Category: Preparation

Preparing to Leave

I apologize ahead of time to anyone reading this blog post, as it’s more of a brain dump than anything else. But if you are curious to know what’s up in our corner of the world, read on!

The Phoenix Alliance. We’ve found that starting a foundation from the ground up is such a learning experience. We work late into the night after tucking the kids into bed, then upon falling asleep dream about things like ethical storytelling and beneficiaries needing a home and graphic design and everything else. When we wake up there always seems to be more work than the day before. Thankfully we have had several awesome people join our volunteer team lately and that has already helped significantly!

Homeschooling. We’re in the final stretch of our school year, and about to promote a ninth-grader, seventh-grader, fifth-grader, and second-grader. The last few weeks are always challenging, but through God’s grace we were able to get ahead in our studies this year and will not have to carry into the summer! The kids have all become passionate about languages thanks to living overseas, and between the three girls they are all working on improving their Thai and learning Lahu, Norwegian, Japanese, and Latin.

Packing. Oh the packing! It’s interesting what you find inside suitcases that have been sitting in the corner for a couple of years. Every single one had to be thoroughly cleaned from dust, spiderwebs, and gecko poop. We found THE most fantastic way to pack and move stuff overseas three years ago, with Walmart rolling storage crates. They are $20 each, and pretty much the maximum size “suitcase” that the airlines will allow. Some of them have been back and forth to the States a couple times and are still in pretty great condition. I can’t recommend them enough for travel.

Selling. If it’s too big to pack or not extremely necessary, it’s getting sold. There are days when I’d just like to put everything by the side of the road and let people help themselves! Not even kidding, in the last couple of weeks I’ve had people ask if I would deliver a 20 baht item to the other side of town, sell things for less than half of what we’re asking, mail 50 baht items to them, and more. We’re so thankful for the wonderful people who understand how busy you are when you are moving and come to us!

Our foster son. While I’ve wanted to give updates on our pursuit of bringing him home, it has been a long journey filled with discouragement. We are being helped by a local ministry that works with the Lahu tribe as we navigate the many requirements. He has a wonderful family to stay with while we continue to pursue every last option from the States. Please continue to pray for God to work in this situation.

Visa requirements. Our last visa was an education visa, and required me to take language classes several times a week. After our first year abroad several well-meaning friends asked, “So, you’re probably fluent now, right?” My only response to that was to laugh, probably  a bit hysterically. We’ve met plenty of people who have lived here for over ten years and still don’t speak the language. The Thai language is hard, people!

 

All the goodbyes. Ugh, goodbyes are the worst. And Thai people are so wonderful. It has been hard saying goodbye to so many who have touched our lives so much in the past three years. The picture below is with our mechanic. (It says a lot about the state of your car when you’re that close to your mechanic, am I right?) But it has seriously been like this with all of our Thai acquaintances and friends. Even the friend chicken ladies down the street cried. (Possibly because they’re losing a big portion of their income now that our gargantuan family is moving away, but we’ll pretend it’s for other reasons.) 😉

 

Tomorrow we will be down to two weeks left in our adopted country. We will try to do another update soon!

 

The Importance of Discipleship

Over the past two years we’ve learned a lot about what it means to be “missionaries”. Missionaries are ultimately charged with spreading the Gospel to a world in need of a savior. But rarely does a missionary meet spiritual needs without first meeting some immediate and desperate physical needs. Thus, missions are often a combination of humanitarian and spiritual intentions. Certainly, the cause of ending the sexual exploitation of children was, and remains, the primary humanitarian calling on our family. It’s the reason we were motivated to travel across the world to a place we had never seen before. It’s the emotional drive that lit the fire of change in our lives. Without that cause, I’m ashamed to say that we likely never would have ventured away from our comfortable existence. And that’s unfortunate, because we’ve discovered so much more than a place and a job. We’ve discovered the transformative power of Christ in a very real and tangible way. We’ve seen this power in the lives of the girls we went to serve, and in the process we’ve also seen it in ourselves and in those we’ve served alongside.

