Hope in the Cisterns

A few weeks prior to Christmas I attended a women’s breakfast. Gathered there were many of my favorite women from around the city; I dusted off my German which sometimes hides in my Stay-At-Home-Mom closet, and we talked and laughed all the while feasting upon a breakfast fit for queens. It was lovely and refreshing and did my soul and stomach real good. But it also left me intrigued.

We concluded our breakfast with a time of sharing, “God in 2015” being the subject matter. Immediately I thought, “Aw, man… 2015 was not one of my favorites for sure. I mean yes God was there, but… ”

Ah, “but”.

While I scrambled to think of something that would make 2015 look all sparkly and shiny, my friends began to speak, and to my surprise, those who spoke up about their year in review shared in my overall negative view of 2015. Thus, my intrigue. I’m not sure if I’ve ever sat down with so many women only to discover we thought the same thing about the same topic. That’s mostly unheard of, in my womanly experience at least. Yet there we were, one by one basically saying, “I’m ready for 2016 so I can say that 2015 is over.”

Huh.

How is it that despite our individual personalities, backgrounds, situations and phases of life, we concluded as a group that 2015 was not one for the record books? Is it because we know the same people or attend the same church denomination, or live in the same city or hold the same religious belief? Could be. After all, there was a lot of loss in 2015, and most of us – if not all of us – personally knew those to whom we had to say goodbye. But I don’t think that’s the whole picture here.

The reason I don’t think that’s the whole picture is because of what my friends further concluded after having said they were glad to see 2015 disappear around the corner never to return. I’ll use King David to explain their sentiments:

 Psalm 13; A psalm of David.

O Lord, how long will you forget me? Forever?
    How long will you look the other way?
How long must I struggle with anguish in my soul,
    with sorrow in my heart every day?
    How long will my enemy have the upper hand?

Turn and answer me, O Lord my God!
    Restore the sparkle to my eyes, or I will die.
Don’t let my enemies gloat, saying, “We have defeated him!”
    Don’t let them rejoice at my downfall.

But I trust in your unfailing love.
    I will rejoice because you have rescued me.
I will sing to the Lord
    because he is good to me.

This Psalm is so good that I want it written in every blank space in my house and tattooed on both of my palms. This is, in a nutshell, what was said at the women’s breakfast. We each experienced moments or phases or daily struggles throughout 2015 where we wearily looked toward Heaven and said or perhaps even screamed, “WHAT ARE YOU DOING. Can’t you see I’m drowning here? Can’t you see Satan is trampling me day in and day out? I’m losing. L-O-S-I-N-G. So where are you? Why aren’t you helping me?”

We could have stopped there in our prayers just as David could have stopped at verse 4. But something in us made us say “But” just as David goes on to do in verse 5, and that’s where I think we see the whole picture. Yes, we know the same people and run in the same circles and go to the same churches, but we also share the same “unfailing love”, the same “rescue”, the same reason to “sing to the Lord”.

Perhaps 2015 for me, for my friends, and quite possibly for you, will be like the year Joseph’s brothers threw him into a cistern, an incident to forever change his life. He could have easily dubbed that year “The Worst Year of My Life”, but based on what we read about him and his attitude and his relationship with God, he didn’t, at least not for the rest of his life. At some point he was able to look back at what I’ll call “The Cistern Year B.C.” as a key year in his lifetime; a year he didn’t understand, a year filled with agony and fear and hurt and loss, but nonetheless a year on which Joseph looked back and while talking with God thought, “Ooohh. I see what you did there.”

-I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt! And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you.-Gen. 45-4-5

Hope in the cisterns. That’s the common theme my friends and I shared in that morning. “Cistern Years” happen because life happens. But they also happen so that we may pass on our hope to those in line looking for it. “Cistern Years” happen so we can tell our neighbor, “Yeah, last year was ugly. But it didn’t defeat me, and here’s why.”

If 2015 was a Cistern Year, don’t push it out of your memory. Talk about it. Live it out. Show others it is in fact possible to find hope in the cisterns.

