Thursday, November 26, 2009

First Impressions

I lived this life once…but it seems so distant.

On Driving:

The roads are so smooth! Everyone follows the lines! No one is driving on the shoulder!

“Think right, Think right, Think right…” (the right side of the road, that is)

Constantly turning on the windshield wipers instead of the blinker…. (did you know they are reversed in British cars?)

Pay attention to the speed limit! (In Dar we never can go fast enough to worry about the speed limit).

In the store:

SO MUCH! So many choices….so many yummy things….how is there ever time to eat it all? Why do we need 16 types of Cheez-Its to choose from?

Everything is processed! Where is the flour and yeast? Why should I even bother making a homemade pumpkin pie when it’s cheaper to buy the bakery one? I must admit that’s a bit disheartening.

WHY DO PEOPLE BUY ALL THIS BOTTLED WATER? Buy a Brita, save the money you spend on bottled water, and send it to a country where the majority of people watch their babies die from water-borne diseases. Oops, I’ll get off my soapbox now.

Will I remember what to do? Do I remember how to pay with a credit card? I feel foolish, awkward…everyone expects me to know what to do…I look American…but I feel out of place.

On media:
I hate commercials! I hate advertising! I get immune to this after a while, but every time I come back to the States I feel bombarded. Except that I guess I can’t complain too much since I am a Republican who is very much in favor of a free market economy. Oooh…better not get on that soapbox. So I guess I put up with the advertising.

I like wearing socks. I like using a curling iron. I like not feeling sweaty all the time. I like cooking with cream cheese and raspberries.

Yep, that was pretty much Josiah's impression of Disneyland.

Finally, a partial smile!

With Grandma

With cousin Maddie
For the first time in my life, we got season passes to Disneyland! Gil's folks live only a half hour away, and the deal for So. Cal. residents is great. So when we went in to get our passes, they asked for a phone number.
Gil and I just looked at each other. "Ummmm....."
"Any phone number is okay," the guy said. "A cell number is fine."
"Uh, we don't know...."
"You don't know your phone number? Any phone number?"
We turned red.
Gil ran out to get his mom's cell. I fumbled over an explanation which included words like "Africa," so the guys eyes just glazed over and a polite smile appeared on his face.
We get that a lot.

First bike!

Give him a ball and some dirt and the smile reappears. I still can't get over seeing him in jeans and long sleeves!

This has been hardest on him, but he's handling it like a champ.

I'm here for Thanksgiving! Can you believe it? Thank you, Lord!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Numbers Are In

20: Hours spent in aircrafts
3: Hours Josiah spent sleeping
0: Hours Grace spent sleeping
3: Hours spent trying to get the kids to go to sleep. ("Close your eyes and be still." Repeat every 60 seconds.)
16: Hours Grace spent watching movies and cartoons (YOU GO, GIRL! We told her what a good job she did on the plane and how proud we were of her, and she looked confused said, "But I just watched TV." And we said, "Yeah, Great job!")
.0001: Hours Josiah spent watching TV.
1,347,256: Times Josiah jumped up and down on his airplane seat
25: Times person in front of Josiah turned around to look at us
15: Hours spent in London for layover
65: Dollars spent on hotel room (Hilton Hotel, 4 star. Thanks, Priceline!)
65: Dollars spent on overpriced hotel food (too bad Priceline doesn't sell food too)
3: Arrived at gate with this many minutes to spare before our second flight took off. (I just thought I would add a little excitement into our trip by majorly underestimating the amount of time it would take us to get through the massive Heathrow airport. Thank the Lord we made our flight. "Run, Grace, Run!")
11: Number of time zones we went through
4: People in the Medina family who are very happy and content right now.

