The Amblings and Ramblings of the Ingalls Family

The travels and thoughts of Heidi, Micah, and Frances...

Monday, May 14, 2007

Just Frances Sharon

Here is frances, frances, and more frances.

By looking at photos here you may be led to believe that the world (or at least our lives) only revolves around Frances. Well, Frances believes that, and she’s not entirely wrong. Actually there is a lot going on presently with the health project and agriculture project in Sangthong district Laos..and that explains why we have not had the moments to write to many of you or update this site. Again, we are unable to expound more on our lives—but we want to invite you to re-acquaint yourself with Frances….or some of the faces of Frances.

She’s just 7 months old now and has her first tooth, sits happily for long periods at a time, and has recently learned to stick out her tongue and blow 'raspberries'...

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Sustainable Agriculture Project Sangthong

Sustainable Agriculture Project Sangthong

Dear Friends and Relations,

I have finished modifying the page for our agriculture project, SAPS. On the side bar of this page, you will notice the project logo, which is a link to the project page (the logo embedded within this message is not a link). Please do visit to get a better idea of what I have been working on. As Heidi's project, the Sangthong Primary Health Care Project, is rather larger and already requires a significant amount of reporting to our funder, Brot fur die Welt, she has opted to relate her work to you through this blog.

Most sincerely, Micah

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Untitled Update

We do not particularly have news to relate. We wanted just to post some more recent pictures of Frances for you all! We are also aware that the content of this blog has almost exclusively to do with our personal lives, rather than professional. The reason for this is that we are in the throes of considering how best to go about this.
When these are more under way we will update you all.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Baci for Blessed October

Traditionally, the Lowland Lao and other groups hold a baci for anyone who is sick, or has recently had a significant change in their life situation, who is coming away, coming, etc. In Buddhist society, this involves someone from the local temple who chants whilst everyone sits around a central stupa praying. At the end of this, everyone will tie small white strings around the wrist of the person(s) for whom the baci is held, whilst saying a blessing or a prayer for them. The strings then represent the prayers of the community, and are believed to bring the person protection or good luck, etc.

Catholics in Laos also carry out bacis. Our host father, Lyntee, explained it as ‘doing Lao custom but praying to our God.’ When we first came to Laos, we spent our initital months living with a Lao Catholic family at the western side of Vientiane. It was perhaps the most encouraging moment for us when our family gave us a baci. Micah had recently all-but succumbed to an infection and has spent a couple of weeks in hospital, we had recently moved back into our family’s home and were about to leave for Phialat to begin work. Perhaps one hundred people gathered for our baci, singing worship songs and praying for us corporately and then each, individually as they tied strings on our wrists.

This past month our family held one for Blessed October (Frances) as well. These pictures are from this ceremony.

Heidi, Micah and Blessed October in Vang Vieng

To Vang Vieng

On the 26th, we headed north to Vang Vieng for something of a reading holiday. Vang Vieng is a lovely area, surrounded by karst mountain formations.

During the American War, hundreds of people in this area lived for several years in the limestone caves in the these mountains throughout this region. The caves provided the only escape from the bombs which leveled any man made structures in the area.

Many of the new families in our district are from this area of Laos, which is home to many ethnic groups, particularly Kh’hmu and some Hmong.

Some of these pictures are from the market in Vang Vieng, where many wild animals are sold, included rats, bats, deer and birds.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Christmas Blessings.....

The three of us are heading out to a Christmas Eve service at one of the Lao Christian churches here in Vientiane city. We want to share with you all some of the blessings we have received this Christmas....the first of which you'll see is our beautiful healthy daughter Frances.
She is now smiling, laughing, and "talking" all the time. This cannot quite be captured in a photograph--but here you can see some of her many new

In these other pictures you can see the church in Hoi Kam Village in our district. It is the only legally recognised church in Sangthong district, and we are rejoicing this year that they were given permission to hold a Christmas service.

