Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Pray for Tim Tebow!

I wanted to give a shout–out to my new favorite NFL player, Tim Tebow. Since I can no longer stomach rooting for the Buffalo Bills this season (any hopes of the playoffs ended weeks ago), I’ve given my allegiance to another, and specifically to one who consistently places his allegiance squarely in the name of his and my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. What an awesome witness. He’s got the entire professional sports community to a point where they can’t help but talk about Christ!

I was thinking about how crazy his season has been (plays quarterback for the Denver Broncos and has led them to a recent six-game winning streak including several come-from-behind-late-in-the-game victories) and how inspiring his unapologetic witness continues to be. I found myself praying for him! When was the last time an unbelievably famous celebrity figure (and if you’ve paid ANY attention to ANY sports network within the last several years, you know the name Tim Tebow and probably a good portion of his story), who proclaimed the name of Christ didn’t make portions of the Christian community cringe with anxiety as they wait for the inevitable backslide?

This kid has been put under the microscope and scrutinized ruthlessly on a national stage by sports and non-sports media alike that are absolutely salivating over the possibility of a slip-up or dent in his seemingly flawless image. All they can come up with is a few smart remarks over how his throwing motion is different than it should be and how he’s constantly praying! It's not like this Tebow obsession is new either - the media has been following him since his college days at the University of Florida, winning championships and a Heisman Trophy, all the while running through linebackers, creating controversy by writing John 3:16 on his eye black, and starting press conferences with a note of thankfulness to his Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Sure, they’ve ripped apart his athletic abilities, pegging him incapable of playing in the NFL with any success at quarterback (already proven false, by the way). But they can’t get over the fact that he is an outspoken Christian who’s saving himself for marriage, loves his Savior while giving Him all the glory, and has taken over Denver and the rest of the country with unparalleled popularity even so! They know what to do with the “bad boy” in sports, but Tebow? It’s comical how clueless they are.

By the grace of God, Tebow’s image has remained untouched – nobody can seem to get under his skin, make him screw-up on camera, embarrass him about his faith or catch him doing anything that would make his mother blush. This is reason to both praise our Lord for such a unique and bold witness and get on our knees in prayer for someone at whom Satan’s arrows are no doubt aimed. So please, the next time you think about it, pray for Tim Tebow.

**A few disclaimers for those who follow sports and know how much of a diehard Bills fan I am:
1. I am aware that Tebow's win streak just ended by losing to the much loathed Patriots. I waited to post on purpose so I could either gloat more if he won, or prove that I will not be swayed in my new-found-fanhood of him simply because of one loss...
2. I am also aware that Tebow's Broncos face off in Buffalo this coming week. Sorry Bills (and fellow Bills diehards) - I'M ROOTING FOR TEBOW!!

Ok, just one more:

3. I am further aware that this post has seemingly nothing to do with missions. Key word: seemingly. Tim Tebow was born to missionary parents in the Philippines, and he is currently living (as we all should be) as a witness each and every day for Christ, proclaiming his faith without hesitation. Isn’t that exactly what being a missionary is all about?

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

We have received some of the same questions at multiple Munchies & Missions evenings this fall and thought it would be a good idea to create a FAQ post. We will try to update this post as new questions come up or as answers to some of the questions evolve. We’ll also be posting a link to this post under Learn More on the right so you can access it easily!

Question: When are you leaving?

Answer: Sometime in July, 2012, assuming we raise 100% of our support target. We are still waiting on the exact date of departure.

Q: How is your financial support-raising coming along?

A: Great! We are at 72% for our monthly pledge amount (updated as of 11.30.11)

Q: How long will you be gone?

A: We’ve signed up for a 2 year commitment. Neither of us feel strongly about this being for 2 years or for the next 20. We are open to what the Lord has for us after our first term. This could mean another term of 2, 3 or 4 years. We’ll need to know by the end of our first year what we are planning on for the following term, if any.

Q: What are you doing with your house?

A: We will try to sell it (spread the word!) by owner first, then probably use a realtor if we don’t have success after a few months. Renting seems to be too much of a hassle, without any guarantees of how much we could get out of rent or whether it would be consistently leased.

Q: What prayer requests do you have?

A: Lots! 1. For family, friends, and ourselves as we prepare to be apart for a few years. Pray that the proper grieving would take place among us all.

2. Ethan is nervous about how “long” the trip there will take. Pray for peace for him.

3. Tons of decisions to be made about our life “back here” while we’re gone – what to do with possessions, etc.

4. We’ve been blessed with almost NO anxiety about the fact that we’re moving to Africa, to a place we’ve never been. Pray that the Lord will keep us in that mindset, relying on Him for our provision and safety.

Q: We know Dan will be teaching math. What will Courtney do?

A: Courtney will be involved in her current full-time job as the mother of our three growing children. There will also be many ways to get involved on campus, with the students and the school. The staff who live there wear many different hats and we will both be wearing several that we aren’t even aware of yet. Courtney is especially looking forward to coming alongside some of the girls boarding there, hoping to mentor them and encourage them and be a mother-figure to them in their walk with Christ.

Q: What will your living arrangements be?

A: We will live in a house on campus. The campus is large (100 acres including the land that Kijabe Hospital is on) and has several houses that are used by staff members of the school and the hospital. Housing assignments are determined by family size, so the house we start out in may not necessarily be the house we stay in permanently. From what we understand, housing arrangements are re-assessed each year, depending on the families that will be serving there. A three bedroom ranch-style house seems to be the most common type of arrangement for our family size.

Q: Will Ethan go to Kindergarten there?

