Wednesday, November 27, 2013

THANKFUL TO HAVE SERVED WITH HEROES



Thanksgiving is a season that quickly brings back memories.    For 20 years our African journey and American Thanksgiving have been intricately tied.   The first African Thanksgiving memories to run through my mind are ones of catching our breath, being encouraged, and discovering the will to take another step forward.    

Some have compared church planting to soldiering.    Comparing church planting to the  destitution of war is an exaggeration.   Yet, church planting by nature draws one into conflict.   A new church plant develops because there is a community in crisis.     Some prefer for the crisis to remain.   Thus the church planter will frequently find he attracts a mutating series of conflicts in his early days.

In 1993 our family was in one such conflict in Uganda.   As Thanksgiving season came we traveled to Kenya for a retreat of Church of Christ and Christian Church missionaries.     That Thanksgiving was one of many we spent where our community nurtured us to return to the church planting battle ground.    The experience resonates with a quote at the close of Steven Ambrose’ book Band of Brothers as a grandfather responds to his grandson’s question of “Grandpa, were you a hero in World War Two?”


“No, grandson, but I served with a group of heroes.”


I concur.   I had too many failings to consider myself a missionary hero.   Yet, I thank God that I served with heroic brothers and sisters during our season in Africa.   

I dedicate this blog to the memories of these heroes.   I offer my apologies to those I forget and over look.

First, I was privileged to serve in Africa from 1993 to 2012 on the foundation laid by many generations of Americans who went before me.    Pioneers, farmers, pastors, citizen – soldiers, teachers, coaches, leaders, and builders were a few of their roles.   When I became an adult and went to the mission field those generations of labor had created a political and economic platform that made our dreams a possibility.   They also had created an international world where an American passport intuitively granted an international traveler favor.    I thank those generations of Americans who went before for the fruit I abundantly lived upon.


Us in 1993 at Brooklyn Center just before leaving
Next, we were sent to Uganda by the Brooklyn Center Church of Christ.    They truly diagnosed that we were young and na├»ve.   Yet, they sent us anyway.    Without the start they gave us all the fruit that the Lord brought in our 19 years in Africa’s Great Lakes would never have happened.   Lord, thank you for BC (now Northern Light Church of Christ.)

We landed in Uganda.    From the bottom of our heart we describe ourselves as “growing up in Uganda.”   Our young adult years were spent there.   Uganda endured our irrelevant ideals and forgave our many mistakes.    We lived in Uganda during a delightful season of renewal.    We were shaped in our character and reasoning by Uganda.    Three of our five children were born in Uganda.   Two our children carry Uganda passports.     The fruit the Lord produced in our ministry in Rwanda was nurtured by Uganda.   We thank Uganda for her kindness, laughter, wisdom, and grace (plus her great food, music, and lively culture of debate.)

Shortly after arriving in Uganda in 1993 we fell into a church planter’s nightmare of a conflict.   We did not stand alone when it broke our spirits.   We thank Greg and Debra Carr for being there beside us through a nightmare.    We laugh now together about it.  God has shown His grace.

The Cashes and us worshiping
One of our greatest treasures in our Uganda season was the great camaraderie that existed during those years with our East African missionary community from Churches of Christ and the Christian Church.    Our yearly highlights were retreats and quarterly meetings.    Before the days of cell phones somehow we stayed in touch.   If one of us ever broke down, got sick, or was in trouble with a simple movement of the Spirit we were all out on the roads looking for one another.   Though we were thousands of miles from our extended biological family we had an adopted extended family in our missionary community that meant the world to us.   At the risk of hurting others I must mention Jeff and Cheryl Cash for the many times our families connected and consoled one another.   We just would not have made it without the Cashes.    We can’t say thank you to the Lord enough for the delightful community we had among our missionary extended family.   

Ruth and Isaac Sanyu
The Lord also gave us other communities who nurtured our Uganda years.    The reason we went to Uganda was to plant a church, the Kampala Church of Christ.   We share so many memories, but maybe the dearest are the ones of our own children’s nurture.    The leaders of the Kampala Church of Christ – Isaac Sanyu, Andrew Lwere, Joseph Irwaat, Fred Ssenkumba, Joy Lwanga, Joy Kifuku, Vital Byabushi, Emma Mahi, Connie Runtemu, and others were there when our adopted children, Ruth and Timothy came home.   They were there when Sophia was baptized.    They nurtured us as much as we attempted to shepherd them.    We can’t say thank you enough to the Lord for giving us friends like them.   

The North Central Church of Christ was our longest serving sponsoring congregation.   We thank God for what He did through North Central, and their continued partnership with the Kampala Church of Christ.