Hoi Kam Village is one of the poorest in our district, and the Sangthong Primary Healthcare Project I (Heidi) work with has been very involved here to bring clean water, latrines, and to train village health volunteers and a local midwife. Upon arriving at the Christmas service I was met by the midwife who shared with me about a woman whose newborn baby had just died the day before from an infection that I recognised was very preventable and could have been easily treated with access to medication. After the service I met this woman and it was painful to hold my own healthy baby in the face of her loss. But she asked God to bless me. It is hard for me to express to you as well as to her how blessed I was to witness God's presence and peace in that place. The simple church has a dirt floor and many inside it don't have enough food to eat or clothes to keep them warm this season. Yet I recognised many people I knew in that church, people whom I've met and worked with and didn't know were Christians. We were warmly welcomed and Frances was held and passed from hand to hand throughout the service. It was like finding our family in Laos. These pictures show only a glimpse of the church, some faces. I hope this Christmas as you meet with family and celebrate our Lord's coming into this world, you'll remember your Family all over the world. Maybe particularly you'll think of those parts of our Family who suffer from want of basic things, and those who have lost their children. May God bless you all with Joy and the Peace of God which passess all understanding. We'll write again soon to share with you more of our lives here and our Christmas.
Love and Merry Christmas,
Heidi, Micah, and Frances Ingalls

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Winter Chill and Blessed October

We have, yet again, been some time from our blog. We have returned to our work and daily lives in the village. Our projects are moving along happily but relentlessly. Frances, now two months old, sleeps well at night but is up with the roosters in our village (it is a fallacy, by the way, that roosters arise with the dawn- generally they begin to crow around 3:30 or 4).

We wanted mostly to post new pictures for you all, and to ramble somewhat less than usual. Two or three of the pictures do not need explanation as they are pictures of Frances sleeping.
Frances and Bear In hammock

These are pictures of Frances carried in her sling, which is how Heidi usually tows her around in her work in the villages. This method of carrying a baby in a sling across the front is characteristic of the Lowland Lao, who comprise the majority of our neighbours. Other groups, such as the Khmhu and Red and Black Thai, tend to carry the child on the back in order to leave their hands free for work.

Micah with Slinged Daughter Heidi carrying Frances in Sling

This is a picture of Frances being held by Nang San, a Khmhu woman with whom we have become friends through our work. Like many of the Khmhu in our district, she lives in a new village, made up of people who, due to national policies, have had to leave their homes. She is a widowed mother of four children and has been recently diagnosed with cancer.

It is our hope to post at least once more before Christmas, so if you have not given up checking this blog entirely, you may hear from us again soon.

All our love and blessings. Micah, Heidi, and Frances.

post-script: Frances does not go by Frances here (and, when she does, it is rather more like 'Flan suh'). Since before her birth we very much wanted to follow the Lao practice of giving two names. Accordingly, we have named her Dtulapon, or Blessed October.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Coming to an End in Bangkok

Having received Frances' citizenship and passport, we are all but ready to head home to Laos. These weeks here have been both tiring and enjoyable (perhaps more the former than the latter, though it is hard to tell). Whatever they have been, we do at least have something to show for it. She is a lovely thing, and easy to love.

We do long for the Wolery- our home in Laos, and for a return to the lives we have made there. Bangkok is a large city-- through and through. I suppose that each city has its own character, but I think it also true to say that, at the end of the day, a city is still a city, and we miss our forests and hills.

We have had several visitors in these last two weeks. Some are featured in our pictures here. The little girl is named Anna, the daughter of good friends of our here. The little boy lying beside Frances is Innes, the younger brother of Anna. The picture does not do him justice. At just eight months he (only slightly) outweighs Heidi...

