Friday, December 22, 2017

At our weakest point

"When I looked at your personality profile, I thought, 'What is this guy doing as the leader of this team? He doesn't have the right characteristics at all,'" a team consultant told Anthony years ago. "But then as I learned about your team members and what they have been through, I understood. They would struggle under a typical leader. But your gift set is just what they need."

We are indeed quite a team of odd ducks, trusting God to use us in our the strengths and great weaknesses He has given us. There is so much about our mission that is strong: our thoroughly reviewed strategy, our well-researched model, the many decades of experience our team members have brought to the table, our training that has lit up so many faces. But we've also pushed forward in the face of a lot that doesn't make sense.

Like, nearly a year ago, when Anthony prayed and sensed God telling him that it's time to move container-loads of equipment to Africa. And mind you, a container is about 560 cubic feet. Anthony's first thought was the same thought he had when he was first asked to start the best computer school in Nigeria, and again when he was asked to help it develop a bachelor's degree: "That's crazy!" This time, the leading seemed crazy because the few centers we have started struggle to recruit students. People want a quick and easy piece of paper, and that's not what we offer. Our prayer is, once we get students through who can show they know their stuff better than all those who got the easy piece of paper, our programs will have value; but for now, what sense did it make to send equipment to start more centers?

The answer our team got was that it did make sense when we consider that we're about discipling educators who will then be able to make whatever education their communities need. We have all the training material we need for that. We have a delivery platform via Moodle. If we can get people discipled and committed to transformational education with this, we can finally see our vision take off.

My reaction was also, "You're crazy," but for a different reason: "Um, Anthony, need I remind you that we stink at fundraising?" No, seriously, we have got to be in the running for the world's worst nonprofit when it comes to getting money. When Anthony was first asked to start the school in Jos in the 1980s, he tried to raise $30,000 for a computer lab. What he got was $300 and six ten-year-old computers. And that's pretty much been the story of our ministry ever since. We make plans to raise thousands of dollars for travel, equipment, communication, etc., and then go on doing our ministry with next to nothing. For the most part, we've accepted that if we're expecting our African siblings to build sustainable schools with their own limited resources, our training, and if they're lucky some secondhand laptops, then it's appropriate that the Lord would have us work with great limitations as well.

Is it time now for us to actually succeed in raising thousands of dollars to equip our partners? Going on our track record, it's wishful thinking, but we serve the God who says His power is made perfect in weakness, so let's see what He will do with us at our weakest point.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Shamed by a "scammer"

A colleague recently shared this video series with us. The lesson he learned with others' reactions from it is that sharing the difficulties we tend to skip in our communications (like how hard it can be to send money to Africa) actually engages and impresses people. Someday, we should chronicle better what all we and especially our colleagues in Africa go through, frustrating as it can be at times, for the sake of this ministry.

What I got out of it, though, was a lesson about myself. I am not nearly as saintly as a missionary should be. I learned that because I saw quickly that I would not be nearly as patient as this vlogger. Not for a stranger who messaged me online, anyway. For my colleagues and friends in Africa, heck yeah I've crunched ideas through meetings, phoned my way through logistical pains, taken calls at 3am, advanced and gifted money personally, lugged a dozen laptops through airports and hotels, driven an hour to get papers for a chance for one of their sons to go to college, and more. But if it's somebody new, unconnected with the rest of my life, I usually don't have the patience to find out if I can bless them. I notice that even when my husband and I go to a store together. He strikes up conversations with at least the cashier, and usually about three other people in the store too. I usually assume a conversation with a stranger I'm unlikely to see again is not worth the effort. Kenneth is always thinking that there might be a way he can evangelize or just bless the people he meets in some way. I guess the number of times I've poured so much into a possibility of helping people and seen the plans fizzle has made me want to hedge my bets on whom I invest in.

Which is quite ironic since I once presented my ministry to a church with the theme, "Invest in the lost causes." I meant that in one sense because Africa seems so "hopeless," and yet we keep presenting that our vision is for the African Church to rise up and take the lead globally in education and the spread of the Gospel. That was also an unspoken appeal for certain loved ones connected with my audience at that time. I wanted people to invest in those I loved, even though it would seem fruitless. Have I forgotten my own plea? On the other hand I only have so much time, I can't reach everyone int the world. Shouldn't I invest it where I already have obligations, where I know I can make a difference?

