Wednesday, October 12, 2022

Furlough Thoughts (of a Missionary Wife)

"Furlough is so weird. It's like regular intervals of fulfilling clearly defined expectations (ie., church visits) interspersed with living life at loose ends." I wrote these words to my two sisters yesterday morning and the one who most recently concluded her own family's furlough immediately responded, "Accurate description." 

On the mission field, although no two days are alike, there is something of a prescribed order to our weeks between church and FLORECE commitments on designated days. There are set meeting times for our Northern Chile branch team; IBF church planting team; Chile-wide missionary field team; and FLORECE volunteers. Our calendars there and our calendars here can look just as hectic, but on furlough it all feels rather more disconnected. Truthfully, it's the "off" days that really throw me for a loop as I attempt to gather my thoughts and determinate priorities for the next 24 hours in front of me. There are big-picture concerns such as filling out FAFSA(s); college and financial questions for older children; catching up on necessary appointments (dental, vision, medical) while weighing the realities of what our international medical insurance covers overseas versus what it does not cover at "home." There are planning questions such as when and where we might fit in visits with friends and family in the second half of our year here, which is already quickly approaching. Often these "off" days simply feel like playing catch up, only I never quite succeed in getting there before the next travel date comes.

A missionary furlough (today more accurately called "stateside ministry") is meant firstly as a time of reporting to supporting churches and individuals what God has done over the last term on the field. It is a time of reconnecting with family and home culture, the latter especially for missionary children who will likely return one day for college and/or adult life. It is meant for rest and restoration, beginning with a debriefing and possibly including counseling and additional training. Ideally, it might serve as a means of recruiting future missionaries if God allows. Almost always, it includes the need to raise additional support due to attrition and inflation and this is easier said than done.

Within our personal family culture now on our third furlough, one priority is a year of traditional in-person schooling for our children in the United States. The education of our children on the mission field has long been one of the most challenging aspects of raising them overseas. We often face internal struggles and questions about whether we have let them down in this area. Placing them in a school (ideally Christian) stateside both eases those concerns and creates others. We are able to measure whether they are at grade level; assist where needed; and procure educational testing or support if necessary. But we are also in a place to see everything they miss when we once again are gone, and that is hard. Especially this time around when we have a 12th grader whose younger brothers are observing for the first time what special opportunities a senior year stateside can entail, yet likely will not be able to experience the same.

A missionary furlough can be intensely emotional. There are high highs such as memorable family vacations; travel to new places; spending holidays with loved ones after many years apart; and the joyful yet humbling reconnection with people truly invested in prayer and concern for the ministry. Yet there is the tension of knowing that this is temporary; will soon end; and goodbyes are again inevitable. Meanwhile there is the weight of knowing your presence and participation is lacking on the field, with teammates having to pull a heavier load in your absence. There is the relief of letting go of some pressures because you are simply too far away, yet it only takes a single update to sweep your mind back into that intensity and twist your gut with concern once again. Our current ministry on the field is such that we hear horrifying stories on a regular basis of women exposed to danger, abuse, violence and an utter lack of basic human dignity and resources.

When I was a young girl and would read the writings of the Apostle Paul, I thought I could never relate to him. What feels like a lifetime later, having spent the last fifteen years on the mission field as an adult, his words often echo in my heart. "Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches," he penned in 2 Corinthians 11:28. He faced persecution that I can't imagine, but his heart's burden was for the people he served. And that is true on a missionary furlough as well. There is concern for the spiritual well-being of those left behind on the field and the continued growth of the church in understanding, commitment and number. There is a burden for those yet unsaved and how our absence might cool the relationships we were building towards deeper opportunities to share Christ. On this furlough, there has already been grief that one we prayed to see saved suddenly departed into eternity and we will not meet again.

"Wherever you are, be all there! Live to the hilt every situation you believe to be the will of God." This quote by martyred missionary Jim Elliot is one my father often repeated to me during my growing up years. I recall it frequently and do try to focus on what is in front of me in the moment to the glory of God. But as more pieces of my heart get up and walk away (i.e., children leaving home; changing needs of aging parents) it becomes more of a balancing act and I feel with greater urgency the need for prayer and God's merciful, sovereign intervention in our lives. Thankfully, we serve a faithful God. As the lyrics of a beautiful song remind me, "All my life You have been faithful. All my life You have been so, so good. With every breath that I am able, I will sing of the goodness of God. I will sing of the goodness of God." 

Wednesday, September 21, 2022

Sayings from Silas, Part 3

Silas (at age 6 1/2 and going on 7 years old) has continued to entertain us with the inner workings of his mind since we traveled to the United States in July for a year of stateside ministry/furlough. 

Silas at bedtime one night: "I'd prefer to die in my childhood. Because the Bible says Jesus held the children in His lap, and when you get old you get bigger and heavier and you can't fit on His lap anymore."

Silas after visiting a Michigan dairy farm: "If I were a cow, I'd be happy to have a mustache!"

Silas starting at a new school in the USA: "My Spanish teacher was born in New York, but she doesn't speak New York. The school is like well trained with their Spanish! I couldn't believe my ears!"

Silas at Aunt Jenn's for a sleepover, in response to her suggestion that he and cousin Kai play the "silence" game: "I always lose at that game!" (Ain't that the truth!)

