Friday, November 16, 2012

The Ultimate Blogpost ("Ultimate" meaning "final")

Hi all!

This is our last post on this blog, and for us, it is a little bit of a bittersweet ending.  We have been overwhelmed and blessed by the amount of support that everyone has shown us!  By the grace of God, you have helped us reach our financial support goal (which we had thought to be insurmountable) well before our deadline!  And it seems like every day we are still hearing from people who said they were thinking and praying for us while we were on our trip- we cannot begin to express our appreciation for this!

Our journey has been wonderful, and God has been good to us in it.  While our suitcases have been unpacked for a couple weeks now, we will probably still be "unpacking" the lessons we've learned and experiences we've had for a long time to come.  And while the full impact of our trip may not be realized for a while, we have appreciated sharing with you what we could during these past few months.

And speaking of sharing, I (Mark) have a couple things that I learned to share with you to close our time together.  But before I do, if you are interested in keeping up with what Hillary and I are doing in our lives, Hillary keeps another blog that she will probably resume soon, now that our trip is over.  You can find it here:

Two things (of many) that I have learned from my experiences in Mozambique:

1. I have learned about myself

Okay, so maybe this is a bunch of things all rolled into one.  But if you ever want to "know thyself", a missions trip is a great way to go.  Remove yourself from your familiar environment and culture.  Walk intentionally into situations and places that may make you uncomfortable.  You will discover things about yourself that you did not know before- things that you may not like, but also you will discover, by their absence, the things you value.

For me, that meant I learned how impatient and proud I can be sometimes, and I also learned what a blessing it can be for others to show genuine hospitality.  It made me want to aspire to be more of a welcoming and kind person to others, especially strangers and people new to the area.  I also learned that I really, truly value relationships.  And not just the superficial kind- I desire to get to know people in a deep way, to be able to share struggles and joys with each other, and to lift each other up.

2. I have learned a little about what it means to be a missionary- wherever you are

 It's pretty funny actually, our home church is currently doing a small series on the "Missional Church", and much of what our pastor preached on this past Sunday mirrored some lessons I learned in Moz.  Most of you probably know of the concept, as Christians, that we are supposed to be "in the world, but not of it."  Well, working alongside Edgar while in Mozambique gave me a good picture of what this means.  I remember a question he asked me early on  in our trip- he asked me how many non-Christian friends I had.  I had to be honest with him, and I told him that I virtually had no close relationships with people who weren't Christians.  He was very surprised at this.

Throughout my time with him, I got to see him interact with people who could care less about God.  Always respectful, always friendly, I saw him building good relationships with these people.  His conversations often had some part of the gospel in there too, but on a level that the people he was with could relate to.  Now contrast that to my approach to interacting with non-Christians: I don't.  Too long I have simply built walls around me, keeping others at arm's length so that I do not have to get "dirty", so that I can have friends that don't make me uncomfortable in any way.  But through this trip, I have seen how God can work through me, as a missionary, to anyone, anywhere- even at home.

So that's it.  We're signing off of this blog.  But if you have any questions or want to talk to us about anything related to our trip, feel free to post on here somewhere, or shoot us an e-mail, or call, whatever you want- we'd LOVE to talk to you!  Once again, a huge THANK-YOU to everyone for their support!  God bless you all!

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Learning from Mozambique: Two Final Questions

Who is God? How has my understanding of God changed?

I don’t think I have ever thought so much about what I expect God to provide for me as I did when we were in Mozambique. Some of it was little things, like electricity or when the water would disappear for a day or so. When I would pray for the water to come back, I approached prayer with the mentality of, “God wouldn’t make me live without running water. He knows that I need that!” But the more I noticed people as I rode to school each day, the more I realized that God has never specifically told me that He will provide me clean running water. Ground-breaking, I know. But for me, it really was. I started to think about how many times I assume that some blessing I have is a matter of course and not necessarily a source for wild and jubilant thanksgiving.

For those of you reading who don’t know, Mark and I have been struggling with infertility for the past almost-two years. I say ‘struggling with infertility,’ but I really mean, at least for me, ‘fighting with God.’ Or ‘throwing tantrums in God’s presence.’ I haven’t yet told many people besides Mark and my mom that this trip, in some ways, was an emotional trial for me. At the beginning of January of this year, I was praying, “Lord, we’re starting these fertility medications. We can’t both get pregnant and go on a missions trip this year. You know which of those two options are in Your best interest and ours. I trust you.” But I really meant that I thought having a baby was in our best interest and that I would happily forego the trip if we could get pregnant.

