Thursday, May 13, 2010

Pray for Sabirabad

In this entry of our blog we want to inform you as to what is going on in Sabirabad, and to ask for your thoughts and prayers for the people of Sabirabad and its surrounding villages.

This spring has been unusually rainy. For a few weeks it seemed like it rained every day, if not all day every day. Sabirabad is located on the Kür/ Araz River that runs through the middle of the country. Due to all of the rainfall, flooding has been a problem. The situation, as it is right now, transpired quickly. It began in the outer reaches of the region, flooding villages and displacing a limited amount of people. Tents and relief shelters started popping up around Sabirabad City, and have consistently grown for the last week and a half.

To be clear, the Region of Azerbaijan, or “county” that we live in, is called “Sabirabad”. Sabirabad contains many individual villages and Sabirabad City. Think of it as Iowa, and Iowa City (only the size of a small county). According to the last reports most villages in the region are under water. The city has been saved thus far, but fears are that it is only a matter of time before it is under water as well. Six to nine feet are expected.

It is for this reason that the Peace Corps has had us leave Sabirabad. We are currently staying with friends and fellow volunteers in Göyçay, located in the middle of the country. I received a phone call on Sunday at midnight and Alicia and I were instructed to pack our most valuable possessions, some clothes, and leave Sabirabad by 10am Monday morning. Needless to say it was a little overwhelming due to the fact that we ourselves had no idea how dangerous the situation was. After our phone call our minds began to wonder about all the people in Sabirabad who, like us, had been told that the river has been controlled, and everything will be O.K. Suddenly we were packing our bags in the middle of the night, leaving in the morning, and hadn’t talked to anyone about this newest piece of information.

Since leaving we have received word from some of our Azeri friends in Sabirabad. Around midnight on Monday one of my students who I meet with individually called and told me that the river had taken his village, water was running through his house, and he was heading for his grandmother’s in Sabirabad City. Two days later, his house is six to nine feet in water.
Alicia has spoke with one of her English students who she tutors, and her family is waiting for the water to come before leaving. All roads going in and out of Sabirabad are closed except for one. This creates a bottleneck situation, and in the event that the city begins taking in water, we are afraid that the one road out will be heavily congested, chaotic, and dangerous. Our hearts are heavy for our friends and the people of Sabirabad because, unlike us, many don’t have family or friends outside the region to go to. Because families live together, and people usually stay where they were born and grew up, it quickly diminishes the possibility of finding safe haven elsewhere. Not to mention, Alicia’s friend and her family’s only income is a store built into the side of their home. This is the situation for many people in Sabirabad, and was the situation for many of the villagers who have relocated to the city. They have begun filling the schools and football fields with displaced peoples. Our worry is where the people will go, and how efficiently and safely it will be handled, if they must evacuate the city.

It is for all these reasons that we are asking for your prayers. We have been out of site now for four days, and from the looks of things, even if it doesn’t flood in the city, it doesn’t seem that we will be returning anytime soon. We aren’t sure what kind of a time frame we are looking at, but at long as the water poses a threat, Peace Corps has advised us not to return to site. On top of this, there has not been running water for a few weeks, and electricity has been spotty. These reinforce our reasons for staying out of site for a while. We are leaving Göyçay soon, tomorrow or the next day, and aren’t sure whether we will move on to a different PCV’s home, or head into Baku to meet with our staff and country director. Being in limbo has been frustrating and stressful for us. In the event of a flood, our first floor apartment wouldn’t make it. We are reminding ourselves that stuff is just stuff, and the focus needs to be left on the people, but we can’t help but think of our gifts for others and mementos from here and Israel that are, in their own way, irreplaceable. Our selfish human nature creeps in and gets us thinking about our “stuff”, so please pray that we are able to stay focused.

Today was our first time on the Internet in a couple weeks, so our first chance to update you all as to what is going on. It has been great to spend time with our friends Meg and Rikki here in Göyçay. They have been ever so hospitable and welcomed us whole-heartedly. They even took us to their local sports complex yesterday and Alicia and I were able to sponge a shower out of the deal. The water was hot and the pressure was good. It was a good day.
We’ll keep you posted as new information and Internet becomes available. Thank you all for your thoughts and prayers.


  1. Wow! This is so crazy. All of the unknown is so scary. I am praying for you guys and your friends.

  2. Thanks Derek for keeping us updated, it was good to talk to you briefly. Know that I'm praying for the people of Azerbaijan and for you and Alicia. It's a devastating situation and so hard to watch and wait, all the while hoping for the best! I can't imagine the difficulty of knowing the people you've grown to love are in danger and there's little that you can do. I pray you have wisdom as you meet with the PC staff. I'm so proud of you both, and trust that God has placed you there "for such a time as this." I love you, miss you, and am praying for how God is going to use you both in such a difficult time for the people of Az!

  3. thanks for keeping us up to date, babe. think it's good to know what you're praying for, even tho God knows exactly what the needs are. Am grateful you both are safe but hurt for the folks that have nowhere to go. Praying for God's directions and wisdom for these people and their acceptance of His leading. We have NO problems and am often embarassed by the things I ask of God. Don't be too hard on yourselves for missing your things, your priorities are right. No one thinks you want your stuff more than you want safety for these good people. Still praying...hugs to both of you. I love you Derek and Alicia.

  4. Derek and Alicia. Your Dad and I are praying for both of you that God will keep you safe, meet your needs, and answer our prayers for the people of Azerbaijan. As Dacia referenced in Esther 4:14 "for such a time as this", we know that God uses His people for His purpose. We don't always know what that purpose is or how much or little He will use us to fulfill that plan, but we must trust Him throughout the process. It's possible that you may never see the people in Sabirabad City again, but it's evident that you have forever changed their lives in the short time that you have been with them. We will pray that you will see them again under better and safer conditions. The truth is that they have changed your lives as well.

    Be Safe, Be Strong in the Lord, Be Strong Together. We love you, Mom and Dad

  5. Matthew Wade UmbargerMay 13, 2010 at 10:29 PM

    Hey guys. As I read this, the strong impression that I was getting is that this is part of what you are there for, to participate in the experience of Sabirabadans as a form of intercession. I know it probably doesn't feel that way, and that you probably don't sense that you are successfully doing that, but your participation in their exile from their homes, the threat of losing property, the frustration of having your plans and your situation messed up after everything had fallen into place, all of that is a sacrifice. Someday, I believe, you will be able to echo the words of Colossians 1:24.

    That doesn't make it fun. We'll keep the prayer on.

  6. Matthew Wade Umbarger againMay 13, 2010 at 10:31 PM

    Oh. And you guys are awesome. Just ask my kids.

  7. I second what the Israeli Umbarger kids say! Keep trusting. God has reasons for everything.
    Love and prayers,