Sunday, September 25, 2016

The Less Than Romantic Realities of Village Life

by Dave


For various reasons throughout my life I have heard people talking about the virtues of “village life.” I generally do not say much on these subjects, as they tend to be a bit touchy, and to be honest, I did not have a lot to say. However, I realized that after living for a while in an African village, I can offer some facts regarding village life that most people would not know. My goal is not confrontation in this blog, but just information. As you are making decisions regarding your family, raising your kids, and how you counsel others, I hope you will find this information helpful.



Family Life
A friend on Facebook linked to a blog about how Westerners rarely raise their children in a real community context. The author defines this “village” contest as:
“the way of life inherent to relatively small, relatively contained multigenerational communities. Communities within which individuals know one another well, share the joys, burdens, and sorrows of everyday life, nurture one another in times of need, mind the wellbeing of each other’s ever-roaming children and increasingly-dependent elderly, and feel fed by their clearly essential contribution to the group that securely holds them.” 
This “village” context is one in which there are many people that are involved in our lives and giving feedback regarding how we live, including and perhaps especially, how we raise our children. The author used the examples of villages in Mexico where she “witnessed, firsthand, the blessings made possible by the presence of a tribe, however disadvantaged.” I actually agree with much of the premise of this argument (i.e. a multitude of counselors is a good thing). However, I see very few things about living in an actual village that I imitate in my family.

Here are a couple of the problems in village life:

1) Kids “raised by the village” end up being raised by no one. What I have found here is that everyone expects everyone else to be involved in the lives of the children, and very little rearing is actually happening. We are teaching the kids in our neighborhood their colors, because no one else is doing it. When children offend or attack others, no one stands up to correct them. Instead, adults sitting just beside the children will call out “Take your own revenge” to the injured party. I do not let my children roam freely through the village for fear of what would happen to them.

2) Peer pressure. There is extreme pressure placed on everyone in the village to conform to the community standard. Our kids LOVE playing in the rain and mud. However, in the culture we are living, being dirty is pretty much a sin. So we get reprimanded every time. This is a pretty silly example. But when it comes to traditional religious ways of dealing with issues, it can be extremely hard to say “no”. This is particularly hard for Christians that are trying to be faithful to the Lord, while their relatives constantly demand that they follow traditional customs. In fact, I have heard Christians counsel other Christians to get OUT of their village in order to escape some of these pressures.

Really the problem is that no matter what type of community you are raising your children in, it is a fallen community. Most villages in the world are inhabited by unbelievers (we are working on that), so the community here is much darker than the one that you are living in. I think what this author is describing is not a “village”, it is the Church. In fact, if making sure that my children were being raised in a godly community were my number one priority, I would not be living in a village in Africa. I would have stayed in the States and would probably be going to your church.

Economics
In their book The Poverty of Nations, Wayne Grudem and Barry Asmus write that it is surprising that so many people,
“still believe that subsistence farming is soulful, organic, and proper. These earnest and well-meaning people believe that a community’s economic security would be enhanced if all the people grew their own food and produced the necessities of their lives. Then, markets would become irrelevant and families could ensure their own survival. If only this were the case.” (Grudem and Asmus, 110).
After spending time with subsistence farmers (nearly all of my neighbors), I too am surprised that there are so many that think this way. The days of traveling by foot out to their fields, seeking to tame sinfully affected soil, with women often carrying and nursing a baby, are terribly long. This leaves them with no time to seek education or to develop tools to make the work easier. It leaves them with no time to learn to read, or even if they know how, no time to study. We have very few old people living in our village, and lots of tombs.

Subsistence farming also leaves my neighbors with no way to get ahead. And one heavy wind, or devastating insect, and they find themselves in dire straits until they can plant and harvest again. The hopes of nearly every family in my neighborhood is that one of their children can find a job as a police officer, customs agent, or doctor so that they can escape the way of life that results from subsistence farming.

Vaccinations
I know this is a contentious one, and I am in no way seeking to change anyone’s mind on the inherent morality of vaccinating children. But, one of the worst things that I ever hear in this area is when people say, “We do not need vaccinations, look at people living in villages. They do not vaccinate and they are doing just fine.” Where you live, have you ever heard of someone having a bad case of the measles? I had not until I moved here, and five infants under two years of age died in a neighboring village. There are two girls in our village that have been crippled because of polio. Their lives are so difficult.

A doctor friend of ours said in an email that it is just a given here that children will be exposed to vaccine-preventable illnesses. I long for my neighbors to get vaccinations. I am so tired of seeing people die from diseases that we can control. You have no idea what it is like here. I have seen so much death, and we have not even been here that long. I am so tired of seeing sick kids. The average life expectancy here in Cameroon is 54.59 years. Compare this to the average life expectancy in the US: 78.74 years. Of course, there are a number of factors at play here. But the idea that people are so much healthier in villages in Africa is just not true. And my neighbors wish that they could have the healthcare that we constantly complain about.

My goal in this blog is not to condemn your perspective. However, I do find myself in a unique situation to speak to what “village life” is really like. I hope that, in reading this, you are armed with more information so that you can make better arguments. The truth is, for most people living in villages in Africa, life is very hard and very short. And while some in the West are dreaming of being able to live the “simple” life, they are longing to escape it. My goal is that when you make your arguments, you stop saying “like they live in the villages in Africa” to support your points. You do not want to live like they live here.

