Hangin' Out in Karongue

Hangin' Out in Karongue

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Happy 16th Birthday Ez!

Early in our marriage Gayle and I battled with infertility. We tried for over three-and-a-half years to become pregnant before being told by one of the country's leading infertility specialists that the chances of us having children on our own were nearly nonexistent. 

God used this long event in our lives as very new Christians to teach us about what it meant to treasure Jesus over and above everything. Even over wonderful things like children. 

But God, in His infinite grace, did indeed bless us with a child. And I can remember how we, our family and our church family and friends rejoiced to find out that after all of this time Gayle was finally pregnant. 
When the big day for Ezra to be born finally arrived there was great excitement. Over 25 people were at the hospital as Gayle went into labor. The child that the doctors had said was nearly impossible, that we had all been praying for for years, was getting ready to make his arrival. It was a time of great anticipation and joy. 

Ez and I in Dakar four short years ago after a long day. 
But Ezra's arrival did not go exactly the way that we had planned it. When he arrived there were some unanswered questions about our little boy that the doctors had to look into. And less than 12 hours after Ezra's birth Gayle and I sat alone in the hospital room as Ezra was carted off to have some x-rays done of his skull and to see a neurosurgeon. Our half-day-old little boy was taken away to see what his future, and ours, would hold. This was not the picture that we had imagined for over four years. 
As Gayle and I sat in that hospital room we were exhausted, confused, and more than a little bit overwhelmed. And it was in that moment that the Lord laid a verse of Scripture on my heart that we had memorized together years earlier. It was Psalm 20:7 which reads, "Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we will remember the name of the LORD our God." And there in that hospital room in our time of need we were reminded of our great God. We were reminded of His sovereignty and His love and His care. We were assured that He was there and that no matter what this looked like or how this turned out that He was in control and that He was always good. He reminded us that He is a trustworthy God and when you cannot trace His hand you must learn to trust His heart.
Where does the time go? 

Today Ezra turns sixteen years old. And he is in perfect health. He has seen and experienced things in his 16 years of life that many others have never gotten the opportunity to see and experience. We named him Ezra because of what was said about Ezra the scribe in Ezra 7:10: "For Ezra had prepared his heart to seek the Law of the Lord, and to do it, and to teach statutes and ordinances in Israel." By God's grace we are getting a front row seat to see God make him into that kind of young man. 

Our times of trusting God for Ezra are far from over. I am sure that there are many more bumps and bruises, both physically and emotionally, that we will endure as we move into the future. And when they come I pray that we, along with Ezra, will be able to say, "Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we will remember the name of the LORD our God." Happy birthday Ez! Thank you for blessing your father each day for the last sixteen years. You have always been, and will always be, your Dad's "main man." 

Monday, April 4, 2016

Less and Less Clumsy

Before leaving Senegal to return to the US for our several months of Home Ministry Assignment we began preparing ourselves for “reverse” culture shock. Culture shock is the initial “shock” that you feel when you enter a new culture where things are new, different, and, well, “foreign.” You are shocked because you don’t really understand how life works and how society functions so you begin to feel a bit overwhelmed and lost. And culture shock, to one degree or another, is almost inevitable as you move to a new country, especially one as different as Senegal is from the US.

But “reverse” culture shock happens as you return to your passport country after several years abroad. While living cross-culturally for several years your heart, mind, and body have been busy (maybe even consumed!) with adapting and fitting in to your new culture. New sights, new sounds, new tastes, new routines, and new experiences begin to take root in your life to the degree that when you return to what used to be home, you find that “home” feels a bit foreign; a bit more foreign than familiar.

Etiquette is different, social norms and expectations are different, personal interactions are different. You come back “home” and find that you feel a bit clumsy as you go through the normal paces of life. Everything takes a bit longer to process and you always feel like you are a step or two slower than everyone else around you.

And oh the choices! Every menu seems like a Webster’s Dictionary after living over three years in a place where most things aren’t available. And it’s true that the   cereal aisle at Wal-Mart can almost make us break out in a cold sweat as we stand face-to-face with the towering wall of breakfast options. (And by the way, a big “Thank you!” to whoever invented the touch-screen soda machines! That one really threw us for a loop! But seriously, does anyone really need that range of options just to get something to drink?)

