Sunday, December 21, 2008

Thanksgiving Story

Dear Family and Friends,

It is good to “talk” with you again tonight. I thought I would start with a few current praises and petitions and then will end with our “Thanksgiving Story”. This story is a recounting of how God worked in such an amazing way to provide the financial resources needed for us to follow this calling. We pray that it will encourage you at a time when many people are wondering what their economic future holds.


1) For our family’s safety. As you pray for our safety here, I would like to share some specific examples of how God has been answering those prayers.

We have a gas stove that requires that we light it manually inside the oven. A few weeks ago, the flame went out and I tried to relight it. The next few minutes were a blur as I heard an explosion, saw a flash of light, and realized that all of the hair on my right arm was burned off. Later, I found that my eyelashes, eyebrows, and hair were singed as well. We praise God for no further injury, as my skin and clothing were not burnt. I’ve now learned a little bit more from other missionaries about how to use our oven!
A few days ago, Dan and the kids were walking to our car in the school parking lot when a teenage driver backed out quickly and stopped just short of hitting Dan. Dan had his back to the car as I “just happened” to walk around the corner toward him and the kids. When I saw how quickly she was backing out, I screamed which startled the driver and she stopped. Praise God for His perfect timing and protection. We are now parking in a different area of the lot which does not require us to walk behind vehicles.
Will was playing “sword fight” with a friend using sticks. His friend’s stick jabbed him on his cheek below his eye and he was left with a pretty good mark on his face. It was not the mark that bothered me, it was the “what if”. Will seemed to understand the danger of “sword fight” with sticks a little more after that!
Today, Rebekah slipped off of a rock in the area they play in our neighborhood and scraped her whole left side, yet missed her head and face. She was quite shaken. This too could have been much worse.
Please know that your prayers for our safety do make a difference and we see God so clearly at work - we are aware of how He is protecting us.

2) A vehicle. This too is an amazing praise. We purchase a 1998 Toyota 4Runner a couple of weeks ago. It is beyond what we had imagined we would have gotten. The best vehicles to buy here are Toyotas because there are dealerships here and parts are easily available. We have heard from several people that even the year of this Toyota is a good one as the engine was changed the following year and is, in their opinion, not as good. We also purchased it at $2500 under our budget which we have been told is exactly the way to do it because this money can be used for repairs and maintenance. I got a little teary eyed when we were at the used car dealership, as I looked at the vehicle. I thought, “Lord, you even gave us a vehicle that is my favorite color.” Forest green.

3) Our kids are doing well. They are both doing well in school having worked very hard to catch up and keep up. Rebekah’s good friend left to spend 3 months in the States, so this has been another adjustment for her. She has done very well academically and seems to enjoy school. When we talk before bed, she has been sharing with me a lot of her memories of life in Iowa. She plans to decorate her room with pictures of family and friends and then she would like our family to put paint on our hands and make a handprint border in her room. I’m so thankful they are old enough to remember where they come from. Will is making friends too – with kids that are several years older than him. Dan has been using his morning break to play catch (football) with Will and his big buddies during recess. Will was actually a hero for the day when he noticed that a third grader had brought a knife (like a box cutter) to school and was playing with it and passing it around to other kids during recess. Will told his teacher about what was happening and received a very hearty “good job!”


1) Dan and I are planning to begin a marriage group using the FamilyLife “Weekend to Remember” conference audio CDs starting in January. We have invited five missionary couples to join us. These couples are all in different stages of their marriages ranging from over 20 years to a few weeks. Dan and I are recognizing that living on the mission field adds additional stress to life which can/does impact family relationships. Our hope is to begin with supporting missionary couples and then look for where God may lead this ministry as we acquire the Spanish language. A twenty something Nicaraguan man recently said to us, “I hear that in America they make you work so much that you never get to see your family.” It was sad, as I thought about it, how his perception is all too accurate. I think we have a lot to learn from Nicaraguans who so highly value relationships and family. Would you pray that God would show us who He has chosen to be in the group and that He would protect our marriage and empower us to lead the group. Thank you!

2) We still do not have internet. We pray for a solution to what is wrong soon. The internet’s absence has helped us to connect better with people here and with the culture.

