Novel Planning – Part 2 – The Synopsis

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With NaNoWriMo fast approaching, it’s time to cover another method of novel planning. Maybe the outline, covered briefly in our last post, doesn’t work for you. That’s okay, I’m not a huge fan of it, either. That’s why there are different processes for different people.


The Synopsis comes closest to the method of novel planning I use.

Essentially, you are writing a continuous summary of your novel idea without chapter breaks. 

This method works better for improvisation, for changing things and adapting your story as you go along. You should write just enough notes to maintain a good work flow as you write, but not so many that you can’t change or adapt an idea when you feel like it. 

You can use a notebook for your notes as you plan. Think through your basic novel idea, your characters, your setting. Jot notes about your plot ideas. You can include character descriptions and names as you think of them so you don’t have to do that later on. You can include how your characters will interact and at which points.

You’ll want just enough in your notes to trigger your imagination about what happens in your story and when it happens. The rest is up to your imagination as you sit down to write. 

For me, it’s kind of like daydreaming, or watching a movie in my head. I imagine what’s going to happen next. Occasionally, I’ll get lost in the story, just as I would if I was reading a novel or watching a movie. It’s hard to stop writing and come out of the book back into what I need to do in real life.

One disadvantage to this method is that if your story takes a direction you weren’t intending originally, you could get stuck. To overcome this, you’ll need to have a clear idea of both how you want to begin the story and how you want it to end. Everything else is just connecting the dots to get from one point to the other. 

Sweet Smelling Odor

I am not a fan of feet. They are funny looking. You never can get them truly clean because the minute you wash them, you have to put them back on the ground to walk and, in that way, get them dirty again. I’m thankful for my feet, don’t get me wrong. But I try to avoid touching them if at all possible.

Here in Africa, most of our roads are dirt. You can’t walk anywhere without your feet getting dirty. I wear closed shoes when I go places but even that doesn’t help. Your feet get dirty through closed shoes. There have been times when I came back from a jog, took my shoes off, and discovered my feet inside shoes and socks, were still brown with dirt.

That’s why I’ve always read the story of Mary anointing Jesus’ feet with oil and wiping them with her hair and secretly thought “ew!”

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Jesus was in Bethany a short time after raising Lazarus from the dead and 6 days before His death. Lazarus had a feast in his home. Knowing what the Bible tells us about Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, I’m sure someone had already washed Jesus’ feet. 

Mary had an alabaster box full of ointment that she had been saving. I’ve heard many messages about why she had it, but that is irrelevant to the story.

The point of the story is that Mary gave Jesus her most valuable possession, and used her hair to wipe it into his feet.

This wasn’t about the money. Jesus made that clear when he rebuked Judas for only thinking of the value. This was about the gift, the giver, but most of all, about the receiver of that gift.

The Gift

The Bible tells us the whole house was filled with the odor of the spikenard. Every person there knew Mary had given it. She had given in preparation for Jesus’ burial. Jesus carried that odor with Him wherever He went until He had died and was buried. That means He endured his beating, carried His cross, and was crucified, and He could still smell Mary’s gift

What have you given Jesus? Your time? Your possessions?

Your self?

Paul said of the Philippian Christians that their offering, sent out of the depth of their poverty, was a sweet odor to God. Our gifts bring pleasure to God.

“But I have all, and about: I am full, having received of Ephaphroditus the things which were sent from you, an odor of a sweet smell, a sacrifice acceptable, well pleasing to God.”

Philippians 4:18

The Giver

Mary gave the best she had as an offering to Jesus. Then she used her hair to wipe the ointment into his feet.

I don’t know about other women, but my hair absorbs odors and carries them around. Sometimes washing doesn’t even get them out.

Mary carried the odor of her gift around with her until it finally wore off. Everywhere she went she could smell it. Others could smell it on her. They’d say “that must be the smell of the ointment she put on Jesus.”

Can others smell the odor of the gift you’ve given to Jesus whenever they are around you? Do you walk in His victory? Do they see Him when they look at you?

