26 July 2013

Pray for this family...and the rest!

Check out this article about some awesome Americas workers! I am so blessed to know and count as friends so many individuals and families that are willing to go so far for the sake of the Gospel. Remember to pray for them and their work! 

Catching Dinner

While IMB missionaries hand-wash laundry in the background, several missionary kids fish from a log in a jungle river, hoping to catch dinner. Learning to hunt for food is part of a new IMB jungle training program in the Amazon Basin, designed to teach missionaries to live in remote, rugged places.

Missionary family ‘blessed’ to reach hard places for Christ

Brad Connelly* watches thoughtfully as his daughter and sons splash around in the jungle river beside their small cabin.

Jungle Playground

A missionary kid swings out over a river on a rope swing suspended from a tree. In the jungle, nature itself is the prime source of entertainment.Jungle Playground

A missionary kid swings out over a river on a rope swing suspended from a tree. In the jungle, nature itself is the prime source of entertainment.
Photo © 2013 IMB / Rebecca Springer
Oblivious to the rest of the world, the kids laugh and scream as they take turns flying off a rope-swing, plunging into the cool water and trying to swim against the current to a nearby rock. To them, the jungle is an exciting new adventure.
To Brad and his wife, Carissa*, it’s the risky place where they’re about to move their family. Still, sitting on his cabin porch at IMB’s new jungle training camp, Brad watches his children playing and knows it’s the right move.
The month-long training program is the final step to prepare the Connellys and their three children — ages 4, 6 and 8 — to venture deep into the heart of the Amazon jungle and work among one of the nearly 230 unengaged, unreached indigenous people groups in the Americas. Their people group is less than 2 percent evangelical Christian and no one is currently trying to reach them with the Gospel.
The community they hope to work in is restricted,  and permission to enter is hard to obtain. For the moment, the Connellys live in a nearby city, praying that God will soon open doors for them to enter and begin work in the area. Once that happens, He’ll be all they have.
They’ll be the only missionaries in their area, nearly 15 hours away from the next closest IMB personnel. Electricity will be a luxury for about an hour a day — sometimes. Food options will be limited, and Internet and phone access will be non-existent. The family will be up to eight hours away from the nearest decent medical care.

Living Off the Land

Participants in the jungle training are taught how to butcher their own food, such as caiman, a species of small alligator in the Amazon Basin.  
Living Off the Land

Children from a local tribe watch as participants in an IMB jungle training program learn how to butcher a caiman, a species of small alligator in the Amazon Basin. 
Photo © 2013 IMB / Rebecca Springer
They suspected a lot of this when they asked for the job.
“When we were looking through available [IMB] jobs,” Brad recalls, “we specifically asked to look at the hardest ones, the ones no one else wanted. Some of these jobs had been on the books for four or five years because no one else wanted them.
But moving their kids to a difficult and even dangerous environment wasn’t a decision the Connellys made easily.
“I was thinking a lot about my family and how this will work out,” Brad says. “One morning I was reading through the Bible about Abraham sacrificing Isaac. I was praying and I just felt like God asked me, ‘Would you do that and not ask any questions?’”
As a mom, Carissa had to come to terms with the threats she knows her kids will face with this life.
“In the beginning, I felt like I’m dragging them away from everything and putting them in a place where there’s malaria and dengue and all these sicknesses and no doctors,” Carissa says. “But the Lord had to teach me, do I trust Him? Because He loves my kids more than we could ever love them. If He’s not big enough to take care of them, who can?”

Washing Up

Missionary Carissa Connelly* washes clothes by hand in the river running alongside the jungle living training camp. 
Washing Up

