Saturday, April 5, 2014

More than interns!

One of the parts of eMi's ministry that continues to amaze me is its internship program. Three times a year, our offices all over the world welcome in newly-minted design professionals and construction managers from the Western world, and more recently, our own local areas. Each intern travels on a project trip, is assigned a project that they hope to finish within the term, volunteers for a ministry outside of eMi as well, and is coupled with a mentor from our office.

Our office, the largest field office, has increased its capacity to about nine interns a term. Our kids typically adore them, horsing around with them during eMi lunch, jumping on the trampoline with them when they're over for dinner or strategy games, or telling them no-doubt fascinating stories about their daily lives. I am so impressed with the caliber of young people that arrive here in Kampala. It gives me great hope for the next generation of Christ's Bride, and for the compassionate vision and ministry with which they kick off their new careers. It's even more encouraging to see them return now and then--on project trips, brief stints in a slow season in their jobs, or for our latest Kilimanjaro fundraising climb.

John mentors an intern nearly every term! And this is his first term mentoring an East African intern. Faraja is an easy-going Tanzanian architect who we've loved getting to know. He, like Valerie (below), volunteers at the local refugee center, and delves into fascinating conversations with John about faith and life. You'll meet him next week in a post from John.
Valerie and Janel
This term, I (Janel) took on my first mentee: Valerie Rubombora, a Ugandan architect. Valerie's been educated here as well as in Kenya and South Africa, where she acquired her degree. Wednesdays find us curled around steaming mugs of tea on my back porch, when we eventually meander into the kitchen to finish concocting dinner and usually on to a strategy game. Her wide, easy smile and spiritually hungry, creative, intelligent discussion ("Valerie, I love that you just used the word 'idyllic' in conversation!") always excite me. Valerie's willingness to share her life with me, and our family, is an unbelievable privilege. I am so excited about the plans God has for this young woman! The time for John and I to invest in some of East Africa's brightest and Christ-centered new professionals is humbling, energizing, and just plain fun.
Because so many have poured into me, it's cool to be on both sides of things. Just like Paul, we all need a Timothy and a Barnabas, right? Who knows?! Maybe there's a mentee waiting for you.
P.S. Shameless plug: If you're interested in mentoring, be sure to check out FamilyLife's e-Mentoring program.

Photos and perspectives from Kilimanjaro: Grasshoppers in an uncertain land

I (John) was recently asked about my time on Kilimanjaro, and if I had any fresh perspectives during my time on the mountain. I replied, “breathtaking… literally!”   Lacking oxygen, I spent much of my mental energy near the top just trying to keep one foot moving in front of the other with a breathless prayer: Give me strength, repeated like scratched vinyl. 

It was breathtaking in a beautiful sense as well and had there been no other thoughts, the time was wonderfully spent just enjoying the beauty of the mountain—and the thought that God is so cool.
But there was one thought that kept ruminating in my mind.  Maintain perspective!   I kept thinking of Caleb and the first round of spies who went into the Promised Land to see if they should go in.   Ten of the spies retreated with a devastating report that the land was fierce, devouring its inhabitants, and that the Israelite spies appeared like grasshoppers to the giants of the land.  Grasshoppers in a devouring land seemed quite relevant to the mountain.   But even in life I could sort of imagine what it might have felt like to choke on the fear: to have felt like grasshoppers.

Caleb offers another perspective—that jettisons risk-free days in favor of fearsome trials that might offer the hope of something better, something promising.  

This thought was not really about my time on the mountain, but in my pursuit of the Lord.  (Perhaps the mountain was a mini practice session.)   I want to grow in courage like Caleb who risks it for the pursuit something better; who seeks after truth, after relationships, after the Lord even when such seeking risks unraveled theology, unanswered questions, rejected relations, failed efforts, or worse. 

I fear my distaste for suffering is so severe I may be more akin to the other ten than to Caleb; even they had the courage to investigate the land. I feel a necessity to renew my conviction to go forward with such sincere pursuit that I am willing to walk headlong into uncertainties because of the prospects of something better—and with the comfort of the joy of experiencing God go with me, fumbling mistakes, stumbling steps and all.

For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. --Matthew 16:25

Friday, April 4, 2014

The field trip

This year our homeschooling co-op, in light of the deep blessings we witness from our collaborated families, decided we wanted to be increasingly outward focused. And that's why my (thankfully high-clearance) minivan was bouncing along a rust-colored road several kilometers outside of Kampala, caravanning with other unfortunate vehicles toward a village school: A field trip for our kids.
The morning began with an extended recess in their dirt lot, with around two hundred kids. There was no playground and only a handful of toys, so ta-da! The crazy white people are the entertainment.

W. shows one of the students one of his prized possessions: his watch.
That's when your mind looks around, takes inventory (okay--rocks, dirt, lots of kids, camera) and starts getting creative. Races, train (could've been Uganda's longest conga line), Follow the Leader, the hokey-pokey, soccer: It was a sweaty morning. I'm telling you, a lot of my ministry effectiveness has to be my willingness to look like a nut. I think locals think it's because I'm white. My secret's safe with you, right?

