Monday, April 27, 2009

"Hanama" Shocks and Thrills

According to our three year old, Ro, “We are moving to Hanama!” I hope she is not disappointed when Hannah Montana does not live in Panama! She and her sister have yet to see their future home. 

Nathan and I shipped ourselves and Field as well to Panama last week to have a “come and see” before any of us made it official. We came, we saw and we are official.

I cannot describe what I thought Panama would be like. I had painted somewhat of a  picture in my mind of what it would be, what Nathan would be doing and myself in supporting roles, where we would be living and the people and children we would be loving. My picture was a little off.

It would be safe to say that I was shocked and thrilled all in the same breath.

My first shock was in the moment the airplane shut off the air conditioning upon arrival. No need to carry a light sweater anywhere in Panama. Most people even keep their thermostats at 78 and that may be a little generous. It is HOT!

I am a little bit of a rule abider, so the second shock will be a big adjustment for me. Imagine the worst road rage ever and you might be getting close to the intensity of the traffic throughout Panama City and into the Canal Zone, better known as the Reverted Area after the US gave the Canal back to Panama in 1999. We will be living in this area; the school and church community are throughout this area as well.

My next shock was a greeting by an armed guard outside the school where Nathan will be teaching. The guard was primary to the also barbed wire atop the magnet gate and fencing around the school and church.  There was a gang shooting behind the school in a large cemetery only two weeks ago.

Also a shock was imagining all the patience the Lord will be teaching Nathan as he teaches PE and coaches on a blacktop parking lot. Thankfully the area was recently covered with a tall Pavilion roof. There is a grassy area mixed with a little gravel where PE will also take place.

Sticker shock was followed by a bit of relief after a visit to the grocery store. Everything is double what we pay in the US. A little cup of Yoplait yogurt was $1.20 and a head of lettuce was over $2 and we are not talking about “organic” lettuce either. The relief came when I realized that I will not be cutting coupons and matching store specials, or feeling guilty because I should be. There are no coupons to be had as well as no store specials, it is what it is!

I thrive on organization or maybe it’s the lack of organization I thrive on. I have this incredible need to want to restructure and reorganize unless there is no organization at all and I am deeply needed. I am needed. I am only saying this to give you a picture of the Panamanian culture. Rules and laws are only suggestions. Beginning and end times to events and meetings are just an aiming point. I am not shocked by disorganization anymore!

I am sure that I am leaving out some other shocks and I am sure I will discover more, but the thrills are far more impactful than any shock I experienced.

I was thrilled when I first saw the faces of the children that attend Crossroads Academy. Their faces are all so very different, they were from a little bit of everywhere and were all speaking differently than us. They did not seem to care that they looked differently from the other. While I am sure they let their flesh get the best of them sometimes, they did not look like kids who thought life owed them something. There was no sense of entitlement that so many kids posses. Lots of these kids are third culture kids.

The Crossroads community of teachers and parents as well as the church seems to know that there is a greater goal than just learning, it is about making an impact on these kids, opening their minds up to the world and/or to just around the corner where there are so many needs within the larger community of Panama City. I am thrilled that these kids are loved and I am thrilled we get to love them too.

When a wife sees her husband get fired up, falling in love with the Lord and his people, how can she not be thrilled? According to John Eldridge's book, “Wild at Heart” a man needs a “battle to fight, an adventure to live, and a beauty to rescue.” I am Nathan’s beauty and I always need rescuing, so he had that for sure, the other two needs existed in some form, a very dormant form. I have seen my husband come alive. It’s like he has shed his skin and becoming who the Lord intended for him to be. This will be an adventure, taking a whole family to a foreign country; most of you would say he is crazy. Finally, Nathan will have a battle to fight, a mission. Crossroads has a PE program and it does have some sports teams, but there is only room for improvement. It is going to be a challenge for many reasons we can share later, some were “shocks!” My man is Wild at Heart and I will gladly follow him because I know he is becoming the man God intends for him to be. THAT is thrilling!

We will have a back yard. The first house be bought in Franklin, TN had the most beautiful backyard with common space behind where the sun set behind the trees while we enjoyed our deck. I always thought, “It just doesn’t get any better than this.” In our current home that is on the market…it has the same beautiful backyard with common space behind and over to the east you can see the rolling hills of Middle Tennessee, and the sun sets behind the trees in exactly the same spot it did from our first deck. Again when we began processing what we felt the Lord was stirring in our hearts, I just knew we would be stuck in an apartment without a place to play. I was thrillingly surprised to see a huge backyard behind our quad-plex apartment. We even have a backdoor to a small patio. There is also a huge luscious hill behind our yard. Why do I doubt?

Five dollar manicures….a cheap thrill!!

When I was a senior in high school we had a newspaper edition that made jokes about where all of the seniors would be in ten years. Mine was that I would be Young Life leader and a PE teacher. Well I married the PE teacher and we are very involved in the lives of young people. I am thrilled to have an opportunity to maybe lead a small group Bible study for girls. And I hopefully will get to coach some of the girls’ soccer teams and anyone who knows me well knows that would be a huge thrill for me. I love soccer, I love being with young girls, I love to lead. I just need to have a healthy back.

