The most rewarding part

(by Elizabeth)

As a foster parent, you must keep up your licensing with a certain amount of training hours and quarterly visits from your licensing worker.  Last week our licensing worker came to the house to do our quarterly visit, but this was also time for us to begin preparing to renew our license for another two years.  Hard to believe it’s already been two years. She asked us a series of questions and among them was this: What has been the most rewarding part of the last two years?

Conor quickly spoke up with a steady confidence, “Watching our (biological) boys learn and develop through our fostering.”  While I have many other rewards to add to that, I do agree that reason likely tops them all.  I’ve been thinking about it quite a bit since then.  To unfold my thoughts on it, I need to take you back a few years.

3 years ago, when my boys were nearly 2 and 4, I felt the stirring in my heart to be involved in missions.  I remember a conversation with Conor where I was struggling with the joy of being in the throws of raising two small children, and yet wanting to be able to leave and be part of a short-term mission trip. Conor encouraged me to go on one, which I did, but in the process we also spent time dreaming about a day when our entire family could engage in a mission trip together.

10 months later, after our initial interest in fostering had been expressed, a supervisor from MBCH came to our home to discuss what that meant (i.e.: what in the world we were getting ourselves into!).  I will never forget what she said when we asked her about her thoughts on fostering with young biological children in the home.  She said, “You tell your children about missionaries all around the world who share Jesus with people.  Your family is going to get to do that inside the walls of your own home.”

I hear some people say they would like to foster “some day when the kids are older”.  God’s timing is certainly unique for all, and if He has in fact called you to fostering, He will have the perfect timing for you to engage in that. But I would like to share with you some reasons why fostering while our children are young has been one of the best things for them.

1. My kids will likely not remember life before fostering.  Some of their earliest memories will be our home filled with kids, of all ages and races and backgrounds, that we are loving and giving a home to.
2. Children are a lot stronger and capable than we give them credit for. We explain to them, in terms they can understand and process appropriately, why we are doing what we are doing and they get it. I think they may even get it better than you and I some days.
3. Allowing children with other backgrounds to come in our home and be part of our family teaches them a lot.  We really don’t worry about them picking up poor behaviors. Most of the time they are the greatest teachers to those new kids about the “family code” in the Scholes home.  And if a poor behavior is repeated in one of our biological kids, they learn from Mom and Dad about what’s appropriate and what’s not, and the behavior can be corrected all around.  What a fantastic way to actively train our children to respond to the Word of God’s authority in our home in light of what others may be doing that goes against that.
4. My kids love fiercely.  They know what it is to stand up for family, to be a helper to their brother.  They know what it is to love another child and yet watch them leave, and they still think it was worth it.
5. Fostering has not been without challenges for us. Fighting, bullying, name-calling, unfair advantages have all been part of it.  While my mother’s heart would love to shield them from this, it isn’t the real world and they are learning how to deal with conflict right inside our home in a place where they can fall back on the arms of love, support and understanding.
6. My kids have witnessed their Mom and Dad on their knees, begging for strength from God when we had no more.  They have seen us turn to God’s Word for guidance and encouragement. They have seen us struggle to work out the gospel call.  They are part of God’s bigger story right here in their own home. 

Maybe God has not asked you to foster. But maybe He has and maybe having young kids is the only thing holding you back. If that’s you, I urge you to rethink that decision to wait. For us it has meant we’re on a mission trip together most every day, and it’s a wild adventure!

I’m the one he calls Mama

(by Elizabeth)

I’m the one who he snuggles into at night as I sing his song.

I’m the one who he gives his silly, giggly smile to first thing most every day.

I’m the one he follows around throughout the day and imitates.

I’m the one who held him and fed him at all hours of the night as a newborn. 

I’m the one who has cheered on every milestone.

I’m the one who makes his world all better when he’s been hurt. 

I’m the one who kisses his peanut butter and jelly face and gets sticky from his hugs.

I’m the one who is training and shaping him as his independence grows.

I’m the one he runs to when I come back from being away for a short time.

I’m the one he calls “Mama”.

But I’m not his mama.  I am painfully aware that I am not his mama, even though his own biological father encourages him to call me that “because I’m the only mom he’s really known”. 15 out of his 18 months I have been there every step, every day, playing the role of his mom.  Yet in 14 days that role will change in a second when the judge rules that he return home to his father.  I will be stripped of that role and responsibility in his life.  It is more than I can bear to think of how his little world will be altered.  It seems far from fair.
I have no resolution tonight, only weeping and grieving and real.

Praise the One who brings joy in the morning.

The Big Question: Why Do You Do What You Do?

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I’m pretty sure when I wrote that title the only thing going through my mind was “Wow, that’s a lot of do’s in a title”.  Then again, I couldn’t think of a less wordy way of saying it, so there’s that.

