Friday, December 27, 2019

Read These Books

by Angie Thomas
Whoa! This was an excellent book and I highly recommend it--for Americans especially. It is extremely well written and has a page-turning story line with engaging characters. Deals sensitively, intelligently, and with nuance on issues of racism and police brutality in America. This is an important book! Technically it is young adult fiction, but unfortunately I wouldn't give it to my young teens. Not necessarily because of the profanity (which is on pretty much every page), but because a couple of scenes are more sexually explicit than I want my teenager exposed to. But adults? Please read this book.

Misunderstood: The Impact of Growing Up Overseas in the 21st Century
by Tanya Crossman
This book is the result of hundreds of conversations with third-culture kids. It's eye-opening and enlightening for any of us who are raising them, teaching them, or loving them.

Stronger Than Death: How Annalena Tonelli Defied Terror and Tuberculosis in the Horn of Africa
by Rachel Pieh Jones
This is a well-researched, well-written biography of Annalena Tonelli, an Italian Catholic who gave up everything to help the poor and sick in the Horn of Africa. It's a thought-provoking, disturbing but compelling book, especially for anyone who is involved in cross-cultural humanitarian work. Read it with a friend, because it provokes a lot of important questions without necessarily providing answers.

Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder
by Caroline Fraser
I spent a good portion of my childhood pretending I was Laura Ingalls, so I had to read this book. It is a fascinating account of what pioneer life really was like--and therefore shattered my life-long fantasy of wishing I was born in the 19th century. Despite it's dream-smashing quality, it was a worthwhile read. And after I finished it, I went back and read (most of) Laura's books again--and still enjoyed them!

Love Me, Feed Me: The Adoptive Parent's Guide to Ending the Worry About Weight, Picky Eating, Power Struggles and More
by Katja Rowell
A must-read on food issues for anyone raising adopted children.

Suffering is Never for Nothing
by Elisabeth Elliot
A new book by Elisabeth Elliot?!? I'm there! This is a transcription of a series of talks that Elisabeth gave on suffering. As always, it is full of grace, wisdom, and humor, reinforcing my opinion that I chose a worthy hero.

The Masterpiece
by Francine Rivers
I can't stomach most Christian romance, but this was a good "airplane read" on the way back to Tanzania in August. I appreciated the thoughtful theme of the effects of childhood trauma, and it was a satisfying, redemptive story without too much preachiness.

All You Can Ever Know
by Nicole Chung
This is a memoir written by a Korean-American adoptee who was raised in a white family. I highly recommend this book for adoptive parents, and I will certainly encourage Grace to read it in the next year or two. Though parts of it were so painful to read as an adoptive mom, it ultimately was a story of beauty from ashes.

King Leopold's Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terrorism and Heroism in Colonial Africa
by Adam Hochschild
It's hard to recommend a book that is full of so much of the depravity of man, but it's also necessary--especially for anyone who has any interest in Africa. This book is the account of the history of what is now known as the Democratic Republic of Congo, and how King Leopold of Belgium decided that he had the right to own it and rape its resources for his own personal profit (though he never even stepped foot on the continent). I read history like this and am not surprised when some Africans are intent on purging Americans and Europeans from their countries.

Saturday, December 21, 2019

Still Looking for That Better Country

I've been a foreigner for so long that I've forgotten what it feels like to live as a citizen.

It's now normal for me to stick out in a crowd, to get gawks, stares. Every two years, I apply for expensive visas for permission to live in Tanzania. Even though I've lived here sixteen years, I've never voted in a Tanzanian election, or even felt like I have a right to a political opinion. I've never owned a house. I know that just about everything I own will one day be owned by someone else, so I better not get attached to it. I have the uncomfortable feeling that some of those around me are in awe of my foreignness and unnecessarily defer to me, but others resent my very presence in their country.

Either way, I am an outsider.

It's become so normal that sometimes I forget how exhausting it is to live as a foreigner. It's like playing a card game, every day, where you keep discovering new rules that everyone understands except you. Just when you think you've finally got it all figured out--surprise! You don't. And you find yourself feeling like a two-year-old or a hard-hearted wretch or just a plain idiot.

As I think about the new life ahead of me--living as a citizen in a country that technically is my own,  sometimes I'm terrified; sometimes I'm grief-stricken, but other times I'm excited. Yes, my relationship with America is complicated, but the lure of the American dream is strong. We can settle down and put down roots. Maybe for the first time in my life, I can own a house! I can plant trees and watch them grow with my children. I won't have to worry about visas anymore. I won't stand out in a crowd. 

As much as I love living overseas, there's a part of me that aches for permanency, normalcy, security. They are feelings I have stuffed down and suppressed for most of my adult life. Now that there's a possibility of fulfilling them, they have risen to the surface.

I never realized how much I longed for a homeland until it was finally at my fingertips.

The appeal is strong. Which is exactly why I must push back against that feeling and remind myself that America was never meant to be my homeland. I can't put my hope in a country--even the richest, most powerful country in the world.