Silas after meeting his 96-year old great-grandmother for the first time: "When I see old people's skin, like Grandma Old, I think, 'Oh, that's squishy!' and I want to squish it, but then I think I'll just have to wait until I'm an old person to have skin like that."

Silas after Pedro in response to his question states that Luxembourg is the smallest country in the world: "Is that because everyone is lucky there?"

Silas' impression of the retirement community where his Mom-Mom and Pop-Pop Christian live: "I love this hotel!" And as he takes a big bite of cheeseburger in their cafeteria: "I wanna LIVE here!"

"Why is the Canadian flag the beautifullest flag in the world? Because it has a leaf." - Silas as he sees it waving between the US and Chile flags at ABWE IHQ

One morning as the telltale ding-ding-ding of intro music rang out on Pedro's phone, Silas exclaimed: "It's Steve Douglas!" (Our ABWE resident director.) In actuality, it was Dr. Albert Mohler on "The Briefing!"

Random question from Silas: "When a person gets tan, do they have to get lots of freckles, like 'puntilismo'?"

"Now THESE are pueblos originarios!" - Silas upon viewing photo collage on ABWE IHQ wall

When we drove past a cemetery, Silas informed us that he will tell his wife that he wants a really nice headstone when he dies, because he loves beautiful things. And he said that if his wife dies, he will get a picture of her because he will miss her, and he'll attach the picture to a broom so he can hug and sleep with it as if she's still with him.

After sitting through a creative video all about rules at a summer camp, Silas was most concerned about the "no public displays of affection" requirement. In all seriousness he inquired, "But [my age group] are allowed to touch girls, right?"

When asked about friends he is making at his new school, Silas responded with the names of several girls. Mommy asked about friends who are boys and he responded, "First I have to make friends with two more girls. Then I will make friends with a boy!"

Random question from Silas: "What if I am really the oldest, and all this time I have been living a dream?"

Silas after his first bee sting, crying out with an intense air of betrayal: "Nobody told me there were bees in the United States!"

Silas upon arriving to the missionary home loaned to us this furlough in Michigan: "Is this our neighborhood? I'm almost going to die of happiness. It's so beautiful!"

Silas repeating words of wisdom: "NEVER hit a girl. And one reason is because of horde of girls will come after you!" Then adding by way of explanation. "At least that's what Benjo (his 17-year old cousin) says!"

Silas declares while happily squeezing Daddy's underarm: "It's an armpit massage!"

Saturday, July 09, 2022

Our Children's Names

For as long as I can remember, I dreamt of the names I would give my future children. Surprisingly (perhaps luckily!) most - if not all - the names I chose as a teenager never reached my actual sons and daughters. Still I have spent countless hours doodling the names I loved, perhaps even more so once they represented real-life people I cherished. So tonight I thought I would leave a register of our children's names and what they mean.

EVA means "Life-Giver." Twenty-one years later, I find her name so appropriate because just as the biblical Eva was the first woman to give life to humanity and help Adam name and tame the animals, so our Eva loves to nurture both human life (ex: her baby brother and Starkweather cousins) and animal life (her betta fish, hamsters and rabbits!) Eva's middle name is GRACE, chosen to represent the undeserved gift of God that she was to us when we adopted her.

ISABEL means "Consecrated to God." Little did we realize when we chose a name which both we and her birthmother liked, how meaningful it would become in her early days of life when the question of whether she would survive and thrive hung in the balance. During that time, we trusted that God Who had brought this daughter to us "out of the blue" would take care of her. Isabel's permanent middle name is HOPE, which is also my middle name. But her original middle name was REGALA, meaning "Gift," and was a special message from her birth mother to us (knowing it was temporary, yet meaningful.)

OWEN means "Young Warrior; Well-Born." His name, too, was surprisingly appropriate as a 35-week preemie who (like his sister Isabel) spent the first few weeks of life battling for health and strength in the NICU. Owen's middle name is SANTIAGO, the biblical translation to Spanish of the names James, and is in honor of his maternal grandfather.

IAN means "God Is Gracious." We chose Ian's name two years before we confirmed his existence and a year before he was even born! He was a dream before he was a reality. We thought "Ian" sounded good with "Owen" and we began to pray for "baby Ian" in 2006. Ian's middle name is DAVID, which is the first name given to him by his birth mother in Haiti. This was a special confirmation to us. It was the desire of our hearts that our Haitian sons have middle names from the Bible as our older three did, but we wanted to honor their birth culture by keeping their first names. Out of all the babies at the orphanage, our two sons had traditional biblical names!

ALEC means "Defender of Mankind." Feisty with a strong sense of justice, this name fits him aptly (especially when he dons his boxing gloves!) Alec's middle name is STEPHEN, given to him as his first name by his birth mother in Haiti. It is meaningful to us for that reason and it also happens to be the male version of my name, which I find special.

SILAS means "of the Forest" (although some sites say it also means "the youngest," which would be appropriate!) For us, the greater meaning is found in the Biblical character of Silas who was the Apostle Paul's missionary companion. Silas' middle name is EBEN, which means "stone" or "rock" and is in recognition of his paternal grandfather whose name also means the same.

Wednesday, July 06, 2022

Sayings from Silas, Part 2

(While impatiently waiting outside the oral surgeon's office one evening.) "Mommy, what are those things women have on their legs? They seem interesting to me, like I want to scratch them." -Silas, age 6, on stockings

Once Alec and Silas were talking about sleepovers. Alec told Silas they're only fun if you're with fun people. To which Silas replied, "Yeah! Like the Fishers!" (his aunt, uncle and cousins who live two doors down.)

