Friday, November 13, 2015

Fall update

At the desk of the Vice President's ceremonial office in the
Eisenhower Building, on the grounds of the White House
Some recent highlights from the world of EMI and the Crawfords...

* This Fall, we led project teams to help ministries in the following countries: Benin, Kenya, Nigeria, 4 trips to Uganda, Cameroon, Madagascar and India. Most of those trips went out in September, with the project work being completed now in time for the current project semester to end in about a month's time.

* This morning during our Friday morning sharing time, EMI staffer Rex Barber shared about the trip he led to Tenwek Hospital in Western Kenya back in September. EMI has a long history with Tenwek Hospital, having sent many teams to their campus in rural Kenya to help with the various stages of that hospital's ongoing expansion. Franklin Graham once said of Tenwek, "Tenwek Hospital is one of the greatest evangelical outreaches I know of anywhere in the world today." After EMI's design work on this project is complete, Tenwek will begin construction on a new surgery building that will result in the number of surgeries they perform each year expanding from 3000 to 6000!
Rex and team sharing about their Tenwek
project trip this morning. Many of you helped
raise funds for this project this past summer by
supporting us in EMI's annual Golf Marathon.
* I traveled to Calgary in early October to take part in our annual Director's Conference. Each year, the leaders of all the EMI offices gather for a week at one of the office locations to discuss all sorts of things - vision, planning, coordination, new initiatives, new offices, staff needs and issues, as well as lessons learned. Though it was busy, it was a great week!

The EMI Directors up in Canada for the annual Director's
Conference - we took a 1/2-day to go see nearby Banff!
* Alisha and I traveled to Washington DC a few weeks ago to take part in EMI's annual 'EMI Network' Conference. Around 150 people were there to take part in technical training sessions, culture training sessions, learn more about how to join EMI as a volunteer, intern or staff, and to connect with other like-minded relief and development folks. Alisha led a session on being a wife and mom overseas, and I led a session on structural design in the majority world.

It was our first time to DC, so we went a day early to walk
the famous mall...7 miles of walking in all that day.
We had a guest speaker come speak one night. He actually is
somewhat of a chaplain to the Supreme Court Justices...a very
interesting man and different kind of mission story!
I spoke a little at various points of the conference.
Our CEO John Dallmann was the keynote speaker on Saturday
night. He did a great job.
Alisha led a round-table session on raising a family overseas.
* EMI currently has 15 new staff families in the process of joining staff in one of our offices around the world.
What does it take to move a family of 4 overseas to work with
EMI? This is the luggage for the Reinhardt family whom I
picked up from Denver Int'l Airport last Friday. The Reinhardts
were returning after spending nearly a year in Uganda.

* We now have families who are currently overseas studying language and/or preparing to launch our next 3 offices to open in Senegal, Nicaragua and Cambodia.

* The Fall soccer season is almost wrapping up - I coached Graysen's U11 team, and Brodie and Jonah played on the same team with a new Christian soccer club that started a few years ago. Brodie and Jonah also referee now - each working 3-4 games per weekend.

Graysen, doing what he loves most.
Coaching Graysen's team is a lot of fun. We have
a special group of boys - they are some very talented
players, but more importantly, they are good boys
who come from great families.
* Alisha has been substitute teaching at Graysen's school 1-2 days a week, as well as leading online fitness accountability groups and working 8-10 hours a week in the EMI Finance department.

* Our pet rabbits Mildred and Murphy eat hay nonstop and sometimes a few of the pine chips in their litter box. They are glad to see the cold weather arriving (our first snow here was Monday - we got 3").
Mildred (top) and Murphy, having a 'play date'.
They typically stay in their own cages, which
we have situated side by side. Murphy is a clean
freak so he doesn't care for Mildred's 'pig sty'
approach to life.
* It's looking like I will be leading a project team to Honduras in March to help design a new ministry center and clinic for a local ministry about two hours north of Tegucigalpa. More details to come...

