencing it in his pocket. Finally, someone walked in the door to tell him that our team mate, Mark, had been in a car accident. Thankfully, it wasn't horrible and everyone was okay. However, sometimes the crowds can get kinda rowdy around the scene of an accident, so Eric decided to drive out and check on things. Immediately, the pastors stood up and one of them said, "He's our missionary, we need to go too." It was so amazing to see how much love and concern they had and how much they wanted to show support and make sure everyone was okay. As soon as they left, the women also, said, "We need to stop and pray for Deacon Mark and Mama Christine." So we did.
As soon as our guests left in the late afternoon, my stomach broke loose. (Thank you, Lord for holding it off just long enough!) The kids came home from the Weber's house where they had stayed for the afternoon and it turned out that while they were there, two of them had become sick also...and well...you probably know where it goes from there in a house of 11 people...by evening there were numerous loads of laundry and buckets everywhere.
But as I was in the depths last night, my sweet daughter, Rebecca, came in and laid her hand on my shoulder and said, "Mama, can I pray for you before I go to bed?" And she prayed the sweetest prayer, full of love and tenderness. Children truly are a blessing.
And then again this morning, as this part of the body of Christ gathered on our compound and we tried to hide in our house, our neighbor and pastor, Charles, came into our living room and said, "Ah...it looks like a hospital in here...I need to pray for you" haha! So he prayed over us and left to begin worship and we listened from our living room (an amusing advantage to having the church meet just outside your house...) After worship, I was blessed once more as the ladies of the church came to our door, dressed in all their bright colors, called to me and then began to speak in voices that understand suffering way more than me and which also contained a serious knowledge of village life where even simple 24 hour bugs can turn serious and life-threatening. "Mama Dianna...we are praying for you...that God will grant you much strength during this time of illness and a quick recovery. May God make you to be strong to tend to all these small ones."
I'm so thankful for our community here...this part of Christ's body. They show such love and concern for us. They continue to show us grace upon grace...all undeserved, all so beautiful. While so much of our time here is spent pouring ourselves out for them, it is by no means a one-way street. We receive as much as we give and I'm so blessed to be one church...one body...in unity and fellowship with my brothers and sisters here.