Adventure Graham

Snippets of Graham family adventures in faithfulness

Month: October 2015

Reflections from the Congo

Jaron and a team of 6 others are spending nearly two weeks in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It’s a trip that has been in the works for nearly 18 months, and prayed over and anticipated for even longer. To learn more about the Fothergill family and the work they’re a part of in the Congo, check out their blog here.

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We stared at the rundown airport buildings as our plane touched down in Lubumbashi. Let’s just say that the terminal, left over from the days of Belgian control, is rustic. The paint is peeling. Some windows have glass, some don’t. Several places are crumbling. As we deplane in the middle of the tarmac, we wander toward immigration under the watchful eyes of armed soldiers. After a $55 “fee” and some confusion at baggage claim, we stepped into the streets of Lubumbashi, Democratic Republic of the Congo where we were met by good friends and missionaries Gavin and Jill Fothergill. We were also surrounded by 20 or so brothers and sisters from the South Katanga District Church of the Nazarene singing joyfully as they one by one shook all of our hands and greeted us warmly. Before we knew it, we were in Gavin’s Toyota Land Cruiser (which legally seats 16 here) bouncing down the mainly dirt, sometimes paved, road to Gavin and Jill’s house.

Rachelle, a PA-C, led a health clinic where she saw hundreds of peopl, many of whom had walked long distances. Working through a translator, she was able to assess needs and provide basic health care.

Rachelle, a PA-C, led a health clinic where she saw hundreds of people, many of whom had walked long distances. Working through a translator, she was able to assess needs and provide basic health care.

Over 1,000 pairs of glasses were donated for people in the Congo who have no access to glasses.

Over 1,000 pairs of glasses were donated for people in the Congo who have no access to glasses.

Since that time, members of our team have diligently matched glasses generously donated by the Lions Club and the community of Lovington with hundreds of recipients. Others have offered medical care. We’ve built relationships while passing out toothbrushes. I was a part of a group that spent three days digging two foot deep trenches in which to lay the foundation for a new church and district center. It was physically demanding work. On the last days of our trip, we laid the cornerstone and then proceeded to lay the rest of the rocks and cement that will form the foundation of the new building.

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Most importantly though, we have laid a different type of foundation. A foundation of friendship. A foundation of global family. These foundations are laid firmly on the stronger foundation of Jesus Christ. For several years, our church has sent money to the DRC to fund projects like an elementary school that was completed earlier this year and the project we have worked on this week. We have been working to build a partnership, but that partnership lacked Congolese faces. Now however, we have more than faces. We have friends— Pastor Aimé, Pastor Andre, Pastor Benjamin, Mark, Ntale, Jean Paul, Pastor Marcel and his wife Alfonsine (who has graciously cooked lunch for our team each day), and many others. Congo is no longer a poor place on the other side of the world where we sometimes send our money. It has become a place where our extended church family lives. It is home to people we know and love and who love us unconditionally.

Our team with the students outside the school our financial contributions helped build. They were such eager students. Already there is a need for more schools to house more grade levels.

Our team with the students outside the school our financial contributions helped build. They were such eager students. Already there is a need for more schools to house more grade levels.

On Sunday, we worshiped with several churches from across the district. We joined in clapping (and trying to sing) as the small, jam-packed building shook with the sound of drums, chanting and singing. Each church represented led part of the worship. There was plenty of dancing as well. The Congolese worship God with their whole body. I was given the privilege of preaching. It was a blessing for me to me to do so, and I was humbled by the invitation. That moment reminded me of the way our God breaks down barriers. As I stood on the small concrete step and looked out over the congregation, I saw American and Congolese sitting together—one body. As I spoke and the DS interpreted, I saw the Word of God received by people of vastly different culture and experience. There was some confusion at times as we muddled through the service together, but it didn’t matter. We were bound together by the love of our Savior.

Preaching at church on Sunday.

Preaching at church on Sunday.

