Thursday, October 5, 2017

10 Answered Prayers

As of September 7th, we have lived in Tanzania for five years! Usually this time of year we put out a “Year In Review” video, but this year with all the travel back and forth to Mwanza, chronic illness, and finally bringing our daughter home, we just haven’t been able to commit the time to making a video. However, I do want to take a moment to celebrate and share all that God has done since we arrive back in Tanzania in January. Truthfully, we felt pretty overwhelmed at that point, because so many needs, dreams, and timelines flew at us as soon as we hit the ground. While I have seen God do amazing things here in the past, I must admit that I am human, and sometimes I get scared. I get scared of failing, of not being able to fulfill promises, of letting people down… So in January I started a prayer list. These prayers have often lasted for many months, because sometimes my timing is not God’s and progress is slow. However, as I look back today, I can see how God was at work and answered each one of the prayers.

  1. Majid’s Desk and Bathroom--In 2016, we were grateful to see a young boy named Majid walk for the first time thanks to many of your donations. We also started the year with enough money to enroll him in Agape Lutheran English Medium Primary School. However, in January I received word that the school could not admit him unless money could be found to build a special desk to accommodate his leg braces and a bathroom that was handicap accessible. By God’s grace, one of our partner families stepped in and provided the money for the desk and the bathroom. Majid has now almost completed kindergarten and will be entering Standard 1 next year!
  2. Deaconess Celebration—At the end of January, we
    learned that the next class of deaconesses would be consecrated in early March. In the past, we’ve given new Tanzanian deaconesses handmade deaconess stoles in honor of the occasion. However, given that the stoles hadn’t been made yet and still had to be shipped across the world, we weren’t sure if this gift would make it in time. We are so grateful to Deaconess Ann Maki and the members at First Evangelical Lutheran Church in Longmont, Colorado for jumping into action and getting the stoles made. They were sent from the U.S. on February 17th, but we weren’t sure they would arrive in time for the consecration on March 11th. In the past, most packages had taken about a month to arrive. However, they did arrive in time! With a week to spare! The graduation/consecration weekend was a joyous celebration, made even more joyous by friends in the U.S. and a speedy delivery.
  3. Retreat— Sometimes God answers prayers that we didn’t
    even know we needed to pray. While we had a marvelous time with family and friends during our fall furlough in the U.S. last year, we never really had time away for spiritual rest and to reflect on what God is doing in our lives. We were delighted when the LCMS invited us to their East African missionaries’ retreat in Kenya, but quickly realized that we could not afford the travel and hotel costs. We sent our regrets explaining why we would not be able to attend. A few weeks later we received word that because other guests wouldn’t be able to make use of their stipend, the LCMS could cover all of our travel expenses! When we mentioned the trip to Global Lutheran Outreach, we found out that they had recently established a fund to help missionaries retreat for times of rest. They were thus able to help pay for our hotel costs! The week away turned out to be a beautiful and much needed time to be spiritually fed, to network with other missionaries, and make memories together as a family.
  4. World Federation of Diakonia— Last year I began to 
    dream about sending two Tanzanian deaconesses to the World Federation of Diakonia conference that is held every four years in different parts of the world. This year’s conference was in Chicago, and my deaconess community was helping to host it. Having been to this conference before, I knew it would be an amazing opportunity for some of my Tanzanian colleagues, but when we returned to Tanzania, I learned that the discounted registration ended in March! The thought of raising $3,300 for each person before that date was nerve-wracking. Then, toward the end of February, I realized the importance of having Bishop Makala in attendance to help with the interpreting, and so that he was on the same page as the diaconal leaders and could collaborate with them when they returned to Tanzania. So now I was looking at $9,900 to raise! However, God brought forward some wonderfully generous donors. We were able to register Bishop Makala, Deaconess Matrida Sanga, and Director of Education Grace Mutabuzi before the discounted registration deadline, and by the second week of May, the trip was fully funded. Then we ran into some snags in getting Matrida’s passport, praying desperately that it would arrive in time. It did! Little by little, all the details—how to get U.S. visas, how to get them a hotel during their long layover, who would pick them up, who would drive them, etc.—came together.  As I watched (via pictures) our colleagues interact with the servant leaders from around the world, my spirit leapt for joy. The whole trip truly felt miraculous, and our friends came back spiritually rejuvenated and bursting with new ideas to integrate into ministry here.
  5. Laboratory for Mwanza Lutheran Secondary School—In
    January we also received an email from our friend Bishop Gulle of the East of Lake Victoria Diocese concerning the Mwanza Lutheran Secondary School. In the past we had connected them with partners to help them build two more classrooms and bathrooms for the new school. However, now the government was requiring a completed laboratory before the school could open, and Bishop Gulle implored us for assistance again. They had already completed the walls and roof for the building, but didn’t have the money to finish it. Since we were already doing another fundraiser for the Diakonia conference, we told him we wouldn’t be able to help at this time. However, a few weeks later, our friends at St. John Lutheran Church in Cypress, TX, who had previously been instrumental in getting the classrooms and bathrooms built, asked about progress of the school. We told them about the request, and they agreed to match any donations that came in up to $7,000. However, this summer they took that one step further when their Vacation Bible School raised the remainder of the money needed to build the lab. The lab is currently under construction now and should be ready in time for the new school year in January! Praise the Lord!
  6. A New School for Baraka—We have been walking along side