Early morning wisdom from Silas: "It's a good thing God made the water before the fish!"

"I think we went to the most famous cancha in Iquique, in the world! I think the most famous cancha in the world is in Iquique." -Silas, enthusiastically after his first PE class

Pedro asked Silas how his first day of school went and he responded, "Great! I didn't toot once!"

I prayed in the car for Silas' day at jardin. He said, "You could have told me you were going to pray!" Then he added, "I was like, 'What in the blue moon?!'"

Poor Silas asks me on the way to church this morning, "Mom, why did one of my teeth stop growing and turn into a triangle with spikes?" (Hence the need for oral surgery at age six!)

"I'm tech-lickly awake, but I have my eyes closed. So I am asleep but I am awake." -Silas at 1:30 AM in bed after desert star gazing

"Mom, I thought resting was with your eyes open and sleeping was with your eyes closed." -Silas (who chose option #1)

For some reason, Silas wanted me to drop a 10-peso coin to the floor when he was a distance away. Come to find out, as he excitedly declared, "I am like Dolores from Encanto! She can hear a pin drop, and I can hear a coin drop!"

Silas likes to talk about when he will be married someday. This week, his conversation with Daddy let to a discussion of how many children he would have. Silas said he'd like to have two, "One boy, one girl, and twins" which as he described them, Pedro realized he meant conjoined twins! Silas explained, "Once I saw a video of them and thought they were really neat." Our takeaway from this was to be grateful for Silas' tender heart! (In fact, I did share a video interview of conjoined twins and other videos of special children with him because I hoped to dispel fear and create a natural acceptance of visible differences.)

Today I took Silas to the barbershop where his brothers get their hair done. It was a longer-than-usual experience for him, and his cut required not only the electric clippers but also edges with a razor blade. Overall he did well but was noticeably tense and a little antsy. So I was surprised when he happily declared that his haircut felt like a "fiery, warm tub" but he liked it!

A random declaration from Silas: "For my birthday this year, I don't want a cake. I want something yummy and 'saludable.' (healthy) We can put candles in cupcakes!" Adding, "And we can have a fruit turkey!" (This after seeing pictures of Kristi Flinck's 1999 wedding reception yesterday and being VERY impressed by that edible work of art!)

Thursday, June 30, 2022

A Thankful Tribute to "Tia Eli"

As these "Sweet Memories" show, 
before being our sons' teacher Elisa was first
a young person in our church youth group; 
our daughters' friend; 
and a companion in pro-life ministry. 

For almost as long as we have lived in Iquique, Elisa Baez Tapia (as well as her mother, Grace) has been a part of our family's life. We had the privilege of watching her first steps in the Christian faith and the joy of seeing her faithful commitment to Jesus and her local church body ever since. Elisa is a sweet servant who delightedly disciples other young women and teaches boys and girls the Word of God. She leads family devotions in her home with her widowed mother and sister, and is a compassionate friend and witness to her neighbors. She diligently studies and applies the Bible to her life and relationships. She is a gift.   

When we returned to Chile after our last furlough/home assignment, schooling as always was a big question mark for us. Our children had just completed a year in US schools that had been exceptionally beneficially for each of them academically. None desired to venture back into education in Spanish in Chilean schools, and we prayed for a solution that would meet the needs in front of us. 

Eventually, "Tia Eli" became the answer to that prayer. 

Educated in two separate Chilean universities (the first unfortunately went bankrupt which forced students to transfer to the second) as an English teacher, Elisa had very good fluency in the language. Due to circumstances outside her control, her final thesis was pending and she was not yet able to apply for a full-time position in a local school. However, in 2019 she was in need of a job and we were in need of a teacher! Together we discussed options that might meet our mutual needs and budgets, and a plan was formed.

Through 4th grade, 5th grade, 6th grade and 7th/8th grades (as student needs varied) she carefully accompanied Ian and Alec through their schooling. She adjusted to curriculum changes, and created Spanish lessons and music (guitar) classes for the boys. When COVID-19 came along and Chile caved into never-ending quarantine, she utilized virtual means to connect with the boys each day for their classes. It wasn't especially fun for anyone, but there were still smiles and occasional laughter because Eli truly loved her students! As a mom, that quality was more valuable than all the rest put together. I knew that Eli prayed for our sons and cared for not only their academic but also their spiritual and social well-being.

With the arrival of the Fisher family in 2020, our home school numbers grew! We're so grateful that God orchestrated a rental home for them just two houses away. Ian and Alec were joined in Eli's classroom at our house by cousin Nathaniel, while older brother Owen joined cousin Benjamin under Aunt Terri's tutelage in their home. Aunt Terri also applied her educational background to choosing new and interesting curriculum for all the students, and Eli flexibly adjusted to these new materials. Classes became more interactive once quarantine restrictions were lifted. Fun moments were had, especially when experiments were being attempted!

And then Silas became a student.

A fan of Tia Eli's since infancy, he joined the ranks of her students when the pandemic effectively closed down his preschool. Once-a-week video calls with his pre-Kindergarten teacher did not suffice to continue his learning, and something needed to change. So with the help of the free "Easy Peasy" homeschool learning site, Eli began to dedicate a part of her day to Silas. Always full of energy and eager to follow in his brothers' footsteps, he began to grasp concepts by leaps and bounds! Through the summer months (January/February) before starting 1st grade in Chilean school, they continued working on his reading and math skills so that his new teachers were very complimentary of how well prepared he was upon arrival!

