Archive for the 'Transitions' Category

Dissolved- Part II

(Click here to read Dissolved: Part I )

Time passed; in the intervening months God graciously provided us with a new infrastructure. Most of our supporters did decide to stay with us and some surprising partners have generously provided since monies like future support, funds saved for education and plane tickets, etc., were all lost to us with the dissolution of our organization. Daily, our lives and ministries continue.

Yet in many ways, we are still stuck halfway across that high wire, very much in limbo. We keep things running here, waiting for the human powers that be to decide what will be… while we wait to hear all of the legal ramifications of this process back in the States, while we try and cling to the truth that God is sovereign.

I ‘m reading a book called The Land Between: Finding God in Difficult Transitions. One of my friends, hearing of our particular circumstances, wrote me and asked if she could get me this book. I’ve been very thankful for it as I’ve slowly worked my way through it. Today I read:

“At the beginning of the story, Abraham was asked to trust God by letting go of his past—by moving away from his people and his country. Now, near the end of his journey, Abraham is asked to trust God by letting go of his future—releasing his beloved son Isaac through whom the promised blessing is to be fulfilled.”1

Over 12 years ago, when we first left for the field, God asked us to trust Him by letting go of our past, of all that was familiar, moving us far away to where all was new and foreign, family and friends were far behind; normal clothes and cultures and climates seemed another world, one very unreachable and very far away. Just like Abraham, we’d trusted God and let go of our past, moving from our known peoples and country. There were hard, challenging moments, but there were also amazing, mountain top experiences with the Lord and the joy of serving Him in this place that, in hindsight, make those moments of trusting seem a lot more exciting than terrifying. We’ve come to the point where most of the time, we trust God with the past.

As we’ve followed Him down this path over these 12 years, we’ve learned much about trusting God in the moment… some moments, by His grace, we trust well, totally and confidently. Other times, however, in our strength, we try and bully or bribe our way into an outcome we want. That has been a constant temptation during these high wire months of limbo. Sometimes God whispers… other times He allows circumstances to shout: “Will you let me lead you day… by day… by day. Will you let me take what seems so rancid to you and turn it into something delightfully sweet as you see My hand working in you, on your behalf?”

In this most recent “faith crisis”, God seems to be asking us a new question: “Will you let go of your future? Will you release your plans and dreams? Will you stop struggling to achieve them? Can you gently step aside and allow Me free reign to do what I will do. Will you still choose to trust Me, even in those moments when you don’t understand, see no possibilities… then tenaciously cling to faith even when all man’s wisdom and even your heart says there’s no point and nothing left to cling to?” God asks us to be living sacrifices – our home church pastor has often said that the only problem with a living sacrifice is that it has a tendency to get up and crawl right off that altar!

Our little three year old M&M wanders the house singing almost every day. Invariably, she’ll launch into the Chris Tomlin song, I Will Follow.

Where You go, I’ll go.
Where You stay, I’ll stay.
When you move, I’ll move.
I will follow…

Some days, she sings it word perfect.

Other days, however? She’ll launch into an M&M revised adaptation. Those tsubborn, independent adjustments ring out loud and clear:

When You go, I’ll stay.
When You stay, I’ll go.
When You go, I’ll stay.
When You stay, I’ll go.
(repeat at least 8 times)

Funny – but it is also sobering, because her adaptation is me.

There are days when letting go of past, present and future is the only thing I want to do, recklessly throwing my everything into His hands and His plans. Those days are scary and hard – but also full of joy, triumph and the peace that comes with obedience. What about all those other days, though? The ones where I sing, just like my little one, that I’m heading my own way, doing my own thing, and all of that in my own timing.

As missionaries, people think it is easy for us to let go – following the Great Shepherd is our claim! Occasionally it is. Most often, it isn’t.

Sometimes we need all that we thought secure, every dream we had for the future, to simply dissolve all around us, first melting, then trickling and finally surging far, far away until we are left standing in the desert with no hope for the future… nothing… except God…

I’ve been in that place the last few months. I’m in that place right now.

It is in that place that finally, now, I’m learning… I’m sometimes beginning to expect God.

What does God have to do to get you in a place where all of your expectations rest in Him and Him alone?

1 Manion, Jeff (2010-07-14). The Land Between: Finding God in Difficult Transitions (Kindle Locations 433-435). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.

(Post by: Richelle)

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Dissolved- Part 1

Missionaries… all who follow Christ… are told to count the cost. But what about when something unthinkable happens? How do you prepare for that?