Missionary Carissa Connelly* washes clothes by hand in the river running alongside the jungle training camp.
Photo © 2013 IMB / Rebecca Springer
“It’s not just Brad’s call [to missions],” she continues. “It’s not just my call. It’s our family’s call. Sometimes the call to follow Jesus is painted as something very nice and pretty, but there’s a price. He says, ‘Pick up your cross and follow me, and you will suffer.’ That’s just part of it.”
The Connellys know that not all their stateside friends and family members understand their decision to move to a potentially dangerous place. But knowing God has called her family has kept Carissa confident in her family’s direction.
“Will they miss out on some stuff? Probably,” she says. “Will they get sick? Absolutely. But our kids are really blessed to grow up in the ministry and to know God as their Healer, as their friend and their everything.”
“You know, if the Lord wants to protect my kids, He will,” Brad added. “And we’re going to ask Him to do that. But if He wants me to lay them on an altar … to the American mind I know how that sounds, but I feel like that’s what He asked of us.”
In the face of uncertainty and risk, the Connellys look forward to sharing the Gospel with people who currently live with no eternal hope, understanding that while God’s plan may not be the safest place, it is always the best place.
“God is in control, and to me, everything else is fluff,” Brad says. “It’s like God just says, ‘There’s the rope. Are you willing to jump and hold on?’ And He’s going to swing it hard all over the place, and I’m going to get hurt and things are going to happen, but I just have to trust Him. He’s got this. I feel like we’re going to have the opportunity to see God do some amazing things.”
*Name changed

29 April 2013


This is a story about my friend Steven. He is an awesome young man of God with a heart for reaching the lost and living passionately for the Lord...and he is autistic. He is a walking testimony to the power of Christ and a blessing to all those fortunate enough to know him. Thanks for inspiring me, Steven!

Autistic child becomes missionary to Japan

Steven Kunkel’s nickname appears at the top of his Facebook page: Sugoisteve. Sugoi(pronounced sue-GOY) means “awesome” in Japanese.
“Sugoi is my catchphrase,” Steven explains, “so sometimes my friends call me ‘Sugoisteve.’”
But from Steven’s perspective, the “sugoi” part isn’t about him. It’s about God.

SINGING PRAISES — Missionary kid (MK) Steven Kunkel (left) and other worship team members lead children and youth in a praise chorus at a Japanese-Paraguayan house church in Asunción, Paraguay. Japanese-Paraguayan Mari Nowada (center left) and her husband, Koki, the church’s pastor, mentored Steven in Japanese language, culture and ministry to help prepare him for mission service in Japan. Singing Praises

Steven Kunkel (left) leads kids in a praise chorus at a Japanese-Paraguayan house church in Asunción, Paraguay. Mari Nowada (center left) and her husband, Koki, the church’s pastor (shown discipling Steven in photo at top of page) have mentored Steven in Japanese language, culture and ministry.
Photo © 2013 IMB / Rebecca Springer
That attitude shows clearly as Steven stands before worshippers at a Japanese-Paraguayan house church in Asunción, Paraguay. Accompanying himself on the guitar, he sings a favorite song by Casting Crowns, a Christian praise band:
“The voice of Truth says, ‘This is for My glory.’ Out of all the voices calling out to me, I will choose to listen and believe the voice of Truth.”
Listening to Steven sing, his parents — missionaries Tim and Iracema Kunkel — wipe tears from their eyes. More than anyone else in the room besides Steven, they understand what these words mean to him.
Eighteen years ago, Steven was diagnosed with autism, a developmental disorder causing problems in behavior, communication and social interaction. At age 5, Steven couldn’t speak. Today, at 23, he speaks four languages — English, Spanish, Portuguese and Japanese. And he’s learning five more — Arabic, Farsi, Hebrew, Mandarin Chinese and Tagalog.
Symptoms of autism
From the beginning, doctors said Steven was high functioning. Even so, he displayed all 14 of the most common symptoms of autism.
For example, Steven couldn’t tolerate change. He didn’t like to hug. He preferred being alone. He avoided eye contact, echoed others’ words and laughed at inappropriate times. He also had a habit of spinning himself and objects.

