Friday, April 21, 2017

Six Privileges of Living in a Wealthy Country


Some benefits to living in a wealthy country are obvious:  Access to clean water, free schools, plenty of available food, non-stop electricity.  But it wasn't until I had lived in a developing country for a number of years that I started seeing the more subtle privileges.  

1.       The privilege of choosing your career.  What do you want to be when you grow up?  is a standard question for children.  We encourage our children to dream big, to set goals, to reach for the stars.  We take personality tests and analyze our strengths.  Yet for most of the world, this is never even a consideration.  For most, a job isn’t about personal fulfillment, it’s a way to survive.  That means you take any job you can get, whether it’s digging ditches or selling boxes of Kleenex on the side of the road.  And working in fast food?  That’s one of the better careers out there. 

2.       The privilege of reasonable commute time.  I'm currently visiting Los Angeles, which has the worst commute time in the United States.  But compared to the rest of the world?  It ranks 12th.  Out of the 50 cities worldwide with the worst commute times, America has only three. We also must consider that for most people in the world, getting to work isn't in a private, air conditioned car with leather seats.  Imagine an hour or two--each direction--standing in a packed bus or train.  Every day.

3.       The privilege of protecting your children.  Every morning, I have watched children as young as four or five years old walking a mile to school along busy roads with no sidewalks.  Do their parents worry?  They certainly told me they do.  But since parents have their own hour-plus commute every morning, and they can’t afford school bus fare, they don’t have much of a choice. 

4.       The privilege of seeing your children reach their potential.  Sports teams, music and art lessons, even educational toys are all at our children’s fingertips.  Learning to read and write is an assumption, and if we discover a particular talent in a child, we nurture it.  But in the majority of the world, this doesn’t happen.  Children are often crowded into classrooms of 50 or even 100, and books or other resources are scarce or non-existent.  How many potential Olympians, musical prodigies, or brilliant scientists are languishing in developing countries, with no opportunity to develop their potential?

5.       The privilege of food choices.  Eliminating gluten, dairy, grains, peanuts, and meat, or switching to organic food has become a popular way of improving health in western society.  But what you may not realize is that this is a distinct privilege of living in a wealthy country.  Even in countries where food is not scarce, choice is not an option.  Pesticides are a cheap and easy way to increase crop production and are rarely regulated.  And in many countries, eliminating grains or carbs means there would be hardly anything left to eat. 

6.       The privilege of knowing why people die.  Of course, having some of the best health care in the world means that in wealthy countries, a lot less people die in the first place.  But when they do, at least we know why.  I can think of countless incidences in East Africa of babies, children, or adults dying—sometimes falling over dead after a short illness—and no one has any idea why.  Cancer?  Heart attack?  Diabetes?  Maybe.  Maybe not.  They will never know. 

Of course, not every person in a wealthy country has all these privileges, and not every person in a developing country does not.  And there's always people like me, who get the benefits of being from a wealthy country, even while living in a developing one.  The life I take for granted is not a reality for billions of people.  And coming to grips with my privileges has helped me to be more grateful, more content, and more eager to wisely use what I have been given. 


Friday, April 14, 2017

God Does Not Accept Me For Who I Am


Our culture is obsessed with acceptance.  Have you noticed this?

Believe in yourself.  Be yourself.  Come as you are.  Accept people for who they are.  Don't judge.  I felt judged.  I promise I won't judge you.  I promise I wasn't judging you.  Love yourself.  Don't ever change.  Treat others the way they want to be treated.  

And perhaps you've even heard this one:  God accepts you for who you are.  Unconditionally.

That is a lie.  And if you believe it, it comes straight from your culture, not from your Bible.

God does not accept us for who we are.  He never has.  He cannot.  He literally cannot go against His perfect and holy nature and accept us for who we are.  In fact, the Bible says that we are enemies of God.  That we are children of Satan.  That we are at war with God.  That He despises our sin.

That is not acceptance.

But here is the hope:  While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Acceptance, no.  But love, yes.

The problem is that our society simply refuses to acknowledge the fact that we all are wretched sinners.  It's ridiculous, really, because we watch the news at night and we discipline the children who are clawing each other's eyes out and we shame the bullies and we are horrified at the racism and the raping and the riots, but then we think the answer to all of this is simply to.....accept one another?  Really?  Yet we do everything we can to tell ourselves that we're really not all that bad, that we just need to build our self-esteem and get rid of the toxic people in our lives and practice better self-care, and then our lives will be grand.

