Saturday, June 25, 2016

Our crazy first year in Chad

If someone would have told me when we first arrived here on May 10, 2013 at 1 pm in the 50 degree heat, that we would be staying here in Chad longer than our first required term (3.5 years), I would have probably slapped them. 

Seriously, when I stepped off the plane and headed into the indescribable heat of Chad and then further into the chaos and insanity of the 'airport'....I thought....oh my word.....just where have we moved to? I wish I could say it got a whole lot better and easier after that....but it didn't. It got worse. Way worse. 

Our first year in Chad would be characterized by health problems, hospital stays, a miscarriage, difficulty with language, ridiculous driving conditions, pregnancy sickness, major struggles with the heat and also feeling lonely to highlight a few. Sounded like fun eh? 

We left after 1 year of living  in Chad to go back to Canada to have Evelinne, and we actually came back to Chad 6 months later. Why you ask? Part of me thinks ya, why did we come back? There was really nothing good (for me at least) to come back my first year had been tainted with such awful experiences. Why in heavens name would I come back to a place that held such suffering and misery for me? 

Well, I didn't want to throw in the towel just yet, and I wanted to see if things were going to be different this time around with my health and if I could overcome the struggles I had with driving, language, loneliness etc. I couldn't quit before I had given it a fair go. Plus, I knew in my heart that this is where God wanted me to be for this time....and I held onto the lessons that He had taught me throughout my struggles in my first year of living on what seemed to me like a different planet.

Looking back on the 3 years we have lived in Chad, I can honestly say that I have learned so much and been challenged spiritually, emotionally and physically 1000 times more than I could have been back in Canada. God knows exactly where we need to be for Him to shape us into who He wants us to be....and for me, that place is Chad. (On a bad day I ask....WHY not a cooler place??? On a good day, I thank Him for not giving up on me and for loving me enough to relocate me halfway around the world to the only place I could have learned these important truths about who He is and who He wants me to be).

Interestingly enough, 3 main words/phrases stood out to me as I was reflecting back on our time here in N'Djamena, each word represented the theme of the lesson God was teaching me in that year and this is something I want to share with you all.

In the first year, the Phrase that stood out to me, that I kept on encountering over and over in my reading, in my praying, in my journalling and in my talking to others and reflecting on my experiences was that 'when everything is taken away from you, God is enough and God is there'.

 I remember several weeks after my miscarriage I ended up back in the bush hospital (no running water, no electricity, no food/water provided, oh and it was 40 plus degrees) with a major skin infection (cellulitis) in my arm and I had had a friend drive me to this hospital as Phil was out flying that day....the Doctor admitted me right away and so there I was, alone, in the this room at the very corner of the hospital, sweating like a beast, waiting for Phil to arrive and bring me some food/water and some sheets and a pillow. It was pitch black by the time he arrived (his flight was delayed and then he had to sort out the kids and pack for sleeping over at the hospital with me) and he found me, laying in the pitch dark, on a vinyl mattress, in the heat, in pain and just at a serious low point and he said he felt like crying for me. 

I remember waiting for Phil to arrive, and just battling with minute I would be so angry with Him and wondering why all this was happening as hadn't we sacrificed enough for Him to come to a very difficult place like Chad and we'd given up being close to our families and friends, given up the comforts of life, given up nice weather, and being able to wear what we wanted, given up speaking English and having modern stores and roads and given up the only way of life I had ever known......and then the next minute I would be thanking God for his provision of good British Doctors at this sketchy hospital and for the people who were stepping up to take care of our kids for us. 

I do remember very clearly as I was laying in my hot bed during my 5 day stay there, as I was complaining to God about all the things we had sacrificed for Him and why was He letting us go through all of this etc....I remember a clear voice saying to me "Haven't I given up everything for you?". Pause. Gulp. Yup. God gave up His ONLY SON for me, so that I could come freely to Him. The ultimate sacrifice. That most definitely trumped my list of sacrifices. That wasn't to downplay the serious struggles we had been through (and would continue to encounter as the year went on) but it just put things into perspective and helped me to focus more on what God was trying to teach me through it all rather than just complain about it. 