“For we are unto God a sweet savor of Christ, in them that are saved, and in them that perish:”

II Corinthians 2:15

The One Who Received the Gift

Jesus, himself, the one who received the gift Mary gave, was the best gift of all. He gave the greatest offering – Himself. No reservations. Nothing held back. He gave everything so we could have everything, because He loves us. It was enough. God accepted His gift, kept His promise, and offers eternal life to everyone who believes. 

His gift was a sweet savor to God.

“And walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling savor.”

Ephesians 5:2

The next time you give something to God, remember Mary. She gave Him the best she had and God recorded her gift for us for all eternity. Give God your best. He deserves nothing less. He gave His best for you. He takes pleasure in the gifts we give Him.

Refugees: Strangers in a Strange Land

The first time we went to the Nakivale Refugee Camp, I had no idea what to expect. In 2010, refugees weren’t part of the world-wide awareness like they are today.

We drove out to the camp that first Sunday and I was surprised to find the refugee camp looked very similar to any other village I’d been to in Uganda.

I’ve since learned how refugees are integrated into the refugee camp and how these villages grow up. We’ve seen at least three different settlements grow into trading centers since we’ve been going out there.

Refugees leave their country of origin usually because of famine or unrest. They are held at the border until they can be processed through the United Nations High Council of Refugees. They surrender their passport from their country of origin and are given identification through the UN.

When refugees arrive at our camp, they are given a jerry can, a tarp, a ration card, and a plot of land. 

The family sets up a small dwelling by stretching the tarp over the top of reeds. An entire family and all their belongings will cram inside this structure to get out of the elements.

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Next, the family digs up the land around their dwelling and plants. UN rations are meager at best. The families live and die by how well their plot of land produces. Most of the time, the family plants either corn or beans, sometimes both in the same plot. The beans grow low to the ground and the corn grows tall so they can harvest them easily.

Once the field is planted, the family turns their attention to building a more permanent structure.

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They will pound posts into the ground, and then weave reeds in between these. They fill in the gaps with the red dirt common to this area of Uganda, called marm. It dries hard and only washes away in the hardest rainstorms. The final touch is to stretch the tarp over the roof and place branches or reeds across it to protect it from the sun and rain.

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The family will make rough doors of scraps of wood and tin so they can shut and lock their house, though it provides little real security.

As soon as the family is able to manage it, they begin making mud bricks for a more permanent house. They use the poles from the mud house to build trusses for the roof. Sometimes the family can afford to use tin sheeting for roofing. Other times, the tarp is again used as roofing. 

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Eventually, you get enough of these structures together and a village forms.

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People open shops and small groceries. You can get plastic goods and produce not normally grown in their gardens like onions, tomatoes, green peppers, and potatoes. Eventually, they form a town council and the police open a substation. These refugees have gone from being sojourners to looking very like citizens.

Except they aren’t citizens. Locals look down on them and try to overcharge them for goods and services. Local doctors won’t staff their hospitals. Medicine and food meant for the refugees disappears, sometimes as much as half of what was intended for them. 

These people are strangers in a country where they’ve made their new home. They are a people without a home, without a country. They are strangers in a land that is strange to them.


Novel Planning – Part 1 – The Outline

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NaNoWriMo begins in six weeks. It’s hard to believe November is almost here again! In the next few weeks, I’m going to cover several different methods of novel planning. Most people think of this as “writing process” though that term covers things that go beyond the actual writing of words. I will probably cover that later in the blog series as well.


The outline is the most common form of book planning. It works well for some people and not so well for others. (I personally don’t outline my books as I shared in this post about my own planning process.) 

An outline consists of headings, followed by subheadings. The absolute simplest way to do this is to divide your novel by chapters and plan one heading for each chapter, followed by each of the plot points that fall under than heading. 

For instance, if you are planning a 50,000 word novel (as is the case for NaNoWriMo), and you hope to have 1,000 words in each chapter, you’ll need 50 headings (or chapters) with subheadings/plot points for each.

Practically speaking, most chapters are more like 1,500 to 2,000 words long. To make this goal attainable, let’s figure 25-30 headings.

