Wednesday, February 14, 2018

What's so different?

By Ted 

Although France is a developed nation, there are many differences that exist between our life here in Albertville and our life in the US.

Many differences are usually apparent, but otherwise small and don't have a major impact on our day-to-day routines. For example, the electricity voltage is 230V instead of the 120V in the US, and the plugs are different. But these are relatively easily addressed with plug adapters and voltage converters (if necessary), and the power is consistent like in the US (unlike how it is in Burundi).

Here is a short list of other differences (big and small) that I've noticed over the past several months of life in Albertville. Note that these are observations from our life in Albertville, and may not reflect life in other parts of France.

1. Toilets - In the US, I was accustomed to a typical bathroom being comprised of a toilet and a sink (and frequently a bathtub or shower). In France, the actual toilets themselves are pretty much the same, but they are usually located in a smaller room that is separate from the rest of the bathroom, where you would find a sink and bathtub/shower. In some ways, this has its advantages, as in the case of the toilet and shower being able to be used by 2 separate people simultaneously. Additionally, in some public places, it is not uncommon to find a space where men and women have separate toilet stalls, and then share a common space to wash their hands.

2. Store hours - In the US, it is usually possible to find a grocery store or pharmacy that's open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and you can probably find one open on Christmas too. In France, most stores have business hours from 8 or 9 am to 7 or 8 pm (including grocery stores, pharmacies, and bakeries). Most, if not all, are closed on Sundays as well as on holidays like Christmas. Some stores are also closed for a couple hours in the middle of the day for lunch (like 12-2p)

This is one of the only grocery stores in town that is
open on Sundays, from 9h00 to 12h30! 

3. Restaurant hours - In the same way that some stores are closed for lunch, some restaurants in France are only open for lunch 12 - 2 pm and for dinner only after 7 pm. What if you are hungry at 11 am and want to eat an early lunch? You can probably find a restaurant that's open at that time, but it may require a little bit of research on your end. I certainly wouldn't chance it without first consulting with Google. As you can imagine, since our boys go to sleep around when French restaurants open for dinner, it makes it challenging to have a dinner outing outside the home.

 Fast-food restaurants are reliably
open all day long!

4. Bread and cheese - In France, we eat more bread and cheese regularly due to their abundance and lower prices. Walking into a “boulangerie” (bakery) is always a fun pastime, especially since there are so many kinds of breads and baguettes (our favorite is a baguette viennoise, which is like a softer brioche type baguette, and which technically derives its name from Vienna but I think is still French). Most bakeries also have regular sales and promotions, one which occurs regularly during the last 30 minutes of being open. During this time, baked goods are usually 50% off! Needless to say, we have had our faire share of delicious breads, tarts, and pastries, and we will certainly miss this part of French life and culture.

Did you know that there is more than one kind of baguette?

5. Driving (less) - Perhaps one of the reasons this is more noticeable is because we had been most recently accustomed to the commuter life in the Los Angeles area. Here, we drive a lot less and walk a lot more. Every day, we walk to drop off and pick up Toby to/from school (5 min one-way). Since we live in on-campus housing, our commute to our language school classrooms is a 1 min walk between buildings. On a slightly more unrelated note, most cars are manual transmission, including our current one, and the most common type driven are small hatchback type cars.

Eunice giving two-thumbs up after her first driving lesson. She
only stalled 3 times, so that's pretty good for a first timer! 

6. Public schools - In France, children start public school at the age of 3. It's to say that France places an emphasis on early childhood education and that French kids essentially start pre-school at an earlier age. Another related difference is that we have a 2-hour block of time for lunch every day, which essentially parallels the French public school system. This means that as soon as my language class finishes at 11:15 am, I walk over to pick up Toby from his school. Interestingly, if your child is not picked up during a narrow 10-minute window, you get fined.

Pick-up time during lunch one afternoon back
in September (as you can tell by the shorts)!

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Six Semaines en France

By Ted

It’s incredible that we’ve been in France now for 6 weeks already and that we have completed 5 weeks of language school! We are still in the process of figuring life out in our new environment, but things are coming together gradually. We have some established routines, such as our biweekly grocery runs on Wednesdays and Saturdays (most stores are closed on Sundays) and frequent outings to nearby parks with playgrounds. But we are hoping to incorporate other activities as well, including visiting the city library regularly and joining a local club or “association” as an opportunity to engage the community more and to practice our French. I’m thinking of joining a basketball association while Eunice is thinking of joining one involving crafts and scrapbooking. Most people here in Albertville don’t speak English, so one benefit is that we are forced to speak French (or at least try to) whenever we leave our apartment/school complex.

