A Country Wide Trip with TEENAGERS

Last summer we made a coast to coast trip with our 6 children (and a 7th on the way) that was amazing. Our 18,000 mile trip had many high points…and some low points where we all got on each others’ nerves. There were days where one (or all of us) had had enough and we were ready to quit. There were meltdowns (the kids had some, too) and a few tantrums, but overall it was a great time for our family.

Here are takeaways for every member of our family.

1. Enjoy the Journey.
When you have another 5 hour drive to get to the next city where you will set up the same stuff you tore down yesterday, listen to your father give the talk for the 42nd time and then head off to stay in another home of strangers…you have to enjoy the journey.

We found markers to help along the way such as National Parks and special treats…but overall we were learning together that while the journey is not always easy, we still can enjoy the ride.

2. Iron sharpens Iron.
There’s nothing like being cooped up together in the same vehicle for 90 days straight to bring out your own character flaws. Again and again we got to learn the value of civility and the power of forgiveness. We were rude toward each other at times…and then we got to practice what it means to work through difficult relationships toward reconciliation.

And then we got to practice again the next day on how to better relate the first time around.

3. God Surprised Us.
We set out with a huge amount of support to raise. But with excitement our kids would get in the van and say, “Dad, guess what! Those people really love what we do.” Or, “Mom and Dad, we got families sponsored tonight!” Again and again we saw God’s provision in the big ways.

But we also saw it in the smaller ways, too. We stayed with people who had access to swimming pools or boats or bikes or hiking trails. We had people treat us to ice cream and others take us out for a special Ethiopian meal or make one of our favorites. And our kids saw Our Good Father’s provision for us as He surprised us again and again.

4. Stay Engaged.
We declared our van to be an electronics free zone for most of the journey. So, no games, no screens, no videos and no headphones. It forced us to interact as a family. We listened to music and sang along. At other times most everyone took a nap. We had multiple conversations going on at one time…and other times it was dead quiet.

But the desire was for us to try to stay engaged. We did not have an option to check out on the journey, but rather we would stay engaged as a family sojourning together.

5. Informal Conversations are the best.

Our kids found themselves in the best conversations along the way. There was no way to plan meeting a stranger and finding something in common. However, again and again we found ourselves in informal conversations with folks we barely knew…and it went deeper from there. We found out that in God’s Kingdom there’s no such thing as strangers when it comes to believers. Rather, who we have in common greatly outweighs what we have in difference again and again.

I am so proud of our tribe. This was a monumental feat and we all came out of it changed people. We were happy to get off the road and to sleep in the same bed for a few nights, but I believe God did something special in each one of us. He knit us together in new ways – ways that He will use for the rest of our lives for His glory.

The Parable of Surplus Grain

Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” Jesus replied, “Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?” Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.” And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. He thought to himself, “What shall I do? I have not place to store my crops.” Then he said, “This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain.” And I’ll say to myself, “ You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.” But God said to him, “You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?” This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God. Luke 12

As we returned back to a small town in The US, there was something that stood out to us. The number of Storage facilities had multiplied since we last visited. In one small city, it seemed that there was enough storage for every person to have at least one unit. At the same time, it seemed as if the average house had increased exponentially with bigger and bigger and bigger houses everywhere.

In America, we like our stuff don’t we?

This parable doesn’t seem to start out with a conversation about stuff , but rather a man came to Jesus with a concern about justice. His brother refused to divide an inheritance with him. Chances are that the father had passed away without a will, thus making the older brother responsible for dividing the inheritance. However, it would seem the older brother was dragging his feet, so the younger brother cried out for justice, essentially saying, “Jesus, tell my brother to give me what is Mine!”

Notice how Jesus doesn’t bite on his request. Perhaps it is because in the brother’s quest for justice, he essentially is asking Jesus to bring further division to the relationship between he and his brother. It seems that this brother had come to Jesus looking for the final ammunition he needs to put his brother in his place.  But now, rather than fueling the man’s quest for justice, Jesus instead shares a story about greed.

Before we even get to the parable, it seems that Jesus is exposing us. How often do I come to Jesus ready to prove how I am right. I come to Jesus waiting for him to vindicate me in my form of justice. But in these situations, I must come to the conclusion that my definition of injustice is not important to God. Rather, God defines just and unjust. Rather than seeking my justice and any division that might bring between me and others…instead I am called to seek God’s view on the issue. And honestly, I might be surprised at His viewpoint, if I can just lay down my quest and desire His viewpoint, instead.