Another goal I have is to challenge us to be content. Paul (probably in prison at the time) wrote:
“Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:11-13).
Just as we seek to help our neighbors have better lives here in Cameroon, it is good to seek better lives for our families and friends. But we must not miss out on contentedness. I think one of the ways that we can seek to be content is to remember all of the things we have to be thankful for. If you go to a church with people that want you to raise your kids in the fear and admonition of the Lord, thank Him. If you had time to read this blog because you were not in a field planting corn again because the first crop was eaten by rodents, praise God. And if you do not have to watch your neighbor’s little girl lift her feet with her hands, bent over with every step because of polio, thank our Father for his kindness. And pray for our village.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Sorrowful Yet Always Rejoicing

by Stacey


“This is what I mean, brothers: the appointed time has grown very short. From now on, let those…who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing…For the present form of this world is passing away.” 1 Co 7:28–31

There are two main burdens weighing on me right now. The first and foremost being the fact that my mom has stage 3 ovarian cancer (as we have written in our previous blog posts). This is a deep sorrow that is just always there. The second burden has been the growing hardness of heart that I see in 3 out of 4 of my children towards the Lord. I know they are “just kids” and I know that kids go through stages, and yet this “stage” has been long, grievous, frustrating and exhausting. And these two deep sorrows seem to make the day-to-day stresses of missionary life a little more stressful.

And mysteriously, side by side with the tears and frustrations, is a perfect peace. I think one has to be a Christian to understand this. It is like being a little child who is weeping in her dad’s lap due to the loss of a pet. She cannot imagine a sorrow deeper than what she feels at that moment, and yet there is at the same time a perfect stillness because she knows that she is with her Dad and therefore everything is going to be OK. His kindness is always there. His love is always there. His concern for her well being is always there. He, at that moment, is like a rock to her and she begins to appreciate his constant, faithful love even more.

Even outside of God’s constant, faithful, loving character, there are always reasons to rejoice at his work in the world. For instance, this past week, I spent a good bit of time working with a language partner to do a rough translation of Romans 5 because this coming week we will be teaching the kids in our neighborhood (in Bakoum!) about how it is because of Adam that sin and death entered the world. We have been told that at every Bakoum funeral, lots are cast to see who was responsible for the death of the deceased. There must always be someone who used some type of witchcraft to cause each and every death. You can imagine the kind of suspicious and paranoia this can create. Anyway, this week we are all going to tell the kids to point the finger at Adam and then at themselves for death. Adam is the one who invited death into the world through his sin, and then all of us are guilty of following him. We are going to encourage the kids to not follow in the practices of their parents of accusing people of murder through witchcraft, but instead to put their trust in the “Second Adam” who brought righteousness into the world and promises life to all. Are these truths not reason to rejoice? Is it not thrilling that these children will be hearing these truths for the very first time? Even in a season of sorrow, these truths bring great rejoicing.

And then there is God’s work in our son Kaden. To give a little context, in our front yard there are on average 30 children there playing. We break up fights often and sometimes cannot hear one another talk in our own house because of the noise level. It is intense. We have a bike and the kids take turns riding it. But what happens is the “big boys” end up riding the bike the whole time and the little kids and girls do not even get to touch it. So Kaden, our son, said that this practice had to stop. He wrote down rules that said that little kids and girls got to ride the bike first. Now he stands outside and blows a whistle if a big kid violates this rule. He does not even ride the bike. And this is incredibly counter-cultural. Here “might makes right.” Whoever is bigger, older, and louder is the one who is “right” and can do what they want. So, here you have a little 7 year old kid standing up to 12-13 year-old-machete-carrying-not-wearing-shirts-muscles-popping-out-everywhere-boys telling them to let the 5 year old girl in a tattered skirt ride the bike. Only God can grant such courage. Even if God cannot be seen at work in the lives of all my children, it is remarkably encouraging to see his work in the life of Kaden.

And lastly, I am so encouraged by the simple faith of my parents who are content to take one day at a time and let tomorrow worry about itself. If they are at peace in the Lord in the midst of hospitalization and chemotherapy, then the rest of us have no excuse, do we?

To those who do not yet know this peace, I leave you with an invitation that Jesus gives:
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. Matthew 11: 28-29
Come to Jesus, confess your sin, let him be the ruler of your life, and benefit from his gracious gifts, such as his peace, forever. He is the only way that in the midst of seasons of sorrow one can also be constantly rejoicing.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

How to Provide For and Hate Your Family

by Dave

We are facing a situation right now that is no doubt very common for missionaries, but very difficult. As you may have read in our last post, Stacey’s mom has cancer. We have been overwhelmed by the outpouring of love and prayer that we have received. Stacey is frequently in communication with her parents and they also are receiving much love. Thank you for those who have reached out.

Beyond encouragement, we have also received counsel from those who have contacted us. Thank you for those of you who have recounted your experiences with sick parents and helped us think through our current options. Being that this counsel has been conflicting at times, I thought it would be worth a blog post explaining what we are thinking and why. Specifically, some have told us we need to catch the first plane to be back with Stacey’s mom and walk with her through this. While others, including our pastor here, have said that this is the cost of missionary work and, as difficult as it is, we need to stay.

I believe that this conflict in counsel is due to two different biblical concepts that can appear to be conflicting. I hope to deal with these two apparent contradictions and apply them to our situation today.