What is full-time language school like? Well, the sheer amount of new vocabulary words and grammatical rules learned daily often feels like (as the English expression goes) “drinking from a fire hose.” We have homework every night along with weekly exams, so our studies have been keeping us considerably occupied. Despite the intensity of it all, we ARE learning and we are grateful to be part of this remarkable language learning community.

Is there a specific level of language proficiency we are trying to reach? Officially no, but having a higher level of mastery would certainly be more helpful for us in Burundi. Our school teaches according to the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR), which provides a foreign language proficiency scale measured by six levels from A1 for beginners to C2 for those who have demonstrated mastery of a language.

So what level of proficiency would a student attain after completing one year here? Assuming a student started at A1 and continued to pass all coursework, he or she would be at a B1.1 proficiency level (B1 is broken up into B1.1 and B1.2), or in other words, an intermediate level. If a student started at a higher level with prior French knowledge, he or she would continue to progress accordingly. I tried to figure out how these levels corresponded to number of years of French taken in high school or college, but it doesn’t exactly cross over neatly. Nevertheless, from my quick internet search, one year of high school or college French is roughly about 1 of the 6 levels on the CEFR proficiency scale. So, if you took 4 years of French in high school, you would probably be somewhere at the B1 or B2 proficiency level. This surprised me somewhat, but it just goes to say that learning languages takes time and is no easy matter!

One of my favorite things about learning French is being able to praise and worship God in another language. Here is one of my favorite songs that we sing regularly here at the school: Mon secours est en Toi, which means My Help is in You.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Transitions Part 2

By Ted

We now have only about 2.5 months left until we leave the US. It feels like we just went through the process of saying our goodbyes, even though it was already nearly a year ago when we left our home and community in Michigan. Well, I will soon be returning to Michigan for a locums work assignment. Whenever I am traveling for work, it is always a challenge for our family, especially for Eunice as she looks after the boys in my absence, but the upside is that it will likely be the last time I will have to work before we leave the country. I can then use the last several weeks to focus on studying French, saying goodbye to friends and supporters, and packing our belongings.

Realizing that our time remaining in the US is soon coming to an end has made me reflect on this past year, which has had its challenges and blessings. Here are the top 3 in each category, in no particular order:


1. The uncertainty of not having a stable income – Being a locums health care provider has some parallels to being a substitute teacher. How so? When a hospital needs help for a short-term gap in coverage, they contract with a company to help them find a provider to cover, usually weeks to months in advance. Thus, by nature, the locums world tends to afford more flexibility but at the cost of not always knowing when and if I’ll be working.

2. Being away from home when traveling alone – Though I don’t travel nearly as much as business people who have platinum airline and hotel memberships, I have been in airplanes and spent more nights in hotel rooms in the past year than the sum of all my years past.

3. Parenting – There has been much growth in this area for me, but I know I have much to learn yet. I used to think I was somewhat patient, but that was before having children, and I recognize how much patience I am lacking each day. I’ve been reading books on parenting as well, which have provided some insight.


1. Having more time with Eunice, Toby, and Amos – When I’m not working or studying French, I am with Eunice and usually watching Toby or Amos. Eunice and I sometimes joked in the beginning that we spent more time together during the first month in California than we did all of residency. It has been a joy to be more present and to see both Toby and Amos growing up in front of me.

2. Seeing parents often – Living in southern California has allowed more frequent visits with both Eunice’s and my parents, who are both within driving distance of our current residence. It has been a nice change since having lived in other states for many years. Toby loves “halmi” and “halbi” on both sides, especially since they all dote on him so much.

3. Experiencing God’s faithfulness – Time and time again, God has been faithful to me, and this has been so evident in his consistent provision for our family. Our current housing arrangement, my locums job opportunities, my board exams, Toby’s preschool, our church community, and a strong supporter base are just some of the many things for which we have seen God present and at work. More recently, the container carrying the totes we packed in February arrived in Burundi at Kibuye Hope Hospital this past week. Our hearts are full of thanks!

Toby and me video chatting while I was away.

The boys trying to Duo w/ dad!


Wednesday, March 15, 2017

851 days

By Eunice

851 days ago, we welcomed our first son, Toby (Tobias) and officially became parents. It sounds like a lot of days, but it's really only 2.3 years. Last December, we welcomed our second son, Amos. He's now 3 months old!

(L) Toby and (R) Amos

When people ask me how it's been with two kids, I've been saying that the transition from one to two has been challenging for me. But actually, it's more than that. Parenting altogether has been challenging. Amos likes to be held 99% of the time, and Toby wants to play 99% of the time. If there's one thing that will reveal your impatience, selfishness, sinfulness, it's being a parent.

