Saturday, August 29, 2020

If You Wonder Where I've Gone.....

Thanks for checking in! I haven't posted for a while because I am working on a brand new blog site. I will be excited to introduce you to it soon and I hope you will follow me there!

Monday, July 13, 2020

Why I'm Becoming a Third Class Missionary



This time last year, Gil and I made the decision that we would be relocating to the States in 2020. As we started thinking about where we would go and what we would do in America, there were a lot of possibilities on the table.

There was one thing, however, that I was adamant about. Whatever we decided to do next, I did not want to be in a support-raising position. One of my most popular-ever posts is In Defense of Second Class Missionaries. If being missionary teachers made us second-class missionaries, then living stateside on support would put us in third-class missionary status. No sirree; I was not going to do that. It was hard enough raising support to live overseas, but stateside missionaries don't excite anyone. We would get regular jobs that paid regular salaries and we would be regular Americans. So no matter how cool an opportunity sounded to me, if it required raising support, I was out.

But I have this wonderful friend, Alyssa, who has this habit of drilling into my soul. So when I told her my intention of finding a regular, non-support-raising job, she was not satisfied. "Why not?" she asked me. "What if God shows you the perfect job that is a perfect fit for you, but you have to raise support for it? Would you still say no?"

Of course, since I wanted to sound like a good Christian, I sighed and promised that I would do my best to keep an open mind to whatever God wanted me to do. But inwardly, my mind was still made up. No way. I've lived on support for 18 years. And I know what the American church thinks about third-class missionaries. It's time to move on.

Throughout the fall, Gil and I had numerous conversations with various ministry leaders, some from Reach Global (our mission agency) and some with other organizations, all desiring to recruit us. They were support-raising positions, and some sounded pretty enticing. However, it was during this time that we came to the conclusion that we wanted to live in California, and that we wanted our kids in Christian schools. That meant either Gil or I would need to work for a Christian school in order to afford it. So it wasn't difficult to say no to those opportunities.

Then came a call in late December from the leader of the Engage Division of Reach Global. He was encouraging me to consider joining their team as a Pre-Deployed Missionary Coach. The leader described the position: Interviewing potential missionary candidates, coaching and training accepted candidates, and helping them discover where in the world God was leading them.

Despite my best efforts to not be interested, I was instantly energized during this conversation. This would be a job I would love. This would be a job I would be good at. And I could do it from anywhere in the United States.

But I was still very determined that I did not want to accept a support-raising position. So it was off the table....right? Besides, either Gil or I needed to teach at a Christian school. That was the first priority. So I couldn't say yes....right?

Yet, I couldn't shake the idea that I was uniquely qualified for this job. Not only had I served in missions for 16 years, I also had been a missionary kid. During our years in Tanzania, I reveled in helping new missionaries adjust to life overseas. Being part of a missionary school, I worked with missionaries from a multitude of countries, ages, and seasons of life. I've experienced the ugly, the crazy, and the beautiful in missionary communities. I've been writing for A Life Overseas, a blog dedicated to missionaries, for five years. Promoting missions, and enabling missionaries to do their jobs well, is a passion of mine. Plus, I now have three years of experience in administration. Interviewing, hiring, coaching, and training have all been a part of my job as principal.

Yet I did not want to raise support. Period. I battled with God on this. I had done my time, right? This was my chance to be a regular person with a regular job. Meanwhile, Gil and I were busily applying to Christian school jobs all over California. Some teaching possibilities opened for me, but they were not in great locations for our family. So I kept those on hold.

Then in late May Gil got the perfect job at the perfect Christian school in the perfect location. And suddenly, I had no more excuses.

I talked to Alyssa again. "I really want to do the Engage job," I told her. "But I just don't want to raise support." And Alyssa, in her kind but soul-drilling way, said to me, "Amy, you don't whine very often. So when you do, I know you must be trying to avoid something that you know you are supposed to do."

She got me. I knew she was right. So I forced myself to take a good hard look at why I was so opposed to taking a job that required me to raise support. And the picture that came to my mind was my friend Lois.

