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Wednesday, 19 October 2016

A well traveled, experienced but lonely life

Moving back to Georgia has been my dream since I moved away seven and a half years ago to marry my now husband, Alan. A bit ironic as when I was in High School the very LAST thing I wanted was to live in Georgia.  I wanted to see the world, have adventures, be successful and accomplish my dreams. I enjoyed growing up here, loved my family and by all accounts had lots of friends through school but over the years I managed to lose touch with almost all of them.  Now that I'm back in the area, I realize that there were only a couple that I stuck with and that stuck with me during all those years away.  This is not to make anyone feel bad or for people to pity me.  I say this only because I am realizing a few things as I get older.

First - I have had a great life.  Not always easy nor what I would have wanted but a great one nevertheless. Second - I have lived in a lot of places and had three pretty succesful careers.  Third - I have lived in four different countries and away from Georgia longer than I have lived here.  And finally, I have come away from it all (again, family aside) with hardly any close friends.  Oddly I hardly ever felt lonely and my Facebook says I have over 400 friends so how can this be?

Well, I often ask myself that same question.  But when I look closer at the list, each and every person was with me during a special season in my life.  Maybe they came to see us in Germany on a team or we were a part of Teen Missions together.  I worked with a few in Wales or in Seattle, New York or Chicago.  We may have grown up together, gone to college or grad school or been part of a volunteer organization at the same time. Lots were close to me or were family during my first marriage and others got close when my marriage ended. Going to church helped me make friends in Seattle, Birkenhead, Heidelberg and Watkinsville and a great majority are my immediate and extended family. I sometimes contemplate de-friending those whom I haven't spoken to in years (or whom haven't spoken to me), but in a way, those "friends" are for me now more good memories than they are active presences in my life. They help me recall each piece of my journey and what God has brought me through and for that I am thankful.

Still, something for me is missing.

The New Yorker article I just read calls them "intimates".  Those who call you up just to say, "let's go for lunch" or "how are you really?" or "want to come hang out?" And other than my immediate family I can think of only three or four people that have fallen into this category for me over the years and because of distance, only a couple remain. This in a way makes me sad.  You see, a couple of months ago a girl I grew up with but wasn't close to, died.  She was a couple of years older than me and had many very close friends who have stood by her since she was a girl. Mostly they lived around her here in Watkinsville or Athens all these years and they continued their friendship until she passed.  Her funeral was very well attended.  She was loved.

I think it's hard to go through something like that or even hear about it and not think about your own life, your own health and wonder how many more years God will give you on the earth.  Death of someone you knew always makes you value your life more and want to make the most of every day. So I began to take toll of my life and ask myself, "do I have regrets?" (well yes, many)  "What would I change if I could?" (not much, even the regrets) "Is it too late for me to have close friends?" and "Would I even have the time it takes to really foster them?".

Maybe you've asked these questions or maybe you're too young to give them a second thought.  But I have learned, mostly the hard way, that the choices we make have lasting consequences. I chose to move away and to move often and I saw a lot of the world in doing so. I experienced things and places that most won't but I also missed out on a lot - things I enjoy like the yearly fall festivals and family get togethers, the Georgia football games and the various reunions.  I missed more weddings and funerals than I attended.  And in the end I missed out on having really deep, lasting friendships that could see you through decline and even death.  If notice of my upcoming High School reunion tells me anything it is that I have been away a very long time because I hardly remember anyone at all.

So what about you?  Did you also have a well traveled and experienced but lonely life or is it quite the opposite?  I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Saturday, 2 July 2016

A quick update from England... Brexit, UEFA and us

I've found myself questioning the wisdom of visiting England in June after having to turn on the heat to keep warm and watching it rain nearly every day since we arrived.  I packed shorts and Alan didn't bring a jacket or any long sleeve shirts so we feel a bit foolish in hindsight.  Still, the time so far has been rich and full of good memories.

