Tuesday, August 22, 2017

The Weight of History

"Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, 
and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more." 
Luke 12:48 (ESV)

Our family recently spent one week in beautiful New Bern, North Carolina. Since our lodging was outside of town, we frequently drove in to stroll the centuries-old streets and marvel at mansions and historic homes such as the one pictured below. Most structures had markers indicating their age and the family name of the original owners, some from as far back as the 1700's. It was incredible to imagine living in such luxury hundreds of years ago, and my curiosity was piqued regarding the story of this place. One of my thoughts as I observed the size and grandeur of the homes was, "They must have had slaves to maintain these back then." Sadly, a bit of online research quickly proved me right. I learned that at one time New Bern was the largest city in the state with its original wealth obtained through the trading of goods and slaves. Interestingly, in the early stages of the Civil War it was the capture and occupation of the city by Union troops that protected so many physical structures from damage so that they can be enjoyed today. The Union occupation also led to a fascinating situation with the slave population. Nearly 10,000 escaped slaves converged on the area for protection, leading to the creation of a refugee camp at New Bern. After President Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation even more freedmen arrived and little more than a decade after war's end, the city had a majority-black population.

After the war and slavery ended, the city rebuilt and prospered for a number of decades on the lumber industry. In the late 1800's, free black communities blossomed with churches, fraternal associations and businesses. Four black individuals were even elected to the United States Congress. And then, history turned. For over half a century - sixty-five years to be exact - the tide of white supremacy in New Bern rushed back against its black populace. In 1900, the state of North Carolina passed a constitutional suffrage amendment deliberately disenfranchising black citizens and blocking them from any involvement in the political process. In addition, segregation and discrimination were enforced through racist laws which placed black men, women and children at a disadvantage in every way.

Like many southern cities, New Bern has a complicated history of beauty and ugliness. Today, at least on the surface, it is the beauty that one immediately notices. I would love to go back and explore more. Only now as I researched information for this post, did I learn of some fascinating historical figures in New Bern from the era of segregation: the "Rhone Sisters," as they were known. Charlotte Rhone overcame tremendous roadblocks to become the first black registered nurse in her state and the first black social worker in her county. She and her sister Carrie are also remembered for raising funds to build a hospital for black people; a hotel for black travelers; and a library for the black public - each of which was otherwise denied their segment of the population at the time. I only wish we had known to visit the buildings which celebrate the legacy of these two women!

The truth is that this post is not intended as simply a study of one historic town. It is rather meant to reflect on a confluence of thoughts and situations that occurred around the time of our visit. On our drive to New Bern, I read Benjamin Watson's excellent book entitled Under Our Skin. Written to expand on a Facebook post he shared in response to the 2014 events in Ferguson, Missouri, in this book Watson thoughtfully, eloquently and honestly shares the reality of life as a black man in contemporary America. He also reaches back into the stories of his grandparents to clarify the history that has left its mark on the hearts and minds of black men and women in today's society. As a committed Christian, Benjamin tempers his observations with Biblical truths and exhortation. I cannot recommend this book enough for the reader who is willing to visit its pages with an open mind and heart. 

As I read I was reminded of how far we have yet to go as a nation as it relates to race, and to be honest I arrived at our vacation location with some concern about how our multiracial family would be received at a timeshare in a southern state. The first afternoon at the pool, my heart sank as I looked around and saw no one who resembled us at all. I cautioned my kids about manners and mentally braced for a week of "best behavior" reminders as I felt all eyes might be on us. To my relief and delight, the next day at the pool we encountered a blend of many cultures enjoying the water together! I observed Caucasian, African American, Hispanic, and Middle Eastern families swimming together and it truly made my heart smile. This alone reminded me that though we have far to go, we have also come so far.

And then suddenly, shamefully came Charlottesville. In the sneering, jeering faces I saw the evil that set the wheels of oppression in motion so many years ago. I felt the shuddering sadness brought on by undeniable evidence that my children's world is still home to such hatred. Yet conversely, I also felt flutters of hope. Quickly countering this evil came words of concern, compassion and commitment. Those words encouraged me that there are those who recognize the weight of history and will not allow this to happen again. There are those who realize that "to whom much was given, of him much will be required." And they have courageously spoken out to say: Not on their watch! Not in their city! Not in their generation! 

This isn't the kind of post that can be wrapped up neatly with a bow. Life in a transracial family is beautiful, redemptive and reflective of Heaven in that one day "every nation and tribe and people and tongue" will worship the Lamb together regardless of any difference in skin color or ethnic origin. But life in a transracial family can also be messy, as we wade through our own ignorance and privilege to understand the challenges our children must be prepared to face with both gravity and grace. Lord, give us wisdom! is our heart's cry for our family, our Church and our nation.

Sunday, August 06, 2017

Many Are the Plans

"Many are the plans in the mind of a man, 
but it is the purpose of the LORD that will stand."
Proverbs 19:21 (ESV)

It was a picture perfect day as we left New Bern behind after a wonderful week of family vacation, and joined the summer traffic headed south on Interstate 95. Despite being up since 5:30 a.m. it was not until several hours later that we successfully completed packing, check out, connecting with an oil distributor to buy a couple quarts for the van, refueling and a quick stop at Dunkin' Donuts for coffee and a sweet beginning to the day. So it was 9:30 a.m. when we began driving and two hours later we pulled off for what was meant to be a quick potty stop at the Cumberland County rest area outside of Fayetteville, North Carolina.

Unfortunately, our van chose to take an extended "rest" at the rest area. It still had power and fuel and was not overheated. We headed to some shaded picnic tables to snack on sandwiches just in case it was the latter, but it still refused to start when we returned. Pedro pulled up some info on the internet and scoured the owner's manual, trying recommended diagnostic procedures to no avail. He made the tough call to have the van towed. We all took turns entertaining Silas and Owen sweated his way through a few skateboard tricks while we waited.