A: Yes, but not until our second year. The cut-off date for Kindergarten is age 5 by September 5th (similar to Pennsylvania’s Sept 1st cut-off). Ethan will therefore start Kindergarten during the 2013-2014 school year. RVA does have a 4 year old pre-school that mothers on campus take turns teaching, three days a week.

Q: Is it safe where you’re going?

A: Yes. The riskiest moment of our journey, statistically speaking, will be when we drive to the airport preparing to leave the U.S. this July. Safety is relative – and relative to many places in Africa (and many places in the U.S.) we will be safe. We always go back to the truth that “the safest place you can be is in the center of the Lord’s will.”

Q: What do you do with all your stuff?

A: Sell it, Toss it, Lend it, Store it & Take it – A little of everything. Things that are near and dear to us, we will most certainly be keeping in storage with friends or taking with us. That being said, we certainly have collected a lot of stuff over the 7 years we’ve been married. This is kind of a neat excuse to “clean house.” It really forces us to ask the questions about what we need and what we actually use on a regular basis. Courtney loves de-cluttering, Dan is more of a pack-rat, so please pray for us as we are sure to have many interesting discussions about what to do with different possessions!

Q: What are the options for communication back to the States when you’re over there?

A: Email, Skype, Facebook, Blogging, Phone - Anything Internet related WILL be available to us. Our internet connection won’t be as fast as what we have here, but we will have one. Phone calls will also be made, I’m sure. We’re still looking into the international plan options that are available. The bottom line is that we plan to be just as connected to many of our loved ones as we are now – just without the periodic visits in person. We don’t say that to belittle the fact that we will still be gone for two years, but we are encouraged that we can still be actively involved in the lives of those we care about. Also, its neat to foresee how much more intentional we’ll have to be in those relationships – that can only be a good thing!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

RVA in Pictures







Titchie Swot is the name of the elementary school at RVA (which I think means “little learner”)


First Grade Classroom at Titchie Swot


Beautiful murals by the students

***All Photos are courtesy of Jill at The Wills Family blog. We met at candidate week in June. She and her family are currently raising support to serve at Rift Valley too! She had the opportunity to visit in October and she kindly shared her photos (and the notes she took!!) with me.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

How the Lord continues to teach me

I gave my testimony at MOPS yesterday. And I thought I’d post the transcript. It does recount some of our story, from my perspective.

When I was preparing for this talk, I just started thinking about what the Lord has been teaching me over the past few years and has really been hammering away at me in the last year.

HE’S TEACHING ME ABOUT : Surrendering rights, Giving up control, Putting to death fear and anxiety that so entangles and robs joy

HE’S TEACHING ME TO : Trust Him fully, Accept His unconditional love and overwhelming grace, Lean in on Him when it’s hard & To give thanks in all circumstances.

Some of these things I am further along in than others. Some I am just starting to be able to do. None of it can I do on my own, without His help.

I know about control. I know about scheduling. I know about starting early to get where we need to be on time. I’m very type A. Until just recently, I had never been late for anything in my life. And believe me, I do not tell you this to brag. I tell you this because I am a sinful controlling person by nature and I make my neat orderly life into a god and my control of situations and how it looks to others into a god and I worship them. I don’t submit well, not without first weighing all pros and cons and doing an analysis of the situation.

My story starts, however, being raised by my single mother. My mom expected us to be in church each week and in youth group each week and I’m so very glad she did because it was through youth group that the Lord spoke to me and saved me my sophomore/junior year of high school. God gave me the wisdom during my senior year of High School to seek out a Christian college to attend after High School. I was just a baby believer at that point, but I felt very convicted that if this was going to be a real commitment, and if I was going to grow in my faith, I needed to be nurtured and discipled by Christian teachers and peers. And my years at Geneva did just that. Geneva grew my faith up by leaps and bounds. It was in my senior year at Geneva that I began dating Dan. And I had never met a man so in love with the Lord and walking with Him, and I was enthralled. It was on one of our first dates that he told me that if we were to get married someday, he wanted me to know we would probably be missionaries in Africa. And I just thought it was so cute. He wanted to “save the world” but surely we were not going to be missionaries in Africa. We were married in 2004.

We’ve been married for 7 years and we have 3 children. Ethan just turned 4 in October, Nate is 2.5 and Evelyn is 7months. This is my fifth year in MOPS and my second year in the position I’m in as administrative coordinator. And this is likely my last year in MOPS because in July of 2012, we will be moving to Africa. We’re moving to Kenya, specifically, to be missionaries and to minister to missionaries.

So how did that happen? How did I go from being logical and orderly and in control and on top of things to moving across an ocean to a country I’ve never been to with my three small children, likely selling our home, some of our stuff, and leaving convenience and comfort and things I know ? The Lord. That only happens through Him. The Sovereign God of the Universe, the same one that created life, that spoke it into existence and called me to Himself when I was in High School has given me, has given us a task. He’s told us to go, He’s made it abundantly clear and He’s asking me to obey, to trust Him.

What happened practically between 2004 and 2011? The Lord laid missions on my husband’s heart long ago, but Dan never pushed or prodded or even brought it up during our marriage. What happened was God caused us both to stumble on His purposes for the whole world over and over again early in our marriage. For 3 or 4 years of marriage, we were being bombarded with cross-cultural/overseas missions. We were in a Bible Study on God’s Global purposes. A few times we were visiting my husband’s family and they had missionaries speaking at their church that Sunday. And to take that a step further, my husband is a high school teacher and we would hear about the need for teachers for missionary children. Wycliffe Bible Translators had an ad for teachers for missionary children. Not just once, but multiple times over the course of a year. It was evident that we were being confronted by this more and more and the Lord was really softening my heart.