We Ought to Provide for Our Families
“But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” I Timothy 5:8.
God calls us to provide for our relatives, and especially the members of our household. It is so important that Paul says that someone who does not do this is worse than an unbeliever. As Stacey and I are thinking through our situation, we know for sure that it is of high importance that our families are cared for. The priority in this verse is the members of one’s household, though it is extended to all of their relatives. The idea is that if you have members of your family that are in need and are not being cared for, your soul is in danger. We are not taking this reality lightly, as we spend time everyday in prayer for Margie and for wisdom as to how we should respond.

I would like to point out what this passage does not say, though. This passage does not say that one must be in physical contact with their family. This is vital not only for missionaries, that live far away from their families, but also for the large number of believers that do not live in the same town as their families. No one claims that to be a faithful Christian we must see our families every day, or once a week, or at least on holidays. The truth is that “providing for relatives” looks different in every family. And there is a lot of freedom in this passage.

We Ought to Hate Our Families
“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple” Luke 14:26.
On the other end of the spectrum, Jesus at one point called great crowds to himself in order to remind them to count the cost of following him. Here he says, in the above verse, that if anyone truly wants to be his disciple he must “hate his own father and mother.” I have struggled to understand what Jesus means in this passage. I believe that the language is intentionally strong, and hyperbolic. But I do not think that means that we ignore it, or just explain it away.

Many commentators think that in this passage the issue is comparison. We ought to love God SO MUCH that comparatively our love for our family is so small it does not seem to be love at all. I really love hamburgers. And my love for hamburgers has only increased since coming to the land-of-no-hamburgers. But it would be foolish to compare my love for hamburgers with my love for my wife. You might even wonder if I should use the word “love” for my hamburger relationship. This dynamic should be similar for our love for God. If we were to compare how much we loved God with our love for anyone else, it should seem wrong to even use the same word for the two. If what I have for God can properly be called “love,” hate must be the closest thing for my relationships to others.

While I have no doubt that the comparison interpretation is true, I think that what Jesus is calling believers to is greater than even that. Being a missionary I have been privy to comments that many people do not receive. One such comment has been that becoming a missionary means that I hate my family. “How could you take your grandkids so far away from their grandparents?” “How could you take your kids so far away from Western medical care?” When others, mostly nonbelievers, look at my life, many of them see hatred. I think that this is because, for a large portion of the population, family is the highest value. The idea is that you must be willing to do anything for family. “Blood is thicker than water” and all that.

I kid you not, the look in some people’s faces when I have told them that we are going to raise our children in a village in Africa is quite similar to what I see when people talk about a deadbeat dad. That is because being here in Africa is a choice that we have made that prioritized the salvation of the Bakoum over family. And to many people in the world today, that actually looks like hatred. And these are often people that do not even really understand my love for God. They are not comparing our relationship with our family to anything. They just see that we do not place our family as the highest priority and what they see instead is hatred. I believe that this is a fuller image of what Jesus had in mind in this passage: prioritizing Jesus over family to the point that, to an outsider, it looks like hatred.

What Should We Do?

You can see why there would be conflict in the counsel that we receive: these two passages seem to be contradictory. But at the end of the day, they are not. The Scriptures do call us to care for our families, which is the earnest desire of our hearts. It has been extremely hard to concentrate on language learning because we would much rather be comforting and caring for Mom. We long to do everything we can to help. But the world’s expectations of what this should look like are not the same as ours. We know it is vital (even eternally impacting) to provide for our families, but at times the way this is played out in our lives looks like hatred. This is because of the fact that, while family is of great value to the Christian, it is not the ultimate value. If family was the ultimate value, we would not be here in Cameroon. Ever, let alone when our mom is sick. But we must consider what it means to follow Jesus first, before even our families.

All of that to say, in some situations there is no doubt that missionaries leaving the field to care for sick or aging parents is the right choice. This is when they would not be provided for apart from such an event. For the time being, this is not our mom’s situation. She has an incredibly loving, healthy, and retired husband caring for her (thanks Dan). She is surrounded by the love of her physical brothers and sisters, as well as many Christian brothers and sisters. I cannot tell you what a great comfort that is to us. But it still tears us apart. We talk frequently, and seeing Margie sick and weak is so painful. We long to be with her. And we will be with her soon (furlough starts in March 2017), and even sooner if a need arises. But for now we stay here, working to see the Bakoum people saved. Why? Because we love Mom more than most, but God more than all. And we are so thankful to have a mom who can say to us that she understands.

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If you would be interested in writing a card to Margie (or Dan) as they go through this tough time, please email me and I can give you their contact info: dave.hare@worldteam.org. Margie loves receiving cards and especially drawings from kids. We have sent some but they take a really long time to get there. This would be an awesome way that you could help us provide for them.

Monday, August 29, 2016

My Mom Has Cancer...So, Why Am I Here?

by Stacey
Kaden's picture: Jesus wiping away Mimi's tears.
This week I received hard news from home: my mom has cancer. And it is in an advanced stage and is very serious.

As can be expected, this news has brought a flood of emotions and many, many tears. My oldest son Kaden just sat on my lap and sobbed. He said that he wanted to see her soon “in person” and that he was really concerned for his Grandpa’s feelings through all of this. Makyra stopped a stranger on the street and asked them to pray. And Elias is fervently praying that God will take away Grandma’s “cancer ball” (AKA tumor). For the few of you that know my children, they are balls of energy and never, I mean never, stop talking. When we told them the news, they all were completely silent. For minutes. I did not know such a silence and sobriety was possible with my children. Clearly they love their grandma.