How did Jesus do it? He had many disciples He taught over His ministry. He had twelve He particularly spent a lot of time with, prioritizing their learning, sometimes going to a remote place alone with them. He also made time for people who came to him to ask questions or get help. He also stopped and made time for the strangers who hollered or reached across a crowd for His help. And He even reached out to people who wouldn't have initiated conversation with Him (Jn 4:7-9, 5:6). He couldn't have talked with everyone He passed, but He made time for all sorts of people and met their needs. May I learn from Him how to reach out and love those He gives me the opportunity to, when to put in the extra effort on a long shot, and when to focus on my prior commitments.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Contemplations of a new mommy

This time I promise I have a really good reason that I've been on break from my blog, at least for this month. That is, if you consider having a baby to be a good enough reason! Nathanael was born on September 7 at 11:52pm. For those of you who like birth stories, I'll tack it at the bottom of this post, plus a picture (it's a breastfeeding pic, conservative enough my husband had no problem putting it on Facebook, but just in case that would offend anybody, you've been warned). But, first, a thought worth sharing for everyone. Having a child is one of the most transformative experiences God gives us, but so far, there's been one really prominent lesson for me.

Ever since we took our baby home, the MercyMe song "Joseph's Lullaby" has been in my head. What sticks out particularly is the line "This world can wait for one more moment; go and sleep in peace." It's startling to think that the Savior was here, finally physically present in this world to save us from sin, and yet the world still had to wait for Him to eat, sleep, and grow. Yet looking at my little son as he drifts off, it's unthinkable that it should be any other way. To see a baby, so perfectly precious and totally needy, it becomes clear that the world must wait aside for him.

God has worked time after time to teach me not to be "worried and distracted about many things." I'm always wanting to be working, accomplishing, improving. My poor husband can testify that I get cranky with myself, and with him, when things pile up that aren't getting done. So I'd wondered how much crankier I'd be to have a baby constantly needing my time.

I'm not. Because the look of his sweet face tells me, "This is all I have to pay attention to now. Everything else can wait." Perhaps my son will be the one to teach me finally to live by love and not by the demands I place for myself.

The birth details

I had an astonishingly easy pregnancy. Heartburn throughout, some fatigue in the first trimester and last 3 weeks, and swelling feet were the sum total of my woes. I never even felt any Braxton-Hicks contractions until the last two weeks or so, and then they felt just like a mild 15-minute cramp. The 32-week ultrasound put baby's size in the 59th percentile, which was just the sort of number I hoped to see--bigger than the median, but not too big. My original due date was September 10th, but with the first ultrasound, my doctor changed it to September 4th. I was getting plenty of jokes about being due on Labor Day. Well, Labor Day came and I was crampy all day, but had no distinct contractions. I had my regular OB/GYN appointment Tuesday, and she found I was about 3cm dialated and 75% effaced. Cool, if just menstrual-level discomfort makes that kind of progress, I thought, this will be smooth sailing most of the way. Kenneth and I were hoping the baby would come the 7th so that he could stack his vacation time with his regular weekends and get nearly 3 weeks off.

Wednesday, I kept feeling pelvic pressure that would last 30 seconds or so. I kept checking its timing, but it varied greatly; sometimes 30 minutes apart, sometimes as few as 5 minutes. "This can't be labor," I decided, "It's too irregular, and I only feel it at the bottom of my uterus; it's probably just lightening." But it just kept coming, and it was getting stronger as the day wore on. I timed them one more time at 11:15ish that night, and it went 11 minutes, 11 minutes, 12 minutes, 16 minutes ... so I decided to go to bed.

