The God Who Comes Near to Save

In our predominantly Christian corner of East Africa, the prosperity gospel is often preached in churches and curses are often pronounced by witch doctors in villages. We have fewer encounters with other religions than with skewed interpretations and applications of our own religion.

As with anywhere in the world, there is still more room for the Gospel to go forth, to take root, and to grow deep. In our particular context, the message of Christ has gone forth and taken root in many hearts, but the soil is shallow and the roots are thin. As Jesus himself said, faith is easily uprooted in those conditions (Matthew 13:20-21).

With the intention of deepening and strengthening roots, we work to impart the truth of who God really is and how he interacts with us and our world. This deeply matters because who God is – and isn’t – shapes not only how we live our lives but how we relate to our Savior.

Last year I sat outside a Buddhist temple with my nine-year-old son and talked about what God requires of us. Our family had traveled to Thailand for a missions conference and had the privilege of visiting two temples during our time there. The first temple we visited was particularly memorable because of its design. We had never been to a place like that before and our fantasy-loving boys were instantly enamored with the dragons carved into the temple architecture.

Truth be told, I was enamored too. But it wasn’t just the dragons that intrigued me. The entire building was magnificent, clearly constructed with care and tended to with honor and respect. The red walls complimented the gold columns and statues and perfectly matched the red, white, and gold patterned tiles on the floor.

We admired the devotion of the Buddhists who had originally built the structure as well as the worshippers visiting the temple that day. We ourselves had walked through the temple, first taking off our shoes like everyone else, and marveled at the architectural masterpiece we found ourselves in. Incense filled our noses with unfamiliar scents and filled our minds with questions. The numerous Buddhas sprinkled throughout the temple drew our attention again and again.

The entire experience proved a powerful conversation tool for talking with our children about religion. We talked about why people were lighting incense, why they knelt before the Buddha, why they walked laps around the temple. The experience ignited their minds.

It was at the second temple we visited, with a golden Buddha as tall as the building itself, that our son asked me pointed questions about God and people as we sat outside putting our shoes back on. “Why are all these people doing this? God said we don’t have to do stuff like this to be saved.”

My son was right, but these people didn’t know that. When I told him such, he heaved a huge sigh. His heart was full of the truth of God and full of the grief that comes with knowing other people are unaware of that truth.

I told my son the worshippers walking in and out of the temple were doing what they thought was best, or even necessary, to please God. They wanted to please God, which is good. But our human nature thinks we need to do something to win God’s approval, to do something to earn salvation. “But we don’t need to,” my son said. And he was right – because he knows who God really is and who he isn’t.

Sometime later, back in Kenya, I read The Iliad with our boys as a part of our homeschool history unit on ancient civilizations. What stood out to us was how often the Greek gods meddled with the minds of men and women for their own selfish ends, or, perhaps worse, for their own entertainment.

It was shocking, really, to read about gods who came to earth to dwell among men but who did so to take advantage of them or to prove their own power and authority. Those gods deceived their worshippers, tearing them down in order to build themselves up.

After Ancient Greece we studied Ancient Rome, and then we had the privilege of visiting Rome during travels to Europe for a leadership conference where we walked the same ancient streets as emperors who attained godhood upon their deaths (and were sometimes worshipped as a god during their lifetime).

God didn’t have to come down; God was already here, an inherent deity running through the veins of a man in power over an empire. This “emperor god” had his own interests at heart – that of expanding the empire and ensuring his supreme authority by enforcing submissive “peace” throughout the empire, the same “peace” that destroyed Jerusalem in AD 70 and used the spoils of war to fund the building of the Colosseum back in Rome.

Our globally mobile lifestyle has helped us think about religions around the world, both ancient and contemporary. Learning about the gods of other religions helps us learn about our own God too – who He is and who He isn’t.

Our God is love, and our God is near. He is Love Come Down, not to have his own needs met but to meet our needs instead.

Our God makes no demands. He is graciously present – gracious because His very presence is an unmerited gift which expects nothing in return. He chooses to dwell with us not to exact punishment or mischief or deception, but to demonstrate His choice of us.

Our God is hope personified. We have eternal hope in Him because salvation comes to us, not because of us or our good deeds.

In the captivating book, God With Us: A Journey Home, Jeremy Pierre beautifully describes who our God is when he explains the two names of the Messiah: Jesus (The Lord Saves) and Immanuel (God With Us). “These two names are only good news when they go together. God With Us is dangerous news for sinners, unless he also comes as God is Salvation. Together, these names are the gospel.”

