Mental Tug-of-War

the path

Emily and I share a common conviction that exercising inside our compound can be boring. We do what we can to make it through a workout. Music helps somewhat, but if we are lost in a thought then- the laps really tick away. It’s easy to think about on the tasks at hand– lesson plans, staff meetings, Bible studies, laundry, grocery lists, etc. Recently though, with pendulum-like oscillation, our minds have begun wandering between two worlds. Now, as we run the narrow loop, thoughts of our future in the U.S. compete with the to-do lists of our current reality.

Back and forth. Disconsolate thoughts of leaving Addis Ababa are interrupted by the excitement of a new possibility. Reminders of the mundane, such grading papers somehow spark thoughts of seminary application deadlines or the next car we should buy. Some days our brains hurt.

We know the summer will bring change; we’re just a bit fuzzy on the details. This is what we know today:

I have thrived in the challenge of developing new youth ministry courses, researching adolescence in the developing world, and mentoring young men. I am hungry to learn more, so I have applied to a few seminaries. Simply put, I hope to prepare a new generation of youth ministry leaders by teaching on the college level (both in the U.S. and Ethiopia). We’ll maintain an affiliation with SIM, and ETC has invited me to teach modular courses in the summers. I pray that God will direct my path toward M.Div. and doctoral programs.

Emily is searching for a full-time job as a reading specialist. Leading professional development, coaching teachers, and supporting students have both energized Emily and catalyzed vision for her future. Although teaching positions are a rarity and difficult to secure from thousands of miles away, we are maximizing the resources at hand and trusting God to provide. Emily’s next job will determine our next zip code, so please pray for our discernment.

Cliché as it may sound; the journey is just as significant as the destination, so we will do our best to embrace the mental tug-of-war. Ephesians 2:10 keeps us grounded, “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” God has a good plan, so we need not worry.

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CFC team 2014Thank you CFC team! 

Keith, Jill,  Dan, and Heather were gifts to the young families at our Spiritual Life Conference this past January.  As a children’s ministry team, they wrangled little ones from all over the world.  One parent commented, “I cannot remember the last time I was able to listen to a pastor uninterrupted.” Armed with toys, games, and a ridiculous amount of craft supplies, the team easily won the loyalty of the youngest SIMers. There’s nothing like seeing a grown man dressed as Moses darting from his classroom to chase down a 3-year-old escapee.


Field Day Funny

For the third year in a row, Jason ran the daddy/daughter race with all three girls.  He hoisted Lauren onto his back and Anna and Sarah clung to his sides.  As he lumbered down the straightaway, Lauren’s ever-tightening grip eventually choked him out.  Jason stumbled to the ground just before the finish line.  Giggling, the girls tugged on his hands and pulled him to the end. 

Musings of a Husband and Father

dec 2013 mailchimp headerEmily does not know that I am writing this update. In recent months she has been the lead writer and primary filter for any of my stories. Apparently I am not as funny nor as seemly as I think I am. (She has vetoed some hilarious content- ask me about it later).

Editorial disagreements notwithstanding, I have taken it upon myself to hijack this newsletter for the sole purposes of demonstrating how the ladies in my life are growing and thriving in Ethiopia. Emily would not approve of such attention, but I cannot contain my joy.

What follows are not systematic lists nor are they exclusive traits– merely biased fragments from an thankful insider.

Emily

  • Steam rolling out of the bathroom and the smell of the morning’s brew, she is the first to greet a new day.
  • Gripping the trucker-like wheel of our 27-year-old diesel-clacking van brimming with neighborhood children, she leans into the crazy adventure of another drive to school.
  • Planning the success of others in her Bingham Academy room, she stretches the meaning of the word  “part-time.”
  • Circle after circle on evening walks– the reports of anonymous children, growing as readers leap into our conversations.
  • Rarely finishing a movie because there is always baking, walking, visiting, planning, and of course READING to be done.
  • Responding to stress she reaches for her Bible more often than her Kleenex.
  • Quick claps and a bright bounce at the lighting of a Yankee Candle or the sound of a James Taylor Christmas song.
  • My sole complaint is the pace at which she exercises. I can barely keep up with this high-altitude runner.

“Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all.” Pr 31:29

PRAY FOR EMILY: That she finishes strong at Bingham Academy. Also that she is able to find a Reading Specialist position near Lancaster, PA for next year.