I could buy a house, and it could burn down. I could put down roots, and then lose a job. I could save for kids' college, and the economy could collapse. I could fit in--but as a Christ-follower, am I supposed to?

If I give into the temptation of allowing America to feel too much like home, to become comfortable, secure, rooted, then what happens when obeying God challenges that comfort? What happens when I need to stand for something that might sacrifice the personal kingdom I built for myself?

And haven't I always said, all these years, that one of the best parts of living overseas is how it reminds me that my real home is in heaven? So why would I want to give in to a desire that tells me my home is in America?

In the most famous biblical chapter on faith, there's a key line: The Faithful didn't get the homeland they longed for. They did not receive what was promised.

These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.

Kind of flies in the face of the American dream, doesn't it? The people in Hebrews 11 are our pillars of faith, yet they did not receive what was promised. They were strangers, exiles, nomads. They recognized that their homeland was not on this earth.

Those who never found a home on this earth are celebrated as our faith-heroes. 

There's no reason why God would want me to feel at home in this world. I keep craving it; I pursue it; seek after it....but it's a misplaced longing. In fact, if I do feel too much at home, then something is wrong. Because that desire was never meant to be fulfilled on this side of eternity.

Which is why, even in America, I will need to remind myself to keep living like a missionary.

Of course, it won't be wrong for me to buy a house and plant trees, or vote, or teach my children the Pledge of Allegiance. I just must be careful to remember where my true allegiance lies. Because my home will never be found on this earth.

Monday, December 16, 2019

This is What We Do With Media. What Do You Do?

I would love for someone to research what kinds of cultural changes took place in Tanzania starting in 2009. That's the year the the fiber-optic cable came to East Africa, bringing high-speed internet for the first time.

Before 2009, it cost 50 cents to send a text message. Internet came in by satellite and was agonizingly slow. We would beg people never to send us pictures by email because of the hours it would take to download them. Hours. Literally.

But starting in 2009, that all changed. And today, I spend the equivalent of $5 a month on my phone plan, which gives me all the calling and texting time I need. Our household spends about $30 a month on internet. We stream from Hulu and Netflix. We Skype. At HOPAC, I do everything on Google Apps (it's awesome!). Kids from fourth grade up have email addresses and are required to turn in assignments using Google Apps. I'm sure we're still "behind" the developed world technologically, but we are catching up fast.

But this is a whole new world in parenting, isn't it? And it's terrifying. How do we keep porn away from our kids? How do we keep out the predators? How do we teach them about healthy digital habits--when we struggle with it ourselves? How do we prepare them to handle cyber-bullying and sexting and social media pressure--knowing that we can shelter them from it for a while, but not forever? How do we train them to discern truth in the midst of all of the messages that bombard them through media?

Navigating this new world, we need each other. Not one of us can draw upon our own childhoods to help our kids through it. This is entirely new territory, for all of us.

So the purpose of this post is to share what our family does. Not because we have it all figured out, but because we don't. I would love to hear from others: What do you do? How do you navigate this new world with the kids in your sphere of influence? How do you keep them safe while still preparing for them for a digital world? Let's learn from each other.  

This is us:

1. Lily (age 10) has an iPod, Josiah (age 12) is getting an iPhone for Christmas (shhhh...don't tell him), and Grace (almost 14) has an iPhone. We also have a couple of Kindle Fires and a laptop that any of the kids can use, and Josiah recently purchased an Xbox One (which is his pride and joy). Parents get to know any passwords and are allowed to pick up and look through any device at any time.

2. Internet browsers are not installed on any of the devices. The only time our kids are allowed to browse the internet is for school purposes, which they can do on the "kids' computer." There is a very strong filter on that computer called Qustodio, which prevents almost all browsing. So when the kids need to do research for school, Gil or I have to put in a password to disable Qustodio for a specified length of time. Kids can only use the internet at the kitchen table within visibility of anyone walking by. The kids' laptop is never allowed in a kid's bedroom.

3. Kids are not allowed any screen time (for anything other than school work) on school days, with a couple of exceptions: Josiah gets 10 minutes a day on the ESPN app to check soccer scores, and Grace can use iMessage or WhatsApp several times a week for a limited amount of time. Grace also has unlimited access to the "notes" feature on her phone. (She journals a lot on her phone.) Grace is not allowed to WhatsApp boys without our permission (unless they are in a group chat). We'll give Josiah similar boundaries on his phone.

4. They are each allowed an hour of screen time on non-school days. For the boys, this is almost always Xbox (Fifa football in particular), and for the girls, they usually choose the YouTube Kids' app (often DIY craft videos). The kids can earn extra screen time in various ways (or get it taken away).

