Friday, December 25, 2015

Christmas Reflections

[This is a re-post from the entry I put on our family blog tonight.  Eli specifically requested that I post it on the mission blog as well, even though it's not missions-themed.]

The most momentous point in history was a time of great joy and great sorrow - a great paradox, as most of life tends to be.

An angel told Mary she had found favor with God and would give birth to a son, and "He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High" (Luke 1:31-32).  But being favored by God doesn't mean being favored by people, and her "disgrace" nearly made Joseph divorce her till an angel intervened (Matthew 1:18-25) and it most certainly ostracized her from her own community.

The Savior of the world came as an infant, small and weak and dependent.  But that baby became a child, and "the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon him" (Luke 2:40), and that child would eventually "save His people from their sins" (Matthew 1:21).

The shepherds witnessed a heavenly host of angels who sang, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests" (Luke 2:13-14).  But tidings of peace did not last long in Bethlehem, as Herod "gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under" which led to "weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted because they are no more" (Matthew 2:16-18).

Mary, the mother of Jesus, had a front-row seat to all of these paradoxes.  She was a woman in favor at the same time she was a woman in dishonor.  She placed her newborn in a manger at the same time she knew the Lord would give Him the throne of His father David.  She rejoiced in the coming of her son at the same time her neighbors wept over the loss of their sons because He came.

So much joy, so much sorrow, so much paradox.  No wonder "Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart" (Luke 2:19).

I can scarcely imagine how much Mary had to absorb and process within the span of a few years.  That's a lot to take in, a lot to treasure and ponder.  This year, the way I've attempted to reflect on the Christmas story is to ponder the heart of the mother of Jesus from my own mother's perspective.  Our son Asa is still an infant and he is small (relatively), and utterly dependent on us.  His head bobbles, his mouth drools and his hands are barely able to grasp onto things.  And he is marvelous in our eyes.  It is incredible to consider that this is how our Savior came.  The Wonderful Counselor drank his mother's milk, the Mighty God couldn't hold his own head up, the Everlasting Father drooled down his shirt, and the Prince of Peace didn't sleep through the night.  But oh, what good news!  The answer to the plight of the world came in the form of a helpless babe, and an angel declared this to be good news that would bring great joy to the world.

As our son continues to tug our hearts everyday, we can testify that if ever there was a sign of hope for the world, it is in the beauty and innocence of a newborn, and if ever there was a proclamation of joy, it is in the smile of a baby.  I am treasuring and pondering this as I'm sure Mary did when her son Jesus was born.  This is what Immanuel looks like, to have God with us:

And so I sing with Mary,

"My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior."
(Luke 1:46-47)

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Beginning the Goodbyes

Our first goodbye happened back in September when we left Duluth.  A few days before we moved we had to say goodbye to Hannah, our babysitter.  She is one of the loveliest, most mature young women we've ever known, and she loved our kids well as she played with them and read books to them and prayed with them at bedtime.  Caleb and Kai absolutely adored her.  On the last day we saw Hannah, they waved to her out the window as she drove away, like they did every time she left, and innocently said, "There she goes!"  I waved goodbye too, and then started crying as I repeated our boys: "There she goes!"  She was going because we were going, to Michigan and then to Africa.  Hannah was driving away for the last time and it was incredibly hard to watch her go, and our boys had no understanding that they wouldn't see her again for a very long time.

last day with Hannah

I have no idea if Caleb and Kai will remember Hannah.  Actually, I'm sure Kai won't.  Maybe Caleb will, maybe not.  Two years is an incredibly long time in the life of a 3-year old and 2-year old, and their ability to remember isn't what it will be.  The thought that they probably won't remember Hannah very well, if at all, is perhaps that hardest thing because Hannah was like family to us while we lived in Duluth.  We had no actual family in town, but Hannah was there every week, loving our boys and teaching them and pouring into them.  She was familiar and safe and fun.  She was a lifeline to our entire family throughout residency and beyond and we could not have survived without her.  Hannah loves Jesus and loves kids and we were tempted to take her with us to Michigan!  But the time finally came when we needed to move on, literally, and leave our babysitter behind.  And I cried when she drove away.  It was our first goodbye before leaving for Kenya, and it was a hard one.

Last week we said more goodbyes.  We were in Minnesota once more, celebrating Christmas with Eli's family.  We had said goodbye to extended family before we left in October, so last week we chose to solely see immediate family, plus Josh and Jamie (Eli's cousin/best friend and his wife who happened to be one of my roommates before I got married, and they are some of our best friends in the world).  We had a fabulous week, hanging around the house and watching the kids play and eating lots of cookies and opening presents.  Then it was time to say goodbye, and it was hard.  The kids are all young and only the oldest (at age 4.5) had the slightest understanding that they wouldn't see each other for over two years.  They'll all be completely different people in two years than they are now.  They probably won't recognize each other next time and will have to start over with getting to know each other.  There's no doubt they'll pick up where they left off and still love chasing each other around the house, but it's hard to think that two years will happen in between now and then, which is half their lifetime (or most of their lifetime, in the case of the babies!).  So it was hard to say goodbye.  Our sister-in-law said it well: "It's hardest when you know how long it will be before you see each other again."  Which is true.  And in the grand scheme of things, two years is only two years.  But it's still a significant amount of time, particularly when kids are in the picture, and it will only be the beginning of many years of separation for us since our plan is to keep returning to Africa again and again.

 Horn cousins

Saying goodbye to Josh and Jamie was also hard for two particular reasons: 1) our kids didn't get to see each other to say goodbye, and 2) Jamie is due to have their fourth baby in just a few weeks, and we won't get to meet him before we go.  We had planned to eat dinner with them on our last night in Minnesota so the kids could play and say goodbyes, but that afternoon one of their kids became sick and threw up so we nixed our dinner plans in favor of not exposing our kids (especially the baby) to the flu.  These things happen, especially at this time of year, but it was a major blow because having dinner was supposed to be our goodbye.  And so I cried.  Thankfully Eli and I were able to go over later, after our kids were in bed at Grandma's house, so we had the chance to hang out and laugh with them once more before leaving.  It was much needed and we're so thankful for these friends who have loved and supported us on our entire ten-year journey to Africa.

with Josh and Jamie

Last month at Mission Training International we had a session on saying healthy goodbyes.  Something we were asked to consider is how we, personally, can say goodbye in a healthy manner.  For me, one of the biggest things is not saying all our goodbyes at once.  Having the time and space to say goodbye to different people at different times allows us to say proper goodbyes, rather than rushed or overlooked goodbyes.  Going to Minnesota last week allowed us the chance to do that with immediate family.  Moving to Michigan this fall opened the opportunity for us to do the same with my family before we leave soon.

