Saturday, June 11, 2016

Our 2016 Malawi Trip

We are home from Malawi and currently working through the fun parents with jet-lag + kids who aren't jet-lagged combo. So what better thing to do while the 2 month-old naps in my lap than write up a post about our trip? Just a warning, this is going to be really photo heavy!

Speaking of photos, I've had a few people ask what my purpose is in going with Josh to Malawi, and for as simple as it sounds, my job is to take pictures. The pictures that I take while we are there serve the mission for years to come and allows them to have high quality pictures of the work they are doing there to use on their website and share with their friends and supporters. Even though I'm not directly involved in the preaching and teaching, a photographer who is willing to come and take photos for the mission at the photographer's own expense really is more of a mission trip than it may seem.

We began our stay in Malawi by visiting Pastor Magada's church in Zomba. This was the first church ever planted by the mission team, and is today a vibrant church.

Josh and Mark together taught two modular pastors' schools, one in Zomba and one at the brand-new Lower Shire campus. Josh was impressed with how many of the pastors seemed to have matured in their faith and understanding of the Bible over the past 3 years. Below is the large classroom of the unfinished Zomba campus.

While the men were at the school, Stephanie took Jessi and me to the market. It reminds me so much of the markets in Moldova. Actually the whole country reminds me a lot of Moldova. The big difference is, of course, that in Moldova if we kept our mouths shut, we could blend in and go unnoticed. That's obviously not possible here for light-skinned people, although you do gradually get used to it and learn to ignore the stares and kindly tell the vendors no thanks.

We spent one night at Lake Malawi, because it's just so gorgeous that you can't help but go if even for a quick visit. The cichlid fish in Lake Malawi are found in the wild nowhere else in the world. Snorkeling among them is such an incredible experience!

After leaving the lake, we headed down to spend a few days in the southernmost part of the country, called the Lower Shire region. 

The first thing we did in the Lower Shire was a mobile medical clinic. Eric and Stephanie run many of these, and it was great to get to see it in action. They pack up tubs of medical supplies and, along with a doctor from Zomba, head out to rural villages where healthcare is completely unavailable. They can't treat every ailment, but they do have a decent pharmacy of medicines that they give away. Many ailments like malaria, infections, and parasites are simple to treat, but life-threatening for people without access to the medicines.

The village that we visited was particularly remote. After turning off the main road, we drove 30 minutes down dirt roads, crossed a river in canoes, and then walked through fields for about 20 minutes before finally reaching the village. 

Eric and Stephanie have a very well-organized system for their clinics. We treated 3 waves of people as they showed up. First, the people are gathered and a basic gospel message is presented. Then, Eric hands out tickets to see the doctor.

There are two lines, one for women with babies and children, and one for adults. The doctor sees all of the children, and Eric runs triage for the adults. Simple ailments can be treated without the doctor, and Eric sends the more serious cases over to Dr. Tata.

While all of this was going on, Mark had brought a soccer ball and played with the young men. He was expecting to be playing soccer with younger boys, but they had a full-sized field in this village and apparently the young men are VERY serious about their soccer. They were all excited to get to play with a real ball, they said they usually play with a ball made out of plastic bags tied together. 

After playing for a while, Mark led a devotion and a time of Q&A with the kids and young adults who had gathered by the field. 

The following day was another Sunday, and we visited a church in the Lower Shire, where Josh preached. I didn't get very many pictures there, because the white lady with the big camera was quite distracting, as you can tell in the picture below. When I take pictures of teaching or preaching, I generally try to get a few at the very beginning and then sit down so as not to be too much of a distraction.

Lastly was the second school at the Lower Shire campus that I mentioned at the beginning. This property is brand new and also unfinished. Mark started off teaching in the little church building on the property, but as more and more pastors trickled in, they had to move to a bigger space.

As is always the case when we do schools, while the men learn, the women cook. We are thankful for servant-hearted women in the churches who volunteer to come cook for such a large group.

Michael and Mark wanted to try stirring the huge pot of nsima, which the women thought was quite hilarious.

