A family, a people

Small Carolina town

Throwback general store

Both my boys looking at the comics

Side by side

Yet the sharp “What’chu doin’, boy?”

Is not directed at the two,

Just the one,

My child with dark skin.

Years before,

Sitting in a crowded Ugandan church

Watching his tiny self

Dance in the aisles,

I wondered,

What are we doing—

Giving him a family

But displacing him from a people?

When he was small, our conversations about race

Were easy.

He called himself chocolate,

The rest of us vanilla,

In high summer, I became

Milky coffee.

Now, though, they are harder.

How to explain to him,

To his sisters and brother,

That the odds facing them

Are not exactly equal?

That what we’ve told them—

Human is human. Period.—

Is not a reality out there

And King’s dream

Is still a dream.

And underneath all this,

Even now,

the question haunts me:

We’ve become a family

But what about his people?

~~~~

I thought this post could use a little lift. This was a fun, impromptu moment in Target when PJ saw this awesome Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle jacket!

I thought this post could use a little lift. This was a fun, impromptu moment in Target when PJ saw this awesome Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle jacket!

Our fourth child was born in Uganda. His mother died of AIDS; his father was estranged and never met him till we began the adoption process. In many miraculous ways God made it very clear that we were to adopt our son. But even as I worked in Africa to get legal guardianship, I wondered about the issues he would face growing up as an African child in a white family, in a predominately white area, in a country where the color of your skin still determines a lot. Racial reconciliation takes on a whole new level of importance when you have a child who is a different race. When I read about the horrifically high numbers of African American men in prison; when I learn that five times the number of African American babies are aborted compared to white babies; when I hear that an African American college professor in the town just two over from mine has been stopped by police more than 20 times in the last couple years just so they could “see what

I couldn't resist posting this one, too!

I couldn’t resist posting this one, too!

he was up to”… I think, “This is what’s facing my son,” and I ask God how I am meant to draw attention to this injustice, how I am meant to fight it—both for my own son and the sons and daughters of other women.

And under all this, I still fear the effects on my son of growing up without a community that looks like him.

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Sharing a post about Ebola

Please read this very well-written, challenging, and helpful post by two American doctors living in Kenya who have actually lived through an Ebola crisis. They also have links to an article by Dr. Paul Farmer, who has his own words of wisdom to share on the subject. (Click on his name to read an earlier post I wrote about Farmer.)

Praying for Sudan today

This past weekend Dave and I watched most of the documentary God Grew Tired of Us about the Lost Boys of Sudan who left their homes during the long, drawn-out war between north Sudan and south Sudan (as of 2011 a separate country). Thousands upon thousands of South Sudanese were displaced by the conflict, among them 20,000 boys who trekked their way to Ethiopia, finding relief (those who didn’t die on the long journey) of a sort in refugee camps there. Violence forced them to move again, and those who survived eventually settled in camps in Kenya. They were dubbed the “lost boys of Sudan,” and the documentary tells the story of a few who were eventually relocated in the United States (you can watch it free on Hulu). It isn’t short, so if you are interested, you’ll need to set aside a couple hours to watch it. Warning: there’s footage and pictures of boys close to death from starvation, so not one to watch with small children. There is another film (which I have not seen) on this story titled, appropriately, Lost Boys of Sudan.

This is a popular topic, made so by the films and books written on it and by the involvement of the actor George Clooney. Due to the publicity, many of the lost boys who settled in the U.S. were able to begin relief work in their country and to advocate for their country’s separation from northern Sudan. When South Sudan gained its independence, many of them returned to celebrate. However, violence has broken out in Sudan again. John Bul Dau explains the conflict well in an article by National Geographic. Here’s another article about it at the New York Times. South Sudanese are being displaced once again.

I know this is only one of hundreds of conflicts in our world today, one of hundreds of issues that grieve God’s heart, but it’s the particular one I prayed for this morning. I was reading Isaiah 63, and this verse jumped out at me: “I (God) was amazed to see that no one intervened to help the oppressed. So I myself stepped in to save them with my strong arm, and my wrath sustained me” (verse 5). The “oppressed” who came to my mind when I read that were the South Sudanese. I did some quick research, read about the current conflict, and wanted to share.

ADDITION: World Vision, of course, is already in the area and taking donations for their efforts. Here’s the link if you want to read more/donate: World Vision.

A big reason to run