Lois was a widow. Lois supported us at $200 a month for several years as a widow. She developed cancer, and a few years I ago when we were in the States, I visited her in her nursing home. I talked with her about how grateful we were that she supported us so generously for so long. "It's my pleasure," she told me. "You know, I discussed this with my kids. They agreed that they didn't need a big inheritance. They were okay with me giving away my money to missionaries."

And I just sat there dumbfounded. I still am dumbfounded. Why would anyone do that? Why would someone make that kind of sacrifice? For me?

Lois died about six weeks after that meeting. Recounting that conversation still brings tears to my eyes. I have dozens of stories like this. There are so many who blow me away by their consistent, faithful, sacrificial generosity.

And I am humbled. That's it. That's the clincher. I realized that's why I have been so opposed to staying on support. I think of Lois, and so many other scores of faces, and I am ground to the dust in gratitude. Basically that's why I was kicking and screaming all this time: I was too proud to admit how much I didn't want to be humbled. And knowing that I would be demoted to third-class missionary status didn't help. Though I knew I would love doing this job, I wouldn't have any cool Africa stories any more. I wouldn't be on the "front lines." I would be behind the scenes, which definitely isn't very glamorous. I knew it would be a lot harder, and a lot more humbling, to raise the support I needed.

Which, when I finally admitted it to myself, was not a reason at all. As a child of God, if this is the job I am called to do, then I should welcome the big gulp of humility I must take by remaining dependent on God and His church to provide for my needs.

So about a month ago, I accepted the job. I will officially start in September, and I've made an initial commitment of two years. I am very excited, but nervously trusting that God is going to make this work.

And, for the first time ever on this blog, I'm asking you, my readers, if there are any out there who would be interested in joining my financial support team. If that could be you, then please read the information at the bottom of this post, or click on to the next post for answers to frequently asked questions.

Some of you may have been wondering what is going to happen to this blog now that I'm no longer in Africa, and I've been thinking a lot about that too. I know I need a re-design, and I'm working on that. One of the exciting parts of my new job is that it will allow me to continue to keep reading, thinking deeply, and writing about missions. I hope you'll come along as I start Part 2 of my life as an enthusiastic, third-class missionary.

***

If you would like to partner with me in this role, pray for me, or support me financially, please read on...

If you would like to be on my mailing list (if you are not already), please email me at everyoneneedsalittlegrace(at)gmail.com and I would be happy to add you! No more cool Africa stories, but I will be sharing about how God is using me to send new missionaries around the world.

If you are interested in supporting me financially, you can go here to donate. Designate to Amy Medina, #1929. However, a better way to donate is by automatic bank transfer because there are no fees and it doesn't expire like credit cards do. If you want to set that up, you can click here. Checks can be sent to EFCA Donor Services, 901 East 78th Street, Minneapolis, MN 55420-1300. Include a note designating to Amy Medina, #1929. All donations are tax deductible.

Remember, click on to the next post if you have additional questions about how this works.

Friday, July 10, 2020

Why Should I Support a Third-Class Missionary?

Thanks for clicking! If you haven't already, please read the previous post first.

Here are some answers to some commonly asked questions about raising support.

Why do you need to raise support for this job? Why can't Reach Global just pay you?

Missions is not exactly an income-generating industry. Though there are a couple of denominations that require their churches to donate to a mission organization, most don't. So that means that even for stateside positions like mine, employees need to raise support. The alternative would be that other missionaries raise additional funds that would pay for my salary. That's not unheard of, since some administrative employees in Reach Global's national office are paid this way. But as you can imagine, we would rather not put the burden of those salaries onto other missionaries.

Where does the money go when someone donates?

Each mission agency does this a little differently, but with Reach Global, donated money goes into a ministry account for that particular missionary. Salaries, insurance, pension, etc. are all taken out of that account. If there is extra money in it, missionaries can also use that account to pay for things that would normally be considered a business expense, like travel or conferences.

The amount missionaries have to raise is a lot higher than what they receive as a monthly salary. This is because they also need to raise funds for health insurance, retirement, flights and visa expenses, as well as a service allocation that goes to the mission.

How is your salary set?

For Reach Global, the standard missionary salary is based on the average salary of associate pastors at EFCA churches. Other factors influence salary, including the number of children and the cost of living in a particular country. If the funds in a missionary's ministry account go too low, then their salary is also lowered.