We made it!!!!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

8 Truths About Missionaries on Home Assignment

  1. They definitely feel out of it. Bear with them.
  2. They actually feel like they have just changed planets, not just countries. Hence the reason they feel out of it.
  3. They really do want to spend time with you, especially if you have been praying for them or financially supporting them. One of the things they miss the most when living overseas is really great fellowship. This is the best way you can serve your missionary on home assignment.
  4. They love answering questions about their ministry. Don’t be ashamed to ask questions just because you think you should already know the answer. They don’t remember everything in your Christmas letter either, so they don’t expect you to remember everything they have written about.
  5. They are really not super-spiritual-Christians, so please don’t put them on a pedestal or be intimidated by them. They get cranky and tired and grumpy at their spouses and children and don’t always have noble motives for what they do. Normal ordinary sinners.
  6. Go ahead and laugh at them if they wildly exclaim about the smoothness of the roads or the great customer service, or if they say they are freezing when it is 70 degrees.
  7. They love their mission field, but they love America too. Especially the people.
  8. They really can take no responsibility for anything they say or do while jetlagged.

Tomorrow is the big day!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Worthy Work

My poor husband has been working like a dog lately. These last couple of weeks he's been putting in 12-14 hour days, every day. He's getting lesson plans ready for the next 4 1/2 months. He had done a lot of it before we were supposed to leave in October, but then with our delay, the schedule got all turned around and he had to do a lot of it over again.

But I am proud of him. Not just for working so hard, but for what he has accomplished in the Bible department at HOPAC. The whole reason his lesson planning is taking so long is because of the nature of his classes. See, when Gil took over as Bible teacher/chaplain over four years ago, the Bible curriculum had never really been developed at HOPAC. The classes were using a Christian school curriculum that, well...left much to be desired. Each grade had the obligatory text books and work books that were titled things like "History of Israel" and were divided up into neat little sections. Basic OT/NT stuff. Easy to use. Easy to teach. Not particularly interesting.

Now, a good teacher can make even Leviticus and Judges sound interesting (and Gil is a GREAT teacher), but Gil wanted to change the curriculum not simply because of interest. He was more concerned with whether secondary students really need to know all the random details about Leviticus and Judges. So he set off to find a curriculum that he liked better, and when he didn't find one, he created his own.

Students at HOPAC now essentially get a Christian college Bible education--toned down for high school students. They are studying hermeneutics, ethics, apologetics, world religions, worldview, and the subject matter of Theology I, II, III, and IV (for those of you who went to Christian college). They are reading books like Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God by J.I. Packer, Living by the Book by Howard Hendricks, Essential Truths of the Christian Faith by R.C. Sproul, and The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel. Books not exactly written for teenagers. But they are getting it. (Teens are usually smarter than people give them credit for.)

I am so proud of Gil. I am thrilled at the questions kids ask in class. I am excited about the conversations he has with them. I think his curriculum is awesome. But this is why writing lesson plans is taking him so much time--because it all comes from scratch, all from his head. No neat little workbooks where he can just say, "Do Lesson 15 on Tuesday."

But I think he, and the HOPAC kids, would agree that it's worth the extra work.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Adoption: The Very Heart of God

HOPAC's theme this year is Do Hard Things. It comes from a book which was written by 17-year-old twins, Alex and Brett Harris. The subtitle of the book is "A Teenage Rebellion Against Low Expectations," which pretty much sums up their message.

All of our secondary classes are reading the book this year. I highly recommend it for your favorite teenager. It's message is clear and compelling.

Our theme in assembly (chapel) this year also centers around the idea of Doing Hard Things. So when my turn came to speak, I chose Adoption. Below is the transcript (pretty much) of what I said to HOPAC secondary students this morning.

On October 31st, 2004, a baby was born, a little girl. Near Moshi and Kilimanjaro. But unfortunately, this was not a happy occasion for her mama. Whoever she was, she was probably very poor, not married, and quite possibly sick or dying. She either was in denial about her pregnancy or simply didn’t know where to get an abortion, so she found herself in labor with her full-term baby. She was probably desperate. She could barely feed herself and had no one to take care of her. She had no way to take care of this baby and knew no one who could. So, in her desperation and despair, she wrapped the baby in a kanga, put her in a plastic bag, and dropped her down an outhouse pit. To die. Then she ran off, never to be seen or heard from again.