Fourteen years ago I ran my one and only marathon. My husband, Dave, ran his first that day as well. It was November, and we were living in Okinawa, Japan. The course was incredibly hilly, and the weather was unnaturally hot for that time of year. With the constant high humidity, the effects were brutal. More people dropped out of that race than finished it, and several were rushed off in ambulances due to heat stroke.

I finished well beyond my expected time and thought, “That’s it. I’m done.”

I’ve never run another since.

Dave however, ran several in the next few years.

Then he had an eight-year gap.

This summer, he decided to try it again. But he needed a really good reason, one bigger than his desire to drop a few pounds and increase his endurance.

So he decided to run for World Vision.

I offered to do some of his training runs with him. One weekend, I even ran a 14-miler (he says it was only 13, but I’m adding the distance between the end of the trail and the parking lot–and padding it a bit.)

School started then, with all its weekend activities, so the next weekend, when he ran 16, I ran only 8 of it with him. The next week, only 6. The last couple weekends, a friend of his ran the first half or so with him.

But after his friend or I called it quits, Dave would grab his iPod and head back to the trail, slogging out more miles.

 

He tells me that when his hips ache, when his knees burn, he remembers two little girls from our last trip to Uganda. The first is little Comfort, abandoned in the Katanga Slum by her mother and father, placed in Dave’s arms by neighbors who didn’t want to watch her die of starvation. In recent pictures we’ve seen of her, her eyes are still somber, but her cheeks are full, and her arms have the plump roundness they should have at 10 months of age. In every picture, she’s cuddled in the arms of the nurse at Mercy Children’s Home, who looks pretty darn proud of her progress.

The second little girl is Scovia. She’s six but about the size of a four year old. She was born with damaged legs; her mother died; and her father left her locked in their shack for days at a time while he looked for work. When she was rescued by Mercy Children’s Home, she had pressure sores, malnutrition, and severe developmental delays. Now she walks pushing a wheeled contraption, she babbles happily, and she has unending, overflowing JOY.

Comfort and Scovia are healthy today because of child sponsorship, because people who are not worried where their next meal is coming from have concerned themselves with those who do have to worry about such basic needs.

Mercy Children’s Home and hundreds of other orphanages around the world benefit from child sponsorship. Two of the largest sponsoring agencies are Compassion International and World Vision.

So even though Dave is running the Chicago Marathon this Sunday specifically for World Vision, in a way he’s running it for all the orphanages in the world, for all the children who need a safe place and someone to love them. He’s ultimately running it for Jesus, who welcomes children and holds them in His arms.

If you would like to sponsor Dave, please visit this link:

http://team.worldvision.org/site/TR/TeamWorldVision/TeamWorldVision?px=1375760&pg=personal&fr_id=2120

All proceeds go directly to World Vision.

Thanks,
Jen

 

 

Africa Devos, LAST ONE!: Re-entry

This is Vena, wife to Wilfred Rugumba (who directs Mercy Childcare Ministries), and her younger son, Joshua. Amazingly, I just got to see them IN the U.S. last weekend!

This is Vena, wife to Wilfred Rugumba (who directs Mercy Childcare Ministries [MCM]), and her younger son, Joshua. Amazingly, I just got to see them IN the U.S. last weekend as they have been visiting churches/groups informing them about God’s work at MCM. I love this pic–they’re both as cute as can be!

You are about to re-enter the United States. This can be a difficult transition after being in Africa. Though you long to see family and friends and you want, too, some of the comforts we’re accustomed to, it’s not a simple adjustment. You will probably see “stuff” differently. We have three general temptations as we return to the States: 1. We try to forget, particularly the difficult feelings/thoughts we experienced; 2. We look down on others for not feeling as we do about Africa and providing for the poor; or 3. We feel guilty.

Katie writes about re-adjustment difficulties in chapter 7 (see page 121 in particular). You may want to re-read that chapter. Bottom line, though: you HAVE to stay close to Christ during this transition time. You have to take all your confusion and frustration and guilt to Him. He has a good work to do in you through all this. Go to Him.

Commit to praying for each other,

Commit to getting together to pray for your African brothers and sisters.

 

May God use all that we’ve experienced to help us to…

See/know Him more clearly

Love Him more dearly

And follow Him more nearly.*

Day after day.

 

*prayer by Richard, Bishop of Chichester, early 1300s

Africa Devotions, the Eternal versus the Long View

That sound funny, doesn’t it—aren’t “long-term” and “eternal” similar? No. When we say “long-term,” we generally mean the next few months, a five-year plan, a decade. We like to ask questions like this: “So what do see yourself doing in four years?”

