Not Chained…

“But God’s Word is not chained.” (II Timothy 2:9)

Since learning about it last fall via an article published on Christianity Today, Jody and I have eagerly followed the development of and eventual launches of the Africa Study Bible. We were delighted to attend the North American launch celebration at Moody Bible Institute (Chicago, Illinois) in early April, where we spent two days learning from and worshiping with some of the African scholars who contributed to the study Bible.

 

Two story lines converged in the development of the Africa Study Bible. First, convinced that the New Living Translation (NLT) is the most accessible English translation of Scripture for those for whom English is a second, if not third or fourth, language, as it is for many Africans, Dr. Danny McCain, a professor at the University of Jos (Nigeria) contacted Tyndale House about producing a revision of the NLT specifically for Africa. Second, Oasis International, an important publisher and distributor of Christian books in Africa, wanted to produce a uniquely African study Bible. Tyndale House kindly permitted Oasis to use the NLT for their project and connected Oasis with those who produced the Life Application Study Bible, currently the best-selling study Bible in the world.

It was a perfect match: Oasis International could provide the network of over 300 African pastors and scholars who contributed to the study Bible, while Tyndale House could provide the technical expertise needed to produce a study Bible. Those who helped produced the Life Application Study Bible were thrilled. While the Life Application Study Bible has been translated into 30+ languages and is distributed around the world, that was never its authors’ and editors’ intention. Rather than translate their western-oriented notes, the authors and editors hoped that Christians in other cultural settings would produce their own culturally-relevant and appropriate articles and notes for the NLT, resulting in much more immediately applicable and pertinent to their settings, yet still faithfully orthodox, study Bibles. This is exactly the case for the Africa Study Bible – the world’s first study Bible with notes and articles written by Africans to apply God’s Word to African issues such as polygamy, witchcraft, and ancestor worship.

I was delighted to learn that the Africa Study Bible is being distributed in Nairobi. It would be an extremely practical, helpful, and meaningful thing if I could make a copy available to each student attending the block course I am teaching at Bridgeworld College in September.

Here’s where you come in:

The cost of the ASB is about $25 USD, and I estimate needing 40 copies.  If you would like to personally help encourage and equip pastors and teachers in Kenya, please consider donating a Bible – or even several!  You can send the funds directly to me, (use the “Drop Us a Note link above to request paypal info, or mail a check to me at home – 215 E. 12th St., Pella IA 50219) along with a short note to the student who will receive the Bible. I will ensure that both end up in the hands of someone who can and will use the Bible to further the gospel in Kenya and beyond. This tangible expression of love and hope from Christians around the world will be incredibly meaningful to believers in Africa. Thank you for helping to place God’s Word in the hands of God’s people. It is a gift with eternal value, beyond our comprehension, and full of the power of the Holy Spirit.

“As the rain and the snow
    come down from heaven,
and do not return to it
    without watering the earth
and making it bud and flourish,
    so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,
 so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
    It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
    and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.” (Isaiah 55:10-11)

Watch This Space!

We have some exciting plans in the works to help get resources to Kenyan pastors and teachers.  Much more information to come, but for now we’ll leave these clues:

(See here for an e-book version of the ESV Global Study Bible.)

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And one we are more personally familiar with is described here.

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Your Word is a lamp for my feet; a light on my path. Psalm 119:105 (NIV)

Things You Don’t Know … Until You Do.

There aren’t any pictures in this post, and it’s not about Kenya at all. It is about learning, and about being made softer by hard things.  It’s about understanding, and asking to be understood. It’s about longing for Jesus to come and make all things known and right.

A couple of days ago, I heard of an organization called Molly Bears. Started by a grieving mother to remember her daughter who died before birth, at 34 weeks of pregnancy, this group of mostly volunteers creates teddy bears personalized for and matching the weight of the babies that families who request the bears have lost. It’s pretty amazing, really. I mean look at these bears.

