Saturday, February 29, 2020

Hosting Teams - why do we do it?

One of the aspects of life and ministry that our family loves is hosting teams. With our combined experience in youth ministry and our love of hospitality ministry, hosting teams/trips has just naturally become a part of our family DNA. We find it both life-giving for us and transformational to many who participate. Hosting teams is NOT something all missionaries enjoy - it is a lot of work, can be exhausting, takes time away from our work/ministry/family and can sometimes be really difficult to deal with team dynamics and expectations. Over almost 7 years of hosting, we've had all really positive team experiences and have truly enjoyed every single team we've had come! 

We recognize that travel and living overseas is a privilege and not everyone has the opportunity, means or desire to live abroad or even to do much travel.  However, for those who can and want a taste of another culture, another way of life, another way of expressing faith, a way of encouraging missionaries, a way to broaden their worldview - we absolutely love being a part of that journey. 
GRCHS Trip to Tanzania in 2015- visiting a Hindu Temple. 

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime.” ― Mark Twain, The Innocents Abroad / Roughing It

We host teams for many reasons: 

1. To transform peoples ideas of what missions is and what missionaries do. Missions is SO much more than translating the Bible while living in a hut and living on faith for your next meal. It can be that. It is that for some people. It's not only that. Missions can look like running a business, training and employing marginalized people in a city. It can look like farming. It can look like being a missionary educator at a really nice international school. It can look like running a business in a developed country in order to build relationships in that secular community. It can look like running a bakery. It can look like training pastors. It can look like so many things. 

When we host groups, we introduce them to different missionaries who are doing all kinds of things in and around Kigali and hope to break down the ideas of what missions is "supposed to" look like and what missionaries are "supposed to do" or how they are "supposed to live". This education begins almost immediately as people enter our huge, nice house and often think, "Missionaries aren't supposed to live in a house this nice!" Hmm. Let's dig into why you believe that's true. 

The first two students to come to Tanzania on a trip with us, Selena and Jake, with our very dear friend, Lucy. 
2. To transform peoples ideas of how to 'help'. Have you heard of the book, "When Helping Hurts"?  If not, we highly recommend you get a copy, read and then re-read it. 

When I worked at Plymouth Heights CRC as a youth pastor, we took a trip to the Dominican Republic to work along side a missionary we supported there, also where our pastor had previously been a missionary. It was a 'vision' trip. We met with ministry leaders and heard about their struggles and joys. We saw development work happening. We prayed for people a lot. We really didn't "do" anything though. We didn't build a church or school or run a VBS for kids in a language we can't speak. Instead, we learned. That first trip there was transformational for how Marc and I view short term teams and how we run trips here in East Africa.

We often tell people that if they come on a trip with us, they won't "do" anything. Of course our schedule is actually packed with experiences, but you won't be "doing" as much as you will be learning. God is already at work here and we get to come along side what's already happening to encourage, to learn, to see, to hear and to pray. 

Trip to the DR back in either 2009 or 2011 - listening to a woman share about her ministry 
3. To transform people. We believe that God is the one that brings about transformation and change in people. We know that God can use whatever he would like to bring about that change. We have seen God use experiences like a 'vision trip' to transform people - their priorities, their beliefs, their spending, even their career paths. We wouldn't continue hosting trips if it was just a vacation. 

We have a team of 15 coming in May and another team of 11 coming in July/August. Will you join us in praying for lives to be transformed in little and big ways? Will you pray for us as we make all the arrangements and plans? Will you pray for open hearts to whatever God wants to teach us all during these trips? 

If you'd like to come on one of our trips, please let us know! We have hosted individuals, families and teams and are always open to the conversation. 

Sunday, January 5, 2020

20 Goals for 2020

Inspired by my friend Wendy, I am writing 20 goals that I hope to accomplish in 2020. I absolutely love lists and goal setting, but this took me a few days to think through. I wanted to have a balance of spiritual, mental, physical, practical and family goals. I think I've found a balance, though I'm giving myself a few days to ponder a bit more and the freedom to change them if I feel I need to. So here they are!