Today was our sons' last official day with Tia Elisa as their teacher, as we prepare once again to depart for a year of furlough/stateside ministry. I did not want to let the occasion pass by without writing down these words of reflection for a dear friend who day in and day out, Monday through Friday, for four years was a part of our lives! Many times there were days when Eli and I did not even see each other, often because I was working at FLORECE (which was a significant aspect of our decision to find a teacher to help with our children's schooling in the first place.) Other times I was working from home on the third floor while she taught on the first, and we both were busily occupied carrying out our individual responsibilities. Eli's trustworthy presence in our home made possible not only the education of our children but also the flow of ministry for Pedro and for me in a way it otherwise could not have happened. 

The greatest reassurance was knowing this wasn't sacrificing our kids' education but entrusting it. Eli took her job seriously ... prepared diligently ... taught and laughed ... listened and prayed ... and made our children feel valued and loved. At different times during the year she would plan special surprises for her students such as a meal at her house with finger foods she and her mom prepared. Or she would arrive with some kind of treat in hand to start their day off with a smile! Sometimes in addition to teaching, she was our childcare provider for date nights and even an overnight getaway or two. When I was feeling overwhelmed or inadequate by parenting challenges that presented themselves, I knew she truly cared for the child in question and would sincerely pray for that child's well-being without judgment. 

Words can never sum it all up but -

All this to say, an enormous THANK YOU 
to a very special teacher, counselor, sister and friend.

God bless you.

Un Buen Compañero (A Good Classmate)

Yesterday was the last day for Silas at the Chilean school where he began 1st grade in March of 2022. After a unique yet positive pandemic Kindergarten experience mostly with a single classmate, Isabella, he was over-the-moon excited to be surrounded by other children. We chose the Academia Nerudiana, just a few blocks from his former school, having never met another parent whose child attended there. The factors for our choice revolved mostly around our priority of Silas' continued Spanish language acquisition; at a small school; which was close to home.

And he had a great semester. We were initially uncertain with his unusual schedule running from 1:45 to 6:45 PM (after dark this time of year!) But in the end, it allowed Silas to do homeschool in English with Elisa each morning and he excelled, developing his reading and writing and even beginning his multiplication facts. This relaxed our expectations for his Chilean school, which we later learned focused more on integration than academic rigor. His small school had a wonderful family feel and teachers truly called to working with special children.

At our first (and last) parent/teacher conference, we were happy to hear from Profesora Hilda that Silas was well-loved by his classmates and she described him as having great "empathy" for them. What better quality could we ask for? Meanwhile at home, Silas often would pray for each of his teachers, his school director, the "inspectors" who stood and welcomed students at the door - all by name - before bedtime. 

He loved "religion" class. In years' past at other Chilean schools our older children attended, we opted out of this in order to avoid any confusion for them. And while we had some interesting discussions and explanations with Silas this semester, overall his excitement revolved around songs and Bible stories that celebrated Jesus. He also loved PE class (or Phys Ed, as he preferred to call it!) Quite uniquely, this particular class was held from 8:00 to 10:00 AM on Wednesdays - with regular classes that evening as well. It was an early and LONG day!

A special memory from this semester was the school's 21 de mayo celebration for Chile's "Mes del Mar" (Month of the Sea.) The highlight of the month is celebrating Captain Arturo Prat Chacon, a Chilean lawyer and naval officer and national hero of the War of the Pacific. He was a gentleman soldier who valiantly led his troops and boldly sacrificed his life while boarding an enemy ship during battle in Iquique's port. Both Silas and another student wished to play the role of Prat in their class presentation, so the teacher did cachipun (rock/paper/scissors) to determine who it would be. Silas later excitedly told us, "The teacher said no one could cry about the result. I didn't think I would win, but I did!" We delivered him to school in the uniform that Tia Catalina carefully crafted, and Silas got a smile from ear to ear when the inspectora greeted him, "Bienvenido, Capitan Prat!"

These screenshots from the WhatsApp chat for Silas' first grade class are sweet, because the parents of several students and his teacher expressed good wishes and kind words for him. One little girl said she liked it very much that Silas was in the class, and several little boys expressed that they would miss him very much. His teacher said she was glad they met! Silas was teary as we left school for the last time yesterday, but we are thankful for this positive experience in his life and look forward to what God has in store for him in Michigan this fall.

Friday, June 10, 2022

My Little Boy After All

Originally, there were two. 

There were two, for one tiny little baby with spindly arms and legs sprawled in the heated bassinet of a Jacksonville hospital neonatal intensive care unit. Each morning after crossing the street from the Ronald McDonald House where I spent the night before, I replaced the soft, quirky donkey next to our premature newborn son. The other would return to sleep with me, theoretically absorbing my scent to gently imprint this new mother's aroma on his little brain and heart.

Seventeen years later, he still kept it next to his bed until the day he departed Chile. 

That day, as we unloaded his bags in the parking lot of the Diego Aracena International Airport outside Iquique, he reached into the trunk to unzip his suitcase a final time. My eyes fell on a familiar object carefully tucked inside. One soft, quirky donkey peeked out at the tall, gangly boy in the sunshine. I didn't quite cry, but I won't deny this mother's heart jumped at the sight and the million memories with it. And then I smiled at the tenderness of knowing this big boy will always be my little boy after all.

