Surviving the Zombie ApocalypseSpring 2016
My apologies for such a gap between letters. Our days have been full of finding new rhythms for life, and among them, my rhythm for writing again.
When you last heard from us we were on the cusp of everything new – a new job, the search for a home, and the sorting out of starting over again in America. Well, we’ve landed, and I think I can say we’ve pretty much landed on our feet – thanks to the tremendous help of many.
We now live in Senoia, Georgia, a very small town less than an hour south of Atlanta. Renee and I “bought” a house here in August last year – the process thereof, a strange and harrowing experience (our first time). But in the end it all turned out OK. Likely you’ve never heard of Senoia, but some of you may know it as the fictional town of “Woodbury” in the television series “The Walking Dead”. Our town is the main set for the TV show, and so we have our own little slice of the zombie apocalypse downtown. I’m not really a fan of the series, but it is a curious thing to live in the midst of the film industry (which is quite large here in the Atlanta area). Besides the blue-haired, lip-pierced zombie tourists, Senoia is a quiet, quaint, old Southern town.
Our house is fifteen minutes from the AIM office, fifteen minutes from the kid’s school, forty-five from Hartsfield International Airport, and far far away from anything that looks like Nairobi. When we were searching for a place to live, I came upon a magazine article in which the mayor of Senoia described his historic town as “twenty-five miles and one hundred years from Atlanta.” That sounded like just what we needed.
Home for us is a small ranch with a red door tucked down a cul-de-sac on a small hill. We have trees and a mailbox and a yard without walls or razor wire. Renee is all smiles at the notion of being “home” and she’s probably adjusted better than any of us. This part of Georgia is welcoming, warm, and green; covered in towering pine trees and Southern charm. We have spectacular thunderstorms and a Chic-Fil-A on every corner (almost).
At Starrs Mill. A picturesque little mill nearby. Also part of the set for the movie Sweet Home Alabama.
Amelia and Zach on Pine Mountain (FDR State Park). This is about as high as the “mountains” get here south of Atlanta.
Among the many good things in our move stateside has been the opportunity to do some “big city detox”. After fifteen years in the heart of an African metropolis, it’s nice to see the stars again. The contrast is startling actually. We’ve essentially gone from driving in chaos, to driving Miss Daisy.
Other blessings? We have our daughter home for her last years of high school. Although saying goodbye to Rift Valley Academy was among the hardest things about leaving Africa, God provided for Amelia and Zach to attend a really great Christian school here in Georgia. Amelia is 17 now, and grown into a beautiful and godly young woman. I know parents automatically say this sort of thing, but truly, she is a joy to have in our home and in our lives. As we venture into comimg-of-age milestones such as driving lessons and college prospects, I’m sensing the time slipping away.
Zach is 14 and going into 9th grade. This is some consolation – there’s still a whole high school career ahead of him. I can only hope that as he grows out of his somewhat goofy adolescent stage, he still wants to hang out with his somewhat goofy dad. Zach reminds me of myself in many ways. He’s a gentle spirit, artful, imaginative, and technical. One afternoon I found a Post-it note Renee stuck on the counter as she left the kids home alone for a few hours. It read: “Zach. Trash out. Concentrate on schoolwork. No flamables or explosives.” Ah, to be a forteen again. I’m looking forward to the adventures of the next four years. (Really).
Renee has been unwittingly swept up into the “normal” American mom life. While not properly a “soccer mom” she has been shuttling kids back and forth to school and activities, working part time, making friends in the community, and clipping coupons. But you don’t have to look very hard to see that she’s coming from a different world. She longs for deeper relationships than the cuture here values. She is unguarded with the time she gives to others. She still pauses to appreciate the small wonders of a land awash in prosperity and liberty. She even gets excited about the mail.
Our ordinary mailbox sprouts, serendipitously, from a large tin bucket of flowers at the curbside, our house number emblazoned upon it. It stands as a symbol of a world where order and peace make such a thing as mail delivery possible – and the remarkable thought that we have a place in that world. (Want to make Renee’s day? Send her a letter.)
So this is home. The place where we’ve landed. And like the mail that keeps coming, we continue to see blessings as the days unfold. Great new friendships at a church we love. The school musical where Amelia surprised us all (even herself). Zach’s karate buddy who happens to also be my work buddy. The magical grass airstrip right here in Senoia where I got to take to the sky again. And my job. I love what we’re doing here.
Amelia on prom night
“Big T” airstrip. A private field just five minutes from home. I ocassionally get to fly this 1946 Piper Cub with a friend from our church.
