Thursday, September 27, 2012

Alter Ego


It's all about Superman these days.  But usually, he is not Superman, he insists he is Clark Kent.  Hence the jacket and glasses.  As you can tell from his expression, this is all taken very seriously. 

Sunday, September 23, 2012


Caleb was her very first friend.  They are the same age and were adopted within months of each other. 

 Grace and Caleb, about 1 year old
Josiah and Imani are also the same age, and adopted within months of each other.  So their family are very special friends with ours, and getting together is always filled with great anticipation.  I can't wait for Saturday, Grace said all week.  Caleb and Imani live out in a village and we don't get to see them very often. 

Just way too cute...... (and don't worry, we don't bring up the marriage thing any more!)

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

True Religion: James 1:27

In 1990, for the first half of ninth grade, I lived in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.  Ethiopia is a fascinating, beautiful country with even more beautiful people--people full of grace and dignity that is not seen anywhere else.  Its history goes back thousands of years; it even has links to King Solomon, and it is the only African country to have successfully resisted foreign rule. 

However, in 1990, Ethiopia was being ruled by a tyrant, and the city was full of horrifying things for a 13-year-old girl to see, even one who had already spent many years in Africa. 

There were sections of the city where the islands in the middle of the road, usually covered with carefully manicured grass and flowers in developed countries, had been turned into toilets.  Except without the toilets.  On a regular basis, you would see dozens of people--men and women--doing their business on the patches of dirt in the middle of the road.  The smell was so bad that we always had to put our car windows up. 

Beggars and homeless lined the streets.  Of course, to a certain degree, this is common in Africa, but usually (as in Tanzania), the beggars are only adult disabled people (which is horrifying enough, of course.)  But in Ethiopia in 1990, the beggars were children.  They were filthy, in rags, and covered with disease.

I remember once I was waiting in our car while my parents ran into a store for something.  Two small children came up to my window with their hands outstretched.  The older one, who couldn't have been more than six years old, had one eye that looked at if it had grown five sizes too big.  It protruded out of the eye socket and sort of hung there, limp.  Flies covered it.  And if the burden that this small child was forced to carry was not enough, she held the hand of an even smaller child. 

That image has stayed in my memory for my whole life.  I believe it's one of the things that compelled me back to Africa.  One does not see such a thing with her own eyes and not be profoundly affected for the rest of her life.

And yet, in 1990, this was before the AIDS pandemic hit Ethiopia like a tsunami.  So for those children on the street?  Things just got worse.

Today?  "81 percent of Ethiopia's people live on less than two dollars a day, and 26 percent live on less than a dollar a day, the marker of absolute poverty in the world." 

"By 2010, between twenty-five million and fifty million African children, from newborn to age fifteen, would be orphans.  In a dozen countries, up to a quarter of the nation's children would be orphans." 

We are adopting from Ethiopia.  And our agency asked us to read this book:

There is No Me Without You is part biography of one Ethiopian women's quest to save the orphans of her country, and part history of the AIDS orphan crisis throughout Africa. 

It is a deeply moving story and I highly recommend it. 

"On dirt floors, in shacks and huts across beautiful Ethiopia, children sat cross-legged together, quietly starving.  Experts dubbed them, 'child-headed households.'  UNICEF noted that the 'survival strategy' of the child-headed households was 'eating less.'"

However, I need to warn you before you pick up this book:

If you are positive you would never want to pursue orphan adoption, then you should not read this book.

If you want to remain complacent about the orphan crisis in the world, then do not read this book.

Because I promise you, this book will completely turn your world upside down, as you sit in your bed weeping at midnight, unable to put it down.

"Mekdes soon told her [adoptive] mother [Mikki] about the day her aunts took her to [the orphanage].  'Yabsira cry a little.  I am scream.'

'Why did you cry, baby?' asked Mikki. 

'I don't know this Ethiopia.  I want my Ethiopia with [Grandfather] and Fasika.  I don't want new Ethiopia.'

'You were sad,' said Mikki.

'No hope, Mommy.  I have no hope.'

'Oh, honey....'

'Because no one told me, Mommy.'

'Told you what?'

'That you are here in America.  I will not feel so sad if I know you are here.'

'Yeah, I was here getting ready, getting your rooms ready.  I was here, me and your daddy, waiting and getting ready.'

'I am cry because I don't know you will coming.'

Of course, for most of Africa's ten million, fifteen million, twenty million orphans, no one is getting a room ready.  No one will come."

(I need to add one other comment if you do decide to read the book.  Though the author gives powerful and convincing data regarding the history of AIDS and ARVs in Africa, I do believe she is somewhat one-sided.  I am not an expert, but I do wish she had been more fair in her approach to patents and ARV's, and especially given more time to applaud the work of President Bush's PEPFAR program, which really has made a significant difference in Africa.)

Sunday, September 16, 2012

The God of This City

Today, and the next two days, all of us in our mission who live in Dar es Salaam are getting together to talk about our city, Dar es Salaam. 

and dream.

and plan.