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Lauren

  • an organizational genius, she has everything in it’s proper place–one of the few who can itemize our craft closet.
  • peering at her purple watch, she announces the time– we must not be late.
  • with the confidence of a leader she is the first to go in, out, up, down, and through just about anything (unless that “through” is the shower curtain. Her sisters should have that honor first).
  • an aspiring baker, one of my dress shirts has been cut, sewn, and repurposed into a homemade apron.
  • her “why” questions are not whiny requests but inquiries of a girl hungry to know more.
  • belting out worship songs on Sunday morning with the best of them.
  • quick to pray, eager to obey, and unashamed of her faith.
  • never too cool for a hug and still at home in my lap.

 “Sing to the LORD a new song; sing to the LORD, all the earth.” Ps 96:1

Anna

  • an explosion of creativity- a trail of markers, glue, scrap paper, string, tape, and beads lead us to her current workspace.
  • a blossoming sense of humor and ever quickening wit keep dinner from being boring.
  • the inventor of backyard mint perfume.
  • like her older sister the “why” questions are meaningful and at times heart-wrenching - “Why is that beggar a beggar?”
  • part-time choreographer and impromptu play producer we are frequently treated to her latest creation.
  • a climber of all things tall from trees to daddies.
  • quick to remind us if we have forgotten a bedside prayer or good night kiss.

“Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” Is 46:10

Sarah

  • Morning till night, from pillow to pillow, she explodes through her day in high gear.
  • neither dining room chairs, nor bathtubs, nor the blankets on the bed can contain her.
  • there need not be music for one to dance.
  • contorting her face to elastic shapes of impossibility, her emotions are evident to all.
  • running back to the house for spare change, a bread run is quickly redefined as an opportunity to love others.
  • there need not be a reason for one to skip and hop.
  • liberal with her candy, she is the year round Santa of the neighborhood.
  • “Who will pray for dinner?” I ask. “Ooooh- Me Me Me” she exclaims.

“The LORD your God is with you, He is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing.” Ze. 3:17

Pray for the Girls: That they grow into young women who love God and others with excellence. For their transition back to the States and all it involves this coming summer.

Tackling the Overwhelming Need

By: Jason

imagesEvery day we are presented with opportunities to give. The need is so tremendous, and at times our gifts seem to be one collective drop in a deep, dark well of poverty. Some days our hearts break, but other moments they are hardened toward the poor. Sometimes ignoring is a lame way to cope.

Navigating the tension between gushing generosity and wise stewardship is a regular challenge. We want to “give to everyone who asks” (Matt 5 and Luke 6), but inevitably these questions arise: Are we meeting a need or helping to finance organized begging, a form of human trafficking? Should we give to the same person milling around the same grocery store every time? Is that child being kept out of school so he can beg? Does that infant even belong to woman or is she a prop being passed around to elicit greater donations? Tough stuff.

Slowly realizing that we are not obligated to judge the condition of another, Emily and I move through our days with greater ease. Our only obligation is to train our eyes and ears to God’s prompting. As stewards of His resources, we aim to be generous, wise, and creative. Below are a few ways we have been giving these days. Maybe you will connect with one of these ideas and decide to give in your context.

Gifts of Fun

  • This year we helped to sponsor a local U16 boys soccer club. For a couple of hundred bucks we made graphic tees at a local shop and bought 2 practice balls. It was a fun project that went above and beyond the kids’ expectations.

Gift of Time

  • This past week, Emily stayed an extra afternoon at school to help a home-schooling mom.  She assessed the little girl’s reading skills and comprehension and provided the mother with an action plan to improve her literacy lessons. They had a wonderful time together.
  • Conversations with students, whether they be at my office or the cafe are often the most rewarding parts of my day. The trick for me is to be generous and focused, not be overly concerned with the next thing on my to-do list.

Gift of Education

  • Many of you helped us to help Wakuma to complete his final course for his Master’s Degree. Now he is a high school English teacher.
  • At Bingham Academy, Emily was presented with the opportunity to cover the school expenses of a child of one of the workers at her school.  For less than $150, we covered her school fees and monthly tuition.
  • About 1/3 of the students at Evangelical Theological College receive in-house scholarships. Contributing to this fund became a line item on our October budget.

Gift of Money and Possessions

  • We tithe to our local church. A portion of our giving supports the church’s People In Need ministry, which meets the most basic needs of the surrounding neighborhoods.
  • We provide a generous salary and help with basic medical expenses for our house workers and their immediate families.
  • We keep small bills in the ashtray of our cars and give when we believe it is most appropriate.
  • Books are a hot commodity in Ethiopia. This week one of my ETC Youth Ministry students was forced to withdraw (hopefully temporarily) in order to help provide for his extended family. He is sharp and I hate to see him go. I gave him two of my YM books so he can continue learning on his own.

