Wednesday, 16 September 2020

And We're Off to Kenya ... Almost!

Our move to Kenya is feeling real now.  A mix of excitement and  apprehension given that international travel is a little more complicated these days.

We have tickets booked for 2nd October, the bags are being packed, visas applied for and we are sorting out last minute things like Covid Tests for travel.

As we reflect back on these last 3-4 months which have not been anything like we planned, I realise that we have had all that we needed and more, in many ways.


The provision of this 'home' in Newcastle has been one of the biggest blessings, giving us space as a family to be ourselves and to process so many emotions and changes in this transition. We have thoroughly enjoyed the beautiful scenery, walks,  castles and beaches this area has to offer, We have been able to have day or weekend visits with our parents and siblings and created memories to hold on to.

Whilst we have not been able to visit churches in person or attend retreats/conferences we are grateful for the refreshment received from events like virtual Keswick and for the ability to connect with some of you through phone calls, zoom meetings, and to be part of church services online.

Next week will be the 15th Anniversary of our departure to begin serving with MAF in Uganda.

                                                         September 2005 we headed to Uganda

                                                        March 2016 we moved to Liberia

                                                        October 2020 we head to Kenya

Our family has certainly changed in those years but our desire to continue to serve isolated people and share the love of Jesus through the ministry of MAF has not changed.  How thankful we are to have such a wonderful support team like you, alongside us as we  embark on this new adventure in Kenya.

In the coming days please pray that Marks work permit application would be approved.  We need this for our belongings to be shipped from Liberia.  Pray that all the final preparations to leave would go smoothly and pray that we would settle quickly into new roles, schools and a new team.

As we head to Kenya the words of Paul to the Ephesians are my prayer for ourselves and for each of you;

"Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us,  to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen." Ephesians 3:20

Tuesday, 21 July 2020

Thank you from a MAF Partner in Liberia

A Missionary family in Liberia whom MAF flies asked us to pass on this letter to our support team.

It was humbling for us to read their words but a reminder to us of the reason we serve in a remote country.

We wish to see people spiritually and physically transformed in Jesus Name.  You are a part of that and we hope reading this letter will encourage you too.

Dear Friends of Mark and Sarah,

 I have been wanting to reach out to express my appreciation for your support and prayers for the Newnham family. While we were sad to see them leave, they served well in Liberia for the last few years and we want to thank them and you for that.

 My husband and I, with our three young children, serve with SIM with an unreached M* people group. We have been living in the bush area of Liberia for more than seven years. My husband is a bible translator and literacy trainer and I home school our kids, work with the women and children in our community and do trauma healing counselling.

 Our remote town, Voinjama, has no supermarket, convenience store, or bank and only an ill-equipped ‘hospital.’ Apart from a couple Irish nuns and a Peace Corp volunteer from time to time, there are no other expats living anywhere near us. There is a market where we can get local foods and there are some small shops where we can get things like flour, oil, and sugar. But every few months, we need to travel to Monrovia for supplies, groceries and fellowship.

 Before MAF, we used to take the long dirt road. On the best days, we could make it to Monrovia in about 10 hours, but once you add the heavy rains from the rainy season and you have roads that may not be passable at all. We have been stuck in mud for hours. Last year we were stuck so terribly, we ended up tipping over onto a sloped side of the road, smashing a side window. Another time, it took us five hours to drive 40 KM. These conditions are tough on vehicles. We would regularly end up with car problems that would have us on the side of the road for several hours, sometimes having to be towed or wait until the next day.  We arrived in Monrovia feeling totally beat up from those road conditions and spent my entire week there, which was supposed to be a break, feeling painfully sore and exhausted, just to turn around and do it again to get home.

 Once, my husband had to take public transportation to Monrovia to meet with a Bible translation consultant. It ended up being a 22-hour trip. The first half had to be done on motorbike as the muddy roads were impassable by car. He was soaked from the rain. Halfway there, he was able to get in a taxi, but because of the driver’s poor planning, they ran out of gas and spent the night on the side of the road. After being up most of the night, he arrived the next morning, having to jump right in to meet with the consultant who was available for just a few days to review the translation work that had been done so far. How nice it would have been for him to arrive feeling rested for such tedious and mind-straining work.

 Last year, conditions were so terrible, we couldn’t even pass on the road that usually takes just 30 minutes to get us from our home to the airfield. We ended up having to take a by-pass that took several hours. The narrow, muddy road had several steep hills with streams of water flowing down them. Rain was falling; our eyes were on the time, knowing MAF was on its way to get us. Some parts of the road were too risky to drive on with the family, so we would get out and pluck our feet through the deep mud as my husband carefully maneuvered the vehicle through. A number of times, we met stranded vehicles and passengers as their car was no match for the road. I’m not sure that I managed to take a deep breath that entire trip! After a trip like that, when you see the trusty MAF plane and that pilot standing there ready to take care of you, it’s like… coming home. There is a sudden rush of not feeling alone anymore, of knowing that these people really care about us. They are a beautiful sight for sore eyes and we can breathe deeply again. And we feel as though we can never thank them enough.

