Living, Learning & Loving La Vida Nueva

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Time to Celebrate!

We had our first face-to-face interview with our AIM regional representatives last fall.  At that meeting, I learned of the Bible competencies requirement Africa Inland Mission has for all of their missionaries who don't already have formal Bible training.  I agree completely with their desire to ensure that each missionary is equipped with in-depth Biblical instruction.  However, as a stay-at-home mom of an extremely busy young one, I wondered at times how I would ever complete the nine requirements.

Something about myself which I both appreciate and loathe is that I can hardly stand to have things hanging over my head.  I am a get-it-done and do-it-now kind of person.  That is great a lot of times because it means that I almost always stay on top of things.  In this case, however, I've known for nearly a year that I had these nine classes which I was required to take.  I was on my own time table since the only deadline was that I have at least five classes done before we leave for Africa; the last four could be completed before the start of our second term.  Leaving four to complete during our time in Africa was out of the question in my mind; instead, having all nine finished at least a few months before we depart was my goal.  I've been hoping for some semblance of a break between these requirements, gathering the necessary paperwork and support raising, and the imminent culture shock coming after the New Year.  Still hoping; we'll see if it happens. 

The classes weren't extremely involved.  I signed into my online account with Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and listened to pre-recorded forty-five minute lectures.  To officially complete each class I was required to pass a quiz.  For the first couple of classes, I filled out the study guides which go along with the audio lectures.  That quickly changed as I realized I would never get them finished if I had to be sitting still the entire time.  I have much more time when my ears are free but my hands are busy.  The main challenge was finding time when Kyle was asleep or heavily occupied.  And when Kyle is asleep, Mommy often wants to sleep, too.  I had to constantly fight the urge to climb in bed and go work on the classes instead.  I listened to many lectures as I cooked dinner, smocked plates for Kyle's outfits, and took bubble baths.  Diligence paid off; I finished my last class today.  Insert completely relieved sigh here:

The nine classes I completed were: Theology Survey 1&2, Church History 1&2, New Testament Survey 1&2, Prophets and Promise - a study of the Old Testament, Biblical Interpretation, and World Missions.  Naturally I enjoyed the World Missions class the most, but I also thoroughly enjoyed the first Church History class as well as the second Theology Survey class.  Each of the lecturers was engaging and had some great insights to things I don't often ponder.  My favorite quote from the World Missions class was:

"If you are planting a church where there is already a viable gospel witness, you are not planting a church where there is not already a viable gospel witness."

I had to listen to that a couple times to let it completely sink in, but it makes total sense to me now.  I strongly believe in the urgency of reaching unreached people groups.  All too often it seems that our time and resources are invested in reaching those who have the gospel at their fingertips and not those who haven't ever heard the name of Christ.

What better way to celebrate completing this stage of our ministry preparation requirements than with ice cream?  We skipped over to Bruster's this evening where we all enjoyed a delicious treat.  Jonathan and I split an Oreo Cheesecake ice cream cone.  Kyle even got a free Cotton Candy Explosion baby cone which made him exceedingly happy... and sticky.

Brrr, this is cold stuff.

Hey Mr. Sticky, you sure are handsome - can I get a kiss?

... This is why we don't go out often ...

Then we burned some calories by playing basketball.  Or at least Kyle did.  I watched.

Caleb dropped his ice cream on his shorts.  Again, we don't get out much.

Graduation photo minus the silly cap.

Glad to have those required classes off my shoulders.  I may listen to some of the lectures through again as time goes by to gain an even clearer understanding of Biblical truth.  So much of what was discussed are details which oftentimes go right over my head.  After taking these classes, however, I feel like I have a better grasp on why I believe what I believe.  I was humbled and motivated as I learned of the sacrifices our church fathers made for the sake of preserving the gospel.  I am also reminded again of the immeasurable love and grace of Christ which held him to a cross as he became the propitiation for my sins.  May I always serve him faithfully.


Sunday, August 19, 2012

Cousin Love

Sorry these photos are less than top quality, but I just had to share.  I took these a couple months back when we went to Greenville, SC, to visit some of Jono's family.  As you can see, Kyle and his cousin Aislynn weren't too sure about being together at first but, they warmed up eventually. 

My sweeties enjoying the Greenville Drive game

It was a lovely evening!

Not our best family portrait but, you get the idea.

On the way home, we turned around to find the cousins like this.....

"Mom, this girl wants to hold my hand...."