During our last years in Uganda we had 2 organizations who taught us a new way to view the world.    One was Monitor FM.    They taught us the world of “Thought Leaders.”   The Lord made our show well rated.    Yet, the greatest benefit was our friendship with the Monitor gang - Ben Mwine, Joseph Beyanga, Angelo Izama, Andrew Mwenda, Martin Sempa, Elizabeth Kameo, Rhuk Shana,  Murray Oliver, and Jimmy Bagere.    They gave us a relationship bank and intellectual tools for the next season of ministry.   

The other was Kampala Kids League (KKL) and particularly Trevor Dudley.    KKL   came at just the right time for Kampala’s business, education, and social climate.

Political stability had arrived.   Diaspora returned home.    Business was thriving.    Yet, schools were struggling with sports programs and there was little for families to do on weekends and evenings.    Getting out for a weekly practice and game was a blast.   With four kids in the program a good portion of our Saturdays was spent at KKL.   It further nurtured discovery of the need to serve an international community and Diaspora in global cities plus how economic development is a key for enduring family friendly cities.    Lord, thank you for all KKL nurtured in us.  
 
During our Uganda years we had some great doctors.    Pediatrician and tropical medicine Dr. Mary Mpalampa healed both our bodies and spirits many times, and spoke words of enduring wisdom.   OB / Gyn Dr. Christine Biryabarhema delivered Ethan and produced the easiest C-section for Jana to heal from.   Dr. Abdu Shirazi set a broken bone of Sophia, and told me when it was time to fly to the USA for help.    His intuition and wisdom was immense.   

Tom Gooch and John Osborne at OC Graduation 2004
In 2004-2005 we were worn out.   God gave us a delightful Sabbatical year of teaching as a Visiting Missionary at Oklahoma Christian University (OC).   John Osborne opened the door.   Bob Carpenter made it happen (though it almost didn’t happen, and God’s Sovereignty trumped the fumbling of men.)    We so much enjoyed our friendships with the Bible faculty – Lynn McMillon, Curt Niccum, Glenn Pemberton, and Chip Kui particularly.   Also, the students were delightful.    OC’s president Dr. Mike O’Neil asked me three questions:  

Do we have any churches (Churches of Christ) in Rwanda?”


“No.”
 

“Do we have any missionaries in Rwanda?”


“No.”


“Do we have anyone willing to go?”


“Me.”


Lord, thank you for giving us the Sabbatical at OC that launched us to Rwanda.

Timothy with KICS' students
When we reached Rwanda we found that we could not make it without an American  curriculum school.   Our struggle was not ours alone.    Diaspora were in that situation.   Other Americans led to Rwanda by their faith were in that situation.     The idea of Kigali International Community School (KICS) was born.    We formed a board with Steve and Belinda Bauman, Dwight and Brenda Jackson, George and Jana Ntumba, Dabbs and Mary Cavin, and Laurent and Chantal Mbanda.    Then the journey began.   Sophia graduated from KICS.   All of our kids attended.   We’re so thankful God brought us the community of KICS during our season in Rwanda.


We were sent to Rwanda by the Quail Springs Church of Christ in June 2005.   On our Commissioning Sunday, Mark Henderson made this covenant, “If you are in trouble we will come and get you.”    The covenant became the reality.    As Christ’s Church in Rwanda was launched we faced a foundational philosophic challenge.  

 Did we believe in the ideals of the Restoration Movement?  


 Did we believe Paul’s message of freedom in Romans and Galatians?   


Was the Holy Spirit alive?    


Was the local church God’s instrument and a church hierarchy unnecessary?    


For two years we lived in a rapidly mutating conflict where time after time we answered, 


“Yes, we believe.”


Quail stood by and with us during those difficult two years.   In fact, Quail had someone with us for 75% of the total time during that season.   We’ve never known of such sacrifice and commitment.   We are thankful for those years.   Few get an opportunity to stand firmly upon their core beliefs with other colleagues.   God gave us a great gift in Quail Springs Church of Christ.  

As the conflict finally resolved it had taken quite a toll on us.   Jana had a tumor.   I had two herniated discs in my neck.   Our career in our historical denomination was over.     We returned to the USA in 2009 to heal.   Tom and Sue Gooch gave us a place to stay, and then took our place in Rwanda.   We can never say thank you enough for what God did through Tom and Sue Gooch.  

During this season Rwanda Outreach and Community Partners (ROC) was formed to purchase the wonderful Caisse Sociale / Gaculiro / 2020 Vision property.   We did not know it at the time, but God was forming ROC into a missionary sending organization.    During the dark days of conflict ROC board members – Steve Clark, Bryan Hixson, John Osborne, Tom Gooch, and Larry Schwab stood with us in the embracement of our faith ideals.    We are immensely thankful for these friends. 

It is the sacrifice of Quail Springs Church of Christ and ROC that gave Christ’s Church in Rwanda (CCR) her pragmatic freedom that Christ bestowed upon His bride.    We thank God for Quail and ROC.  

