Friday, January 30, 2009

Do You Like It There?

I get this question a lot. It’s usually asked with a degree of uncertainty, as if the person were saying, “Is it possible for an American to like living in Africa?”

Do I like living in Tanzania? Well, I would certainly hope so. My life would be pretty miserable if I didn’t.

There are a million things I love about Tanzania. Purple and pink and white bougainvillea, the sparkling Indian ocean with the temperature of bath water, delicious vegetables and tropical fruit, the friendliness and openness of Tanzanians, the richness of the African and Indian cultures present in the city, the smell of the rain. I feel less pressure here to look a certain way or buy certain things. I like being away from television. I like being away from consumerism. I like that living here makes us appreciate the little things of life more.

More significant is that Gil and I absolutely love working at HOPAC. As I said before, it is a perfect fit for us. For me personally, ministry at HOPAC has been exhilarating. I love kids; I love teaching; I love education as a field. During these last 4 years, I haven’t been teaching full time, and my role at HOPAC has lessened as our family has grown. But HOPAC is a young school (about 15 years old), which means that a lot of things are still “a work in progress” and Gil and I have had the fabulous opportunity to really be instrumental in getting a lot of things going. It is so fulfilling to not just be a part of the school, but to be a part of making it even better. For example, during the last four years, I’ve had a part in getting a staff/parents association going, providing opportunities for parents to support staff, getting an after-school program up and running, tutoring ESL kids, helping with the recruitment program, writing a handbook for new teachers, establishing a counseling policy, teaching elementary chapel once a week, assisting with drama, starting a service emphasis week, helping with a service learning class, starting a schoolwide memory verse program, and chaperoning field trips. Gil's list would be even longer. Among many other things, Gil has set the Bible curriculum for the entire jr. high and high school. I love this! Not only do I love the vision of HOPAC, but I love that we are able to really be a part of building the school’s foundation.

Of course this doesn’t mean that I love everything here. If you are a regular reader of my blog, you know that we do face different kinds of challenges that we would in the States. But the hardest part, by far, is being so far away from family and friends. I tell new missionaries all the time, “You’ll get used to the way of life in about 6-9 months, but you never get used to missing the people you love.” But we definitely have it better than missionaries a generation ago, with the advent of the internet and cheaper air travel. And is there really anywhere in the world where life is perfect?

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Christmas in January

Thanks, FCC! You made our day!

Stephanie, her response was, "Wow!"

Thanks so much to Kathi, Patricia, Sherry, Jessie, Matt, Stephanie, Renee, Melissa, Bidollis, Hances, Gleesons, Mills, Secors, Hartmans, and Kallins! We love you and we loved your package!

Sunday, January 25, 2009

How Could You Take Your Kids There?

I don’t hear this question. Probably because my kids are…uh, Tanzanian.

Ironic, isn’t it? Why should it matter?

But my parents heard this question when my family went overseas, and other missionary friends hear it about their kids. Before we had kids, people would tell me, “I could never do what you do…but then, I have kids.”

How can missionaries take their kids to the ends of the earth where there isn’t indoor plumbing, there’s bats and spiders and giant cockroaches and strange diseases, where they will be ‘deprived’ of American culture, and the cannibals are restless at night?

Hmmm. Well, if you put it that way, it does sound pretty scary.

In all honesty, it possibly is more dangerous here than the States. We have a much greater probability of being robbed, getting into a car accident, catching a scary disease, and not receiving the same standard of medical care as we would in the States. Tanzania is a stable country but it is true that African countries have a tendency to break out in war—my family was evacuated from two countries when I was a kid. Before we came out here, we could find only one…one!…agency that would give us life insurance. And that’s with two agents checking every agency they could think of. That was a little unnerving.

So. Here are my thoughts on this issue.

I agree that there are many Christians who have sacrificed their children on the altar of work or ministry. But I also do think that it is possible for Christians to elevate their children to idol status. Did Scripture ever say, “Make all your decisions to benefit your children?” Does it ever say, or even imply, to make your children your highest priority in life? Hmmm…. If you think so, I would appreciate discussion.

But Scripture does say this: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters--yes, even his own life--he cannot be my disciple.” Luke 14:26

Now of course, we know what Jesus is not saying here. He is obviously using hyperbole. But what he is saying is that nothing, nothing, not even your beloved family comes before obedience to Him.

Thus, may I venture to conclude that our children are not our highest priority as believers. Glorifying God through obedience is our highest priority, and therefore trusting Him with our children for whatever He asks us to do.