So far we've focused on being with Alan's mum and family, hosting a birthday party for Chloe with all her aunts, uncles and cousins and having a couple of fun day outs exploring England and Wales. We attended a debrief with Pioneers in Bawtry and have met with nearly all of our supporters around the area. We got to visit with the pastor and see lots of our friends at our old sending church in Birkenhead and we've enjoyed attending church with Margaret in Chester each week at the old Queen's Street location where Alan was a former member.

God has truly provided for us and guided our steps in this move. We've met with friends who have fostered here in England and gotten some good advice from them. When asked about what exactly our jobs will be when we get home we have said we believe it to be multi-faceted at least for the foreseeable.  These things will be our focus:

  1. Continue to be good parents to Chloe, get her registered into kindergarten and get involved in ministry with her school, our neighborhood, church and community.
  2. Serve on staff with the Great Exchange through a secondment agreement with Pioneers for a period of two years. Our focus will be to engage in gospel conversations with students in Universities across the southeast through the use of spiritual background surveys. 
  3. Continue to research and complete the home study required to adopt from the foster care system.
  4. Convert the loft space in our home into at least one more bedroom and bath for the child(ren) we hope to adopt
  5. Build a part-time maitenance/construction business for Alan to help fund extra costs associated with our adoption

What else God has planned beyond all of this is unclear but we are eager to get home and get started.

So what else?

Well, this last week our downtime included debating the Brexit "leave" vote and trying to decifer what it will mean for us if we ever want to return to Europe and watching a historic Wales football team and the more experienced German team reach the Semi-finals in the UEFA cup. We look forward to attending Bex and Josch's wedding in just a few days and meeting up with our team and housegroup members from Germany before flying out on the 12th to the states.

Here are some pictures of our visit thus far...

In other news...

  • After nine months of waiting Nicole has finally been granted her residence visa for Germany. We are thankful that she can continue in ministry in Germany and are so appreciative to those of you who have prayed with us for this. 
  • Peter and Tosca Nathan are spending two months in Australia before flying to Germany to lead the team as of August the 6th.  Their initial focus will be on language learning and on refugees.
  • An intern from Oxford University will join the team in September.  She will live in the loft with Nicole and wants to work primarily with young people in the church to improve her German and with refugees.
  • Many have asked about our needs for adopting and moving home.  Yes, we have experienced lots of extra costs from visa expenses to shipping charges already.  We will need to buy some second-hand furniture for our home when we return and we'll need to do some renovations and repairs on the house after having it rented for the last seven years.  We believe on initial estimates that the cost of converting the loft into another bedroom and bath will be at least $10,000 even with Alan doing 95% of the labor.  Finally, we believe our costs for the actual adoption will be minimal in comparison to an International or domestic infant adoption yet we do anticipate some costs associated. If you would like to help with any of these extra expenses, you can send monthly or one-time gifts to Pioneers on our behalf using our names and account number: 136050
Thank you for standing with us! - Mary, Alan and Chloe

Monday, 25 April 2016

We were made for another world...

"If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world." C. S. Lewis
I look around the main train station in Heidelberg and I snap a picture because on one long bench sits a group of refugees with a drunken homeless man yelling at them as if his situation were their fault.  A little further down is a group of young men who at 11:30 in the morning are on at least their second beer (if they even stopped from the night before). They drink openly and laugh intermittently.  About one meter from them sits two college aged tourists with their backpacks contemplating where they will go next and on the end sits what appears to be a young professional eating a sandwich on her lunch break.  I wonder whether any of them know Jesus. I want to wander over and talk to them and tell them about the hope they could have if only they would put their trust in Him.  

I attend a Mother's group and talk to the ladies about my struggles - as a wife, as a mother, as a Christian. I am more open than usual and I wonder whether I should care more about what people will think or say about me. Still I feel I must be honest and transparent because I want to bring glory to God and not to myself. Me trying to cover up the fact that I struggle - daily (ok hourly) isn't helping me or anyone else.  I look at the tired, over-worked, under-appreciated women in the audience and I see one after the other crying. I am not along in my struggles.  Do they have hope?  

