It’s been seven years since we’ve been home for Christmas. And even though we caught some February snow two furloughs ago, Zach never remembered it. So we all had a blast this past week when eight inches piled up outside our window. We took it all in. Sledding, snowmen, and snow-angels. Cold noses and snow-ball fights. The works. Christmas day was still white, and we spent most of it with mom at her house, together with the cousins and grandma and an empty place at the head of the table where dad would usually be to say the prayer. I imagined how happy he would be to see us all together. December also brought a birthday for Amelia. She turned ten, which was super-special to her. She tells us we can now refer to her as a “ten-ager” (just a vowel shy of a “teenager” presumably—Amelia thinks it’s grand that her growing-up causes dad some anxiety). But besides my daughter arriving at the double-digits, life has been peaceful of late. Renee and I have finally felt back on track again. We even got our newsletter written and mailed out. Here it is below:

Dear Friends,
This is perhaps the most overdue letter we’ve written in our missionary career, and I apologize for the large gap between them. We have been under a cloud for a season. A printed newsletter lends itself to certainty—to news that doesn’t need updating in a week or a month. And since we found ourselves in uncertain times, much of the news of our lives was hammered out on our blog instead. Now that we feel like our feet are on the ground again, we are back to the paper mailing.

In our last letter in April we wrote of my dad’s sudden illness with leukemia, which was the reason for our premature return from Africa. At that point, he was in remission and we were looking ahead to a longer cure in a bone marrow transplant for him. We had come home at a good time—in time to have some sweet and wonderful months with dad. But we wished for more.

Dad passed away on August 25th—peacefully and close to home, with Renee and my mother at his side. He entered the hospital for the transplant in May, on his 66th birthday, but never recovered. The journey of these past many months has been, unsurprisingly, a dark and painful valley at times. But it has also been a blessing. Wondrous. Worshipful. Unexpectedly joyous. I’m tempted to think the bright spots have had something to do with us: our faith, maturity, etc. But I know it had a lot more to do with dad. He was an amazing man, marked by God’s amazing grace, and contagious. I miss him. Me and a thousand others.

The months leading up to dad’s decline and passing were heavy on us. The months after were disorienting. Between them was a moment, his memorial service, when we saw a glimpse of heaven. And now, almost 4 months after our last good-byes, Renee and I and the kids still have times when we cannot contain the loss. Yet we become more grounded as the days go by. Dad smiles down at me from a photograph atop the bookcase in our apartment here in New York, and I feel like he’s still speaking to my heart—encouraging me as he always has.

In May we moved over to AIM’s headquarters in Pearl River. We settled into one of the staff apartments and carved out a place that felt a little more like “home” instead of the typical “home-base” of our furloughs. I shifted into an official assignment with AIM in June, working with the Public Relations department as an editor, designer, copywriter, and also helping with various logistical tasks at the office. The arrangement has been a blessing. It has given us a place to land for this extended furlough while giving me an opportunity to develop my media skills, and providing Renee with a home and a quiet place to school the kids. Most importantly, it gave us the necessary time and proximity to mom and dad when they needed us most. Our coworkers at AIM granted us the flexibility to run to the rescue for mom all these months, and they carried us in prayer nearly every single day. I don’t know how we would have navigated this year without them.

Of course, we had no idea how the year would turn out, and so the assignment here with AIM was accepted as an open-ended and temporary one. When we left Kenya in March we packed in a strategic way—not quite moving out of our house but only disassembling our lives in such a way that we would be minimally missed. This plan was marginally successful. We’ve been significantly missed. And while we knew we would be flying home to the unknown, we hoped God would make His will known. In Kenya, Renee and I had a long talk on the sofa before heading Stateside. We prayed and placed our disassembled lives into God’s hands—like two fresh lumps of clay back on the potter’s wheel. And as we’ve spun and spun these past nine months, it seems He’s still fashioning us for Africa.

Many folks have been asking us what our plans are. I expect many of you are also wondering the same. The simple answer is: we are headed back to Africa. Our hearts are there, it seems. In coming home for an extended period of time, we did consider the possibility that God might redirect our life and ministry. But the old, familiar “calling” still sticks with us. I remember more than a decade ago asking a church elder how I would know I was “called” to missionary work. He told me that if it were true, I would probably never be content doing anything else. At the time I couldn’t qualify his definition, but our experience from years on the field has shown it to be true. And while happiness and comfort don’t always ride hand-in-hand with contentment, it is that deep, rich, glorious satisfaction of being in God’s will and joining in God’s work that we long for. And for us, for now, it is there among the people and the ministry we left behind.

We are aiming at a return in the Spring. But before we go, there’s some things to do. Foremost is getting out and seeing many of you. Renee and I plan to do some of our traditional furlough traveling in January and February. We may try to contact you when we are in your area, but you might also want to contact us before our calendar fills up. Feel free to send a quick email or give us a call.

Hopefully our road-trips will give us an opportunity to thank you face-to-face for your support of our family this year. We have been blessed by many of you. Your generosity helped us get home and set up a house, your prayers carried us through the darkest days of our year, and your friendships have encouraged us. Thank you for being “Christ” to us in each and every way you have.

2008 began with a real sense of helplessness for us. We were caught in the throes of Kenya’s post-election violence. And while I was flying evacuations, dad was fighting his first round with leukemia far away. There in that first week of January, I wrote in our blog about how it felt to rely on others to be there for our family while we could not:

“Being helpless is not entirely a bad thing I realized. It opens the door for others to step in and save the day. It allows us to be the community God intended us to be. Help can come in many forms. An Airplane. A gifted doctor. A neighbor or friend. A church family. A stranger even. And in all our trouble this week, in the course of helping others and being helped, I never remember feeling
hopeless. And for that, I can only thank God. Hope does not come in the same form as help does. We cannot really give it to other people. We merely point them to the hope that we have. Sometimes that’s easiest when we are in the greatest need for help. Perhaps that’s why we are here in all of this. Perhaps that’s why dad is in that cancer ward.”

As I consider the year gone by, nothing could have been truer. Dad reflected that hope to everyone around him, even in his last days—especially in his last days. And today, Christmas day, I am reminded of just what form hope came to this world: a helpless baby born in Bethlehem.

May the peace of Christ rule your hearts in the new year.
With love from the Delorenzo’s,
Mike, Renee,
Amelia, and Zachary