Wednesday, November 26, 2014

24 Hours

Friday, November 22nd, 5:00 pm:  Pumpkin pies came out of the oven.  Sadly, I do not have Costco this year.  I am back to cooking pumpkin pies from this:


This ain't no mamsy-pamsy carving pumpkin.  This is a PUMPKIN.  You couldn't carve this pumpkin unless you had a chain saw.  We had to hack the thing open.  Thankfully, it made delicious pies.

Receive a text message from Lauren.  Can you cook two chickens for tomorrow?  Our turkey option fell through so we are just doing chicken. 

I found out later that "the turkey option" was going to cost $126.  Yeah, chicken sounds delicious.

6:00 pm:  We head out to dinner at Verna's.  Verna is a South African woman who serves Mexican food in her front yard on Friday nights.  In Tanzania.  Yep, this is a crazy world we live in.  On the way to Verna's, we stop by the butcher and pick up two chickens.  

9:00 pm:  I stick one of the chickens in the crock pot and the other in the fridge.  

Saturday, November 23rd, 8:00 am:  Feed starving children.
Take chicken out of crock pot; pull it apart.  Stick in the other one.  
Make bread dough.  Leave it to rise.  

9:00 am:  Alyssa gets dropped off at my house.  We're going to the Artisan Market.  Or rather, WE'RE GOING TO THE ARTISAN MARKET!

So this is the thing.  I don't get to go shopping very often, except for things like fruit and bread and laundry detergent.  Now, I'm not a big shopper in general, but after months go by with no shopping, I get pretty excited when it's the time of year for the Artisan Market.  It comes around only once a year, when about 85 artisans gather from all over Tanzania to showcase their creativity.  

I told Gil, "I'm going to spend a lot of money today. But since these are all non-profits, it's practically like I'm giving the money to charity."  He just rolled his eyes.  

But seriously, friends, look at this stuff.  Wouldn't you get excited too?




This is what I bought for myself (those are ornaments on the left).  Sadly, I can't show you the rest of my purchases because Christmas is coming and I can't keep certain people from reading this post.  

By the way, if you are just totally jealous that I got to shop here, just hop on over to Karama and find a lot of the same things.  

12:00 pm:  Alyssa and I drag ourselves away from the Artisan Market.  We stopped at a store on the way home because Alyssa needed sage for her stuffing.  

1:30 pm:  I arrive home and jump into a frenzy of frantic activity.  In case you haven't figured it out, we are celebrating Thanksgiving today.  Yes, I know it's Saturday the 23rd.  But the last Thursday of the month is only a national holiday in the United States of America.  For the rest of the world, it's an ordinary work day.  Thus, we celebrate on Saturday.


I turn my risen dough into rolls.  I make a green salad.  I cut up the other chicken.  I make a chocolate mousse pie.  All in an hour and a half.  I am a sweaty mess by the time I am done.  (It's about 90 degrees here these days).  With Gil's help, it all gets done.  Yes, it was pushing it to go to the Artisan Market the morning of Thanksgiving, but seriously, how could I have passed up the ARTISAN MARKET?

3:00 pm:  We head to Ben and Lauren's house for Thanksgiving.  Every year, it's tradition to celebrate with our Reach Global team.  We are all in different ministries, so we rarely see them other than about once a month, but here, they are family.  Our kids call them Aunt and Uncle and Grandma and Grandpa.  None of us are blood related, and they can't ever really replace our actual family, but they sure bring us a lot of joy.  

The afternoon is filled with chicken and mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie, running children, and lots and lots of laughter.  Just as Thanksgiving should be.  








9:00 pm:  Stick the kids in the shower; put them to bed.  Head to the kitchen to wash up; put the leftovers in the fridge; put the dishes away.  

Open a cupboard a spot The Cockroach.  

AHA!  This horrible creature has been pooping in my cabinet for the last couple of weeks but has evaded capture.  So now that I have spotted him, war is on.  Gil is out watching a soccer game (we don't have TV stations so he watches games at a hotel) so it is just Amy vs. The Cockroach.

I spend 15 minutes chasing him all throughout my cupboards, but in the end, I am victorious.  With satisfaction, I watch him writhe in agony to his death.  That's what you get for pooping in my cupboards.  


I'm sorry to end this post so digustingly. But you want to know my life?  This is my life.  The Good, the Bad, and the Cockroaches.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Everything Good

So we're new to this Reach Tanzania thing.  You know, the pastoral training program we just joined a few months ago.

But last week, we got to join in the celebration of the completion of the 2014 Certificate Program.  It was one of those days of Everything Good.  When you see God working and you know you are doing what you are supposed to be doing.

