Hello from the Southern Hemisphere where it's winter and so cold!
We have had a busy couple of months and are settling into a rhythm of life here. Below are some highlights from June and July:
Reconnecting with Denver & Nimo
Denver and Nimo were two South Africans in which we heavily invested in our first years in SA, and we recently got to reconnect with them.
Nimo participated in our two-year Residency program in 2015-2016. She and Denver, another EM Residency graduate, have launched an East Mountain initiative in Port Elizabeth, a city 8 hours away. They are working with 5 different churches, focused on leadership training and resiliency skills for at-risk youth ages 15-25.
Nimo & Denver returned to the Cape Town community to receive training and to do some strategic planning for the Port Elizabeth initiative. It was inspiring to hear all the ways the Lord is working through Nimo and Denver. We felt like immensely proud and thankful parents, as we saw the ways the vision and mission of East Mountain has sunk deep into the way they do discipleship, interface with partner pastors, and live in community with others. What joy and blessing to see the fruits of our labor!
Strategic Planning For Southern Africa
Jack and the leadership team spent a week with consultant Dale Phillips (who is a man of God with deep roots and is very skilled at facilitating teams). They spent lots of time in prayer together, made short and long-term goals for EM, discussed roles within the team, reflected back on how God has moved through EM in the past and where he is calling us to invest in the days to come. We are excited to see the fruit this team-building and planning will yield in the months to come.
We are finally starting to feel settled in our house!
This is a HUGE blessing and answer to prayer. We prayed for a place that would feel like home. We asked for financial support to help make this happen.
We envisioned a place where ministry would holistically flow out of our lives, where we could invite people into our everyday. We pictured a place of rest and refreshment. We cannot believe we have already seen these prayers answered(less than six weeks after our arrival!) as we host people multiple nights a week for meals and for overnight stays.
It fills us with joy and awe to see the way the Lord is using the funds faithfully given and answering the prayers earnestly prayed to accomplish what we hoped for.
The kids are both doing well!
Theo wants to crawl, but it’s just too hard when your head is that big. Micah’s social skills are growing every day, and she’s intently listening to every conversation, asking lots of questions and starting to pick up on things like tone, mood, and subtleties of language. It’s fascinating and intimidating!
She just started a “playschool” (like a mother’s day out program) 3 mornings a week. She LOVES “school days,” and I am so thankful to have some time freed up to do more ministry and to get some “headspace.”
Please pray Theo will sleep well “on the go” and continue be a flexible little guy, so that he will nap while I have EM meetings.
Micah exploring a local farm with our dear friends, the Halberts. She and Emma Kate (the blondie on the right) were both born in South Africa just three weeks apart!
We are finally back in Cape Town!
Thank you for helping us make it!
We landed in South Africa just short of four weeks ago. It has been a whirlwind of adjusting to the time change, settling into our new rent house (which we love), and re-connecting with our East Mountain ministry team, church partners, and friends.
We have finally all adjusted to the 7-hour time change! Everybody is sleeping through the night, most of the time.
We had a sweet, sweet reunion with many friends at our church here! It was so wonderful to walk in the church and see faces we love beaming back at us.
All of our bags arrived! Now, we are working hard at setting up our home. We've already begun hosting families from within the EM community so that we can intentionally re-connect.
We are so glad to be back!
Summit, EM's summer internship, has begun! We will be hosting one interns at our house for dinners and informal mentoring.
Jack is assuming his role as Director of Operations and beginning to meet with our Program Coordinators to assess how things are going and what aspects need attention.
We are thrilled to be back in Cape Town, and we wouldn't be here without you! Thank you for all your love & support!
The 2018 Summiteers, who will be with EM for six weeks studying theology, culture, and mission within our community setting.
Tori (middle) completed our year-long residency last yeear and is our Short-Term Trips Coordinator taking charge of Summit this year.
In August, Jack will be going to South Africa for a short two week trip to help launch an exciting new program at East Mountain. It's so new, so influx, that we haven't settled on a name yet. Right now, we're calling it the Ph.D. Summit. What is it?
In our most recent post, we shared that we will conclude this year in the U.S.
Here's what we anticipate our timeline to look like:
July - December
Jack will continue working part-time on his thesis, with the goal of completing his masters' degree by the semesters' end.
Jack will also continue serving the ministry part-time from Houston. This will include coordinating events, designing Bible curriculum, and having lots of Skype meetings with his team members.
We will continue fundraising, with the goal to be fully funded by the end of the year. If you haven't gotten together with us yet, let's get something on the calendar!
Jack will be in South Africa for a few weeks! He is coordinating the East Mountain Ph.D. Summit. This is an exciting new program where pastors & ministry leaders from across the Global South (the non-Western world) will gather for further training and spiritual enrichment. This program is a partnership with Stellenbosch University, the Oxford Centre for Religion & Public Life, and East Mountain, and is focused on increasing theological education in the Global South. Currently, we have participants from 13 different countries, and we are so excited!