When the tow truck driver arrived, he kindly attempted a few tricks of his own to see if anything could be accomplished with our van before pulling it away. Eventually there was nothing more to be done and since he could only take two additional passengers, Pedro dialed up an Uber driver for the rest of the gang. It was my first experience with Uber, and I hesitated to take our baby and four more children in the car without my husband and with someone I didn't know. In the end, Owen and I rode with Josh (tow truck driver) and Pedro stayed behind to meet Gary (Uber driver.) I know it sounds silly since we didn't know the tow truck driver either, but he had been working alongside my husband for about half an hour and seemed a trustworthy guy!

Numerous people observed our efforts with the van during our extended time (2+ hours) at the rest area. Just after Owen and I left with the tow truck, a kind African American family approached Pedro. "We see you are having a bit of trouble," they remarked. "We want to help out." Pedro assured them it was not necessary but they pressed a generous cash gift into his hands. What a humbling yet beautiful experience of being blessed by perfect strangers!

During our half hour drive with Josh, we learned that he is hard-working, married father of three kids who works three jobs to provide for his family. He spent ten years in the military with most of that time at nearby Fort Bragg and some time in both Korea and Iraq. He shared that he grew up extremely poor, which is his motivation for meeting the needs of his wife and children. We heard interesting stories from his towing experiences, everything from pulling a submerged boat out of water to a full 18-wheeler out of the ditch! He told us how he will always stop in support of policemen who have to pull someone over at night, to add his lights and protection to the scene. It was obvious that his work is more than just a job and that he often goes out of his way to help people in need. In fact, he was towing us on what was supposed to be his day off! Probably Owen's favorite story, though, was when Josh shared what he does on Friday nights. Apparently there is a dirt racetrack nearby where even boys Owen's age can race certain kinds of vehicles. If that doesn't spark a little boy's imagination, I don't know what will!

We reached the car repair shop just after Pedro and the rest of the family arrived. Their Uber driver, Gary, turned out to be a very nice man with interesting stories of his own from his Uber experiences. He is writing a book and said now our family will be featured in it, too (with names changed for privacy, of course!) Gary kindly called ahead to the closest hotel for reservations in case our repairs could not be completed immediately. He stayed until making sure we were all settled for the moment. We certainly experienced "Southern hospitality" at its finest with both of our drivers, and we are very thankful for God's orchestrating every detail!

It was 4 p.m. when we took a break from waiting to walk over to a nearby pizza place which came highly recommended by our tow truck driver. For the record, our kids while not perfect had really been troopers all this long while! They tore into the garlic knots (delicious btw!) and two huge pizzas like nobody's business. Regrettably, at this time the call came from the vehicle shop informing us that the needed repair was a new fuel pump for the van. They could get to it first thing in the morning and hopefully would have us on the road by 1 p.m. on Sunday. With no other choice, we called to confirm the local hotel rooms for the night and also to inform our Jacksonville hotel that we would not be using the suite we had reserved (unfortunately, already paid for and non-refundable.) I was quite aware of our older kids observing our calls and reactions. I wanted them to remember less of our concern over finances and more of our confidence that God was still in control despite unexpected changes to our plans. We talked about how He had watched over us and provided in many ways throughout the course of the day.

We returned to the repair shop to re-pack our bare necessities for the short hotel stay. The mechanics were ready to move the van inside for the night, so we assembled two adults; six children; two suitcases; two computer bags; one carseat; one stroller; one pack'n'play; and one cooler onto the grass between the shop and a McDonald's restaurant. I'm sure we made quite a sight! Pedro again pulled up his Uber app and this time found one option: a nice BMW which could carry four passengers. All the boys except Silas took the first trip with the luggage, and the driver then returned for the remaining four of us. It was quite interesting chatting with Nancy who as it turned out is from Bogota, Colombia. She married a military man and moved to North Carolina four years ago. She said it is nice here but "very quiet!"

Nearly thirteen hours after our day began, we settled into two hotel rooms and relaxed awhile in the pool before beginning to wrap up the evening. Throughout the day we had observed how different children responded differently to the pressures and challenges that occurred. Silas reached his breaking point and succumbed to sleep in big sister Eva's arms in our dim and quiet room while his siblings finished a movie upstairs. Eva in her tiredness felt overwhelmed with homesickness, especially for her familiar house and the warmth and snuggles of her dog. I questioned the "why" of today and wondered if we fulfilled any unstated purpose God had for us in it. I wished for some amazing story of having led someone to Christ through this unexpected detour, but that simply wasn't the case. This morning, Pedro did have an opportunity to pray with an elderly gentleman staying at the hotel. He and his Thai wife live in Thailand but are here because his 43-year old daughter (a wife and mother) is dying of cancer.

Perhaps we will never know why our plans changed, but we do trust in God's prevailing purposes. It is my hope and prayer that we have responded correctly and reflected Christlikeness as we relate to others, recognizing that it is within our own family that we are most challenged to do so! Today is a new day and just like yesterday:

"This is the day that the Lord has made; 
let us rejoice and be glad in it." 
Psalm 118:24

Saturday, July 29, 2017

A Week of EMC & Etc.

Our missions agency loves acronyms. The one for this week was EMC: Essential Missions Components, an appropriate title for five interactive and idea-packed days of training in the art of planting churches cross-culturally. Gone is the singular, traditional church planting model and in its place are various effective strategies which depend on ecosystems and culture and many other important factors that are discussed in small and large groups each day.