Our Return to Rothenburg

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The months leading up to November’s retreat week of 2013 were filled with excitement from our teammates and friends. Rothenburg was coming; it was coming and just around the corner. “After you guys experience the Rothenburg retreat, you’ll start counting down the days for the next one”, Tamika told me. “You’ll love it and won’t want to leave.”

Truer words about this place couldn’t have been spoken. When we experienced for the first time the solid goodness of the Rothenburg retreat, we couldn’t wait to go back. We understood everyone’s excitement and eagerness to arrive and return. We told all of our new friends we’d see them again in 2014. But – you know – God’s plans.

When we said “See you in 2014!”, we actually meant 2015. As you know we were a bit preoccupied last fall what with having a baby and being an ocean away from Rothenburg. And had we been able to be in Rothenburg with our infant son, I doubt we would’ve been “with it” due to sleep deprivation. God knew what He was doing when He kept us “home” that year. But last week we finally returned to Rothenburg and it was just as magical, relaxing, inspirational, and impactful as we remembered.

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The retreat couldn’t go wrong with an All-Star cast made up of speakers Mary Nelson (New Zealand), Dr. Dottie Schulz (U.S.), Tony Coffey (Ireland), Patrick Boyns (England), Vittorio Vitalone (Italy), and the ever-spectacular Keith Lancaster as worship leader. The retreat’s theme was “Yes, I Am Still Here!”, a theme so pertinent to the difficulties, frustrations, and even tragedies many of us at the retreat were met with this year. Patrick Boyns and Tony Coffey led us deep into the Word, specifically focusing on the story of Joseph. Oh how I hope someone recorded those lessons for you to hear because they were phenomenal and I will never read about Joseph the same way again. What a man of great faith who certainly had to wonder over and over again if God was in fact still with him.

How to Refuse Temptation:

  1. Be decisive
  2. Be ruthless against sin
  3. Be loyal
  4. Be well-informed
  5. Take precautions
  6. Know God is with you

The breakout sessions were top notch. The first day, Will went to one which focused on the refugees. The setting was more of an open forum than a single person-led discussion. A variety of individuals who serve in churches all over Europe shared what their team and/or church was doing to better aide those coming into their countries. While this discussion went on upstairs, I was downstairs attending Dottie Schulz’s session on behavior and relationships. Friends, I could listen to this woman talk for hours upon hours. Not only is she knowledgeable on all kinds of psychological topics, she knows how these topics – our mental and physical state – coincide with our spiritual state. For example, DID YOU KNOW that when you forgive someone or confess sin that not only do these actions improve your memory (what!!!!), the hormone oxytocin – a good feelings hormone – is released into your body which leaves you feeling giddy for days? Did you know that?? I certainly didn’t, but now this lesson is written in huge-mongous letters in my work journal, and I’m still in awe of this fact.

“Figure out who God is to figure out who you are.”

I want to be Dottie when I grow up.

Will and I were fortunate enough to have my parents with us from Atlanta. Their presence greatly freed us up to attend most worship and breakout sessions without our busy-body toddler. He stayed with Omi and Opi for the good majority of the retreat which I believe suited everyone just fine. His Omi and Opi took him on walks through Rothenburg’s medieval city and played with him in the hotel until he got sleepy. We were so glad to have them with us and think this should perhaps turn into a yearly tradition 🙂

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So here we are again, counting down the days until our feet are back on Rothenburg’s cobblestoned streets. To our supporters, thank you for enabling us to attend this magnificent, soul-filling retreat. Because of you, we are ready to take on the New Year. And join us in Rothenburg sometime. You won’t be disappointed.

 

 

Our Summer Months

IMG_5845Our Vienna summer has gotten off to a great start. Mendy’s long-awaited arrival finally came in mid-May, and soon after that, Dale and Vicki Hawley joined us for a few days. If you don’t know Dale and Vicki, find a way to make it happen. This amazing couple is well-known among missionaries because of their years of experience in counseling and missionary care. They’ve been with the Vienna team from the beginning, and now that we and the Haskews are finally in a place of stability, we thought it a necessity to have a thorough visit with the Hawleys in order to evaluate ourselves as a newly formed team.