LEAVING HOME — Shortly before leaving home to serve as a missionary in Japan, 23-year-old Steven Kunkel (center) stands with his parents — International Mission Board missionaries Tim and Iracema Kunkel — in the family’s backyard in Asunción, Paraguay. Eighteen years ago, Steven was diagnosed with the developmental disorder of autism. Since then, God has used a team of people to help Steven overcome most of the symptoms of autism. That team includes his parents; his two older siblings, Julia, now a teacher of autistic children, and John Glenn; many other believers; and professionals such as speech therapists and physicians. Leaving Home

Shortly before leaving home last year to serve as a missionary in Japan, 23-year-old Steven Kunkel (center) stands with his parents — IMB missionaries Tim and Iracema Kunkel — in the family’s backyard in Asunción, Paraguay.  Eighteen years ago, Steven was diagnosed with the developmental disorder of autism.
Photo © 2013 IMB / Rebecca Springer
Today, Steven has only one of the 14 symptoms — inappropriate laughter — and it’s hardly noticeable. He taught himself how to manage it through Internet research.
Steven spent years struggling to overcome most of the other symptoms, and God used many people in that process. Steven’s parents created a structured and loving family environment, guiding him through the challenges of autism. His two older siblings — Julia and John Glenn — encouraged him with their love. Many believers prayed. Professionals like speech therapists and physicians provided specialized help.
Strengthened by God and his support team, Steven himself did the hard work of healing.
“Sometimes it was like I was climbing a mountain, facing a lot of difficulties,” he said. “Whenever I felt a difficulty or a weakness come, I fell down. But I managed to get up and keep walking.”
And through God’s power, Steven has climbed to some amazing heights.
‘Born for this’
Today’s worship service marks one of these: Steven is being commissioned to serve as a missionary to Japan.

CIRCLE OF PRAYER — Worshippers at a Japanese-Paraguayan house church in Asunción, Paraguay, pray for Steven Kunkel (center, seated) as Steven is commissioned for mission service in Japan. The group includes Steven’s parents, Tim and Iracema Kunkel (standing behind Steven), who are International Mission Board missionaries in Asunción.Circle of Prayer

Worshippers at a Japanese-Paraguayan house church in Asunción, Paraguay, pray for Steven Kunkel (center) as he  is commissioned for mission service in Japan. Standing behind him are his parents, IMB missionaries Tim and Iracema Kunkel.
Photo © 2013 IMB / Rebecca Springer
“I’ve felt today that so many questions about Steven’s autism have been answered,” says Steven’s mom, Iracema, “like a veil is being lifted from my eyes and I’m seeing things through God’s eyes. I’m thinking, ‘for this day you were born, Steven.’”
Holding his well-marked Japanese Bible, Steven sits with head bowed as fellow believers surround him inside the Japanese-Paraguayan house church. The circle includes church members, visitors and Japanese children Steven has taught at the church. Steven’s parents — IMB missionaries in Asunción — stand behind him.
The group lays hands on Steven as Pastor Koki Nowada, his Japanese mentor, leads in prayer. Nowada’s normally soft voice grows louder and more intense as he prays in Japanese for God’s anointing on Steven.
It’s a powerful moment for worshippers. Steven’s dad, Tim, sobs with joy.
He remembers the day doctors diagnosed Steven with autism, not long after the Kunkels moved to Uruguay as new missionaries.
“It was like one child died and another child was born,” recalls Tim. “But God, in his permissive will, allowed this to happen. And God, in His sovereignty, had a plan.”
Puzzle pieces
The Kunkels saw God’s plan unfold as they continued serving in Uruguay. Because few services for autistic children were available there, Iracema studied special education so she could teach Steven herself. In the process, she discovered a gift for working with autistic children. She began sharing that expertise with parents of other autistic children in Uruguay. In turn, God used those connections to open doors for the Kunkels to witness for Christ.

PREPARING TO GO — International Mission Board missionary Iracema Kunkel (right) checks the size of a new T-shirt for her son, Steven, as he packs a suitcase in his bedroom in Asunción, Paraguay. Steven, who has autism, left Paraguay last year to serve as a missionary in Japan. Preparing to Go