As we conclude this holiday season and enter the new year, we continue to celebrate this gospel story. We celebrate that God kept His promise to send a Savior. We celebrate that God came near. We celebrate that God came in love. We celebrate that His coming is our salvation. We celebrate that His salvation calls for repentance without penance.

We rejoice in these truths, and we proclaim them. This is the Good News, and we hope and pray it will not only go forth, but also take root and grow deep in our corner of the world.

I’m Not the Same Person Anymore

by Krista Horn

I’ve known for a long time that living overseas has changed me. Of course it has.  But the extent to which it has shaped me – how I think about the world, how I interpret Scripture, how I relate to others – is most obvious when I return to my passport country.

We returned to America six months ago for a Home Assignment, and I have routinely discovered ways in which living overseas has changed me. There are relatively small, insignificant changes like the fact that I now prefer to drink water from the tap instead of a filter simply because the ability to drink clean water straight from the tap feels like a magical experience. But there are also big, significant changes like how we choose to spend our money and how we interpret media.

My expression of my faith has also been impacted by living overseas. For example, while I appreciate the ease with which I can worship in America – the familiar songs, a recognizable worship style, blending into a crowd – I’ve found myself longing for the chance to work at worshipping again. It takes mental energy to sing in a foreign language and translate words in my head, and it requires extra physical stamina to stand for such a long time in a Kenyan worship service. I have to work at worshipping with my Kenyan brothers and sisters, and a unique blessing comes with that. Sometimes my worship experience in America feels incomplete without expending extra energy to participate in it.

My prayer life has been impacted too. As someone who lives outside my passport country, I’ve gained an increased awareness of the rest of the world, and I pray for people and places that weren’t on my radar before I moved overseas. I also know how encouraging it is to be someone living in a foreign country who is the recipient of prayers of people on the other side of the globe. Those prayers are meaningful and helpful, and I’ve chosen to be a person who also prays for others around the world.

I can pray for others around the world because I now think of others around the world much more often than I used to. I can’t have a conversation in America about Covid or church or the school system without also thinking of how these topics are affecting people in other places. When people discuss the healthcare system, I can’t help but think of the Kenyan healthcare system we work with, as well as those in surrounding countries where our medical residents hail from (and plan to return to when they graduate).

When someone mentions travel, I not only think about travel within the United States, but also about travel in Europe and the Middle East, which directly impacts what route we can take back to Africa. When climate change and the environment are brought up, I recall the plague of locusts in our region and the droughts that have persisted in our host country. I can’t help but think of people outside the American context. My life overseas has expanded my previous worldview and shrunk my sense of self, and I’m incredibly grateful for that.

I’ve also been humbled to realize that any amount of time spent overseas has the power to change a person, not just living overseas full-time. Recently I met someone who served overseas for six months and was forever changed by it. I am nearing six years of living overseas, and I have been forever changed by it. And I know people who spent six days overseas and were forever changed by it. I was reminded of this when a woman at church approached us and said she wanted to financially support our ministry because she had been on some short-term missions trips that changed her. She has been involved with missions ever since, including supporting long-term folks like us.

No matter how long you’ve spent overseas, it has the power to change you. It can make you rethink your preconceived notions. It can make you practice your faith in new ways. It can make you care about people and places you knew little about before. It can expand your worldview and shrink your sense of self.

And quite frankly, those sound like good changes to me.

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Krista Horn married the man who once took her on a date to go tree climbing, which just about sealed the deal then and there. After her husband slogged through seven years of medical school and residency (with Krista doing quite a bit of slogging herself between work, grad school, and becoming a mom), they left for the mission field with three boys 3 and under. They have lived and worked at a mission hospital in Kenya since 2016. While her husband is busy on the wards, Krista stays busy with all the details of motherhood on the mission field. When she’s not homeschooling or cooking from scratch or helping her boys search for chameleons, she loves to curl up with a book and eat chocolate from her secret stash. Krista blogs at www.storiesinmission.blogspot.com.

How to Reorient Our Lives: A Lesson From Jesus’ Earthly Father

by Krista Horn

Joseph is my favorite person in the Christmas story.  He doesn’t get as much attention as other people (and, I would argue, not as much attention as he deserves), but Joseph offers something to the narrative that can impact us deeply if we let it.  Joseph offers an example of how to respond when plans suddenly change and the future crumbles before our eyes.  He offers an example of how to faithfully follow God when the way God is inviting us to go is uncomfortable and unfamiliar and downright hard.  Joseph’s story has a lot to teach us at any time, but especially during seasons like we’ve all experienced this year in 2020.

