Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Right People, Right Times-- A blog revival ;-)

I have abandoned this blog for far too long. I think there are many reasons why…

  • There’s a lot to process in the first two years of living in a new place, so there’s a natural impetus to write things down. For me, that inertia started to diminish over time. I’ve noticed this trend for many other missionaries too.
  • We’ve been able to share a lot of our stories through other media, like Facebook albums. 
  • As we became further invested in our ministries, there were times when immediate needs took priority over writing.
  • After my last post in November 2014, we began the 2015 school year. We spent the first 5 months trying to get as much covered at school as possible and preparing for our first furlough (May-July 2015). Then shortly after our first furlough we became parents! That will change life for sure ;-)
  • I also think for me there are seasons in my life when I write and there are seasons in my life when I read. In the last year and a half, I’ve felt more inclined to read. And I’ve read some amazing things… Love Does by Bob Goff, all of Brene Brown’s books, Parenting Your Internationally Adopted Child by Patty Cogen, etc.

All that to say, there are plenty of reasons why I didn’t write, but I’m starting to feel the nudge to do some reflecting and writing again. So where to begin?

As I look back at the year and a half gap in this blog, I’m just amazed at how people have come into our lives at exactly the right time. During the times when our journey seemed especially messy, I take great comfort in looking back and seeing how God pulled together other aspects of our lives.

Community Health Evangelism
In December 2011, we traveled to Jos, Nigeria, believing that to be where God was calling us next. During that visit, we were introduced to Fiona and Rick Jara and their girls. Fiona, a nurse midwife from Australia, had been implementing a Community Health Evangelism (CHE) program in villages outside of Jos. CHE is a world-renowned program that has been implemented in 119 countries to date. It is a biblically-based holistic health program that “equips communities to identify issues and mobilize resources to achieve positive, sustainable change.”[1]  While in Nigeria, I was able to shadow Fiona as she taught a CHE seminar on maternal health. We also visited a village so concerned about the poor maternal health rates that they had come together to renovate a building donated by a local leader and turned it into a birthing center. It was inspiring to see what communities can do when they have a shared vision and the education necessary. Fiona promised to make sure I was fully trained in CHE if I came to work in Nigeria.

After our visit, life changed. Violence, strikes, and kidnappings at that time caused many organizations to pull missionaries out of Nigeria. We received a new call to Tanzania that was an even better fit for our skills and passions. The Jara family moved to Ghana to work with an organization doing CHE there. And life moved on... until January 2015.

Almost four years after meeting the Jara family, we learned that they were considering a call to Tanzania and would be in the Arusha area for several months. Fiona asked if I still wanted to be trained in CHE, because she and Rick were hosting a Training of Trainers 1 seminar in Arusha. The answer was yes!

After the training, I was excited about the potential of CHE, but knew that if it was truly going to be community-owned, I shouldn’t be the one to lead the way. I would need Tanzanian help. Nine months later I learned that Holly Freitas, another CHE trainer, would be hosting a vision seminar in Mwanza. Thus we sponsored three representatives from our diocese, chosen by Bishop Makala, to attend the seminar. They came back passionate about the program, but we were delayed in putting anything together by my new role as mother. Finally, in March 2016 we held a vision seminar for leaders throughout our diocese, and the idea of Christ-centered community-based development gained momentum. We are now choosing pilot areas and preparing for a full Training of Trainers 1 (TOT1) at the end of the month. The diocese has also chosen Jeremiah Shauri as CHE coordinator. He will be traveling to Kenya in August for a 5-week course covering TOT2, TOT3, and many other topics. He will also receive internship experience there.

Everything has happened at pretty much the only time it could have happened. I met Fiona Jara during the one month we were in Nigeria in 2011. The Jaras were only in Tanzania for a few months in 2015 and are now currently living in Australia. Holly came to do the seminar in Mwanza in September 2015, shortly before she broke her neck in a crazy beach-wave accident. She has been in recovery since that time and has not held any other seminars in the Mwanza area. We could have never guessed how all of this would unfold, and yet here we are with many doors opening up. We don’t know exactly where all of this will lead, but we definitely have a sense that God is in it.

