Thy Kingdom Come…

One family's journey crossing cultures in pursuit of the kingdom of God

Archive for the category “Third Culture Kids”

In Teaching…Expect the Unexpected

In my grade 12 homeroom no voting was necessary to determine which student had come up with the craziest hat for crazy hat day.  The student whose crazy “hat” included a live chicken won this distinction without so much as a discussion on the matter.  She had obtained a traditional Ethiopian basket, acquired a chicken (it wouldn’t be that difficult here), made a nest for it in the basket, and tied it in.  When she arrived with her “hat” happily bobbing its head as it looked around she assured me that she had taken measures to ensure that her “hat” wouldn’t poop in my room.  Technically, it did not end up pooping in my room.

It did, however, suddenly jump out of the basket during the middle of another student’s presentation.  We thought everything was fine after a couple of the students wrangled the chicken back in the basket and tied it in, a little more securely this time.  We began to be concerned, though, when the students watching over the chicken announced that it was foaming at the mouth.

My first thought was whether or not all of the students in my class were up-to-date on their rabies vaccinations.  We normally think of the stray dogs running around Addis as being the potential threat but a rabid chicken could also do some damage.

My second thought, however, was that I probably didn’t have a rabid chicken in my classroom but that I probably did have one that was going into shock because of its experience in my classroom.  Some of the students could probably empathize with the chicken, although for different reasons!

At this point we were in danger of veering completely off course and I was in danger of losing control of the class, so I just told the students to take the chicken outside and take care of it.  They did and returned a few minutes later.  I thought everything was ok until the end of class when I checked in with them concerning the matter.  At this point I learned that they had taken it into the teacher’s workroom next door and put it under a box with holes cut into it…without the permission of any of the teachers in that workroom!

Being pretty sure this arrangement wouldn’t sit well with my co-workers, I had to ask them to take the chicken out of the workroom.  Their response to this was to drag the chicken, which had, in the meantime, pooped on the floor, still under the box outside the workroom door.  So, now I had a live chicken under a box and a meter long streak of chicken poop extending out the doorway of the workroom to deal with.

My response at this point was to have the student clean up the chicken poop but she had to take an exam first.  In the end, a teacher with more compassion than I bailed the student out and wiped up the chicken poop and I was assured at the end of the day that the chicken had been taken care of, although I still don’t know how.

None of this was in my teacher training, except maybe the warning to expect the unexpected!


Whoa..Wait…Is Jon there too?

For I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.  I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty.   I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.   I can do everything through him who gives me strength.   Philippians 4:11-13

If you have been a frequent reader of this blog, I would understand if that were your reaction to this post.   It has been 14 months since we got to Ethiopia, and 14 months since I have written a post on this blog.  In fact, the last time I posted was the weekend before I started work at Soddo Christian Hospital.  Within two weeks, my partner there, Paul Gray, was being Medivac’d out of the country with a still unknown illness and I was off to the races.   What followed was the hardest year of my life…by a long shot.  Not just for the usual reasons.   We did have the usual stuff – culture stress, interpersonal conflicts, extended periods without power or water, too much work, too little energy, etc.   We were prepared for these things (maybe overprepared) and while our preparation helped us to understand some of the things we were experiencing, it didn’t lessen the experience of them.   But we had mentally built in the space for most of these things and understood them for them for what they are – the natural response to an unnatural thing, living and working in foreign country.  These normal things, however, were not what made this last year so hard.

The real trial, the real hardship of this last year was the profound disappointment that I have experienced.  It is hard to put into words how much Grace suffered during our time in Soddo.   Being a natural introvert, I have a hard time understanding my older daughter sometimes.  She is the very epitome of an extrovert.   Being alone exhausts her.   Being isolated is torture for her.  Learning is a social experience and only can be done among friends.      For her, life in rural Ethiopia was not just hard, it was miserable.  Seeing your child suffer is one of the worst things a parent can experience.   Knowing that your actions, your decisions are causing your child’s suffering is exponentially more distressing.  I wrote in that blog post 14 months ago that “This is all Bekah and I have planned for the 10 years that we have been married and the 5 or 6 years we knew each other before that.   In fact, both Bekah and I were planning to serve God as missionaries long before we knew each other.”

