Wednesday, April 4, 2018

6 years in our America Mission Posting

So we have been in our new posting in America for almost 6 years. Sometimes it has felt like one long extended furlough and I am ready to go back home--to where ever that is???

When I look back over these last 6 years, and ask myself what have the Jenkins been doing? I see several themes. One big one is relearning and trying to find our groove back in our passport country. A lot has changed in the U.S during the two decades we were gone. Did we idealize America, when we served overseas and have returned a bit dissolution? We tried very hard when we first returned not to make too many harsh judgments but to try and look at America through the same missionary lends that we did other postings.

We thought we would return and fit back into middle-class living but unfortunately, we have had to learn how to live in poverty. The last 5 years we have teetered on the poverty line. I almost hesitate to write this as we have had so many given so sacrificially over the last 6 years of which we are so thankful. But we have also had several years where we could not keep up with our monthly bills, where I would hear a truck go by in the night and think it was the repo guy coming to take our van away. Thankfully today all our cars are paid off ( 2 of them were given to us). They are older vehicles so we occasionally have maintenance cost but we are thankful. Our kids have received free lunches or reduced lunches at school, we have stood in line for free food. We have continued to host people and serve meals to those that God brings our way.  When you are at this level for an extended period of time, it can really wear on you. We are constantly in survival mode trying to figure out how to make everything work. There have been some helpful people that God has placed in our lives that have helped us to navigate the system to get some much-needed resources. It is hard, to be honest about this. We were on food stamps for a season and have had help with Health insurance. When we have sat in American churches we have felt marginalized at best. Judged at worst. Many times we feel like a project. One thing that I can share is that it has helped us empathize with others that walk this similar journey.

Another is trying to use our gifts, experiences, and relationships and answer God’s calling in our lives. We love our friends and family from East Africa. Many are in and around Chicagoland. We have been able to go to parties, and host parties and fellowships with those from East Africa. We have laughed together, prayed together, and cried together. We have had weddings, celebrate births, and mourn the loss and buried some. Over the last few years, we have tried to plant an international church. Challenging our East African friends to be missionaries here in America with the idea to reach other multinationals. As we have spent time and energy doing this, we have spent less time with the larger East African community pastoring them. Ironically, as we have done the day by day of trying to lay a foundation for our church plant and doing the weekly set up and service we actually feel we have discipled less. We know from past church plants that in the beginning you need to delay gratification and there is a lot of drudgery and grind. This phase has lasted longer this time around. We know we need more core people and resources to get to the next stage. Are we stretching our community too far? Are we asking too much from our partners? Is the American church not ready to receive missionaries?

We have tried many things in this season. Currently, we are doing 4 things. First, we are still trying to serve our East African community. This last month, we hosted a couple of concerts for a Ugandan Mother and Daughter Christian artists. Dave helped to raise money to send the body home of a Rwandan friend that died too young. Dave also spoke at several East African social and spiritual events.

Secondly, we are houseparents for a transitional home for single moms, this is a volunteer position that provides housing for us. We have enjoyed mentoring these young Mom’s and serving with a great team here at Jubilee Village but it does take time and emotional energy. Here is a story of one of the girls on our floor .

Third, we are planting Nations Chapel. We have a great place to meet at Outreach Community Center in Carol Stream. We are so thankful for this location. We are meeting Sunday afternoons and usually share a meal together after worship. We are still just a small core that is consistent. Ignite’s monthly financial commitment was up in December 2017( they have been helping with $1000 per month) but they are still receiving funds for us from other individuals that support us as missionaries in America.

Finally, since January, Dave has been interim pastor at Lighthouse Fellowship Church in Huntley, IL. This is a congregation made up mostly of retired people. We have enjoyed getting to know them. They are a wise group of people. In addition to being with them on Sunday, we usually spend one day a week visiting the members and Dave attending the deacons meeting. We are finding ourselves falling in love with this community.

Dave has also been spending extra time with our son, Timothy in this season as he has had some health challenges with his Cerebral Palsy. In addition, I have had some health difficulties that started out with having melanoma skin cancer in my left arm and has sent me on several Doctor visits and many tests. Thankfully most things have come out fine but they did find a mass on my tailbone, at this point, it is benign but needs to be removed. I am having an MRI next week with a follow up with the surgeon on how to proceed. We would appreciate all of your prayers for this and also Timothy’s health.

As you can see it is a very busy season and we are struggling to do our best in all four of the ministries we are involved in plus family life. We would also like you to join us in prayer as we seek God to give us wisdom as to how to hone down some of what we are doing. We feel we need to focus on two instead of four things so that we can better serve. We are trying to hold things loosely and asking God to make clear what He wants us to do. Thanks again for your support and your prayers!