WHY I LOVE MY MONDAY MORNINGS
After a year at AIM Headquarters, my new role is much what I had hoped it would be. It’s a technical and creative challenge. Different every day. I work with two other like-minded guys as part of a communications team. I’ve got this amazing Mac on my desk capable of churning out whatever I can imagine, and regular interactions with Africa which keep me in the “fight”, so to speak. Our projects immerse us in what AIM is doing now and hoping to do soon. We plan. We sketch designs and storyboard. We research African peoples and places. And we pray. It all comes together in the media we create and share. And in our work there’s always a reminder that the job is not an end in itself.
Back in 2008, Renee and I served at the home office for a short time while my Dad was ill and AIM was still headquartered in New York. That was the first time we experienced the “sending” side of things with our mission, and I wrote about it in a blog. What I wrote then, I could just as well write today:
This place is no mere office. We’ve sent out about a dozen missionaries in the last ten days. They come here for their last logistical push and a ride to the airport. A pile of Action Packers sits in the lobby bound in duct tape. The new missionaries give testimonies which sound so much like mine did ten years ago. They are full of a familiar enthusiasm. The entire office staff of AIM gathers before departure time and sings a farewell in one big circle around the dining room. “May the Lord bless you and keep you…” And as we do this I remember being at the receiving end of that same blessing. I ponder how many have gone out from here over the years, and I marvel at the work of God in them. There’s a weighty sense of purpose within these walls. If this is a “sending office,” the operative part is in the word “send” – which in the context of the Great Commission is the indispensable other half of “go.” So I think as far as offices go, I’m in the right place. I love what they do here.
Our communications team: Mike, Andy, and Ryan
Today I would add the word “mobilize” to that essential descriptor of what we do. After 17 years in Africa we have a greater appreciation that what AIM is asking people to do is hard. Leave your culture and your home. Raise your own funding. Cross an ocean to a place of uncertainty and insecurity. Stay for years. Learn a foreign language (or two). And love a people who may be difficult to love. Who does this?
As AIM redoubles its efforts for the remaining people groups in Africa who have not yet heard the gospel, we are moving into harder and harder territory. It might seem preposterous for someone to choose to go to such a place, yet God continues to call people to this life. One of my jobs is to present AIM’s vision and opportunities – through words and stories and strategies for getting the message out – to those who sense that call.
Over the past year, I have to admit, I have entertained occasional feelings of envy toward the missionaries who pass through this office and ultimately board the airport van, Africa-bound. Though I’m now among the support staff who are left behind, I relish the opportunity to get to know these amazing men and women and families, and to send them off with a blessing. I’m also amazed at the prospect that the work of my creative right-brain may have played a part in getting them that far.
There’s a weighty sense of purpose within these walls.
AIM’s office in Peachtree City
June 2015: Our “farewell” in Kenya.
One last trip to the Nairobi game park. Atlanta’s skyline is more impressive… but there’s no giraffes, so, maybe not.
Well first of all, I promise to write more regularly. I was not prepared for how much this transition took out of us, both mentally and emotionally. That massive “project” and the many large projects at work had pushed my creative writing to the side. I hope you’ll see that change in the coming year.
About a year ago we took a month to travel back to Kenya as a family in order to officially close up our home and ministry there. It already seems like so long ago. At the time I knew it wouldn’t be a final goodbye for me. My next trip to Africa will likely be in October to do some media projects with the US Director.
In the year ahead I will still provide part-time leadership and direction to AIM’s field media team. One of my challenges right now is to help rebuild that team as we search for a few more creative and courageous families to serve with them. Here at the home office I’ll be elbow deep (at least) in web development, leading AIM USA into some new territory with video production, and digging deeper with our storytelling.
We don’t have any huge plans for the summer. We also don’t have the freedom we used to enjoy as missionaries on furlough. So the two-month family road trip adventure to visit supporters and share at churches might be a thing of the past for us – regrettably. But Renee and I are still mindful of the importance of making time and memories with our kids. I think we’ll explore Georgia some, and see where the weekends take us.
In the fall, Renee will continue to help out at the kid’s school. Amelia plans to take some of her senior year classes at a local community college just as Zach is entering High School. Both will be new drivers this year.
But I suppose the things we are praying for have less to do with our “plans” and more with what we hope to become: A family growing closer together and closer to God, finding our place and finally feeling at home, guiding our young adult children toward a life of wisdom and kindness, making connections through deep and meaningful friendships, seeing the beauty of the moment, and remembering the brokenness of a world we are called to serve as Christ’s ambassadors.
If you pray for us, perhaps you can pray for some of those things.
Finally, thank you. For the prayers, encouragement, funds, furniture, meals, wheels, and unexpected kindnesses. You know who you are. We thank God for you.
Mike, Renee, Amelia, and Zachary