    our friend Baraka and his family for almost our entire time here in Tanzania. Since he was born without eyes and experiences some developmental disabilities due to early life seizures, he didn’t start preschool until he was age 7. We were able to get him into the Lutheran preschool here and hired an aide to help him. However, after two years, it was clear he had outgrown the preschool. When we arrived back in Tanzania, the search began for a new school. There are very few schools for the blind here in Tanzania, and even fewer that provide boarding, and fewer still will accept kids with developmental disabilities. We and Baraka’s parents called numerous places and met many dead ends. Finally in March, one school in Dar Es Salaam agreed to meet with him, so we sent Baraka and his mother. They told us that they couldn’t accept him yet because he didn’t have all the skills he would need to board. Therefore, his family began intentionally working with him on that list of skills. Then in July, we learned of an even better opportunity at a school closer to home. We sent Baraka and his mom to the school, but their trip was delayed when Baraka fell ill with malaria. Finally in August, they met the school administrators who agreed to accept him at Mwereni Intergrated School for the Blind in Moshi. Not only that, but they also said they would be willing to teach Baraka’s younger brother Amani, who was also born without eyes, when the time comes. Praise the Lord! Baraka has an aunt that lives near the school, and she reports that he is loving his new school.
  7. Michael’s Medical Bills— While we were in the U.S, we
    were able to get Michael into St. Louis Children’s Hospital’s International Adoption Center. This center particularly looks at children’s vaccine levels, tests for parasites and international illnesses that other doctors miss, and gives parents the support of an occupational therapist. We were so grateful because they determined that Michael had only had the measles vaccine, not the full MMR, and also found and treated a parasite in Michael’s digestive system. However, we got back to Tanzania, the bills started rolling in, and we discovered that our insurance company was not willing to cover all of these tests because they were outside of normal care. They lumped all tests into “wellness.” Since medical tests are expensive in U.S. hospitals and the insurance company only covered $500 of wellness, we soon received over $5,000 worth of bills we couldn’t pay! We sent in an appeal, but the insurance company still refused. We mentioned our plight on Facebook, and a dear friend Liz Neuf mentioned that she worked right next to the billing office at St. Louis Children’s. She put us in contact with someone, who put us in contact with another person, and we continued waiting. Finally in June, we learned that the hospital was going to comp us the remaining balance of our bills! We breathed such a sigh of relief and thanked God for Liz and all the people at the hospital that made it happen.
  8. A Safer Computer Lab— When we returned to school in
    January, we learned that the air-conditioning units for the computer lab had finally arrived. Thus, Eric and Sundi began packing up the lab for the installation of the air-conditioners and ceiling tiles. Because of setbacks in worker schedules, the room was finally finished in March, or so we thought... The first day Eric had the students in the room, one of the students mentioned that the computer—which was turned off—was hot. Sure enough, there were 240 volts coursing through the computer, which led Eric to discover that some short-cuts had been taken in the wiring when the computer lab was built last year. If he had not discovered this, someone could have been seriously injured or the building could have caught fire. We thank God for safety and that the situation could be remedied. Eric supervised the rewiring of over half of the lab. The electrical work was completed in May, and Eric has since been able to network all the computers and make the room as safe as possible. The students and teachers love being able to use the lab for study, practical applications, and research. 
  9. Work and Resident Permits— The story of these permits is
    literally a two-year journey. Here’s the briefer overview:
    - September 2015:  We applied for our resident permit renewals September 2015 and received the receipt that serves as the permit until the official one is issued. 
    - March 2016: We had still not received our permits, and a lawyer friend told us that we had waited an abnormally long time, even for Tanzania. We returned to the immigration office. They advised that we submit our papers to them again. 
    - March-August 2016: We experienced many more months of confused, frustrating meetings. Bishop Makala even came with us to the office a few times. We couldn’t get any straight answers.
    - August 2016: We were in Dar Es Salaam applying for Michael’s passport. We asked the immigration advocate helping us with the passport to check on our resident permit case. A few weeks later we learned from her that the original papers had never been received by the Dar Es Salaam office. Our papers from March 2016 had been received but shelved, because a law was passed in December 2015 that said that missionaries now needed work permits.
    - September 2016: Our advocate Rose helped us apply for work permits and resident permits again. 
    - January 2017: With Rose’s help, we received the work permits one week before we were supposed to return from the U.S. to Tanzania. That permit, along with our receipt, was enough to at least get us into the country. Praise the Lord!
    - January 2017-May 2017: We faced many obstacles—papers lost, people on maternity leave, people transferred to new offices, etc.  Rose was just as frustrated as we were.
    - May 2017: I (Linda) finally received my permit. Eric’s was still MIA
    - July 2017: We learned that when they had printed my permit, immigration archived both files without printing Eric’s. They were attempting to find the files.
    - August 2017: We flew to Dar Es Salaam to hand-deliver all the documents that would have been in the file if it had been found (thank God we had made copies!). However, then because the receipt of payment for our application had expired--being two years after our original application—we had to pay again and supply new updated documents for his permit. 
    - September 20, 2017: I finally picked up Eric’s permit myself in Dar, as well as the permits for new GLO missionaries Amber and Austin Reed. Thanks to our agent Rose, who we wouldn’t have found if we hadn’t been through this whole saga, the Reeds’ whole process—work permits and resident permits—took only 4 months. We have learned a lot through it all and we will never again attempt this process without Rose’s help. 
  10. Bringing Julia Home— And last but not least, we have
    endured a long prayerful journey to bring our daughter home. Our home study was conducted in September 2016 before our furlough, but due to circumstances outside of our control, we didn’t receive the home study report until April 1st. Then we learned that the Commissioner of the Ministry of Social Welfare was no longer housed in the Dar Es Salaam office. His office is now in Dodoma, a 7-hour bus ride from Dar. Thus, every single document that needs his signature must travel between the two cities, delaying the process by weeks/months. We braced ourselves for another long wait. Finally, on July 14th we received the letter to go and identify who our child would be. Long-story short, our daughter Julia only became eligible for adoption a few weeks before we received that letter. As painful as the wait was, had we received the letter any earlier, we may not now have our beautiful daughter. It took another two months and two trips to Dar Es Salaam to get the letter that gave us permission to bring her home. However, our joy was complete when on September 22nd, our little girl came home. 

