Monday, December 28, 2015

Dear Mom and Dad, If I Suffered, It Was Worth It

ELWA Mission Station in Liberia, source unknown

Dear Mom and Dad,

Last week I read an article called "Should the Children Suffer?"  It's about a missionary father's struggle to trust God with the suffering his children are experiencing on the mission field.

In 1982, you took my younger brother and me to west Africa.  In the months preceding that move, I remember listening to you and my Gram--your mother--weeping loudly as you tried to get her to understand that decision.  Gram was not only devastated, she was angry.  And she even threatened to hire a lawyer to try to get custody of Paul and me.  Another grandparent fretted out loud over our deprived childhoods.

Some people would probably say that Paul and I suffered.

Paul got Hepatitis in Liberia. I got amoebic dysentery in Kenya.  Once we found a green mamba in our garage.  Twice, we lost almost all of our possessions due to war and evacuation.  In Ethiopia in 1991, there wasn't much to eat.  We never went hungry, but we all got skinnier.  I went to boarding school at age 13.   Before college, I attended six different schools in four different countries.  I made friends and lost them more times than I could count.  I grew up never really knowing my cousins.  When we finally moved back to the States, Paul was bullied.  I was weird.  We were completely oblivious to styles and trends and TV shows.  I struggled deeply to figure out where I belonged.

Rift Valley Academy in Kenya, 9th grade, Swala Dorm

Was it a mistake to take us to Africa?

But then I think of those times in Liberia, Dad, when you would put me barefoot on the back of your motorcycle, and the ocean breeze would whip my hair as the sun set over the Atlantic.  We would pick up the mail and then stop by our favorite beach spot and collect shells.

I think of the times my friends and I would take the canoe out into the swamp, the fear of leeches and crocodiles keeping us out of the water, but we would prance across the spidery roots of the mangrove trees.  There are the memories of that time that the millions of baby crabs hatched, or the bright blue jellyfish that would wash ashore every July, or sitting in the hammock on our front porch and watching the lightning hit the ocean.

The swamp.  Our house in Liberia was directly to the right of this picture.
 Photo credit:  Robin Shea McGee

Denmark, Australia, and Lebanon became real to me because my school friends came from those places. Leprosy and malaria were real, because I saw them too.  I witnessed the devastation of war.  I played with a little boy whose family ate frogs from the swamp when they ran out of food.  I encountered a little girl with a huge abscessed eye, begging outside of the supermarket.  I may have been sheltered from Michael Jackson, but I was not sheltered from the reality of life.

The path we walked to school.  Photo credit:  Robin Shea McGee

By nature, I was cautious, timid, and not at all adventurous.  But this life you chose forced me to become brave.  Airplanes, head scarves, foreign accents, large bugs....all lost their strangeness and scariness.  International travel became routine.  The world would no longer intimidate me.

Scores of missionaries and Africans poured their love and their lives into mine.  I experienced the joy that comes from sacrifice.  Together our family learned what it meant to trust God.  I tasted and saw that Jesus was not just for America.

So yes, Mom and Dad.  There was stress, and there was fear, and there was so much loss.  You could call that suffering.  But the formation of my heart, the richness of that life, and the indestructible joy....make the suffering feel small.   
I know you didn't make the choice to move to Africa because of Paul and me.  In fact, you made it despite us.  Like the author of that article, you chose to trust our safety and well-being to a Father who knows all about sacrificing his Son.  But in the end, it was the very best choice you could have made for your children.  I'm so glad you did.

Your Amy

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Oh the Weather Outside is Frightful, but the Air Conditioner is So Delightful

Medina Christmas Season, 2015

The best part of this Christmas season, hands down, was having my parents here with us.  In a distant second was the air conditioner, since the week before Christmas is the only time of the year we let ourselves run it during the day.  

4th Graders being silly

HOPAC's Annual Christmas production:  The only year we've had grandparents here to watch it!

Our annual Christmas celebration at Water World with co-workers and friends.

Johnny and his buddy Aaron

Johnny's first time ever decorating a gingerbread house. Didn't take him long to get into it.