Monday, June 06, 2022

The End of an Era

In two months we will celebrate the 15th anniversary of our family's arrival to Chile.

We crossed the threshold of the Santiago airport on August 24, 2007 with three children in tow: Eva, age 6; Isabel, age 5; Owen, age 2. (This photo was taken en route to Chile on our unplanned 48-hour layover in Canada.) Over the next decade God would graciously double our number of children, but this trio was the original gang of Garcias to set foot first in Santiago, and then in Iquique on January 6, 2009.

Which makes it so hard to believe that in just this one four-year term, we will have sent all three "permanently" off to the United States. I put "permanently" in quotes because only God knows what the future holds! But for the foreseeable future, Chile will no longer be their home.

Despite the fact that Owen will live with us his senior year on our furlough stateside, his early departure tomorrow (for summer ministry at Miracle Mountain Ranch) while knowing he won't be returning to Chile after furlough has precipitated a lot of emotion for us as parents. Surprisingly, my often less-than-sentimental husband has been the one to initiate a number of conversations about it. I suppose this throws me a bit off-balance, as I've learned to depend on his being the sturdy one in these situations! But it also deepens my appreciation for my husband who is a father who profoundly loves and cherishes his children, even if he doesn't always express it through many words.

This picture was taken during our first couple of weeks living in Iquique. How grateful I am for the memories of raising these three kiddos and their subsequent siblings here. It's not always been easy - in fact, there has been quite a lot of heartache and imperfection along the way. The Iquique that our children are leaving is not the same city to which they arrived, although the need that prompted us to serve here is the same or even greater. Yet isn't that how life is? Not static nor stationary but moving ever forward to destinations sometimes of our choosing and sometimes not. 

Most importantly, we can trust the Conductor who delivers us safely to each station and stays by our side through it all.

Tomorrow closes an era in our family's life in Chile. But the same God Who first brought us here will continue to lead each member of our family, each step of the way as we allow Him. My heart's desire for my children is found in a song from yesterday's church service. (It was coincidentally Owen's final time playing bass guitar as part of "Pipe y los Gringos," our affectionate name for the music team comprised of Felipe Olivares; our sons Owen, Ian and Alec; and nephew Nathaniel.)

For a long time I searched for
A reason to live
Amidst a thousand questions
Your love replied to me

And now I see the Light
And I'm no longer afraid
Your kingdom came to my life
And now I live for You

I will sing of Your love
I will surrender my heart before You
You will be my passion
And my steps will be guided by Your voice
My Jesus and my King
Of Your great love I will sing

Surrendering to the Kingship of Christ and passionately pursuing Him is the greatest path a person can take in life on this earth! Whether in Chile or anywhere else in our world, I pray all my children will find in Him the purpose for which they were created and a fulfillment their whole lives long.

Saturday, May 14, 2022

Throwback Thoughts on Adoption (2014)

Today I found this essay on adoption that I wrote on September 29, 2014. 

Posting it today with a picture of our kids (the "Fab Five") from that time.

“You have already earned yourself Heaven!”  A well-meaning admirer once gushed over our unusual family here in Chile. With five children in a culture where family size seems to be dwindling, we are already an anomaly. Add to that our adoption dynamic and the multiracial makeup of our family, and we rarely go out in public without raising a few eyebrows. Living in a country where “political correctness” is not a societal norm, we have experienced our share of interesting comments and questions!

Raising a multiracial family in Chile was something we wrestled with during our preparation to reach the mission field. How would Chileans respond? We guessed correctly that our then two-year old son would be greeted as a cute curiosity. This was confirmed the minute we set foot in the country and the customs agent leaned out her window at the airport to exclaim, “I’ve never seen one so little!” We learned to joke about the “paparazzi” who would whip out cell phones and snap pictures without permission. When two more handsome sons joined us from Haiti, “Are they real brothers? I’ve always wanted one like that! Was it hard to adopt? I’d love to, but ..” were frequent conversations started by strangers in the grocery line.  Sometimes questions were so intrusive that in response, we struggled between protectiveness toward our children and being the “nice” missionaries no matter what.

We love the family God has given us and thank Him for it. We tell our children on the good days and on the tough days that our family is a glimpse of Heaven. Not because of our behavior (or lack thereof!) But because one day "every tribe and tongue and nation" will worship in perfect unity around the throne of God and our Savior, Jesus Christ. We are so blessed that we don't have to imagine what that is like. As a family we get to experience it right here on earth.

However, at times we may also get to experience pain. It sometimes hurts that our children have to take to the front lines as they step into Chilean schools where no one else looks anything like them. This year our nine-year old son started alone at a school of 700 students where all eyes were on him. As parents, we want to protect our children, yet we can only walk beside them. We cannot walk inside their skin. How we cherish the fact that Jesus has already done so, coming to this earth as a member of a race that throughout history has been targeted for bigotry, oppression and destruction. We cannot always understand, but He always can!

Perhaps the most common question we hear about our family is “How?” But the better one would simply be, “Why?” The truth is that we pursued adoption with no loftier purpose than to form a family and fulfill our love for children. Yet God has allowed our adoption to be a visible expression to the people of Chile of His love for them. Answering the question “Why?” allows us to share that they, too, have a Father waiting with open arms. They, too, can be adopted and given a forever family. Pray with us that many Chileans will respond to His loving invitation today!

