Monday, October 16, 2017

Member Care

Healthy, Resilient, & Effective in Cross-Cultural Ministry by Laura Mae Gardner is the latest book I've been reading, highlighting, and bookmarking. This book calls itself, "a comprehensive member care plan." As I am the Member Care Coordinator for MAG, Missionary Air Group, it makes sense I am carefully engaged within the pages.

What is member care? I'm so glad you asked! I will quote the sample job description from Gardner's book, "to prepare, equip, strengthen and empower our staff for effective life and service within our organization... and beyond!" Sometimes I've described member care as the soft skills required for effect international workers. In MAG's case we specialise in aviation that primarily supports medical missions in Guatemala, Honduras and Gabon.

The technical skills of the job are obvious, you must know how to fly a plane and maintain it. As an international worker you likely will need to learn another language and culture. Those hard skills are
clearly necessary to succeed in being a pilot deployed to a field program with MAG. However it's the soft skills side of the job I am most heavily involved with developing for our organization.

Soft skill sets are vital for effective international workers. Those soft skills are mostly encompassed within an individual's spiritual, physical, emotional and relational health. In order to be on mission with God one must maintain spiritual health, often far from heart-language church services and discipleship. This requires a dependency upon the Holy Spirit and a deep understanding one's identity in Christ.

Some of the emotional and relational health markers are hardiness, resiliency, life-long learning, self-awareness and getting along well with others. Such things don't come so easily to us human beings especially under the cumulative weight of living cross-culturally.

As member care coordinator I am building avenues through which our members can develop, maintain and grow along the way. That means I am heavy on networking with like-minded organizations. MAG is a fairly young organization so we are thrilled to get to join in and share resources with others. I have had the honor to join JAARS staff in their Intercultural Communication Course, ICC, which is a four plus week intensive training course for new international workers. Our MAG members are able to get excellent training through this program.

As I continue to develop member care for MAG I am continually researching how other mission sending organizations equip and train their staff. It is a big job but one I am passionate about. There are many other aspects of my job I am still in development of such as screening of new members, resourcing counseling, debriefing and writing policies and procedures to ensure consistent care standards.

Please pray for me as I do not have a strong gift of administration. Writing of policies and procedures is slow going for me. The things that have taken up most of my time in this first year has been directly connecting and caring for our missionaries.

All this to say my job has stretched me greatly. I am on a high learning curve and at times feel very out of my depths. When those times happen I push into God and reach out to other more experienced professionals. I am greatly blessed to work with a wonderful headquarter staff here in North Carolina. I have been on field visits to Guatemala and Honduras to get to know and connect with our international staff. As we move forward pray we stay in step with Christ and boldly push into hard places with great love and compassion.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Traveling Chucks

 A few weeks ago I was able to join some dear friends to pause life a bit and linger together. We talked about all kinds of things but what truly anchors us is not our classic canvas chucks but our shared striving after a Spirit-led life. 

Leanne's Prius carried us miles stretched across smooth ribbons of road. In the air conditioned hybrid we found our conversation drawn to the Sermon on the Mount:

Matthew 5-7 The Message (MSG)

You’re Blessed
5 1-2 When Jesus saw his ministry drawing huge crowds, he climbed a hillside. Those who were apprenticed to him, the committed, climbed with him. Arriving at a quiet place, he sat down and taught his climbing companions. This is what he said:

3 “You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.

4 “You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.

5 “You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.

6 “You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat.

7 “You’re blessed when you care. At the moment of being ‘care-full,’ you find yourselves cared for.

8 “You’re blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.

9 “You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.

10 “You’re blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God’s kingdom.

11-12 “Not only that—count yourselves blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable. You can be glad when that happens—give a cheer, even!—for though they don’t like it, I do! And all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company. My prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of trouble.

These words both trouble and comfort. 