5. Gil has all of these devices synced to his phone. He is able to check in on exactly what they are watching and how much time they spend on a particular app. For Grace and Josiah, this means that we got them (used) iPhones. Though they were more expensive than other phones, the parental controls on them are much stronger, so it is worth it. All of the apps on all devices have time limits on them, they have curfews on them to disable at night, and no apps or advertisements can be accessed without parental permission. The devices are locked by parental settings that can be monitored and changed from any parental device.

6. A rule of thumb we use is, "If you ask, we might say yes. If you don't ask, you might lose a privilege." For example, if there's a song they want to listen to or a show they want to watch, if they ask first, then we will consider it. If they don't ask, but we see that they've watched or listened to something outside our boundaries, they might lose the device (or app, or privilege) for an amount of time. (We tried Spotify with these boundaries, but that wasn't successful. So Spotify didn't last on our kids' devices.)

7. We regularly talk to our kids about what is and isn't okay to put into your brain, and more importantly, why. We talk about the dangers of porn and how it's addicting and what it does to your brain and your relationships. We bribe them--literally--to let us know when they come across something that might not be okay. We say, "You will never be in trouble for telling us about something that you read or heard or saw that could harm you. In fact, this is so important that we will give you x amount of money when you tell us about these things." This was Gil's idea, and he did it because he wanted to take away the shame and secrecy that accompanies "forbidden fruit"--and so far, it seems to be working. The kids have done a good job of telling us when they come across something inappropriate. Our kids are still young and sheltered though....we know a lot more will hit all of us. But we're trying to set the stage now for wide open conversation down the road.

8. We put "worldview lessons" into our family devotion times. The kids love this, because it usually means that they get to watch a movie clip. We watch it together and then discuss: "What message is coming across in this scene? What are they trying to say about the world?" We routinely teach our kids that ideas are never morally neutral. Every book, every movie or TV show has a worldview. And if we aren't careful to root it out and understand it, we will find ourselves being influenced without our consent.

9. We are extremely careful about devices "from the outside." We rarely allow our kids to go to sleepovers, and when our kids' friends come to our house, their phones don't get our Wifi password. Our kids aren't allowed to watch or listen to anything on anyone else's device without asking permission first. This isn't always easy to enforce, because it's so easy for kids to get "sucked in" to someone else's device. When this does happen, we usually don't give out consequences (unless it was blatant disobedience), but we do have a talk (again) about why it's important to ask Mom and Dad first.

10. We have yet to navigate the social media world, which is fine by me. We've talked about it a bit with the older kids but they haven't really been interested since WhatsApp is what's most used in their friend groups. I read stuff like this and I want to keep my kids as far away from social media as possible. But I know the time will come when they will want it, so would love any advice on helping kids to navigate it.

I think what's most important to me is the family culture we are trying to create. "Screen time" is isolating, so when possible, we watch movies or play video games together. We are very careful about what the kids watch but we also have widened those boundaries as they get older--and we will continue to. We say things like, "You can't watch that now, but when you're older, you might choose to," because we want to create an expectation that they will become increasingly more responsible. We eat dinner together almost every night. We read novels together at bedtime and on family trips. We talk. A lot. We train our kids that this is a broken world so we have to be careful, but we also don't want to hide from it. We discuss what it means to "redeem the culture" and how to find echoes of God's story, even in a secular world.

The goal? A young adult who desires to live a life of holiness, not out of fear of punishment, but because he or she sees the value in it. Someone who knows how to think critically about media, how to discern truth from lies, and how to put down the phone and interact face to face.

Easier said than done, I know. We have not followed our own standards perfectly. We've had a couple of close calls that could have led down a dangerous road. But that's just made us more vigilant.

This is what we do. I'm sure there are some of you who feel we are being way too strict and some who feel we are too permissive. This is a hard line to walk! What do you do? Let's learn from each other.

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Parenting Tips (Or Not)

Anyone who has tried to teach an unmotivated middle school boy deserves, like, 50 million gold stars. Especially when sitting next to this boy at 9:00 at night, trying to stuff math concepts into his brain for a test the next day. This exercise is like stuffing a frozen turkey. Or tunneling through the Alps with a pickaxe.

And the boy is like, "Why do I have to do it this way? Why can't I just do it the way I want to do it?" 

And you're like, "Because you will get the ANSWER WRONG." And your voice raises in pitch and volume with each word.

And the boy just sits and stares at the gecko on the wall.

So then you (very calmly) set the timer on your phone and tell him, "Well, for as long as you sit here doing nothing, that's how much time you'll lose on the Xbox this weekend."

And then he sighs and says, "Fine. I'll sit here all night."

And then you become a raving lunatic who storms to the bedroom to demand that the boy's father remove the Xbox from the premises immediately. So the boy's father dutifully storms out and makes a big show of yanking out wires and heaving the Xbox onto his shoulder and taking it....I don't know...somewhere else.

And then you win the Parent of the Year Award.

(This is all a hypothetical scenario, of course.)