Language Mentor
I have a love/hate relationship with the Swahili language, which could actually be a topic for a whole post in and of itself. I remember when I lived in Papua New Guinea, I felt sorry for those teachers who spent most of their time at English-speaking schools, because it was so much harder for them to learn the local language. And now here we are in Tanzania in a very similar situation. It is a struggle to learn a new language, and in my opinion, Swahili is every bit as robust a language as English. Choose any sentence, and there are probably at least 10 different ways to say the exact same thing in Swahili. One language learning website estimates that for English-speakers it takes about 600 solid hours for individuals to become conversational in Spanish. For Swahili, they estimated it would take about 900 solid hours. Because we live in a community with many English-speakers and students who need us to speak English, it has been slow in coming. I’ve also always been one who does well with accountability—a teacher or guide. Give me a standard and I will likely surpass it. I do even better with fellow classmates with whom to commiserate and study. After language school, we had no designated teacher, no accountability, and no fellow classmates. We got to a level of Swahili where we could comfortably get around and then the learning slowed to a crawl. I prayed that I might find some way to reignite my language learning.

Then I attended the CHE vision seminar in Arusha in January 2015, and I met fellow participant Amanda. She told me about how she had a language coach and a language helper in her Swahili study. Her language coach provided accountability and language learning ideas. She would work with her Tanzanian language helper each week and then would report back to her coach. She offered to be my coach and encouraged me to find a helper. My friend Mercy agreed to be my helper, and the next six months of lessons reinvigorated my language learning. The lessons have been put on the backburner since Michael came home, but I continue to be grateful for how God answered my prayer in that season of my life.

We started thinking about adopting in Tanzania all the way back in 2012. During our time at language school in Morogoro, we spent quite a bit of our free time at an orphanage within walking distance. As we played with and got to know these precious children, we began to wonder, “Was it possible for expats to adopt in Tanzania?” When we moved to Mwadui, I searched for the answer via the internet. I found the Forever Angels website, which described the process for expats adopting. A few months later, I realized that Forever Angels was only 2.5 hours away from us, and we could actually visit the baby home (yes, I was a little slow on that one.) We visited the home in September 2013 and met the founder Amy Hathaway. Amy and her husband were originally from England. They had adopted 5 children themselves and had helped countless expat and Tanzanian families adopt. We learned that we couldn’t foster/adopt until we had lived in country for 2-3 years. We continued to think and pray about it and decided that we would probably benefit from talking to other Americans who had adopted from Tanzania because every country has such different policies. One night we discussed contacting the U.S. embassy.

The very next weekend, we took a trip to Mwanza and decided to attend the late service at the Lutheran cathedral. As we entered the compound, the earlier service was concluding and out walked a white couple with three white children and two black children. We were amazed, because we hadn’t seen them before and we knew all the expat Lutheran missionaries. We introduced ourselves and met Dr. Rob Peck, who is a pediatric surgeon at Bugando hospital, and Liz Peck who is a nurse and regularly volunteers at Forever Angels. Two of their beautiful children were adopted from Forever Angels. Their family have become dear friends of ours. They connected us with our lawyer in Dar Es Salaam and answered so many of our questions about adoption. They have encouraged us on our journey, offered medical advice when needed, and opened their home to us many times as a place of respite. Would we have met them if we hadn’t been in Mwanza that weekend? Who knows! However, God knew that we needed them in our lives and through them we have met many more wonderful people who have blessed our lives.

I have many more stories like this… friendships that God knew I needed even when I didn’t know… people who came to visit from the U.S. at the exact time I needed medicine or some other supplies…. people who spoke right to my heart when I needed it most.

There are definitely ups and downs in this life, and sometimes when we are right in the midst of it, we can’t see how God is working. Sometimes, it is only by looking back that I can begin to see the patterns of care and the faithfulness of God.

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