IMB missionary Iracema Kunkel (right) checks the size of a new T-shirt for her son, Steven, as he packs a suitcase in his bedroom in Asunción, Paraguay. Steven, who has autism, left Paraguay last year to serve as a missionary in Japan.
Photo © 2013 IMB / Rebecca Springer
“I’m realizing now that a lot of what God has had us doing on the mission field — first in Uruguay and then after we moved to Paraguay — hasn’t been so much about us as missionaries,” says Iracema. “It was about Steven. It was like God was using us to help put all the pieces of the puzzle in place for Steven, so this autistic child could grow up to be a missionary for God’s glory.”
One important puzzle piece fell into place when Steven accepted Christ at age 8. Later at 15, he got interested in Japan. While visiting some friends in Uruguay’s countryside, Steven fell asleep under a tree. He dreamed a Japanese girl told him she wanted him to learn her language and culture. When Steven woke up, he had a strong desire to learn Japanese and travel to Japan.
“Now, I think it was kind of like the dream Paul had when the Macedonian called him to come over and help,” Steven says.
After the dream, Steven couldn’t stop thinking about Japan. But no Japanese people lived in Salto, the small Uruguayan city where his parents then served. So Steven began learning Japanese on his own.

THANKING GOD — At his parents’ home in Asunción, Paraguay, missionary kid (MK) Steven Kunkel (center) and family friends Jonathan Yao and Lily Maeda de Martinez share a prayer of thanksgiving for a package that was just delivered. The package contained a work permit from the Japanese government, allowing Steven to serve a year as a mission worker in Japan. When the Kunkel family moved to Paraguay eight years ago, Lily served as Steven’s Japanese tutor. Later she and her daughter accepted Christ through the Kunkels’ witness. Sharing a Prayer

At his parents’ home in Paraguay, Steven Kunkel (center) and family friends Pastor Jonathan Yao and Lily Maeda de Martinez thank God for a package that just arrived. The package contained a work permit from the Japanese government, allowing Steven to serve a year as a mission worker in Japan.
Photo © 2013 IMB / Rebecca Springer
His mom bought him a Japanese phrasebook in her native Brazil, a country with the largest Japanese population outside of Japan. Steven taught himself all the phrases. He also got interested in Japanese cartoons called manga and began drawing his own.
Meanwhile, God was putting another puzzle piece in place.
A move to Paraguay
When Steven was 16, IMB officials asked the Kunkels to consider transferring from Uruguay to Paraguay. By then, the Kunkels’ two older children had left home for college.
“Steven wasn’t sure if he wanted to [move to Paraguay],” recalls Tim, who is from California. “And we weren’t sure about the wisdom of moving him to a new country as an older teenager.”
As the family prayed about the decision, Tim took a trip to Paraguay. There he noticed many Asian immigrants; one named Lily Maeda de Martinez waited on him in a store. Tim learned she was Japanese, born in Paraguay to Japanese immigrants. He told her about Steven and asked her to write him a letter in Japanese. Lily agreed.
When Tim returned home with the letter, “Steven was so excited,” Tim remembers. “That sealed it for him on going to Paraguay.”

ARTIST’S PORTFOLIO — At home in Asunción, Paraguay, missionary kid (MK) Steven Kunkel displays some of the cartoons he has created over the years, including some with biblical themes. Steven, who is autistic, also composes sacred piano music and plays piano and guitar. He currently is using these gifts as a missionary in Japan. Artist's Portfolio

At his parents' home in Paraguay, missionary kid Steven Kunkel displays some cartoons he has created, including some with biblical themes.
Photo © 2013 IMB / Rebecca Springer
With plans in place to move to Paraguay, the Kunkels left Uruguay for stateside assignment.
In the U.S., Steven made some Japanese-American friends and learned more Japanese. He also rededicated his life to Christ at South Ridge Baptist Church, Jefferson City, Mo. It was then God’s call to Japan became clear.
Soon God showed Steven something more: some of the Japanese manga he’d been reading had evil overtones.
“When I realized that, I tore up the bad manga with my bare hands,” Steven recalls.
From then on, Steven used biblical themes in cartoons he drew himself. Later he began composing sacred piano music.
“The Lord showed me He had given me gifts He wanted to use in Japan,” Steven says.
Preparing for Japan
But Steven needed Paraguay to get ready to go. And there God had people in place to help with that preparation.
Two of them: Japanese pastor Koki Nowada and his Japanese-Paraguayan wife, Mari. They mentored Steven in Japanese language, culture and ministry for nearly seven years while he served in their congregation.