And for me, she is my mom so the sorrow runs deeper than that of all my children combined. I do not even want to think of living life without her. But possibly the worst part of all is the nagging question of: What am I doing here? What am I doing on the other side of the world when I could be taking her to her chemo appointments? What am I doing confining our relationship with her to a computer screen on Skype? She should be getting regular hugs from her grandkids right about now. I have never felt the piercing depth of the cost of coming to the mission field as deeply as I do now.

And yet, while I do think that there is a time for missionaries to go back home, at least for a season, the Lord has used two things this week to encourage me to continue steadfastly in the work that is here before us, even through many tears:

There are Eternal Souls to be Won
The Lord in his mercy has allowed me to have one of the most fruitful weeks of ministry than I have ever had since arriving here. I think, in his kindness, he is showing me that, as painful as it is to be here, he has work that he has set aside for me that I need to do.

Specifically, I have invited a team of Cameroonian and Congolese missionaries from Child Evangelism Fellowship to come put on a training for children’s workers in our region and it has been amazing. There are many highlights, but one that I find most touching is that there are various tribes represented in the training who are illiterate and who live in abject poverty (including the Bakoum). Then there are those who are very educated and “high church” if you will. And here, generally the “upper class” tribes look at the other tribes (specifically the Baka, a pygmy tribe) with distain and treat them as less than human. But what I have seen this week is the body of Christ at its finest.

Just yesterday, the trainers spent 4 hours with the Baka gentleman trying to teach him how to write a Bible verse and teach it to children. I am hopeful that he will return to his village and teach the Word of God to children in his native tongue. Further, other “high church” ladies have worked with this same brother until dark. And a group of Bakoum people from a neighboring village have agreed to teach, with my help, regular evangelistic Bible stories in Bakoum to children in their village.

These may sound like ordinary things, but for here, French is the “language of God” and many people just go through the motions each Sunday, understanding little. So to have Bible stories taught in the local tongue on a weekly basis is Jesus stepping off his throne in Heaven and taking on flesh. It is Jesus peeling back his “white skin” (in their local stories of Jesus, he is a beautiful white man with long, soft hair) and becoming African. This training could possibly be one of the ways God is reaching unreached people groups with the Gospel.

I think this kind of work is what Peter meant when he called the church to “Let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good” (1 Peter 4:19). I think that as Christians we are simultaneously sorrowful yet always rejoicing for the work we see God doing in and through us.

God’s Loving Care for My Mom

God has given me another gift this week. He has let me see his love for my mom through those that are with her. From Christian neighbors across the street, to my brother who will be there to see her this week, from family members, then her church family, and finally to my Dad who is her 24 hour nurse, I see now that God’s loving care for my mom does not depend on me.

His love is too great to be contained in one person. I am not the sum total of God’s love towards her, I am much too small. His love for his image bearers takes people from every tribe, tongue and nation to express the tender care that is in his heart for the suffering. His thoughtful love is seen in people bringing her meals, others crying with her on the phone, my friends and neighbors letting me cry on their shoulders and my Dad painting her a mural on the wall to look at when she’s in bed. Taken all together, we can step back and see a loving Creator behind it all. And he receives glory for the sum total of all those who have reflected his character in one way or another.

When I think of being so far away from my mom, the Lord responds with the words of Jeremiah the prophet when God asks, “’Do not I fill heaven and earth?’ declares the Lord” (23.24). The Lord fills hospital rooms and houses filled with tears. I trust him to care for her well, even if my part in that is smaller than I would like it to be.



And so, I tearfully and prayerfully will continue my work this week. I will continue praying for this people and praying for my mom, trusting that there is no one who can care for her better than the Lord who fills heaven and earth. And, at the same time I also pray for the Lord’s wisdom and guidance as to how we can be there for her and love her during this difficult time. Our hearts are with her even though we are physically so far away.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Are You REALLY a Missionary?

by Dave

I once heard a presentation arguing that the only New Testament method of missions is church planting. The missionary explained that, biblically speaking, the Great Commission is best fulfilled by Christians working to create not just disciples, but churches. This thinking has lead to the Church Planting Movement (CPM) which has sent (and is sending) many missionaries with the purpose of planting churches. One consequence of this movement is that it has led some missions agencies to only send out pastors/teachers/disciplers. The idea is that the only real missions is church planting, so the only real missionaries are church planters. In fact, we were turned away from one organization because we told them that we wanted to do Bible translation, and they told us that they did not send out Bible translators, only church planters.

So, this poses a question. Are you REALLY a missionary if you are not a church planter? To answer this I want to consider first what church planting is:

What is Church Planting?
When Jesus called his disciples to “go make disciples” he explained what that meant:
“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 28:19-20).
We are called to: baptize and teach all that Jesus commanded. We see this played out in the New Testament in a very specific way: church. Discipleship was not confined only to Sunday morning, but these early believers “devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42). The command is to make disciples and the way that we see it played out is in churches. As missionaries, we are seeking to fulfill the Great Commission and we want to do it in a biblical way.

What is the Church?
So, missionaries go out to all of the nations and we work to plant churches. The goal being, a group of believers meeting together, devoting themselves to biblical teaching, fellowship, prayers and in doing so fulfilling the Great Commission. But Paul tells us something very important about churches in 1 Corinthians 12:27-31:
“Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? But earnestly desire the higher gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way.”
The church is a unified body with many members. God has ordained that there should not be just one type of church member. So, he gifted all of his children differently and told them to work together, giving them all the Great Commission.