Our time with them was an enormous blessing and the four of us learned so much about ourselves as a team and as individuals. We discussed each other’s gifts, work habits, perceptions, and stresses. We looked at the past and talked about how to build on it and move forward in the future. As a team and as friends I’d say we were close to begin with, but this particular time with the Hawleys brought us so much closer. A lesson I took away from this team building experience is how crucial it is to have a healthy team. It’s like in 1 Corinthians when Paul addresses the parts of the body in Christ and says, “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it.” The same is true for the health and well-being of a team – if an issue arises or a conflict created, the team as a whole is affected, thus as a whole, we all have to work together to first locate the ailment, treat it, and tend to it for healing so that we can then experience part 2 of Paul’s point, “If one part is honored, then every part rejoices with it.” Jake may be an ear, Amanda a hand, Will a kneecap and I an eyelash, but we’re all part of the same body of Christ and the same team in Christ. (1 Corinthians 12:12-31 below)

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In recent weeks we’ve hosted several visitors but not yet “tested” the space in our living room for hosting big groups. That changed when 12 girls from the OC Study Abroad group came over for treats and coffee. We sat in a big circle and talked about their cultural observations and comparisons, and talked about every day life here in Vienna from my perspective as a mom. To end our time together, the girls sang a couple of worship songs which sounded so beautiful and did my heart good. I always love a chance to sit in on an OC devotional, but this time the devotional was brought to me. Thank you, girls!

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About two weeks ago we were joined by Lynn and Joy McMillon, as well as Will’s dad, Chip. How good it is to see familiar faces in our neck of the woods. Lynn and Joy’s presence was a great encouragement to us all. We had several fruitful conversations over dinners, breakfasts and coffees. They were even able to worship with our house church on a beautiful (but toasty) Sunday morning. Though their time with us was much too short, it was good to hug them and introduce them to our Vienna family.

During our visit with the McMillons, Chip and Mendy hopped over to Istanbul for a few days to celebrate their wedding anniversary. They came back to Vienna and had little time to recover and repack before the entire Kooi gang left for a family vacation in the Austrian Alps. The views and Austrian towns were lovely despite the rainy and cold weather. But honestly I think it could’ve snowed 10 feet and Chip and Mendy wouldn’t have cared as long as Elliott was there. He had an excellent time with his grandparents and was especially sad to see Mendy leave for the States yesterday. Chip is still here and will be until July so Elliott’s still getting lots of grandparent love, and I still have someone who will willingly change Elliott’s grossest diapers. (Yes!)

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As for the summer months ahead, we’ve got a lot planned. We have a church picnic next Sunday immediately followed by a youth group outing to a miniature golf course. This year is the Haskew’s furlough year, so they’ll take off right as Kinderlager (kids camp) kicks off. Will is going but Elliott and I are going to stay here. There will be 32 kids attending camp – which is completely awesome – it’s just a bit much for a little guy who doesn’t have a place to crawl and stand up without a kid or two or ten accidentally bumping into him in Schwarzwaldeckahus. But we won’t be idle. For the whole month of July, we’ll be hosting a former OC Study Abroad student while she works on her German immersion course. The 3 of us will stick together while Will is away and work on any last necessities for preparing our house for house church in the fall. Also during this time, our neighborhood is hosting its annual community BBQ. My hope is to meet many new neighbors and in doing so, begin many new lasting friendships.

In August, Will will be attending a conference in Switzerland called History Makers. This is a brand new (to us), recently heard of opportunity that was sent our way by a friend who helps in the organization and execution of History Makers. The goal of this conference is to focus on the capabilities and spiritual gifts of upcoming workers in missions and ministry and help those individuals utilize their capabilities and gifts to the benefit of God’s Kingdom. You can learn more about this conference here.

That’s what’s going on and that’s what our summer holds. Thanks as always for your prayers and encouragement. We love hearing from you.

Unity and Diversity in the Body

1 Corinthians 12:12-31 (NIV)

12 Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. 14 Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.

15 Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. 19 If they were all one part, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, but one body.

21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” 22 On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty,24 while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, 25 so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. 26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.