I don't write this to play the martyr and evoke pity for all the hard goodbyes we're having to say.  I write this because it's true that it's hard, and it's a part of our story these days, and because a part of us is actually thankful for the chance to say goodbye because it means we have the chance to go.  And that is what makes our hearts glad: we get to go.  Jesus said, "Everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life" (Matthew 19:29).  I once heard that this is true because people who serve as missionaries will increase their family and friends on the mission field by forming new relationships and investing in the global Church.  Because we're going to Africa, we will have the joy and privilege of "receiving a hundred times as much" in terms of relationships built and formed.  But it requires leaving family and friends behind.  The thing is, though, we're not the only ones embarking on a separation.  The family and friends we're leaving behind - they're letting us go.  After we say goodbye, we'll get to say hello to new people on the other side of the ocean.  They, on the other hand, will just be saying goodbye.  And that is hard.  In many ways it's even harder than what we're doing.  So we acknowledge the other end of the spectrum in this "saying goodbye" business, and we want to say, "Thank you for letting us go."

Thursday, December 10, 2015

A Season of Rest and Final Preparations

It was a cool and cloudy day last week when I said to Eli, "I feel like I'm breathing deeply for the first time in months."  I was resting in my favorite recliner, nursing our baby, and not thinking about anything else but being present in that moment.  I literally took a deep breath and let it out slowly.  My soul was at rest.

It's a bit of an understatement to say that we've had a busy year, but...we've had a busy year.  We began training and fundraising on top of visiting family we hadn't seen in too long.  We traveled by plane eight times...and those were just the times we took our children with us.  We've sent more emails and made more phone calls than any other year because it's true what people say: preparing for long-term missions is like acquiring a part-time job.  We've made new friends in the process (and have deepened existing friendships) and have let our hearts and minds expand as our circle of friends does too.  And we added a new member to our missionary team by doing this not-so-little thing called "having a baby" which made our hearts and minds expand further still.  So we've had a busy year, but God has been gracious to sustain us as we've cast our cares on Him (Psalm 55:22) and now we've entered a new season: a season of rest and final preparations.

A beautiful thing about resting is that it's part of our final preparations before heading to Kenya.  We don't want to be tapped when it's time to go and be so exhausted that we're unable to function when we get there.  We don't need to go full-speed till the day we get on the plane; life has enough things to keep us busy as it is.  Dishes need to be washed, children need to be fed, potty accidents need to be cleaned up, emails need to be answered, groceries need to be bought.  So in this season of rest and final preparations, we're acknowledging what else needs to be done: candles need to be burned, chocolate needs to be eaten, naps need to be taken, Tickle Monsters need to visit, Netflix needs to be watched.  We are doing this to refill our empty tanks and breathe deeply before going to the mission field.

We're also doing some fun things during this season of rest to further prepare ourselves for living in Kenya.  First things first: learning to drink chai.

People in Kenya drink chai, or so I'm told.  The problem?  I don't like tea.  Or coffee, for that matter.  My hot beverage of choice is hot chocolate, which isn't that popular even here in the States let alone overseas.  But I knew that virtually anywhere else in the world we ended up, I'd have to learn how to drink tea.  I put it off and put it off, but yesterday I finally began the endeavor to achieve this goal.  My best friend likes chai tea, specifically spiced cinnamon chai, and she made me a cup and doctored it with extra fixings to make it palatable.  I was surprised and thankful that it tasted alright.  I drank the whole thing and decided I could do that again.  Later I went to the store and bought my own supplies in order to experiment further, and tonight I made my first cup of chai.  The result?  Not great.  But not awful either.  I have some work to do but I'm determined to figure out how to enjoy chai so I can drink it in Kenya!

We're also using this time to learn more about Kenya because, truth be told, we don't actually know much about it.  We know that it's famous for safaris and has one of the better economies in Africa, but we know little of its history or landscape or tribal culture.  So last week we headed to the library and found three children's books to start with.  And we're making it a family activity.  I've been reading the books out loud in the car as we drive around town, and Caleb's been enjoying the pictures and maps.  He can confidently tell you that Kenya is near the Indian Ocean, but will also tell you exactly where Michigan is within the country of Kenya.  It's a start!

Something else we hope to achieve during this season of final preparations is to learn some basic Swahili by watching YouTube videos.  We will be attending language school when we arrive in Kenya, and we are now well equipped to continue language learning because of the skills we just acquired at Mission Training International, but it never hurts to have a head start if possible.  There are many online resources for learning Swahili and we plan to utilize them before heading to Kenya.

So at the end of this busy year we are continuing to prepare for the mission field by resting, drinking chai, reading children's books, and dipping our toes into language learning.  It's good to breathe this deeply.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Transitions and Stress

It began one day at the Farm when Caleb suddenly said, "I don't want to go to the Farm anymore."  I was confused since we were already living at the Farm and since there was no context for his comment.  I reminded him where we were and that in a couple weeks we'd be moving to Michigan.  "No!" he wailed.  "I don't want to go to the Farm!  I don't want to go to Michigan!  I want to go to the real house!"

He meant our house in Duluth.  The one we'd just moved out of.  The one we'd never go back to again.  The one that was completely comfortable and familiar to him.  The one that was home.

on the day we moved out of our house in Duluth

It broke my heart because our 3-year old son couldn't understand what was going on or why it was happening.  Caleb can't understand that we moved because we're in the midst of transition, and he can't understand that we're in the midst of transition because we're headed to Africa, and he can't understand that we're headed to Africa because God has called us to go there.

To be fair, all of our moving around has been very confusing.  And sometimes it has been quite stressful.  Living out of suitcases while living in a few different places can take its toll.  I think Caleb's comment at the Farm was an indication of his stress and sadness over our current situation, and that was just the beginning.  And I resonated with him.