So many expats have been forced to change course when all they wanted to do was stay on course.  So many have had to face abrupt departures and say sudden goodbyes this year.  So many have had to lament the lack of returning colleagues.  So many have had to hold down the fort single-handedly when the fort was meant to be manned by several people.  So many have been stuck in a holding pattern, not knowing when or if they will cross the ocean again.  So many have made decisions they never imagined making, complicated by this life overseas and all its hoops like visas and passport expiration dates and a host of other factors.

So many expats have been blown by the winds of 2020, blown off course one way or another.

Which is why I am drawn back to the story of Joseph at the close of this year.

Joseph was a man completely thrown off course by the news that his fiancée was pregnant (and not by him) and he was forced to consider a way forward in light of such devastating and life-altering news.  Joseph’s plans had suddenly changed and his future had crumbled.  He was blindsided by grief and chose to quietly extricate himself from the situation.  He chose to forego the wedding plans and the dreams of his life together with Mary.

Until…

An angel appeared.  And got right to the point: “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 1:20).  Joseph had barely wrapped his head around the fact that he wouldn’t have the future with Mary he’d hoped and prayed for, and now an angel basically tells him, “You thought your future just changed?  You have no idea.” 

It remained true that Joseph’s future had taken a drastic turn.  But now he was back to courting the idea of a future with Mary, albeit a future entirely different than either of them could have imagined.  God was offering an invitation to Joseph: he could still share a life with Mary, still love her till the day he died, and still honor God in doing so.  But it would come with incredible hardships, incredible unknowns, and incredible sacrifice.  Would he take the invitation God was offering, knowing only a fraction of what it would cost him?

“When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife” (Matthew 1:24).

Joseph said yes to God.

A devotional I read recently put it this way: “He accepts God’s word and He trusts God’s word and He relies upon God’s word and he reorients his life to conform to that word.”

I take heart in Joseph’s example.  His plans had changed twice over, his future had crumbled and was put back together in a forever-altered way, and Joseph said yes to God’s vision for the future.

And the future was hard.  It meant saying yes to the shunning from society that came with a baby born out of wedlock, saying yes to helping his wife give birth while traveling, saying yes to fleeing for their lives, saying yes to living in a foreign land in order to protect his family.  Of course Joseph didn’t know all of that was coming, but his initial yes led to all the others because, I think, that initial yes was a firm decision to reorient his life to line up with whatever God had in store for him.  He could have said “no thanks” to the angel and continued with the idea of walking away from Mary forever, but Joseph instead chose to reorient his life by saying yes to marrying Mary, yes to God.

Parts of Joseph’s story were thrown at him from this broken world while other parts were sovereignly orchestrated by God.  All of it was seen and known by God, and none of it could thwart His good plan for Joseph and his family.

This broken world has thrown some nasty things at us this year too.  And God has sovereignly orchestrated some very difficult things this year.  But I take heart because all of it has been seen and known by God, and none of it has thwarted His good plan for us.  Some of the failed plans this year have forever altered the future.  Some of our foundations have crumbled around us with no promise of being rebuilt. 

And we are faced with a choice: do we willingly reorient our lives to line up with whatever God is doing, even though we don’t understand it all and certainly don’t know what’s still to come?  Do we willingly reorient our lives even when colleagues leave and don’t come back?  Even when we’re forced to leave our home overseas?  Even when our ministries stall for lack of a way forward?  Even when visas are denied?  Even when you make a hard decision based on the information you have, not knowing what the fallout will be?

My prayer as we continue celebrating this Christmas season and complete this difficult year is that we will say yes to reorienting our lives to whatever future God has in store for us, even though it may not be the future we had hoped and prayed for.  My prayer is that we will trust God’s word, remember that He works for the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28), and faithfully follow Him like Joseph did, even when the world has turned upside down.

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Krista Horn met and married the man who once took her on a date to go tree climbing, which just about sealed the deal then and there. After her husband slogged through seven years of medical school and residency (with Krista doing quite a bit of slogging herself between work, grad school, and becoming a mom), they left for the mission field with three boys 3 and under. Now they live and work at a mission hospital in Kenya. While her husband is busy on the wards, she stays busy with all the details of motherhood on the mission field.  When she’s not making meals from scratch or singing lullabies or chasing skinks out of the house, Krista loves to curl up with a book, bake chocolate chip cookies, and go to bed early.  Krista blogs at www.storiesinmission.blogspot.com.

