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!