Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Yoked to Truth...

This email from our Uncle Tim Baker is marinating in our hearts.  Uncle Tim is the pastor of Shepherd's Heart in California.  He faithfully sends encouragement from the Word to family and friends and this one came in a few days ago.  It was massively encouraging and we want to share it with you.

“Arested” by Jesus
Restfully being kept on and being brought back to the restful path

“Come to Me (Jesus), all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am meek and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30

Dear Beloved Brothers and Sisters,

    Compassion, peace, and love be multiplied to you.

    We have been for some time learning about the ancient paths with the promise of rest for our souls. (Jeremiah 6:16) Some of us are eager for the next step, others are having trouble keeping up, and some have wandered far off it. There is always the temptation to “work’ the path rather than be yoked to our Shepherd, who is Himself  “the Path, the Truth, and the Life.” (John 14:6) We fall from grace and become entangled in a yoke of bondage when we work it alone. And we suffer wreckage when we do not follow Him in faith and a good conscience. (Galatians 5:1,4; 1Timothy1:18,19) We need to keep in heart and mind that our faithful Shepherd has not only the ancient path but also the ancient pathways back to the ancient path.

    Imagine you are one of these very lost sheep. You have fallen and tumbled a long time and a great distance. At one ledge you look up and you are overwhelmed by how far you have to get anywhere near where you once were. As you lie down in despair and brokenness you bleat a mechanical call into the void for help. You feel a strong breeze and then a firm hand pull you up and on powerful shoulders. The climb seems nothing to Him as He carries you far beyond where you originally left off!

   Let me offer to you three simple truths that even if you say them out loud with no apparent faith or feeling they will bond you to Him who carries you:

        “Jesus, without You I can do nothing.” (John 15:5)

        “I can do all things through You, Christ, who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13)

       “Since it is not by might nor by power but it is by Your Spirit, fill me with Your Spirit.” (Zech. 4:6)

    Wonderfully, faith comes by hearing the Word even if it comes through your faithless voice. (Romans 10:17) Let’s go deeper into His Word regarding rest. All of us would have to admit that we are too performance, pleasure, and emotionally driven to enjoy continuous rest for our souls. Even when we know we are weary and heavy laden and come to Jesus, we still experience the restlessness of guilt, anxiety, and doubt. Let me offer you what has helped me. I yoke myself to Jesus’ lighter yoke and easier burden by inviting Him to fulfill His promise to be the Lord of my Sabbath (rest). (Matthew 12:8; Mark 2:27) Then I let Him lead me along His paths of rest recorded in Matthew 11:16-12:21.

                  1. Restore the simplicity and sensitivity of childlikeness (Matt. 11:25, 16-19)

                  2. Let Him shelter and me from the prejudices and judgments of others. (Matt. 12:1-8)

                  3. Let Him sift me from my focus on the chaff of external things to the grain of eternal                             ones.

                  4. Let Him affirm my priesthood by eating with and of Him. (Matt. 12:3-8; Rev. 1: 5,6;                               3:14-22)

                  5. Let Him make me merciful and to desire mercy for others I judge. (Matt. 12:7)

                  6. Let Him identify, restore and re-stretch the withered (atrophied) areas of my life. (12:9-                       13)

                  7. Let Him rescue me and others from the pits we have fallen into. (12:11-12)

                  8. Let Him restore our confidence in His temporal and ultimate justice for everyone.                                 (12:18)

                  9. Let Him heal or help you embrace the bruised areas of your life. (12:20)

                 10. Let Him rekindle your passion and energy (12:20)

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Little Farmers...

Meet the Norwegian Settlers Church Sunday school kids!

Sam and I work with an amazing team to teach Sawyer's class.  Recently, the director of our Sunday School realized that the kids in our church may not be fully aware of the connection between Genesis and our church.  Basically, Genesis is the NPO established by our church to"get the church out of our walls".  Our children's Sunday school classes have embarked on a 6 week journey of discovering what the Lord is doing through Genesis in the community.

