Tuesday, February 19, 2013

"So. You're going to be a missionary."

...well...sort of.

I'm old enough to remember very distinct times when missionaries would come to church and give their presentations. We're talking the whole missionary setup: portable viewing screen, portable slide project with individual, manually loaded slides that "cla-clunked" when the corded remote button was pushed, and the cumbersome cassette tape player hooked up and blaring a crackly rendition of Ray Boltz's "Thank You" (sorry, that song was cliché even then!)

The slideshow would commence with a series of standard images: children with little or no clothes on, women with children draped on them or labored by many burdens necessary for life, a primitive Jeep-esque vehicle slogging through a mud road with straw village huts in the background, crowds of people simultaneously bathing and gathering water out of dirty streams of water. You get the idea.

And the goal (intended or unintended) was to provide an innocuous level of guilt to keep the money coming in. Sometimes, if the presentation was really bad or the slides too horrific or if, God forbid, the slide projector jammed or the syncing with the tape player was off, the tension in the congregation was palpable. I remember as a young kid fidgeting in the wooden pew thinking, "This is so uncomfortable - for me and them."

Thankfully, missionary support raising has come a long ways. Thankfully, in my opinion anyway, mission organizations and missionaries are more polished in articulating the work God is doing in their ministry. Thankfully, I've grown to appreciate a missionary presentation.

But I have never wanted to be a missionary. Never. It's never been on my radar, never been a curious thought. Even now, when I/we tell people we're moving our family to Tanzania, their response is: "So you're going there to do mission work?"

Well...sort of.

See, I'm not called to be a missionary in the classic sense of the term: living a meager life in the bush of some apparently God-forsaken middle-of-nowhere land, learning a native language and translating the Bible into it. God bless the people that do that work, it's just not for me.

I'm called to teach. That's right, teach. However, wherever, to whomever. Teach. I'm already a "missionary" in the sense that I'm proclaiming the Gospel to people who desperately need to hear it: middle-class West Michigan high school kids. Teaching English, History, Bible, whatever, it doesn't matter to me where as long as that's what I'm doing. I've been a missionary in Muskegon for two years now and God has richly blessed that ministry. Now, I'm continuing my mission work, along with my family - doing the same thing, teaching - in a different part of God's big world.

The school we'll be working with serves a privileged part of Tanzanian society. It costs money to go there. One of the stated missions of the school is to train the future leaders of the community and country. In other words, I will, we will be dealing with poverty, but from a top-down approach. But I'm fulfilling my calling and our family is fulfilling our calling by going and teaching, building relationships with students and teaching them about God.

So are we going to be missionaries? In a sense, yes we are. We're partnering with Christian Reformed World Missions, we're raising financial support, we're going to Africa. But in a different sense, no we're not. We're just doing the same thing we're doing right now: loving students and teaching them, we'll just be doing it in Africa.

My point is this: if you're a Christian, then every aspect, every task, every job is a mission. And I believe as Christians, we ought to be open and obedient to fulfill our calling, our mission wherever, whenever, however, with whomever God directs us. This reminds me of this story of Martin Luther:

“Martin Luther was once approached by a man who enthusiastically announced that he’d recently become a Christian. Wanting desperately to serve the Lord, he asked Luther, 'What should I do now?' As if to say, should he become a minister or perhaps a traveling evangelist?

Luther asked him, 'What is your work now?'

'I’m a shoemaker.'

Much to the cobbler’s surprise, Luther replied, 'Then make a good shoe and sell it at a fair price.'"

So. Am I a missionary? No. I'm a teacher. Am I a missionary? Yes. I'm a teacher.

Are you a missionary?


Monday, February 18, 2013


One of the most often repeated commands in the Bible is: "Do not be afraid."

Do not be afraid. Do not fear.

And like all biblical commands, there is the obvious negative, but there is the assumed positive: "Have faith. Have trust." If only life were as simple as inverse statements.

I have fear, great fear. I am moving my precious young family half way around the world to a developing African country. There is a bit of fear involved (understatement of the year). At one point last Spring, almost exactly a year ago from now, I had so much fear, I simply stopped filling out the application to teach at Haven of Peace.



I mean, God couldn't (wouldn't) fill out the form for me; I was in control of that, not Him. He couldn't make me do it. So like a kindergartner on his first day of school, staring up at the gapping hole on the monstrous school bus for the first time, afraid to get on, I dug in my heels and refused to move. I was afraid. I had fear.

Most of my fear is attributed to the classic "fear of the unknown" and people are usually understanding and sympathetic to this sort of fear. It's easily rationalized and justified. It's kind of an okay fear to have. It's the fear that causes one to ask all sorts of questions, to gather information, to analyze, and to seek out advice from others. But part of my fear is "fear due to an over-active imagination." My fear of moving to Africa is no different that my son's fear of creatures living under his bed or in his closet. Some call this "fear of the boogeyman" and this is silly fear. It's silly because it is irrational and unsubstantiated by knowledge or experience. We know full well there is nothing under the bed...buuuut, what was that sound?!