Recognizing that the Lord was doing something here in causing us to bump into this need at every turn, my husband and I began praying seriously about our role in missions work in the summer 2009, with the understanding that every believer plays a role in carrying out the gospel of Christ. Where do we fit? We prayed for clarity in the answer - that God would make it abundantly clear to us where He wants us right now. At the time, my heart was simply not ready for this. As far as I was concerned, my husband was in a mission field teaching in a public school (and he is). Certainly we need strong Christian men teaching in our public schools, but we simply could not get away from the fact that God was placing cross-cultural, overseas ministry in our laps. So we sought His direction.

It was shortly thereafter that I got a phone call that would change everything. In early October, the chair of our International Missions Committee called, asking if I would be willing to pray about going to Africa to teach missionary children, from May 18th to June 3rd – 17days. And he asked for ME. He didn’t ask for my husband. What you have to understand about this - this is October of 2009. I have an ALMOST 2 year old and a 6 month old. People don’t call that woman to go to Africa for 17 days. This goes against every logical, controlled, orderly, the-way-things-are-supposed-to-go thought. But Yet I got off the phone KNOWING with absolute certainty WHO was calling me to this and that I had to say yes. It was the VERY thing we were praying about.

In Luke 1, the Angel of the Lord appears to Mary and tells her of her role in the birth of our Lord. That she is going to carry Immanuel and give birth to him. And there are potentially consequences to this since she is still a virgin & engaged to be married. This does not make sense. And Mary’s response in verse 38 is to say “I am the Lord’s servant. Let it be as you have told me.” Talk about surrender to the Lord’s Will and Purposes.

And I’d like to tell you that just like Mary, that night on the phone I said “I am the Lord’s servant. Let it be as you have said.” But I didn’t. I wavered. I tried to muddy up that clarity and say “this doesn’t make sense. It isn’t logical. It isn’t my desire” But the Lord was asking me to lay down my control, to lay down my logic, and to lay down my comfort. To give it up to Him. To trust that He is calling me to something far greater than I can do myself. He is calling these shots and He will take care of all that needs taking care of … including my children.

And what happened between that October 2009 phone call and my departure for Africa in May 2010 was a complete shift in my thinking. A complete heart change. I had to say here am I Lord. It doesn’t make sense to me and I’m not comfy, but I surrender. I’ll obey. The Lord met me where I was, trying to be obedient but doing so kicking-and-screaming, and he transformed my heart and put a desire there to be SENT and to GO in whatever capacity.

Because the reality is my life is already His. I don’t own it. I should be responding to Him in unhesitating obedience. “Anything you want, Lord.”

So now I’m excited about going to Africa in a long-term capacity. I can’t believe that I am standing up here saying that. I’m excited about how the Lord will be able to work through us there.

That is not to say I’ve arrived at giving up control or surrendering my rights, I find that I still want control of every little detail of the planning. We are currently in the throes of support raising and I would like to have control of that. We have a million and one decisions to make before we go and I’d like to control those, to know the outcome. I’d like to know and control the health and safety of my kids while we are there and I can begin to stress out and worry about it.

But I’m learning that worry and fear are nothing more than a lack of trust in Him and a prideful elevation of myself.

So whether its in my parenting, my marriage, or moving overseas, The Lord is still having to work on me. To remind me to trust him with every aspect of my life – my relationships, my children, to lay all of that at His feet because He is good and His promises are true and He is in control and He will lead me.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Caption Contest RESULTS!!!

Before we announce the results of our caption contest, we wanted to post a few captions that didn't make it onto the actual blog page...mostly facebook comments.

Andrew Dinardo: They're doing a duet to "How he Loves"
Nicolas Kroger: they're obviously laughing at Martha Schartner when I beat her at cornhole
Carl Dawson: Africa? We're going to Africa? Wait, where is Africa?
Andrew Dinardo: Ok new one: "Student Leadership Retreat!!!"
Paulette (Grandma) Schmidt: Nate- "Ethan bit my finger!", Ethan- "I didn't mean to, he put it in my mouth!"
Scott Pearce: Too hard to keep it clean. I withdraw from participation.
Marc DeJeu: "Fire in the hole!"
Rachel Maize: and then Mommy told Daddy, "I really have no interest in missions overseas..."

Now, the moment you've all been waiting for...
The winner is...

Grandma Schmidt! She clearly captured the most likely quote from her grandsons!

Lucky for us, there isn't a Wendy's anywhere NEAR her, so, we'll have to owe you, Mom. You can cash in next time you visit or we'll get you the KFC equivalent of a frosty when you visit us in KENYA! :)

Honorary mention* goes to Andrew Dinardo...he really wanted to win. Good effort, Nards!
* Honorary mentions DO NOT qualify the individual for the prize of a Frosty.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Comic Relief: Caption Contest

Alright, folks. Have fun with this one! Best caption gets a free junior frosty on us from Wendy's!

Props go to Leslie Kisling for taking some great family pics. This is just one of those pictures that you don’t get framed, but is too good not to share :)

What are Ethan and Nate saying?

Comment below to leave your caption.  May the best line win!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

October Update


That's the sound of us exhaling. Sorry its been so long since we've posted - we're going to fall back on the "life's been crazy" excuse for this one.