Oh, I get it.  We're all good people, deep down.  Sometimes really deep down.  At least I am, right? After all, I wouldn't have been one of the millions of Germans who stood by and watched the ashes of six million Jews fall on my head.  It wouldn't have been me who picked up a machete and murdered one million neighbors in Rwanda.

Seems to me that the deeper you go, the less goodness you find--not more.

It's true that as a human made in the image of God, I am infinitely valuable.  But I have never been worthy of acceptance.  I am arrogant and selfish.  My patience level is directly connected to sleep and food and air temperature.  My heart is not naturally inclined to worship God.  Perhaps if God was a good-natured grandpa, partially blind and deaf, then he could find it in his heart to accept me.  But who would want to worship that kind of God anyway?

Jesus Christ died on the cross because God does not accept me.  It's like the parent who loves his drug-addicted son so much that he cashes in his pension and sells his house to pay for his treatment.  That's not acceptance; because what parent willingly accepts his child's addiction?  But that is love.  Amazing love.  Sacrificial love.  Unconditional love.  Never-stopping, never-giving-up love.  But not acceptance.  We cannot confuse the two.

I cannot understand the cross until I understand that my sin is the reason it cost so much.  I cannot understand that cost until I come face-to-face with the truth that I Am Not Acceptable.  But He became Acceptable for me.  I was not acceptable, and yet I am loved in a way that is far beyond what I can ever understand.  And the more I understand my wretchedness, the deeper I understand His love.

I am now acceptable to God.  Not because of who I am, but because of what He has done.

The new morality in our culture bears the disguise of goodness.  Don't we want people to just feel good about themselves?  Except that when we do that, we lie to ourselves.  We lie to our friends.  We lie to our children.  Often we make our sin worse because we refuse to deal with it--or even acknowledge it.  And certainly, we lose the power of the cross.  And that is a tragedy indeed.

"Till sin be bitter, Christ will not be sweet." (Thomas Watson)

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Transitioning

It took less than 24 hours in America for me to feel like a complete idiot.

We arrived in California on Monday afternoon, and on Tuesday morning we headed to Target.  Because isn't Target the reason we visit America?

The checker took my items and I swiped my credit card, proud of myself for remembering how to swipe a credit card.

"Oh, that's a chip card," the checker said.  "You need to put it in the bottom of the machine."

I looked frantically for another place to stick my card.  I jammed it into the slot at the bottom of the machine and pulled it out.

"No," the checker persisted.  "You have to leave it in there."

Now I was totally flustered.  I stuck the card back in and accidentally pressed "cancel."

Patiently, the checker (who was by now most certainly questioning my intelligence level), asked me to start over.

As I grabbed my things, I muttered, "So sorry....I've been living overseas for a long time....."

Later that day, we went to the grocery store, and as I expertly stuck my chip card into the machine, signed it, and smiled confidently, I heard imaginary applause in my ears.  I had conquered.

Okay, people.  What else have I missed in the last three years?  Help a girl out here.

I always marvel during these transitions.  It just doesn't seem possible that I can get on a plane for 24 hours and end up on a different planet as a different person in a different dimension.  That's what it feels like.  And not only does my body think it's still in Tanzania (as evidenced by intense jetlag), but my brain can't keep up either.  I can't remember what side of the car to get into.  I can't remember where the bathroom light switch is, since it's supposed to be outside the door--right?.  And if someone turns the lights out, I assume it's a power cut.

My first-week thoughts are always convoluted and strange.  It doesn't take long for me to adapt again to America and everything becomes routine.  But those few days at the beginning are particularly amusing.  So here you go:

The air feels awesome.  I noticed this immediately as we exited the airport.  Awesome, I tell you.  It's like I had been living under a wet blanket for three years, and someone just pulled it off my head.  I have not sweat once since leaving Dar es Salaam.  My children, however, are shivering uncontrollably in the freezing 70 degree cold.  And skin and hair and lips look like we're in the dead of winter in Minnesota.

Costco is still awesome.  Almost as awesome as the air.  And really, just as important, right?

Everything is so quiet.  Like, really, really quiet.  Even when I'm outside with the kids, I keep telling them to keep their voices down, like they are breaking a sacred silence.  Night is so quiet.  No screeching bats and birds and insects.  No wedding party music.  Rarely even any car sounds.  It's eerie.

