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 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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