Some days I feel like doing as little as possible just to get through the day. Some days I work so hard  that when I finally lie down my back and feet convulse in pain.  Most days it's just the day in and day out grind of living in a place (Earth) and in a body that makes life difficult, painful, exhausting and frustrating.  I long for something more. I was made for another world.  

I am not the same person I was when I left for England all these years ago.  If there is anything God has taught me through being a wife and mama, it is my utter and complete need for Jesus. I am a sinful, hurtful, prideful, easily angered and selfish person. I need Jesus and His Holy Spirit to heal the broken places in my life and to fill me with hope, joy and peace... DAILY!

When it comes down to it, Jesus is the only thing that satisfies the longings of my heart and He is the only thing that will satisfy the longings of YOUR heart too.  He made you.  He made you to desire a relationshp with Him. If you feel like day in and day out you are just going through the motions and you want something more out of this life - focus on Christ.  Ask him to transform you and to give you hope.  He is faithful.  I hope these lyrics remind you of His goodness and love for you.  I have paraphrased: 

You are good - when there's nothing good in me
You are love - on display for all to see
You are light - when the darkness closes in
You are hope - you have covered all my sin

You are peace - when my fear is crippling
You are true - even in my wandering
You are joy - you're the reason that I sing
You are life - in You death has lost its sting

Oh, I'm running to Your arms,
I'm running to Your arms.
The riches of Your love
Will always be enough
Nothing compares to Your embrace
Light of the world forever reign

You are more - Than my words will ever say
You are Lord - All creation will proclaim
You are here - In Your presence I'm made whole
You are God - Of all else I'm letting go

Oh, I'm running to Your arms
I'm running to Your arms
The riches of Your love
Will always be enough
Nothing compares to Your embrace
Light of the world forever reign

My heart will sing
no other Name
Jesus, Jesus

Oh, I'm running to Your arms
I'm running to Your arms
The riches of Your love
Will always be enough

Hillsong - Forever Reign

Monday, 14 March 2016

Rathbone Spring Update from Germany...

Between crying out to God to ensure moving back to the states and adopting is HIS plan and not OUR plan, sorting through the German paperwork associated with such a move and working with Tyler and Nicole to get their visa's and further integrate them into the German culture and our team, Alan and I have also been busy with many other ministry related opportunities.  This is a short update to keep our faithful and gracious supporters up to date as to how God is using us and your funds to continue the work here in Germany.  From the bottoms of our hearts we thank you for your prayers and for standing with us.

Now for the update...

Tyler, Nicole and Bex all joined us last fall as you know.  Nicole and Tyler (from Maryland and Alabama respectively) came on board full-time and Bex (from England) joined us as an adjunct member until the end of May.  Tyler, applied for and received shortly thereafter a one year language visa to live and study German here until October.  He attends intensive German language school Monday - Friday from 9-1 and then helps do work with refugees and his church at nights and on the weekends. Tyler recently found an apartment near us and is very glad to be setting down some roots. Nicole, already nearly fluent in German, has been granted a temporary visa while her two year visa is under consideration.  Germany is surprisingly not interested in having missionaries or others come to focus on refugee work so we had to minimize that on her application and emphasize her work alongside the local church.  Would you please pray with us that this visa will be granted quickly and for at least two years?  Bex works with us 50% of the time and the remaining 50% she has been working at two different schools in Heidelberg as a teacher.  Bex recently got engaged to a German she met before joining our team and they marry in England in early July.  The whole team hopes to attend the wedding.

This week our team is hosting a short-term missions team through WFBC and the Great Exchange in Georgia.  I have posted another update in our blog about the group and what they have been able to accomplish so I won't expound upon it here but they have been a blessing.  The day they leave Alan and I welcome our hopeful replacement family who are coming to do a survey trip for about 3 weeks. Peter and Tosca are Pioneers workers from Australia, most recently serving in the Philippians for the past 6 years and feel God is calling them and their children to Germany to work with refugees and migrants.  Please pray God would open up doors, build relationships, find schools for their children to attend and give them a real peace and excitement about coming here.  If all goes well, they would move here in August about a month and a half after we depart.