We started today.  And by the end of Tuesday, we're going to have a plan for the next six months, 1 year, 3 years, 5 years, 10 years. 

It's pretty cool.  We're just a group of about 30 people; we won't even all be here in 10 years (hopefully there will be others by then), and we're working in just four different ministries in this city. 

Our city.  Is it 3 million, 4 million, 5?  Who knows.  Everyone has a different guess. I found out today that some believe Dar es Salaam is the third fastest growing city in the world.  That's pretty crazy.  No wonder traffic is so bad. 

Can 30 people really make a difference in a city that big, that is growing that fast? 

Well, not by ourselves, of course.  But it can if we network.  And connect.  And strategize.  And get really intentional.  And if we really trust that Very Big God of ours who loves this city a whole lot more than we do. 

It's overwhelming.  And super exciting.

It makes me wonder though:  What would happen if every Christian in America came together in groups of 30 or 60 or 1000 and strategized and made a plan for 6 months, 1 year, 3 years, 10 years about how to reach their cities with the love of Jesus?  Or even just their neighborhoods? 

Sometimes I think that your average American Christian thinks that somehow us missionaries way over here on the other side of the world are somehow just a whole lot more spiritual or special or have superpowers. 

But then I think about my fellow missionary friends that I have had over the years in Dar es Salaam.  The mom with the prodigal teenager.  The two who had breast cancer.  The one who seems to have it all together but once admitted to me her strong insecurities. The one who lives with chronic, debilitating pain.   The one who once admitted that her family took a 90% pay cut when they became missionaries.  The one (actually many more than one) who has struggled with depression.  The one who left behind a mom in the States with mental illness.  The one who longs and longs to be married.  The one with the daughter with the eating disorder. 

And myself, with my own struggle with panic attacks and selfishness and pride and arrogance and self-centeredness and discontentment. 

And we get hot and grumpy and sweaty and get tired of our underwear sticking to us and we snap at our children and our husbands and sometimes want to just lock ourselves in the bathroom.  Or call KLM and buy a plane ticket.   

We are not superhuman.  In fact, I think some of the most broken women I have ever met have been missionary women.  We just have a Very Big God. 

But if we can all get together with our team and make a plan for how God can use us to change this city, how we can work together to make a difference--a real difference, then can't that happen in any city?  With any kind of people?  With any amount of brokenness? 

Thursday, September 6, 2012


I remember once, years ago, when we were still young and naive and new to missions, we took our youth group to an orphanage at Christmastime.  We had all our students bring toothbrushes and socks and toys to our house, and we made up those "Christmas shoe boxes" for the orphans.  Our group of about 30 or so youth brought in enough stuff to put together about 150 boxes.  We were all so excited.  We couldn't wait to see the orphans' eyes light up

It was so long ago that I don't even remember the name of the orphanage.  We eagerly handed out our boxes, waiting for the eyes to light up.  But it didn't happen.  The children accepted the boxes, and then sat there.  There were no shouts of joy, no excited chatter.  In fact, a lot of the children didn't even open the boxes until we opened them for them.  But even then, they were far more interested in the cookies and juice. 

We spent some time with the kids that day.  We toured the orphanage.  The kids slept on bare mattresses, sometimes two to a bed.  There were no toys.  There was no playground.  The ceiling sagged from leaks that had never been fixed. 

And then I realized:  They had no sense of ownership.  We could hand them a box of toys and call it their own, but these kids knew better.  They owned nothing.  An older and wiser missionary filled me in:  As soon as we would leave, the older kids would be grabbing all of the stuff from the little kids to sell at school.  Or perhaps the orphanage directors would confiscate the little scented soaps and the brightly colored toothbrushes for themselves.  After all, their lives aren't much better. 

If you think Annie had a hard-knock life, you should get to know the life of your average African orphan.  Perhaps my description of Forever Angels Baby Home gave you the wrong impression.  The orphans that go there?  The luckiest in all of Tanzania.  But they can only take fifty.  Fifty out of millions of orphans in Tanzania.  And even then, they can only stay until they are 4 or 5 years old. 

Most of the time, my kids are just my kids.  I usually forget they are adopted.  I almost always forget the life they might have had.  And when I really let myself think about it, it sucks the life out of me.

Certain children in our family have issues with bed-wetting.  Do you know what happens to the average bed-wetter in Tanzania?  Culturally?  The child is forced to carry his mattress on his head, parading about while the rest of the children sing a mocking song.  Thus, I can only imagine what it's like for an orphan with this problem.  Who would have patiently and kindly helped my children work through this issue?  What would have happened to their tender hearts if they had been unceasingly mocked over something they couldn't control?

My little Josiah thrives on physical affection.  He pastes himself to me regularly, throughout the day.  He adores being tickled.  How would he have been different if there had been no one to hug him?  My Gracie has had a number of fears that needed reassuring.  What if there had been no one to reassure her?  My Lily is a fighter.  She is strong-willed, just like me.  What would have happened to her if she had ever realized that she didn't have anything to fight for? 