Gil and I have only ever received one salary from Reach Global, even when both of us were working full-time. That's because it's considered more of a stipend than a salary; it's based on how much we need to live on. There aren't raises connected to work performance or level of education. (As a side note, Reach Global has other measures in place to ensure work performance and accountability, since salary is not linked to that.)

So how will this work with you now being the Reach Global employee instead of Gil?

To put it simply, the ministry account will be changed over from Gil's name into mine and I will be the official employee. For those who have already been donating to that account, nothing will change on the donor's end.

Why are you looking for more donors if you already had enough during your time in Tanzania? Since Gil has a job as well, don't you need less support?

Yes, I will need less financial support for this position than what we were receiving for our ministry in Tanzania. Our kids' insurance will be covered by Gil's new job and there are other cuts that will lower the amount I need to raise. I anticipate the amount I will need in my ministry account will be about 30% less than what we needed to raise for Tanzania.

However, after contacting our current supporters, it looks like I will be losing about 50% of my support base. This is not surprising, nor am I hurt by this! Some of our supporters have passed away, some have retired, some want to stick with overseas missionaries, some have changed churches and want to support missionaries at their new church. The stipend we received from HOPAC towards our housing is also no longer part of our support. I anticipate needing to raise an additional $1000-$2000 per month in order to be able to meet my funding goal.

If we could survive in Southern California on Gil's teacher's salary, I would happily volunteer for this position with Reach Global. But even though we are frugal and have no debt, I need to receive a salary. Since God has made it clear that this is the position I need to take, then I am trusting He will provide the support I need.

So why should I consider supporting you as a stateside missionary? Aren't overseas missionaries more urgent and important?

I'm not going to give an easy yes/no answer to this question. This is the thing: As an advocate for missions, I want you to support overseas missionaries or ministries who are doing strategic, front line work. If you are a Christian and have never financially supported an overseas missionary, you need to find one! Partnering with these folks is urgent and important, and if you tell me that you are prioritizing overseas missionaries, I will never once question you on it. How could I? I was one myself for 16 years, and my next job will be to advocate for them.

However, overseas missionaries have a symbiotic relationship with people in positions like the one I am taking. Rarely can a missionary successfully live overseas long-term without being coached and trained. So yes, I want you to support overseas missionaries. But is a position like mine also important? Well, I wouldn't have said yes if it wasn't!

What about COVID? How is that impacting the future of missions? Are there even going to be any missionaries to send anymore?

I have thought long and hard about this question and discussed it extensively with mission leadership. COVID absolutely is impacting missions now and will be for the foreseeable future. This is definitely an opportunity for the Global Church to re-evaluate how we do evangelism and missions worldwide. But is the Great Commission finished? Absolutely not. And the American Church is still the most well-resourced church in the world. That doesn't mean we get to call the shots (quite the contrary), but it does mean we continue to have a responsibility to do our part to build God's kingdom around the world. In fact, I would argue that COVID has increased the urgency and opportunity of overseas missions.

Interestingly, Reach Global has seen an uptick in missionary applications during this last quarter. COVID has not slowed down the call of God on people's lives to serve overseas. I look forward to working with the next generation of missionaries to creatively spread the gospel.

What do I need to do if I want to partner with you, pray for you, or support you financially?

If you would like to be on my mailing list (if you are not already), please email me at everyoneneedsalittlegrace(at)gmail.com and I would be happy to add you! No more cool Africa stories, but I will be sharing about how God is using me to send new missionaries around the world.

If you are interested in supporting me financially, you can go here to donate. Designate to Amy Medina, #1929. However, a better way to donate is by automatic bank transfer because there are no fees and it doesn't expire like credit cards do. If you want to set that up, you can click here. Checks can be sent to EFCA Donor Services, 901 East 78th Street, Minneapolis, MN 55420-1300. Include a note designating to Amy Medina, #1929. All donations are tax deductible.

If you choose to do this, please send me an email letting me know you are doing so and if it's a one-time donation or monthly, as this helps me to plan ahead.

If you've gotten this far, thanks for reading! Please know that I would be very happy to answer any other questions, so don't hesitate to email me.

