Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Favorite Christmas Tree


Yesterday we were going to start our first furlough tradition of picking out a live tree for Christmas. Well, something even cooler than that happened! Let me share:
In the afternoon Nathan was tidying up the garage and found a beautiful 7 foot Christmas tree that the previous renters had apparently left for us. This was a pretty awesome and timley find but I also knew how excited the kids were to pick out a Christmas tree. Like many of you adorable Mom's, I wanted to dress my family up in cute winter plaid and take that adorable photo in front of our freshly cut Christmas tree. On the ride home from school I shared with the kids that Daddy found a Christmas tree in the garage. I asked them if they would prefer to use the one he'd found or still go get a live tree. To my surprise, they unanimously decided to use the tree Daddy found. As we decorated the tree one child said, "This is my favorite tree that we have ever had!" The rest of the children agreed. Nathan and I laughed and laughed! 
I have shared with you before that there are moments when I go to God and say, "Lord, are you sure our kids can handle this life?" I worry that the constant transition will damage them in some way. Will their love for people in two different places split their hearts in two? Yesterday God reminded me that He's got them! Rather than making them bitter, hard and needy, God is using this life of transition to make them soft, flexible and appreciative.
This morning on the ride to school I told the kids how proud I was of them for their attitude last night. In our home we often say, 'hold all things loosely'. We hold our plans, possessions and future with a weak grip. Loose fingers are a sign of surrender. Sometimes our surrender brings hard moments, pain and struggle. Sometimes...a free Christmas tree. Praise Him every day.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Discipleship Kits to the Masai Tribe




I am floored!! It's impossible for me to express everything I see and feel in this picture. We received this news this morning, on the eve of Thanksgiving. Perfect timing! Over the past few months I've been working to get a shipment of the Discipleship Packs to Southern Kenya. This group of leaders with the Masai tribe were "overjoyed at the sight of them" and will be led in their studies by the man in the top left of the picture. The gratification, shock, thankfulness, inspiration, hope, and encouragement I get from these moments become a praise to God and a fuel for tomorrow. It's pictures like these that I go to when I'm discouraged because they remind me that through my efforts God has done something that matters. What great timing for an image of victory! A very big "thank you" to our WGM missionaries for helping with a complicated delivery process while Jade and I are away. It is an incredible gift to see an international effort bringing resources to leaders across the planet. I am a thankful man!

Monday, November 21, 2016

Always Here & Always Gone


This morning, like most mornings, my heart is in two places. I got a text from my Ugandan friend Bosco with a picture of a group of African guards studying our discipleship materials. This is a group I loved and taught until I handed them off to another trusted missionary for this year while we're gone. Meanwhile, in the cold blustery fields of Indiana, I bury myself in the warmth of a nearby library studying and preparing myself for the next term. In June we will return to these men and the many other friends we miss and love so much. At that time, we will think back fondly about our home and friends in America. We are always present and always away, always here and always gone. Today I'm thankful for a God who is always fully present in every time and place. He's 100% here and 100% there and 100% everywhere. May He bless my Ugandan brothers in their studies today.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Only God Writes Like This