In light of this, Grace’s suffering compounded our suffering.   We are not here out of our own ambition; we sincerely believed (and still do BTW) that we are here in Ethiopia because we are called by God to serve Him here.   I really loved the work in Soddo, though admittedly I liked it a lot more when I wasn’t there alone.   The cases were great and I am well on my way to being a true African general surgeon.   Fifty percent (or more) of my practice was cases that I had never seen before and was not trained to do.   I love, love, love working with and teaching (and learning from) the PAACS residents.  The PAACS residents are the best group of men I have ever been around.  Yet, despite how well my practice and role as a teacher lined up with my dreams and expectations, the rest of life did not.   I was profoundly disappointed that my expectations of a triumphant missionary career were not going to happen the way I wanted.  It was clear that we were going to have to leave Soddo Christian Hospital and I was broken.

Despite this, God has been gracious is ways that I didn’t expect.  We have had incredible visitors come and encourage us and support us during the difficult times.  Our parents, the Kochs, the Rutledges and a big group from Atlanta, John Galloway (my mentor and #1 guru at Emory), Dr. Bill Wood (my chairman of surgery at Emory and now academic dean of PAACS), the Thompson’s, the Schmid’s, the Messerley’s, Greg Myer, and many more prayed with us, encouraged us, loved our girls, brought treats and helped at the hospital.

We would not have made it without Jackie Anderson, Allison Karnes, Kari Aarsland, Stephanie Hail, Becca Gray and Ruth Mulu, our friends, neighbors and teammates in Soddo.   They were incredibly gracious to Grace and tolerated unexpected visits from her at all hours and even the occasional visit in the bathroom.

One of the true joys to come from this last really difficult year has been a friendship with Paul Gray.   Paul is the program director for the PAACS program in Ethiopia and we worked closely together in training surgical residents in Soddo. Paul has been incredibly kind and patient with me as I struggled through the last year and graciously encouraged me to move on to Addis Ababa and the Korean Hospital despite it being against his personal interest.   He is now alone again in Soddo shouldering the burden of training there by himself.

The change in Grace with her new school and her new friends has been dramatic.   She is completely transformed and is the joyful, happy, and sweet girl that we remember from Atlanta.   This has, of course, made life so much better for Bekah too.   Gone (for the most part) are the battles over every detail of life.  Grace is reading just about anything she can get her hands on, writing stories, doing art projects, and singing.   She has joined the Bible club at her school and has been memorizing scripture and ‘teaching’ us what she is learning.

What has made this change in Grace possible is the expansion of the PAACS training program to Myungsung Christian Medical Center and an opening for Bekah to teach at Bingham Academy.   MCM is a unique hospital within PAACS and really a unique mission hospital in general.   Most mission hospitals are in remote areas.  MCM is in the city and serves a different patient population than Soddo Christian Hospital.   It will provide our residents with exposure to more specialty services, better technology, true ICU care, and a different set of pathology.   It will greatly enhance our training of surgeons in Ethiopia.  Being able to help to start PAACS training at MCM is a blessing, not just for the work itself, but because it allowed us to continue in the work God has called us to and given Bekah and Grace an opportunity to thrive at Bingham Academy.

Things have been good, very good since moving to Addis, but not perfect (obviously). Bingham and MCM are on opposite sides of the city (think Stone Mountain and Six Flags for those of you in Atlanta), which makes transportation difficult and means lots of time on the roads. Hannah has not faired as well.   She has been very lonely as she left a very special friend Lydia in Soddo.   This will get better soon, though, when she starts preschool in a couple of weeks. There have been some other bitter disappointments.

