Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Never Walk Alone

Blog post written over the course of the past few weeks...

When families adopt, there is great anticipation for the "homecoming."  No one forgets greeting a family returning home with their adopted child.  The child walks through the gate in the arms of or holding the hands of his/her parents.  

I'll never forget the day we came home with Godwin!  As I typed this blog post, I watched our Homecoming video amazed by all of the friends and family who greeted us at the airport.  Of course I shed a few tears remembering this amazing day and seeing faces from home - family, friends from church, friends from downtown, students from my classes, etc...  I was also amazed to see all of the families in this video who have since adopted children of their own.  Since this day at the Knoxville airport, seven families have adopted children and three more are in the process!  Wow!  
Our God is able!

(To watch the video, click the "Watch on You Tube" link.)

I've always wondered what a Homecoming would look like in Ghana.  

Recently, I had another unforgettable experience.  God allowed me to see the anticipation through the eyes of a child who is being adopted.   Our family had the privilege of taking Richard "Chris" Browning to the airport to greet his Daddy.  Their family has their visa appointment interview this week, and, our close friend, Mark flew into Ghana for the appointment.

Because of the internet access on my phone, I was able to give play-by-play as events unfolded last night here in Ghana through Facebook.  However, below I've included pictures of the long awaited reunion.  (Some of the pictures are not great, but with only the phone it was the best we could do.)

6:00 pm
At this moment in Ghana we are with Richard Browning who is excitedly waiting for his Daddy to arrive. Richard just finished talking his mama who is waiting in Tennessee. (She shed tears that she isn't here at this moment, but she is where she is supposed to be.) Every minute or so Richard asks us, "When will my Dad be here?" And we smile, knowing it will be soon...very soon. The anticipation is beautiful! Adoption is the heart of Christ! Now, one more time I hear, "When will my Daddy be here? Is it time? Is it soon?" Yes, Richard, very, very soon.

7:30 pm

At this very moment in Ghana Richard has just watched his Daddy's plane land. He is jumping around the lookout place where we are singing, "I am so happy. I am so happy! We must go!! We must go!!" (Oh, I hope Mark makes it through Customs quickly!)

7:45 pm

At this very moment in Ghana we are in the arrival waiting area. Richard has his hands in his pockets and both eyes glued to the tiny opening where he will see his Daddy coming! He keeps asking, "Where is he? Where is he?" Soon Richard. Very, very soon.

(This next part was not on Facebook!)
Then it happened!  Richard saw his Daddy!  He viewed him through the tiny opening he was peering through, and then he took off!  Richard broke into a flat-out RUN!  I'd told him the path his Dad would be taking, but Richard did not wait for me to lead him.  Before I knew it, Richard had crawled under the barrier and nearly tackled his Dad with a huge hug!  Who cares if no one is supposed to enter this area?  Richard did not care...He wanted his Daddy and that was it!

(Back to Facebook posts...)

9:00 pm

Drum roll please... After Richard crawled under the barricade and entered the "arriving passengers only" area, Richard hugged his Daddy with all his might. And his Daddy hugged him just as tight!! Father and son walked out of the airport holding hands and talking all the way to the car... with Richard looking up at his Dad the entire time!! Excitement abounds! And at this very moment in Ghana, Daddy and son are scrunched close together in our 
backseat with Mark giving directions to the hotel. Together at last!

Over the next week, Mark and Richard spent time with our family.  We ministered together in the Ashanti Region of Ghana.  Mark seized this opportunity to begin "bonding" with his son.  Witnessing God's hand throughout the week between a Father and his son beautifully reflected God's redemptive plan.  Richard "Chris" was so incredibly happy, he looked like he would burst!

 Both Brownings LOVE fresh mango!

And, both Brownings LOVE bush-meat...
And stew complete with chicken feet.  YUM!

 Daddy and son, on the bench under the tree.

Richard "Chris" plays the drums one more time at GMI for his Farewell Party.
Everyone danced and sang while he beat out the rhythm.

 Richard posed for a few pictures with his precious friends.
No one will ever be forgotten!