The Traveling Chucks has been a gift. These remarkable women I get to adventure with have inspired and encouraged me on a soul-level. From our first trip days after I took our two oldest children to boarding school a country away on a foreign continent in 2010, to this last trip in 2017 God has shown up. He spoils us by showing us the wonder of this planet and the joy of traveling together. We've been on land and sea, near and far. We've seen elephants, hippos, and african grey parrots in the wild. We've even rescued a sea turtle much to the chagrin of a Gabonese fisherman. God is the author of adventure and friendship. He knits us together in this great big life. A life fraught with heartache and loss as well as love and purpose. 

The Sermon on the Mount is a clear call us to live out His Kingdom culture. His Kingdom culture is vastly different from the cultures of this planet. It's a tall order and one that can not be fleshed out in my strength alone. I need His Spirit and fellow adventures to inspire and encourage me along the way. Honestly everyday I have to fight against the culture of this world that values self and comfort and puzzles over such sentiments of being less in order to be filled more with God. I can be so easily swayed by HGtv and entertain thoughts that pop-corn ceilings are evil and granite counter tops are the answer to the all that ails. 

Thank you fellow Traveling Chucks:

Leanne Barnard
Hannah Trosen
Lisa Marie Mangang
Stephanie Meckley (Bean)
Quinn McGarvey
Renee Valach
Robin Roark Frey
Wendy Coons
Megan Straw 
Barbara Staudenmaier
Olivia Blase

And thank you to the many, too numerous to count, that have sojourned with me in this life. Our feet are not just shod with classic canvas converse shoes but vastly more importantly, "with the preparation of the gospel of peace" (Eph. 6:15).

Monday, April 25, 2016

Not so easy or breezy but definitely beautiful!

I thought this year was supposed to be like the CoverGirl commercial back in the day, "Easy, breezy, beautiful." We were given a wonderful opportunity to come back to Cameroon to live and work with SIL Aviation and be with Sam for his senior year of high school. Win, win, win! What could go wrong?!

I took the scary, exhilarating, brave step to go back to school after a 20 year absence by taking classes online. Steve dove into his assignment with the aviation department with gusto. Sam rejoined his classmates at RFIS after a year long absence. We joined into the community excited to connect with friends and UBAC kiddos. We reunited with old friends and made new ones.

Things were going along swimmingly. I started jogging and ran my first 5k after many years of not having a regular exercise regime. Megan came to visit during Christmas time and we had wonderful time together reconnecting as a family and exploring beautiful new parts of Cameroon.


Then Sunday evening, March 13th, Sam came home from the second day of a weekend long soccer tournament at the American School of Yaounde. He had complained of a headache the evening before and we had him drink lots of water thinking he was dehydrated. He spiked a fever Sunday night and was greatly fatigued. We kept him home from school on Monday thinking he needed some rest to recover and regain his health after a very active weekend in the hot sun.

Monday he felt better and didn't have a fever until he was getting ready to go to bed that night. Tuesday morning he woke up feeling rotten so we tested him for malaria with a home test kit. It quickly showed a positive result and we immediately began treatment with Coartem. Coatem is a three day treatment for malaria that generally kicks in almost immediately.  However, Sam didn't feel better at all.

By Wednesday the 16th we went to the Jordan Clinic- a local clinic, here in Yaounde, to seek treatment for dehydration and his continued symptoms. The Jordan clinic gave Sam the first of three IV med treatments for malaria, but refused to give him IV liquids to rehydrate him even though their lab tested his blood and it came back showing he was dehydrated- why? ...we didn't understand.

So, we went home and had two amazing missionary nurses, under the direction of missionary doctor Dennis Palmer from Mbingo Hospital, set us up with saline IV fluids to rehydrate Sam throughout the night (thank you Wilma and Heidi Huizenga!!!). He woke up feeling a bit better and we all breathed a sigh of relief. Nurse Heidi H. came and administered the last two IV med treatments the next day.


By this time Sam had missed four days of school and was feeling better but still weak and miserable. On Friday the 18th, the last day of RFIS before spring break Sam and I went to have lunch there so he could say hi to friends and visit a bit before some left for break. He was thin and pale but seemed a bit better.  I thought we were on our way to complete health at this point.