What is a Church Planter?
If God created his church as a body of different people gifted differently, and then sent them out to plant other churches that operate in the same way, what kind of Christians should we consider as “sent out?” Would it just be the pastor/discipler type? I do not think that the logic follows. It seems rather that he would send out people with various gifts. I believe that this is what we see in the New Testament as well. Paul was an evangelist and discipler. Was he involved in church planting? Of course. But he never stayed anywhere very long. Timothy was a native of Lystra who was evangelized by his mother and grandmother. Paul helped disciple him and Timothy traveled with Paul in his missionary journeys, but then stayed on to work as a pastor in Ephesus. At that point his ministry looked different than Paul’s but both were involved in church planting. Aquila and Priscilla were tent makers that traveled some with Paul and discipled men like Apollos. We do not hear of Aquila’s preaching or itenerate ministry, but it seems that they were just Christians seeking to work and build the church as they lived their lives. Each of these people was a missionary, but they all played different roles.

We Are REALLY All Church Planters
Stacey and I are Bible translators. Can you imagine evangelizing and discipling without the Bible? How about missionaries that are doctors? It is really hard to evangelize and disciple dead people. But here in Cameroon I know several medical missionaries that save lives and disciple souls. They use their trade (medicine) as a means for helping people and disciple and minister to spiritual needs as well. For those that do become Christians and want to seek a deeper education in the Bible, where are they going to get that training? We could, of course, send people like this off to the US to attend Bible colleges and seminaries, but there are so many problems with that. Instead, missionaries work here to do theological training and have actually done such a good job that there are now several Cameroonian seminary professors. These professors are training pastors, evangelists, and future professors. All of us are seeking to build the church in Cameroon. Therefore, we are all church planters, even though we play different roles.

The goal of missions is disciples, and I agree that the best way to make disciples is in churches. But churches have many components. And when one is going to plant a church, especially in an unreached place, there are many roles in the church that will need to be filled. I am all for encouraging church planting, even saying that church planting is what real missions should be. But we must understand that church planting is not only done by pastor/teacher/disciplers. Instead, we need pastors, seminary profs, Bible translators, doctors, IT professionals, administrators, auto mechanics, and school teachers all working together to this end. Let us not claim one of these is more important or more real. Let us instead seek unity in recognizing our various gifts and roles in the task.

Monday, July 18, 2016

A Funny and Not-So-Funny Hare Family Update…



by Stacey

The funny and not-so-funny are all mixed into a normal day for us, so we thought we would share them all together…


Zoey


Zoey gets in trouble every day for her mouth: for talking when she is not supposed to, for interrupting, for her tone, for lying, and for saying unkind things. And so, one day, she comes to me, sits down, and says, “Mom, there is only one thing for us to do. We have to tape my mouth shut. That is the only way.” We tried it, but it did not work (turns out the heart is the cause of the problem…) 

Zoey (6) also confided in Dave the other day that she thought she was “developing” (breasts). Dave said that it would still be a while.

She also is going through a “Mom, can we keep him….pleeeaaaase?!” phase. Now you would think she would be begging to keep cute kittens and puppies, but no, she wants to keep creepy-crawly type things. She keeps sneaking worms into her pockets and the other day she tried to take a half-eaten lizard out of the cat’s mouth, probably to sneak it into her pocket (why?). 


Kaden 

We were memorizing a verse with the kids that talked about “sexual immorality.” The kids asked what that was and I told them that it often had to do with sleeping with someone that you were not married to. Kaden sheepishly raised his hand and said, “Mom, can I sleep with my stuffed moose?” I reassured him that was very OK.

In our last update on Kaden, we asked for prayer because he was showing signs of dyslexia. After we posted that update (and that is when I assume people started praying…) these symptoms started to disappear. We have been working with Kaden daily on reading and he has show remarkable progress. 



Elias

Elias just turned six and had a happy birthday. He is also going through a “How can I help mom?!” phase where he asks me this question all day. It is very cute. This week, he and about 20 of the other neighborhood kids helped our pastor Boris harvest peanuts, which was fun.
And yet, the happy moments are few with our dear son because of his rebellious heart. Please pray for Elias, that the Lord would cause him to be born again to a life characterized by love for God and neighbor.






Makyra 

Makyra is just really sweet and really normal. She does not always have to be heard and is very content to quietly clear the table while her brothers and sisters are all talking over one another. She is also a lover of animals. In church, a neighborhood dog came in so that Makyra could pet him. She was petting him while the “animal bouncers” at church were throwing rocks at him and telling him to get out. Then, when his owner came over to get him, the dog pushed his way into the aisle with our kids while they all petted him and loved him. It was actually a kind of awkward situation.
 

Dave 


Dave was studying at his desk the other day but he had to move because there was a lizard sitting above him that was eating a bug and it kept dropping bug parts on his papers.

Yesterday, Dave cut his finger with his machete and today when we went to a remote village for church, everyone asked what happened. When he explained that he cut himself with a machete, people erupted in laughter. Rolling on the ground, have to go tell grandma, laughter. We do not really understand why it was so funny. It seemed like they were saying “Who let you use a machete?!”

In this same village, someone came up to Dave and wiped off the back of his pants. Apparently he had gotten a bit dirty. 

 Stacey 

Each day, we pretty much go to bed with our heads about to explode. One example was Thursday oflast week, I spent time with Kaden studying 1st John (in English), then a friend was supposed to come over to study the Bible (in French), then I taught the village kids a Bible story (in Bakoum). And that all happened within a period of a few hours. I love it all, but it is tiring. Come Saturday, all I want to do is cut grass in my back yard with a machete and think about nothing.
 

