Sunday, December 17, 2017

Merry Christmas!

Hello dear friends,

We trust you had a restful Thanksgiving celebration and pray you are able to spend the upcoming Christmas holiday with loved ones.  We certainly are grateful that we are able once again to be with family in Washington over our break, flying in on the 18th and back out on January 3rd!
We hope to be able to connect with many of you in the Bellingham and Seattle area over this period, even though we know it is busy.  We are so blessed by your faithful partnership with us as a family and want to connect with as many of you as possible.  My mobility may be hampered a bit, as it looks I will be having to lug some crutches around after just badly spraining my ankle in our basketball fellowship this last Tuesday night, but still hoping to greet and hear from many of you.  Please do shoot us a text or reply here if you can meet up.

We are carrying on well here in East Texas, wrapping up the school quarter this week with a lot of fun activities for the students and spending a lot of time in prayer for safety and God's work in our lives, and that of our family members, over the upcoming break.  Thandi has been enjoying teaching a very inquisitive Elisha in some preschool activities at home.  Eli loves doing puzzles, though is growing in his understanding of phonograms to form words and numbers.  Thankfully, Thandi's blood results all came back as normal, though it definitely has us frustrated and seeking God as to what the cause of her consistent low energy and occasional stomach pains can be.  We are being more vigilant with diet, and that has been helping of late.  We really cherish your prayers in this, as it really affects her from day to day.  We are grateful we have a local small group we get prayer support from as well.

Thanksgiving break was a wonderful time of hosting family friends from South Korea, Puerto Rico and Kenya.  I also was asked to play in a tournament down in Houston with several of the Gambian students I try to keep in touch with, and it was a really great time of soccer as well as some spiritual conversation and exchange of understanding between our faith backgrounds.  You can see our team pic below.  Please join us in praying in particular for Shariffo, one who I have had a chance to follow up with since our car ride conversation, and whom I was able to share more with and give a book on the life of Jesus recently (hopefully will get into the Word itself next meeting).  We plan to continue to meet as our schedules allow, and discuss our different relationships with God, as he is a very earnest seeker of God from a muslim background.

Busi has been loving 2nd grade, though it is making her that much sadder that we won't be finishing out the school year into May.  We know we have not shared that far ahead in our updates, due to the fact that we were still praying for direction from God, but we are at peace now in applying for a training at the YWAM Colorado Springs base on Business as Mission this coming April.  Just as we have been blessed in our understanding of the educational process and its foundational role in discipling nations through our time here with YWAM Tyler, we are hoping to learn more of God's view on the business sphere, perhaps opening up possibilities of ourselves running a business with Kingdom principles in the future that will help grow our ministry and create on-the-job discipleship opportunities. The base has a homeschooling co-op we plan to be a part of, and we are planning to apply for staff after the course, as the entire base is focused on frontiers/least reached people groups.
We know we are called to Africa, but are still praying for God to make clear which nation. In the meantime, we are logging the time since Thandi got her green card (around this time last year) to be eligible to apply for US citizenship before we are commissioned back to Africa.  If any of you have thoughts/questions on our process, we'd love to hear from you.  We just want to be faithful to what God is telling us to do each step of the way.

PRAISE REPORTS:

- Praise God that earlier this month our entire school had a celebration around Joshua Craine, our high school student who has been battling brain cancer and all kinds of painful complications for over a year, being officially cancer-free...truly a miracle to see him come out of this and gaining strength again, and such an example of faith to us all!

- Thandi's energy levels not being quite so low, and everything clear on the medical side

- God's provision in enabling us to get affordable tickets to be with family/friends over Christmas; we don't take it for granted

PRAYER REQUESTS:

- Quick healing of my sprained ankle and that I will not need to be on crutches the entire break

- Continued process of handing over leadership of our small group to another couple, that Holy Spirit would facilitate our times together and bring the people that need to come

- God would provide the right teacher to take over my 4th grade class before March, so I can still be there for the transition and give us freedom for our preparations in moving (God's hand on the whole process of moving)

Merry Christmas and Blessed 2018 to all!

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Autumn Update

Hello all,

Greetings from the Whitlock clan in sunny East Texas.  We trust you are well and carrying on daily with joy and hope from the Lord in the work He has called you to.

SCHOOL MINISTRY:

We are wrapping up the first quarter of the school year at Christian Heritage School, and Busi is really enjoying 2nd grade.  It is such a blessing she gets to have both a female and male teacher, both good friends of ours and from very different cultures.  One from the states and the other from Papua New Guinea, though both very committed to serving the Lord in all they do.