Looking back even through the really tough times we can see God’s hand clearly at work. We want to say a special “thank you” to all of you have prayed along with us and partnered with us in these ministries. You are an answer to our prayers. The ministry continues as we head into Year Six. We are now praying a whole new batch of prayers, such as finding appropriate housing for new GLO missionary colleagues Amber and Austin, finishing construction of the clinic at our school, and finalizing the Tanzanian side of Julia’s adoption. We hope to be able to share many more answered prayers with you all in person Fall 2018. 

Saturday, February 25, 2017

My Double Life

No, I am not a spy. While Eric and I did enjoy McGyver, Alias, Superman, etc. as young people, we don’t weekly assume alter-egos that jet off to exotic places for secret missions. Yet, as we packed and prepared at the end of our most recent furlough, I did have the distinct realization that I lead a double life.

Tanzania has been our home now for over 4 years, longer than I have lived anywhere except my childhood home in Richardson, TX. Our house here is a place that we have restored and decorated as a couple. It is filled with memories, including the majority of our memories as a family of three. Here we have meaningful work and our own routine. We have a community here that we love and who loves and supports us.  Whenever we return to the U.S., we live in the homes of others, adapt to their schedules and routines, and try to squeeze 1.5-2 years’ worth of presentations, doctors’ appointments, deep conversations, and memories into a few brief months. Furlough is exhausting. However, it is also exhilarating, because the U.S. is also home. We are back in the homes of our youth, which hold a tremendous amount of wonderful memories. Suddenly we can dive into conversations in our native tongue and therefore reach different depths of conversation. We can talk with people who have known and loved us for decades. We generally have a clearer understanding of cultural norms. We blend in and are not immediately identifiable as outsiders. There is something truly refreshing about that.