Busy, busy, busy - but overall a great start to our autumn schedule. Every year since I've become a teacher, the transition from summer to fall has been quite an adjustment - everything starts! Summer is relaxing, slow-paced, and relatively not-busy and then suddenly, BAM!, autumn arrives, school starts, youth group starts, MOPS starts, Community Bible Study starts, Sunday school starts, accountability groups start, and life kicks into high gear!

This year was no different, except for a few key additions: Evelyn Mae and support raising. Life in the crazy season is just a tad crazier with 3 little ones, as Courtney is finding out first-hand. It was one thing when Evie slept non-stop in her first few months - its a whole new ballgame now. Its no exaggeration to say that I get the opportunity to go to work every day so I can relax. Pray for Courtney :) She's an awesome mommy and we are very blessed with three beautiful, healthy children. They bring so much joy and laughter into our home, and continually draw us closer to our Heavenly Father as we do our best to rely on Him for all that parenting entails.

Support raising has been fast and furious - and fruitful! God has again affirmed the call He's placed on our lives by proving that money is not an obstacle for Him. The body of Christ has responded in a way that's been encouraging, humbling, and a consistent cause for praise to our Lord. As I write this, our levels of support are at just over 80% for the outgoing funds and around 48% for the monthly pledges! Praise God! Its been just over two months since we really started spreading the word and the response has just been awesome.

We've had five "Munchies and Missions" nights (and have two more scheduled). Each event has seen a great turnout and been extremely encouraging to us as folks have listened to, prayed for, and committed themselves to partnering with us in the call God has placed on our hearts! Every time people show up I just can't even believe they would take time out of their busy schedules to spend a few hours with us, sharing in our story - the prayers that have been offered and the support we've felt has been overwhelming. Our cup overflows with true friends.

Thanks to the Knapp's, Crefeld's, James', Verrett's, Luckacs', and Pelka's for opening their homes and inviting us and others inside. The desserts have been awesome and the hospitality has been very warm :)

We've also been blessed to hear from two churches that have committed to support us in prayer and through their finances. Thank you to all the friends and family back at Alden Mennonite Church (the church I was born and raised in back in Western New York) - what an encouragement they have been and continue to be in our lives. Also, the church we call home, First Presbyterian in Beaver, PA, where the body of Christ has truly become family to us; they too have committed to partnering with us financially along with committing to be a true sending church. Even now, months before our departure, we've felt loved, supported and blessed by their partnership and prayers.

In addition, we've had the opportunity to speak with and visit several other church families including Beaver Valley Christian Fellowship (Beaver Falls, PA), Christ Community Church (Ashburn, VA), Orchard Park Wesleyan Church (Orchard Park, NY), and Mount Pleasant Presbyterian Church (Aliquippa, PA); all of whom have prayed for us and encouraged us on our journey.

I would be completely remiss if I didn't also mention my youth group. First of all, let me say that the youth group of First Presbyterian Church is awesome - I've been priveleged to hang out with these teens and grow to know and love them over the past several years. They have recently been showing our family the true love of Christ by volunteering to watch our kids and any other young ones that show up to our "Munchies and Missions" events, free of charge!

Specifically, I'd like to give a shout out to Zach Verrett, Griffin Dalmaso, Jenny Schouppe, Hannah Arnold, Sammi Marlin, Maura O'Brien, Isabel Fronk, Sabrina Knapp, Jessica Burval, Leanne Burval, and Emma Verrett. Each of them have given up at least one evening, putting aside homework, hanging out with friends, or just relaxing so they could serve our family and, ultimately, play a part in the spread of the gospel across the globe! We've often said it'll take an army to get us over there, and these teens are officially part of that - thank you so much guys!

Anyways, just wanted to give a little update for those we haven't talked to in awhile. God is good and continues to provide - praise Him! Thank you to those that have been praying, to those that have given financial gifts, and to those that have committed to do both over the next several years. We praise and thank God for you and pray that each of you may grow in the love and grace of our Lord Jesus Christ!

God Bless,

Friday, September 9, 2011

Munchies and Missions

Like dessert?

Like people?

Have a passion for missions?

If you answered yes to even just ONE of these questions, then a Munchies and Missions night might be the thing for you! You're probably wondering: "What in the world is that?" I'm so glad you asked! Munchies and Missions is one of the several ways in which we are getting the word out about how God is leading our family to serve in Africa.

Here's how it works:

-take one family that is willing to open up their home for an evening,

-mix in several scrumptious desserts and a pot of decaf coffee (& hot water for tea),

-throw in a bunch of people that are interested in Africa, missions, or just happen to like us,

-and finish it off with a story about how God is taking our family of five to Kenya!

It all makes for a lovely evening and if we haven't talked to you about one yet, then please talk to us.

...stop reading, pick up the phone, dial our number
We'd love to see you there!

****Disclaimer: although we would certainly welcome "out-of-towners", this is probably best served if you happen to live in the Western PA region of the country ;)

No really, call!

Monday, September 5, 2011

Support Raising

God is calling us to Africa! This doesn't happen without A LOT of help from friends, family, churches, and others who also feel called by God to partner with us in prayer and through their finances. We are currently in the "support raising" stage of the process. 100% of our support needs to be raised and pledged before Africa Inland Mission (AIM) will officially "release" us to do full-time ministry and move to Africa.