1. Read through the Bible and memorize 20 verses/passages. (using this plan:
2. Read 20 (or more) books - particularly by POC.
3. Figure out service outside of regular school/church responsibilities.
4. Update the kids journals 3x.
5. Become a body & soul instructor.
6. Set up savings accounts for the kids.
7. Learn the basics on the cajon.
8. Become a VIPkid teacher.
9. Take the kids on some of the group experiences - ATN, talking through art, walking tour, cooking class, etc.
10. Explore a new place in Rwanda for a weekend with our family.
11. Figure out a better system of praying for our supporters.
12. Start listening to podcasts - particularly by POC.
13. Do the Daniel fast 4x.
14. Exercise 20x (or more) per month.
15. Update our blog 1x/month.
16. Begin to work through the catechism with Isaac.
17. Establish a better bedtime routine for me & the kids.
18. Finish the ACSI certification process.
19. Host a theme party/game night at our house just for fun.
20. Establish regular and more intentional family nights.

Do you have any resolutions or goals for the upcoming year? I'd love to hear about them!

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Coffee & Water - they go hand in hand!

Our family has lived in East Africa for 6.5 years now and have spent all of those Christmas seasons away from family. This year, however, we are heading to Michigan for 3.5 weeks to soak up as much family and Michigan winter as we can! This is outside of our normal fundraising, so we've had to figure out a way to pay for our tickets.

As we did last summer, we will be selling coffee and bringing it with us when we come to Grand Rapids. We will arrive in Grand Rapids either December 20th or 21st, so in plenty of time to pick up your coffee, wrap it up and give it as an ethical, delicious, helpful gift!! You will be able to pick it up from my parents house in SE GR on the 21st or 22nd. There will be NO delivery as we want to spend time with family and not drive around town to deliver! :) 

These are the coffee companies we work with:

We will have 250g bags of medium and medium dark and 500g bags of medium, medium-dark and special dark roast.

That's not all though! Our church here is working with the hospital across the street from us to install 7-8 water filters throughout the hospital. The filters will filter 300L of water an hour. Imagine a labor and delivery hospital with no clean water - for washing hands, for drinking, for cleaning. Imagine the gift of clean water to a vulnerable population!


We would love your support in getting us home for the holidays AND give clean water in Rwanda! 

Online ordering will happen around Thanksgiving, but keep this gift idea in mind as you think about your Christmas shopping! 

Also, if you'd like to help with our airline tickets without or in addition to buying coffee, you can give through PayPal:

If you'd like to help with the water filter project without or in addition to buying coffee, you can give here:

Bill Pay:
Rwanda Ministry Partners
4419 Centennial Blvd #202 Colorado Springs, CO 80907
Memo: Holy Trinity Cathedral- H2O project Other info that may be needed:Telephone number: +1 719.301.9058


Tuesday, March 12, 2019

5 Small Things to Encourage Your Missionaries

We're getting close to the end of our 6th school year in East Africa. We are by no means long-timers in the missionary world, but we've well passed the 2 year mark of short-termer as well. So, as an inbetween-er missionary, I'd like to suggest 5 small things you can do that will encourage your missionaries, whoever they may be!

1. Write a 1-2 sentence response to their prayer letters. Every time. 
Our newsletter goes out to 360 people. 1 person responds. Sometimes, if we're lucky and had something really, really interesting to say, we might top out with 5 responses. Look, we know it seems super impersonal to get a mass email update like that. We get it. But please know we put a LOT of time and energy and heart into those newsletters and include things we truly want you to know! And sometimes, our needy missionary hearts crave words of affirmation and encouragement. We fear being forgotten. And guess what - this idea is super easy and quick! The 1 person who responds to every single prayer letter ? All it says is, "Thanks for the update about ____. I prayed for you today." That's it! But it means the world to me, every single time.

2. Send them a Christmas card. Birthday cards if you're really on top of things. 
We do not get mail like you do. We don't even have mail carriers or often a house number or home address. I sometimes even miss junk mail! So in October (yes, October), find out your missionaries mailing address. This may take a while between different time zones and unstable internet to reply , etc. In early November (yes, that early), send a card (with a handwritten note). It will likely take that long to get to us, and if it arrives early - wow - your missionary will know you were thinking about them already and will feel twice as loved! This is so encouraging, especially around the holidays when it's likely been years since they had the joy of celebrating with their families. It will mean a lot. Our family often displays our Christmas cards throughout the year and use them as a prayer guide.

