...also known as my crazy Christmas letter.
We hope your 2014 has been filled with joy and peace and love, and that Christmas culminates a beautiful year. Whether it was a tough year or an easy one, sometimes beauty is found in unexpected places, including through sorrow and through the mundane. Our beauty was found this year in God’s faithfulness and provision during rocky times.
Our son Peter, 13 in January, loves science and nature and wants to be a farmer. He put in a beautiful flower and vegetable mixed garden, and talked a lot about going to Africa to help the impoverished with their subsistence farming. Through Amazima, Katie Davis’s non-profit ministry in Uganda, he learned online about Farming God’s Way, which doesn't involve turning over soil, but just digging holes for the seeds, and keeping the surrounding ground untouched, except for a mulch cover made from the previous year’s foliage. Weeds are cut off at ground level so as not to disturb the rich soil, adding to the blanket mulch for the next crop. This method produces high yield, allowing those in abject poverty to feed their families, sell their produce, and buy seeds and tools. The produce is purchased at fair prices (not low, in season prices) by ministries, who then store it and use it for feed programs. Traditional farming, involving turning over the soil first, leaches minerals and causes erosion, whereas Farming God’s Way and rotating crops keeps the soil rich and productive. The practice is spreading throughout Africa and beyond as Christian non-profits continue to work to empower and restore dignity to the world’s poorest, in Jesus’s name
Peter would like to work closely with those in abject poverty, both as an evangelist and as one who would train and equip Ugandans to live self-sufficiently, with dignity and hope, changing their families and villages for Christ. (Christianity is declining in the U.S., but growing extremely well in China and Africa, with China gaining strongly on our numbers. Pretty soon, we’ll need missionaries to America, not from America.)
Peter works on the leadership skills he will need in the field by helping me teach the four year olds at church every other week, by being a verse teacher in AWANA, and by preparing for and teaching his sisters their science curriculum, including their experiments.
My Momma heart is so proud of Peter, but I ache for him too. He’s had an extremely tough year with OCD, especially after suffering a concussion in August (fell from a tree). Still, he remains faithful and hopeful; he lives bravely and inspires me every day.
Paul is 11 and loves math, art, football and basketball. He is the world’s best brother—kind, helpful, fun, giving, and sacrificial. He vacillates between wanting to be a math teacher or a journalist, and God willing, he hopes to be writing books and possibly Christian curriculum someday (maybe with Mommy). He enjoys our Sonlight Curriculum, which emphasizes learning through literature rather than textbooks, incorporating the best from both the fiction and non-fiction worlds. Paul would like to write a similar curriculum someday, going into business for himself. He wrote a family Advent study for us and also enjoys theology, fiction writing, and sports writing. Honing his teaching and leadership skills, he teaches his sisters using their non-fiction history selections. Paul sees himself ministering here in America in some capacity. Paul also struggled with OCD this year, though to a lesser extent; both boys have been in counseling.
Mary is 8 and she enjoys toads, frogs, butterflies, and finding and giving thanks for the glory of God. She can find hidden praying mantises, cicadas, caterpillars, tree frogs--just about any tiny creature known to our yard and local nature parks. She’s observant and patient, wanting to find God’s glory before Mommy calls her back in for school. Each person has a style of worship, and hers is definitely through Creation and song.
She also has a heart for the impoverished and may follow Peter to Uganda, where they can both speak English, which is the official language there (neither wants to learn a foreign language, though Peter says he’ll suffer through it if God wants him to).
This last spring I identified dyslexia in Mary, which slowed down her reading before I researched and found appropriate curriculum from All About Reading, written for dyslexics, providing the scaffolding and repetition they need to excel. She’s been making outstanding progress this fall, and Mommy is learning all about the dyslexic advantage, working to capitalize on the inherent strengths dyslexics are known for. Peter has dysgraphia (difficulty with spelling, handwriting and organizing thoughts on paper) and dyscalculia (math disability), so I wasn't surprised to find a sibling with difficulties. Kids with ADHD often have learning disabilities as well, mainly in reading and math, but Peter, thankfully, is a wonderful reader.
Mary developed full-blown Generalized Anxiety Disorder this year, which runs strongly in my family. It’s been a long, hard road but she too has gotten some counseling, and I‘m reading a number of books so I can help her respond better to her fears, which thus far encompass weather disasters, health outbreaks, and bombing by planes. I’m definitely grieving over my children’s difficulties, but I see them responding bravely, without bitterness, and learning to trust God through the fire, which encourages me and helps me let go of the outcome, knowing God has a plan and purpose for our infirmities.
Beth is six years old and she loves graceful, energetic ballet moves, acting and singing, pink princess dresses, dolls and stuffed animals, picture books galore, learning to read, and playing with her siblings. Right now she’s having a tough time with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis pain, but you wouldn't know it by her energy and zest for life. She bears her situation admirably. She hasn't said yet for sure, but I think she wants to be an entertainer. She has the spiritual gift of encouraging others, which I think goes along with being an entertainer. When she’s around, there’s usually joy.