On Sunday, our focus was the Care Center (hospice for AIDS, TB, and cancer patients).  Sharon Jones, the center's director, shared the story of the good Samaritan with our classes.  She explained what it meant to care for the hurting and the abandoned.  She also shared the hospice's aim to share the love of Christ and the gospel with each patient.

Grades 4-7 met with patients in the wards.  Elaina and her friend had spent each afternoon the previous week making 40 friendship bracelets to give the patients.  Some of our students were deeply impacted as they came face to face with the mortality of man and the fragility of life.  

Sawyer's class, grades 1-3, met the kitchen staff and got to see the laundry room with the oversized washing machine and dryer.  Sam has the privilege of working with this staff on a weekly basis, but for the kids who had never been there, it was cool for them to see that each job is a sacrifice of love.  After the tour, Ntandeni, the groundskeeper, took the students to the center's garden.  The kids got to plant several beds of spinach and lettuce that will be used to make meals for patients.  They were little farmers of love!

Care Center's gardens
Sawyer gingerly plants a spinach seedling.

Ntandeni shows the girls how to space the seedlings.

In closing, Sharon gathered all the classes and prayed.  It was moving to hear from her and to see the center's efforts to include the children of our church in spreading their vision to serve and love others in the name of Christ.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

My Epic Mother's Day Disaster...

By all rights, this Mother's Day morning was an epic disaster.  And it was my favorite Mother's Day morning in history.  Here's why:

Elaina and Sawyer woke up early to make me breakfast in bed.  From my cozy sheets, I could smell oil warming in a pan and I knew E's famous scrambled eggs were on the menu.  I dozed back off into bliss.....

How much longer later?  I have no idea, but now I smell toast.  Mmm, my son's toast.  Nom nom.  Time to nod off again.

Now I hear machines.  Machines?  Whirring.  Lots of whirring.  Hmmmm.

Up, up, up the stairs they come.  They peek around the corner and I see they have a tray with 2 home made cards and.....a smoothie?

"Bwaaahahahaah!!!  MOMMY!  We tried to make eggs!"

"Yeah!  I heated up the oil and when it got hot, Sawyer went to get the eggs!  There weren't any, Mommy!  We looked all over, but they're gone!  I grabbed the pan and threw it in the sink with water and smoke was going all over the place!

"And then, Mommy, I made toast!  But we didn't know which way to turn the nozzle, so it was all black!"

"Haha!  Yeah!  All black!"

"So we decided to not try THAT again!"

"So then we made a smoothie!  I poured the berries, orange juice, milk and yogurt in the blender and..."

"And Mommy!  When we turned it on, OJ WENT FLYING ALL OVER!  It was leaking all out the bottom and we couldn't figure out why!"

"So I grabbed the blender, teeehhheeeehheee!  I grabbed the blender and I knew JUST what to do!  I finished making your smoothie in your Kitchen Aid!"

"Hahah!! MOMMY!  First we turned it on level 2, then level 6 and OJ WENT FLYING ALL OVER!!!! HAHAAHAHAHAHA!!!!"

By now, I am CRYING, these kids are TOO FUNNY!!!!!!  My Mother's Day smoothie was very, very, very chunky.  Bless their hearts, they gave me a straw and I did my best.  Best epic disaster ever.  Why?  Because these children knew to TRY, TRY, TRY AGAIN and when all else failed, they tapped into brilliance without me chiding over their shoulder.  God smiled upon us, friends, when He gave us children.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Examining Maturity...

Dear young person of faith in Christ the Risen King,

I see you.  I see the choice you are about to make.  A big life choice.  This choice will require of you love, obedience, and trust in God.  Watching you compels me to revisit my own maturity childlike faith.

You are a "Peter".  An incredible Peter.  I don't think this choice will be easy but then I don't think your life has been easy.  You COULD pursue so many other venues of self-gain and self-promotion.  Isn't it time you had a break?  Isn't it time you look out for #1?  But the Lord has led you to this crossroad.