My prayer is that this is only the beginning of our relationship. I pray that even as our family moves far away from Lovington, the partnership that has been nurtured between LovingtonNaz and LubumbashiNaz will continue to grow and flourish. I pray that we will continue to provide resources and work teams. I pray that our Congolese friends will continue to bless us with their rich expressions of genuine worship and the broader worldview that those of us who have grown up in the church in America desperately need. Who knows, maybe someday our new friends will visit us in New Mexico. It seems impossible, but we serve a God that is truly bigger than the borders that divide. Regardless, I am confident that God’s Kingdom will continue to break in as we work together to tell people in New Mexico and the Democratic Republic of the Congo that Jesus loves them.

 

Conversations about Death (by Jaron and Quentin)

Bedtime stories before bedtime prayers, cuddles and conversations.

Bedtime stories before bedtime prayers, cuddles and conversations.

“Daddy,” Q asked, “Are you going to die while I’m still alive, because Geen (my grandma) died while I was still alive?”

This was one of many questions Q asked as we lay in his bed at Great Aunt Nana’s (Q’s name for my aunt) way past his bedtime last Wednesday night. He had been crying and I had gone in to comfort him. When I lay down beside him the questions began to flow.

“Daddy, Mommy said Great Aunt Nana has some pictures of my Papa (my grandpa), can I look at them later?”

“Daddy, why do people have to die?”

“Daddy, if Geen is resting with Jesus why can I not see her and Jesus?”

To be honest, death has seemed really close this week. Last Monday, Rachel Maxwell who served as a sponsor in youth group when Elizabeth was a teenager died of cancer six weeks after her initial diagnosis. She left a husband and three children and a whole lot of friends and family behind. Really, why do young moms die?

A few days later we received word that John Burton, a family friend whose son was in our junior high youth group while I was in seminary died of a massive heart attack. The news was a complete shock. Here is a godly and healthy man who just moments before was fine. He has left behind a grieving widow, two sons, and three young grandchildren. Really, why do good and godly men die?

Indeed there are seasons in life when death seems close. This has obviously been the case for us this past week, and I think Q, with his sweet and intuitive nature, has sensed what is going on. His three year old mind is trying to come to grips with this scary thing called death. Death, the thing that awaits us all, and yet the thing we try the most to ignore and hold at bay. We don’t like to think about it or talk about it more than we absolutely have to. But Q is willing to ask the questions that we are all silently struggling with.

So back to our conversation.

“Daddy, are you going to die while I’m still alive?”

What can I say to that? I told him the truth…the whole truth. I told him about the brokenness of this world and explained that death is part of that, that death is not at all what God intended for us. I told him that chances are I will die before him, and that hopefully it would be a long time from now. I told him that ultimately we will all die, but that as followers of Christ, when we die we will rest with Jesus, and that someday we will all be raised to new life again.

So no matter how long I or Mommy or even Q lives, there will come a day when we are all once again alive in Christ in His fully come Kingdom. On that day there will be no more death, and not only will we be together but we will see more than Great Aunt Nana’s pictures of Papa, we will see Papa in the flesh.

One of our favorite pictures of Jaron, Q, and Papa.

One of our favorite pictures of Jaron, Q, and Papa on Papa’s tractor, which you better believe, Q loves.

For the Sake of the Kingdom

We all love a family outing to First Watch. There's no ordering off of the kids' menu for this guy's breakfast.

We all love a family outing to First Watch. There’s no ordering off of the kids’ menu for this guy’s breakfast.

One of Q's favorite places in the world: The Wilson's Farm with Farmer Chad and Jack.

One of Q’s favorite places in the world: The Wilson’s Farm with Farmer Chad and Jack.

Play time at the park with our Bailey Dog. Soaking up our time with her.

Play time at the park while on the road with our Bailey Dog. Soaking up our time with her.

Making space for family time. Daddy and Q play date at Wonderscope Children's Museum.

Making space for family time. Daddy and Q play date at Wonderscope Children’s Museum.