Aislynn looks... pleased.  Kyle looks... terrified!

"I'm still not so sure about this, Mom."

"Girls really stink you know!"

We did not encourage or stage any of these photos but, we sure had a good laugh at the situation while it took place!  Maybe Kyle and Ais, who are almost precisely a year apart in age, will become fast Skype friends.  It makes me sad to think our kids won't likely know their cousins well, but we are thankful for the technology which will allow us to keep up when we're worlds apart.


Monday, August 6, 2012

Confessions of a Support Raising Missionary

Many times in my life I've heard it said "sometimes the process is more important than the product."  Maybe that is the case when it comes to support raising.  The process is trying, encouraging, discouraging and exciting all at the same time!  In this post, I won't focus on the discouraging part too much, maybe that will be for another post many years down the road.  But, for now, I've got so many thoughts about support raising swirling around in my head, I've just got to spell them out.

For about as long as I can remember, I have been raising money for something.  As an elementary-aged child, I spent my spring months walking door to door with my daddy, asking for donations for the local pregnancy care center.  If I remember correctly, the first year I participated in the Life Walk, where walkers raise sponsors in return for a commitment to "Walk for Life"on a Saturday morning, I believe I raised about $500.  That was a significant amount of money for a seven-year-old.  At that time I had no trouble walking around our neighborhood and other close-by subdivisions, knocking on every door and asking for donations towards my cause.  I think people probably just humored me, a scrawny blonde girl on their door step asking for money to help save babies.  What choice did they have?  Nearly everyone would sponsor me at least a dollar.  Every year, in each age group, there was a prize for the participant who raised the most money.  I think I placed third my first year, but I don't remember what I won (obviously it wasn't very exciting).  The next year, I determined to win the first prize for my age bracket, a new bike, and set my goal at $2,000.  I put I don't know how many miles on my tennis shoes that spring.  My precious daddy, it brings tears to my eyes to think that he walked door to door so faithfully with me, and together we raised $1,700.  I just missed the first prize (if only I could've made my $2,000 goal!), but he took me straight to Wal-Mart that afternoon and let me pick out whichever bike I wanted.  Okay, within reason.  I chose a shiny blue mountain bike complete with hand brakes and gears; I was probably the proudest bike owner you could've ever known!

A couple years after that, I got involved in Relay for Life with the American Cancer Society.  I believe I set my goal that year for $500 and with a very generous donation from a neighbor, I exceeded that goal by about $200.  I took a break after that, until I spent the last few months of my senior year of high school again raising money for the American Cancer Society by flocking people's yards with plastic flamingos.  In order to get the flamingos taken back out of your yard, you were asked for a donation of $25 and then you could chose whom to send the flock to next.  It was sneaky and exciting (I'm not sure I like what that says about me) and I used many gallons of gas running all over town nearly every evening just past dark.  It is a wonder no one called the police on us for trespassing.  I have no idea how much money our team produced from flocking, but it was a lot!

As Jonathan and I began raising support to move to Mexico, he did most of the communication with our potential supporters.  Having lived on support before during his time traveling with Life Action, and being raised in a family who lived on support his whole life, he was more familiar with the process of monthly support than I was.  Thus, most of our supporters were from our church in Illinois where he was living at the time.  For Mexico, we had a much smaller budget because we weren't with an organization, we didn't have much in work funds to raise, we were childless, and we didn't have to plan to return home on painfully expensive plane tickets.  Now, raising our budget (though still reasonable in comparison to other missionary budgets I've heard of for families four times our size) seems like much more of a daunting task. 

