Newsletter - Summer 2017

Turning a Corner

Friends,

It’s been too long since my last long letter. Life always seems to have something just around the corner worth waiting on before crafting one of these. But we’ve turned quite a few corners lately, and we are overdue for an update. We are doing well. Content. Often amazed. Sufficiently challenged. And gaining a bit of weight after three years in America.

Earlier this month, Amelia completed AIM’s Candidate orientation week here at Headquarters. This is a pre-requisite for her upcoming eight month short-term service in Africa (more on that in a bit). Seeing her wander the halls of my office building with dozens of other amazing and unique men and women headed into missions was special as a dad to witness. Amelia is only 18 and, it seems, will likely turn 19 in some distant part of Madagascar.

I should back up a little to May when Amelia graduated high school. Renee and I marveled at how quickly 18 years went by and, of course, were proud of our daughter for all kinds of reasons. One, of this girl who managed to wrestle out a scholarship-worthy GPA from an education that began at the kitchen table and ran a dizzying path: through homeschool co-ops, across the country in the backseat of our car, to boarding school, online in virtual classrooms, overlapping with dual-enrollment at the local community college, and finally finishing at a small Christian academy here in Fayetteville. I remember my dad telling me long ago that my children would surprise me (as I did him). I am starting to see this with our own kids now.

We’re also proud of what Amelia accomplished, although she might not see it the same way. Amelia was not musically or athletically accomplished. She hasn’t made much money or a name for herself here in her teen years. Not been voted most likely to succeed. (Actually, she was voted “most likely to climb Mount Everest,” but I think that was an error… however, I should probably take note of my previous insight about our kids surprising us.) No, Amelia shone in other ways. She was a serious student who learned to love learning. She embraced (and excelled in) that supplemental education thrust upon every “third-culture kid” – with all the rich perspective, cultural insight, and experience it offers. And she developed a genuine and generous spirt toward other people, building friendships beyond the shallows while earning the respect of peers and adults alike.

Amelia didn’t receive the honor of being class valedictorian, but did receive the school’s award for “excellence of character.” In our view, that’s success; and a very good place from which to begin the journey into adulthood.

Anniversary trip to Savannah. We only live about 4 hours away from this historic town.

Me and my team in 2011. This small island off of mainland Madagascar is the same place where Amelia will serve in the coming year.

Amelia has been accepted at Toccoa Falls College here in Georgia, but has decided to delay her enrollment until next year. In this “gap year” she has set her eyes on missions and, it turns out, will likely spend at least 10 months of the year doing just that. A week after graduation she moved out of our house for an internship with Global Frontiers Mission, spending two months living in an apartment in Clarkston, Georgia with a team reaching out to refugee families from all over the world. You can read her prayer letter to hear her perspective on how the time in Clarkston went. The summer experience stretched her and, I think, turned out to be the perfect preparation for a harder road ahead.

That road… an 8-month trip to remotest Madagascar. As I write this, she is but 5 weeks from departure and it is an event our whole family feels very much caught up in. There’s excitement, busyness with preparations, and the occasional anxiety over things both big and small that are out of our control.

Amelia’s letter and webpage (link below) can give you more details about her trip, but I can give a father’s take: This opportunity is truly a rich one for Amelia. She is filling a need as a homeschool teacher to the children of a small church-planting team. Her contribution will allow these couples to dig deeper in their language and relationship building among the people group they are trying to reach. It is a foundational and transformational time for that team. And the added capacity that Amelia will bring for those 8 months will likely bless more than just those families.

