Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Not for my sake

When I first joined TEN3 nine years ago, we were a bustling team of six missionaries, one missionary-in-training, about a dozen heavily involved volunteers and many more lightly involved volunteers. We were preparing to continue growing our central team as we branched into Africa nad the Carribean, looking to have 350 affiliate schools and to be the largest publishing house for Africa. By the end of this year, we will be down to three part-time missionaries and our church networker, and a handful of volunteers who help with specific duties. Anthony asked us how we feel about that. Ken, who will retire this year and has been with TEN3 since near the beginning, reflected wistfully that he didn't know. Our team started strong, and stayed strong for a long time, but somehow in recent years, we've steadily lost people faster than we can add them.

My thought was, maybe this is, after all, exactly what was supposed to happen. TEN3 was always supposed to be an African organization, with a handful of missionaries supplying key areas of labor, resources, and perspective until the African members are ready to take full ownership. Well, Nigeria, Zambia, and Tanzania are forming and training their teams to do this ministry, and it's really now or never. If they persevere in their training and get others involved in learning and implementing the TEN3 model, then Anthony and I will continue consulting in a supporting role for them. I may yet end up asked to live in Africa for a while to work with teachers on our 5-area degree that we've planned for years, or on a primary school curriculum based on transformational principles. We will rejoice to see them take off with their knowledge and disciplines, and grow this ministry in ways we could not even have envisioned.

And if not?

Anthony admitted that he would have a hard time if he reaches the end of his life having seen no results of his decades of hard work. But he acknowledged that has been the lot of countless missionaries--fruit may well have come of their work, but often it's happened decades after their death.

Me? Well, I'm still only 31 and have plenty of other things I want to do with my life. So I'd have little cause to grieve for myself, though I certainly would regret to see all the potential that I still believe is in God's people in Africa wasted.

But Christie ... oh, Christie. She wasn't in that part of this meeting, which I'm thankful for. It's for her sake that I can't bear the idea of failure. In the last twenty years she has invested thousands of hours in passionate prayer, in meetings, in logistics and speaking and record-keeping, hours away from her family, several times ill, rarely rested. She's pressed on running a computer school on an electric grid that is sometimes off for ten days at a time, through skyrocketing fuel prices, through regulatory hoops that multiply like hydra heads. She persevered when terrorist attacks were making everyone afraid to leave their homes in her city, and traveled through even more dangerous parts of the country. She's put untold amounts of her own family's low income toward her ministry expenses. She's kept on through betrayal of people she's discipled, who not only left the ministry but falsely accused her and stole from her, and through times when we her partners have been insensitive to her struggles.

She does all this because she believes that this is what God has for Africa, that through Christ-centered education, her people can overcome the rampant systemic problems in their country, build systems with integrity that make a better world for her children, and send the Gospel forth powerfully to those still in darkness.

Lord, I think I can bear seeing no fruit from nine years' service. But please let Christie see it and know she has not labored and sacrificed in vain. Do it not for me, but for her. Do it not for her, but for the people You are calling to Yourself in Africa. Do it not for Your people, but for the sake of Your name.

Friday, June 8, 2018

A separate endeavor we pray will supply needs in TEN3

Back when I worked for the education professor at a community college, she would show her students The Freedom Writers' Diary. The scene in which Erin Gruwell's husband bemoans her choice to "get another job to pay for your job" has always stuck with me because that's just the sort of thing I'm prone to do. I blogged about doing that back in 2012. I was very thankful to be able to simplify when I became fully supported in late 2013. But times changed again this past year, such that about the time my son was born, I was reduced to about half of what I was making before (which was already substantially less than someone with my position and experience would expect). I sent out several appeals for more support, and some extra came in, but not near what I needed. I began looking seriously into getting a technical writing job on the side to help make ends meet at home.

Instead, I find myself helping with a start-up LLC. This is ironic, because I've never considered myself much of a risk-taker. In any game involving risk choices, I consistently go for the middle of the road. I do, however, take risks when I consider it part of a picture bigger than the possible failure. So how did this come about?

Anthony's brother Mike is involved in a start-up company that has something to do with using smart phones to do MRIs. He asked Anthony if he could do the DevOps, because he wanted someone he could trust. Well, Anthony admitted he doesn't have the skill set for that, but, given how good the pay is for work like that, he wondered if he could get together a team with the requisite skill set. He especially wanted me and Kenneth on the team because he knew we needed a boost. And surprisingly, just the right team came together of people technically skilled in different areas, who all love the Lord and trust Anthony. We had some meetings, prayed together, got advice, and decided, "Sure, let's start a technology consulting company." (The name is still under extensive, sometimes silly, discussion!)