 

The God of My Gaps

by Krista Horn

This summer we learned about a place called the Dead Mail Center. Apparently, when the United States Postal Service deems a piece of mail to be undeliverable and unreturnable, it goes to the Dead Mail Center, which is a giant warehouse in Atlanta that collects all such mail. As far as we can tell, it’s a black hole that devours mail and refuses to spit anything back up and, as such, is the source of great frustration.

We learned about this place because all of our home school curriculum for the new school year ended up there, and it has not been recovered. My home school plans were foiled by the Dead Mail Center. All the time and energy I put into researching curriculum, making decisions, and coordinating ways to get it overseas for our three sons – it all went into the black hole that is the Dead Mail Center. 

Our plans disintegrated like so many other plans in the year 2020.

The situation was frustrating because of the logistical gymnastics required to get our home school year back on track. But before the frustration could even set in, I felt defeated. I truly didn’t know how to get our curriculum overseas and I was left feeling the weight of all the gaps that would surely define a home school year cobbled together with nothing but me and a whiteboard. The defeat consumed me for awhile. The gaps staring me in the face were only the latest of all the gaps we’ve felt this year. 

My husband’s parents weren’t able to visit us like they planned and it left a gap in our hearts (and in the Grandparent Spoiling Department). 

Covid-19 and its restrictions have left gaps in our social life; it’s also revealed how short-staffed the mission hospital (where my husband works) is and has left considerable gaps in the schedule and on the wards. 

Colleagues and friends have left, and then more left, and still more are leaving soon, leaving gaps in our hearts again and again and again. 

Our home school coop has dwindled to just our family for this season, leaving teaching gaps for me to fill and classmate gaps for our boys that simply won’t be filled. 

Our church has reopened but with restrictions that do not allow children to attend, leaving a continual gap that only one parent can attend church while the other stays home with the kids.

Gaps, gaps, and more gaps. They multiplied until they broke me, leaving me defeated without hope of filling them.

It was then, in the brokenness and defeat, that God whispered something to my heart. Gaps abound and holes have left damage, but we serve a God of the gaps.

There is not an answer to every problem, and sometimes the only way forward is to let go of current hopes and simply put one foot in front of the other and see where God leads. But even in the upending of dreams and the confusion of current circumstances, God is able to stand in the gaps. 

When my first plan for getting our home school curriculum overseas failed, and then our second plan failed too, God provided a third plan that was way more complicated than the original plan but will still work in the end. And if that ultimately fails too, God has already tended to my heart and reminded me that He’s holding our children and their education in His hands and will use this school year for their good no matter what the curriculum situation is (or isn’t).

As we tread through a season of loss and loneliness, God has allowed our family to form closer bonds as we encourage one another. As the staffing needs at the hospital are not enough, God upholds the doctors one day at a time and has given them greater unity during these stretched days.

He may not provide the answers we seek and long for, but God stands in the gaps of our heartaches and defeatedness. He may not fill all the gaps with tangible solutions, but He fills them with Himself.

In this season I’ve been praying this prayer: “Lord, fill me. Fill me with You. Fill me so that whatever comes out of me is of You. My thoughts, my words, my actions, my reactions… May they be of You. And fill me to overflowing so that something can be poured out again, and let that something be of You and You alone.” I’ve often prayed that God would fill me with peace, or joy, or patience, or wisdom, but in this season I haven’t been able to pray such things. I just pray that God would fill me with Himself. “Fill me with You.” 

I know and testify that God, the God of the gaps, is able to hear and answer that prayer. He’s been hearing that prayer for me and filling the gaps in my heart and mind these days.

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Krista Horn met and married the man who once took her on a date to go tree climbing, which just about sealed the deal then and there. After her husband slogged through seven years of medical school and residency (with Krista doing quite a bit of slogging herself between work, grad school, and becoming a mom), they left for the mission field with three boys 3 and under. Now they live and work at a mission hospital in Kenya. While her husband is busy on the wards, she stays busy with all the details of motherhood on the mission field.  When she’s not making meals from scratch or singing lullabies or chasing skinks out of the house, Krista loves to curl up with a book, bake chocolate chip cookies, and go to bed early.  Krista blogs at www.storiesinmission.blogspot.com.

Entitled to Suffer

by Krista Horn

Several years ago, a missionary friend of mine made the difficult decision to leave the mission field because of serious health concerns that couldn’t be addressed in her host country.  She had spent a long time enduring physical suffering and attempting to find answers locally before her condition became so complex and so unbearable that she was forced to return to the States for medical help.  Once in the States she still endured a long and painful journey of recovery. In the midst of all that, my friend reflected, “In order to attain a theology of suffering, one must suffer.”