Why I'm Becoming a Third Class Missionary



This time last year, Gil and I made the decision that we would be relocating to the States in 2020. As we started thinking about where we would go and what we would do in America, there were a lot of possibilities on the table.

There was one thing, however, that I was adamant about. Whatever we decided to do next, I did not want to be in a support-raising position. One of my most popular-ever posts is In Defense of Second Class Missionaries. If being missionary teachers made us second-class missionaries, then living stateside on support would put us in third-class missionary status. No sirree; I was not going to do that. It was hard enough raising support to live overseas, but stateside missionaries don't excite anyone. We would get regular jobs that paid regular salaries and we would be regular Americans. So no matter how cool an opportunity sounded to me, if it required raising support, I was out.

But I have this wonderful friend, Alyssa, who has this habit of drilling into my soul. So when I told her my intention of finding a regular, non-support-raising job, she was not satisfied. "Why not?" she asked me. "What if God shows you the perfect job that is a perfect fit for you, but you have to raise support for it? Would you still say no?"

Of course, since I wanted to sound like a good Christian, I sighed and promised that I would do my best to keep an open mind to whatever God wanted me to do. But inwardly, my mind was still made up. No way. I've lived on support for 18 years. And I know what the American church thinks about third-class missionaries. It's time to move on.

Throughout the fall, Gil and I had numerous conversations with various ministry leaders, some from Reach Global (our mission agency) and some with other organizations, all desiring to recruit us. They were support-raising positions, and some sounded pretty enticing. However, it was during this time that we came to the conclusion that we wanted to live in California, and that we wanted our kids in Christian schools. That meant either Gil or I would need to work for a Christian school in order to afford it. So it wasn't difficult to say no to those opportunities.

Then came a call in late December from the leader of the Engage Division of Reach Global. He was encouraging me to consider joining their team as a Pre-Deployed Missionary Coach. The leader described the position: Interviewing potential missionary candidates, coaching and training accepted candidates, and helping them discover where in the world God was leading them.

Despite my best efforts to not be interested, I was instantly energized during this conversation. This would be a job I would love. This would be a job I would be good at. And I could do it from anywhere in the United States.

But I was still very determined that I did not want to accept a support-raising position. So it was off the table....right? Besides, either Gil or I needed to teach at a Christian school. That was the first priority. So I couldn't say yes....right?

Yet, I couldn't shake the idea that I was uniquely qualified for this job. Not only had I served in missions for 16 years, I also had been a missionary kid. During our years in Tanzania, I reveled in helping new missionaries adjust to life overseas. Being part of a missionary school, I worked with missionaries from a multitude of countries, ages, and seasons of life. I've experienced the ugly, the crazy, and the beautiful in missionary communities. I've been writing for A Life Overseas, a blog dedicated to missionaries, for five years. Promoting missions, and enabling missionaries to do their jobs well, is a passion of mine. Plus, I now have three years of experience in administration. Interviewing, hiring, coaching, and training have all been a part of my job as principal.

Yet I did not want to raise support. Period. I battled with God on this. I had done my time, right? This was my chance to be a regular person with a regular job. Meanwhile, Gil and I were busily applying to Christian school jobs all over California. Some teaching possibilities opened for me, but they were not in great locations for our family. So I kept those on hold.

Then in late May Gil got the perfect job at the perfect Christian school in the perfect location. And suddenly, I had no more excuses.

I talked to Alyssa again. "I really want to do the Engage job," I told her. "But I just don't want to raise support." And Alyssa, in her kind but soul-drilling way, said to me, "Amy, you don't whine very often. So when you do, I know you must be trying to avoid something that you know you are supposed to do."

She got me. I knew she was right. So I forced myself to take a good hard look at why I was so opposed to taking a job that required me to raise support. And the picture that came to my mind was my friend Lois.

Lois was a widow. Lois supported us at $200 a month for several years as a widow. She developed cancer, and a few years I ago when we were in the States, I visited her in her nursing home. I talked with her about how grateful we were that she supported us so generously for so long. "It's my pleasure," she told me. "You know, I discussed this with my kids. They agreed that they didn't need a big inheritance. They were okay with me giving away my money to missionaries."

And I just sat there dumbfounded. I still am dumbfounded. Why would anyone do that? Why would someone make that kind of sacrifice? For me?