Now, if I had heard about this a year ago, I am not sure that I would have used the word “amazing” to describe my thoughts about the idea of a personalized, weighted teddy bear to remember a baby who died. I don’t know. I might have thought it a bit odd, creepy even, or somehow just not healthy. But oh … that was so last year. I am learning many things about myself, and about life, as I view it now through the eyes of someone that had to bury their baby boy, and one of the biggest of those is not to assume. Don’t assume I know how I would feel. Don’t assume I know how someone else feels. Don’t assume my way of grieving is the only way. Don’t assume I know the whole story, or even a chapter of it. In this case, with the teddy bears, it hit me when I saw a few family photos that showed parents and sometimes also a child or children – siblings – who are also grieving the loss of a preborn baby, or an infant. These families included their “Molly Bear” in the photo. And I got it. As the tears ran down my face, I got it. All too well.

I didn’t realize how hard it was going to be for us to take family photos until we took one after Findley was gone. I don’t think that it hit me in the same way after our first miscarriage, maybe in part because it had happened earlier in pregnancy, or maybe because we hadn’t told very many people about the pregnancy or the loss at that time, so the baby we were missing seemed like our own secret anyway… For whatever reasons, this time – maybe in part because we had held Findley; we had seen his tiny face, and stroked his tiny hands – we could not shake the horrible realization that our family photos will never be complete again, this side of heaven. Birthdays, holidays, other family events and reunions – all these feel like over and over again making it official that our family is not “all together.” It’s really hard to take family pictures now. It’s hard to say “now get one of all the kids,” while my throat clenches up over that word “all,” and my heart cracks apart again. My head knows that people don’t mean to point it out when they say things like “great to see you all,” but sometimes it truly feels like that’s what’s happening … “All except the two in heaven,” I say silently in my heart, and hope my face doesn’t betray me. And sometimes, that’s followed by the feeling that I betray my babies by staying silent.

I don’t have the answer, for how to avoid these awkward and sometimes very painful situations – there isn’t one; you can’t fix it. That’s just how life is now. Life includes sorely missing those people who should be here, which does not mean you aren’t grateful for the ones that *are* here. If anything, you’re more grateful than ever. So also, it doesn’t have to mean you don’t celebrate birthdays, or that you never take family pictures again. It might have to mean you skip some photo ops, or do them differently. Last month was our 15th wedding anniversary, and it was just too much to even think about trying to take a group picture of “all” of us. So we didn’t. We have a couple of just Ryan and me, and some different groupings of the rest of our children.

What I think I do have is a bigger heart than before. I think when your heart breaks, it gets larger as it works to heal. I have more grace for people whose words or actions I don’t understand. I have more capacity to let things be hard, weird, or awkward sometimes, because I know there’s just no other way for them to be. I don’t ask people how many kids they have, or even wonder to myself whether this pregnancy is their first, or tenth. I am consciously learning not to evaluate or compare, and to listen, care, and accept instead of thinking to myself “why aren’t they over it yet?” or conversely, “why aren’t they more upset?” Accepting people where they are has become a high priority for me – and I can only do it because of what I’ve learned about God. He accepts me where I am. He sees my grief, and is even acquainted with my weird ways of handling it, (Psalm 139:3). He keeps count of my tossings, puts my tears in His bottle, (Psalm 56:8); even my anxieties and fears are not surprising to Him. And when others forget, or unintentionally say and do things that hurt, God says “I will not forget you! See? I have engraved you into the palm of my hand.” (Isaiah 49:15-16).

So, if you ever happen to see us with a little 5oz teddy bear or two in our hands, or in our family photos, and you wonder what we might be trying to say, now you’ll know. We’re saying that life is a precious gift at every age, and we’re grateful for the weeks or months we had with Quinn and Findley, our babies already in heaven. At the same time, we wish they were here. You’ll know we deeply savor the life and treasure the family we have been given, even while we remember and grieve the one we hoped for. Sorrow and joy are not mutually exclusive, but I’m learning that it takes a big heart to make room for them both.