Jack is coordinating the logistics for the Ph.D Summit. Please join us is praying for the preparation and the participants. This trip will cost about $3,000; let us know if you would like to be a part.
God willing, we will welcome baby boy and become a family of four! Please pray for good health and good rest during this time.
We will gather all the documents needed to get baby boy's visa. (His social security card, passport, fingerprints, etc.) We'll be assisting with ministry planning for 2018 in South Africa. Also, there's that day we all eat too much turkey.
We will begin the process of renewing our visas which expire at the end of the year.
We will also enjoy holidays with family, pack, and say our goodbyes.
All 4 of us must visit the SA Embassy in Washington, D.C., to make our visa renewal applications in person. Then, we can finally get on a plane to Cape Town! Woohoo!
We invite you to pray with us that God will provide the funding needed to return to South Africa, for a smooth transition to being a family of four, and that we will see God's hand in ministry even as we serve from afar.
Our primary need is for monthly giving. Please ask the Lord with us for 40 families to partner with us financially for $50/mon.
2017 has been a year whirlwind of the unexpected for us!
The first part of the year, we were kept busy visiting many doctors in Houston's medical center, getting Micah back on a healthy growth curve. We are so thankful for great medical care and the Lord's clear hand of healing over Micah - she's doing so well! (If you'd like to hear the full story of how God healed Micah Mae, drop us a line! We'd love to share it!)
In January, we discovered we are expecting another baby (a boy this time!), due October 1. Loren has experienced a very difficult pregnancy due to Hyperemesis Gravidarum. She has been quite sick and weak all year, and continues to be so.
In February, we began fundraising full-time. We are sent out by United World Mission, and they have encouraged us to develop and fundraise a more sustainable budget. We've been busy speaking at churches, with friends, and whomever will listen about the opportunity to join us in building up the church in South Africa.
We imagined that by Summer, we would be back in Cape Town, stepping back into our EM ministry roles full-time.
We long to return!
We now find ourselves in late July, and still in the U.S. Fundraising has gone more slowly than we expected, but we are thankful to have 75% monthly commitments! We couldn't do this work without the unwavering support of our friends.
With a baby coming soon, we have realized that it is best for us to remain in the U.S. until the end of the year.
This has been a very difficult decision to make, because our hearts long to be back in Cape Town as soon as possible. We made this decision after a lot of prayer, conversations, wise counsel from trusted friends, and the direction of our East Mountain leadership team.
Here are some of our reasons for returning later, instead of earlier:
It doesn't look likely that we will be 100% funded (in terms of monthly commitments) by the time we need to book flights and get on the plane. Our leaders in South Africa and our sending agency stateside (United World Mission) agree that we should not be return to the field until we are fully funded. Being fully funded means we have commitments for 100% our needs for the next 2-3 years. A lack of monthly commitments is holding us back.
Loren continues to be very ill this pregnancy - baby is healthy, but she is still nauseous and weak most of the time due to her Hyperemesis Gravidarium pregnancy condition. She doesn't have as much peace about delivering this baby in South Africa as she did with Micah.
The Lord has been speaking deeply to us about the importance of healthy rhythms of work and rest for our family. We want to help our family transition well while maintaining healthy rhythms - and we are not confident we could do that if we returned to SA so soon. Jack recently shared some of his hearts on this during a recent sermon. We'll post the audio when it's uploaded.
So, how can you help?
Pray with us!
Here are some of our prayer needs:
Loren's health: please pray she will feel better more consistently.
A healthy delivery and baby boy, in God's timing! There is a slight risk that if baby arrives early, in September, Jack could be in South Africa coordinating Ph.D. Summit and miss the birth. We are aware of this risk but trusting God! (And thankful for such a strong network of friends and family in Houston, along with great medical care.)
Rest: pray that we would establish and maintain good rhythms of work and rest despite a lot of changes in our family.
Logistics for the Ph.D. Summit in September in South Africa: Church leaders from across the Global South will be convening in Stellenbosch to pursue further theological education and spiritual enrichment, so that they can minister more effectively in their home countries. Please pray for the details to come together.
Jack's masters thesis: please pray for productivity, for clarity of thought, and for discipline in writing.
Monthly financial partners: please pray for 40 more families to give $50/month or more. Our ministry is primarily funded by faithful people giving small amounts regularly. Will you ask God to bring more people like that?
For good connection to our East Mountain community while we are away, and the ability to serve the ministry in meaningful ways from the U.S.
It is so encouraging to meet with friends, hear how you are doing, and share what all God is doing through the East Mountain community. Don't hesitate to reach out!
Thank you for being part of this work with us. Your partnership means so much!
While every year is a new adventure, full of surprises, here are some things we expect on the horizon in 2017...