This training is open to veteran missionaries and pre-field missionaries who have reached 50% of their needed monthly support. In our case, we took the training five years ago but Pedro had the privilege of participating as a table facilitator this time around. What made the opportunity extra-special, though, was that both of our colleagues-to-be in Iquique (the Fisher family and Jenn Taylor) were in attendance, along with the Wenger family also headed to Chile. Whoo-hoo!

While the adults filled their heads with knowledge, a parallel program was offered for MKs. STAMP is the acronym which stands for Student and Teen Adventure Mission Preparation. Our kids participated in 2012 and we loved it so much that we sent them back again! This time they got to be with their Fisher cousins and other future teammates. It was really special that some of the leaders this year were former MKs who went through the program and are now young adults serving the Lord.

Silas and I were the only ones left out of the program - by choice, since we didn't find it necessary to further "traumatize" him with another week of nursery! Unfortunately, I quickly discovered he was as much (maybe more?!) traumatized by the departure of his siblings and being left alone with Mommy all day! But in the end, we had company on several days since both Alec and Ian took a turn being sick. On Monday, my mom joined me and helped with Silas while I completed the registration for Ian and Alec at our local public school. Tuesday the girls stayed home to meet with the guidance counselor at the Christian high school they will be attending, and Alec (who was sick that day) kept Pop-Pop company while Mom-Mom met the girls and I and Silas for the appointment followed by some shopping at the outlets. On Wednesday, Ian was home sick but felt well enough by early mid-afternoon for us to travel to the mission headquarters for dinner with the Chile families:

Early in the week on an evening of heavy rain, we discovered water leaking through the exhaust ceiling fan in the bathroom and realized it was coming from a leak in the roof and through the attic. So early Thursday morning, I welcomed the repair crew who worked on a different section of roof and Friday I met the slate repairman (a very nice Amishman.) Eva stayed home with me Thursday and we headed to the grandparents' in the afternoon to enjoy BLT sandwiches and Aunt Joann's chocolate chip cookies and a visit to the thrift shop in my parents' retirement community. By the end of the week our crew was incredibly zonked in the evenings, and no wonder!

However, we received wonderful news on Thursday morning! Pedro's sister Nina and her husband Kyle welcomed a healthy baby girl in Iowa on July 27 and we so look forward to meeting Chloe Noel Starkweather. Silas was rather enraptured by her pictures on my phone. I couldn't help snapping a picture of my "baby" as we enjoyed photos of our new niece, realizing once again how very fast time flies:

We finished the EMC week having dinner at Cracker Barrel with our future teammate Jenn (also known as "Aunt Noni" to our kids) which was delicious but a bit stressful with a big crowd and busy toddler. Silas and I drove out in anticipation of seeing the older kids' closing program, a creative presentation featuring Owen as a boxer fighting "Fear," "Money" and "Discouragement" (impersonated by several other MK boys, including his cousin Ben) to the soundtrack of "Eye of the Tiger" - but with new, Christian lyrics! - which was meant to encourage the missionary parents on their continuing journey through deputation, or pre-field ministry. Unfortunately they presented earlier than expected and I was so disappointed to miss it by just twenty minutes.

I know my husband was blessed and encouraged by spending time with our Chile teammates and reviewing the church planting principles with those who will be working alongside us, hopefully in the near future! He also appreciated getting to know other missionaries from other fields, and I am glad he had this opportunity for a "shot in the arm" even though I know it was tiring for him at the end of the long days.

Now it is Saturday, and we are packing once again to begin a 7-8 hour drive to North Carolina and eventually on to Florida.

"Saddle up your horses" ... the adventure continues!

Friday, July 28, 2017

Not Perfection but Reflection

Our toddler was finally napping and I was otherwise alone in a quiet house when the tears came. They were prompted by this article - "3 Reasons Traditional Parenting Doesn't Work With Kids From Trauma" - and a host of other pressures, not the least of which was our non-stop schedule for nearly seven weeks straight. Of course that was when the phone rang. I wiped my tears, took a breath and carefully tried to modulate so that my voice would not give me away. After all, isn't putting on the good face what the missionary life - especially furlough - is all about? (Note: Please realize this question is tongue in cheek!) 

As a child of missionaries having grown up in the fishbowl of ministry among other families like ours, I have seen firsthand the damage done by pretending everything is okay when it is not. I have walked into timebombs of family dynamics and been shocked to see that behind the scene of the pleasant preacher are simmering spousal disputes and angry glares across the dinner table. I have watched in heartbreak while some fellow MKs throw away everything we were taught together because they lost faith in their family and consequently, in their family's God. 

While our family was by no means perfect, I am so thankful that my parents never pretended to be so with us. We used to tease our mom that she was "too" sensitive to guilt, always feeling bad for things that most people never thought twice about. (Now I minister alongside a missionary wife much like my mom, and wish I were more like them both!) One of the things I respect most about my dad is that I saw him change over the years he parented us. Somewhere along the way he learned to let go of preference issues and lead us with both conviction and compassion. When faced with how to react at key moments in my growing up years when I struggled and failed, he responded with truth and love. I can honestly say the behavior of my earthly father prepared me to trust my Heavenly Father in the trials and testings of life, for which I am forever grateful.

This is perhaps is why it is so painful to be the one responsible for what is called in today's lingo a (hashtag) parenting fail. Earlier in the week I snapped after an exhausting day of dysregulation by a "kid from trauma" (to borrow from the aforementioned article's title.) Immediately I was contrite and ashamed, and only because God is good He allowed my blowup to be redeemed into a much-needed, honest and tender conversation between a pair of siblings and myself. I apologized to each of my children, not just the two involved, because as a parent my failure affects them all. Over the next few days I read the book Born Broken and shed many tears. I recognized that my challenges are so small compared to what many adoptive families are facing through no fault of their own, but as a result of early childhood trauma with its shattering repercussions.

Reading the book affirmed my resolve that this year we must seek help that is not available overseas for our children. We have already begun educational testing for one son whose early malnutrition in Haiti forever altered his brain and responses. He is smart, funny and sweet but simply learns differently than others and we need to help him reach his full potential. We have also made contact with a Christian counseling service for a daughter who has always struggled with anxiety but has become increasingly debilitated by it in the face of so many huge life changes. I cannot always understand what she is going through. Often I fail the test of patience. But I do understand the language of words and she gave me permission to share a poem about her struggles:
"Error ... Error"
For the last year or so this word has been thrown at me.
When I talk to people and try to explain my problem, their eyes glare with the words: "That's not right." Their arms and hands say: "You are wrong." Their heads shake with embarrassment, their lips curve out repeatedly: "Error, error. How you think is absurd!"
I want to think straight and logically, but what is logic? Synonyms are: having or showing skill in thinking and reasoning. 
Well, I clearly don't have that when panic stricken! I can't even think.
When I am panic possessed (I say "possessed" because it controls me), everywhere I look is fuzzy, bright, sometimes almost in slow motion it seems. All I am focused on is finding a familiar face or someone I can trust. Panic attacks are debilitating.
Every day I am faced with a moment where I choose between trusting God or letting fear consume me. I want to trust God and some moments are better than others.
My daily test is when I am in the shower. I know it's stupid to think people will leave me, but how about God? I struggle with assurance of salvation. I know Jesus has me and my feelings don't determine that, but when my heartbeat speeds up and my thoughts run free I forget that. I think Jesus will come to take His followers, and leave me. Now that is absurd. Jesus I need you, I believe, help my unbelief. Help me, God. This is an every day, almost every hour prayer.
I'm getting to the point where I am merely surviving a day. I wonder if I can get through tomorrow. God has a purpose for this. Sometimes I think ... (beeeeep.) You don't want to hear what I think; however God is good and He has a plan.
She first read me the words out loud, and I felt both pride and wonder that she had expressed so clearly what she was feeling. My heart also sighed with regret knowing there have been times when mine was one of the faces stating, "You are wrong." Reading her poem happened last night. Following that there was a long-distance phone call from a friend spilling burdens across the miles and ending after everyone else was sound asleep. It left me unable to sleep (but awake to serve Silas his middle-of-the-night bottle!) And then there was an early a.m. wake up call of a child banging the bathroom door to hurry a sibling along. All in all it was the perfect recipe for a tearful morning and the reminder that God does not ask for my perfection as a parent, but my reflection - of Him. 

As I wrote that last statement, my thoughts turned to a hymn I've not heard in a very long time. Thomas Chisholm's words are those of my heart today. May I learn to be more and more like Christ as a parent to the precious children entrusted to me!
"O to be like Thee! full of compassion,
Loving, forgiving, tender and kind,
Helping the helpless, cheering the fainting,
Seeking the wand’ring sinners to find.
O to be like Thee! O to be like Thee!
Blessed Redeemer, pure as Thou art;
Come in Thy sweetness, come in Thy fullness; 
Stamp Thine own image deep on my heart."

From Michigan to M.E.

Sunday, July 16 was our final Sunday in Michigan during our summer "tour." We stayed up late packing as much of our belongings as possible into the van the night before, but still rose around 5 AM to finalize cleaning and organizing the lovely home we had enjoyed in Pentwater. We encouraged the kids with the promise of a good breakfast (okay, drive-through at McDonald's) on the way to church. North Casnovia Baptist Church is another church which is dear to Pedro from his growing up days and he always looks forward to being back on familiar roads and seeing old friends. We enjoyed our brief visit and afterwards Pedro shared that a special encouragement was being greeting by a new family to the church who said they had seen our family on the missionary display and had been praying for us the past two years!

It was one of those "catch-22" afternoons where there was not enough time to return to the home where we'd been staying due to distance, but there was too much time in between the morning service at one church and the evening service at another. We opted to take a little longer with lunch and then look for a park where the kids could run around a bit. Unfortunately, they were not really in the mood for running - I think we all felt we'd been doing enough of it for the past month! So we set up some folding chairs and settled in the shade near soccer fields where we could hear Spanish spoken by the players and just rest for a bit. I snapped a few pictures before we piled into the van again.

We were encouraged to meet two new pastors at our evening church in Howard City, both of whom have young families and a vision to reach their community with Christ. Something unique that I appreciated about this church's missionary display is a wall with individual plastic frames where prayer letters can be updated for people to read at any time. Below each one is the missionary family's name, photo, and where they serve:

Following church, we hit the road a little later than planned and didn't arrive at our previously scheduled hotel in Ohio until past midnight. After a short but refreshing night, we took advantage of a quick breakfast offered there before settling in for our long (7+) hour drive to Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Right on the heels of our Michigan travel came our mission agency's annual M.E. ("Missionary Enrichment") Conference which we are required to attend every five years. Last furlough, all our kids got sick with the stomach flu the first day of the conference and were unable to attend at all. So we were especially looking forward to the experience for their sakes, knowing that rubbing shoulders with other MKs from around the world would be a blessing to them. The conference began Monday evening with dinner prior to the first session. After my confusion about nurseries led to a lot unnecessary running around, I barely made it only to be summoned 5-10 minutes later to care for a crying Silas! Oh well. I enjoyed providing an extra pair of hands to all the sweet little MK babies that night, and the next day we transitioned Silas into the toddler nursery where he did a little better over the course of time.

