Saturday, March 23, 2013

SEWing Love

Most people outside of Africa think that most people inside of Africa live in mud huts. 
Well, in the cities, they don't.  We don't. 
But the majority of Tanzanians do. 

Sometimes modern thinking wants to idealize village life, and that it's only western influence that has damaged the noble savage.
There is some truth in that.  There is a lot of beauty to be found in the simplicity of village life.  And western countries certainly have screwed up Africa. 
But it's not entirely true.  Tanzanians themselves have deforested their land for charcoal, destroying the ecosystem and reducing the rainfall.  Lack of education has contributed to devastating poverty, chronic malnutrition, and stagnant economic growth.  And sin, in the midst of it all, is also responsible for rampant promiscuity and all the heartache and disease that comes with it.
HOPAC has an outstanding service learning program.  It's one of the brightest, best parts of a HOPAC education.  All secondary students take classes, year-round, on these very issues.  Then they engage in projects to make a difference:  teaching English at local schools, making water filters, reducing erosion....during every school week.
This is culminated in Service Emphasis Week (SEW) each March, when every HOPAC secondary student is put on a team to go out and serve throughout Tanzania:  orphanages, disability hospitals, deaf schools....and villages.
This year, Gil and I got to lead a team of eight 11th grade students to the village of Mitengwe, about 3 hours outside of Dar es Salaam.  We were privileged to work alongside some of our best friends:
Tim and Emily have been our friends for over 10 years.  Our both sets of adopted kids have grown up together.  We don't get to see them often, but we are kindred spirits.  So it was a pleasure for us to enter their world for a week, and experience all the things they have told us about for all these years.
Tim and Emily are awesome.  Period.  They want the people of the village to know Jesus, but they also want to help improve their lives.  And they want to do it in sustainable, reproducing ways that will help people to change using the village resources....not American resources. 
They live extremely sacrificial lives. 
So.  They have taught the people how to dig their own wells that they can maintain themselves (since all the machine-dug, foreign-funded wells in the village are broken and unusable).  They are introducing drought-resistant, highly nutritious plants and teaching people what a difference they can make.  They have started a pre-school.  They are training people how to care for their own medical needs.  Like I said.  They are awesome.
So we had a blast bringing our 8 students into this village for a week.  Our students worked hard.  But they also learned so much.  Our students, these ones who have the education, the resources, the connections....these students can make a difference in this country!  And I pray that now they have a better picture of how that can happen.
Our primary tasks for the week were to help with the construction of a community center, and to bless the local elementary school by painting some walls and chalkboards. 
These kind of schools have nothing.  Literally.  They have no books, no paper, no pictures, no colorful rugs.  They have a few desks (not enough), chalkboards, and walls.  Some classrooms don't even have four walls. 
The school has a relatively new classroom which was built about a year ago.  Since then, they haven't had the money to paint it.  So that's what we did.

But our students, our kids, and us....we were the ones who were far more blessed by this experience.  To God be the Glory.


Thursday, March 21, 2013

March 22

When Gil started his job as HOPAC chaplain, he unintentionally woke up at 5 in the morning for the first two months. He was so full of ideas and excitement that he couldn’t sleep any later.
Gil’s mind works like a chess board; he is full of strategy and vision. He loves solving problems. (I’ve always said it’s a good thing he loves Jesus because he would have made a great bank robber.) So this young international school was exactly suited to how he is wired. And of course, since I was trained in education, I’ve been happy as a clam.
Obviously, Gil’s involuntary early mornings didn’t last forever. But the absolute assurance of God’s calling us to HOPAC did last. The times of tears and fear and frustration never changed that. We have always been completely confident that we are where God has wanted us to be.
And I don’t take that for granted. I know full well that the majority of the world must work because they must feed their families, not because they are called to their occupation. I understand how incredibly blessed we are to be able to do something that we love, that energizes and excites us.
Which is why it’s so hard to accept that we are leaving.
For 10 years, HOPAC has been our life. It’s practically all we talk about and think about and pray about. The community at HOPAC has been our family. We know almost every student (out of over 300) by name, and many of their parents as well. We’ve watched many of our students grow from 5 years old to 18 years old. We’ve been a part of the school growing in every area: sports, curriculum, numbers, buildings, God-centeredness. My children have been literally raised on the campus; they run free, I often can’t find them….though Josiah and Lily usually just sneak into first grade.
If you cut me open, HOPAC’s blood will run out.
The school feels like one of our children. When someone tries to harm this school in any way, my Mama Bear claws come out, even if it’s in an area I haven’t been involved in. Not that the school is perfect, but it’s my school. Don’t go messing with my school.
Tomorrow. Tomorrow, the new chaplain and his family arrive. And I must accept reality.
I’ve known for a very long time now that in June of 2013, we would leave HOPAC. I’ve known it in my head, but now it’s getting to my heart. Yes, we'll be back. And HOPAC will still be our kids' school. But it will be just that--our kids' school. Not ours. I won't know 300 students' names anymore.
This week, I’ve woken at 5 am on most days. This time, it’s my mind that’s spinning. Friday is the end of Term 2, the beginning of spring break. And the day the new chaplain arrives. The Beginning of the End. Three months left.
And the tears flow and my heart is heavy. I know it’s the right time; I know it. But letting go is still going to be really, really hard.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Consider the Lilies (Part 2)