Facing a Task Unfinished…

This past week, our Sunday evening service was an outdoor worship service, combined with First and Second CRCs of Pella, at West Market Park, which has been the long-time site of Mission Fest here in Pella. The service ended with the singing of the hymn “Facing a Task Unfinished.” Exciting memories of what life felt like for us just over a year ago came rushing back, as we recalled singing that same hymn together in June 2016 at Faith Church, when Jody and I and our family were commissioned to go to Nairobi, Kenya for a semester of teaching at Bridgeworld College. P1000386

We were encouraged as we sang these words again, as well as challenged: the task remains unfinished. There continue to be needs and opportunities to serve our Lord by serving people around the world; there is still work to do in spreading the gospel.

I (Ryan) am excited to be heading back to Kenya for two weeks in early September, and for this, request your prayers. If you would like to contribute towards the financial support I need, that would also be appreciated. (Click here to learn how.) I am grateful for and encouraged by the many ways God continues to provide for all our needs as we step forward in obedience to Him. Below is the official information from CRWM:

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During my first week, I will be leading worship at Deliverance Church, home church of Mwaya & Munyiva wa Kitavi (Mwaya is the regional director for CRWM-Eastern and Southern Africa) as well as teaching a week-long course on the book of Daniel for the School of Preaching at Deliverance Church. Our family was able to visit Deliverance Church twice last year during our time in Kenya, and it will truly be a delight to again spend time with the church and the wa Kitavis. (Click here to read about one of our visits there last year.)

With the School of Preaching concluding on Thursday evening, I have a long weekend between my teaching commitments. A large part of ourselves that we left in Africa in 2016 concerns our son Findley, who was stillborn after 17 weeks of healthy and happy pregnancy, on October 14. I am grateful to have time over that weekend to visit his grave and reconnect with those who walked closely with us during the difficult time of his death. I also hope to worship at St. Matthew’s, our home-away-from-home church in Kenya, that Sunday, and am excited to see first-hand the progress being made on the elementary school they are building. (Click here to see pictures Rev. Komu, the vicar, recently sent to us.)

I will spend my second week in Kenya back at Bridgeworld College, teaching a week-long intensive course, From Text to Sermon: Preaching Apocalyptic Passages (Studies in Daniel and Revelation). With the help of modern technology (specifically What’s App) I have been able to stay connected with many colleagues and students at the college, and I am eager to see them again.

It promises to be a full and fulfilling two weeks. Thank you again for your partnership with me and our family in the gospel.

“Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving.

At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word.”

Colossians 4:2-3

 

Digging In Common Ground

In the New Testament, as Jesus’ disciples went out to spread the gospel, believers were not left to themselves to live out their new faith in isolation. Churches were planted, and believers lived in community. This way they could encourage each other, support each other, and learn from each other. As Christianity spread around the globe, this continued to be the practice, and how we are the richer for it yet today! It is the case, of course, that churches in various countries, even in different parts of the same country, often look a little – or a lot – different from each other, both inside and out. There truly is immeasurable and invaluable beauty in this diversity. I think though, that the most beautiful thing is what is in common: people all over the world are gathering to worship the Lord, to learn the Scriptures, and to be in fellowship as a body, a community, a family. Christianity was never intended to be a solitary faith and practice.