Giving is changing our children.

  • Emily usually takes one of the girls with her when she walks to the corner grocery.  Recently she encouraged them to take five or ten 1-birr notes from the jar on our bookshelf.  As they walk, they keep an eye out for beggars and leave them a couple of birr.  As they give, she instructs them look into their eyes, smile, and greet them with respect.  A few days ago, after giving to a beggar, Lauren turned to Emily and said, “She (a lady who sits at our gate) was very happy!”  Just today, Sarah announced, “Mommy, we should do this on a Saturday.  We should take some money and give it to people all day!”
  • A couple of weeks ago, Anna decided to put all of her own one-birr notes into a change purse.  Now she wants to carry it everywhere, so she can give if she sees someone in need.
  • Two nights ago, Sarah dressed herself in a pair of ducky pajamas, a gift from her grandparents two years ago, and we noticed that the pant legs and sleeves were very short.  Even though she loves these pjs, she declared, “We should give them to Derebe for her little girl!”  Our friend, Derebe adopted her 5 year-old niece six months ago and Sarah remembered giving some of her clothes away last spring.

We realize that the chance to live in Ethiopia is a gift as well. Many of you have partnered with us and join in our work in Addis Ababa. We think about this nearly every day. We are so thankful for you.

We pray that God will keep our hearts soft and guide our giving this week.

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I Miss Fallgirly pumpkin
By Emily:

I long to hike trails surrounded by golden, crimson, and orange leaves. This time of year I would love to load my girls on a wagon and explore a Lancaster County apple orchard. In the absence of these little luxuries, though, I have created an autumn environment in our home. Our table is decorated with faux leaves from Michaels, one doorway is trimmed with a felt leaf garland, and the scent of Macintosh, Vanilla, or Pumpkin Spice Yankee Candles waft through the air.

Two weeks ago, I spotted my first pumpkin of the season in front of a local grocery store.  “Pull over!  Pull over!  They have a pumpkin!”  I called out.  At first, Jason interpreted my enthusiasm as an attempt at humor.  He tilted his head, glanced at me, and asked, “Oh, are you serious?”  The girls cheered in the back seat, mirroring my excitement.  For weeks, I have researched new recipes– gingerbread pumpkin biscotti, pumpkin syrup for coffee and pancakes, and pumpkin donuts!  Lauren did her own research and found a recipe for pumpkin bars with icing. Now the key ingredient was in our sights.

Finally, we had a pumpkin! Saturday morning, we cooked and mashed and roasted seeds.  Within 48hrs, we had tested four recipes. Our friends and neighbors benefited from our baking extravaganza.  Pumpkin bars made their way home with fellow teachers and donuts went to Lauren and Anna’s breakfast Bible study group.

This weekend, we took a break from pumpkin and collected another key October ingredient–apples!  The apple cider donuts with maple frosting disappeared in minutes. The rains continue; there is a chill in the air. We’ll keep pretending it is autumn in Ethiopia.

Ten Beds in Ten Weeks

Top 10 Things
We Love About America
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10. Driving on roads with rules and linesDSC_0395
9. Tostitos and cheddar cheese
8. Consistent power, water, and blazing-fast internet
7. Duck Dynasty and Downton Abbey
6. Familiar places like the library, Stauffers Grocery, and Catoctin Park
5. Ice Cream and story-time with Nana and Pop-Pop
4. Swimming and art projects with Grandma and Granddad
3. Hearing updates and sharing stories with CFC small groups and friends
2. Community Fellowship Church
1. Loving on our family

Top 10 Reasons
We Look Forward to Ethiopia
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10. Return to routine.
9. Sleeping in one location for more than a week at a time.
8. Reading in the hammock in our backyard.
7. I love the smell of diesel in the morning (Jason)
6. Injera! Awe Yeah.
5. Sending the girls back to school
4. Working with Bingham teachers and kids from all over the world (Em)
3. Jumping back into the classroom and meeting new students (Jason)
2. Preparing for our December visitors from CFC.
1. Enjoying the rest of rainy season with our neighbors.

A Hug, A Handshake, A Tip of the Hat

Please Choose One of the Above–

Cognizant that we all have different comfort levels when it comes to physical expressions of gratitude, we invite you to receive our love. Thank you for your hospitality and for making us feel like we never left. And thanks to our team of new donors and to those who are continuing to partner with us in our third year. We feel honored to have your support! You make it possible for us to be here, and we are proud to an extension of your ministry.

