Tuesday, March 28, 2017

How Does it Feel to be Back?

by Dave

Imagine waking up one day in your own bed, next to your own wife, but all of your walls are white, when yesterday they were eggshell. And you are not 100% sure that they have changed, but they just feel different. You go to work and to church and on the way you see buildings that you could swear were not there the last time you passed. You see your friends and co-workers and some of them look a little bit older, some a little heavier, some a little lighter. All of the children are taller, more grown up. And you realize that some people are missing. They were there when you went to sleep, but this morning they are gone without a trace. Other people walk up to you and ask how you are, and let you know that they have been praying for you. You say, “Thank you” and smile, but have no idea who these people are. And to top things off, everyone around you is speaking in a language you understand, but you feel like it is the wrong language. When you go to respond there are at least two other languages trying to force their way to the surface.

Sounds like the beginning of a pretty good movie, right? Well, in fact it is our lives right now. We are starting to get settled back into our lives in South Dallas, a few houses away from where we lived four years ago. And everyone is asking how it is to be back. And the truth is, it is a bit hard to answer that question. People often say, “it feels like you just left,” when we feel like we have been gone 30 years. Many things here are the same, but a lot is different. And we have changed too, now considerably less American than when we left. I constantly think about whether or not I should cross my legs (in some regions of Cameroon it is considered rude). A kid came up to me in the park and said some incomprehensible 3-year-old thing, and I responded in French. I see shadows on the wall and think they are cockroaches, sticks on the ground and think they are snakes, and I am constantly listening to see if I can detect bushfires, problems with our power inverter, our water tower overflowing, neighbors knocking on the door, etc.

Some of our experiences are comforting, exciting, and fun. We have been greeted so warmly at the churches we have attended in Colorado and now Texas. Even outside of church we have been struck by the kindness of the American people in general. We were so happy to get to see my family again and spend some time with them. It has been fantastic to see how many people have kept up with our adventures via our blog. I do not know if I have ever felt so loved and cared for. The food is amazing, better than I remember. And I am eating way too much of it (but you are supposed to feast when you return from a long trip, right?!). We are stopped about every five minutes when we go out in public with people asking about our kids. But people are asking kindly because they are interested and always say encouraging things.

The transition has been hilarious with the kids. All of the things that I grew up with and just take for granted are brand new for them. The thought of a clothes dryer is mind-blowing. It is so funny to see them try to use a water fountain for the first time (see video below).

video


Yesterday at church Zoey met a new friend. After the service she came up to me and whispered in my ear that she wanted to share something amazing with her. Zoey was not sure if she would have experienced the joy of cereal before. I told Zoey that her friend probably already had some cereal at her house, but she had to run off to confirm it. She was a bit dejected to learn that cereal was not a special treat that she could secretly share with new friends.

Several times I have told the kids to throw something away, but they wander around in circles because nothing around them looks like a trashcan. We all walk around giving everyone handshakes (the custom in Cameroon) which you would think would seem normal, but apparently we do not do that nearly as much here in the US. My kids are grasping that we only cross the roads at crosswalks, but whenever it is time they run across at full speed as if their lives depended on it, and are genuinely surprised to see that the cars stop.

But it is not without sadness that we re-experience our former lives. Some friends have moved on, no longer at our church. We look at all the great things around us and are reminded of how little our friends in the village have. And we know that some of them will die by the time that we get back. We worshipped today in a church surrounded by believers and like six pastors! But we know that Boris (our pastor in the village) is toiling pretty much alone. It is a constant reminder to be thankful for all that we have here in America, but it is also a sober reminder.

So, how is it to be back? Exciting, happy, scary, funny, confusing, sad, exhilarating, fun, and a whole bunch of other adjectives I cannot even begin to explain.


Wednesday, March 8, 2017

[VIDEO] Four Years, Two Languages, Still So Much to Do

I am sure that many of you have seen the new video in our most recent newsletter, but I wanted to post it here as well. And, just for memories sake, I also have posted the video we did at the end of our time in France as well. These two videos represent the last four years of our lives. It has been a tough climb but we are so thankful to see fruit of our labors and the grace of God throughout. Now onto bigger and better things!

End if First Term in Cameroon:


Year in Review from France:


Monday, March 6, 2017

From the Bush to the Burbs: MK Re-Entry

by Stacey
We are set to arrive in the States in just 9 days and as we talk to our children about American culture, we have realized that it may be helpful for our friends in America to understand a bit of the culture that they are coming from.

I used to think of them as American. They are being raised by American parents, we speak mostly English in our home, and even occasionally watch an American movie all together. But then, we had a homeschool teacher show up in August who later shared that she had no idea how many cultural differences there were between teaching kids in American and teaching our children. Having her here has really helped me to see the dramatic impact that this culture has had on them.

For instance, one day their teacher, Megan, was talking to them about ice and our kids looked at her and asked, “What is ice?” They had no idea. They also will ask me questions like, “Mom, what is bubble gum?” and other basic things that we all assume everyone in the world knows about (but, as it turns out the world is bigger than America…).

They also have issues with language. All four of them are more-or-less bilingual and we hope to start teaching them yet another language when we return to Cameroon. And so they will often use a French word if they do not know the English word or they will carry over French grammatical rules into their English (“The thing who is sitting on the counter” for example). They also do not really know a lot of English idioms and take them literally. For instance, when their teacher was reading them a book that said that a woman stuck her head in the door to see if the kids were OK all of our kids gasped. “How is she going to get it out?!” they cried. Also, when their teacher read a book with a southern accent, they had no idea what she was saying (although that is getting better). They also do not know what things which we would consider basic are (dishwashers, microwaves, elevators, mailboxes, sidewalks, and so on).