Some goodbyes were hard.  This hug with Peter still brings tears to my eyes.  
Neither one wanted to let go.
They are friends for life.
We are prayerful that Peter will join his family soon.  Once that happens, Richard and Peter will be together again because they will be living in the same town!  God is good!

Father and son rejoice during the "Farewell Party" because Richard "Chris" Browning is finally, after a long adoption process, going home!

 Goodbyes are hard for our family here.  Close friends come for a short while, and then depart to return to the life we left behind.  We connect and release again on a regular basis.  Children that we have grown to love are finally able to join their family on the other side of the world.  We grieve, yet we rejoice at the same time!  We witness the answer to many prayers in sending Richard "Chris" HOME to his family!  We praise God for the work that HE has done.  The long awaited day as finally come!

 Richard "Chris" Browning is closing one chapter of his life to begin a new one.
We will miss his smile, his joy, his laughter.  His friends will miss him too.  Although he has lived in an orphanage, Richard "Chris" has been loved here.  His home has consisted of over 40 brothers and sisters, but a home where love is known in the hearts of the children.

We praise God for his plan to bring Richard "Chris" into a family with a mother and a father who will love him unconditionally.  We rejoice that his brother and three sisters will sweep him into sibling relationship with open arms.  Beautiful.

Richard, our family will miss seeing your smile.  We will miss having you tackle us with hugs.  We will miss kicking the soccer ball with you and hearing you play the drums.  We will miss your joyful spirit.  We will miss the connection you always gave us to your family while you were here.

I will miss kissing you on the forehead six times...once for Daddy, once for Mommy, once for Tyler, once for Paige, once for Kylie and once for Laine.  What a gift to have the privilege of reminding you of their love for you!  I am going to miss you!  Our entire family is going to miss you.  Yet, we know God's plan for your life are unfolding.  His plans for you are great.

You teach others through your joy.  
You are a leader.  Lead well.  
Your joy is contagious.  Never stop smiling.  

We love you Richard "Chris" Browning!

As you walk into this new chapter of your life, we praise God for His work in your life.  We praise Him that He has allowed us to be a part of your life here.  We praise God that you will never again walk alone. 

"Walk on through the wind,
Walk on the through the rain,
Though your dreams be tossed and blown,
Walk on, walk on, 
With hope in your heart,
And you'll never walk alone.
You'll never walk alone."

"I will not leave you as orphans, 
I will come to you."
John 14:18

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Eight Months in Ghana - From a 14 Year Old

Guest Blogger:  Franklin Beebe, age 14 years      

        It seems like only a week ago that we were boarding our flight to come here.    For me, my time here has flown by so quickly.  Although, it has been pretty rough at times we have to remember why we came and what we came to do. 

God has been so faithful to us and blessed us in so many ways. One of those blessings is everyone in the U.S.A that loves and prays for us. When we receive a care package from friends and family back home, it is refreshing for us and also reminds us that our family is loved and prayed for.  Hearing from home is a great encouragement.  

It is crazy for me to think that we have lived in Africa for over eight months now. I miss my family, friends, milk, smooth roads, and cold days outside. That doesn’t mean that I don’t like Ghana though. Sometimes I am thankful for the heat and bumpy roads. I love living in Ghana. Ghanaian people are usually kind and giving and they love to make friends. I like to be their friend.

This is Rosalinda, one of my good friends from G.M.I.

I love making new friends!

I enjoy learning to live in the Ghanaian culture and do what they do and eat what they eat. I will not eat the fish eyeballs though. I have had the chance to learn many things about the Ghanaian art from an artist at the art market. I took painting lessons from a man named Zikiru, and learned how Ghanian’s paint and different styles they use. I loved it and I am always ready to try new things. I have eaten Goat, bush-meat, (Bush-meat are animals that are caught in the "bush" then cooked and eaten.  The people that gave it to us said it was squirrel, but it looked more like a rabbit.) and I am intending to eat cat sooner or later.


This is the Bush-Meat that I ate.