Now, once you have a basic idea of what happens in the beginning of your story, your inciting event, the rising action, the climax, and the conclusion, you can break this down into those 25-30 headings. Then, you’ll need to include just enough detail in your subheadings so you remember what you want to write, without “prewriting” your novel during the outline process. I’ve also seen people include notes about their characters and setting in the outline.

Many people write their outline on index cards, one heading and subsequent notes per card. If you don’t have access to index cards, a notebook works well, too. You can write one heading per sheet.

The advantage of this is that you can easily rearrange the plot as needed, should you change your mind about how you want the story to progress. You can also see broad story arcs or patterns before you even sit down to write the book.

The disadvantage of this is that if you decide to make a major change somewhere in your story line, you have to rewrite your outline from that point on, or at least from that point until your prior outline will work again.

Who’s the Blind One Here?

I was reading today in John 9. Jesus was walking away from the Temple and Pharisees who wanted to stone him when he saw a blind beggar, somewhere near the Temple.

This man had been born blind. He’d never been able to see. Jesus made clay and put it on the blind man’s eyes then told him to go wash in the pool of Siloam. The man obeyed. Once the blind man washed his eyes, he could see. 

Something struck me about the story that I’d never noticed before. 

None of the blind man’s neighbors knew who he was when he could see.

They thought he might be that guy who had been blind but they had to ask each other about it. Some even said, “Nah, it isn’t him but someone who looks like him.”

So I ask you, Who was really blind in this story? The man? or his neighbors?

What about you and I? How many times do we notice those around us? I don’t mean observe their existence but really see them.

This blind man had been begging among his neighbors. They hurried past him without noticing him. How often do we see the needs of the people around us? Do we notice them? or do we hurry on by?

The truth is, the needs of those around us aren’t always visible to the naked eye. It’s easy to walk past people without seeing their needs because they look so normal, so much like us.

But then there is the woman at the grocery store with all of her small children. She’s clearly struggling just to get through the check-out. It’s easy to focus on how long it’s taking her to get through the line and not on the fact that she is so distracted by her children that she feels like she is losing her mind.

There is the elderly man on his walk around the lake. It’s easy to see he is going slower than you are. You look for a way to get past. What you can’t see is that he’s taken this walk for the last 50 years with his wife and this is the first time he’s taken it without her.

There is the single mom at the park whose child acts out over and over again. You pull your kids over to another area of the playground. You don’t want the poor behavior of the child to cause your children to act out. You don’t notice that the woman and her child need someone to overlook the behavior and just play with them and talk to them.

You see the business man at the airport engrossed in his work. It’s easy to see he’s successful. What’s harder to notice is that he feels like a fraud and a failure every day of his life.

Have you ever just taken a moment to step back and see? Not just look at people in passing, but really see them? 

Then, once you’ve seen people, what are you willing to do about what you see? Are you willing to make a difference in their life like Jesus did?

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Of Mustard Seeds and Mountains

I was reading in Matthew the other day and read Matthew 17:20. It struck me in relation to the posts I’d already written about God doing what seems like impossible things on our behalf. 

Jesus told his disciples:

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Sometimes in life we face struggles or challenges that look like mountains to us. There is no way we can fix these things on our own. Sometimes it’s personal, sometimes relational, sometimes financial. All of the struggles look insurmountable — like a mountain towering before us.

Just a tiny grain of faith. That’s all we need. A grain so tiny, it’s difficult to separate one seed from a pile of them. Yet, when we look at the mountain, that needed grain of faith feels impossible. It feels too small.

But Jesus said “…nothing shall be impossible to you.” Even that mountain.

I’m not talking about these health and wealth preaching, “name it, claim it” kinds of faith. I don’t believe we can force or coerce God to do anything. 

What I believe is that we have a God who is so big, so strong, so able, that He can do whatever we ask him to do — even move mountains. And He likes to do it. He likes us to ask Him for the impossible.

It all comes back to asking God. He’s our heavenly Father. He wants us to ask. He wants us to come to Him over and over and over and over and over (you get the picture) with our requests. He wants us to come to him with importunity. He wants to do big things for us — and He wants to do little things that feel like big things.

