Kellers in Africa

our life in Zambia

Category: Ministry (page 1 of 11)

Reaching the End of My Rope

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I knew it was there- the “end of the rope.” I knew it existed.. but somehow I thought myself beyond its reach. However, life happens. And when you have 4 adorable but rigorously busy children, a full time +++ ministry, multiple building projects, and the challenges of life in Africa… well, life “happens” in a whole new dimension.

 

Today you can find my sordid story on In Touch Mission, International’s blog.

 

— Timothy

 

Is Ian okay? What Just Happened???

Well, we are still figuring that out ourselves. And it isn’t over yet, but it is past time for me to acknowledge God’s amazing grace and provision…. And put together some kind of update before my mother stops speaking to me. That’s right. This has all happened so quickly and intensely that some of our family is still trying to figure out what is going on. (Sorry Mom!!)

The feeding tube made a huge difference

 

We have received so much support, many questions, and a variety of potential solutions from everyone who has been praying for us. We read and appreciated every single message- and replied to very few. (Blame stress?) But the encouragement meant So Much. In the interest of answering a broad swathe of questions, I am making this quite detailed. Please feel free to comment or message me if you have something to add!

Ian was born in Johannesburg, South Africa on July 26th. He was full term and did not have the potential abdominal complication that was a concern throughout the pregnancy. We will never know if it was bad radiology or God’s healing… Either way we are just so thankful. I know a lot of people were praying and let me tell you- we felt it. (So no, this issue is not related to the pregnancy concerns. Ian is just working on his Prayer Baby merit badge!!)

  

“I finally have my own brother.” And that is how Freddy sees Ian: HIS brother! 😛

 

After his birth we waited in South Africa just long enough for his travel documentation and returned to Zambia. Everything seemed to be going well. He was an interactive, perky little boy. He had a love/fear relationship with his siblings. He fed regularly, hated baths, and had an infatuation with 2am. Normal baby. Except that he wasn’t growing. We kept coming up with reasons like “It has been crazy hot, he is sweating out all his fluids” or “He is just a long, skinny, noodle baby.” However, people stopped saying “what a cute, tiny baby” and instead gave us scared looks when they heard his age. We knew it was time to see a doctor. So why hadn’t we taken him in? Well…. The problem was: in where? I was pretty sure it was a calorie problem but realized he needed to have some blood work done. And if there is one thing you don’t rely on in Zambia it is the lab work and the diagnostic ability of the doctors in the hospitals. Since Timothy needed to go back to South Africa anyway to get 4×4 kit done for the newly purchased field truck, we decided to go as a family and get a check up for Ian. From that point our entire life revolved around feeding him. We encouraged him to eat every 2 hours. I ate more calories and drank buckets of water. We were convinced that by the time we reached Cape Town he would pick up weight and we would feel like fools for worrying too much and feeding too little. (Why I thought that when we were feeding him every 2 hours…. Hey sleep deprivation is a dangerous thing!)

I didn’t know a pediatrician in Cape Town so I asked our friends Charl & Sonja if they could recommend one. I booked an appointment for the day after we arrived. We walked into the doctor’s office unsure of what to expect. Mostly I thought that I was going to get seriously told off for underfeeding him (naive much??) When the doctor saw us he was very kind and very thorough. Upon examination he told us that Ian weighed 7lbs 8oz. At 15 weeks of age. From that point on, our world started spinning at a whole new, horrible angle. We were whisked off to the lab for tests. I was referred to (a completely amazing) dietician who specializes in infants and breastfeeding. We spent most of that week talking to doctors, getting lab work done, and waiting. The biggest concern was determining if he has a genetic/metabolic disease. Apparently those can progress rapidly and cause permanent brain damage due to nutrient issues. Because he was feeding well and often but not growing this was a very real possibility.

 

3 months old- beginning to look physically wasted. His bones were so TINY.

