Christmas Day last year, we loaded up 3 boys, 4 girls, 36 bags (plus a little Tylenol) and we all boarded a plane with one-way tickets to Africa. We had no idea what the year would hold, but the One who held it all in His hands has shown himself faithful. As we’ve inevitably had mountains and valleys, highs and lows, each low has been lifted and each valley has been filled.
It’s been humbling to learn how to navigate life in another culture. We’ve both been in language class Monday-Friday for 3 hours a day then 2 hours per day in the community. It feels a lot like being a child again. Dependent on others for help, not knowing any of the social cues, where anything is, people laughing at you when you mispronounce words…some of you may be wondering how any of those things are new for me. Ha! Nick has been teaching some classes and working to help get things in order at the seminary. There are lots of exciting things the Lord is showing us He’s able to do and we are praying in faith that He will continue to do them.
We’ve laughed, cried, grieved, and rejoiced as we continue to part with life as it was and seek to embrace the “works he has prepared beforehand” for us (Ephesians 2:10).
The year has been challenging as parents, it would have been anyway because our kids are moving out of the stage where their opinions are somewhat entertaining and their gagging over vegetables is cute or funny. But add Africa into that mix and the stress level is magnified! The kids have enjoyed so many privileges as M-kids…safaris, traveling across Africa, sharing the gospel with people who have never heard it, killing a black mamba with hand made sling shots, playing in the villages, just to name a few…but they’ve also given up a lot. And those things aren’t always in the shadows of the cool stuff. I’ve cried with them about missing friends, family, and Chick-Fil-A (all comparable in our affections) but we always cry with hope. Because of Christmas we know that comfort isn’t far off. Our God is the God of all comfort who has promised to be with us always. He is a Father who hurts when His children hurt and rejoices when they rejoice. He is able to sympathize with the separation Christmas Day represents for us this year because Christmas is all about Him being separated from the Person He loves most. Christmas reminds us that God Himself was separated from His beloved Son for a short time in order that He wouldn’t have to be separated from us forever.
When I’m ugly-crying in my room for my kids missing friends and struggling to make new friends here, God has been faithful to remind me of the fact that He also sent his Son into a foreign land as a baby to watch Him live 33 years despised and rejected by those He came to save. Going into this year, I was eager to “model obedience” for our kids through a difficult transition. But I have been humbled to see this has meant pointing them beyond my failure to see our Savior who never failed.
Like that newborn baby in Bethlehem, this year has brought many feelings of helplessness and vulnerability, but like Him our strength has come from a Father who will stop at nothing until we are safely back with Him. We are praying this news of His steadfast love will sweep Zimbabwe and the world and that next year we will have masses of new brothers and sisters eager to celebrate the birthday of our older Brother who humbled Himself and made Himself nothing so we could enjoy the love of His perfect Father.
Thank you for walking with us, for giving so we can be here, and for praying so we can stay. We recognize we’ve only just begun this journey. And while we certainly miss the smells, sounds, and temperatures of Christmas as we have known it (and those things pale in comparison to missing our friends and family) we press on to win the prize to which we’ve been called and we look forward to being together again to celebrate at the finish line! Merriest of Christmases to you all.
Holding true to the tradition, here’s my little blurb on each of the kid’s. I sure do love them. Words and time prohibit me from articulating how proud I am of each one this year and how thankful I am for God’s grace toward them thus far:
Jake just finished grade 5 (4th grade by US terms)…he played rugby this year and is still daydreaming about food in the states. Still goofy and fun-loving, and makes conversation with anyone who will listen. He got one of the few awards given at school for being “diligent in school work”. He apparently got my intelligence because I have to consistently explain to Nick what words in his vocabulary mean. Okay, maybe it’s the other way around. Someone who got to know Jake recently explained him as having a Ferrari brain with bicycle brakes. So we are staying busy trying to keep that Ferrari from running off the road and being totaled but instead admired for its value and rarity. Meanwhile, we will persist in turning down his frequent requests to receive weapons this Christmas.