Our Christmas Cards from 2017
3. Home Assignment - invite them over! 
Before we moved, I remember wanting to connect with some of our churches missionaries while they were on home assignment.  They were working in East Africa and we knew we would be heading there in a few years. We feared them being too busy and not having time to connect with us. We were so wrong! Now, when it's our turn on on home assignment, it really can be busy, but we do want to connect with friends and partners in ministry! We feel very honored when we get invited over for dinner or coffee or even just to meet at a park!

4. Home Assignment - Gift Cards. 
I hesitate to write this one, as it seems us missionaries are always talking about/asking for money, but I've heard other missionaries talk about how helpful this is. Now, hopefully when missionaries go on home assignment, they have some money set aside. Our mission helps us budget for these things and we do plan in advance. However, things happen- support decreases, emergency medical situations have used up what was saved, your home assignment needs are greater than what you planned for, etc and money gets tight. This idea is a simple "welcome home" to your missionary with a few small gifts cards. Many missionaries travel to visit their supporters and churches, so having a few food options is great while travelling. Missionaries connect with supporters over coffee dates, so those are good. Sometimes missionaries need date nights also. And finally, some missionaries may be craving something specific that they haven't had in years!

5.  Send your missionaries YOUR prayer requests. 
Missionaries to NOT want to be in a one-way relationship with you. Our lives are not in any way more special than anyone else's - we don't want to just sit back and enjoy the benefit of having a team of people praying for us. We love to pray for our supporters as well and feel connected in an important way! We want to know about significant things happening in your lives - joys, challenges, sorrow, praises. We love to know HOW to pray specifically for you. We pray for you anyhow, so you're just helping us be more accurate in our prayers. :) I don't know about you, but I feel very honored when someone personally comes to me and asks if I will pray about something specific. Please, give us the honor of praying for you!

Saturday, December 15, 2018

My cup overflows

As I was digging through some files tonight, I found this devotional that I had written a few years ago for Karama just tucked away in google drive and thought I'd share.

My Cup Overflows
Do you have a favorite cup? A special coffee mug you use each morning? An heirloom tea cup you only use on special occasions? A souvenir cup you got at a sporting event?

Marc went to Nairobi a few years ago for a conference and bought some handmade mugs from a local Kenyan potter. They’re beautiful and unique with different colors and tones, each with a different shape and look. Though he bought four of them, both of us preferred the same one. On our selfish days, we’d try to get to it before the other could. On our not-so-selfish days, we might even make coffee for the other & deliver it in the sought-after mug. There is just something about the shape of it, the colors, the feel of it when it’s filled with hot coffee on a…well…we don’t really get ‘cold’ mornings here in Dar, but you get the idea. Even after an unfortunate mishap where the handle fell off, we still love it.

Some cups might just be a great sale find at Ikea (or side of the road from a street vendor), but others…other cups can tell stories.

Psalm 23:1-5
“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
2     He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
3     He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
   for his name's sake.
4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
   I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
   your rod and your staff,
   they comfort me.
5 You prepare a table before me
   in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
   my cup overflows.

While there is plenty we could reflect on in this verse, I want us to consider what we think of when we read the phrase, “my cup overflows.”

What images come to your mind?

What stories come to your mind?

What ‘cups’ come to your mind?

The first connection that came to mind for me was a visual image from our school’s primary assembly a few weeks ago. One of our chaplains talked about Acts 2:17, which reads, “And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.” The chaplain held a cup and a pitcher full of water in front of the students, and slowly pouring the water into the cup, talked about how God is the giver of all good gifts (James 1:17), he wants to give us life abundantly (John 10:10) and He promises the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. As the water overflowed from the cup and spilled out onto the floor, the students all watched, eager and wide-eyed, gasping with surprise and delight, many even moving out of their seats to get a better view or come and touch the water that had spilled.