 

By the end of the week (the longest week in my life) nothing conclusive had been found. In a last ditch effort to find a reasonable diagnosis (before all the scary genetic testing) the two doctors that were helping us decided to put in a feeding tube (breastmilk supplementaion plus extra nutrients). It was an experiment attempting to narrow down the possibilities. To everyone’s astonishment, Ian immediately started to gain weight- at an incredible rate. The doctors put him on a heavy feeding plan and began trying to work out what was causing the problem. Unfortunately, without a lot of testing- most of which is invasive and expensive- they couldn’t come up with anything definitive. After a few more referrals the best all around idea was to go in for corrective oral surgery and release his tongue tie. It was a small tie- really too small to worry about. But it was the only simple solution available. We had the weekend to weigh the pros and cons, deciding whether or not it was in the best interest of our drastically underweight baby to anesthetize him and start cutting up his tongue. We got advice from a lot of people and finally decided to go ahead with the surgery.

 

a very nervous and worried Daddy

 

That made Tuesday the longest day in my life. Ian wasn’t allowed food after 2am. You can imagine how that went down! Checking him in and handing him over to the surgeon was the hardest thing I have ever done. The relief when they brought him out was intense and helping him cope as he surfaced from the anesthesia and became aware of the pain…. agony. The whole situation is something I hope never to repeat. His extremely low weight and emaciated state made every moment of that surgery and recovery absolutely terrifying.

Amazing how quickly they recover – mama is still traumatized!!!

 

We had follow ups the next day and all looked well enough. They left the feeding tube in as we can’t risk him losing any weight in recovery.

Complicating the situation, our visas were due to expire within the week. Ian had the surgery Tuesday, follow up appointments on Wednesday, and we headed north on Thursday! We stayed just inside the country (with the Le Roux family- some amazing people!) until our last day on the visa. Then the long road home.

As of this writing I would say that Ian has made a good recovery from surgery and it is just too early to say if this is the solution or not. We chose not to stay in South Africa on a medical visa because Ian would just be fed and monitored for a few weeks anyway. We might as well do that from home. If (please Lord no) this is not the solution…. We move on to the genetic testing. That would be expensive, potentially invasive, and none of the options are nice at all.

In the 5 weeks following his surgery he gained another pound. We are extremely grateful for that growth! It is a very good sign! As of today Ian is up to 9lbs 6oz!

 

He hates the feeding tube. HATES it.

 

We want to thank so many people-

The amazing doctors and dietician who have helped us so much

The van Wyk family for giving up a whole week to watch our other kids while we went in and out of hospital

The families who put us up with all our kids in tow

The many people who encouraged, prayed for, and supported us through this

God’s amazing grace, without which my brain would have stopped functioning from stress weeks ago.

 

 

FAQs:

Does he need to go on a special formula?

– No, at this point they are still figuring out if he has a metabolic problem. The supplementer tube with breastmilk worked well and eventually we were able to switch to bottle supplementation of breastmilk. Pumping and feeding is extremely draining… but it is the best solution for him right now.

Will you be bringing him to the USA?

– No, we are very, very happy with the doctors who are helping us in South Africa. At this point there is nothing else that can be done. It is wait, watch, and feed for a while.

Have you done any genetic testing?

– Yes. We had the most common/best fitting tests run. They came back negative. He doesn’t have enough symptoms to justify the cost of any further genetic tests at this time. The doctors have advised that until/unless he develops more symptoms, it would be like shooting in the dark.

Is there anything you need?

– Yes. Lots of prayer. We received financial help with the surgery expenses and that was a huge blessing. If we are able to do any of the blood tests here in Zambia it will be very costly… but cheaper than flying to Cape Town. We will have to see how that works out. But the main thing is definitely prayer for strength and growth and health.

Is his development on track?

– Yes. He is a bit behind in some areas.. and ahead in others. Pretty much a normal baby (which is very good!!)

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I might be skinny, but I have big plans!

 

Please feel free to comment or message me! We have been SO BLESSED with all the prayers and support!

 

Africa is just like America. Except when it isn’t.

“What’s it like, raising kids in Africa?” is naturally one of the questions we get asked quite often. Sadly, because we live in a town I can’t report anything truly interesting.

I feel like I am going to disappoint you, but I have to admit that there are no lions lurking outside our gate. We have no need for elephant-proof fences, and none of the “native” neighbors want to eat us for dinner. It’s a real drag. 😉

The scariest things in my yard. For sure.  (If you don't count the cobras.)

The scariest things in my yard. For sure.
(If you don’t count the cobras.)