There are no people to be seen.  I go for a walk with my girls, and we marvel at the lack of life.  No people, anywhere.  Does anyone even live here?  they ask.  If you go into a store, there you see people.  But not on the street.  No food being sold on the street.  No goats on the street.  Where are all the people?  And the goats?  Don't they want to enjoy this amazing air?

Everything is so easy.  I don't have to navigate between languages.  I can read every street sign.  The roads are straight and flat and organized and drivers don't drive on the shoulder.  Gil said with wonder, I'm going to see how many days I can go without using my horn.  All the food in the store is at least half-prepared.  The lawns water themselves.  The garage doors open themselves.  The dishes wash themselves.

Meal times are the most exciting part of the day.  Yes, it's lunch!  I can eat again!  And I just went to Costco!

My children are obsessed with the ice dispenser on their uncle's fridge.  By 10 am every day, that thing has been cleaned out.  However, they are paranoid about tap water and drinking fountains.  Yes, you can drink the water.  Are you sure, Mommy?  Yes, you can drink the water!

I need a sign around my neck, Bear with me; I haven't lived in America for a while. I'm not sure how to handle you, America.  But I sure do love your air.  And Costco.

Johnny with his grandpa and cousin

Thursday, April 6, 2017

The Medinas in Tanzania: A Primer

Whenever we visit the States, there's always that awkward moment in the church foyer when someone we know runs into us and says, "Hey, welcome back!  So....how's it going.....over there?"

And it's pretty obvious that they really don't remember where we live or what we are doing.  

If this is you, first of all, don't worry.  While you are frantically trying to remember the details about us, we are frantically trying to remember the details about you.  After all, you might have sent us your Christmas letter, but we didn't memorize it.  We don't expect you memorize everything we write about either.

So since we'll be seeing many of you soon, here's a summary to bring you up to speed.  If you want to send one to me as well, I would love to read it!

Where are you living?


source


We've lived in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania for 13 of the last 16 years.  Dar es Salaam is coastal and near the equator, which means that it is hot and very humid most of the year.  It never gets cold.  (My kids start shivering at about 80 degrees.)  Lots of palm trees.  Just minutes from the ocean.  

Dar es Salaam is the largest city in Tanzania.  It has about 6 million residents and is rapidly growing.  We live in the northern part of the city, about five minutes from Haven of Peace Academy.



What is your life like?

We rent a three bedroom house which has electricity and plumbing (though using totally different systems than what you would be used to).  We have air conditioning in our bedroom.  I have a gas stove.  We own a generator.  We have one car.  

During the years we have been here, our standard of living has continued to improve.  We have a supermarket ten minutes away and we even have Pizza Hut.  Internet has continued to massively speed up, and this year, we've even been able to stream American TV shows.  We lack a lot of the conveniences of the States, but we are not suffering.  But maybe living thirteen years in a developing country has changed our perspective on what suffering is.

Are there lions?


Yes!  Tanzania has some of the world's most amazing and beautiful game parks, including the Serengeti. (Gil took that picture!)  The closest reserve is about 5 hours drive away from us, so no, we don't see wildlife on a regular basis, unless you include goats, chickens, and large lizards.  Oh, and hedgehogs.  And that snake that appeared in Lily's bed.  But that was only once.


What is your ministry?


During the last three years, we have been partnering with Mark and Alyssa Dunker to establish Reach Tanzania Bible School, a theological training program for Tanzanian pastors and church leaders.  Students take 10 classes during one year, with each class lasting one week.  Students go back to their churches and ministries in between classes and apply what they have learned.

Gil also does a variety of training sessions in different churches and ministry programs.



Where do your kids go to school?

Just the best school in the entire world.  But I guess I'm biased, considering Gil and I served there for 10 years before we joined Reach Tanzania, and in August I'll be going back on staff as Elementary Principal.


By the way, HOPAC is still recruiting teachers for next year, so if you know a teacher looking for the best job in the entire world, point him or her in my direction.


What are your kids' names again?


Grace is eleven and in fifth grade.  She loves playing soccer and basketball, crafting and creating, and reading (her current favorites are the Percy Jackson series).  She is a total social butterfly and makes friends quickly.

Josiah is nine and in third grade.  He is a sports maniac.  His favorite is soccer and he can talk for hours about British Premier League soccer, but he is pretty much interested in any kind of competitive sport.