After spending two weeks at the Farm in Minnesota, we moved to Michigan where we spent one week at my parents' lakehouse before getting on a plane to Colorado.  We spent four weeks there (for the Compass training program at Mission Training International) and just returned to Michigan this past weekend to attempt to settle at the lakehouse, Round 2, for the immediate future.  In the midst of all this craziness, Caleb has made comments off and on regarding the transitions we're in, including, but not limited to:

"I don't want to move to Michigan."
"After Colorado we're going to Grandma and Grandpa's house."
"I don't want to go to the lakehouse!"
"After Colorado we're going to a new place."
"No!  I don't want to go there!" [meaning Africa]
"I want to go to Grandma and Grandpa's house."
"I want to see hippos and lions and lemurs." [when we get to Africa]
"We're going on an airplane to Michigan!"

His seemingly arbitrary joys and sorrows are completely normal for someone in transition.  There are many paradoxical emotions associated with major life transitions and Caleb has been learning how to express those emotions during the past few months.  This became apparent yet again when his class at MTI did a particular craft.  They made a fabulous diagram of Noah's Ark which had a picture of our family on the ark to depict us going from "home" and finding ourselves passing through the rains before returning to dry ground at "a new place" on the other side.  Caleb was so excited to show it to us...until we asked him if he knew where the "new place" was.  "Where?" he asked.  "Kenya!  In Africa!" we exclaimed excitedly.  And then he melted to the floor in tears and wailed, "No!!!  I don't want to go there!"  Our hearts broke because we hadn't realized it was one of the days he doesn't want to go to Kenya.  Sometimes he does, sometimes he doesn't, and it's hard to know how he's feeling on any given day.

Here's the reality: there are days when Eli and I want to move to Kenya too, and days when we don't.  There are days when the reality that we're almost, finally, about to move overseas gives us inexpressible joy.  And there are days when the reality that we're almost, finally, about to move overseas gives us unfathomable anxiety.  It's going to be a big transition, and even though we trust that it will be good overall, it will not be a cakewalk.  And so we experience a paradox of emotions like our 3-year old son.

We discussed the stages of transition while we were at training in Colorado: Settled, Unsettling, Chaos, Re-Settling, and New Settled.

I think we currently feel "unsettled" overall but we've already had some moments of chaos and some attempts at resettling too.  The bridge diagram in the picture above shows the path from being settled on one side to experiencing the peak of major chaos and then towards being settled again but in a new place.  We wrote both positive and negative emotions attached to each phase of transition, and then I realized that my strongest emotions are directly tied to how our kids are handling transition.  When Caleb says that we're going back to our house, it hurts my heart because he's confused despite my best efforts to explain that we're not going back there.  When he loves being in Michigan because he loves playing with his friends here, my heart swells because he's happy.  When Kai has yet another night without enough sleep, I long for our house in Duluth because he slept really well there, in a room by himself with routine and without the interruptions of his older brother.  When he goes with the flow, it makes me glad that we're doing these transitions now while he's still this young and flexible.  There are many emotions, ping-ponging back and forth with each passing day.

One of the greatest encouragements we have as we continue on the road to Africa is the fact that Jesus Himself experienced many of the transitions and stressors we are facing right now.  Jesus moved around a lot, lived out of other people's homes, lived on financial support from others, and had people question what He was doing.  He may not have had three little kids in tow, but He had twelve confused (and sometimes cranky) disciples.  Jesus lived a life in transition and with stress.  Thanks be to God that He provided us with an example of how to live through all of this!  He was patient, He was thankful, He was kind.  He was frustrated, He was weary, He was honest.  He was faithful through it all.  And that is our prayer: that God would keep us faithful even as we're stressed and tired and thankful at the same time, that He would sustain us when our kids are confused and crying on the floor, that He would encourage us when our kids are flourishing and laughing with joy, and that He'd guide our every step as we continue the transition from being settled to unsettled to chaos to resettling and eventually to a new settled in Africa next year.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Laying Down Our Rights

I remember the second time it happened.  I came home from the clinic, hot from the African sun and desperately wanting to cool off in the shower, only to discover there was no running water when I turned on the faucet.  I went into the kitchen and tried the sink.  No water there either.  I knew why, and I was frustrated.  The first time it happened I shrugged it off.  But the second occurrence made me wrestle between annoyance, frustration, and downright indignation.

This is what happened: it was dry season and the water in the catchment on the mountain, which was piped to both the communal faucet in the village and to our house, had run out.  When the catchment became empty, it was only a matter of time before the last of the water in the pipeline emptied out too.  Inevitably, with so many people drawing water from the communal faucet in the village, that pipeline ran dry before the pipeline to our house.  On those occasions, we'd find children at our house, crowing around the outside faucet with buckets and pails and filling them with water to carry back to their homes.  Soon enough, like the communal faucet, the water at our house would run out too.

a well, built by a missionary in rural Cameroon

The first time there was no water in our taps, we were confused.  When we discovered why, we shrugged our shoulders because there was nothing to be done about it.  What we didn't anticipate at the time were the repeat occurrences.  There were multiple more occasions when we'd come home during the dry season and have no water - not because there wasn't enough water in the line to supply our house, but because the children would come and take everything left in it.  And I was frustrated because I wanted water too, and it was our house, and they didn't even ask before depleting our entire water supply!

After a few times of letting my blood boil, God checked my heart.  This was an issue of the heart, of laying down my rights, and of acquiring love and humility instead of selfishness and conceit.  The problem was that I assumed I had certain rights which I most certainly did not.  I thought I had a right to at least know our water was being taken in the first place, then a right to give permission to take it, then a right to be clean and cool before anyone else, as if I owned all the water that ran down the mountain.  But what right did I have?  I was just one person among the multitude who needed water.  I wasn't even a resident of the village.  I was a guest, even a guest in the house we were living in.  We didn't own the house we stayed in, and we certainly didn't own the water that ran through its pipes - the running water that few other people had.  But in those moments when I turned on the faucet and nothing came out, my natural response was of righteous indignation.  It seemed unneighborly at best, downright deceptive and rude at worst, for others to line up and "steal" our water from right under our noses.

