Friday, June 24, 2016

God Doesn't Owe Me the American Dream

I may have spent half my life on the African continent, but I still have the American dream.

It usually comes to me when I am most frustrated with my life here; when I've just about had it with the heat or the bugs or the roads.  That's when my imagination activates, and I picture myself in a quiet American neighborhood, lined with big trees that change with the seasons.  I own my own house; everyone speaks my language; my children ride bikes in the street without fear; I can go to the store and actually find what I need.   And life is peaceful, and safe, and predictable.

The images flit around my consciousness; I rarely stopped to really think about it.  But I recently realized that deep down, I have always assumed that would be my life someday.  That somehow, that sort of life should always be the goal.

I may have lived in Africa for 18 years, but I am still very American.  

I was astonished to realize that unconsciously, I believed that the American dream is owed to me.  That God wants it for me.  That because he loves me, therefore I will someday receive the Good Life.  Almost as if it's a given.  An assumption.

What a lie.

Sometimes I think it's easy for American Christians to see everything tragic that is happening Out There, and make the assumption that God could never let that happen to us.  That happens to other people, to other nations.  Not to Americans.  Not to American Christians.  As if we are somehow set apart, special, blessed.  

I spent my childhood in Liberia, so I still read updates about Liberia and Ebola.  The media has mostly moved on, but Liberia has not.  Today I read, "The poverty that made the 2014 epidemic possible appears to have deepened.  Although the country has fallen out of the headlines....another outbreak is likely."  And this on top of crushing poverty, farms destroyed, and very little way forward.  "Come down to the ground and ask the survivors themselves whether they are getting the relief," said [an Ebola survivor], "Life after Ebola is worse than the Ebola virus itself."

I read recently about Venezuela, with country-wide food shortages; thousands of stores with empty shelves, and families waiting in line for hours for rations.  And then there's Syria.  And Iraq.  And North Korea.  And countless others.

I know with much certainly that Christians exist in all these countries.  Those chosen and loved and saved by God, who desperately seek after him.  Yet he allows a pastor to lose his wife and children to Ebola.  He allows the Syrian Christian family to be forced to leave their home, their business, their country and become refugees at the complete mercy of others.  He allows the North Korean Christian to be turned over to the torture camps by the betrayal of his own son.

And I think:  Why do I assume this won't happen to me, to my country?  Sure, I know I am not immune from cancer, from accidents, from tragedy.  But do I really think that God holds America in a special category; that he won't allow it's destruction, that he won't allow my financial ruin, that he will always ensure my country's safety?

Why do I think that?  Why do I assume that he owes me a peaceful American dream-life, when he doesn't grant it to almost any other Christian anywhere in the world?

Americans are optimistic people, and we are goal-oriented.  Everything always works out for us, right?  We highly value personal peace and prosperity, and we will do almost anything to gain it or keep it.  But sometimes, American Christians have taken that American mentality and mixed it in with our Christianity.  I absorbed this even though I spent half my life overseas.  Yet how can it be true for Americans, and not true for the Christians in Liberia, or Venezuela, or Syria?

I've forced my American dream into my consciousness, cut it apart, and analyzed it with Scripture.  God does not owe American Christians anything.  He does not owe me a savings account or health insurance.  He does not guarantee that my children will have the opportunity to go to college and become prosperous citizens.  He does not promise religious freedom, or pleasant vacations, or safety on American streets.  He doesn't even promise that America will continue to exist as we know it.  

Hey, if God has allowed you a beautiful house on a tree-lined street, 2.5 children, and religious freedom, fantastic.  Use it all to his glory.  Maybe that will be my life someday too.  But it's not an expectation.  I'm not going to assume that America, or the government, or God will make my dreams come true.  Everything I have already been given (which is a lot), I want to hold with an open hand.  My hope is in Christ, my destination is heaven, and nothing in this life is guaranteed. Today I have it; tomorrow I might not.  He gives and takes away.

Does that scare you?  It scares me.  But it shouldn't.  If Christians all over the world have put their trust in God when running for their lives, or suffering under an oppressive government, or a disease is ravaging their community, then we can too.  Maybe we need to pay better attention to how they do it.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Medina Life, March through June

This term in 4th grade, Grace learned about ancient Greece.

Grade 4 on Greek Day

Josiah's 2nd grade assembly performing "You Make Me Brave"...and we all cried.

These boys....they adore each other!  (Okay, 95% of the time, but that's pretty good.)