St Francis of Assisi

St Francis' Cross

Although we are only just beginning to acquaint ourselves with St Francis, and thus are ill-qualified at present to give you a worthy account of his life, we wanted to at least give you a faint idea of the nature of the person for whom we have named our daughter.
In doing so, we wanted to write rather more about his theology and his philosophy, than about his history, per se. But history must provide the background. The life of St Francis is known to us largely through anecdotes. The book ‘The little Flowers of St Francis’ is one such collection of these stories. More complete and historically-oriented biographies have been written as well.
The man we know as St. Francis of Assisi was born Giovanni di Bernardone in 1182, to an Italian father and a French mother. From youth he was raised as a wealthy merchant’s son, known for his love of festivities, of fine clothes and wine. While he was still quite young, however, two things occurred to change the course of his life and, I do not believe it exaggeration to say, the course of western Christendom.
Saint Francis of Assisi The first was his meeting with a beggar. Whilst conducting business for his father, Francis was approached by a beggar asking alms. At first, the man was repulsed from the shop. Francis, however, ran through Assisi until he could find the man, gave the fellow all he had, and swore that he would never again refuse the requests of the poor.

The second was his vision in the ruins of the Church of St. Damian, on the outskirts of Assisi. Francis had joined the military, but had been returned home due to a prolonged illness. Dejected at this loss (rather more from wounded pride and thwarted ambition) he dwindled into a sort of depression, spending many days praying and asking God what had become of his life. One day, whilst praying in the church of St. Damian, the Lord spoke to him three times saying, ‘Francis, rebuild my house which, you can see, is falling into ruins.’ Thinking this to mean the ruins of the church within which he was praying, Francis sold his horse and his belongings, and some of the belongings of his father, and began to rebuild St. Damian’s. His father, who was rather more a fellow of business than of Christ, reported Francis to the magistrates, and had him arrested for theft. Francis returned all that had been taken and, more than this, took all of his worldly belongings except a rough cloth shirt, and threw them at his father’s feet, saying, ‘up until this time I have called Pietro Bernardone father, but now I am the servant of God. Not only the money but everything that can be called his I will restore to my father, even the very clothes he has given me.’ From this point on, Francis renounced worldly possessions and took on the life of a wandering peasant, devoted to rebuilding the churches in that area of Italy.
Already this history has taken longer than expected, but I think the events surrounding his life are of some importance for understanding the person. A little more must be mentioned. He was granted permission by Pope Innocent III to found a new order, which he called the Fratres Minores, of ‘Lesser Brothers.’ These, of course, became those whom we know as the Franciscan Friars, who, quite original to the time, were socialists and itinerants, claiming neither individual property nor home. During his lifetime, the number of friars grew to many thousands, travelling all over Europe and the Middle East, preaching to all classes of people in all walks of life.

St Francis Receiving the Stigmata, by Giotto St Francis by CaravaggioIn the latter years of his life, while praying and fasting on Mount Alverno, he saw a vision of an angelic bird or a seraph, crucified, in the sky. He said that while this vision lasted he felt an unutterable grief and pity which overcame him. When the vision faded, he found that he had been pierced through the hands, the feet, and his side.
So on 8 May 1213, Francis received the sign of the Stigmata.

His history now aside, I wanted to mention the particulars of his theology.
Francis was born into the so-called Dark Ages. With the fall of the Roman Empire, Europe had fallen into a period of intellectual and artistic paralysis. Warring kingdoms and barbarian hordes filled the vacuum of power which was left by Rome’s decline, crippling trade and scholarship. It was during these times that Christendom waged the Crusades. Chesterton writes of this time, astutely, it seems—as a time of purgation for Christendom. Scholarship and natural theology had, until the advent of Christianity, been the domain of Paganism. Although the intellectual and philosophical traditions of the Greeks and the Romans are the basis for much of our western culture, there was a time when these traditions bore with them darker marks than they bear for us today. The quaint and very human mythologies of the gods had grown dark in a time when the decadence of Rome was darker even than the Colosseum with its murder of slaves and Christians for entertainment. The religion of Greece and Rome were religions of nature worship, for they worshipped the forces of sex, growth, and death-- anthropomorphised into the pantheon. In terms of the environmental theology of Francis, I think this is worth understanding better than I do. For this was, and is, one of the great messages of Francis- the reunification of the natural world and humanity. Chesterton writes, ‘it was no good telling such people to have a natural religion full of stars and flowers; there was not a flower or even a star that had not been stained… it was no good to preach natural religion to people to whom nature had grown as unnatural as any religion.’ The Dark Ages was the necessary purgation of these stains on European civilisation and the consciousness of the Church which was, at that time, largely European. The Church had to be rid of the perversity of the natural religion of Rome to make room for the natural religion of the Son of God, the one by whom and for whom the whole Creation exists.
St Francis in Ecstasy by Caravaggio By the time of St Francis, it may be said, the Dark Ages had done their work.
‘Gradually against this grey background beauty begins to appear, as something really fresh and delicate and above all surprising… the flowers and the stars have recovered their first innocence.