Late at night, on August 24, 2011, we received the following in a letter from our sending organization:

“Following extensive objective assessment and the advice of legal counsel, we are beginning action to dissolve… The organization will be in the process of shutting down over the next week and a half. Funds to continue are not available… final payments of reimbursable expenses will be paid as of August 23rd and health insurance will be paid through September 2011. Thereafter, there will be no disbursement from EBM to anyone other than to protect and complete the above process… On September 2, 2011, the… home office will close its doors… Further, missionaries and sending churches should immediately contact donors and have their donations diverted to the sending church… If help is needed the staff… would be more than happy to assist you with this process until September 2, 2011. On August 31st, [our organization] will be closing its books after which all donations will be returned to the sender.”

Needless to say, we didn’t sleep much that night. We had lots of questions, and no immediate answers…

  • How in the world are we going to provide for 8 kids and an 18 year old niece… in a foreign land…with no salary?
  • What about school for our children (recognizing that termites ate at least a third of our home schooling curriculum during our last home assignment)?
  • Could we? How would we get home if we had to?
  • What does this mean for now? And in the immediate future?
  • What in the world should we do?
  • How do we explain this to our local colleagues?
  • What exactly is “this”?

I’d really thought I’d heard of and considered all the possible missionary “catastrophe” scenarios: medical emergencies, coup d’états, banditry or break-in, kidnapping and hostage situations, physical violence, in-country massive currency devaluation, drought, necessities unavailable, refugee influx, emergency evacuation… and while I didn’t ever want anything like that to happen to our family, it had, at least at some point, bleeped somewhere on my radar screen that it was a possibility.

The dissolution of our sending organization and as a consequence, of the majority of the infrastructure key to our W. African existence hadn’t… ever… crossed… my mind… Seriously. Not even remotely.

Our home office was closing its doors and from the backside of the desert in W. Africa (otherwise known as the land of frequent power outages, bipolar internet and the lesser known reality that we still cannot direct dial our home area code in the States from this place), we had one week to contact all of our supporters to tell them to stop giving until we could make other arrangements. We needed to find a new organization in the States able and willing to receive and receipt funds, but also one that would be acceptable to our current support team. Any services that our home office had handled before? We now needed to find someone else who could and would assume those responsibilities. And there was the concern that people might just decide to no longer partner with us in this ministry, feeling that our previous organization had been less than transparent… some even felt dishonest.

Our team of missionaries in Niger and Benin at the time of the dissolution

We understood immediately that our situation wasn’t catastrophic. We were all healthy, together, with a roof over our head and in the midst of an amazing missionary community that literally wrapped its arms tightly around us and cared for us, far above and beyond what we would have asked or could have imagined. On the other hand, it fely like calamity stalking… we were walking a high wire far above ground without any sort of safety net… and it wouldn’t take much to send us plummeting down…

I wish I could say that Tim and I immediately fell on our knees and took our worries before the Lord. Tim might have… I didn’t unless you count those “Oh God… what are we going to do?” type utterances as prayers.

Has anything similar every happened to you? Can you even imagine anything like this happening? What would be your first thoughts and worries?

(Post by: Richelle)

Putting Down Roots

I’ve mentioned this great analogy before, but during our cross-cultural training, we transplanted a living plant from one pot to another and talked about the process of being transplanted from one culture to another. What an amazing illustration! Here was our little plant, perfectly happy in it’s little pot when suddenly it is uprooted and it’s comfy dirt and pot shaken off and left behind.  Some roots are broken in the process and some are carried along and planted in the new  pot. This freshly transplanted little flower is in a precarious situation now where in order to survive, it needs to be watered and cared for and must work hard to put down roots into this new and foreign soil. If it fails to do so, it will begin to wither.

We know that God is the one who chooses this new soil, who places us just right in this new “pot,” who waters us, who tends to us, and who even ultimately enables roots to grow, so the analogy is imperfect, but I think it has some good parallels as we strive to do the things that we can in order to thrive.

Being uprooted, as many can attest to, can be traumatic as our roots are untangled from our home and some are even broken in the process. We arrive  in our new soil alive and in much the same appearance as when we were uprooted, but we must soon grow new roots in order to survive.

While thinking of the idea of putting down new roots, I’ve thought it important to consider the roots that held me firmly in place back “home” and that used to served as little channels of life. Loved ones, a church family, hobbies, special places, parts of the culture that I loved, appreciation for the history of my country and city, cultural understanding and feeling like an insider, knowledge of the language…. There were so many roots that made me really thrive in that soil.