Lois died about six weeks after that meeting. Recounting that conversation still brings tears to my eyes. I have dozens of stories like this. There are so many who blow me away by their consistent, faithful, sacrificial generosity.

And I am humbled. That's it. That's the clincher. I realized that's why I have been so opposed to staying on support. I think of Lois, and so many other scores of faces, and I am ground to the dust in gratitude. Basically that's why I was kicking and screaming all this time: I was too proud to admit how much I didn't want to be humbled. And knowing that I would be demoted to third-class missionary status didn't help. Though I knew I would love doing this job, I wouldn't have any cool Africa stories any more. I wouldn't be on the "front lines." I would be behind the scenes, which definitely isn't very glamorous. I knew it would be a lot harder, and a lot more humbling, to raise the support I needed.

Which, when I finally admitted it to myself, was not a reason at all. As a child of God, if this is the job I am called to do, then I should welcome the big gulp of humility I must take by remaining dependent on God and His church to provide for my needs.

So about a month ago, I accepted the job. I will officially start in September, and I've made an initial commitment of two years. I am very excited, but nervously trusting that God is going to make this work.

And, for the first time ever on this blog, I'm asking you, my readers, if there are any out there who would be interested in joining my financial support team. If that could be you, then please read the information at the bottom of this post, or click on to the next post for answers to frequently asked questions.

Some of you may have been wondering what is going to happen to this blog now that I'm no longer in Africa, and I've been thinking a lot about that too. I know I need a re-design, and I'm working on that. One of the exciting parts of my new job is that it will allow me to continue to keep reading, thinking deeply, and writing about missions. I hope you'll come along as I start Part 2 of my life as an enthusiastic, third-class missionary.

***

If you would like to partner with me in this role, pray for me, or support me financially, please read on...

If you would like to be on my mailing list (if you are not already), please email me at everyoneneedsalittlegrace(at)gmail.com and I would be happy to add you! No more cool Africa stories, but I will be sharing about how God is using me to send new missionaries around the world.

If you are interested in supporting me financially, you can go here to donate. Designate to Amy Medina, #1929. However, a better way to donate is by automatic bank transfer because there are no fees and it doesn't expire like credit cards do. If you want to set that up, you can click here. Checks can be sent to EFCA Donor Services, 901 East 78th Street, Minneapolis, MN 55420-1300. Include a note designating to Amy Medina, #1929. All donations are tax deductible.

Remember, click on to the next post if you have additional questions about how this works.

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

You Can't Really Call This Moving



During the last three months, I owned practically no possessions. I don't think I've ever really experienced that. The boxes we brought from Tanzania consisted of wall decorations, photo albums, and Christmas ornaments. Important, but not exactly essentials for starting a new life.

When it came to actual useful things, the only things I brought with me were my Cutco knives, my cheese grater (because it's awesome), and some clothes and shoes. Josiah would include his Xbox in that category, which he carried over the ocean in his backpack.

Aaaand....that was pretty much the sum total of our possessions. The things we had left in storage in our parents' garages consisted of plenty more non-useful things like books of stories I wrote in the third grade. Amusing, but not particularly practical.

So when I say that we moved into our apartment last week, I don't think moved is the correct verb. More like, we opened our Rubbermaid totes full of colorful African-styled picture frames to hang on the empty walls and I put my Cutco knives into the otherwise empty drawers and we stacked up our clothes in our empty closets and spread out sleeping bags on the floor. But there isn't a verb for that. 

So this was my first time needing to buy, well, everything. When we got married we had a wedding registry as well as the bits and pieces Gil and I had collected from single life. When we moved to Tanzania, we borrowed furniture at first, and then bought an entire household of furniture/appliances/kitchen stuff/car from a leaving missionary. We still needed to fill in some gaps, but generally, we had most of what we needed, all at once.

So you could say that our moving day this time was a bit anti-climactic. Pretty much everything fit into our van, which we had just purchased two weeks prior, financially benefiting from the fleets of vehicles dumped by car-rental companies. Thanks, COVID, for a great van. We'll call it a consolation prize for everything else you stole from us. The last two weeks it's been our collecting van, as we have been driving all over a 40 mile radius, picking up furniture from people selling online. It's like the Great Medina Scavenger Hunt of 2020, and that van managed to squeeze in (not all at once, of course) a sectional couch, two bunk bed sets, a desk, a coffee table, and three trips to IKEA. (IKEA is one of the happiest places on earth, and now it's even more like Disneyland because you have to wait in line for 45 minutes just to get in.)