Jimmy just finished grade 4 (3rd grade). He played rugby and swam on the swim team. He keeps us laughing with his wit and keeps us from being lazy with his early morning rises ready to start his day and knock out his to-do list. I can count on him to have the dogs and rabbits fed before I even get out of bed. He’s always been responsible and reliable. We are working on getting him into some kind of music lessons soon, maybe guitar or piano. Nick says he has something called “relative pitch” and is very musically inclined and has already written several songs. The last one was super weird, about a girl. It made me so uncomfortable I had to turn around while he sang it, but the effort was admirable. Hopefully I can grow up a little before they come to the dating/courting age. Jimmy also got an award in class for being “hardworking”. He takes himself a little too seriously sometimes and we are trying to help him admit that there are indeed many things he’s just not very good at, and that’s okay.
Libby just finished grade 2 (1st grade). She has made all kinds of new friends. It has only been recently that she has begun to voice some frustrations with life here, but overall she has handled the transition really well. She’s obsessed with babies and makes the whole family stop so she can greet every one we walk by. When we have babies at our house, she loves to wear them on her back “like the Africans.” I told her if she really wants to be like an African she also needs to have about 100lbs of wood in her arms and a jug of water on her head. She responded, “Okay, I want to be an American who holds my baby like an African.” She got an award for being “reliable and helpful in class”. I wasn’t suprised by this because she’s so eager to help at home. Wait…what?! Glad to know she is listening after all. She’s “growing up” and asked for high heels for Christmas. I told her I’ll buy her a whole closet full and even a matching mini skirt…when/if she can beat me at arm wrestling.
Sophia just finished grade 1 (kindergarten). She loves to read and is reading better than any of the other kids were at this age. She has just kind of gone with the flow and doesn’t seem to think life is much different here than it was in Louisville. Not surprising as she’s never really been one for observing details. As long as she has proper sleep and enough to eat, she’s generally pretty pleasant and happy. Phia was given an award in class for “being compassionate”. She’s always willing to give up a toy, seat, or whatever is needed to “make peace.” She loves people and nature. The response to “Where is Phia?” is often “talking to that girl over there” or “playing with that bug.” She consistently eats more meat than anyone in the family while remaining skin and bones, clinching her stranglehold on the future title, “every man’s dream.”
Kate gave preschool a shot and it proved to be just too many changes too quick. That’s a nice way of saying she was a monster those first few weeks. When we pulled her out of pre-K and let her stay home, she really started blossoming and being herself again. She’s my little buddy. She loves her baby brother and is always looking out for him. When she isn’t following me around asking questions about everything under the sun, She can be found standing on a table singing frozen songs, doing the robot (dance), or looking in a mirror talking to herself.
Juliet will be 4 in January. She is independent and sneaky. I couldn’t count how many times we’ve caught her in her room with a bag of chips or the markers she isn’t supposed to have. It never fails if something is missing, Juliet has it stashed somewhere in a pile. We call her the bag lady because at any given moment she always has a bucket or bag full of random household items. She goes to our bathroom every morning and puts Nick’s cologne on because “it thmells good.” She hates having her hair brushed so it often looks like a Mrs. Doubtfire wig. She’s so quirky and cute that I can’t help but hold and kiss her, and she’s purrs like a cat when I do. I can’t help but wonder if she’s a bit like John the Baptist was as a child. And Nick says of all the kids, she’s the most like me…um, thanks?
Johnny was 2 in September and he has been a constant source of joy. We’ve had many days where thjngs seemed to be falling apart and then he’d walk in the room with a big smile on his face, “Hi mom. Hi Dad.” And as bad as we’d want to stay in our pity party or anger, he’d make it impossible to not smile. Sometimes we take him in our room just to talk and laugh at his answers. I asked him how he got so cute and he answered, “God did.” The kids asked him who he wants to marry when he gets older and he said “I’ll marry Mom.” He randomly breaks out in dance usually shaking his pointer fingers in the air. I mean, come on! Can you blame me that he’s my favorite?! (Did I just say that out loud?)