Amidst all the intensity, however, the Lord brings little joys, or just weird situations just to lighten things up. For instance, I was sitting with a group of women, talking in Bakoum about if they have any customs for when a woman gives birth when all of the sudden I hear the “countdown” music of the TV series 24 and Jack Bauer speaking in French. It was like my two worlds collided in that instant and the familiarity of the program was oddly comforting.

I find peoples’ reactions here a bit overwhelming, but also entertaining. The other day, I was telling this same group of women about how many languages there are in the world and they all started hooting 
and hollering when they heard that it was close to 7,000. When I proceeded to tell them about how God created all the languages in a single second at Babel, the “no ways!” could barely be heard over all the screeches and yelps. Yelling, clapping, and all talking excitedly at the same time is a typical reaction when I tell people things. It does make language acquisition challenging.

And then there is my “on the side” mission that I have to try to save the lives of baby animals that are being tortured by the village children. Yesterday, I convinced a child to give me a baby bird he was torturing in exchange for a piece of chalk. And then the bird died this morning. Sigh.

And my family is the greatest joy of my life. All my kids are going through a I-want-to-go-jogging-with-mom stage so I have lots of jogging buddies these days, which is pretty hilarious.




Monday, July 11, 2016

You Are Not That Special

by Dave

I did a Google search for “things you should never say” and there were over 36 million results. Here are some of my favorites:
  • 10 Things You Should Never Say to a Nun 
  • 10 Things You Should Never Say to a Canadian 
  • 300 Things You Should Never Say to a Woman (300!) 
  • 16 Things You Should Never Say to a Great Dane’s Face (can I say it to their tail?) 
The blogs that I usually read are the ones that apply to my life like: “10 Things Never to Say to Families with Adopted Children.” They are usually humorous and true. They reveal different ways that we offend people without knowing it. And I think, when done well, they can help people to empathize with their neighbors. However, I think that there is a danger with these types of messages: it can make us believe that we are special. These blogs can encourage the belief that we are so different that no one else can even imagine what it is like to be us.
Solomon revealed a helpful truth to keep in mind when reading these blogs:
“What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9).
As a missionary and adoptive parent, I can find myself believing that other people will never understand me. No doubt my friends that daily struggle with raising an autistic child (and the glares and under-the-breath comments from passersby) believe that I will never understand them. Every individual experiences life differently, with unique challenges, and unique temptations. And yet, it is in that very fact that we have unity. Why? Because none of it is really new.

You (probably) do not know what it is like to be white, raising four black kids, in Cameroon. But you kind of do. Whether it is because of a handicapped child, an unfortunately placed birthmark, or even just having all girls and no boys, you know what it is like to be looked at as weird. You know what it is like to be misunderstood by others, even if they speak your mother tongue. And you know what it is like when people say stupid things to you that indicate that they just do not get it. No matter how I feel, my struggles are not uncommon. These are the same things people have been struggling with since Genesis 3. My temptation to respond in anger and frustration with these encounters is not new either. It is normal.

I believe that these types of blogs can tempt us to be distracted from the actual purpose for our trials. Paul writes in II Corinthians 1:3-4:
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.”
Paul says that the reason that he was afflicted was not so that he could set himself apart from other Christians, but so that he could relate to them. He was afflicted and comforted by God, so that he could comfort others who are in affliction. And I do not believe that this means that he was there to comfort those with the exact same afflictions as Paul. Was anyone afflicted in exactly the same way as Paul? Was anyone else shipwrecked, stoned, and abandoned by all of their co-workers and friends? Probably not. But he could comfort someone who was persecuted, or abandoned, because he went through that, even if the circumstances were different.

The truth is, we are all different, but that difference makes us all the same. If you were to search through all of the 36 million blog results on Google, you would find many that apply to you. This is because, in our different ways, we all experience the same things. There is nothing new under the sun. And though we are tempted to believe that our unique sufferings and frustrations make us indecipherable to others, it is those sufferings that makes us so easy to understand. But if we allow our trials to direct our gaze inward, we miss the point. Our trials are divinely designed as a tool to serve others.

I am writing this blog at a time when it seems like American differences are growing more and more irreconcilable. We are told that, because of racism, whites can never understand the black experience. We are told that this division is too profound for unity. I reject this. Racism exists, and it hurts, and it is frustrating. But God is still sovereign. And I believe with my whole heart that God allows racism for the purpose of unity. That is not the only purpose, I am sure. But have you ever considered that when you faced the trial of racism, it was so that you could comfort other Christians? And not just black Christians.

As a white man living in Africa, I know what it is like to never be anonymous. I know what it is like to wish that people would get to know me before they judged my character. I know what it is like to ALWAYS be stopped by the police because of the color of my skin. Are these experiences exactly the same as my black American brothers? No, of course not. But God has given me these experiences so that I can better relate to, and comfort my black American brothers. I have a black friend whose son was stopped by the police while walking through his own suburban neighborhood because he looked “suspicious.” This happened, in part, so that he could help me know how to talk to my boys about the assumptions they will face when we are back in the States. And so, when the day comes that something like this happens to us, he can comfort us with the comfort that he received. The very sin that the world wants to use to divide us, brings us closer. But it will only bring us closer if we stop making it about us, and start seeking the good of others.