Ted was away for work, and it was me with the boys 24/7.
Amos was barely a month old, and Toby was having a rough day.
Both of them were crying at the top of their lungs.
I stopped to take this photo to help me step back from the
moment altogether. I can laugh about it now...

BUT, being a parent also reveals a glimmer of God's unconditional love for us. 

I would describe myself as a pretty strong person. I can persevere. I don't give up easily. I have grit, and I'm resilient (teachers often do/are 😉). But, the early days/months post-Amos, I was feeling overwhelmed and exhausted, just from being mom to both of my boys...on top of that, the days on which I had to "hold down the fort" while daddy was away at work + other responsibilities I had to take care of or think about = a lot of pressure and burden. Toby started having meltdowns daily. Why is he having another meltdown?! Doesn't he see how hard I'm working? Doesn't he see how hard I'm trying? Why am I so impatient? Help me, Jesus. These were some of the thoughts that would run through my mind. 

And then there was a Sunday in January. Our pastor's wife wanted Ted to meet with a retired medical missionary who happened to be visiting that day. While he went to connect with them after service, I went to pick Toby up from the children's ministry area. Toby and I made our way back to where Ted and Amos were waiting/chatting. I briefly said my hellos but immediately returned to supervising my ever so adventurous toddler. Standing nearby was Sherry. Sherry has 6 children and 19 grandchildren. I didn't know her very well, except that she volunteered in Toby's classroom. "Toby is such a sweet boy," Sherry said to me. I jokingly/carelessly responded, "Yes, except when he's acting crazy or having a meltdown." And she looked me straight in the eyes and gently but firmly said, "That's why he has you to lead and guide him. That's why God made you Toby's mom." Tears were already streaming down my face before she finished. I try to explain, "It's been really hard." And she says, "It's not supposed to be easy. You're not meant to be able to do it alone. Walk by the Spirit, Eunice. What is the fruit of the, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. HE gives you these." 

That was my first reminder of His presence, and while I was greatly comforted that day, my circumstances still remained -- still having to "hold down the fort," still dealing with the meltdowns, still trying to find His joy through hard days. 

Then came another Sunday (the following weekend). I was extremely distracted throughout most of the service. Amos was extra fussy; I had forgotten my "nursing cover" at home; I started zoning, thinking about the to-dos..."we have to get things ready to send on the container to Burundi; oh-no, the language placement exam is coming up...I haven't had time to study; what if I don't do well?; I need to get those forms completed...boy, I'm tired." Sadly, the message had become background noise. My pastor is wrapping up. All of sudden, zap - attention - captured, and I hear him say...

1) God's in charge. He knows what's going on. Trust Him.
2) Take things one step at a time. God knows the timing of things.
3) God's desire and ability to speak to you are greater than your fears and uncertainty. 

What??!! I don't know why I was surprised, but He sure swept me off my feet...again. I remember Ted and I looking at each other and going "Whoa." Lord, even when I am so distracted and can't possibly imagine hearing your can speak so clearly to me. You can reach me. You know me. You care for me. You are with me. 

The enemy schemes to instill fear within us and create a mistrust between us and the One who sent His only Son to die for our sins. The enemy tells us lies...what lies had I been hearing? Here are a couple...

  • Lie --> You're going to be a missionary? Look at you. You have all the comforts here, yet you are struggling and overwhelmed. That's not going to change once you're on the field. It's going to be even harder. What are you going to do then? Don't go. 

  • Lie --> You're going to move your family overseas? Are you sure your kids are going to be okay? What about your family here? Who will take care of them? Don't go. 

But as I shared in my last post, for every lie, we can counter it with an attribute of God through His Truth. Here are my counters...

  • Truth --> Missionaries are not superhuman or superheroes. They are not more holy or godly. We're the same sinners in need of His grace. ""My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me." (1 Corinthians 12:9)

  • Truth --> Worries? Fears? Yup, they'll still exist no matter where I am, but I have a big God who asks me to cast my worries upon him as He cares for me (1 Peter 5:7). He also tells me not to be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let my requests be made known to Him (Philippians 4:6). 

In our most recent e-newsletter, we shared that though not an easy decision, we decided to enroll Toby in preschool full-time. Last week was his first week. We're already on Week 2, Day 3. Last week, he cried everyday at drop-off (of course, he is always smiles at pick-up). But this week, it was different. With the warmer weather, they've been opening the classroom window. There's a little step stool in front of it. And this week, as he stood near the classroom door with one foot still outside, his teacher pointed to it and asked, "Toby, do you want to stand by the window and wave bye to your mommy?" Toby paused and said "yah." He walked in slowly, stopped, and turned to face me, "Bye Amos. Bye Mommy." And then he ran to the window, trying to beat all the other kids who also wanted to wave bye to us. I hear the teacher, "That's Toby's mommy. Let him wave bye to his mommy." They made room for him. He stuck his head out and started to wave. He was flashing his 100-watt smile as usual, and even though he doesn't have a ton of words to express all he feels, I could read his face. Why? Because I'm Toby's mom. He was saying, "Bye mom, see you later. I'm a little sad, but I'll be okay!" And I started walking away, and when I turned around at the corner, I could still see his little head sticking out the window. See you later, Toby! 