What is equally comical is how content they are playing with trash. I asked them to bring me what they would like to take to America and it was hilarious to see what they chose. We are bringing home two dirty marbles that Kaden’s friend gave him, a couple balls that look like they’ve been chewed up by animals (and may have been actually), and I had to put my foot down about lots of other things. I told them that we were not going to take a suitcase of sticks (or, to them, swords) to America. Nor would I take the dirty bread wrapper that they found on the ground outside. “Kids, we are not hauling trash across the ocean.” They looked at me as if I had betrayed them. “Trash?!” is what their expressions said. “These are treasures! These are swords, shields, and kites – not trash!” I told them that we were going to one of the richest nations on the world and we could easily find more sticks and sandwich bags to play with. They were utterly unconvinced.

Another thing that I find absolutely hilarious is how they will eat absolutely anything. A.n.y.t.h.i.n.g. One day there was a little kitchen mix-up and the rice pudding (which included eggs, cinnamon, nutmeg, etc) was added to our bowl of chili. The smell alone was enough for me to skip lunch. But, I thought, why not see if the kids will eat it? I served it to them without saying a word and they inhaled it and asked for seconds (and maybe thirds for the boys). There were chunks of eggs floating around in their chili – how could they eat it? But they did and they liked it. They just eat anything. It is staggering.

Another aspect of Cameroonian culture that they have adopted is that they have no concept of personal space (except for maybe Makyra). They like to be touching other people pretty much at all times. Aside from our home, there are not many chairs around, but only benches. Therefore, there are usually like 15 kids that all share a bench at church. I am really trying to introduce the concept of personal space but it is an uphill battle. Kaden is often seen running around hand-in-hand with one of his playmates.

Also, here, since there are so many children, a lot of the older (i.e. 4+ years old) children will help with the babies. One day I was walking down the street and I saw Zoey, our youngest, carrying a newborn baby, just walking down the street. We have explained that mommies in America generally hold their own babies, but do not be too surprised if our girls ask to tie your 6 month old to their backs (you can say no).

I write all this to help our dear friends and family know where they are coming from. Even though they are our children, in a lot of ways they are like taking one of the kids in our village to America for the first time. They will be forced to learn a culture that, to them, is foreign. And so, here are some ways to help us help them adapt to American culture:

Kindly explain how we do things in America and feel free to laugh later.


Here are some examples, “In our culture, we find it impolite to pick your nose. Do you need to go blow your nose in the bathroom?” (It is totally socially acceptable to publically pick your nose here). Or, “In our culture, we don’t urinate outside. Can I show you where the bathroom is?” Or, “In our culture, when we don’t walk in the street, we stay on what we call sidewalks. That way the cars won’t hit us.” Or, “In America, we really love forming lines. This is where you stand behind the person in front of you and wait patiently for your turn.” Please also feel free to explain what things are. Anything more advanced than Little House on the Prairie may likely need some explaining. They will probably ask lots of questions and find things you think mundane (like a vacuum cleaner!) completely fascinating.

Avoid speaking negatively about Cameroon.

We teach our kids that things in various cultures are not “good, bad, but just different” (unless the Bible calls them good or bad of course). So, the way in which we cut the lawn in the US is with a lawnmower and the way we do it in Cameroon is with a machete. Not good, not bad, just different. In American culture we typically don’t wear extremely bright clothing. Here, the brighter the better. Not good, not bad, just different.

Also, these kids are being raised in Cameroon and, in their minds, Cameroon is their home. It is what they know and they love it. Just today Kaden said, “I love being a missionary kid!” They are happy here and are even sad to leave. We are thankful for their love of this place and do not think it would be productive to pity them for “all they’ve had to give up.” In fact, Elias said he was a little nervous to go back to America because of “how dangerous it is.” He said that he was afraid of the tornados over there. Cameroon does not have tornados (I guess he does not see all the other dangers….).

Less is more.

If someone asked you if you wanted the “Baton de manioc” or the “poisson braisé” for dinner, which would you choose? You would probably just sit there and stare because you don’t know what either of these are. This is exactly the same thing for our kids if you asked them if they wanted “a drumstick” or “fish sticks.” They will just stare at you because they don’t know what these are. Our kids are not used to options, partly because there is just not much out here and partly because that is how we are raising them. We are trying to help them be content and thankful for everything that they are given and everything that is around them. So, let them continue to be content playing with sticks and rocks and encourage them to say thank you for whatever they are served to eat. A lot of options and a lot of stuff would most likely overwhelm them.

Expect awkwardness.

In Cameroonian culture, if ever there is a bit of uneasiness in the air, people laugh. I like it (generally) – it lightens the mood. But what that means is that our children laugh at times that Americans consider inappropriate or even rude. For instance, if one of them is asked a question in homeschool and they do not know it, their brothers and sisters laugh. I do not think the one who does not know is offended at all. In fact, to me it seems like they are thankful that someone lightened the mood a little by laughing. We have explained to them that would be interpreted as making fun of people in American culture and they just kind of stare at us like, “really?”

Also, we expect that they will be scared of things that Americans do not find scary (we have heard that things like static electricity have scared MKs). It is like how we show up to Cameroon and are afraid of cockroaches. People just scratch their heads like “why is she afraid of that?!” I assume that many of you will have the same reaction if our kids are running in terror from something like moving sidewalks at the airport.

Ask Questions.