Hey, did you know that IKEA sells mattresses wrapped up like a burrito, like one of those magic grow capsules? Except, instead of putting it into water, you just cut the plastic off and watch it magically grow into a mattress instead of a sponge dinosaur. Now you know. You're welcome.

Lily and I went to Walmart the day we moved in, and I should have just told a worker, "Give me one of everything you've got, please." We walked down every aisle and filled two carts to overflowing before we called it a day. I needed to buy a stapler, because we didn't have a stapler. How many times in a life do you need to buy a stapler? Not very often. Only when you own no possessions.

We now have visited every thrift store in the city and can speak with authority about our favorites. We made a garage seller's day when we showed up and bought out all of their furniture, lickity-split, in 5 seconds flat. I've discovered that the words "estate sale" are especially thrilling. Josiah and Johnny even found a $20 like-new Foosball table. 

Thankfully by now everyone is sleeping on a bed and almost all of the clothes have somewhere to go and my knives have friends in the kitchen drawers and I even found a large set of used Fiestaware dishes, which make me happy every time I see them. The Tanzanian decorations are on the walls and finally, finally, finally we are starting to settle. Johnny has asked at least three times, "So we are living here now?" and I don't think he really believes me since we've been changing locations so often these months. 

But we have keys. We have an address. It'll do for home.


Thursday, July 2, 2020

The End of Part One

I remember my first night in Africa.

I had just turned six years old about a week earlier, so it was that time of life when memories are short bursts--seconds, really--like someone cut a few frames out of an old-time movie reel.

I don't remember saying goodbye to my grandmother; I don't remember the plane ride or who picked us up from the airport. But I remember my first night in Liberia.

Those few seconds of memory consist of a mental image of my room--the bed up against the wall and under the window. A window screen separated me from the jungle just a few feet outside. It was almost dark. The air felt different, I remember. Warmer, heavier, richer. I don't think I felt afraid, just interest, and curiosity, in all the strange newness that enveloped me.

Such lack of fear is the blessing of childhood. There was a hole in that screen about a the size of a quarter, and it made my mother very worried that a snake would come through that hole and devour her only daughter on her first night in Africa. Thankfully, no snake came in and ate me. Only mosquitoes did.

I am 43 years old, and I have spent 22 of them on the African continent. This year tipped the scale, just over half of my life spent there versus here. Other than those first six years before Liberia, all the other years in America were defined by my time in Africa. Ask anyone who knew me during the longest stretch I lived in the States--10th grade through college--and they'll agree that I was single-minded in my desire to return to the continent of my upbringing. A guy told me in college, "No one will want to date you if your goal is to live in Africa." I didn't care. And he was wrong.

It won't be long before the scale is tipped back to the American side. The difference this time is that I look into the foreseeable future and all I see is a life here. Of course, I know that might not be true; life in its twists and turns leads us all kinds of places. My children are international and will probably want to live international lives, so who knows where Gil and I will end up? But that is still a long way away. For now, I am here.

We moved into our apartment, so this week I've been finally unpacking all of the things I brought from Tanzania. The emotion of leaving so suddenly swept over me again, as I visualized the panicked hours spent stuffing those things into those boxes. I had to wipe dust off of the picture frames. I packed so hastily that I didn't even have time to clean them first.

This is Tanzanian dust I'm wiping off, I thought. This is the earth of the continent I called home for 22 years. I wrung out the rag in the sink and watched the brown water seep away from me, into the Californian earth.

For the past three months, I have stubbornly refused to let go. I still had a job, and it was in Tanzania, so that gave me good reason to keep my mind and heart there. The bookmark in my planner is still stuck on the week of March 16, even though I kept using the rest of the pages. I unpacked my watch, and it was still running on East African time.

But now the time has come that would have been the end, even in that alternate universe. This day, or one of the next few days, would have been my last in Tanzania. I must now plant my feet firmly in this American soil, like it or not.