My heart continues to break for children who are exploited for what sinful men desire. I’m thankful for that burden. It reminds me of the urgency of our mission. It wakes me up at night and fuels a righteous anger over the injustice of the theft of innocence that drives this evil economy.

Yet, as strange as it may sound, it is possible to become blinded by the humanitarian cause and discount the greatest gift we have to offer. We come with the message of hope, forgiveness and healing through the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus. For children who have been told they are worthless, unlovable and unwanted, what could possibly be better than the knowledge that God willingly gave everything He had just for a chance to have a relationship with them?

These girls are not worthless. They are more valuable than any material possession in all of creation. They are not unloved. The Creator of the universe made His greatest sacrifice to prove His love for them. They are not unwanted. Our Father is desperate to know them and to spend an eternity in their company.

As important as our humanitarian cause is, the above message should not be a footnote. It should not be something we check off a list of things to tell the girls. There should be no expiration date imposed by us on the acceptance and understanding of the truth of God’s love.

In short, we must continually refocus our mission on the directive given by Jesus in his Great Commission:  To “go”. To “make disciples”. To “baptize in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit”. If we lose focus on this core directive, we lose everything. As someone recently quipped: “We are not doing all of this to make their trip to hell more comfortable.”

That might sound harsh. It’s certainly not the easy path. But through many months of prayer and seeking, we firmly believe that discipleship is the real mission to which God has called our family. The vehicle we use to reach the lost is rescue from sexual exploitation. But physical rescue is only the first step. That step does indeed make their path more comfortable. It removes what would otherwise be an overpowering reality that makes it extremely difficult to take the time necessary to grow a relationship with the Father.

It is this point that has caused us to reconsider the direction of our mission. We have been blessed to know many incredible brothers and sisters within the organization that we served who believe exactly as we do – that Jesus is the only source for true healing. But as an organization, the focus has begun to emphasize the humanitarian cause over the eternal cause.

We understand why. There is an excellent argument to be made for rescuing as many children as possible in order to provide a fighting chance at a real future. In the old starfish thrower example, this would be represented by the boy throwing large handfuls of starfish toward the shoreline. Some starfish would be swept out to sea and survive, while others might remain stuck in the sand and perish. But at the end of the day, the boy would have succeeded in saving a large number of starfish. More, probably, than if he had taken the time to careful throw one starfish at a time into deep water.

This is an excruciatingly difficult reality. We are forced to make a choice. Do we throw handfuls of starfish at once, or do we invest in one starfish at a time to ensure their long-term survival. The former guarantees that some will perish, while the latter guarantees that some will never be reached at all. If it were simply a numbers game, the answer would be clear and our family would be on the wrong side of the answer.

This is not a decision that someone else can make for you. Each of us must examine our hearts and the calling that God has placed on our lives. There may be no universal “right” answer. But we believe that God has given us the answer for our family. For us, the answer is to emphasize depth over breadth.

Just over a year ago, we were blessed with a new child in the family. Our sweet Gunya. Even before she came to live with us we knew she was special. She has a love for Jesus that permeates everything around her. It’s impossible to spend any amount of time with her and not be reminded of the incredible goodness and power of our great God. Gunya represents what we’ve come to call “God’s economy”. She is just one girl. Could she really be worth such an investment in time, love and resources? What about all the other girls like her who have similar stories? Those who are not able to come into our home?

You can probably guess the answer to this one. We did not simply invest in Gunya. She has invested in us. Her diligent study of the Word has convicted us and encouraged us to spend more time with the Lord than ever before. Her incredible work ethic has motivated us to push harder. She even makes me eat healthier. Or at least she tries. Bringing Gunya into our family is one of the best things we’ve ever done. And maybe it’s been good for her too, but it’s been an immeasurable blessing to us.