And that wraps up our time in Malawi! We are so thankful for the opportunity to go again, and for the blessing of working with Eric and Stephanie and the Malawian mission staff. Malawi is a beautiful country that is desperately in need of the gospel and solid Biblical teaching, and we are humbled that the Lord has allowed us to be a small part of the mission there. 

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Baby C: One Month Old, Court, & Prayer Requests

Baby C is one month old today. He is growing so fast, and is turning into quite the little butterball. His already unusually long hair is getting longer, and he is rocking a sweet baby mullet. He is absolutely adored by his siblings; there is always someone wanting to hold and/or feed him, and I've had to instate a "no kissing the baby when he's asleep" rule because the girls kiss on him so much and they were always waking him up.

He fits so seamlessly into our family that it's almost weird. A good weird. A wonderful weird, actually. As if he's always been with us.

He looks toward us when he hears our voices, and just yesterday gave me a few sweet smiles while playing peek-a-boo with a blanket. He has started cooing to try to talk to us, and has good eye contact when we talk to him. Sandra McCracken will put him right to sleep in the van. He LOVES to lie on a blanket on the floor and look out the big living room window. He just happily looks around and kicks his legs like crazy for a good long time. He only fusses when his diaper is dirty or he's tired, and he generally sleeps like a champ, especially since we switched to a different formula that is easier to digest. Almost like clockwork at night he will fall asleep around 9, wake up about 2:30, and then again at 4, 6, and 8. I take the 2:30 feeding and Josh usually takes both the 4 and 6. He doesn't usually sleep with us, but like most parents we don't shy away from some morning snuggles.

This month he went to church for the first time and was introduced in front of the church, he got to go to Classical Conversations with all of us and hang out in Taylah's class, and he slept right through his first adventure in Mammoth Cave on Josh's birthday. We are spoiling him rotten and soaking up every minute of every snuggle, partly because we know how fast he'll grow up, and partly because we don't know how many more days of snuggles we'll get.

We go back to court tomorrow and I have to admit that I'm a ball of nerves. He could be returned to his parents immediately, they could initiate a transition process for reunification, or he could remain with us until the next court date. There's no way to know what the judge is going to decide, and it is working every faith muscle I've got to trust the Lord with his future.

Even though foster care and adoption is supposed to be just about the kids and not about us, can I talk about us for a second? We've prayed for a baby for the last 6 years. Saved all of Jude's baby stuff and outgrown clothes. Cried. Begged. Prayed. Miscarried. Cried. Taken medicines and run tests. Prayed. Cried some more. There are no words for how thankful we are for the four amazing kids that God has given us, but it still hasn't dampened our desire for another baby.

And one month ago today I sat in my living room knowing that C's mom was in labor (he is a full biological sibling of our three adopted kids) and had no expectation that he would be removed from her care. That same day we found out another friend is pregnant. And I wept. Hot, unstoppable tears from a heart that hurt so deeply. Tears that I didn't even feel like I was allowed to cry, because I should just be thankful for the kids I have and be happy for others who are given children, right?

That night, on a whim, I took a pregnancy test and it was faintly positive. That next day, I received a call saying the state was going to take custody of C, and would we be willing to take him?

6 years of begging God for a baby, and he gave us two in less than 24 hours.

We spent a blissful and sleep deprived week adjusting to having a newborn again and talking about what life would look like with babies 8 months apart. Eager to tell them when they got older that we found out we were expecting on the day C was born.

Then, as most of you know by now, God's perfect plan didn't include the baby in my womb surviving.  In fact the baby wasn't in my womb at all. In the loving Father's perfect goodness, he allowed me to be within 1 minute of the hospital when my tube started to rupture, and I drove myself to the ER and was quickly taken back for emergency surgery to remove an ectopic pregnancy.

6 years of begging God for a baby, and we've already lost one of them and could lose the other as well.

I'm trying not to see it that way, but it is so difficult.

In a text conversation yesterday, Josh put it so simply and perfectly when he encouraged me, "Do not worry. For by worrying you cannot add a single child to our family." I'm so thankful for that man.

I'm writing all of this to beg you for prayer.