3) Would you pray for Dan and I to understand and to pursue options related to language school? We are thinking about going to a school in Managua for two weeks, doing some tutoring, and then perhaps go back for another two weeks later. Our Spanish class at NCA has been good, as has doing Spanish homework with our kids. We are learning lots of vocabulary and learning the basics, but now feel that we need to move on to more intensive study. Nicaraguan Spanish is very different from all other Central American countries, so it is to our advantage to learn it here. I’m doing well with speaking “toddler Spanish” as I seem to get my point across. Dan is better than I am when it comes to understanding it. So, together we are able to communicate at a basic level. However, we both feel the burden to learn more.

Thank you again for your prayers. We are so thankful that you walk this road with us!

Our Thanksgiving Story

I began writing this story the week of Thanksgiving as I reflected on the past year. We would like to share with you how God has been at work in our lives through you this past year. Our prayer is that our story would encourage you and remind each one of us about how trusting God’s economy is the place where we can find financial security.

As Dan and I have shared our story of God’s calling to Nicaragua, we realize that there are so many ways that we can tell this story – it is really like several stories woven together. Today, we will share the story of how God provided the financial resources needed for us to follow His calling to Nicaragua and how He provided these resources in the midst of personal crisis, local economic crisis, and national economic crisis in less than six months.

Both Dan and my relationship with Jesus began within the community of the Christian Reformed Church denomination. We both attended Calvin College, one of the denominational colleges, and grew in depth of knowledge and discernment as a result of being a part of this denomination. In the year 2006, however, we sensed God leading us to leave the CRC church we were attending which also meant leaving the CRC denomination. It was very difficult for us to leave our CRC church family in Cedar Rapids and the denomination that God used to shape us in so many ways. But, we also knew that at times God calls us to things that are difficult and that do not necessarily make sense at the time.

We believed God was leading us to attend a church called New Covenant Bible Church as this direction was confirmed in a number of ways. We have shared before how God used a particular sermon at NCBC a few months after we began attending to more clearly define the call to serve on the mission field with a Christian School. A couple of weeks after this sermon, we received the Christian Reformed World Missions calendar in the mail and listed in the back was Nicaragua Christian Academy. God in His grace, presented us with an opportunity to reconnect with our heritage. Before we contacted CRC World Missions, however, we did have doubts about whether we would be appointed through their organization given that we were no longer members of a CRC church. We were pleased to later experience God’s grace through the leadership of this mission board who welcomed us and reassured us of their unconditional support.

There was no reservation about our appointment for CRC World Missions, however, there was reservation about the amount of support we needed to raise as Partner Missionaries. We received a phone call from someone with CRWM expressing their concern about our future financial stability as Partner Missionaries. Most Partner Missionaries are singles who earn enough through a stipend provided by the school to pay for living expenses, etc. Our stipend was designated as free education for our children, so our living expenses could not be covered in this way. However, our call to Nicaragua was very clear and we talked with CRWM about how we believed that this was what God was calling us to do. We appreciated that CRWM, in spite of their reservations, chose to trust God with us and to trust us to discern God’s call.

Our appointment became official at the beginning of May. During this month we made a trip to Nicaragua, got our house ready to sell, and had a huge garage sale. We began sending out letters asking churches, friends, and family members to consider supporting us at this time. We planned to begin meeting with churches and individuals in June. We scheduled 7 support dinners in June with friends who offered to host dinners. This was our plan, but God had a very different plan.

Days after scheduling the dinners, we found out that my Dad needed to have a triple bypass. During the time he was in the hospital recovering, our city experienced an incredible loss as it was severely flooded leaving thousands of homes and businesses destroyed. We canceled those 7 support dinners in order to be at the hospital during Dad’s surgery and to help my parents after my Dad came home. We also canceled them because we knew that our city was grieving and we learned that there is a time to grieve and a time to raise support. So, we ended the month of June with around 17% of our support raised and with concern about how the city’s economic downturn would impact our efforts to raise support in Cedar Rapids in the future. I remember saying to God several times, “Lord, I don’t understand what you are doing.”

At the beginning of July, we attended training at CRC World Missions in Grand Rapids, MI for a week. On our way home, Dan and I engaged in a conversation that focused on our fears and our doubts about whether it was even possible for us to raise the amount of support we needed to get to Nicaragua in the fall. In the middle of this conversation, we hit a huge pothole which we later discovered was the catalyst to our car later breaking down on the highway in Peoria, IL. If you are not familiar with what happened with this situation, see our July blog posting titled “Stranded in Peoria”. We recognized later how God used this situation to remind us that He is the God of the impossible and that we can trust Him as our Provider.