What gets me is the delight in your eye when you speak of this choice.  You don't face it with dread or fear of the unknown.  Well, perhaps fear exists, but it is wholly eclipsed by trust.  You face this choice with childlike faith in the Father, which attests so clearly to His holy provision for your soul.  Now that He is leading you to "sell all your possessions and give to the poor...then come follow me" it's like you hardly bat an eye.  It's like there's nothing more to question.

Truly, He has saved your from yourself.  He has saved you from that desperate human race to fill your life with MORE of whatever because you are filled with MORE of Him.  But it's quirky.  Cuz you're messy.  You're messy, but you get it.  This is where watching you compels me to revisit "spiritual maturity".  Watching you creates a wrestle with reality in my own heart.  Watching you reminds me of why I love being a cross-cultural worker.  You remind me that by His grace, no matter where, no matter who, no matter how much a person has, everyone everywhere is capable of owning that childlike faith, that solid maturity that knows the Lord is our Provider when He beckons us carry this cross and follow Him.

Thank you,
An older, "more put together but less childlike in faith" sister in Christ

Sunday, March 8, 2015

15 Irish Wolfhound puppies at feeding time

Our Irish Wolfhound, Keevah, gave birth and we're the new home of 15 wolfhound/boerboel puppies!  Check out life at the Danforth Zoo these days:

Want to see the insanity at feeding time?  Check out 15 Irish Wolfhound puppies at feeding time
Puppies available April 20, 2015!

Saturday, February 21, 2015

"If you could do anything" Full Circle

Remember when I asked my friend what she would do with her life if she could do anything and she said she'd study to become a home based care giver?  She has been a house cleaner for 10 years and is ready to see what else there might be for her.  That story came full circle recently.  

We were able to send Doris to a 6 week intensive home based care training program at the Genesis Training Centre.  Last month, she received her Certificate of Competence in home based care giving!  This certificate opens a host of new opportunities for Doris in a line of work she finds fulfilling.  It has been humbling and wonderful to see the Lord open these doors for Doris!  We've helped her create a CV and gather reference letters.  In the coming weeks, we will deliver her CV to various local retirement homes and hospices.  Please pray with us that the Lord will provide a fulfilling job for Doris where she can share her love and joy with others!

Doris receives her Certificate of Competence from the Genesis staff.

Jehovah Jireh gave her a needle and thread...

If you are my friend on Facebook, you've seen PAM Bags.  Lots and lots of gorgeous, vibrant cloth bags.  And although I've shared this story before, I am recently bombarded with questions from people who didn't get the chance to hear the story.  What is PAM Bags???

Last year, we spent some time in Lesotho.  Our missionary friends ran a soccer outreach ministry where we began to meet young people.  Many of of these kids came from families devastated by the AIDS epidemic or poverty and were being raised by distant family members.  Through the soccer ministry, the Lord put it on my heart to begin an after school program to help high school students with their homework.  Classroom sizes were astronomical, students sometimes didn't have access to textbooks, and there was very little teacher-student help offered.  Twice a week, I tutored French, English, and Business and when Sam got home from work, he would do Math.     

Homework Group
Sam tackles math
I came to understand that one of the kid's moms could sew.  Her name was 'Me Puseletso.  I asked her to sew me a cloth bag out of Lesotho's vibrant seshoeshoe material.  She did such a fantastic job that other missionary women began putting in orders for bags as well.  Shortly, her bags became the perfect souvenir for short term international teams who visited Lesotho.  

One of the first bags ordered

Upon moving to South Africa and continuing to pray for 'Me Puseletso and her son, the Lord opened my eyes to what He had in store for her.  South Africa had a large pool of potential clientele that was just waiting to be explored!  I set up a skype date with 'Me Puseletso through my friend, Carolyn, and we came up with the roughest of rough business plans.  We committed to praying through the Lord's timing on how to proceed and He granted us patience and wisdom.  Several weeks later, 'Me Puseletso made her first stock of 20 bags to send me and named her business "PAM Bags" after her name, Puseletso Asteria Mathetse.  She was skeptical that they wouldn't sell.