We have four other precious ones we think of as our children, so even though this makes for a too-long letter, their stories are fascinating and worth the time. The new year brought us a new Compassion International sponsor child, 15-year-old Sheila from Uganda (Kabale district), who writes us English letters in her own hand. English is her best subject in school, besides physics. She’s carrying a full high school load, doing well in all her subjects. She’s a Christian living with her 62-year-old grandmother, her mother having died and her father living apart from her. She wants to be a nurse or a teacher and help others. Nurses and teachers have a lot of patience and love, she writes. She loves her school teachers, telling me they teach her how to be independent in the future.
We've written back and forth since January, 2014, and I already feel like she’s my daughter. Her faith is very strong and inspiring. She is learning “that God is with me in everything I do, and that he will never leave me.” She likes playing football (soccer) and going to Christian fellowships. Her grandmother is a peasant (subsistence farmer), planting sorghum, beans, and sweet potatoes in the wet season (2 wet seasons a year). Sheila helps by washing clothes and utensils. She wrote me about Jeremiah 29:11, one of my favorite verses, telling me that it teaches her never to lose hope. Jeremiah 29:11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
Nelson, our sponsor child from El Salvador, to whom we've been writing for three years, is now 10 years old, in the 3rd grade. He, too, wants to be a teacher. His favorite subjects are art, language, and science, and he loves nature. His drawings are amazing. School work has become easier for him over the last two years. He told us about his country, which he says is very pretty, with volcanos, rivers, and a national bird called Torogoz, and a national flower called Izote. His favorite food is pupusas, which are tortillas with a filling of crackling and an edible flower called loroco. They are delicious, he promises, and asks us if we've ever tried them J.
For his Holy Week vacation he had a great time with his mother, brother, and baby sister (no father in the picture). They ate pupusas and enchiladas with crazy corn, and swam in the river with cousins. He, too, loves football and plays it in the fields with his friends. His future plans are “to finish his studies and learn more and then teach other children.” He wants to help his family financially (Compassion children are known for giving back to their communities and families). He is going to church with his mom and siblings, and his faith is growing strong. I’m so proud of him! His letters are longer now and he sounds excited about life and the future. When a child is released from the hopelessness of poverty, and told they are loved and matter to God and to you, they begin to dream and yearn to help others.
Raphael, another child of our hearts, is 15 years old, from Burkina Faso. We've been writing back and forth with him for 3 years, as his correspondent family. He prays for us at school, he tell us, and he loves us and he’s proud of us. He makes me smile and cry. He’s very sweet, but sends us the shortest letters of the four. Also subsistence farmers, his parents planted tomatoes, onions, cucumbers, zucchini and pears, in their wet season. He likes to go hunting, play football, and work in his uncle’s store during vacations. He is a good boy. In love, I encouraged him to resist temptation, stay away from alcohol and drugs, and choose his friends wisely. He wrote back that he would, and didn't seem offended, telling me he likes my letters. I was relieved, as I hoped the advice would be taken in love, as from a loving parent. (Impoverished men, lacking hope and ability to support their families, easily fall prey to alcohol.)
He does well in school and could qualify for Compassion’s Leadership Development Program, enabling him to attend college or vocational training. All the students at Compassion centers get vocational training in high school, but he has the potential to go beyond what they teach. Raphael also goes to church with his family.
Divya, our correspondent child of four years from India, is turning eleven soon. She lives with her parents and her brother. She was promoted to the sixth grade this year, and while at first she was an average student, over the years that has changed to above-average as her needs are being met through Compassion International. I am so thankful that Compassion looks out for these children, paying attention to their comings and goings, so as to prevent child trafficking, which is common among poor families who are lied to—enticed by being told their girls will be sent as servants to good homes.
Divya's needs are being taken care of by Compassion, so her parents don’t share the desperation common to India’s poor. Compassion International, who administers their program through local churches, pays for her school fees, uniforms, books, shoes, school bag, notebooks, umbrellas, and at least two meals a week at the Child Center, extra food when needed, health screenings and health care, Christian teaching, hygiene and health teaching, parenting classes, and vocational classes for students and parents. Her parents are day laborers, employed part of the year. India’s poor have it worse than most in the world, outside Burkina Faso and Haiti, which are among the poorest nations on earth.
Divya wants to become a teacher and help poor children. She goes to Vacation Bible School when she is on break, and attends Bible studies and prayer group. She loves to spend time with her family, study, and play with her friends at school and at the Center. She tells me her family is very happy. Her letters are long, sweet, loving and grateful. She prays for Beth’s arthritis and tells me, along with Sheila from Uganda, that they think Beth will be healed by God, even though there’s no cure. They assure me and tell me to believe. They make me cry and smile and believe anew. I’m so grateful for each of these four precious children, along with my own four.
I usually hand-write a message to each family this goes to, albeit a short one. To you, dear reader, I want to say...may the peace of God lift you and sustain you, giving you a joyous 2015, as you abide in and serve Him. Thank you for your love and support. Merry Christmas!