For about four days Sam was weak but seemed better. He hung out with some friends and even had a sleepover. By Thursday the 24th he was back to laying around miserable. On Friday he woke up with significant spleen pain and was feeling lightheaded after just walking from the couch to the bathroom.

During this whole time we had nurse Heidi making house calls and checking in with us as well as regular phone consultations with our long-distance doctor Palmer. Saturday we went back to a local lab (Jordan) and had an ultra sound to check out the spleen pain and had some blood work done. By that evening we knew that Sam's spleen was enlarged and his hemoglobin number was 7.8. I really had no idea what hemoglobin was but quickly found out it is the red blood cell count in the blood. Malaria attacks red blood cells and they literally explode in the blood and disappear. Sam's count of 7.8 out of the normal range of 14 - 16 was very low. The doctor said if Sam's hemoglobin count went below 7 he would need blood transfusions. That is a scary prospect here in Yoaunde.
SIL Aviation pilot Brandon with the trusty Cessna 206- "Tango Mike"


By Sunday the 27th Sam's fevers had returned and he was weak and miserable. We thought about flying to Mbingo on Monday but gave it another day. Monday night we decided to fly to Mbingo the next day. I am so thankful for the SIL aviation department and the ability to take a medevac on a moments notice.

Tuesday morning early Sam and I flew to Mbingo. We got there and started with meeting Dr. Palmer and getting some bloodwork done. Sam was pale and thin and very weak at this point. By mid morning we knew that Sam's hemoglobin count was at 3.8 which is DANGEROUSLY low. We checked him into the hospital and I got tested to see if Sam and I were the same blood type. I found out pretty quickly that I was and I gave the first unit of blood to Sam. He ended up needing four units of blood transfused. Three missionary doctors donated the remaining three units Sam needed.
Sam- too weak to walk


We needed to watch for any reactions that might indicate that Sam's body was rejecting the donated blood. Thank the Lord that he had no reactions and began to regain some color by the next day. He had a fever the first night and felt miserable. It was a scary time for me. Sam was very calm through out and though he was feeling pretty badly he didn't complain much and rested fairly well.

We happened to know a family visiting the area on their vacation and they came to our room and visited with us. It was a HUGE blessing to have familiar people there with us praying for us in person. They also brought us food and water twice that day. Again a huge encouragement since otherwise I would have had to leave the room and hunt down food and water, leaving Sam alone and I really didn't want to have to do that then.
Kato Family- blessing us!

Sam began his fourth treatment of malaria meds that first day there at Mbingo. I'm not an expert on malaria but I have learned a lot about it since this event. There are five different types of malaria ranging from mild to severe and there are three different forms of malaria, R1, R2, and R3. R1 is easily treated, R2 is more difficult to treat and R3 is completely resistant to treatment. We were all hoping and praying Sam did not have R3 malaria. Clearly he didn't have R1 malaria as after three treatments he still had it. Dr. Palmer said we wanted to see Sam's hemoglobin numbers rise and to see the fevers go away and not come back. Those were the signs we were looking for to see Sam begin to heal.

Thank the Lord that Sam's last fever was that first night in the hospital. He never rejected the donated blood and by Saturday morning, April the 2nd, Sam's hemoglobin number was at 8.7! Dr. Palmer allowed us to fly home that day.
The Mbingo Hospital team that cared for Sam


What a scary, exhausting experience. By the time my emotions caught up with me I was physically sick. I think the stress of watching Sam fight malaria for three weeks took its toll on me as well. Steve and I recently made an appointment with the missionary counselor here to help process this challenging event. My emotions sat just below the surface and threatened to spill over at the slightest remembrance.