But then Jesus moves into this story with a meaning. He tells us a story about a rich man who had a bumper crop one year. But notice the language here. Jesus tells us that the ground yielded an abundant harvest. This man is not responsible for this huge harvest he had, but rather God is. While the man wants to take credit for this great harvest, it is not his to take credit for. It was a gift from God, as are our seasons of bounty, too.

This man quickly moves into talking about his ownership of this blessing. “My crops, My barns, My surplus grain…and I’ll say to myself.” This man saw himself as the owner and the possessor. This was his surplus and his affluence. This was his insatiable quest for more. While already rich, he was looking for more security, bigger barns, more…more…more. He felt he now had enough that he could take life easy and live off the fruits of his labor.

The thing that stands out about this man is how self-absorbed he was, especially to a first century audience.   When he decides to build bigger barns we read, “And I’ll say to myself.” These are not decisions that a person makes by himself in a communal society. Even in Ethiopia (which resembles Biblical settings in many ways much more closely than our American setting) people would never think of building a new house or moving to the city or even taking a new job without the thoughtful wisdom of friends and family around them.

That is,unless possessions had already become so important to them that they drew away from relationship with others in order to better enjoy “their” possessions. This man’s seeming success and riches were simply accentuating this man’s poverty of self and relationship.

And here is the nuance that Kenneth Bailey draws out. In his book, “Jesus through Middle Eastern Eyes,” Bailey points out a word play in the Greek. The man describes his new found place of security as “euphraino.” In Greek,  the word “phr?n” is the “diaprhragm”. So, euphraino is when you can  you relax your diaphragm and give out the sigh of – “Ah, finally I can relax. I have arrived.”

But, while he is pronouncing euphraino, Jesus says here that God pronounces him an A-phron. A fool. This subtle wordplay points out to us the subtle nature of possessions and our quest for having enough.  For when the man finally reached the sigh of relief of having enough…he had already crossed over to being a godless fool who would lose his life.

All that he had worked for would be gone in a flash. The monument of those full silos of grain now would be handed over to people who could care less. It is interesting to note what Augustine of Hippo wrote about this man, “He did not realize that the bellies of the poor were much safer storerooms than his barns.” (Sermon 36.9)

Jesus’ point in this parable seems to be that we recognize that it all belongs to God. All of our blessings and bumper crops are gifts from Him. When we start to horde those things and use the language of My, Mine and Myself, we miss the point of the blessings God has poured out on us. We are given gifts by God to be used for Him. We are blessed to be a blessing. We are called to share in community rather than pressing for deeper security of that day when I can finally exhale and say, I have arrived.

Against our cultural understanding, instead “Arriving” is found in the open handed sharing of all that God has placed in our hands. In our quest for security, may we recognize how close that quest can be to futility and how hard it can be for us to differentiate in the moment.

Jesus, lead us, we pray. Lead us in the way that matters. Lead us in the way that sees our lives as gifts to be poured out for your glory that make a difference in your way.

Cast off Refugee to Dignity Filled, honored Mom of 3

Marta escaped to Ethiopia from a neighboring country with her 2 children in May 2014. Since she was 9 months pregnant when she fled, she ended up giving birth to her 3rd child while enroute. Fleeing refugees find a very perilous journey, but her travel became extra complicated because of her new born baby and a lack of food.

Finally she arrived in Addis Ababa and came to Kore’. But, she faced a new challenge – she had no place to stay and started to live outside of someone’s home, homeless for over 3 months.
They did not have anything except the clothes that they were wearing. They were relying on alms from individuals in order to eat. One day a neighborhood woman appealed to Embracing Hope to intervene for this family.

After they became a beneficiary, EHE took major actions to address the immediate needs of the family. Staff assisted Marta with finding a house to rent and then paid her rent until she could find work and start paying it herself. The whole family was also served lunch every day at the day care center to provide them with nutrition.

EHE also provided basic needs for the family such as clothing and shoes for the whole family , blankets, mattresses and other household needs.

The children started at the Embracing Hope School and Day Care where they now had a safe place to grow healthy. At the same time Marta was receiving the counseling and encouragement that she needed in order to settle in to her new environment and get started in work.

Over time Marta settled in and started working as a cleaner and cooker for different individuals. She is now earning enough to feed her family, pay her house rent, and to send her older child to a school. She is so excited to be living a better life now and to have her children in Day Care and School. In addition she has saved 1800 ETB in her savings account.

When Marta and her family came to Embracing Hope they were in a desperate spot – displaced , homeless, despairing and hungry. She had no hope of anything ever improving. Marta has said that if she was not able to get EHE’s support at that time, she believes that her newborn Child would have died.

Thank you for your partnership which has allowed Marta and her children to experience life today and to have hope for tomorrow.

*Names have been changed to protect the identity of this family.