There is indeed a delicate balance here. Of course, I believe that children are a gift from God and that they need to know through our words, actions, and time that they are incredibly and indispensably valuable, and that there is very little that will ever be more important than them. And I can think of quite a few situations regarding our children that could cause us to return to the States (serious illness or emotional trauma, significant learning disabilities--to name a few). But I am not the ultimate protector of my children—God is. And if He desires us to live in Tanzania, then I entrust Him with the additional dangers.

That said, I also assure you that being an MK is one of the best things that can happen to a kid. Our kids are growing up with friends from all over the world and a deep appreciation for other cultures. They will have a first-hand understanding of poverty and therefore an appreciation for what they have. MK’s in general tend to be extremely creative, very adventurous, mature in conversation with adults, more knowledgeable about the world, and less shallow than many American kids. I love the fact that my kids are growing up in Africa—no matter what nationality they are!

And finally, “there is no safer place than the will of God.” Commonly said; very true.

Friday, January 23, 2009

How Were You "Called" to be a Missionary?

The Christian use of the word “called” is elusive. Christians use it to explain why they don’t do something: “I wasn’t called to do that,” or they use it to justify a choice that they’ve made.

But what does it really mean to be called? I think a lot of people assume it is a feeling, a “peace,” or even more dramatic like a dream or vision. But in Scripture, that happens only very rarely.

Gil and I did not become missionaries because of a dream, vision, sign, or a feeling of peace. In fact, I would venture to say that we have felt a lot of rather “unpeaceful” feelings in our journey. Obeying God does not always bring feelings of peace.

Our “call” started with:
1. A commitment and love and passion for the Great Commission—to see all peoples in all nations come to know Christ, and a willingness to go wherever God leads.
2. A desire for God to use our unique gifts, talents, and place in life in the most strategic way possible for His kingdom.

That’s it. All there is to it. Basically, the way every Christian everywhere should live. I’m not saying, of course, that God “calls” every Christian to live overseas. But God “calls” every Christian to the two statements above.

During our first two years in Tanzania (2001-2003), we had no idea where we would spend our lives. God had given me a love for Africa (I spent 6 formative years in Liberia and Ethiopia as a child), and Gil a love of other cultures, especially in the third world. But that’s all the direction we had.

During those two years, I was teaching 5th and 6th grade at HOPAC. Gil was involved in another ministry, but filled in as a Bible teacher for a couple classes when there was a need. He discovered that not only did he love teaching the Bible more than he loved anything else, but also that he was incredibly good at it. The school’s director started recruiting Gil to come back and be the chaplain at HOPAC. We went back to the States, Gil got his MA in theology, and the rest is history.

How do we know God called us here?

1. HOPAC’s ministry is strategic in the kind of kids it is reaching and the kind of families it is helping.
2. There was a big need at HOPAC for a chaplain and full-time Bible teacher, both of which the school had never had before we came.
3. The ministry perfectly fit with our gifts, talents, vision, desires, etc.
4. Our vision was totally in agreement with the leadership of the school.

Does this sound overly logical and not very “feely?” Well, it is. There have been many times when we wrestled with God over this. It is not always easy; it is not always fun; there is a lot of heartache involved. But isn’t that the case with any calling in life? However, there is immense joy that comes from knowing we are doing exactly what we are supposed to be doing, and that we are in a place and situation in life where we fit perfectly. Doesn’t get much better than that.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

"So...How's it going...over there?"

We can see it written across his face as soon as we make eye contact across the church foyer. He is thinking, “Oh, that’s Gil and Amy Medina. They are missionaries…somewhere….somewhere in Africa. But I can’t remember for how long or what they are doing there….” [Looks nervously at our picture on the wall.] “Don’t we get their newsletters? My wife reads them….I’m supposed to know!”

That’s when we hear the question: “So…how’s it going…over there?”

We translate: “Where exactly are you living and what are you doing?” Don’t worry; we don’t take it personally. We can’t keep track of where you work or everything you are doing either, even if we do get your Christmas letter!

So here is the answer:

Gil and I live in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, East Africa. Tanzania is directly south of Kenya. Dar es Salaam is a city of over 5 million people right on the coast of the Indian Ocean.

Our ministry is at Haven of Peace Academy (HOPAC). HOPAC is a school that was established by the parents of missionaries for missionary kids (MK’s) about 15 years ago. Why is there a need for HOPAC? Well, the only other international school costs about $15,OOO/year. Many Tanzanian schools, though many are in English, put hundreds of students in a classroom and teachers are often bribed for grades. Of course, there are exceptions, but very few meet western academic standards.

All the teachers at HOPAC are missionaries, from a few different countries. Elementary school uses a mixture of American and British curriculum, and secondary school uses all British curriculum.