I know it is hard to talk to people from different cultures. My full time job is to develop relationships with people who I have absolutely nothing in common with and it isn’t easy. I understand. So, I thought I’d write down some things to help start conversations with MKs:
  • What do you do everyday in Cameroon? 
  • What are some animals that you have seen over there?
  • Do you have a favorite Cameroonian meal?
  • What is your favorite thing to do in Cameroon?
  • What is your favorite thing to do in homeschool? What did you do when you went to the village school?
  • What are some things that you see at the market in Cameroon? Do you know how to buy stuff in the market?
  • When you play with the village kids, what do you play?
  • Tell me about the cute babies in your village. 
  • Tell me all about all the pets you’ve had. 
  • What kinds of toys to your friends play with?
  • Tell me about the pretty dresses that the women wear (for the girls). 
  • Tell me what your room looks like in Cameroon. 
  • What is it like when you go out with your mommy or daddy to learn Bakoum?
  • What do you mommy and daddy do for their language sessions? 
  • Tell me about the time that your daddy ran over a viper with his car, or about when Kaden was baptized, or about the VBSs that your parents did, or about the time your house almost burnt down. 
  • What did your yard look like when you first moved in and what does it look like now? 
  • Tell me about the amazing thunderstorms in Cameroon. 
  • What seasons do you have in Cameroon?

Well, we hope that this gives our friends and family an idea of where our children are coming from. And, at the end of the day, they are extremely thick skinned and it is nearly impossible to offend them, so don’t worry too much. We are so looking forward to bringing our kids home to their loving grandparents, to meet our life-long friends, and to attend healthy, Gospel preaching, English speaking churches. Thanks in advance for welcoming us back into your lives!

Monday, February 20, 2017

Then and Now: How our Perspectives Have Changed throughout our First Term



by Stacey


In just a few days, we will be packing up to leave our village so that we can spend 16 months in the States completing our MAs in Applied Linguistics / Bible Translation. As we pack up our suitcases, we are reminded of the thoughts and feelings that we had when we left America 4 years ago. We are coming to realize that many of the perspectives that we held to on the plane ride over have changed. For instance, we now realize that…

Language Learning is a Beast.


On the plane ride over, I was sitting next to a girl telling her about how we planned on speaking French fluently by the end of our one year stay in France. “It should be easy enough” I said to her. There was a pause and then she finally said, “French is actually a different language.” In saying that she was implying that it would be more difficult than I was expecting. She was right.

If you think about it, our children grow up hearing English from inside the womb and we start school them religiously the moment they are born. And STILL, after 7 years of being schooled in English, I still look at my kids regularly and say, “I’m sorry, I have no idea what you are saying. Could you please ask your question in a different way?” Why then would we expect to speak like an adult after only a couple years?

We have realized that speaking to and understanding others is a life’s task and all the promises on the Internet that one can learn a foreign language in 6 months are just lies.


The Role of Miracles Among Animistic Peoples.


The God that we know from reading the Bible loves to do miracles. Jesus came to heal the sick, give sight to the blind, and even raise the dead. So, coming to a place where there is almost no access to good medical care and the physical suffering is rampant, we came with hopeful expectations that God would show his power to this people in miraculous healings.

But what we must have overlooked in the Bible was the role of faith in the person being healed. People here believe in miracles, are eager for them. They want their sickness and sufferings relieved. But many of them want the miracles without 
the Jesus that calls them to take up their cross and follow him.

One of my neighbors “came to Christ” years ago through the Lord miraculously saving her from her abusive husband (she says that mid-attack he became paralyzed and could not move his feet to continue abusing her). But today she bears zero fruit of one who knows Christ and is steeped in the sins of this culture. She clearly never understood the Gospel, or never counted the cost of following Christ. People here are looking for miracles and prosperity without having to publicly confess their sin, bow the knee to Jesus, and obey all that he has commanded.

They are like the people in John 6 who came to Jesus for bread, but when promised them something greater (himself), they would not believe.

They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.” Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe" (John 6:34-35).
Jesus was well aware of those who would pay him lip service for self gain without hearts that loved him. And when this happened, he refused to do miracles. In Nazareth, “He did not do many mighty works there, because of their unbelief” (Matthew 13:58). Because of the hardness of peoples' hearts and their lack of belief that he was what would really satisfy them, he left the sick in their sick beds.

So, we now offer our neighbors prayer and give them any medications that we have that could help them, but we do not consider God healing them to be the greatest demonstration of his power. We believe that the greatest demonstration of the power of Jesus is to have our neighbors burn all their cultic fetishes and witch potions that could “cure” them and then come and worship Jesus, whether he chooses to heal them or not. The greatest demonstration of his power would be to take a people that just try to manipulate him and their dead ancestors to get good health and make them hope in the resurrection. A question I have asked people before is, “We all know that Jesus has the power to heal you, but will you praise him if he doesn’t?” May the Lord raise up a submitted people here that loves him more than health and wealth.


The Lies of Animism.


Along the same vein, when we came to Cameroon we were really open to the idea that Satan works differently in different parts of the world. And we have heard that often, in majority world contexts, he works through demon possession and supernatural manifestations in order to hold people in bondage to fear. We are Americans who believe in scientific explanations for things, but we also know that the demonic realm is not necessarily subject to the same scientific laws that we are (for instance, they are invisible). We did not come over here as skeptics, but came ready to take any story of demonic manifestations at face value.