After spending over a decade controlling everything about your child's eating and sleeping and playing and learning, there's this difficult transition in parenting when one day you are startled to discover that your child is becoming an actual person. This often means a whole lot of wonderful, as you see this child become someone who cares and cooks and sings and unexpectedly surprises you with what he is capable of. And suddenly you realize that you are talking to her in an adult sort of way about adult sort of things. This child is actually becoming your friend. This is delightful.

But along with the wonderful, you realize that this child who is becoming a person is capable of forming his own thinking and choosing what you value...or not. This person might holler, "Why do I have to study? It's my life, why can't I choose to fail?" And you can holler back at this person, "As long as you are under my roof, you don't get the option of failing. Too bad for you!" But inside you start getting the sneaking suspicion that there's only so much you can do. Because even though for a lot of years you've been the controlling presence in that person's life, you don't get to be in control forever. Or even much longer. This is terrifying.

And you look down the road and see that it won't be long until this person will be independent of you and she will decide who to marry and who to worship and what to love. And there's not much you will be able to do about it.

Suddenly you find yourself grabbing hold of every minute. You panic one day when you realize, "I haven't taught her about eating disorders yet!" so you casually bring up the topic on the way to the grocery store and she looks at you like you might have lost your mind (which is possible). And you decide that maybe you're not actually as tired as you thought you were when his bedtime conversation turns to why God doesn't always answer our prayers. Because when will you get another chance to talk about it?

So you eventually bring back the Xbox. But you find a way to teach (again) about the importance of math homework, about the value of hard work, about what is worth treasuring in this universe, and about grace. Always about grace. Even for parents.

(That's the most important part.)

She got picked for the varsity team as an 8th grader, played as a starter for every game, and they won the international school tournament!

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

OCC Shoeboxes: Answering the Arguments

It's that time of year when articles start circulating about Operation Christmas Child. Having taken on the subject myself, I am always interested to read what others have to say. This week, I read this one from Washington Post: Filling millions of shoeboxes for poor kids seems like a great idea. Here's why it's not, by Brian Howell, a Wheaton professor. 

The article is excellent. But the comments on that piece spurred me to add a few of my own. I've copied a few of the comments here and added my thoughts below.


Argument #1: "We shouldn't criticize OCC Shoeboxes because they are a wonderful evangelism tool."

"The primary purpose of this outreach, which is to spread the word of Jesus Christ. That alone holds more value than any variety of items contained in the boxes themselves. The boxes are evidence of Christ’s love in action. Powerful message of faith, love and hope."

"Operation CHRISTmas Child. This charity also puts Bible materials into each shoebox, telling them about Christ and salvation. That's the message. The gift shows love."

My thoughts: 
I won't get into the evidence that the "Bible materials" are sometimes left out of boxes. Let's assume that the Gospel Booklet is included in the box. Let's assume that it's in a language that the recipients can read. Let's assume that the recipients are able to read. (Yes, that's a lot of assumptions.) The question remains: Even if all those things are true, are families more likely to read the booklet if it comes along with gifts for their children?

Well, let's think about what we would do. Let's say a local Hindu or Buddhist temple in your community advertised that they would be offering free Kindles or gift cards on one of their religious holidays. Would you go? Sure you would, especially if you were financially struggling. Would you read the religious literature that came with it? Out of curiosity, maybe you'd give it 30 seconds, max. What if you had to listen to a 30 minute religious lecture in order to get the gift? If it meant a free Kindle, why not? 

But what would be the chances of you giving that religion serious consideration? Probably next to nil. Now, if you were struggling financially or emotionally or spiritually, and someone from that temple came alongside you and loved you and sought to really help you through your problems, that might actually make a difference in considering that religion. Otherwise, you'd take your gift card and be out of there (well, until the next give-away). Right? And if the relationship is really what would make the difference, why would you need the "bribe" in the first place? 

Why would we expect people from developing countries to be any different?

I love that Samaritan's Purse trains church leaders in children's ministry. I just don't understand why we need to ship toys and toothbrushes around the world in order to make that happen. 


Argument #2: These countries/communities/families are so messed up that the best we can do is just give the children a little joy. 

"This guy [the author] has some real problems.....perfect example of "the glass is half empty, not half full". Sad man who doesn't get it. Besides many of these kids live in environments where businesses and local charities are corrupt [and] looted by their authoritarian regimes. And many kids have no functional parents and homes."

My thoughts: 
Um, I'm a little ticked off by this one, actually. So.....if the businesses and local charities are corrupt and looted, why are we assuming that OCC shoeboxes will be exempt from that? How about this extensively detailed example of the massive corruption surrounding OCC shoeboxes in Zambia? 

I'm not going to address the "no functional parents and homes" comment because that is just plain insulting to people in poverty. And even if it was universally true, is a little box full of toys what children with "no functional parents and homes" really need?


Argument #3: Every child, worldwide, desires/needs/deserves toys on Christmas Day. 

"This article gets a 12 on a scale of 10 on my "Bah-humbug" meter."