But that attitude, that righteous indignation, was a product of my own culture.  The truth is that I'm an entitled 21st century American who was, and still is, in need of refining and humbling.  The truth is that I was born and bred in a time and place that reinforces the notion that we have certain rights, and we need to fight for those rights, and anyone who treads on those rights is in the wrong and should be held accountable.  But those are American values.  They're not necessarily the values in other countries around the world, and they're certainly not the values of Christ's kingdom.

stopping for a drink at a water catchment, on the mountain in Banyo

Christ gave up everything, including His rights, in order to humble Himself and become obedient to death (Philippians 2:8).  He alone who had rights - who was in very nature GOD - made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant (2:6-7).  And He calls us to do the same, to make ourselves nothing and assume the nature of a servant.  Thomas Hale, who spent decades as a medical missionary in Nepal and who wrote a marvelous tome called On Being A Missionary, says this:
The only right I read about in the New Testament is the right to choose Jesus as Lord.  After that the New Testament doesn't talk about rights, only responsibilities....  Oh, yes, I have certain legal and moral "rights" - the right to personhood, the right to protect my nose from your fist, and all the other rights that benevolent governments guarantee us.  But disciples of Christ are called to forsake those rights for the glory of God.  Denying oneself means denying one's rights: the right to self-fulfillment, the right to job satisfaction, the right to health, to a husband or wife, to a good night's sleep, to "having my way" - and to choosing my life style.  This is a basic transaction that every disciple makes with Christ.  What rights can we seriously expect to hang onto once we have offered our bodies as living sacrifices to God?  So leave your earthly rights back in your home countries, and trust a faithful God to protect your "eternal rights" as his adopted child.  Those are the only rights that count, and we never have to look out for them ourselves (137).
How could I look out my window at the Cameroonian children filling their buckets with water and shake my fist at them?  How could I hope to share the Living Water with them when I couldn't even share literal water with them?  I couldn't, which is why God needed to hold my heart in check.  I needed to repent, to lay down my rights, to die to self, to make myself nothing and take the very nature of a servant.  I needed to remember that it was Jesus who said, "If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink.  Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him" (John 7:37b-38).

It was a hard lesson.  The idea that we have rights to guard and keep was deeply ingrained in me.  It still is.  But it's something we need to let go of as we prepare to head back to Africa.  We're not going to Kenya to live an American lifestyle and assume that our white skin entitles us to do and say and wear whatever we want.  We learned in Cameroon that many of our rights were virtually non-existent in the local culture.  For example, a right to space and privacy was hard to come by.  (Have I mentioned how many times visitors stopped by unannounced and stayed for a lengthy time?  Or how many children boldly stared into the windows of our house out of curiosity?)  We also learned that our right to wear whatever we wanted was left back in America.  (Have I mentioned how many Sundays I moaned and groaned about trying to get a head covering to stay put on my head?  They kept sliding off my slippery hair lest I tighten them so tight as to acquire a headache.)  We even learned that our right to a comfortable posture wasn't a given: no one was allowed to cross their legs, ever, unless they were among the important men who had the status and the right to do so.  (Have I mentioned how many times we unwittingly crossed our legs out of habit and garnered embarrassed or shocked looks?)  We had many lessons in laying down our rights.

We had many lessons, and no doubt we'll have many more when we move to Kenya.  It wasn't easy or natural then, and it probably won't be easy or natural this time around either.  It's hard to let go of something so deeply ingrained in us.  But even though we are American citizens with deeply ingrained cultural identities, we are citizens of Christ's kingdom first and foremost, and that requires laying down our rights rather than holding them near and dear.  Our prayer is that God would be working here and now to humble and prepare us for living cross-culturally and what it will require us to forsake.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Our Missionary Kids

After Caleb was born, I was talking with someone about our plans for Africa (which were still a few years away at that point) and the person commented positively that it all sounded good because Caleb would be older by then, implying that we were wise not to leave right away because taking a baby to Africa would be, well, stupid.  I smiled and affirmed that yes, Caleb would be older by then, and left it at that.  What I didn't say was that we hoped to have more kids, who would be younger still by the time we went to Africa, or that we'd be on a plane tomorrow if we weren't stuck here because of residency.  Our son was not keeping us here.  Our fears about raising a kid an ocean away were not keeping us here.  No.  Our commitment and obligation to finish Eli's training (and subsequently our mission training) were keeping us here for now.  Our beautiful chubby-cheeked boy was not.

(2 months old)

A couple years later I had a similar conversation with a different person.  Kai had since arrived and the commentary was much the same.  "So he'll be two years old when you leave?  Oh that's good.  He'll be a little older at least."  Again, I smiled and affirmed that yes, Kai would be older by then, and left it at that.  What I didn't say was that we hoped to have at least one more kid, who would be younger still by the time we went to Africa, or that we'd be on a plane tomorrow if we weren't stuck here because of residency.  Our second son was not keeping us here, just as Caleb had not kept us here.  Our children, while forever changing the picture of missions for us, have not kept us here.

(1 month old)

Now I'm pregnant with our third, and this Baby Horn will still be an infant when we leave next year.  I know we're turning heads because some people think that taking our children to Africa, particularly when they're so young, would be, well, stupid.  We don't deny that we'll have our hands full.  Our hands are already full and we're not naive enough to think it will be easier when we get to Africa.  We don't deny that our transition to the mission field will be more difficult because we now have kids who'll need to transition too.  And we don't deny that our life on the mission field will require more intentionality in our parenting, more heart-to-heart conversations about life and relationships and God and just about everything, and more wisdom and patience as we teach and train our kids to be godly people as they traverse between cultures.  Life will most likely not be easier because we're taking our kids to live in Africa.  But "we must obey God rather than men" (Acts 5:29).  Our continued prayer is that as we obey God's call to minister in Africa, that He would protect and bless our kids along the way so they will thrive there.

Baby Horn #3
(30 weeks)

Missionary kids (called MKs for short) are sometimes called Third Culture Kids (TCKs).  Because they have one foot in their home culture and another foot in their host culture, they often feel like they don't belong in either place.  Thus, they feel like they embody a third culture altogether, one entirely their own.  Some missionary kids do exceedingly well on the mission field while others do not.  Every kid has a unique experience living abroad, just like their parents do.  We are anticipating that each of our children will succeed and struggle in different ways, and that we'll have to adapt our parenting to address and meet their individual needs.