During the summer of 2011, I was really worried.

Lily’s homecoming was taking waaaay longer than we expected.  And every day that went by, I knew our future plans were getting screwed up. 

Namely, because there are two ways for an adopted child to get U.S. citizenship.  One way is by that child living with their new family for two years overseas.  Then you just fill out a few simple forms, and whammo, you get the citizenship.  This is how we did it for both Grace and Josiah. 

Our original plan for Lily was to do the same thing.  However, the longer it took to bring her home, our chances seriously diminished to use that citizenship process.  Lily ended up coming home on August 23, 2011.  And we planned to go to the States for our year-long home assignment in July 2013.  Which meant that process would not work for Lily, since we would have to wait until August to even apply. 

So in the summer of 2011, I was really worried.  Being the long-range thinker that I am, I knew that the longer we waited for Lily, the more complicated it would be to get her citizenship in time for our home assignment.

But God showed me that summer that our theme of waiting for Lily was from Matthew 6:  “…do not worry about your life….See how the lilies of the field grow!  Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.  Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.” 

There is another way to apply for citizenship for an adopted child.  It is the fast-track way (the I-600, similar to the I-800, for those of you who know international adoption lingo).  But the fast-track way requires a home study by an American-licensed social worker…..which there is not an abundance of in Tanzania, East Africa.  How on earth would we find a social worker willing to fly to Tanzania and do a home study?  How would we afford it, even if we could find someone?

Then the amazing happened.  God brought us a social worker last year, out of the blue, who was with an adoption agency who worked a lot with American ex-patriots.  He did a home study for us.  This is what allowed us to start the process to adopt from Ethiopia. 

And for no extra cost, he modified that home study so that we could use it for Lily as well. 

In January, I submitted both applications to the American embassy:  one for Lily’s citizenship, and one that would allow us to be pre-qualified to adopt from Ethiopia. 

Yesterday, I found out that both were accepted. 

Why did I worry?  God had it all planned out.  Now Lily will receive her immigrant visa, and when she steps foot in the States in June, she will be a U.S. citizen.

And soon, in very short order, our dossier will be sent to Ethiopia, where we will begin the wait to be matched with a little Ethiopian boy. 

And God says, Easy as pie.  For heaven’s sake, stop worrying. 

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Orange Max

I do wonder sometimes who gets more excited about dress-up days at school:  Grace, or her Daddy.  It's a toss-up, really.

Last week was Book Week and Friday was Book Character Day.  First Grade had Dr. Seuss, and so the Medina family decided that Grace would be the Grinch.  (The nice Grinch, we said, after he decided to give all the toys back.)

Part of the reason we decided on the Grinch was so that Grace could bring Minnie to school.  Except that, according to Daddy, it was a problem that the Grinch's dog, Max, was a brown dog, and Minnie was white.
So that sent him on a quest:  Turn Minnie into a brown dog.  Hair dye did not work.  Henna did.  Which actually turned the poor dog orange, but you get the idea.
Never a dull moment around here. 

She got the prize for best costume in her class.  I think that actually the judge just felt sorry for Minnie.  

When I brought Minnie home from school Friday morning, after the assembly, our gardener gave me a really strange look at the now-orange dog. 

Dawa?  he asked.  [Medicine?]  Makes sense, since we are constantly fighting ticks.

I thought about this question for about three seconds.  Then I realized that I didn't know the Swahili words for dye, Grinch, Dr. Seuss, or costume.  Or, even if I did, how he could possibly understand why children would dress up like book characters, AND why it would therefore be necessary to have an orange brown dog. 