There are two funds that our financial support will fall into:
1. Outgoing Expenses - for a family of five to travel, move their possessions, be oriented to life in Africa, and be settled into a new home, it will cost $22,410. This is a one-time sum that we will need to have in cash before we go. Any gifts that are given before we leave (one-time gifts or monthly support amounts that are given starting ahead of time) will go towards this account.
2. Monthly Support - for a family of five to live in Kenya, including all expenses (room, board, spending money, health insurance, retirement, etc) the monthly pledge amount needed is $4,170. Before AIM releases us, we will need to have this number raised in PLEDGES, not cash.
As of right now, we are committed to a term of 2 years. After this time, we will have a 4-month furlough back in the states. Sometime between now and then, we will be deciding whether God plans to keep us in Africa for another 2-3 year term or is drawing us somewhere else. Neither Courtney nor I feel strongly one way or the other at this point, but that is EXACTLY why we want to stay connected to folks through this blog - when we know, we can tell people!

So why do we need to be fully supported and not simply get paid by an employer? In contrast to our American culture that increasingly praises independence, the Bible consistently sets up a model of humble interdependence, members of the body relying on one another to declare His praise and further His Kingdom. Being called to missions work (in the GOING or the SENDING) is being called to die to the craving of independence and cultivate, rather, an attitude of interdependence with one another and the Lord. In the giving of your firstfruits to the work of the Lord, certainly to your local church, yes, but also to ministries He is equipping, you are fostering the Biblical call to interdependence, out of which many pastors, missionaries, and support staff are paid. (excerpts from John Piper and Betty Barnett)

Paul says "I make it my ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named. . . . Since I no longer have any room for work in these regions . . . I hope to see you in passing as I go to Spain, and to be helped on my journey there by you” (Romans 15:20–24)

We welcome you to consider this a partnership. We've been challenged recently by the different accounts of the Great Commission given by Christ before His ascension. One of which is found in Acts 1, where Jesus is promising the Holy Spirit. In verse 8, He lets His followers know they will be witnesses of what they've seen and heard "in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth." That is no less true today - God calls His followers to be His witnesses at home and abroad.

So this idea of "partnership" means that we can go to Africa and you don't have to (unless, of course, you come visit us)! And yet, you can play a vital role in getting us over there, praying for us, and encouraging us while we're there. In doing so, you're answering that call "to the ends of the earth". It's the same thing with sponsoring a child through Compassion International in Thailand or giving towards a short-term mission trip to Central America. In each case, your God-given gifts and resources are used in powerful ways for the Gospel all across the globe!

Think about how awesome this is: Missionaries in Uganda, Kenya, Central African Republic and all across Africa are working on the "front lines" with people who have never heard of the saving grace of Jesus Christ - translating Bibles, planting churches, training pastors, feeding orphans, treating AIDS patients. Taking a step back in the ranks, we get to help them by providing a good education and caring for their children at Rift Valley Academy. Then, a few steps back from that, our friends and family back in the States play an equally important role, helping us be who and where God has called us to be! Mission work is not just for the missionary in the grass hut - the Great Commission is a call to ALL believers, to share the awesome news of Christ's death and resurrection, the salvation that comes through faith to all who believe, and the eternal life that begins the moment our hearts are changed!

"The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ." I Corinthians 12:12

Paul's picture here is awesome! I like to think of us as functioning somewhere in the wrist. Maybe a pair of tendons or something. While we're busy supporting the hand and giving the wrist it's functionality, we are desperately dependent on all the other parts of the arm and shoulder. Not much good can be done if the collar bone suddenly decides he wants out or if the tricep determines she's unappreciated. We're needed to support the palm, which extends to the fingers, which are needed to deliver the message of Christ to the people of Africa!

So won't you be an elbow with us? Or a muscle in the forearm? Or a shoulder joint? We look forward to the ways God will surprise us with the intricacies of His body and how it works as one to build His kingdom!

If you would like to support us prayerfully or financially, please check out this link (also found to the right under Join Our Prayer/Financial Team). Or you can read our most current newsletter, located on the right hand side of this blog under Learn More. We'd love to hear from you! Thanks so much in advance!

"He who testifies to these things says 'Yes, I am coming soon.' Amen. Come, Lord Jesus. The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God's people. Amen!" Revelation 22:20-21

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Comic Relief: Passports for Minors

Add this to your list of "rainy afternoon activities" (or "sunny afternoon activities" for that matter)
drum roll please...
Filling out and submitting passport applications for minors!

Now before you jump right in, take the advice of someone who's done this. Listed below are a few things you might want to try in order to fully enjoy this family friendly activity:

1. Make sure you have at least 3 minors under the age of 4 (Chuck Verrett, if you're reading, this one's for you!). Ages 3, 2, and 5 months are just about perfect.

2. Get appropriate passport photos of each - make sure you can fit the picture of their little faces in the appropriate space, don't let them smile, and you'll have to hold any infants upright to do this well. the more it looks like a mugshot, the better: see below

Ethan (3 years, 10 months) Nate (2 years, 5 months) Evelyn (5 months)

When you order the passport photos, use an online service like walmart.com and make sure you don't actually order them correctly, so that when you go to pick them up, they don't actually have any record of your order...

3. fill out the passport applications online ahead of time, and print them to take with you - this allows the process to go a little faster, but if you're REALLY bored, be sure to leave several spaces NOT filled in, so that when you get to the passport office in the county courthouse, they can ask you questions like, "why didn't you fill this out completely?". For an added bonus, look directly at your spouse who should be giving you an "I told you so" look right about now.

4. Call ahead to be sure the prothonotary's office is open over the lunch hour and try pronouncing it COMPLETELY wrong - you and the receptionist will get a good laugh :)

5. load up your vehicle (minivans work nicely) and make sure to include the whole family- both parents need to be present. If you happen to be in the business of education and enjoy the summers off, make sure you wait until the very last day of summer vacation. Otherwise, if you work a normal job, you'll probably need to take a personal day to get this done.