 Before MAF, we didn’t have a great plan for evacuation if there was to be an emergency. Was it wise to have toddlers in an area where we couldn’t access decent health care?  Would she make it through the long, difficult drive to access health care in Monrovia? Now we live with the comforting knowledge that within a couple hours, a MAF plane could be within a 30-minute drive of our house if we needed help. That peace of mind is invaluable!

 I know Mark worked so hard behind the scenes to make these things possible. He left for work while it is still dark and had long, busy days. I’ll share a secret that until recently, I hadn’t shared with anyone. I actually really dislike flying, afraid of a plane crash somewhere in the jungle. But on those flights with MAF, I would often reassure myself by reminding myself that Mark Newnham was on the job and he would never let us on a plane that wasn’t properly serviced and safe. I had complete confidence in Mark’s ability and diligence to do his job well. It helped me to breathe easier through those dips and turbulence.

 I think Mark’s job was probably tedious, hot and somewhat thankless. More than once I would find Mark at the hanger, overheated, and yet helping with weighing items and packing the plane. I always feel embarrassed by the amount of stuff I end up taking back upcountry with me but Mark never said anything to make me feel bad about it. He just did his job without complaining. In fact, Mark seemed to always have a smile on his face anytime we saw him.

 The Newnham family has been so kind to us. Our Noah had pretty significant speech issues and I was totally at a loss as to how to help him. Can you believe my relief when I heard that there was actually a speech therapist in Monrovia! Sarah evaluated Noah and gave me the tools and lessons to help him. She gave me the encouragement I desperately needed to teach Noah how to talk properly and now he can! Our Audrey always looked forward to getting to see her little friend, Abby, each time we came to Monrovia. We loved watching those girls interact, hold hands, and talk about mermaids and losing teeth. They were precious together! And Noah wanted nothing more for his birthday than to hang out with Josh, but worried that since Josh was so much older, he may not want to hang out with a little kid. Josh graciously accepted the invitation and made Noah’s birthday so special. Josh has such a gift in caring for young children. And, Amy was always so sweet and smiley, a true joy to be around. 

  So, thank you for standing with the Newnhams, for supporting them so they can support people like us. Your gifts and prayers are so appreciated. I thank God for people like you each time I get on and off that plane. May God bless you and continue to provide for you too in every way.

 In Christ,

John Mark and Sara Sheppard

Audrey, 8, Noah, 7, James 4

Friday, 19 October 2018

Scotty Arrives in Liberia

One of the big advantages of home schooling is that you can add in impromptu field trips.  A week ago Josh and I were able to head to the airport and meet "Scotty" as it arrived from it's cross country trip from Uganda. Here is Josh's report and some photos he took on the day.

On Friday 5th October I was waiting at the airport for Scotty.   The plane 5x-SCO or "Scotty" as she is known to us, was coming from Uganda to now serve in Liberia. It was coming because OPE needed to return to Uganda for an engine change. So OPE is going to Uganda and Scotty is coming!
 I waited excitedly on the ramp for Scotty to land. The V2 flight tracker said that it was arriving any time. I stood on the Pickup Truck scanning the air and then out of nowhere I caught a glimpse of Scotty in the blue sky.

When she landed it looked like a very soft landing... I wished that I was in the plane.  Scotty landed quite far away because the runway is very long. It was very cool watching the plane taxiing and finally she got to the ramp.
 Greg the pilot, turned the engine off. My dad and Andrew Mumford  (pilot) and one of our friends from England went up to the plane and welcomed Greg.  We had fun searching the plane for Scottish flags that the Ugandan engineers had hidden all over it!

The next day, Greg would start again to make the long flight back to Uganda with 5X-OPE.  It would be great if I could go with him!

Monday, 4 June 2018

International Interactions….

So following a busy week of maintenance, carrying out checks on several of the avionics, installing a satellite tracking system in the instrument panel, removing the wing struts to carry out some Non-Destructive Testing, it struck me how cool it was how many nationalities were involved in the week…
Here on the ground in Liberia there was myself ( British), and our country director who is Swiss.  We do our maintenance in a hangar surrounded by Americans and Liberians that help out. 
I had two guys come from the MAF programme in Kenya, one is Finnish and one is Kenyan.  We also received help and support during the week from another British guy based in Uganda and the Chief Engineer there who is Dutch.  Also an avionics engineer who is Swedish was also involved…..
How awesome is it that all these people of different nationalities, cultures and backgrounds can work together to get a plane operational again to help transform isolated people in remote places!

Thursday, 11 January 2018

A Time of Transition

Transition is never easy.... we have had more opportunity to practice the art of skillful packing, living with bare essentials and saying goodbyes but that does not mean we necessarily enjoy it or find it easy. 