So, by July, when I was not pregnant and all of the details were working themselves out seamlessly for the trip to happen and the support for our trip was rolling in faster than we ever thought possible, I was feeling pretty resentful toward God. I could see, even in my baby-hungry state, that God had set firm plans for us to go to Mozambique and not for us to have a baby yet. I determined to try to set my feelings aside for the trip and try to have a good attitude and learn what God had to teach me.

I was surprised to find out that part of what God had to teach me about Himself touched on my infertility. On one day during the trip, I saw pictures of the brand new babies of two friends and received e-mails from two other friends letting me know that they were pregnant. Those of you who have struggled with infertility know what a complicated mess of emotions birth and pregnancy announcements create in someone who desperately wants a baby!

During the time that I was crying to God after receiving all of this baby news, I felt God speak to me in a more tangible way than I ever have. God was telling me that He would give me the strength to bear up under the pain of infertility. He would give me the strength, but He was not promising to take my infertility or the pain it causes away. This revelation was pivotal.

At this point, with this message from God, I was finally able to begin to accept God’s constant ‘no’ answer to my asking for a baby. At least right now, God is not giving me what I want. God is not an over-indulgent parent. He willgive me what He knows I need. When I make assumptions about God, or feel entitled to certain blessings from Him, I’m no longer worshipping God for who He is. I’m just worshipping my idea of God. And if I’ve set standards for God that aren’t true to His character, I set myself up for disappointment with God down the road when He doesn’t measure up to my standards.

As a result of our time in Mozambique, I was finally able to begin accept that God is good and loving. He is not a genie, and He might have a different plan for me right now, something else for Mark and I to do before we’re blessed with children. I’m still sad sometimes. But I’m also able to move forward.

Where am I going? What is God calling me to be and to do as a result of this experience?

Ever since I graduated from college, I have contemplated returning to school to get my teaching license. Having experienced teaching in a classroom, I can now say that I loved it and I would love to teach again. Eventually, whether next year or in five years, I plan to return to school for that teaching license. I’m still waiting to hear from God as to His timing!

And as for overseas missionary work, I know that both Mark and I loved our time in Mozambique. I feel confident that if we made the commitment to do full-time missionary work, we would be able to deal with the challenges of that life, and we would love the work. At this point, neither of us believes that God is calling us to live and work overseas, but we are open to hear from God if He should begin to make it clear that that’s where He wants us!

Thank you so much for sharing in this Mozambique experience wit me! I've learned so much and been blessed in so many ways by this experience and by your support financially, in prayer, and through reading this blog. Please continue to join me in praying for Mozambique and the missionaries at work there!


Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Learning from Mozambique: Three Questions

What is the impact of culture on faith? How do I see life and the gospel differently because of what I’ve experienced?

Since being home, and being back to work at the library, I have been struck over and over again by how much ready access we have to entertainment in some form or another in the U.S. That new movie, Rock of Ages about some rock star (whose name escapes me) keeps coming to mind since I’ve been home. ‘Rock of Ages,’ is a name that Christians normally reserve for God. And what a true statement that makes about our American culture- to have a name reserved for God now used for an entertainer!

I know for me, whether I realize it or not, sometimes entertainment – in the form of books or movies or music – becomes an idol for me. I never, ever, ever am without a book to read. (Part of this is the fault of working in a library—reading is professional development, right??) I want to be more intentional in how I spend my time, intentional in being aware of how much entertainment I’m consuming regularly in comparison to how much of my ‘free’ time I’m spending on pursuits that honor God.

Also, again pertaining to the expectations I have toward God, I want to maintain a spirit of thankfulness and a lack of expectation when it comes to what God provides for me. Whether I realize it or not, I feel entitled to so many things that God has never actually told me that I’m entitled to. So, really, many of those things (like running water) are blessings that I should be spouting thanks for!

What does it mean to be a follower of Christ? What have I learned about discipleship?

When I was in Mozambique, I was blessed by honest and raw Christian fellowship among the teachers at RIS. We met every morning before school for a short devotion time. Many times someone would share a struggle that they were having or something that they needed to ask forgiveness for. I was challenged so much in my faith by this, and I was reminded how ‘one man sharpens another.’