6. DO NOT read the directions before you go that say you need a check and/or money order, and be sure to forget your checkbook - just assume you can use a credit card. This allows for one more bump in the road while you attempt to pay the very reasonable (cough) price of $80 per passport plus $25 processing fee (again, per passport).

7. Make sure you leave RIGHT before naptime - again, this can only add to the boredom-fighting power of the experience!

8. Allow any of the minors that can walk to stroll through the office saying hi and procuring sweets from each of the seven or eight women working in the office with seemingly nothing else to do but dote on the adorable children you've brought for their viewing and pinching pleasure.

9. Assuming you followed step 6 correctly, you'll need to drop off the 3 year old, 2 year old, and spouse at a local playground while you run (5-month old in tow) to the ever-famous "Beaver Super" to get three separate money orders. (This is MUCH cheaper than going to your bank across the street where they charge $5 a piece! Oh, and be sure to stop there first even though the prothonotary people told you Beaver Super was cheaper - remember, you're bored, so wasting this valuable time is no problem!)

10. You're almost ready! (plan on steps 4 through 9 to take about an hour and a half) Now you simply need to pay to the order of the U.S. Department of State all the while tickling the 5-month old's feet to keep her from screaming, as you wait patiently for the prothonotary to "process" each of the applications. Don't worry, once all the other steps are completed, it doesn't take longer than 10 minutes to process each application, which if you're a math teacher, you might be tempted to quickly calculate in your head that, at ten-minutes each for a $25 fee, these processing charges are only making the county a mere $150 per hour!

But that's okay - just keep in mind that you really had nothing else to do and needed something to occupy your time and you'll be happy you took our advice!

Monday, August 8, 2011

RVA, here we come!

Just a break from our regularly scheduled order of posting to tell you:

We just found out from AIM that Rift Valley Academy (RVA), where we've been appointed to go, is in need of a math teacher starting in the 2012 school year! They have Dan penciled in to fill that position next year.

Before this news, we were unsure whether they would need us for the 2012-2013 school year at all, but we said were willing to go as dorm parents, if a teaching position was not available to us. As we've shared before, we feel called to care for these kids and nurture these families, not just to teach them. But not only is a teaching position becoming available for Dan to fill, it's a math position! Praise God! It's all very exciting!

Some of you may be wondering what I (Courtney) will be doing if Dan holds a teaching position at the school. Of course, I'll be at home with our three kids like I am now, teaching and instructing and disciplining as always. But I also hope to play a vital role in ministering to the missionary kids as we live and eat and do life with them. This, to me, is a HUGE advantage to living on campus with the students. I hope to welcome a bunch of children into our "family" for three months at a time, as I pray with and for them, build relationships with them and mentor them. I don't have all the details yet of what that will look like, but I feel like the Lord is equipping me as a mother and Titus 2 woman to encourage and disciple the next generation of believers and I'm excited to take that on.

This is all just one more verification that we are headed in the right direction. Thank you, Lord, for guiding our steps!

As a sobering sidenote, it also makes a lot of this seem much more real. This is actually going to happen! And we have a lot of emotions to sort through...

Friday, July 29, 2011

Why Blog?

Part 6: Why Blog?

Part 1 here
Part 2 here
Part 3 here
Part 4 here
Part 5 here

The first answer to this is pretty simple...to tell our story! We've had the opportunity to share with a lot of people different aspects of the journey that God has had us on for the past several years, but rarely do we get to lay it all out in a conversational setting. This is our chance! We have us the ability to put it all out there, answer any and all questions, and give our friends, family, and supporters the BIG picture. Reason number 1: what has happened.

A second reason, that stems from the first is prayer. We have no desire to enter into this calling without ourselves and our loved ones bathing the whole thing in prayer. A blog gives us the opportunity to share with you what God is doing, where we need your prayers, and how God is answering them! Reason number 2: what's currently happening.

A third answer to the question "why blog?" is to keep those closest to us exactly that - close to us! We plan to post pictures and stories, funny stuff, sad stuff, confusing stuff - basically, we hope to share our lives with you while we are still here in the states and while we are overseas. Others have shared with us how they were able to live far from their loved ones and yet maintain strong relationships with them. Some have shared that they've even grown closer since being away. We are looking forward to maintaining strong healthy bonds with those closest to us.
It's also for those who may not know us at all...those that have a passion for missions, for unreached people groups, for ministering to missionary children, for Rift Valley Academy or Africa Inland Mission. It's for people like Courtney, who stumbled upon someone else's blog years ago and started down a path that eventually led us to this point - sharing our own story of God's call to build up and edify the body of Christ (Eph. 4:29). Reason number 3: what's going to happen.

Finally, we do hope to use this blog as a backup and source of information for those who feel called to support us financially. Reason number 4: what needs to happen!

More about that in our next post!

Friday, July 22, 2011

Why AIM?

Part 5: Why AIM?

Part 1 here
Part 2 here
Part 3 here
Part 4 here

Africa Inland Mission (AIM) is the mission organization we have applied with and been appointed to. There are many great organizations out there doing their part to fulfill the great commission across the globe. So why AIM?
Originally, our answer to that question was pretty simple: "They run Rift Valley Academy"

We originally stumbled upon Rift Valley Academy (RVA) through a blog written by (then) short term dorm parents there, Paul and Carolyn Koning at Konings In Kenya. Paul and Carolyn actually had a history with RVA that led them back there to serve with their children in 2007-2008. From their blog, we were led to Ryan and Heather Murphy's blog Strangers In Kenya and Ryan's first book All that You Can't Leave Behind. The Murphy's currently teach at RVA.