We can’t bring every child into our home the way we did with Gunya and her younger siblings. We get that. But she has become an anchor for us as we move forward with our family’s ministry. She is a living reminder of what is possible when we as a church body invest in others. We are not the first to love Gunya, and we won’t be the last. Everyone who shares in her story should be encouraged by the fruit her life is bearing, and we should all be very excited for the road that lies ahead of this amazing young woman.

The truth is that we have no way to know what impact Gunya, or Gohm, or any of the other amazing kids we meet might make on this world. We don’t know if Gunya’s ministry in India or Thailand or America will result in bringing the lost to Christ. We don’t know if Gohm will end up devoting his life to ministry. We don’t get to know any of those things. God simply asks us to do the next right thing, and the next and the next. He alone has a plan in place, and we are mere partners in that plan. We humans struggle to see value in anything we can’t measure. Yet we have an entire Bible filled with stories of inexplicable things that were part of God’s greater plan. Things that those involved would have had no way to measure at the time. Why did Moses suffer? Why did David? Or Joshua? Why did Abraham have to wait so long for God to fulfill His promise?

Herein lies the danger of taking things into our own hands. What if Moses had fought Pharaoh directly for the release of his people while he was still in Egypt? What if David had stood his ground against Saul instead of hiding away in caves? What if Abraham had disobeyed God when he was asked to sacrifice Isaac? If we believe that we know better than God, we are fools. We act as partners in God’s plans because that’s how He wants things to work. God doesn’t need us, he wants us. So if our role is to take action when and where God leads us, why would we feel responsible for anything more than that?

By investing in the opportunities God lays before us, we can be assured that we are contributing to God’s perfect purposes. Whether we are the harvesters who reap greatly as a direct result of our efforts, or if we are simply part of the process.

People often ask us what’s next for our family. Will we stay in Thailand? Move back to the States? Serve in a new country somewhere? Will we return to our old way of life and rebuild the life we once had? Many of you have probably been frustrated by our noncommittal answers to these questions. But those answers are intentional. We do not presume to know the long-term will of God for our family. We don’t have all the answers. But we do know a few things:

  1. If God allows, we desire continue to minister to children who have been hurt, abandoned and abused. We want this to be our life’s work, if only God chooses to use us in this way.
  2. We have more to do in Thailand. Over the next six months we plan to work with a new aftercare project that aligns with the vision God has given our family for ministry. This project, called Alpha Renew, will be the first of what we hope will be many ministry partnerships which will form the foundation of our long-term ministry based in the States.
  3. Our current season in Thailand is coming to an end. We believe we can accomplish the tasks God has laid before us in roughly six months. After that time we intend to return to the States, where we will begin working to provide support for Alpha Renew and other projects.
  4. One of our “other projects” is the creation of a trafficking aftercare project in the States. God has given us an intense passion for this project. We will open a transitional home for child sex trafficking victims and provide placement assistance in foster homes. We will be recruiting Christian parents who will be thoroughly trained, strongly supported and intensely focused on the challenge of loving children who have survived sexual abuse.
  5. We are saying goodbye (for now) to Boise. Boise has been our home for nealy our entire lives. It’s where we met, married, had our kids and built our career. Boise is where our family and friends are. So it hasn’t been an easy decision to leave, but we want to go where God leads us and for now that will be elsewhere. We’ll talk more about the details soon, but for now I’ll just say that when you want to fight trafficking, it’s good to go where the need is greatest. Boise enjoys one of the lowest crime rates in the country. And while that’s amazing for raising a family, it does complicate things a bit when you are wanted to help victims of crime. It has taken the better part of a year for us to pray and seek God’s leading in this area, and we are relieved to finally have an answer even if it’s not the answer we might have chosen. It will be the best because following the Lord is always the best. Not the easiest, but certainly the best.
  6. We are in the process of registering a USA nonprofit. This is necessary for us to have a legal conduit for financially supporting our overseas partners. We will also use this organization to open our aftercare project in the States.
  7. We want to increase our capacity for ministry. If we are to spend the rest of our lives in ministry, I believe it would be very beneficial to pursue a deeper theological foundation through seminary training.
  8. We refuse to be God’s limiting factor. If all of this sounds ambitious and a little crazy, consider this: If you define your own vision for success, it can cloud whatever purposes God might have in mind for you. We want to be partners with God is His awesome plans. But they are HIS plans. For now we know that this involves a few specific things, like Alpha Renew and our USA project. And if that’s all, that’s great! But we will work diligently to structure things in a way that will allow God to open doors as He sees fit. Success in the kingdom of God is defined by how well you are able to respond to His leading. So more than buildings and fundraising targets and numbers of kids in our programs, it will be God’s measuring stick that we use to know how we’ll we’re doing.