The other side of fear is control. I like to be in control and fear losing control, to have circumstances occur that are out of my direction and ability to manage. Chaos. That is a frightening prospect to a control-freak: trusting someone else to be in control of you and your circumstances.

But that is the positive, the assumed part of the continual command: "Do not be afraid. Have trust." Fear is easy; it comes naturally. Trust is difficult; there's much more at stake. Fear is comforting; trust is uncomfortable. But true trust, real faith that does provide comfort and peace only makes sense if it is in some thing or some one greater than ourselves. Everyone everywhere puts their trust, their comfort in some one or some thing that is greater than themselves: the market economy, gravity, parents, employers, or even themselves, thinking they are greater than their circumstances. But all of those finite objects are prone to crack and crumble under the weight of our expectations.

Moving to Africa, asking people for money and support, taking young children to a place that seems less safe than here - it doesn't make sense and it is fearful if there is no one greater than us. But God has called us to do this and has equipped us and prepared us for this. And there is comfort and peace in trusting Him with all of these details, trusting him with our safety, with our lives and our ministry because without Him we are left to ourselves and our vain idols.

I am learning to trust, to believe, to ask for, receive, and practice faith. It's wildly refreshing and doesn't make sense all the time. And that's an okay place to be sometimes.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Fear of Lonliness

One thing I've been thinking through lately is community. We have quite an amazing community here in Grand Rapids. Our families are near by. The kids see most of their cousins and grandparents on a weekly basis and ask to see them if we go too long between visits.We all have friends at our church and outside of it. And we are leaving all of that behind. Not to be over dramatic, but we do realize that while we will keep in touch with all of you, our relationships will change. Skype is not quite the same as an in person coffee date while the kids play together. It will be hard, no doubt. It will make us look forward to the summer weeks we will return home to catch up with you all, and to the many, many visits you will all make, right? ;)

I've been a bit apprehensive about the new relationships we might form when we move. We do not know anyone at the school, and have heard there are not a ton of families with little children. I am grateful that we are going into a school setting and, whether we form deep friendships with people there or not, we will have that support system automatically in place. That is a huge source of comfort for me. I've had conversations with others who have been missionaries out in the middle of nowhere, who did not have that built in community, and I can see how lonely that would be. With my extroverted personality, I'm not sure I could handle that!

I've also been a bit insecure thinking about meeting all of these new people. I fear not fitting in with the women. I imagine a bunch of supermoms who are more intelligent than me, who have a better handle on the culture, language, and can navigate the market, food, and cooking better than I'll be able to. I fear not finding someone I can really be real with (besides Marc, of course). I fear not having friends who have kids to have playdates with. I'm not sure what my role will be at HOPAC, though I know I'll be doing some sort of work. I'm not sure how often and what the context will be. Will I be home all day every day and work only after Marc is home and can watch the kids? Will I have a vehicle to leave the house if I wanted to? Will it be safe for me to go out with just Hope and Geneva?

What is comes down to is that I fear being lonely.

We got an email this morning from HOPAC about the new teachers coming next year. Six knew teachers next year besides Marc, and three of those teachers are married with children! I don't know their ages, but just knowing that there are other families who are moving with either two or three children means there will be people who will be able to relate to our experience. I am already praying for the other teachers who we will be serving alongside and the community that may form.

If you're the praying type, please pray for our relationships that will change as we move and also for the new community we will be in!

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Humbled by your support

We just received a report of how much we have raised so far through our craft show and the letters that we have sent out - and by others just generously donating. We are at just over $4,000 raised. We have a LONG way to go, but I am already completely humbled at the gifts already given. It feels strange to be on the receiving end of peoples generosity. I'm not sure I'm altogether comfortable with it, but I am learning how to receive and hoping to do that graciously and humbly.

Thank you all. Your financial support, your prayers, your encouragement - it has been amazing.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Spring Craft & Vendor Show

We are doing another craft & vendor show!

Saturday, APRIL 13

9am - 3pm (extending it 2 hours)

Crafters, Vendors, raffles, concessions, and bake sale all in one easy stop!

Marc will be going to Tanzania, getting back about a week before our show. He will be going to a market and bringing back a TON of tanzanian goodies for the craft show! I can't wait to see what kind of beautiful, handmade items we will get to enjoy while living there!

If you'd like to sign up to have a table as a crafter or vendor, please email me! I'm giving those who participated last time first dibs, but will open it up after 2/10 to others.

If you'd like to HELP with set up, clean up or help at concessions during the day, please email me!

If you'd consider a financial donation or item donation for the raffle, please email me!

We had a wonderful time at our last show and apprecaite all those who helped, donated, prayed, shopped and participated in other various ways. What an amazing support network we have already!