When I was in college, I was a part of a small accountability group. Five ladies, myself included, met weekly to share how had been doing during the past week in the areas of spending time with God, Bible reading and memorization, sins in our lives, and other struggles and joys we’d experienced. We each shared, making an effort to be open and honest, and then we prayed together and for each other. That time was always so freeing and healing for me, and I’ve missed it ever since. As a result of experiencing that fellowship again on our trip, I want to make an effort to seek out other women who would like to form an accountability group with me right here where I live.

What’s of value? How do I live here in light of what I’ve seen there?

People are important. Relationships are important. When I was in Moz, so many missionary families, who are busy with work and have many responsibilities, took time to meet me and Mark and have us over for meals. They were quick to welcome us into their families. In the U.S., as this last week was proof, we have to purposefully and intentionally schedule time to meet with friends. I know that I have a tendency to let my day planner and to-do list dictate how much time I spend with people. I want to try to be less that way!

Also, having experienced being a ‘foreigner’ and an ‘outsider’ in another culture and country, I know that it can be lonely and overwhelming, especially if one doesn’t speak the language well! I want to make more time in my life and more room in my home to welcome the ‘foreigners’ and ‘outsiders’ in my own community.

I have answers to two more questions coming up in one more blog (my final Mozambique blog)!


Tuesday, November 6, 2012

An Almost-Final Blog

Mark and I had every intention of writing ‘final’ blogs last week, to share some of our insights and lessons learned while in Mozambique.

Lesson 1: We are much busier in the U.S. than we were in Mozambique!

Parting with Mozambique and the people we met there was bittersweet, and to be honest, returning to the U.S. was bittersweet as well. The sweet part of returning had to do with people. Our niece and nephew seemed to have grown in leaps and bounds in the six weeks while we were away, and we were anxious to see them. (And the rest of our family and friends, too, of course.)

The bitter part of returning also had to do with people, and an experience we had in the O’Hare airport in Chicago sums it up pretty well. We had just disembarked from the airplane and had followed the maze of hallways along with hoards of other people toting carry-ons. When we came to the Passport Control area, the U.S. citizens were weeded out from the non-U.S. citizens. Those of us with U.S. passports were herded into one long winding line, while everyone with non-U.S. passports were herded into another long winding line. This was our first experience of being surrounded completely by Americans in over six weeks.

We were standing in line, not talking (remember, we’d been traveling for about 50 hours at this point), when we were startled by a commotion in front of us. We heard the high-pitched sound of women yelling and then a phrase we understood: “We’ve been waiting in line longer than he has!”

The Passport Control attendant, who had been ushering people to officers at desks as they came available, was staring wide-eyed at a group of three ladies who were waiting in line in front of the first desk. A young man with a backpack stood awkwardly next to her, obviously trying to decide whether to continue to the passport control desk that he had been motioned toward or to wait.

We realized that the angry women had been waiting in line behind someone who was having some difficulties clearing passport control and had to fill out an additional form. The women were glaring at the attendant in self-righteous indignation. The attendant shook her head and, still wide-eyed, led the fuming women to a new desk, while the young man with the backpack slunk back into the line to wait.

Mark started humming “I’m Proud to be an American,” under his breath, and I was reminded that, yes, there are many good things to come home to. Like family. And drinking water straight from the faucet. And whole wheat bread flour. And grocery carts in grocery stores. But there are also many… challenging things to come home to as well. American culture is not perfect, by a long shot!

Before we left for Mozambique, we were give eight questions to consider and mull over while on our trip. All of the questions were good to think about, but some were more helpful in processing through my feelings about the trip than others. I’d like to share just a few of my responses with you in my next two blogs. Watch for those posts!


Sunday, October 28, 2012

The Joys of Travel and Adjustments

For those of you who have not heard, Hillary and I have at length arrived safe and sound in the good ol’ U.S. of A.  Our journey from Nampula, Mozambique to Minneapolis, Minnesota was not, however, without its share of hiccups.

Our flight departed the Nampula airport early, in fact, on Tuesday afternoon for a short hop over to Johannesburg, South Africa (hereafter referred to as “Jo’burg”).  As we flew close to the Jo’burg airport, the pilot informed us that due to a severe thunderstorm, we were not currently able to land, and were put into a holding pattern.  After circling the city a few times, we were notified that we would land at a military base outside the city.  So we landed, but were not allowed to exit the plane as we waited over two hours for permission to return to the airport and for the plane to be re-fueled.

So by the time we arrived in the Jo’burg airport, about a dozen people (ourselves included) had missed our connecting flight.  The airline then re-booked our flights, but the next available flight to London was 24 hours later, the following evening at 7:45.  So we resigned ourselves to some quality time with the various shops and sights of the Jo’burg airport. 