27 Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. 28 And God has placed in the church first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, of helping, of guidance, and of different kinds of tongues. 29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30 Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? 31 Now eagerly desire the greater gifts.

Rolling With The Punches

The ability to be flexible is one of the most important lessons God has taught us over these last two years. It’s not hard to find times when Paul had to be flexible to extreme degrees during his missionary journeys, and though we’re certainly thankful we’ve never been put in prison for our beliefs, or because of our visa issues (!), we’ve learned a great deal about what it means to roll with the punches, as Paul had to do so often.

Overall, we’re doing well. Staying here for 4 months wasn’t the ideal plan, but because we began to imagine this very possibility since before we even left Vienna back in May, settling in and adjusting to Plan B has been much, much easier than we anticipated. The lack of news we’ve received has not been a shock, and the fact that we’re way past my fly date no longer feels devastating. And the more we take a step back and reflect for a moment on the positives of being here versus the positives of our plan, the more we’re able to see that, yet again and as always, God’s plan was better. It is better; and we’re ready to put His plan into action.

Our latest apartment decoration thanks to The Chalet Woodshop.

Our latest apartment decoration thanks to The Chalet Woodshop.

To begin with, we’ve moved out of Will’s parents’ house and into a lovely little apartment on Oklahoma Christian University’s campus. Some of you may know our particular complex as Tealridge Assisted Living which is still home to many precious seniors, and more recently several other young married couples who either work for or attend the university. The apartment came completely unfurnished which at first was a little daunting since we sold all of our own furniture before we even made the move to Vienna 2 years ago. Plus, we spent several weeks in July selling other possessions that we didn’t want to take to Vienna with us like our kitchen utensils and home decor. We sold most everything at our garage sale, which was awesome, but we quickly realized how nice it would’ve been to have those same items back… Ah, the irony. But so many good friends and family came to our aid and provided us with exactly what we needed from shower rings to a couch to a stroller. We feel very at home, and I was even able to create a nice little nursery for Elliott – something I had been waiting to do since the day we found out about him.

Our view from Tealridge. Not too shabby.

Our view from Tealridge. Not too shabby.

After we got ourselves moved into our temporary home, we began looking for ways to work. We recently Skyped with the Haskews and had a fantastic team meeting about things Will and I can be doing from here in order to benefit the work there, as well as unburden the Haskews as much as possible. Our programs in Vienna will slow down a bit, and some will even pause for the fall semester, but these changes, as far as we can see, are in no way harmful to the work, and the Haskews are strong people who are ready to take on the challenge. From here, Will can continue to serve the team by designing advertisements for programs, staying on top of website upkeep, and communicating to supporters through social media and newsletters while I write the curriculum for English Kids Club 2015, blog, serve as a project manager when needed, and moderate OC’s missions involvement with the team. Will has also been working at Memorial Road during the week, specifically on all things fundraising.

We’ve also been looking for ways to get fully plugged into various ministries taking place right here in Edmond. On Sundays we’ll attend MRCC’s International Class and will lead table discussions each time, and on Wednesdays we will read with any international students who are interested in learning English. We also hope to be as involved with any class preparation as possible – providing food, helping with tasks, organizing events, etc. Our first big involvement took place last Sunday as we, along with the current class members, welcomed at least 30 international students who flew in from different parts of the world, such as Burundi, Kenya, Japan, China, and Rwanda to attend Oklahoma Christian University. It was a great event that we all hope blessed the new students immensely. On Sunday evenings, we’ll be QGroup hopping which we began last Sunday as well. We hope to stop by yours!

Setting up for International Class.

Setting up for International Class.

Full room!

Full room!

And last but not least, we’re preparing for Elliott’s arrival. We’ve got less than 5 weeks before he gets here! The time feels like it’s going by so fast yet so slowly at the same time. We’re so excited for him to get here and a little nervous, too. But I think we’ve got all the things we need to make him comfortable, and we’re definitely surrounded by the love of our friends, family and church family. He’s going to be one loved little guy.

Preparing for baby Elliott...