He wants to do the impossible. All I have to do is have a grain of faith that He can and ask Him to do it. The great part about it, is that when the answer comes it leaves no doubt that God was the one who did it. He gets all the glory.

This is a lesson that God has been teaching me for years. Let me give some examples from my life.

~ ~ ~

Deputation took us 5 years. 5 long years of traveling all over the US, dragging our family along with us. Our youngest son, Gaelin, says he grew up in the car. While this isn’t totally true, it’s what we felt like at the time.

We begged God for support so we could move to Uganda. He raised it slowly but surely, so slowly that sometimes it felt like He wasn’t doing anything at all.

Finally the time came for us to move here. We arrived a month after a family who has become some of our dearest friends. We moved to a totally different city than we’d originally planned to live in, but it turned out this city suited us better than anywhere else would have.

We got to work with Jeff and Carla Bassett for a number of years and learn from them. Because of their influence, we started going to the refugee camp. God directed us to that ministry. If we’d come in our time, we probably wouldn’t have found this thing that has become our calling.

God knew we needed to arrive when we did, where we did. He orchestrated everything on our behalf. All we had to do was wait on Him for His answer.

~ ~ ~

A few years ago, we’d lost a lot of the financial support that we need to live and minister here in Africa. Most months we could live and work, but our finances were tight. 

But one month the amount of support we got was so low, we didn’t know how we’d be able to live for the month, let alone minister.

At the same time, we found out about 28 people with malaria and 15 with typhoid in our churches. We had no extra money to buy medicine for these people.

We cried out to God. We believed He wanted us to meet this need but we didn’t have the means to do it. Within 48 hours, He had not only provided enough money for the medicine but also to buy food that they desperately needed.

~ ~ ~

A couple weeks ago, Hurricane Irma threatened Florida. My sister lives in Florida. We began praying that Irma would move east, out into the Atlantic ocean. Instead, it tracked farther and farther west.

I couldn’t understand this. I was asking, just like God told me to, but it seemed He was doing the exact opposite of what I asked. 

In my desperation and fear for my sister and her family, I cried out to God in tears to please save them, and if possible keep them from even losing power. God gave me peace that He had the whole thing under control.

Then we waited and watched. The storm, instead of getting stronger and stronger as predicted, weakened. I watched the weather report with amazement. It made landfall and I was able to keep in constant contact with my sister. She never lost power. The storm, while devastating for Florida, ended up being no where near as bad as it was forecasted.

~ ~ ~

My best friend lives in Montana. They’ve had one wildfire after another all summer long. It’s grown so severe that over 1 million acres have burned in the state. We’ve been asking God for rain for weeks but what they really needed what snow.

10 days ago there was no snow in the forecast.

This week they got both rain and snow.

It was totally a God thing. Only He could bring this shift in weather about.

Good News and Bad News

Good News

The refugee camp has been getting rain! Loads of rain! Gallons of rain! God has heard your prayer and sent it in full force. In fact, it was so much that it seemed like the weather was trying to make up for being a month late with the rain by catching up all in one week. 

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The road goes right through this field. Usually it’s just that, a field. People graze cattle and goats there. Today it was a swamp. The water will gradually soak into the ground and improve the groundwater conditions. Meanwhile kids use it as a swimming hole and cars and people avoid it so they don’t get stuck.

The road was sloppy and almost impassible in places because of all the rain. The days of us being able to drive out to the churches on relatively smooth road are gone until they grade the road again. It’s a challenge, but one I don’t mind because it means they’ve been getting rain.

Bad News

Part of the rain fell in a torrential downpour Thursday night, into Friday morning. We got news Friday afternoon that the roof had blown off the church at Ngarama for the third time. Sadly, the “engineer” we hired to construct it was not a good one. 🙁 The building has had one problem after another for the last five years. 

This might be the final straw for that building, but we won’t know until tomorrow when a reputable engineer looks at it. We’re hoping to reconstruct the roof enough to use the building until a new one can be constructed. This was not in our plan time wise or financially, but God has known about it since before the foundation of the world and He has it under control. I can’t right now, but God can.