And so it was, just as teaching missionary children kept showing up without us looking for it, so did this school.

Through that blog and others, as well as meeting a surprising number of people with connections to RVA over the past couple years, we fell in love with their mission. This is where we wanted to be. If we wanted to serve there, we needed to become members of AIM. It was all very logical, at first.
So we began the application process in the summer of 2010.

To our great pleasure, AIM is an exceptional mission organization! Their motto is "Christ-centered churches among all African peoples" They've been around for over 100 years, spreading the message of Christ across the continent of Africa. They have their own aviation ministry (AIM Air), flying missionaries and supplies in and out of places unreachable by automobile. They run seminaries, teach in schools, plant churches, serve in hospitals, and more. But above all, they cover all of their ministries in prayer. They are God-centered, Ministry-focused, and Member-oriented. And we are so thankful. Please, check out their website here or by the links on the left-hand side of the blog. There you'll find lots of cool resources, articles, videos, etc.

Our journey to officially go forward with AIM concluded the same week they decided to officially go forward with us. Just about a month ago, in June 2011, we attended their Candidate Week in Pearl River, NY. It was basically a two-way interview combined with training for folks who were exploring the opportunity to serve with AIM. In short, the week was awesome! We were encouraged, affirmed, and reassured that this was, in fact, the place God wanted us, pursuing the organization God led us to. Looking back on the week, I'm not sure it could have gone any better - not once did we feel like we were in the wrong place, or with the wrong group. We were covered in prayer by friends and family while we were there, and God answered in awesome ways! If you were part of that, we thank you! It was so cool to be there knowing that's exactly where God wanted us.

The bottom line is this: At this point in our journey, we no longer are with AIM simply because of RVA. We are all about AIM because of it's passion to see Africa reached for Christ, because of it's century-long commitment to see that happen, and because God has brought us together to play a small part in that.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Why now?

Part 4: Why now?

Part 1 here
Part 2 here
Part 3 here

Here's some of the background that led us to this specific call at this specific point in time:

Growing up I (Dan) was fascinated by missionaries. Whether it was a VBS fundraiser we were participating in, or the visiting missionary in our pulpit at church, or the missionary couple that needed a place to say for a few nights that my parents opened our home up to, I was always on the edge of my seat, listening to their stories, soaking it all in. The adventure was probably what appealed to me most as a young kid, but the idea of serving the Lord in that capacity continues to excite me. I'm not sure why, but in my mind, Africa has always been the symbol of missions work. On one of our first dates, I told Courtney if we were to get married, we would probably end up in Africa someday, just so she was aware! Talk about providence - the fact that she didn't run out of Skye Lounge (yes, Geneva folks, I considered a study session in Skye Lounge a date) at that very moment is a small miracle!

So, did the Lord place Africa on my heart early on? Yes. Why? Not sure, but He definitely did.

Courtney's story is a tad more involved. Starting from the other end of the spectrum, on that date in Skye Lounge referenced above, although she didn't say it, she was really thinking, "This is clearly a phase he'll grow out of soon - plus, he's pretty cute!" (I may or may not have added that last part.) Moving to Africa was the last thing on her mind.

Fast forward a few years: much to Courtney's dismay, it wasn't a phase and we reached a point in our marriage where the idea of overseas missionary work kept popping up - this was especially true after I made the switch from engineering to teaching. Mission agencies were looking for teachers and we kept hearing about it.

We didn't even know why this was a need, but we knew the issue wasn't going away. I (Dan) wasn't about to drag my wife kicking and screaming a third of the way across the globe, so I largely kept my mouth shut.

During the summer of 2009, we started praying more specifically about what God was trying to tell us, for abundant clarity. Courtney is the first to admit that her prayers sounded a little like "Lord, please stop bringing up teaching missionary kids in Africa so that we can move on with our nice, neat little lives!"

Wouldn't you know, after a couple months of praying that the Lord would make His intentions abundantly clear, Courtney got a phone call. She was asked to go on a mission trip to the Central African Republic for two and a half weeks, specifically to minister to missionary families, hanging out with their kids while their parents attended a conference and retreat. The idea was to run a VBS program so that the MK's would be cared for, loved and taught (kind of what Rift Valley Academy does) while their parents took part in some much needed and deserved rest and encouragement. Immediately after hanging up the phone, Courtney knew this was God's abundantly clarity.

Over the next several months, probably the most encouraging and this-can't-be-happening-unless-the-Lord-is-in-it experience I've had in my Christian life took place. While Courtney was preparing for her trip, I was able to witness a complete 180 in her heart towards missions. She went from begrudgingly saying yes to being excited and passionate about the opportunity to minister to missionary families in this way.

The trip went really well, and we discerned that as a green light to begin pursuing full-time mission work, with the specific calling to support missionaries in Africa by loving their kids. From then on we've continued to offer the prayer of abundant clarity, asking that the Lord would grant us confidence in His direction and leading and that He would shut the door if ever we walked outside of His will.

So far, doors have not been shut. We've gone through the long process of applying with and being appointed to Africa Inland Mission and we are at the point now where we begin to raise support through prayer and financial partners.

And we will talk more about that next!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Why us?

Part 3: Why us?

Part 1 here
Part 2 here

So what is it about a girl from Altoona, PA and a boy from Cowlesville, NY that ends up bringing them together, and eventually sending them off with their three young children to teach missionary kids in Africa? That's an excellent question!