Amelia’s assignment is also a rare opportunity to step out into something way harder than she’s ever experienced. She will live on a remote island that’s less than 20 square miles in size, has a population of about 3000 people, no electricity, no running water, roads, or anything resembling infrastructure. It is a harsh and gorgeous wilderness. She’ll live in a home of bamboo and thatch, and teach school in the shade of palm trees. The island is also a place of deep spiritual darkness, which you can get a better sense of from the travelog I wrote back in 2011 when I visited the island. I spent a week on-site and was spent in the process – I can’t imagine spending 7 or 8 months. Amelia will need much more than her own strength for this endeavor. She will need God’s enabling. And she will need prayers and encouragement from many. I invite you to join us in that. Check out the web page Amelia set up for her gap year where you can learn more about the assignment in Madagascar, sign up for her email letters, and even send financial support (she’s currently still in need of support as this letter gets posted).

And pray for us too. AIM asked me to write an essay for the December magazine about “sending my daughter to Africa.” Keep an eye out for that tear-jerker. :)

Help send this girl to Africa.

Visit Amelia’s web page for instructions on how to give. Sign up for her updates and pray for her while she is away.

Zach turned 16 on August 31, and he has grown tall. Whether he is or is not taller than me remains uncertain. He’s got really poofy hair which is cheating in my book when it comes to claiming the title of “tallest man in the house.” Of late, our manly rivalry has extended to push-up contests (I’m winning). Zach enters his Sophomore year this week at the same Christian academy that Amelia just graduated from. We’re thankful for a great school option and the community that it has brought, both in friendships for Zach and for Renee. After 2 years in Georgia, we are finally starting to “belong” (or at least feel like we do).

It’s a time of milestones for Zach. Learning to drive, looking for a first job, becoming the oldest (and only) child in the house. There’s opportunities and adventures all around. Our hope and prayer is for the wisdom to guide him well in the coming year. In the past several months, he’s been participating in a youth aviation program at a local airport. Some miles south of us in the rural beauty of Georgia there’s a magical grass airstrip and aviation community called “Candler Field.” Here, among a flurry of airplane fun, seasoned enthusiasts run a training program for deserving youth, teaching them to restore vintage aircraft. Once or twice a week, Zach is learning and logging hours toward a mechanic’s license, and saving up credits for flight lessons. Sometime next year, he will likely get the chance to start flying (and solo) their little Aeronca Champ (a 1940’s era fabric plane that the students and staff built).

Zach isn’t sure if he’s interested in aviation as a career, but the program is a terrific extra-curricular for him nonetheless. It’s also a great point of common ground for he and I. We can talk shop now as he wrenches on turnbuckles or gushes over Stearman that swoop in for a visit. In the past 5 years I’ve fallen quite far from being current in the aviation world, so it’s really fun to see Zach dabbling in it and for me to experience afresh the wonder of flying machines through him.

Zach turned 16 in August

Renee still works part time at Zach’s school, and about one day a week for AIM. Both jobs are largely administrative and tap into her amazing organizational skills. It think this gives her a lot of satisfaction, and it’s great to see her appreciated by her employers.

We’ve been residents here in Georgia for over 2 years now and it’s grown familiar and, to some extent, comfortable. This has been good for Renee, who has been on a recovery curve from the cumulative stress of years in Nairobi. It’s working for me as well. We occasionally reflect on God’s wisdom in bringing us “home” a little sooner than we had planned. In God’s paradoxical way, it may very well be his way of getting more Africa years out of us. Sometime down the road perhaps.

Right now, Renee’s health is still a challenge for us – Primarily migraines that are hard to predict and harder to shake. She had a rough summer with these, which eventually drove us back to the doctor who then ordered an MRI. The scan was clear but we did get to see some amazing pictures of Renee’s brain. Scrolling through the layers of her cerebrum on the doc’s laptop, I couldn’t help but marvel at the complexity of it. There’s a whole universe in that pretty little head. My favorite universe.

Still, the headaches remain a mystery and we continue to look for a solution. For Renee, the ongoing search is a point of discouragement. For me, it’s an opportunity to be patient and supportive. And for both of us, the “unfixable” nature of her affliction is humbling – a reminder to trust God.