Lily is eight and in second grade.  She loves dolls and drawing and nurturing small children.

Johnny is five and will be starting kindergarten in August.  He is fascinated by vehicles of any kind but also loves puzzles and anything his siblings are doing.


How long will you be in the States?

Four months, until the beginning of August.  We will be all over California.  


Anything else you want to know? Ask away!  

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

In Defense of Second-Class Missionaries

I posted at A Life Overseas today, and this time I revised an essay I wrote on this blog two years ago.  It's a topic that is near and dear to my heart, and I wanted it to reach a broader audience.

It must have hit a nerve, because six hours later, it's already been shared 150 times.  

Many of your missionary friends are aching for you to read and understand this.  Even if you read my original post two years ago, please read this new one today.  It's that important.

As I write today, a thought that is forefront on my mind is Haven of Peace Academy's need for teachers for next school year.  We are at the point of feeling desperate (yet knowing--and remembering to believe--that this is God's school and we can trust Him.)  I am deeply passionate about the important and very strategic ministry at HOPAC, and I want to shout, "Why is it so hard for us to find teachers?  And once we find them, why is it so hard for them to find support?"  How can I help churches back at home get this?

Maybe reading this today will help give you a different perspective.  I hope so.

In Defense of Second-Class Missionaries


Imagine what it would look like if western churches hired their staff with the same priorities that they choose overseas missionaries to financially support.

First of all, a Children's Pastor would definitely be out.  Not strategic enough; he's only supporting the children of believers.  Youth Pastor?  Also out, unless he targets neighborhood kids.

How about a Music Pastor?  Or Pastoral Counselor?  Nope.  Those are just support roles.  Not enough front-line ministry.

Administrative Pastor?  Receptionist?  Good heavens.  We could never dream of paying someone for those kind of inconsequential jobs. 

How about a Preaching Pastor?  Well.....that's if-y, but he probably doesn't make the cut either.  After all, he's only feeding the Body.  Most of the time, he's not actually reaching the lost. 

So that pretty much leaves only the positions of Community Outreach Pastor or Evangelist.  Yet how many churches even have those paid positions? 

I'm not suggesting that churches go about firing two-thirds of their staff.  I just want to talk about a double-standard I often see.

Let me introduce you to the class system among missionaries. 

Who is on the A-List?  Well, that would be the Church Planters.  Among unreached people groups gives you A+ status.  Pastoral Trainers and Bible Translators might be able to squeak by with an A.

The B-List?  Doctors and other health workers, community development and poverty alleviation workers, ESL teachers.

The C-List?  Administrators, missionary member care, MK teachers, or anyone else considered "support."

Whatever tends to be the current hot-topic in “justice ministry” also often ends up on the A-List.  These days, that’s fighting human trafficking.  It used to be orphan ministry, but that’s pretty much been relegated to B-status now.  It’s cool, but not that cool. 

Granted, this class system doesn’t usually originate with the missionaries themselves, but it’s come out of the culture of missions in their home countries.  How many missionaries have sat before missions committees back home who examined if they fit into their “grid” of priorities?  And often that grid looks exactly like the hierarchy I just outlined.

My husband and I worked for eight years in TCK ministry at an international school.  When trying to raise support, we called and sent information packets to over 200 churches in California.  We heard back from two.  Churches told us, over and over again, Sorry, but that ministry doesn't fit into our strategy.  

That all changed when we transitioned to theological training of East African pastors.  Finally, we had churches calling us.  It was nice.  But frankly, kind of frustrating.  We didn't change ministries so that we would become more popular with churches.  We switched because that's where God was leading us.  But the truth is, we don’t consider theological training to be any more strategic, or any more exciting, than what we were doing at that international school. 

Unfortunately, the missionaries themselves are often acutely aware of this hierarchy, and it makes many feel like they are second-class. 


Read the rest here.  (And then share it!)


Saturday, April 1, 2017

Medina Life, January through March, 2017

Carley has been my friend since forever (pretty much).  I even went to her wedding a few years ago.  And seven months ago, she gave birth to quadruplets. So now she and her babies are celebrities.  Our entire community is celebrating the miracle of these very healthy, very precious babies.

Grace had Roman Day in fifth grade, and so of course her Daddy made her an amazing Athena goddess costume.  Of course.  

Our church's small group visited an orphanage one Sunday, to play with the kids and bring a whole load of supplies.  I'm not usually a big fan of these kind of one-off events, but when the local church steps up to help take care of orphans, that's certainly heading in the right direction.  