I gave up.  Yes, Dawa, I said. 

Who knows?  Maybe henna will keep the ticks away. 

Friday, March 8, 2013

Our Theme

I went back and revised my previous post three or four times this week.  I just couldn't get it right; it wasn't saying what I wanted it to say.  So tonight it struck me.  Duh.

Grace.  It's been all grace.  That's what I want to say. 

I know I've said it before.  But as I look back over our ten years in Tanzania, that's really our theme. 

One of the things that scares me about going back to the States is that people often see missionaries on a different plane.  That somehow they are more spiritual or special or maybe halos hover over their heads.  People always apologize when they cuss in our presence.  Ugh.  Please don't.  Apologize, that is. 

What I was trying to say in that last post is that it's all been grace.  I've seen amazing youth leaders before, the ones who are able to get even the grumpiest student to laugh.  That's not us.  We came here young and naive.  We learned on the job.  We made a lot of mistakes.  We screwed up some relationships. 

A long time ago, a mentor told me that 90% of ministry is just showing up.  And that's what we've learned.  That God blesses those who show up.  And keep showing up. 

We have seen fruit from our ministry, and we have been tremendously blessed.  But it's not because God has gifted us more than anyone else.  It's because we just kept showing up. 

Sometimes we get asked how we know we were "called" to live in Africa.  I always tell them:  It starts by saying "Here am I; send me!"  Then opening your eyes, seeing a need you can fill, and doing it.  Whether it's across the world or across the street. 

The rest is grace. Because really, we are broken, wretched people who don't act very missionary-like on a regular basis. 

Telling God, "Whatever You Want" is super scary. Until you've done it enough times that it becomes exciting. 

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Whatever He Wants

It wasn't always lollipops and rainbows.

When we came back to HOPAC in 2005, Gil took the chaplain role.  He was going to teach all the jr. high and high school Bible classes, but he also was going to invest heavily in discipleship.  Because back then, there was none.

There were no youth groups or youth pastors at any of the international churches.  Some students had formed their own youth group which was being led by an 11th grader.  No adults.  There were no Christian counselors in the city, no youth camps, no mentoring programs.  There were a lot of teachers at HOPAC who really cared about the students, but they were busy with teaching their own subjects.  A lot of kids fell through the cracks. 

So we took on all of it:  chaplain, Bible teacher, youth pastor, camp leader, discipler, counselor, mentor, coach.  The students couldn't really get away from us!  What's ironic about all of this is that we had never really felt called to work with teenagers.  But we knew we really, really loved HOPAC students, and we knew God had prepared and equipped us for this. 

But there were many times we were in way over our heads. 

Once we had two girls who were so anorexic that both eventually had to go back to their home countries for treatment.  One of them even lived with us for a while. 

A parent called us late one night and asked us to come to her house:  Her teenager had just swallowed 40 ibuprofen tablets. 

A student once admitted to me that her Dad was beating up her Mom, and sometimes the kids too.  The hardest part was realizing that because of certain circumstances, there was nothing I could do. 

Once a parent called us because their daughter had cut up her arms and had locked herself in her bedroom.  Another year we had at least 5 kids cutting.

We had a student admit to date rape.  Another we highly suspected had had an abortion.  We had students who were held up at gun point while their homes were robbed.  We had four students who lost a parent to tragedy. 

Somewhere in there I started to take counseling classes through distance learning.  The burdens were overwhelming. 

When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God.  For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.  I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling. (I Cor. 2)

Once we had a parent get really, really angry at us and then shun us from their family.  There was a year we went through really sharp criticism from an administrator.  Another time there was a teacher who seriously hated my guts.

There were disagreements, and big, big disappointments.  There were times when nothing went right.  There were times when I knew I had blown it with a student--totally said the wrong thing at the wrong time.  I often asked myself what the heck I was doing here. 

I learned so much about perseverance. 

I learned so much about giving out of my weakness and seeing God work in spite of myself.

And it did get easier.  God brought us more people.  He brought HOPAC a full-time, fully trained counselor.  He brought Young Life leaders to HOPAC who have taken over the youth group and a lot of the discipleship.  And as any youth leader knows, if you hang out with young people long enough, they start to grow up.....and you get to see the fruit of your labor. 

Are you willing to say to God that He can have whatever He wants?  Do you believe that wholehearted commitment to Him is more important than any other thing or person in your life?  Do you know that nothing you do in this life will ever matter unless it is about loving God and loving the people He has made?  (Francis Chan)