A few more pictures from our DC trip:

My long-time friend Brodie, with wife Jenn and kids Joe,
Noelle and S. Brad. Brodie is our Brodie's namesake, and looks
after the VP 
Brodie got us inside the White House complex! A marine is
stationed at the front door of the West Wing.
We got very lucky on our timing - as we were leaving the complex,
the SS stopped us momentarily in a small gated area with about
4 or 5 other people trying to leave. We noticed that the general public
outside the secure area had been cleared from the area...then,
after a couple of minutes, along came the President walking by -
followed by his motorcade of about 25 specially armored limo's,
suburbans, armored cars and ambulances. It was very impressive
to witness from 20 feet away!
Probably my favorite thing to see inside was the Supreme Court
building - one of the most influential buildings in the world.
On top of the overwhelmingly large contingency of Secret
Service agents in and around the capitol mall, we even
saw Paul Blart, Mall Cop leading a segway tour for some
guests. ;)
Inside Ford Theatre, where Abraham Lincoln was shot. The box
shown beyond here is the suite where he was shot. Growing up on
the West Coast, ialways seemed to me like Lincoln lived 500
years ago, so 
seeing that such a famous and key place in the American
history story still existed was mind-boggling to me.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

The here and now

We took the boys to Red Robin to celebrate a successful 1st quarter
of the school year. The boys all did well so we rewarded them
with a burger and endless fries with 'campfire' sauce.
Yesterday, we learned of the tragic and heartbreaking news that an 8th grade schoolmate from Brodie and Jonah’s middle school took his own life. Looking at pictures of this kid we found online after hearing the news, he looks like a very typical young boy with no apparent signs of the ‘pain’ that ultimately was too much for him to bear.

For some reason, we expected to see a kid dressed in black, or with a ‘punk’ style haircut, or with a scowl on his face – something that would make such a desperate act seem at least a little more more foreshadowed, even if still extremely tragic. But instead, we saw pictures of a smiling kid who looked 3 years younger than his 14 years, dressed in a football uniform at practice or smiling with his 5 siblings and parents in the family portrait that served as his Facebook profile.

Of course no suicide, especially by a juvenile, will ever make sense. But still, we sought to ease our horror and shock, or perhaps our fear that it could happen to one of our kids, by finding something that would let us latch onto the fact that ‘we don’t see that in our own boys so therefore we’re safe’. But unfortunately, what we saw only increased the reality that for this family, what appeared on the outside to be a very typical and happy young boy, was in fact a darkness that would overcome him.

I can’t even write this without choking up – how can such a young child already reach such levels of despair? I admit that I was fortunate to live a sheltered life growing up, with a family and parents that loved and supported me, and taught me about God and how to find the real meaning to my life. I get that such an upbringing is more and more of an extreme luxury in this world, but still, I just can’t imagine a 14 year old getting to the point of wanting to end his life. (And yes, I ‘get’ that this is not the first kid this age (or even younger) to make such a decision). But juxtaposed so closely to our boys, with Brodie at that same age and both he and Jonah walking the same halls as that poor boy, it’s just hit close to home for us.

Working with a Christian international relief and development organization, it’s easy to focus on the ‘far away’. Everything I do at work each day is centered around the goal of helping the less fortunate in the furthest corners of the world. We in the West ‘have’, and so we try to help those who ‘don’t have', especially since they also lack any reliable path for ‘having’ in the future.  Having lived there amongst some of those people for awhile, it’s very easy to connect our hearts with them and their plight.

But since we’re living in Colorado for the time being, how should we be impacting those around us? Honestly, returning from living overseas has unknowingly served as a barrier for me to even think about the community here in Colorado Springs, and how God might want to use me and our family here. I’m a little embarrassed to say it, but I really don’t think much about the needs around us here. For me, I write this culture and its people off as being in 'the 1%', and therefore somehow the needs here aren't legitimate.  And that translates to our boys too – we talk a lot about being an ‘example’ to their peers…but I haven’t really thought much about encouraging them to be a ‘light’ amidst the darkness that is likely (and now confirmed) around them.