I would like to say that this realization after being in Chad for only 4 months at the time of my arm infection, meant that I was good to go for the rest of our time here in Chad, but nope...I guess I am a slow learner. Many more trials and difficulties came our way during that first year and I left Chad on May 1, 2014 to have Evelinne in Canada and I remember having a conversation (more like me bawling my eyes out) with Phil on how much I hated living here. Yup. I said it. Hope you realize now that missionaries are just normal people who struggle with the same stuff you all struggle with. God was faithful to me as he was trying to teach me this lesson that He is enough when everything else is taken away (health, family, comfort, friends, home culture etc). 

Believe you me, by the time I stepped onto that plane to head back to Canada, that lesson had been drilled into my head, an important one to learn early on, as when you think about it, nothing in this life that we have is certain....everything and anything can be taken away or lost at any time....we in Canada have a false sense of security and it took me moving to Chad to figure it out, but the only thing we can be certain about is God. Who He is: unchanging (that means He's the same God in Canada as he is in Chad), that you can count on Him to walk with you through the darkness and give you exactly what you need to make it through. 

No promises it's gonna be easy, in fact, there are more verses in the Bible telling those who believe in God that it's gonna be hard, and that we will suffer but that we can cling to the One who never changes, who is totally in control, who knows the future, who does what is best for us (doesn't mean He does what we think is best for us)....all of which are such important truths for someone who feels like their whole world as they know it is shifting daily as they try to navigate this new life in a new place. 

So, on October 15, 2014, I, Merilee Henderson once again, stepped off the plane in N'Djamena but this time, I knew it was going to be different, and it was. 

Stay tuned for Part 2.....

(This has already become a bit of a novel (congrats to those who read this far down!) so I am going to highlight the 2 other themes of my time here in Chad in another blog post.) 

Thanks for all your prayers, your support, your friendships and encouragement. God is doing a good work here in Chad....not only in me but in many others who are also living, working and learning some crazy God lessons here in Chad!

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Ideas from an Ex-pat Kitchen: Homemade Spaghetti Sauce

Before living in Chad, I had never made spaghetti sauce from scratch....I mean...why would I when there are so many choices of bottled sauces for a decent price? Well, now that those bottles of spaghetti sauce cost $5 for half the size.....I was thrown into the deep end of making my spaghetti sauce from scratch. It has been 2 years in the making, and I am happy to say that I think I have a winner! My family can attest to the fact that it has taken me a while, lots of tweaking, adding this and taking out get the flavor we all like. I have used several recipes, mixed them together and added some of my own extras too (the kids had no idea that there was so many vegetables mixed in!!!) for those out there who want to ditch the bottled sauce and go 'natural', or for those other ex-pats who haven't quite found the right combination of ingredients for their sauce.....try this one one.....I hope you like it as much as we do!

 Homemade Spaghetti Sauce

-2 large cans of diced or whole tomatoes
-1 teaspoon each of Oregano and Basil
-1 teaspoon of garlic powder (or 4 cloves crushed)
-1 teaspoon salt
-1 bay leaf
-3-4 Tablespoons sugar
-2 Beef oxo cubes
-1/4 teaspsoon of Pepper
-1 chopped onion (optional)
-1/2 Cup zucchini, peeled and chopped
-1 medium size carrot, peeled and chopped
-1/2 green pepper, chopped
-1/8 C fresh Spinach, chopped (I found if you put too much spinach in, you can taste it!)

1) Throw all ingredients into a medium size cooking pot, bring to a boil, then simmer for 45 minutes to an hour, stirring occasionally. The sauce is done when the veggies are soft and cooked through.

2) Remove from heat, pick out the Bay leaf, and then use an immersion blender to blend all ingredients together, or if you don't have one, you can use a regular blender to puree the sauce. Add already browned/cooked ground beef if you like or keep it the way it is and have a meatless sauce.

3) Serve or freeze for later. Serves 6-8 adults.

*This is a very easy recipe to play around with....change up the quantity of tomatoes for a larger family, and just add a bit more of each ingredient. The best part of this sauce is how many vegetables are in it, and your kids won't be able to pick them out!