Pretty cool to see the men from our church get down and play with the kids.

My girls with some of the stuff our group brought.  Visiting an orphanage is hard, but good, for my kids.  For me, it's just hard.  

Lucy and I have been meeting for almost three years now to work on Kiswahili.  That's ending because when we come back, I'll be working full time.  She had matching dresses made for us.  And I am so thankful for her friendship.

Josiah as Aragorn for Book Week at HOPAC

Service Emphasis Week:  When all HOPAC kids go out and serve each day.  Lily's class went to a local school.

One of my very favorite aspects of Service Emphasis Week is that the older HOPAC students lead and set the example for the younger ones.  So not only do my kids get to interact with kids from a different school, but they get to be influenced by the wonderful "big" kids at HOPAC.


Grace's U11 basketball team (coached by her awesome Dad!) had an undefeated season, and got silver medals in their tournament.  

Celebrating their great season.

Reach Tanzania's new cohort of students for 2017!

In assembly yesterday, Grace's teacher presented her with her fifth grade promotion certificate, since she will miss the ceremony in June.  


Four years ago, I was one of the people whispering in Karen's ear that she needed to apply to be primary (elementary) principal.  Four years later, she was encouraging me to apply.  I've spent much of the last month with her, as she has passed on to me everything she knows about the job.  She leaves me big shoes to fill.  She has been a wonderful principal and a great friend.  Here we are standing in front of the office that will be mine in August.  

Saturday, March 25, 2017

That's a Whole Lot of Thoughts

Johnny's recent airplane picture.  I am the pilot (so he tells me).

These are the days my mind is in many places and many times.

Thinking about here:  How do I prepare my house to be empty for four months?  Buying lots of dog food, going through piles of papers I had put off.  How do I make sure our workers get paid?  What does the landlord need to know?  What clothes can we give away before we leave?  Making sure the kids are caught up on vaccinations and doctor's appointments.  How can I use up everything in my pantry?

Kids:  Mom, the ketchup is finished!

Me:  Too bad.  We're leaving in a week and I am not buying any more ketchup.  Eat your eggs plain.

Thinking about life when we return:  I will hit the ground running when I come back on August 4th.  What can I learn from the current principal before I go?  I've been shadowing her, asking hundreds of questions, talking to all the current teachers.  I am stuffing my brain with schedules and facts and feelings that others are giving me.  

Everything will change when we come back.  Johnny will be in kindergarten.  I will be a working mom.  What can I teach my houseworker before I go?  What new responsibilities will I ask of her?  We cleaned out the kids' toy room and easily boxed up half of their things to give away.  They don't play with many toys any more, and Johnny will no longer be home.  For the first time in 10 years, I won't have a pre-schooler with me all day.  I gave away Candyland and the alphabet practice books.  I once yearned for the end of those days, and now that they are here, I am sad.  

Thinking about preparations to leave:  Getting school materials from all the kids' teachers so that I can homeschool them for their third term.  Writing to churches and scheduling visits for when we are in the States.  Working through our home assignment budget with our business manager.  Communicating with a friend back at home who will make us a video of our ministry to show to everyone.  Buying gifts to take back to friends.  Renewing the car insurance.  Making an appointment to get the girls' hair done.

Josiah:  I'm really excited about going to America, but I'm also really sad.  I'm going to miss my friends.

Welcome to the world of bittersweet emotions, kid.  You're learning it young.

Grace is sad she will miss Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat and her 5th Grade Graduation at HOPAC.  Josiah is sad he'll miss Sports Day and the 5K run.  But simultaneously, they both are counting down the days and announce it every evening.  They are educating Johnny about Chuck E. Cheese and garage door openers.  Last week, we received a package with the Christmas cards from our home church.  We reminded the kids, See?  You know this person!  Do you remember playing with her?

Last week I told the kids to put their shoes on at dinner time because a lightbulb had shattered in the dining room.  They all commented on how weird it was to wear shoes at dinner.

Me:  In America, a lot of people keep their shoes on in the house.  If you visit someone else's house, you keep on your shoes.

Josiah:  REALLY?  Like, what if your shoes are all muddy?

Grace:  They have these things called sidewalks in America.  Your shoes don't get muddy.

Dad:  There is no dirt in America.

Me:  There are no cats in America.