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Another bit of bad news we got was that one of our national pastors is very sick. A few weeks ago he developed appendicitis and they did emergency surgery on him at the hospital here in town. He hasn’t healed well and the last couple weeks the incision grew red and hot to the touch. He called James about it late one night and James told him to get to the hospital. He went to his local hospital for treatment. They gave him aspirin and sent him home. 🙁

Today we heard he’d developed a bad cough in addition to the red incision which was now causing his entire stomach to feel hot to the touch. We drove to his house, picked him up, and brought him to the town hospital. We still haven’t heard what they found, but it’s Sunday and they have minimal staff on Sunday.

Please be praying for Theogene. He has been a faithful man in his community. He has a wife and at least 9 children. A good portion of the beans he had planted washed away in the rain storm on Thursday — another hit from which their family will have to recover. He is frustrated with being sick right now when his family needs him so much.


3 Easy Malaria Prevention Tips for Travelers

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Mosquitoes. One of the most annoying creatures known to man. They are also one of the most deadly.

Every year nearly 700 million people get sick from mosquito borne illness resulting in over 1 million deaths. Almost half of those deaths can be attributed to malaria.

Almost half of the world population is in danger of contracting malaria. Approximately 212 million cases of malaria are reported annually with almost 500,000 people dying of the illness. These are only the reported cases. Countless others suffer and die of the disease without ever seeking treatment, including thousands of children.

Malaria prevention has been first and foremost in our minds the entire time we’ve lived in Africa. So far, only two of our family have ever had it and that was in the first 6 months of us living here. We’d broken some of our prevention rules and people got sick.

I’ve had numbers of people ask me about malaria prevention and treatment. Let me give you a rundown of what I tell those who have asked.

1. Take the prophylaxis

Chances are, if you are planning a trip to a place in the world where malaria can be contracted, the CDC or your local board of health will recommend a preventative (or prophylaxis) for you to take in addition to any travel vaccines you will need.

Take it. There is no sense in you contracting malaria on your two week trip to Africa or Asia and then struggling with malaria the rest of your life. First world countries don’t know how to recognize or treat malaria.

You’ll need to get the medicine – usually either quinine or an antibiotic like doxycycline – and begin taking it at least a week before your departure date. This allows it to build up in your blood and form a hostile environment in which the malaria parasite can’t survive. You’ll also need to continue taking the preventative for at least a week after returning to the states.

2. Use a mosquito net at night.

Mosquitoes only hunt at night. That is when you will be most vulnerable to them. You should sleep under a mosquito net to prevent getting bit by them.

Most hotels will provide them. If they don’t have them in the rooms already, you can request them. Sometimes they will also provide bug spray that you can use just outside your door and windows in the evening.

3. Stay indoors in the evening and early morning.

We try to make sure we are inside with all our doors shut by sunset. Mosquitoes are most active at sunset and sunrise. They are desperate to feed at those times.

Try to be inside a well lit building with screens on the doors and windows. If this isn’t an option, request the doors and windows be shut or shut them yourself. You can use bug spray at the windows and doors to prevent mosquitoes from even trying to get in.

Doing these three things will prevent most, if not all, malaria. It’s that easy.

~ ~ ~

We live here long term and so have slightly different practices for prevention.

First of all, we don’t take a prophylaxis. Well, technically we do, but not in the conventional sense. The long term side effects of the prophylaxis are serious. We opted for a more natural approach that has been effective so far.

There is a tree that grows here and in most tropical climates called a Neem Tree. 1-2 leaves per week are sufficient to kill any malaria parasites in the blood stream. We have a tree growing in our yard and everyone gets a leaf every week. You can also make it into a tea and drink it. It’s nasty, don’t get me wrong, but there are no long term side effects that we’ve been able to find.

We don’t use mosquito nets but prefer sleeping with a fan blowing on us at night.

We also treat everyone with sweet wormwood (Don’t let the name fool you. It’s not sweet.) and black walnut extracts every 3-6 months for a general anti-parasitic. The sweet wormwood specifically targets blood borne parasites, including the malaria parasite.

