October 8, 2012

Raising Kids on the Mission Field (and other insights)

I went to college with some pretty cool people who are serving the Lord in some incredibly faithful ways, one of whom I get to introduce to you today. My former roommate, Christina Gabrysch, is a missionary in rural Ethiopia alongside her husband Jeremy, a medical doctor, and their two children. They serve in a Christian hospital, evangelizing patients, training Ethiopian doctors and nurses in medical care and the Word of God, and sending local missionary doctors to other underdeveloped areas in rural Ethiopia. I asked Christina if I could share her story because I want more international ministry voices on the blog encouraging those who are reading and serving worldwide. But I also asked her to share because she is new to the mission field. I wanted to know what she is learning about God and herself in this adjustment period, and I knew her words might encourage those of you who are in your own adjustment period. I hope that's exactly what you find in her wise, insightful answers to the questions I posed about raising kids on the mission field, learning dependence, and culture shock.
How did God call you and Jeremy to Africa?

God called our family to Ethiopia through a series of events and over a period of several years.  It did not happen overnight, through a dream, or in a loud audible voice as we would often like.  Rather, we strived to follow God daily and turned this way or that way as He lead us through gentle whispers.  (Isaiah 30:21 - And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, “This is the way, walk in it,” when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left.)  This has been our theme verse over the last year as we have moved our family overseas and it continues to be the verse that we claim as we live out daily life here.

God called Jeremy to missions as a college student using many of the teachings of John Piper like Let the Nations Be Glad and Desiring God.  More specifically, Jeremy felt this calling begin in his heart during a college conference called Passion (now One Day).  I was at the same conference where it hit home for me that my life is not my own and the very purpose of it is to give glory to God.  Flash forward years later as Jeremy and I began dating, he told me of his plan to live overseas and do medical mission work.  He was afraid I might run for the door but instead I told him that if God was calling me to be his wife than God was also calling me to do mission work overseas.

Then we began doing short-term mission trips together.  On these trips, God lead us to Africa.  It was through a series of short-term trips that God gave us both a heart for Africa, the people, and a desire to do longer term missions.  Alongside these trips we began praying to be able to adopt a child into our family.  God lead us to ETHIOPIA through our adoption of our first child, Nate.

So, it is a long story, over almost 15 years, of how God worked in both of our hearts and lives to call us to Him, His work, His work overseas, and specifically Ethiopia.

Tell me about adjusting to life in a different culture. What are the hardest parts for you and what has been easy about it that surprised you?

The veteran missionaries warned us about culture shock and we were trained in the different phases of it and how to adapt to a new culture.  But, nothing or no one can ever really prepare you for living in a different culture.  At first it is adventurous as you try new foods, meet new people, and learn new ways of life.  Soon enough, the adventure dies and you are left to endeavor to love a new culture that is the very polar opposite of your own.  This is an impossible task without looking to Jesus as our example and relying on the Holy Spirit to help us.  Thankfully, we do have the best example in Jesus as He left His home to come live among a sinful people whom He loved and served humbly.  If we try to live in a different culture on our strength, I can testify that we will become frustrated, impatient, angry, and paralyzed to do the work that God has for us.  To thrive overseas we must die to ourselves, our culture, our ideas, and our way of doing things.  This is something that must be done every single day and sometimes a few times a day.  God has us so far out of our comfort zone here in Ethiopia that we must cling to Him just to do life here.  It is a scary place to be sometimes but it is also such a sweet place as we grow to know and love God more and see His great love for a diverse and beautiful world.

When we church planted, the move really took out all of my “crutches” and caused me to learn to depend on the Lord like never before. Are you experiencing the same thing? What are you learning about yourself and about God during this adjustment period?
When God called us to move overseas, He called us to give up a lot of our “crutches” or comforts.  We left our families, friends, familiar places, careers, home, and even our dog.  In a sense we did feel as we had been stripped of so many things that we held tightly in our hearts.  It was and is painful but it also gives me a rich feeling of freedom.  God has shown us that He is all we need.  He is our family, closest friend, the most familiar place, and our home.  He has shown us that His promises are true and that He will remain faithful at all times.  He has never left us!  We are free to have nothing and be far away from those who know and love us most.  He is everything and in Him we have more than the comforts of this world can even attempt to provide.  In Him, we have the fullest fellowship.  In Him, we are sons and daughters of the Sovereign King.
You are raising two children in a culture very different from the one you grew up in. Tell me about the process you’ve gone through or are going through in trusting your kids to God.
As we prepared to move overseas, I learned to give myself, my husband, and my children over to God completely.  For my kids, I had to believe, without a doubt, that God loves them more than I ever could.  I had to believe that He has a plan for their lives and that His plan is always good.  I had to mentally walk down the road of losing my kids or having something “bad” happen to them and then claim that God is in control and that He is good.  It was a time where I had to question my beliefs in God and in His promises.  I needed to know what I believed to be true and then I needed to sharpen my faith in these beliefs.  I had to completely give my children over to God and relinquish any little control I thought I might have had.  I decided that I did trust Him because He can do things that I cannot do.  He can give them an abundant life, He can shape their hearts and minds into His own, and He loves them unconditionally.

I do feel relatively safe living in Ethiopia.  We have not knowingly put our children in harm’s way.  We try our best to provide safety, security, and love for them.  We strive to teach them biblical principles and show Jesus to them.  And then we pray.  We pray for their eyes to see God, their hearts to know Jesus, and their lives to be a testimony of God’s grace and love to others.

I am thankful that I went through this process in my heart of releasing my children into God’s hands.  It took a move overseas for me to go through this, but it is something that every mom should do.  We simply just cannot make this world a rosy place for our children and we cannot protect them from harm and the mistakes that we made growing up.  The only way to have peace and joy in parenthood is to relinquish control, loosen our grip, and watch God do what He does best.

How can people in the States encourage and support women like you? What would you want them to know about your life and ministry?
I want people in the States to know that we NEED their support and encouragement.   I want them to know that we are NOT superhuman.  We struggle to have quiet time with the Lord.  We overlook opportunities to share the Gospel or sometimes even run from them.  We have a difficult time doing what God calls us to do.  We mess up everyday and almost ruin relationships with those on our team, our spouse, or our children.  We need God’s grace every minute and we need to cling to the Holy Spirit if there is even a chance for us to do the task God has given to us.

Before I was a missionary, I thought that missionaries had it all together.  They had the closest relationship with God, they knew the most about the Bible, and they had more boldness and courage than I could even imagine.  I put them up on this sort of higher ground.  Now, I know that God calls broken people to the mission field.  He does not wait for us to “get it all together” or to have a seminary degree.  He calls us in our broken state so that we are confident that it is Him working through us.  It is His work being done out here and not our own.

We need those on our support team to pray for us to have endurance when we feel alone or tired.  We need them to pray for us to have boldness and courage to share the Gospel.  We need them to pray for us to have the stamina to make friendships with those who are completely different than us.  We need prayer to rely on God and not try to do things on our own accord.  We need prayer to walk humbly and serve others.  We need prayer to love unconditionally and to forgive.  So, as they pray these same things for their own lives, pray them for their missionary friends as well.  Then send them a note and let them know that you prayed for them today.

Oh, and we really love care packages!