Instead of asking "what is it", we'll discuss the "Who is it". The most precise way to answer that is Jesus Christ; our Savior, our provider, our Lord and our God. He is the reason. We honestly believe we've been called to do this. Just like, for the last several years we were called to live and teach in Beaver Falls. Just like we've been called to grow, be ministered to, and serve our beloved brothers and sisters in Christ at First Presbyterian Church in Beaver, PA over the past ten years. Just like I was called to ask Courtney's hand in marraige. Just like we were both called to pursue Civil Engineering degrees at Geneva College. And just like we were both called to surrender our lives to Christ while were growing up.

The difference with this most recent call, and the reason it has the potential to raise eyebrows, is a complicated issue - for one, it's a foreign call. Foreign in the sense that it's in Africa, yes, but also foreign in the sense that it's different than the call most of our friends and families are following. Not to say it's better or worse, crazier to tamer, more or less respectable, or anything like that; the only significant part of this call (and any call for that matter) is the One who's making it - the what, when, where, how - all the stuff that seems so different is largely irrelevant. It's the One who calls that matters. And for us, by God's grace, that's all we strive to care about.

We recently met a couple in their 70's who have served as missionaries their entire adult lives, and as we were talking with them, it was obvious to them that I (Dan) was star-struck, overly impressed with their stories, their obedience, the sacrifices they must have made. I felt like I was talking with a celebrity or finally got to meet one of my heroes. The gentleman, Paul, just laughed and said something to effect of, "If all we've ever done is what we were supposed to do, why should we receive any extra recognition?"

I really like Paul - he and his wife Ellen have lived a life in overseas missionary service to their Lord, and the humility they both possessed was humbling (ironically enough!). They saw nothing special or different or elevated about the call they had followed as compared to any other Christian who followed the Lord's leading in their lives - and they are absolutely right!

So in response to the title of this post, "Why us?" Because God told us to. Kind of like my all-too-often response to my three year old when he asks why he should finish his dinner, or stop jumping off the couch, or refrain from walloping his younger brother with the stick he is pretending to be a chainsaw: "Because Daddy said so!"

All Christians are called to be missionaries (Matthew 28:18-20). It's not a suggestion, a recommendation, or a call just to a few. It's a command from the Creator of the universe. The only differentiation comes in the where.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Why Africa?

Catch up by reading part 1 here

Part 2: Why Africa?

Sharing this story with others has been a learning experience in and of itself. If there have been objections to our pursuit of this, they've come in the form of questions like "Why Africa?" or "What's wrong with living and serving where you already are?" or "Why raise thousands of dollars and drag your family half-way around the world (by the way, Africa is only about a third of the way around the globe, for you fellow math geeks) if you can do good Christian ministry where the Lord has already placed you?" or "Aren't there enough needs here in the U.S. as it is? People need Jesus here too!"

First of all, these are all valid questions and there is validity to the concerns some folks have brought to our attention. If you are one of the people that has presented these concerns to us, thank you! You've forced us to look deeper, study more closely, and pray harder as we pursue our Lord.

But let this be said too. God gives a specific call to each of his followers. See the previous post, or if you aren't convinced, you can reference our kids' Bible (which we love) found here; God called Noah to build an ark in the middle of the desert; God called Abram "to the land I will show you"; God called Joseph into slavery; God called Moses into, then out of, then back into, then back out of Egypt; He called Daniel into a lion's den; He called Jonah to Nineveh; Jesus called fishermen to be fishers of men; Jesus called Lazarus out of a tomb; He called Zacchaeus out of tree; God called Paul to minister to the Gentiles; God has called millions of Christians for 2000 years to thousands of places around the globe; And God calls us to pick up our cross (Luke 9:23) and follow Him today. It is up to us to follow that call, come what may.

So, why Africa?

Africa, because Acts 1:8 calls us to be His witnesses "to the ends of the earth"

Africa, because there are over 900 people groups there that have no viable witness to the saving power of Jesus Christ's work on the cross

Africa, because God loves people on that continent just as much as people in North America

Africa, because God has blessed the U.S. with a church on almost every corner, multiple Bibles in every home (and in our language), and with millions of Christians who feel called to stay and do His work right here

Africa, because He placed it on my heart a long time ago

Africa, because, by His grace, Courtney is just as passionate about serving there as I ever have been

Africa, because that's where He's called us to go

Africa, because God says so

Friday, July 15, 2011

Why go?

We'd like to tell you a story - our story. The story of where we've come from and where we believe God is taking us. Although it is a lengthy tale, we'll break it up into nice manageable pieces. You're welcome :)

Part 1: Why are we going?
Our family is moving to Africa. Kenya, to be specific. There is a school there called Rift Valley Academy (RVA) run by a mission organization called Africa Inland Mission (AIM). It was set up over 100 years ago as a ministry to missionaries and their children.

Missionary kids (MK's) in Africa grow up in unique and varied circumstances, to say the least. Their parents may be called to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ through Bible Translation, church planting, community outreach and/or evangelism. MK's are very much a part of that calling. Some of them grow up in cities, some of them in remote villages cut off from anything most of us would call civilization. All of them need a quality eduation. They may live in a village in the heart of Africa with missionary parents, but they need to be loved and nurtured and shown the Gospel of Jesus Christ just like our kids do.

Many mission organizations, including AIM, are looking for people who feel called to minister to these families. They are on the "front lines" of spreading the gospel across the continent of Africa, in many cases to people groups that have never heard the name of Jesus. They need all the support they can get and we feel called to give it to them. So, Lord willing, we will be serving at Rift Valley Academy within the next year or so, doing exactly that!

Read on for more "why" topics...

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