Lily's first grade class learned about the Masai this term.

Lily competing in the Bible verse celebration.

Me at the Haven of Peace Academy Board retreat.  Did I ever tell you I'm on the HOPAC board?  Well, I am.  It takes up a good chunk of time, and it's really important, but doesn't exactly generate exciting blog posts.  Or exciting blog pictures, for that matter.  

My little Narnian frozen statue.  Grace was thrilled to be a part of "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe" last month.

Preparing for the great battle against the White Witch.

Running:  The Medina kids all ran this term!  Grace and Josiah both were on the track team, they both ran the 5K and participated in school track days and an inter-school meet.  Lily ran on sports day, and Johnny joined her for the 1K.  We've got runners in this family!

Grace was pretty excited about the water station during the 5K.

Josiah, of course, blew us all away.   He's got a big ol' collection of ribbons now.  

Delicia Roberson, the beloved music teacher of all my kids, got married.  She had one of the most fun weddings I've ever attended, and it was so special that my girls got to be there too.

The HOPAC community at Delicia's wedding...we kind of took over!

Tag rugby.  Someone needs to come over here and teach my son how to play football so he can try to be American.  

Sports Day.  Go Green House! 

HOPAC graduation:  I got to be an "auntie" in this girl's life the last few years.  

Last Thursday, on HOPAC's last day of school.  

Our awesome teammates (and friends), Mark and Alyssa, just left for a six-month home assignment.  We are on our own in the training program until they get back.  We will sure miss them!

Many thanks to Abi Snyder and Rebecca Laarman, who took a lot of these pictures.  

Friday, June 17, 2016

Today is 10 Months Exactly, and We Had Miracles Today

"I don't want to go back to the Baby Home."

Today is the first day of summer break.  I told the kids that I wanted to get an organized start to the summer, so we had pulled out all the toy bins and were sorting everything back where it belonged.  (I know, I know, I am that kind of boring Mom....but don't worry, they got rewarded for their hard work.)

Anyway, it was in the middle of that mess that he said it.  Out of nowhere, in no context whatsoever, Johnny announced, 

"I don't want to go back to the Baby Home."

I stopped mid-toy.  I picked him up and asked, "So you want to stay here with us?"

"Yes," he said decisively.  

It was one of those moments when time stood still.  

As I've written before, Johnny has done exceptionally well these last ten months.  He is an easy-going, fun-loving, absolutely adorable child.  But he still has been processing all the loss in his little four-year-old life.  So anytime he saw an airplane, or pictures of Forever Angels, or anytime I would tell him, "You are my Johnny," he would tell me, "I want to go back to the Baby Home."

We had the same conversation a hundred times.  I would explain to him that his friends aren't at the Baby Home anymore, that they have grown up and moved away just like him, that he is with us now and that we will love him forever.  He never got upset about it, but his insistence on going back never wavered.

Until today.  Today, June 17th, exactly 10 months after he came home, Johnny decided that he wants to stay.  

As wonderful as that is, after that, it got even better.

After this brief exchange with Johnny, I turned to my other kids and told them the good news.  "Johnny just told me he doesn't want to go back to the Baby Home!  He wants to stay with us!"  

Two of my children gave a whoop.  They understood the significance, and did a happy dance.  The third child, standing behind me, said,

"Mommy, there's water coming out of my eyes."

I turned and faced this child.  This child, eyes bright and brimming with tears, a face full of wonder and joy.  

This child.  

This child is the one who, out of my four, continues to fight the demons of the past, of an orphanage history that has left the heart broken.  This is the child who wrestles with fierce defensiveness, with uncontrollable emotion.  This is the child who has struggled most with Johnny joining our family, who would have happily sold him on ebay, or probably even given him away for free.  

I have despaired often over this child, who receives far more of my prayers than my other three, who at times seems to be so trapped in pain that it would be impossible to feel empathy towards others.  

Yet this is the one who was crying.  Crying with joy.  

I crouched near to this child. "Oh sweetie," I said.  "Those are tears!  Those are happy tears!  Are you feeling happy that Johnny doesn't want to go back to the Baby Home anymore?"  

"Yes!"  And a giggle.



I've got some water coming out of my eyes too.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Finding Church (and Laughter)

I'm pretty sure that in heaven some day, all the northern hemisphere folks are going to watch the Tanzanians worship God and they'll say,

"Shoot, why were our Sundays so boring all those years?"