Since we have been living in SC for the past two years, we've made many more connections with people here.  While they are just getting used to this guy who swooped in from Mexico and married me right out of high school, the people here are still "my people."  And since J is covered up with school and work, I have been doing the vast majority of making contacts for meetings.  We learned one thing during our first round of support raising - letters don't work.  We tried sending letters to over 120 like-minded churches while we were support raising for Mexico.  We heard back from about three, all saying they weren't interested.  Most never responded at all.  We nixed that idea right then.  For decades now, the conventional way to raise support has been to visit churches.  You're supposed to call the church, try to set up a time to meet with the pastor or missions committee, hope to get invited to speak in a service, and wait to see if the church takes you on for support.  While there is nothing necessarily wrong with this approach, there are many drawbacks.  It is time-consuming, puts thousands of miles on your car while draining your gas tank, and many churches have a specific point during the year that they plan their budgets, so you have to wait until that time rolls around before you can get any numbers.  There are positives to church support raising (all of which I won't spell out here) but the main one in my perspective is - they are reliable.  Once you are in the budget, you are going to get your check each month.  With individuals making up the majority of your support team, it is more likely for your support to fluctuate since you might "fall through the cracks" so to speak and the checks aren't always as dependable.  Anyway, back to our approach at support raising; we were advised to personally contact as many people as we know reasonably well and tell them about our plans and needs.  This sounds bold and daring and awkward.  Yes, it is extremely awkward.  It makes an extrovert like myself want to shrink into a hole and camp out for a week.  It is a lot more difficult to ask for money for yourself than it is to ask for money for someone or something else.  Maybe I have lost some of my inhibitions of asking people for money, or maybe it's because I'm not nearly as cute as I was when I was eight and people aren't as willing to shell out money to me.  Whatever the reason, it is awkward.  Really awkward.  I loathe the process altogether.  

I keep finding myself thinking "soon this will be over" and "maybe it gets easier the longer you do it."  Well, it is getting slightly easier as we are getting more comfortable talking about the word that makes people squirm in their seats - money.  And as our target departure date is approaching, it seems we are feeling more of the time crunch and are beginning to care less about how awkward it is and more about how absolutely necessary it is that we get our finances raised by December 1st.  But, the thought occurred to me not long ago..... Support raising probably won't end for us.  I don't really see it ending - ever.  Sure, if everything is together, we will be on our way at the beginning of next year.  However, in all likelihood, we will lose a supporter or two while we are on the field for various reasons.  And we'll be forced to attempt support raising from the field or pick it back up when we return for furlough.  We also, of course, want to have more children and children cost money.  As I have talked to another sweet friend who is support raising (Hi, M!) and we've discussed our futures, children and so on, we both agree that it is terrible to see children in part as "another return ticket."  Meaning, the more children we have, not only does it cost more to live, it will cost more to return back to the States for vacation or furlough.  Of course, we will trust God with our family and our support needs; but the reality is, we will be raising support from now until we leave the field for good.  Since Jonathan and I don't have any date within the next few decades in mind for that, there is no end in sight for me.  Or you! ;)

I said I wouldn't focus on all the discouraging aspects of support raising and I won't.  Instead I will focus on what has encouraged our hearts the most.  After spending many evenings making phone calls and meeting with our brothers and sisters in Christ, sharing our needs and plans, it is so exciting to have someone contact us for a change.  It is hard to maintain a right spirit when all that stands between us and Africa is money.  It is hard not to see people as just money and to keep in perspective that God has ordained a specific team to come alongside us and uphold us during our time in ministry.  It is so exciting and encouraging to see Him not only use many of the people we have contacted, but also to lead others, many of whom we wouldn't have contacted on our own, to contact us and express sincere interest in our ministry and needs.  It seems that as soon as I start to feel like we're going around in circles, we're being blown off or we're never going to get all the funding we need to leave, another person contacts us and says something like, "we have been praying and feel the Lord leading us to help to support you.  Where can we send money?"  We are giddy every time another family commits to support us, no matter how "large" or "small" the commitment is, because we can see progress.  And we can feel the heartfelt support of our friends and family who we know aren't giving because we have asked them but rather are giving and praying because they have felt the Spirit leading them to do so.  We also love to watch our little chart go up.  As we inch by sometimes even in the decimals of a percentage, it is exciting to reach a new number.  I expect to shed a few (okay, probably a ton) of tears when we reach 100% and we are cleared to leave in January.

Living with the pressure of expecting to leave our friends and family in just a few short months, but not knowing for sure if it will be five months or nearly another year, along with trying to raise copious amounts of needed funding, as well as completing all the necessary paperwork and preparation requirements which come with trying to move around the world, at times makes me feel like I'm going to burst wide open.  Really, sometimes I feel like it is too much to handle.  Remember when I said I wished I could take all my loved ones with me?  I still wish that.  As the days keep racing past, I feel my heart increasingly aching in anticipation of saying goodbye.  Well, I also wish that all of the money we still need would just fall like manna from the sky.  But, I am trusting that the process maybe, just maybe, is more, or at least as important as the product.

Throw back picture - a year ago almost to the day.  Little baby Kyle sporting his safari jammies and hangin' with Changito, already preparing for Africa!