In many ways, raising kids in Africa is no different than raising them in the USA, France, the North Pole, or anywhere else.

I am a mom- I cook, teach my kids, clean up spilled milk, and kiss boo-boo’s with the rest of you. I make a mean cheesecake and burn eggs on a regular basis. (I know- some things just defy reason.) I fall asleep planning the next day out and wake up ready to attack piles of laundry, home work, and whatever scary creatures get dragged in from the garden. I also lost my mind some time ago. Just ask my kids, they’ll tell you.

Truth

Truth

In many ways my life is no different living in a small town in Zambia than it would be if I lived in the USA.

Welcome to suburbia!

… sort of.

Beans? No? How about some dried caterpillars, then? Welcome to grocery shopping Africa-style! photo by Mary Jo Keller

Beans? No? How about some dried caterpillars, then? Welcome to grocery shopping Africa-style!
photo by Mary Jo Keller

I mean, it’s not exactly the same. There are times when I think over the day (or week… or month…) and think, “WOW. I am not even sure how to explain what happened today,” and the best summary is perhaps, “Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore!”

I have some pretty interesting reasons to take kids to the doctor for check-ups. Earlier this week Freddy had to go in because we were getting concerned that he might have worms in his eyes. Yeah, you read that right. WORMS in his eyes. Even I thought we might be over-reacting on this one. Fortunately the doctor here in town is amazing and made a full examination. He quelled my fears that we might be overreacting. After all, eye worms are a big problem here. (AHHHHHH!!!) I am happy to report that Frederick’s eyes are worm-free. At least for now. Let’s face it: this is Africa.

Insects and creepy creatures take life to a whole new level. You already know about mosquitoes and malaria, but in Zambia we also have the pleasure of hosting the tetse fly (carries sleeping sickness which is horrific and deadly) and the putze fly. That one won’t kill you. It will just lay eggs in your wet clothing. When the eggs hatch the larvae burrow into your body and leave massive, festering welts. But just until they turn into adult flies and come crawling out again. (Can you hear me screaming from there?) Hey, the guys that made Alien had to get their inspiration from somewhere. Oh don’t forget our Disease of the Year winner. Ebola is SO last year. This winter “elephantiasis” made it’s way to the top of the media ladder here in Zambia. It’s a parasite that infects your lymph glands and causes extreme and painful swelling of the limbs and groin. Lovely.

When we plan a trip with the kids we probably make slightly different considerations than the average family- we have to take into account the seasonal rains (can we even get down the roads at that time of year?), the diseases (you do NOT want to camp in a tetse fly zone if you can avoid it!), the locals (I said our neighbors here in town don’t want to eat us), and the wildlife (Africa!). Not to mention the fuel shortages, water availability, crocodile presence, road conditions, etc.

“Keeping the home” is a bit different too. We are waging a war on ants right now. A WAR. Have you seen the size of African ants?? Some species will eat babies. I am not even kidding. You can’t give them an inch. Unfortunately they have decided they like our house and have no plans of leaving. I have tried everything that is not forbidden by the Geneva Convention and I STILL find them in the sink, on the counter, and in the fridge!! It’s to the point that if baby Ian cries we go running to make sure the ants haven’t decided that he is on the menu (Africa!) Seriously, these things MUST go! (Just to make you feel better, the current invasion is definitely on the “give me sugar or give me death” diet- not interested in Ian. Unless he has sugar.)

My daily chore list is circa 1900: bake bread, make cheese, check garden, etc. I kinda enjoy being Susie Home-maker so I am not complaining. But I wouldn’t mind having a Chipotle around the corner. Just sayin’. 😉

What IS that?? I don't know. Just drink the milk and don't think about it!!

What IS that?? I don’t know. Just drink the milk and don’t think about it!!

We are facing a new challenge this year: “Load shedding”. It is a kind of rationing for electricity. Between crumbling infrastructure due to poor management (Africa!) and several years of severe drought, Kariba Dam is facing a disastrously low water level. This means the country has very little electricity to go around. On the current “load shedding” plan the power can be off for 8-12 hours a day!

I could go on and talk about which villages we can take kids to and which we can’t, the parasites that crawl out of the mud in rainy season, or the rabid dogs that trot through our neighborhood…. but I feel like that would just highlight our differences.