There are something like 20 million orphans in Africa.  I can't possibly wrap my head around that number.  Twenty million children who have no one to kiss them goodnight, let them choose their school backpack, check their shoes to see if they are getting too tight.  No Daddy to tell the little girls they are beautiful or teach the little boys how to respect women.  No Mommy to blow on the skinned knee or make sure they are eating healthy or get up in the middle of the night when they are crying. 

"For every orphan turning up in a northern-hemisphere household--winning the spelling bee, winning the cross-country race, joining the Boy Scouts, learning to rollerblade, playing the trumpet or the violin--ten thousand African children remain behind alone." (There is No Me Without You by Melissa Fay Greene)

In Tanzania, it's more like one hundred thousand left alone for each one who is adopted, and that's including adoption by anyone, not just northern-hemisphere households.  No one is adopting these children.  Very few of those who are willing are allowed to adopt.  And those who are are allowed, are not willing.

It's one thing when they are just faceless children without names, personalities, fears, talents, or shoe sizes.  But it hits you completely differently when they are Grace, Josiah, and Lily, and they are asleep in the next room.

Saturday, September 1, 2012


Yesterday was Gil's 35th birthday, and so I emailed dozens of his current and former students and asked them to write notes of appreciation to Gil, especially considering this is his last year at HOPAC. 

There is no better way to honor my husband than to let you read some of their words.  This is his legacy:

The reason Christianity makes the most sense, why I view the world and life the way I do, are thanks to your teaching and time at HOPAC, and Youth group. There were other influences but you're likely the person with the biggest impact.

Thank you even more for introducing me to my best friend--God.  Truly, if it hadn't been for you , I do honestly shiver at the thought that I may have never been able to hold His hand as TIGHTLY as I yearn to do, today.

You have no idea how much you have prepared me and others who have graduated from HOPAC for college, and even more, for life.

To be honest i feel like am talking rubbish right now because i cannot express how much of an impact you have made in my spiritual life! ...God has put something in you to impact teenagers! even though we might slack off, we do remember what the Bible and your advice says!


You are not only a good teacher but you are also a greater person. People could always talk to you and you were a great listener.

Your classes were never boring!

Gil made Bible my most enjoyable class, one in which we argued about apologetics and tried to get our minds around pre-determinism v free will. Gil always played the devil’s advocate, getting his students to break their comfort barriers and engage in discussion.... Gil is certainly a talented teacher, able to hold his audience captive and plant seeds in minds that grew into understanding. ...
However, Gil the teacher is not the reason I appreciate Gil the most.
To me, Gil was and is a mentor and confidante. He has given me advice when I’ve needed it and most importantly told me I was wrong when I needed to hear it. He has shown me how to live with integrity and values....
Gil has a gift for drawing the best out of the youth and I owe him much gratitude for the major role he has played in my development from boy to man.

Unlike most teachers, you never made anyone feel like you were always right, and we were wrong to have an opinion. You simply challenged us. Good challenges. We needed that, because at the end of the day, it makes what you stand for firmer!....I loved the visits to your office this year. Always so much better than having to go to class :P And annoying you has to be the funniest thing!


Thank you for challenging me and pushing me to my fullest potential. Thank you for your wisdom and advice for life after highschool and into college.  

What makes you special than most teachers is that you don’t only teach them, coach them or do the bare minimum, but you aim for friendships, which is one of the hardest things to accomplish if you are an adult trying to befriend a teenager. What is even more significant than that is that you stay in touch even when they have left Hopac. You stay involved, you really care, and your time and energy is limitless when someone needs you, your heart to connect and reach out to young adults is an amazing gift and your passion for it is rare. ...

Teenagers are terrible at showing appreciation…but don’t give up on us just yet…all teens need a Gil Medina in their lives. ;).

I was recently asked to give my life story in a college small group that I was in, and I told the people listening that my middle school years were among the most important of my life. It was during that time that I was challenged to LIVE out my faith and to be different than the rest of the world. I was inspired to actually think about what it means to be a follower of Christ and implement that into my daily life. During my middle school years I laid down a solid faith foundation for the rest of my life - and that was solely because I had a incredible Bible teacher/youth leader/friend who challenged me to be more than what I saw around me and above all, love Christ with my entire heart. I honestly do not think that I would have the relationship with Christ that I do if it had not been for Mr.Medina's intentional input in my life.
I still talk to my friends about what I learned about dating in your classes (I have been saved from a lot of heart break thanks to Gil), I still make it a point to read "Passion and Purity" once a year (and I have his personal copy), I STILL have my apologetics notes which I look over when I need them.....Mr. Medina is still the first person that I want to come to about questions with faith or just life in general even though I haven't been to Tanzania in over 5 years. I know that he is always willing to hear my thoughts and is genuinely concerned about me.