Jana and Dave

P.S. We are excited to announce that we are grandparents and we will meet our grandbaby face to face in July when he/she decides to make an appearance. We have enjoyed having Matt and Sophia here for Easter. It was a real blessing to have our whole family together.
                                           ( Ruth, Sophia, and our daughter-in-law Sarah)

Friday, October 14, 2016

Journey Home Part Two

As much as I enjoyed the smells, tastes, and sights of my Uganda home, what really makes a place a home is the people--the relationships that one has built. It was great to reconnect with David, our driver and his wife and beautiful children. We all went together to Kampala Church of Christ in Old Kampala. Unfortunately, this was the same weekend as the National meeting for NTC leaders and many of our dear friends were not at church. However, we were able to reconnect with several members that were there. It was good to see and hug several of them. After church we met Areyantu, a friend of ours for lunch. She treated us to a Ugandan buffet---the food was delicious but the rich conversations were priceless. She uses to be the editor for Relate magazine but now holds marriage and family seminars. It was good to hear about what was happening in the churches in Uganda, both the growth and challenges they are facing. I enjoyed hearing her and Dave dream about an online Christian East African newspaper….maybe someday in our next chapter….
Jeff Cash a missionary serving in Fort Portal, Uganda for over 20 years came with his 14-year-old son to pick us up and take us to their home for a couple of days before we went on to Rwanda. I can not tell you the joy that I had seeing and hearing Dave and Jeff talk and solve all the world problems!
Hearing them tell stories and laugh together and process common ground was a treasure!It was also breathtaking watching the view of the Ugandan countryside.
As we were driving, hearing Dave and Jeff's visit made me think this is what it is like to live in the same town with someone, go to the same church, being lifelong friends and sharing similar life experiences. Living a life as a missionary has a lot of blessings, you get to have many rich relationships with people from all over the world. The negative is that friends come go. I remember on furlough, about 6 really good friends moved away from Rwanda while we were gone. Several new families moved to Kigali, so as expiates do I made a new set of friends. Your relationships tend to build deeper fast because you both are experiencing being stretched in a new culture and in life there you tend to be very interdependent on each other.  For example, many times you spend holidays together like family.
I was getting eager to see Cheryl and the rest of their kids. Even though, we had not lived in the same country for many years, we kind of grew up together in our time in Uganda. We had overlapped with the Cashes, 10 of our 11 years in Uganda. These were the best of times and the worst of times, and they did life with us. We have a similar journey and as we moved to Rwanda we still would visit each other and would pick off where we left off. Thanks to FB , blogs and phone calls over furlough we had kept up. This had been the longest time since we had shared the same space. Sitting at the dinner table that first night was so rich. Hearing how their kids were turning into young adults, so wise beyond their years, and seeing the unique friendship that missionary siblings develop, warmed my heart.
Although our time with the Cashes this trip was brief, only two nights and one full day, we soaked up our time together. I enjoyed sitting on their porch and visiting with Cheryl.
I love her wise counsel and enjoyed catching up with more details of their joys, struggles-- both their victories and trials. We also laughed a lot! Remembered good times and not so good times…. But could both bear witness to God’s hand through it all. In the evening, we went to a beautiful lodge that overlooked one of the many breathtaking crater lakes that surround Fort Portal for dinner. After dinner we sat by the fire, we were the only ones at the lodge that night… it was good to visit and hear about all the things that God is doing through Jeff and Cheryl and their family. They have been a presence of light in and around this region for over 20 years. They are recognized in this community for doing good, as community leaders, wise teachers, and evangelists. We are so blessed to call Jeff and Cheryl our friends!

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Journey Home Part One

They say home is where the heart is but I am afraid my heart is broken into pieces because I have several homes. We were blessed last month to travel to a few of my homes. We arrived at 3:00 in the morning to Entebbe International Airport, I was greeted by the fresh night air with a bit of asphalt and exhaust fumes...such a familiar smell. We were one of the first off the plane as we were seated on the back row. This was nice as we were able to rush through the immunisation check and onto the visa office. It was nice to hear a familiar accent and kind welcome from the officer as he perused through our worn passports looking for an empty page. “ We would like an East African tourist visa” we asked, but he answered you are not tourists...Dave shared, “ Yes, we use to live here for 11 years many years ago”. He quickly gave us our visas and we moved to get our bags. Thankfully all 6 were there and we left the airport with ease but as we glimpsed the crowd of taxi drivers we did not see our friend, we called him on the phone and realised he was on his way. We quickly found some seats with a table in front of a coke kiosk.
      As we sat , we all committed that we had that feeling of belonging and that sense of home that we had not felt yet since moving to Chicagoland. It is funny how when you have not felt a feeling for over 4 years and you feel it again, it is kind of a surprise….a nice surprise...we knew exactly what to do in this situation. There was no thinking or guessing what the crowd was thinking or how we should respond was second nature to us. We felt very comfortable even though everyone was staring at us. Many were asking at first if we wanted a ride but when we sat down they left us alone. Dave went into the shop and bought some chapatis (flat bread) and some passionfruit juice. Now we were really feeling at home! Such familiar sensation in our taste buds.
  Our friend that use to be my taxi driver but now has his own tourist business came and picked us and drove us into Kampala. It was now about 4:30 A.M as we drove on the airport road into Kampala. My mind drifted back on that first drive over 24 years ago when my sister had picked us up at the airport and we had driven this road for the first time. Back then the thing that had jumped out to me was all the coffins that lined the roads from the coffin stores. This was sadly due to the Aids epidemic that was at its highest point , where one in every three people were HIV positive. This time, I could not even find one coffin shop. What struck me, this time was all the houses and businesses that lined the road… and lights, lots of light.

