Saturday, March 29, 2008

Easter Girl

No, that's not all her real hair! She sat for three hours to get her hair done "like the big girls." I asked Esta to bring someone to the house to do it because I didn't think Grace would do well in a salon for that long. She got to watch 3 hours of Dora so she was in heaven! I was hoping the braids would stay in for a month but a bunch of them have already fallen out. Oh well. Cute while it lasted.

We had a beautiful Easter Sunday. Gil spoke at two services--one sunrise and one normal and did a great job as usual. We had friends over for dinner--a HOPAC family of 7 and some mission friends, and then played a rousing match of "Apples to Apples."

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Musings on Missionary Life

I appreciated the comments that many of you left on my post about Esta. I thank you for your reassurance that you don’t think less of me because I have full-time house help. But I have continued to think through this issue and ask myself, “Do I feel guilty? Why am I reluctant to tell my American friends about the perks of living in Africa?”

I think that a lot of it comes from the preconceived notions that American Christians have about being a missionary. Like I said below, people think that missionaries are supposed to suffer….and therefore, that makes us more spiritual than other people. How do I know that people think this? From comments we get. Countless people have said to us, “Oh, I could never do what you do.” (Really? Even if God asked you to?) We get special prayers and special attention and special pulpit time. And every single time people come out here on short-term mission trips, they expect—and want—to suffer. “No, don’t give me a bed to sleep on! We want to sleep on the floor!” “I know I’m going to lose weight in Africa!” One team that was out here a number of years ago even refused to take showers—I guess because missionaries are supposed to be dirty.

There’s also this mentality that the more spiritual you are, the more you will want to suffer. If you are spiritual you will be a pastor or work in full time ministry in the States (making less money than “normal” people). If you are really spiritual, you will be an overseas missionary somewhere. If you are really, REALLY spiritual, you will live in mud hut with no electricity.

So if you are just an ordinary Christian in America, well then, I guess you have to settle for just “sort-of” spiritual.

Is this really how God has called us to live as Christians? I think not.

People often speak of missionaries as being “called.” Does that mean that other Christians are not called? Does God call some people to do His work and not others?

We do believe we are called to be missionaries in Tanzania. But we never heard a voice, we never saw writing on the wall, and we never opened the Bible and read, “Go ye to Africa.” How did we know? We started with a whole-hearted desire to serve God wherever, whenever. Then we simply thought about our desires, our talents, our resources, our gifts, our vision and our passions and then looked for a place with a great need and a great strategy that matched up with what we could offer. Simple as that.

But isn’t that how every Christian should live? With God’s call on our lives, living purposefully and intentionally—no matter in what circumstances that might be?

So that means, that if I am called to live in Tanzania and get the perk of house help, then that’s an added blessing. If you are called to reach out to upper-class Valencia or Palo Alto, then you get the added blessing of living in a beautiful house. Or if God has called you to live in a dingy apartment in Newhall, or on Farm Drive in San Jose, then you get the wonderful sense of community that accompanies neighborhoods like that. But mostly, you are blessed if you are living your life “on purpose” –intentionally--and are right where God wants you to be. The point is to live your life with calling.

Do we suffer in Tanzania? Just a little. Right now I am writing this in the dark because the power has once again gone off, as it does a few times every week for a few hours. Cultural and language differences are often exhausting. We often miss the conveniences of the States. We desperately miss our families and friends. But there are a million things we love about living in Africa. And we definitely don’t miss the materialism and fast-pace and commercialism of the States. But most significantly, we are hugely blessed to be exactly where God wants us to be, living our lives “on purpose” and finding great joy in our ministry. So do we deserve your sympathy? Not at all. Do we deserve to be put on a pedestal? Definitely not. Do we covet your prayers? Absolutely.

I would say the same thing if God calls us to live in a mud hut someday. Or even if He calls us to minister in Beverly Hills. Honestly, Beverly Hills would scare me more. There definitely are different types of suffering!

There are two other things about missionary life that force us to live intentionally: 1. The financial accountability of knowing that our money comes directly from God and 2. The spiritual accountability of knowing that we have to report to the 4 churches and 75 families who financially support us and the many more who pray for us.

But shouldn’t this be the attitude of every Christian? I remember once a speaker saying, “If you had to write a prayer letter each month that was sent out to your friends and family reporting what you are doing for God, would you have anything to write about?”

How true. And if every American Christian lived their life with that mentality, how much more would be accomplished for God’s kingdom! And how differently we would view missionaries. Not as people to put on a pedestal, but as fellow laborers in God’s kingdom.

Don’t get me wrong. I definitely believe that way too often, we as Christians are afraid to suffer—myself very much included. We choose comfort over pain whenever possible. As Christians we need to have the attitude of denying ourselves and giving over our reputations, comfort, and lives for the sake of the gospel, and that does often bring suffering. And I do believe that the harvest is plentiful and the workers are few—and that many Christians are living in disobedience by not heeding God’s call on their lives. But the point is that “suffering” (as we would define it) is not necessarily a mark of spirituality. Obedience and living life “on purpose” is what God desires.

Friday, March 14, 2008


Esta is a part of my life that I haven't written about yet. Mostly because I struggle with it myself so I know that others won't really understand.

Esta is my house worker. She works for me 5 days a week, for 4 or 5 hours a day. She does all of my laundry and all of my cleaning. I pay her under $100 per month, which is still way over minimum wage. You're probably thinking that I am awfully spoiled. And well, you are right. The problem is that missionaries are not supposed to be spoiled. They are supposed to suffer. Yep.