In bed, I found the pressure was increasing, painful enough I couldn't sleep and even found myself shaking when it came. I decided to time it again. 8 minutes, 8 minutes, 8 minutes, 8 minutes, 7 minutes. "I'm in labor," I decided, and got up to finish packing my and Kenneth's's hospital bags. I kept timing the contractions, and when they hit 5 minutes apart, I called Kenneth at work 40 minutes away, asking him to come home and take me to the hospital. By the time we got there, which was about 3:45am, the contractions were 4 minutes apart. I was brought to triage, but the nurses took a long time getting to me because the receptionist could not find my paperwork. I thought surely I was close to active labor, but then it turned out I was only about 4cm, and 80% effaced. They let us walk around outside for an hour or so. There was a nice peaceful strip of sidewalk between sections of the building with bushes and flowers, so we walked down that, and I would lean on Kenneth whenever a contraction would come. When I went back to be monitored, the nurse said she was trying to sort out what she was seeing. I never really heard if she had an analysis or even what confused her, but my doctor came by about 7:30am. I was still only 4cm, but my contractions were still 4 minutes apart or less, so she admitted me.

However, soon after I was settled in my room, I noticed my contractions were coming slower and milder. Periodically through the day I walked the halls, squatted and lunged during contractions, and climbed the unit's 4 flights of stairs. In the early afternoon, since I hadn't slept all night, I sat on the birth ball and leaned against a table, and managed to get a couple hours' sleep that way. When I woke up, my contractions were about 10 minutes apart, and still weak. More walking and climbing to try to speed them up. Cara, my doula, also brought in a breast pump to try to increase my oxytocin.

When Dr. Hook came in and checked me about 6pm, she found my cervix hadn't progressed at all in the 11 hours since she first checked me that morning. My contractions were still 7 minutes apart at best. At that point, she presented two options: I could either go home and wait for active labor, or she could break my water. I was disappointed, and rather uneasy about having my water broken knowing that if that didn't speed up labor, I couldn't leave the hospital and would have to be put on pitocin. But, I hated the idea of having spent nearly 15 hours in the hospital for nothing, and then going home wondering how long it would drag on. So I decided I wanted to get it over with. She broke my water about 6:15; it was showtime! Except it seems my body didn't get the memo; an hour later, my contractions were even slower at 10 minutes apart. So pitocin it had to be. I had heard that labor is quite miserable with pitocin, but at least one mom also told me it's not that bad. Regardless, I was committed at that point. And with those two interventions I had to be kept in bed on monitoring, but at least that was an extremely adjustable bed; we had it basically converted to a chair for me.

By 10ish, contractions were rolling in at less than 3 minutes apart, and strong enough to make me shake all over. Cara instructed Kenneth to put gentle pressure on my shoulders to reduce the shaking and help me relax. For a while we tried a position turned around so I was on my knees leaning over the raised back of the bed, but I found that very uncomfortable, a combination of the effort it took to hold myself up like that and the pressure it put on my hips. I asked if I could sit on the ball instead. The nurses checked, and found I was nearly 8cm dialated. They decided the baby's head was deep enough that it was safe for me to get out of the bed, so I got to sit on the birth ball. That was much more comfortable, but soon the contractions were so frequent and strong, sometimes I got no break between them, and when I did, I needed Cara's coaching to successfully relax, because all I wanted to do was cry. I soon felt the downward pressure during the contractions that Cara told me to expect, but the next phase, constant pressure that becomes tremendous during contractions, wasn't coming. Though I'd had no back labor, Cara began to suspect that baby wasn't quite turned to the optimal position. She recommended I stand and lean over the bed to encourage him to turn. I winced at the idea, because leaning forward had been so uncomfortable before, but I got into position. On the next contraction, he did indeed turn, and let's just say that was the point I lost my composure. But Cara helped me get it back by reminding me this is what was supposed to happen, and Kenneth was all praises that I could do it. On each contraction after, I felt his head coming down. It was probably only four contractions when I said, "It feels like he's really close." The nurses checked and confirmed they could see his head, so that's when the doctor and a couple of aides rushed in. I was allowed to turn over on my side (which is a lot easier than being on the back), with Kenneth holding my leg up. I think it only took three contractions from there. That was the most intense few minutes of my life, of course, but worth it to feel him make his entrance into the world.

I had discussed delayed cord clamping with my doctor and was pleased to know that had been her practice for years, but in our case it turned out to be unnecessary; Kenneth said it shriveled in just seconds. The doctor pronounced the APGAR score 9-9.

