My husband and I had desired to be foreign missionaries, even when we first were married. So, after the birth of our second child, we moved to Baker, Louisiana where my husband attended a missionary training school. While he was studying I took care of our little ones and a woman in a wheelchair with whom we lived in exchange for caring for her.
After the nine months of intensive training, we prepared to go to Russia on a church planting mission. We had the two little ones with us – Anna was two years old and Ethan was one year old. I turned thirty years old the day we arrived in Russia. We went to Russia thinking we would be there as our lifework, our vocation, but God had other plans and we returned after 13 months.
As I reflect upon our 13 months in Russia, I can truly say this was a priceless gift from the Lord. Even though we only had a season with these Russian families, yet we were blessed with close relationships with the Russian children who lived near us. Despite our failings, God brought meaningful relationships with these children and teenagers. The fruit of our feeble efforts was seen in the Russian children we came to love and who loved us freely. Even now, when I think about Russia, I think about these children who are now grown up, many with families of their own. God even brought one of these Russian girls, who had immigrated to America and married here, to our state, and we became close family friends with her growing family. Our farm became a place where her daughters could come to enjoy country living.
We were grieved to have to leave Russia, for we desired to live there longer. In fact, we wanted to dedicate our lives in that beloved land. But, we had to die to our wills and embrace God’s will. God knows what is best, and He brought us along the journey full circle. I remember praying about this desire to be a foreign missionary, and one day God spoke to my heart that this would come later.
Twenty years later, my husband told me that he believed God was impressing upon him to offer to teach ministers and church leaders in East Africa. He took two teaching trips in 2011 and 2012, and then God allowed us to go to Tanzania as a family in 2013 and again at the end of 2014. Whether or not this final trip to a foreign land was wise, God granted the desire of our hearts, and once again we were blessed with close friends: children, young adults, families, and elderly. We were blessed to be included as actual family with some of those who loved us so fully. God is so amazing to give us sons and daughters, grandparents and even a little girl named after me. This gift of family in Africa I treasure always.
The realization that we had to leave after one year was difficult for me. We had opened our hearts again to the possibility of dedicating our life to service in a foreign land, but I realize now that this was not God’s will for our family. I remember our African pastor, Captain Nestor, saying on our last evening in Nyakato, “It is now their time to go.” Yes, it truly was time for us to return home to live and work in our native home as ordinary citizens.
I have now had over a year at home to reflect on the gift of a full church year in East Africa which we were given. We are thankful for this grace we have experienced. God blessed the time we lived in Tanzania, and then He brought us home. This first year of being home was a rocky road, mainly because transitions are hard for me. However, God has been very gracious in making the transition from African ministry to home gradual by bringing two separate guests from East Africa to stay with us for different periods of time. We were able to share our life and church community with Mama Askofu (Bishop Kwangu’s wife) in December, 2015, and with Bonface Abongo, the father of my namesake girl, from June through August, 2016. These two people, one from Tanzania and one from southern Kenya, were able to become better acquainted with our family by experiencing our culture. As a result, we were able to be more connected in the Spirit by reciprocating the roles of guests and hosts.
Now we are called to be active members of our home community. Our group of eight families and a several single young adults meet together each week to celebrate our life in Christ and to worship Christ the King. We are a small part of the body of Christ, and as we share in each others’ pain and reach out to our neighbors with compassion, we partake of the Lord’s suffering. As we make ourselves vulnerable to one another and our neighbors, we are walking on this way of the cross. May we bring light to those who live in darkness. May we bring hope to the downtrodden. May we bring joy to those who those who live in sadness. May we bring Christ to those who don’t know Him. Even though we stumble, we fall, but with God’s grace we stand up again and continue to tread upon the way of the cross, following our Savior, Christ the King.
This is my final time to write for this Forward in Africa blog. Though this chapter of our journey is coming to a close, yet we press forward in the call of God to be His disciples wherever He leads us. We love our brethren whom we know in Russia and Africa, and we love our brethren here in our local community. God is the bridge which connects us as the Body of Christ. With God, all things are possible, and I entrust all of our diverse family to His loving care, knowing that we all are called to take the way of the cross.
My husband will write next month and update you on the change God is bringing to Forward in Africa. “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain.” John 12:24
May the peace of Christ be with you always,
Mama Anna and Deacon Nathan
Christmas 1993 in Russia with Marina's family and friends. Marina is in dark blue sweater, seated at center of table between her father and mother.
Summer 2017 in Kentucky. Visiting with Marina and her children along with Bonface from Kenya. How amazing that we had friends from two continents meeting each other together with us.
Nathan and our pastor Capt. Nestor served together at the English Congregation of St. Nicholas Cathedral in Mwanza, Tanzania.
Visiting a Catholic priest in the Serengeti with Baraka and Neema's family.
Bonface and Grace from southern Kenya came to visit us in Nyakato with their family.
Our next door neighbor Devi was both a challenge and a delight to know and love.
Neighbors and friends came to say their goodbyes on our last day. Keri, the girl on the left, lived with us for many months in both 2013 and 2015.
Easter Day 2015, together with Bibi and Babu, our beloved Tanzanian grandparents.