The picture at the top of this post seems an untraditional picture for this blog and our ministry. You may be asking: “Where are the cute African kids?” Yes, they are still very much in my mind and in my heart. But perhaps the story and history below will help you explain why I personally believe in the opportunities and ministry the Lord has brought to us in Uganda:
· The opportunity to make a difference in one life, by introducing them to the one who loves them most—Jesus. (That’s why 7 years ago I named this blog “One Life”)
· The Responsibility we have to share the good news of Jesus and His Word with those we minister to, our calling and responsibility in Acts 20:24 (that’s where the “20:24” part comes from!)
· The joy and privilege to be chosen by God to be His dearly loved child. A chosen steward and servant of the rich blessings He has given us His children. (That we in turn can invite others to join the family of God which we were adopted into!)
· The belief that God uses us in moments in time—that His grace and love can reverse downward generational cycles in just a few short years in non-traditional ways.
So… this blog post has been bouncing around in my mind for months, but because a whirlwind of ministry and activity left little time for writing, months later I’ve finally sat down to write! I also wanted to write this in a way that honors and respects all those involved, yet also tells enough of the story so that Jesus is honoured and glorified. So here goes:
Many cross-cultural workers in third-world countries struggle with wondering if we can really make a difference: “there are such tremendous needs—aren’t you just a drop in the proverbial sea?” There is much truth in that statement, yet as I saw in my first summer in Uganda almost 15 years ago and talked about in this post, I quickly learned that I most certainly could never meet all the needs, but Jesus could.
I first started thinking about this when my sister put up a Facebook post for me on Mother’s Day last spring saying I was the “biological mother to none—but mom to many.” At the same time, I had also been challenged by an article by John Piper speaking about how the kingdom of God grows in spiritual families, in contrast to typical families.
I smiled thinking of my motley crew of “family”, some in the village who call me their mother are even older than I.
As I thought through these various verses, God was challenging my heart to remember that He has called us as Believers to be “parents” committed to nurturing a spiritual family and to enlarge our spiritual family by faith in and love for Jesus Christ. Biological families are wonderful and are God-ordained (anyone who knows me well knows that I love my family and I’m incredibly thankful for them! And someday, I would love to have my own biological family…but we will see what God chooses.)
However, we can also begin to think too much of our earthly families and let them take an idol-type precedence in our lives, all the while ignoring that we all as Believers are called to nurture and reproduce an ever-growing spiritual family, the Church.
This picture above is a picture of “Grandma” Loewen and “Great-Grandma” Kroeker. It commemorates the heroes in my life who not only raised their own wonderful large biological family, but they eagerly & enthusiastically took on the calling and challenge to make that family bigger—to expand it outside their own natural borders. To make more seats at the table, add a little more water to the soup, and make a second batch of bread. And it is because of this family, that I soberly and with thankfulness see how God used them to interrupt the downward cycles of my Mom and her younger sister’s family tree. Planting them in a new place giving them physical care, spiritual instruction and nurturing, and belonging. They were not biological, and not even traditionally adopted. The Loewen’s simply saw the need and felt called by God to love and care for those around them. My “Grandma” wrote the whole tale of their very ordinary, yet unordinary lives in this book called “Ready for Anything.”
Grandma Loewen tells the tale of her life as the young daughter of a Mennonite dentist, fleeing Russia just in time. Her Dad swiped their passports off the local official’s shelf when he wasn’t looking. They came to Canada, settled in SK for some time and then moved to the beautiful fruit farming region of Niagara on the Lake. And later on, that’s where she would meet the love of her life, Henry. A love story that she said gave them chills and made them cry happy tears because of the gift God had given them in one another. They felt God might call them to be full-time missionaries, but God had different plans and had them stay home-side and be full-time missionaries back in Canada.
The rich family tradition birthed into my Mom, and passed on to me, a love for adventure, a love for hospitality, a love for God’s Word, a commitment to family, a joy and enthusiasm in doing youth and children’s work, a love for cooking good wholesome tasty food, skills to sew, design, create and make things beautiful. Both Grandma Loewen, and years later my Mom also, compiled their own cookbooks. (Did I mention to you that my Mom is the “real” Martha Stewart?! :)
Grandma and Grandpa Loewen are in heaven now, but their impact continues in many lives and hearts. Although they took my Mom and her sister into their family for just a few short years, their love and care continued on throughout decades.
I’m sure it wasn’t always comfortable or easy. But, I am sobered when I see where my Mom could have been, had it not been for God’s grace extended and poured out on her in an untraditional, yet generous and caring practical way by these people. Sometimes our hearts are broken when we see where others very close landed, those who continued in patterns of alcoholism and such.
Did we deserve this? No. But, some people who loved Jesus faithfully followed God and determinedly loved & cared for those He placed in their paths along the normal road of life. They embraced the idea of an ever-expanding “family” and knew that God uses normal every-day people, in every-day ways, as vessels to radiate the love of Jesus to others. Day by day thy rolled up their sleeves and were a part of seeing others become part of the larger family of God.
At times it meant that Grandma Loewen made uncomfortable trips into town to meet with social workers to fight for Mom’s little sister not to be placed back into an unhealthy situation. At other times it meant that her children got less for Christmas because what they had was shared among many beyond their biological family. (And even years later, we the “Grandkids” got wonderful packages in the mail for Christmas of handmade crocheted items carefully and lovingly designed by Grandma.) We were not part of a sub-par family, but a supernatural one.
God’s grace, love, and care which He had lavished on the lives and hearts of Grandma and Grandpa Loewen was in turn allowed to pour out and over unto so many others, including mine.
I’ve already seen God interrupting generational downward cycles in the children and youth in our Bible club in Uganda. It’s what drives me to believe that YES, we can. Because HE is with us, and His grace is over-abounding. His table is always open to putting in another piece, adding another plate. Putting another gift under the tree. All that He requires of you? Do justice (pursue justice for others), love mercy and walk humbly with your God.
How does God want you to expand the “family” this next year? Do you need to add a plate to your table today? Perhaps a mattress on the floor for the weekend? An extra plate for your dinner? Let’s see what He wants to do through those who are available to Him.
Much love to all of you. Thank you for your part in enabling me to leave the doors open and always able to add more plates to our table, more mats at the Bible clubs, more children who are given the opportunity to get basic life supplies to stay in school and thrive in life.
So… that’s why this fully-Canadian, part Irish/Aboriginal/German/Scottish girl whose Mom was “parented” by Russian Evangelical Christian Mennonite Immigrants, knows and believes that One Life can be changed through people who are willing to enlarge their hearts, tables and take an adventure with Jesus.
As Grandma would say—Are you: Ready for Anything?