I went to a conference in Dallas last week, and spent some time hanging out with my best friend from college and with some leadership from my technology team as well.  Like many worship pastors, I wanted to get away, to refresh and reframe my outlook as well as do some long-term planning.  It was a good time of self-reflection that brought up some interesting questions for me to ponder…as Jerod’s wife, Jennifer can attest to, if you put the two of us together (Jerod and I), it makes for laughter, long nights, and deep discussions that challenge both of us.  There was one question that kept coming to me, whether it was in a discussion about my personal life, fostering, my marriage, or my ministry:

Why do you do what you do?

Why do I do what I do?  It made me think and evaluate all angles of that question?  Does my philosophy in worship ministry happen because it is what God has placed inside of me, and empowered me to do, or because it is popular, easy, or perhaps unpopular or difficult?  Do I function in marriage the way I do out of my own selfish ambition or desires or out of a desire to grow closer to my wife and to grow together in our faith?  Is parenting an extension of the love God has placed within me, or a necessary evil based on our own life choices?  And then fostering as an addition to all of that…is it done because we feel called to do it, or because we feel like we have started something and have to accomplish our “goal” of adopting as well?

All of these thoughts (good and bad) were rattling in my mind as we went to an evening session on Tuesday night.  One of the groups that was leading worship that night was All Sons and Daughters with One Sonic Society.  Being familiar with their work, and loving the raw, authenticity with which they write, I was looking forward to hearing and singing with them again.  A few songs into their time, I realized one of their songs quietly answered the questions I had wrestled with during the week.

The song is called “You Have Called Me Higher”.  Powerfully simple, the song describes the heartbeat of the reason to go the extra mile, the calling to continue to learn, to not count anyone out.  Here’s a few tidbits of what it means in my life, and why I do what I do.

I could just sit
I could just sit and wait for all Your goodness
Hope to feel Your presence
And I could just stay
I could just stay right where I am

and hope to feel You
Hope to feel something again

Have you ever been there?  When you feel like you are playing the waiting game, wishing and hoping and praying that something will change while you think you are completely sinking in the quicksand?  I have, and am, and will be in the future.  My wife would probably tell you that our bed is made of quicksand, because I don’t want to get out of it in the morning, and she would be right.  Yet, simply waiting without any action, or hoping without any momentum will leaving you right where you are.  The greatest times of repentance, of redemption, and of growth in my life have been the times I stepped out knowing God desired my faith and obedience.

And I could hold on
I could hold on to who I am and never let You
Change me from the inside
And I could be safe
I could be safe here in Your arms

and never leave home
Never let these walls down

If the people around me truly knew how much this paragraph embodied the feelings of failure, insecurity, and defeat I battle with, and my desire to just shut down, they would probably throw me out with the bath water.  Actually, I’m pretty sure my closest friends do, and they love me in spite of it.  It’s amazing to me how natural it is for me to think if I just close everything else out, things will be better.  But that inner voice of love (shout out to my Nouwen friends) keeps reminding me to share my insecurities with Him, to let go of the shackles, to break down the walls.  And the chorus to this song explains exactly why.

You have called me higher
You have called me deeper
And I’ll go where You lead me Lord
Where You lead me
Where You lead me Lord

Ultimately, for all the words I can and will continue to share about ministry, for all the stories I will tell about the joys and struggles of fostering, It is done because I know I’ve been called to follow.  I’ve been called to hurt deeper than I believe I can bear, to love when I am not loved in return, to teach when the ones I teach think it is crazy, and to minister to anyone and everyone, no matter what shape, race, gender, or class.  I don’t do this because it is noble, because it right, or because I want to look good.

I do it because I am called.  Higher.  Deeper.  Where I am led.

Why Do You Do What You Do?

 

Meetings in Mai Aini…the Planning Begins

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What you are looking at may just appear to be a panoramic view of a dusty bypass, a piece of property that looks like deserted land.  If you were with us yesterday at the Mai Aini refugee camp, you would have seen a beautiful piece of deluxe property that has high value in location, the complete blessing of the governing body over the camp, and came with the added bonus of being able to have the freedom to be in the unaccompanied minor refugee portion of the camp.  Not only were the meetings we had over the last two days a success, we were given the go ahead and a new, prime location to place the library within the camp.

When we arrived at the camp on Wednesday, we were informed that our reserved piece of land had been changed because they did not think it was good enough.  Cynics aside, we decided to take this as a sign they cared about the library project and would show us a better piece of land the next day.  Which they did.  Located at the center of camp, the vacant land is close to the educational spaces already provided, and right in the heart of the area of the unaccompanied minors.  Even more amazing was the reception that we received by being welcomed with open arms by the leaders of the camp, and being repeatedly asked to let them know if there was anything they could help with.

And so the planning has begun.  Jim and David, along with local leaders with good construction knowledge, have been working diligently to design the building according to what is able to be done locally.  The partnering ministries have pitched in to help with the engineering and purchasing side of making this project go.  And by the time we are back, the beginning of building the fence to go around the property will be in process.  