1. Please pray that God would grant the judge over C's case wisdom and discernment, "for there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God." (Romans 13:1)

2. Please pray that God would help us to walk by faith and not by sight, and to trust him no matter what happens.

Whenever we have faced trials of any kind, I'm always reminded of Peter's words in John 6:68. Many of the disciples turned away from following Jesus after a particularly difficult to understand teaching. Jesus asked the twelve if they were going to go away as well, and Peter replied, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” That is always my prayer in trials. I cling even tighter than ever to Christ, because there is nowhere else to turn. He alone has the words of eternal life. He alone is my comfort, hope, and security.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Malawi Famine Relief

$20 is pocket change for most of us in middle class America. I know that my family spends more than that on one fast food meal.

But for a family in Malawi, $20 per month for the next year will mean the difference between living and dying. 

Droughts and floods have combined in the past year to completely devastate crops in the southern region of Malawi, and the people are already beginning to go hungry.  Most people in the villages are subsistence farmers who only eat what they can grow, and some may grow a little extra to sell at the market. But if the crops don't grow, they have neither food nor money to buy food.

A man stands in his corn field that hasn't produced any ears of corn this year because of the drought.
Eric and Stephanie Chapman are our friends and missionaries in Malawi. They work with around 200 village churches to spread the gospel and train church leaders. Eric has been visiting villages lately, and he has seen that the people are already looking thinner and more sickly because of food shortages.

In one village he visited they were eating wild grass, and in another they were eating a bitter root that has to be cooked 3 times to get the poison out of it or else it will kill them. But the people are starving and desperate. Without relief, many Malawians will die in the coming year, especially children and the elderly.

A bowl of the wild grass that some have gathered to eat. But the grass won't last long now that the rainy season is over.
Eric has been praying and talking to people, and he has developed a plan to buy and distribute corn to the believers in the village churches through the pastors.  This is dangerous work, as riots and even murders are not uncommon over food during times of famine. But as he put it in his last newsletter, "how can I turn a blind eye to such a need?"

I'm challenging you to give $20 a month for a year, which will help a family of four in Malawi make it through this next year of famine. 

Many of us can afford to part with more than $20 per month and help multiple families. Please prayerfully consider making this small sacrifice so that others could live.

To give, please follow this link to the donate page of Eric & Stephanie's website, EurAsian Baptist Mission. Toward the bottom you will see options for designating your donation, and you'll fill in your donation amount beside "for African Hunger." You can choose to give a one-time gift or a monthly donation from your bank account or credit card.

If you're more old school and would prefer to send a check, you can send it to:
EurAsian Baptist Mission
6847 N. 9th Ave., Suite A #332
Pensacola, FL 32504

EurAsian Baptist Mission is a non-profit organization registered with the state of Florida as a 501(c)3. All gifts are tax deductible, and givers will be sent a receipt by mail or email to be used for tax purposes.

One-time gifts are of course welcome and very helpful, but remember that this is a need that is going to last until the next harvest in April 2017, and a monthly donation of $20 or more is what is most needed.

"What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, 'Go in peace, be warmed and filled,' without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?" (James 2:14-16 ESV)

Monday, February 8, 2016

Christians: A Normal American Life Isn't for You

If you don't feel called to ministry or missions, then what is expected of you as a Christian? Is it okay to just settle down, work whatever job pays the bills, raise your kids to do what's right, and make sure you're at church at least most Sunday mornings?

I'd like to propose to you that there is so much more to the Christian life than this.

If there is one thing I want my kids to know as they grow into adults and begin to work out God's plan for their lives, it's that our lives are given to us for the express purpose of worshipping God and making him known among the nations.
For you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body... So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.  1 Corinthians 6:20, 10:31 
 Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.  Revelation 4:11
And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”  Matthew 28:18-20
I do not want them to grow up expecting that the normal American life is the default for all Christians who aren't called to ministry or missions. We as the church must to stop thinking this way. The great commission is for all of us! Some of us will be senders, and some of us will be goers. Some will go across the street, and some will go across oceans. But no matter what kind of life we are called to, we are all to be actively engaged in reaching the lost in some way.

Karen volunteers tirelessly at our church with a heart that's on fire to reach the kids and families in our area with the gospel.