The second connection that came to mind is from Matthew 26, which reads, "My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” A few years ago, my husband preached a sermon on communion and the four cups of the passover that are remembered during a Seder meal by the Jewish people (too much to get into here, but an interesting thing to Google & read more about!). While I cannot remember all the details of the cups, I remember thinking that learning about these cups was new information - not anything I had learned about in Christian education or through the church previously. An important part of Jewish tradition and belief that I knew nothing about. What did all these cups mean? What is this cup that Jesus would prefer to pass on? Certainly it’s not the cup mentioned in Psalm 23. No, Jesus was to drink a much different cup than the one we are offered, His was a cup of wrath.

In Psalm 23, God is our Good Shepherd but also our Great Host. He has prepared a table for us, the most amazing banquet that we could ever fathom. He provides for all of our needs, not only until we are filled, but to overflowing! God not only fills our cups to overflowing, but he is the Giver of our cups, or our portions. The cup or portion that the Father gave to the son was that of suffering, all the brokenness and sins of the entire world. A cup that was meant for us. Rather than handing us that cup, however, our Good Shepherd gives us rest, he leads us, he restores us, he protects us, he comforts us and as our Great Host he prepares a feast, he anoints our heads with oil, overflows our cups, giving us more than we could ever need.The reason we have cups that are overflowing is ONLY because Jesus drank the cup of God’s wrath on the cross. He was our substitute. He atoned for our sins, giving us a seat at the feast that the Father has prepared.

What a gift! What a wonder!

Doesn’t that reminder make you want to sit on the edge of your seat, with eager anticipation and eyes wide, anxious to see the overflowing that God is pouring out, just like the kids in assembly? Doesn’t it make you want to gasp with delight or get out of your seat so you can get your hands wet in the the glorious overflow of God’s goodness?

Additional Scripture if you’d like to do a word study on ‘cup’ throughout Scripture:

  • Genesis 40
  • Genesis 44
  • Psalm 16, special focus on verse 5
  • Psalm 116: special focus on verse 13
  • Jeremiah 25
  • Matthew 23: 25-26
  • Matthew 26:36-46
  • John 18:1-11
  • Luke 22:14-23
  • I Corinthians 11:17-34

Questions for reflection:
Am I in a season where my cup feels like it’s overflowing with sorrow and suffering? As his sheep, are there burdens I need to bring to the Shepherd and let him tenderly take up and care for?

Am I in a season where my cup feels like it’s overflowing with joy and God’s provision? As his guest at the banquet, are there things the Great Host is blessing me with that I haven’t yet identified and/or thanked Him for?

Are there ways I am trying to prepare my own feast, or fill my own cup rather than allowing the Great Host?

In what ways can we become more like the children in the primary assembly - eager, wide-eyed, gasping with delight, on the edge of our seat in anticipation of what God is doing? What hinders us from that child-like reaction?

Monday, October 29, 2018

Advent Devotional Idea

For the last two years, our family has done a version of an advent calendar devotional at dinner each night. It’s been simple, meaningful and something we have all looked forward to, so I wanted to share what we do in case you’re looking for an idea. It's something you can do whether you're single, married with no kids or married with kids! You’ve still got plenty of time to figure something out as this year, Advent begins on Sunday, December 2!

The idea came two years ago when I was leading a Women’s Night of Worship in Dar. For that particular evening, in between the times of worship, we had a simple craft time. I had  cut up scrap book paper into strips that the women could choose from to make a paper chain to countdown the days until Christmas. On each strip of paper, we wrote a name of Jesus and a verse or two that corresponded to the name (see below).The idea was that at some point each day your family would gather and take down one of the links in the chain, read the Scripture together and learn about a name of Jesus. 

Shortly after this worship night, I realized I had a ton of small brown cardboard stars with simple twine loops that were meant for labeling gifts. I decided to write the names of Jesus on one side of the star and the scripture reference on the back. This took all of 10-15 minutes to do. 

About two weeks before this worship night I had been traveling and bought a wall hanging advent calendar that I got for a discount. When I bought it, I wasn't entirely sure how I was going to use it, but I was determined to FINALLY do something as a family for Advent. I was so excited to find that the little stars fit perfectly inside the pockets of the calendar! 