But overall, we are doing great. We are loving seeing family and friends that we have missed while in Senegal. We are loving connecting with local churches here that love the Gospel and have a heart for the nations. We have truly been loved on by these churches in ways that have deeply touched our family. And Hosanna has finally stopped asking if each place that we stay has hot water (“Yes, honey, they have hot   water here at this Holiday Inn.”). And day by day, by God’s grace, our family is becoming less and less clumsy here in America. 


Monday, February 15, 2016

Lessons Learned

Certain truths are “known” at a certain level in our mind: we affirm that yes indeed these things are true. But then, after having been forced to live and lean on and rest on and seek shelter in these truths, they become “known” in a deeper and more profound way. They are not any truer than they were before, it’s just that lived truths have a way of etching themselves more deeply on your heart and soul.

All of the lessons that the Lord has taught me in Senegal I already “knew” before we ever boarded the plane three years ago. But after our experiences these truths have taken on a greater depth of meaning in my life.

  • People are more important than time.
  • God will oftentimes give you more (even much more!) than you can handle so that He can teach you to trust Him.
  • Loving is hard, but it’s the most important thing.
  • We live in a very, very spiritually dark world.
  • Lost men are blind men.
  • The enemy’s greatest weapon is fear.
  • God is not in a hurry and He is always at work.
  • God’s common grace is evident everywhere.
  • Home is a place yet to come.
  • Reaching the world with the Gospel takes everyone.
  • Wisdom that comes from God is priceless.
  • Dependency is horrible; interdependency is precious.
  • Acts of love communicate fluently in any language.  
  • Ambiguity in our life drives us to walk by faith.
  • God wastes no detail in our life in forming us into the image of His Son.
  • Everything is always grace and grace is always sufficient.
  • Security and safety are only found in Christ and never in our circumstances.



Friday, January 1, 2016

Football, Fist-Fights, and Fitting In

It’s not easy being a teenager and trying to fit in, no matter where you find yourself. But it is particularly tricky when you are the only American boy in a village of several thousand. Soccer (or football as it is known here) is a HUGE deal, especially among the youth. Ezra, who is now 14, began playing soccer about a year-and-a-half or so ago in an attempt to bond with the boys his age.

While he began playing in front of our house with his friends, he gradually got better and more confident and began playing at the big field in our part of the village. This, however, did not always go so well as this put him around other teenaged boys that did not know him. And teenaged boys are not always the nicest, especially towards those that are obviously very different. Most days Ezra would return home from the field having nearly  been in a fight and having particularly been preyed upon by a group of boys from another people group who seemed to thrive upon harassing the “toubab” (white person) at the field. But each afternoon Ez would put on his cleats and leave for the field to train and to play. And his parents would pray that God would protect him and teach him what it meant for God to be his defender.

In God’s providence, the village organized a tournament for the boys aged 15 and under. The coach of the team for our corner of the village asked Ezra to join the team after the first game and Ez was more than excited to do so. When Ez told us the news we did not know whether to cheer or to throw-up. We knew it was a great opportunity for our son, but we also knew that it would come with a great deal of criticism as he would be playing in front of several hundred people.

When the day of his first match arrived we were all a bit nervous. His coach put him in to start the game and for his first game he played okay. But each time that Ezra got the ball there were audible cries of “white boy” in the local language and any time that he did anything less than perfect he was met with laughs and mocking from the large crowd that had gathered to watch the game. After the game Ez was discouraged, but vowed to train harder for the next match. His parents, while supportive, half wished that he would quit. We shared what had happened with one of the Diola believers here and he said, “You know he is really easy to spot on the field: 21 black players and one white boy!” 

The important next match would determine if his team would be seeded first for the semi-finals and it was against the team with the boys that gave Ezra the most trouble. Ez did not start the game, but was put in at the very end of the match with just a few minutes to play with his team down 1-0. After about 45 seconds, Ezra scored the tying goal that assured his team of the first seed! And when he scored the goal the sidelines cleared out and everyone ran out onto the field to celebrate with Ez. And in that moment he was no longer the “white boy” on the team, but was just another teenaged village boy. And his parents praised God.