I, Bryan, have been carrying on as the main teacher for 4th grade this year, as Thandi stepped down to focus on homeschooling Elisha (which he has been loving once he accepted the more strict routine:).  The two boys in my class have been quite draining and challenging, as they are both borderline ADHD, but it has been a great learning experience and rewarding in so many ways already.  Always a blessing that we are able, and encouraged, to bring our faith into every subject we teach, helping the student see how the Lord is involved in all of life while giving them the tools to discover this on their own.  There are some pics from the beginning of the school year, including viewing the solar eclipse on the first day and hearing from some Albanian missionaries who have set up a similar school where hundreds of Muslim children attend after attending TFN (the school Thandi did) together years ago.  It was awesome to see Busi volunteer with enthusiasm to pray for the children in Albania to know the Lord!
Busi got her picture in the local paper after we attended a 9/11 Remembrance and Prayer for America event early in the morning:
She was actually disappointed she had forgotten her stars and red/white ribbons for her hair:)  It was quite neat to be a part of, as it apparently was the first event of its kind in Tyler area in which both public and private schools participated.

While I have taken a step back from coaching at CHS, I still help organize soccer training for the Junior High and High Schoolers after school one day a week, teach P.E. to all the elementary kids, and organize a basketball fellowship with older guys from the community every Tuesday night.  The latter has been very encouraging, as we may make sure to pray before playing and have seen a lot of anger and ego issues getting addressed with guidance from the Lord.  I also continue to build relationships with the Gambian student community every Friday I can make pick-up soccer games, and have been enjoying playing the Mexican League every weekend.  The last few photos are from a great time we had fishing, 4-wheeling and shooting rifles (not the kids:) with a guy I play striker with on the team.  He is real open with me, though it is very evident he is against organized religion and not sure about Jesus, but I continue to trust eternal fruit will come from this friendship.

CHURCH MINISTRY:

While Thandi volunteers with the younger kids on a rotation, I help teach the youth on Sundays when I am not signed up to help with video manager or soundboard during the service.  It has definitely been a challenge to engage a grade range of 6th-12th, but I have enjoyed teaching on topics such as Service and Identity as well as seeing them more readily participating and getting comfortable being themselves around each other.  We have been going through a pastoral change at Lifepoint (http://www.lifepointfc.com/), and it has been good to step in and help out while seeing others doing the same.
On Wednesday nights, I am continuing in leading the small group that is held at the church while the kids attend their classes, which they really enjoy.  We are continuing through the second half of Matthew and getting some great discussion and application points on how we can live out the Kingdom in all that we do.  I am also in the process of training up a co-leader who is intimidated by it all, but we are working through that it is ok to lead in a different way than I do.  As he says, "I could listen to you all night, but I'm not sure the others would feel the same about me."  Quite flattering I suppose, though I make sure to keep my talking to a minimum and get all to participate, and don't want him thinking you got to come up with teaching points for the whole hour to lead the discussion well.  It has been good discussing together what it looks like to ask Holy Spirit to lead.

NEIGHBORHOOD MINISTRY:

Lastly, God has begun answering our prayers for our neighborhood, as He has opened up many more seemingly random conversations for Thandi with all the Moms in our cul-de-sac and even up the street.  Two of them that are single moms have begun opening up with her about their struggles and clear search for fulfillment in their lives, one of them it seems even selling marijuana to other neighbors up the road.  I play basketball with one of my neighbors and have had a few conversations in broken Arabic with another from Jordan.  And, of course, the kids are the best missionaries on the block:) We believe God is up to something and will use us as a family to draw many to Himself and His fulfilling love.

Thank you all for your faithful prayers and support to us in many ways.  We always enjoy hearing what you are up to as well, and for those of you in Bham area, we are looking forward to being up there for Christmas again.

PLEASE PRAY FOR....
  • Thandi's health: she has been VERY low in energy the past few months and several friends think it may be her thyroid; waiting for some blood tests and see Doctor again on Wednesday
  • Being in tune with Holy Spirit even when tired at home, to be a blessing to our neighbors and a stepping stone for them to draw closer to Christ in understanding and action
  • Our Wednesday small group and training up future leaders in the church
  • Relationships with soccer friends, conversations that point to our need for our Creator who longs for relationship with us
  • Guidance for our remaining time stateside

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Summer Update

Dear friends and supporters,


We wanted to give you an update before the school year kicks off for us this coming Monday.  It has been a very busy but blessed summer (& winter for our time in South Africa) for us as a family.  For those of you in the Bellingham area, we are glad to hear the smoke from the BC wildfires is finally dissipating and you are able to breathe the lovely PNW air again, though we continue to pray for a stop of the spread of ongoing fires in the larger region.