"I am stunned. What ever happened to the joy of giving, and the joy in a child's heart when receiving, on Christmas day? Operation Christmas Child is not meant to support the local economy. It is not meant to create feelings of independence. It is not meant to address systemic problems or empower local leadership. It's purpose is purely to bring a little joy into a poor child's life on Christmas day, nothing more, nothing less."

My thoughts: 
Lots of eye-witness accounts tell us that most boxes do not arrive by Christmas, and therefore are not associated with Christmas at all. But even if they do, why do we assume that children around the world are hoping for toys for Christmas? 

We Americans have to get the romanticized notion out of our heads that children around the world long for a Christmas Day experience that mirrors that of our own children.

Let me put it this way: Have your children, even once, longed for an amazing Eid celebration? Probably not. They don't know what Eid is. You might not know what Eid is. Even though two billion people in the world celebrate Eid, your children aren't sitting around on Eid, wishing desperately that some rich Muslims would send them gifts. It's not even in their vocabulary. So why should we impose our ideas on the world of what we think children "need for Christmas?" Most children around the world don't celebrate Christmas. Many haven't even heard of it. So let's not fill shoeboxes in order to just be Santa Claus, fulfilling what we think are the Christmas wishes of children around the world.

And to extend this example a little more, let's say that a mosque in your community decided to give out free goat legs for Eid to anyone who wanted one. After all, that's what they enjoy on Eid. If you were financially struggling, you might take advantage of this offer. But considering you had never cooked a goat leg before and might not even like the taste, you probably wouldn't be that excited about this gift. You might wish that they would have just given you the money instead of the meat. So why do we impose our idea of what we enjoy for Christmas on people of other cultures? 

For those communities overseas that do celebrate Christmas, why can't local churches source local gifts for a children's outreach? If they need funding, then Americans could provide that funding, but I guarantee that the money would go so much further by buying local products that are not only cheaper, but far more desired and appreciated by local people. 

My local church in Tanzania is doing just that. And you know what they are buying poor children? School shoes. So that they can go to school. Not shoeboxes filled with toys, but actual shoes. They are meeting a direct, personal, specific need that will light up the children's faces and improve their standard of living. Want to support that campaign? Contact me and I'll let you know!


Argument #4: The giver gets so much joy out of filling a shoebox. 

"I get his points but don't agree that this kind of giving is bad. One of the virtues to such programs is getting Americans thinking about people in other countries, which down the road, theoretically, could lead to better policies in these countries because more Americans will understand the need. We can be very insular here. But beyond all that, it's just nice to give."

"There's something about packing a box yourself that brings more joy than writing a check."

"There's a human connection to packing a box, knowing human hands elsewhere will touch the same items."

My thoughts: 
Why should giving ever be mainly about what makes the giver feel good? Yes, it's great to teach our children to think about other countries, but aren't there better ways to do that? Do we really want to teach our children that sending toys half way around the world is the best way to help poor people?

I addressed this in How to Help Your Kids Become Poverty Fighters.


Argument #5: Why can't we both support development work and fill shoeboxes?

Oh, come on. Isn't this being a little curmudgeonly? Try doing both -- giving kids Christmas presents and developing projects for long-term development. It is, really, Christmas.

My thoughts: 
What if the Christmas presents are actually hindering development because of the unhealthy relationships they cause? What if OCC shoeboxes are actually hindering church planting efforts

Wouldn't it make sense to steward the massive amount of resources behind OCC (money and manpower) to help that child in more ways than just bringing him or her "a little joy" on Christmas day?

Far more important to these children are things like clean water, the chance to go to school, and to be able to live with their families instead of being sent to an orphanage. Child sponsorship or investing in development projects are a far better uses of our resources and energy. 


Argument #6: If OCC is so ineffective, why does Samaritan's Purse keep doing it?

No one brought this up this time, but I've heard it many times before.

My thoughts:
Let's ask these questions: What if OCC generated so much publicity for Samaritan's Purse that they keep the program going, even if it's ineffective? What if that publicity is what raises funds for their (much more effective) development projects around the world? What if Samaritan's Purse was able to take all the money that goes into OCC (both for the gifts and the shipping) and have it at their disposal for other things? Would they really choose to use it for shoeboxes? Or for wells, hospitals, and schools? 

So basically that means that even though I'm saying that there are far better ways to steward our giving than OCC, don't stop giving in other ways. For that matter, don't stop giving to Samaritan's Purse. Why not take the $30 you spend on a shoebox and donate it directly to one of their development projects? 

*Added November 30: Whoa! From a Samaritan's Purse employee's perspective, this article is a must-read. "As an employee of the same parent company, I can tell you that OCC is not run like a ministry, it is a business. As such, it will do what people pay it to do. We can repeatedly sound the alarm that OCC is hurting people in Jesus’ name, but it will not change so long as it’s being paid to continue."

This is a picture circulated on Facebook: OCC shoeboxes being sold in a local market. I'm sure the senders didn't have this  picture in mind when they carefully packed those boxes.