We were being dropped off at the old American Club, which was one of our favorite haunts that we frequented often. Every Monday like clockwork our family would spend our day off at the club. Swimming pool, playground for the children, gym, and American food was such a special treat. It was also a fun social time as many other missionary families would also be around. Even missionary friends that lived up country would come and stay in the guest rooms. This would be our treat for our first day back in Africa to stay one night at the American Club which is now called the Makindye Country Club. I had sent an email requesting an earlier than usual check in of 5:00 AM. We found that the room was all ready. After unloading the car which the staff generously helped us with, we collapsed into our beds.
I was the first to wake up at about 9:00. I was eager to look at everything in the light of the sun. Everything was much as I had remembered with a few renovations and additions done over that years. The breakfast was one of my favorite things that were served at the club. I went and sat in our usual spot, comfy chairs that overlooked the pool area.
As my coffee was brought to me , my mind was flooded with all the memories of conversations that had taken place in this same spot. I was glad that I was up alone. I was able to have some sweet fellowship with the One who had drawn near me all these years and who has been my sweetest confidant these last 4 years in our transition.
As I was sitting there I could almost hear my kids laughing and playing with their friends. As if 20 years ago had not happened yet...I could see my three toe heads bouncing around with little Ruthie running after them ….and later Timothy would be on my!... Time had past and we had moved to Rwanda after 11 years in Uganda and then had moved to Chicagoland , where we have been living for the past 4 plus years. My oldest daughter had graduated from college and wedded, my two older sons are finishing up their university time, little Ruthie is now a junior in high school and baby Timothy is turning 14 years this month...I reminded myself. No these were not my little kids I saw swimming and laughing in the pool….time had passed...but I could remember and savor those sweet memories...I could be thankful and rejoice that God had allowed us to journey in this land for a season. I was thankful that we had been given a chance to return and to be reminded again that this life happened and it was real!

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Guest Blog My daughter, Ruth Jenkins
Story of my life: 
Adapting to my own culture

Growing up as an adopted TCK (third culture kid) born in Africa I’m used to change and adapting to new situations. A third culture kid is a child raised in two or more different cultures during their developmental years outside of their parents culture. I was born in Kampala, Uganda August 1999. I don’t really know the exact date of my birth but it’s an educated guess at the hospital when they found me and took me in. I don’t know anything about my biological family because I was adopted at two months old to an American family.