She allowed me to tell my story and as I told it, all the feelings of helplessness and fear rose up again and my voice grew thick with emotion and before I knew it was was crying just remembering all that had occurred. She very kindly and gently told me about "Immanuel Healing, God With Us." It's a "practice of interacting with Immanuel (God with us) in a way that resolves painful life experiences" authored by E. James Wilder and Chris M. Coursey. She emailed me the information to help me to "sanctify" the thorny painful memories of Sam's illness. Sanctify is my word.

The amazing Doc PALMER!

It's really a simple exercise and truly remarkable in helping one to process well painful memories by sort of sitting with God and allowing his peace to permeate the memories. How we choose to look at life and memories has a great influence on allowing God's peace to envelope us or not. We can choose to be angry and alone and bitter that certain painful events happened or we can choose to look for God in those scary, hard moments. He is with us. He loves us. He wants to give us His peace. However we must choose to seek him in the midst or even after the fact. Sometimes it's really hard to see him in the midst of the storm. When we go back in our memories we can search and find Him there.

When I did this a miraculous thing happened. I saw God everywhere. He was there when nurse Heidi Huizenga and nurse Wilma helped us to rehydrate Sam with IV fluids. He was there when we got to fly to Mbingo in a plane. He was there when we arrived and met Dr. Palmer. He was there when we got the scary results in that Dr. Palmer immediately found blood donors and began treating Sam. He was there when I gave blood and didn't faint and found my way across the hospital to Sam's private room (I have a terrible sense of direction in the best of times) He was there when the family from Yoaunde arrived and brought us water, food and friendship (thank you Kato's!!!). He was there when the donated blood wasn't rejected. He was there when so many were praying for Sam during the SIL conference in Yaounde. He was there when so many even an ocean away were praying. He was there when the last and final malaria treatment began to work and beat back the malaria. He was there when Steve got to drive up with a missionary in a private vehicle rather than riding in a crowded bus with his legs crushed up against the metal back of the bench in front of him. He was there all along. My feelings of being alone and afraid melted away in light of seeing God there with me- Immanuel.

Captain Brandon- Returning to take us back home!

Is this a magic trick or playing make-believe? I don't think so. It's just another way of allowing God to transform my thoughts and feelings. It's another way to allow God to heal. Not only did God heal Sam through the medicine but he is healing my emotions and my fears; those thorny memories that could cut me again and again as I remember the unsanctified version of events. Instead, I can see God and He is so good to me. It replaces fear with peace. It grows my faith and brings great comfort in knowing God loves me and is not distant or unaware of my hurts. And when I retell this story of Sam's nearly dying of malaria, it highlights God's presence and goodness and encourages the listener to experience the same for themselves. Win, win, win.

So this year has not been easy or breezy but it has indeed been beautiful! I have experienced God's profound love and peace in a new way. It has grown my faith and I know I am truly His beloved. I hope this story has encouraged you as well. May you experience the presence and peace of the Lord in the midst of thorny memories!

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Gabon ~ there and back again...

Gabon of the glittering sea, sweltering heat, vibrant greens resplendent with ribbons of rivers flowing throughout. Gabon rich with dear national friends, brilliant teammates, innovations, and epic challenges. Gabon of life-changing events and heartbreak. Gabon of joy and affection. Gabon of change and transition. Gabon, there and back again.

It's been nearly three years since we've lived our everyday lives in Gabon. We spent a year here in Cameroon in 2013-2014 to be dorm parents at our kiddos amazing school. Then we went back to the states for our first and only year-long "home" assignment. And now we are back in Cameroon for Sam's senior year and Steve's assignment of managing the SIL aviation program here and our program there in Gabon, Aviation Medicale De Bongolo.

When we left Gabon in May of 2013 we thought we'd return as residents after two years. That has not happened. We have had a course change (pilot talk) and that new course has led us away from living our everyday in Gabon.

Our aviation program in Gabon has transitioned from being supported by Air Calvary to being supported by Missionary Air Group. Those changes have resulted in giving AMB a broader and stronger support base State-side. Our new program CEO Sean Donnelly met us in Gabon recently to check out our program there and meet national leaders and the mission team at Bongolo and see the aviation operation up close and in living color.