Our children did indeed make friends from around the world and had a great time during their morning and evening sessions. Pedro and I were personally encouraged by the many testimonies of ministries on different fields, and by opportunities to interact one on one with other missionaries and hear how God is using them. On Tuesday we were invited to participate in an interview onstage ourselves. I was very nervous but God graciously guided our words and it was a privilege to share about the ministry and needs in Iquique!

Although our afternoons were free on Tuesday and Wednesday, as crazy as it sounds we still couldn't just let down. Instead, on Tuesday Pedro and our kids visited with Pop-Pop so that Mom-Mom and I could drive together to Delaware where we needed to pick up a vehicle and items left for us by the Rubins when they returned to Chile. And Wednesday we spent our free time looking at houses with a realtor who has been helping us over the past months long-distance. Together with my two sisters, we have been searching and praying about the possibility of Pedro and I purchasing a home near our parents where we can take turns living while on furlough. It has been a challenge to find something adequate within our budget, with pressure mounting because Fishers traveled all summer on pre-field by faith without a home to return in August.

Nonetheless, the M.E. Conference was uplifting to our family and we are glad to have been able to participate. We packed up Thursday morning and proceeded to part ways - Pedro and five kids "home" to Ephrata (finally!) while our son Ian and I headed to our mission headquarters near Harrisburg. There Ian would begin his first of two days of educational testing with a missionary to Hungary. Cheryl has two earned masters degrees and her doctorate in education, but we had no idea of her ministry until recently! Ian met with her on Thursday afternoon and again on Friday morning, about a 55-minute drive each way to/from our home. On Saturday, Pedro and I met with Cheryl and with Anna, an occupational therapist (and adult MK) also headed to Hungary, for the results of their evaluations. Both were very helpful to us as parents as we seek the best options for our son in the future. Meanwhile our kids enjoyed some more time with their grandparents (see picture of Pop-Pop with the boys below!) We are so grateful to God for orchestrating this important opportunity for our sweet Ian.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

A Wonderful Whirlwind, Part Four (2 of 2)

Week Four: July 9-15 (continued)

We arrived at the house on Tuesday and on Wednesday evening, we drove the two hours to a supporting church in Hastings. To make more pleasant the fact that we'd be driving two hours each way (after having driven three hours the day before!) we first stopped for lunch at a Mexican restaurant. Of course with Daddy's Mexican heritage there is always serious critique of the food, but this place passed with flying colors. All the kids gave it a thumbs up, and it was a good start to the trip.

A couple of hours later, we surprised the kids with a visit to a Krispy Kreme donut factory in Grand Rapids. Of course, that was a hit as well. (Don't tell anyone, but they pleaded to stop again on our way back home and we just couldn't say no. We only hoped there had been a shift change so no one recognized us coming in for the second time the same day, ha!)

Because the church we were visiting also had a summertime ministry of backyard Bible clubs going on elsewhere, it was a small group of mostly older adults who gathered for our update that evening. To our surprise since he has struggled with clinginess this furlough, Silas reached out to one elderly gentleman in a wheelchair and climbed up in his arms. He took another "grandma" by the hand and walked with her. I think he had his own ministry of encouragement that night! The gentleman who led the service had himself been a CEF missionary, and the people in attendance had good questions for us after the presentation. One dear lady faithfully sends our family birthday, anniversary, and Christmas cards on behalf of the church. She wrote us ahead of time to ask if we could use some of the grocery dry goods she receives and cannot finish on her own. On the drive home after church, we shared with our kids how important God's "senior saints" are to missionary ministry. Without a doubt they are His great prayer warriors on behalf of many missionaries, our family included. This is both encouraging and humbling to us!

Thursday was our one day without any scheduled activities, which we enjoyed as a family at home. I even worked up the nerve to go kayaking on the lake with our kids. It was sadly obvious what a rarity this was when Alec could not believe his eyes! He later told me we should do this kind of thing as a family more often and concluded with, "Mommy, do you know that I love you?" Melt my heart!

On Friday we had been scheduled to go to Muskegon for a luncheon visit with a supporting church pastor and wife, but they came to us instead with Subway sandwiches and freshly baked cookies in hand. What a treat! We were grateful because this allowed us a much more comfortable time and place to converse, especially because Silas napped the entire time. It was such an encouragement to both listen to what God has been doing in their church ministry and share what He has been doing in Iquique. I had forgotten that this pastor's wife grew up in the same camp ministry where my grandfather spoke each summer, and she knew my mom's family well. God makes such neat connections! It so happens that this camp also has a ministry to recovering addicts. We have come to realize there is a great need for us to be equipped to biblically counsel in the area of addiction because it is such a problem in Iquique, and as a result of our conversation we hope to follow up on some leads for literature and training to that end.

A very special reunion was scheduled for Saturday with our dear friends Phil and Shirley. (I shared some of our friendship story with them in posts from 2007 - click here and here.) We were to meet for a picnic near their home, but due to a unexpected funeral scheduled that day their time was somewhat limited. It turned out to be a sweet blessing to invite them to come to us and have the privilege of preparing a Chilean meal for them! Due to her multiple sclerosis, Shirley has progressed to using a walker and explained that they have not had a chance to "do something like this" for a long time. It was a joy to bless them with dinner on the porch overlooking the water and to reminisce about many great memories we've had together. Phil and Shirley hosted us overnight in their home as a young family just starting pre-field ministry with our two little daughters, and have been wonderful friends ever since. We thank God for them!