Friday, May 13, 2016

Happy 7th Birthday to my Lily

This year Lily had an extended birthday celebration for various reasons. Lily loved having '3 birthdays!'....and it was fun for us too! Lily's actual birthday was on April 16, so we made some cupcakes and brought them into school to share at break time. Phil even managed to come as well which was a nice surprise for Lily. The whole school sung Happy Birthday to a very shy/embarrassed Lily (whole school being only 18 kids!!) and she handed each classmate a cupcake to enjoy.

(Sidenote: Things were a bit dicey security wise in N'Djamena at this time with the presidential elections the following weekend so we decided to postpone her birthday party with friends until after the uncertainty died down as not many people wanted to be travelling around the city unnecessarily. Also a bunch of her girl friends had left the country just to be safe and weren't due back until a week or two after the elections were over.)

Lily's Birthday cupcakes 
In the meantime, we had a family birthday party (with some families on the MAF compound too) on Saturday where we played some games, ate her tiger cake (her request, and once again, Phil delivered!!) and opened some nice gifts. The adults sat around chatting, eating cake and drinking coffee or coke depending on how hot they were feeling at the time :) and the kids had a blast playing legos and play mobil together. Lily went to bed with a smile on her face and some great memories of her 7th birthday.

So, once Lily's friends arrived back in the country, we invited them to a day at the Hilton pool.....she invited 2 girls and of course Kaitlyn and Evie and Phil and I were there was a glorious day of sun, blue sky, HOT temperatures, 3 amazing pools and some scrumptious pizza eaten poolside. She had a great time and felt loved and special.
In keeping with tradition, here is a little letter to Lily highlighting some of the things that we want to remember about her...

Happy with her Tiger cake design
Oh Lilsky-doodle, you are a beautiful, smiley girl who is always up for any make-believe game involving you being some sort of animal. "Mom, I think I am more comfortable being an animal than a human"'....??? You spend more time on your hands and feet, galloping like a horse or running like a tiger or cheetah, then you do on your two feet! But you have a great ol' time down there! So fun to see your imagination create fun all day long!

You are a reading machine....I literally have to pry the book out of your hand so you can go to bed or eat your it! Funny thing is that when you read, you read outloud so there is a constant hum of noise coming from you when you are reading. We have gotten used to it by now, but it took a bit of time to be able to concentrate on what we were doing when you were reading out loud all the time! You are totally into Cam Jansen mysteries now as well as the Rainbow Fairy book series (thanks to your cousins for sending you those!).

Little Merilee was one of Lily's guests
You still sleep with your blankie and need water beside your bed every night, and you have to hug and kiss me on the lips....sometimes I turn my face for you to kiss my cheek, and then you say....why not on your lips mom? Then we give another goodnight kiss, this time on the lips. Creature of habit Lily is.

You pride yourself in being able to make scrambled eggs by yourself and one of your favorite things to do with me is cook/bake. With you being in school now, that doesn't happen as much as before, but you still get your chance on the weekends.

You lost your first tooth a while ago but haven't lost any your cute Chiclet teeth smile remains. We'll cherish those baby teeth as long as they last...

You have a hard time with disappointment and dashed expectations (don't we all?) and we are working on maintaining self-control when life (or mom and dad) throws you a curve ball. We've talked lots about it, after the tantrums and also in times of peace and I know you know its wrong and you have prayed about it and are really trying to put that kind of reaction far from you. It just takes time and prayer and effort. We love you no matter what Lil.

You have amazing servant heart moments where you'll close the kitchen door and scurry around getting all the dishes ready to set the table and then say " Mom, Don't look!!" while you set the table to surprise me. Or you'll fill the water glasses up for dinner, or tidy your bedroom up and surprise me. I love that in those moments, I see that you just 'get it'....putting others first and doing things for others that aren't necessarily fun for you, but you know it will bless someone else. Love it!