One of our favorite experiences in Kenya was finding out in real life what it means to be part of a global church. We were able to visit and worship with several different congregations in and around Nairobi, but our home-away-from-home church was St. Matthew’s, a congregation of the Anglican Church of Kenya. There were things we were used to – like being able to walk to church, and things we were not used to – like using a prayer book and following liturgical forms through the whole service. Although the service we went to was mostly in English, some of the songs were in Swahili, which we quite enjoyed, especially as we started to be able to pick up some words and phrases and the lyrics began to make sense to us. At St. Matthew’s, we heard God’s Word preached, celebrated baptisms together, and the Lord’s Supper, prayed together, participated in Sunday School, and enjoyed delicious Kenyan food at a church picnic outside between the buildings and the soccer field, where our boys were often included in after-church matches.  We had chai and mandazi after the service sometimes, and appreciated this at least as much as the coffee and cookies we grew up with. The pastor there is Rev. Redson Komu, known as the Vicar, and he is responsible for 3 congregations, so we didn’t see him every week.  Eventually, we did get to know him a little and we appreciated his love for the community, and for the people in his congregations, which he extended to our family unreservedly. He prayed for us, and for our church here in Pella. His blessing over our family on our last Sunday there remains a treasured memory. We saw God’s gracious provision for all of our needs, including this beloved church home during Ryan’s sabbatical.

So, it is no surprise that we are grateful for the ease of keeping in touch even across an ocean. We do hear from Rev. Komu now and then, and just a couple of days ago were very excited to receive the set of pictures you will find below. When we left Kenya in late November last year, there were several of piles of sand and gravel behind the church building, and some deep trenches dug through in a pattern that appeared to most of the children around to be a type of maze for them to play in.  Today, a building is taking shape; footings are in place, and walls are standing – a primary school is under construction! This school is being built with an eye to making education available to children right in the area of the church who do not currently attend school. It will not be run by the church directly, but St. Matthew’s is supporting its construction as well as providing the site. As far as we know, one potential teacher is also a member of the church.  Since we know that education in its various forms is also a value of our church home here in Pella, we are especially pleased to share this additional area of common ground and to share these photos from Rev. Komu, giving God praise for the progress so far. Please pray for the construction to proceed smoothly and in a timely manner, as this is often a challenge in Nairobi, and that costs would be manageable, so that sound, functional, and useful classrooms can be filled with eager learners very soon!

As we think about being part of the body of Christ, here in Pella, Iowa, and way around in Nairobi, Kenya, and consider things that Christians do differently from each other, as well as things we do that are very similar no matter where we are, we recall these words in Paul’s letter to the church in Colossae:

12 Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14 And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. 17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
Colossians 3:12-17 ESV

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On Being Resource-Full

Karibu

Karibu Mgeni = Welcome, Stranger or Guest!

We hope you can pour some coffee and sit down for a few minutes – we have several things to share with you.  Resources – both our abundance of them, and the genuine, widespread need for them – are a big part of why we went to Kenya last year. Many African pastors and teachers that we met expressed their desire for education, training, and encouragement, so it was truly a humbling privilege for Ryan to work towards those needs at Bridgeworld College.  Please do continue to pray for the work there and all those involved in it, including Dr. Lee and his wife Sue, all of the staff who became dear friends to us, and the remaining instructors, including Dr. Choi, whom we also consider a good friend and encouraging colleague. Dr. Choi is a missionary professor from South Korea, and has served at Bridgeworld for several years now.  For him to continue there, with his family, he does also need continued financial support. If this is something you could do, please contact us or visit his support site here: Support Dr. Choi Don’t be scared off by the Korean text 😉 The path to donate is simple, and available in English.  We pray his needs will be met in abundance.

Another resource we are excited about is the Africa Study Bible, a project by Oasis International, who, in recognition of the need for African resources and the inestimable value of African voices in producing these resources, are a ministry devoted to fostering a robust and sustainable pan-African publishing industry.  God’s Word is the foundation for change in people’s hearts and lives, and Oasis is committed to making Scripture available and understandable to Africans.  Please pray for the distribution of the new Study Bibles, and for the power of the gospel to work through these pages.