The future is very exciting! We know that it won’t be easy, and that’s ok. I’m sure there will be times when we wonder why in the world we chose this life. But we will always have the past to look back on. Times when we’ve gone through difficult situations only to become stronger and closer to our Lord. I still have a lot of growing to do, and I’m excited (if a little nervous) to see what trials God will allow before us as he lovingly pursues a deeper relationship with us. What a blessed life this is. I am deeply moved every time I think about the lives God will change through the work he has blessed us with. I am not worthy of the honor, not by a long shot. But I am so very thankful that He has chosen my family.

 

Filtering the Noise

How is it that God is able to speak so directly to us through things that aren’t intended to be exclusive to us?  Kimberly and I have been reading daily from Oswald Chambers’ My Utmost for His Highest for a while now, and it seems like lately more often than not we are seeing answers to very specific things we are dealing with.  Seriously…very specific.

Yesterday I was so busy preparing for our fundraiser this coming Saturday that I didn’t take time to stop and read this daily devotional.  I did, however, take time to have a micro-breakdown in the middle of the day.  For the most part, I am rock-solid when it comes to this leading God had given to us.  I feel unshakable.  Confident.  Certain.  But occasionally, like yesterday, my will fades and I start to question everything we’re doing.  A few times now, this has been brought on by conversations with other Believers.  Individuals I respect greatly.  Those to whom I turn for advice, prayer, counsel and moral support.  These friends always have the best of intentions and truly care for us.  Without them, we would be a mess right now.  So how could their words ever discourage?  Here are a few examples of what I’m hearing:

“It’s very unusual for someone to move from the corporate world to full-time missions without first dipping their feet into the ministry.”

 “I don’t think you realize how hard it will be to take four children over there.”

 “You’ve NEVER even been on a short-term mission trip?  You are in for a rude awakening.”

 “You know, a large percentage of new missionaries fail.”

 “You don’t understand the culture there.  You can’t just go in and act like an American and expect results.”

 “Shouldn’t you learn the language before you go?”

You get the idea.  All of these statements are really meant to help us.  To open our eyes to things we don’t know.  To prepare us for things to come.  But they can also create doubt in moments of weakness.

And some days, like yesterday, the buildup of all these challenges and questions and life changes catches up with me and I have to stop what I’m doing and reboot my faith.  But I didn’t read Oswald.  And I should have, because God had already prepared exactly what I needed.

 

Excerpts from My Utmost for His Highest, June 8:

When God gives me a vision of truth, there is never a question of what He will do, but only of what I will do. The Lord has been placing in front of each of us some big proposals and plans.

The proposal is between you and God— do not “confer with flesh and blood” about it (Galatians 1:16). With every new proposal, the people around us seem to become more and more isolated, and that is where the tension develops.

Don’t consult with other Christians, but simply and freely declare before Him, “I will serve You.”  Will to be faithful— and give other people credit for being faithful too.

(Read the full devotional for June 8th here:  http://utmost.org/will-to-be-faithful/)

 

Wow.  Right between the eyes.  I’m reminded that there’s a difference between seeking the wise counsel of other Believers, and seeking their approval for things God has called me to do.  And I wonder, how many times in the past have I been this voice of doubt to others?