This has all changed. We now have come to believe that Satan does not have to be nearly as dramatic in order to hold people in bondage. This is because many people just believe everything they hear. For example, a person may come from a hunting trip in the bush and claim that he experienced a ghost. His testimony is accepted without doubt as our neighbors rush to find traditional methods of protecting themselves from this apparition. Perhaps the original encounter was supernatural, but the reality of that experience has nothing to do with the reactions of the people. They believe the testimony, feel an incredible amount of fear, and (with minor effort on behalf of the devil and his angels) hundreds of people are driven deeper into the bondage of traditional religion.

Another example is that many people here believe that in the uterus of some women, there live monsters that can come out during sexual intercourse and trouble the man. So far, no one I know has ever seen one such monster, but many are afraid of them and seek whatever means necessary (often involving witchcraft) to protect themselves from them. It is superstitions like these that send people on hour-long hikes to find special leaves that will kill the monsters instead of coming to our Bible studies.

We now see our role here is to call people to repent of these fears, to put their trust in Christ, and to live as children trusting in a loving father. And if the Lord wants to use the curse of some village witch to kill me, then so be it. I am going to Heaven. May he liberate them from their superstitions so they will have the time to learn to read and write and read the Bible as it comes out.


A More Realistic View of Missions.


And finally, we have developed a more realistic view of missions. The Lord may have used John Piper’s passionate sermons to get us to the field, but we have found that any missionary zeal is often sapped by one round of malaria. We have learned that missions is a daily putting of one foot in front of the other. Missions is years of doing things that do not necessarily feel spiritual (like memorizing all the words for their different kinds of ants…), praying that, one day, the name of Christ will be exalted here. We are convinced that missions is 98% raw endurance and 2% zeal.




All in all, we are thankful that just as the grace of the cross is available to the people we are ministering to, so the grace of the cross is available to us. We have realized our frailty and finiteness and our need for our Savior more than ever during our first term. May he continue to lead us and our brothers and sisters in wisdom day by day, year by year.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

To My Son, on the Day of his Baptism

by Stacey

Today was one of the happiest days of my life. Our 7 year old son Kaden has announced to a large, boisterous crowd of people that Jesus Christ was his Savior and Lord! I invited pretty much everyone I knew to his baptism and was overjoyed to see friends steeped in animism walk into church to listen to Kaden read his testimony. We listened to a sermon and then people from our church walked through the dusty streets singing praises to the Lord all the way to the river. It was an incredibly joyous time. I praise God for his work in Kaden’s life and pray that he endures and bears much fruit. Here is a (long) letter that I read to him today after his baptism…

--------------------------

To my beloved son on the day of your baptism,

I once heard in a sermon a beautiful story of a great king. This great king was wise, wealthy, and benevolent. Everything he desired, he had. One day he was out with his entourage in one of the poorer parts of his kingdom when he saw a dirty orphan street boy. This noble king had compassion on the young boy and called for his servants to bring him to him. He looked into the eyes of this little boy, and even though the boy was nothing to be desired, this kind-hearted king made a public declaration:
“This is my son!”
There was a hush among the crowd as this sheepish, stunned child was escorted to the royal castle. It was there at the castle that the king started to treat this once rejected street boy as his own son. He was clothed in clean clothes, he was taught how to read and write, and he was put through rigorous training to prepare him to fight in war. When the child was tired from all the demands put on him as the prince, his father reminded him of the great to calling to which he had been called. He was no longer a child playing with trash in the street but was now the child of a king who would one day be called upon to rule the nation.
“You are my son” he said, “now live up to what you have already received.”
---------

Kaden, you are this little boy. You, like the rest of us, were dead to God and playing in the trash of your sins. But the great and benevolent King of the universe poured out all of his wrath on his own Son so that he might lovingly adopt you into his family.

He took you off of the path of Hell and placed you on the path to Heaven. He has taken your heart of stone and given you a heart of flesh that is soft to his Word. He has taken you out from under the control of the prince of the power of the air and given you the Spirit of love, power, and self-control.

You are now a part of the people of God. You have Abraham as your father of faith. You, through faith in Christ, have been grafted into the lineage of the David who killed Goliath. You both have a great heritage and you have an incredible future. Through faith you have overcome the world and one day you will inherit the whole earth and even judge angels. What you have been called to is no small thing.

We do nothing to earn this standing in the family of God, but once we are there, we are called to greatness. We are called to live up to the calling to which we have been called. It is both a great honor and a great duty. As Paul said to Timothy,
You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus…Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him. 2 Timothy 2:1,3-4
You are a soldier who is called to not get caught up in the glitter of this world, but instead you are called to live to please the King who saved you.

So, Kaden, I call you, as a son of the God of the universe, to greatness. Specifically, I call you to strive towards five things as you begin your Christian walk. I call you to:

Love like you have been loved.
Your Savior Jesus left Heaven to come down and serve the unworthy, and you are called to do the same. You are first called to love the Lord with all your heart and how this manifests itself is by you loving his image bearers, and especially his church. You know that you will always be walking in the will of God if you are loving God and the people around you. Pray daily that the Lord will help you to love and may love be your motivation for all that you do. Pray for others, give to the needy, bear with your siblings, forgive others, and bear their burdens.
Discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness.

You are at the beginning of your Christian life, but the King has many plans for you. He wants to grow you and make you into the image of his beloved Son. And how do you grow? Jesus answers this question in John 17:17 when he said, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.” The way in which we are made more holy is through the knowledge of and obedience to the Word of God. So Kaden, train yourself to be in the Word-to read the Bible, listen to sermons, memorize the Bible and share it with others. This depends on you Kaden. Religious zeal is something value, but what ensures godliness is a perseverant, get-up-when-you’re-tired-to-read-the-Bible faith.

