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!