Truthfully, our boys have really struggled to make friends since arriving back from the UK. In their own way, they each feel like they are ‘different’ from most of their peers. As the youngest, Graysen has probably had the easiest time, especially since he has a close-knit soccer team he plays on. (Interestingly, the one close friend Graysen and Jonah have are each the product of a cross-cultural marriage - something that I think our boys are inherently drawn towards. But in general, all three of our boys feel to some extent like they don’t fit in, and can’t seem to make more than acquaintances.

We encourage them to try to stand out for their ‘kindness’ above their ‘coolness’ or ‘funny-ness’, but the concept that there are kids around them in a desperate state and in need of someone who can show them even a glimpse of ‘love’ has been missing in my parental advice. And if I’m really honest, it’s missing in my own life too. One of my EMI colleague’s comments this morning during our morning sharing and prayer time caught my attention, and started me thinking about this. He basically just shared that he was reminded that there are some really hurting people around us, and how we should be compelled to be a source of light for them, even while our work is focused on the suffering in the distance.

So what’s the point here…I guess I’m a little embarrassed to say that I’ve probably been giving myself somewhat of a ‘pass’ for awhile now. Yes, the work of EMI is important and really growing fast. We’re launching 3 new offices in the coming couple of years, which of course includes several new families joining us to move and start a new life overseas. We’re bringing in local designers into the organization for the purpose of equipping them to magnify the impact, both physically and spiritually, of the work God’s using EMI to do around the world. And, we’re bringing a much needed technical resource that has the potential to significantly multiply the impact of reducing global poverty and spreading the gospel message.

But as a family – and me, as an individual – what am I doing in the here and now? Am I being a source of ‘light’ for the darkness that exists around me? Am I ready to potentially save the life of a young boy or young adult or older adult who might just need someone to show them a bit of love and concern? Sadly, I’m afraid that’s not something that’s been at the forefront of my mind in recent times, to where I wonder if I’d even recognize the telltale signs in a person that help was needed. I think all the time about how best to impact the world through what we’re doing at EMI, but am I looking at all the people between here and there? Am I even looking at the person standing next me on the street?

I pray that this shocking and tragic event somehow awakens me to that realization, that somehow I might be used to bring light to a struggling life. I also pray that I can encourage our boys to the same effect – that yes, even though they’d love to make some good school friends, more importantly, they should be thinking more about how to be a friend to those around them.
The events of the past few days made me realize
how important things like this hike with the
boys really are.
Graysen with a couple of soccer buddies after a recent training.
Jonah is running for school VP later this month.
Our CEO John with intern Terry, helping at the local soup
kitchen our interns (and some staff) volunteer at each Friday.
In Nicaragua, the bridge I helped design earlier
this year for the Young Life 'La Finca' camp.
The completed bridge, with campers enjoying the
new camp feature (and walkway to the new Dining Hall). Each
year, 100's of Nicaraguan kids hear about God's love for them at this
amazing camp. In America, there are 100's if not 1000's of such
camps - but in Nicaragua, such a place is a rarity for kids.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Kenya - Post 4: Alisha's point of view

Waiting to depart in the airport...
I've been wanting to go on a project trip with Brad since we joined EMI in 2007. So when the talk of a trip to Kenya surfaced around the office, I was really excited but didn't know how it could possibly work for our family. My excitement grew when both sets of grandparents gladly agreed to have the boys visit for a week each during the trip. Watching the boys board their plane in Denver was a little unnerving, but knowing they were headed to the West Coast for some family fun brought peace.