Things got a little more interesting when we made a new friend.  José was a Portuguese gentleman who had been working in Pemba, Mozambique, and was on the same flight as us, traveling back to Portugal to see his family.  He did not speak a word of English, though, and was consequently having a difficult time communicating with the agents at the airline desk.  Hillary and I overheard him trying to use Portuguese to very little success, and Hillary volunteered to help translate for him, as best as she could, since Hillary is fairly good with Spanish, which is quite similar to Portuguese.  So it turned out that, as he was also traveling via London, we took him along with us and helped him get a hotel and navigate through the airport.

As a result of our flights being re-booked, our London to Chicago flight was also delayed half a day, so in the end we did not get home until late Thursday evening.  However, we were quite happy to arrive safely in Minneapolis.

That is, until we stepped outside.

At this point in our adventure, our bodies had gotten used to constant sweating, intense sunlight, and 90-100 degree temperatures (that’s Fahrenheit) every day, so you can imagine our shock to be back in Minnesota/Iowa with portions of the day at or below freezing.

So we could still use your prayers in many ways:
  • As Hillary and I begin to process all that we’ve experienced and learned on our trip, pray that we will keep our eyes on God for direction and wisdom on how we will use these lessons, and where we go from here.
  • As we return to a vastly different culture from Mozambique, pray that God will help us adjust back to America, and perhaps use some things we’ve learned to be a light and witness here in the United States.
  • Pray that we will transition well into our old jobs, schedules, and responsibilities
  • Pray that our bodies will transition well, with jet-lag, different diets, and freezing temperatures.

Thank you all for you support!  We hope to still post a couple more blogs detailing some of the things God has taught us as a result of our trip and how we’re doing getting back to life here.


Monday, October 22, 2012

Departing with Mixed Emotions

Mark and I are getting packed up right now. We started last night, a little worried that the few breakable gifts that we want to bring home wouldn’t have a comfortable place to rest while making the journey, but somehow we’ve either mysteriously lost stuff while being over here, or we’ve become more efficient packers. We thought we would need hours and hours to pack, but somehow, we find ourselves ready to go at 8:00 in the morning, with four hours left before we need to make the trip to the airport.

I don’t know if my emotions could possibly be more mixed upon leaving Mozambique. Somehow, amid the dust, road congestion, smoldering trash heaps, and perpetual curious stares, Mozambique has wormed its way into my heart.

If I’m honest with myself, I guess I know how: Mozambique has captured me with its brightly colored capulanas; its impossibly gigantic bundles on heads and bikes; its roadside stands selling bananas, coconuts, bread, books, cell phones, sunglasses, clothing, cassava, and so many other things; its giant baobab trees and palm trees.

But most of all (and probably most predictably of all), the people have captured my heart. I love Rapale International School, but even more, I love the teachers and students who fill it with noise and life. I love all of the places I’ve visited, but even more I love the missionaries who have generously shared their lives, homes, and experiences with me. I love the brightly colored capulanas, but even more I love the people, some who have heard about the hope that Jesus gives, but so many who haven’t.

I’m so excited to see all the family and friends waiting for us at home. I’m excited to be able to drive myself to the grocery store, and I’m excited to eat ice cream and chocolate chips and drink herbal tea. But I’m also so sad to leave.

We may be leaving beautiful Mozambique, but our prayers will continue to go up on behalf of its missionaries and its people. Please join us in lifting up Mozambique in prayer!


Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Learning through Teaching

With only three days of teaching left for me at Rapale International School, I guess it’s about time for me to write something about my experiences teaching. You might think from my lack of posts on the subject that I haven’t really enjoyed or thought much about my time teaching, but that is absolutely not the case. I have, in fact, loved every minute (minus a few, I’ll admit) of teaching science at Rapale.

Through teaching I have learned a number of things, both about teaching as a possible profession and about myself. I’d love to share those tidbits of wisdom, or in some cases common sense, with you now. Those of you who are teachers may not agree with the conclusions I’ve drawn over the past few weeks, or you may recognize that I’m only sharing part of the picture. Please speak up! I’d love to soak up the wisdom you’ve gained from experience.

Set guidelines, boundaries, and expectations on your first day of teaching.

I heard this before I started at Rapale, but I didn’t really follow through on it. Part of my reasoning I’ll blame on only having about three days to prepare for school. Another part of it I’ll blame on not knowing what or how much to prepare in the three days available. But a big chunk of it I’ll blame on making assumptions. I assumed that because the students had expectations from their homeroom teachers that those expectations would follow through into my classroom.