While we have lived here, our family has bonded so tightly and whenever the Lord allows us to go through a tough time, it is always for His benefit.  We get to be his vessels - His hands and feet. It has been an amazing God-filled eight months here. I have seen God work in so many hearts (including mine), and so many places.

I am looking forward to some things about going home for a short furlough, and there are some things I don’t look forward to. I can’t wait to see my family and friends, but I don’t look forward to seeing all the materialism in America. Here in Ghana, everything is so simple and nobody cares what others think about them or what brand of clothes or shoes they are wearing. Also, in America so much food is wasted while here in Ghana there are children starving to death every day. Literally. So, the next time you are going to throw good food away, I want you to think of all the people around the world who don’t have three meals a day. Most people in the remote villages here in Ghana are privileged to get one small meal a day.

These kids are from a remote village. They were so happy to get a pack of crackers.

God has changed my heart since we have been here. Before we came, sure, I cared about the orphans, but not as much as I do now. Now, I really love them. When we go to an orphanage I love getting swarmed by all the cute, little, brown faces. I give out many hugs to them and hold almost all the little kids at least once while we are there. Most of the time they look sad when we come, but I try to get them to smile. Whether its tickling them or playing soccer with them. I really love them and wish they all had a father and mother. I know and have to remember that God is their Father in Heaven and He cares for them when it can seem like no one else does. He watches over them.

I want to thank you all for the prayers, and all of you who send us treats, cards, and stuff in our care packages. It has been a blessing for our family. 

Ghana is always a THUMBS-UP!!

So is Mango!!!

 Look at the birds in the sky: They do not sow, or reap, or gather into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Aren’t you more valuable than they are?  And which of you by worrying can add even one hour to his life?  Why do you worry about clothing? Think about how the flowers of the field grow; they do not work or spin.

  Matthew 6:26-28

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Our God Does Not Ration

Recently there has been news in Ghana for the rationing of water throughout 2013.  This means that the water supply will be controlled by authorities.  The system of who will receive it and how much will flow is uncertain.  

Currently, we receive water flowing to our house for about four days over a two week time period.  On the flowing days, our family attempts to do all of our laundry.  If not, we can drain our tank quickly of water supply.  In Teshie, two of the orphanages we visit only receive water one day per week.  However, since January, there have been a few weeks when the water has not come.  A missionary friend on the coast here went for a few months without any water flowing to their house.  At all.  They had to pay trucks to come fill their water tank so they could cook, bathe, and wash.  Filling tanks with water becomes very expensive quickly.  Additionally, even though the water flowing through our pipes is not safe to drink, the water trucks are known to fill from disgusting water sources.  Water you would never want touching your skin.

Recently as well, our power has been out frequently.  Much more than usual.  Last week we only had power for three of seven days.  Without electricity, our lives are altered drastically.  Whenever the power is out, we can not run our water pump, so we also do not have water unless it is flowing to the house.  No electricity also means no water.

Thankfully, we are beginning to accept this as one of our challenges in life here.  We’ve developed systems and plans that alleviate the frustration when water or electricity do not come.  We have large plastic cans filled with water ready at any time.  We have a generator that can keep our refrigerator running so we don’t lose any meat.  Most importantly, we don’t use what we do not need.  Believe it or not, I can now bathe in 2 cups of water without washing my hair!  Our boys can do it with even less.  We’re learning.

The reason I share this is because this rationing of resources has caused me to think about God’s love for us.  

For a long time, I believed my performance dictated God’s love for me.  If I was good enough, kind enough, sacrificed enough, gave enough, etc.. then God would love me.  I believed my pleasing actions would cause God to ration to me what was due.  

This is not true.

I’ve also struggled to believe in God’s abiding love when I don’t feel it.  When circumstances are difficult, or trials come, or relationships are strained, it can seem like God is holding back his love from me.  My feelings can cause me to fail to sense God’s loving presence.

And, this is not true.

Our God does not ration His love.  Everything in Him is constantly available to His children.  His love.  His power.  His goodness.  His forgiveness.  His presence.  HE is limitless.  There is a never-ending source within Him for everything.   But we must access it knowing He is there.  All of Him.  All the time.  In every circumstance.