1 Timothy 4:7 says,
“Train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.”
Be determined now Kaden that you will discipline yourself to pursue God through the spiritual disciplines: through Bible intake, prayer, fasting, communing with a local body of believers, giving, and so on. This will mean coming in from playing to do family devotions. It will mean going to bed early so you can wake up early enough to read the Bible. It will mean praying for others even when you yourself are having a tough day. If you live a life committed to the spiritual disciplines, you will become like the King who gave his life for you. 

Do not love the world. 
“The cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it proves unfruitful.” - Mark 4:19
Kaden, the Lord gives good gifts to us in this world, but also know that these good gifts can choke the word of God right out of your life. You have been adopted into an American family and culture and in that, there are many, many dangers. The greatest danger is that you will have the opportunity to live a wealthy life. Kaden, keep giving away your things and use what you have to invest in the Kingdom of God and then you can rest assured that the Word of God in you will not be choked out. Be very weary of entertainment and ease. It deadens the soul and deafens our ears to the cries of the suffering. You will live in the palace of the King forever. Store up your treasures there through investing in the “least of these” now.
 
Persevere like a good soldier.

Colossians 1:21-23 says
“And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, IF indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard.”
Kaden, many will say, “Once you are saved, you are always saved.” This is not an untrue statement, but it is incomplete. Based on the above verse, I am persuaded that we should say, “IF saved, always saved.” I encourage you Kaden to prove your salvation through your life. Prove that you know him. Prove that you are a child of the King. Prove that the Holy Spirit lives in you. Continue in the faith without wavering. Everyday remind yourself of the Gospel and cling to it. 

Strive to change the world. 
“Therefore, I say to you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.” Mark 11:24
Kaden, we are to pray that God’s will would be done on earth as it is done in Heaven. And there is no poverty in Heaven, so may we pray that there would be no poverty here. There is no violence in heaven; therefore we should fight against violence here on earth. There is no corruption; there is no abortion, no terrorism. So, let us pray against and let us open our mouths and fight against the sins that grip this world so tightly. Kaden, speak for those who cannot speak for themselves. You are intelligent and you will be educated, therefore you will have opportunities that most of the world could only dream of. Use this privilege to help others Kaden. We serve a limitless God so when you see the world’s problems, don’t feel as if they are too big to tackle.

There is nothing too difficult for this God and if he can use a little shepherd by to kill a giant, he could use to end abortion in American. He could use you to end corruption in Cameroon. Maybe God will use you like he used Daniel who was put in a palace to speak the truth of who God was in the ear of pagan kings.

Do not listen to people when they tell you that it is too hard to change the world. There is NOTHING impossible with God and he loves to use average people like you and me to accomplish great things. Dream big my friend. You serve a great big God.

I love you with all my heart Kaden,

Your Mom



Sunday, February 5, 2017

When the Church Does Not Look Like You, and When it Does

by Dave

Walking into one of the first church services we attended in France in 2013, I saw a large bearded man holding the door open. As I approached, he grabbed my hand and moved his face directly next to mine so that our hairy cheeks almost touched. I learned later that this is an intimate greeting that the French call the “bise,” a small air-kiss on each side of the face (although with one man it was straight up a kiss on each cheek). I had heard of such greetings in France, but I was not expecting to receive the bise at that moment, so it came as a bit of a shock. Through observation and conversations in my then halting French, I learned that the bise was common with family and close friends, but (especially between men) almost never done with complete strangers. I understood very little of that service, or the following 6 months of my life, but one thing was clear: when we were at church, we were with family.

Two weeks ago we attended a “celebration of life” for one of the first Baka Christians to have died in our area. Dali was a young, but faithful woman who served alongside her husband, Nestor the pastor of one of only 2 Baka churches I am aware of. The entire celebration was conducted in Baka, a language I cannot speak at all. With me was our Bamilike pastor (from the West Region, Cameroon), a Baya neighbor (a tribe here in the East), a Bakoum brother (the group we are working with), and five other Americans. All around me were the mixed emotions that can only be seen at a funeral when Christ is involved: both sorrow and joy. I did not understand many of the words, but I saw that my brothers and sisters were worshipping God in the midst of a difficult situation and I shared the comfort that I saw from the Scripture in French with Nestor. And we shook hands as brothers.

This morning, we arrived a bit late to the small village of Baktala (believe it or not they pronounce it Kpaktala, in which they say the ‘k’ and the ‘p’ at the same time), so the congregation had already started their singing. We were warmly welcomed at the door by the pastor, one of our language partners named Bosco. Some of the songs were in French, but the vast majority of the service was conducted in Bakoum. Startlingly, I understood most of it! It was a great pleasure to see fruit from two years of studying the language. The Sunday School time was focused on the question: what is the church? Bosco explained how, though many people think of “church” as a place or a building, it is actually a people. These are the men, women, and children who have been chosen by God, some have died, and some are not even born, but all will one day worship together in Heaven. We are the church universal. We are black, brown, yellow, white, and red. We speak thousands of different languages, wear an amazing variety of church clothes, but have only one Lord and Savior: Jesus Christ.

When I was in the States most of my church experiences were with people that were quite a bit like me. Certainly they all spoke my mother tongue and many of them were the same race as me, and grew up in a very similar culture. I purposely sought out churches that I was like-minded with theologically and usually walked into a church feeling very comfortable and in my element. I do not think this is inherently bad. One thing we are taught when training to be missionaries is that we walk into a culture with a specific mindset to learn their ways and their language. We do this because we want them to speak their own language when worshipping God, we want them to sing using their own styles, we want them to be comfortable knowing that God is their God, not just the God of Westerners. Applying this back to the West, I see no problem with people seeking to worship in the way that is least distracting for them and makes them more inclined to focus on God.