Going back to Gabon as a visitor is a very new experience. It is at once both achingly familiar and benignly remote. It's like coming home after going away for a long time and finding things to be the same but changed; all mixed together in a thick fragrant soup of clunky feelings and sharp rememberings.  

We had the honour of introducing Gabon to Sean. It was truly a time of reconnecting with dear friends and dreaming new dreams. We were able to be all together with Sean and our team in Bongolo and the national church leaders in the capital.

We got to connect with Libreville friends from OSPAC/RBC, the Pasteur President Victor and Vice President Samuel, as well as Hope House and Hands of Grace, and our beloved Bongolo team down country. It was a whirl-wind tour packed with many meetings and greetings. The in between times found Steve and Sean scheming and dreaming God-sized dreams for the country of Gabon through the lens of mission aviation.

We stayed as visitors at the guest house we once ran. Our home is now lived in by a sweet family who has been efficiently running the guest house since our departure in 2013. We left most of our
things behind thinking we'd be back. So some of our time was spent sorting and sifting through our stuff. Our stuff ranged from mundane household items to treasures of finding painfully sweet letters and hand-made Christmas decor lovingly made by our kiddos from a different time and place in our family.

It was another archaeological dig site of sifting carefully through layers of life debris to retrieve and save eight suitcases full of photos, mementos and family history to be weighted and packed ready for any returning visitors to kindly hand carry them back to the States where we hope to sometime be reunited again. Stuff that has gone from one continent to another and now (hopefully) back again.

There and back again...a Straw's tale.


Tuesday, October 20, 2015

To my second grade teacher with great gratitude

We all have teachers that have had a huge impact in our lives. I have been blessed by many good teachers over the years but there is that one teacher I have often thought of over the years. She was
truly a profound blessing to me and I had no way of being able to express my thanks for her beautiful impact in my young life. We moved a lot when I was young and back then there was no email or Facebook to easily keep in touch. Over the years this teacher has come to my mind from time to time though I never tried to find her. I figured it would be too hard to try to track her down, after all she was young and not yet married so her name would be changed, and well, life just has a way of getting busy. Then one day (don't you love those three little words "then one day"!?)...

Then one day, I had to find my way to Rain Forest International school from my apartment. Steve was at the hangar with the truck so I called a local taxi man to arrange for a taxi ride to school so I could start leading the senior girls small group time after school. The taxi man informed me he was busy that day but another taxi friend of his was picking up my neighbor, Heidi H, and maybe I could ride with her. I hadn't officially met Heidi yet but we live in the same community so I walked over to her house and introduced myself and said I had heard she was taking a taxi to the school and asked if could I tag along. She was surprised to hear I knew of her plans but chalked it up to missionary community and said I could jump in with her.

During that ride to school we sat in the back of the taxi getting to know each other. While we were bumping along deeply rutted roads she mentioned she and family were most recently from Philly. Then she mentioned a school her husband had worked in previously and my jaw literally dropped. No joke I was in the back seat gaping at her with my mouth open wide in surprise. It turned out her husband worked at the school I had attended for one year in Philly after we returned from three years of living in England. The story of my favorite teacher Miss M poured out of me and Heidi thought she KNEW HER!!! Can you believe it??! She was pretty sure it must be the same one because Heidi was a nurse and once took care of Miss M's dad so she knew Miss M's maiden name and the age matched up and she would write some emails and see if the Miss M she knew was the Miss M I knew.

This blog is dedicated to wonderful teachers that teach more than reading, writing, and arithmetic. This is for all the teachers out there that breathe life into learning and creativity and treasure and love kids along the rough patches and smooth ones. This is especially in thanks to a loving God who answered a prayer I never prayed to get to thank and reconnect with a very special teacher from my tumultuous second grade year while my world was in the midst of seismic changes. These are the emails between Miss M and me, posted with Miss M's permission. I am guarding Miss M's privacy as she would prefer to keep a low profile internet-wise so I have slightly edited some things to keep that privacy in check.