There are pros and cons to being a missionary kid, as well as pros and cons to being a parent of missionary kids.  Some pros for the kids: having friends cross-culturally, learning to speak another language, and having a greater understanding of the world.  Some cons for the kids: less time with extended family, confusion about where home is, and working to fit into the local culture.  Some pros for the parents: we're forced to keep life simple (less clothes, less toys, less of everything), we can play outside year-round, and we get to watch our kids explore another part of the world.  Some cons for the parents: no luxuries like playgrounds, McDonald's and trips to the library, not much access to childcare, and having to teach our kids the dos and don'ts of the culture all while trying to understand them ourselves.  Few things in life are without both challenges and blessings.  We just happen to be pursuing something that will grant us and our kids unique challenges and blessings.

With that said, there are very real fears associated with our upcoming move to Africa - most of which revolve around the kids.  Will they survive the plane ride?  Will we survive the plane ride?  Will they sleep well in whatever place we'll call home?  Will they remember not to pick up bugs and snakes and other nefarious things?  Will they get sick with some tropical disease?  Will they remember our families?  Will our picky eaters eat anything?  Will they make friends?  Will they still like each other when we throw them into an entirely new place with new people and hope for the best?  Will they still like us?  These are real questions and fears we sometimes have.  But questions and fears alone are not enough to make us change course and retreat from the mission field.

Having kids was a game-changer for us because it forever altered our outlook on missions.  We are no longer doing this by ourselves.  We are no longer making decisions that only affect ourselves.  We are doing this as a family, which will consist of three little tykes by the time we move to Africa.  We are keenly aware of how their lives have changed everything.  But we are beyond grateful to have them on the journey, to be missionaries with us, and to play a role in our ministry.

Again, we know that some missionary kids do well on the mission field while others simply do not.  Two of my professors in grad school had to leave their respective mission fields because one of their children was not doing well and needed to come home.  If our children ever struggle to the degree that it requires leaving the field, we will do it.  Their health and well-being is a top priority because they are God's gift to us and He has entrusted them to our care.  We don't know what the future holds.  We do know that God has called us to Africa, along with our children, and we will follow through with going and ministering to the people all the while assessing the well-being of our children along the way.  Our prayer is that our missionary kids will do well in Africa - that they will thrive there - and that, having lived on the mission field, they will be wiser, more well-rounded individuals than if they'd never lived there.  May they know and love God in a uniquely beautiful and intimate way because He called them to Africa along with us!

Caleb and Kai

Friday, June 19, 2015

On Being a Missionary Wife

Earlier this year I was asked the question yet again, and for some reason it particularly irked me that day: "So, what are you going to do in Africa?  I mean, I know you'll be taking care of the kids, but is there anything else you'll be doing?"

It's a fair question.  But it's a sensitive one for me.  Most people have no idea how much this question affects me.  I have thought about this question for years - long before we even had children - and I think about this question still.  What will you be doing?

It's a fair question because we're called to a medical ministry, but I'm not the medical person in our marriage.  It's a fair question because we're called to live and minister in another country and another culture, but I'm so tied up with raising two little boys that I can barely get out of the house in our own country and culture.  It's a fair question because although I definitely feel called to be a missionary, I've never been able to peg down exactly what kind of work I should do.

But it's a sensitive question because I know, without doubt, that I'm called to be a missionary too, and I know, without doubt, that I have skills and talents that could be used in a ministry setting, and I know, without doubt, that I'm sacrificing innumerable opportunities to be directly involved in ministry because we are blessed with kids who require me to take care of them all the time.  Eli and I are moving to Africa to be missionaries, but my role as a missionary will look quite different than it would have if we weren't going to a medical site, or if I could narrow down what to do with myself, or if we didn't have such young children.  These are the realities and the struggles for me.  I'm excited and grateful to be called and to be going, but I've spent a long time (and am still spending time, to be honest) adjusting my expectations and coming to terms with what my life as a missionary will look like.

This issue has been on my heart and mind for so long that I jumped at the opportunity to do a research project on the subject when I was in grad school at Wheaton.  Another young woman in my class had been dealing with the same question as she and her husband were preparing to be Bible translators in Africa, so we teamed up for the project and had an enlightening and thought-provoking experience as we waded through our research.  The resulting 54-page paper ultimately sought to answer this question: “In what ways and to what extent are missionary wives involved in ministry on the mission field in addition to their roles as mothers and homemakers?”

Good question!

We read books and articles on the subject in addition to interviewing six missionary wives who had served in a total of twelve different countries and who had raised (or were still raising) children on the mission field while their husbands assumed the primary role in ministry.  It was fascinating, to say the least, and we were both encouraged and discouraged as we learned about the lives of missionary wives throughout the research process.  Some of them had rather positive experiences on the mission field as they raised their children and took care of the home, even if it meant they were not able to spend much time doing ministry, while others wrestled with frustration and disappointment because they weren't very involved in ministry due to the time constraints of raising a family and/or the cultural expectations of women's roles that were placed upon them.

As we thought about these issues, it was interesting to learn some of the historical precedents for missionary wives.  For instance, before the Reformation, celibacy was required of all missionaries, men and women alike.  After the Reformation, Protestantism abolished the rule of celibacy, meaning that missionaries could be husbands and wives for the first time.  It was a drastic turning point in the history of missions.  Although missionary wives were not traditionally as involved in ministry as their husbands, they were often valued for supporting their husband's ministry and for providing an example (along with their husbands) of Christian monogamous marriage, as well as being considered culturally-appropriate teachers and evangelists to women and children.  It was eventually recognized that women had skills and talents to offer in their own right, and single women began flocking onto the Protestant mission scene in the late 19th century.  In fact, some women were so effective in their ministry that opposition arose to the idea of married missionary couples because, as some missionary societies argued, it wasn't feasible to support an entire family since the wife, presumably, was occupied in the home rather than doing ministry.  Some mission societies went so far as to require single women to swear to celibacy for at least a few years before they'd be allowed to marry, in order to not lose the skills she brought to the ministry.