My parents and family never made me feel like I was anything other than their daughter or sister even though there’s an obvious difference in skin color. I only really ever notice that there’s a difference when I tell people that I am adopted because I think about what they must think of me knowing that I have parents of a different race than my own. I don’t normally tell people first off that I am adopted because I get somewhat self-conscious about how they might respond to it. First off being from Africa is something the average American thinks is crazy however being also adopted raises so many awkward questions. To answer some common questions: I’m not bilingual, I did not live in a hut and Africa is my first home yet I don’t like it better than any other places I’ve lived. I don't prefer any places I've lived before I appreciate all of them and how I've grown in all.
Although my parents are white they’re not regular, Americans who just went to Africa to adopt me and my younger brother. My mother was born in Cameroon and raised in Kenya for a few years. Her parents(my adopted Grandparents) were missionaries in Africa so that is her connection to Africa. She is a TCA(third culture adult) and I can relate to her in more ways than everyone else thinks when they first meet us. Although I am the African one by blood some days I feel like my white American parents are more African than me because of their 17 years in Uganda and Rwanda. I have four siblings, Timothy, in 7th grade, is adopted from Uganda like me, but not biologically related to me. The rest are American but understand Africa just as well as me. My first home was in Kampala Uganda where I lived for about four years.
I loved Uganda because I have my earliest memories there and can’t remember a single bad thing happening. Although we had household help that spoke Oluganda I had trouble keeping up with my friends at bible class who spoke it and pretended to know what they were saying because everyone pretty much expected me to speak the language. I never learned anything other than English throughout my whole time in Africa. After living in Kampala, Uganda, I moved to Oklahoma for about a year. In Kindergarten, I grew a little more aware about everyone around me.
School was a place where I could finally speak the same language as everyone but still felt a little bit different. Even at a small age I realized no matter where I went I would always have something different from everyone. I met my best friend Alexis in Oklahoma
because our parents were friends, we went to the same church and school. I had no idea she would be there for me after kindergarten and understand everything about me from a young age. Making friends in kindergarten was easy to do but very hard to let go of when I had to leave them. All I wanted to do was stay with Alexis and go to the same school every day. After Kindergarten, we moved back to Africa but lived in Rwanda.
Although I was born in Uganda I lived in Rwanda for most of the time I was in Africa. I don’t remember much of first, second and third grade, but I do remember that I loved having a normal routine and having friends who I saw every day and started getting closer to every year. I went to an amazing school called KICS(Kigali International Community School). KICS was an international school that my parents founded. It started out as a small school that was in a house but moved over to a building. All the students at KICS are so diverse that I didn’t feel different at all because everyone was different like me. I basically had a friend from every part of the world. Alexis had moved to KICS in 2nd grade with me. Having Alexis in Rwanda with me made me feel more like myself because she understood how diverse I was.
My mom started to get sick by the end of third grade and she left to go to Kenya for better treatment. My mom went from Kenya to America for a few months. Not having my mom around for so long didn’t affect me as much as I thought it would. Normally when you’re young and so dependent on everyone else it affects the way you act because you miss them so much. For some reason, I was just fine. It was almost as if she was just out of sight and out of mind. We eventually got to see her because we moved to Oklahoma again as she got better. We lived in the exact same city, went to the same church, but this time, things were different from kindergarten. Everyone at church had grown closer because they had been together for so long. 
I had a fairly easy time making new friends at school but reconnecting with people at church was a little harder because I couldn’t just pick off where I left on in kindergarten and talk about the same things from when I was a little kid. After my mom got better I really hoped we would stay in Oklahoma just so that I could stay with all my new friends I took such a long time to make. By the end of fourth grade we moved back to Kigali and I started fifth grade at KICS. When I got back I felt as if I was completely new although I had been there for first, second and third grade. So many new students had come the year I was gone it made me feel like all the other years I had been there didn’t even matter because they made new memories without me making it hard to pick up where I left off. Eventually, I felt a little better that I wasn’t there for fourth grade but some days it really got to me.
I had to explain myself instead of having everyone just know who I was. I didn’t know if I should identify as African or American. I had passports from both continents, but I felt like I had to choose one. Sure I'm African American but not the stereotypical one everybody thinks of. All my African friends made me think I was too different because I didn’t speak the language, but all my American friends couldn’t relate to my hair or skin problems. My African friends constantly told me that I wasn’t truly African I just had the African body and “white” mentality because of my family. I hated that. I didn’t know I could be both because I didn’t feel like both. I couldn't call myself Oreo because if I called myself a black girl with a white mentality everyone would think I was trying claim I had white privileges like my family.
I didn't know how to respond so I would just awkwardly laugh trying not to agree but also not correct them. I just wanted someone to think of me as a person and not give me a label. After 5th grade, I was still in Kigali for 6th. I was so happy that I would have a chance to build friendships for middle school and grow with them till the end of high school. My sister was in her senior year for high school and decided she was going to choose Wheaton College as the school she was going to study at for her four years of college. My parents were excited for her and spent a lot of time talking about what they would do without her. I didn’t care about how much they would miss her I thought she was tough enough getting through college alone without us. They then told me after a few months of school we would move to Wheaton and Church plant in the Chicago area.
I resented my sister the moment I heard we were moving after 6th grade. I didn’t want to leave all my friends, I again took so long to make. I didn’t want to start over another time. I hated the thought of change. No one liked new students. I don’t even like new students and I’ve been one 4 times so far. By the time we moved in 7th grade my opinion changed a little. My family went to a great summer camp in Oklahoma called TCK camp. They explained what a Third Culture Kid is, everyone shared their stories and I realized it’s not so bad to be one. I still wasn’t proud of being from all these different places, but I loved hearing that other people struggled with the same things I did. I wasn’t culturally 100% African or American either. I didn’t love the idea that I wasn’t only one thing. Normal people are only one thing is what I used to think. I just wanted to be one thing with one culture. I still hated all the adaptations I had to make, but I decided I join a few clubs at school because I might as try and get comfortable if I was going I was going to live here for the rest of my life.
I thought that as long as my parents had a job and my sister was close by we wouldn’t leave again. My 7th-grade year at Franklin was a lot better than I thought it was going to be. Moving so much taught me how to make friends and how to pick who to sit with at lunch because I had done it a lot before. Although I joined a few clubs and made lots of new friends I still felt like I wasn’t making the connections everyone else had. Everyone had their cliques and they were very nice to me, but I didn’t feel truly included until the end of the year when I joined track with my best friend. I got closer with a small group of people instead of trying to be friends with everyone I saw. At the end of 7th grade, my parents decided that the suburbs weren’t for them.
This time, I was beyond mad. I hated everything about moving around so much. I didn’t even want to compromise or keep making new friends that wouldn’t last. The TCK camp I went to was pointless to go to. We decided to go the summer of 8th grade. I didn’t want to go because I didn’t want to be a TCK. It seemed a lot more boring to me because I went but ignored everything positive they had to say. I saw only negative things. By the time we moved to the Northside Chicago in 8th grade I decided to be online schooled. I didn’t want to make friends or be a part of any clubs.
By 8th grade year, everyone knows who their friends are and when you’re a young teen your friends make up your life and it’s hard to let new people in because only a select few people like meeting new people. I really wanted to continue in dance classes because I had been in them for 4 years, but we couldn’t get into the dance classes at the places I wanted to dance at. Dance was the only thing I had during all my transitions and not having it made me feel like I lost absolutely everything.