Well, in a strange twist, we got out-bid of the job at Mike's company (not his choice). But we had already put together some ideas of products and services that we can see being in high demand, and sensed, well, the Lord had led us together wanting to do this for a reason, so we might as well keep at it and see what happens.

There are a few other lines of reasoning as well. For one thing, Ken, TEN3's technology officer, is retiring this year. If we don't find a replacement, we will need this company to keep TEN3's online office running. For another, as I mentioned above, several of us are struggling personally with finances, and TEN3 as an organization seldom has money to speak of. Our many years of efforts at fundraising almost always fall short of what would be considered a proper operating budget. So maybe, if we can't raise enough money, it's time to try making it. For another, one of the programs we've been recently requested to do is godly entrepreneurial education, which we could speak to much better if we had successfully done it ourselves. And finally, we would love to be a witness for Christ by developing creative solutions, offering them with integrity, and using the profits to advance His Kingdom. Our desire comes down to a quote from John Wesley: "Earn all you can, save all you can, give all you can."

Are we crazy to be putting our extra time and mental effort into a for-profit company? Shouldn't we do something "safe" if we're going to do a side endeavor? Maybe. But this does seem to be what the Lord led us to, and our best chance to meet TEN3's needs and stay afloat. Please pray for the company's success and for the Lord to provide all that TEN3 needs.

Friday, May 18, 2018

If posting our works negates our reward, where am I?

Imagine setting aside a few weeks of your summer vacation to travel on dirt roads and bump around in loud jeeps, winding deep into the remote jungle villages in Central America. You risk fevers, diseases, and heatstroke, all in order to help build an orphanage for twenty destitute kids. At the end of the month, you step back, take a selfie with your handiwork in the background, and post it with pride on Facebook. Poof!--the reward is gone. Think about it. In one humble-brag selfie, the trade is made--eternal reward from God is sold for the porridge of maybe eighty likes and twelve comments of praise.

I came across the book Twelve Ways Your Phone is Changing You and decided to buy it to see if it taught something about GUTS (Godly Use of Technology Skills, one of TEN3's biggest teaching points) that I don't already know. I came across this passage in chapter 3, and as a missionary, I find it so ironic I must wonder if Reinke actually knows any missionaries. We do lots of sharing about our work when we'd rather skip it. Most missionaries don't really enjoy writing newsletters and the like. I enjoy it more than most, but there are still plenty of days when I'd much rather zone in on "the mission" than think about how to compose an appealing account of what I'm doing. Yet sharing the pictures and stories about our activities is considered essential to missions. Can't do missions without funding, can't have funding without donors, and can't recruit and keep donors without impressing them that God does awesome things through their donations to us. So do we have to destroy the spirit of pleasing God in order to accomplish the mission?

I sure hope not. I was given a pretty good answer to this dilemma in Heather Ricks' God and the Elephants, which urges missionaries to make God the central character of each of our letters and blog posts, so that the surest response our readers have is to worship God for how He has revealed Himself in our contexts. I struggle to truly implement that, however. The longer I serve God, the more I find the language of "God told me to ..." or "God is leading us to ..." or "God has promised me ..." to be presumptuous. Not that I judge people for saying them, but I have found so many times that the outcomes I thought God was bringing about aren't how it turns out, that I consider myself unable to do more than loosely speculate how God is working.

The most apt metaphor I've heard for how the Lord leads me is how I once heard Psalm 119:105 exegeted.

Your word is a lamp unto my feet,
And a light to my path.

Ancient oil lamps did not give a powerful beam like modern flashlights; they gave just enough light to see the step ahead. And the "light to my path" would have referred to the torches kept burning on city walls that could be seen from far off. So the idea, I was told, is that God gives us enough light to see the next step we are supposed to take, and to know where our destination is, but everything in between is dark. We may think we know how the path will go, but there will certainly be turns and obstacles we did not expect, enough that it may not seem that there's any way this road can really lead the right way.

Our destination is plain enough: God wants to draw all me to Himself, and to make us like Him. And He gives us enough understanding to know what the next step is and obey. But I usually don't know, probably can't know, how He's going to use that step. We have a very well-thought-out strategy, but we still run into so many obstacles and dead-ends that my colleague once said he dreaded communicating with his supporters because it seemed like every time he shared about an opportunity we were excited about, people would ask about it months later and it hadn't panned out. I'm always skeptical of our plans at this point. But I keep writing the requested materials, keep the editing process going, keep researching the next software platform or project resources we think we will need, because, well, that is the step ahead of me. It probably won't have the particular results we had in mind when we decided to do it, but God knows how it will get us where He wants us.

And where does that leave me when it's time to write these blog posts and put another picture on my newsletter? Am I flaunting my works to be seen by men? Or am I conforming to the pattern before us all, acting with the things that are seen, but with such frailty and faith that the Unseen One may be evident as the source, facilitator, and goal of it all?

I have so much more to learn.

Friday, April 27, 2018

What are we up to lately?

I suppose it's high time for a plain ministry update. TEN3 is mainly focusing on getting people trained in our three active countries--Nigeria, Zambia, and Tanzania--through our Global Engagement. Our training is a ton of work as I've blogged about previously), covering topics from "What subject is the queen of knowledge?" to "The Mozart Effect and the Sorting Flaw," to "A break-even point for a computer lab." It also includes critiquing our CTO and becoming familiar with our Families and Media material.* We have put all this training on our own Global Engagement site (using the Moodle platform) so that they can work through it sequentially. The five Nigerian trainees, Luka, Fred, Wale, Joshua, and David, are meeting together twice a week with Christie to pray and discuss what they are learning, as well as plan the implementation. Please pray for our trainees as they work through this training, that they understand it well, give us good feedback for the future, and that they will truly take to heart the lessons on being transformed themselves if they hope to transform society.

The next thing we are working on is fundraising for equipment so that when these young men are ready, they will be able to start training centers in different places. They are also looking into working with existing schools to get them running a computer lab with TEN3 education. We're praying for someone much more gifted than any of our current team to head this project. But we are also excited that Christie will be visiting the US, where she will be speaking to churches. We pray that through her the Lord will open people's hearts to give toward this need.

I am also continuing to work on primary school readers. Anthony has already converted the McGuffey Eclectic Readers to a workable format. A volunteer in New York is cleaning out all the obvious bugs from the conversion for me. Then I check it for needed context revisions and send it to Charis and Zangi in Zambia, who check it for appropriateness and put the pictures back in which the conversion process deleted. Then Edna in Zambia works with her son Ben through the lessons and gives me feedback about using it, and from there I do a final edit and publish it. Our prayer is to start literacy programs in TEN3 centers and in churches across Africa. As we grow strong readers and writers, we hope to see them form a jury committee and submit stories to replace the 19th-century American stories with African ones, that continue the spirit of teaching godliness as well as language skill.

Please pray for all these endeavors as we continue to move forward by faith.

*If you'd like to know more about any of this, contact me and I'd love to explain!

Thursday, April 12, 2018

My baby, my teacher

I really have to hand it to people with depression who still manage to function. This afternoon I didn't want to do anything. That is incredibly strange for me, because I usually want to do a few hundred things. Maybe because Nathanael woke me up three times last night and would not be soothed unless I nursed him, and I thought we were over this. Maybe because I had to get up early this morning and deal with vehicle stress, that makes me also stress about the bank balance. (Pickup's bit the dust, Old Blue is blowing smoke, and the Murano had a flat, prompting the serviceman to urge me that I really need to replace all four tires.) Maybe because of a message I got from someone about hurt sustained from people we both trusted and respected. Maybe because I felt guilty about falling asleep this afternoon and thereby preventing my husband from going to bed when he needed to.

I decided to put Nathanael in his "exersaucer" and pray. I prayed for a while, not much more spiritual than, "God, I feel bad and don't want to." Then baby let me know he was done with the exersaucer, so I put him on the floor with me to play with toys. Watching my seven-month-old was like watching my own soul.

He would reach for a toy and play with it a while (mouthing it of course), and then unintentionally push it out of his reach. Then he'd push up on his hands and knees, and rock back and forth, and then get frustrated that he wasn't going anywhere. But then something would make noise, and so he'd turn to his new diversion. But after a while, he decided he wanted Mama, and so again got up on his hands and knees and tried to come toward me. This time he was on his way to a meltdown. "I know, son," I told him. "It took a long time for you to build up the strength to push up like this, and it's taking a while to coordinate those little limbs. But you'll get there soon." Of course he didn't understand, so his face just kept turning red and his volume kept going up until I took him and pulled him close to me to nurse. Then he relaxed, snuggled, and nursed to sleep.