I have never forgotten those words.

They’re particularly poignant coming from an American worldview.  The American psyche does not accept suffering well. Our culture feels entitled to not suffer, as if all the hard work and thinking and planning and determination and zeal that were instilled in and passed down by our forebears grants us a “get out of suffering free” card.  This is our American Theology of Suffering: we have the knowledge and willpower to combat and defeat suffering if we choose to. We get confused at best, offended at worst, when we suffer anyway.

That perspective doesn’t seem to line up with a biblical view of suffering.

Living and working at a mission hospital in Africa has given us an opportunity to see how other cultures view and understand suffering.  While Americans (in general) experience comparatively little suffering and fight against it at all costs, Africans (in general) experience a lot of suffering and accept its existence in their lives as normal.  Death is known here. Death is fairly understood and even expected. And although death is greatly grieved, somehow it’s also accepted. While we struggle sometimes with how easily it’s accepted – we fail to understand the lack of “Why God?” in so many situations – we’ve also been learning something from our Kenyan brothers and sisters that is so hard for us as Americans: how to identify with our Savior through suffering.

Because of COVID-19, the entire world is suffering right now, and disciples of Jesus in this present age have an opportunity.  We have an opportunity to draw closer to Jesus and to know Him more by willingly walking down the road of suffering.

I would argue that “to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings” (Philippians 3:10, emphasis mine) is best done by suffering willingly.  I don’t mean welcoming suffering in a masochistic sense or never fighting against sickness and disease.  I mean that it’s beneficial to acknowledge that suffering is a part of this world and no one is exempt from it, and that for followers of Christ it’s beneficial to invite Him to use our suffering as a way of connecting with Himself – the man of sorrows who was familiar with suffering (Isaiah 53:3).

No one saw a global pandemic coming and no one saw the acute, increased suffering in our present world.  No one saw the sickness and death, the separation and isolation, the stress and anxiety, the financial failures and economic disasters.  No one saw a world imploding and crying out for answers.

Answers may elude us, but opportunities do not.  Opportunities abound for displaying kindness and compassion, for increasing our prayers and study of the Word, for choosing to connect and encourage each other in an era of social distancing, for giving of our limited resources because someone else has even more limited resources.  And another opportunity has presented itself: to identify with Christ through our suffering. 

Most of Paul’s writings on suffering refer specifically to suffering for Christ, for the Gospel.  “For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him” (Philippians 1:29).  The average world citizen suffering in this pandemic is not suffering for Christ, for the Gospel.  But that doesn’t exclude the reality that suffering for its own sake is opportunity to identify with Christ.

Paul tells of a time when his “brother, fellow worker, and fellow soldier” Epaphroditus became ill and nearly died, a circumstance that no doubt caused Paul great anxiety since he acknowledges that a deadly outcome would have spiraled him into “sorrow upon sorrow” with grief for his friend (Philippians 2:25ff).  God had mercy on Epaphroditus, and on Paul too. The life of his dear friend was spared. Yet I’m sure his experience of stress and anxiety (and for a time the loss of his fellow worker’s presence) caused Paul to lean heavily on Christ, the Savior who also knew stress and anxiety and the loss of His fellow workers’ presence.  I’m sure Paul turned to Christ for help and for comfort, and I’m sure Paul understood his Savior a bit more too.

Even for the times when our suffering is granted by God (such as Paul’s thorn in the flesh and of course Christ Himself who submitted to the “the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer” (2 Corinthians 12:7-10; Isaiah 53:10a), we can take heart that God’s grace is sufficient for us.  His grace sustains us, it teaches us, and it helps us to know Him more.

Charles Spurgeon, who was no stranger to suffering, once wrote: “Will the Head be crowned with thorns, and will the other members of the body be rocked on the dainty lap of ease?  Must Christ pass through seas of His own blood to win the crown, and are we to walk to heaven in silver slippers that stay dry? No, our Master’s experience teaches us that suffering is necessary, and the true-born child of God must not, would not, escape it if he could.”

As we walk this road of suffering during COVID-19, let’s acknowledge the opportunity before us.  It’s not an opportunity to fight against our current suffering because we’re entitled to not suffer.  Conversely, we have the opportunity to endure suffering as people who are entitled to suffer as followers of Jesus.  And maybe, if we’re willing, there’s an opportunity to develop a biblical theology of suffering as we lean into this time of identifying with and understanding our Savior, the Man of Sorrows.