I'm really grateful for UMC's practice of putting the baby skin-to-skin immediately with mom. After going through something as intense and incomprehensible as birth, the firs thing a baby needs in the wide, cold world is to with his mommy in the comfort of her arms. I can't say my mind was entirely on my sweet baby until Dr. Hook was done stitching my tear (I was sure she was going to make a mistake because my legs were still shaking so much, which of course she didn't), but I quickly fell in love with this beautiful little baby. He weighed in at 7lbs 10 oz and measured 21". He had deep dark blue eyes that are lightening up gradually, a full head of light-colored hair, which is still intact two weeks later. And he has his father's addiction to snuggling.

I named him Nathanael, first because it means "Gift of God" and I want to thank God for this incredible blessing. There are also several things I appreciate about the Nathanael of the Bible. I have to laugh at his skeptical and frank response to Andrew, "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" I love how Jesus gets his attention simply by revealing that He has always had His eye on him, and how ready Nathanael was to believe in Him for that one reason. It also impressed me that this is probably the only person we know of whom Jesus praises as soon as He meets him. Now, I've heard claims that Jesus was actually being sarcastic there, but it's always struck me as a real compliment, and something I do pray for my son, that he be, "an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit."

Kenneth chose Ignatius as a middle name for Ignatius of Antioch. You can read his story here.

I thank God so much for such a beautiful, sweet, healthy baby for us to love and raise. I thank God for all He will continue to do in our family, and pray we may be loving and true to His Word so that He may have His perfect work in us.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017


TEN3 is currently working on a Moodle platform for delivering our training. This isn't for students yet, but rather for those who want a TEN3 educational center in their communities, to be certified as an administrator, teacher, technician, or writer. We're being upfront that this will be a commitment of 500 hours, so it would probably take at least a year to finish. Putting it all on Moodle will, we hope, break it down into clear steps that they can see, and so that progress can be tracked easily.

What kind of training to do they go through? The first assignment, after reading an explanation of TEN3's educational model and principles, is to critique our CTO so they see comprehension-emphasizing, mastery-learning, discipleship-driven curriculum firsthand, getting benefits themselves from the chronological Bible study and probably some computer principles they haven't seen before, as well as giving us valuable feedback.

They also get a lot of training on what it means to be a discipler, a teacher who, as George MacDonald puts it, seeks to "lead them to the very Truth, to the Master Himself, of whom alone they can learn anything, who will make them know in themselves what is true by the very seeing of it."

They also review our Families and Media material on the role that technology plays in the war for our minds. They learn about the TEN3 vision, how we are not just trying to start schools, but to empower people to change their whole educational system. They are also mentored through Imitation of Christ and Practice of the Presence of God.

But we are also considering now how to incorporate a mutual commitment to spiritual disciplines. After all, transformation doesn't just happen with filling one's head with good materials. It also requires practice seeking and submitting to God. Anthony has shared a good quote on how the Christian life is not something we "try," but something that requires dedicated training like an athlete. Christie provided us with a good guide to get started. Please pray that we implement it wisely and be faithful in this aspect of training. Pray that it all be effective in building teams that are strong in wisdom and faith who will be effective in implementing transformational education in their communities.

Monday, June 12, 2017

An important lesson from a terrible story

As I wrote in February, God has coordinated now as the time for working on primary school material, starting with literacy. We did quite a bit of praying and research to find where to start. We wanted to find starting material from before the 1920s, both because then it would be out of copyright and available for use, but also because that was before many of the modern flaws in education took root. We found the McGuffey Eclectic Readers, which were highly praised and used for many years across America. We were impressed with the rigorous way it builds up reading ability, and pleased to see its designs to teach students good moral lessons from a Christian perspective. We began reformatting them for use in Africa.

Near the end of the first reader, we came across this lesson:

O, what a sad, sad sight is this! A boy with a dunce-cap on his head! Why does he stand there, in front of the school? What has he done? He is a bad boy. He talks and laughs in school. He loves to be i-dle, and does not leam his les-son. Does he not look bad? All the good boys shun him! Do you think a good boy can love a bad one? Can his teach-er love him? I think not. No one loves a bad boy- No one can love those who are bad. This boy tries to hide his face with his hand, for it is red with shame. Can you see his face? Do you see how he tries to hide it with his hand? Poor boy! I hope he will be good, and nev-er have to wear a dunce-cap a-gain. God loves those who are good. If you would please Him, you must al-ways be good and kind.