Wrong, Hillary, wrong.

I’ve spent a fair bit of time over the last couple of weeks picking up the pieces of what I expect in the classroom and in schoolwork and frantically trying to fit them into their proper places. When a student brings work in late, do I dock points for that or slap them on the wrist? If a student is sick, how do I go about helping them catch up? Some guidelines, boundaries and expectations I had prepared and some could be added as I went along, but there was still more chaos than I liked. And whether students realize it or not, they don’t like the chaos either. They’re much more comfortable with a few boundaries. If I ever get to teach again, I will over plan in this area.

One of my greatest faults is being too nice.

I’ve actually been slowly coming to this realization for a while, but it took being in a classroom to be truly confronted with this. I am uncomfortable with making other people feel uncomfortable, even if it would be good for them. This isn’t great in a peer situation, but it’s devastating in a classroom. A teacher must push her students, must make them uncomfortable. As a teacher, I must be willing and able to confront the student who hands in sloppy work regularly or isn’t putting forth an honest effort. If I can’t do this, I’m no good as a teacher!

I’m happy to say, I think I’ve been improving in this area since I started teaching at Rapale, but I still have much to learn and will have to work hard to overcome this fault.

You can rarely tell how much of an impact you’re having on a high school student. You absolutely can never tell with a junior higher.

Every once in a while, with my high school students at Rapale, I see something I say or something they are learning at school begin to bear fruit. I’ve had the privilege of watching my high school students’ enthusiasm for chemistry grow (even just a tiny bit). And, no, it’s really not just wishful thinking on my part. I hope. And I see them smile more when I say hi to them, when I compliment their work, when I ask about their lives at home. And they tell me just a little bit more. I love getting to see their personalities come out bit by bit.

But my junior high students continue to baffle me. One day they seem excited about what we’re learning. The next they’re all exchanging glances that convey, Oh, woe is us. We are so bored. Why are we being tortured? One day I can talk to them, really talk to them, and the next, I’m the lamest person on earth. I just don’t know with junior highers.

If you ask for questions, make sure you specify what kind of questions and how many.

I wish I had written down all the bizarre questions that I’ve received in the last six weeks alone. Sometimes a student will ask a question and it’s vaguely related to the topic at hand, but not really, and I’ll find myself staring at them with my mouth hanging open.

If you continually reference the volatile nature or combustibility of substances in chemistry, 8th and 9th grade boys will think you’re cool.

Truly, this is how I’ve wormed my way into the hearts of my 8th and 9th grade boys. Or at least, this is how I keep them alert in my class.

Never underestimate what your students can do. But don’t overestimate either because then you’ll just end up perpetually frustrated when you plan five or six of cool things to do in class and only get to start two.

Almost every week I have over-planned for my 6th and 7th grade science class. And it’s so frustrating because I have all these cool things that I want them to do and learn, but more often then not, we don’t get to do everything and they don’t get to learn as thoroughly as they could or should. Again, if I ever get to teach again, this is something I will need to work on!

You’ll never absolutely love your students during the hour-long commutes to and from school, but try to act like it anyway. You don’t want all the younger children on the chapa thinking you’re the mean scary teacher and that it would be better for them if they never graduated to junior high.

The moments where I start to doubt whether I would like to be a teacher come the most frequently when I’m stuck in an 11-passenger van with 20 students. And when they start to sing “We Will Rock You,” I just about lose it. In fact, I have adamantly banned “We Will Rock You” whenever I’m on the chapa. So, any day I do not ride home with them, the whole chapa rocks with victorious refrains of “We Will Rock You.”

Treat your high school girls like young ladies and they’ll act more like young ladies. Treat your junior high girls like young ladies and they’ll still act like they don’t like science and dart furtive glances at each other throughout your lesson.

Are you getting the feeling that I just haven’t clicked with junior high students the way I have with my high school students? If so, you would be getting the right feeling. I just don’t know about those junior highers.

Pray for your students.

Just like I’ll never know the impact I have on my students, I’ll never know how much some of them might need the prayers I send up on account of them. Besides, I started loving my students after about day three with them. But I started loving them more, even the less loveable ones, the moment I started praying for them.

I need to start writing down funny things that students say because I’ll never remember them later.

This blog post would be much more interesting if I could just remember the things that students have said or done to teach me all of the above! Maybe the next time I get to teach…