My kids may feel called to do that here in rural America where they labor for God's glory in a secular job, faithfully volunteer at their church in the ways God has gifted and called them to serve, and sacrificially give to those in need, to their church, and to missionaries who are reaching the nations. There is MUCH honor in this kind of life, and we NEED people to answer this call.

Stephanie lives in Malawi with her husband Eric. They moved to Moldova in their 30's with 4 young kids, and then moved to Malawi as empty nesters in their 50's. It's never too late to follow God's call!

Or our kids may feel called to serve in any number of ministries or mission fields, either at home or abroad: pastoring a church where they lead people to know God more deeply and make him known around the world, church planting in the unreached heart of an American city, teaching English in a hard-to-reach country as a platform for sharing the gospel, caring for the physical and spiritual needs of refugees as they flood into Europe or America, teaching the Bible to illiterate church leaders in an African country, rescuing young women from sex trafficking in Indonesia and showing them the healing that can only come through the gospel, or risking their lives to bring the name of Jesus for the first time to a people group that is hostile to outsiders. There is also MUCH honor in this kind of life, and we NEED people to answer this call.

But the point is that no matter where they are, my prayer for them is that they will know God and follow his call to labor for his glory. 

Mike felt called to run an auto repair business for the glory of God, and he and Kellie pour out their lives to disciple college and high school aged students in their local church.

And that is my prayer for you as well. Are you frustrated with the week-in-week-out mundaneness of life? God calls you to more! 

Maybe he will call you to give your life to discipling the youth of your local church,  or to get to know your lost neighbors and get involved in their messy lives so they can receive the gospel, or to show Christ's love to neglected and abused children in your community by bringing them into your home as foster children, or to serve him right where you are in one of a zillion other possible ways.

Maybe he will call you to go to seminary and become a pastor, or to use your job skills as a platform for taking the gospel to another country, or to be part of a church plant in New York City, or to move your family to a developing country so that an unreached people group can hear about Jesus for the first time.

Who knows? I sure don't. But will you ask the One who does? No matter how young or old you may be, will you seek his guidance in your life and not just assume that a normal American life is all that is expected of you? Will you pray that he will show you the way in which he wants you to pour out your life for his glory, and will you trust him and follow him down whichever path that prayer may lead you?

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.  Matthew 16:24-25 
Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all.  Philippians 2:17

Monday, February 1, 2016

Easy Homeschool Art Lessons

Disclaimer: I can't take credit for this idea, but I also can't remember where I got it! I found it on some homeschooling blog, but I apparently didn't pin it like I usually do. If I'm able to find it at some point, I will come back here and give credit and add a link.

I don't know about you, but I've struggled to incorporate art into our homeschool even though I've really wanted to. So when I found this idea on a homeschooling blog recently, I jumped on it for the new semester and we are really enjoying it! The only thing I had to buy was these Usborne Famous Paintings flash cards (which you can buy on Amazon or from an Usborne seller) pictured above.

So what we do is when it's time for art, the girls blindly choose a card from the deck. They study the painting on the card for a minute or two, trying to notice all the details. Then they read out loud to me the back of the card, which tells a few interesting things about the painting without getting boring. Lastly, it's time for the fun part: they get to try to reproduce the painting themselves! So far we've mostly used colored pencils, but have also tried cutting and pasting construction paper kind of like Matisse and only using dots and dashes like Seurat. They have enjoyed this even more than I expected (except when I tried to get H to do The Creation of Adam upside down on the bottom of a chair like Michelangelo did... she wasn't having that), and even in the short amount of time that we've been doing it, I can tell that their attention to detail has already improved significantly!

This may be the lazy/busy/overwhelmed mom's way of doing art, but at least it's something!

Also, I consider this art study the same way that we approach the memory work we do with Classical Conversations: it's laying a foundation for them to learn more about these subjects in the future. You know how the first time you drive in a new place it's all foreign and you're totally disoriented, but the next time you drive there you have a better idea of where you are, and then after a few times you know exactly where to go? That's what learning anything is like, and in CC we expose kids to a lot of information when they're little so that when they get a little older and revisit it, they already have a foundation on which to build.

I've already seen this idea play out with the girls when we learn a little about something from singing the timeline song, and then a couple of weeks later we learn more about it while listening to Story of the World, and they're excited because they have already heard of it before!