*cue family singing while Johnny looks on blankly*  I guess we need to show him "An American Tale."  

Thinking about the journey:  Of course, this part should have been routine, and then last week America decided that it didn't want people who are flying through the Middle East to carry their electronics on the plane.  So where are we flying through?  The Middle East.  Thanks, America.  My brain didn't have enough to think about already.  Yeah, going back to the Dark Ages of Children-Before-Ipads is one thing, but honestly, making sure our valuable electronics get to the States unbroken and unstolen is a much bigger worry.

Thinking about there:  Dreaming about salami and sourdough bread and good yogurt and nectarines.  Planning vacations with our families.  Emailing with friends who want to see us (one who will travel all the way from Wisconsin!).  Anticipating hugs and conversations and nostalgia.  Daily adding to my list of things I will need to buy in America.

We are so excited to see all those we love deeply, yet I know acutely that the joy will also be a poignant reminder of the loss.  My six-month old niece is now three years old.  My own 5-year-old is now eight.  There will be the three nephews we have not yet met.  Joy, but sorrow, because we can't get those years back.

It's funny though, that in spite of all the looming change and mixed emotions and scattered thoughts, there is now something new in my brain:  Familiarity.  I have done this so many times now that even the craziness seems routine.  I can fit my emotions into predictable categories:  Yes, I feel this now, but I know it won't last.  I know I will even out.  I know it will be okay.  I know there will be stress and culture shock and joy and sorrow and frustration, but I know it.  None of it surprises me anymore.   And there is something deeply comforting about that.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

My Children Are Not Missionaries


We recently bought plane tickets for six for our upcoming home assignment. (We leave in two weeks!)  If we had wanted our kids' tickets to be tax deductible, we had to prove to the IRS that they would be participating in our "work" while in the States.  Namely, that they would be a important part of our presentations.  Which means that we would pretty much parade them around and have them sing or recite facts any time we talked about Tanzania.

We decided to just pay the tax on their tickets.

Because Gil and I are the missionaries.  Our kids are not.

Our kids are already growing up with a pretty convoluted picture of America.  They are Tanzanian by blood and by birth, but are growing up with American parents...while still in Tanzania.  It's already pretty confusing, so if we bring them to America and parade them around like shiny ponies, that doesn't help anything.

Home assignment can be really hard on kids.  It usually consists of lots of travel, lots of new people, lots of different beds, and lots of attention.  It's definitely not "normal" life.  And it will continue to get harder on my kids as they get older.  It's not so difficult for a four-year-old to visit a new church and make friends instantly.  It's a lot harder on a nine or eleven-year-old.  And we'll be visiting at least five different churches and innumerable small groups.

Gil and I are called to be missionaries.  We want our kids to just be kids.  So when we're in the States, we're going to try hard not to put pressure on them to perform.  They most likely won't participate in our presentations (maybe Grace will, since she loves that sort of thing).  Sometimes they might choose to stay home with Grandma instead of attending a meeting with us, and that will be okay.  We know everyone loves our kids and might be disappointed if they are not always with us, but that's just how it might have to be.

And honestly, we all will need your grace.  Our kids are not perfect.  One of them has significant struggles in controlling emotions.  Another clams up and gets stubborn when in new or overwhelming situations.  And considering that they all will be adapting to so many new places, with very little schedule and often inconsistent bedtimes, they are not always going to be at their best.

But if you know our family, you can help.

When you see our kids, yes, please greet them and welcome them and make them feel comfortable.  But keep in mind that even though thousands of people in California know them, they only remember a handful.  They probably don't remember you.  And some of our kids might start getting really uneasy around the constant stream of strangers who want to hug them.  It's hard for me to predict.  They are different people than they were three years ago, so I'm not sure how they will respond this time.

So tell them your name.  Tell them how you know us.  And ask them some questions.  But please, ask the same kinds of questions you would ask any other kid.  You know, like, What's your favorite color? or Do you have a pet?  or What's your favorite book or sport?  

Try not to ask them questions that will force them make judgments about where they live.  For example, avoid asking them if they like America or Tanzania better.  Or what they like best about living in Tanzania.  Or any questions that make them compare the two countries.  First of all, they simply don't have the maturity or experience yet to even know how to answer those questions.  And second, I try not to have them think about which place is best.  They both are best; they are just different.  And they are still figuring out what those differences are.