SPIRITUAL VICTORY — After being commissioned to serve as a missionary to Japan, Steven Kunkel sheds tears of joy as he gets a hug of congratulations from Japanese-Paraguayan Mari Nowada. Nowada’s husband, Koki, is pastor of the Japanese-Paraguayan house church in Asunción, Paraguay, where the commissioning service took place. The Nowadas mentored Steven in Japanese language, culture and ministry in preparation for his work in Japan. Spiritual Victory

After being commissioned as a missionary to Japan, Steven Kunkel sheds tears of joy as he gets a hug of congratulations from Japanese-Paraguayan Mari Nowada, his pastor's wife.
Photo © 2013 IMB / Rebecca Springer
“We’re just a small house church, but we are a missionary church,” Koki Nowada says. “For the Japanese children [here], seeing Steven go to Japan as a missionary has been a wonderful opportunity to learn [about] the cost of discipleship.”
During Steven’s commissioning service, visiting preacher Jonathan Yao reminds those children — and their parents — that God wants to use them, too.
“If you say, ‘Lord, here I am,’ God will use you,” says Yao, a Chinese-Filipino pastor and a Kunkel family friend. “Don’t limit what God can do.”
Later, Tim tells how God used Yao to open the door for Steven to serve in Japan.
“The missing piece in this whole puzzle was how Steven was going to get there,” Tim says. “That was a piece I just couldn’t figure out.”
‘A grace from God’
In 2011 God provided that piece when Yao took Steven on a survey trip to Japan. Yao knew no Japanese pastors, but before the trip he made a connection with a Filipino congregation in the small city of Shiojiri, Japan. He and Steven visited the church. 

STUDYING GOD’S WORD — At his parents’ home in Asunción, Paraguay, missionary kid Steven Kunkel points out a Scripture passage he is studying in his well-marked Japanese Bible. Steven, who has autism, currently is serving as a missionary in Japan. He speaks four languages — including Japanese — and is learning five more. Studying God’s Word

At his missionary parents’ home in Paraguay, Steven Kunkel points out a Scripture he is studying in his Japanese Bible. Steven, who has autism, speaks four languages and is learning five more.
Photo © 2013 IMB / Rebecca Springer
Steven made a strong impression on the congregation, who’d been praying for more workers. To help them expand their outreach to the Japanese, the church needed a Japanese translator, someone to teach Japanese to Filipino church members and a worker to teach English to Japanese children. The congregation also needed help in music and outreach to Brazilian immigrants.
As church leaders got to know Steven, they realized his skills matched everything in their prayers — all in one person.
“Steven is a miracle, a grace from God,” the pastor told Yao. “Where God’s grace is, His favor is.”
The congregation then invited Steven to “come over and help them.” He said “yes.”
That was seven years after Steven dreamed about Japan as a teenager in Uruguay.
“Since that dream, there have been lots of struggles and tests. But my faith has stayed strong,” Steven says.
“Today, I’m sure Japan is the land God has been preparing me for.”
EDITOR'S NOTE: Last year Steven Kunkel began serving as a missionary at Jesus the Gospel Church in Shiojiri, Japan. The above story is the first in a series about Steven to be published on AmericasStories during April, Autism Awareness Month. 
April 2 is the United Nations World Autism Awareness Day, kicking off a month-long, global emphasis on a developmental brain disorder that affects millions of people worldwide. Autism causes significant social, communication and behavioral challenges. In the U.S., one in 88 children are affected by some form of autism, according to the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

04 April 2013


There's a lot of complex stuff that goes on with cultural transition when it comes to emotions and relationships and psychological processing, and it can get kind of heavy. But it is also a kind of neat time of seeing your own country and life as an outsider, and that's not an opportunity that everyone gets. Having been home for two months now, things are gradually feeling more normal, but I am still often reminded that I am in a transition phase. Some days it feels like I am having to relearn America, which often makes me feel like a dork. So for my amusement, and hopefully yours, I thought I'd share my struggles with America that I jotted down in the early days of repatriation:

1. Toilet paper: Yes, I've been going to the bathroom regularly in the US for many weeks now, but it has taken a long time to erase a two-year habit of having to think every time whether I could flush the toilet paper or have to throw it away. There's a little bell in the back of my head that goes off that makes me stop and consider where I am, what I've been told about that particular facility (or what the signs say) and how I esteem the plumbing. Also, the mere existence of toilet paper in public restrooms is, in and of itself, shocking!

