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Ministry: Equipping Our Mission

The Delicate Dance of Grief and Joy

January 06, 2016

The email we had been waiting for years to receive finally came. They were ready for us to travel. The passports were ready, their medical exams were finished, their birth affidavits were complete. Now it was up to us to book our flights and bring our girls home.

Friends squealed and hugged us, praised God and loudly proclaimed how excited we must be. Wanting to rejoice with them, I spoke of how we were preparing our home for their arrival. But the joy I expected to feel never came. Yes, the timing scared me, but I knew that we could nonetheless power through and complete this final leg of our adoption journey. Weak in body and aching to hold my beloved newborn, I knew I could persevere through the ten day trip needed to bring all of our children under one roof.

But before true rejoicing could enter my soul, I found it necessary to grieve the losses that brought our family together. Our sweet girls had lived in this orphanage for the past 19 months. Their father worked tirelessly as a day laborer to provide for them after their mother had left, but when he realized he couldn't make ends meet, he was forced to take them to the orphanage and sign away his rights. How old were our daughters when their mother left? Do they remember the day? Do they remember the hour? Will the memory be forever seared into their minds? What about the day their father dropped them off, never to return? What were those first few hours like as they were shown their new beds, got acquainted with the children their age, and given their first mass-produced meal?

For Queen, we don't even know the circumstances surrounding her two and a half years in the orphanage. We know only that she was baptized before being dropped off and given a name in Amharic that means "She is loved." The orphanage was never even aware of her serious medical condition and thus it went untreated until she was home with us at three years of age. Are her birth parents still live? Where was she dropped off, and by whom? What emotions did she experience as an infant during that time of transition? Will a sense of abandonment always reside in her soul because of her early life experiences?

For Mr. Man, we were in the hospital and we held him five minutes after he was born. We helped give him his first bath and stayed in the nursery for the routine infant medical tests. We rocked him in the hospital room, fed him his first bottle and took pictures of him so frequently that he soon became accustomed to the bright light of the flash. But his courageous birthmother first had to decide that she was unable to care for him before we could have the privilege of being his mama and papa. She had to suffer through a difficult pregnancy and make the hard choice of giving him to parents who could more adequately care for him. A part of her mother's heart had to die in order for me to become his mama. Suffering had to occur before the joy of mamahood in my life could be made complete.

With four of our children, we had to witness tremendous grief before our family could expand. Before we could stand in court and testify and before we could be the ones meeting our children's daily needs, we had to watch worlds crumble and birth parents surrender their own rights so our rights as parents to be instated. While this seems to be the biblical pattern, and the way of the Cross, this paradigm does not normally hold true for the creation of family, the birthing of children. Most children come into this world surrounded by parents who love them and who are able to meet their basic needs for nourishment, shelter, and clothing. But when these necessities are not there and separation from the mother who birthed you becomes the harsh reality, large worlds are shattered and tiny ones are destroyed. Grief chokes and tears spill forth. Children both large and small are forced to live the rest of their lives with the reality of pain from a destroyed bond that God never intended to be broken. For the relationship between mother and child is the most basic and formative of bond; it is a bond that exists at the very cellular physical and emotional level.

So we step in as the mama and papa to our children knowing that this was never the best plan for them, but it was God's redeemed plan for them. We step in knowing that we can never replace our children's original mama and papa nor fully understand the deep-seated grief that our children carry knowingly or unknowingly. We can never fully heal their broken hearts, nor should we expect to be able. That is God's job.

But we can be His arms hugging them. We can be His hands serving them meal after meal. We can speak His words of love over them. We can point them to Him who heals their hearts and repairs the damage that this loss has made on their souls. When we walk into the orphanage tomorrow and take our girls home, they may not be thankful. And that is okay. Because we are here to grieve with them for as long as it takes for their souls to work through the loss. We won't ask them to grieve alone. We won't question their tears. We will simply cry with them through the dark days until God shines light on their grief and makes them whole.

Many expect that the rejoicing should begin on the day we first hold our daughters in our arms. Yes, we will rejoice in the fact that God has given them to us, that they are special gifts that we do not deserve. We will rejoice over their smiles, their laughter and the light that they bring into our family. We will shower them with gifts, and take far too many pictures, and delight in the personalities that God has given them. But we will do so knowing the need to balance their grief with our joy. We cannot fully rejoice now because we know we need to enter their grief and walk with them through their healing journey. As we look to the months ahead, we recognize that at times we will grieve with them, and at times we will rejoice with them. This delicate dance of grief and joy will be led by our daughters in the safe surroundings of our home until their hearts rest in a place of safety, healing and wholeness that their Creator alone can bring.

Celebrating Your Good Friday Gift

October 01, 2015

This past April many of you contributed to our record-smashing Good Friday offering—to the tune of about $130,000. The money was designated to support two incredible ministries: 1) Zambiri House, a ministry started by Archbishop and Gloria Kwashi to adopt nearly 60 children—mostly victims of terrorist and tribal violence; 2) The Christian Institute, a school that trains future pastors, church planters, and health care workers to bring the gospel to terrorist-ravaged places of northeast Nigeria.

In early September of this year, I had the privilege of delivering your Good Friday offering to the Diocese of Jos in Nigeria. Technically, we wired the money, but because we value this global friendship so much, we wanted to send a person along with the wire transfer. And they wanted to see a person from Church of the Resurrection. So I spent four days in Jos, Nigeria celebrating the friendship in the gospel that all of you have helped to create.

I'm happy to report that I had the best Moi Moi I've ever had—a Nigerian spicy bean mash pressed together with an unexpected fried egg in the middle. I ate it in your honor. I also drank some bad water and got horribly sick for nearly two weeks, but I have no regrets for the trip. I cannot tell you the joy I witnessed on the faces of our Nigerian friends to see someone (me, a representative for all of you) from Church of the Resurrection. Their love and appreciation for us runs deep.

I also can't convey how their faith in Christ can apprentice and disciple us. Let me share one story. I was asked to preach at a Sunday morning service at St. Bart's Anglican Church in Jos, although I had no idea I would give just one of three sermons in their four and a half hour annual Children's Harvest Festival service. But what really struck me wasn't the length of the service or that it was still filled with exuberant praise at the four-hour mark. What really moved me was their deep gratitude and openness to the gift of children even in the midst of poverty and violence. When I tried to explain to them that some powerful and influential people in our country say that every child must be a "wanted" child, or else he or she should not be allowed to enter the world, they looked at me with utter confusion—as if to say, "But why wouldn't every child be a wanted child? Why wouldn't every child be welcomed into the world as a gift from God, someone to cherish and love?" This is just one example of how they can disciple people in our culture, of how we need to be the learners and not the teachers for our African brothers and sisters.

So brothers and sister in Christ, thank you for your 2015 Good Friday gift. Thank you for your generosity. Archbishop Kwashi told me, "I know that even a gift of one dollar means that your people had to give up something else, and that means something to us. We are so grateful to God for your people—not just for your money, but for your love and our partnership in the gospel of Jesus Christ." He meant it from the depths of his heart.

Matt Woodley
Missions Pastor
matt@churchrez.org