You can ask me those questions all day; I won't mind.  But my kids just aren't ready to do that kind of processing.  I mean, if I asked your children, What do you like about living in America?  They would probably just look at me blankly and reply, Uhhh....I like my puppy.  

Of course, if you are talking to my kids, or introducing them to a Sunday School Class, it's great to acknowledge that they are from Tanzania, because it's obviously a part of who they are.  But don't expect them to tell you about our ministry.  They are not the missionaries.  What they need most is to be treated like any other visitor, instead of put on display as some sort of special attraction.

Gil and I understand that being put on display while we are in the States is part of our job.  It comes with the territory.  But my kids....I just want them to figure out what it's like to be a normal American kid.  After all, one day, that's an identity they will need to understand.


Saturday, March 11, 2017

Far More Than I Imagined

2015 was a tough year.

Our ministry was struggling as we tried to recruit students.  Gil hurt his knee and had to stay away from sports for nine months (at the time, we thought it would be forever), which was a huge loss in his life.  Gil spent most of his days in front of a computer, writing curriculum for our training program.  It was a very, very quiet life, completely different from our previously vibrant ministry at Haven of Peace Academy (HOPAC).

And I could not find my place.

For 10 years, Gil and I had served at HOPAC.  I had started out as an elementary school teacher, but when we began our family, I looked for part-time ways to serve.  Yet HOPAC was still my entire life:  My community, my ministry, the place where my children felt most at home.  I assisted Gil in his ministry as chaplain, but my love of education got me involved in a wide variety of other programs, from coordinating after-school activities to strategic planning committees.  For the most part, those were golden years.

My sixth grade class, 2003
We left that ministry in 2013 and I had determined in my heart to move on.  I had deeply loved HOPAC, but I was also passionate about Gil's new calling into pastoral training.  Our kids would still be attending the school, so I planned to be involved only as a parent.  Since we returned to Tanzania in 2014, I have been a board member and a parent classroom volunteer.  That's all.  Only stuff that parents would do.

I was surprised by how deeply I grieved the loss of HOPAC in my life.  A big part of that was because I simply couldn't find a place in our new ministry.  I willingly worked on the administrative and recruiting tasks at hand, and I absolutely adore our partners in this ministry.  Mark and Alyssa are some of our very best friends.


But I was incredibly restless.  The struggles of our ministry multiplied in my heart. (Of course, the difficulties didn't last forever and the ministry is now thriving.)  But at the time, I wondered if we should even be in Tanzania.  I wondered if I wanted to be here.  Ironically, though he was discouraged at times, Gil never struggled like I did.  He knew his place and his calling, so working through the challenges were not a problem for him.  Knowing that I am a teacher, Alyssa kept trying to convince me to teach in the training program.  But I have never had a desire to theologically train adults.  My heart just wouldn't be in it.

We brought home Johnny in there, so that was an enormous joy, and took up a lot of my time.  But I knew that I only had another year or so before Johnny would start school.  A new season of life was looming before me, and I had no direction.

I diligently studied Swahili during that time, hoping that would open up more ministry options for me.  But as much as I prayed that God would show me what the next steps would be in my life, there was nothing.

In early 2016--almost exactly a year ago, the thought made its way up into my heart:  Why not go back to HOPAC?  It was a thought I had pushed away for two years, because I had closed the door on that chapter of my life and I figured it was slammed shut.  I thought I was supposed to move on from HOPAC, and I was deliberately doing that.

But I eventually asked myself:  Why am I fighting this so much?  I am a trained elementary school teacher.  Education is what I love.  It's what I'm good at.  HOPAC is my favorite school in the world, and I am passionate about its mission and vision.  And they need me.

So it was a year ago that I made the decision that in August of 2017, I would go back on staff at HOPAC.  It was amazing how freeing that decision was, how my outlook on life completely changed.   It was still a year and a half away, but the thought of going back to HOPAC made my heart sing.

I figured I would teach elementary school, or maybe middle school English.  There were always needs, so it wouldn't be hard to find a place for me to teach.  But in September, all my expectations were tipped upside down when the (very loved) elementary school principal announced that her family would be leaving at the end of this school year.

And suddenly, I had all these friends whisper in my ear:  Amy, you need to apply to be principal!  

Of course, I was immediately intimidated by the thought, but I couldn't stop thinking about it.  I had played with the idea of administration before, but I figured that was still a long ways away.  Yet I remembered all the various times when I was able to have a part in decision-making at HOPAC.  How much I loved interacting with staff and parents.  How thrilled I had been to work on teams that were making the school better.  How much I loved not just teaching, but the broader picture of education.  And how all of those things would be wrapped up in being a principal at HOPAC.