Thankfully, all the evangelical mission agencies I know of are more than welcoming to wives and families today.  In fact, many of them tout the notion that we ourselves believe: that the entire family is called.  Eli is not the only one called to be a missionary in our family.  I am very much called too, and so are Caleb and Kai and the little one arriving later this year.  We firmly believe that God placed this call on them when He gave them to us.  Our mission organization, WGM, feels the same way and we are grateful for that.

With that said, however, it doesn't answer the question of what a missionary wife does on the mission field.  The answer, of course, varies for everyone.  The most important thing (in my opinion) is that the missionary wife is given just as much credit as the missionary husband.  Even if the only thing I outwardly do day-in and day-out for the next several years is change diapers and clean spills and teach the ABCs, I have a vital role in our ministry.  I will be keeping our family intact, I will be raising and discipling our children to be Christ-minded people, and I will be engaging in the local community and the global Church.  That is important work and I hope people will recognize that.  In fact, one of the earliest studies done on missionary wives' satisfaction on the mission field discovered that it wasn't the wife's role that led to satisfaction or not, but rather role recognition, definition, job description, and acknowledgement given to her that led to satisfaction.  I could not agree more.

Now that we actually have children and are actually in the final stages of preparing to head overseas, the question of "What will you do?" rings in my ears more than ever.  When I discuss this with people, I usually acknowledge the struggle.  There are certainly things I'd be interested in doing if I had the time or opportunity to do them, such as disability ministry or literacy work, but I'm not sure that will happen for awhile, at least not regularly.  And I'm learning to be okay with that.  People periodically suggest ways I could still do ministry while also being a full-time mom, which is thoughtful of them, but which misses the point.  I can't do what I want to do right now (like writing) because of being a full-time mom.  I can't do much else, even here in America, let alone across the world where I won't have access to the occasional childcare I enjoy here.  It's a sacrifice I'm making right now, and it will continue to be a sacrifice for years to come.  It's the sacrifice of parenthood.

But being a parent is a gift and a calling too, and it's certainly a ministry.  For years and years to come I will have people living under my roof who need me to teach them about Jesus.  I will have people living under my roof who need me to pray over them every night.  I will have people living under my roof who need me to encourage them and help them discern their own gifts and talents to use for the Kingdom.  This parenting thing is definitely a ministry, whether we do it here in America or there in Africa.  The blessing of doing it in Africa is that we get to do it where God has asked us to, and we get to join the global Church in advancing the Kingdom as we do it.

So while Eli will be working to heal sick patients in addition to teaching and discipling Kenyan residents as they prepare to practice medicine on their own, I will be changing diapers and cleaning spills and teaching the ABCs and getting to know my neighbors and praying with patients as opportunities arise and seeking to love God more everyday and teaching our children to do the same.  That is what I'll be doing and that is what it sometimes looks like to be a missionary in Africa.

Friday, April 24, 2015

The Experience of Fundraising

We sent the letter out with hope and trepidation.  Our emotions mixed together like chocolate sauce on melting vanilla ice cream - at first you can distinguish the dessert from the topping, even tasting the two distinct flavors, but as the chocolate sauce mingles with the melting ice cream it's sometimes difficult to tell the two apart.  Our hope and trepidation blended like that when we sent out our support letter for Cameroon.  The first couple weeks were filled with days that wavered between true hope or true trepidation.  It's happening!  The letter is out and now we can raise funds to GO!  But what if the funds don't come in soon, or at all?  What if people don't want to support us, or just can't?  But God has paved the way for us to go so He's gonna bring the funds in - it's gonna happen!  Our emotions went back and forth so much that soon they became one new emotion: hopidation!  Somehow, being nervous through the fundraising process forced us to keep praying and remain hopeful, lest we give in to defeat and despair.

We knew it was important to invite others into our ministry.  It was an opportunity to allow others to learn and grow in their knowledge of missions just as we were learning and growing.  By sending our support letter we were inviting people to help launch our mission trip so we could get our feet on the ground and live and learn and report back what God was doing to build His kingdom in another corner of the world.  Part of the invitation was asking people to join us in prayer.  That part was easy and gave not the slightest hint of anxiety.  The other part of the invitation, however, was asking people to join us financially.  That part was not easy and gave more than a hint of anxiety that ultimately fueled our mixed emotions.

It is not easy to ask people for money.  It's not easy in situations when you can repay them let alone when you can't.  Our culture is individualistic, where we expect people to earn and pay their own way and not rely on the resources of others.  Ours is also a culture that views money as a deeply personal and private matter.  People don't typically discuss their personal budget with others or open their checkbook for the world to see.  So for us to enter into the experience of fundraising for missions was to step away from our individualistic instincts and privacy concerns in order to adopt an entirely different outlook on money.  It was humbling but good, difficult but important.

Something that helped with the experience of fundraising - something which inspired the hope in the hopidation - was looking at the biblical model for it.  Paul said it directly when he wrote to the church in Corinth: "Who serves as a soldier at his own expense?  Who plants a vineyard and does not eat of its grapes?  Who tends a flock and does not drink the milk? .... If we have sown spiritual seed among you, is it too much if we reap a material harvest from you?" (1 Corinthians 9:7, 11).  Paul then declared that he had a right to receive support from the Church.  That's a bold statement for a 21st century American audience to hear.  But it's a principle Paul was explaining and modeling for the fledgling Christian Church.  What's more, Jesus Himself received support during His ministry.  While Jesus didn't address this matter directly like Paul did, we do know that He and the disciples were supported by others at least some of the time.  Luke 8:1-3 says, "After this, Jesus traveled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God.  The Twelve were with him, and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out; Joanna, the wife of Chuza, the manager of Herod's household; Susanna, and many others.  These women were helping to support them out of their own means."  These women, who'd been healed and changed by the love and power of Jesus Himself, were following Him and offering support along the way because it was apparently needed and because they couldn't help but offer whatever they could to Jesus.

And so, with a mixture of hope and trepidation, we wrote and sent a support letter to raise funds for our mission trip to Cameroon back in 2007.  It was an amazing learning experience.  We were so focused on what we could learn once we got to Africa that we didn't anticipate how much we'd learn through the fundraising process itself.  We learned about the logistics and timeline of it all, but we also learned about inviting others into this journey so we could participate in the Great Commission together.  We learned how encouraging and generous people can be.  We learned how humbling and motivating it is when you're only able to minister through the support of others.  And we learned that God will open the floodgates when the task and the timing is right.