SOUTH AFRICA:

To remind you, we were able to find tickets at a really good price for a needed visit to South Africa from end of May until mid-July.  Our main goal for the time was to connect with family in Johannesburg as well as find a way down to Cape Town to connect with friends and ministries we were previously a part of.  We were given the opportunity to share with Thandi's home church about the path God has led us on in Texas, as well as with their Friday night youth group.  Thandi shared with the youth about letting down defenses and allowing God's Father heart to minister into every area of our lives.  It was a really powerful time, as the youth leader told us after that 90% of the kids live in fatherless homes, an epidemic that we all know is sadly global but especially acute in SA.  We just wished more youth were not away at the time, but trust God ministered to those present (pic below).

In our last email we shared about God's amazing grace and providence over enabling us to get into the country with only copies of the kids' unabridged birth certificates.  While we were thankful and knew it was God that gave us favor at the Port of Entry as well, we knew we better get some new originals before flying back out and risking being detained.  We initially attempted this at a Home Affairs office in Joburg, but decided to not pursue after the branch opened nearly an hour late and we were queuing with scores of other unfortunate souls for hours without even getting into the building.  We prayed and felt we should apply back at the Home Affairs office we originally got both their birth certificates at during our planned two week stay in Cape Town.  As it turned out, we took our rental car and were able to make the journey south and got up early the next morning to wait all day (7:30-3:30) and get the documents we needed.  It was exhausting but thank God we got new ones printed without a hitch and were even able to renew both of the kids' South African passports (which would have been a much greater hassle and expense from within the US).  We were also blessed to enjoy the hospitality of our dear friend Dwayne, who helped with the kids that day and put us up in his flat the entire two weeks we were in town.

I believe those of you with FB were able to see some of our photos posted during that time as well as our time we were able to get all the family together at a game reserve back up north.  We had a wonderful time overall, as we simply asked the Lord to use us as He pleased, and believe He did in sowing good seeds and words of His truth/encouragement into various family members and friends seeking His will for their lives and ministries.  Thandi felt so blessed to get to spend so much time with her mother and siblings.  Her sister Nelisiwe, who is doing very well working for a prominent SA-based company and serving the Lord, was very gracious in hosting us for the several weeks we were in Joburg.  We got to connect with all the other siblings, though some from Mozambique we just had to continue to keep in prayer.  It was also great to see both Busi and Elisha embrace their South African identity in many ways, truly enjoying the land and times with cousins and friends.  Elisha, who previously would only get excited by the American flag (which we love to see in him), is now recognizing the multicolored South African flag and says, "That's our flag too!"

I personally was very excited to get back to our hometown in the Cape, where God laid so many foundations for us as a family and gave us so many great friendships, and God knows I truly miss it.  Yet, I was blessed with such a sense of peace even as we came down from the mountain pass (sprinkled with a dusting of snow) to see beautiful Cape Town laid out before us...God gave me peace that I wouldn't long to be back here and try to relive the past times, but that He had been faithful to enable us to move out when we did, knowing we needed to enter into our next step in the journey He has us on.  I was so grateful for this gift of peace, knowing that I often struggle to not dwell on what could have been in the past and to just enjoy the present season.

Lastly, I wanted to share a very cool connection that God orchestrated from my outreach in Houston with high school students last summer.  We got to take the students for some worship on the street and practical outreach in one of the tougher neighborhoods in a ministry called Hip Hop Hope, which is under a larger ministry called Disciple the Streets (http://www.eyesonmeinc.com/disciple-the-streets-dts.html) which really targets the roots of gang culture and see God's redemption come there.  Anyways, just before we left for this ministry I had connected on FB messenger with a fellow missionary family that used to be back in South Africa and had now returned to their hometown of Houston.  We arranged to meet up downtown where our entire school was having an urban quiet time (which I recommend trying...plz contact me if you want more clarity on what it involves), and I heard how discouraged this family was and seeking God for how they could connect with missions-minded people in Houston, with the intent of keeping connections alive back in S. Africa.  As I listened to their hearts and knew we were headed to HHH next (something they had never heard of), I invited to join our team and see what God was doing in this ministry.  They loved it, got some of basic training the ministry offers for the streets, and we lost touch.

Now, as we were driving back to Joburg from Cape Town, I reconnected with this family who were back in a town just inland of Cape Town and they shared with incredible joy how God was using them to do a Disciple the Streets ministry with local gangsters, leading the troubled men (and women) out of unhealthy community into true community centered on obedience to God's Word!  It was so amazing to hear the husband, Sean, share that this movement (and they are planning to take this other kind of DTS to the gang-ridden streets of the Cape Flats, through some key people of peace I gave them contacts for) came largely out of them getting connected to this ministry back in Houston a year ago....we just praised God together for His loving providence and were once again reminded of just how simple (though not without obstacles/trials) it can be to carry out God's perfect will if we are only willing to obey His leading.