(If you're reading in a feed, you'll have to click to the blog to see this video.)

You know you're in for some movement when your worship leader starts off by saying, "Okay everybody, make sure you spread out and have room for dancing."

And this particular church?  Presbyterian, people.  Not even Pentecostal.  When in a sub-Saharan African church, you dance.  Dance or go home.

The dancing is my favorite part of church here.  But other than that, church has been a struggle sometimes.  We spent 10 years at international churches during our years at HOPAC.  But now that our ministry is to the Tanzanian church, we've felt compelled to be a part of it on Sundays.  Which means attending church where Gil and I are often the only white folks (or rather, I am the only white person, since Gil is a nice shade of brown).  We are different in color, in culture, in language.  We stick out like sore thumbs.

It doesn't help that in our effort to network with different pastors, that means we visit lots of different churches.  So it's taken a long time to really feel connected anywhere.

Which makes me particularly thankful for this group.

A number of months ago, we joined the small group from our church that meets in our area of the city.  We are the only non-Africans in the group.  They've been meeting together for a long time, and we are the outsiders.  But they have welcomed us with open arms; they have invited us into their lives and cultures.

Last weekend they planned a special dinner for couples with the purpose of strengthening marriage, and they invited us to help.  It was one of those evenings with good conversation and even better laughter.

Laughter, I think, is one of those absolute necessities to fellowship.  We are privileged indeed.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Sometimes It Feels Like Everyone Is Leaving

When you say yes to being a missionary, you sign on to a life of saying goodbye.  But not always in ways you expect.

You expect to say goodbye to your old life.  To all your friends, your church, every person in your family.  But what you might not realize is that once you get to your new home, you'd better get used to saying goodbye there too.

In an age where an year seems like a Really Long Time to live overseas, it's rare to find those who stay three years,  Or five.  Or twenty.  Of course, I'm not minimizing the contribution of those who stay a short time, because we need those people too.

Many, many people have come and gone from our mission team since we arrived in 2001.  But there have always been the ones who stayed; the fixtures, the ones who were here before us and never left.
But now, this month, they are leaving too.

Steve and Carol Lyons opened this field for ReachGlobal.  In many ways, none of the rest of our team would be here if it wasn't for them.  Betty Carlson joined them shortly after.  All three worked here 20 years, but before that, they spent a whole other lifetime in Congo.  They speak a bazillion languages (okay, just five, but that's almost like a bazillion).  They have been the grandparents and auntie of our team since the beginning.

Josiah and "Babu Simba," 2010

Carol, aka "Bibi Simba," who always cooked up something delicious

"Aunt" Betty and Grace, 2006

The Aiken family also got here before us.  We've raised our kids together; we were a part of the same church plant for 5 years, and they've just always been a part of our lives.  Now they are leaving too.

Aiken family in 2010

Everyone else came and went, but the Lyons, and Betty, and the Aikens always stayed.  We create surrogate families on the mission field; we all are here without our extended families and so we cling to each other.  But it's times like this that reminds me that they too are transient.

Now there is no one in Tanzania with ReachGlobal who got here before us.  We are the veterans.  It's kind of lonely, and sad.  I'm tired of saying goodbye.

Reach Global Team, 2002

Thanksgiving, 2005

McKayla and Grace, ages 2 and 1, 2007

McKayla and Grace, ages 3 and 4

Reach Global Team, 2008

4th of July,  2010
Easter, 2015

Reach Global Tanzania, Last Sunday, June 5th

Friday, June 3, 2016

Children Are No Longer for Sale In Uganda

Imagine this:

Wealthy Saudi Arabian families hear about the 400,000 children languishing in foster care in the United States, and feel a deep desire to help with this crisis.  However, these Saudi families don't have the time to go through foster parent training and don't want to spend large amounts of time in the U.S. They do, however, have lots of money, and are able to find lawyers to find loopholes in American laws to make this happen.

Unfortunately, the Saudi families can't actually adopt the children immediately according to US law.  So instead, they have the courts grant them guardianship.  Then they take the kids back to Saudi Arabia and adopt them there.  Some of the kids haven't even been released for adoption-- one day, they should have been reunited with their birthparents.  But the adoptive families are sure they are giving them a better life, so it will all be okay.

In fact, these adoptions become so popular in Saudi Arabia that there aren't enough American kids in foster care to go around.  So the lawyers hire "facilitators" to go out and "find" children in the poor areas who might like to experience a "foreign exchange program" in Saudi Arabia for a few years.   Lots of poor American parents sign up.  After all, life with a fabulously wealthy Saudi family has got to be better than life in the ghetto.  The parents just don't realize they will never see their kids again.