2: Water: Another self-preservational brain alarm goes off every time I turn on tap water. It makes me consider whether I need to turn on the filter for that particular task or not. Except here, there's no filter to turn on! I filled up a glass right out of the tap the other day and felt like I was cheating death when I drank it. You don't mess around with drinking water in developing nations, so the concept of not worrying about using your tap water to drink, make ice, wash vegetables, cook, brush your teeth, or getting it in your nose and mouth when you shower, well that's pretty exciting. To be fair, in Lima we were acclimated so I didn't filter water to brush my teeth, and tap water was fine for washing dishes unlike some places I've been. But every time I traveled to a different city or country I had to inquire of the local Ms what the water situation was, so my brain, being away from my Lima apartment, is still going through that process.

Also, I have water pressure! It's awesome! Aaaaand, a BATH TUB! I can take a long hot shower, or a nice hot soak in the tub. I've had about 20 bubble baths since I've been home to make up for lost time. :-) I can count on my hand the number of times I'd taken a bath in the last two years because they are a rarer feature in most places down south.

Also, I am really missing the option of cheap carbonated water (seltzer/club soda) at all points in time. It's delightfully refreshing and America needs to embrace it more! Water is way better carbonated. (Note: I just discovered weeks after writing this that Zephyrhills- my favorite FL spring water- now makes a sparkling variety! Now I just need to convince them to carry it everywhere...)

3. Laundry: It took me a while to remember how to work our fancy washer and dryer here. There are so many choices and knobs! But the strangest thing is how FAST it is! I mean, seriously. I can wash and dry a load of clothes in what seems like the blink of an eye. Due to the low water pressure in our apartment, the washer took forever to fill, so one load of laundry was a few hour process. I am used to putting in a load before I get ready to go to the store or run an errand, because it'll probably be done when I get back and then be ready to take a couple hours to dry in the dryer. So now that I am back in speedy America, I keep forgetting to check on my clothes for hours and thus they sit in the washer or dryer for a really long time. Oops!

4. Food: What is it with America and processed foods?!  I mean, I love the occasional bag of chips, or a candy bar, or a convenient meal out of a box once in a while, but after being gone, it seems like that is the ONLY thing that is readily available in the US. Between the constant eating out at restaurants who use all sorts of preserved and processed foods, to the enormous selection of frozen, boxed, canned junk, my system has been in shock. In Peru I purchased and ate more imported and processed things than probably the average Peruvian, but since there were so many fewer pre-made options and so much inexpensive delicious produce, I had really gotten used to cooking almost everything from scratch. And you know what? It's not that hard once you get used to it. And my stomach was used to it too, so the first week on a US diet was...let's just say rough!

Also, I'm pretty sure America has invented like 100 new candies and fattening products in the last 2 years. Maybe one day I'll make it out of the store without saying, "What in the world is THAT?!" but it hasn't happened yet.

5. Prices: Peru is cheap. (Well, it was cheap, but the sol keeps climbing against the dollar so it's quickly getting less cheap, so you should get down there ASAP!) Even compared to other South American countries, we had it pretty good in Peru. Thankfully for the conversion rate, the price in numbers in the US looks smaller at first so I don't gasp in horror, but when I do the math in my head, it's pretty shocking just how much anything costs. I'm going to go bankrupt just on the food!

6. Stuff: We have sooooooo muuuuuuch stuuuuuuuuff! Believe me when I say I'm talking about myself first and foremost. Granted, almost everything I own is piled into one room...and down the hall...and in some closets. That's everything from my childhood room, my college apartment, my time in Paris, and now my time in South America, so in those terms its not so bad. But it really is. I have so much more than I need! I've been in major purge mode since I got home, I guess since I had just been doing the same thing to my stuff in Peru to be able to empty my apartment and fit my belongings into my suitcases, that I was already in that mindset. But it's also easier to get rid of things when you've been living without them for two years. It helps you realize more easily what is worth keeping and what isn't.