I hope this will help someone else incorporate art into your homeschool as it has us!

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

My 6 and 7 Year Old Girls' Favorite Books of 2015

Josh posted today about all of the books that he's read in 2015, and shared a bit about a few that were his favorites. Inspired by that, I asked the girls if they wanted to do a similar post on my blog of their favorite books, and they were very excited to share them! Maybe it will inspire some other young readers!

Every day after lunch our kids have 2 hours of rest time during which they can read or nap in their beds. This is a both a big reason a) why we love and b) how we survive homeschooling! This introvert mama needs some quiet time! Thanks to this, the girls have both become voracious readers, and we have found ourselves wearing out the local library and used book stores in order to keep them in books. 

To say that reading is an emphasis in our home would be an understatement. On top of rest time, every morning the girls get up and read their Bibles (Haylee reads a chapter from the actual Bible and Taylah reads a Bible story) and then narrate to us what they read when they are finished. And every night at bedtime we read a more advanced book to them for about 10-15 minutes. Josh and I take turns reading every other night, and this has been a great way to expose them to literature that is above their reading level, as well as enjoy some fun fiction ourselves. I'm currently reading through the Harry Potter series for the first time and really loving it. You might think that they would get tired of reading so much, but in their play time they often fight over which one of them gets to read to their brothers!

So having said all of that, the following bits were transcribed by me exactly as was dictated by the girls with just a little bit of direction on my part. Taylah is newly 6 and Haylee is almost 8. I've color coded Taylah's part in purple and Haylee's part in red to hopefully help distinguish between them. 

Also, I really don't recommend Junie B. Jones books (Junie's grammar is atrocious and I feel like it teaches them to talk and write incorrectly, and we also wind up explaining a lot of Junie's mispronunciations that confuse the girls), but they've been gifted a couple of them, so we have them anyway. I just felt the need to add that disclaimer!

Hi, my name is Taylah Hutchens. I am 6 years old, and these are my favorite books.

My favorite book is The Little Drummer Boy by Dandi Daley Mackall. I like this book because I like when they see Jesus.

My next favorite book is The Black Star of Kingston by S.D. Smith. Daddy is reading it out-loud to us at bedtime. I like that book because I like when Fleck and Massie go to look for Gavin. 

My third favorite book is Fables for Children by Aesop [No link, we got this for $1 at Target but there are lots of editions of this]. I like it because it has short chapters. My favorite chapter is The Fox and the Stork, because I like to hear when the fox played a trick on the stork. He thought that the stork was going to enjoy its dinner, but it didn’t because he played a trick. 

My fourth favorite book is Junie B. Jones and the Mushy Gushy Valentime by Barbara Park. I like when Junie B. gets cards for Valentine’s Day 

My last favorite book is The Magic Finger by Roald Dahl. I like it because someone gets zapped with the magic finger. 

If you want some books, you can go to the library.

Hi, my name is Haylee Hutchens. I am 7 years old. These are my favorite books this year.

One of my favorite books is Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling. Mama read it out-loud to me at night time, and then I read it by myself all over again. I like that book. It’s funny because Hagrid talks funny. 

Another of my favorite books is Baker’s Dozen: Charlotte’s Magic Star by Suzanne Weyn. It’s sad in some of it, and happy, and exciting. When you stop at one chapter, you just want to read on, cause you like it. 

And another of my favorite books is Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder. I like it because it’s a fun book. My favorite part was where Laura had a corncob doll and they played in the attic in the winter with their dolls, because I thought it was cool how they played it with pumpkins and the vegetables.

And another is Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl. I love his books. He is a great author, and you will love his books. Mr. Wonka is funny, and Charlie is funny, too. Mr. Wonka won’t let anyone ask questions, because he says there’s no time for questions, and Charlie is funny because he’s the one who always tries to ask questions. 

My very favorite book that I read this year is Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi [This is another $1 abridged copy from Target]. He’s funny because he runs away and every time he lies, his nose gets longer, and that’s funny. It’s my very favorite because he’s a puppet, and he turns into a real boy when he decides to obey. I learned from reading it that you’re not supposed to lie and run away.

You’ll love those books!