You are an animal lover (understatement!!) and have been blessed with 4 kitties, 2 cats, 2 bunnies, 1 turtle and a chance to hold an owl and a baby bird. No shortage of animals here for your to love and care for....each weekend, one of your jobs it to feed/water the pets.....I'd like to add change the kitty litter to that job description please! :)

You love to swim and be loud and crazy in the pool...."no screaming Lil!!".

Evie loves to play with you, be chased by you, jump on the trampoline with you and just be with you. Several times a day now Evie will ask "Where Lily?"....and I'll say that you are at school bu you are coming home after lunch and Evie will say "Oh" and be happy knowing you are coming back soon. Adorable.

I love how you will often get out of bed, early in the morning to get Evie out of her crib as she is awake and wanting some food. You lovingly take her out of her crib, get a little something for her to eat, play with her and give me a couple more minutes of sleep. I don't know if you realize how huge a thing that is to do for me Lily. Thank you.

You are doing amazingly well at school....Grade 1 seems to be a breeze for you. Your teacher thinks you're a hard worker and a bit of a perfectionist (Phil!) and there isn't much you encounter that you feel like you can't do. Wait to go Lily!! I remember how nervous you were to start school and how you didn't want to go, and here you are, doing great! So proud of you Lily for overcoming your fears and trying something new.

You are counting down the days (Literally) until we are flying back to Canada for the summer....and you keep on asking...."So, is Gramma, Nnana, Grampa, AND Emmy going to pick us up at the airport??". You want everyone there right away so you can see them all. You miss them a lot and I love how you feel so close to them despite the fact we are continents away from each other. That is a huge blessing. I pray that this summer will be so special for you, to reconnect with cousins and friends and discover a little more about Canada and where your from.

Lily, you are so special to our family and we love you so much. You bring joy, laughter, craziness, creativity, fun and love to our family. Happy's to many more....Love ya kiddo.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Ideas from an Ex-pat Kitchen: Homemade Salsa

This recipe makes 2 of these size containers.
The search for a great Salsa recipe is OVER!! I have been on this quest for 2 long years now, ever since arriving in Chad and craving one of my favorite snacks of tortilla chips and salsa, and not being able to find salsa anywhere!! Eventually, I caved and bought a tiny jar for over $5 (a product that recently became available) but the taste was too sweet and it was ridiculously tried out a couple of different recipes that were all ok....but tasted too 'tomato-y' for my liking.....enter this new found salsa recipe! (Thank you Lisa!!!) You would be surprised at how little time this takes to make and how easy it is to can freeze it and save it for later (but you probably won't because it is so good you'll eat all of it before you get a chance to freeze it!) Now, enough talking about it....time to MAKE IT!


- 1 large can of diced tomatoes (750-800g)
- 2 Large onions (diced)
- 2 Large green peppers (remove seeds and dice)
- 1 Tablespoon Chili powder (for a medium heat)
- 1/2 Teaspoon Garlic powder (or fresh garlic, minced)
- 2 Teaspoons sugar
- 2 Tablespoons Vinegar
- 2 Teaspoons Salt

Combine all ingredients in a large pot, bring to a boil and simmer for 45 min to 1 hour (depending on how thick or runny you want your salsa to be).

Stir occasionally.


We like our salsa thick and chunky! Mmmm.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Cooking from scratch....ideas from an Ex-pat Kitchen

Before I arrived in Chad, I used to think cooking from scratch meant something like putting together a lasagna: mixing together the bottled sauce with the cooked meat, mixing the ricotta cheese, egg, parmesan cheese, and parsley together, layering them between noodles and baking it.....BUT....I was wrong....apparently that is only partially cooking from scratch. :)

Since pasta sauce is a ridiculous price here in Chad, and you can't get ricotta/cottage cheese.....I had to change up the way I made lasagna....and quickly realized that this was not the same level of 'cooking from scratch' that I thought I was a part in Chad, you make the ingredients to then put into the recipe you are making.....get what I'm saying? For example....If I am making a lasagna....I must first make pasta sauce and then a cheese sauce (and make the milk to go into the cheese sauce), before cooking the meat and layering the lasagna.