But we only have two times assured to us. One is eternity. The other is now. We have no idea if tomorrow brings success or catastrophe. We have no control. When we truly recognize this, we realize we have to follow God step by step. We have to loosely hold any plans we make. When we hold our futures with clenched fists, we fall into one of two traps: worry or a false sense of control.

Neither of those is trust.

 

I don't know how clearly you can read this poster--which I found in the hallway at a girls' rehabilitation school in Kenya--but it sure helps me to realize that a lot of my "first world" problems aren't really problems at all.

I don’t know how clearly you can read this poster–which I found in the hallway at a girls’ rehabilitation school in Kenya–but it sure helps me to gain perspective on many of my “problems.”

Questions for thought/discussion:

  1. Katie’s plans for college fell apart, but what was far harder was when she and her boyfriend broke off their relationship. How do we trust God for things so close to our hearts? Read her journal on pages 227-230 and reflect.
  2. How does being Spirit-led fit into this?
  3. Jesus said this in Luke 14:26: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple.” Then read pages XX and XXI in the introduction to Katie’s book. How does Katie’s story shed light on this verse?
  4. What happens when we ask for “more than we can handle” in our everyday lives? (See page 135). Is this a prayer of release? What happens when we pray like this for our everyday, “ordinary” lives?

 

The Eternal View

This little one fell asleep in Molly's arms. When I think about how many children never know this sense of safety...

This little one fell asleep in Molly’s arms. When I think about how many children never know this sense of safety…

Katie has seen more people die than many Americans do in an entire lifetime. She knows that for every person she is able to help, there are hundreds more in similar conditions. All of this has given her an eternal perspective. She says this on page 192: “I may never see the end of horrendous situations on this earth, so instead of trying to fix the situations here and now, I will focus on helping these people come to heaven with me, so we may say together: ‘Death and sadness have been swallowed up in a victory.’ … Christ has overcome the mess that is in this world and I am humbled to get to witness His salvation on a daily basis.”

It is easy to focus on the physical needs of the people we see, but many have the same ultimate hope we have—and they often have a better grasp on it because they don’t have a whole lot to hold onto here on earth. They sing more about heaven than we do because they truly would be glad to trade this life for that! (Sometimes we’re not so sure!)

Remember that Christ saves for eternity. Providing physical necessities is GOOD—and we should do it—but it’s worth very little if it doesn’t open doors for the Gospel that reaches beyond death and gives LIFE that never ends.

 

Side note: Some of you may be feeling that your sense of “home” is being disrupted on this trip. In some ways, this is good. God wants to prepare our hearts for our true home, and part of this process is making us dissatisfied with belonging here on earth. He wants us to long for our home with Him, where all His beauty, righteousness, justice, and love are revealed in full glory.

 

Questions for thought/discussion:

  1. Spend some time thanking God for His eternal gifts—things that will last forever.
  2. Have you heard your Ugandan friends talk about heaven? Maybe in church? How was it different than the ways we talk about heaven?
  3. The Gospel doesn’t only provide us with an eternity spent with God, it also has the power to transform us NOW. Has any African told you their transformation story? How are YOU being transformed by the Gospel? (remember there is no “small” or “big” in God’s eyes)
  4. The long view also encompasses the ability to look past creature comforts and the years of this life to an eternal perspective. How can we live for eternity—not just on this trip but in our at-home lives as well?
  5. We long to “belong” with people. As Christ draws us closer to Himself, we will find our hearts drawn to others who are also nestling close to His heart. When all the members of Christ are joined completely in heaven, we will know belonging as we never knew it here on earth. Have you ever felt a hint of that kind of kinship with someone?

Africa Devos: The Diversity of God’s Callings

We cannot rank the work God calls different believers to do. It’s easy to put Katie Davis and people like her on a pedestal, but when we do this we diminish what others are called to. Watch fellow believers around you today (especially your team members). Some of them are particularly gifted to meet new people, to reach out to others no matter what they look like or how clean—or not—they are. This meeting and greeting actually brings joy to people gifted in this area.

Others of you are gifted at processing what we are experiencing. You pray and think through how we can apply what we are learning to our lives back in the U.S. You help others to process.

Some are great advocates. You already have plans for sharing what you’ve seen here with friends at home and spurring them on to give and be involved.

Encourage and celebrate this diversity of gifts. Don’t think of your particular gift as higher or lower than others’. We are ALL part of God’s plan—and we don’t control it. Don’t question how He has made you. Just lean into Him and what He has put before you right now—on this trip and at home. You will find that He has work planned for you that is tailor-made to use your unique gifts.