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Deepest, Darkest, Dangerous....America

When we were in the process of moving to Tanzania, Gil and I tried to buy life insurance. We had two agents checking dozens of agencies for us, and neither could find a single life insurance agency willing to take us.

Why? Because we were moving to deepest, darkest, dangerous Africa. Um, what? We weren't moving to a war zone. I wondered if the insurance companies knew something we didn't.

Granted, we've had a few scary things happen to us here. There were a few years when violent home invasions were so common (we know more than a dozen friends who have experienced it) that we had a hard time sleeping at night. Yes, there's malaria and Dengue fever. Sure, we worry that there's no 911 to call. But you know what's ironic? I'm a lot more worried about taking my kids to live in the States than I am about raising them in Tanzania.

Kids don't get shot at schools in Tanzania. Gil and I spent 8 years living in Santa Clarita, where the most recent school shooting took place. I taught in the Saugus School District, where schools went on lockdown. I know a number of people (or their kids) who were at Saugus High School that day. Then I read that one victim was named Gracie. I have a Gracie. And the other victim, Dominic, looked a little like my Josiah. It hit home.

But it's not just school shootings. It's that I'm taking my kids to a country that isn't always just or kind to dark-skinned people, especially young men. It's a country where greed and materialism lurk around every corner, tempting my children to idolize "stuff" instead of living with gratefulness for what they have. A place where women's skin sells, where girls have to fit into a cookie-cutter image to feel beautiful. Where the worldview fights to ingrain young people with a deeply fractured view of the body, a low view of life, and a flippancy towards sexuality.

Sure, my kids are exposed to some of those things while living in Tanzania. The internet is everywhere now, so there is no sheltering children from the worldview of America. But the truth is that my kids are living an extremely healthy life here. They go to a Christian school that is highly international both in students and staff; their teachers and coaches are deeply committed to them; they play lots of sports but it doesn't take over their lives. They are daily exposed to poverty and are being trained in service. They live in a place that values community over time; there is very little junk food; there is only one store at the mall where they want to spend their money.

Relocating to America feels much more like moving to a scary foreign land than moving to Africa ever did.

It's all perspective, of course. I did once write that Sometimes Africa Scares Me. There are no truly "safe" places on this side of eternity, not even in Santa Clarita, one of the safest cities in America.

But as a Christ-follower, is safety ever supposed to be my motivation? Am I supposed to be seeking after Heaven on earth? Or do I go where God leads me, and trust Him to be my safety?

Even in America.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Pamoja Week at HOPAC Actually Came Out of Disunity

Pamoja Week at Haven of Peace Academy actually came out of disunity.

When missionaries move overseas, they expect to learn to navigate the new culture of their host country. What they don't usually expect is that they will also need to learn to navigate the cultures of other missionaries.

Sometimes this is hilarious. For example, I have fond memories with British or South African friends as we laughed ourselves senseless over our cultures' varying uses of terms such as "hooter," "fanny pack," and "shag rug." Depending on where you are from, you may be horrified that I just wrote such words on my blog.

Other times are not so funny. Like, for example, when you are trying to run an international school, and the Brits and the Americans have very different ideas of what makes a good school. One prominent example was when my friend Lauren (also an American) and I went to the (British) high school principal and told him that we wanted to plan a graduation ceremony for the graduating seniors. He looked at us as if we had just said we wanted to take the students on a trip to the moon. Because in England, there are no high school graduation ceremonies. Students don't graduate--they just pass or not pass exams.

And that was just a small conflict. Back around 2004, the debate over American versus British curriculum almost made the school implode. It was like the Revolutionary War all over again, this time in Tanzania.

So anyway. Back to Pamoja Week. About 10 years ago, Gil and I took over the high school Student Council. Another (American) teacher had started it a couple of years previously, but hadn't gotten very far because the concept of Student Council is also very American, and the British principal didn't know what to do with it.

But when Gil and I took over, the high school principal just happened to also be American. Woohoo! (This is another important thing for missionaries to learn: You'll eventually get your way if you just wait long enough for everyone else to leave.) So, great. We got Student Council off with a bang. And what does every good American Student Council plan? Spirit Week, of course!

Our American high school principal immediately agreed: Of course we could do Spirit Week! Why not? Except that the elementary school principal was British. And he had never heard of Spirit Week. His interpretation was Holy Spirit Week (after all, HOPAC is a Christian school), so down in elementary school, they had a special emphasis on the Fruits of the Spirit that week. He was fairly disturbed that up in high school we were dressing up with our clothes on backwards and throwing marshmallows at students' peanut-butter faces. Because in England, you don't have fun at school. (Hey--their words, not mine.)

This caused some--ahem--interesting discussions. Gil and I, in our stubborn American-ness, couldn't understand why we couldn't do it our way. The right way, of course.