But God had a plan for this baby, even if her mama did not. This baby was a fighter, and she screamed with all the strength left in her little body. A little girl heard her. Called her grandparents. Enough people cared about this baby that they took apart the outhouse. Fished her out. Cleaned her up. Called the police. The police took her to an orphanage in Moshi called Light in Africa.

They loved her. Nurtured her. And gave her the name Tumaini—Hope. When Tumaini was 8 months old, a group of American volunteers stopped by to see Light in Africa. They were in the baby room for just a few minutes. But they heard Tumaini’s story. And one young woman who was there that day, went back to America and couldn’t stop thinking about Tumaini. That little baby was so deeply in her heart and mind that she decided she would do everything she could to adopt her.

That woman’s name is Sammye, and that decision to adopt Tumaini cost her a lot of money, a lot of time, and a lot of heartache. But a year later, she came back to America with Tumaini. That little girl just turned five years old last week. She is thriving and deeply loved and desperately wanted. And just like her name—she has Hope. This is Sammye and Tumi. Grace and Tumi are from the same orphanage. Sammye is the one who introduced us to Grace.

I’m going to talk to you this morning about adoption. Because adoption is a Hard Thing. It’s one of the hardest journeys I have ever been on. But adoption comes straight from the heart of God. I want you to understand it, I want you to love it, and I want some of you to be inspired to pursue it.

Why does adoption even exist? Well, if you think back to Creation-Chaos-Christ from last year, adoption exists because of Chaos. Because of sin in the world. God never intended that any child would be an orphan. God never desired any family to be so poor that they couldn’t feed their children. God’s plan never originally included HIV, AIDS, malaria, TB, etc. that would kill hundreds of thousands of parents. The only reason children need adoption is because of chaos—because of sin.

But in a similar way, every single one of us is an orphan. We are NOT born into the family of God. We are NOT born as God’s children. We are born enemies of God—separated from Him because of our sin. Essentially, when we are born, we belong to Satan. When Christ died and took the penalty for our sin, He bought us back from Satan. He opened the way for us to be adopted as His children by his death. Ephesians says he chose us to be adopted as his children. It uses that word—adopted.

So adopting children is a picture of what Christ did for us. Turning an orphan into a son or daughter. Taking a child who has nothing, and making him a prince. The child can do nothing to deserve it, nothing to make someone choose him. Yet a child who was an orphan is given hope. Is given redemption. Is given a new life. Just like we receive in Christ.

Why adopt? It used to be that the only couples who adopted were those who couldn’t have biological children for some reason. But adoption has been changing in the past couple of generations. It’s been changing in a good way, and Christians are the main ones who are changing it. Adoption is no longer just for couples who haven’t been able to have kids. Adoption is for anyone—even families who already have kids—as you may have noticed with even some HOPAC families. And adoption is often much more bi-racial than in the past—and much more international. It’s common now for families to adopt from Russia, China, Guatemala, India—and dozens of other countries.

Adoption comes from the heart of God. And it is a huge, amazing, incredible blessing. James 1 says: Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress…. Over and over again in Scripture, God’s people are commanded to care for orphans. This verse says that looking after orphans is the purest form of pleasing God! Adoption is not the ONLY way to look after orphans—but it certainly is an excellent way. There are 2 million orphans in Tanzania alone. Over 200 million orphans worldwide. So I’m asking you, what will be your part in caring for the world’s orphans?

As you all know, Mr. Medina and I have adopted two children. (If you couldn’t tell they are adopted, you haven’t really been paying attention!) So obviously adoption is very near to our hearts. But maybe some of you assumed that since we don’t have any biological children, that adoption for us is a second choice. But I want you to know that’s not the case. Both of us have wanted to adopt since before we were married. We talked about it when we were engaged. God could still give us a biological child—there’s no medical reason why not—but I can guarantee you that we could not love a biological child any more than we love Grace and Josiah.