Thinking now about thriving in this new soil, I’ve realized that I need similar roots here. These roots aren’t exactly the same, but they need to channel health to my various areas of need. Here are a few of the more significant new roots that have been most life-giving to me personally:

-Love for the people. For me, loving the people of Russia means truly knowing them on a heart level. It is very hard to feel love for a person unless you spend time getting to know them. I want to know and truly love the people of Russia. This for me means meaningful relationships, sharing life, and learning to appreciate and participate in normal Russian daily life. This takes more energy and effort than most other things, but is so incredibly life-giving. From this one root, so many others can grow.

-Prayer for the people and country. The more I pray for Russia, the more I love this country and its people because I participate in God’s heart for Russians. In order to pray effectively, I need to know Russia’s needs and to feel heartache over them. The more I learn about Russia and its needs, the more I am motivated to pray, and the deeper the roots go that attach my heart to this land.

-Thankfulness and enjoyment of the culture. Though the culture here is very different and some of the things that I miss from back “home” can never be exactly replaced, there are unique aspects of beauty in this new culture that I would have never experienced had I never come here. I make it a conscious effort to observe the parts of Russian culture that I personally enjoy and admire and to thank God for the opportunity to experience them. It can also be great fun to find new hobbies in your new culture. I took Caucus dancing for awhile when living in Southwest Russia, and it was so fun!

-Growth in knowledge. Specifically growing in cultural understanding and language ability are the main ways that growing in knowledge causes me to establish stronger roots. The more that I understand the culture, the better I am able to process and appreciate the differences between Russian culture and my own without being critical. The more that I have the language at my disposal, the more that my world here in Russia opens up.

I wanted to end by saying that though there is much that we can do to put down strong roots in order to thrive, we must also accept that by God’s divine plan, sometimes floods and storms do come and uproot even the most firmly rooted of plants, not to mention that sometimes The Gardener simply comes gently along and decides to move our little plant once again to new place that He’d simply prefer having us. A transplant may be permanent, or temporary, depending on the will of The Gardener, and our job is simply to try to put down those roots whenever and wherever He plants us so that we can thrive as best as possible for the time that He has us there.

What are some things that have personally helped you put down roots in your host culture? Do you relate to the ones above, or are there some that you would like to add? Are there any parts of your plant that are still needing to find a source of life? And remember, God is ultimately our source of all things! Even if the soil around you appears to be nothing but desert sand, God still has heavenly provision for your growth (and that is a whole different post)!

(Post by: Ashley)