Consider Joining Us!

Our budget has increased this year due to an increase in our housing costs and in country taxes. Additionally we are planning to help several students with school fees. If you are not already on our team, please consider joining us!

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A 20hr Plane Ride Never Sounded So Fun…

It has been about two years since we have seen the good ole’ USA. During these many months we were thrilled to keep-up over Skype, FB and emails. Delectable treats tucked inside care packages were like gifts from heaven. But nothing can quite duplicate a warm embrace from a family member, laughter with friends over a meal, or a crabcake from Phillips- haha. We leave June 1st and will set up camp with our family in Maryland. During our 10-week stay we will make frequent trips to PA. We even have people offering to host us. They have no idea what they are in for…

We have 4 significant goals during our time in the States:

1. Rest and refill. This has been an action-packed two years of ministry. None of us have been bored. Our jobs are awesome but exhausting. It will be wonderful to get away and “refill” the tanks.

2. Reunite ourselves with family and friends. As you may have heard– a recent study noted that 100% of overseas missionaries are crazy weirdos. We are so excited to get away and spend time with normal weirdos like you.

3. Relay our best stories. Whenever you do something awesome or receive a great gift your natural inclination is to tell someone else. We cannot wait (including our girls) to share the best of what we have learned.

4. Reaffirm our partnerships.  For the past two years Emily and I have been honored to serve as an extension of your ministry in Ethiopia. We thank God for the way he has provided for our family through many of you. As we prepare for continued success in our third and final year we hope you will continue to support us both financially and through prayer. Joining you all for meals, small group meetings, and other gatherings we are look forward to sharing our vision for this amazing nation. 

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Second Easter
ethiopian-largeBecause Ethiopia follows the ancient Gregorian calendar we have the privilege to celebrate Easter twice. Although devoid of Easter egg rolls and marshmallow peeps, the holiday is a treasured time for numerous Ethiopians. In preparation, some fast for 40 days, others attend special prayer meetings, and every Christian readies their home for the Easter Sunday feast.

Celebrating the resurrection, so many homes in Addis were packed with smiling guests and amazing food last Sunday. We were honored to share a meal with our houseworker, Emawash. From her home, smaller than most kitchens, she served us the BEST– spicy doro wot, beg tibs, gomen, shiro, aeyb, and freshly roasted coffee.  It was easily worth more than a week’s salary and one of the best meals I have had in Ethiopia.

As we enjoyed the evening, huddled together and eating from a common plate, we were reminded of the love that the Lord lavishes on us.

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yaneta academy training
This week Jason and his friend Tillahun co-taught a seminar for 50 high school students at Yeneta Academy. The topics were peer-pressure, dating and sex. Although our cultures are quite distinct their honest questions mirrored those American kids.

Epic Water Battle

One of the best things about living in Ethiopia is the weather.  It never gets too cold or too hot.  Even during rainy season, the sun comes out every day and I am comfortable in a sweatshirt and jeans. The month of February is in the middle of dry season.  Every day begins with cool air that gradually warms up during the day, perfect weather for a water fight.

One hot, Saturday afternoon, Lauren, Anna and Sarah asked to use their new water guns, Christmas presents from their father.  I had put off allowing them get out these new toys, because I had a feeling I would end up getting wet, too.watergun

Jason, supplied the girls with buckets, which they filled to the brim with cold spigot water from the backyard.  Letting him take over, I continued cutting up vegetables and shredding cheese for our dinner.

Jason appeared in the kitchen and whispered, “Come on.  Let’s get ‘em.” Hearing happy screams from the yard, I told him, “They’re fine.  They’re having a blast.  I’m going to finish making dinner.”

Unsatisfied with my answer, Jason insisted, “Come on.  We need to get in on this!  I’m going to fill a bucket with water and I’ll meet you in the front of the house.”

I finished shredding the cheese, popped the pizza dough in the oven, and hurried to my room to change into shorts.  Jason and I made a pact that we would not spray each other.  This agreement benefited me the most, because my husband is extremely competitive.

In silence, we filled our sprayers.  I turned left and tiptoed around the house.  Jason sprinted to the right and we surprised the girls, spraying each of them, catching them off guard.

After the initial shock of being sprayed by her parents, Anna announced, “That’s warm water.  Hey, where did you get warm water!”

Jason and I met back at our water supply.

“I accidently filled it with warm water,” he told me. We refilled and launched another attack, spraying Lauren and Anna, while Sarah kept her distance.