Questions for thought/discussion:

  1. How do you feel you are gifted in general?
  2. What do you feel are your roles right now in the particular stage of life you’re in?
  3. How can you recognize the gifts in others and then encourage others in their gifts?
  4. Read the last two paragraphs on page 108 of K from K. THAT is what God wants to do in each of us through our particular gifts.

Africa devos, cont.: BIG and small

Aunt Josephine (right) and Suzanne (left) spend their days taking care of babies and toddlers. It probably doesn't feel very significant many days--but it IS. Thank you, dear ladies, for your selfless, redemptive work.

Aunt Josephine (right) and Suzanne (left) spend their days taking care of babies and toddlers. It probably doesn’t feel very significant many days–but it IS. Thank you, dear ladies, for your selfless, redemptive work.

On page 101 of K from K, Katie writes this: “Every day, we have a choice. We can stay nestled in our safe comfortable places. … Or we can take a risk, do something to help someone else, make a person smile, change someone’s world.”

God has used Katie to touch the lives of many, many people. We see this as ‘bigger.’ But no less of a calling is when God calls us to meet the needs of ONE! We see this example in Scripture. The shepherd went out in search of the one lost lamb. The widow swept her house top-to-bottom looking for the one lost coin. The angels rejoice over one lost sinner who turns to God. Do you feel overwhelmed by stories like Katie’s? Do you feel like there is no way you could do something like that? Are your “dreams” smaller? Maybe you’re supposed to care for “one.” Your life—with all its moments—has been planned for YOU, with your gifts and background in mind. Lean into the God who planned not only your life but YOU—and He will lead you into your BIG “calling” one step at a time.

Questions for thought/discussion:

  1. What do you think is “big” to God? Where does “big” start?
  2. Read Matthew 25:21, 23. How does that relate?
  3. On page 181 Katie hints at the fact that often this life of hers is not easy. Sometimes she may not even feel like it’s very fulfilling. It can be very tedious and repetitive. WE see redemption written all over Katie’s story, but sometimes she may wonder if she’s doing any good. Redemption doesn’t always “feel” purposeful or good. It’s often messy. Sometimes it feels like we are spinning our wheels. Ask God for glimpses of the bigger picture, for patience and endurance to continue till you catch a glimpse. Continue in the good work. Read page 204.
  4. Could it be that every moment has something “big” in it—we just miss it b/c we’re looking through the wrong eyes? He created every moment for a purpose, not just the ones we consider “big.” How is God using you now?

Africa devos: Desperation

My daughter, Emily, and her friend, Rita, whom I have known since she was around four.

My daughter, Emily, and her friend, Rita, whom I have known since she was around four.

How do we learn to be desperate for God when we live in abundance? Katie Davis wrote that during her semester at college in the States, she missed this most of all—the constant recognition that she needs God. Perhaps on this trip, you are realizing you “need” Him more than usual—or at least you recognize your need more easily. Most Christians acknowledge that we cry out to God most fervently when they are going through difficulties and trials. Could this mean that Africans, in one way of looking at it, are more spiritually blessed? Think of the Beatitudes (Matthew 5) and (if you have the book Kisses from Katie), read Katie’s words in pages 25-27.

Let me put a twist on this: though I “see” more physical need when I am in Africa (and that pushes me to pray and weep more), the spiritual need is just as great–perhaps greater–here in the United States. I meet almost no atheists in Africa. Many are not following Christ, but they DO believe in a powerful, Creator God. That is in great contrast with our spiritual culture in the U.S.

Many years ago I went on a trip to Argentina. One of the team members was a believer from Latin America. I was blown away with his ability to share Christ–lovingly, passionately, yet gently–with people he’d only just met, with people he’d approached on the street. “How do you do that?” I asked him.

“I see dead people,” he answered (this was well before The Sixth Sense came out, so he wasn’t trying to be funny).

He explained. “If I truly believe that people without Christ are dead–are separate from Christ–and will eventually spend eternity without Him–then my desperation for them increases. I see them as dying people–in as great a need as if they were bleeding or starving–and I am motivated by that to help them.”

If we could see spiritual need as if they were physical–like great gaping wounds or skin pulled tight with starvation–we would have greater desperation. We would see our own spiritual need–that without Christ, we, too, are in a state of decay.

 

Questions for thought/discussion:

  1. Read page 131-132 of K from K. How does this relate to Paul’s statement “When I am weak, then I am strong”?
  2. Is wealth a blessing or a curse?
  3. In what way is it potentially easier to depend on God in difficult circumstances or in places of physical need?
  4. How do we begin to understand and then see our spiritual needs as greater than physical needs?