It all came to a head during a rather tense "discussion," when Kandyl Kotta, the Student Council president (who was thankfully neither American nor British, but Tanzanian), politely told off all the adults in the room. She basically told us we needed to get a hold of ourselves and act like adults.

Yeah, we were pretty ashamed of ourselves.

It was also Kandyl who suggested that we change the name of Spirit Week, since the name itself was causing a lot of confusion. We brainstormed ideas, but in the end, it was Kandyl herself who suggested the winner: Pamoja Week. Pamoja is the Swahili word for together.

And so, like so many other things at Haven of Peace Academy, Pamoja Week became unique to HOPAC. At first, Gil and I tried to stuff it into the American "Spirit Week" box by ending the week with a "homecoming" type event with a big soccer game on Friday night. Except, try as we might, we never could get a team to come play us for a night game. Instead, a couple of years later, the crowning event of Pamoja Week became International Day, an event that had already been in place since the school's inception. They fused together perfectly.

Ten years later, how fitting that the week that caused so much division is now a celebration of our togetherness. How fitting that the week we celebrate our togetherness ends in a day where we celebrate our unity in diversity.

Last week, the Medina family celebrated our last Pamoja Week and International Day. With us leaving, I'm worried that the story behind it will be forgotten. Which is why I wrote it down today.

Pamoja Week and International Day, 2019

I taught her in fifth and sixth grade! AHH! It was so awesome to have her there!

And more nostalgia....The Medina family at International Day Over the Years (in no particular order)

Sunday, November 10, 2019


The grief of leaving hits me at odd times.

Josiah just turned twelve and got bacon for his birthday. He was thrilled. And I was wistfully sad to think about how this is the last birthday where anyone will be excited to receive bacon or Pringles or Coco Pops as birthday presents.

There are times when leaving feels like a relief. My job is stressful, often, these days. I am unfailingly determined to finish well, to complete the projects I started, to invest all that I can into this school I adore. People ask me what I want to do next year and I say, I really just want to plant flowers and get to know my neighbors. Do I have to get a job? Because I am tired.

But then I sit here in my office at school, and see the frangipani tree blooming outside my window, and the football games going on behind it. In a few minutes I will go out to watch Lily's game, and I will see her play with girls she has grown up with, many of them with her skin tone and all of them with a million shared memories. I'll sit with the other moms and we'll cheer them on with the expanse of the Indian Ocean as our backdrop, sweating together underneath the wet-blanket of November mugginess.

I relish this place, this moment, this feeling. And I grieve.

Sure, this won't be my last football tournament. But next time it will be called soccer, and I'll be surrounded by people I don't know but who know each other and have their own sub-cultures and millions of shared memories that don't include me. I'll have Costco granola bars and fruit snacks in my bag instead of home-popped popcorn; I'll probably be wearing a jacket. I won't be known; I will be another new face, the one with the odd story of living half her life in Africa.

Everything is a Last this year. The last time I'll get to ignore Halloween. The last fourth Thursday in November that will be a work day; the last Thanksgiving I'll celebrate on a Sunday. The last time I'll hack up a pumpkin to make pie (because who wants to do that when you have Costco???). The last air conditioned Christmas.

Each day is a Last Day. I think of that often--Today is the last November 9th I will experience here. This week is our last Pamoja Week. Our last International Day will be this Friday. It will be Number 16 for us. How will I live my life without International Day? I guess the same way that I've lived sixteen Thanksgivings without celebrating on the fourth Thursday of November. Part of my heart has always been somewhere else. But I am used to that by now.

What's ironic is that in August of 2012, I wrote a post called "The Year of Lasts." It was the beginning of Gil's last year as chaplain at HOPAC. We knew we would be returning to Tanzania after a year, but our role at Haven of Peace Academy would be as parents only. After spending ten years of our lives breathing and bleeding HOPAC, we were moving on. I had no intention of returning to be on staff and I grieved leaving that life. Three years later, when the way opened widely for me to return, it totally took me by surprise. So in these Lasts, I rejoice in the icing on the cake--that I got to come back and work at HOPAC for three more years that I never thought I would get.

So I guess I need to be reminded that last is not always Last. Our God is surprising. After years and years of saying good-byes that I thought would be permanent--and weren't--I've learned instead to say, "See you later. The world is small."

There's a blessing, though, in knowing that each day is a Last. Many don't get that privilege--loss and change often come suddenly, without a chance to say good-bye, to finish well, to savor the Lasts. So the grief reminds me to slow down and savor what I do have today. Because that's how I should be living my life anyway.

Friday, October 25, 2019

Anybody Out There Looking for People Like Us?

The main benefit of using a free little Google blogspot is I've never felt the need to do any advertising in this space.

Until today. Because today, I'm advertising, um, us. Gil and I. Our family. Anybody out there looking for people like us? After 16 years in Tanzania, we're moving to America, and we are starting over. We are open to wherever God leads us.