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

A Wonderful Whirlwind, Part Four (1 of 2)

Week Four: July 9-15

Sunday the 9th was an early morning as we had a longer drive to Ypsilanti to visit our supporting church. Living Water Community Church is a unique congregation which has been meeting in local schools for years, beginning their set up each Sunday morning around 7:30 AM and working together to make sure classrooms and auditorium are ready for when members and guests arrive. We were blessed by very caring nursery workers (a husband and wife) who were gracious with our antsy and clingy little Silas. In fact, the husband was so kind as to run out for milk when I realized I had forgotten to pack some for Silas' bottles! This is the church which a few years ago asked our kids to take part in a song they were creating. Their song "What If (you could reach around the world)" can be viewed by clicking on its title in this post, and at the 1:13 mark you might recognize a few really cute faces!  While we were with them this furlough, Owen admired some shirts their church had printed with the motto REACH which stands for "Recognize Everyone And Communicate Hope." They made Owen's day by gifting us several of them to take home! It was so encouraging to receive positive feedback from the people after Pedro's sermon and to share lunch with many families that afternoon. A church picnic and baptisms were scheduled at a home on the lake and we enjoyed the fellowship but sadly had to miss the baptisms in order to make our next commitment.

Our evening ministry assignment was in a little Michigan town called Byron. During our last term a new pastor arrived and he has often encouraged us through personal notes and responses to our prayer updates. What made the connection even more special were his own years of experience as a missionary (and missionary kid) to Brazil. We also learned he and his wife had a connection with our colleagues in Chile through a church in Indiana. Small world! In preparation for this visit, he made it his personal goal to challenge the church folks to memorize our kids' names and make them feel welcome. After the service, the church served pizza and hosted a fellowship time which allowed us to interact with other families a little bit longer. We are thankful for the kindness shown to us as we visit each of the churches with whom God has given us the privilege to partner!

On Monday we had the chance to travel down the road to Lake Orion to spend the afternoon with Pedro's Aunt Joyce and Uncle Don, Matt and Tamara and their children. We are grateful for these brief moments of reconnecting ourselves and our kids with extended family! 

As we approached our final week in Michigan, we ran into one "slight" problem. We found ourselves with five ministry commitments on the other side of the state but needed somewhere to stay. I didn't realize - but soon learned as I looked for lodging online - that western Michigan is a huge vacation spot! Normally there would be a number of cabins or homes available for rent but they were sold out. Hotels were at a premium and required two rooms for our family size. I began to worry but soon found out that God was going to surprise us once again with something very special!

A year and a half ago while attending a regional conference in Peru, we met a family from Michigan. Mom, dad and two daughters traveled to Peru with the sole purpose of working alongside Dr. Jim Cook and his wife Susan as they ministered to the younger missionary children, including our three boys. Our kids already love the Cooks and they soon loved the Kerrs as well! After the conference we became online friends, and it was through this connection that they learned of our need for housing. We were incredibly blessed and humbled when they wrote us - a family they had met only once! - to offer us the use of their lake cottage in western Michigan to meet our need. Once again through His people, God surprised us over and above what we could ever have expected! Not only did we have a place to stay, but our children had the opportunity to swim and kayak and create some incredible memories. 

I've often returned to the illustration of furlough being like one day at Disney World - lots to see and do, fun and exciting but exhausting at the end of the day. We all feel it, but as adults we see the bigger picture and the overall schedule and we are already familiar with the people and places we are going to visit. Our kids have been troopers with all the running this summer, but understandably they get tired physically, mentally and emotionally. I felt like our five nights in Pentwater were a special gift from God just for them, and I hope that somehow they were able to understand that and remember it as they grow older.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

A Wonderful Whirlwind, Part Three

Week Three: July 2-8

The First Baptist Church of North Branch holds a special place in our hearts for several reasons. The first is that Pedro spent some of his formative years in North Branch as a boy. The second is that this small country church generously allowed us to live rent-free in their missionary home for a year (2004-2005) and it was there we brought home our tiny baby boy Owen. Pedro also taught in the North Branch school district during our time on pre-field ministry. When they were little, our girls affectionately called this "the white church" and our home church in Lapeer "the brown church" as we divided our time between them both while living in the missionary home. Another happy memory we have is of Pedro and Isabel going to pick corn with Mr. Terpenning on his farm, and bringing home a full bag taller than Isabel's head! So we looked forward to seeing familiar faces and were happy to spend Sunday morning with this special congregation. We were saddened by those we could not see - the church is newly without a pastor, and Mr. Terpenning was suddenly called Home to glory. It was a poignant blessing to be invited to lunch with Mrs. Terpenning and have the chance to talk and share with her and the Kitchens (interim pastor and wife) before we traveled further down the road for our evening commitment.

We arrived sooner than expected to Marysville and drove several circles through town, observing some amazing historic architecture and gazing across the water at the border of Canada. Some baby Blizzards from Dairy Queen cooled us down as we waited to connect with the pastor and join the church on their unique summer routine of church in the park! A spattering of rain led the group to gather their chairs under the pavilion where Pedro and I shared about the ministry in Iquique and fielded great questions from those present. This is a church with a big heart for reaching their community and we look forward to hearing how God continues to use them in unique ways.

Monday dawned clear and sunny, and we set out after lunch to join our Garcia cousins and other friends in Frankenmuth for pre-4th of July fireworks. We enjoyed walking around the cute but crowded town and watching homemade fudge being made (and trying it!) Silas was none too sure about his first fireworks experience, initially crying in fright because they really were so near and loud. But they were beautiful and we enjoyed donning red, white and blue to celebrate the United States' independence a day early.