Let us not allow funny internet memes or angry protests to convince us that we are too special to relate to others. Let us instead seek God’s comfort in affliction so that we too can comfort those that struggle so very much like we do.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Four Irrelevant Questions When Considering Foreign Missions

by Stacey

There are a lot of really thoughtful, important questions to ask when considering if one should or should not spend their lives in a foreign culture as a missionary. And yet, there are some questions that are more-or-less irrelevant because the Bible already has answers for them. For instance:

1. Will I Hate my Life?

Yes. I think it is safe to say that if you become a missionary, you will hate your life. While there are joys, there is also added stress that would not be experienced if one stays in their home culture. But, I do not think this is a good question to ask for two reasons. First, Jesus says that if anyone does not hate even his own life, he cannot be his disciple. Coming to Jesus, whether one stays in their home culture or not, is already a call to hate one’s life, so why wonder if you’ll hate your life on the mission field? Just assume the answer is yes and go into missions. Second, seeking first the Kingdom of God is not about us or our feelings. True, we may hate our lives for 30 years but, without hearing about and receiving Jesus, the nations will hate their eternities in Hell forever. Let us put their feelings above our own.

2. What About My Children?

Bring them with you. There is nothing better we can do for our kids than to seek first God’s Kingdom in word and in deed inside and outside of the home. I think there is a great temptation to let Facebook define what makes a good or a bad parent rather than the Word of God. According to the Bible, we are called to teach our kids the Bible, to disciple them, to love them as we would love ourselves and all these things we can do in a foreign culture. It is Facebook that says “If you do not do X,Y, and Z you are a bad parents and you will wreck your children for life.” These are simply the opinions of people and if we meditate on these opinions day and night then sooner or later missions will become unthinkable. Instead we should be meditating on Christ’s call for us to reach the nations and let the parenting tips we find online take a backseat.

Obeying one command of Jesus will never lead us to breaking another one of his commands. If his command for us to reach the nations for his name meant that we would thus not be able to love and train up our children in the Lord, than he would not have commanded it. He cannot contradict himself. Thus, when the Lord calls for people to leave their home cultures to take his Gospel to another culture, we do not have to worry about if we would be compromising in our role as parents.

3. Is It Going to Be Safe?

No. Your life will not be safe, but following Jesus is not supposed to be safe no matter where one lives. As Christians, we follow a man who was so hated that he was crucified and he gave us fair warning that if we want to follow him, we need to be willing to die like he died. There is nothing safe about being a Christian on this earth. Further, Jesus does not teach us to “seek first your safety” but instead “seek first his Kingdom.”

I also think the recent terrorist attacks in the western world serve as a great reminder that peace and safety are not guaranteed anywhere. Total peace and security are reserved for the next life.

And since we are all going to die, and perfect safety is not guaranteed in this life, we might as well spend our lives seeking after the advancement of God’s Kingdom.

4. Will I Be Able to Do It?

Yes. If you call out for wisdom, without doubting, God will give it to you. And this wisdom will be useful in any culture, any language group, or any crazy market. The Lord loves to pour out wisdom on those who seek it and believe he will give it. Further, his grace is sufficient for us so that we can know that we will have all that we need in any culture to abound in any and every good work. God also promises to work out all those grueling hours in language learning and all those times that we are made fun of for our good. And after we have passed on and our missions methodologies are picked apart by seminary students, we can know that Jesus died for all the ways we did things wrong on the field. We really cannot lose.


So, talk to the missions agencies, talk to your small group, seek out wisdom for if you would be a better fit for ministry at home or abroad. But let us walk into those conversations with these presuppositions in mind. Yes, we will hate our lives, no, it will not be safe on the mission field, yes, we can take our kids on the field in good conscience, and yes, God’s grace will be sufficient for whatever trials await us on the field. I pray that once these issues are addressed, the “Should I be a missionary?”question will be easier to answer.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

I Never Thought to be Thankful for Ambulances

by Dave

You always hear people saying that you never know what you have until it is gone. This is the real reason why our moms all told us about the starving children in Africa when we are refusing to eat something she prepared. The idea is that, if you were living in a place where you did not have enough food, you would even be thankful for split-pea soup. It is a principle that I have learned is true since moving to rural Cameroon. There are the little things that you miss, and wish you had previously been thankful for, like movie theaters, easily accessible cheese, and microwaves. And then there are ambulances. Have you ever thought to be thankful for ambulances?

The other day my neighbor Patrice came to the house looking concerned. He said that he had just received the news that his brother, Julian, had been in a motorcycle accident. He believed that he had been taken to the hospital in Doumé, a town about 30 minutes away, and wanted to know if I could give him a ride. Around mid-way there we saw the motorcycle, smashed on the side of the road. We stopped to throw it up on top of my vehicle and were told that they actually took him to our town. So, we turned around and headed for the Catholic clinic that is only a 2-minute drive from our house.

When we arrived, things were frantic. People were running around yelling, apparently unable to stop the bleeding. It is a small clinic, and they were not equipped to deal with his injuries. Before I knew it, an unconscious and tattered man was in the back seat of my car, with Patrice trying to keep his younger brother’s head still as we bounced up the road to the nearest hospital. We drove for 45 minutes in near silence, all listening to Julian’s rough breathing. We passed quickly through the police stop as I explained the urgency, and into the bustling world of Bertoua. There was no neck brace, no IV, no paddles in case his heart stopped. He could not even be laying down.