I was at the lowest point in life by 8th grade. I joined youth groups, but no matter how hard I tried I didn’t feel included or like I belonged. The more they tried to include me the more I felt like they knew I was a homeschooled girl who didn’t have any friends. People trying to welcome you to a new place lasts for a short amount of time because they greet you, tell you about themselves and leave to their prefered group of friends. It wasn’t just that I couldn’t make friends it was that I just didn’t have the desire to. My perspective was that if I tried to make friends and I ended liking them I would just end up moving which made it feel so pointless to even try. It took a few months of trying to get used to things in the city but eventually I found a routine.

Chicago is fun, but Wheaton definitely felt a whole world way. I still don't get why people say they're from Chicago when they're really from Wheaton. Sure you can go to the city every weekend of your whole entire life but you still don't really live there. Chicago and Wheaton are extremely different and you'll never know that until you've actually lived there. My neighbors were the sweetest people on Earth and made me feel a little better about living there. My sister had been visiting a lot more often which made me feel a lot better because I no longer resented her for making our family move. She gave me a ton of advice on how to adapt to feeling alone and how to embrace being a TCK. Every time she came over she would help me by explaining that if I hadn’t moved the many times that I have I would not be the same person or exposed to as many things.
Being “normal” and growing up in the same area for your whole life doesn’t help you grow. You have to expose yourself to new places and cultures instead of staying in your little box. Sure can people go on 2-week vacations to exotic places and be “changed” but are since I lived in a few different places I truly understand the culture instead of just admiring it. Joining new groups, making new friends and being a part of different schools taught me a lot of different social skills and the different types of people there are.
Even though I leave, them in the end, I would rather meet 100 new people instead of having the typical shrinking high school group everyone seems to have. By the end of 8th grade into 9th grade, I decided to go back to a school. I realized I would be leaving behind my babysitting job and the comfort of my home but for the first time, I was excited for something new. Being a freshman meant I would be just as new as everyone else which made me feel a lot more confident. I met so many new people at Uno Rogers Park High and learned so much about the Latino culture because the majority of the people there are 70% Hispanics. I met my best friends there and even though we didn’t know each other for our whole lives it didn’t matter.  
By the time, my parents told me we were moving back to the suburbs I hadn’t been as angry at them as I was in the past. I’ve moved 3 times in the last 3 years but now that I realize the positives and the good effect it had on my life. We all end up going through change at some point in our lives and it took me awhile to learn to live with it but, in the end, all the things I’ve viewed as negative are what has shaped me. I don't know if that's the last move I'll do before high school ends but if it isn't I'll be ready and prepared for what's to come.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Third Culture Missionaries

As we are beginning to start a new church plant,  like  an expecting mother, one looks back and remembers other  births.  With the memory comes emotions such as
joy, excitement,
nervousness, fear, overwhelmed, disappointed,
delighted, hopeful,
            exhausted, humiliated,
                                                          and compassionate
just to name a few.
Before the birth not unlike any woman who is pregnant, one is dreaming about what this church can be-- you can almost picture the church 10 years from now: healthy, self- sustaining, growing,
                                           vibrant, multi-cultural,
                                  full of sinners washed clean my God’s grace and Jesus’s blood,
relevant to the community it is in,
and genuine.
This is the church I want to go to and this is the church we believe God is asking us to plant.

One of the first task in planting a church is to think who is our target? In Uganda,our target was upwardly mobile, young professionals and families. In Rwanda, our target was English-speaking diaspora, influencing leaders. Here in Chicagoland, we believe that God is calling us to leverage our relationships that He has given us with our East African Diaspora to reach other Third-culture folks.
What do we mean by Third -Culture folks? Another term would be cultural hybrids or global nomads. This is where you are living somewhere that is not your place of origin--your parents’ culture but you are not fully a part of this new culture-- you have blended the two and have formed a new third culture! This is the group we feel that we can reach and that can reach others.