And this is what our students (all who are currently serving in church leadership) are saying:

My life is changing.  I came here like I was blind and now I see.  In the area of my marriage, before it was bad, but now I enjoy my marriage.


I learned how to prepare a sermon.  Before I took these courses, I thought that the more Scripture references I used, the more spiritual I was.  But really I was just taking a bunch of luggage and throwing it at my congregation.  I have now learned how to preach and teach.  I came to realize that I can have just one point from the Scripture when I give a sermon.  


Life change as leadership is not the works but the heart.  God does not look at our works but the intentions of our heart.


Reach Tanzania is the place where lives are changed!  These teachings have helped me a lot to arrange my sermons.  I can use stories, I can use questions, and to teach using only one point.  


The teaching that really changed my life is the life of Christ Jesus of Nazareth.  (Gil taught that class!)


From the Life of Christ class, I learned about discipleship.  Discipleship is about leading and teaching someone through example.  


I always wanted to be noticed as a team leader.  I wanted many people in my ministry.  I have learned I can invest my time even for one person who is ready to grow.  


I have learned how to read the Bible.  When I used to read the Bible and I came to a part I didn't understand, I would just jump to another place, or close the Bible.  But since I came here to learn, I have learned how to read my Bible.

What a blessing to know these faithful men and women!  In January, we start with a new group of students, and we get to start from the beginning this time instead of joining in the middle.  We've only just begun....and yet we already get to see the fruit.  God is good.


Saturday, November 15, 2014

Soul Earthquake

I love my life, and that's why I'm terrified to write this.

I really have a great life.  I live in a beautiful country; I have a great husband and kids; I have a regular paycheck and money in the bank.  I have health insurance that will fly me to any place in the world in an emergency.  I love my job; it is fulfilling and exciting.

Sure, you know, there's ticks and mosquitoes and electricity problems (it's off as I write this) and I miss my mom and blah blah blah.  But really?  Are those things really that big of a deal?  Have I sacrificed anything for the kingdom of God?  Because actually, I really like my life.  For the most part, I am safe; I am comfortable; I am happy.

The level of terror I feel at the thought of giving it up is the indication of how tightly I am holding onto it all.

"[A Russian pastor] hugged each one of us [his children].  Then he said:  'All around the country, the authorities are rounding up followers of Jesus and demanding that they deny their faith.  Sometimes, when they refuse, the authorities will line up whole families and hang them by the neck until they are dead.  I don't want that to happen to our family, so I am praying that once they put me in prison, they will leave you and your mother alone.  However,' and here he paused and made eye contact with us, 'If I am in prison and I hear that my wife and my children have been hung to death rather than deny Jesus, I will be the most proud man in that prison!'"  

Often, it's easy to look around us at our organized sidewalks and our life insurance policies and our carpeted church buildings and Christian radio stations and assume that this life is the norm for Christians.  Because for us, it is normal.

"We haven't made books and movies out of these stories [of persecution] that you have been hearing.  For us, persecution is like the sun coming up in the east.  It happens all the time.  It's the way things are.  There is nothing unusual or unexpected about it."  (from Russia)

Our comfortable life is not normal for most Christians in most parts of the world.  It wasn't normal during the time of the New Testament.  In fact, looking at history, we have to say that both the religious freedom and material comfort of America are actually quite unprecedented.

"After we were out of earshot of that young house-church leader, my host leaned toward me and whispered, 'He's going to be someone God can use in a powerful way someday.  But you cannot trust what he says now; he hasn't been to prison yet."  (from China)

Sometimes I think, "Surely God wouldn't let that happen to us.  American Christians aren't really going to ever be under threat of prison.  Churches aren't really going to have their buildings confiscated.  We couldn't possibly ever really lose our jobs because of our faith in Christ."

Right?
Right?
God wouldn't let that happen.
And if we can't trust God to keep that from happening to us, then surely we can trust America itself--the land of the free and the home of the brave.
Right?

"Perhaps the question should not be, 'Why are others persecuted?' Perhaps the better question is 'Why are we not?'"

And yet, it is coming, isn't it?

For centuries, American Christians have enjoyed the reputation of being honest, moral, good people.  Maybe a little backward, but good people.  We're losing that, aren't we?  Bigoted, hateful, narrow-minded--that's becoming our reputation now.  Granted, some of that is our own fault!  But mostly, it's because of the gospel.