There are days here in Ghana when I turn on the faucet and no water comes.  I attempt to turn on the overhead fan but see the blades remain still.  There are times when I am typing an email and the computer buzzes as the screen goes black because the power has been shut off.  Some evenings here, the room will become pitch black in a split second because there is not electricity flowing to the house. 

But our God isn’t like that.

The flow from Him is unending - without even a moment of pause.  The availability of His love is never questionable.  The living water is always flowing.  The power source is never shut off.

Wow!  Isn’t that incredible?  When I think about this reality, it brings such JOY.  Imagine truly accessing all that God offers us!  It’s amazing, freeing, and exciting!  He never holds anything back from us!

Even as I type this, I am smiling.  God uses all things to reveal Himself to us.  Even water and electricity shortages have been a life lesson for me.  What a blessing that we do not serve a God who rations.

For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.
Psalm 100:5

O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever.
1 chronicles 16:34

For great is his steadfast love toward us, and the faithfulness of the Lord endures forever. Praise theLord!
Psalm 117:2

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Skip One Lunch - Give One Month

Last week, I was touched by something some of the boys shared last week when they came home from school.  Three of our boys battled malaria and did not attend school.  However, Mason and Weston remained well and were able to be in class.    

On Wednesdays, various teachers lead the weekly chapel service for the students.  Godwin's teacher, Miss Victoria, shared with the class about God's instruction for us to give without expecting anything in return as we love our neighbor as ourself.  Her example of seeing this lived out came from an adorable four year old in her class, Godwin.  (Yes, this little boy happens to be our son.)

Miss Victoria shared that Godwin always shares his snack with the other students who don't have anything.  When he opens his pack of biscuits (crackers), he gives all but one away making sure everyone who needs one receives.  He never expects anything in return but simply shares what he has with others who are without.

Godwin's teacher is touched by his willingness to give every day.  While he could choose to eat the entire pack of four biscuits, he only nibbles on one.

When the boys came home and shared this with me, I was so proud of Godwin.  In my heart, I know one reason he is so quick to share food is because he remembers the feeling of "going without."  There were many days in his orphanage when food was scarce.  As his mother, I was so proud of his generosity without any suggestion from our family.  He simply does it as God leads his heart.  

I was deeply touched because I know many of these children most likely only eat the one meal per day at school.  Feeding the Orphans provides assistance for these children to receive one hot meal everyday.  through FTO, 134 children are provided a hot, nutritious lunch each day.  One extra 2 inch x 1 inch biscuit-snack from Godwin is a bonus.  

This morning, we were gathering things for school.  As I handed Godwin his pack of biscuits, he looked up at me and asked, "Mom, can I have another one?  I want to take some for people who don't have a snack."

Godwin returned to sliding his shoes on while I pondered his request.

"Yes, Godwin, of course.  Thank you for always sharing with your friends."

I handed him three extra packs of biscuits, and helped him zip them in the pouch of his backpack.  As we walked toward the car, I thought of Jesus's words, 

"It is better to give than to receive."

Even our four year old gets it.

Right now, FTO needs to raise the support for lunches at the school, Faith Roots International Academy.   This is the school where our boys attend.  Children are given an academic education but, more importantly, they are taught the truths of scripture.  Some children in the school have been rescued from the horror of child slavery and some walk to school daily from the village.  Faith Roots International Academy strives to fill the classrooms with love, grace, and life enrichment through Christ.  

Faith Roots offers a program of study that centers on English acquisition for all students and encourages every child to reach full potential by focusing heavily on the building blocks of education, instilling a commitment to lifelong learning, providing a program of support for those that need it, and teaching Biblical principles that will guide the child throughout their life. In everything, the Bible sets the standard, so students will be able to interpret life according to God’s values and purposes.

After hearing the story of Godwin, I wondered if there might be people out there who would be willing to "share a lunch."    Would you consider skipping a lunch to share a lunch?  Or, instead of going out to eat midday, what if you brought a peanut butter and jelly sandwich then used the $10 you would have spent on your own meal to buy lunches for children here.  No, I'm not trying to "guilt" anyone into giving, but if a four year old little boy can sacrifice a little, can't we do it too?

A gift as small at $10 would provide a hot, nutritious lunch for a child for one month!  So, if you skip one day eating out, you could feed a child for 20 school days!  That's a great return on your money, don't you think?  

If you are interested in helping to provide school lunches for Faith Roots Academy, please contact Feeding the Orphans.  Children here are grateful for your help.

"In all this I have given you an example that by such work we must support the weak, remembering the words of the Lord Jesus, for he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.'"
Acts 20:35

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Dream Job

Our family has faced some struggles recently.  The only way I know to describe them is that we feel “pressed in upon.”  Circumstances and conversations recently have left us wrestling through some negative feelings toward other people.  We are praying for the “heart of Christ” toward every person we encounter.  We are praying to have “His eyes” in every circumstance.  We are praying to “forgive as we have been forgiven.”  We are praying for “patience and perseverance” to run the race well - finishing strong.

Emotionally, I felt a downward spiral toward the end of last week.  I cried often.  Most of the time without a reason I could put into words.  My mind battled to “take very thought captive,” but often I failed.  My heart longed for comforts from home - friendships, family, familiarity, etc...  Even within our own home, I felt so alone.  Completely isolated.  Everything FELT SO HARD.    

On Sunday morning, I was in the shower begging God to fill in the gaps.  It seemed there were so many holes in my life.  “Please God, be my ALL-IN-ALL!  You promise your grace IS sufficient, so please help me to KNOW that!”  God seemed to whisper, “You already know this Truth.  You simply need to walk in it.”

A few moments later, we sat down to breakfast as a family... 

Before we left Knoxville, my family created a gift for us to bring to Ghana.  It was an acrylic box filled with 365 little slips of paper containing written memories, Bible verses, jokes, and little surprises for the boys.  My sisters, their families, and my parents filled a box with love for us to bring to Ghana.  

Each day our family was supposed to pull out one slip of paper and share it with the family.  When we arrived last June, we read one paper every single day.  Over time though, we slipped out of the habit of reading these bits of encouragement from our family.  I'm not sure if we stopped because it was hard to be reminded of home or if it was because other things filled in the time, but either way, we realized it was something we wanted to start doing again.

January always brings new beginnings and this year, one of the “fresh starts” for us was pulling papers out of this little box!  This morning's breakfast time was the perfect moment in our day to read a card or two.

Mason pulled out the first card.  On it, in my niece Colby Grace’s bubbled teenage handwriting, were the words,

“And He has said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.’ Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.  Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.”

2 Corinthians 12:9-10

As I remembered my conversation with the Lord from a few moments before sitting down to the table, I thought to myself, “Oh, Lord, that is exactly where I am!  Please show your power over my weaknesses!”

Inside I have battled the turmoil of “I don’t want to be here.  I want to be home.  I want to have fun.  I don’t want to be sweating all the time.  I want water and electricity all the time.  I want phone calls from friends.  I want a professional haircut.  I want to curl up with a good book.  I want my boys to be with their friends.  I want to shop in an American grocery store so I can find Hot n' Spicy Cheez Its for my boys, gingersnaps for Reid and flavored creamer for me.  I don’t want to see children without a family, because it makes me feel so helpless.  I don’t want to be so lonely.  I don't want to be reminded daily of how difficult life is for most of the world.  I don't want to be charged more because I have white skin.  I don't want to dread the police pulling me over every time I drive the car.  I don’t want to see the need here because I want to be released of responsibility.  I don't want dust all over everything.  I don't want to hand wash every single dish, cup, pot, pan, fork, knife, and spoon.  I don’t want things to feel so stinkin’ hard all the time.  I want to be comfortable.  I want to be comfortable.  I want to be comfortable.”

Blah, blah, blah...

Even as these thoughts come one after another, I know deep in my heart, this isn’t really what I want.  NOT AT ALL.  And I KNOW that, but sometimes I have to remind myself of it.  In the depths of my heart, all I really want is CHRIST.  