Another example: if I want to make pumpkin muffins, I have to skin the pumpkin/remove seeds etc, roast the pumpkin, then puree it, and then I can use it in the pumpkin muffin recipe (whew!) can of ready-made puree to dump in! Ya....a whole new level!

Anyways, it got me thinking....I know I am not the only Ex-pat out there who was thrown into the deep end of 'cooking from scratch' and trying to find decent recipes that don't call for 'a can of this' or a 'jar of that' in my daily dinner adventures. After living overseas for 3 years (I know, I am still a novice....but....I have learned a thing or two in the kitchen since we first arrived), I now have a small but tasty repertoire of recipes that I am able to make with the ingredients found here in Chad and most likely found in other African cities (in fact, you probably have more of a selection of food items as Chad is fairly limited due to its landlocked location). I would love to share these with you, and if it makes even one night of cooking less of a struggle or challenge, then my goal would be met!

I'm titling this series "Ideas from an Ex-pat Kitchen" and hope to have regular recipes posted for you all to re-create wherever you are living! Hoping your families love them as much as mine do....Oh and I would LOVE to post YOUR tried and true recipes that you have found to be favorites of your family...made from scratch of course. You can email them to and I will share it with all of us 'overseas' mamas!

A Sneak Peak at some 'made from scratch' recipes to come:

Spaghetti Sauce (with 'hidden' veggies like zucchini, spinach, carrots etc)
Banana Ice Cream/smoothie
The Gooiest Brownies ever
Lemon blondies
Icing Sugar
Chicken Pot Pie
Pressure Cooker Beef Stroganoff
BBQ Sauce

And lots more.....stay tuned!

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Morocco in Pictures

This vacation to Morocco was such a fantastic time! We needed the break from the challenges that living in Chad holds....and especially as it was in the height of the terrorist attacks...we had been in country for around 10 months and just needed a break from it all.
We flew with Air Moroc for the first time and were pleasantly surprised....we made it in one piece, and eventually got all our luggage :) A good start to our time away....

Finally, finally, I am getting around to sorting through our pictures we took of our time in was so hard to pick which ones to include as there were so many fun, beautiful and memorable moments to choose from. Well, I tried to narrow it down...but there are I think around you want to grab a cup of tea or some sort of drink/snack, now's the time as this'll take a while. :) Enjoy!

This is the departure lounge at N'Djamena airport....luxurious eh? :)

Our own 'in flight' movie (no TV's on this plane!)

Um....are we in the Prairies?? Loving the long, clean, wide open spaces.

We're here!!! Beach time was our first 'to do'.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Kaitlyn turns 8

I am wondering when I will stop being surprised by my kids' birthdays....I know each year will add a number onto their age but I always feel a bit shocked when I realize how fast they are growing up. I love, love, love that I can be a part of their lives, their memories and celebrate their birthdays with them....
My 8 year old Beauty
Kaitlyn has seen a lot of changes in her 8 years....lots of hello's and good-bye's, different cultures, being far from family, seeing the world.....she just takes it all in she said to her Gramma a while back...."I'm having my 8th birthday in Morocco"....what 8 year old has an international birthday and casually throws that into a conversation??? We are blessed with such an adaptable girl....

Here are some of the things that we want to remember about Kaitlyn this past year.....

- She was desperate to lose a tooth, and finally, when she was 7.5 years old, 1 tooth fell out, followed by 2 more....but that's it so far!!! She doesn't seem too bothered by it, even when her friends have lost 8+ teeth.

- Kaitlyn is such an artist/creative person.....she doesn't get any of that from me....she loves crafting, and making elaborate forts with sheets, and designing dresses out of scarves or bedsheets and a belt, painting her nails, creating picture books, making cards....she has an eye for fashion and's gonna be cool to see where that takes her as she grows up.

Always up for trying out new riding a camel!
- Kaitlyn has a capri leggings obsession....good thing we stocked up from Canada....

- Kaitlyn loves to read which is awesome to see....hope that never ends.

- Kaitlyn loves anything fancy.