I am reminded of how wonderful seeing provision happening truly is when we allow God to work through us, in spite of us, and without us in control.  As we begin this season of building a library for Mai Aini, there will be challenges.  Money must be raised, and the building must be finished before the rainy season.  Logistics for shipping the container with the donated books that still must be sorted must be planned.  But those prayers and needs will be answered, probably in ways that we can’t imagine.  

And that, my friends, it the most beautiful part of it all.

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Adventures in Axum

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We weren’t tired at all when we eating breakfast in the Addis airport.

Okay, maybe that was a lie.  We were tired, and we knew we were almost to the end of our flying, but we had one more flight to make.  After getting into Addis at around 2 in the morning, and outside of security just before 4, we made our way to the domestic terminal and had a nice breakfast around 5, and waited for our flights.  We were split up between two flights: Rodney, David, and I were on a direct flight, and Jim and Nicole got the “date” flight…where they touched down to pick up more passengers.  This put us into Axum at around 11, and we were met by Pastor Tomesgen, and John, our young guide who has been with us since the beginning.  We took the minibus to Shire, where we went to the Gebar Shire, which is a hotel that we stay at while we are there…here is a little view from Shire, courtesy of Dave…
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We got a little time to rest, and then met with the regional leaders of the camp to get official permission to visit the camp confirmed, which we did…so we are go for launch!

By this point, we were pretty much exhausted, so we had dinner, relaxed, and went to bed.  This is an experience.  Between horns honking, karaoke blasting, and the call to prayer that starts at about 3 or 4, learning to tune out sounds (a helpful skill learned by young parents…) is a must.  But here we are, up and around this morning, preparing to leave for camp.  We look forward to connecting with the people of Mai Aini today, and reporting back with more good news!

P.S.  No truth to the rumor that Jim Brown has been nicknamed “Big Francis” by John…;)

We are in Addis!

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And here is the crew (minus me) at Chicago, waiting to board…
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We got a little exit row love…Qatar Airways has awesome legroom and service!

As I write this, it is 5:15 a.m. in the morning, and we are in the Addis Ababa airport waiting to take off to Axum.  We are looking forward to getting close to our final destination in Shire, as we have been on a plane from KC to Chicago to Doha, Qatar, to Addis, and now to Axum.  I’m sure by the end of the day, we will be excited to rest, but also looking ahead to the events of this week.  Pray for us as we meet with the camp leaders to get official permission once we land and arrive in Shire.  That will determine how quickly we meet with the rest of the leadership groups.  There will be more updates as time permits, and more adventures and stories as well.  There is no doubt in my mind that we will be presented with amazing opportunities to help, serve, share, and be enriched as again spend time with our brothers and sisters in Ethiopia!
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Jim and Nicole relaxing in the Addis boarding area for our Axum flight…

Africa: Returning to Plan

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The road in this picture is the road that is taken to and from the refugee camp at Mai Aini that was taken this summer.  As you can see, it is small, winding, and treacherous.  With that, there is a beauty that can be seen as you travel on it that is almost indescribable.  As we have planned and prepared to go back, I am reminded that just because something is scary or overwhelming doesn’t mean it is not worth pursuing.

This Sunday, there will be five people from our church and association returning to Ethiopia for a week to meet with the leaders of the Mai Aini refugee camp in order to put together and finalize a plan that will allow us to build a library that can be filled with English and native language books to be used by refugees for learning and reading.  The camp and government has given us permission, as well as a plot of land to build on, and we are meeting to find out what type of building is culturally acceptable, how it will be built, and what we need to do on the front end to make this project a success.  I am overjoyed to return to Africa and see the friends that we have made over the summer, and pray that we make much of the Gospel as we seek to provide a basic need for this camp: education.

Here are a few things that you can pray for as we travel and plan:

1.  Pray that the travel connections come together.  If you have ever traveled in a third world country, travel connections can be fluid.  As in, no matter what you plan, it can all be scrapped and replanned if necessary.  While we hope that things will smoothly, they may not.  That’s okay.  Just pray our bodies, hearts, and minds stay flexible as we journey towards Mai Aini.

2. Pray for the people that we will meet, both in Shire and in the camp.  The connections that we have made in the previous trips have provided wonderful opportunities for us, and we hope to foster and grow those relationships to create more opportunities for service, evangelism, and aid.  Being an outsider requires us to both understand and embrace the cultural norms in Ethiopia, and our desire is to respect and work within the needs of the camp.  Pray that our meetings would be full of understanding, and that we would convey the respect we feel for the leaders, as well as our desire to help.

3. Health.  Simply put, that we would stay healthy.  We struggled with sickness on our last trip, and recognize that is one of the things that happens with a change in environment.  Pray that our bodies stay healthy as we work, travel, and join in community with the people of Ethiopia and the refugees of Eritrea!

Thank you all for the support that has been shown, for the prayers and thoughts that have traveled with us, and for the blessings of resources through donations of clothes, books, and money that have begun to pour in as we undertake this process.  I will try to do a better job of updating with news, pictures, and videos of some of the stories we have and will encounter!

Do you have a mission trip or project that left a lasting impact on you?  Feel free to share below in the comments!