In this, as in every situation, God is working all things together for our good.  Going through yesterday’s mini-crisis was a catalyst to understanding and appreciating the words of my brothers, while keeping them in the proper perspective.  God gave us this vision, not them.  They have a different vision.  We can no more fully understand what God has called them to do than they can understand what God has called us to do.

So if you’re reading this and thinking…oh great, I think I said some of those things…worry not, my friends.  You did exactly what you were supposed to do.  God used your words to grow my faith in an incredible way.  God must prepare us for what lies ahead, and this is how He does it.  He works all things together for good, to those who love Him and are called according to His purposes.

Now, has anyone seen today’s Utmost post?

Even In the Little Things

Shortly after committing to move to Thailand, we were surprised and thrilled to hear about a local event called “The Sky’s the Limit”.  From what we heard, it would be a chance for kids with disabilities to experience an airport and airplane in a low-stress environment.  We had to apply to be chosen for the program, and I waited anxiously from the time I mailed the application in mid-May to June 5th, when we would find out.  Bubba got accepted, so we set aside any plans for the afternoon of June 20th and started getting ready.

One of the organizations who sponsored the event was kind enough to write a social story about it, which is kind of like a kids book that describes what will happen and how a child should respond appropriately.  For example, “I may have to wait in line to go through security, and I will need to stay calm.”  (I was really tempted to add a page about not sniffing people in line, but we probably need an entire social story just for that.) I sat with Bubba and read the story to him on Saturday morning.  He liked it enough to read twice, and then wanted to look at pictures of the Pacific Ocean.  We let him pack his backpack and a suitcase, because this was the real deal!  He shoved his favorite blanket and the wooden boat Daddy made for him in the backpack, threw a Nerf ball into the suitcase, and called it good.

At the airport, we were greeted by a host of super friendly volunteers who checked everyone in.  We all got matching t-shirts and promptly put them on, then went to the Alaska airlines counter to check in.  They printed out real tickets and Bubba got to watch his suitcase disappear down the ramp.  We then proceeded to security.

The boy did great in security, although I didn’t feel like it was a true experience since they let us go through the employee line.  (Though I’m not complaining!)  Ethan did get chosen for the random security pat-down, so that was fun.  It gave me a taste of how tricky it could be in the future, when trying to collect my carry-on, Bub’s carry-on, Ethans’ carry-on, and shoes while getting out of the way and holding Bubba’s hand.

The Boise airport is such a breeze that from that point on it was pretty relaxing.  Well, I should say it was relaxing for me, because I wasn’t the one chosen by Bubba to go for a walking tour nor did I have to take him to the bathroom.  But I think (hope) Ethan got some relaxing in as well.

Waiting patiently.
Waiting patiently.

It was sweet watching all the kids running to the windows every time a plane took off, especially since their reactions were not the same as nuero-typical kids.  Lots of spinning, flapping hands and fun noises.  Seeing their joy expressed with no disapproving glances was beautiful.

I really should have gotten a picture of what came next, but there was a guy with a camera interviewing people so I volunteered Ethan to talk about the experience.  It was for the airline to show to their employees, so he told them what a great thing it was that they were doing.

They finally called our flight and we got in line.  One of the volunteers for the event was walking around with headphones for any kid who wanted them, and Bubba didn’t hesitate.  He put those bad boys on and proceeded to loudly announce that “NOW NO ONE CAN HEAR ME!”  (I hated to break it to the poor kid that we actually could hear him just fine, but figured for the sake of fellow passengers it had to be done.)

Excuse the poor photography.
Excuse the poor lighting.

Bubs got a photo with the pilot, then it was off to board the plane. He did great waiting until we got to our seats and buckled up right away.  At this point he just kind of took it all in and cuddled up with his blanket.

The I'm-feeling-silly face.
The “I’m-feeling-silly” face.

