"And if you SPEND YOURSELVES on behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness and your night will become like the noonday."

"The Lord will continually guide you. He will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail."- Isaiah 58:10-11

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Sheep Poop and Christmas Blessings

A picture of the Valley home
I’m thinking about Christmas.  This will be our third Christmas in Kenya. Big bummer, because we will miss seeing our amazing families.  Big bummer also because we won’t get to reconnect with precious US friends face-to-face. Bummer, no Auntie Bevvie tenderloin and mashed potatoes with killer gravy. Bummer, no peppermint lattes or candy canes for that matter. And bummer, we won’t see snow for another year. (Actually, some, myself included, may argue that’s a blessing.)

I’m also hung up on Christmas gifts and am torn between whether consumerism is a bummer or blessing. On one hand, the idea of consumerism seems appealing.  What a “blessing” it would be to do some bargain shopping at Target, Costco, or even Kohls (small screech of excitement as I think of scratching off an “Additional 30% Off” coupon at the check out). It’s amazing how a great deal feels like money well spent to me, whether it’s something I need or not.  And wouldn’t it seem Christmassier and make my kids feel so significantly loved to be “blessed” by some really awesome, well-intentioned, bargained (of course) stuff? It’s fun to think about being “blessed” by more stuff (sigh, moment of joy, anticipating purchased gratification). 

On the other hand, it’s not very fun to think about (sigh, did I just roll my eyes?) because the line between blessing and greed can be challenging to define. During our Swahili lesson this week, Edward, our teacher asked, “Do Americans really use all of the gifts they receive at Christmas? Or after January, do they end up just sitting around?”  “Why do you ask?” I replied.  “I asked because do you know that the amount of money Americans spend at Christmas could supply enough boreholes to bring water to the entire continent of Africa?” Gulp…..

When I look around me and feel the financial strain of every, single household to make it day to day, contrasted by my selfish idea of purchased “blessing”, it’s not actually very fun to think about consumerism. We all have ample opportunity to give of ourselves to bless those around us. But honestly, depending on the moment, for me, being surrounded by financial poverty can sometimes be exhausting (“Does he seriously have to come to my door and try to sell me flowers three times this week?”), guilt-inducing (that’s probably it today because his family may not eat unless I buy something), annoying (“Ummm…nope, I don’t need sheep poop this week.”), pride inducing ("What a saint I am for buying flowers once this week."), and even exasperating (“Stop asking me for a handout and GET A JOB!”).

A picture of a sheep and a bed
And, though I’m totally full of myself, because I could shop (meaning I actually have coins to spare) online and then ask a visiting friend to bring some ‘American (Made in China) stuff’, being surrounded by financial poverty and being poverty-stricken of soul myself is the self-induced plight of humans going back to the garden.

So what is true Christmas blessing? I’m in a great Bible study with some wiser-than-me missionary ladies, and we’ve been studying Hebrews.  We’ve read a lot about Jesus, God’s Son and spokesman, our eternal intercessor, God in the flesh.  My favorite two liner so far is this, “…consider Jesus…” (Heb. 3:1 NASB). Consider Jesus.  This thought has penetrated my mind so often over the past few weeks.  I can hear God whispering it into my ear every time I have a selfish thought (which is a lot), a challenging situation, and especially in moments of joy.  “Consider Jesus” has been speaking to me related to poverty and blessing.  Consider Jesus in the midst of not only financial poverty but poverty of the soul, mind, body, emotions, circumstances, (fill in your own need). Consider Jesus as the One who can totally relate to our condition because He experienced it firsthand. 

Defining blessing as Jesus being God with us and giving us of Himself in the midst of any circumstance, makes blessing continually accessible and only dependent on my ever-present choice to be aware of it.  For me, this is astounding, humbling, and freeing and puts consumerism and true blessing in perspective.

And so as I ponder consumerism and poverty and blessing, I ask myself, “What will I consume today? And what is truly a blessing to me or to my children? How can I, like Jesus, be a blessing to those around me? Will I be consumed by my own selfishness or choose to consider Jesus and consume the audacious fact that Jesus is all I need and that in itself is a blessing in the midst of my own poverty stricken circumstances?

And, by the way…thank you on behalf of our whole family, from the bottom of our hearts for your generous blessings to our family which allow us to live so lavishly.  We have never once wondered whether we would have enough to eat.  And I personally am grateful that I’m in a position to think these thoughts and that Rick is not spending his days selling sheep poop to feed our family. 

A picture of her friend

Pictures represented in this post were made by the Valley kids when we asked them what they were thankful for this Christmas.  It puts things in perspective for me...

A picture of his bed

Monday, December 15, 2014

Merry Christmas

Warm Christmas Greetings from the Smiths!

Thank you for your outpouring of encouragement, prayers and support to our family over the last year.  We are so thankful for the many ways you have walked alongside us.  We could not have accomplished the tasks God placed before us without you!  We know that God is calling our family to grow and expand the Oasis for Orphans programs in Kenya, and we remain excited about continuing in this work.  

2014 Family Updates
Rick – Was grateful to see Oasis officially grow from one to three sites as legal partnership documents were signed with The Valley and The Shelter.  Enjoyed teaching at Moffat and seeing the first group of Maasai and Kisii pastors graduate from their three-year training program through Commission 2:2.  Upped his manliness when he killed a snake in our house. Added a few grey hairs as Rachel is now learning to drive.

Ann – Was overjoyed at seeing the Oasis sponsorship program grow by 30 children at The Valley!  Is excited that four Oasis kids graduated from High School and are headed to college. Is thankful for the more than 70 visitors who visited this year from the US and Canada.  Embraced working with the dental team by pulling out someone’s tooth! Found out the hard way that she doesn’t like paint balls in her face or baboon spiders near our house.

Katie – Is teaching the Model United Nations class at RVA this year. Enjoys leading the Jr. High kids in worship each week. Traveled to Zanzibar with her class and swam with dolphins and ate octopus. With typical Katie priorities, took last place in the One World Run to hang with her little sib because, “Walking is SO FUN Katie!”  Looks forward to finding out where she will be going to college. Is approachable, humble, and embraces joy even when it means laughing at herself.

Rachel – Had a surprise Sweet 16th and went paintballing. Nearly tossed Rick and Caleb out of the sunroof of the car when she rolled over a small cliff in the road while learning to drive.  Joined the art class this year and renewed a passion.  Has boldly shared about Jesus with several people who have chosen to become Christians!

Julia – Became a teenager! Built her first “snowman” in Africa (in the sand).  Confirmed the loss of the missing Malaysian flight when she pulled some plastic bottles from the Indian Ocean with “Made in Malaysia” stamped on the bottom. Fell in love with a janitor-turned-superhero in the school play.  Bravely, rock climbed up Hell’s Gate.  Has a precious heart of generosity and compassion for others.

Caleb – Wants to visit the US so we can put his clothes in that awesome thing that makes them warm. Couldn’t move his arms for three days after his birthday party because he and his friends did push-ups through two decks of cards.  Scored with a header and both feet in soccer this year. Is our faithful prayer warrior – send in your requests.

Enjoy your families this Christmas as you focus on the birth of our amazing Savior!

All this took place
to fulfill what the Lord has said through the prophet;
“The virgin will conceive and give birth to a Son,
and they will call Him Immanuel,
which means God with us.”

Much Love – Rick, Ann, Katie, Rachel, Julia and Caleb