On Tuesday the 4th, we had fun hosting a meal including Chilean fare for the Garcia cousins. We really are so thankful for their friendship and for having several opportunities during our brief time in Michigan to get together. They couldn't stay long and we had a big day ahead of us on Wednesday, but at the very last second Pedro took the older kids except Silas for the fireworks in Lapeer. The next day, Wednesday the 5th of July was actually our 20th wedding anniversary! Alas, celebrations were not to be on this busy day but will be all that much sweeter when the time comes. Instead, we drove to Standish where our kids were introduced to all sorts of rustic Michigan pastimes: tubing down the river, kayaking and shooting guns (just Owen, his daddy and great-uncle.) This all took place on land Pedro's aunt and uncle own on the Rifle River and we were so glad to visit with his cousins and their families, especially one whom we had not seen in over ten years!

However, our trip to Standish was not solely for pleasure because we did have a supporting church in town and a scheduled presentation that evening. This dear country church is also in need of a pastor, theirs having recently retired but present for our visit. It was a blessing to share and answer questions and we appreciated the tenderness and understanding towards our tired children and a toddler who found a way into the front of the sanctuary while Pedro was in the pulpit. We all got a good chuckle over Silas running full tilt yelling "Da-da-da!" while older sister Eva followed, mortified, behind!

This was truly a week jam-packed with visits and on Thursday we were excited to connect with the Parkers (friends and supporters) at a local park. Their kids and ours scouted for fish and our kids listened in awe to Mr. Parker's stories of hunting bear and an alligator and other big game. It was great to catch up with each other's families! Friday we did not have big plans until the evening when we were invited to the home of our senior pastor and family. Silas loved their young children's toys, but especially their shoes which he tried on and traipsed around the house. We are so grateful God brought the Shannons to our home church and appreciate their humility and vision so much. It was such an enjoyable time to learn more about them and allow the kids to run and play in a beautiful, big backyard. Unfortunately, I forgot to take pictures!

Despite being blessed with the use of their home this entire time, we had been unable to coordinate with the Jones' busy schedule until Saturday. It was so kind of them and the Denney family to organize a picnic get-together in the park, where we could finally stop and talk and get to know each other better. The Denney grandsons were just so cute! Their family is yet another example of young kids we knew growing up and starting families and making us feel really old. During the course of conversation we realized that all three of our families - Garcias, Jones and the younger Denneys - had rented from our mutual friends Jeff and Julie Shepard (the home where we lived for six months last furlough.) What a small world! Really we cannot thank the Jones' enough for their incredible generosity to us this summer. May God bless them as they have us and surely many others!

Saturday, July 22, 2017

A Wonderful Whirlwind, Part Two

Week Two: June 25-July 1

Our second week in Michigan began with a delightful Sunday at our home church in Lapeer. Pedro and I had the privilege of "debuting" our newly completed PowerPoint presentation to the adults in Sunday School as well as sharing testimonies and answering questions. In the morning service the presentation was shared again for those who had missed it earlier, and Pedro also had the joy of preaching. I was summoned to the nursery for the first of many times so far this furlough as Silas struggled to adjust to new places and faces. Our littlest guy has fun wherever he goes but depends on a familiar face (Mommy's or an older sibling's) for security, which is totally understandable! The church had a special outdoor service and picnic at the Shepards' home in the evening where Pedro was able to share again from God's Word and we enjoyed a more relaxed opportunity to interact with the church family.

I am thankful for the timing of our visit which allowed Pedro to participate in a pastors' seminar on Tuesday. I know it was an encouragement to his heart to rub shoulders with other men in ministry and catch up with many he had not seen in a long time. That evening, our family had a wonderful time at the home of our friends the Ruhlmans. Although most of their children are older than ours, they were so sweet and attentive with each of our kids and made it such a fun evening for them. We are so thankful for their hospitality and friendship!

On Wednesday, our kids were super excited to visit their cousins' new home for the first time. (I say "new" because even though they have lived there several years, they moved since we last left for Chile.) They enjoyed the trampoline, riding bikes, visiting neighborhood barns and attempting to rescue dying birdies. (Yes, really.) It was great to relax and catch up on conversation and try Lindsey's famous Italian egg soup! Isabel and Owen had an awesome opportunity to accompany Emma and Eli and our home church youth group to an outreach event in Detroit. I held my breath and prayed as they drove off with their teenaged (licensed) cousin behind the wheel, but she did great! Afterwards Owen stayed the night and fished the next day with Eli. I am so happy for the sweet friendship they are able to resume despite the many years in between visits.

Thursday was a day of study for me as I pulled together my final thoughts and photos to share what God had laid on my heart with the ladies at First Baptist of Lapeer. "Mosaic Stories: Beauty from Brokenness" was the theme, along with encouragement from Psalm 103. A definition of mosaic is "the assembly of many pieces, sometimes broken, to create a larger and more beautiful whole." As I shared my personal testimony of God using infertility to lead to adoption, and adoption to lead to crisis pregnancy ministry, and this to lead eventually after many years to opening FLORECE and seeing God restore first the lives of our volunteers from beauty to brokenness and now our clients as well, it was a powerful reminder to me of the greatness of our God! Psalm 103:2-4 (pictured below) instructs us to "bless the Lord" for what He has done, and I pray that I accomplished that to His glory. I only wish I had taken pictures because the ladies' tea was so beautifully prepared with fresh flower arrangements and fancy teas and pretty fruit plates, all evidence of a labor of love for the Lord and one another!

Reunions resumed on Friday with a drive to West Branch, Michigan where our friends and personal supporters Mike and Amy Joley sacrificed a day of their family vacation to meet us at a lovely park where our kids could connect and play. Last furlough our travels took us to their home in Wisconsin but that was not going to be possible this year, so we were thrilled they were in Michigan and and willing to spend some time together. Mike and Pedro have been friends through high school, college, standing in each other's weddings, and can always pick up right where they left off. We are so thankful for their sweet family's friendship and testimony of faithfulness to the Lord in the workplace - Mike as a physician's assistant and Amy as a Kindergarten teacher in a very tough public school. Our kids and theirs enjoyed a pizza picnic, wading in the river and a bit of wiffleball together before we had to say our goodbyes.