While we were in Nairobi, we became acquainted with AIM (Africa Inland Mission), several missionaries that serve in Kenya through AIM, such as our dear friends, the Blohm family, and the counseling arm of AIM, Tumaini Counselling Centre. Tumaini is the Swahili word for “hope,” and they seek to bring hope to missionaries on the field through the resources of mental health services and pastoral care.  We personally received hope and care from them in the event of the stillbirth of our son Findley, while we were in Kenya, and we are grateful for their compassion and comfort.  If you would like to find out more about Tumaini, please do visit their website.  Through there, you can also contribute to their ministries, and if you would like to remember our son with a gift, we suggest their current building project to provide affordable housing for their staff.  We think this is one small way God can take the pain of losing a child and work something good.

Finally, a personal resource we would like to share is this 30-day devotional, written by Amy Roberts as she grieved the death of a young daughter several years ago.  Psalms For the Grieving Heart begins with Psalm 31, and works through the passages in a personal and insightful way.  Reading and praying through this devotional was an important part of our early days of grief. God’s Word has power like nothing else, and no-one else. Still today, when memories and tears threaten to overwhelm, we are reminded to turn to the Lord and to Scripture; when people disappoint, He is faithful; when it feels like we are alone, He is present.  We are grateful that Amy was given the courage and grace to share of her journey and of the wisdom God has given her along the way.

We pray today that the resources we have talked about here will be a blessing to you, and further, that you will be able to be a blessing through them.  Thank you for keeping up with us by stopping by our kitchen table.

For from him and through him and to him are all things.

To him be glory forever. Amen.

Romans 11:36

~ Ryan & Jody

March

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You know that saying about March – how if it comes in like a lion, it’ll go out like a lamb, or vice-versa? I often think about that when March begins, but by the end of the month, I usually don’t remember what the weather patterns were like at the beginning, or even think to make a comparison at all. One thing I have noticed over the past several years though, is that all of March’s weather has certainly felt more “lionish” than “lambish,” – but I am not talking about the weather outside.

March has become a long month for us. A sad one, and a hard one, a month that feels full of loss and reminders of losses past. Ironic, isn’t it? March, in this part of the world where we live, is on that see-saw between winter and spring, and while one day might see ice and snow, the next might see the tender yet tough little crocuses pushing their way into the warm sunshine. Lots of shrubs and trees start to prove they aren’t dead, and those tiny buds hold promises of shade, or flowers, or fruit in the weeks and months ahead. While the nights can be dark and cold, the days can be sunny and fresh. March should feel hopeful, optimistic, and full of impending life.

In fact, this March was the first one in a long time that I’d been looking forward to. Last summer, when we learned we were expecting a baby and the due date would fall in March, we thought with hope and anticipation about how precious it would be have this month redeemed and reclaimed. About this new reminder that for us, in the Lord, death cannot and will not win over life forever. We were so excited, and so grateful for this tangible way that God was bringing the beauty of new life up out of the ashes of our grief. Though none of our babies have actually arrived right on their “due date,” it felt like a justified laugh in the face of so many sad March days to note that March 20th would be the 40 week mark this time – March 20th – the first day of spring!

But too long before March 20th, 2017 arrived, October 14th, 2016 arrived, and with it, our beautiful, beloved son Findley. While we held his tiny body, weeping from the bottom of our broken hearts, his true self was already being held in our Father’s loving arms. This was not the springtime promise of new life we so desperately wanted, even needed. I’m not sure there is, nor should be, any way to rank things like grief, pain, and sorrow, but our baby’s death and burial feels burned into our hearts and minds as one of the hardest things in our lives. There are additional layers of … everything, because just a few weeks after Findley was buried in Nairobi, Ryan’s work and our time there was completed. Leaving Kenya felt like leaving home for many reasons, not the least of which was that now, it would forever be precious to us as Findley’s earthly home.

So here we are now, in the midst of March and all that it brings, both inside of our hearts and outside of our windows. It’s beautiful when the sun warms my face and arms as I sit in the already-greening grass, and the call of a mourning dove breaks the quiet stillness of a new day. It’s terrible when my arms wrap around my empty body, longing to hold the baby that grew there and should now be here to greet this springtime with me. The ache of missing Findley is strong and deep, and tears come often and heavily. Sunny and promising as the day itself was this year, March 20th feels like little more than a cruel irony to me. First day of spring, indeed.