I remember seeing a tip on TV once about decluttering, and they suggested putting stuff into storage bins and tucking them away for a year. Anything that you had to go looking for and dig out could stay, and anything else you could give away. And now I know exactly where they were coming from. I've been taking big bags of clothes, shoes, purses, books, etc. to the thrift store while it's still easy and before I get attached to my "stuff" again. But just walking through malls and stores, America in general just has so much stuff! Some of it is pretty awesome, some of it is extremely useful, but so much of it is just ridiculous and we don't need it! I've been doing pretty good so far at making myself really justify everything I purchase, and hopefully I can create some new habits that will keep me from getting so cluttered in the future. The longer I am back in the US though, the easier it is to feel the pull of "needing" new things.

7. Driving: Driving in Peru is pretty crazy. Having not driven in Peru I didn't imagine that my time around Latin traffic would affect me much but I can see now I was wrong. I'm much more of an impatient crazed limeña driver now than I was before. I mean, I'm one for efficiency so I've always gotten annoyed with irrational traffic patterns and drivers that waste my time by sitting through green lights, or going slow on left arrows. Seriously, life is too short for that nonsense! Lima traffic stressed me so much at times that I never in a million years would have imagined that I'd get back to the US and actually wish that people would drive a bit more crazily. You don't need 50 yards of open space to make a turn! In Peru, 20 cars could have turned in that amount of time! ;-) Also, horns are very much under-utilized in Daytona, so I'm making up the difference. ;-)

8. Ease: Life is easy here. I don't mean that in the grand meaning-of-life angst-of-human-condition way, but just in the everyday task way. We drive to everything, and there are so many options for everything, and any item you need is easy to find. If not in a local store, it's just a quick internet search and a couple days wait away. Being resourceful is more of a discipline than a necessity for most people here. Everything is instant, and online, and you have choices. So many choices! I don't have to plan out conversations in a foreign language in my head just to call a business or buy medicine. I don't have to rework every recipe I find online because I can't get half the ingredients. Easy peasy!

There's a hundred more little things that catch me off guard or make me stop and think, "Well that's not what we do in Peru!" But after two months I see them less and less. It won't be long until I am just looking back and laughing at how I was scared of the Keurig and didn't have a clue how to operate one. America feels pretty normal now, although I am still piecing together what normal is going to be like for me in this next phase of life. I appreciate your prayers as I begin the search for a job and make decisions about my future!

04 February 2013

Where I Belong

In case you missed the memo, on January 24th I boarded a plane in Lima, Peru at 1:30 in the morning, walking through security waving goodbye to my supervisors and another friend who had been sweet enough to accompany me to the airport in the middle of the night. Two flights, and twelve hours later I walked off the plane in Daytona Beach, FL and out through security to a surprise welcoming committee of family and friends waving hello. It's been more than a week and in many ways I feel like I'm still in transit, stuck somewhere between Peru and the US. 

Physical life in the States is gradually starting to feel less awkward (It no longer takes me 6 tries to figure out how to flip a light switch, and my stomach is handling American food better.) but being back here still feels a little like, to use a family expression from a colleague in Peru, socks on a rooster. It doesn't quite fit right, and is a bit unnatural. Feeling out of place is a hard thing to process when so much is the same as when you left it. It's difficult to explain to yourself, and next to impossible to explain to anyone who hasn't been through it themselves. This leads to a lot of really awkward conversations where someone asks the question that everyone asks: "How does it feel to be home?" -or- "Are you excited to be back?" Apparently a blank stare and muttering isn't a sufficient answer for most people!  

Having returned from living overseas twice before, I knew what questions to expect. "How was Peru?" "What was your favorite thing about Peru?" "What do you miss most?" "How was the food?" "What was Peru like?" "Did you like it?" "So you must speak really good spanish now?" "Did you get homesick?" "What was the coolest thing you saw?" "Do you have any Peruvian friends?"  "What are you most excited about now that you're home?" and the most dreaded of all... "What are you going to do now?" "Do you have any plans?" 

My last weeks in Peru I even tried to sit down and prepare succinct answers to all of the typical questions so that I would be able to answer easily. But it didn't really happen. Some are easy to answer, but most are asking you to sum up two years of life in a different culture with a few words, or maybe a funny anecdote, and that's not easy at all. 