Now, eight years later, we have sent another support letter and we're finding ourselves with that same mixed emotion: hopidation.  Hope that the funds will come in, but trepidation that they won't.  We've waited ten years for this!  It's finally happening!  We can raise funds to GO!  But what if our budget is too big this time and it's too much for people to rally around?  What if we didn't explain something well enough in the letter?  But we've got time and we know God is pushing us back to Africa so He'll ensure the funds are there.  So yay!  But what about...?  No, stop worrying.  Just yay!  We can testify that fundraising is a unique experience!

This time it's the same undertaking as before but with a greater investment...and a greater reward too.  We still have the joy of inviting people into the world of missions with us, but this time we're inviting more people to join us, and for the long-haul if they want.  It's exciting and nerve-wracking, especially because who on earth are we to be going out into the world with the message of Jesus as if we're anybody special???  We're just one family committed to a call who are trying to follow through on that call.  And we need to ask people to financially support us in this endeavor.  It's humbling to say the least.  The rewarding part is that we have the privilege of being people who GO with the support of an assembly of people behind us.  We also have the honor of following the example of Jesus and allowing others to support us out of their own means so that we, in turn, can minister to the sick and the poor.  It's an experience few people will have, and we are praying not only that God will be faithful to provide our financial needs to be missionaries, but also that He'll be faithful to work joy and peace into our hearts as we undergo this process of fundraising.


If anyone is interested in learning more about the fundraising process, we're happy to answer questions.  We're open to talking about our budget and what the funds will be used for.  Please feel free to contact us.  If you're considering a donation to our ministry, you can visit or ask us about other options for donating.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

To GO: The Timing of it All

I was eating lunch with a good friend at Bethel.  He happened to be a good friend of Eli's as well, and Eli became the topic of conversation as we finished eating.  This friend of ours wasn't particularly shy about admitting that he hoped Eli and I would end up together.  But Eli and I weren't even dating yet.  We wanted to, but it was complicated.  This friend of ours knew the dynamics and, even though he hoped there was a future for me and Eli, he sat across from me that day and encouraged me to take our time.  "The right person at the wrong time is not the right person," he said.  And I realized anew how important timing can be.  Something truly and deeply important was on the line - my relationship with Eli - and the timing needed to be right.  That lunchtime talk with my friend cemented the notion that, while there are many things in life in which the timing is inconsequential, there are also things in which the timing is truly significant.

Eli and I began dating in the timeframe we felt like God was giving us, which meant it took us longer to start dating than most people expected us to, but it was definitely the right timing in the end.  Since then we've experienced other situations in which timing was an important factor: going to Cameroon, Eli starting med school, me starting grad school.  Sometimes we didn't realize until after the fact that timing played a role in God's plan.  We thought we waited too long to find housing in Chicago for med school, but because of the timing we wound up in the apartment God definitely wanted us in.  We thought we looked too early for a place to live in Duluth for residency, but because of the timing we wound up in the house God definitely wanted us in.  God works through timing even when we don't realize it.

"There is a time for everything, and a season for everything under the heavens" (Ecclesiastes 3:1).  We know this to be true, especially as we've been preparing for missions for the past decade.  Even as we've known that our call to be missionaries includes a place and a ministry, it also includes a time.  We've known since the inception of our call that we were called to Africa, to do medical work, and to GO once our training was complete.  We were not to wait around.  We were not to get our life in order first.  We were not to get settled in all the normal middle-class ways.  We have always felt a burden on our hearts to prepare for missions and GO.

We have heard it said many times that of all the people who express interest in becoming missionaries, very few actually follow through on that inkling.  This is particularly true in the medical field in which years of training are required and it's far too easy to get settled into life in America during those years.  Because this is true, and because we're not so foolish to think we're immune to the temptation of staying here instead of obeying God and going to Africa, Eli and I determined from the outset to make lifestyle choices that ensured we wouldn't dawdle our way to the mission field or, worst of all, get trapped here and never go.  We knew that part of our call was the timing of it all - to train and to GO - so we've spent the past decade living in such a way to ensure that we're faithful to that part of our call.

While our daily lifestyle choices have influenced our ability to stay on track (both financially and materialistically), other, bigger decisions have had influence as well.  For example, we have purposely chosen not to buy a house.  While it may seem like we've been throwing our money away and not preparing for the future by renting for a decade, we considered this issue before it was pertinent and ultimately made this decision for reasons that would keep us on track for missions.  When we were in Cameroon we asked many questions of the missionaries, one of which was, "To buy or not to buy?"  We received different answers.  Some missionaries said that having a home in America was not only a wise choice financially, but also helped their kids emotionally - knowing they wouldn't be homeless when they traveled back to the States was reassuring for many missionary kids.  Other missionaries said they knew far too many people who were planning to go into missions but buying a house was the death of that intent - they planted down and it became too difficult to uproot.  In the end, we decided to take the advice of the latter, and we've never regretted it.  (Our decision was made easier by the fact that my parents and Eli's parents each have a place where we can stay when we're in the States, which is no small factor.)  We appreciate the ability to uproot easily and the lack of attachment to a place here in America.  We've minimized the difficulty of living in Africa while pining for a home back here.  We'd like to believe that we wouldn't struggle with that dynamic, but we decided not to find that out about ourselves.  Just don't buy a house and you'll never have to face the grief of leaving it when you move across the ocean.  While we understand and respect making a different decision, this approach has proven to be the right choice for us.

Another choice we made regards the cars we drive.  We've spent our entire married life driving cars that were passed on to us, meaning they were used and sometimes in beat-up shape.  The fact that we haven't yet had to purchase a car for ourselves is a testament to God's provision.  He provided us with transportation these past ten years and we chose to be satisfied and grateful with His provision, even if it meant driving cars with more personality than flash.  We have driven a few cars into the ground, but they got us from Point A to Point B.  We also spent four years in Chicago with just one car.  It saved us a lot of money and we grew accustomed to walking and biking where we needed to go.  We're the kind of people who could care less about driving fancy cars, but our choice and contentment in vehicles has also kept us in line with the timing of our call.  Decisions made a decade ago were made in light of the year ahead of us still - when we can GO.