However, there is something that we miss out on when we worship in homogenous communities. When I look into Nestor’s eyes, and speak to him in my second language (which is also his second language) I feel a connection that is stronger that I feel with those unbelievers who are in my own biological family. I have more in common with this Baka pastor that lives in the forests of Cameroon, than I do with many white, American, college graduates. If we are only around people like us, we begin to believe that what makes us who we are is our culture. The more contact that we have with Christians that are not like us, we begin to realize that who we are is otherworldly. How else could we have so much in common with people that are so culturally different?

For all of the challenges of living somewhere so different from where I grew up, and am thankful for the times I have to worship with people that look nothing like me. I am thankful because they challenge me to see myself as a Christian more than as an American. In church today I received from several people the Cameroonian version of the "bise." It is a tri-part alternating sided hug. It too is reserved for close family and friends. And I knew without a doubt that they see me as just that: family.

------------------
When the Church Does Look Like You: Pray

Many of you will not relate to my most recent church experiences. If that is the case, I challenge you to set aside time in your week to pray for the Universal Church. Stacey wrote up some very good resources for families on our ‘Missions at Home’ page. Near the bottom you will find three sections: ‘Specific People Groups’, ‘Exposure to the Unreached’, and ‘Bible Translation.’ These resources are designed for children, but they have been a great way for all of us, as a family, to learn about the lost and also those places where Christians need the most prayer. I would also encourage you to consider signing up for the weekly emails at icommittopray.com with Voice of the Martyrs. We pray for the families of martyred Christians as well as those who are being persecuted and imprisoned for the faith. I have found that prayer shapes what we care about, think about, and invest in. This is also a great way to get our kids to think outside of themselves.

Ultimately, we will spend all eternity with a wide variety of Christians, from every tribe, tongue and nation. Why not put in the effort now, so that when that day arrives, we will be able to tell many of them that we already know who they are because we prayed for them.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Is Happiness Essential to the Missionary Call?

by Stacey

When considering employment, we often look at all the benefits and make a choice based on what job has the most to offer us. We take into account the salary we would receive, how much vacation time we would be allotted, how well the job would work with our family life, and things like medical benefits. We put all the variables side and by side and then choose a job based on what bests suits us.

For those considering missions, our list of variables is a little different. Even though things like vacation time or medical benefits may not make it to our pros/cons list, I think we still look at missions as a career and ask, “Will this suit me? Will I be happy?”

Every missionary wants their ministry to lead to a dramatic YouTube worthy display of God’s glory among their people group. We want entire tribes to come to Christ. We want people dancing around with their newly translated Bibles. But all the decades that get us to that point (if the Lord so grants repentance) are less than happy. They are tiring. They are work. They are disappointing. And we wonder if there will be any fruit of our labors at the end.

Sometimes when we are unhappy we think that this is some kind of problem that we need to fix but I do not think the Bible sees it this way. In fact, it says quite the opposite.

It is not the comfortable who are blessed, but rather those who weep.

Material gifts are, indeed, gifts from the Lord and yet the Bible does not say that it is the comfortable who are blessed. It is rather those who weep who are blessed. It is those who are hungry, those who are poor, those who are made fun of and excluded, all on account of Jesus.

Weeping over the woman who died an agonizing death knowing that she has never heard of Christ and will thus spend eternity in Hell evokes God’s blessing. It is right to cry over souls that choose sin over God. It is right to cry for children whose parents refuse them good medical care because they would rather take them to a local witch doctor. It is right to weep for the women who are raped and who have no hope for justice to be taken against their attackers. It is right because we grieve and groan along with creation saying that this is not how the Lord originally created the world. These tears are agreeing with him that sin and death have destroyed his perfect creation. It is good to hate what God hates, to feel what he feels.

We have some missionary doctor friends that work here who, in their first week of practice in Cameroon, lost over 10 children. In light of this, one younger doctor asked an older doctor who has served here for decades an interesting question. He asked how he could do his job without being constantly troubled by the sorrow over all the suffering that he sees. The older doctor responded, “I can’t.” This older doctor bears the burdens of his every patient and has spent his life grieving. Is he happy? No, I would imagine not. But, he is blessed.

Yesterday, my son and I were going on a jog and stumbled upon one of the village kids on the side of the path bloodied and screaming because he had just been hit by a motor cycle. He clearly had a broken leg, as I saw that the bone had pierced the skin. I called my husband who came to pick up our son and this boy and take him to the “hospital.” After spending the day watching this little boy scream in pain as doctors tried to set his broken bones (without giving him any pain medicine), my son later returned home. When I asked him how his day went, he said (in his 7 year old way) that after watching all the pain that his friend went through, his own leg started to hurt. Did our son have a happy afternoon? No, he did not, but he had an afternoon that was blessed by God for bearing the burdens of his playmate.

It is true that many missionaries trade in the happiness that comes from comfort and safety for a life of grief and suffering, but they trade it for something so much better: the blessing of God.

Missions is supposed to be war.

For generations upon generations the Devil has held certain people groups under his control without any outside interference. Then, all of a sudden, light enters into the group with one goal: to set people free from his grip. Fulfilling the Great Commission means declaring war against a very powerful, invisible enemy who has teems of organized demons to do his bidding. It is no wonder that missionaries like Paul had such difficult lives: shipwrecks, fears within, betrayal from those in the church, he was misunderstood, he had run ins with the law, and was imprisoned. Who are we to expect anything less?