What about when it gets worse?  What about when people can't get a job, or lose their jobs, because of their beliefs?  (It's already starting!)  What about when churches lose their tax exempt status?  And we can't afford our church buildings?  Or our pastors?  Just this year, Christian groups were kicked off of all 23 University of California campuses.  And the ideas that start in the universities always trickle down to the rest of life.

"Every morning one of the guards would take some of his own human waste and spread it on the piece of toast that he brought to my father to breakfast."

 It's not a matter of if anymore, it's a matter of when.  Will we see imprisonments in America in our lifetime?  In our kids' lifetime?  I don't know.  I don't want to be an alarmist.

But when we read Everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted (II Tim. 3:12), shouldn't that be our expectation?  Shouldn't we realize that this brief respite of religious freedom in American history has been unusual?

No matter how far it goes in our lifetime, it is certainly worth pondering.
How much am I willing to give up for Christ's sake?
My reputation?  My career?  My education?  My house?  My children?

We are so used to having our cake and eating it too, that we are in danger of not being willing to sacrifice anything for the kingdom of God.

And let me assure you again:  I am terrified.  I love my life.

Then I read things like this:

"Looking back now, I understand that one of the most accurate ways to detect and measure the activity of God is to note the amount of opposition that is present.  The stronger the persecution, the more significant the spiritual vitality of the believers."  

Are we ready?
Am I ready?  To sacrifice, to let go, to truly love?

I read this book last week.  One of the endorsers said, "This is not a book.  This is a soul earthquake."

All of the quotes in this post came from this book.  Yes, an earthquake went through my soul.


I was terrified and furious and indignant.

But I was also energized and triumphant.  I wanted to shout and pump my fists in the air.  If our God is with us, then what can stand against us?  

Bring it on!
Bring it on!  

"One of the house-church leaders actually asked me, 'Do you know what prison is for us?  It is how we get our theological education.  Prison in China is for us like seminary is for training church leaders in your country.'"

He is worth it!

Jesus is worth it!

"If we spend our lives so afraid of suffering, so averse to sacrifice, that we avoid even the risk of persecution...then we might never discover the true wonder, joy and power of a resurrection faith."

I grit my teeth and set my sights on things above.  I love my life, but I love Jesus more.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Do People Only Read Our Email Updates If They Think We're Having Marriage Problems?

61.7%

That's the percentage of people on our mailing list who opened our email prayer update this month.

In January, we started using MailChimp for our email newsletters.  One of the benefits is that we can compare the overall "open rates" of our newsletters over time.

Though this is interesting information for us, it was actually kind of discouraging at first.  An average of 60% of our 500 newsletter recipients (who all signed up voluntarily) open our emails.  And that's how many open it....we don't know the actual percentage of how many actually read it.  I'm guessing that's a lot lower.

This information has helped us to write better letters.  How short can we make it and still say what we need to say?  That's our goal.  We figure we have approximately 30 seconds of reading time to get our point across before people move onto the next email.

It's also made us better at our subject lines.  We've learned that if the subject line is interesting, people are more likely to open it.  The newsletter with our highest open rate had a subject line of "Marriage Problems."  We rejoiced when 76.6% of recipients opened that one.

Then we got kind of depressed when we realized that probably most of those people opened it because they thought we were having marriage problems (when actually we wrote about the class we taught on marriage and family).  Great.  Should we be more depressed that 76.6% of people wanted to read about our marriage problems, or that 23.4% of people on our mailing list didn't care?

Now, before you go thinking that I'm putting a big guilt trip out there, hang with me.  If you are on our email list, please don't read our letters out of guilt.  Or open them just to get our numbers up.

But I have been thinking about this.

Sometimes I wonder why we should even expect people to be interested enough in our ministry to read about it every month.  Should we have that expectation?  I do believe that the western church has idolized overseas missions and missionaries.  How are we any better than the animator in Hollywood who is living out the gospel in his own mission field?  Why is what we are doing more important than the family who is church planting in San Francisco?

We aren't any better.  It's not more important.  And yet you are not expected to read newsletters from those people every month.  They don't get prayed for in front of the whole congregation, and their pictures are not on your refrigerator.

I am often uncomfortable with this.  I don't like getting so much attention for what we do, when really we are simply living out our calling and passion for the glory of God--which is what millions of Americans are doing in their cities and neighborhoods.  There really shouldn't be a whole lot of difference--and I think it would actually be pretty cool if the Church started treating ordinary laborers the same way it treats overseas laborers.

So.

Is there a purpose in reading missionary newsletters?  In inviting missionaries to speak at your small group?  In following and supporting their ministries?

...you will be my witnesses....to the ends of the earth...

...go and make disciples of all nations....