SUMMER IN TEXAS:

After our return back to Tyler, I was able to get a few weeks work in with a soccer friend of mine who owns a roofing business.  The long hours and incredible heat kept me quite exhausted for the rest of July, but I was so grateful to have the opportunity to earn some money.  I can tell you another thing: The quickest way to improve your Spanish is to work with a Mexican construction crew!:)

At the beginning of this month my parents were able to fly down and we were able to trade cars with family friends of ours in Dallas that have two family vans.  Equipped with a van that astounded me with its effortless turning radius, we set out for a road trip with the rents in Pensacola, FL, keen on getting in some good beach time before the end of summer.  It turns out another friend I went to high school with now lives and works at a resort in Pensacola and ended up getting us an incredible rate for our three nights there.  What a blessing! 
We ended our time with my folks taking them to a genuine Texas rodeo...quite entertaining!

PRAYER REQUESTS:

  • The primary one now would be my stepping in full-time as the main 4th grade teacher at CHS, and for Thandi as she has stepped down to focus on homeschooling Elisha for this year in prep for homeschooling Busi as well in the years to come
  • Clarity on other work to be involved in including coaching, helping at the library and getting time to spend with the Gambian community
  • More to come, but please also share any prayer requests you have for us...we want to keep in better touch

Thanks and many blessings to be a blessing wherever God takes you....
B, T, B and E

Monday, May 29, 2017

Made it safely to SA!

Sanibonani kusukela South Africa...

We just wanted to get a quick update to you after a successful wrapping up of the Christian Heritage School year.  We had planned to give an update from our long layover in London, but met some unexpected challenges there that brought us to our knees and seeing God's favor coming through in the last minute! (will share more on that in a bit:)

CHS Graduation
Busi had a great 1st grade year, filled with many field trips, increasing friendships and an even greater love of learning.  We are so grateful for her teacher Mrs. Frederickson, who is also over all the Elementary department, so both Thandi and I served under her leadership.
Busi finished with Honors in Reading and the got the highest award in her class for Penmanship.  She also received Character awards for Generosity and Enthusiasm!

Thandi finished strong with her 4th graders and did a great job affirming each of them on their graduation day.  She is still praying about her committment for the next school year, but knows she wants to take the mornings to homeschool Elisha since he will still not be old enough to enter the Reading (Kindergarten) class.

I also got to help run media for a CHS Senior graduation ceremony held at the local church we attend.  We had graduates from Colombia, South Korea/Syria and China.  Surprisingly, no Americans but not too much so as it is a school run by missionaries!  I was blessed to hear each of the graduate's testimonies, especially two of the guys I had the privilege of coaching in soccer and track.  One of them, Andres, said this that I thought was such an amazing takeaway:

"If I was really proud of being a Colombian when I arrived, now I am more proud of my culture and the history of my people and what Colombia represents in the world. I don’t want to give up on my people. I want to dream with them, grow with them, and teach them."

Just before school got out, a local news channel did a special on CHS that does really well to explain why we are doing what we do.  They had asked Thandi to do an interview for it, but she chose not to.  However, you can catch a glimpse of Busi in there:)


Now, getting back to the drama/stress of our flight here, British Airways said plainly when we tried checking in for our final flight that we could not.  The reason was we had been misinformed about needing the original unabridged birth certificates for our children.  We thought we just needed copies of them with their passports.  To make a long story short, I was running back and forth between BA and American Airlines desk (15min shuttle between) trying to see the best way forward.  AA was most helpful with the local supervisor phoning various government numbers in South Africa to see if they would accept us once we landed, but it ultimately ended with the conclusion that they would put us up in a hotel for two nights (since they were not supposed to let us on the first flight to London) while we arranged a courier to ship the documents and get our last flight rebooked at a cost of well over $1000 since they weren't flexi tickets.
It really did seem like the only way, even though one of the Port of Entry guys in SA we spoke on the phone with said they could not refuse us entry since both our kids were born in SA.  But we didn't need to convince him, we needed to convince BA officials!  As I got back with Thandi and the kids and explained the situation, I felt I would try once more with the current BA supervisor since it had been nearly 6 hours since we first tried to check in.  Well, God led us to an elderly employee who heard my explanation and saw the photos of the originals on my phone and had the authority to let us through...it was remarkably simple!
I knew he was taking a risk in letting us through and was still a bit worried when we faced Customs upon our arrival, but Thandi kept assuring me it would be fine.  After all, it definitely felt like a miracle that we got on our original flight at all!

After all that, once it was our turn at Passport Control in Joburg airport, the official didn't even have a problem with the certificates being copies!  We, however, do need to renew Busi's SA passport, as they said we should be travelling on that and not her US passport.  But thanks be to God that we got through without a hitch!
It was really cool to see an African American brother again at baggage claim, after he had been next to us at the beginning when we got the news we would not be going on the flight, and AA may even make us fly back to Dallas.  He was just as thrilled as us that we made it, and we got a chance to pray for him, as it was his first visit to SA.  You could tell he was touched by our joy and prayer, and asked to keep in touch.


We are now enjoying time with Thandi's family, and, though still heavily jet-lagged, excited about what God has in store for us and through us on this trip.  Thanks so much for your faithful prayers and keep in touch!

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Happy Easter!

"Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses [who by faith have testified to the truth of God’s absolute faithfulness], stripping off every unnecessary weight and the sin which so easily and cleverly entangles us, let us run with endurance and active persistence the race that is set before us, [looking away from all that will distract us and] focusing our eyes on Jesus, who is the Author and Perfecter of faith [the first incentive for our belief and the One who brings our faith to maturity], who for the joy [of accomplishing the goal] set before Him endured the cross, disregarding the shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God [revealing His deity, His authority, and the completion of His work]."  --Hebrews 12:1-2, Amplified Bible

He is Risen!  Jesus is Risen indeed!  Happy Easter to you all as we take time to really reflect and celebrate the obedience and ultimate victory of our Lord Jesus...

This past month has been filled with great times with visitors, fun and meaningful events at the school, and a few challenges along the way.  
Most recently, Thandi had a wonderful time bringing her 4th grade class to our home for an Easter celebration, in which the students prayed words over one another as they washed one another's feet.  I helped in giving a short teaching on all that Jesus was communicating with His disciples during the Last Supper and celebrating the Passover festival in preparation for his arrest later that night. They were all a bit turned off at first, but embraced it more as we talked how much dirtier the disciples' feet would have been and how this in no way hindered Jesus, our Servant King.
It was a real blessing to share with the students the true meaning of Easter, and how Jesus still is calling people from every nation and walk of life to follow His example in today's world.  What a privilege that we could do something like this for a school class!

I have been preparing the elementary students for their annual Track & Field Day that will be this week, which will consist of 8 events, including a relay at the end with chopped up broom sticks:) I just finished working alongside another staff in coaching our Junior High/HS track team at CHS.  I wish we could have gotten more students to turn out, but it ended up being a rewarding time of being able encourage the students individually (all of them improved repeatedly on their PRs) and as a team to build one another up.  It was another learning curve for me, not competing in track in high school, but I was blessed to serve in this capacity.  The only major challenge was rolling my ankle quite badly in a soccer game and needing to follow through on my commitment during those LONG track meets!

BLESSED WITH VISITORS
On April 2nd, I had the honor of baptizing Busisiwe into the family of God as my sister in Christ!  I love that our local church encourages the father's to be able to do this with the children, and that Busi got to do alongside six other new believers, four of them being almost as young as her.
We also got to celebrate Thandi's birthday the next day with all kinds of love coming her way!  We were incredibly blessed to have our friends Steve and Kara Loeppky with their kids visiting us during their Spring Break, and they helped make Thandi's birthday even more amazing with authentic boerewors (South African sausage) shipped in alongside side an assortment of delectable biltong.  What an amazing taste of home for her, and what a great time of fellowship we had with the Loeppkys, though it was way too short.  They were such an encouragement to us in their hearts to serve intentionally, and even helped with doing some Spanish lessons for Thandi's class.

Prior to that, we were able to host my parents for the first time since moving into our duplex, and we had a wonderful time with them, including having them drive with us to camp outside Austin and check out the city the next day during our Spring Break (this was after driving all the way from WA:).  Troopers they are!  They also helped with a full day of running my PE classes with the parachute they had packed along (it was a big hit, and now the pressure is on from the kids to secure one for the school:)  Overall, it was just amazing to see the unique relationships Busi and Elisha can have with their grandparents, and we came away from the visit with so much gratitude in our hearts.  They are missed nearly every day.

HEADING TO SOUTH AFRICA!
Speaking of family, we had been praying and checking tickets for some time now in order to get back to SA for a visit.  We are thrilled to say we got a really good deal on tickets for May 22-July 12.  The primary purpose will be to catch up with Thandi's family around the Johannesburg area, but are also planning to get down to Cape Town to visit all our friends and see how the ministries are going forward.  We wanted to make it a good long visit to make it worthwhile, though we are struggling to find anyone to cover our lease while we are away.  
We are really excited to be spending some quality time with Thandeka's family, as we really miss them.

PRAYER POINTS
  • Holy Spirit to guide our visit to South Africa, including time with Thandi's family as well as friends in different places/ministries
  • Good deal on a reliable rental car for our time in Jozi, as well as tickets to get down to Cape Town and back
  • Someone to help us at least cover June's rent here, or see more of God's provision in that
  • Quick healing of my ankle so I can get back out on the field/court/etc!
We are so grateful for all of you following our journey of faith with the Lord and growing His Kingdom, and look forward always to hearing about yours!