Dear Miss M, 
I was thrilled to get to know Heidi H. in a taxi ride the other day. I was blown away when she mentioned her husband worked at Phil-Mont near Philly. I attended Phil-Mont right after my family returned from England. My dad was an officer in the Air force stationed there for 3 years. I started school in England and attended a village school in the British school system from the age of 5 to 8. I had a developed a full blown British accent and had learned the king and queen succession with all the other British children. Transitioning to America was a huge challenge. Our entire family had come to Christ in England. American missionaries serving the air force military base led us to Christ. I had been abused by a neighbour during that time in England as well as having been verbally abused by my headmaster who repeatedly told me I was stupid and would never learn. He wasn't a fan of Americans apparently. I was the only American student in that small school and the kids followed along with the Headmaster's contempt for me. I didn't tell my parents about the abuse even though they knew I was greatly troubled. Back then it wasn't talked about much and so my classic symptoms of abuse were misunderstood and my parents didn't know how to help me. By God's love and grace He saved me profoundly and personally. I carried a deep shame about what had happened and knew that God loved me anyway. He chose me and it was transformative in my life. 

When I attended Phil-Mont I was still very raw and hurt though saved and loved by God. I believe it was the year of '80 - '81, although I'm not sure I haven't had the time to check with my mom. My younger brother and I were there on scholarship while my dad attended Westminster. I was bossy and friendless and far behind the American system. I remember Miss M being a beautiful kind presence in my life. She put candy in our desks if they were tidy and organised. I remember clearly her teaching on the cycles of the Israelites in how they were faithful for a time but slipped away becoming distant, disobedient, and cold towards God. It was a lesson I have never forgotten, at the time I vowed to never be so faithless and fickle as those Israelites... A heartfelt vow for sure but one I have broken countless times no doubt! I also clearly remember her taking the time to talk with me one recess on the blacktop. I had probably driven kids away with my bossiness and Miss M came up and gently told me that in order to have friends I must first be a friend and sometimes play games I don't want to play and by doing so I will be a better friend and others will want to play with me. That gentle advice changed the way I interacted with other kids and helped me to finally make some friends. I felt safe with Miss M and so wanted to please her. After being the only American girl in a small British school with a verbal bully of a headmaster, Miss M was a miraculous change.

I have thought of her over the years. She had a profound impact on me during a very fragile and vulnerable time in my life. She spoke kindness and blessing into my being. I will never forget her. I really hope that you are the Miss M I have written about. I can't imagine there were too many Miss M's that taught second grade at Phil-Mont near Philly in the early 80s. If you are her it's really ok if you don't remember me. I remember you and have always wanted to thank you for the impact you made in my life. Thank you for teaching me how to be a friend. Thank you for your safe and kind presence in my life during that tumultuous transition between England and the US, between hating school and thinking I was stupid to liking school and feeling safe, and perhaps not so stupid. That year at Phil-Mont changed me for the better. You were a big part of that change. My maiden name was Morris, I was a skinny redhead with crooked teeth, an abundance of freckles, and emotional issues. I was probably a challenging student to work with since I was so overwhelmed academically and stubbornly resistant to learn new concepts. I had a British accent at the beginning of the year but quickly lost it in an effort to blend in and be more like everyone else. My family moved back to my parents hometown of Dallas, TX by the beginning of my third grade year. 

Phil-Mont was the only private Christian school I ever attended. God used it to help reinforce my new life as a child of God. I am now married with 3 kids. Our 2 oldest are in college in the states our youngest is a senior at the school where Mr. H teaches. My husband and I are missionaries in Cameroon, my husband Steve is an ordained pastor and a missionary pilot and I am taking classes online to compete a degree in Psychology with Christian Counselling. I hope to use that degree to become a member care specialist for missionaries and their families.

Thank you for teaching me more than reading, writing, and arithmetic. God used you mightily in my life.