Signing up for missions is not simply making a career choice. It is signing up for war. We all know that if a soldier in an army is fighting for a worthy cause, his personal happiness needs to take the back seat. He is fighting for something that is far greater than his personal fulfillment. He is fighting for something greater than even his own life.



I do not think that one’s personal happiness should be on the list of variables in considering foreign missionary service. Nor do I think that a lack of happiness should take missionaries home. We are supposed to weep. We are supposed to bear the burdens of the poor and lost. We are supposed to be hated like Christ was hated. And in doing so, we are blessed. We are also to approach missions as soldiers who leave everything familiar behind to go to a country where they are not welcomed. We are not to consider our own desire for comfort but instead we are to work so that others can know eternal joy at the throne of Jesus. Missions is not like working in corporate America where we can pick and choose and negotiate. We do a disservice to ourselves if we go into missions thinking it is like this.

And then, ironically, it is in laying down our lives that we find true joy. Jesus said, “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it” (Luke 9:24). In the day to day of dealing with the ants that bite with burning fiery acid, or trying to convince the village children to not torture animals, or pulling one’s hair out to figure out the tonal melodies in a language, “happy” is not usually how I would describe my day. But there is a joy in self-forgetfulness that is deeper than all the happinesses in the world. And it is for that joy that I would encourage anyone considering missions to hesitate no longer.


---
“You have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and wine abound.” 
Psalm 4:7

Sunday, January 22, 2017

In a Country Where Abortion is Illegal

by Dave

If you knew some of the things that happened here in Cameroon, you would be so angry. There are injustices here that, just to be honest, we would never see in the US. And if they did happen, it would be in the news and people would go to jail. I doubt that this is particularly surprising to most of you. We tend to think that unjust things happen in third-world countries. But have you ever considered that the practices of your nation are shocking to someone in the third-world? I am not talking about just culture shock, but real moral outrage.

This is the response that I receive when I have talked to some of my neighbors about abortion in America. They have been genuinely repulsed by the fact that abortion is legal in the States. Their shock comes from several reasons, among which I will name a few.

Children are a Blessing

In the US we often hear rhetoric telling us that unborn babies are not really babies. We hear that they are unformed clumps of cells, and that disposing of them is no different than an appendectomy. I have very strong doubts that many in the US believe this lie, but many pretend to. This fantasy is not present for most here in Cameroon. Children are not seen (merely) as a burden, but a blessing, something to strive for. Barrenness is seen as weakness and feared. And the natural response from parents to their children, even their unborn children, is to protect. I find this perspective overall refreshing, and closer to the biblical mindset.

For instance, the psalmist in Psalm 127 tells us, “Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward” (v. 3). Not ignoring the difficulties of raising children, the Bible teaches that they are a blessing from the Lord. According to this psalmist, when we discover a pregnancy, we out to think: this is a reward from God! I do not feel like this is the overall mindset of Americans, however, it is the mindset of most Cameroonians I know. Abortion is outrageous because it is the destruction of a blessing.

Parents Love Their Children

I spent several months living in the jungle here with the Baka, a pygmy tribe here in Cameroon. One day I spent some time with a mother who had a very sick little baby. Not too long later I heard loud wailing and walked out to find her holding her baby boy, now dead in her arms. I sat there with the family for a while, not really knowing what to say as they mourned their newborn. As I now reflect on this time, I realize that there could not have been a more appropriate response. Parents love their children and the death of a child is one of the saddest experiences a parent can ever go through. The abortion industry tries to sell us the lie that abortion is, in some situations, what is best for the parents (and even the child). However, naturally we know that the death of our children is not good.

Biblically speaking, the love that a parent has for her children is an assumption. Paul, when wanting to describe his gentle love for the church said, “we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children” (I Thessalonians 2:7). It is so normal, so common, for a mother to love her child that Paul used it as an illustration knowing that it would not be confused. Whenever I read reports of women or men who have killed their own (already born) children in the news, it is shocking. Abortion is no less shocking, as it is no less the murder of a child by her parents.

We All Have a Conscience

When Stacey and I spent time with the Speak for the Unborn ministry in Louisville, KY we saw many men and women go into the abortion clinic. Some tried to put on a tough face, I even saw a few laughing, mocking those of us who would speak out for their children. However, by far the most common look I saw on the women’s faces was sorrow. Whether they were coerced, felt like they had no other choice, or were just slaves to sin, these women knew what they were doing. You could see it in their eyes. And you could see that it haunted them.

This is not a mystery. We have a God who calls us to “speak for those who cannot speak for themselves” (Proverbs 31:8), and to “defend the poor and fatherless” (Psalm 82:3). This very same God has written his law on our hearts (Romans 2:15). He wired us to know what is right and wrong. He wired us to know that he hates the killing of innocents. Why are so many women haunted by their decision to abort? Because they were made with a conscience that tells them it is wrong. I have seen in the West how we have calloused ourselves to this conscience in this regard. And living in a less-calloused culture makes the horror or our apathy so evident.