Alan and I have continued to host our Monday night bible study each week which has really grown over the last six months.  We have on average 10-12 young adults that attend and we've been studying I Corinthians together.  Alan spends the remainder of his week either helping out with Chloe or working with refugees.  He helps Tyler twice a week with the children's program at the largest refugee camp, attends a mens refugee night once a week and has also recruited refugees to come to a meal at our church which we cook for and host twice a month.  In addition he is starting this week to help use his extensive construction background to construct a coffee house at our church and he has invited refugee men to come and work alongside him.  I think this is a fantastic way he can use his gifts to also further the kingdom of God by surrounding these refugees with Godly men at our church each week.  Will you pray for boldness for him and the others at the church as they work together?

I spend the majority of my time using my gifts of organization to keep track of my husband and daughter, keep them well fed and in clean clothes and our house not looking like a pit. :)  I like attending MOPS meetings when I can and this month I'm going to be speaking at the group for the Easter meeting on "Hope through the Resurrection of Jesus".  I am also helping with a bake sale to benefit MOPS and our local ProLife organization, participating at a flea market with another MOPS mom and Chloe and I will host our second annual Easter Egg hunt for her kindergarten friends and their mama's.  I am mentoring Nicole as her team leader and working through marriage counseling CD's with Bex each week in anticipation of her upcoming marriage.

Our lives are rich in our every day and in anticipation of whatever God has in store for us next. We are so thankful for God's faithfulness and provision for us.  We are walking in faith that He has the next steps already determined for us and that He will lead us as we trust Him.  We ask for your prayers in this as well.

WFBC Short-Term Missions Team Update

This week Alan and I welcomed four UGA students from Watkinsville First Baptist Church (our sending church in the states) for a week of Great Exchange surveys and refugee work. The team was made up of Lauren Clark, Micah Houghton, McKenna Vick and Catherine Villis.  I have posted some of our updates from the week so you can see what the team was up to and remember to pray for them as they return to their studies in the states.  

Saturday March 5th - Morning
 The Germany missions team from WFBC has arrived in Frankfurt and is on their way to Heidelberg where breakfast is waiting. Please pray for the team this week as they do the Great Exchange Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday mornings and early afternoons. They will also help host a meal for a dozen Syrian and Iraqi refugees Saturday night (tonight!), work with over 100 refugee children Tuesday and Friday nights and minister to refugee men through a game night on Thursday. They join our regular housegroup to share their testimonies with our German/British/American group as well Monday night. It's a very full week. Please pray against too much jet lag and against the spiritual attack that they will certainly feel in this post-Christian country. 

We've been very impressed with the team thus far - they dove straight in after a few hours rest at the hostel talking to refugees tonight and getting to know them better at the dinner we hosted at our church. I think it was interesting for them to hear first hand about why these refugees are here and what they have had to flee and also just to sit, eat a meal, sing around the piano, laugh and pray together. 

The team has been here since Saturday and has done great work as God's ambassadors to Heidelberg. The team spent Sunday with our church, enjoying a pot luck after and then we had a meal and prayer and worship time at our house that evening. Monday we kicked off the Great Exchange with prayer and worship and had dozens of gospel conversations with committed atheists, Muslims and even a few Christians (or they claimed that but didn't have any certainty of what would happen to them after they died). One man we interviewed whose mother was Greek Orthodox Christian and whose father was a committed Muslim said he remained uncommitted to any notion of a God. Monday night the team came to our house and joined with other German believers for a time of testimony sharing, worship, prayer and fellowship. On Tuesday when it was time to go, Alan said every single person was doing a survey and it was hard to get them to stop. Praise God! Tuesday night the team went to the largest refugee camp here (a former military camp) and helped with a children's program hosting around 150 refugee children for soccer and basketball, drawing, doing puzzles and playing with dolls. Today the team has the day off to see Heidelberg and to relax before another two days of surveys and refugee work. We covet your prayers for the team - for boldness in sharing, for favor with the German offficials (we've been stopped doing worship music in the streets already once!) and for many to come to know Christ.