Guest Post: Surviving the New Adventure

(Jolene, who has been serving in Ukraine for the past ten years, has kindly offered to share this honest and deeply encouraging post that I think will strike a cord, either in our past or present experience, with each one of us serving overseas. And what a blessing for moms preparing for the field to learn and store up this wisdom for the future!)
You have waited many years for this moment.  You surrendered to the mission field, graduated from Bible college, spent many months on deputation, and now you are headed to the field!  Life could not be more exciting, more adventurous!  The moment you have anticipated, dreamt about, and talked about is finally here.
When you get to the field, it is exactly as you dreamed.  Everything is so different, yet so intriguing.  The people live differently, shopping takes a whole adventurous day, the local language sounds just like you stepped into a foreign film setting.  It is a lot to take in, but you are basking in the thrill of it all.  “Yes, this was exactly what I had in mind.  This is exactly what I have been looking forward to all of my life,” you reflect.
The people do quirky things, and you think it is charming.  Things happen that you just know the people at home will not believe, so you write home about it with great pleasure, knowing your friends and family will be just as amused as you are.  You journal each day (whether on paper or on your blog) about the incredulous things you are seeing and experiencing.  This is the life!
And then, a few months down the road, those funny things slowly start to lose their humor.  They start becoming ordinary, and the excitement that got you through those first few months starts to subside.  You have thrown yourself whole-heartedly into learning the language, and you are coming to the realization that learning a language is a much slower process than you anticipated.  After all, you have been here nearly a year and still cannot say an intelligible full sentence correctly.  People still ask you where you are from everywhere you turn, especially whenever you speak.  Winter comes and it is bitterly cold (or even the opposite extreme and in the 90’s!)…. not at all like back home.  Christmas Day arrives and you might find yourself completely alone or, at best, with another missionary family; and well, quite frankly, you are slightly disappointed because you were not able to celebrate like you know your family was celebrating at home.
Living on the mission field becomes harder and harder, and suddenly you look back and realize that it is no longer an adventure.  Those customs that were “cute” to you at first are, really, just rather annoying.  After all, don’t these people know that there are better ways of doing things?
And slowly, little by little, the adventure has worn completely off.  Life trudges on and does not always take the directions you had anticipated.  People are not asking “What must I do to be saved?” like you always dreamed they would.  In fact, if they were to ask, you would not even be able to tell them.  “Does everyone realize how hard it is to learn a foreign language?” you wonder as you think about how embarrasing it is that you have not been able to lead one person to Christ’s sweet salvation yet.
The letters from home stop coming as often, and everyone expects that you have settled into a happy, little routine.  And you have… except that you feel kind of stuck.  “This is where I am supposed to be, but I did not realize it would be so lonely.  Every time I open my mouth to speak, people hang onto my words trying to understand me like a mother watches her toddler trying to speak.”  You feel foolish and want to crawl into a shell and hide.  And it does not help that you do not understand anything that is being preached at church either.  You, the “great missionary” who left all behind to serve Christ, even start feeling un-churched.  Of course, you sit faithfully in every service (while training under a veteran missionary) but still only catch words here and there – certainly not enough to feel conviction or encouragement.  You miss your home church; you miss traveling to the greatest churches of America and being in the greatest Missions Conferences ever to be conducted.  Forget all of that… you just miss hearing English everywhere you turn!
Slowly, discouragement sets in.  “I will never fit in here.  I will never speak this language correctly.  I will never adapt to the way they do things, etc…”  And then you find that you are in a place you never thought you would be.  After all, was it not you who, when you talked about foreign missions to children’s Sunday school classes, watched as those small eyes widened in wonder at the adventure of taking the Gospel to a foreign mission field?  Was it not you who gave touching testimonies to ladies’ groups about your burning desire to reach these people?
But, oh, dear young missionary wife!  You are crossing a bridge between two mountains.  The first mountain is the one you left back home, and the second mountain is the one you will reach once you start making friends and learning to adapt in your new home.  But, right now you are caught between those two mountains, on a shaky, rattling, swinging bridge.  It seems so much safer to turn around and run back to the first, comfortable mountain that you left not so long ago.  But, if you will just endure and keep taking one small, shaky step at a time, one day you will find that you have reached the other side.  And, it is a beautiful mountaintop, filled with the greatest pleasures and beauty one could ever imagine!   From one who has made it to that second mountain, I encourage you to hang on!
I often wonder, if young missionary wives understood this transition process… from adventure to loneliness and change and, finally, to adaption, would there be more missionaries who made it through those first, transitioning years?  Most missionaries who give up on their calling, do so during the first four or five years.
I also wonder if praying friends back home truly realize the lonely tears that are shed during that transition period.  If they did, I am sure they would be more faithful to write little notes and send little care packages to those young missionary families.  If you are one of those praying friends, let me encourage you to find a missionary family who has been on the field anywhere from one to five years and focus on that family.  And when the devil comes and tries to rattle that already-unsteady bridge, the missionary family will hold on tighter and take another step forward…. another step toward their future of staying.
Where are you today on this journey? Are you on the first mountain top preparing to leave? On that shaking, rattling, swinging bridge, feeling lonely and discouraged? On that second mountain top of adaptation? Let’s join together in praying for our dear sisters in Christ who are crossing that bridge. And if you are looking on that bridge, do you have a minute to share a word or two of encouragement to spur your sisters on?
Post by: Jolene

Transitions

Our little Jonathan recently began school – a first language French school – for the first time. Yesterday, as he was sharing with us about his day, he told us about working on saying and writing the alphabet (which he already knows, as he is a beginning reader… in English). Suddenly, he stopped and exclaimed: “And Mama, did you know they say zshee for ‘J’ and zshay for ‘G?’ THAT. IS. JUST. WRONG!!!”

We JUST don’t like change, do we? We tend to resist anything that pushes, prods or pulls us from a place of the comfortable recognized to the uncomfortable unknown. Jonathan expressed that rather eloquently, I think, and while we laughed (and laughed… for the look on his face as that realization dawned on him was priceless), my mind was drawn to the present struggles of our present state of transition.