We want to come alongside our East African friends and encourage them to reach out as missionaries to other third- culture folks as well as other plain Joes searching for God’s grace and fullness in their lives.

This weekend, we had lunch with a friend of ours from East Africa working here in Chicagoland. Dave asked her,” what do you have to offer America as a missionary?’” This was in response to her wanting to help us with this new church plant. She responded, “ The years I have been here, it is evident that God is put on a stool in the corner as people go about making decisions for their own lives….we from Rwanda did not have this luxury we needed to depend on Him for everything even our breath. This is really the reality for the whole world, but here in the U.S they are fooling themselves. I think I can share how to make God a part of your whole life. Also, I think we have learned some lessons on forgiveness and unity.”

Yes, God can use you as a missionary! The  American church needs more of your perspective and the seekers need to hear your voice. This is what Nations’ Chapel will be ---a place for our East African Diaspora friends to serve as missionaries reaching other multi-cultural folks and calling those hurting, lost, and seekers into a life-changing relationship with Jesus and his church!

Friday, July 24, 2015

Where Have I Been? Weddings,Goodbyes, Losses and Joys

Where have I been? I can not believe that it has been so long since I wrote my last blog post.
Writing for school got the best of me.... then our 4th move in less than 3 years has put me over the edge....then this summer I was pleasantly preoccupied with helping to plan our oldest daughter's two weddings. Yes you heard me right 2 wonderful weddings happened the 4th of July weekend and thankfully she married the same guy twice.

We had an African wedding--where we blended several cultures of Kenya,Uganda and Rwanda together. Our new East African community was a big help as I have learned--It takes a village to marry off your daughter! We had a huge feast and traditional Ugandan and Rwandan dancing and then we blended into an America wedding dance traditions. It was a joyous affair. Thankfully many friends and family helped to clean up and than the next morning we took the beautiful flowers ( that a new friend helped us buy wholesale) and all the vintage wedding decor that I had gathered for the last several months going to thrift stores and garage sales and we decorated the church and church lawn for a pie reception. 

The church wedding was so perfect! Sophia had borrowed my mother's wedding dress so that had set the tone for the vintage wedding. We found floral dresses that were made in the 50's for the bridesmaids. Old vintage floral mix matched table clothes and an eclectic array of pie and cake servers rounded out the look. Not to mention a little bit of lace and baby's breath in vintaged colored bottles. The church wedding was mostly attended by family and a few friends. The chapel where they married was small so we kept the guest list small. 

 Several from Dave's extended family came and many from my extended family came, driving from MN, KS and TX. Sophia's husband Matt's family and some extended family came as well. Matt and Sophia had several Wheaton friends attend. We had a few friends come from the community that we have made since moving to the U.S but this was a bit of the sad part about being a missionary and having friends all over the world---I missed several people and wished for their presence! 

Less than a week later we put Sophia and her husband Matt on a plane to move to Rwanda. It was really strange being at the airport staying as we said goodbye. I have said many good-byes at airports but this was one of the first times that I was not going .... it was a mixture of emotions: excitement and joy for Sophia and Matt to have this journey--for Sophia to go 'home' and teach at an international school that we helped to start and that she had graduated from--for Matt to see and experience a major part of what had shaped Sophia, her 18+ years of living in East Africa ---sadness and loss as we were going to miss out on being with them--miss spending time with them in these early stages of marriage....but there was also another loss that resurfaced--wishing that I was also going back has been over 3 years now and we have yet to return even for a visit. I know in my head that one can never really go back-- people have moved away, things have changed, I have changed but I still miss it so much. I believe we are where God wants us for now but it is still so hard. 

Living in yet another some ways starting a fresh...building new relationships. We have been here in the suburb of Chicago just a little over 3 months. We are living in an apartment in as a part of an organization called Outreach Community Ministries . A transitional housing program, in Carol Stream (a Western Chicago suburb), for young single moms, who are parenting one child, or pregnant with their first child, and are between the ages of 18 and 24.  Jubilee Village is a ministry that provides safe and secure housing, clinical case management by licensed professionals, and assists them as they work towards their personal, academic, and financial goals. 

We are serving  as volunteer houseparents. We’re on call three evenings per week, and we host one meal per week for the five single moms on our floor. Dave takes a walk around the property a few times per week to look for potential problems and does some minor maintenance.  I mainly spend time mentoring these young moms and loving on them and their kids. The position is a volunteer one, but Jubilee Village does provide us with housing, so we’ve felt a sense of relief in not worrying each month about whether we can pay rent.  