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Krista Horn met and married the man who once took her on a date to go tree climbing, which just about sealed the deal then and there. After her husband slogged through seven years of medical school and residency (with Krista doing quite a bit of slogging herself between work, grad school, and becoming a mom), they left for the mission field with three boys 3 and under. Now they live and work at a mission hospital in Kenya. While her husband is busy on the wards, she stays busy with all the details of motherhood on the mission field.  When she’s not making meals from scratch or singing lullabies or chasing skinks out of the house, Krista loves to curl up with a book, bake chocolate chip cookies, and go to bed early.  Krista blogs at www.storiesinmission.blogspot.com.

The True Purpose of Home Assignment

by Krista Horn

“They were old-timers: they still called it furlough.”  We laughed a bit and listened to the accompanying story a woman wanted to share with us.  We are currently on furlough for the first time after finishing our first term on the mission field.  As we near the end of this time and prepare to head back to Kenya for our second term, I’m reflecting on all that it has been.  And all that it hasn’t been.  Sometimes more than we could’ve hoped for, sometimes less.  But always stretching and molding me.

Our organization calls it HMA (Home Ministry Assignment).  To make it slightly easier, our family just calls it Home Assignment.  Whatever you call it, time “on the home side” is an important part of this missionary life.

We’ve been told that Home Assignment is meant for rest.  We’ve also been told it’s meant for fundraising.  And for reconnecting with family.  And for sharing stories and photos at supporting churches.  And for finding new people who might be interested in our ministry.  And for reflection and prayer and rejuvenating ourselves before diving in again on the mission field.  And…and…and…

Even though we’d been told by multiple people what to expect or aim for, I didn’t know what all Home Assignment would entail for us.  Some things were obviously in the cards, like family gatherings and medical appointments, but others were harder to recognize until they slapped me in the face.  Home Assignment did mean meeting with people and fundraising and traveling and speaking and all those outward things, but it also meant a lot of inward things – a lot of heart work which I didn’t expect.

For us, Home Assignment meant things like finding a pediatric dentist to pull two teeth for our son.

It meant helping our kids adjust to staying overnight at yet another new place.

It meant trying to summarize our entire first term in a few sentences for those who wanted the quick version.

It meant flying halfway across the country to celebrate my birthday with my twin sister for the first time in over a decade.

It meant discovering all the new books we wanted to read, and then discovering how little time we had to read them.

It meant watching our youngest son play in the snow for the first time.

It meant sharing our hearts and being vulnerable with complete strangers.

It meant enjoying “Mama’s Night Out” with my best friend.

It meant indulging in easy-to-make food like frozen pizza and take-out Chinese.

It meant realizing how much I think about food.  Foods that I missed.  Foods that I’ll miss again.  Foods that I should take advantage of while I can.

It meant realizing my thoughts were not on things above, and acknowledging the idols still in need of tearing down.

It meant acknowledging my sin and repenting of it.It meant that despite all the glowing compliments from people at church services and reunions and Bible studies, that I am still just a woman saved by grace who happens to be a missionary.

And I am so thankful for that.  For that truth and for the reminder of it.

I am not an old-timer and I do not call it furlough.  But I think and hope it can be said across the generations that time away from the mission field, just as time on the mission field, is meant for further embracing our life with God.  It is meant for growing in our love for Him and awe of Him.  It is meant for humbling ourselves before Him again and again.  It is meant, as the author of Hebrews puts it, for fixing our eyes on Jesus so that, as we consider Him we will not grow weary and lose heart.

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Krista Horn met and married the man who once took her on a date to go tree climbing, which just about sealed the deal then and there. After her husband slogged through seven years of medical school and residency (with Krista doing quite a bit of slogging herself between work, grad school, and becoming a mom), they left for the mission field with three boys 3 and under. Now they live and work at a mission hospital in Kenya. While her husband is busy on the wards, she stays busy with all the details of motherhood on the mission field.  When she’s not making meals from scratch or singing lullabies or chasing skinks out of the house, Krista loves to curl up with a book, bake chocolate chip cookies, and go to bed early.  Krista blogs at www.storiesinmission.blogspot.com.

When Missions Affects Family Planning

by Krista Horn

When we moved overseas we knew certain things would be laid on the altar.  Things like consistent electricity and wifi.  The freedom for me to wear pants outside the home.  Having someone else teach our kids.  Trips to the library.  Cherry Coke.  The list goes on, big and small.

We also knew there’d be unforetold sacrifices.  Expect the unexpected, right?  What we didn’t know was that one of our unforetold sacrifices would be much greater than others like bathing in dirty water or conforming to community living.  When we moved overseas to live out this calling as missionaries, we didn’t know that our family planning was being laid on the altar.