Upon returning home, Dan followed up with a few individuals who had attended the dinner and with a church we had met with. This happened to be the CRC church that we left to attend NCBC. God’s grace was again demonstrated through this CRC church’s commitment to partner with us prayerfully and financially. I believe that it is in these situations – where there is grace and unconditional love - that Christ is most glorified. God’s provision was also demonstrated by the generous giving of those who attended the support dinner. Our percentage of support raised jumped at this time to 25%.

July and August were very busy with house showings, support dinners, and travel back and forth to Michigan. It was interesting how we could often see during this process how there was a spiritual battle going on. For example, I was at a library one day emailing a friend to ask her to pray for us because we were dealing again with what seemed like spiritual warfare. As I wrote those words, the library internet system shut down and I lost the email. A few minutes later it was back. This particular day I also spent some time at Panera after the library closed and sent email invitations to friends in MI inviting them to a support raising dessert at a friend’s house. I found out later that the emails were received but came through as gibberish. And yet, God’s plan continued to prevail getting us to around 75% of our support pledged by September.

It was exciting to get closer to our goal, but it seemed that at this point we “hit the wall” so to speak. I was spending a great deal of time on the phone inviting people to dinners and had several other people calling to invite people and trying to organize dinners as well. However, we were all hearing that people were unable to attend the dinners. There was a particular Saturday when I had reached my breaking point emotionally. I was weary from traveling back and forth to MI, from our trips back and forth from my parent’s house to Cedar Rapids every weekend, and I had not been getting enough sleep. But, ingrained in this first born’s soul is a determination (stubbornness) to push forward. So, I had my calling list in hand and the phone to my ear when Dan walked in the room and started talking with me. He said, “Do you know what God has been saying to me today?” He’s been saying, “Stop and say thank you for what I have already provided.” When he said that, peace washed over me. We spent some time praying and then I put my call list down and did not touch the phone for the rest of the day. Dan and I also discovered that day that we had 40 thank you cards that needed to be written to people who had given or pledged support. Our focus changed from setting up dinners to sending thank you cards. “Yes Lord, we will stop and say thank you for what you have already provided.”

The next day was a Sunday and we spent time at two churches that day. On this day alone, we received four checks from families committing to support us financially - which had never happened before. And as we were walking to our car after church that morning, another family stopped to let us know they were interested in hearing more about our call and about what we would be doing in Nicaragua. This family later committed to support us as well. On that one day, God provided $5,620.00 in financial support. It was the day after God said, “Stop and say thank you for what I already provided.” He had it all figured out. All He was asking was that we just say “thank you” for what He had already provided and for what He would provide.

Another challenge throughout the support raising process was a limitation on the amount we could raise due to our designation as Partner Missionaries. We could raise our living expenses, but were responsible for paying for our first trip to Nicaragua and for a vehicle. Dan and I at times were concerned about this, but eventually decided to surrender our savings account to God by reaffirming that it was His money and that if this was what He wanted us to use to buy plane tickets and a vehicle, we would use it. However, God so graciously ordered circumstances once again. Later, it was decided that CRWM would allow us to begin collecting funds in July while Dan was still working. These accumulated funds were enough to purchase our tickets and to buy a vehicle. As mentioned earlier, we did find a vehicle which was $2,500 below the amount we had available. God once again demonstrated to us how He is in the details and has every base covered.

And if all that was not enough, a few weeks ago the director of NCA informed Dan that the school would like to begin paying him a stipend of $170.00 a month in addition to the education stipend we are receiving. We continue to be in awe of how God provides above and beyond all that we ask and imagine.

Recently, we received the following email from the same person at CRWM who had initially expressed concern about our financial stability as Partner Missionaries. . . . “You had another strong month of support . . . the goal is to provide partner missionaries with level payments each month so that they know what they will receive. Unfortunately, most partners do not have enough support for that to occur. Many people love you, believe in you, and demonstrate that affirmation with their financial gifts.” We know that there are many people who love us and believe in us who have been led not to financially support us as well. We are thankful for their obedience to what God is calling them to do. We also know that it is God who provides for us through those He calls to financially support us as evidenced by the fact that many of our supporters were so clearly led by God and placed in our lives “for such a time as this”. God expresses His love for our family through you in all of the ways that you serve us – with your prayers, your notes of encouragement, your interest in this journey, and through your gifts.

Thank you for reading our Thanksgiving story. We love you and are so thankful for you and for the role God has led you to play in our story.

Peace to you,
Lisa (for Dan, Rebekah, and Will)