Through all this, I am learning what it means to be content.  I am learning that our contentment doesn’t come from our circumstances and the goal is not necessarily our happiness.  What I am learning is that daily, hourly, and even minute-by-minute I need more of Christ.  It is in Him that I will be content and in Him that I will be sustained through trials and hardships.   It is through Him that I can do all things, because He gives me strength.

An Interview with Grace

Hello from Grace!

My name is Grace and I am six years old and I am in first grade.  And my birthday is April 30th.

How do you like living in Addis so far?   Love it now that I get to go to school.

What’s your favorite thing about Addis?  Bingham Academy

Who are your teachers?  Miss Rubie teaches math, Bible, and P.E.  Mr. Pirie teaches us a lot of things that I do not know what to say that he teaches us.  In his class we learn how to write and read and we make planets and the sun go all around the classroom.  And Miss. Lydia is the helper.  She helps Mr. Pirie and Miss Rubie with a lot of things.

What is your favorite thing to do with Miss. Rubie and Mr. Pirie?  Mr. Pirie, writing.  Miss Rubie, Bible.

What do you like to do when you’re not in school?  Play with Pollies (Polly Pocket dolls) and I like to play with Hannah.


We’re in the midst of filing out piles of paperwork from re-entry cards to ministry profiles to insurance claims.  They all ask similar questions in different ways.  Where do we live?  What is our permanent mailing address?  Where is our citizenship?  Are we going for a visit when we fly from Ethiopia to the U.S. and back or is the “visit” part the other way around?

What and where is home?  When one lives and has a job as a guest in a country that is different from that which one grew up in, different from where one holds citizenship, different from where one’s family resides and the location of which changes every few moths or years, that can be a complicated and confusing question.  Depending on one’s viewpoint or, more accurately, one’s state of mind at the moment, one could be privileged to have multiple homes or pitied and considered “homeless” (in a sense).

And, to add to the questions, there is empirical and anecdotal evidence that when children grow up with this kind of lifestyle they will be forever changed because of it.  They are called “third culture kids.”  They grow up without a sense of home in the traditional sense of a particular city or house.  And they get used to fluid and constantly changing relationships as they experience peers coming and going, changing from year to year.

A wise counselor advised us to encourage Grace and Hannah to view home as where the four of us are together, therefore emphasizing relationships over place.  This is good, especially for our situation, but then I wonder, what if something happens to one of us?  What about when they leave for college, probably in a country different from where they spent all of their elementary and secondary school years and different from where we may then reside, but is technically where their passport says is home.  Can they feel like this is home?

So, is home a place?  Is home where a person’s most intimate relationships reside?  Can home change throughout one’s lifetime or will it always remain in one place or with a few people?

In the end, I don’t think we have to choose between home as a place or home as a relationship.  It is and will be both.  Jesus speaks of leaving his disciples in order to return to the Father.

“You heard me say, ‘I am going away and I am coming back to you.'”  (John 14:28)

He also promises to prepare a place in his Father’s home for his people.

“In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you.  I am going there to prepare a place for you.  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”  (John 14:2-3)

So, Jesus leaves the realm of the purely physical and visible world in order to return to the heavenly realm of the Father, all with the intention of making it our home as well.  And in Revelation 21 we see the physical and spiritual realm fully and perfectly combine in the new heaven and new earth as God’s heavenly realm is fully visible and fully redeems all things on earth.  And so our home is and always be will be a place.

But Jesus also says…

“You know the way to the place where I am going.”  (John 14:4)

Thomas doesn’t understand and questions this.  Jesus answers…

“I am the way and the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.”  (John 14:6)

The key characteristic of the new heaven and the new earth is the very presence of the Father.

“Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them.  They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.”  (Revelation 21:3)

In the description of the new city, the new Jerusalem, the Father is the only and perfect source of life and light…

“Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city…There will be no more night.  They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light.”  (Revelation 22:1, 2a, 5a)

And so our home is and always will be a relationship with the Father, through Jesus the son, by the power of the Holy Spirit.

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