A volunteer from Switzerland draws pictures and letters in the dust with the children.


C. holding the hand of a new friend.
Then, all of us were herded into a wood-and-tin structure for chapel, involving a lot of drum-beating; zealous but occasionally unintelligible singing at the top of the lungs; translation from English to Luganda and vice versa.
Our group was the visiting act. We presented two songs, with posters and actions, from Seeds Family Worship that we'd learned in our co-op character time. In retrospect, the songs were a bit too complicated for those learning English as a second language. But we were warmly received (physically, too--there were a lot of bodies in that room!), and it was a great experience from our kids.

I came away grateful in so many respects: for the gifts small and large that my children enjoy in their education and comforts, but also that they jumped in and got dirty in an absolute crush of chaos and children who wanted to touch them, pull on them, and feel their hair. It is a blessing that sinks into my soul when I see my kids wearing their "enthusiastic" face to get another child so different from them into a game , or perhaps playing soccer in a way that looks completely oblivious to all their differences, or nurturing someone they don't know. It was even moving when they were sweating through a long and confusing chapel that wasn't their own, simply persevering because we'd asked them to, and love means patient service.
In the back of my brain, it reminds me when my dad told me he wanted to pass on his farm to one of his children, then had all daughters. But when we chose careers in ministry as he did later in life, he remarked that this is the kind of "family business" that he wanted far more to hand down. I think that's how I felt when I saw my kids. All of us love to see our kids develop hearts toward what we truly value, like compassion.
This week, I'm thankful for slightly uncomfortable, somewhat amazing field trips.

A "Little" Update

Long post alert; read as much or as little as you like.

I’ve been thinking for awhile about how to write you on this. We’re grateful to each of you who’ve asked so thoughtfully about our adoption process. This past year we committed to proceed through each door of adoption until God made it clear we should stop—and what a ride!

With each child, I hadn’t known how we would handle the next—or homeschooling (definitely not my original plan), or moving four kids to Africa. I vividly remember lowering my oversized body, in advanced pregnancy with #4, onto a stepstool in the corner of my kitchen in Little Rock at the end of a long day with three kids, and crying: “What are we thinking?!”

But we wanted to live a God-sized life. Not a stupid life, of course (!). But one that could only be explained by Him; one that left us trusting not in what we could handle, but in the size of our God and His dreams for us.

Truth is, as we’ve prayed, fasted, or discussed all this late into the night with each other or a small entourage of wise friends and family…it’s been put on hold. Indefinitely so. Perhaps when our kids are older, or when God makes the path clear, we will reopen this door that has been painfully closed by our own hand. I suppose in writing this I may open us up to appearing inconsistent, impetuous, or emotionally impulsive about such a real issue and a real sacrifice that many of you have welcomed with open arms.

For us, it’s not that the cost is too great. It just seems unwise in our current circumstances. We have been astutely reminded that it takes a great deal of effort to create straight "arrows",and to love others well. Most of you who know me (Janel) will not be surprised one iota that I tend to think of myself more highly than I ought with regard to what I can actually accomplish. But in light of the slender margin that is our lifestyle, our ministry, and our current load of raising children—whether it’s learning disorders, or simply the quality of time we want to cherish with our kids, and be fully present in parenting—the stakes are high, and the cost is great should we take on more than we can judiciously handle.

Many of the private conversations I’ve held with adoptive parents reiterate that adoption, as much of a wonderful trend as it is, as much as it has life-altering, triumphant moments—also carries with it a specific call, a specific burden to love on these children who’ve been given up, or in some cases abandoned, by their biological parents—and to do it well. Many of these children need intense, particular care to guide them into healthy hearts, souls, and relationships. John and I have shared a concern for orphans and a desire to adopt since we’ve been dating. But in truth, if sopping up our last vestiges of available resources causes me to compromise what God’s more plainly asked of me, the cost could be quite high, pervasive, and long-lasting.

Does this sound like I’m trying to justify something? I hope not. The mourning over this increasingly clear decision has been real and deep. Packing away the small, brightly-colored clothes for now, or bathing a local child’s back have found me stricken, my vision clouding with tears. But I feel assured that this decision is best for our family for this season.

My consolation has come from strange places—and has revealed some of my yearning that lay behind the desire to adopt. Strangely, teaching these classes at the refugee center has been a consolation, I think, from God. Also, I’ve mentioned how full our home is with people so often. I realize that I wanted so much to pour myself out for change here: for the effort to consume my home, to impact my children. God did so much to bring us from America to here, and the need is everywhere.

I didn’t simply want to lock my gate and somehow leave ourselves relatively untouched. I wanted to bring the pain of this people before me, into our lives, and offer at least one small solution that would last a lifetime; that would change someone’s life, and ours, forever. Africa has marked me. It has not altered me in a way that most people who see me will ever witness, though the difference is almost bodily. It’s as if I’d had eye surgery, and the world would never look the same, or as if my right hand had an inner sensation that I felt as constantly. I can’t not do something. I can’t be a benchwarmer in this kind of a game.

