family Malawi

Goodbye Tears

Nieces Lindsay & Becca help with birthday candles

For weeks I fought to hold the tears back. I started saying, “see ya later” instead of “bye” because it was easier and seemed less permanent. I shed a couple tears at my ordination service and a few more while leading worship at LJPC one last time. The flood gates opened briefly the saturday before our departure when I realized I didn’t say bye to my grandma with Alzheimer’s (my dad tried to comfort me, saying she wouldn’t know anyway but it didn’t matter-the tears still stung). To be honest I was surprised I was able to hold them back as well as I did through all of the goodbyes. And then Sunday night came.

It really started after dinner, when my other grandmother told my uncle she was ready to go home. Hailey and I helped her to my uncle’s car. She made jokes that she would probably die before we got back, but she’s been saying things like that for the last ten years and she’s almost 94 now. We hugged her, helped her into her seat and, as she looked up at me, the reality that I may be starring into the eyes of the matriarch of my family for the last time hit me. I lost it. As grandma and Uncle Dave drove off, two of my best friends arrived with their 8 month old daughter. I sat with Brady in the garage and tried to compose myself before going back to everyone inside, but couldn’t and he held me in his arms as I balled on his shoulder. Fortunately his adorable daughter cheered me up enough to go back in-thanks Atley. The hiatus from tears was short. It was time for my nieces, sister and brother-in-law to leave. I was doing okay till Becca (3 years old) jumped in my arms, squeezed tight and made a fish face–the same face I make every time I kiss her. She kissed me, I balled. Even as I write, in an airplane somewhere over the middle of the US, I can’t think about it without getting teary eyed. I’ve been close to them since the day they were born. Even though they are not my own children, I love them as much as a person can love another. Being away from them for this long may be the hardest part of this Malawi adventure.

I was exhausted by the time Hailey’s brother, parents and the rest of our friends left. More tears were shed, but it was mostly hugs and smiles. We finished packing and finally fell asleep only to be awoken a few hours later by our morning alarm. My parents dropped us off at the airport. More tears. It’s a hard thing to shed tears of sadness in the midst of such an amazing opportunity. I know I am not the one in control and that we will be taken care of, but leaving the people we love has never been harder.

Malawi Ministry Theology

God of the small, big and HUGE

mmmmm, Ice Cream cake... (Thanks Tiffany!)

A few nights ago, I slept for a total of three hours. I worried about storage, foreign bank accounts and the family I would be leaving in San Diego to pursue God’s call to Malawi. I thought about the tears I hid from my nieces a week earlier while repeatedly explaining to them that they would not be able to walk to Africa to visit their aunt and uncle. Then I thought about how I always seem to sleep less and get a bit sick right before a big change. Before I knew it, the annoying but familiar alarm told me it was time to stop lying awake in bed and instead get up and get on with the day. It didn’t matter whether I lie on my back or stand upright, both tasks would be done in a sleepy daze.

A chronically busy-mind never ceases to be my worst enemy. Yet in the middle of little sleep and packing our lives into a 10×10 storage unit and the four bags that we are taking to Malawi I have found moments of overwhelming joy and peace. Sharing stories with former youth group students who have become great friends while making storage unit runs, having our small group lay hands on us and pray for our journey, sitting with my uncle at a Padres game in a luxury box that he and my aunt won and waking up crying on our last morning in the condo we have lived in for five and a half years has brought on an odd mix of emotions.

It has hit me. We are leaving; moving to another country that is very different from what we are used to. It is refreshing and scary. A change we are looking forward to, but one we are terrified of—an odd mix indeed. But this week, as our small group was sending us out in prayer, our good friend Bernie asked God to be in the middle of the things that seem small, big and HUGE. While we were being prayed for, the reality of God’s sovereignty and intricate involvement in our lives was something I could not ignore. Hailey and I are stressed in a way we have never experienced. I know in my head that God is in control, but the sinking feeling in my gut has only led to confusion in my heart. But God is Lord over confusion too. Scripture is relentless with telling us to not lean on things we understand, which is grand because I understand so little. Yet, for some reason I still allow my mind to wander when I should be sleeping. God is in control, in the small, big and HUGE. Thanks for that reminder Bernie.