Many of these choices were made by ourselves, but some were forced upon us by God.  In His good grace, whenever He knew we wouldn't have made the better choice for ourselves, He ensured that we would.  And God has faithfully provided for us to keep us on His timeline for going to Africa.  He kept our beat-up cars in working order and provided the funds whenever we needed to repair them.  He provided us with a place in Chicago within walking/biking distance to Eli's school and my job, as well as a place in Duluth within walking distance to the hospitals so Eli always had a way to get to work when we were down to one car again.  He provided a cheap home in Duluth so we could afford to pay off my loans in a remarkably short time.  God has been ever so faithful this past decade to keep us on track with His timing.

Now Eli has completed his medical training and we are in the midst of completing the required training with our mission organization.  We are on track to finish the training this calendar year so we will be ready to GO by next year.  We've been waiting a long time, which has been necessary and good, but we were never meant to wait longer than our training required of us.  We are thankful for the training, not only because of the tangible skills and knowledge we've received, but because of the years we've had to let God prepare our hearts as well.  We've grown a lot in the last ten years.  We've learned, we've matured, we've struggled, we've trudged on.  Throughout it all, we've been reminded that there is a time for everything, and our time to GO is nearly upon us.

There is a time for everything,
and a season for everything under the heavens:

a time not to date, and a time to date,
a time to go to Cameroon and a time to come home,
a time to not buy a house and a time to drive beat-up cars,
a time to start med school and a time to start grad school,
a time to train in medicine and a time to train in missions,
a time to wait for ten years and a time to GO.

Thanks be to God for His infinite wisdom in His timing for us, and His faithful direction and provision in keeping us on track.

Friday, January 16, 2015

The Ministry of Healing

I was blessed to sit in the front of the truck.  There were eight, sometimes nine, of us in a small pickup truck each time we bumped down the path that passed for a road.  Our African colleagues graciously offered to squish in the back, along with some of the supplies, while we missionaries sat in front.  I was thankful for my front-row seat as we drove into the bush, not only because it offered the best view (including sightings of monkeys) but more importantly because it greatly reduced the risk of becoming carsick, which I'm prone to become if I ride in the backseat - particularly a hot, crammed backseat.

It was from our front-row view on our trip to Bani that we first saw the assortment of women and children who'd seemingly appeared out of nowhere as we came round the bend.  Their brightly colored clothes were a stark contrast to the dusty ground.  They watched us approach, and as we parked and exited the car, more women and children emerged from the bush.  They were holding small booklets - vaccination records - and waited as we unloaded the boxes and coolers that held the vaccines.

We were conducting a bush clinic in which staff from the clinic in Allat packed up supplies and drove to villages that were too far to access the clinic by foot.  We drove over two hours through the bush to reach Bani that day, where we set up a mobile clinic and saw patients and dispensed medicine and gave vaccines.  Along the way, we stopped twice to give vaccines to children who lived in remote places but who were able to meet us along the road as we passed.  That was the routine: the women brought their children every month to meet the clinic staff alongside the road on market day, when the bush clinic came to town.  Sometimes their children were due for vaccines, sometimes not.  But they came every month anyway, just to make sure they weren't missing a dose.

We were impressed that families living so remotely were so determined to get their children vaccinated that they diligently trekked through the bush for hours to meet us on the side of the road and receive medicine.  One mother remarked, "Since you've been coming, our children don't get sick anymore."

The clinic in Allat had been conducting these bush clinics for awhile, and after awhile the effects of the vaccinations become apparent.  Their children weren't getting sick anymore, and word was spreading.  By the time we had the privilege to embark on some of these bush clinics, a considerable amount of women and children were coming regularly for vaccines.  They were being healed before sickness could even set in.

We were already enthusiastic about the idea of helping to heal the sick, but after hearing that mother's declaration, we became downright zealous.  Bouncing down a rough road to bring medicine into hard-to-reach places was changing lives.  Of course it was.  Healing changes lives.  And bringing healing to those who need it is being like Jesus, because Jesus is the Healer.  Following Jesus means many things, and one of those things is seeking to bring healing to the world.  When we stood along that roadside in the middle of the African bush, as well as many places since, Jesus was calling us to follow Him into the ministry of healing.

When John the Baptist sent his disciples to ask Jesus if He was the Messiah, Jesus was in the middle of curing many who had diseases, sicknesses and evil spirits, and giving sight to many who were blind (Luke 7:18-21).  When John's disciples reached Jesus and asked Him their question, Jesus said this: "Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor" (7:22).  In other words, Jesus' healing ministry was a sign that He was the Messiah.

When Jesus later sent out the seventy-two, He said, "When you enter a town and are welcomed, eat what is set before you.  Heal the sick who are there and tell them, 'The kingdom of God is near you'" (Luke 10:8-9).  In other words, healing the sick is equivalent to the kingdom of God advancing.

When Jesus went through towns and villages, He spent time "teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness" (Matthew 9:35).  In other words, healing was just as important to His ministry as teaching and preaching the good news.

In other words, healing the sick was a main focus of Jesus' ministry.  That is why we feel strongly that healing is not just a gateway to evangelism.  Healing IS the ministry of Jesus, in and of itself.

All ministry should attempt to be holistic, which is why healing should go hand in hand with teaching and preaching, but not because it's a means to an end.  Healing is not a lesser ministry than evangelism or church planting or discipleship or [fill in the blank].  It is a ministry of Jesus, period.

Healing brings hope.

Healing restores life.

Healing brings the kingdom near.

When we worked in Banyo, many severe medical cases passed through the clinic.  We saw tetanus, polio, tuberculosis, malaria, HIV/AIDS, and meningitis.  Most of these conditions are rare in the Western world but they happen all too often in Africa.  There is much room for healing to take place, and we feel blessed to be on a journey that's leading us to a healing ministry there.  By partnering in healing, we are partnering with Jesus, the ultimate Healer, who heals not only our physical infirmities, but our souls as well.  It was He who "bore our sins in His body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by His wounds [we] have been healed" (1 Peter 2:24).  

Thanks be to God for being the source of all healing.  Thanks be to God that an ever-growing number of children in the African bush "aren't getting sick anymore."  And thanks be to God for bringing His kingdom near!

Banyo Baptist Hospital