Ez’s  team made it all the way to final game where they would play for the championship. In the second half, with his team up 1-0 but with the other team playing very hard, Ez scored the “but d’assurance” that assured the championship for his team. And when he did once again the sidelines cleared and even the organizer of the tournament ran out onto the field to celebrate. After the game, Ez’s coach gave him the captain’s armband and asked him to receive the trophy for the team. And everyone was happy for him to do so.

Now, everywhere we go in the village or even in the surrounding villages, they know Ezra. He is known as “Le Buteur” (the goal-maker) and has become quite the celebrity. And, after a lot of courage on his part and a lot of grace on God’s  part, he really fits in. Now, he’s just one of the neighborhood kids; no difference at all. And we all stand amazed at the grace of God!

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Feeling the Weight

Most days we feel the weight. It's the weight that comes from living in a country that is 95% Muslim. It's that weight from looking into the eyes of your friends and neighbors and even the stranger on the street and knowing that in the deep recesses of their heart there is no hope.

It's a weight that comes from sharing life with a people that you dearly love, a people that have captured your heart, yet have never tasted the goodness and the grace of the Lord.

It's a weight that grows heavier with every call to prayer from the mosque that we hear and every person publicly praying that we see.

It's a weight that comes from telling spiritually blind men to look to Jesus and be saved, knowing that the blind cannot see.

And sometimes we wonder where the weight comes from. Is it a messenger from Satan meant to discourage us? Meant to make us see the vast task before us and think, "What's the use?"

Or is it Jesus teaching us to see others as He does so that His compassion might grow in our heart and His unfailing love might move us to action.

So with tears and prayer and the hope of a multitude from every tribe and tongue one day before the throne, we let the weight of the lostness around us drive us again and again to the Gospel.

For the Gospel is not only their hope. It is ours as well.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Being Maimouna Toubab

*I am reposting this today in honor of Hosanna's 8th birthday. Happy Birthday Maimouna Toubab!

Hosanna’s African name is Maimouna and it also happens to be the name of her best friend who lives beside us. To differentiate between the two “Maimounas” the family of her friend calls Hosanna “Maimouna Toubab” (Toubab means “white person” in the local language) and her friend “Maimouna Noire” (Noire means “black” in French). While we have all adapted well to our life in Senegal, Maimouna Toubab truly has immersed herself into life here. Much of that comes from her young age when we left the States (she was four when we moved to Canada) as well as the unique personality that God has given her. But overall, being Maimouna is a unique experience unto itself.

Being Maimouna means being free. Free to run. Free to dance. Free to get dirty. It means being free to eat fruit right off the tree and to even climb up the tree to pick it yourself. It means being free to smile, free to laugh, and free to explore.

Being Maimouna means that when you play with your friends you seamlessly transition between three languages, none of which are the language of your home country. It also means that sometimes you struggle in school because your head is filled with words and phrases and concepts that you don’t use in your English home school.

Being Maimouna means eating rice nearly every day is normal and you’re not even scared to eat off of the fish head in the bowl. It means you’ll try rat and that you want to try monkey. It means that eating five mangos a day during the rainy season doesn’t seem like too many.

Being Maimouna means that shoes are always optional, however you can’t leave home without wearing a long skirt. It means that you are the only blond haired, blue eyed girl for miles and miles around and that getting a lot of attention goes with the territory.

Being Maimouna means that playing with your friends at their house means helping them work and laughing while you do it. It sometimes means that you wash your friend’s hair and help them take out their braids. It means that when your friends play at your house the few toys that you have get shared among everyone. Being Maimouna means that you have to invent a toy “rental” system, where a borrowed toy can be exchanged for a new one the next day as long as it is brought back in semi-working condition. Being Maimouna means that you likely have fewer possessions than every friend you know in the States, but far more than any other child in the village where you live.

Being Maimouna means that you play with animals like chickens, ducks, goats, sheep, pigs, and the occasional parrot and monkey. It means that when your Daddy catches a live mouse in the house that you beg him to let you keep it as a pet. It means that sometimes when you pour the leftover rice from lunch out back, when your parents aren’t watching, that you purposefully pour it out on top of your bare feet so that the chickens and the free-range pigs will eat it off of your feet because it “kinda tickles” and the pigs are your “friends.”