Sometimes you find friendships where you least expect it, and that may have been the case with the family we visited on Friday. Jeff Butler was the teacher of our young marrieds' Sunday School class when we arrived in Lapeer back in 2001. When our daughters were young, they loved visiting the Butlers' house! Jeff and Ruth's daughters Emily and Katie are several years older but always played so sweetly with our girls. During our years of pre-field ministry the Butlers watched our girls (and later Owen) on several occasions as a ministry to our family. At a point when Pedro needed flexible work at the tail end of pre-field, Jeff even hired Pedro on a house building project which was a brand-new learning experience that Pedro remembers fondly. Despite a few bumps and bruises as our kids enjoyed the bikes at the Butlers' house, our time with them was sweet and their kindness and gentleness was as present as ever. We are so grateful for good friends that are gifts from the Lord!

Note: As I read over this post, I realized I used the word "sweet" many times. There really isn't a better way to describe what these friendships and special moments are to us! Proverbs 16:24 says, "Gracious words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones." What a blessing to share these times together.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

A Wonderful Whirlwind, Part One

These past three and a half weeks in Michigan have been what I might call, a "wonderful whirlwind." The Merriam-Webster Learner's Dictionary defines a whirlwind as "something that involves many quickly changing events, feelings, etc." and I think that sums it up pretty well! It has been a special time of reporting to churches, reconnecting with friends and family, and remembering our love for all things Michigan. We have enjoyed the wide open spaces and beautiful parks and the sight of deer in the vast open fields of green and gold. Our kids have drunk Vernors ginger ale and devoured Koegel hot dogs and marveled at buttery Michigan sweet corn. This post is an attempt to remember the many special moments of these busy - but blessed - few weeks!

Week 1: June 18-24

On Sunday morning we said our goodbyes to family after a wonderful week of vacation together in the Poconos. A long day in the car led us to our hotel in Maumee, Ohio where we attempted to relax (and stay safe!) in a pool with some rowdy young guests before ordering pizza and heading to bed in preparation for the next day's travels. On the top of our list the following morning was Tim Horton's coffee and donuts for breakfast, not having savored this treat for nearly five years! It was exciting to cross the border into Michigan and begin recognizing exit names and road signs as we drew closer to Flint and Lapeer. We paused in the former for another long-awaited treat - Qdoba's Mexican Grill, which holds special memories for us from the times we took our young girls there on pre-field travels many years ago. It was memorable on this occasion because not one, but two people in line offered us coupons for our large family to make the meal more affordable and this was much appreciated!

pit stop on the Ohio turnpike

Qdoba's did not disappoint this crew

Greg and Debbie Jones were our hosts during the weeks we were in Lapeer, and these generous souls did something really incredible for our family: they moved out of their house so that we could move in. We had never even met before, yet they chose to bless us in this amazing way so that our family could be "comfortable" while staying in the area. "Comfortable" would be an understatement! Their home truly became truly a haven for us as we traveled to churches, yet could return and relax in such lovely surroundings. Many a whiffle ball game and wagon ride for Silas took place in the Jones' yard, and with their blessing we were even able to host friends on several occasions and reconnect in this way. In fact, that first Monday night in Lapeer we welcomed Pedro's cousin Jared and his family to the Jones' home and it was a joy to catch up with them and have room for our combined eleven children to spread out and play!

Garcia cousins reunited

That first week in Lapeer was a busy one, with Vacation Bible School at our home church on Tuesday and then two days of VBS at a supporting church in Mayville on Wednesday and Thursday. On Tuesday, Pedro and our kids also went to a birthday party for some cousins so it was a full day! Wednesday we were at Mayville and perhaps because it is a small country church and similar in "feel" to our own church in Iquique, our boys really clicked there and quickly made some friends. We were sorry we could not be in two places at once, as we would have loved to allow them to participate longer and especially in the Friday night carnival that was planned. On Wednesday we enjoyed lunch at the pastor's home after VBS and it was encouraging to talk with Pastor and Mrs. Reece about their faithful years of service for the Lord and the experience of raising a large family while in full-time ministry. That evening, we returned for the Wednesday night meeting at church and had the privilege of sharing our ministry update for the first time this furlough. I say "we" but in reality it was Pedro alone who could speak because I had literally lost my voice! The church hosted an ice cream social after the service and the kids had a great time running off their sugar high with races and games in the yard between the church and pastoral home. The next day Pedro dropped our kids off to VBS followed by an afternoon of swimming at the Reece's home. This was a tremendous blessing for us because it allowed me to rest at home while feeling unwell and Pedro to invest a good day of study in preparation for weekend ministry, all while the kids were having such a great time as well!

Friday was a fun and full day also. Our boys were back at church in Lapeer for VBS and excitedly returned home with a bunch of candy and stories to tell! We had the privilege of hosting longtime family friends and personal supporters Mr. and Mrs. Anthony for lunch, and then being hosted ourselves for a delicious dinner by the Jewell family in their home. In both cases it was so special to revisit shared memories and become current on family/work/ministry/future plans/etc. We are so very grateful for the friendships God has given us, many of them right here in Lapeer from our earliest days as parents and beginning full-time ministry. Saturday gave us the opportunity to see even more familiar faces as we attended an open house for Lyndi Shepard. Our kids were excited to be back by "their" house, the neighboring home rented to us by the Shepard family during the first half of last furlough. All in all, it was a rich and full first week in Michigan with many experiences to remember!