...with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation...

God cares about the nations.  He cares about the gospel going out into all people groups.  So we should care too.  And that's pretty much all there is to it.

We shouldn't care because missionaries are more important, or more spiritual, or because their ministry is more fruitful or significant than anyone else who is laboring for the kingdom of God.  We should care because God cares about the nations.

However, I totally understand the dilemma of too much information in this generation.  We are bombarded on a daily basis, an hourly basis, with information about everything and every place.  We receive dozens of emails, Facebook posts, Tweets, and Instagrams, every day...every hour!  There is no possible way we can absorb all of that information.

So this is my advice:  Choose one.

Choose one country.  Or one people group.  Or one missionary.  Or one overseas ministry.  And pay attention to it.  Read about it.  Pray for it.  Financially support it.  Get passionate about it.  Get your kids excited about it.  Advocate for it at your church.

Maybe over time, you can add more to your list.  But don't get so overwhelmed by all of the information out there, and all of the missionary updates that fill up your inbox, that you just ignore them all.  Because you'll be missing out on something important, and God wants to include you.

Listen, I really don't expect all 500 people on our mailing list to read all of our updates.  I am really okay with that.  But I hope that if people aren't reading them, it's because they are so interested in a missionary somewhere else.

And one more thing--those people who are really into our ministry?  (You know who you are!) The ones who read every letter, tell us they are praying, send in a check every month, rejoice when we rejoice and cry when we cry?  Those people have a part in this ministry.  Someday, on That Day, when all is revealed, they will stand side by side with us and have a part in our joy.

Find a country, or a missionary, or a ministry, where that will be true of you too.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

All These Children Are Confused


This morning, Grace was looking at her VBS picture.  They had attended in June at our church in California.

There's a couple hundred people in the picture.  "It's easy to find us," she exclaimed.  "See, Mom?  We're the only brown kids in there."

She's not bothered by it now.  But she was when we were in America.

Our church family, and everyone else for that matter, wholeheartedly embraced my children.  But they felt different and they knew they stood out.  Yes, it was hard for them, especially Grace.  Sometimes, she cried about it.  It was a difficult road to walk with her.

My children are thrust into the middle of several different worlds.  The Caucasian American world, the Tanzanian world, the international ex-patriate world.  And I worry.  As they grow older, will they be able to identify with us?  with Tanzanians?  Where will they fit?  Will they be able to bridge all these worlds?

And that is one of the many reasons I am thankful for HOPAC.  Half of the students are Tanzanian, and the other half are everything else.  Many, many of the children have no idea what they are.

There's the group of kids who are half Dutch, and half Greek, but were born in Tanzania.  There's all those who are half Tanzanian and half something else--German, Danish, Japanese--who speak multiple languages and may have a passport to a country they have never lived in.

I asked a little African-American second grader what state she is from.  She looked at me blankly.  "I don't know," she shrugged.  "I was born in China."

I love it.  My children, being born and raised in Tanzania by American parents, can be confused here, and fit right in.  It's beautiful.

Friday, we celebrated International Day at HOPAC.  Always the highlight of everyone's year.  We sang and we ate and we waved flags, and some children represented two countries and some children represented more.  It was a day to celebrate the beauty of our cultures and our confused children.

Grace and Zawadi

(Photo credit for the pictures below goes to Abigail Snyder.  Gil was teaching so I had to borrow pictures from another great photographer!)






Photo credit:  Christine Liebrecht

These videos are for HOPAC alumni and former staff....or anyone who wants a real taste of what we get to experience!
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Monday, November 3, 2014

Seven

"Piggy"

bottle caps


On Saturday night, I held my boy close.

I'm glad that you're seven, I said.  But do you promise that when you get big you won't stop cuddling with me?

I've made him promise it for years.  But this year, I'm guessing it really will be the last.  He used to come out every morning and say, Mommy, I haven't gotten my cuddles today.  He doesn't say that anymore.  And even though he's only 40 pounds and I can still pick him up, now he doesn't need me to.

So I hold onto these moments of him being little, even while celebrating seven healthy and (mostly) joy-filled years with my little stinker.

He is energy in motion, every day.  I think he cartwheels more than he walks.  He has a crazy sense of humor and he constantly tries to jump out and scare me.  He is small, but lightning fast, very strong, and obsessed with all sports.  And bottle caps, which represent whichever sports team he happens to currently be obsessed with.

On Saturday, we celebrated with a soccer party.  Which pretty much sums up Josiah.







celebrating Sunday with our Reach Global team (our surrogate family)


and these two....these two are inseparable.  and incorrigible.