“Hey!  Where did you get water!”  Lauren demanded, following us back to the front yard.  Jason held her off and I refilled once again.  Sarah, not wanting to be left out, pushed her way past her sisters.  While I sprayed Sarah, Anna ducked behind me and filled her water sprayer with warm water.  I turned around and she hosed me down, completely soaking me.  I let out an involuntary scream, which drew some children from our neighborhood.

I dipped my water sprayer back in the bucket, filling it again.  I retaliated, spraying Anna. “I don’t mind!” she giggled, making her way back to the bucket.

Lauren and Sarah engaged in another battle with their father, chasing him to the backyard, where he was searching for more water, cold this time.  He too was drenched and laughing.

“I’ve never seen someone spray their mom before!” a neighbor girl chuckled.

“Me neither,” exclaimed her brother.

“Where’s Daddy?”  Anna asked.

“I think he went to the backyard,” I told her.

She ran around the back of the house in search of water and her father.  That gave me the perfect chance to escape back into the house.  I changed into dry clothes and finished up dinner, smiling at the sounds of a happy family.

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I love my job! 

DSCN2497This school year I had the opportunity to teach the Ethiopian assistant teachers how to lead guided reading small groups.  Each elementary classroom has an assistant teacher who helps to keep things organized.  For ten weeks, I joined them for their weekly staff meetings, covering topics such as how to prompt children when they make errors, decoding strategies, how to ask good questions, and comprehension strategies.  At the beginning, the assistant teachers were rather shy and did not want to share their ideas.  However, after a couple of sessions they felt more comfortable and everyone shared their thoughts.

I also learned that it was helpful to give them a chance to work in small groups or with a partner before reporting back to the large group.  Near the end of our sessions, I went into classrooms and observed each assistant teacher lead a reading group.  I was ecstatic to see them using the techniques we had covered in our sessions and they had wonderful rapport with students.  I enjoyed meeting with them later in the day to share the great things I observed and offer a few bits of constructive feedback.

The benefits of this training are two fold:  the assistant teachers are equipped to teach children at a higher level and classroom teachers have even more help available to them.  The turnover rate of our classroom teachers varies from year to year, but our Ethiopian staff tends to stay much longer.  I am confident that our assistant teachers are experienced and a great asset to Bingham Academy.  I feel privileged to have had the time to get to know them better and to lead them in professional development.

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Me Too!!! 
By: Jason
This semester I am teaching Intro. to Preaching and Intro. to Youth Ministry. (I bet you can guess which one I like better). My students are a lively bunch; our classroom discussions typically spill over into conversations over tea. Since my courses are in the evenings I have been able to continue my studies at Amharic language school. I have this amazing teacher, who is part drill sergeant and part grandmother. She’s likely 137 years old but has more energy than anyone else at that school, including me. I am thankful that she is teaching me how to read, write, speak and dream in this crazy language.

Crazy, Big News

DSC_0533So Here It Is…

After months of prayer and seeking the counsel of wise people on both sides of the ocean, we have decided to extend our stay in Addis Ababa for one more year. Although it is difficult to be away from friends, family and the familiar elements of our home, we still have work to complete. Our three girls are thriving, we are better acquainted with the rhythm of Ethiopian culture and our teaching jobs are in full-stride. We believe by extending for an additional 12 months, Emily and I will be able to increase our reach. Here’s what we mean–

For Jason: Evangelical Theological College (ETC) just launched a Youth Ministry major, making it one of two schools in Africa with this offering. I am involved in a 4-fold project: teachingyouth ministry courses, creating program awareness among churches, recruiting new teachers and providing grassroots youth ministry training in local congregations. The study of and professionalization of youth ministry is a growing concept in Ethiopia. I have several students right now with fire in their eyes, but please pray for more. I am honored to play a role in this development.

For Emily: This job consistently puts a smile on her face. From the outset Emily envisioned that her work would be primarily with small groups of elementary children. Her reading specialist position, however, has exploded into something even greater. In addition to working with young people, Emily is leading professional development seminars (how to teach effective reading and writing strategies) for the classroom teachers as well as the Ethiopian assistant teachers.  In this next year Emily plans to invest even more in the assistant teachers. International schools like Bingham Academy tend to have a transient staff, but the Ethiopian teachers maintain a steadfast presence.

We return to the States on June 2 for the summer. Speaking for our family- we cannot wait to get a decent plate of nachos— but more than that— we cannot wait to be reunited with the warm faces of our friends and family. I just purchased our plane tickets today. The implications of round-trip airfares are both thrilling and overwhelming. This is a big day in the Craig house. Please pray for us.