Oh, my! How did William H. McGuffey, an ordained Presbyterian minister, come to write and publish something like that? How could he have overlooked that God loves us while we are sinners? And if Jesus commands us to love our enemies who do us real harm, surely a teacher can love a troublesome, but helplessly young, pupil! Perhaps this was added after his death by others who worked on the series; I don't know.

We rewrote this story quite a bit to emphasize that God loves us no matter what, and we are to love each other no matter what, although sin still brings shame and consequences. But I take this instance as an important lesson for me as a missionary to remember: we Christians, even professional teacher/ministers, can have huge blind spots in what we say about God, places where we should know better because the Bible clearly states the truth. But somehow, we have a tendency to read over the verses that don't fit with our preconceived notions. A lot of missionary training involves looking at the "blind spots" that have hurt mission efforts in the past, when missionaries doggedly stuck to their preconceived notions they weren't really biblical. Of course plenty of training highlights successes of missions as well, but this I find an important reminder to have humility, to plead with God regularly to give us His wisdom and direction in what we teach and how, that we may not lean on our own understanding.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Why I love SIM

There are so many reasons why I am proud to be a member of SIM. Here are some of the big ones:

  • SIM is holistic. So many missions err in the balance between preaching the gospel and serving people's needs. SIM emphasizes and integrates both. We have evangelists, medical professionals, teachers, business-as-mission entrepreneurs, seminary professors, and even soccer coaches in so many places where they are needed most.
  • SIM is sensitive to learn from the Lord when to stay and when to move on. Some missions come to a field just long enough to get professions and baptisms, and then leave the field, saying, "mission accomplished." Very often in that case, the church in a few years has died or been subsumed in cults. Other missions stay long-term, and then keep sending missionaries to the same field to meet needs there, which hurts the planted church because it keeps them dependent, and it keeps the mission's eyes away from the remaining fields still untouched with the Good News. SIM goes to fields with a long-term commitment, but also takes steps to regularly keep eyes on the frontier, finding new, often difficult fields in which to send missionaries with the love of the Lord.
  • SIM takes care of its missionaries. They keep many checks, counselors, coaches, and resources in place to help us stay physically, mentally, and spiritually healthy.
  • SIM takes accountability very seriously. They not only report to their board and follow the IRS's standards for nonprofits, but are also one of the founding members of the EFCA, and keep their audited financial statements publicly visible online.
  • SIM is passionate. I just read in a newsletter an excerpt from a letter by Walter Gowans, one of SIM's founding members, just before he left for west Africa:
  • When is the time for the opening of this field? My friends, I cannot but believe that, as in other things, so in this, God’s time is now!... Our success in this enterprise means nothing less than the opening of the country for the Gospel; our failure, at the most, nothing more than the death of two or three deluded fanatics. Still even death is not failure. His purposes are accomplished. He uses death, as well as lives, to the furtherance of His cause. After all, is it not worth a venture?
  • SIM is committed to diversity. SIM International and all the ministries that belong to it must have specific percentages of members from the different nationalities which compose SIM. We are also continually working with countries in which we have had a long presence to mobilize missionaries, so we are not just white people going to the majority world, but rather have Paraguayans going to the Middle East, Koreans going to Zambia, Ethiopians going to Sudan, etc. Dr. Bogunjoku, a Nigerian who gave a beautiful talk on diversity while I was at SIM training, is now our International Director!

And I especially love SIM because we are "By Prayer"!

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Devotion in the drugery

There have been several times I've started a blog post in the last few months, but the words always ended in a jumble, as my emotions have been too strong to sort out what I even want to say. You can read my latest newsletter for a summary of what's come up lately to make me so.