At Dar es Salaam's only revolving restaurant.  Except that it wasn't revolving that day.  We really weren't that surprised....

We hosted a party for our mission team.

Johnny had just received the photo book I made him of all his pictures, past and present.  He got it out and showed it to just about everybody at the party that day.  "Yook!  John Jeremiah Medina!" he would say, pointing at the cover.

Daddy's homemade racetrack keeps Johnny busy for hours.

Skyping with people we love:  a Christmas tradition.  

Friday, December 25, 2015

Merry Christmas from Tanzania!

Sending love, joy, and a whole lot of heat, from our family to yours!  

This Christmas is especially great because Bibi and Babu came to visit us!

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Finding the Magic When Christmas Isn't Perfect

Liberia, age 6

My favorite childhood Christmas was the year I was in 7th grade.  Though we didn't know it at the time, it was my last Christmas in Liberia.  

That year, I had a lead part in the school Christmas production.  I was a chipmunk, and the fact that I found that exciting at age 12 explains a lot about missionary kids.  

Our neighbors on our mission station were from Arizona, and brought with them the Mexican tradition of luminarias, paper bag lanterns decorating the outside of their house.  My 7th grade year, we and a few other neighbors joined them, until our entire neighborhood street was filled with them.  The beauty, the stillness of that warm tropical Christmas eve, under a million stars, with our paper bag lanterns lining the road, far surpassed any electric Christmas lights I saw in America.  

I remember I loved my Christmas presents that year.  And yet the only specific gift I remember receiving was a silly little handmade stuffed creature who made its home in a coconut shell--something my mom had bought from a local artisan.  Gifts in Liberia were very hard to come by in those days, yet I never remember feeling deprived.

That Christmas eve, thieves broke into our home and stole our boom box and my mom's purse.  Yet even that event couldn't steal my joy, as we were thankful they didn't take our presents or our turkey defrosting in the kitchen sink.  That Christmas, one of our guests that filled our home put a sparkler in that turkey.  

From that day on, it remained in my memory as The Perfect Christmas.

Today, that memory amuses me.  We had no cold weather, a tree that would have made even Charlie Brown sad, rather pathetic presents, and a robbery on Christmas eve.  Yet I was overwhelmed by happiness that year.  

Christmas in Tanzania never feels perfect.  We can say "Jesus is the reason for the season," but we all know that we also look forward to the coziness, the beauty, the magic.  And that's hard to find out here.  We are away from the people we love most.  Baking cookies produces the same amount of sweat as running a marathon.  I have to keep all the cookies in the freezer and take them out just 5 minutes before we eat them, lest they turn into puddles before they are consumed.  No one puts up lights, shopping is limited, and my creativity is put to the test as I figure out ways to substitute ingredients in our favorite foods.  

Then I look at my children and can tell that none of that matters to them.  They like our spindly plastic tree, they don't mind that their gingerbread house has melted, and they will always associate Christmas with air conditioning, since it's the only time of the year we run it.  As I internally complain, one day Grace might say, "My favorite Christmas was the year I was nine."   I don't want to miss that magic.  
Photo credit:  Unknown..  This picture was recently circulated on Facebook by Liberia MK's.  In the distance, you can see our neighbor's house.  Our house was just a few hundred feet away.  

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Why Would I Believe Such a Crazy Story?

An angel appears to a young, poor, virgin Jewish girl and tells her that she will miraculously become pregnant with the Son of God.  I know.  Crazy.

Although, is that story so much harder to believe than the notion of a non-intelligent, but self-creating universe?  Both beliefs take faith.  It's just a matter of following the path of greater evidence.

But I digress.

It's a crazy story, but it's everything.

I see evidence of God everywhere.  It's a no-brainer to me.  In the creativity of leaf-cutter ants, in the way my skin heals itself, in the astonishment of a baby--an entirely new person--emerging from his mother's womb.  In the way that Beethoven affects me, in the sunset over the Serengeti, in homemade strawberry ice cream, in the fierceness of my love for children I did not birth--and in the sublime understanding that I can be moved to my core by these things.  Purpose and beauty and goodness and love simply cannot exist if there is no God.