I am enjoying this new addition to our serving here in Chicago land, but our main focus as many of you know is starting an multi-cultural/ international church. Dave has an office in Cornerstone Christian Church and they have also graciously offered to let us you their building Sunday evenings for our new church plant to meet in. We are hoping to have our first service in the middle of Sept. Matt and Sophia's African wedding was held in their back lawn. We were thrilled with the turn out that came and celebrated with us. We had 2 long term friends from East Africa and family and the rest of the 250+ guest were relationships that we have built among the East African Diaspora living here in Chicagoland. It was nice to see the fruits of these short years. We are hoping that some of these new friends will start worshiping with us and be part of the catalyst in starting this church.

Back to losses... I know I have written this before but one of the things I miss most is deep relationships. Moving into several different areas in our short time back in the States has not been conducive for building meaningful relationships. I know that this takes time but it is also challenging because we are attending a couple of different churches as they are partnering with us in different ways. I am hoping as we move into more of a routine there will be at least the potential for some relationships to build. Meanwhile , I am learning a lot about myself and God is sustaining me but also reminding me of my need for others. He after all has created us for relationships. I only hope I do not become to warped during this relationship famine time that I loose all relationship skills and I am not a good friend when the opportunity arises.  Thankfully this is just a fleeting thought as my husband reminds me what a good friend I am. 

Well now you are all caught up! Hopefully it will not be 8 months before I write again!


Monday, October 13, 2014

Collaboration is Key for Team relations in Church Planting

                   My family and I have moved to Chicago after being missionaries in East Africa to plant a new multicultural church with East African Diaspora. Church planting in Chicago is no easy endeavor. Church planting is a lot like starting a new business. This is a big task and it requires others who will join us. The relationships with these co-workers are important as it sets the tone for the DNA of this new church.  Collaboration is a key skill in developing a healthy functioning team, in which storytelling and leaders who promote collaboration are essential to accomplish this.
      Collaboration according to Wood and Gray, “occurs when a group of autonomous stakeholders of a problem domain in an interactive process, using shared rules, norms, and structures, to act or decide on issues related to the domain”(Imel and Zengler, 2002, p 43,44) In other words, people that share common ownership in a problem and are working together to solve the problem are collaborating. As stated by Imel and Zengler “Face-to-face contact is a necessary condition for the collaboration that occurs in communities of practice. The term communities of practice refers to a group who by working together learn by doing and also develop a shared sense of what needs to happen to get a task accomplished”(Imel and Zengler, 2002,p46)