HOPAC has 3OO students from 3O different countries in kindergarten through 12th grade. About 4O% of the students are the children of missionaries. About 4O% of the students are Tanzanian. The rest are children of businessmen who are working in Dar. HOPAC is a day school, though one mission organization has built a dorm next door which houses about a dozen students.

HOPAC is bursting at the seams. Every class has a waiting list. This school year, there were 6O applicants for the kindergarten class—which could hold 22—and that is without one speck of advertising. The school could easily double overnight if it had the space and the teachers. HOPAC has a fantastic reputation and is much more affordable for families than the other international school.

HOPAC is also a Christian school, firmly based on the Word of God. However, 3O-4O% of the students come from non-Christian homes. All of the students participate in Bible classes and chapels, but parents are willing to let their kids do this because HOPAC is such a great school. Which makes for amazing opportunities for us teachers to invest in such a diversity of students.

Gil is the chaplain at HOPAC, which means he is in charge of the spiritual life of the school. He also teaches Bible to grades 7, 8, 9, 11, and 12 and an elective photography class. He has often coached after school as well. I used to teach elementary school at HOPAC until we got Grace. Now I teach 6th grade Bible and help out in a few other ways.

We see our primary ministry as discipleship. So we do everything we can to spend time with students. We host youth group on Friday nights at our house, and we have students over for lots of other reasons as well. We take students with us when we go places. We spend a lot of time counseling. They have become incredibly dear to us and their sorrows and joys become ours.

And… "How’s it going?” It’s going great. We love it. More specifics to come in later posts.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

FAQ's About Missionary Life and Tanzania

I didn't blog last week.

Our entire family came down with amoebic dysentery. I don't really think you want the details. It isn't pretty. Google it if you are overcome with curiosity. Let's just say I am very, very thankful for modern medicine.

But that's really not the purpose of this post.

I have decided to start a series of posts of Frequently Asked Questions that we get as missionaries. I've been thinking about this for a while, and originally I thought this series would correspond well with our Home Assignment, which was to begin in March. Now it will begin in October, but I have all these ideas floating around in my head so I'm going to do it now anyway.

There are a few reasons for this:
1. We often receive the same questions from lots of people. We don't mind answering those questions repeatedly, but there are probably many other people who are too shy to ask or never get around to it.
2. I'm discovering more and more prospective HOPAC teachers or others who are considering missions who are finding my blog, and hopefully this information will be helpful. I would love it if this blog helps to inspire someone to go into missions or teach at HOPAC.
3. Some of you readers don't really know what we are doing here, and even those of you who get our letters might not remember--don't worry, we understand.
4. There are a lot of misperceptions about missions, yet sometimes people don't know the right kinds of questions to ask.

I also want to invite you to leave any questions you might have in the comments section. I will be happy to do my best to answer them. There may be certain questions I can't answer in detail due to the fact that this blog is open to the world, but go ahead and ask anyway.

Note about comments: Usually the only people who leave comments are those who have their own blogs--because they know how much bloggers love feedback! But FYI, on this blog, anyone can leave a comment, even if you don't have a Google account. Leave an 'anonymous' comment, but just sign your name at the end.

One last thought: You should know that missionaries love being asked questions. We love to share about our lives and ministry; we want you to understand; we don't want to seem so different. But we get self-conscious because we often wonder if people really want to hear about our lives. So the next time a missionary comes to your church, don't feel bad because you can't remember what country they live in or their kids' names--just ask again. Listen and be excited. You will make their day.

FAQ posts coming soon!

Sunday, January 11, 2009

The Darkest Night Comes Before the Dawn

Since I'm posting twice on one day, read the previous post first.


Today is Sunday, which means we were without power for 6 days and nights. This afternoon we went over to Gil's classroom where we all took naps and Gil and I got some work done. We came back home about 5:3O, and I saw our outside lights on. I gave such a shriek that I almost gave my poor husband a heart attack, who later told me he thought we were being robbed or the house was burning down.

Since being home, it's already gone off again for a half hour, so I have my doubts as to whether the problem is really fixed. But for now, I am enjoying life.

...cold drinking water...warm shower washing machine humming away...the ability to keep husband home tonight!

The simple pleasures of life.

I am thankful!

What More Could I Ask For?

I am blessed, aren't I?
It's good for me to remind myself of what really is important in life.