I don't really know who I am in America. I don't know what kind of American I'll be, what with the 22 years of Africa stuffed into me. I never really belonged in Africa, of course, no matter what I told myself. It wasn't mine to call my own. But still, the continent gave me so much: Unparalleled experiences. Courage to stretch beyond my naturally cautious instincts. Recognition of my incredibly privileged life. Faith that was battered and questioned and strengthened. Extraordinary perspective. Four remarkable children. It is impossible to imagine who I would be without Africa.

Somehow, I must figure out how not to just live as an American, but as an American who has spent 22 years in Africa. If my life were a book, Part Two would be just beginning.

Gil Medina, Mikumi National Park, Tanzania

Thursday, June 18, 2020

The Last Day: March 13 and June 18


Today, June 18, 2020 is the last day of school at Haven of Peace Academy. It's still morning here in California but it's night in Tanzania, so the day is done. We just finished our Last Day Assembly as a Zoom call, live streamed on Facebook for the whole community. After so many years of saying goodbye to others at the Last Day Assembly, for the first time, my children and I were listed as "leavers." My HOPAC family loved me well today, having flowers delivered and enfolding me in their love, even across all of the distance between us.

About a week ago, our HR gal sent me the "Leaving Staff Exit Interview" form to fill out. And I sat there and stared at this form that I personally have given to many staff members, and wondered what on earth I would write. What are the highlights of your time at HOPAC? How would you rate your HOPAC experience? How could I possibly answer those questions? I arrived at HOPAC at age 24; now I'm 43. HOPAC has not been an experience. HOPAC has been my life.

My dad prayed by the baobab tree on the HOPAC campus before it was built. I was the first teacher to step into the fifth grade classroom on the Mbezi Beach campus in 2001. The cement dust hadn't been swept away yet and the chalkboards hadn't been nailed to the walls. I was there to see more and more of the coconut trees from the original plantation be cut down and replaced with the the science building, pool, admin building, library, performing arts building, kitchen, cafeteria, and playground--a rustic, rural patch of land transformed into our Haven of Peace.

I grew up along with HOPAC. I poured my soul and tears and sweat (so much sweat, this is the tropics, after all) into this school and in return its people and experiences twisted and turned me inside out, stripped me down and built me back up again. We are inextricably linked, HOPAC and me.

Friday, March 13, was the last day I saw my students. We thought that we were kicking off Service Emphasis Week (SEW), so at the end of that day, everybody put their SEW shirts on and squished into the performing arts building. The speaker had the kids make paper airplanes that said "SEW Go For It!" and at the end of her talk, everybody threw them in the air, hundreds of them.

Two days later, Service Emphasis Week was cancelled and the campus shut down. And just a few days after that, I was on a literal airplane, wrenched away from my home, my country, my Haven.

None of us knew that would be our last day together. But at least those last minutes of that last day were spent together, all 500 of us scrunched together, sharing the same space. We belly laughed over the group of teachers who did their rendition of "I Will Follow You." The air crackled with expectancy and excitement. And because it was a special event, we got lots of pictures, including a group picture of all of us. Who would have known how important those pictures would turn out to be?

I am thankful the SEW assembly was our last time together, full of joy and anticipation, because it's a sweet memory in contrast to following 3 months of sorrow upon sorrow. The frantic evacuation of many of our staff, many of us not knowing what was going on or why we were even in this position, far more fearful of our rapidly changing world than we were of the virus. The devastation of those left behind or who chose to stay behind. The heartbreak of the first COVID death in Tanzania being a HOPAC parent. Discovering that our beloved pastor and chaplain has brain cancer. Trying to keep a school and a community together while spread out across the globe.

There has been very little joy in my life the last three months. Just trauma, uncertainty, stress, guilt, regret, and sorrow. Sitting in front of a computer day after day, living out of suitcases for months, not knowing what the next week would hold, I had a dogged determination to finish my job as well as I could, but there was very little light in that fog.

So finishing today, like this, is not what I wanted or planned, but it is what it is. And despite it all, there is sweetness in the sorrow. Relief and gratitude and the seedlings of joy. Because nothing--not distance, nor time, nor COVID-19, can ever take away what Haven of Peace Academy is to me.