We owe a huge thank you to our parents who turned this trip into a great memory for Brodie, Jonah and Graysen.  The boys were so excited for their first plane trek by themselves and getting to see grandparents thwarted any complaints of Mom and Dad traveling back to Africa without them. ;) As we boarded each of our three flights I was definitely aware of the distance growing between us and the boys - I think I had forgotten how long it takes to get to Africa! It made me feel for Brad who makes these treks 2-3 times a year. 
...watching the boys' plane pull back from the gate, lump
firmly in throat.
A week and a half in, the boys were absolutely beside
themselves missing us, as seen in this picture. Err...
Seeing what it takes to lead one of these projects taught me (as a teacher) what a 12-day class field trip might look like. Yikes! There are so many details to manage -  the logistics of flight arrivals for each of the team members, money for drivers, general team facilitating, oodles of meetings, schedules, a final presentation, and the overall well-being of each team member. I enjoyed observing Brad carry out his role as a leader with humility, using his British sense of humor and easy-going approach to work to help the team feel comfortable and not pressured in their own roles.  To see him in a position that God has so clearly equipped him for was great confirmation that we are where God has us for this time.

It's hard to sum up our time at Into Abba's Arms orphanage (IAA), but I'll give it a brief try. The orphanage sits amidst acres of beautiful rural farmland, 1 1/2 hours northwest of Nairobi. It's a beautiful piece of property, much quieter than our home in Uganda. Throughout our time there, I enjoyed getting to know Jane Gravis a bit, a very kind Texan who started the ministry about 15 years ago. Jane is a woman of faith who contemplates each step with careful consideration for God's leading - such a sweet lady who clearly loves her 42 kids.

On this trip, I learned that I love surveying! (On my right is
Heather, who interned with us in Uganda the very first
semester after we moved there in 2008!)
Some of the initial Master Planning work
Our team's workroom - from morning to night it was a
cauldron of activity.
During the week I enjoyed getting to teach at the onsite preschool a couple of the mornings, play with the children in the afternoons, and help with the meals and dishes, tea times, and morning devotions.  Though I had no engineering or architectural skills to offer, the team was kind to let me help with the surveying a bit as well.  It was also a treat to be able to observe the inner workings of a project trip from start to finish (something I've always wanted to do).  The EMI team was incredible - engineers and architects who brought open minds and much talent, laboring from morning till night as they designed a master plan for expanding the IAA site. I was especially impressed by the team's willingness to listen to and learn from Jane so they could carefully follow the vision.  The expansion will provide homes for the growing number of children in need while continuing to support those in the local community through schooling, lodging, medical help and agriculture. 

Me with some of the kids I taught in the pre-school
The stories of how each of these children came to the orphanage were amazing.  I'll share just one of many before I close.... 

Six years ago, a teenager living in the slums of Nairobi gave birth to her baby and was forced by her family to abandon him in an empty shack.  Since the baby's umbilical cord was left longer than normal, his little body survived for two days without being fed.  The nutrition left in the umbilical cord saved his life until the police found him crying on the dirt ground and transferred him to a rescue center in Nairobi. After being evaluated he was left laying on a metal table under a thin blanket. 
That same day, one of the administrators and a house mom from IAA traveled to the rescue center to take home seven children. When they saw the infant laying on the table they asked the worker what would happen to him. The worker replied, "Don't worry about that one, he is going to die." Desperate to help, they called Auntie Donna, an American lady with a servant's heart who lives at IAA and overseas the orphanage. Auntie Donna had recently made an emergency visit to the States to help her daughter with their pre-mature newborn (who weighed just two-pounds at birth) and was due to return to Kenya. As a result of her time helping her daughter, Auntie Donna arrived back at the orphanage equipped to care for the newborn, whom they named Jacob.  Jacob is now six years old, healthy, energetic, and thriving at IAA.  He has a family, faith in God, a warm bed, plenty of food, a school, and 40 friends to grow up with. 