There are lots of problems here in Cameroon. There are many ways in which I teach my children not to be like the culture around us. But when the subject of abortion comes up, I am genuinely ashamed to be an American. Cameroon has a much lower literacy rate, is full of people enslaved to traditional religion. But its people look across the ocean and cannot imagine how we can so freely kill our own children. And it is not like we have not had warning. We have had the Bible for centuries longer than my neighbors. We tend to think we are so much more advanced than those in poor countries, but I tell you, the people of Cameroon will rise up at the judgment with the Americans and condemn it. For we, who were so knowledgeable, so “advanced” failed to see the obvious. We failed to thank God for the blessing of children, failed to love them, and ignored our consciences.

I pray that this Sanctity of Life Sunday would be a time of repentance for my generation. May we turn from the sin of abortion and to the Savior who is so ready to forgive.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Stacey's Interview with Pilgrim Radio

Check out Stacey's interview on Pilgrim Radio regarding her post: Why in the World Did I Leave America?


Sunday, January 8, 2017

The Best Kind of Self-Care is Care for Others

by Stacey

The joy that comes in serving others is grossly underrated.

It is true that Lord has created all things for us to enjoy. Spending time with family, enjoying the beach, hearing children laughing, playing with your pet bunny, or seeing a great movie are all things that bring joy and refreshment. God deserves praise for these gifts and we should not feel guilty in experiencing them.

And yet, I would say there is a different type of joy that comes from self-sacrificing service that can only be tasted by those who lay themselves aside. I would imagine that the exhausted fire-fighter receives one type of joy in spending time with his family at the beach, but another type of joy when he carries someone out of the burning building. Both may bring nourishment to the soul, but a self-sacrificing love feeds a part of the souls that a million good meals could never hope to touch.

The Bible has much to say about this kind of joy.

Take Paul for example. If we read a description of his ministry, we would definitely sign him up for counseling. He said that people doubted the authenticity of what he was doing, no one really knew him, and that he was sad. Physically speaking, he was poor and even dying. On paper, we would think he had every right to be burnt-out and maybe a little bitter. And yet, Paul continues his report explaining that he was very much alive, making many rich, in possession of the entire world and even…rejoicing (2 Cor 6:8-10). How could this be possible?

It is possible because his joy was based not his general well-being, but instead his joy was wrapped up in those he was serving. He called the church in Philippians “his joy and his crown.” If a firefighter loses a limb in saving the life of a little girl, his joy will be wrapped up in watching the little girl live a long, healthy life. The mother who tirelessly works with her child to prepare a speech feels like people are applauding for her as her son confidently says his last few words. When we give of ourselves for the sake of others, there is an undeniable deep joy that far surpasses momentary pleasures.

Jesus also tasted of this joy. When he started his public ministry and lived a life of homelessness, he was not thinking about things like food or clothing or how he could best care for himself. He did not need to because he was already full on a different kind of food: the work his Father had sent him to accomplish. He said, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work” (John 4:35). There was something so deeply satisfying about seeking to do the work set out for him that the basic need of eating was almost forgotten.

And then there are the plain statements in Proverbs that say,
“One gives freely, yet grows all the richer; another withholds what he should give, and only suffers want. Whoever brings blessing will be enriched, and one who waters will himself be watered” Prov 11:24-25.
It is not the one who occupies himself with right care for his well being that is satisfied. It is instead the one who is seeking the well being of others that finds himself refreshed. It is in giving of ourselves that we live rich lives and in preserving ourselves that we end up impoverished.

So, how do we receive this kind of joy?

Don’t Seek Your Own Good

To our “have it your way” American culture, I think we need to be reminded of Paul’s words in 1 Cor 10:24 “Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor.” The Bible actually tells us to not look out for “number one” but instead to put ourselves aside and look out for the good of those around us. I wonder how our decisions would turn out differently if we took the big ME and MY NEEDS off of our pros and cons list completely.

Lay Down Your Life and Encourage Your Friends to do the Same
There is a holy joy in serving others in a self-sacrificing way that runs so deep that it simply cannot be rivaled by a life of safety and comfort. We, as the church, should be encouraging one another to seek this kind of joy in difficult service within the Kingdom of God. There is, for example, a sweetness of submission to God in staying in a difficult marriage and having him sustain and comfort you than in leaving it for an easier life. Good friends remind one another of this joy and the example of Christ first and foremost and call one another to sacrifice comfort and ease for this joy.

Know that True Joy is Often a Tired, Sad Joy
Jesus, the Savior of the world, was known as the “man of sorrows” who “set his face like flint” and walked towards Jerusalem in order to die “for the joy that was set before him.” He was all at the same time a man who was completely fulfilled in doing the work that the Father had set out for him to accomplish, he did it for joy, and he felt anguish in thinking about what he had to do. If Jesus faced all of these emotions in his ministry, I think it is normal for us to too. Sorrow, fatigue, and weariness are not necessarily warning signs that something is going wrong, but may be crucial ingredients in a God-honoring ministry.

The truth is that a life of self sacrifice is often exhausting and sometimes a break from it would be helpful. But what I want to make clear is that pouring oneself out to the point of exhaustion is not in opposition to self-care, it is a means to a deeper joy.

Take for example fellow missionaries who minister in a neighboring tribe called the Baka people. They have ministered to the Baka people for over 20 years, and have only now started seeing some converts. They have chosen the harder life, living deep in the jungle, wrestling malaria, biting ants, and dark, evil traditions. And just last week a Christian Baka woman died and immediately went into the presence of her Lord. She is possibly the first Baka adult to enter the gates of Heaven. And I believe that if you were to ask those very missionaries today if it was worth their labor, sickness, pain and loss, they would say yes. And they would say it both with tears in their eyes and a smile on their face. This is the exhausting, frustrating, exhilarating, peaceful joy that I strive towards. And I pray that you will too.