We got to the hospital around 8pm and they put him on a stretcher. I have never been in a hospital here during an emergency situation, and I am not sure that they are all the same, but it was nuts. Before they could even take him to the operating room, I had to go with Patrice to buy sutures, IV fluid bags, and latex gloves. We ran to the pharmacy on the other side of the hospital, we rushed back to find the medical staff just standing and waiting for us. When they finally got him into the OR, we were told that we had to find some sheets to cover him because they had to cut off his clothes. We were far from home, and all the stores were closed, I had no idea what to do. Patrice ended up calling a brother from the Bertoua church and we drove to his house to borrow some sheets.

Arriving back at the hospital we were told they needed more things from the hospital pharmacy so we ran over and bought them. After about two hours, and two more trips to the pharmacy, we were informed that Julian was finally “out of the danger zone.” This led to a brief calm in the storm, which gave me a moment to notice the families of the other patients lying on mats outside the hospital. For those like us that came from the village, they sleep on the sidewalk outside the hospital rooms. I heard at least woman weeping loudly, at what, I can only imagine. In talking with his family during this time, I learned a bit more about Julian’s situation. Turns out that he was actually returning from the hospital in Doumé where he was visiting his mother-in-law, when he skidded after taking a corner too fast. Julian’s wife received a phone call during this conversation, learning that her mother had died.

The doctor came out and said he needed a few more things to complete the surgery. The hospital pharmacy was out of some of the items so we had to drive to another pharmacy in town to get them. Sleepy and flustered, Patrice returned to the hospital and I went home at about 11pm.

Overall, I felt like my debut as an ambulance driver went pretty well and was happy to have been able to help this man. Until the next day, when I got the call that Julian had died. Patrice asked me to return to the hospital so that I could drive his body back to Dimako. A herse is apparently something else I have taken for granted. It did not work out and they ended up sending the body back on a motorcycle. But overall, it has been a tough couple of days. And I wonder, if they did have ambulances that could come down to our town, would he have survived? Should I have tried to stop the bleeding before we drove to Bertoua? I wondered if real ambulance drivers struggle with these feelings when someone dies, too.

So, the last few days have been filled with funeral rituals for Julian. The family sleeps on the ground next to the grave for six nights after he is buried, and spends the daytime talking, or singing and dancing. Our pastor, Boris, went on Friday and shared the Gospel with the 80-100 people, warning them that life is short. Julian leaves behind his wife and six children. He was 31 years old. Just days before his death Boris told me that he talked with Julian about the need to be reconciled with God, but there is no reason to believe he was.

Looking back, I so wish that there had been an ambulance, and trained EMTs. I wish he had been wearing a helmet, and driving more safely. It makes me remember all the times I had to go to the ER as a child, the broken arms gently placed in casts, and the stitches. I am so thankful for the graces I had. I am grateful for this reminder.

But it also makes me realize that you do not have to wait for something to be gone to thank God for it. And so, tonight, I thank God for my brother, Jon, who for now, I can text and tell him I love him. Perhaps you too can take a moment and ask God to open your eyes to see what you may be taking for granted. And thank him, knowing that we worship a God whose blessings are so abundant that we sometimes miss them.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

The Reign of Death and Dying

by Stacey
On Monday of this week, I walked into a mud hut where the body of a young woman lay. She had an unknown medical problem that had plagued her for some time. I had intended to go visit her that very day to pray for her healing, but apparently I was too late. I walked into the cool, dark room and saw many women sitting around its edges, all looking at the body, weeping. Some were sitting on benches close to the ground, others on sacks, and some on the dirt floor. The deceased’s mother was kneeling by the side of her bed looking hopeless. The young woman was beautifully dressed and lying in a large bed freshly made with colorful sheets. She looked peaceful and beautiful. I noticed she was holding what looked like a staff with bright green leaves coming out of the top of it. When I asked a friend what it was, she said it was used to stop the rain so that the family could all grieve together, sleeping around the grave for a week.

When I arrived, someone was filling cups up with some type of clear alcoholic substance and about 30 minutes later, a different lady started handing out little baggies of alcohol. I saw the mother of the deceased wash down some prescription medication in between gulps of vodka and other ladies started snorting a powdery substance. This entire week, there has been a deep grief that has hung over our village. People smeared themselves with dirt and wailed. The family got together to try to decide what to do with the four kids that she left behind.

I realized this week that funerals are such a big deal here because it is a time to express not just the sorrow over one life lost but also to wail over how many lives are lost here every day. They are a time to cry out that this world is not as it should be. Poverty should not be. Children with bloated bellies should not be. Orphans should not be. Malaria should not be. Death should not be. Grieving rituals seem to be an appropriate outcry against the reign of death and dying that has plagued the world since Adam and Eve first sinned. And for a society that knows so little of Christ, their response is quite appropriate. Weeping, wailing and numbing their sleepless nights with drugs and alcohol are fitting for those that see life as a short painful experience before a certain death. It is no wonder that there is no easy way to communicate the idea of “hope” in the Bakoum language.

One day, I hope to communicate to my neighbors that the grieving does not have to go on forever. Yes, there is deep grief and many insurmountable problems in the world, and yet, one day King Jesus will return and make it all right. He is not a Lord who is aloof to suffering but instead identified so intimately with the problems of humanity that he was labeled a “man of sorrows” and someone who was “acquainted with grief.” He died and rose again, defeating death so that it no longer carries with it a sharp sting for those who believe.


Come Lord Jesus.