By the time we moved to Kenya, our youngest son was six months old.  If you had asked me before he was born, I would have said that I hoped to have one more baby after him.  One more baby…in Africa.

I liked the idea of having four kids.  So did my husband.  But the practical side of ourselves said to take family planning one kid at a time, so we had our third child – our third son – and were content.  Besides, our life was a blur.  We’d just had three babies in as many years and were in the final stages of preparation for moving to Kenya.  Debating what the final and complete size of our family should be was not exactly a priority at that time.  We did, however, begin regularly praying for God’s guidance in the matter.

So we moved to Kenya with our three boys, ages 3, 2, and 6 months.  After a couple weeks of settling in and figuring out the basics like where to get groceries and how to use our phones, my doctor husband began working at the hospital and we hit TRANSITION.  The next few months felt like utter chaos.  My husband was gone almost all of the time, learning how to do medicine in a completely different context than he was used to.  And I was home almost all of the time, learning how to make chicken nuggets from scratch in between changing diapers and rescuing our toddler from pincher ant attacks.

Thoughts of family planning were as far from our minds as they had ever been.

Eventually we settled into a rhythm of sorts and could entertain the thought of having another child.  We still liked the idea of having a fourth baby, but as we prayed we discovered we had doubts for the first time.  We asked ourselves difficult questions like, “Do we have the capacity for another child anymore?  Do we even feel called to this?”

There seemed to be a thousand factors to consider, all of which stemmed from our life overseas.  This life means homeschooling.  It means more effort with cooking and cleaning.  It means having a husband who’s on-call and running to the hospital at all hours of the night.  It means limited babysitting options and fewer opportunities for self-care.  It means finding new ways to connect in our marriage.  It means putting desires and dreams on hold all the while creating new desires and dreams.  Adding another child to the mix would affect all of this, one way or the other.

We prayed and debated for well over a year.  In the end, we decided against having a fourth child.  The mission field had changed enough in our life that we knew growing our family would make us head in a different direction than what God had in mind.

This was one of the unforetold sacrifices for us.  It was also the greatest sacrifice we’ve made as missionaries.

Our decision was made with confidence and led to both relief and grief.  There were days when I rejoiced that we could move forward and not be mired in toddler tantrums and potty-training forever.  There were also days when I cried as I folded a onesie for the last time, knowing we’d never have another baby to wear it.  But in the midst of our back-and-forth emotions of relief and grief, one thing remained abundantly clear: we are called to medical missions no matter the size of our family.

When we moved overseas we didn’t know we had closed the chapter in our lives for having babies.  We had to wrestle with that realization when it hit.  But we don’t regret our choice because God was faithful to guide us through this major decision as we laid it before Him.  At times we still grieve the idea of having another child. When those moments come, we remember that God has given us three beautiful boys, along with confidence in our calling as medical missionaries, and we know that we have been blessed beyond measure.

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Krista Horn met and married the man who once took her on a date to go tree climbing, which just about sealed the deal then and there. After her husband slogged through seven years of medical school and residency (with Krista doing quite a bit of slogging herself between work, grad school, and becoming a mom), they left for the mission field with three boys 3 and under. Now they live and work at a mission hospital in Kenya. While her husband is busy on the wards, she stays busy with all the details of motherhood on the mission field.  When she’s not making meals from scratch or singing lullabies or chasing skinks out of the house, Krista loves to curl up with a book, bake chocolate chip cookies, and go to bed early.  Krista blogs at www.storiesinmission.blogspot.com.

The Ministry of a Missionary Mama

by Krista Horn

Two years ago our family moved to Kenya to live and work at a mission hospital which happens to host numerous short-term medical workers throughout the year. For my husband, this means having the blessing of extra hands-on-deck at the hospital. For me, it means occasionally hosting the visitors and answering lots of questions about living here long-term.

Recently I was asked, yet again, what it is that I do here. Besides the kids, that is. I’ve been asked this question many times, in various forms, both before we left for the mission field and certainly since then too. This time it was phrased, “The kids are enough, I know [insert awkward laugh], but have you been to the Pediatrics ward or the orphanages?  I mean, what’s your thing?” I was honest: I don’t do anything. And I wasn’t embarrassed or guilt-ridden with that reply.

Long before we reached the mission field, and even before we had kids, I used to vex over this issue. What would I do? What would be my ministry, my “thing”? And how would I ever accomplish said ministry if we had kids in tow? What would it look like to be the non-ministry spouse as we headed overseas?