These last two weeks have been full to say the least. We’ve made stops in 6 different states and spoken at as many different churches. Last week, I was a part of a conference called ignite for children’s ministry leaders. One of the things the ignite conference does is create space for us to reflect on why we do what we do. The words, “For the sake of the Kingdom” kept running through my head. So that others might come to know the hope of Jesus because of the way we live in the world.

At the end of our time together last week, a gracious friend said, “…I know God is and will continue using you for the sake of the Kingdom…”

This week, those words have been a powerful and helpful reminder about why we’re doing any of the things we’re doing these days…

  • Driving to Dallas to visit NZ approved panel doctors for the visa process. For the sake of the Kingdom.
  • Chatting with friends new and old around a bonfire at a friend’s farm. For the sake of the Kingdom.
  • Celebrating the snapshot of the Kingdom at a church that embraced people of all ages with special needs… an adult man playing with dominoes on the floor during the service, a child in a wheelchair, another being loved unconditionally in the nursery. For the sake of the Kingdom.
  • Driving in 4+ hours of heavy traffic to speak at a church. For the sake of the Kingdom.
  • Fellowshipping with long-time Nazarenes and homeless people alike over bowls of soup at a church that intentionally ministers with displaced and homeless people through a clothes closet, laundry ministry, and kinship meals together. For the sake of the Kingdom.
  • Sitting in long meetings, ironing out details like our new insurance policies, employment status, and deputation funds. For the sake of the Kingdom.
  • Scheduling follow-up appointments and further follow-up appointments for Q as we seek to get him cleared for a NZ visa. For the sake of the Kingdom.
  • Speaking the truth of God’s call on our collective lives in all kinds of different congregations. For the sake of the Kingdom.

To be truthful, it has been somewhat challenging to remember that we’re going to long meetings, jumping through visa hoops, and spending hours on the road for the sake of the Kingdom. The To Do list has seemed a bit arduous as the unexpected has seemed to pile on. True, we’ve had the great joy of being with some of our favorite people over the past few weeks. For that we are grateful. However, life is not just about the fun stuff. It’s about recognizing that everything we do, whether menial or life-giving, challenging or smooth, we do for the sake of the Kingdom. I wonder what it looks like for us to embrace that line of thinking in the day-in, day-out rhythms of our lives?

We do have a prayer request that we would appreciate you joining us in. When we visited the panel doctor in Dallas two weeks ago, the PA heard a heart murmur when he listened to Q. We know that he didn’t have one two months ago at our first round of physicals, nor had he ever had one before. However, a follow-up appointment in KC confirmed that he has developed a murmur. It is most likely a benign murmur that should not be cause for concern. Last week, an incredible group of people from around the world prayed that our visas would be processed. In a miraculous amount of time, they have been. Jaron and I are approved, thanks be to God! However, Q’s visa will require further review that could take up to 12 weeks. We’re scheduled to leave in 6 weeks. We know there are some options, but really, we’d just love it if you’d pray that 1. The cardiologist finds Q to be as healthy as we believe him to be. 2. That his visa is processed and approved well before our Dec. 1 departure date. Thank you for praying with us. May God’s will be done for the sake of the Kingdom.

For This We Have Prayed

 

When we first arrived in Lovington a little over 7 years ago, we would gather with a small group of people—the handful that remained a part of the church at the time, and we would talk and dream and pray about what God might be calling us to. We prayed for children (there were none). We prayed that we would reflect our community demographically (we were way too white and way too old). We prayed that we would impact teen pregnancy (our county has one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the nation). Those are some of the things that have guided our focus and driven our ministry, and will continue to be essential to the identity of our church into the future.

But there were other things that Jaron and I prayed for as well. In life and ministry, it sometimes seems that we rarely get to reap the harvest of the seeds that we plant. However, in the past six months, we have gotten to see some of the most beautiful answers to those prayers. It’s as if God is putting a giant bow for us on the package of our time in Lovington. For indeed, these have been great gifts to us in our time of transition.