When I read bedtime stories to the children each evening at IAA, Jacob always sat right in the front, joining in the parts of stories he knew and praying for the rest of the children before they headed off to bed.  When the second half of the bible story of Daniel was missing from one of the books, Jacob told the rest of the story in detail.  Later in the week, when I taught in the preschool, Jacob became my aide, helping me learn all the names of the children and volunteering for any task.  He is such a sweet, bright boy - so outgoing and full of spunk. It's amazing to think of all the things God worked out for little Jacob. 

Before this blog gets any longer, I want to thank you for giving to our work with EMI through your prayers and financial support.  Because of what God has done through all of you, we are privileged to all be working in this ministry together.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Kenya Trip - Post 3: The Ministry (June 4-5)

One of my favorite team photos of all time - with ministry
director Jane Gravis and several of the IAA kids.
The ministry we’re working with is an Orphanage called ‘Into Abbas Arms’. The founder, Jane Gravis, came on a medical missions trip in 1997 as a dental hygienist, but ended up serving as the dentist due to the needs encountered. She was struck by the number of children without families/homes, so she came back and started an orphanage in 1999, intending to get things started before leaving it to others to continue forward. Sixteen years later and still serving as the ministry director, she lives in Texas full-time, traveling back to Kenya several each year.

Alisha hanging out with some of her students at the pre-school.
Currently, they have 43 children (the 43rd, a 5 year old girl, arrived while we were on site). The stories of how the children come to the orphanage are as varied as the kids themselves, but many were dramatic, ranging from being left for dead on the street at birth, to the newest little girl’s story of having a mentally ill mother who would lock her in a dark closet for hours at a time for no reason. Consequently, her 21 year old brother had been caring for her full-time.

Alisha with Christine, the 5-year old who arrived at the home
during our visit. What a cheerful little girl, especially given
all life's thrown at her.
The ministry supports the children on-site up until ‘high school’ (similar to our middle school, which begins around age 12 here), when they send them to a boarding school. After high school they support them through college. Exit plans are almost always a major challenge for orphanages here in Africa, as few opportunities for jobs exist in the country. Many of the kids end up wanting to come back to work at the orphanage, which is obviously not a sustainable solution. One of the oldest two boys is currently studying engineering at a university here and is transferring to a community college in Houston, Texas, next month. After he graduates, their plan is to try to help him find a job. Part of the future plans we’re including on the site will allow for a small number of children to return to work for the orphanage in various support roles.

With John-Joe, who hopes to intern
with EMI in our Uganda office in
the coming years.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Kenya Trip - Post 2: Early days (June 1-3)

As a team leader, I'm not supposed to choose favorites amongst
the team...but I clearly had one on this trip.
We actually had two EMI teams arriving on the same flights, and to my knowledge, this is the first time that’s happened. Another team led by Gary and Kevin from our office in Colorado are working at another orphanage starting up in Western Kenya. So, in the arrival hall at Jomo Kenyatta airport in Nairobi, we had 21 EMI’ers in all.

Fortunately for our team, the orphanage we’re working with (‘Into Abbas Arms’) is located only about 1-1/2 hours from Nairobi, unlike the other team’s site, which is around 7-8 hours drive from the capital. Nairobi sits up at just over 5000 ft elevation, so it was a steady climb on the drive out to reach our site, which is at an elevation of nearly 8800 ft.
The IAA site from above - the building next to the red marker
is where the EMI team stayed during the trip.
The civil engineers walking the site. You'll notice the rain boots
and even an umbrella - not the typical Africa trip that's for sure!
As I’ve done on many projects, I’m doing the survey for this trip. Alisha and a couple others from the team helped, as did a small group of 5 Kenyan university engineering students. One of the boys from the orphanage, Nelson, is now at university and is studying civil engineering. We asked the ministry to invite some local engineers to come spend time with our team, so Nelson invited 4 friends from his college to come hang out with us for a couple days. It was great having them with us, and it gave us a chance to talk to them and show them what we do and also learn from them and their knowledge of local building practices.
The crackpot survey crew - well, at least the lead surveyor was
a crackpot. The rest of the team seemed to get on well enough.