Update from the last post:
The power is still off. And in talking to the power company yesterday, it doesn't look incredibly hopeful that we will see it very soon. The transformer for our neighborhood seems to be un-fixable and the power company doesn't have money to replace it. We are discussing options like buying a generator or moving out early [instead of March, which was our original plan, since renovations need to be done on the house]. We are in conversation with our landlord. The truth is that no matter how much we work on our attitude about this situation, if it's going to be long-term, we have to do something about it. We can't do our ministry this way, and we can't function as a family when Gil can't sleep at home! We're not living a simple, slow-paced village life where we are able to get by without electricity. Our life and ministry depends on it--much like it would if we were living in the States. So we would appreciate your prayers, that God would show us the right course of action--while still granting us joy and perseverance as well!

Friday, January 9, 2009


For the second time since we’ve come to live in Africa—almost six years—we’ve been without electricity for more than 24 hours.

The power went off Monday evening. Now it is Friday evening. It is still off.

Tuesday afternoon...I know the routine now. Take everything out of the freezer and lug it to the freezer at school. Take some stuff out of the fridge and put it in the freezer, which is still somewhat cold. Throw out a bunch of stuff. So much for planning ahead by making extra leftovers.

And so the days have progressed.

Keep the kids occupied. I spend more time face-to-face with my kids—that’s a good thing! Can’t work on my computer, can’t bake anything that needs refrigeration, can’t do a lot of things I usually do. They can’t watch TV or listen to music. So we play. Games, puzzles, the sprinkler outside. They get extra time in the bath.

Figure out what to make for dinner. Thankful for my gas stove. Think of something that uses only non-perishables and won’t create any leftovers. Kids get powdered milk. Lots of tuna and peanut butter. My friends in the village have assured me that mayo doesn’t need refrigeration—I am trusting them! After dinner…quick! Get cleaned up, get the kids into the bath and into bed before it gets too dark to see.

Light candles. All the rechargeable flashlights are no longer charged. Gil stays home in the dark. I run to school for a precious hour or so to get some work done….emails written, on-line coursework, lesson planning for my sixth grade Bible class.

I come home; Gil leaves to sleep at a friend’s house. It’s a little cooler than it was when this happened in December, but still too hot for my very warm-blooded husband to sleep without A/C or a fan.

Darkness surrounds me. I’m not used to it being so dark. Or so quiet. I’m used to white noise. The kids sleep fine, of course….but I jump at every noise. I make sure my hair is very wet before going to bed. I watch something on my computer until the battery runs out. Thankfully, sleep comes.

The uncertainty of it all is hardest. We call the power company daily—“It will be fixed today!” they tell us. Every day. So do we wait this out? Go to someone’s house? Certainly it will only be one more day….

And then there’s the battle.

“I can’t live like this!!!”

Yes, you can. My grace is sufficient.

“I’m hot; I’m tired. I don’t get to see my husband. I can’t cook, can’t entertain, can’t get any work done.”

Yes, you can. My grace is sufficient. Get creative. Choose joy.

So I think on Zimbabwe. And the millions there who are starving or sick from cholera because of a tyrannical ruler. Where a day’s wage—if you can get work—will buy you a loaf of bread—if you can find bread.

And I feel ashamed.

A missionary friend laughingly told me this week, “We Westerners are fragile creatures, aren’t we?”

Indeed. Of course, I don’t like to think of myself that way—after all, I am a missionary in Africa! But I am not as strong as I would like to think I am.

My grace is sufficient.

Sometimes, this week, I have won the battle and chosen joy. Sometimes I have been grumpy. I hope I’m doing better this time than last month when this happened.

Hmmm. I wonder how many times God will let this happen until I learn it completely?

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

She's Three!

Daddy decided to make her a pinata for her birthday party. She was a little scared of it at first..."Put it away so it can't see me!" but thankfully she was okay with it on the day of her party.
It's a robot, people. Not a hangman.

She had six friends come for her very first kids' party.

She had been practicing this moment--blowing out the candles on her birthday cake--for probably about six months.

Picture 1: Fun!

Picture 2: Ow!

Picture 3: Hey.....

And Ethan finally broke open the robot....

We also took Grace and her favorite friend McKayla out to lunch for her birthday. We went to 'MerryBrowns'--a brand spanking new fast food place [a chain from Malaysia, of all places] that actually looks and feels like a real fast food restaurant. In the States I normally despise fast food, but I have to say that MerryBrowns is pretty exciting....especially the kids' play ground!

Thanks, Bibi!

Thanks, Grandma!

Friday, January 2, 2009

Who Would've Guessed?

This article absolutely floored me.

"As an atheist, I truly believe Africa needs God:
Missionaries, not aid money, are the solution to Africa's biggest problem - the crushing passivity of the people's mindset"

If you are interested in missions, Africa, or worldviews, check this out.