We prayed that we would see couples get married.

In our community, as in many others, couples have children at very young ages and then begin co-habitating. They may co-habitate for decades. Often, these relationships are mentally and emotionally destructive. We longed to see couples enter into covenant relationships where they seek to serve each other as Christ served the church and where their lives begin to serve as small snapshots of the Kingdom.

A couple of years ago, a 21-year-old guy walked up to the church with his small daughter in tow. “My girlfriend and I would like to get married. I came to this church as a kid. Could we get married here?” Long story short, that young man and his wife are living a different narrative these days. He has a great job. She chooses to stay at home with their now kindergarten daughter and their one-year-old baby boy. He’s the newest addition to our church board. She started teaching children’s church this fall. They’re both youth sponsors loved by our teens. Their lives are snapshots of the Kingdom. For this we have prayed.

Six years ago, I had a little boy in my second grade class with a mama who was only 22 years old. He had two younger siblings. He also had a step-father figure living with them that I never saw. Our hearts were broken for this family. After the boy had graduated from my class, the mom and her boys gradually became a part of our church family. She was working and putting herself through college. Fast forward to 2015. That seemingly absent father figure isn’t absent any more. He’s a teacher and a coach now. He’s learning how to be the man and father God desires him to be. I believe he’s going to learn to be a great husband too. She’s a teacher and a rock star mom who doesn’t shy away from tough conversations with her three boys. It hasn’t been easy. At times, the journey has been downright painful and messy—for all of us. By the grace of God, one of our last Saturdays in Lovington will be spent celebrating the marriage of that couple. For this we have prayed.

We prayed that children would feel called to ministry.

This summer at church camp, one of our soon-to-be fifth graders came up to me. “Ms. Elizabeth, how long are you and Pastor Jaron going to be in New Zealand?” he asked. “Well, we’ve agreed to five years, but I really don’t know, Buddy. What are you thinking about?” His next sentence brought tears to my eyes. “I think I want to be a pastor like you and Jaron.” Of course. “Don’t ever forget that,” I said. “I think that desire is God calling you.” This kid asks the best spiritual questions. He points his parents to Jesus when the darkness seems to be overtaking them. His heart is tuned to the heart of the Father. And God is calling him. For this we have prayed. P.S. He’s the middle child of that couple that is getting married in a few weeks. It’s redemption at work.

We prayed that we would get to send high school graduates from our church to a Nazarene university.

Jaron and I both believe in Christian higher education. We both experienced first-hand the benefits of spreading ones young adult wings surrounded by people whose life goal is to help you fulfill God’s call on your life. We both have deep, God-honoring, and long-lasting friendships from those days. We were both given opportunities to test our leadership skills, learn, and have tons of fun. We prayed that we might be a part of shaping young men and women who will live out God’s call on their lives with confidence.

This fall, we sent the first student from our church to Southern Nazarene University since Jaron graduated in 2005. The SNU community has embraced her. She’s blossoming. We couldn’t be more delighted. We can’t wait to see what God has in store for her, or for the other teens and kids from our community who may follow in her footsteps in the years to come. For this we have prayed.

We prayed that we would be able help expand our people’s worldview. 

We have long had a sense of the importance of short and longer term mission trips as a means of expanding ones view of God and the world. There’s something really powerful that happens when all of the comforts of home are stripped away and you spend a week or two serving others. We prayed that our people could experience the Kingdom far beyond our own city limits.

On October 19, Jaron will be leading a team of seven people on a 12 day trip to the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Over the past few years, we’ve heard our missionary friends tell their stories of life in the Congo. We’ve given money first to build a school, and now a church and a district center. We’ve built a partnership. And now, we’re sending a team. We are busting at the seams with anticipation with the way this will shape the team members and the life of our church moving forward. For this we have prayed.

These stories represent some of the deep desires of our heart for our people. We are so grateful God has seen fit to tie up our time here in such beautiful and hopeful way.

 

 

 

 

 

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