They did all the regular announcements and then we started taxiing.  My absolute favorite comment came from a little cutie sitting up ahead of us, who squealed, “It’s working!”  We just rolled around outside the airport for a while and I figured that would be that, but then . . . my favorite part of flying: take-off!  We didn’t actually take off but we did get up to speed.  It was fantastic.  Oh, and I think Bubs enjoyed it too.  😉

Planes are awesome!
Planes are awesome!

After that, it was a quick photo in front of the plane and then back through to get his checked luggage at the carousal.  Then our lucky boy was given a gift bag, which had a coloring book, cardboard airplane, little passport book, and more.  He had a smile on his face when we left the airport and seemed to think it was as great as a trip to the park!

When Ethan and I were talking and praying about surrendering to full-time ministry, we knew it wouldn’t be easy with a child with a disability.  We knew it was likely we would have a long flight to whatever country we ended up in, but prayed that God would show us his mercy.  When someone told us about this event I just felt God reassuring me, reminding me that He is there in the little things as well as the big ones.  We’ve spoken with Bubba’s doctors to have a game plan for the actual flight, but it was such a blessing to be able to do this practice one; to let him know what an airplane sounds like and looks like and feels like.  He did so far above and beyond what we expected.  We will still have our bag of tricks for the real flight, but we’ll be boarding the next plane with an added measure of peace.

 

Last day of Work…

Wow.  Since the age of 16, I’ve been working with pro audio.  I added video, lighting, etc. later, and I’ve moved from retail sales to integrated design and contracted installations.  But I’ve essentially been in the same line of work for over 20 years.  Below is a copy of my Facebook post from today, officially announcing to the world that we’re joining Destiny Rescue in Thailand.

 

(From Facebook)

Well friends, today is a momentous day for me.  I’m sitting here at my desk at work, watching the last hour of a 20-year career tick away.  The AV business has been very good to me, and I’ve been blessed to have the opportunity to support my family doing something I love so much.  But now I have been given an opportunity to do something that has been on my heart for many years.  So I can handle leaving this business, knowing that God has a new challenge ahead for me.

As some of you may have heard already, we are joining the fight against the sexual exploitation of children with a great organization called Destiny Rescue.  Our hearts have been broken over this issue for a long time, and yet we had no idea how we could possibly make a difference.  But a while back we got to know some of the folks with Destiny Rescue and found that there were real, tangible ways to take up the fight.  After many hours of prayer and countless discussions with each other and D.R. people, we let them know that we were available to fill their “area of biggest need”.

As it turns out, the biggest need we could fill is a full time position in an administrative role at their headquarters in Chiang Rai, Thailand.  Those of you who know me best are no doubt thinking “Not Ethan.  He hates travel and he’s the pickiest eater on the planet.”  Yep, that about sums it up.  I like being comfortable.  But I like following God’s perfect plan for my life even more.  So we’re stepping way out of our comfort zone and moving our whole family to the other side of the world.  In the heat and humidity of southeast Asia.  And it’s good.  Not easy, but good.

Our commitment is for two years.  After that, we honestly have no idea where we’ll be, except that I hope we’ll be wherever God calls us next.  We’ll be doing our best to stay connected to our friends and family back home, so this Facebook account of mine may see more activity than it has in years.  We are also starting a blog at www.wheelsoverasia.com.  We would love for you to follow us, and maybe even post the occasional comment so we know you’re out there thinking about us and praying for us.

Also, for the record, my amazing, beautiful, inspiring wife Kimberly has not only supported this adventure, but she has actually driven the bus for a lot of it.  We’ve never been more united in our almost 15-years together.  Without her beside me, I could never be the man God wants me to be.

In the next several weeks we may be posting some info on yard sales, pancake feeds, stuff-moving days, etc., in case anyone would like to be a part of this mission we’ve been given.  Please don’t hesitate to message us with questions or encouragement.  People have already told us we’re nuts, so that won’t be new information.  =D

Thanks for taking time to read this.  We love you all, our precious friends and family.  Thanks for always being there for us, and thanks in advance for supporting us in our next big adventure.