But none are as difficult as the "how are you feeling" vein of questions. And the best I can do right now is say, "I don't know." Yes, I am happy to see my family and friends. Yes, it's nice to be able to drive, go to the beach, and not have to think through the vocabulary for every conversation before I go do something. Yes, it is fun to eat favorite foods and wear different clothes. Yes, there are many things that are nice and enjoyable about being back in the US. 
There is always a melancholy that comes with change, always something that you are giving up in the transaction, a chapter in your life for which you are trying to write the last sentence. And it is rarely easy and tidy. When we are confronted with others who genuinely care about us, and want to know about our experience, we can feel a pressure to neatly wrap up our life and put a bow on it. To make something orderly and presentable out of years of work, and growth, and experiences, and relationships, and learning, and changing, and emotions. Years of life. But as we all know, life isn't orderly and presentable. It's messy. We as people are messy. And trying to share a complicated season of your life is a bit like trying to gift-wrap a live octopus. 

So, no, I don't have the answers. No, I can't sum up two years in two sentences. And no, I can't even fully tell you how I feel about being back. And I think that's okay right now. 

My first Sunday back at my church was much anticipated and it was great to see friends after so long. But it was also profoundly difficult. Several times during Sunday School and the worship service I got so overwhelmed that I almost had to leave. And for the life of me I couldn't pinpoint why. And then the praise team sang a familiar song by Building 429: 

"Sometimes it feels like I'm watching from the outside, Sometimes it feels like I'm breathing but am I alive? I won't keep searching for answers that aren't here to find. All I know is I'm not home yet, This is not where I belong, Take this world and give me Jesus, This is not where I belong." 

Never had that song hit home (pardon the pun) so much before! I think that has come closer than anything to explaining my feelings right now. People keep asking about how I feel now that I am "home", and how I feel is that I'm not. I'm not home. Not yet. And that is a comforting thought, because if heaven is the home I'm headed to, then it's okay that Daytona Beach doesn't quite feel like home right now. As C.S. Lewis put it, "If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.” 

What a home that will be! And what a great hope that is! It is a main comfort of the transient M life, that while we say farewell in this world, we have the promise of eternity with Jesus worshipping with believers from every tribe and nation. I hope that you have placed your faith in Christ and will spend eternity with the Lord, and if you do, I hope that one day I can introduce you to some of the incredibly faithful believers that I have had the privilege to meet and work with across Latin America for the last 2 years, and they can meet the people who prayed for and supported them from the US. 

I'm sure I'll eventually get comfortable again once the culture shock wears off, and the feelings of being strangely far from home will dim. But, I hope that I will carry with me the awareness that I'm still not home yet. This is not where I belong. 

If you haven't heard "Where I Belong" by Building 429 you can check out the video here! (If you are reading in email you'll have to follow the link to my blog site to watch.)

21 January 2013

How can I keep from singing?

My life flows on in endless song;
Above earth's lamentation,
I hear the sweet, tho' far-off hymn
That hails a new creation;
Thro' all the tumult and the strife
I hear the music ringing;
It finds an echo in my soul—
How can I keep from singing?
What tho' my joys and comforts die?
The Lord my Saviour liveth;
What tho' the darkness gather round?
Songs in the night he giveth.
No storm can shake my inmost calm
While to that refuge clinging;
Since Christ is Lord of heaven and earth,
How can I keep from singing?
I lift my eyes; the cloud grows thin;
I see the blue above it;
And day by day this pathway smooths,
Since first I learned to love it;
The peace of Christ makes fresh my heart,
A fountain ever springing;
All things are mine since I am his—
How can I keep from singing?

20 January 2013


A friend shared this video a few months back and I wanted to pass it on, but forgot in all the craziness of the holidays and traveling and preparing to move! I hope you'll take a minute to check out this remarkable family and pray for the millions of children around the world that need loving homes, and then maybe pray about how you can help meet that need, either by fostering or adopting yourself, or by financially and prayerfully supporting other families going through the process. I have been blessed to watch many dear friends go through the process of bringing children to their forever homes and I praise the Lord for the willingness of so many to take that leap.

New Film Premiere - I Like Adoption. from ILikeGiving.com on Vimeo.