It feels weird to write about this, because we are still all in here in Tanzania. We are still very much fully immersed in our life and ministry here. We love our life; we are not anxious to leave. July still seems very far away and it feels early to start thinking about what will be next. Yet rationally, we know that it's not that far away, and we need to start planning.

It's been a really long time since we've lived in America, so we're pretty out of touch. Yes, we are checking out job listings and doing a lot of research, but I also have over 2000 people reading this blog, and most of them live in America. So.....hi guys! Want us to be your neighbors?

In all seriousness though, I'm wondering if any of you might have some ideas for us. Mainly because we aren't just looking for jobs that could use our set of skills and experiences, but because we are looking for a unique kind of community--a school, a church, or a neighborhood that will be a healthy place for our unique family to transition to life in America.

Whether it's a community or a job, we really could use your two thousand sets of eyes and ears out there to help us find a good fit.

Ready? Here we go.

Regarding community: We would love to know where pockets of African immigrants are living in the United States. Or maybe refugee communities, or multi-ethnic immigrant communities. We would love to hear about churches or schools that have high populations of refugees or immigrants. We would be thrilled to know about Christian schools or college towns where there are thriving international student ministries.

Regarding jobs: Gil and I are "all in" kind of people. We love holistic ministry; hospitality is our thing. We have extensive experience in education, theological training, TCK ministry, cross-cultural ministry, and missions. We would love to find a church, school, or non-profit that sees our experience overseas (and our multi-racial family) as a advantage, with something unique to bring to an organization. I'll write a little more about the specifics of Gil and I at the bottom of this post.

Bonus points if the community or job is in or near California. But even if it's not, we want to hear about it. (Be aware, though, that northeastern winters might kill us. So you'll have to tell God to make it really, really clear if we're supposed to head out in that direction.)

So. Got any leads for us? Feel free to share this post with anyone you think might be interested in us. Or send me your ideas to everyoneneedsalittlegrace(at)

Here's a little more about us:

Gil and Amy Medina have been Reach Global (Evangelical Free Church of America) missionaries for 17 years. We have four Tanzanian kids between the ages of 8 and 14.

Gil Medina, age 42
BA Biblical Studies, The Master's University
MA Theological Studies, Talbot Seminary

Experience: 2 years in church planting (youth ministry), 3 years as a college ministry leader, 8 years as Bible teacher/youth leader/chaplain (grades 6-12) at an International Christian School, 6 years as a theological trainer for church leaders in Tanzania.

Gil is a visionary, strategic thinker. He is a gifted Bible teacher and preacher, and specializes in taking complex theological concepts and making them understandable and relevant. His favorite teaching topics include Life of Christ, Romans, and Worldview/Apologetics, and he designed his own curriculum for almost all the classes he has taught. He loves discipleship, especially with young people. His other interests include photography and sports (he has coached youth/high school soccer and basketball for 20 years), and he is an avid reader.

Ideal positions include: Bible teacher (preferably post-high school but open to high school as well), international student ministry, college/young adult ministry, church outreach director, missions training/mobilization.

Amy Medina, age 42
BA Liberal Studies/Teacher Education, The Master's University
Post-graduate California Multiple-Subject Teaching Credential

Experience: 7 years as an elementary school teacher (grades K, 2, 5 and 6), 10 years as a part-time teacher/assistant chaplain/youth leader, 3 years as a school board member, 3 years as elementary school principal at an International Christian School (150 students, 20 direct reports).

My specialty is in being task-oriented, detailed, and efficient. I love training and encouraging others to do their jobs well. I love teaching kids and anything having to do with Christian education. Biblical worldview integration is a particular passion of mine. I am an avid reader and writer and a quick learner.

Ideal positions include: Administrative assistant for a school or non-profit organization, church children's director, refugee or immigrant ministry, international student or TCK ministry, ESL teaching, missions mobilization, elementary school education. (Though I absolutely love my job as a school principal right now, I won't be looking for a school leadership position in the near future.)

Thanks for your help!

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Some Things Just Make You Laugh With Delight

On Gil's bucket list for our last year in Tanzania was to see baby sea turtles hatch, one more time. We had seen this remarkable event several years ago, but our kids were too little to remember it. Gil had several contacts that were letting him know when a hatching would take place, but this particular beach is over two hours away, and he could never get us over there in time.

As we were driving to the beach for our vacation last week, Gil got a text: There would be a hatching the very next day, and it was only about a mile away from where we would be staying. How very, very kind of our gracious God!

Watching baby sea turtles hatch is one of life's most extraordinary experiences. The conservationist who opened the nest told us that we must not touch the turtles or carry them to the ocean. It's extremely important that they make the journey themselves, because as these tiny creatures frantically bolt their way towards the sea, their pea-sized brains are actually taking a GPS pin during their frenzied 50 meter journey. And someday, thirty years from now and after swimming thousands of miles, the females lucky enough to survive will return to the exact same beach to lay their own eggs.  

Some things are just so astonishing, all you can do is stand in awe, marvel in wonder, laugh with delight.