Preparing for baby Elliott…

That pretty much sums up what are hopes are for the fall and what we’re currently working on or toward. As we said in our last post, we’d love to get a meal or coffee with you during our stay, so please don’t hesitate to contact us if that’s something you’d like to do. If you have any questions relating to our work here, the work in Vienna, fundraising, or something else about our ministries, please let us know.

Just To Clarify…

Dearest Amazing Subscribers,

Please accept my (Holly) sincerest apologies! It didn’t occur to me until after we had already written and published the post that you would then receive an email alerting you to the new post but with no way of knowing how on earth to read our latest news. Had I remembered this fact, I would have changed the title to something much less deceiving, maybe to a title like “We Don’t Have The Permit Yet” or “We Have News But Not The Permit” or even “This Post Is Password Protected, I’ll Explain Why, Email Me For The Password”. Sigh… Can I play the baby brain card?

So, just to clarify, we do not yet have our permit. The reason the previous post, “We Have News”, is password protected unlike our other posts is because it’s much more detailed and contains somewhat sensitive information (nothing negative or scary, just official) that we’d like to keep private for now just for good measure. If you’re still interested in reading that post, please email me or Will and we’ll send you the magic password. You can find our emails listed under our contact information.

If you’d rather just have the short version of what “We Have News” says, here it is:

SHORT VERSION: We DO NOT yet have the work permit and therefore will not be boarding a plane anytime soon. We have plans to go back to Vienna in late fall if everything goes accordingly.

Again, for the long, detailed version of the post, or if you have any questions or concerns about our latest news, shoot us an email. And I apologize once again for any and all confusion caused! Thanks for sticking with us!

Updates On Baby And Permit

A question I didn’t include in last week’s FAQ post but has been asked probably more times than the others is:

How’s baby Elliott?

I didn’t add it to last week’s list because, though I assumed he was doing well, I wanted to hear those words from a doctor before writing about him. Now I have that answer, and it is – Elliott’s doing great! After over 2 months of waiting for an appointment, I was finally able to see someone this morning over at the new Mercy Clinic (which is very snazzy-looking). This appointment was mainly for me to get my glucose test taken care of – a totally gross, sugary experience – but it was also a chance for Will and me to meet our potential new doctor in the case that we are here to stay to have Elliott. I was admittedly nervous about meeting this doctor in the first place, simply because I didn’t have any time to get recommendations or do much research on doctors in Oklahoma City. Plus, this was my first baby-related appointment in the U.S. and I wasn’t sure what to expect other than I probably wouldn’t get an ultrasound – something that is done at every single appointment in Austria. But I knew God had led us to this clinic and this doctor as soon as we met the staff. We connected right away with the nurse whose daughter has done mission work in Wales and is looking to do more in the Philippines. Then, upon showing the doctor my all-German records, she said she had seen these kinds of records before and recognized and understood most everything as she sees many Austrians who work for Tinker. We’re a perfect match.

The overall experience was wonderful and filled Will and me with great peace. We explained our work permit situation to the doctor who said that if we do have to stay, she’d get us fixed up without any problems. We’ll be able to ease right in as if we were with her practice the whole time. As for me, my blood pressure, which hasn’t been taken since May, is totally fine. My glucose test has been sent off to the lab and we should hear back about that next week. And as for Elliott, he’s been measured and given a thumbs-up. He gave me a pretty good jab in the ribs a few minutes ago, so, he’s letting me know that he’s doing well, and also mad that he had to taste the glucose drink. Blech.

With the doctor’s confirmation that July 30th is the absolute last day I can fly, we did go ahead and schedule our next appointment for 2 weeks from now, ultrasound included. As we were getting that taken care of, the nurse told us the next available slot would be July 30th. Ha, of course. But we figured, if there’s anything that could lift our spirits after not being able to fly back on Austria that day, it’s seeing our baby boy on the ultrasound screen.

We unfortunately don’t have any real updates on the work permit at this time. We did hear from our lawyer a couple of days ago for the first time since May, and he gave us a very small update saying that “they” (those who are processing our permit) need more… [fill in the blank]. We’re not sure what they need other than “more” of something, but now we’re specifically praying that whatever is needed is easy to get and is the last piece of the puzzle. We’ve got 13 days to get this thing.