I took her bags to several local shops that sell African artifacts and asked if they would be interested.  The first stock sold quickly and I needed more bags!  Since that time, the Lord has opened 3 shops to sell PAM Bags and we are on our third stock of sales.

You see, Jehovah Jireh our Provider, started His plan by giving 'Me Puseletso a needle and thread.  Although it has taken time, patience, a lot of hard work, and prayer to get to this point, we're HERE.  'Me Puseletso has a gift from God...a thriving small business that is providing for her and for her son.  God is her Jehovah Jireh.

But the story gets better, friends.  Jehovah Jireh works in the hearts of believers to come together, to support each other, and to walk this thing called "LIFE" alongside each other....even if there are thousands of miles between us.

Recently, a friend from the US contacted me and asked if she could buy a new sewing machine for 'Me Puseletso.  This friend knows business through and through and has a heart to support micro-businesses as a platform to share God's love.  You can imagine the response when I asked 'Me Puseletso if she could use a new sewing machine :)

Last week, 'Me Puseletso made the 10 hour bus trip from Lesotho to the coast of South Africa to pick out her new sewing machine.  While she was here, she got to check on business at the shops that sell PAM Bags.  She got the experience of asking a new store if they would be interested in selling her product.  She got to spend 2 days in a sewing machine shop trying out different machines before picking out the one that will work best for her.  She got to share with me her story, her struggles, and her hopes.  She got to join our Bible study for a night of prayer.  She got to connect on email with the woman who gave her the sewing machine.  Let me tell you, friends, THAT was an emotional experience.  

'Me Puseletso, owner of PAM Bags

Checking on business at the Waffle House

PAM Bags at the Croc Farm

Visiting the sewing machine store to pick out a new machine!
Trying out different machines
'Me Puseletso's new machine!
So, what is PAM Bags?  PAM Bags is a gift from God started by a single mom with her needle and thread in her livingroom.   It is now a sustainable micro-business whereby she provides for her family.  My connection?  I just get to deliver these goodies to shops on the coast and watch God work :)
Rejoice with us, friends, at the Lord's provision, for He is good!

Monday, February 2, 2015

Family and Ministry...

Both of these resources on balancing family and ministry are borrowed and are GOOD whether you're new to this life or you've been at it forever.

On marriage in ministry:
This is taken from a book called "The Spiritual Dangers of Doing Good" by Peter Greer.  We would recommend this to anyone involved in ministry.  When ministry becomes your mistress, these things can help protect your marriage.

1.  Tuck your phone in a drawer from dinner till bedtime.
2.  Limit travel.  Say no to some of the good opportunities out there so you can tuck your kids in bed.
3.  Get over yourself.  Do you have an inflated view of yourself and your ministry?  Ask your spouse.
4.  Invest in friendships.  Make sure you have a few people in your life who will truly and humbly confront you when you cross the line in making ministry your mistress.
5.  Go beyond asking your spouse "How was your day?".  Try the following questions and be prepared to hear the answer.  Don't defend, just listen.  Your spiritual journey is a process together, so be patient where you are weak but be mature enough to desire change.

  1. Do my actions show you that apart from Jesus Christ, I have no higher love?
  2. How well are we serving together?
  3. How well am I encouraging your spiritual growth?
  4. How well am I guarding our time together?
  5. How is our prayer life together?
  6. How well am I supporting you to grow in your gifts and skills?
  7. Are we discipling our children well together?  How convinced are you that parenting is truly a partnership?
  8. How is our physical expression of love?
  9. What can I do to love you better?

On kids in ministry:
This is a blog entry by Jonathan Trotter in "A life overseas".  May your children know that your love for them is immense.  And thank you to our own parents who embraced this journey and who we know love us immensely.