Friday, April 08, 2022

Alec is 14!

Dear Alec,

I must start this letter with true confessions. Although the date on this post is indeed your April 8 birthday, the writing of this post actually took place on September 21. Truth be told, your birthday this year was quite unusual and perhaps it's only fitting that your annual post be eccentric as well.

As your 14th birthday drew closer, so did our family's departure date for furlough. The to-do list was growing and one pending item was oral surgery for both you and your little brother Silas. Wouldn't you know that the oral surgeon chose April 8 as the date he could operate on each of you? I asked you if you minded and whether you preferred we request another date, since birthday cake would be out of the question until a later time. You said it didn't matter. Only afterwards, I realized it actually did. 

Irony of ironies, after all the emotional and paperwork preparation - including hospital check in and suiting the two of you AND Mom and Dad in surgical garments - the surgery was canceled. An important machine broke down during the intervention prior to yours and the surgeon could not continue.

What an ordeal! You were hungry and we hoped to salvage the day by ordering from our favorite Smash Burger joint but being a Sunday that, too, was closed. I share all this to say that I realize it was a pretty lousy 14th birthday (humanly speaking) and I am still sorry, five months later. I do know that God doesn't make mistakes and I believe that somehow He protected you that day from physical harm. Maybe we'll find out in eternity!

You had hoped to helped bake your own birthday cake this year, ideally something Haitian although our online searches didn't provide many traditional options. But in the midst of the busyness that got lost in the shuffle and it wasn't until Father's Day, June 19 that we actually planted candles in a cake that was your second choice (tres leches!) We were at the Fishers' house and joined by your cousins and ministry friends.

Alec, I hope your 14th year is so much better than your actual birthday was and I know God has GOOD plans for you to make it so. I pray that you will learn to look for that goodness every day and rejoice in it. It will be a different year as we live in the States and you attend a new school, but I know there will be so many rich experiences and ways that God will reveal His faithfulness to us. 

I love you, Alec, and enjoy learning new things through you. Frankly, I never thought I'd ever attend a boxing match in my life! But that was something you decided to pursue with gusto, and Daddy and I are proud of the effort you applied to this sport. Getting to and from boxing alone on the bus was another big step for you and an achievement that we applauded. You are a box of surprises, filled with thoughts and ideas, classic literature and big words, passions and insecurities, convictions and dreams. 

I pray that you will allow Jesus to become your greatest joy and desire in life and to lead you to the wonderful good works He has uniquely designed just for you to fulfill. Happy 14th Birthday, Alec Stephen!

All my love,

Friday, February 25, 2022

Heavy, Humbling & Hopeful

This season of life is heavy, humbling and hopeful.

It is a contrasting combination of spiraling sentiments that leaves me winded and wondering many days. Absorbing and observing, thinking and praying, feeling the weight of others' uncertainties as well as my own. Sharing and bearing burdens here and there, near and far - some days shuddering under the sorrows of shattered dreams and expectations.

During our ministry here in Chile, years ago there was one prior season that felt this way. In the aftermath of great tragedy, we found ourselves alone and buffeted by one unwelcome surprise upon another. "You couldn't make this stuff up," we often mused in disbelief and discouragement. It was in this season that our sending church supplied our need in an incredible way, by investing in plane tickets and the opportunity for Pedro's parents to come alongside us for three very special months. We have forever been grateful.

This time, we are not alone. Although circumstances - lockdowns, restrictions, illness, barbs of our unseen Enemy - often contrive to make us feel that way, I am thankful that we have alongside us teammates committed to the same goals and with whom we share the work of ministry.

We are completing our third term and fifteenth year of ministry in Chile, with thirteen of those years in Iquique. As of last year, not a single teammate with whom we began our ministry in Iquique remains here with us. (They continue serving in new locations where God has placed them.) Yet God has faithfully called new members - from Canada, the US, Chile, Venezuela and Ecuador - to work together in planting and strengthening the "Iglesia Bautista de Fe" church. I love how our church planting team reflects the diversity not only of our local church, but of the universal church - believers of every tribe and tongue and nation who have been washed in the blood of Jesus Christ!

There is much work to do, and we are learning together. A variety of cultures can sometimes mean a variety of opinions, though I am grateful that more often than not our goals and decisions are unanimous. A variety of individuals means a variety of personalities and that, too, can require maturity and patience and being willing to put on another's lenses to see through his or her perspective. 

For instance, North American culture values productivity; while South American culture values time invested in relationship. Generally speaking, as North Americans we are accustomed to having financial resources readily available and prioritize a professional job well done despite the cost. Specific to our situation, many of our South American colleagues have learned to live on less and weigh the spending of each dollar (or peso, in our case.) 

Uniquely, on our IBF church planting team made up of five North American and four South American adults, only one member is actually Chilean! And with the ongoing tidal wave of immigration to our city, Chileans currently make up a minority of our church family as well. Some days it feels confusing - weren't we called to Chile for Chileans? But our commission from Christ is actually far broader. We are to go into ALL the world and preach to the WHOLE creation! Praise God, He is placing this ministry right in front of us.