     Where do I begin?  I want to tell you a story but its contents sound like the work of fiction or fantasy.  Our story could begin with the frustration and discouragement of a young missionary family questioning the plan and schedule for their return to Uganda.  It could begin with an energetic young man with a dream for a church plant.  It could begin at the end, with a miraculous, record-setting partnership between a missionary family and a sending church.  The problem with these ideas is this: these beginnings are not really beginnings and that ending is not really an ending.  The story did not begin with the missionary family fundraising to return to Uganda.  The story did not begin with a young church growing up.  The story will not end with an incredible partnership.  There are chapters before and chapters after.  The Author is at His desk, pen in hand, with a divine plotline only He can imagine.
     On July 27th, 2014 Jade and I drove down to southwest Ohio to meet some new people.  A couple weeks earlier I received a phone call from Pastor Aron.  As I took a break from packing up tools in our preparation to leave the country, I spoke with Aron about his church, our future and how we might help each other.  Resonance Church was only a few months old at the time but he wanted to make missions and outreach a fundamental part of their young fabric.  The visit in July was a good one, maybe a hundred wide-eyed Christians in attendance, a generous financial commitment and a promising young relationship between two hopeful ministries in their rookie beginnings.
     Over the course of our first term in Uganda, both Tasha Bailey (a leader of Resonance on their core team) and Pastor Aron visited at different times to take part in the work.  Jade and I had a feeling that they were a part of something in Ohio that was going to take off.  We were right, but we underestimated the “take off”.
     On November 12th, 2016 Jade and I drove down to southwest Ohio to meet some old friends.  The kids were with us this time and we were driving down on Saturday, not Sunday.  The plan was to pal around on Saturday night with their core team and avoid the 3-hour drive on Sunday morning.  Little did we know, God planned for worship to begin Saturday night and continue through Sunday morning into the afternoon.  The Resonance Church core team gathered together in Pastor Aron’s home for tacos.  With the wood fireplace, old country home floors, kids stomping around upstairs and genuine laughter bouncing around the rooms I felt my tank fill up a few notches.  They made cake.  It was our oldest daughters birthday and they had a cake, ice cream and sang the “happy birthday” song while Aron strummed a mandolin.  They had small personal gifts for our family.  I watched their whole group look in our eyes as we received their loving gestures.  They cared.  We listened as they told us how they felt about us.  When they finished, I spoke for our family and we told them how we felt about them.  It was love.  They gathered around Jade and I as we sat in the middle of the living room on the carpet and they prayed for us.  Words were filled with confidence in God and thankfulness for all that He has done.  They prayed specifically for our family with a knowledge proving their concern and enduring participation in our ministry.  I felt my tank filled a bit more.
     We arrived at their church the next morning and as I drove into the parking lot I began wondering how the stories about this place could be possible.  Record numbers of 470 last week?  Seventeen baptisms in the last two weeks?  How is this possible with a church in a strip mall?  How can they do this without a fellowship hall or Sunday school classrooms?  What is attracting people to this place?  Before I was even out of the van I began to realize how special this situation was.  I thought, “Only God writes like this”.
     As Jade and I entered the building we immediately noticed something different.  It was hard to make progress because everyone wanted to talk.  Everyone.  It wasn’t just “welcome to church” or “thanks for coming”.  They wanted to have a conversation!  We made it to our seats.  In the moments before we were to speak, from the row in front of us, Pastor Aron crawled over the back of his chair like a jungle-gym leaning and reaching to lay hands on Jade and I in prayer.  He finished and went to the front for a short introduction.  At his word we hopped up onto the stage and the interview began.  His questions were knowledgeable and full of concern, not just for Jade and I or our family but for the Gospel, for lost souls and for the hope of success in ministry in Uganda.  We laughed and cried with them for the allotted time and then we closed with a few comments on our financial standing and goals.  Jade said, “We would love to see 30 people commit to $25 a month before Christmas.”  Pastor Aron replied, “Congregation, I think we could see at least ten of those right here today.”  They clapped.  The first service ended and ten families handed us cards with monthly financial commitments.
     As the second service was beginning I entered the sanctuary and found Pastor Aron at the back.  I leaned to his ear and said, “You had ten in the first service, buddy!”  He laughed in shock.  I leaned in again, “Jade and I have had a private prayer that we might be able to reach 90% of our total budget by Christmas.  Your church has given us a real boost toward that goal.”  He shook his head and said, “amazing”.  Second service much like the first.  God moved; amazing things and a huge encouragement to all.  At the final “amen” Jade and I returned to our table in the back and did everything we could to keep up with the response.  Five, six, seven more cards.  Eight, nine.  I looked at Jade.  She was crying.  Ten.  Eleven families.  We didn’t know what was happening.  Twelve cards.  Thirteen.  We were now at twenty-three total new monthly commitments!  Fourteen.  By the time we got the table packed up in the van to head out for lunch we had twenty-four families join us in the work being done in Uganda.  I closed my door and looked at Jade in the passenger seat.  She just shrugged.  I said, “Well, that was…” but couldn’t figure out how to describe it.