Ways to Care for the Heart of Your Missionary Kid

I thought I was done with youth ministry. I thought I’d move to Cambodia, be a “real missionary” (whatever that is) and never attend another youth camp or weekend retreat. I thought I’d never smell “junior high” ever again, or play those stupid messy games created by someone who’s never had clean-up duty. But I’ve never been so happy about being so wrong, because the missionary kids with whom I’ve had the privilege of interfacing over the past few years have encouraged and challenged and taught me so much.
They’ve also broken my heart.
As I’ve seen them say goodbye to home. Again.
As I’ve heard them describe the pain of being misunderstood.
As I’ve watched them hug good friends whom they know they will most likely never see again. Ever.
This post is dedicated to those students. To the ones who’ve let me in their lives, even just a little bit. To those who’ve laughed with me (and at me), to those who’ve answered my questions (even the stupid ones). Thank you.
And for the record, I tremble as I write these words, acutely aware of the multitudes of godly parents who are too busy caring for the hearts of their missionary kids to write an article like this. When I grow up, I want to be like them.
OK, here goes…
1. Don’t call them “Little Missionaries.”
They’re not. They’re kids, with unique temperaments, callings, and gifting. If they’ve decided to follow Jesus, then of course, they should be encouraged to do the things that Christians do (invite people to follow Jesus, love people, serve people, etc.), But God may not call them to the same cross-cultural work as you. Or cross-cultural work at all. And.That.Is.OK. Let them follow God where he leads them, and please don’t be offended if it’s not into full-time ministry.Processed with VSCOcam with k2 preset
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with sending our kids to local schools, or out with local friends, but if we have the idea that our kids are little “soldiers for Jesus,” we’re playing a dangerous game. Kids aren’t soldiers, and they’re not missionaries. They’re children, and we should give them the space to develop as such.
My dad was a dentist, but I didn’t’ grow up among whirring drills and nitrous oxide (bummer). But that’s the point, isn’t it? I was allowed to grow up. And although I’m sure my dad used the phrase, “You’re going to feel some pressure,” he didn’t use it on me.
2. Be purposeful and strategic.
In Missionary Land, there’s a book/seminar/website for everything. We study how to cross cultures and what to do once we’ve crossed. We study how to help the poor without hurting them. We talk about planting churches without building them, developing disciples without dependence. We’re purpose-driven, strategizing, apostolic, visionary, pioneering, missional, culturally-sensitive, community developing, social justice flag-waving, chain-breaking, tired people.
But are we as purposeful and strategic in our God-given, God-ordained, role as parents? Do we ponder how to disciple other people’s kids more than our own? We are the first representatives to our kids of what a Christ-follower looks like. It’s an amazing privilege, and it is deserving of attention.
You’ve sacrificed a lot to be with the people in your host country. In loving them, listening to them, serving among them, you are aiming to show Christ. Make sure you do the same with your kids.
3. Remember that your MK’s good behavior does not validate your life or ministry, and his or her bad behavior does not invalidate it.
This one’s insidious. And devastating. But tying your validation to your child’s behavior (good or bad) is a socially acceptable form of idolatry. It has nothing to do with walking in obedience, and everything to do with looking outside of the Father for approval and validation.
All of us are on a spiritual journey. We mess up, find grace, keep walking. But this natural process often gets bypassed for MKs. They show up in churches and are expected to have it all together. No struggles, no sin, DEFINITELY no doubts. Maybe their parents expect this, afraid that a misbehaving or doubting child will threaten their support base. Maybe it’s church people.
In many ways, MKs live publicly, whether they want to or not. I mean, how many families in your passport country send monthly or quarterly newsletters to each other? One missionary kid confessed, “I had to be perfect so I wouldn’t mess up my dad’s ministry.” Another girl said, “Everyone thinks I’m better than them.” I asked her to clarify. She said, “They think because I’m an MK I’m more spiritual than them. They also think that I’m arrogant because they think I think I’m better than them.” It’s confusing, I know.
The pressure to validate a parent’s life choices is too heavy, and the risk of invalidating a parent’s life choices or ministry is too damning. Missionary kids should not have to carry either burden.
If this point resonates with you, I highly recommend the book, I Have to be Perfect, and other Parsonage Heresies. It was written by an MK.
May our children know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that our love for them is immense, never-ending, and flows straight from the heart of the Father. And when they feel our love, may they feel Him.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

School in South Africa...