There is truly not a single day where we feel that we've got things figured out. Even after fifteen years, we are still learning, still making mistakes, still grateful for God's grace in light of our own inadequacies. "But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us." (2 Corinthians 4:7) Thank you for praying that the power of God will shine brightly through every one of our cracks and that in His strength we will remain faithful and accomplish much for His kingdom and glory!

Monday, February 07, 2022

Celebrating 21 Years with Eva Grace

Dear Eva,

How is it possible that more than two decades have passed and that your 21st birthday is already here? How can our "squishy" baby (to borrow your brother Silas' favorite term!) ... affectionate toddler ... enthusiastic preschooler ... artistic grade schooler ... horse riding teenager ... now be a grown woman spreading her wings far from home?!

There are such tender memories in these photographs. I love looking at them and remembering the sweet and precious moments of your childhood years! I miss them. Yet Daddy and I are so proud of the person you are becoming through God's sustaining grace in your life. We have watched in awe and sometimes through tears as you have persevered in adversity, overcome fears, tackled new challenges and discovered the passions and gifts God has given you.

In this year of your life, it has been a blessing to watch God provide three separate jobs doing what you love (caring for animals!) From the "Critter Corral" at Miracle Mountain Ranch; to the "Goat Team" lead at Center Grove Orchard; and currently helping customers make wise animal care decisions at PetSmart, with a personal rabbit business in the making also! 

God has also used your experience helping to care for a baby brother to be an encouragement to your Aunt Nina with newborn baby Thea and her sisters! We know this has been a year of much transition and change, but we are so proud of how you continue to grow daily in your understanding, efforts and relationships. Even though your lives and schedules are much different, we're also so glad that you and your sister Isabel could be close to each other this year in Iowa.

Although it's hard for us to be far away from you on such a special day, we are thankful for family members celebrating you sweetly! Our birthday greetings are sent this year from the tiny town of Camiña in the Atacama Desert. We all love you, Eva! Happy 21st Birthday to our Mother's Day surprise.

All my love,

Birthday Posts by Year:

Wednesday, December 29, 2021

Sayings from Silas

Our six-year old son Silas' mind never stops whirring, with his words following close behind. This is a collection of some of his commentary that brings us laughter, surprise, and sometimes poignant parental pride!

There is a pharmacy we pass every time we leave the house. One day Silas happened to notice the logo displayed on the pharmacy sign. "Mom, why would you take medicine from that place? That medicine gives you TWO MORE arms!! Jesus doesn't want that!" 

He went through a season of talking to his brain. "Brain, did you see that? There's our house. Let's wash our hands, Brain. Brain, let's play a different game?"

He's grown up hearing Mommy and Daddy exchange the nickname "Sweets." When Pedro was gone from home for several weeks, one night at bedtime he assured me, "It's okay if you call me Pedro. Or Sweets!"

Once upon a time I explained to Silas about the Precious Moments figurine entitled "Safe in the Arms of Jesus" that's on my dresser. It pictures a baby on a cloud and reminds me of our baby Eden in Heaven (miscarried July 2006.) He found it again one evening and started lining up pretty objects on a shelf, including the rose he made in pre-school. He said it was a "buryment" for Eden. He even included books that he thought she'd like to read since he, too, is learning to read.

Awhile back, Silas asked Pedro if we had prayed for him to be born. Pedro explained that we had prayed for a child but that Silas was actually a big surprise because we thought our prayers were already all answered with his five older siblings! Silas listened and responded with great animation, "And then I "spawned" from nowhere!"

One morning in church, both the "Kid Spot" and sermon were on the topic of angelic beings as described in the Bible. Later Owen, Silas and I were in the kitchen and I was explaining to Silas that God allowed certain men such as Ezekiel, Daniel and John to have visions of Heaven and write about what they saw. He promptly responded, "And there was one more! Stephen!" Owen caught my eye in surprise but Silas really loves his Bible stories and often startles us with the knowledge he has absorbed. Indeed, Stephen did see Heaven and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. May Silas' heart always stay tenderly in tune with Bible truths!

Several months' ago we received the good news that Silas' best friend Emilia would be visiting Iquique with her family for a few days. On the way to school, Silas was very happy. He exclaimed to Pedro, "My wife was lost! But now she's found!" (Ever since a preschool fashion show in which they starred as bride and groom, he is convinced she is truly his!)

One morning, Silas asked Pedro if he was related to David. It seemed very important to him. Pedro explained that as Christians we are related spiritually, but alas! we have no biological connection to Israel's famous king. 

"God could have stopped the baby killing." This was Silas' out-of-the-blue, matter-of-fact statement the Sunday after Christmas. Each year we watch "The Nativity" as a family, and apparently he had been mulling it over. "In the beginning of the movie [King Herod's slaughter of the innocents in Bethlehem] ... God could have stopped them." Nothing like a deep theological discussion about God's omnipotence and sovereignty, man's choice, and the certainty of judgment in eternity with a six-year old!

I wish I had an automatic recorder for so many curious, humorous, holy and outrageous statements from Silas. But for now I will share these and say how much we love and enjoy him.

Thursday, December 09, 2021

Ian is 14!