I spend a lot of the day frustrated. How is it the laundry hamper is overflowing again, the sink is still not fixed, the bathroom needs cleaning again, I've got 30 emails to answer, and we've gone over budget again? Do I stink that bad at "adulting"? Then when I read something like The Practice of the Presence of God, then I really feel like a drooling baby being told I'm meant to walk on water when I can't seem to even reach the thing right in front of me or say one sentence.

Watching my baby reminded me again that our seemingly endless annoyances and setbacks are just part of the process. I don't know why we can't just learn the first time, but God doesn't judge by my "want to do it NOW" standards, but like a parent watching his child learn. And though I get so frustrated that I can't seem to reach Him, He will bring me up to Him to receive my daily Bread if only I'll relax and let Him.

Thank You, Lord.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Vacation Report

Except for my wedding and fixing up our house afterwards, I've never in these 8 1/2 years taken such a long vacation from TEN3. Yes, I'm one of those people who likes to work, and I am passionate about mine, but as I blogged about earlier, it was time for a break. So how did my vacation go? Well, here's what I set out to do, and the results:

Nathanael:

Read and play with him. Did a good bit of that. He's gotten to where he'll sit through and seem to enjoy all of The Cat in the Hat and A Necklace of Virtues, he sits up very well now with minimal support, and is pushing up on his hands and knees and rocking, trying to figure out the forward motion bit. Over the last two weeks he's gone from just drooling out any baby food I try to give him to swallowing almost all of it, so yay!

Personal:

  • Read Scripture each day: I used to do this diligently, but since getting married, it seems like I never have a regular time that doesn't get interrupted, so I lapse. Over my vacation I did okay with this one. Between Psalm reading, my husband's and my Isaiah reading together, and what I read on my own, I'm pretty sure I read Scripture at least once every day or almost.
  • Practice PianoBooster: Kenneth got me a midi keyboard for Valentine's day since I discovered a free game designed under the same concept as Guitar Hero, but that actually teaches piano playing. I've dabbled with piano playing a few times in my life, and always find it relaxing when I do it. I practiced it a few times over the vacation, and had fun.
  • Practice jing te jutsu: That's the martial arts class I'm in, and my instructor wants me to get ready for a promotion. Unfortunately, time when I'm not holding the baby gets eaten up pretty quickly, so I haven't practiced as much as I should. I've often told myself to get into a habit of taking a break from laptop work every 2 hours or so and just spend 15 minutes on it ... great idea, it would probably clear my head and give me more energy and all kinds of great stuff, but I seldom manage to do it. I'll try to be more conscious about it, and hopefully it will become easier now that Nathanael is starting food and won't be entirely dependent on nursing.

House:

  • Hang Nathanael's blanket: The wife of one of Kenneth's friends made a beautiful cross-stitch blanket that I wanted to hang in the baby's room. I puzzled for a while how to do it without damaging the walls of our rental house or the blanket, and came up with the Command hooks. Those are pretty amazing little inventions! I just stitched three little pieces of ribbon to the back of the blanket, secured three hooks to the wall, and put them through the pieces of ribbon.
  • Frame for Jaclyn's picture: This is a project that I started before I even got married. My sister drew me a sweet picture of me and my cat who died five years ago now. She set it in a cardboard frame with a plastic cover, and so I began to make a wood frame to support the picture so I could hang it. I had cut the wood (I used baseboard moulding), glued it, and bought stain/finish for it, but then had left it for a long time. Unfortunately, I had made a mistake in how I cut it, so the glue didn't hold. I tried over the vacation to correct the cut, but concluded I can't do it with our freehand saw. I'll have to try again later when I can use a better saw setup again. In the meantime, I realized I can hang the picture in just the cardboard frame with those nifty Command strips, so that's what I did.
  • Fix table: The support for our drop-leaf dining room table broke about a year ago, and has been waiting to be fixed. I scraped the old glue off, which is the most tedious part, and drilled out the old broken dowels. I'll still need to buy and cut a new dowel, and consult with my dad on the best way to clamp it upon gluing, since it is curved.
  • Water irises and mum: Plants that were gifts, that don't normally need much water in winter, but with the severity of the drought, they might be dead. I've watered them, so we'll see if they come back.
  • Limeaway the semi-clogged faucet Done!
  • Fix couch comforter: Not done. I usually do sewing projects while in Skype meetings, so I'll have time in the future for this one.
  • Clean & babyproof:
    • Vacuum, especially the edges: I've got the living room done, anyway, and sure enough, found several unsafe little items along the edges of the room. I got the kitchen floor done too, except for the corner where some of Kenneth's projects have pieces waiting to be put together. Will have to get those taken care of soon.
    • Scrub bathrooms: Fail, though I did get the floors done, anyway. I'll have to do this within the coming week.
    • Tidy up the kitchen counters - Did a pretty good job of that, especially considering how many odds and ends were strewn about them. It's still not where I want it to be, but it's a lot better than it was.
    • Move books up: We don't want the baby tearing up our books, so we'll need to get them off the bottom shelves, at least in the living room. Not done.
    • Secure movable shelves: We'll probably just keep him out of our bedroom where our movable shelves are, at least without supervision, but still should put up something to keep him from being able to tip the shelves over. Still need to do that.
    • Secure rifle: We have my grandad's handmade bolt-action .22, which we wanted in case of coyotes (which have already been a nuisance), or badgers or the like. But, definitely don't want that loaded or accessible when little one gets to exploring. Got the ammo stored out of reach and the rifle put in a hidden and hard-to-get-to spot. I think my parents said they'd bought a trigger lock for it, so that will be the last step.
    • Check nursery for other things to move/set up: Done.
  • Fix sink faucet in spare bathroom: Uuugh. I bought two different basin wrenches, which afforded me a little slow progress. This sink does not seem to have been designed with maintenance in mind.
  • Fix dripping in shower - Didn't get to it.
  • Scrape bathroom wallpaper - Didn't get to this on either, though I hardly expected to. I am not one to run out of things to do!
I guess overall I'm happy with how my leave turned out. I got some precious family time, and a good chunk of household chaos conquered, so I thank God for that, and pray I may be able to continue to diligently use my time honoring Him as I begin work again. I am most of all thankful for the help God has given me to be more eager in my prayers, a little more cognizant of my need of Him, a little more affectionate ... a little closer to what Brother Lawrence has been reminding me to pursue.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Practicing our own discipleship: Empty and full?

"I know that for the right practice of it, the heart must be empty of all other things; because God will possess the heart alone. As He cannot possess it alone, without emptying it of all besides, so neither can He act there and do in it what He pleases unless it be left vacant to Him." (Fifth Letter)

That presents a paradox I struggle with. In my youth it was easy to think that I must regard nothing but God, consider Him the only thing that truly exists. It was easy to sing the prayers that I be emptied of all else. Yet in recent years I find myself pondering the opposite, that He is not a God of emptiness. Indeed, as Creator of all and in all, how can my heart be full of Him except to be full of those things through which He reveals Himself? ... Yet again, why do those things so often distract me from God rather than draw me to Him?

Such are the questions I'm pondering as I take a two-week vacation. Not traveling anywhere, but stepping back from my TEN3 responsibilities to enjoy my son as he learns to sit up, roll around, and eat from a spoon; to tackle several of the projects that have needed doing around the house (foremost, babyproofing it in anticipation of him very soon crawling); also, just to get some refreshment and perspective. I've been unusually discouraged lately, severely doubting that our efforts will really pan out at all. We've worked so hard for years and are still so far from seeing our vision come to pass. We still pray for 350 schools across Africa that offer better education than can be found anywhere and that foster true disciples of Jesus, and yet the few we've worked with have struggled terribly to stay viable.

Anthony had asked me to pray about taking some more responsibilities with TEN3, and my impression so far is that we need someone new, not me. I feel that, despite years of learning and adapting, something is still missing that the current team isn't seeing. If the Lord gives me some sudden insight, I'm willing to take it and run with it. So perhaps God will give that to me, or perhaps He will bring someone else along to help. Frankly, I'd prefer that; I am strong in my curriculum development position, but I think I'd be weaker at these other things. I don't know, but please join with me in pleading for His leading still, for His presence to fill all our hearts and our every decision, that He can indeed do all He pleases in TEN3. Likewise, let's pray together to learn how to be empty and full--empty of the pride and lusts that sneak in through every little thing we fix our minds on, and instead full of God's grace and glory in all the ways He makes it manifest.