How we use it: 
Each night at dinner, one of our children takes the star out of the pocket and brings it to the table. If it’s one of our older two, they read the name of Jesus and the verse/s. We read for Geneva, though this year I have a feeling she’s going to labor through and sound out every single word she can! Once we’ve learned the name, read the verse/s and talked about what the name of Jesus means, that same child gets to hang the star on our Christmas tree. By the time Christmas comes, our tree is decorated with the names of Jesus! 

There you have it – super simple, but meaningful and engaging.

Ideas to change it up: 
Due to the fact that I am now a teacher (still feels weird to say that), I have to share ways to differentiate this activity:  
* If you have older kids, you could lengthen the verses/passages you read or add in reflection questions about the name of Jesus for the night. 
* If you have young kids, make sure you choose names that aren't as abstract - teaching a 3 years old about the Rose of Sharon or Root of David might be a bit challenging. Choose names like Shepherd, Prophet, Servant. Also you could read a story from a children's bible  that corresponds to the name rather than just the verse. 
* You could choose new names of Jesus each year and make it different. You could keep the old names from the previous year and put them on the tree when you decorate, but then add new ones each night of Advent. 
* You could also choose a new theme each year: names of Jesus, attributes of God, advent candle themes (Advent Candle Meanings ), choose key "Christmas" words and read Scriptures about those (one week on Joy verse, one week on Hope verses, etc) or come up with your own idea!

I’m including the list I used for the names of Jesus and the Scripture, but there are lots of lists out there, so feel free to find your own! There are more names than days of Advent, so you have to choose your favorites J 

If you don't have the cute little stars or a hanging pocket advent calendar - don't worry! Pinterest has so many amazing ways to do an advent calendar - get creative! If you end up using this idea, I’d love to see your families version of it and what you think of it. 

Sunday, October 22, 2017

What does Gretchen do?

Over our four years in Tanzania, I had many people ask me, "So what do you actually do?" The term missionary can be so vague, and while Marc had a very defined role at HOPAC, my role was a bit less concrete. I figured some of you might be wondering the same thing now that we've moved to Rwanda - "What does Gretchen actually DO?" 

First, let me step back to last year in Tanzania and tell you what my time was spent doing there, just so you can get a feel for how different life is for me now! 

Things I was involved in last year in TZ:
* led worship 3 times a week for the primary school chapels
* worked 10-15 hours a week for Karama ( - last school year, this included traveling to Kenya 3 times, Ethiopia 2 times, and Uganda 1 time. 
* was one of four coordinators for the largest bi-annual artisan market in Tanzania 
* led a monthly online health/fitness challenge group called "Commit To Be Fit"
* started a pre-school for staff children at HOPAC - spent several hours 3 days a week there
* partnered with a friend to develop her sewing business 
* attended weekly bible study 
* classroom mom for Isaac's class 
* normal life stuff - groceries, helping with homework, church, writing newsletters, etc 

Things I am involved in now in Rwanda:
* Teach Pre-K part time (Monday-Friday, 8am -1pm)
* work 15 hours a week with Karama 
* Kinyarwanda language lessons 2 hours/week
* Marriage bible study for 7 weeks
* Body and Soul exercise class 
* normal life stuff 

It looks like my list is much smaller now, and to some extent, it is. Marc and I have made a point to take this first semester to focus on transitioning our family and settle into our roles at KICS. First of all, we feel our call is transformational education through teaching at KICS. That is our primary reason for being here and we want to give our roles at KICS 100%.  This has NOT been super easy for us - we've had to hold ourselves back from jumping into areas where we could serve outside of school. In fact, this morning at church they made an announcement about needing extra help with the worship team - the whole time I was looking at Marc with eager eyes. I probably will talk to the guy currently in charge, but will say I need to wait until January to really dive into anything....which will be hard for me! In our first month of being here, we realized how much we had allowed our family time to move to the back burner as we packed up/left TZ, had a whirlwind of a summer in the USA and then arrived in RW and two days later started work. It's been hectic. Our kids need us & we have decided that outside of school, that's our focus for now.

