"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, September 14, 2017

The Little Things we LOVE About Kenya

First Tour of Duty

July 2017 

We're nearing the end of our first 'tour of duty' as Rick likes to call it. School closes for our children on July 12th, Rachel graduates the next day and then we're headed out of Kenya for a few months for rest, renewal and reconnection with family and friends before returning to Kenya at the end of December. 

As we reflect back on the last seven years, here are a few of our learnings from Kenya:

We came expecting to get a lot done in a little time.  We’ve learned nothing happens very fast. We think when we communicate something it can be easily understood.  But our perspectives are vastly different. Explaining things from a 200-year-old cultural perspective that is viewed through a 2000-year-old cultural lens is hard.  It’s challenging for both sides to see these as simply differences when it feels like right and wrong. The truth is, we both have things to learn from each other and change takes a long time.

We’ve become better at valuing relationship over task (proverbial pat on the back for us).  Being willing to sit and listen and to let everyone in the room be heard shows deference. Being willing to not make a decision because it’s going to hurt other people communicates their significance. Taking time to think through a decision (because 2000 years of history must be considered) is worthwhile. It can be frustrating and is B.R.U.T.A.L.L.Y. slow. It’s why people are still pooping in holes, but they’re vastly more content than we are. Task still feels more important many days, but we are trying. 

Even though progress seems slow, kids everywhere grow fast.  As we bring our second child to college, many of the Oasis children, who have grown alongside our kids, are also entering high school and college and becoming independent adults.  Though they don’t have a perfect story, they have a growth story and the majority of them are doing really well.  They are succeeding and failing, making good decisions and learning the hard way, and ultimately developing in the way God wants.

As we reflect back on our first tour, we stand in the tension of being disappointed over slow progress, but being grateful that so many children, including ours, have grown and developed into confident, successful young adults that are making a difference in their sphere of influence.  Hope is renewed as we see new children filling the beds of the children that are finishing their own tour of duty. 

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

New Faces, New Fears

We are nearing the end of Term 2 and after making the difficult decision to board Rachel, Julia and Caleb at RVA we anticipate quality time together during the break.  Our children have done wonderfully during this season and have embraced deepening their relationships with friends in the dorm.  They also have outstanding dorm parents which has been a blessing.   
We’ve also seen a lot of change at Oasis over the last few months. We’ve added more than 30 children to the Oasis programs!  It’s been an exciting time to see the empty beds we’ve prayed over fill up and watch seasoned Oasis children welcome new friends with open arms.
A few months ago, an insightful 8th grader asked me this question, “Do kids like coming to a children’s home or do they look at it negatively?”  It’s a great question.  Children who join an Oasis home eat nutritious meals.  Most of them sleep in beds with blankets and mosquito nets for the first time.  They have their health, educational, and social needs addressed.  They are surrounded by loving staff who genuinely care for them. It seems like an easy yes and it’s actually a resounding, “YES!” over time.  
We’ve had our staff go through the exercise* below and it helps answer the question in an eye-opening way so they understand what the children feel like at first.  We thought you may like to try it with your family. 
Answer the following questions:

Who is important in my life?

Significant Person _______________________

What groups do I belong to?

Group ________________________________

What do I do that gives my life meaning?

Meaning/Role __________________________

What gives me a sense of joy?

Source of Joy ___________________________

In what do I hold strong beliefs?              

System of Value _________________________

How do I know about and preserve my past?

History ________________________________

What locations or places are important to me?

Places _________________________________
These answers define who you are. They include everything of value to you and make up your identity. This is YOU! 
Now, look carefully at your answers and choose one and cross it out.  In your mind, take it out of your life completely.  Decide that you will live the rest of your life without that piece included. Think about being without this piece of your life for a few minutes. 
Then, do it again. Remove another piece.  Consider it no longer a part of who you are and sit with this for a few moments. 
Though it’s difficult, do it again.  Take out another piece of your life.  Cross it out completely and remove it from your life.  How are you doing?
It gets even harder.  Do it again.  Completely erase another area of your life. 
And again take out another important piece of you.     
Finally, do it again.  Remove one of the last two pieces of your life.  You can remain with one thing.  Just one.  Everything else is gone.
You just walked through an excruciating exercise and got to choose what you would remove from your life.  This is how children walk into our children’s homes but they don’t have a choice in what they lose.  They have literally lost almost everyone, everything, and every place that is important to them.  

We can tell them they are lucky to be at the home and that they will have everything they need. We can tell them they should be grateful, but the truth is, when they first arrive, they’re not.  They would rather have their parents back, or even their dysfunctional family and their crowded floor to sleep on with their brothers, sisters and cousins because it’s familiar and it is home.  
It’s why new children come to us with a blank stare and why they run away sometimes and why it takes time to feel safe and secure. It’s why ensuring children remain connected to their guardian family is one of the most important things we do.  It is why finding Jesus is critical because life IS hard and though everything else can change, He will not. 
We know from experience this changes over time as these children feel physically better from improved food and health care.  We know from experience, they will embrace this opportunity and they will find hope, education, joy, and Jesus.  We know they will connect with the staff and find life-long friendships with children who share their experiences. We know they will feel like their family has grown. We know what's coming... in time.
Please be praying for the new children at Oasis as they adjust.  And please pray for our staff who are working tirelessly to ensure these children feel welcomed and loved.  
*This exercise used with permission from Back to Back Ministries

Monday, January 2, 2017

Christmas and New Year's Greetings!

Warm Christmas and New Years Greetings from the Smiths –  

It came without ribbons!
It came without tags! 
It came without packages, boxes or bags!”…
Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before! 
"Maybe Christmas,” he thought, “doesn’t come from a store. 
Maybe Christmas… 
means a little bit more!'*

Things that mean “a little bit more” in our lives:
Rick – God’s provision through faithful supporters. Jesus’ redemption. Small group. The CUBS winning the WORLD SERIES!!!
Ann –The saints who regularly pray for us. Jesus, because my life is hidden in His. A husband who kills snakes and tarantulas. Puzzles. The Smitherene's. 209 children being supported by 295+ people.
Katie – A summer home in Kenya. Trip to the Dominican Republic. God, opening doors to serve. Consistent grace. Business classes at Notre Dame. Sister-like roommates. Being at Wrigley the night of the CUBS win! 
Rachel – Quality friends. A wise mentor. Getting accepted to college. The Oasis kiddos. God, who’s ways our bigger than ours. 
Julia – Sleeping in. Parents who love us. Dinner every night. God’s forgiveness and grace.
Caleb – Katie coming home for Christmas. God answering prayer. Fun and funny friends. Short notice parents. 
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss