Sunday, December 31, 2006

Happy New Year!

Tonight, Kelly asked if we could talk about the amazing year we have experienced. A great idea, but not something that comes easy for me. I am a visionary, one who pretty much lives my thought life about 3 months in advance. This contributes to me being from a long line of planners and explains why I have difficulty concentrating on the task at hand (I drift off in my thoughts to the “what-could-be’s” or “what-if’s” or the “what’s-it-gonna-be-like”…as Kelly teaches our 8 year-old, we’re realizing Tori is like this a lot…difficult seeing the importance of a math problem at the moment when she’d rather talk about the future or create some work of art about another time and place!) While “thinking ahead” can be a strength, I recognize when it comes to recalling the Lord’s faithfulness, I fall short. I move on to the future moments without learning enough about God’s faithfulness in the lessons of the day. As we recounted the challenges and the delights of 2006, I was surprised to remember the wonderful ways God has been with our family! The people who moved in and out of our life throughout the year…the long months of sickness, not to mention Kelly’s scary bout with a bad case of malaria back in June…the losses of lives of people who we knew well or had prayed for fervently…the new births (little tiny wonders of God as well as spiritual rebirths…especially our nieces!)…the number of visitors we have had (almost some friend or some family every month of the year) as well as our visits home to Texas during October and November…I was overwhelmed at remembering some of the amazing things that God has done (and embarrassed to say that I had forgotten so many of them already…or thought they happened LAST year!)

This morning I had the opportunity to worship with the Kaiteme congregation, a small band of believers who first began to worship over 8 years ago (thanks to the fruit of Greg Bailey’s labor). My lesson came from the prophet Isaiah.

“See, the former things have taken place, and new things I declare; before they spring into being, I announce them to you.” (42.9)

From the beginning God is a new-thing-doing-God. That’s His nature…he does new things! He creates wonder from nothing. He births life from death. He fosters hope from hopelessness. He delivers captives from captivity. He washes clean those who are filthy with sin and rids the earth of it when necessary! Noah lived by faith and constructed his salvation as God was doing a new thing! Moses lived by faith and conversed with a burning bush and agreed to join God in doing a new thing! The Apostle Paul sailed ships and crossed land, even being turned away by the Spirit to do a new thing in another land! God is ALWAYS doing a new thing.

Even further into Isaiah’s word of prophecy, we hear the mouthpiece of God proclaim something rather surprising.

“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing!” (43.18-19a)

What’s unanticipated is the context just preceding this exhortation. You see, you often hear people assert this promise when they want to enact a new program at church or even modify the church’s worship style. But the shocker comes when you read the prior verses that recount God’s faithfulness to deliver His people out of Egypt! How are we to forget that?!! Should we?! But why?!

Now God is not saying, “it wasn’t important, so forget about it.” God is not saying to us today, if we have had a bummer of a year and some bad things have happened, that we should just “put it behind us and move on.” No! Nor is He saying, “All those new things I did last year, those were irrelevant.” No! Remarkably, the people who heard this from Isaiah were not yet enslaved, but were destined for such fate and Isaiah is foretelling them of their hope and deliverance. So, what He is telling the Israelites is that, God WILL DO A NEW THING! He is capable of reenacting faithfulness all over again. He is proficient in miracles and wants to show you! He is trying to say, “I’m not just a “God-DID-that-a-long-time-ago-kinda-God,” but rather “a God-WILL-DO-A-NEW-THING-today-kinda-God!” He will do it; He will do that new thing!

2006 was a banner year for some of us. Some amazing things happened! We can declare, “God showed us His power!” In remembering such marvels, God is saying, “don’t forget, that in 2007, I can do it all over again!” Don’t dwell on God as a God who used to do things. He still does!

For some of us, 2006 was a year wrought with death, tragedy, broken dreams, pain, and the year just seems to have the stench of devastation. In remembering such misery, God is saying, “don’t forget, that in 2007, I can do a new thing!” God is always active and is ready to deliver us from the agony of the days in which we live.

While God’s performance should not be measured by the quantity or qualities of his actions during a calendar year, we can take time each year to reflect on His goodness. We should remember the things He has done. When doing so, we are reminded of His love for us and the purpose He has for us:

“I have summoned you by name; you are mine…since you are precious and honored in my sight and because I love you…everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.” (43.1,4,7)

In 43.10, we are confronted with the reminder that we are God’s witnesses. As in Acts 1.8, we who are in Christ are fully equipped with God’s Holy Spirit to display His wonders to the world! We are filled with God’s presence so that the world enslaved into the oldness of hopelessness CAN experience the newness of God’s new thing! We are on this earth to testify to His great Glory! (and it really doesn’t depend on the type of year we have had.)

God is doing a new thing in our family…we are aware of it! As we face the path of re-entry in 2007, we look forward with great anticipation of the doors He will open for employment, school, ministry, friends, etc. We are fortified in our faith by the things He has done this past year. Yet, we can also recall the AMAZING things that God did back in 1996 when He first started showing us His plan for coming to Benin. Those were big, new things back then…they serve a purpose today to encourage us for 2007! But we serve a God who does NEW things all the time, so while we do not fail to remember such faithfulness, we can anticipate God’s fresh ways springing forth right before our very eyes!

Happy New Year…and may the true Author of NEW bless you abundantly in 2007!
To ring in the New Year with everyone, we set one of our clocks forward a few hours so that everyone could experience the celebration at “midnight”! Tori and Timothy are such blessings; they are kind to their younger siblings and they are so much fun to be with (we enjoyed an intense watergun fight outside earlier this evening!) They are both such leaders and we can’t wait to see all the ways God is going to demonstrate His presence to them in 2007!

Jonathan is such a joy…tonight as we were bringing in the New Year, this bundle of joy literally led us in laughing in the New Year! He would start to laugh so loud that it was contagious! So we all joined in and he kept it up for 10 minutes! We are so excited to celebrate his 2nd birthday on Wednesday (although his big party will be later in March). We are thankful for this young man and we look so forward to introducing you to his joyful personality in 2007!

We know that the new thing God started back in ’05 when Lael entered our family WILL reach a milestone in ’07 when her adoption is complete! Like her brother, she loves pudding (but she’s much more lady-like in her manners!) We love Kadi Lael and look forward to introducing her to so many of you next year!

Friday, December 29, 2006

Yesterday we hosted Ega and his entire family here at our house. For all of them, except for Ega, it had been over a year since they had seen Lael. They were thrilled and amazed to see her. It took her a few minutes to warm up to them but she soon did! They brought us large basin full of bananas, corn and beans. Ega's mother wanted to say thank you for all that we have done. These times are so special because we know they are part of Lael's story that will be shared with her in the years to come.

Ega, his daughter Mawuhoue, son Azari, his mother (holding Lael), his sister and daughter Jezeel

Ega's oldest daughter Jezel is holding Lael and next to her is Mawuhoue

Lael and Ega's mother

Some Fun with the Leadership

This is picture of some of the men who make up our organziational and leadership committee (not all were present). They had gathered at my house for a meeting among themselves to review 2006 and start plans for '07! So while in the holiday season, Kelly and I took the opportunity to bless these good men for their service in the Kingdom. We served a huge platter of cookies and more Cokes than they could drink! They loved it. I am thankful for my relationship with several of these guys whom I know very well. Yaovi (red shirt) is from Aflantan, the first church I planted back in 2000. He is now the President of the organizational commmittee; I appreciate so much his leadership and see the respect he has earned from his peers. Senou is next to him (purple shirt) and is a man with a passion for sharing Christ. He lives just 50 yards from us so we see him often. Of course, you will all recognize Ega in the background. He and Senou are both from the Kaiteme congregation (started the year before my arrival by Greg Bailey in 1998). These 3 men are some of my favorite friends to visit with (I can have favorites, can't I?) Seriously, I have alot of respect for all these Aja believers, and an even greater amount of appreciation for those who rise to leadership. Leading others in a land engulfed in darkness takes courage, vision, and hope. Leading also requires lots of sacrifice! These men give so much of their time to the Lord's work! May God richly bless them all!

Christmas Party with Friends

Tuesday afternoon we had a Christmas party for our closest African friends...Ega, Louise, Laurance and Sossa. Sossa is not in this picture but you will see him in the pictures below. These people have been our friends and all but Ega have served us in our home for almost 8 years. We have been through so much together and we have celebrated many Christmases together. This year they are aware that this is our last Christmas to be here and it made for some very special conversations and memories on this day. Whenever we have been hosted in their homes, those who have a television, always play DVDs for us while we wait or eat a meal together. Ega and Sossa arrived before the women so we decided to entertain them with The Gaithers' Christmas in the Country! They loved it!! We had watched about 30 minutes when Laurance and Louise arrived. They were late because they were getting their hair done!!! They were enjoying the video so much that we chose to serve them their meal on chairs instead of at the table. It was very moving to be explaining the words of the songs and the testimonies given to them. At one time a song was being sung with a chorus that said "Unspeakable Joy! Glory to God! Angels are Everywhere!" It was a beautiful song and one that the chorus was repeated over and over again...a very worshipful song...the words in English were similar to the words in French and they could understand. I looked over at Louise and she had tears streaming down her face. She said, "It is just so wonderful to be in Christ!" Tears immediately came to my eyes as my heart agreed completely! Once the video was over we took the time to read from Luke 2 with them and talk about Jesus! What a blessed time! After this we exchanged gifts and then they said they had some things they wanted to say to us. We were so humbled and so moved as each one of them recounted with soft voices and great emotion the last 8 years and how God has used us in their lives. The things that they shared will forever be treasured in our hearts. Our hearts are so full and so blessed. We are so thankful for the entire experience of these past 8 years.

Having fun trying out the new water guns that Santa left. The game started in the bathroom and quickly moved outside!

Thursday, December 28, 2006

PICTURES from Christmas Day

We're a couple of days behind on posting pictures, but trying to get caught up (had a Blogger issue over the weekend). These are from Christmas Day! It was a lot of fun around this house!!
Tori and Lael got matching pj's for Christmas and they are so fun!

Jonathan is so happy Christmas morning! I love his big smile...he's so much fun!

Looking at one of Lael's Christmas presents (Timo sipping on some homemade egg nog!)
This is a picture of Tori giving me one of my favorite gifts. Each year, Kelly and the kids (well, Tori) make a pretty sizable donation to a different charity or organization in my name. I love each year hearing how they choose the recepient...and I love their expression of generosity. It's my favorite tradition! This year, it was to St. Jude's Children's Hospital. Tori said she wanted to do something to help children who were sick...she had seen an episode of last season's "Three Wishes" (Amy Grant show)...Tori wanted to help kids have a place to go when they needed help (she had read that at St. Jude's, if you don't have insurance, then you will never be turned away...she loved the idea of knowing that our money could help someone who was not only sick, but who maybe didn't have the money to see the doctor). I love her tender heart! Thank you Kelly and All My Wonderful Kids!
Tori got to help with playing Santa this year...we were at a store in the capital city and Tori spotted this doll that she knew Lael would love...and she was right! Now, from a Dad's perspective, this was a frustrating gift because the capital city is 3 hours away...when we bought this we didn't think of buying batteries and testing it on the spot (the doll is holding a cell phone that plays music...if it works!). Anyway, we got it home, waited until Christmas Eve and put the batteries in...only to find out that there was not even an ON/OFF button where it was supposed to be! It was broken off somewhere. Oh well, we put it under the tree anyway, and sweet Lael has slept with it every night (and carries it around during the day, too).

I love these two! Aren't they both so beautiful! (Kelly was so excited to get to unwrap packages where it was air conditioned...she could then wear her LONG-SLEEVE Christmas shirt! But, believe me, she quickly changed when we went to the kitchen later on to start's sure hot here in Benin this time of year!)
Jonathan got a bow stuck on his head (maybe by his big brother), but he kept laughing and never tried to take it off. He was SO excited to see his presents under the tree. I love this kid's contagious joy. He is almost always ALL SMILES!

Santa brought Timo a full Woody costume! He loves it so much...he puts it on several times during the day. The new boots are the real deal, also a gift from Santa (Tori's had boots for several years, and now Timo is so excited to have his own pair!)

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

This week continues to be so full of activity and opportunites to bless and be blessed. Christmas day was such a sweet day for our family. The day began early and filled with fun! I had given Randy a coupon in his stocking offering him a 2 hour nap with no warning necessary! He cashed in his coupon after breakfast!!! Thankfully, he let me have my turn later in the day!!! The day was filled with our kids playing with their toys and watching new DVDs and enjoying some great food. We were also able to talk to most of our family!! We miss our family so much and it is definitely difficult to be so far away during the holidays. It is the last time, as far as we can see, for a long time that this many miles will separate us.

Yesterday we had a Christmas party with Ega, Laurance, Louise and Sossa. This was time shared with dear friends that Randy and I will treasure in our heart forever. This morning we had the opportunity to spend some festive time with our church leaders and tomorrow we will be hosting Ega, his mother, brother, sister, and his 3 children...this is Lael's biological family.
We anticipate this being a special time for sure.

Tori and I also started back to school today! It was a bit rough for both of us. It is hard to get back in the groove.

We have so many fun pictures from these recent days and it is so frustrating that we can not post them. We can post them but it is a very slow process. It took 45 minutes to post the precious pic below! We will keep trying but not tonight! I am going to bed!

Thank you for your prayers for our family! The Lord's unfailing love surrounds us!

Christmas Eve Weekend

We enjoyed a wonderful Christmas eve! The days have been filled with blessings. We have so much to be thankful for. Our hearts are full. Christmas weekend has been filled with the end of the year conference as referenced below. When the Saturday morning conference activites were finished (around 3p!...a LONG morning!), we quickly rushed home because we were having Josh and Virginia Hamm over for some Christmas cheer!! We made Christmas cookies for Santa and some reindeer cupcakes....We split up the goods after about 2 hours. They went home and our household quickly began anticipating Santa's arrival. Randy went back to the conference Saturday night and did not return home until around 1AM!!!!

Sunday was another full day of worship and fellowship with our Aja brothers and sisters. Around 4PM we were finally all back at the house together and we began wrapping presents and watching Christmas movies! We had so much fun! As soon as it was dark, Tori and Timo had the binoculars out attempting to spot Santa and they actually thought they saw something which sent them into an excited frenzy about getting ready for bed. Tori is in on the full Santa story. However, Timothy scores 100 % on full belief and I think it was contagious because Tori appeared to be just as full of anticipation! We set out our cookies and egg nog and our letter to Santa...then we were ready to read Twas the Night before Christmas! Randy and I were up until around 2AM getting things ready. We set our alarm for 6AM so as to be ready for our early risers!! Stay tuned for more pictures from Christmas Day!


Tuesday, December 26, 2006


We're having a problem posting pictures from Picasa/BlogThis! Sorry we can't get some Christmas photos for you to see. Ever since we upgraded our Blogger, we've had trouble. Anyone know a solution?
** UPDATE: We're finally able to do pictures from Blogger...just not from Picasa/BlogThis (apparently a universal problem). It's late, so we posted some pictures that went with the previous post below...check out the new pictures!
We've been SO BLESSED the past couple of days...we have some fun Christmas photos for you....check back again tomorrow!

Sunday, December 24, 2006

A Long Hot Wonderful Day

This weekend is the annual convention of churches. Although all congregations get together regularly throughout the year on certain Sundays, this is a 3-day event! This year is even more exciting because it is a significant chapter in the life of the church here as yesterday we celebrated a union with the Christian Church of Benin. These two groups have operated in this country for years, but not together. But over the past several years (especially this one), God has been bringing us together! In conjunction with the annual year-end convention, we took some time Saturday morning to celebrate the union of these two branches of God’s family.

The convention is being hosted by the Kaiteme congregation, the oldest of our 7 congregations, planted back in 1998 I think. (When we gather everyone together from all these places, it’s always fun to see the fruit of the labors of not only our work but our former missionary friends who worked here years ago among the Aja people!) The Christian Church congregations are primarily located in an area about an hour from the Aja people in another people group. It is a testimony to the Spirit of God that these people from two historically estranged people groups can come together under the Banner of Jesus!

The first picture below is when the Christian Church folks (a delegation of about 100 people) arrived by truck…we were already in the middle of a time of praise and worship. But when they arrived, everyone stopped in anticipation of their entrance. They had prepared a special song and you could sense the excitement as they paraded in with their hearts full of praise!

The second picture is during the moment when the Christian Church leaders called together the leadership council from our 7 Aja congregations. I was humbled to be called to join these brothers in praying over the leadership of the Aja churches. I appreciate so much our brothers from the Christian Church; their humility is evident and their dynamic relationship with Jesus is contagious! I was so touched by their desire to lay their hands on these other men that when I got up to the front, I wanted to kneel and receive their prayers! (They quickly corrected me saying they wanted me part of the praying group!) I love the autonomy that this union still affords all of these congregations (we have 7; there are over a dozen with the Christian Church identification), yet the combined fellowship fortifies both groups for the purpose of evangelism, discipleship, and the spiritual battle for maturation and sanctification! It’s not easy to persevere in this land, where believers are still a very small minority. We are also working with just about all first-generation Christians (this breeds excitement for sure, but they are also keenly aware that they have no spiritual mentors in their families to encourage them). So for God to bring together these two groups under one umbrella will strengthen everyone in this combat for purity and holiness and the pursuit of righteousness! As we look to returning Stateside next year, these moments of laying hands on our leaders and lifting up their names before the Throne…well, they are special memories for me!

I love having my kids share in these experiences. It’s not easy on them to endure the heat and the long hours (especially when they understand little of what is being said). But they are real troopers…here’s a great picture of Timo with Mom and Dad (he was still grins even after we had been there for a LONG time!) He sure is a handsome kid!

UPDATE: PICTURES ARE BACK UP AND RUNNING....We'll post more tomorrow and the next day!!!

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Me and my favorite second grader!! Posted by Picasa
Our first attempt at taking a picture of ourselves! Posted by Picasa
Tori and I took turns reading from Luke 2 this morning about our Savior's birth. Later, she drew a picture of the angels announcing his birth to the shepherds. Posted by Picasa
My handsome big boys Jonathan and Timothy Posted by Picasa
This morning Daddy made Christmas pancakes!!! Posted by Picasa

Christmas Fun

I picked this up from a fun new missionary friend of mine by the name of Cheryl Cash. She is a missionary in Uganda and had these Qs and As on her blog
recently…thought I would participate as well.

1. Egg nog or hot chocolate? For me (Kelly) …steaming hot chocolate with whipped cream on top…however, in Benin during the hottest season of the year, this just does not have the same appeal…that is a treat for the good ‘ol USA!

2. Does Santa wrap presents or just set them under the tree? Sets them under the tree. It’s what he does!! I have seen it in the movies and that is what he does at our house!!

3. Colored lights or white? I love them all! At the moment we have white lights on the tree and around our windows and colored lights in the bushes!

4. Do you hang mistletoe? Yes we do!! We have always hung the mistletoe just over the ledge that leads into our bedroom! Mommy and Daddy and all the kids know what to do if you are caught in this fun spot!!

5. When do you decorate for Christmas? We decorate EARLY!!! This is our favorite time of the year. Tori and Randy both have birthdays the first week in November. Tori is the 5th and Randy is the 8th…we pull it all out and decorate the weekend just after their birthdays! We started doing this when we first moved to Benin because there were no signs of Christmas anywhere and we needed some help getting into the spirit and we wanted our kids to really enjoy the season!!

6. What is your favorite holiday dish, excluding dessert? Broccoli and cheese casserole, cream corn casserole and Honey baked ham, preferably sitting right beside each other on my plate!

7. Favorite holiday memory as a child? Believing in Santa….I loved the excitement and anticipation of his coming! My parents played it up so big and I believed them completely. I enjoyed the build up of Christmas Eve…out to dinner, rushing home watching the sky as my Dad pointed out where he thought he was seeing Santa, watching the news at night hearing the Santa report, setting out the cookies and milk, reading Twas the Night…, and crawling into bed with strict instructions not to get out of bed without calling my mom first, hearing my Dad play out a conversation with Santa after he had gone outside and somehow made noises on the roof that in my child’s mind were the prancing and pawing of each little hoof… and literally dreaming about Santa and what he might bring all night. Christmas morning was such a moment of wonder to walk into that room with my mom and dad and see what Santa had brought for us all!

8. When and how, did you learn the truth about Santa? One Easter morning my parents and sister and I were on a camping trip. I woke up early and looked out the window and saw my parents hiding Easter eggs….What? They were the Easter Bunny? Does that mean they are also Santa and the tooth fairy? Did not take me long to put it all together and ask my mom a few days later. She replied with, “What do you think?” I was a smart kid and I was disappointed. I soon got in on the fun of prolonging the belief so that my 3 younger siblings would keep up the fun of believing for as long as possible!

9. Do you open a gift on Christmas Eve? No! Let’s save it all for Christmas morning!!

10. How do you decorate your Christmas tree? With all kinds of ornaments that represent all the years and seasons of our lives…I especially love looking at the ornaments with pictures of our kids' first Christmases and of Randy and me at our first Christmas!

11. Snow. Love it or hate it? Love Love Love it!!! I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas!

12. Can you ice skate? Yes…nothing to brag about but I can keep myself standing most of the time! I especially love ice skating outdoors. One time I had the opportunity to ice skate on Lake Louise in Banff, Canada!

13. Do you remember your favorite gift? A huge train set that I got from Santa, it was on wheels and slid under my double bed …not sure what age that I was but I remember getting up in the middle of the night and playing for hours with it with my Dad….very special memory…especially years later as I realized all the work he put into building it for me.

14. What is the most important thing about the holidays to you? Remembering Jesus birth and thinking about the love, joy, purpose and security that he gives to our lives, Laughter, making fun memories with our kids and being with family.

15. What is your favorite holiday dessert? A small piece of everything on the desert table

16. What is your favorite holiday tradition? Decorating the tree with the kids and watching the kids enjoy the Christmas music

17. What tops your tree? An angel….yesterday Timothy and I were sitting on my bed looking at the tree and talking about how pretty it is. He said, “Mommy, if we sit here long enough do you think that angel will start talking to us?” I said, “No, tree angels don’t really do that” He said, “that is what the Daddy says in the Alabaster book.” This is a book written by Max Lucado that tells the story of an angel at the top of the Christmas tree that tells the story of Jesus birth to a sweet little boy who watches the tree every night from his bed. Yikes! Lord Help my unbelief!

18. Which do you prefer, giving or receiving? I love giving gifts! I love shopping for gifts and anticipating the thrills of the ones receiving the gifts. I LOVE receiving gifts from my husband who always puts so much thought into his gifts. He remembers things about what I like and things that I have mentioned that I want, even after I have already completely forgotten them myself!

19. What is your favorite Christmas song? We love them all. Don’t know how to pick a favorite! We love the hymns and the carols…all the old classics and of course anything sung by Amy Grant!

20. Candy canes. Yuck or yum? Yum! Bring 'em on!

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Today was the day to have our annual Tori and Bensha birthday celebration. Bensha is Laurance's daughter. Laurance is my great friend and has worked in my home the entire time that we have lived here. Every year we have a birthday party for the girls. They are 2 weeks apart! Usually this day takes place in October or November closer to their actual birthdays. However, this year, Tori was in America! Today was the earliest that we could get this party on the calendar! This morning I took Tori to Bensha's house where she spent several hours hanging out with Bensha and Laurance. Laurance had beautiful dresses made for them. They got ready and went for a walk around town. This included a stop at our corner convenient store. It was here that Laurance purchased them their Christmas cell phones and a box of cookies. They then went to visit Ben, Laurance's husband and he gave them some cold water to drink. Around 2PM they got on motorcycle taxis and came to our house for cake, presents and games! A fun time was had by all! Posted by Picasa
The morning started off with Tori requesting pig tails! She had fun looking at Christmas books while she waited for me to get ready! Posted by Picasa
Showing off their new cell phones that play Christmas tunes! Posted by Picasa
This was taken just before they opened their presents! Posted by Picasa