Unfortunately our new MAF house is not complete so between 27th and 31st Dec we were busy packing and moving to a temporary home on compound. Yes, there were tears at leaving our first home in Liberia, moving farther from play mates that have been immediate neighbours and become close friends and lessons to be learned about the temporal nature of  life here on earth, when  a piece of furniture fell from the truck and some treasured possessions got damaged. 

In all of it I have been constantly reminded to find the grace and strength for this season through deliberate thankfulness.  God is good and as our family continues to look forward to a new home there are many things to be thankful for every day;

  • We enjoyed some wonderful days celebrating Christmas, relaxing at the beach and enjoying family time.
  • Fostering Beulah for this season has been refreshing for my soul...her wonder and amazement at so many things that are new to her but had become part of the scenery for me. (I'm going miss our morning walks together!)
  • Our temporary house has the most amazing beach view from the lounge where I can enjoy my coffee and soak up Gods splendour
  • We have amazing friends  and workers here that gave up their family time over Christmas and were so helpful in getting us moved.  

While we were busy with our own transition and remained on the compound for most of Christmas break the nation of Liberia voted in the second round of elections.  We are thankful that the elections were peaceful with a jubilant mood in the city on the day the results were announced (we know because we found ourselves stuck in the traffic for 5 hours that day!!).  The Inauguration of George Weah (former footballer) takes place on 22nd January.  Pray for wisdom, integrity and humility as he leads this country. Pray that the coming years would be a time of stability and development for Liberia.


Whilst stuck in traffic on the day the results were announced we saw quite a few sights we normally miss because we go by them much faster.  Amongst the things that caught my eye was this dining set....a location for a future date night perhaps? maybe not...the odour was not exactly likely to give you an appetite!

Wednesday, 20 December 2017

A taste of Christmas in Liberia

Well, Christmas is almost here and one thing we are certain of is that there will be no white Christmas here!  Our family maintains some of the English traditions Mark & I grew up with and have developed a few family traditions of our own.  While childhood memories of chilly Christmas days of ten feature a red robin on a snow covered branch, Liberia has it's own Christmas bird. The white egrets pass by our home for a few weeks at this time of year.

We have our artificial tree that has travelled the world with us, containing ornaments reminding us of many friends and places. It's a small part of family and friends with us.

Here in Liberia the locals decorate their yards by painting the rocks, trees and road ways white with Christmas greetings!

As a family we celebrate advent by lighting a candle during dinner and find some good advent readings to read together at the end of our meal.
Despite the heat of Africa, we usually still have a full roast meal on Christmas Day. I always make a Christmas cake, mince pies and Christmas pudding (usually bringing essential ingredients back from UK with us) and get excited about various other edible treats we manage to find in the local supermarkets.  This year we discovered treats from two well known UK supermarkets!!
Since, fresh veggies are so expensive here in Liberia we also treat ourselves to some imported favourites...this selection cost us £27.

Most of all we look forward to having time to spend as a family, relaxing on the beach and spending time focusing on Jesus, God's most precious gift.

Monday, 30 October 2017

African Adventures

What a weekend it has been!!
It has been full of exciting moments and glimpses of Gods awesome creativity. As I write I am listening to the constant sound of waves crashing up on the beach just 50 m from our home and am reminded once again that His power is never ending.

The first event this weekend was about the only one that was planned.  In Africa the most amazing blessings usually are not expected and are often found in the simple joys of living life in community.

Jet the Puppy
When we arrived here 18 months ago we promised our children a puppy to replace the pets we said goodbye to in Uganda.  We have been trying to put it off until we have our own permanent house...and fenced in yard.  That is taking longer than expected and so we just decided to jump in the deep end of puppy parenting.

Meet Jet, our 13 week old puppy.  He only slept for four hours the first night (between muted barks and whines for his mama) but I am thankful he has slept much better on nights two and three.
He has come to us from missionary friends who needed to find homes for their litter of puppies before leaving on Home Assignment. The children were up early this morning to run him around the compound before leaving for school....we will see how long their enthusiasm lasts!

Baby Sea Turtles

On our first evening walk with Jet we spotted something we have only ever seen on nature shows.
Mark found two baby sea turtles trying to climb the wall of our house.
We are not sure if Mama Turtle somehow laid her eggs too far from the beach. Maybe the hatch-lings did not know how to find their way around our house and through the dense undergrowth to reach the ocean? It's also possible our outside lights had confused the turtles and they followed them instead of the moon in their efforts to find the sea.

The children made it their mission to search for and rescue as many as they could. We researched Atlantic green turtles online and the while event became a great lesson in wildlife conservation. 
In total around eight baby sea turtles were found over the weekend.  We placed them in a container of sea water and released them on the beach.  Just maybe, one of them will survive long enough to be the 1 in 1,000 that lives to adulthood!

Gods never ending promise
Walks on the beach are a frequent past time for our family. This weekend, as we looked up in the sky we noticed that the sun was encircled by a complete rainbow.  It was quite spectacular!
Unfortunately, we could only get a photo through the lens of Marks sunglasses as the sun was so bright.