I prefer to focus on our similarities.

Is there anything you ever wondered about life in Africa?

Where the Rubber Meets the… Runway

After a very busy two months in the States we traveled back to Zambia on January 12th. We had separate itineraries flying back to Zambia (because we had to travel separately to the USA). And let me tell you, traveling while 11 weeks pregnant with a 5 year old and 2 year old is a WHOLE different game!! Baby 4 was NOT fond of landings. (very thankful for flight sickness bags and very kind flight attendants). We had a one hour layover in Dubai and only made it because I basically had a mental breakdown and told the stewardess I could NOT NOT NOT miss the flight.  🙂 I must have looked desperate enough because we got a private shuttle directly to our connection… which was waiting for us! Sadly, 3 of our bags did not make it and were delayed 48 hours. Timothy and Monica traveled well on their route and arrived ready to help a very tired mama and two SPENT little kiddos. Our bags turned up several days later… one of them, sadly, was pillaged. We didn’t lose anything “life ending” but it was a frustrating experience nonetheless.

Tip for traveling "long hauls" with small children: sleep when they sleep!!

Tip for traveling “long hauls” with small children: sleep when they sleep!!

Once we got home, unpacked, and got over jet lag we got back to work. As it always happens with a long absence we found that both cars needed some maintenance, some house issues had come up, and a whole bunch of paperwork was due at about 12 different government offices around town… and around Lusaka (2 hours away). America has NOTHING over Zambia when it comes to a love of bureaucracy!! Timothy was thrilled when all that got sorted out and he could get back to teaching and working with teachers from the local schools. He had several extensive trips planned in various areas of Zambia. He couldn’t have been more excited- the man was born for Africa!

Shortly before his first, big outreach we heard that his mom in Arizona was “failing fast”. Within 6 hours she was on a ventilator. We have been prepared for this news for a while so we immediately booked a plane ticket for Tim to go back to America and say good bye.  Sadly she passed away before he could even get on the plane. We were happy for her that her suffering ended… but it was very difficult for Timothy.

Happy wedding memories, 2007

Happy wedding memories, 2007

Cheering Grandma through cancer, 2013

Cheering Grandma through cancer, 2013

Another series of plane trips, another round of jet lag, an emotionally exhausting first week back in the USA with funeral arrangements, family reunions (somehow it’s always at funerals, isn’t it?) and wrapping up his mom’s life. He was asked to give the message and eulogy at the funeral which was both an honor and a very difficult task. Now he and his siblings are closing the final pages of their mom’s life and spending a few days together before they all go back to their separate lives.

Timothy will be in the States for another week or so, finishing some ministry issues that we weren’t able to complete last year. Please continue to keep him in your prayers as this has been a difficult time for him. His heart is in Africa with his work and his family. His body is in America….

The kids and I are “holding down the fort” and keeping each other distracted while we wait for Tim to come home. I am thankful for them… never a dull moment, I can tell you!

Another prayer request is for funds for a replacement field vehicle. While we knew it was at the end of “bundu-bashing” trips into remote areas, we didn’t realize the extent of the wear and tear on our Toyota Surf until we got home and Tim started overhauling it for some of his “tamer” trips. It still has a little life left for basic road journeys, but it really is no longer strong enough or reliable enough to take out to the field. This puts a major hamper on the work he does in remote areas.  Thanks for your prayers!!

On the road again... I just can't wait to be on the road again.....

On the road again… I just can’t wait to be on the road again…..

What is it like to be a single mom in Africa?

For many African girls, motherhood begins when their childhood is destroyed... and that happens all too often at a very young age.

For many African girls, motherhood begins when their childhood is destroyed… and that happens all too often at a very young age.

 

In a certain sense, single moms in Zambia are similar to their American counterparts.  They work, they do the best for their kids, they worry about the future, and they get very little sleep.  However, there are some very real, very sobering differences.  Most single moms in America don’t have to decide between prostitution and starvation.  In America there are a lot of social programs, after school care options, and subsidies available to help make ends meet.

In Africa, the choices are much, MUCH more limited.

Follow me to the ITMI blog and meet Rachel, a single mom and amazing lady…….

 

A Typical Yet Exceptional Story

 

 

 

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