The Stay Awake Challenge: Week 12

Week 12 is about making connections. Read the challenge here.

We have had a lot of opportunities for making connections over the last couple of weeks. Two new friends graced our home with their presence for several days at the beginning of May. It was such a pleasure to get to know Trent, who was in Ecuador on a medical campaign, and Shanaal, who is teaching at a university in Guayaquil. This past week, it seems like we have had people into our home practically every night. A group of Christians who wanted to talk about starting a new church plant in the neighborhood on the hill behind our house… one of the Kumanii evangelists and his lovely family… a German missionary friend from southern Ecuador and her two adopted Ecuadorian children. And on Sunday, we are hosting the Operation Ecuador monthly Praise and Potluck, which will include a 40th birthday celebration for Rusty — and hosting more overnight guests!

It’s been fun. But it’s also been exhausting, especially for an introvert like me, who finds being around people all the time to be draining rather than energizing. I may or may not have told Rusty today that if he invited anyone over tomorrow, I would shoot him in the head! I really am thankful for all these connections, these opportunities for deeper friendships, these possibilities for future ministry. But I do need times of silence and solitude in order to process it all and to see these connections as meaningful and important rather than just burdens to be endured.

It struck me today as I was thinking about this week’s Stay Awake Challenge and what I was going to write, that I could learn a lot about making connections from my children. The pictures that I chose to use for this challenge (below) reflect this. My kids make connections so easily and with so few inhibitions. When new people come over, it isn’t long before they are playing and chatting as if they’ve been friends forever. The other night, when Guillermo (the Kumanii evangelist) and his family were here, I watched Alex happily chattering away in Spanish with their two boys and was amazed at how completely open and unselfconscious he was. I so wish I could be more this way. What is it about growing up and becoming an adult that makes us want to put up walls and pull on masks and keep people at arms’ length? Or am I the only one who does this?

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Bedtime stories with new friends Shanaal and Trent

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New playmates

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More playmates

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Awesome AIMers!

Right after the medical campaign, for a couple of nights, we kept five students from the Adventures in Missions (AIM) program who are currently doing their field assignment in Sucre, Bolivia. They came to help with the medical campaign and stayed afterwards for about a week to do some sight-seeing before going back to Sucre.

I have written before about the blessing of having visitors in our home here and here, and this time was certainly no exception. These kids (can I call them kids since I am twice their age?) impressed me so much with their servant hearts, their attitudes of gratefulness, and how they played with and loved on my children. The girls were constantly in the kitchen asking if they could help with food prep; they washed dishes without being asked; the guys did puzzles with the boys and played Mario Kart with them; and they even made their beds every day! One night, the girls all sat and watched with keen interest a film called “Real Love Stories,” in which Rusty and I were featured. (A friend of ours made this film years ago to show the youth group at the Metro Church of Christ in Portland, where we were attending at the time.)

(If any of you AIMers read this post, feel free to pass it on to your parents and let them know what awesome kids I think they raised! I hope my boys turn out just like all of you!)

Rusty and I so enjoy being around young people with a heart for missions. In fact, working with teens and college students was one of the aspects about this opportunity with Operation Ecuador that Rusty found most appealing. He has always enjoyed working with this age-group, from back when we lived in Japan and he got to take the Pac Rim students from Oklahoma Christian University around Tokyo and Nikko for three days. In fact, if we hadn’t gone into missions, I probably would have strongly encouraged Rusty to pursue campus ministry — he has both the heart and the giftedness for it.

For my part, I find the enthusiasm and zeal of young missionary apprentices both heart-warming and contagious. I wouldn’t really call myself an “old” or “seasoned” missionary — we haven’t even been in Ecuador for a year — but we’ve been around the world enough and lived overseas enough to experience the occasional slumps, to have to fight the tendency to become jaded. And sometimes it’s good to remember why missions is so exciting, that it truly is a blessing to join God in the work of reconciling souls to himself. Young people just starting out, just getting their feet wet in the mission field, can help remind us of that.

I have had many positive experiences with AIMers through the years… from a college roommate who went through the program, to my brother-in-law, to several fantastic AIM teams that we had the privilege to know in Mito, Japan. And I now have another positive experience to add to my list with this team from Sucre. Thank you, AIM, for your high caliber program, and thank you, Sucre Team (Andrea, Kacie, Kaylin, Brett, and Cameron) for staying with us and letting us get to know you!

Hospitality

Rusty arrived home (yay!) in time for lunch, and along with him, the entire group from the East Hill Church in York, NE, who are here on a short-term campaign. Eleven people in all, thirteen if you include Rusty and Josh, and we fed them all lunch. One of the things I like best about our home here in Quito is how conducive it is for hosting large groups for meals or parties. We have already done quite a bit of entertaining in the few months we’ve been here.

We really love having people into our home. It is something we have always done, since the early days of our marriage. I remember having friends over for dinner as newly-weds in Japan, usually just one or two at a time because that was all our tiny apartment could comfortably hold. When we lived in Mississippi, the youth group and the young families were frequent guests in our home, just across the street from the church. Our second home in Japan was a large and spacious house, which became a venue for Bible studies and church parties, and the temporary home of a couple of short-termers with Let’s Start Talking. While living in campus housing at the grad school, we hosted our share of team meetings, and this carried over to our time in Portugal, where, since we had the largest apartment of the group, we hosted Team Fellowship Nights every other week.

Hospitality really has become one of our core family values through the years, and we enjoy being able to use our home as a ministry tool. There have been a couple of times during our marriage when we couldn’t have people over because we were not in a place of our own, but living with family or friends, and we always found we really missed being able to share our lives in this way.

Hospitality is an art, one that I learned growing up from my mom, where our home in Nairobi had a constantly revolving door for guests. It is an art I am still learning as I now play the hostess in my own home. But probably the most important thing I have learned about hospitality through the years is that it doesn’t require a perfectly decorated home, fancy dishes, or elaborate food. It just requires a desire to make people feel welcomed and loved and comfortable. And you can do that in a tiny apartment with paper plates and pizza delivery just as easily as someone in a million-dollar home with expensive china and a catered meal.

In Africa, guests are considered a blessing from God. If that’s true, then we have already been incredibly blessed during our few months in Ecuador! I hope this is always how I perceive the people who come and go through our front (or back) door — as a blessing!

The Importance of Visitors

My parents have been here visiting us for the past three weeks. This morning, they boarded a plane to head home to Detroit. It’s been a wonderful visit, and we certainly packed a lot into the time they were here — from celebrating the holidays, to taking them to see some of the sights around Quito, to a five-day trip around Ecuador, which included a visit to Kumanii, Operation Ecuador’s jungle lodge and outpost on the Cayapas River.

Last night, we all gathered at my sister’s house to say our goodbyes. We drank chai and ate Christmas cookies, sang a few songs, and had a time of prayer. Josh asked us to pray short prayers of thanksgiving or blessing. The kids all participated and said some very sweet prayers. Then my dad went around the room and blessed each one of his grandchildren. It was a precious time.

It struck me this morning that my parents have somehow managed to visit us in every single home we’ve ever lived in since we got married. That’s pretty significant when you consider how much Rusty and I have moved around in the past 13 years! From our first home, a cramped Japanese apartment, to our current abode, this spacious house in Quito, and everything in between, they have seen it all. It really speaks, I think, not just to how much they enjoy traveling and seeing new places, but to their desire to be active participants in our lives and to create lasting memories with our children.

When people visit (and this is true of anyone, really, not just parents), they are giving us the gift of their presence, the gift of being better able to visualize and understand our life, and thus the gift of knowing better how to pray for and encourage us. I think this is why missionaries love to have visitors from “home”. Yes, it’s a sacrifice — a sacrifice of time and money. But it is also one of the best ways folks back home can demonstrate their care and support.

And if they manage to squeeze a few U.S. goodies into their luggage on the way over, so much the better! 🙂