According to Imel and Zengler, learning plays a roll in collaboration. “The teams engaged in learning activities that included learning how to work together and learning to accomplish specific objectives.”(Imel and Zengler, 2002,p44) Learning how to work together involved getting to know each team member both personally and professionally. Working on specific objectives, this learning “might be characterized as sharing knowledge. ‘Sharing knowledge occurs when people are genuinely interested in helping one another develop new capacities for action; it is about creating learning processes’” (Imel and Zengler, 2002,p45)
 Jassawalla and Sashittal found that “ high –collaboration team members had learned and developed distinctively new ways of thinking and acting, which meaningfully differentiated them from others.”(Jassawalla and Sashittal, 2001,p34) First, collaborative teams take ownership and personal responsibility for achieving the goals of the team. Second, collaborative teams have high levels of transparency. “There are no hidden agendas and few misunderstandings”(Jassawalla and Sashittal, 2001,p34, 35) Third they have a high level of mindfulness. According to Jassawalla and Sashittal, “every member could explain why other members (whether acting alone or as part of the team) did what they did and found it easy to support their actions.”(Jassawalla and Sashittal, 2001, p35) Finally, collaborative teams have high levels of synergy- “a team environment where trust is built up for each other so there can be participation in constructive conflict and look for a solution that go beyond everyone’s notion of what is doable.” (Jassawalla and Sachittal, 2001,p35)
            After researching various working teams, in the opinion of Imel and Zengler, there are also several elements that lead to the success of teams maintaining collaboration. (Imel and Zengler, 2002,p 42) Some of these are, regular communication, customer-center focus, shared leadership, structure and focus, and respect for one another. (Imel and Zengler, 2002, p43) The groups that were successful at collaborating; communicated regularly some even daily, they were focused outside themselves on providing better service for the customer, leadership would shift to those in the group who had the given strength to accomplish the particular task, there was a plan, and mutual respect and commitment to the team. (Imel and Zengler, 2002,p43)
Although, developing the skill of collaboration and implementing this into a collaborative team may seem like a daunting task, it is possible. Learning to work together well by getting to know each other both personally and professionally, developing distinctive ways of thinking and acting, and by applying each of the elements that lead to teams maintaining collaboration, this becomes more attainable.
As my husband and I begin to gather other co-workers, spending time in face-to face communication will be important. Learning about each other. What are our strengths and weakness, where do we thrive and what are the areas where we struggle? Taking some gift assessment tests may also be helpful during this beginning process. Becoming comfortable with each other is essential to developing trust. Learning about how each of us works as we accomplish small task helps to see how we will work together on bigger tasks.
Developing distinct ways of thinking and acting that will help ensure a collaborative team is paramount. First, taking the time to all have buy in to our vision of planting a multicultural church so that the whole team owns this is key. Second, creating an environment of trust where transparency is cultivated. Open and honest dialogue will be encouraged. Third, developing mindfulness, recognizing that everyone in the group adds value and understanding and appreciating each one’s perspective. Forth, encouraging synergy, working on looking for the third idea. Knowing that by coming together and sharing ideas a solution can be found that maybe different than the idea with which I came into the conversation.
Also there are several elements that lead to teams maintaining collaboration that we will need to apply. To begin with, having weekly team meetings but also during each week checking up on each team member will be crucial for maintaining regular communication. Next, working together to creatively serve our community will be our primary purpose. Third, leadership will be shared according to each of our strengths and area of interests. For instance if some in our group are musically inclined, they will be the ones to lead worship at the church. For those that are gifted in outreach they will lead in helping us to share our faith in the community. Some may have communication skills and in-depth Biblical knowledge and they can lead the teaching at the church. Fourth, we will have structure and focus. An overall mission and plans and sub plans are in place so that we are focused. There are many things that churches can be involved in but sometimes this shot gun approach leaves a body scattered and it is better to do a few things well than many things badly. Last but certainly not least, a mutual respect for each other and commitment to the team. Respect is both given and earned. It is deepened over time. Respect is key in developing trust for each other and gives each of us on the team confidence to take risks to accomplish this task of church planting.
One of the practical ways that I have learned to help form a collaborative team is through storytelling. According to Silverman, “ Storytelling helps connect people, building relationships and fostering idea sharing and mutual support” (Silverman, 2006, p11) By each of the team mates sharing their personal story I can understand much of their journey. Learning about how they functioned in past teams with both the joys and hurts of their previous experience can help build trust moving forward. Listening is a vital part of storytelling. Silverman writes, “When working with someone who tends not to be converse, using the prompt,  ‘ Tell me about …’ followed by silence will often trigger a story rather than a short response. However, if you do so, listen without interruption and judgment to what is said or the person may view a future invitation to talk with disinterest ”(Silverman, 2006,p12)
Silverman shared that “storytelling can develop team-based collaboration and teamwork in unique ways”(Silverman, 2006,p13) There is a unique team culture that can develop through sharing a common story.“…a collective story that provided direction around how to work together, clarified roles, increased mutual trust, and promoted camaraderie” shares Silverman. (Silverman, 2006, p.13) I think it is important as new members are added to the team that this collective story is shared and then it becomes a part of their story. The story evolves as new people are folded in. Silverman says it this way, “…involving people in the process of creating, capturing, or relaying stories strengthens their bond to the organization and the link between their own needs and work to what the enterprise desires to achieve.”(Silverman, 2006,p 15) In East Africa where I lived for many years storytelling is very much a part of their culture. So much of their history is oral based so stories are one of the ways to remember the past and share values with the future generation. I really resonated with Silverman’s thoughts on using stories to promote a collaborative team.
            Besides storytelling being incidental to becoming a collaborative team, leaders that promote collaboration are very important. I see this is key for my husband and myself as we are leading this endeavor. Jassawalla and Sashittal wrote that there were four specific steps to make this happen:
1.     Holding regular meetings and foster high levels of information
      sharing and communication between members.
2.     Collocate team members to increase shared understanding of the
      team’s goals and strategies.
3.     Handpick team members and spend time developing their
      interpersonal and team process skills.
4.     Network with key people outside the team to ensure access
      to information and resources needed. (Jassawalla and Sashittal, 2001p37)

It has been my experience that collaboration does not happen accidentally.  As leaders, if my husband and I can implement these four steps together with modeling collaboration skill using storytelling we will be well on our way to developing a collaborative team that will be successful in planting a multi-cultural church here in Chicago.

Imel S, Zengler C. For the Common Good: Learning Through Interagency Collaboration. New Directions For Adult & Continuing Education [serial online]. Fall2002 2002; 2002(95): 41. Available from: Academic Search Complete, Ipswich, MA. Accessed September 17, 2014.

Jassawalla A, Sashittal H. THE ROLE OF SENIOR MANAGEMENT AND TEAM LEADERS IN BUILDING COLLABORATIVE NEW PRODUCT TEAMS. Engineering Management Journal [serial online]. June 2001; 13(2): 33. Available from: Academic Search Complete, Ipswich, MA. Accessed September 17, 2014.

Silverman L. How Do You Keep the Right People on the Bus? Try Stories. Journal For Quality & Participation [serial online]. Winter2006 2006; 29(4): 11-15. Available from: Academic Search Complete, Ipswich, MA. Accessed September 17, 2014.