I have no doubt that God exists.  

But that doesn't mean I don't have questions about who he is.  Because then I think of Ebola and ISIS and slavery and orphans and divorce and paralysis.  So I must ask:

Is God good?

Does he love us?

Does he see us?

If he sees, does he care?

Because a lot of the time, it sure doesn't feel like it.

But that's why we celebrate Christmas.  Because in Christmas, we remember that God, the designer of leaf-cutter ants, chose to become human, and not just human, but a newborn--totally helpless, totally dependent.  He chose to enter our world, our time and space, our dirt and pain and heartbreak, to walk with us and feel with us and cry with us.  He got our dirt between his toes and he got sick and threw up and he felt the desire of temptations that could ruin his life--just like we do.

Because he is good.
Because he loves us.
Because he sees us.
Because he does care.

I know, I know.  It doesn't answer the question of why AIDS or why rape or why toddlers fall out of windows and die.  Or why he's waiting so blasted long to fix it all.

We just can know, definitively, that he sees us; he knows us; he loves us.  Which is why hope and joy and love are not just positive words that look nice on Christmas cards.  Jesus came, and thus came the existence of hope, joy, and love.  Without him, they would just be pretty words that make us feel good until the reality of life sinks in again.

God with us.  It doesn't make any sense at all; that is, until we realize that it's the only story that makes sense of our lives.

The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness, a light has dawned.  

Monday, December 14, 2015

This Is What Hope Looks Like

What do you think would happen, if on the next 4th of July, the U.S. president cancelled all official Independence Day celebrations and instead told everyone to pick up a trash bag and start cleaning their cities?

That's exactly what happened last week.  When we went out our gate on Independence Day, the smoke from a thousand trash fires filled the air.  (Okay, so not exactly great for the lungs, but great for the city!)

Just six weeks into his presidency, Magufuli got out on the streets and picked up trash.

photo source here
But that's not all.

Dr. John Pombe Magufuli was declared Tanzania's fifth president on October 30th.  Just a few days later, he made a surprise visit to the National Hospital in Dar es Salaam.  Finding patients lying in the hallways, he sacked the hospital chief and broke up the board of governors, on the spot.

He then proceeded to cut the $100,000 budget set aside for his inauguration day down to $7000, and sent the remainder of the money to the hospital.  Within a few days, scores of new beds had been purchased, and the broken MRI machine had been repaired.

And with that, Magufuli began his run as one of the most hard-working, honest, and forthright presidents this continent has ever seen.  

He immediately, boldly took on the business tycoons who have bribed their way out of millions of dollars of import taxes.

When traveling to the capital for parliament meetings, he refused to fly and drove instead.

No longer are parliament ministers allowed expensive foreign trips abroad.  Instead, they are encouraged to visit rural areas of Tanzania.  No longer are government meetings allowed to be held in expensive hotels.

Traffic has gotten worse, because government officials are actually showing up for work.   When he cancelled the Independence Day celebrations for a clean-up day instead, he re-routed the party money into road construction.

Hope is surging throughout his country.  Everywhere, everyone is talking about it.  For a continent that has been plagued by corruption, civil war, and horrendous tyrants in leadership, Magufuli's Tanzania is soaring.

It's a great time to live in Tanzania!  Even America's president could learn a few lessons.  Pray with us that this is only the beginning of real, lasting change.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

My Favorite Kids, August 'till December

The emphasis around here lately has been on Johnny....but here's a look into my other sweethearts' lives.  

First Day of School

My first grader is lucky enough to have her brother's teacher from last year

Josiah's 2nd grade teacher

Grace's 4th Grade Teacher (and soccer coach!)

Pamoja Week (like Spirit Week)  Photo credit:  Rebecca Laarman

Math Detectives for Math Week.  We actually bought the hats from someone who was selling them on the side of the road.  Because, apparently, these are the kind of hats Math Detectives wear.  Now you know.

Grace is emerging as a fantastic soccer player....thanks her to hard work and her Daddy's instruction.

First grade assembly...Lily was the "prop girl" holding the water...she took the job very seriously.

Post-assembly love.
4th Grade Assembly