With Great Gratitude,
Alace (Morris) Straw


Thank you for your extremely kind email. How very extraordinary that you remember so many things about that school year. I’m honored that you remember me, as your second grade teacher, with such fondness. 

Alace, I’m so sorry that you had such a difficult time in England during the early years of your life. No child should ever, ever, ever have to go through what you went through. Oh, the depravity of man - how sad God must be! The sin was not yours but you have had to overcome the effects of that sin as you grew up. God loves you, as you know, and He will always sovereignly care for you because you are His child.  It was a blessing to me to read your email and learn how God has worked in your life.

You would have been in the 2nd grade class that I taught during my 2nd year of teaching. Wow - so many years ago! I loved teaching 2nd grade. I have such fond memories of that time. I especially liked teaching the unit you mentioned about the Israelites during the time of the Judges. I’m sure you didn’t know this but I had only become a Christian 4 years earlier. I didn’t know many things about the Bible myself. While I taught the 2nd graders Bible at Phil-Mont, using the Bible curriculum published by Christian Schools International, I was learning myself! Isn’t God amazing? 

Also during that time I rented a room in the home of a Godly woman who became my spiritual mentor, my 2nd “mom” and eventually another grandma to my children. It was through her that I grew in the faith even more and, happily, met my wonderful husband D. We raised 3 daughters who all went through Phil-Mont. The daughters are all now married and my husband and I are grandparents of 4 (going on 5 in October) grandchildren.  

I taught 2nd grade 2 more years after the 1980-1981 year and then left to raise our children. When I went back to work, the Lord provided a job at Phil-Mont again. I am now 3 years out, happily retired and gloriously loving being a grandmother!! 

I was happy to hear all your news. I’m sure you will do well as a member care specialist once you complete your degree. Your sensitivity to others’ cares, worries and stresses will be extremely helpful to them. You will, I’m sure be a good listener and, because of that, you will be a good friend.

Thank you for understanding that I might not remember you after all the years. After the Phil-Mont school year starts next week, I will go into the office and ask them to dig out of the archives the picture of my 1980-1981 2nd grade class. I expect to see "a skinny redhead with crooked teeth and an abundance of freckles” in the picture. I’ll write again after that picture jogs my memory.

God Bless You and Your Family,
Miss M

Dear Miss M,

I loved getting your response! It is amazing how God allows such wondrous moments of connections! Moving around so much gave my life a transient quality back then, perceptions of events during that time often has a translucent quality; it’s wispy thin and feels fragile like it was maybe a story I read long ago rather than my own personal history. Getting to reconnect with you has solidified, so to speak, a vibrant piece of my early story. I would really like to share these emails in my blog as another evidence of God's goodness in my life. I've shared this story with my small group at RFIS, Rain Forest International School, in response to one of my senior Cameroonian girls asking how we can know for sure God loves us personally and uniquely. I started with sharing how intricately God has designed our physical bodies since I am learning afresh in my online psych class just how fearfully and wonderfully we are made. Then I told them this story of reconnecting with you after all these years through Mrs. H recently. I also told them that I got to talk with my mom about the circumstances of how I got to be at Phil-Mont. I thought both my younger brother and I had attended Phil-Mont and mom corrected me and told me the story of how it all happened.
Apparently at the time there was a teacher's strike happening and the start of school was to be delayed. My parents were very concerned about this since they knew I was already so far behind the US system after three years in the British system. They shared their concerns with their neighbors and the neighbors recommended Phil-Mont. My parents couldn't afford a private school and the same neighbors said there were scholarships available. My parents prayerfully applied for the scholarship, my dad even made a pie chart of our finances at the time. They prayed though out the application process. They went before a board and shared their testimonies. Mom said not a dry eye was to be found around the table after she told her testimony. (Our testimonies are linked, but that's a story for another time) One day while they were praying about this and other things my mom got up and wrote down a number God had given her. After the prayer my dad asked if God had given her a number. She responded that He had and Dad asked to see it since God had given him a number previously during a prayer. They compared numbers and found it was the same number. They didn't know what it meant but knew God was up to something. Later they received a call from Phil-Mont saying that I had received the scholarship. Whilst on the phone with the man my mom asked how much the scholarship was and the man responded a bit briskly that it wasn't necessary to know the exact percentage off of the regular tuition we had received. My mom then told him about the number God had separately given my mom and dad and she wondered if it had anything to do with this scholarship. She now can't remember the exact number but it was something around 60-something. Something. It was a very specific number. The man went to check, when he came back on the phone he was a bit choked up and told my mom that the number she gave him was the exact percentage off of the regular tuition I had been awarded for the year. 
Isn't that an amazing story of God's detailed work in our life at the time? If I hadn't shared a taxi with Heidi and we hadn't shared a bit about our histories back in the US we never would have made the connection of having you in common. I wouldn't have reconnected to thank you after all these years as an answer to an unspoken prayer. Then I never would have been prompted to ask my mom about how I came to be at Phil-Mont back then and I would have missed out on another vibrant story of God working intricately in my life! I think this story is a foreshadow of heaven! We will get to peel back the veil and see all these wondrous threads and storylines that knit us together in a brilliant tapestry of living fabric richly woven together by The Master Artist, Creator God, Lover of our souls! 