If you live in America and have a house cleaner a couple of times a month, you are lucky. And if you have a full time house worker, you are filthy stinkin' rich. That's not how it works here. Just about everyone has house workers--even house workers often have house workers. Basically, the culture says that if you have money, you share with people who have less than you. And hiring people to work for you is one way to do that. If you can afford to have workers and you don't, it's actually considered selfish.

I am extremely thankful that this is a part of African culture. If I didn't have Esta, I would need to spend a few hours a day doing what she does. I don't have a dish washer. I don't have a dryer, which means everything needs to be hung out to dry and then ironed (dryers get a lot of wrinkles out). I have no glass on my windows--only screens, and we live on a dirt road. So that means that lots of dust comes into the house every day. We have lots of visitors which means sheets and towels are constantly being washed and dozens of glasses cleaned. Esta does all of this for me.

Even with all of this, I still struggle with having a house worker sometimes. Sometimes I want more privacy. Sometimes I want things done "my way," and no matter how many times I explain the difference between Gil's t-shirts and dress shirts, I find his t-shirts neatly ironed and hung in the closet, and his dress shirts folded and put in the drawers.

But don't get me wrong. Having Esta is a huge blessing. Her work is what allows me the time to teach 6th grade Bible at HOPAC, and work on my Master's Degree, and coordinate the after-school program....and...pretty much everything else I do. She is also fantastic with Grace and a great friend to me.

The picture of Esta above includes her brand new baby. Guess what she named her? Amy. Yep, that's right. It is a big honor. Definitely a little strange for me. I am not the closest person in Esta's life. But I probably have the most resources of anyone she knows. Naming her daughter after me helps to ensure that her daughter will be well cared for, in Tanzanian culture.

Having a house worker is actually investing in a family. While Esta has been on maternity leave, her sister-in-law has worked for us. We've helped when her husband has been out of work. We're helping with the sister-in-law's wedding. We paid for her medical costs when she had her baby (you won't believe this folks--total cost came to about $75).

Domie, our night guard, also works for us. So does Gibbie, who is our Saturday gardener (the grass must be cut by machete and watered by hand). We are considered unusal because we don't have a day guard as well, but we feel like our neighborhood is pretty safe. We know many people who also have a full-time nanny and a full-time cook. Many people think it is strange that I take care of Grace almost entirely by myself.
So there you have it. I am a spoiled missionary. You are no longer allowed to feel sorry for me. :-)

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Shadows that lurk behind my children

I’ve been thinking a lot about my baby boy lately. He is still nameless and faceless to me, but we are far enough along in the process to guess that he has most likely been born by now, and is in an orphanage somewhere. I wonder what he looks like, what his personality will be like, how he will grow up to be. Probably similar to what most pregnant moms think about.

The main difference is that I can’t help but also think about his birthmother. She chose life for her son. But is she struggling right now? Is she dying of AIDS? Was she raped and deserted? Is she so poor she can hardly feed herself? Does she think about her son and wonder what will happen to him?

I often think about Grace’s birthmother too. We know absolutely nothing about her. We never will. There aren’t some “sealed documents” somewhere that Grace can open when she’s 18. I love my daughter so much that it hurts. I can’t imagine loving a child more. It’s not until I am out in public and getting strange stares from people that I remember that not everyone can tell she is my daughter. But I often think about how my joy is another woman’s sadness. I see Grace laugh and play and run and sing and dance and I’m sad for what her birthmother is missing. What an amazing gift I have been given. How precious is God’s Grace.

What would her life be like if she was still in the village? 1 in 9 Tanzanian children die before their 5th birthday. One in nine! Over 10% of Tanzanians are dying of AIDS. Over 50% live in poverty or below poverty. It’s hard for me to even fathom my daughter growing up that way. It’s one thing to think about nameless, faceless children growing up in poverty. It’s another thing when one of them is my daughter. And even harder to think that the woman who conceived her and gave her birth is still living that way—if she is still living. She will never know how amazing her daughter is.

Will Grace ever realize what God has saved her from? Probably not until she is much, much older. She is still selfish and foolish and demanding--like any other child. Do I ever realize what I have been saved from?

“How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!”

Friday, March 7, 2008

Read This Book

We recently started a Book Discussion Group for Nancy Pearcey's book, Total Truth, with HOPAC staff. Why? Because it's a life changing book. Because we can't think of a better book for teachers to read. Because we can't think of many other better books for a Christian to read.

If you are a Christian, read this book.

It's about worldview--the way we view the world--and it challenges us to view the world biblically. It's not an easy read. It's a long book, and it takes a long time to read. But it is absolutely fascinating. It will change the way you think about everything. It will challenge the ways that you are seeing the world from a secular perspective, and you don't even realize it.

Gil and I are both readers and have read lots and lots of books. This book is in our "Top 5" for both of us. Read this book!

Order it from Amazon or CBD today!

Let me know if you read it. I would love to hear what you think!

Sometimes, You Just Want Stonefire

Those of you from Santa Clarita know what I'm talking about. Wouldn't you miss Stonefire too? So I had leftover barbequed beef, and I attempted to remember all of the other ingredients...beans, corn, cilantro.... The only thing I didn't have were the tortilla chips, which I can't get here.

So this was my attempt at Stonefire's BBQ Chopped Salad. I even made breadsticks on the side.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Second Annual Medina Candy Potluck

Fun tradition we've started with the single/young married teachers at HOPAC....sub sandwiches, sitcoms, and lots o' candy. Come join us next year! (We're still in need of a math teacher....)