I will try to add more updates soon, but in the meantime, a good thought I had in response to an email from Engaging Missions:

I've always found that "great devotions" come effortlessly on short-term mission trips--while I'm there, I'm full of anticipation and longing for what God will do, I'm watching eagerly for evidence of His presence. It's "at home" that I tend to lose that, or rather just let day-to-day problems crowd it out. It's so much easier to believe that problems have a purpose and I need to seek God wholeheartedly in the face of those problems when I'm out on mission. At home, it's easier to separate "life" from my mission, and thus bemoan the problems as if they have no purpose but to drive me crazy.

God, please forgive me for forgetting that every day of my life, You are at work accomplishing Your glorious purposes just as much as when I'm in Alaska or Nigeria or Zambia. Let me seek You just as hopefully and urgently when I'm at home dealing with a leaky pipe as when I'm in Africa dealing with a pile of problematic computers.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

The time is now

We've always known that to see education that helps transform a whole society, the biggest part will be the primary-level education. For years, though, that wasn't even on the table for us. We knew of a lot of things that were wrong with primary school education, both in the US and in Africa, but we just didn't have the right opening, or the right background, to do anything about it. We'd rather assumed that of the adults we've been training in transformational education, eventually some of them would be called to reform primary school.

Yet at the same time, we knew we've been racing a clock. If we're reading the trends correctly, the web is quickly advancing a new educational system that will make college degrees obsolete, and make secondary school all about becoming able to compete in global exams for certifications in the student's intended field. It will also largely eliminate in-person teachers in favor of everyone learning from webinars, with just a supervisor/assistant in the classroom. This largely depersonalized system will reduce much discipleship opportunities, creativity, and community strength unless we can offer something better before it takes over. It will also subject young minds around the world to the agenda of a few.

Then in 2013, we got our first request for transformational education at the primary school level. It was by teachers interested in our program in Zambia, and so we planned for me to go over there and work with the teachers on it. Well, it didn't work out for me to go, but that was because God had better plans, both for me and the ministry. For me, it meant getting to be in the US to court and marry Kenneth. For the ministry, it allowed more pieces to be put into place. We refined our teacher training to disciple teachers of any discipline, not just computers. We developed aids for running a school with a networked lab so that, with a little more development, teachers can hopefully work with us easily. I got training on relating cross-culturally and on effective church planting. Anthony and I encountered books we worked through that change the paradigm of children's education (particularly, Gutta-Percha Willie by George MacDonald, "Teaching of Arithmetic: The Story of an Experiment" by L.P. Benezet, "The Lost Tools of Learning" by Dorothy Sayers, and The Well-Trained Mind by Susan Wise Bauer and Jessie Wise.

In early 2015 we got our first request for a specific curriculum for primary school students: Christian computer education. I wrote about that here. We developed a year's worth (there's more that can be done), and it has so far been very well-received in Nigeria, as something excellent, fun, and useful to a wide variety of students.

Soon before I left for Nigeria, our Zambia director, Collins Sakalunda, expressed how he was excited about our vision and tactics for transformational education, but was disappointed that it didn't really reach his children's greatest needs. He and his wife had tried several different schools and were not impressed with the academic or spiritual progress their children gained. Couldn't TEN3 help give their children a better education in the core subjects, not just computers?

Well, we told him, we've had an aim to reach that area for a long time, but would need their help to make it happen. So we developed a strategy. We are gathering textbooks from before 1926, both because that makes them public domain, and because that puts them before the era of Dewey and Rockefeller's radical disfiguring of education. I choose the books, Anthony and three other volunteers convert them to a usable format, two of Collins' daughters edit any mistakes in the conversions and make notes of references unfamiliar to them. Then I format them for publishing, and Mrs. Sakalunda uses it to teach their youngest boy, and sends me feedback about how it went. Collins then starts sharing it with fellow pastors and educators, who we hope will work with us to contextualize it more for present-day Africa.

Interestingly, just as we started to make these plans with Collins, partners in Nigeria started telling us that the reading books would greatly help them as well. So many in Africa, even after attending whatever schools are available in their area, are still illiterate but longing to be able to read their Bibles and improve their lives with access to education.

The time is now. Please pray for us as we now tackle the challenge of teaching at the most fundamental level. May we raise up a truly powerful generation that can discern and reason, and that builds all their reasoning on the truth of Christ.