The remainder of the week the team did surveys in the mornings and afternoons after great praise and worship led by Bex, Lauren and Micah and a time of prayer.  Thursday night the team went to a church where refugee men primarily come each week to play games and socialize.  They got into many good conversations and enjoyed getting to know the men better.  Friday night it was back to PHV for the children's program and then to our house for a short debrief and a surprise birthday cake and singing for Micah whose birthday was yesterday.  Saturday it was up early to get to the airport and fortunately all arrived home in Georgia safe and sound Saturday night.

We have truly been blessed by the team and their willingness to jump right in, share their faith and their love for Christ this last week.  We pray God will watch over them as they continue their studies at UGA.

Monday, 1 February 2016

Pioneers Magazine Article on the Refugee Crisis in Europe

Since I'm so delayed in updating this blog (ok by a lot) I thought some of you might like to read an article I wrote for the latest Pioneers magazine due out next month regarding the refugee crisis in Europe but more specifically in Germany...

All is well here.  We are thankful.

The Refugee Crisis in Europe... one perspective

Much has been seen or read in the news about the ongoing refugee crisis in Europe. One of the countries most deeply impacted has been Germany - taking in over a million refugees in the last year. Many have questioned the wisdom of such a decision - even more so after the Paris shootings and Cologne attacks. How well do we know those coming to live amongst us? Do they mean us harm? Are they here to better their lives or are they truly escaping certain death from a common enemy that has arisen over the years in the Middle East? Take a walk around one of the hundreds of refugee camps recently setup in Germany and look at the people there and it's very difficult to tell which ones are fleeing war, which are coming for a better life and which ones are here to take advantage or plan to cause some sort of harm. So why do they come? Don't they want to return home one day or is it that there is no home left to return to? An interview with a Syrian couple gave this picture that can not be properly felt in written words. You should see the man as he spoke - his eyes red and swollen from tears, his wife barely controlling her grief. Their words:

"When we talk about the past, I almost lose my mind. 
Damascus is one of the most beautiful and oldest cities.
We pursued our work and in our free-time
 we visited family and friends. 
We walked through the old neighborhoods 
with its narrow streets and smells. 
The people there live simply. 
We enjoyed the ease of life. 
I prayed to God that he would spare this town. 
Because the whole of Syria has been destroyed. 
Syria is now a country of the past. 
I pray for the preservation of this city. 
We have the most beautiful memories. 
We have the most beautiful flowers - it smells like Jasmin. 
The children sing. 
My land, my land Where is my land now? 
Forgive me In my heart there is deep sadness 
We apologize - the injury is large 
The loss of one's homeland is very difficult."

Most of us will never know or truly understand the hearts of our new neighbors or what they have gone through and experienced. A refugee friend from Iraq who has two young boys and arrived about three months ago said every day in Iraq his boys would come home from school and say to him, “Daddy, we have to leave or ISIS will kill us.” So that is what they did. They took what few possessions they could carry along with their 9 and 4 year old sons and they walked for days and days to reach Turkey and then Greece by boat and then more walking and trains to Germany. Most of the way the father had to carry his youngest son on his back. People reportedly die all the time on these boats and along the way. They saw people die. These men, women and children are courageous and they are fighting for a better life for their families.

While Germans for the most part have welcomed refugees and migrants in with open arms, there have been reservations. There’s the open question as to how many is too many? Who will bear the costs? Where can they be housed? In the area around Heidelberg where we serve, there are over 35 camps – some in old army barracks, some in converted hospitals, hotels or apartments. Even sports halls are being used. Some parts of Germany are seeing conversions to Christianity en masse. The Jesus film was shown at an Arab’s men’s meeting here in Heidelberg and afterwards a dozen men stayed behind to ask questions - ten of which gave their lives to Jesus before leaving. Praise God for his faithfulness.

What an unprecedented time in history. God has literally brought the Arab world to Germany and to Europe and it is our job as Christians to be the hands and feet of Christ to them all. Please join us in praying that God would send more workers into his harvest fields for the harvest is ripe!