Three were with us in the blend of our Rwanda and Uganda experience.   Jane Naziwa managed our busy household in Uganda and managed the staff of our property in Rwanda.    Moses Mbabaali taught our kids PE in our one room school in Uganda and became our CCR youth pastor.   Teopista was our faithful cook in both nations.   She took the bounties of Uganda and Rwanda in the rawest forms and turned them into delicacies.     Many remark about our great Jenkins’ parties, but those parties never would have happened without our dear friends; Jane, Moses, and Teopista.   Our kids and we will always consider them extended family.   

Moses Mbabaali and Presidential Scholar, Marie Claire Shyaka
Rwanda gave her own great gifts to us.    Rwanda taught us about agaciro (dignity) and grace.   I'm still with an open Bible trying to fully comprehend all Rwanda is teaching.   Like our other postings Rwanda made us better followers of Jesus.  

One of the delights of our Rwanda season was all the bright young scholars who graced our lives.    There were hundreds of Presidential Scholars and thousands of KIST students.    I'm thankful for those young people who had the courage to refine my thinking.   Also, I'm thankful each time one calls and stops by our home or office.    My boss called his students, "friends," and I also am thankful for these friends.

Another delight of our Rwanda journey was the Kumbya Retreat.   I've never expereinced anything like it to have so much unity with such diverse missionaries.

Ruth, Gabriel Mugisha Jacobs and Hixson girls
The Lord also gave us a great gift to foster a little boy, Gabriel Mugisha Jacobs for 10 months in Rwanda.   His courage was immense.  We will always be grateful for all the Lord brought to our lives through him.   

18 months ago we left the place of the created earth we call “home,” Africa’s Great Lakes and returned as missionaries to the United States.   We were sent by the church we planted, Christ's Church in Rwanda.  We attempt to re-live Rwanda's oldest ideals of the East African Revival.   On our last Sunday, Mzee William Mutware Rugege whispered in my ear, "Imana mugisha ___ (God's blessings.)"   We followed our missionary mentors’ principles and landed in Chicago to be near our own children and the family and friends of our Diaspora people.    Our mentors taught us that simple idea of following relationship webs and discovering God’s call.    

Marguerite Nyagahura and Eron Nsenga blessing us
As we said, “Goodbye” we received a gift few missionaries receive.    We left in peace with our post.    Africa had been kind and gracious to us.    We had no angst.   We had no unhealed wounds.    Some even remarked that we had become African in thought, relationship patterns, culture, and habit.    A few describe us with words like courageous, compassionate, wise, generous, innovative, and hospitable.   We think those descriptions are exaggerations, but if there is any truth to these descriptions it is us absorbing Africa’s grace.   Lord, we immensely thank you for what Africa did in our lives.    We want to mention the blessings Africa gave us in the end through the words of Brett Shreck, Marguerite Nyagahura, Anita Umuhire, and Eron Nsenga.    

As we arrived in Chicago we were met at the airport by our old friend, Marsha Vaughn, our
Chicago arrival
daughter, Sophia, and Jana’s parents, Gaston and Jan Tarbet.    Yet, Chicago quickly became like the first days of postings in Uganda and Rwanda – the loneliness and mystery at times was overwhelming.
    Those who write about transitions back to one’s passport nation after many years abroad counsel for one to maintain some sense of “home,” and to return to that place.   We had nothing in the USA anymore that was like “home.”   Our support structures had shifted too many times.   Our extended family had moved too many times.   We had no owned house.    We were sojourners kabisa (completely.)

Christmas with Jenkins clan 2009
Yet, we did have one sense of “home” – East African Diaspora people.   We found them.   They found us.    We could not have survived the last year without the love and care of our Diaspora people.  It was they who called to check on us.   It was they who visited.   It was they who understood.   It was they with whom we laughed, cried, and ate.     We thank God for giving us a sense of “home” with our Diaspora brothers and sisters.

Also, many different churches, foundations, and individuals were key partners through these years.    We are very thankful for all God did through them.

Lastly, we must thank God for those who were the ones “left behind” for 19 years - our
Christmas with Tarbet clan 2012
biological extended family.  We took off on an airplane time after time filled with hope for the new adventure while they mourned our loss.   
We thank God for what He did with our extended family – Our parents; Lloyd and Lois Jenkins and Gaston and Jan Tarbet; our siblings, Mark and Jenn Jenkins, Tim and Landra Jenkins, Bryan and Patty Moen, Greg and Debra Carr, and Wade Tarbet.   All sacrificed immensely.   All gave us encouragement and practical service.   We could not have made it without their blessings.  
 

Yes, this is a season to be thankful.   God has been very good to us.   We have lived with heroes.