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

October/November Update

"Let the peace of Christ keep you in tune with each other, in step with each other. None of this going off and doing your own thing. And cultivate thankfulness. Let the Word of Christ—the Message—have the run of the house. Give it plenty of room in your lives. Instruct and direct one another using good common sense. And sing, sing your hearts out to God! Let every detail in your lives—words, actions, whatever—be done in the name of the Master, Jesus, thanking God the Father every step of the way."  (Colossians 3:15-17, The Message)
Happy Thanksgiving!  Truly there is so much to be thankful for in the midst of all the uncertainty of life, for we know God loves to do life with us and bring hope through us wherever we go.  And when I say "us", I am speaking of all those who place their trust in the Lord.
We really appreciate you taking the time to read our updates and pray with us. We know in this digital age you are daily bombarded with emails and newsletters sharing amazing stories of what God is doing around the world and very worthy causes to give to, so we do not take for granted the time you take to read our news and prayerfully invest into our ministry.  We are now enjoying a week off of school for the Thanksgiving break and happy to be staying home and hosting friends from different nations.
Teaching/Coaching Update:
The school year is carrying on well at Christian Heritage School.  We have had some hard news with a teacher colleague as well as a Junior High student recently being diagnosed with different types of cancer, but amazing to see their faith in the face of such adversity.
Thandi is doing great with her 4th grade class of six students, and I am enjoying the time I get to have with them in Bible class twice a week, as well as PE and library.  As you can see from the photo, Elisha has made himself a part of the 4th graders, even coming in at times to sit at one of the empty desks:)  The other photo of Thandi with her students at the picnic table is their Swiss celebration after going through the classic The Apple and the Arrow in Literature class.  Thandi has voiced many times how challenging it has been for her to not only put in the time to develop lesson plans and know her stuff but also deliver it in such a way that the students with their different learning styles understand.
It has been most rewarding for her that the school setup allows for, and actually encourages, discipling the student in each subject as well as connecting with their families as much as the parents allow.  It has been really a blessing for her teaching one girl in particular who comes from a broken home and struggles to focus on her schoolwork.  She has taken a lot of extra time speaking with the single mother, who eventually opened up to Thandi about how hard it has been for her to surrender everything to Christ.  She is thrilled with how much her daughter is growing in academics and even moreso love for God and His ways, and wants that for herself.  How cool is that!  It is also a blessing for her to pray every morning with the kids, hearing their hearts and seeking to engage on even deeper levels.
I enjoyed the time coaching the Boys/Girls mixed soccer team that wrapped up with helping the players run a Soccer Camp for the elementary kids in the school at the end of October.   Even though we didn't manage a win for the short season, I could see the character development through those frustrations with most of the players and was happy to get to disciple each of them in different ways.  We had photos with the team, but I was not able to track down where they went (amazingly not on the Internet:).
I am continuing with PE classes with the elementary students nearly everyday (so far we have gone through volleyball, basketball and soccer skills), and just started coaching the basketball season for JH Boys at the beginning of November.  That's a first for me even though I love the sport, but I have been blessed to have one of the High School students who was Captain of our soccer team as an assistant and he actually knows some good plays to run with the kids:) It's funny that I had said years ago I was not going to have anything to do with teaching PE like my parents and sister, but here God has me for this season and I am asking Him to help me do it for His glory.  I am especially asking for the kids who are more naturally athletic to experience the joy of living out God's Word they hear everyday in the midst of sport, preferring their classmates and actually celebrating their successes, especially those kids who do not have much physical activity outside of school.
Housing/Finances:
As you may remember from our last update, God has opened up a very nice duplex for us to live in not very far at all from the campus. It is a blessing to have a solid floor under our feet and all the appliances working including AC (though thankfully do not need on anymore, as Fall has finally started here in East Texas).  As we had wrestled with the decision to move off campus and felt some of it was confirmed by the housing challenges with new staff/students coming into the Dayspring base, we really sensed God was asking us if we really trust Him as a family in finances.  I could honestly say I did not, but wanted to learn to and not be bound with any kind of poverty mentality that I know I am easily susceptible.  I remember my time in Africa before marriage, I would take a kind of pride in how little I could live off of.  Not to say living frugal is wrong, for I still know God has wired me this way to adapt easily, but I knew I was also not giving God a chance now with me and my family to learn to trust Him on deeper and deeper levels.
Thus, with the move off campus, our monthly needs have more than tripled.  Contrary to South Africa which your bills simply involve rent + electricity (and I know you all know this), we are now dealing with quite high water bills (due to being outside the city limits but the city of Tyler being the only provider), gas bill, electrical and waste removal in addition to the challenging monthly rent.  I share this because I know God is challenging me to do so, and is all part of my trust journey with Him.  We have been incredibly blessed by your faithful support to us over the years, but the truth is we need to increase our support substantially.  We know this is part of the strong foundation God has been speaking to us in this season that will enable us to be launched back into Africa in the way He intends for us.  While I do work for a friend from my church who has his own construction company from time to time and am even working this break with a roofer from my Mexican League team, we know God is challenging us to ask for more support to build up our funding for the long-term calling that He still has for us.  
May I ask you to go back to the Lord and ask any new way you could support us financially at this time?  We know we are still called to give ourselves and have many missionary friends in greater need than us that we do, but it is not as regular as we would like it to be.  We are working on our budget to know clearly where each of our support goes, and would love to get that to those of you who would like it, but at this point we do know we have much more going out than what is coming in each month.  Thank you so much for prayerfully hearing this out, and being such an amazing support to us!  We are trying to see those of you who live in Bellingham that are in the area around Christmas, as we got blessed by my parents to make another trip up as a family from December 17-30th.  Please let us know if you have time to meet up, even if just to catch a coffee downtown so we can share more of our hearts with you. 
Praise and Prayer Points:
-Praise God for opening up relationships with our new neighbors; we have gotten into a couple spiritual conversations with some and gives us good prayer ammo, as a number have been raised in the church (it is the Bible belt after all), but are having serious doubts about if they have ever had faith of their own and if they believe God is real
-Praise God for building relationships with our local church and being a part of initiatives into the community; grateful also to go every Friday evening to play pick-up soccer with the large, predominantly Muslim community of Gambians in Tyler (I have met a number of other Africans there as well, including a Sudanese student who has similar interests as mine in reducing waste and creating jobs in both Sudan and South Sudan...his name is Yusuf)
-Pray for the Junior High student named Joshua who I coached in soccer and was just diagnosed with an aggressive brain cancer at the end of the season; they found two large tumors there and he is undergoing a very traumatic process of multiple surgeries to see it removed completely (Busi and Eli remember to pray for him every night:)
-Pray for Thandi's Green Card still...trusting God for it to come before we head out on Christmas break.  Interview went well, but asked for her Mozambiquan birth certificate to be translated officially and have official proof of her name change in South Africa since her Portuguese birth name was completely different; praying the new documents we sent in will be miraculously processed in record time or will have to re-do a lot of her application since it is over a year since we submitted:(
- Pray for the ongoing fighting and insecurity in South Sudan that has flooded such border towns as Arua, where nearly all the YWAMers of South Sudan have evacuated to; the base cannot provide enough food and health is real concern for many of the large missionary families.
We are praying for security and revival of God's people there, not waiting on government to determine the direction of the country... The Arua, Uganda base is currently running a Trailblazers DTS and the school is going well with 25 students and 10 staff from different countries within Africa, including South Sudan, Somalia, Burundi, Congo, Rwanda and Uganda. They have already started praying for outreach places and one of main places God is highlighting is YIDA refugee camps in northern part of south Sudan.  Pray for students to get their passports and funds raised, as they are all willing to go for the Lord, though there is certain danger going into a war-zone and to one of the most remote refugee camps.

