Friday, June 26, 2009

Smitten

My little boy has changed.

We thought he had a quiet, serious, stoic personality.

We were wrong. Definitely.

Of course, he still gets shy around strangers and new situations. And he sometimes gets whiney and complainy and throws little fits. But he is so entirely different from the scared little baby we brought home 10 months ago. There is amazing light in his eyes that wasn't there before. Laughter in his voice. He is silly and goofy and giggles at his own hystericalness. He loves running around like a maniac.

He is so affectionate. When he is held, he sticks his face in my neck, wraps one hand around my neck and holds onto my arm with his other hand. When he is in the kitchen with me, and I bend down to get something, I feel his little hands wrapping around my back, his head leaned against me.

Sigh. He's got me wrapped around his little finger.












His smile is as one who is deeply loved, and he knows it.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Fathers

I am doubly blessed.

I have a wonderful Daddy. He loved me unceasingly, trained me patiently, and was unfailingly proud of me. He has always been such an example of kindness, and hard work, and godly devotion. He was, and always has been, my hero.

And now he is an amazing Babu.

And I am blessed to be married to a man who is also an incredible father.

He not only just loves his kids, but he loves spending time with them. He loves being silly with them. It's never a chore for him to play with them.


Yet training them in godliness is also extremely important to him. He is teaching them to obey. He insists they respect me. He works with them to memorize Scripture.


He gets them to do crazy or daring things that I would never think of. He pushes them to overcome their fears. Yet he is also very protective and careful that they won't get hurt.


He makes them laugh like no one else can.


He cuddles. He changes stinky diapers. He sings silly songs and dances in the living room.

He delights in them.



Like I said. Doubly blessed.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Contrasts

Some evenings these days, Gil and Grace have been going out to take sunset pictures while I am working on dinner. Grace takes her little pink camera and takes pictures with her Daddy.
Usually they walk a little ways away from our house, to an area that overlooks a large blown-out rock quarry. The blasting is done now, so it just looks like an enormous crater. Squatters have started building mud houses down there.

On this particular day, three little girls came up to the road from the quarry and were fascinated by Grace. These little girls really represent the poorest of the poor. My heart especially breaks for the little one on the right who is holding up her skirt because it won't stay on. When I first saw these pictures, I spent a long time gazing at them, pondering the contrasts. My little girl...the life she could have lived...the life these little girls are living.

Grace took off her shoes because the other little girls weren't wearing shoes either.


Overlooking the quarry.

The sunset overlooking them all.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Speech

The speech I gave the graduating seniors on Friday (with a little editing):

"Don't Waste Your College Years"
(influenced by Piper, of course!)

I’ve known many of these students for eight years. In 2001, my husband and I arrived in Tanzania for the first time. I was 23 years old. I had only taught for 2 years, and only second grade. I was given the fifth grade class.

Figuring out how to live in Tanzania was a really rough transition for me. And I had no idea how I was going to teach fifth grade. I still remember my first day at HOPAC. This campus had just been built. It was barely finished. The rooms had just been painted and there was nothing—not even any whiteboards, on the walls. In the storeroom of my classroom were boxes and boxes of books. I had no idea what I was supposed to teach. Mr. Champion, the principal, was gone and didn’t come back until a couple of days before school started. There was no working copy machine until the day before school started. I couldn’t find any art supplies. I remember shuffling around in some old papers, trying to find enough poster paper so that I could at least write down the class rules and post them on the wall. I was beyond overwhelmed.

I really didn’t know how I was going to make it. It truly was the grace of God that got me here on the first day of school. And I remember that day, Dorothy came up to me and introduced herself, and the first thing she said to me was, “I thought you were going to be OLD! But you are SO pretty!” And suddenly, all was well with the world. I knew I could make it. And the class continued to bless me for the two years I taught them.

That year was also the first year HOPAC had a tenth grade—there were about 8 students in that class. And now, look at us. Look at how far HOPAC has come. Look at what God has done, and what He is doing. In such a short time.

All of you are entering your college years. Some of you will be going off to university, some of you will be taking a gap year in far off places, others of you may be starting job training. But all of you are entering a new season in your lives—your college years, even if you aren’t actually going to college.

So this is my challenge today: Don’t waste your college years. Don’t waste them. You are entering an extremely important season in your life. In the next 4-6 years, you will be making decisions that will affect the rest of your life. Your career, your spouse, where you live—all could be decided in the next few years. Don’t waste these years.

I have three thoughts I want to leave with you today.