That reminder is a theme across much of life it seems. I don’t know if it’s part of growing older and wiser, but more and more I find the present journey is about just one thing: learning to trust God. In navigating this busy American life that’s always a step ahead of us. In adapting to the changes as our kids grow up. In sending Amelia to Africa. And fifty other things we can either try to wrest control of, or choose to engage with an underlying trust in God’s divine (and often unseen) orchestration. Sure, it can be hard to view it that way when you’re reasoning with a 16-year-old about folding his laundry, but I think that’s the point. There’s a bigger story being written – so elaborate and interconnected that even the small stuff (and hard stuff) is infused with meaning.

I don’t know if it’s part of growing older and wiser, but more and more I find the present journey is pretty much about just one thing: learning to trust God.

My visit to Chad last fall. I spent a week with field leadership to catch a vision for the needs there. Read my article from the trip (below)

Work at AIM is a joy for me. I’m occasionally restless, but mostly blessed. We joke that the restlessness may be one part mid-life crisis. But I expect it has a lot to do with being displaced from front-line ministry. I do miss it, and my job here at headquarters takes me tantalizingly close to the front lines.

A few weeks ago I had the joy of sending off two new families for full-time ministry with my beloved media team in Nairobi. For at least two years we’ve prayed and labored for new recruits, and here they were: young, enthusiastic, bursting with creative talent, and hearts tuned for the unreached. Our media ministry is now primed for a new chapter, and I will likely phase out more of my involvement in the year ahead. There’s some sadness in that I guess, but also a great sense of satisfaction. It’s pretty neat to see the passing of the torch with something you’ve poured your heart into. And its a rich blessing to see it prosper.

I had a reminder of that recently when I read about AIM AIR’s plans to retire their oldest Cessna Caravan. “XPA” was the plane I delivered across the Atlantic back in 2003 for the start of its mission service. I grew very attached to that airplane over a thousand plus hours piloting it. And then I trained a new cadre of AIM AIR pilots to fly our routes in it. Now, nearly 15 years later, I learned that XPA had logged its 17,000th hour – having flown more than 2.5 million miles. I can only imagine all the places that old bird has been. Every muddy airstrip. Every sick or injured passenger rescued. Every pastor or missionary moved. Every kilogram of cargo lifted for the work of the gospel. And I had the blessing of being there at the start.

Maybe that’s what it means to have arrived at “mid life.” You’re far enough along that you can look back and be grateful, and look forward and be hopeful. These days, looking either way makes me smile. It has been, and continues to be, a privilege to be caught up in what God is doing through AIM. Even here on the sidelines.

My day to day at AIM HQ is occupied with strategic planning and creative projects. But because of what we do as a communications department, we are necessarily connected to the stories on the field. So in a way I still feel as though I’m a part of these teams (like AIM AIR and On Field Media). But also a part of many more. And sometimes I get to jump into their stories.

Last fall I spent about a month back in Africa, mostly working with the media guys in Kenya. But I also travelled to Chad, in the center of the continent. Having been gone for a few years, Chad was instructive in opening my eyes again to the challenges of Africa and the opportunities for the gospel. It was a rough week in some ways – I even experienced some culture shock – but I needed it. After this extremely long newsletter, you may not be in the mood for any more reading, but I invite you to check out the article about Chad I did for AIM’s last magazine:

Leaning In – AIM’s push for Chad

I’m not certain when I’ll get back to Africa next. If not later this year, then possibly in the spring. I joke with Amelia that I may show up on her island in a helicopter. Like one of those “helicopter parents.” She just rolls her eyes.

When you hear from us next, we’ll likely be into her time in Madagascar. I think that would be our biggest request for prayer. For her, and for us. Other things to pray for: Renee’s health. Continued contentment in our ministry roles. Wisdom in our parenting.

We are thankful for each of you who partner with us. Your faithfulness has enabled us to be faithful to the Great Commission call in our lives. This November will be 20 years since we first set foot in Africa. What a remarkable journey it has been! Thank you for walking with us.

In Christ,
Mike and Renee