Malawi Ministry Theology

Support Letters, Boxes and Stuff…

I hate moving, always have and always will. We have less than 3 weeks to pack our house, figure out what we want to bring to Africa, wrap up loose ends and make sure someone is there to pick us up at the airport when we get to Malawi. The physical process of going through ones belongings and deciding what is worth keeping and what deserves pitching is agonizing.  The amount of stuff we have accumulated in five years is overwhelming.  So much so that it is difficult to really know where to start.  Slowly we have begun, but we’ve only put a dent in what needs to be done.  Last week we sold the car that Hailey and I drove to prom 10 years ago. It was bitter sweet. But in the end, the car wouldn’t fit in the box next to slow cooker and the blender—so it had to go. I wonder what will be next on the pitch list.

Slightly less strenuous is the process of writing support letters. Asking your family and friends to partner with you as you step out in faith following God’s call, especially when that partnership involves asking for financial support, is a humbling task. I’m not sure if it is my own insecurities with money or that it is just an awkward question altogether, but our intention of the letter was to have financial contribution be ONE of the many ways to join us on this adventure—I hope it came across that way. Our prayer is that this adventure would be life changing, not only for Hailey and me but also for our community. Watching others get excited about our call has been among the greatest blessings of this entire process.  Other people’s joy doesn’t necessarily make the whole thing less scary, but it definitely affirms that this is where we are supposed to be right now in our lives. I get the sense that Hailey and I really aren’t doing this thing on our own. Maybe, more than anything, we are seeing and experiencing the culmination of what the Church is really all about.

family Malawi Ministry Theology

Thy Will Be Done: Malawi

Preaching in a village, Malawi 2008

It was late July 2007 and I found myself lying in a bed in a foreign place. A constant daze brought on by a high fever lingered in the air of my adopted room. My wife or father would come in every few hours to check on my condition, and then join the rest of our team. We weren’t sure how I got sick. Was it something I ate? Breathed in? Maybe drank? Did an odd bug bite me? After a few days rest, and a dose of strong drugs, I was myself again; ready to continue my first Malawian adventure.

About a year later, in 2008, I found myself in a similar position—this time without my wife and father. Something about my first trip to the country compelled me to come again. I was sure I wouldn’t get sick this time, but then the all-too-familiar late night sweats and nausea returned. Yet it was different this time, a little less foreign and a lot more comfortable.

Though the times I spent being sick in Malawi were far from the highlights of my time in the beautiful country, you can imagine that when 2009 came around and my church decided to invite our Malawian mission partners to the U.S. instead of sending a team there, I was quite relieved. Well sort of. Despite the miserable sick days and nights, there was a tiny part of me that longed to return to the place where the church loves with deep passion, serves with fervor and is thirsty for growth. Maybe I would someday, but not in the near future—I had other plans.

When Vasco, Davidson, Amos and Louis visited L.J.P.C. and other Y-Malawi? churches and American partners in March of 2009, all who were involved got to experience a small part of Malawi. Our friends preached with power, spoke with grace and loved their American brethren in a way that is largely unknown in the western world. On the last day of their adventure to the U.S. Vasco and Davidson mentioned that they had the perfect church for me in Malawi. I laughed. Knowing I would be graduating from Fuller Seminary the following June, they persisted. I continued to laugh. Thoughts of night sweats and nausea blotted out their continued efforts.

It was easy to say no. I had zero desire to live in another country, let alone in Africa. My plans involved being a pastor in an American church, having a couple kids and enjoying life—Yes, that was the map of my future. I graduated from seminary and emails came from Malawi. I interviewed with churches in the PCUSA, not finding the right fit, the emails continued to come. Hailey mentioned the church in Malawi and I still said no. I got bogged down in the depths of unemployment. My plan was failing. Pictures of a church in Malawi lingered in the back of my head. I saw smiles, people in need and a challenge that I could never take on with my abilities alone. I began to listen.

Was God really calling me to Africa? Malawi, really? It didn’t fit in my plan! I might get sick. I might be uncomfortable. I might…the thoughts consumed me. And as they overpowered my small brain it hit me: I have always lived my life safe, comfortable and full of worry.  Everything I had read and studied had called followers of Christ to lay down their will in order that God’s will would be done. I’d said it in conversation, preached it many times, but never done it. As Christians most of us pray, “thy will be done,” but live seeking my will. Well, at least I know I have. And, it’s time for me to listen. Malawi.