Pic Captions:
1 - Elisha at 'his' desk
2 - 4th Grade Lit party
3 - PE warm up laps with Busi at the middle
4 - Caleb Shim, my assistant coach; he lived with his missionary parents in Syria and Turkey and is fluent in Arabic; great to disciple him and see him disciple the boys
5 - at our church's Fall Fest in place of Halloween, opening up free fun and food for community
6 - 1st time kids carved a pumpkin for our front stoop
7&8 - making sandwiches at My Brother's Keeper and then handing them out door-to-door, praying with the downtrodden
9 - Eric and his wife from Burundi are travelling intercessors, and I helped him connect to a Pastor friend of mine in Juba, South Sudan; here he is encouraging the eldership of a local church in the midst of the most disheartening of Sudan's wars
10 - My buddy Dachung who has been with me on many outreaches and worked with me in Cape Town encouraged me with this photo: He is with Thulani, one of the young men we met with regularly for Discovery Bible Studies in Overcome, and Thulani now got a job playing music in Muizenberg...so cool and big answer to prayer for this youth with so much potential!

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

January/February Update

New Year greetings and blessed Ash Wednesday to you all!

We trust you have welcomed in the new year well, reflecting on God's faithfulness over the past year and taking some time to pray through what He has for you in 2016.  Thandi and I have gone into this year with a lot of expectation in our hearts and peace that God has us at the right place at the right time, being equipped and uniquely mentored in the areas we need as a family as well as individuals.