If such a scenario would infuriate you; if you would demand the end of such a monstrosity, then that's good.  You should feel that way.

But this is exactly what's been happening in Uganda for the past few years.

Uganda has never had an official international adoption program.  The law was extremely clear:  any non-Ugandan who wanted to adopt must foster the child for three years--in Uganda--before the adoption could be finalized.

But Africa has been popular in the adoption world for the last two decades.  And since Liberia's program closed (because of corruption), and Congo's program closed (because of corruption), and Ethiopia's program massively slowed down (because of corruption), agencies were eager to find a way to get kids adopted out of Uganda.

Unfortunately, adoption agencies just had that nasty 3-year residency law to deal with.  So, they found some lawyers who decided they could "make" a way (for the right price, of course) for Americans to bring children home from Uganda.  Sure, the law said that anyone who adopted a child had to live in Uganda for three years, but the law did not say that a prospective legal guardian had to live in the country at all!  Ah ha!   And since the United States does not require a child to be actually adopted before they move to the U.S., (because why would that be important???) these Ugandan children could enter America with their "legal guardians" and get their adoptions finalized in the States.  Bingo!  Another African country in the adoption bag.

But if orphans are getting rescued, does it really matter how it happens?

If you read my series on corruption in international adoption, you can already picture what happened next.  Orphanages, often funded by adoption agencies, sprung up by the hundreds all over Uganda.  Parents in poverty realized that sending their kids to an orphanage was a good way to get them three meals a day and free education.  And all of a sudden, thousands of kids were unnecessarily separated from their families.  Sometimes the families knew their kids would be adopted, but didn't feel they had any other choice.  Other times, the kids were trafficked.  Papers were falsified.  Everyone was lied to.  But money was the common denominator.

Behind the scenes, groups of children's advocates have been working.  And just last week, Uganda's president signed an amendment to the adoption law.  The loophole is now closed.  Legal guardianships can only be granted to Ugandan citizens. 

Friends, this is a win!  

This is a win for Uganda.
The government has taken back control of adoption in their country--exactly as it should be.  No longer will the agencies and the orphanages be accountable only to themselves.  A centralized authority will regulate adoption and child protection. Corruption should dramatically decrease, and that's a benefit for everyone, especially the poor.

This is a win for the kids in orphanages.
No longer is there a financial incentive for orphanages to fill up their beds.  No longer is there a "demand" for adoptable children which unnecessarily separates kids from families.  Instead, there is space for ministries to find alternative care for needy children, like foster care, assistance for those in poverty, and even support for parents of kids with disabilities.

This is a win for Ugandan families who want to adopt.  
Guess what?  This is a growing movement in Uganda!  In fact, I've heard that there is now a waiting list of Ugandan families who want to adopt a baby.  No longer will their desires be overshadowed by foreign agencies with lots of money who need to fill their demand.

This is a win for foreigners who want to adopt.  
Though the new amendment closes the "guardianship" loophole (which should have never been a thing in the first place), it also majorly reduces the amount of time it takes for a foreigner to legally adopt a Ugandan child--from three years to one year.  True, requiring a year of residency essentially ends international adoption.  Foreigners can still adopt--but only if they are residents, so this new amendment makes it significantly easier for them.  The best part is that this almost entirely dismisses the need for adoption agencies, cutting off almost all of the money flow, which should greatly encourage ethical adoptions.

In addition, there is a small provision in the law for the judge to make exceptions in extreme circumstances.  I know of children adopted from Uganda who had medical conditions that would have meant certain death if they had stayed behind.  This provision in the law should still allow children like this to find a new life in America.

Uganda is now on track to becoming a member of the Hague Adoption Convention.  Woohoo!

As I've said before, let me assure you that I am not casting judgment on any family who has brought home a Ugandan child.  Most of the time, adoptive parents are one hundred percent trusting their agencies, who probably never explained to them the reality of Ugandan law.  Some did adopt their kids the right way.  And certainly there are many true Ugandan orphans who have now found forever families.  Even in the corruption, God can bring out good.  But with this new law, light has been shone onto the dark side of Ugandan adoption.  It is a reason to celebrate!

This is a win for Uganda, its children, and for ethical international adoption everywhere!  Well done, Uganda!