Many Blessings,
Alace (Morris) Straw


Greetings! Fall has arrived here on the east coast. The temperatures are cooler and the leaves are starting to drop. Time to break out the jackets.

I hope this email finds you well. Thank you for your email and the wonderful story of how God brought you to Phil-Mont. Wow! God does work is amazing, mysterious ways. I’m often drawn to the mental picture of that tapestry you mentioned in your email whenever I contemplate the workings of God. We see such as small portion of that tapestry now but - some day when Jesus comes back - we will see such a beautiful, magnificent tapestry when we are in heaven with Jesus and come to understand all the workings of God. 

Please call me L - after all, you are an adult now :-)


Miss M found a class picture from our 1980-81 school year and emailed it to me. Sure enough there I was on the bottom left corner with red hair, crooked teeth, an abundance of freckles, and all those emotional issues hidden underneath my shy second-grade smile. And there was Miss M, at the top right corner, my beautiful and kind second grade teacher, an unsung hero. 

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Running, Rain, and Candle-Light Nights

When we drove to RFIS the other night the flood waters rushing by the roadside reminded me of pulled taffy, a rich terracotta-colored confection stretching and folding thickly over and under obstacles, pouring off banks in a ropey stream. It was beautifully mesmerising in a dangerous kind of way. The rains splashed down upon the bedlam of traffic that clotted and flowed more chaotically than usual. People and cars competed for puddle and stream-free space.

There has been a major malfunction of a power substation transformer that has left us dealing with regular power cuts all week. Our evenings have been quiet and candle-lit, flickering and hot, bereft of fan-whipped breezes. Cooking and homework in the fragile candle light is both strained and soft. 

I'm at the end of week two in training for a 5k. General thoughts and feelings include the following: running with inelegant strides around a soggy soccer field, feeling misting rains cooling my red-faced exertion, muscles flaring fire with each heavy footfall, pushing back the accusing thoughts hurdling insults and lies, striving, straining forward towards the strong, leaving behind the whiny feeble.

In the midst of running, rain, and candle-light nights may this song echo and reverberate within my soul:

                         "Holy Spirit"

There's nothing worth more that will ever come close
No thing can compare, You're our living hope
Your presence, Lord

I've tasted and seen of the sweetest of loves
Where my heart becomes free and my shame is undone
Your presence, Lord

Holy Spirit, You are welcome here
Come flood this place and fill the atmosphere
Your glory, God, is what our hearts long for
To be overcome by Your presence, Lord

I've tasted and seen, of the sweetest of loves
Where my heart becomes free, and my shame is undone
By Your presence, Lord

Let us become more aware of Your presence
Let us experience the glory of Your goodness