One of the reasons this transition has been more challenging is that we are subleasing a home for a year… someone else’s home, someone else’s furniture, someone else’s guards… after having already “been there, done that” the past year in a missionary house back in the States (I’m not trying to complain, for we are so thankful for both of those provisions, yet this is our reality). So it feels like home, but it isn’t quite… Without a doubt, it is emotionally harder to move back and forth with secondary school children ~ teens. They’d just found where they belonged and we uprooted them to return to a place that isn’t what they left the year before. So, they are back to figuring out where they belong once again when they’d anticipated coming home. But people leave; others grow, looking and sounding different; still others change and have new priorities or a different direction – nothing remains static and so it just isn’t the same.

As I’ve pondered and prayed – then realized that I should first pray and then ponder: How are we to shepherd our children through this time, the Holy Spirit directed my meditations to perhaps the most well known words in the Bible about what it looks like to be a good shepherd.

The LORD is my shepherd;

I have all that I need.

He lets me rest in green meadows;

He leads me beside peaceful streams.

He renews my strength.

He guides me along right paths,

bringing honor to His name.

Even when I walk

through the darkest valley,

I will not be afraid,

for you are close beside me.

Your rod and your staff

protect and comfort me.

You prepare a feast for me

in the presence of mine enemies.

You honor me by anointing my head with oil.

My cup overflows with blessings.

Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me

all the days of my life,

And I will live in the house of the LORD

forever.

Psalm 23 (NLT)

When God blessed us with children, He gave us the privilege of becoming shepherds… one more way we can learn to imitate our God and our Savior. So I read these words, words first stamped onto my heart over 35 years ago, gentle words reminding me how the Good Shepherd cares for me and see a very practical example of how I can shepherd my children.

A doer, it was the verbs that caught my attention. What are things I can do to help my children?

· I can let them rest, making sure our home is a place of security, fun and respite from the stresses in their worlds all around them.

· I can lead – with my words, my actions, my attitudes, my life. Do I approach the challenges with a gentle spirit, accepting and welcoming God’s sovereignty and excited to see what He will do because I know He will work?

· I can renew: revamping harried schedules, repairing wrong attitudes and beliefs, restoring tired hearts, making good on promises and things I’ve said, renovating to salvage the bad and hard days.

· I can guide, showing them again and again that we run to Jesus with our celebrations, challenges and sorrows.

· I can protect through disciplining, both myself and my children as necessary.

· I can comfort, often just by caring about the hard, seemingly little things.

· I can prepare a feast… healthy, nutritious snacks and meals that I know will delight my family… and that time of preparation is a wonderful time to pray for them… or to encourage them to work alongside me and share about/pray through their days.

· I can honor them: respecting their feelings, attitudes and perceptions even when they need repair, admiring their accomplishments and the person God is growing them to be, giving credit where credit is due, protecting their reputations, remembering that they, too, are heirs of the King.

· I can pursue them with goodness and unfailing love, whose source is, of course, the Good Shepherd.

And most importantly, I can trust that in following the example of my Shepherd, He will open the eyes of my children so that they see their cup, too, overflowing with blessings from heaven.

(Post by: Richelle)

Being Transplanted

potted plant

As I’ve mentioned our family’s recent move a number of times, I’ve heard from many of you who are also in a similar time of transition. Many of your families are transitioning back to the field after furloughs, and I’ve also gotten to “meet” several of you who are soon headed overseas for the first time.

I was thinking back to an analogy and exercise that we did at our cross-cultural training program before we headed overseas. We had the task of transplanting a flower from one pot to another. We talked about the process as we did it and related it to the experience of moving overseas. I think it is actually relevant to any move or situation when you transplant your life from one circumstance to another.

The process of re-potting a plant is a messy one. It involves digging up a plant that is happily settled, untangling and trying not to damage roots, then there is resettling the plant and supporting it appropriately, and finally giving the plant water, food, and sunlight, etc. The process may be initially jarring and stressful for the plant, but with a careful and caring gardener, the result is that the plant is put in a new environment in which to thrive and grow.

The process of moving overseas is also one of digging up roots and planting them in a new place. It is one that will be jarring and stressful at times, for sure.  Thankfully it is God who ordains and carefully watches over these transitions, and who provides the support and gentle care that we need. In a sense He is in the process of “re-potting” us with the intent of providing us a place where over time we will be able to grow and flourish.

Are you in the midst of a time of transition, or will you soon be moving overseas? How are you feeling about being “re-potted?” If you been “transplanted” in the past and are now thriving and growing, do you have one encouragement, scripture, or piece of advice to offer others in the midst transition?


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