So the next time you are traveling overseas to places you could potentially contract malaria, remember those three tips. Feel free to contact me with any other questions you might have about it as well.

Happy Traveling!


Now For Some Chocolatey Goodness

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A couple weeks ago I posted a recipe that I love for white cake. Someone asked me if I know of a good recipe for chocolate cake.

Chocolate cake is trickier. I’ve tried loads of recipes and finally come down to one or two I really like.

For one thing, chocolate cake needs to taste chocolatey. Many of the recipes I tried weren’t quite chocolatey enough.

For another thing, chocolate cake can be even drier than white cake. It’s easier to over-bake. Good, moist chocolate cake is hard to come by in the recipe world. 

A third problem I’ve found is that good chocolate cake can be complicated and time consuming. You have to melt the chocolate in a double boiler. You have to beat the cream until stiff peaks form. You have to fold these ingredients in together, little by little. You have to do it just right or the cake won’t rise.

I just don’t have time for that.

Here is the recipe I like to use for chocolate cake. It’s found in the same Betty Crocker cookbook. It’s not complicated at all. It turns out moist and yummy every time (unless I burn it, but the kids eat it anyway. 😀 ).

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Cocoa Fudge Cake (from the 1972 Betty Crocker Cookbook)

  • 2 cups cake flour OR 1-2/3 cups all purpose flour
  • 1-1/2 cups sugar (I use half)
  • 2/3 cup cocoa (You can add as much as 1 cup if you want even more chocolate flavor!)
  • 1-1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1-1/2 cups buttermilk (Do not substitute regular milk. The cake will be dry. You can substitute yogurt.)
  • 1/2 cup shortening (I use palm oil)
  • 2 eggs (1/3-1/2 cup)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

Grease and flour baking pans 13×9 or 2 round layer pans 8 or 9-1/2 inches or line 18-24 muffin cups.

Measure all ingredients into mixer bowl. Blend on low for 30 seconds or until all ingredients are moistened, scraping occasionally. Beat 3 minutes on high speed, scraping bowl occasionally. Pour into pan(s).

Heat oven to 350º. Bake oblong 35-40 minutes, layers 30-35 minutes, or cupcakes 20-25 minutes until toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool. Frost or decorate as desired.


How’s Africa? The Bedtime Hunting Expedition

Due to the blessings of genetics and those wonderful “hormonies,” I sometimes struggle with insomnia. Most nights, I can fall asleep right away. Staying asleep is the bigger issue.

All the experts say one key to falling asleep and staying asleep is establishing a good bedtime routine. I did this years ago. It looks something like this: 

Wind down by reading a book or watching a TV show. Most nights I do handwork like crochet or quilting, which also relaxes me.

Put my PJs on.

Brush my teeth and finish all my bathroom chores.

Hunt for mosquitoes hiding out in our room.

Turn off the lights

Climb in bed and read for a little longer before going to sleep.

Wait. What? Mosquito hunting?

How many of you have a nighttime mosquito hunt as part of your bedtime routine? 😉

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We use this lovely contraption to do it. The wire mesh has an electric charge running through it that zaps and kills the mosquitoes (and any other bugs that get caught in it). I always tap out the mosquito on the floor and step on it, just to be sure. We have to check under furniture because they love hiding under beds and dressers.

The worst thing is missing one and having it buzzing around your face and ears all night. It’s horrible when they get under the covers and bite you repeatedly, even through clothing. They even like the palms of your hands and bottoms of your feet. They are insidious. It must be a thorough hunt.

Mosquitoes carry many diseases, like malaria, dengue fever, and yellow fever. We’ve been blessed to not struggle with these diseases. At any point in time, 1/4-1/3 of the people in our churches have malaria. That’s why we’re so strict about looking for them and killing them off.

Every great once in a while we get them in the house bad enough that we have to use bug spray to get rid of them. We close all the windows and spray the rooms right before we leave for church. This gives the poison a good 8 hours to work before we get back. Thankfully, we only have to do this twice or three times a year.

The next time you are getting ready for bed, give thanks that you don’t have go hunting before you climb in bed and go to sleep.