The church is much smaller than the Fellowship Bible Church were we have attended for the last six years in Brentwood, TN. The praise and worship time is one of my favorite times of the week and I was thinking I would be sad to miss out on the wonderful worship we have had. I was so surprised, and thrilled, when we began the worship at Crossroads Bible Church. It was beautiful, it was loud, it was glorifying to the Lord and I worshipped to the same great savior that I worshipped with in TN!

Not everyone would be overly thrilled about packing their children up from the only life they knew, especially when it was a good life of friends, family, a school they love and a home where they are secure and thriving. What if we were doing this for our children? Yes we are ripping them from all they know, but we are providing them with so much more. They will make new friends, they will still have cousins and aunts and uncles, they will one day be a part of the school they will love and home is where we are, secure and thriving. What they do not have and what they will get in Panama is a love for people who look differently, speak differently and live differently than them. They will become a part of a culture different than their own and learn to speak a language different than their own and experience a life they would have otherwise never known existed. I am thrilled over this!

Nathan knows education and Nathan knows construction and Nathan knows sports. He loves all these things too. I am thrilled that Nathan can use all the things he knows and all the things he loves and can use them for the greater good of the Lord’s kingdom. There is a mission project within the mission project that we are going to Panama for, it is called Curundu. It is the slums of Panama City. A slum like you would never see in any North American City. Crossroads Bible Church has a building they are converting into a safe place for the people of this part of the city. I place for them to learn, a place for them to worship, a place to play and this place has come a long way and this place has still a lot of work to be done. Nathan is one of few who has a construction background and will be able to contribute to this project. I can’t wait to tell you more about this thrilling project as we learn more.

There is nothing more fun than feeling wanted. We all want to feel it in some capacity most of the time. There are different kinds of this kind of security. I am wanted and needed by my children, by my husband, by my family and friends. But most importantly, I am wanted by my Lord and Savior. He wants me to know him in the most deep and intimate ways. He wants me to trust him with the small and with the most expansive things I can imagine.

In the process of getting us to Panama, I was in Field’s nursery and read the verse Proverbs 16:9, “In a man’s heart he plans his course, but it is the Lord who determines his steps.” This has proven to be so true in our plan of course. I prefer his steps even when I don’t understand and don’t see how it is on the same course. I know He will get us to where He wants us. I can live with that!

So many of you reading this we will be leaving behind, some of you we will be joining in Panama but hopefully all of you will be coming along side us. There are mountains to move and valley’s to trudge none of which is possible first without obedience to the Lord as we move and trudge.

We look forward to sharing with you these mountains that need to be moved and these valleys we will need to trudge. More importantly we look forward to sharing with you how these mountains are moved and how we have trudged and what we have learned from our Lord and Savior. Our blessings are great indeed! Praise to God for His Faithfulness!

Monday, April 6, 2009

History (Nathan's Viewpoint)

Don't really know where to start in telling this story of how we ended up looking to move to Panama.  There is really no way to share all of our thoughts and the events that brought us to where we are. We can look back to those discussions we had as an engaged couple, planning our life. With myself, being an education major, Clare had introduced me to the organization of Network of International Christian Schools (NICS). Of course being a young man and always seeking adventure the idea of teaching on foreign lands and travel appealed to me.  Best of both worlds, right?  We considered doing it when we were first married, but we were given the advice that there is enough newness and stress to a new marriage to throw a new culture, and no familiarity on top of it. We followed that advice and revisited a few years later, but decided that it was not the time either.  Teaching overseas would come up in conversation from time to time and we knew it was something that we would do, it was just a matter of when.  I had decided (in my infinite wisdom) that we would do it before our oldest, Ro, began high school and got too busy with important things in life like sports and friends. Soon after Christmas, Clare and I had a chance to catch our breath and share with each other what we both had been feeling separately.  That now was the time to look into going overseas for a season.  We ran through a list of concerns and drawbacks as well as the positives.  We began looking into international schools and what openings were available. We started with the NICS program based out Southaven, MS. We filled out their application and signed up for their job fair. In the meantime I came across a great website, It had listings from christian schools all over the world. Some independent and some networked including the NICS openings. That is where I came across a school in Panama, Crossroads Christian Academy.  I worked on the application and began speaking with CCA as well as other international schools.  We began sharing our thoughts with a few people, who were both surprised and encouraging. In mid-February we attended the NICS job fair and yearly reports.  It was an opportunity to hear what the Lord is doing in their schools around the world.  We were blown away and we had a great time talking with families that had been living what we had been praying about.  We walked away without any doubt that this is what we are being called to do.  We talked to many schools around the world, but we felt like the best fit was CCA in Panama.  It is for a position as the middle school and high school PE teacher and Athletic Director. They want Clare and I to come down and check out the school, church, and community and make sure that it is a good fit for us. So off we go on April 14th to visit. Field is going to join Clare and I on our visit while the girls stay with Bam-ma and Papa.