     For lunch, we met with the core team one last time to celebrate and get food in our bellies before we started our drive back home.  We talked about future plans, stories from the morning and hopes to get together again sometime soon.  As the meal came to a near close, Pastor Aron said, “Well, there’s something else we want to tell you.”  He went on to describe how much they valued our partnership and the role that we play in each other ministries.  Then he doubled the churches support.  As Jade and I tried to process yet another wave of shock we all pulled out our phones and started doing the math.  Their core team was eager to see what had happened to our 83% funding and how close we were to the 90% goal.  I punched in the old number, add the new numbers, divide by the total and bingo, exactly 90%!  The table cheered.  We laughed and celebrated and thanked God for writing such incredible stories.  Before we left, we gathered outside together for a group picture so we could all remember the moment.



     As I sit here days after the events, quiet in my living room by myself, I think about the moment we entered that church.  I walked down their strip mall hallway in a daze, studying and straining to see what was happening.  At the end of the hallway was a beautiful wooden wall with a sign crafted to welcome and identify their body of believers.  With no sense of the events to come our family gathered in front of their sign to greet them.  In all this we see the hand of God gripping the pen, writing His heart onto the people of the planet, giving grace to the hurting and power to the helpers.  He’s always written and He’ll continue after our roles have concluded.  It’s His story.  May He be praised.


Saturday, October 22, 2016

The Future of the American Missionary

I wonder about the future of the American missionary.  When we are asked about our plans for future terms and career paths I wonder how much we really know about where things are headed.  Do you see what I see?

The year is 203AD and a small group of professing Christians are rounded up and put into house arrest.  If they deny Christ then they will be set free.  In response, they hold a baptismal service.  For their profession of faith displayed publically in Baptism they are thrown in prison and sentenced to death in a coliseum by wild beasts such as leopards and bulls.  A young woman named Felicity is among those sentenced to death.  An ancient document writes of her saying,  “She was pregnant when she was first arrested, and now she was in her eighth month.  As the day of the show drew near she became deeply distressed.  She feared her swollen belly would delay her martyrdom because it is against the law to publicly punish pregnant women.  And so, two days before the games began, they (the imprisoned group of Christians) joined together and poured out their prayer to the Lord in a single united groan.  Immediately after the prayer Felicity’s birth pangs came on strong.”  Her miraculous answer to prayer allowed her to be killed as a martyr alongside the other Christians because she wasn’t pregnant anymore.  In fact, together they hoped that in their beatings beforehand they might be whipped because they wanted to share in the same sufferings of Christ as he experienced during His journey to the cross.

Over 1,500 years later, the year is 1743 and David Brainerd is not your average colonist.  At a time when the colonies were just beginning their revolt against Britain, Brainerd took the Gospel to Native American Indians scattered across the Northeast.  He traveled in and out of communities preaching and establishing Christian communities.  The writings of David Brainerd have influenced generations of future missionaries.  At the young age of only 29 Brainerd lost his life to illness.  During his decline in health he wrote of his death saying, “I have never been frightened; but, on the contrary, at times much delighted with a view of its approach.”  He was a man on a mission and his entire focus was given over the work of the Kingdom of God.  Brainerd was commissioned and sent out by a Church passionate about pushing the light of the Gospel into the untouched forests and fields of their infant country.

I wonder where we are today.  We’ve come from an early Church that matured in the blood of her martyrs.  We were strengthened by centuries of sacrifice, steadfastness in the faith and the enduring of suffering and persecution.  We stand on the shoulders of missionaries and horse-riding preachers who took the Gospel to every corner of our country.  We are planted in the soil tilled and nurtured by authors and thinkers and Godly leaders who lived for Christ alone.  Who are we today?

I wonder about the future of American missions.

My mind is full and my chest is churning as I admire the work of all those who came before me.  I’m intimidated and impressed by them.  God has used their lives to write an incredible story.  I want to contribute something to that very story.  I want to add a letter.  A comma.  Something.  I want to scratch something on its surface if only to contribute the thinnest thread or the smallest stone to the Kingdom of God.  I’m proud of the work my family has been a part of so far.  I’m happy with it.  I’m excited about it.  I look at other missionaries and I’m excited about their work too.  I’m proud of them.  And then I step back and think about where the Church is today and where we are going and I wonder what is to come of the American missionary.  I wonder if I was born just in time to watch the end (or maybe the beginning of the end) of the great American missions movement.  I watch great missionaries struggle to stay funded enough to even stay on the field.  I watch them come to the field without the money to stay a full term and then I watch them leave early.  I watch incredible projects shut down from lack of interest and funding.  I cringe at my own family’s difficult road of fundraising in the midst of so much public excitement.  Missionaries compete with coffee, movies, cars, loans, purses and whatever else is found on Amazon or a store shelf.  Organizations gather missionaries regularly to discuss strategies for fundraising.  Strategies!  A Church that was born from martyrs now struggles to send missionaries if they don’t have the right strategy.  Are you seeing what I’m seeing?