1. You will waste your college years if you forget where you came from.

Most of you do not recognize your uniqueness, because you are surrounded by people who are just like you. Yet when you go out into the world, especially if you leave Tanzania, you will suddenly realize that you are very different from your peers around you. You are unique because you have friends from 30 different countries. You are unique because you have seen and experienced poverty first hand. You are unique because many of you are from western countries or will live in western countries, yet you know and love and have experienced Africa deeply. You are unique because you are comfortable among many different cultures and languages.

Yet if you enter your new season of life and simply become like all the other ordinary people around you, you will waste your college years. If you don’t use your love of Africa to help others love Africa, if you don’t set an example for others as how to love and relate to people who are different from you, if you don’t continue in your compassion for others because of your experience with poverty, you will waste your college years. You will be different from your university classmates or the other people you meet in this new season of life. But don’t just then become like everybody else. Don’t forget where you came from. Use your uniqueness to influence others.

2. You will waste your college years if you do not consider what you can give back.

5% of Tanzanian teenagers are enrolled in secondary school. Only 5%. If you compare yourself only to the students around you at HOPAC, you are average. But if you compare yourself to the average Tanzanian, you have everything.

You have completed your secondary school education. You have completed your education at one of the finest secondary schools in Tanzania. You have had so many teachers here love you and invest in you and go beyond just teaching you every day to really influence your lives. You have the opportunity to go to university.

You have electricity. You live in a house with cement walls. You have access to clean drinking water. You can afford medical care if you need it. You do not have to worry about having enough to eat every day. These are privileges that most of Tanzania—indeed, most of the world—do not have.

I know that your lives are not always easy and many of you have gone through hard times. But you have been so blessed. And as you go into this next chapter of your life, and you consider what path your life will take—what your career will be, where you will live, what lifestyle you will have—you must think about what you will give back.

God did not give you all this so that you can simply become rich and live a comfortable life. God gave you this so that you can make a difference in the world. How will you give back? Will you seek out how your life can help to make the world better, or will you live only for yourself? If you seek only your own happiness, you will waste your college years. You will waste your life. Seek out God’s plan for your life—how He can use your unique talents and abilities to bring redemption to a broken world.

3. You will waste your college years if you do not search for Truth.

Life…death…God…purpose….love. Most of you could give me your opinions on these subjects. You’ve heard a lot about them at HOPAC, and probably in your family as well. But for some of you, if not all of you, when you leave these walls, you will suddenly find yourself faced with a multitude of opinions that you never thought possible. Your professors will be very persuasive in their beliefs, and most likely antagonistic, to any sort of religious faith. You may find yourself questioned, even ridiculed, on why you believe what you do. You will have friends present ideas that you never considered before. And though at HOPAC we have always encouraged you to think for yourself and never blindly believe anything, when you leave, you will find all you ever believed to be challenged.

What will you do? Will you build walls around your beliefs and not allow anyone or anything to question you, shutting your eyes against opposing views? Will you cave in to pressure and accept the views of whoever is most persuasive? Will you believe whatever is trendy? Or will you take the time and the mental energy to really and truly search for Truth?

If you refuse to think and question what you believe, you will waste your college years. If you give in without carefully considering, you will waste your college years.

Never in your life will you again be presented with so many different ways of thinking than in these coming years. Don’t waste this opportunity.

Think. Hard. About what you believe. Ask yourself the hard questions, even if others don’t. Ask yourself why you believe what you do. Don’t rest until you can prove to yourself the reliability of what you believe. Ask questions of others—your professors, your friends, your mentors. Read books thoughtfully—to really learn, not just to complete the assignment. Pray. With an earnest heart, ask God repeatedly to lead you into the Truth.

Of course, I do believe in everything that HOPAC stands for. I believe the Bible is the Word of God. I believe Jesus is the Son of God who took the punishment for sin that we deserve, so that we can have a relationship with God. But these beliefs did not come without a significant period, during my college years, of searching, and doubting, and begging God to reveal to me the Truth. I don’t believe these things because it was the way I was raised. I believe these things because I came to the conclusion they are the Truth—and that they can stand up rationally against rigorous opposition. I don’t want you to believe the things you’ve been taught at HOPAC simply because we taught them to you. Now, I do believe that any honest search will lead to the God of the Bible. But I want you to believe this because you have discovered, for yourself, on your own, that it is true. There is a very good chance that the things you will believe for the rest of your life will be determined during your college years. Don’t waste this chance.

So. This is my challenge. Remember where you came from. Consider what you can give back. And search for Truth. If you do, you will be using your college years to the fullest. Don’t waste them.