School runs late January-early December in South Africa.  We now have a 4th grader in "preperatory school" and a 3rd grader in "junior primary".  From what I gather, the social and academic jump from junior primary to prep school is akin to our jump from elementary to middle school.

The week before school, the surrounding towns are in hustle and bustle mode buying "stationary" (school supplies).  Unlike the US, every pencil, every crayon, every coloring pencil, every marker, EVERY ITEM has to be labeled with your child's name.  Also unlike the US, the school supply list is extremely strict, down to the exact type of pencil case expected.  Cross off two days of your summer vacation solely to find the correct stationary and label it :)

School runs 7:30-2 with 2 days of mandatory sport for Sawyer (swimming, cricket, field hockey, soccer).  Grade 4 sport takes place after school, so Elaina is out at 3:15.

Grade 4 course of study includes English, Afrikaans, Zulu, Geography, Natural Science, Maths, History, Culture Club, P.E. and Sport.  Wow.  The homework load takes several hours each day and there is a strict code of adherence for how homework is to be completed.  Proper lines must be drawn under the date and any messy work must be erased and re-written.  Once grade 4 students have individually proven themselves to write neatly, they gain a "Pen License" where they graduate from pencils to pens.

The grading system is one we are having to get used to, so I'll write as objectively as I can.  Our school produced two seniors in the top 1% of the country last year.  Their grades were in the 80% range.  Achieving a 70% is considered our high B range and an 80% is quite highly regarded.  Scoring within the 90's is quite rare.  The line between rigor and impossible on assessments here is something that I may someday understand, but not yet.  Likewise, material that is assessed and assessment methods are something we will have to learn to adapt to.

There is a strict code of conduct and overall student presentation.  No make up or jewelry is permitted in any grade (other than stud earrings).  Hair must never fall below the collar, therefore must be tied up for girls.  Boys wear knee socks, which, if sagging, may earn a demerit.  That becomes interesting with the only low quality socks that are available.  Students may earn a demerit if they forget their sun hat during break time and they may get a detention for chewing gum, wearing the wrong sport clothes, or arriving late to school.

You get the drift of where the American rebel in me may rear its ugly head. HOWEVER, the old school American in me has fallen in love with the following things:

1.  Every student, no matter how young or old, will drop everything they are doing when an adult walks by, look them in the eye, and say "Good morning, Ma'am/Sir".  Every student.  Even when school hours are over.

2.  Student responsibility is huge here.  How a child can be punished for being brought late to school may be beyond me but I see fruit in other amazing areas.  Independence in homework, personal study time, ownership of work and neatness, ownership of behavior, awareness of personal impact on community, and good stewardship of belongings are all traits that have greatly increased in the last 7 months.

3.  World Language is taken seriously down to the elementary level.  My 4th grader is learning Afrikaans AND Zulu.  How forward-thinking is that?!  How hard we fought to have World Language offered at least in junior high in Cedar Falls.  Rather, Iowan students well beyond their optimal language learning years are forced to play catch up with the rest of the world.

4.  Snakes, monkeys, and tropical flora invade campus.  I mean, c'mon, that's cool.

We are so very grateful to the Lord for this educational opportunity and for the life lessons it pushes us through.  Now, bring on 3rd and 4th grade!

Organizing stationary for 4th grade.
Afrikaans dictionary, English dictionary, exam pad, notebooks, and folders.
Every item labeled.
Elaina and friend study before their playdate.
Day 1 Afrikaans homework.  "Here is me" collage. 

Chores before school at the Danforth Zoo.

Off to school
Homework help with Uncle Stephen. 
Sawyer told me he found lucky beans at school yesterday.
I found these in his lunchbox after he went to bed :)