I’m not sure what to tell my kids when they say they want to be missionaries, too.  I’m not sure what to tell my organization when they talk about career paths or future goals.  I’m not sure what to tell you when you ask me how long we plan to do this.  I wonder about the future of the American missionary.  Maybe we will be fine.  Maybe the next decade will bring great revival.  I hope so.


Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Made To Shine

Yesterday I turned 32 years old. In the years I've been given I have learned that every day is worthy of your favorite perfume and humility is the most beautiful thing a woman can wear. 
For the majority of my life I have struggled with who I am. Often, I felt my personality was 'too big' or 'too strong' and I should shrink in order to be accepted. It wasn't until this last few years of my life that I began to embrace who God made me to be. While driving to nearby African villages in a 4X4 dodging ruts and blazing dirt trails I discovered that God designed me to be wild and brave. He needed a wild and brave woman to go out and be with these that He has loved for so long! As I fought to restore dignity for suffering women I discovered God didn't want me to shush up. No! He wanted to use my big, strong voice for His good to speak up for those who needed a voice. As African pastors introduced me as 'the woman who isn't afraid to hold dirty children' I realized that my leaky eyes and tender heart need no apology. A soft heart is God's heart. There’s no shame in hurting with those who hurt or crying for those who cry. 


David Seamands once said that low self-esteem is “Satan’s deadliest weapon because it paralyzes our potential, destroys our dreams, ruins our relationships and sabotages our service.” 
Christ gives us the freedom to be exactly who we are supposed to be. He is our wholeness.
Who are you? Shine!




Thursday, September 1, 2016

The Cost We Gladly Pay

     With a tiny face buried in my chest and tears dripping onto my shirt I hear a quivering voice repeat the common words: “I don’t want to be a missionary anymore.”  If that were all I ever heard then there would be a sense of confidence in the problem.  At least then, in that case, I would know what the struggle was.  However, there are other times when I hear statements like, “Dad, I’m so proud of you and mom for what you do.”  These words came after a day when I was helping clean up the damage caused by a tornado in a nearby city.  Coincidentally, all of these comments reflect a tornado, of sorts, that spins chaotically through the homes of missionary families tossing things around and stirring everyone into confusion.
     The strong winds in missionary homes are caused by uncertainty, change, loss, inconsistency, etc.  Our kids ask real questions about things that most kids never even wonder about.  The lack of certainty and predictability in our future has a dramatic effect on the way we think and feel about the world.  I remember a few months ago, in Uganda, we were leaving a community event with several families with whom we had become close.  As we walked to the car one of our kids asked, “Will that be the last time I see my friend?”  I was blown away.  What a strange question for a child to have to wonder about!  Already our kids have started to hold life loosely.  Jade and I do the same thing.  In one hand we see the value of a full and deep life with strong attachments and lasting relationships.  In the other hand we see how frequently those lasting moments become passing moments and those deep friendships are pressed by the burden of miles and years.



     Almost daily Jade and I run into someone who asks us the question, “So how are you adjusting?”  The question is a loving one, compassionate and caring.  We’re adjusting well if the adjustment refers to our transition to the year spent in America.  However, there is a bigger adjustment we are much more concerned about.  The bigger adjustment never ends.  It’s the missionary life of constant inconstancy, permanent change, certain uncertainty.  It’s the tornado of thoughts lost in wonder about what tomorrow will bring.

     This is the life we live.  It’s the way it works.  I’ve turned this thing in my hand to look it over from every angle and I see no other way.  The value of the ministry God has called us to, while staggering in its impact, it does not come for free.  My kids know that.  Jade and I know that.  But the tornado spins.  The winds blow and our hearts and emotions are sometimes fragile, our skin sometimes thin, our plans sometimes unmet, our kids sometimes uncertain, our home sometimes not a home but just another building.  It’s the cost we gladly pay.  It’s the price of the missionary life.