Heavy Hearts...
We do need to update you regarding a very tragic event that occurred a bit over a week ago here on campus (at least to us).  The founder and leader of the Teachers for the Nations school Thandi is in, as well as the older Christian Heritage K-12 school, went missing in the morning after teaching one of the high school classes.  He was not found until over two hours later (and many were looking), and he had suffered a massive stroke that left him barely alive.  Many (including our family) were trusting God for a miracle, but the Lord took him a little over a week ago.  James Kilkenny left an incredible legacy, so much so that his funeral service had a live feed to many countries tuning in around the world. The majority of the world did not know him, but the impact He had made in the growing Kingdom was massive.  [Please see picture below with the accompanying caption at end of this update.]
It has been especially hard for Thandi, who really saw him as a very intimate father figure in such a short time, and she has been praying and crying a lot for his ten children left behind (four adopted, and one of those being Busi's teacher) as she identifies with them and exercises her gift of empathy.  We do thank God for being able to be apart of the end of his life here on earth, and want to join those in carrying on the torch of the gospel into whatever spheres of society God leads us.

The Legacy continues...
It was with great joy that we announce Busisiwe became a Christian last night, Feb. 9th!  [See photo and caption below] I came home late from a teaching, but Busi heard me from her bed and cried out, "Daddy daddy, I accepted Jesus into my heart!"  She had shared about asking Jesus to come into her heart back in the fall in response to her schoolteacher (Mr. Kilkenny's adopted daughter from China), but was still not understanding it and we just prayed for God to show her more.  Well, He was faithful and it was so special for Thandi to lead her in prayer as she said, "Mommy, I want Jesus to shine out of me and make me to be a better person."  How amazing is that revelation?
I am reminded of the words of Jesus recorded in Matthew 5:14, "...let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven."  We often pray with the kids at night for those children that don't have mothers or fathers to show them the way in life, or who lack the basics God intends for us, that they may know they still have a Father in heaven who loves them unconditionally, and has hope and a good future for them.  We know Busi is taking this to heart and will be a light to many for the glory of our Lord!

Lastly, just to follow up with the Mexican-American boy I asked prayer for a few updates ago, I have been organizing a pick-up game/training on the field every Thursday after their school lets out and it has been a really good time of informal coaching, encouraging and just building relationship with him and the other guys that show up.  It was actually while we were playing last Thursday that we got the news of Mr. Kilkenny's passing in the hospital.  We all stopped and had a time to come together in respect for the legacy this great man has left behind with the Christian Heritage School he founded with his wife back in 1979 as well as many nations around the world in his Word-centered teaching.  After one of the Brazilian students who knows the Lord prayed and gave thanks for his life, I sensed others wanted to say something so I quickly jumped in with a prayer, and the floodgates just opened from there.  It was an amazing moment as everyone was down on one knee listening to each other pray out one at a time what this man meant to them and taught them about life.  I pray that all of these youth (about 8 or so come to play) would hear the voice of God calling them to greatness in their own lives.

There is always more we could share with you but wanted to just give you a few highlights.  Thanks for your ongoing prayers and support, and please get in touch with us anytime! And let us know whenever passing through Tyler, TX!

Praise Points
  • Great time with family over Christmas break and Thandi finishing strong with her 41 page mid-term paper
  • Thank God for the ongoing healing the Father is doing in Thandi through this difficult time of Mr. Kilkenny's passing
  • Great feedback of outreaches we have been able to support back in South Africa and even South Sudan; Ashley reported having been able to feed and help clothe 75 families in a poor community along South Africa's West Coast and he will return with his evangelistic team to disciple and help see those who responded to the Word enter into local churches
  • The couple we helped commission from our Frontier Missions Dept. in Muizenberg doing great in Aswan, Eg8pt, learning the language and building relationships with the Nubian people (making me jealous!:)
Prayer Points
  • Continued prayer for speedy processing of documents and favor with US Immigration for Thandi's Green Card
  • Obedience in our daily walks with the Lord, being open to the people He wants us to impact around us
  • Hearing God for what is next as a family...Thandi finishes her school in May/June and we are looking at doing a Family School of Evangelism that runs at the larger ranch base around 30min away in July (SOE is required to be on staff officially)
  • Along with that, praying into opportunities for the next school year beginning in August here and whether we can travel to Africa near the end of the year



Our kids bring us so much joy

Busi asked the Lord into her heart just last night with tears of joy alongside her Mother after reading the insert in her Bible called HOW TO BE A CHRISTIAN (I came back from teaching a night class on Church Planting Movements, but still got to hear the excitement in her voice...Praise God and we know He will be faithful to reveal more and more of Himself and His purposes for her!)
Kids have been able to see dentist here free of charge, as they qualified for Medicaid (excited with their new toothbrushes, though Busi has to go back for cavity fillings)
Program for our dear Mr. Kilkenny's funeral service (Notice Thandi's quote at the bottom of insert, the only current student chosen: "The way I look at family and education will never be the same.  He exemplified the Father's heart to me" she wrote)

Recent prayer meeting for a YWAM family struggling with Visa and finance issues---what a blessing it is to live together in unity of Spirit and give freely in our love and resources!  
Thank you for also making this possible!