Sunday, February 10, 2019

The Back-Burner of Missions (and Why It Shouldn't Be That Way)

Four-year-olds don't walk, they twirl and prance. They think everything about the world is fascinating, even writing their names or matching shapes or learning to sit criss-cross applesauce.

On Saturday, I met dozens of them. They visited our kindergarten room while some teachers and I asked them to count and say their letters and watched them play and dance while we took notes. Some were shy, some were cheerful, some, we could tell, would be a handful, but that just made them all the more charming.

I was enchanted. But I was also depressed. There were just too many. Three times too many, to be exact. All of them had come to be assessed for next year's kindergarten class, and all of them were wonderful. But there were just too many. I will only be able to offer places to about a third of them.

Their parents sat outside drinking coffee under the trees. Their eyes were hopeful, expectant, a little nervous. I tried not to make much eye contact. It is just too hard, knowing that I will have to turn down most of them. I don't want to get their hopes up.

Their emails turn my stomach into knots. We've never wanted any other school for our child since she was born! HOPAC is our first and only choice. My child loved his visit with you! He is so excited to attend HOPAC now. 

I know my response will break their hearts. Your child was wonderful; we just don't have room. He can join the 40 other children on our waiting list for that class. 

We never advertise, but we never fail to have at least sixty applicants for kindergarten. For some families, it's because of the Christian environment at HOPAC. For some, it's our reputation of sending students to the world's top universities. For others, it's the price. Among similar schools in Tanzania, we offer the best quality for the lowest fees.

Mystified, parents will ask, Why don't you just expand?

And the answer is always the same: We can't get enough teachers.

Though over half of our students are Tanzanian, we are a missionary school, relying on volunteers from westernized countries to raise support to teach here. Of course, we hire Tanzanians whenever we can, but finding Tanzanian Christians who are qualified to teach in an international school is not easy. Which means we are dependent on the Church (mainly from the US and Europe) to send us teachers.

But for some reason, recruiting and sending missionary teachers is not a priority for the Church, or even for most mission agencies. Maybe because teachers fall into the category of second-class missionaries. Sometimes it feels like church planters or aid workers seem more exciting or important.

I don't understand why teachers are often on the back-burner of missions. Parents of all kinds of religious faiths are pounding down the door of our Christian school, desperate for their kids to attend. We get the privilege of influencing those kids for seven hours a day for thirteen years. We teach with a biblical worldview. We train our students in poverty alleviation. The gospel permeates everything we do. How is this ministry not a priority?

Please, Church, prioritize missionary teachers. Find them. Encourage them. Support them. It's one of the most strategic avenues of missions that I've witnessed in my twenty years overseas.

And if you're a Christian teacher, why not you?

Sunday, February 3, 2019

What Adoption Has Taught Me About Abortion

Nicole Chung's birth parents didn't want her, so they put her up for adoption. She writes about her journey to find her birth family and process her identity in the poignant memoir, All You Can Ever Know.

Nicole found out that her birth parents told her siblings and their family that the baby was born dead. They wanted her erased from memory, as if the pregnancy never happened. But life doesn't work that way. Nicole writes, "Words I’d once heard from a birth mother flashed in my mind: If there’s something that everyone should know about adoption, it’s that there is no end to this. There’s no closure."

As an adoptive parent, I've learned this tragic truth from experience as I help my own children work through their grief and loss of their first families--a loss that will continue to haunt them as they grow up and start their own families. We can celebrate the redemption and beauty of adoption till we're blue in the face, but that doesn't take away the heartbreak.

How ironic that it's the same for the birth mother. She may even tell everyone the baby died, but she knows, niggling around in her mind, refusing to be ignored, that her baby is out there, growing up somewhere. I think about that often as I look into the faces of my children who spent nine months growing in the body of another woman, their blood flowing alongside hers, listening to her voice, feeling her joy and sadness and fear. My children wish for one glimpse of her face; I wish for one chance to tell her that her baby is okay.

It's easy for us to judge the woman who wants that baby dead and hands over her money to make it all go away. Perhaps she does it because she knows, by instinct, that adoption won't grant her closure. Perhaps it scares her to death knowing that one day she may pass a person on the street that mirrors her face. Perhaps it's easier to just know that the baby is dead, and hope that a dead baby brings more closure than a baby raised by someone else who will someday inevitably want to find the woman who gave her away.

I spent years longing to be pregnant, so I don't know what it feels like. But I remember talking to a friend who kept getting pregnant despite her and her husband's efforts to hold it off. She is an amazing mother and adores all of her children, but her pregnancies were unusually harsh, and she noted the irony of hers and my situations. Despite my longing, I couldn't help but feel empathy towards her. Pregnancy starts with such a seemingly insignificant act but holds incredibly significant consequences.

Pro-lifers keep using the "But it's life" argument against abortion, without realizing that for many pro-choice women, that's not a consequential discussion any more. Everyone knows it's life. Pro-choice advocates are fighting for the right for a woman to choose not to reproduce. Sure, a third trimester baby could just be delivered and whisked off to an adoption agency, but that's not the point. Because that live baby means that somewhere out there will be a person living and breathing and thinking that has an eternal, inexplicable connection to that mother. Which could be terrifying. Terrifying enough that it's easier just to destroy it and hope that it brings closure.

It doesn't, of course. But I'm writing this today because I think it's important that instead of just loudly protesting (though that's important too), we need to take a moment to try to get into the heads of these women. Yes, laws need to change because laws shape the worldview of a nation. And laws that destroy personhood and denigrate motherhood are a worthy fight. But changing hearts is equally as important, and that's got to start by listening, understanding, empathizing, befriending. I pray for those opportunities.