Fire and Water are felt to be worthy to be the brother and the sister of a saint. The purge of paganism was complete at last… Water is no longer that water into which slaves were flung to feed the fishes. Fire is no longer that fire through which children were passed to Moloch…
…while it was yet the twilight of the Dark Ages, a figure appeared silently and suddenly on a little hill above the city of Assisi, dark against the fading darkness. For it was the end of a long and stern night, a night of vigil, not unvisited by stars. He stood with his hands lifted, as in so many statues and pictures, and about him was a burst of birds singing; and behind him was the break of day.’

It has been said that St Francis ‘anticipated all that is most liberal and sympathetic in the modern mood; the love of nature; the love of animals; the sense of social compassion; the sense of the spiritual dangers of prosperity and even of property.’

He saw beyond the created world as a merely something which points us to the goodness of God, but saw the natural world as our sibling in Creation. It was in this inspiration that Francis wrote the Canticle of the Sun, the first Italian poem and best known of Francis’ writings:

Most high, all-powerful, all good, Lord! All praise is yours, all glory, all honour And all blessing. To you alone, Most High, do they belong. No mortal lips are worthy To pronounce your name.

All praise be yours, my Lord, through all that you have made, And first my lord Brother Sun, Who brings the day; and light you give to us through him. How beautiful is he, how radiant in all his splendour! Of you, Most High, he bears the likeness.

All praise be yours, my Lord, through Sister Moon and Stars; In the heavens you have made them, bright And precious and fair.

All praise be yours, my Lord, through Brothers Wind and Air, And fair and stormy, all the weather's moods, By which you cherish all that you have made.

All praise be yours, my Lord, through Sister Water, So useful, lowly, precious, and pure.
All praise be yours, my Lord, through Brother Fire, Through whom you brighten up the night. How beautiful he is, how gay! Full of power and strength.

All praise be yours, my Lord, through Sister Earth, our mother, Who feeds us in her sovereignty and produces Various fruits and coloured flowers and herbs.

All praise be yours, my Lord, through those who grant pardon For love of you; through those who endure Sickness and trial. Happy those who endure in peace, By you, Most High, they will be crowned.

All praise be yours, my Lord, through Sister Death, From whose embrace no mortal can escape. Woe to those who die in mortal sin! Happy those She finds doing your will! The second death can do no harm to them.

Praise and bless my Lord, and give him thanks, And serve him with great humility.
The work of St Francis in this regard is yet incomplete. Perhaps more strongly with the advent of Protestantism, there has been a widening of the gap between the human and the non-human Creation. Few among us would speak of Brothers Wind and Air, or Sister Water, or Sister Earth. Yet such an understanding is, I think, fundamental to a proper theology of God and of our place in His world and in the story of redemption. For the redemption of the Cross was a redemption of the whole Creation. As it is written, ‘the creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own will, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.’

There is much else that we could write here about St Francis of Assisi, but I have become carried away already. One thing else which is worthy of note, was his visit to the Saracen sultan Melek-el-Kamel in 1219, where he sought to bring an end to the Crusades by testifying about Christ to the Muslim leaders. Rather unorthodoxly, he offered to throw himself into the fire on the condition that, should he emerge alive, they would acknolwedge Christ as Lord.

St Francis Apppearing before the Sultan by Giotto St Francis Preaching to the Birds, by Giotto

But at present we shan't go further. When we knew that we were pregnant, we determined to name the child Frances. Interestingly, at least for us, she was born just two days after the Feast of St Francis, which many Christians throughout the world celebrate on October 4th.