As we sat at the breakfast table, we discussed the verses on the card.  It's challenging scripture if you truly take it to heart.  We all admitted God was revealing weaknesses to each one of us.  Each person in our family shared areas of struggle that are being wrestled out because we live on this side of the ocean.  We recognize these are areas for pruning and growing, so that more of Christ is reflected OUT.  But, we all admitted, right now, our life “feels so hard.”

(Although it may feel hard, it isn't "too hard," as my friend Kathy would say.)

We decided we would read one more card out of the box before leaving the table.  

This card was scratched out in my nephew, Caleb’s handwriting, “What is your dream job?  Share with your family.”  

We all looked at each other astonished that this question was hinged on the verses we just read.  God’s timing is always perfect.

Mason, the first to pipe in.  He kind of laughed and immediately said, “THIS!  Exactly what we are doing now.”

Braden said, “Yeah, what we are doing now.  I want to be a missionary.”

Weston thoughtfully answered, “Well, I’d want to help with technical stuff but be a missionary too.”

We joked, “Weston, you can be a Mission Technician.  It's what you are already doing!”

Franklin shared, “I’d like to open a kids ministry downtown one day.”
We all interjected that he should have an art gallery as part of his ministry.

Godwin made us all laugh when he answered, “I want to work on cars and drive them.”

Etornam quietly revealed her dreams when she quietly spoke, “I want to sew for others, but I also want to be a missionary.”
Our family rejoiced because things are beginning to take shape for her to fulfill both dreams!  We are working with FTO to make these dreams come true for this young mother!  She would be sewing for others, but also discipling others through her work.

We chatted about some hopes for Etornam’s future, and then Reid brought us back to reflecting on the real question behind the question...

What is your dream job?

Reid was quiet, but finally he answered, “My dream job is doing what we are doing.  What we are doing seems like something worth giving our lives away for.”

“Yeah,” and head nods around the table affirmed his answer.

“Mom?  What about you?  What is your dream job?” one of the boys asked me.

In that moment, all of the thoughts from the past few days surfaced and then diminished.  Really, what is my dream job?  What if it is hard?  ...If I could do anything, anywhere, what would my dream job be?

“Doing exactly what we are doing,” I confessed.  “This really is my dream job.  What our family is doing right now has eternal impact.  Lives are being changed.  Futures altered.  As hard and difficult as it is, this is worth it.”

Oh, God needs to shake me up sometimes before I rest on the Truth.  

I’m thankful for so many gifts from God... the little box of paper cards from our family at home, for nieces and nephews who challenge our thinking, for Etornam sitting at our table, for our family who is yielding more and more.  I can even honestly write that I am thankful for the difficulties.  Without them, I’d miss opportunities to grow.  I’m thankful for my Savior who loves me, even when I am difficult and hard.  Thank you for your forgiveness, Lord.  I’m prone to wander. Lord, keep my wandering eyes fixed on you.  Lord, I thank you that you have given us the privilege, honor, responsibility and gift of going to work every day to do our “dream job.” Whether we are in the field or in our home, we are still "on mission" for you.   Lord, help us to turn to you when it "feels" hard to be reminded that YOUR power is perfected in OUR weakness.  

The longer I'm here in Ghana, the more I realize how God is shaking me up inside.

Whether I am out with the people on the roads of Ghana, or loving my husband and our boys within our home, my weaknesses seem to multiply.  Please pray for His power to multiply a thousandfold over my weaknesses!  

"The point is not me - the point is HIM."
Heidi Baker

"I don't think there is anyone who needs God's help and grace as much as I do.  Sometimes I feel so helpless and weak...  Because I cannot depend on my own strength, I rely on Him twenty-four hours a day.  If the day had even more hours, then I would need His help and grace during those hours as well."  -Mother Teresa

"And He said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you for power is perfected in weakness.'  Most gladly therefore, I would rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.  Therefore, I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties; for Christ's sake, for when I am weak, then I am strong." 
2 Corinthians 12:9-10