Being Maimouna means that you can wear a pretty “princess” dress and still play in the dirt and get filthy with your friends.

Being Maimouna means that you live between two worlds: the world that is the inside of your home where everyone shares the same language, religion, and skin color and the outside world all around you where no matter how well you adapt you are still different. And it means that sometimes you don’t exactly know where you fit in the best.

Being Maimouna means that you have to be patient. It means that going to the market in the village is a mile plus walk one way. It means that “going to the store” in Ziguinchor is two hours in the truck one way. It means that as your family tries to love those around you it sometimes looks like sitting outside and talking for hours on end.

Being Maimouna means that you occasionally ask about what things are like back where the grandparents live. And you don’t always understand it when it is explained to you.

Being Maimouna means that your parents pray for the day, in the not too distant future, when you will once again make another transition into another culture to go to college; the culture of your passport, but not the culture of your life. But being Maimouna means that the God of all grace goes with you and helps you to make sense of the things that don’t seem to fit at times. And because of that, being Maimouna Toubab is not a bad place to be.



Saturday, July 25, 2015

Building a Marriage for God's Glory

Marriage, just like all of life, is meant to glorify God. It is meant to picture the loving relationship between Jesus and His church (Ephesians 5:32). God created marriage upon the pattern of Jesus and His relationship to His bride the church, so the goal is to live and love in such a way that God is glorified and the relationship between Jesus and the church are portrayed.

We all know that a strong, God-glorifying, Christ-centered marriage takes a lot of hard work and determination. It takes following the instructions of God, the One who created marriage in the first place. This kind of marriage does not come about by looking at the pattern of the world, but by looking at the pattern of the Word; the Word of God.

The building of a strong and lasting marriage is much like building a strong and lasting house. When you build a house you want to use materials that will make it last a lifetime. You want to work hard so that it will be built into something that will stand up to the test of time. And building a strong, God-glorifying marriage is no different. Psalm 127:1 says, “Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.” Likewise we can say that unless the Lord builds the marriage, those who try to build it labor in vain.

The building of a marriage, just like the building of a house, must start with a strong foundation. And the foundation that is needed in marriage is Jesus Christ. There is simply no other foundation with which to build a marriage upon. Jesus said, "Anyone who listens to my teaching and obeys Me is wise, like a person who builds a house on solid rock. Though the rain comes in torrents and the floodwaters rise and the winds beat against that house, it won't collapse, because it is built on rock.” (Matthew 7:24-25). The only foundation that will stand when the storms of life blow hard is the foundation of the Lord Jesus Christ. A commitment to Him as individuals and a commitment to Him as a couple is the only lasting, solid foundation that can support a marriage. He alone must be the rock.

But a house also needs walls: something that builds upon the foundation and adds structure and support. And in a marriage what adds that support is love. The Bible says, “Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. Love does not demand its own way. Love is not irritable, and it keeps no record of when it has been wronged. It is never glad about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance. Love will last forever” (1 Corinthians 13:4-8). The love that a husband and a wife should show one another should reflect the love that God has shown them in His Son, Jesus Christ. A sacrificial love that seeks the other’s good above one’s own. It must be a love that is predominantly centered not in each other, but in Jesus Christ where you love one another out of the overflow of your love for Him.

Not only does a house need a foundation and walls, but a house also needs a roof; something to protect the house from rain and acts as a shelter in the storm. And in the building of a marriage grace and forgiveness serve as that roof. The Bible says, “Be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you” (Ephesians 4:32). The grace and forgiveness that the husband and wife show to one another should reflect the grace and forgiveness that God has made available through His Son, Jesus Christ. That is free grace that is not deserved or earned, but is freely and lavishly given. Grace that is not dependent upon each other’s performance or worth, but grace that reflects the blessings that we have been shown in Christ. Free and unearned grace must permeate your marriage so that it protects and shelters from struggles within and problems without.

When these things are done, a marriage will be made that will be strong and that will last a lifetime. But above all else, it will be a marriage that will bring glory to God!