Two countries--both very much home. In each place, I am myself, and yet in each place, I am also different. Sometimes it almost feels like there are two Lindas—U.S. Linda and Tanzania Linda. Let me elaborate.

U.S. Linda

Tanzania Linda
My Alias
Linda Funke in the U.S. is Linda with a short I, and Funke pronounced like “funky.”
Linda Funke in Tanzania is pronounced “Leenda Foonkay.” This Linda is also called “Madam Linda” at school or “Mama Michael” by the community as parents are also given the name of their first child. Eric is also called “Baba Michael” fairly regularly.

My Gear
As soon as we return to the U.S., this Linda digs through the bins in Eric’s parents’ basement, unpacking items that serve my American persona—blue jeans, 120-volt hairdryer, skirts that show my knees, jewelry, a variety of shoes including boots and high heels, coats, hats, scarves, etc. U.S. Linda appreciates a comfy pair of jeans and enjoys trying out new styles. U.S. Linda almost never has anything tailored because of the expense. U.S. Linda enjoys occasionally wearing heals and being closer to her husband’s height.

As soon as we return to Tanzania, this Linda pulls out dresses with beautiful vibrant pattern, handmade to fit me. Tanzania Linda also loves the freedom of long skirts. Yes, you read that right—freedom. While they may not be suitable for more strenuous activities, for everyday activities that require sitting on the floor with my son, long skirts have a lot more give than the average American jeans and don’t require a belt to keep them from riding too low. Tanzania Linda almost always wears sandals, because they are comfortable and she doesn’t want to tower over her Tanzanian friends.

U.S. Linda uses cards to pay for most everything and may look a little foolish figuring out how the whole chip thing works. U.S. Linda also appreciates how you can find a lot of what you are shopping for in one or two stores. U.S. Linda can easily pick up random items at a nearby store on the way home from the day’s activities.
Tanzania Linda pays for everything using cash (which you may or may not be able to get at the ATM that day). Tanzania Linda goes to many open-air markets and little shops looking for items and may or may not find them. However, shop keepers are also often willing to go and get something for you while you wait if they know of another shopkeeper who has it. Tanzania Linda also is a bit more organized when shopping because town is 30 minutes away and we only go once a week.

Personality and Activities
U.S. Linda tries to make the most of every opportunity to be with people, and therefore is more likely to watch TV with family, go to playdates, concerts, shows and museums, go out to dinner with friends, etc.
Communicating and recognizing cultural nuances requires more attention here, so Tanzania Linda tends to be more introverted. She makes more time for reflective activities such as reading, writing, listening to podcasts, and going for walks in the neighborhood.

U.S. Linda so appreciates being able to eat out, having many foods pre-cut/prepared, and having a huge variety of foods. Seriously, every item of food has dozens of options—vegetables, fruits, ice cream, popcorn, milk, cheese, etc. We also love being home with our extended families where we usually don’t have to cook and can enjoy the company of other loved ones in the evening.
Tanzania Linda appreciates that there aren’t a lot of hidden additives in her foods. While it takes at least forty-five minutes to an hour to prepare a meal here, most of the ingredients are extremely fresh. There are not as many options here, but much of the produce they do have is so much better than in the U.S. You have not truly seen a “jumbo” avocado until that avocado reaches the size of avocados here. I have not met a banana in the U.S. as sweet as the ones we can find here.

Worship Life
U.S. Linda travels around to many churches during our visits. During our four months of furlough, we worshipped with 15 different congregations. We enjoyed the diversity of services, the ability to have other family members help us with Michael, the ease of listening more closely to the service in our native tongue, and the beautiful music with a wide variety of instruments and intricate choral parts.
Tanzania Linda generally worships at our small church in Mwadui and is accustomed to services going at least 2-2.5 hours. Tanzania Linda loves the dancing and the beauty of the human voice in the acapella music. She also loves how everyone brings what they have for offering and the produce and goods are auctioned off after service. Here we may either be distracted by Michael or struggling with the language barrier, so we supplement with sermon podcasts in English on Monday night. Here in Tanzania I also have time for a women’s Bible study so I can dig a little deeper with a small group.

My heart is divided, which is the nature of having two homes, two lives. In each place, there are struggles. In each place, there are people we love and aspects of our lives that we treasure. Having a double life isn’t easy, but right now I wouldn’t have it any other way.