But as some of you know, who have known us for a few years, adoption is a Hard Thing. Adoption, in any country, is a huge amount of work. It requires lots of paperwork. It requires many interviews. Social workers have to come to your house and check things out. It requires a lot of waiting and wondering without an end in sight. It takes a lot of persistence. Some of you may remember that when we were working to get Grace, I had to fly up to Moshi three separate times to try and persuade a social worker to write one letter. Each time I came back unsuccessful, I wept. A lot. It took us a year from the time we applied until the time we brought home Grace. It took us another year to adopt her. It took a year from the time we applied until we brought home Josiah. It took us another year to adopt him. Adoption is also usually really expensive. It’s actually not so bad in Tanzania, but in most countries of the world, adoptions will cost 20 or 30 or $40,000. For one child. Like I said—Adoption is a Hard Thing.

But is it worth it? Hmmm…is it worth it? Have you seen my children? All you have to do is look into their eyes for about half a second and you can answer that question of whether I think it is worth it. That’s the cool thing about doing hard things for God. It is always worth it. Living a life of mediocrity may be easy, but it will be boring. The hard things are always worth it. Even with all we have been through in Grace and Josiah’s adoption, we want to do it again. Adopting children is also a bit addicting!

So this is how I want to challenge you about adoption. I don’t want you to go home and tell your mom that she needs to adopt a child. Well, that’s not really what I want you to do, but that would be okay! I understand that adopting children is not exactly something you can do while you are in secondary school. But there are things you can do….4 things:

1. You can pray about it now. You can consider it now. I have wanted to adopt ever since I was a teenager. It’s a decision you can make now. You can grow in your love and desire and passion for adoption even now. You can decide now that adoption won’t just be a second choice for you—that it will be your “Plan A”—not just a “Plan B.” Now, I totally realize that adoption is not going to be in God’s plan for everyone. Adoption is a calling from God—and not a calling for everyone—for all kinds of reasons. If God doesn’t lead you to adopt, there’s nothing wrong with that. But I’m asking you to start considering it—now.

2. Even if God doesn’t put the burden and calling of adoption on your heart—for your future family, you can still love adoption. You can become a successful businessman and get really rich—and then support families who want to adopt but can’t afford it. There are scholarship funds available to help families to adopt—you can give to that. You can love and support and encourage and accept families who do adopt—especially because bi-racial families are not always accepted everywhere in the world. You can become a politician or a lawyer who advocates for better adoption laws that make it easier for more families to adopt. It’s not easy to adopt in Tanzania, which is why you don’t see it very often. In fact, right now, there is a bill in Tanzanian parliament about adoption, and if it passes, it will make it almost impossible for families like us to adopt. We need politicians in government who won’t let that happen.

3. If you ever find yourself with an unplanned, unwanted pregnancy, please….consider adoption instead of death for your child. I pray that no one here is ever faced with that kind of situation, but if you are, please—give your child a chance at life. Make the hard choice of going through with a pregnancy than the easy way out of abortion. If that ever happens to you, and you end up pregnant, I want you to think about Grace and Josiah and the amazing children they are. I want you think about giving your child the same chance at life they were given. And I promise—if that happens, and if you can find me, Mr. Medina and I will adopt your child.

4. The last thing I want you to remember about adoption is that if you are a follower of Jesus, or thinking about becoming one, every time you see my children, or other adopted children, I want you to think about your own adoption. You were born an orphan. You were lost, hopeless, unable to help yourself, unable to save yourself. You were like baby Tumaini, thrown into an outhouse to die. Christ paid the ultimate price for you to be in His family. And now he pursues you relentlessly. The only thing different about this kind of adoption is that it is your choice. God is pursuing you—the same way Sammye pursued Tumaini, the same way Mr. Medina and I pursued Grace and Josiah. Will you let yourself become God’s own—to be adopted by Him?
I’m going to finish by showing you some a slideshow of Grace and Josiah. I hope it communicates to you the blessings of adoption, but I hope you also will put yourself in their place and imagine your relationship to God in the same way. The first song that will be playing in the background is by Third Day, and I want to tell you some of the lyrics ahead of time. This is what they say:
Ever since the world around you shattered
You’ve been looking everywhere for something more
Sometimes you feel like your life doesn’t matter
But it does, I tell you, it does
Come on let me love you now
Come on let me love you
And hold you through the storms
I will keep you safe and warm
Come on let me love you now
Come on let me love you
And kiss away your tears
I will always be here
Come on let me love you
Yesterday you found your heart was broken
And tomorrow doesn’t leave much room for hope
Today you’ll find that my arms are wide open
And my heart, my heart is full of love
Come on let me love you now

Friday, November 6, 2009

Taking Inventory

Trying to pack. Bought lots of wooden gifts. Trying to find clothes to pack around the wooden gifts so that they won't break.