I am confident in saying that every staff member at HOPAC—past and present—who has taught you over the last 13 years, would be very proud to see you up on this stage today. You represent everything good that has been accomplished at HOPAC during these years. We are so incredibly proud of you.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Friday

HOPAC 5th Grade Class, 2001

HOPAC 12th Grade Class, 2009

I was so thrilled with how everything looked! The stage was decorated in classic Tanzanian "big event" style, we borrowed caps and gowns from the other International School, and had sashes made out of Maasai fabric.

Gil presenting Kyung-Ho with the character award. We are so proud of this young man! One of my former students, and now Gil has been his Bible teacher/mentor for 4 years. He will be off to Wheaton in the fall...they are getting a gem!

Great turn out!

I was given the privilege of making the graduation address. This really meant a lot to me, since I've known most of these kids for 8 years. I will post excerpts from that speech in my next post.

We had told them that they didn't need to wear the caps...but they all wanted to. Why? Because they wanted to throw them! Not a single student in this class is American, yet caps and gowns at a high school graduation is a totally American tradition. Guess they've watched too many movies!


Gil and I with the 8 students who have remained at HOPAC from my 5th and 6th grade class.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Thursday

HOPAC had its first graduating class of 7 students last year.

This year we had 18. And since many of the students in the class of '09 were "my" students, whom I taught in 5th and 6th grade, I happily volunteered to lead the committee to plan the graduation events.

Since last year HOPAC only had a very, very simple ceremony for the graduates, we were pretty much doing everything from scratch. So planning these events turned out to be a pretty big job! (Which I had expected, so that was okay). Two other teachers/friends joined the committee.

We decided we wanted to do a special dinner the night before the ceremony for the students and their families. Then the ceremony itself was held at school on Friday morning. So our tasks the last few weeks included: finding a hotel for the dinner, negotiating price/menu at a number of places, getting parents to send in pictures, making a slideshow, contacting former teachers and getting them to write wishes for the students, finding a decorator for the ceremony, finding a caterer for the ceremony, borrowing caps/gowns from another school, getting sashes made, making up programs and certificates and awards, supervising the decorating...and in the midst of this, trying to keep students/parents/school administration happy since everyone had an opinion on how we should do things!

It was crazy. But everything turned out even better than expected, for which I praise God. The following pictures are from the dinner we held on Thursday night.

The girls looked absolutely beautiful. And SO grown-up! Aishi, Lotta, and Dorothy were my students in 5th and 6th grade and are now my good friends. All three of these girls also spent their entire lives, from kindergarten on, at HOPAC. I couldn't be more proud of the people they have become.


We did a ton of negotiating with this hotel and were extremely pleased with the result!

100 people came! I love the diversity in situations like this. Sitting next to us at dinner was a Finnish family and a Korean family. Since the Korean dad didn't speak English (or Finnish!), the Korean dad and the Finnish dad communicated in Swahili! Fabulous.

This gave me a great laugh. The banquet manager had asked me what I wanted on the cake, and I told her, "Congratulations Grade 12." This is what they came up with.

HOPAC Class of 2009. Tomorrow would be the big day!

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Uncertainty

So much has happened in the last couple weeks. I think I'll be posting about once a day for the next few days, just to get caught up. So keep checking!

There has been much stress but also much joy in these weeks. And much disappointment. Which is what I will write about this morning.

Major Disappointment #1: Josiah's Court Hearing

Josiah's first court hearing was April 17th. It went great. As well as it could have. Court hearing #2 was scheduled for June 11th (Thursday). We were very hopeful the adoption would be finalized. The social worker had completed her report, and she had promised she would be there. And since the judge is the one who had chosen June 11th, we figured she would be there too. Wouldn't you think so?

Well, on Wednesday our lawyer called. She had an adoption case scheduled with the same judge the week before, and they had told her the judge was on vacation. She checked again on Wednesday and it was confirmed: The judge was indeed on vacation. Out of the country. Until August 3rd. (Pretty cushy job to be a judge if you ask me. They already get the entire months of December and January off). And being assigned to a different judge is not an option.

This normally would not be a big deal. Except that you may remember we already had to reschedule our Home Assignment due to Josiah's adoption. We figured pushing it back to October would give us more than enough time. But now, with the court hearing pushed back to August...we just don't know. Even if the adoption order is given at that hearing (which isn't guaranteed since someone might not show up), it still takes time to receive the paperwork, apply for Josiah's passport, and get his U.S. visa.

So what do we do? Push back our Home Assignment again? Even though, once again, we have lined up a substitute for Gil's classes? Take the chance that everything will come through in time? But what do we do about purchasing plane tickets? Or scheduling speaking assignments? Home Assignments (especially short ones like ours) are very tightly scheduled. It's not like we can just arrive in the States when we feel like it and then figure out when we will speak.

So what are we left with? Uncertainty.

