Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Is It a Call?

We came to Texas to care for my mother who has Alzheimer's. As the situation has become less of a transition and more a way of life (my mother is in a nursing home, receiving around-the-clock care, as her condition has advanced rapidly), John and I have asked God for an update on our status--in other words, are we still right where He wants us? (If you've ever asked this of God, you know to be prepared for change. He's not a cobwebs-on-the-Samsonite kind of God.) We have been amazed at how well He's orchestrated our travels from Natal to Texas via Florida just in time to be here when Mom needed us. But we've been wondering lately if this is still God's best use of our family. We are burdened by the fact that we have one lifetime to make the biggest impact possible on this earth and have been struggling to find the time necessary to evangelize and disciple--something we are both drawn to--and make a living at the same time. So, we began a prayer and fasting campaign, asking God if He might want to take us back to Brazil. We spent almost five years doing mission work there and had two of our children during that time. It's our home away from home.

Halfway through the fast it occurred to us to remove the parameters of "Brazil" we had placed on our request and to instead open it up to wherever God could "best use our family". That prayer seemed more of a necessary factor in the process of elimination than an honest appeal, because we assumed if we were to ever go back to a mission field it would be to Brazil. And, we had talked a lot about working with orphans or doing some other kind of humanitarian work in conjunction with sharing the gospel the next time around. On the last day of our fast, a friend of ours who's a medical professional told us about an African man who came to his clinic that day to get a physical before going overseas to his homeland for a short-term mission trip. During the checkup, the African shared with our friend the great need for humanitarian workers and missionaries in Africa, specifically Malawi.   

Though we had to admit God might be speaking to us, we were a bit surprised and none too happy that it wasn't about Brazil. To put it plainly, Africa represented an inconvenience at this point. We know Brazil, we don't know Africa. We looked into Malawi--where it is and what it's like--only to discover that it's almost surrounded by Mozambique, a country that speaks Portuguese. Interesting. We also remembered that we met missionaries from there at a conference back in November of 2007. We contacted them and found that they agree Malawi does need more workers. (This may seem like a no brainer but we have found that it's not always the case. In 2006 we considered moving to a city in Brazil that we expected would welcome the help. They did not, and we learned a valuable lesson--not every established mission point needs or wants more missionaries.) But need doesn't, in and of itself, constitute a calling so we asked God for clarification. 

John and I arranged for child care and went to a local organization to talk with some seasoned evangelists who have dedicated themselves to equipping would-be missionaries and their sponsors for effective ministry together. We sat and chatted with the very pleasant man who has spent the better part of his life serving in Africa and now heads up the Africa branch of that organization. He told us about a young family who recently moved to Malawi--that they've been praying for help on the field. We were intrigued. But the answer to someone's prayer doesn't, in and of itself, constitute a calling so we asked God for more clarification. 

We were affirmed during a recent visit to a church we chose for convenience of schedule. The preacher quoted James 1:27, "Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world." Having read that many times over, it was the first time anyone had pointed out that the "and" (that I have put in italics) is not part of the original Greek text. That changes the meaning a great deal and, as John noted, was a word from God for our situation. It answers how to remain unstained by the world and, at the same time, scratches our itch to work on a more tangible level, addressing the world's ever-increasing humanitarian need. We were convicted. But a well-crafted, poignant sermon doesn't, in and of itself, constitute a calling so, again, we asked God for clarification.

I'll spare you the details of every dream and coincidence (that we think are more than simply dreams and coincidences, by-the-way.) I wonder, based on what I have shared so far, what you think. Are we being called to Africa?

For now we visit with my mom regularly and mourn her loss as she gradually slips away. We facilitate Bible studies when we find people who are interested. The kids' sports program we started in the spring just came to a close and Samantha is studying the Bible with two of the moms from that. John is working at the local community center which is a modest paycheck but a great ministry potential. I home school the kids and together we manage my mom's estate. It's a lot to do and we stay busy, all the while, waiting for a little more clarification.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

JAWS End of Season

We started the Jewell Athletic WorkShop (JAWS) in January, but the idea was around for some time before that. The homeschool sports program in Florida that the kids participated in, and for which John worked part time for two years, inspired JAWS. After moving to Texas and realizing the hole it left in our family to leave that part of our routine behind, we sought to reproduce the experience on a small scale in our area. Not only did we see it as a great opportunity for recreation and friendship building, but we also believed it had the potential to be a perfect outreach ministry--something that is a consideration in most of our undertakings. We made T-shirts, invested in basic sports equipment, and printed flyers welcoming the community at large--not just the homeschoolers. The local community center allowed us to put up a sign and use their property for the kickoff session.

We charged the minimum to cover our expenses if a certain number of families registered. Just enough families signed up but even the small amount we charged (just $5 an hour, or less for more kids in the same family) was too much for some of them, so we raised several scholarships by word of mouth. We had enough of a turnout that we needed help coaching, so we hired a few like-minded individuals who were willing to work for peanuts to help get JAWS off the ground. In the end, we broke even financially. But there is much more to the first semester of JAWS than a financial report.

Because we quickly outgrew the community center within the first few weeks, we moved to the public park. An elderly man who was there every weekend was especially glad to meet us. His granddaughter lived with him most of the time because, as he puts it, "her parents are always fighting." I helped him fill out the registration form because he doesn't read or write. Even though JAWS is a three-hour, drop-off program, he stayed the whole time and helped out by carrying equipment and being available for odd jobs. Another mom told us her daughter with Down's Syndrome has no other opportunities for structured group play that are affordable or within driving distance. The kids were very encouraging and helpful to her, an attitude we stress above competition. Though we had a couple families sneer at the idea of sportsmanship and community above competition and winning, the motto on our sign "Like Sports, Love Kids" was widely embraced. It was a place for the kids who fall somewhere between athlete and special olympics. Although we did have some of each.

Our last session for this school year was in May. We wrapped it up with a barbecue at the park.

I can't say JAWS was wildly successful in terms of popularity or profit, but the kids and parents who were involved on a weekly basis would, I think, defend its success in other terms. Some moms had a little time to themselves while others were happy to see their children make some friends. There were kids who needed a positive male role model and a few who just needed the exercise. John and I are thankful that our kids had sports and playtime with their peers each week and that we had several opportunities to present the gospel and minister to families in general. I have a Bible study going right now with two of the moms from JAWS.

I don't know if we'll start JAWS up in the fall. I suppose if there's enough interest we will. As it stands now, we consider it a blessing that we will never forget. We are thankful to those of you who donated your time and resources in coaching, scholarships, equipment, moral support and prayers. Most of all, thank you to those of you who entrusted your children to our care.

"My hope still is to leave the world a bit better than when I got here." 
Jim Henson
American Puppeteer