Fashioning a rod for my hand level -
it's important that the equipment quality
always matches the skill level of the surveyor.
Working with the Kenyan university students.
Not sure why I need equipment to see what Nelson apparently
sees better with his naked eyes.
I’ve probably mentioned it before, but one of the biggest initiatives we’re pursuing at EMI is the inclusion of local engineers and architects in the organization. We’re striving to be ‘all people serving all people’, instead of the ‘West to the rest’ mentality so many mission organizations (including ours, if we’re honest) have tended towards in the past. To begin with, we’re trying to achieve a goal of 25% involvement by local engineers/architects for all levels of engagement with EMI – volunteers, interns and even staff – within the next 5 years. As of the beginning of 2015, we had achieved a level of approximately 10%, organization-wide.
The students even got a crash course in photography from EMI
photographer (and spouse to Kevin, one of the co-leaders
of the other EMI team in Kenya) Jenni Keiter.
Jordan in a sea of kids at the nearby school where the IAA
children attend. The blonde woman is Jane Gravis, the Founder
and Director of the IAA children's home.
Alisha became a magnet for the kids during the week, especially
after she started teaching every morning in the pre-school on
the IAA campus (both IAA kids and village kids alike attend
the pre-school, Monday through Friday mornings).

Kenya Trip - Post 1: Something new (May 30-31)

EMI'ers from two teams, ready to depart from DIA
This trip had a different feel from the outset. Having Alisha join me isn’t just a nice perk, but rather, more of a realization of a long desire to do this work together. It’s not that I can’t do these trips without her – I’ve proved that 19 other times! But I really don’t *want* to do them without her. Of course we don’t always get the things we want, but oftentimes if we’re patient, God does give us a few of those perks eventually.

So the normal pre-trip depression and anxiety that has become a very predictable part of our lives (i.e. dad starts getting very irritable leading up to project trips!) didn’t happen. In fact, it was almost the opposite feeling this time, as I seemed more and more calm as the trip approached.

Dropping the boys off at their gate at the Denver airport was another ‘new’ feeling. Brodie is 14 now, and though we still see a lot of the ‘little boy’ in him, we know that he (like every other little boy that’s ever lived) is not going to move towards manhood without either some gentle pushes from us or some opportunities for him to grow. This was one of those, as we made a point of putting him in charge between the time when we dropped them off until they met up with their grandparents in Oakland. Needless to say, Jonah and Graysen were dissenting votes on the matter!

They did great, and as soon as we saw the plane taxi out of sight, we could begin to think about what lay ahead…
One last hug from mom...
Down the jetway they went...
And pulling out from the gate for 15 days of being spolied by
their grandparents in California and Oregon!
Denver to Chicago, Chicago to London, and London to Nairobi…and for the first time since 2010, Alisha was back in Africa! After landing and getting through immigration and baggage retrieval (funny how easy that sounds, but it actually took over 3 hours!), we had a short drive to our hotel and we all finally enjoyed what the first class passengers had enjoyed on the flight – the privilege of laying down! I hope that doesn’t sound too bitter ;).
Alisha and Jordan, our 'adopted' niece. Jordan was an intern with
us in the UK and is now a long term volunteer architect in the
office in Colorado. She made it possible for me to lead this trip
as she's taking over finishing the project after we return home.
Interns Shannon and Marisa, on the ground in Nairobi
In case you never make it to Kenya, this is what Jomo Kenyatta
Int'l Airport looks like outside the arrivals hall, at night.
Me with longtime EMI'er and friend Gary MacPhee.
Gary was co-leading the other EMI trip in Kenya,
and we all stayed at the same hotel the first night.
Outside our hotel room in Nairobi - it's always interesting to see
the mix of city and village life side by side in most African cities.

Arriving on our site, about 1 1/2 hours from Nairobi.

The IAA site - where children homes, ag land, farm animals, a
small church and a playground all co-exist.