Major Disappointment #2: Our House

You may recall that we had to temporarily leave our former house a few months ago, for renovations to be done. In the meantime we've been living in our "Dream House:" a little house in a beautiful location....right next to school.

It has been beautiful. But even more, it's been incredible for ministry. We are 80 steps from the school's gate. Students can come over for lunch. Students can walk over for counseling. Gil can come home for lunch. I can walk over with the kids for a visit. I can be so much more involved in HOPAC life than I usually am. It's been incredible.

So incredible, in fact, that we have been trying to negotiate to stay. We reached as high as we could go rent-wise....to the point of even being willing to pay twice the rent we were paying at our other place (and the house itself isn't even really worth it). And a couple weeks ago, it looked like the landlord agreed. We've been waiting...and waiting...for him to bring over a contract. But as of this week, it's looking very much like it won't work out.

I am so disappointed. Those of you who are stay-at-home moms understand the significance of me being able to be more involved in HOPAC life. This house seems so incredibly perfect for our ministry. I want to live here. A lot.

Meanwhile, the landlord at our former house has almost doubled her rent. So...now it looks like even that house may not be a great option for us. Gil and I have moved 7 times in our 8 years of marriage. The idea of house hunting again is positively depressing.

So what does that leave us with? Uncertainty.

I hate uncertainty. I am a planner. Years in advance, if possible. I am detail-oriented and scheduled. I don't like spontaneity. So obviously these new developments are not exactly fun for me.

But what are my choices? Well....grumbling, complaining, stressing, whining (do adults still do that? umm....).

Or remembering the two Truths that apply to every life situation:

God is good. And He is in control.

Do I believe that God is still good and wants what is best for me, even if He takes away our dream house? Or will I get angry at Him and harbor the feeling that He is leaving me with second best?

Do I believe that God knew what He was doing when He allowed the judge to go on vacation? Do I believe that whatever happens with our Home Assignment, it will be in His good timing?

Or do I act in unbelief?

This week, we held our second annual Elementary School Bible verse quiz. The kids knocked our socks off with their great work. But as I was standing there, feeding references to these kids who kept spitting out passages as if they were just their ABC's, I was reminded of God's sovereignty:

"In his heart a man plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps."

"I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted."

"'For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,' declares the LORD."

"I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, the LORD, do all these things."

"Since ancient times no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who acts on behalf of those who wait for him."

I want God to work everything out the way I want it. But then, would I really have opportunity to trust Him? Who is running this world...me? Or God?

He is good. And He is in control.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Letter to Shoprite

Dear Owners/Managers of Shoprite Supermarket,

First of all, let me tell you that there are many things I like about your store. I really like that it reminds me of supermarkets back at home. You have a wide selection, mostly local products or imports from South Africa, which means your prices are good. I like that you have a big bakery (and I'm thankful you finally got your bread slicer fixed) and a meat section (with a window so that we can see the butchers hacking up the meat!)

But I have one teency-weency piece of advice for you: when you get rats in your store at night, clean up the evidence before the customers enter in the morning. So that means that if the rats got into the cereal last night, then take all those chewed up boxes down and throw them away, before 8:00 when you open the store! And if the rats leave lots of little doo-doos in the aisle, sweep them up and mop before you let customers see them!

I understand that you have a rat problem; lots of stores do in Tanzania. I'm assuming that you are doing something to try to get rid of them. But some customers, like me, like to live in blissful ignorance that their grocery store has a major rat problem. Truthfully, it makes me want to hurl, which isn't exactly the reaction you want shoppers to have in your store.

Respectfully yours,

A faithful shopper

Friday, June 5, 2009

Death is Not Dying

I read John Piper's blog. I was intrigued when I read this:

"Rachel Barkey is a 37 year-old wife and mother of two who is dying of cancer. She only has weeks to live. On March 4, she addressed 600 women and in 55 minutes delivered one of the most God-centered, gospel-soaked, honest, moving, and beautiful messages I have heard. I don't know that Rachel has read John's article, Don't Waste Your Cancer, but she is a beautiful example of every point John made.

Check out Rachel's website where you can watch or download the video and audio. You will not regret the 55 minutes. Very little is more important than the things she says."

I just listened to it. Her message is one of the most moving, convicting, encouraging, beautiful things I have ever heard. Please, please, take an hour and listen to what she has to say.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Exploiting the Meltdown

So are we terrible parents for taking pictures of our son when he is having a meltdown? He is just too darn cute!

His first reaction to being reprimanded or disciplined. I'm pretty sure he thinks he is now invisible.

Are we still there?

Yep, and we haven't changed our mind. You still must eat your dinner before you get your milk.

Tortured resignation. Gotta love the lip.