So I applied.  I went through two interviews with five people.  And about a week ago, I was offered the job.

In three weeks, we leave for the States. In August, I will return to Tanzania and become the elementary school principal at HOPAC.  In the meantime, I am cramming every bit of information I can stuff into my brain about this position.

It will be a huge change for me and for my family.  (Though I'll probably be able to spend more time with my kids than I do now, since we'll all be at the same place!)  But I am incredibly excited (and occasionally pretty nervous!) at this opportunity.  Honestly, I can't think of anything I would rather do than this job at this place with these people.  

So when I think back to 2015, when my tears of discouragement would drip over my dinner cooking on the stove, when I wondered if we should even be here, I stand in awe at what God had in store for me.  It is far more than I ever could have imagined.

this year's HOPAC staff










Sunday, March 5, 2017

Read These Books

Recommendations from the last six months of reading:


Passages Through Pakistan: An American Girl's Journey of Faith by Marilyn Gardner

In her introduction, Marilyn Gardner writes of visiting, as an adult, her childhood home in Pakistan:

"[My traveling companion] looked at me, measuring her words.  'A compound like this must have made life as a child in Pakistan at least somewhat bearable,' she said.

I stood still and stared at her in shock.  Bearable?  Bearable?  I repeated the word to myself.  I said it aloud.  'Bearable?  It was more than bearable.  My childhood was extraordinary.'"

In this beautiful memoir, Gardner exquisitely captures the life of a third-culture kid.  She spent her entire childhood in Pakistan, went off to boarding school 800 miles away at age 6, struggled through furloughs in America, battled to find her identity, yet looks back with wonder and awe.  She brings her readers into the sorrow and joy of boarding school; she is deeply honest in her assessment of her younger self; she poignantly expresses the tension of growing up between worlds.  I highly recommend this memoir to anyone who wants to better understand the TCK experience.

*half of the proceeds from this book go to help refugees



Seven Women:  And the Secret of Their Greatness by Eric Metaxas

I had mixed feelings about this one.  I really enjoy biographies (especially by Eric Metaxas), and I appreciated that he chose some well-known, and some lesser-known women for this book.  Like his other books, it was filled with well-researched, fascinating detail.  All the subjects he chose were women of faith; however, while venerating each woman, he failed to grapple with the somewhat convoluted and even disturbing aspects of some of these women's theology.  Of course, I am interested in reading the biographies of women of all beliefs, but I'm not necessarily going to endorse their theology--yet that's what it felt like Metaxas was doing.



Most Dangerous:  Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of the Vietnam War by Steve Sheinkin

I picked up this book because my education on the Vietnam War pretty much consisted of what I had seen in Forrest Gump.  I'm a college graduate, yet this very important part of America's history had never been covered in any class.

Wow.  This book had a slow start, but once I got into it, it was riveting.  By telling the story of the man who leaked the truth about the Vietnam war to the American people, Daniel Ellsberg, I learned so much about the Cold War, the four U.S. presidents involved in Vietnam, and the massive lies each of them told the American public.  Of course, the climax was Watergate and Nixon's resignation.  It was eerie to read a story that parallels so much of what is happening in today's political world.



Hotel at the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford

This was my Christmas break novel, and though it wasn't the best I've read, I really enjoyed what it taught me about the Japanese internment during World War II.  A delightful historical fiction novel with some substance.



Saving My Assassin by Virginia Prodan

Though this is not the best-written book, the story itself is astonishing.  This memoir takes place in Romania during the Cold War, and the author describes how she first became a lawyer, then a Christian, and fought for the rights of Christians in the Communist courts.  After unsuccessfully trying to shut her up, the government sent an assassin to her office.  The events which lead up to this event and what happened after it are nothing less than Providential.  Truly an inspiring story.




The Price of Privilege:  How Parental Pressure and Material Advantage Are Creating a Generation of Disconnected and Unhappy Kids by Madeline Levine

This book is a few years old now, but still just as relevant.  The take away?  Your kids need your relationship more than they need your stuff.  They need to develop character more than they need to be the best athlete, student, or musician.  Protecting them from all of life's hard things doesn't produce happy kids--it actually does the exact opposite.  An important book for today's parents.