Stared at the closets. Here's what I found:

Sandals, sundresses, shorts, short-sleeve shirts. Hmmm. Even for California in winter, not going to work.

Grace: two pairs of pants, one sweater. No closed-toed shoes.

Josiah: a few pairs of long pants, one jacket.

Amy: 3 pairs of pants, 1 long-sleeved shirt, 1 jacket, 1 pair of Keds.

Gil: lots of pants (of course), one sweatshirt, one jacket.

Can you tell we live in the land of eternal summer?

Now, before you start worrying about your winter-deprived missionaries freezing to death, my best friend Anne has already been on it, and has quite a collection of clothes for us to borrow. We'll be fine. Grace will have to sport the socks-with-sandals look for our overnight layover in London, but she'll be so thrilled that she finally gets to wear socks, that no one will mind a bit.

My main concern is how exactly I am going to pack all those wooden gifts without any padding. Or newspaper. Or bubblewrap. Any ideas?

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Even Better Than the First Time

So remember that Beach House we discovered a few weeks ago when our friends were staying there? We immediately asked to make our own reservation, and got really lucky that the owner had a cancellation and could get us in last weekend.

We took our youth group leaders and student leaders (the ones who could come on such short notice) and it was totally fabulous. This place truly is the most amazing vacation spot I have ever been to.

The front room and kitchen. This picture is taken from the porch. The entire wall of the house opens up into the porch. The pictures just don't do it justice....

Matthew and the flying Josiah. He loves this. "High! High!" he kept saying, which is pretty significant considering this is the child that is afraid of ants and lizards.

Homemade dough-boys on the porch at night. Doesn't get much better than that!

Amazing afternoons....unfortunately I was reading a very dry book on Paul's theology for one of my classes....a novel would have been much more enjoyable.

God's artistry and Gil's talent.

But the best part was yet to come.
On Sunday morning, when we were having a little worship service, one of the workers came up and asked us if we wanted to see the "kasa."
"What's that?" we asked.
He didn't know the English word. "A type of sea creature..."
We figured he was talking about a type of sea food that the local fishermen were trying to sell to us (as on previous mornings). "Nahhh..." we said.
Then one of our friends with us looked thoughtful. "I think 'kasa' means 'turtle'," he said.
"WHAT?!?!" we all screamed, and took off for the beach.
It was true. Something we have ALWAYS wanted to see, but is practically impossible to time right...was right on our doorstep.
A sea turtle nest was hatching. Totally and unbelievably incredible.

Baby sea turtles display the amazing handiwork of God. Once they hatch, they "somehow" know not to come out until it is night and high tide. They "somehow" know that they are supposed to get to the ocean, and "somehow" know how to get there. Their mother is gone; they are on their own.

The person looking after this nest estimated there were up to 200 baby turtles in there. He opened the nest so we could see some that morning, and then we stayed until night time so we could watch them make their long journey to the ocean.

We cheered them on, all the way down the beach.

Ah, the Splendor of God!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Oh Visa, How I Love Thee

"I just don't get it...why is everyone making such a big deal about this little piece of paper?"
Our family on International Day (with the visa!). Usually we have trouble figuring out if Grace and Josiah should represent Tanzania or America, but seeing as how I picked up the visa on that day, we figured we should all be American this year.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Rehearsal for Heaven

HOPAC International Day 2009

The Korean performance.....

The Indian performance.....

And the... er, American performance. What does this say about our culture???? :-)