Well, after five years of motherhood and two years of missionaryhood, I’ve come a long way in my understanding of this issue. I currently don’t vex about it. The pressure to give an answer to the question “What do you do?” let alone give an answer the inquirer wants to hear, simply isn’t there. Not only have I given myself the grace to “do nothing” but take care of our three very busy and active little boys, but I’ve really begun to understand the fact that the value of “doing” and “accomplishing” is a cultural value – a high value in our American culture but not necessarily in this Kenyan culture. And that’s not always a bad thing. In fact, it’s often a very good thing.

It’s no secret that our Western culture is work-driven and success-oriented. It’s a wonderful thing in that it’s allowed our culture to come so far in areas like medicine and education and technology and infrastructure and countless other things. And being a Type A, super organized, task-oriented, efficient person, I love this part of our culture. Actually, I appreciate it so much that, since living here in Kenya, I’ve often had to fight my own cultural superiority when I see inefficient systems in place that perpetuate poverty and disease and lack of education. Sometimes I want to shout, “If you would just do something then it wouldn’t be this way!” And that’s partly true. There is certainly room for this culture to grow in just getting things done. However, I’ve been able to pull back a bit and see glimpses of the bigger picture, which has shown me that our own work-driven culture doesn’t get it all right, and this less-efficient culture doesn’t get it all wrong.

Here’s what Kenyan culture does really well: focus on people. Case in point: stopping to greet people is very important here. It’s unfathomable to the average Kenyan why you would have anything so important to do that it would cause you to breeze past them without stopping to say hello and shake hands at the very least, if not ask about the family as well. Another case in point: when you meet someone for the first time, the question “So what do you do?” never comes up. Why would that be pertinent? Most people are subsistence farmers anyway and wouldn’t be able to regale you with tales of their career path to date. On the contrary, people are not generally concerned with what anyone does, but they are concerned with how your family is doing and whether your children are well and how they’re enjoying the break from school. The people here care about people.

And that is something I’ve grown to love about this culture.

It’s also something that’s inherently hard to adjust to because, truth be told, it’s tiring to greet so many people along the way. It makes going anywhere twice as long as it should be, which is especially hard when you have a tired toddler on your back who really needs to get home and take a nap, or when you’re just simply not in the mood to say hello to anyone. And my husband often has a hard time coming and going from the hospital because there are so many “speedbumps” along the way (which is a Kenyan expression used to describe being late because of greeting people). But the point remains: this culture cares way more about people than our own culture tends to, and that is a good and godly thing.

So what do I do around the mission compound? Well, technically I teach Preschool and Kindergarten classes for MKs as well as coordinate all the holiday gatherings for the missionary community, which is something I suppose. But more than anything, what I do is take care of our kids. I feed them and clothe them and change their diapers and wipe their noses and teach, discipline, and encourage them. In other words, I have three little disciples in my charge every day, and mothering them is what I do each day as a missionary.

Doing the mom gig definitely looks different over here than in America, and our kids need some extra guidance and management due to living cross-culturally, and that is enough for me, especially during this first term on the field filled with major transition. We’re planning to be here for the long haul and we’re not trying to change the world in a day, which I know may not be the answer that people hope to hear. I know the idea of being a missionary who’s handling the home life on top of ministry and speaking the language and doing any number of other missionary-ish roles sounds so romantic and so right, and there are certainly plenty of people even now who are doing that, but it doesn’t have to be that way (and sometimes shouldn’t be that way).

As someone who knows and feels the expectations of others, especially as we are literally supported by others to be here doing this life and ministry, I am somehow able to presently say that I don’t do much of anything as a missionary except take care of our boys, and there is freedom in being able to say that confidently, without guilt. I am thankful to live in the freedom of doing less and being more with our kids. I am learning from this culture how to care more about how our family is doing than to care about what our family has done. And I truly believe not only that our boys will be the better for it, but that God is pleased that a Type A, efficient American is learning how to let the discipling of her boys be the greatest accomplishment He could ask her to achieve.

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Krista Horn met and married the man who once took her on a date to go tree climbing, which just about sealed the deal then and there. After her husband slogged through seven years of medical school and residency (with Krista doing quite a bit of slogging herself between work, grad school, and becoming a mom), they left for the mission field with three boys 3 and under. Now they live and work at a mission hospital in Kenya. While her husband is busy on the wards, she stays busy with all the details of motherhood on the mission field.  When she’s not making meals from scratch or singing lullabies or chasing skinks out of the house, Krista loves to curl up with a book, bake chocolate chip cookies, and go to bed early.  Krista blogs at www.storiesinmission.blogspot.com.