My heart bursts for joy each day we do the "window wave," and I'm reminded of the Father's love for us. Being a parent, a mom, is such a high calling. It challenges you. It stretches you. There are so many hard days, but man, it's such a privilege, and I'm so grateful. 

Toby meeting me at the window.               His little head still sticking out.                Yesterday's "Window Wave"

Dear Toby and Amos, 
Neither of you can read yet, but one day you will and maybe you'll come across our family blog and this letter. I can't even express how much I love you both. Know that on the really hard days, it's not your fault. It's me -- good news is that God's still working on your mom! I'm going to make mistakes along the way, but He's going to help fill in the gaps. And as much as I love you, you've got a Heavenly Father above that loves you even more, so perfectly, so unconditionally. So, it is my greatest prayer that the both of you come to know Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, and that you both will walk with Him all the days of your life. He's worth it all. He's the reason we're doing all of this. He's called us as a family. And we're taking the Good News with us, to those that have never heard it. We're going to plant seeds. We're going to help water them. It might not be easy, but He promised to be with us always.
Love, Mom

Psalm 139:1-6
"O LORD, you have searched me (Toby and Amos) and known me (Toby and Amos)! You know when I (Toby and Amos) sit down and when I (Toby and Amos) rise up; you discern my (Toby and Amos') thoughts from afar. You search out my (Toby and Amos') path and my (Toby and Amos') lying down and are acquainted with all my (Toby and Amos') ways. Even before a word is on my (Toby and Amos') tongue, behold, O LORD, you know it altogether. You hem me (Toby and Amos) in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me (Toby and Amos). Such knowledge is too wonderful for me (Toby and Amos); it is high; I (Toby and Amos) cannot attain it."

John Brothers

Friday, November 11, 2016

Jesus is worthy!

By Ted 

Raising support is a truly humbling and faith-growing process. This can be said because of where we came from and where we are now and where were are going. Six months ago, we had the security of a steady, predictable income and reliable health insurance that we never had to think twice about. In some ways, I didn't have to rely on God as much because of the attitude of self-sufficiency and independence that is ingrained in my American-cultured mind. Contrast that now to our present situation, in which we are increasingly more dependent on God to provide for our needs, through our asking of friends and churches to support us, and even for finding a temporary part-time job while preparing to go. 

When I glance over at my physician colleagues who are now generating sizable incomes, I would be lying if I said that I haven't had the thought, "Hey, that could have been me." But in those moments, I am reminded of God's calling and purpose in my life and of the passage in Luke 14:25-33 that focuses on the cost of following Christ. Jesus says, "Any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple." Jesus calls us to follow Him after counting the cost. I may have to give up the security of a traditional job and its benefits, but being obedient to His call for our lives is worth so much more. Step by step, Jesus is refining me to let go more of this world and to cling more onto Him. Jesus, you are worthy!

Oct 2016 / Ann Arbor, MI
Grace Ann Arbor Church 

On a different, but related note, nous pouvons parler un peu de français maintenant (we can speak a little bit of French now). Eunice and I have been in a regular routine of our independent French studies. We have found ourselves to be most productive in a coffeeshop or library, with Toby attending daycare a few times a week. Because we have different learning preferences, Eunice is learning French through a free online university course. I am learning through Fluenz, a language software that is akin to Rosetta Stone but reportedly more conversationally based. Both of us also use Duolingo daily to supplement our learning. We both took Spanish in high school, so we can appreciate the occasional word overlap and often deduce the meaning from a common root. Pronunciation, on the other hand, is a whole different story. For example, one of the phrases in a lesson from today was, "Le travail a été mieux que l'année dernière" (the work was better than last year). A sentence with a simple meaning and yet so many ways to mispronounce every word. The encouraging part is that we do feel like we are making progress, and hopefully by February, we can approach the French placement exam for our future language school with confidence and some level of competence. Au revoir (bye!). 

P.S. - We (along with the other 2016 Post-Residents) were featured in the latest issue of World Medical Mission's On Call Magazine! 

P.P.S. - We will be sending out our first newsletter soon with brief updates from the past couple of months and our prayer requests -- if you would like to be on our (e)mailing list, please sign-up here