But God. I think those two words, which appear throughout Scripture, (here are some) are my favorite words anywhere, ever. But God: God is the strength of this broken heart. But God: God who is rich in mercy. But God: God intends and works for good. But God: God remembers. My son Findley died, But God: God gave us His own Son Jesus, who died, and yet was raised to life everlasting. I feel like spring was snatched away from my heart, But God: God promises that one day He will swallow up death forever, and He will wipe away all these many tears, and redeem all these painful memories and heartbreaks that March holds right now. How I would like that day to come, even to be today, this second day of spring that seems to be trying to go back to winter this morning, with its cold wet snow and bleak gray sky. It is like a see-saw – not just the month of March, but this whole journey of life, isn’t it?

For sitting here on my kitchen counter, are beautiful expressions of remembering from friends and family that know our grief, and choose to bear this grief with us. Roses, lilies, tulips. Love in vases and flower pots. Sitting here on my desk are cards and notes, and in my email inbox, more of the same, from all sorts of people in all sorts of situations. Love in envelopes and words. It’s not always necessary to understand or have personal experience with someone else’s particular loss and pain in order to be able to enter into it and help them bear it, and how thankful I am for the ways this has been proven to me. I cannot exactly say that God took Findley from us, for He is not the author of evil and pain. No, death came into this world through sin. The recent words of another grieving mother ring true to me here: tragedy took my son away. But God: God did not and does not leave us to despair in this. In a way that only God could, He took sin, which had brought death, and conquered them both, with a cross and an empty grave. He alone can take such ruin and work such glory. Although we long for our home in heaven, we are given even now precious glimpses of God’s redemption, sometimes through these very things that are around me now: flowers, cards, shared tears, and silent prayers.

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Yes, it hurts – a lot – that that there aren’t tiny sleepers filling my laundry basket this March 20th, but filling my heart, there is peace, there will be peace, because my only sure and unfailing comfort is in the One who holds today like He holds eternity, and He also holds my son for me. And yet how lovely are the ways He sends this comfort: through the people around us, the songs that we hear and sing, and the words that we read. You might hear grief described as numbing, but I have often felt like grief is rather sharpening my senses. I notice more, hear more, and feel more. Sometimes it’s not fun when everything feels too bright, too loud, or too personal, but sometimes it’s like a lifeline. Sunday night, March 19th, we sang “My Hope Is Built On Nothing Less” in church, and the words spoke truth to my heart. “I dare not trust the sweetest frame,” (and not much is sweeter than the frame of a new baby), “but wholly trust in Jesus name,” and “When darkness veils His lovely face, I rest on His unchanging grace. In every high and stormy gale, my anchor holds within the veil.” In the prayer he wrote for March 20th in The Songs of Jesus (devotional on the book of Psalms), Tim Keller quoted George Herbert, and I echo these words:

“Though I fail, I weep:

Though I halt in pace,

          Yet I creep

To the throne of grace.”

(from The Temple, 1633, Discipline)

And even this trust, this faith, this creeping to the throne of grace is not dependent on me. Another song bringing truth to me over the past several months is this, as refreshed by the Gettys, He Will Hold Me Fast. “When I fear my faith may fail, Christ will hold me fast … For my Savior loves me so, He will hold me fast.”

So come and go, March, like a lion, or like a lamb; I know you cannot overwhelm completely. When it’s stormy, I will cling to the Rock that is higher than I (Psalm 61:2). When it’s sunny, I will rest in the ways He quiets me with His love (Zephaniah 3:17). This is My Father’s World, even the weather, and though the wrong feels oft so strong, God is the ruler yet.

 

Below are a few pictures of what March 20th, 2017, looked like for us. They’re not part of the story we were expecting, but they are a good chapter. And, we know our story isn’t finished yet. 

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