Dear Ian,

On your birthday, I posted this to Facebook:

What do we love about Ian? As we circled the table and each answered this question, we heard:

- because he is sensitive and compassionate

- because he is patient

- because he plays with me

- because of his positivity

- because he is creative

- because he works hard with a good attitude

Today we celebrate Ian's 14th birthday and we are so thankful for him! ❤️

What a joy it is to be your mom and see your growth day by day, year by year. I still remember the 9-month old baby Ian we first met in Haiti and spent a week getting to know. I picture the 16-month old Ian who was learning to walk the next time I came. I smile at the 22-month old Ian on my final visit to Haiti who I described as being gentle and easygoing and a comforter to younger babies. In fact, those qualities still remain evident in the young man you are becoming and we love you for them!

For your primary birthday gift this year, you requested a paintball experience. I'm not sure who was more excited, you or your dad! Eight of you geared up to go: you and your brothers Owen and Alec, Dad and Uncle Dave, your cousins Ben and Nathaniel; and our friend Felipe. From all accounts, it was a highly successful outing - lots of refills and lots of paint was splattered! - and everyone had great fun.

For scheduling reasons paintball preceded your birthday by nearly a week, but on your actual day we celebrated with a pile of pizzas from the brand-new Papa John's in Iquique and the company of your cousins. A unique gift we happened to find in a store outside Zofri was a miniature house architecture kit, and that consumed much of your day as you focused on figuring out the intricacies of building! One thing Daddy and I have always observed and admired about you is your ability to focus long stretches of time on an activity that truly interests you.

Ian, it's been a lot of fun during your 13th year of life to watch you develop in many ways, not the least of which has been your work ethic. From working as an assistant to don Guillermo, our city's longtime itinerant knife sharpener, to washing our cars at Daddy's request and then having Uncle Dave and our neighbor ask for your services!

It's also been a blessing as your mom to experience your kindness and empathy, patience and smiles. I will always remember the night our family was riding home from Pica in a dark car and I was crying silently over a certain situation, when you reached over and gently held my hand in comfort. What a gift that was for me, and I pray God continues to mold you into a man of faithful, gentle love for others.

We love you, Ian! Happy 14th Birthday!!

All my love,

Birthday Posts by Year:

Sunday, October 31, 2021

Silas Turns Six

Birthday party #1
Dear Silas,

Well, your 6th birthday was one to remember! You enjoyed not only one party, but two. And due to extenuating circumstances, we broke from tradition and did both a "real" party and a family one! For a boy who loves birthdays, we may never top this year in your book. But as always, we hope you felt loved and seen and celebrated in this month of October that God sent us you.

The reason we did a "real" party on your birthday had a lot to do with the kids in this picture. We tried to explain it to you although you may not have truly understood, but five of your guests were from one big Venezuelan family that moved to Iquique not long ago. In fact, one of the little girls was just passing through on her way to yet another place with her parents. They are a family that lost their original home because their country is going through a very hard time, and where they live here in Iquique is not a very nice place. Everyone lives together in little cramped rooms, and the children do not have a yard or patio in which to play. For this reason, we thought it would be nice to invite them so they would have a time and place just to have fun. Tia Solange kindly let us use her house where a trampoline was set up in the front patio and balloons, tables and chairs lined the carport.

In fact, a few days earlier Tia Solange also went with Mommy to the big Agro in search of all the trappings and treats for your party. Birthday parties in Chile have certain important traditions, such as balloons, cake, take-home containers for cake, piñata, candy to fill the piñata, bags to collect the candy from the piñata, decorative plates, candy to fill each child's decorative plate, guest gift boxes, candy and soda and salty snacks to fill guest gift boxes. Good thing Tia Solange knew! She loves you and we always remember gratefully that she was on shift in the operating room the day you were born.

I hope you know, too, that you have the BEST big brothers. I love this picture of the three of them patiently hanging out while waiting for your party to start. Ian came early with us to blow up LOTS of balloons. All the boys helped carry chairs and even collect piñata candy for the babies. There wasn't a whole lot for them to do because the trampoline company only allowed smaller children to jump, but Owen, Ian and Alec still showed up to celebrate you!

Of course, Daddy also was a great help as our chauffeur who picked up cake and pizza and people and then got everyone home again! When the time came to sing Happy Birthday, he prayed for you and your life. We wanted our guests to know that God is so very important in all of our lives, and every birthday we celebrate is because of His goodness and grace! Around this time, four more friends arrived to your party and we were so happy to have Tia Carola and Maya, Tia Luisa and Meme with us for your birthday. They are very special to our family.

You were so eager to open your gifts, but to your chagrin Mommy kept trying to hold you off until after your guests went home. You may not have understood why at the time, but knowing the reduced circumstances of the other children I wanted to be sensitive to their feelings and I encouraged you to hand out the gift boxes to them instead. I do like this tradition of giving to birthday guests because hopefully it helps teach generosity!

Birthday party #2

Silas, your second birthday party was at home when the Fishers returned from their travels and Aunt Terri could make you her promised multi-layer banana cake with cream cheese frosting once again. You are much loved by your aunt, uncle, cousins and also Tia Cata who joined us for our family festivities! Your favorite #6 balloon was recycled for this celebration and your brothers and friends graciously played repeated rounds of your new games with you, including the crazy monkey game that had players shrieking and laughing! 

Happy 6th Birthday, Silas Eben Garcia! We are so glad God sent you to our family and pray that you will continue to have a sensitive heart to His Word. I cherish your enthusiasm to read your Bible stories nightly and to sing songs about Jesus. May each new birthday allow you to grow in your knowledge of Him and may you follow Him your whole life long. We love you!

All my love,