Still, adoption does not seem the solution for what we have at hand. At least not now. And for this moment, I believe God is comforting me. Even as I write, the wound has closed. I feel steadfast and peaceful that we have made a wise and, yes, faith-filled decision. I think it does take faith to say “no”; to believe that God is big enough to change the world without you, to use His Body to do what He hasn’t enabled you to do yourself.

Thankfully, we hadn’t yet been matched with a little girl, nor had we invested much financially yet. I do run the risk of losing face or causing disappointment in so many who’d been excited for us, been cheering us on. But God’s reminding me I must answer to only one Judge, and doing the right thing is always a good idea. He’s used even this journey to change us and the people in its path; in God’s economy, my Mom likes to say, our experiences are never wasted.

So our answer is “no,” for now. I am trusting, in faith, that God will put us right where He wants us—and that sweet little girl, too.




You know it's missionary kids when...

You know you're teaching missionary kids when homeschooling co-op is called to a halt "so you can see my pet chicken eat all the termites on this tree!"

Friday, March 21, 2014

A thank-you note

Note: Sometimes we feel like we can't adequately convey the power of your teamwork with us, and the ways God blesses people here through you. This week, some people joined hands to get a study Bible to one of our local staff. In her story and the note she sent in thanks, we felt like it captured the partnership so many of you take on with us.
As I [John] convey down below, this is a great example for me of how we get the blessing of tangibly loving Hanipher but have really been supported to do so in a very real way by each of you and the many people who support us financially, materially, prayerfully, and emotionally to be here. The e-mail I sent to the Bible's senders is posted below.
Thank you.
Dear *** and ***, *** and ***, and ***,

I wanted to pass on this sweet note from Hanipher, a young Ugandan woman who provides cleaning services for our office.  The attached note really should be addressed to each of you as well.   A little background: Hanipher came to work for EMI less than a year ago.   As I have built a relationship with Hanipher I have seen a real hunger for and knowledge of the word.   She has the spirit of a prophet in my eyes and as her wisdom and maturity grow that will bring greater ability for Hanipher to stand as a bold and passionate influence upon the Ugandan Church.  It has been a joy already to see her grow in faith over the past several months.  As she has been here she has repeatedly borrowed the study Bibles we brought back for Stephen, our support staff manager.     


Because of each of you, we were able to give Hanipher a study Bible and the attached is her note of thanks.   Though it is a little hard to read, you will be blessed in taking the time to do so.  ... Thank you each for the open hearted role you played.   Though it may seem small to you, the smile on her face when she received it and again the next day when she brought this note was a moment I was blessed by and I wanted to try to share that with you.  


This is a great example for me of how we get the blessing of tangibly loving Hanipher but have really been supported to do so in a very real way by each of you and the many people who support us financially, materially, prayerfully, and emotionally to be here.   We are not in this alone.  You guys are a part of sending and supporting us in meaningful ministry and redemptive relationships, and today that has made a difference in Hanipher’s life.   Perhaps tomorrow she will be passing on to another the blessing you have given her through us. Thanks so much for being a part of it.


A good year (and a prayer request)

When we first arrived in Uganda, John and I decided we needed to at least stay three years. Particularly with John in Member Care, we knew relationships took an investment of time—and how much more so cross-culturally?

Thankfully, we were right. I wish I could describe to you the difference in our lives here even since returning from the U.S. to an African sunrise in early January this year. The calendar seems to be nearly peeling itself off the wall. Even now, I seek for words to express the richness of our lives—all the spontaneous guests for dinner, the friends clinking the lock at our gate to signal their arrival, the cups of ice water sipped in the breeze on our back porch, the crazy mzungu kids in bare feet tearing around the compound with Nerf weapons. Between that, the classes I get to teach, and our other opportunities, John and I have both remarked about a gratitude and humility over God moving us deeper into our sweet spot. This, it feels like, is why we are here. This—I hope you hear when you read—is the result of the support, encouragement, and general arm-upholding that you give us.

Some of you know of our recent dilemma. While we were back in the U.S. on our brief home assignment, the Ugandan government approved our work permit!

But, they wrote, it would be the last.

There are various avenues of approaching Immigration to resolve this issue, none of them guaranteed. As we lift our eyes to what’s ahead, I told John that our decisions feel a little like Blackjack—you just don’t know what card the House will turn over.

Our ultimate comfort: We know the House. It’s not the Ugandan government that cups our future in its wide palm. As I was driving the other day, I was thinking perhaps God would say to me, You’ll be in Africa not one day shorter, or longer, than I want you there.

This comforts me. Because as challenging as our first year was, and as many tears that have been wrung out of my face in the last two years, my heart is here.
Yet over and over God has reiterated that His plan for my family will be perfect, wherever we go. Speaking to a good friend over furlough, I remarked that I felt made for Africa. Wisely, she responded that God had made me for Africa now—and for who knows what in 2015?

Pray for us, friends, as we seek God’s will for our family. We’re asking for His favor on John’s work permit. Pray too that He will continue to generously, abundantly answer our prayer that He establish the work of our hands—in the collective sense (that means you, too, as you send us here!). This is His show, and we can’t believe we get to be a part of it.