The KICS Pre-K is held in a house a few minutes down the road from the main campus. There is one full time teacher that I work with and two para's who assist us. We have 20 students in our class and they are incredible. There are 7 (I think) different nationalities in the class, but several of the students have barely lived in their passport country. For example, Geneva is American, but of her almost 5 years of life, she's lived less than a year in her passport country. She's not the only student like that - many of our students are TCK's or Third Culture Kids.

My co-teacher and I have split the curriculum so that she teaches Math & Science and I teach Bible and Language Arts. Social Studies gets incorporated across both of our subject areas in a variety of ways. Our team - my co-teacher, our paras and I - work amazingly well together. We are all learning a lot from one another and enjoying our students immensely! 

I'm continuing my work with Karama that I've been doing for over 1 1/2 years. I am the product coordinator and work directly with the artisan groups in Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda and Ethiopia (thus my travels over the last year). Mostly, this means I'm in communication between the artisan groups and our executive directors in the USA through email, whatsapp, viber and sometimes traveling to meet them in person. 

The vision of Karama is:

To live in a world where poverty is overcome through dignified work, so families and communities can thrive.

The mission of Karama is: 

Karama alleviates poverty by restoring dignity through creative, purposeful work for artisans, beginning in Africa.

I entered into this position in February 2016 knowing that the goal was to eventually hire national leaders to do my job. That's been the vision all along, and it's finally happening!! Karama has hired an amazing woman in Ethiopia to take over the work I do there, and is in process of hiring in Kenya. I'll spend the next few months training these new leaders and then will hand off this role completely. That means, around the end of December I will conclude this work with Karama. It's been an honor to work with this social enterprise as long as I have and while it will be sad to hand it off, I am so proud that it's being handed off to national leadership and excited to watch the impact to grow! 

Please visit the website to learn more about it, or to shop! 

Ugh. That's how I feel about learning another new language. Though I am conversational in Kiswahili,  I never became fluent, so that's hanging over my head a bit. And now I'm attempting Kinyarwanda, which I hear is much harder than Kiswahili. Great. I'm starting out with just 2 hours a week and I'm doing it with another TeachBeyond teammate, so it'll be fun to get to know her as well as the culture/language. Our kids are taking Kinyarwanda AND French in school, so they'll certainly surpass me in their language studies. We'll see how this goes. 

Marriage Bible Study
Our church is offering a 7 week marriage course, which we decided to join. It's in our neighborhood each Sunday evening for a few hours. While we are breaking our own rule of not getting involved in too much, we felt like it fit in with focusing on family right now and it is only 7 weeks, so it's got and end date. Our first study is tonight and I'm looking forward to meeting a few other couples in our church. 

Body & Soul 
There is a church about 4 minutes from our house that offers a few fitness classes each week. Due to my work schedule, I can only go Monday evenings and Saturday mornings, but I've been loving the accountability and challenge of these exercise classes! It's been good for me to be intentional about taking care of my mental and physical state and I've enjoyed meeting people outside of the KICS community. 

Normal Life Stuff 
Normal life stuff right now is helping kids with homework, making lunches, baking bread, taking the dog for walks, arranging playdates for our kids to build friendships, trying to find cheese somewhere, church, trying to make the house more our home, lots of coffee, newsletters & communication with supporters, etc. We don't have a car, so going shopping or running errands is a bit more difficult. We either get a taxi, or we check out a car from KICS if it's available. We're still trying to figure out where to buy things, how much things cost, how to get around (hilly/curvy roads EVERYWHERE!) and what to do for fun/relaxation. 

So that's my life in a nutshell. It's full, it's fulfilling, it's new and sometimes overwhelming. Overall though, we're setting in and trying to give ourselves grace as we remember we've been here less than 3 months. While it's still East Africa and some things feel familiar, it's a new country with a difficult history, new language, new school, new friends and new routines. Somedays we miss Tanzania terribly, other days we're ready to take on all the new challenges of cultural adjustment. 

This week, we only have school on Monday. Tuesday & Wednesday we have full days of conferences and then we have Thursday and Friday off. We're REALLY looking forward to the break! 

Thanks for reading along!