- Kaitlyn has a sweet tooth...unfortunately this doesn't bring out the best of her character as she attempts to gratify her cravings without permission....lots of work done and to be done on that one! It's all just chances to shape her candy-sneaking episode at a time! :)

Loves her little sister!
- There was a period of time where Kaitlyn was obsessed with a purple sparkly belt that she got for her 7th birthday....she wore it cinched tight around her waist every day....I'm talking with dresses, sporty shirts, tank tops, t-shirts.....the purple belt was always there! That is....until it got lost.

- Kaitlyn enjoys drinking tea out of a travel mug....even if she's just around the house.....I think she thinks it's a grown-up thing to do....

- Kaitlyn loves her friends and loves being with them....I always say to her: "If I was 8, I would want to be your friend!"....

- At one point, Kaitlyn's favorite hairstyle was half of her hair up in a ponytail and the other half, hanging loose.....

- Kaitlyn is a great helper with Evie, entertaining her when I need an extra minute to finish something, reading her books, walking with her.....she loves to hug and kiss Evie (much to Evie's dismay....not the most touchy feely kid). Kaitlyn is going to be a fun Aunt and an awesome Mom.

A girl with a sweet tooth...
- Kaitlyn is great at tidying....everything might not be back in the right place....but the floor sure looks spotless! :)

- Kaitlyn loves to talk on skype with her cousins.....we'll call them up and then just leave the kids to chat away...often times they'll talk for an hour! Ok, talking, maybe not, but giggling and having fun....yes!

- Kaitlyn loves tacos, spaghetti, chicken pot pie, jello, peaches and plums (can't get those in Chad so she stocked up in Morocco.....3-4 per day!!), chicken noodle soup and apple sauce to name a few of her favorite foods.

- Kaitlyn really wants to get her ears pierced and I would let her but I told her that when she lets me near her scrapes and injuries to clean them and bandage them without screaming at the top of her lungs and refusing.....ya....THEN she can get her ears pierced. I foresee major ear infections and her not letting me treat them....and so we wait a couple more years.
- Kaitlyn is an expert rainbow loomer (in my books)....she can whip up a bracelet in no time!

- She loves to paint her nails....never just 1 color....

 Blue is her color of choice!
- Kaitlyn loves art, gym, and music....but math isn't her favorite...wonder where she gets that from?

- She is a great big sister to Lily, most of the time....besides the normal sibling squabbles, they get along great and play really well together....they both have great imaginations and can personify any object and make a game of seeing that creativity and sister love!

'Happy Birdsday' cake at a restaurant in Morocco....
So sweet of them to try! :)
- Kaitlyn has made her first, real best friend here in has been cool to see her with such a close and special's going to be hard to say good-bye in December when Anna's family leaves.....praying that Kaitlyn will adjust and make another best friend here in Chad.

- Kaitlyn has a pen pal named Zoe....

- Kaitlyn has been praying that Gramma would come to visit for about 6 months now.....persistence pays off.....Lord willing, she's coming in December!

May your dreams come true.....
- Kaitlyn loves to be snuggled with, to chat at the end of the day, to hear stories about when she was little or when I was little and she likes to be tickled on her face before sleeping.

Horseback riding on the beach in of the things
we did on her birthday.
- It has been cool to see Kaitlyn grow in her knowledge of what being a Christian is really all about, to see her strive to do what's right, to acknowledge (sometimes with prompting) when she is wrong and to live out her faith. Reading her devotional book before bed, praying with the family, reading scripture and talking about it with us, thinking about what it all means (although she is a people pleaser and often tries to give 'Sunday school' answers....but we are working on that--I want her to really think about it, not just give the answer she thinks we want to hear) and how that applies to her life, even at 8.....I hope and pray this is all laying a solid foundation built on Christ's forgiveness and hope, grace and that when she is older and on her own, she will have a living faith and confidence in her Savior. That's all that truly matters.

Anna and Kaitlyn....BFF
- Kaitlyn is off to a great start in 3rd grade! Her teacher's name is Miss M and sounds fun and sweet.

We love you Kaitlyn, and are so proud of you. You are a good friend, sister, and daughter and we can't wait to see what this year holds for you.....praying for you....always.