Expanded Ministry Roles
- Jack will be taking on dual roles of Director of Operations & Theological Education.
- On the Operations side, Jack will assist with implementing the mission and vision, strategic planning, and coordinating event. On the Theological Education side, Jack will lead a talented team of Bible teachers and facilitators. He will oversee our educational events and curriculum.
- Loren will lead our storytelling and communications teams and continue mentoring.
- Jack hopes to finish his Masters thesis on the Hebrew word 'attah ('now') in 2017.
- We will be in the states for part of 2017, fundraising for our next several years in South Africa. We would love to meet with you and share more about what God is doing in South Africa and how YOU can be a part! Let us know if you are interested. We would love to get together.
- While in the U.S., we will continue serving in our ministry roles part-time and stay connected to the EM community via Skype, text, phone, etc. We are so thankful for technology that allows us to bridge the distance!
- While in the U.S., we will be seeking medical care for our sweet Micah Mae. She has had a period of slow growth and will be under the care of some excellent nutritionists and doctors at Texas Children's Hospital in Houston to help her overcome this "growth falter." We are thankful our team of doctors remain confident this will not hinder us from returning to South Africa.
- We are expecting our second child, a baby boy, in early October!! We are so overjoyed and thankful for the blessing of another child. Praise God!
2016 was filled with excitement and busy as ever! Here are a few of our highlights from the year.
- Hosting and coordinating a pastor & scholar seminar with Bill Mounce
- 2016 Summit - Loren planning
- Loren discipling Nicolene & Nimo
- Jack teaching spiritual formation session on Rest
- East Mountain trained 186 leaders from 14 different nations
- Writing MA Thesis
- Presenting Research at IOSOT
- Deepening relationships with fellow postgraduate students & connecting them with EM
- Micah's first birthday
- Our cousins and close friends Nate & Alex came to visit along with their 1 year son Silas.
- Battle for the Heart spiritual formation process
- Reading through the entire Bible this calendar year
On our Facebook Page, we've been sharing what a typical week looks like in ministry here in South Africa.
In case you missed it, here is a re-cap of a week in the life...
MONDAYS are study days.
Jack works in "the office," aka, the Biblical Languages department at Stellenbosch University. There he works on writing his Masters thesis and discusses current research in translation, linguistics, and Hebrew. The topic of his Masters thesis is a functional description of the Hebrew word "now". He hopes that the final product will be useful for Bible translators and commentary writers.
He has made solid friendships with both Christians and atheists, and often finds himself at thecrossroads where academia and ministry meet. Most of the university culture here is very secular and I would definitely call it a “party school.” There are lots of students searching for answers, so there are many opportunities to love well and be ready for meaningful conversation.
He facilitates a group of Christian scholars who meet to discuss how best to be a Christian witness in secular academic settings. The group spends time sharing research, praying for one another, and encouraging one another.
During Micah's naps I write for East Mountain and make (slow but steady) progress leading our website development team.
TUESDAYS are meeting days.
Tuesday mornings we salute the American way of life by frantically rushing around, throwing pacifiers and lunch into the diaper bag, juggling breakfast and coffee, and realizing we are out of breath as we pull out of the driveway.
Staff meetings are held at the East Mountain community house. We discuss current ministry initiatives, get support from leadership on any tricky discipleship challenges, and look ahead to what leadership training workshops are coming up.
It’s a great time of connecting with staff, who are spread out all over the area as we serve our partner pastors.
After staff meetings, we break into our ministry-specific teams (we call them “tribes”) and work on our current projects.
Right now, my team is focused on leading EM’s summer internship, which is happening now!
We have 6 young people from South Africa, the U.S., the U.K., and Namibia. During their six weeks with us, we will focus on teaching them practical leadership skills and theological lessons from the book of Ephesians, while giving them opportunities to go deeper in their walk with the Lord and be individually mentored by a member of our community.
Jack’s teams is heavily involved in supporting our partner church in Mitchell’s Plain, a low-income area that battles gang activity, drugs, and a lack of economic opportunity.
Micah comes along with us, (sometimes) napping in her car seat as we meet, exploring the back yard, and getting lots of cuddles from our community.
On Tuesday evenings, our small group from church meets. We are so thankful for them. They have loved us well through moving here (and not knowing anyone!), welcoming Micah into the family, surviving colic, busy ministry schedules, and more.
WEDNESDAYS are working days.
Jack goes into “the office” again, where he works on a grammar project for the Ancient Languages department. He converts written lectures into an online learning format, with the goal that students who are behind in their grasp of grammar can catch up as they begin studying Hebrew, Greek, or Latin.
I host a group of young women at our apartment. I facilitate us through an intense community-building and spiritual formation process called “Battle for Hearts.” It has been a challenging but rewarding process, and every week, I’m reminded of the ways I need to grow as a leader.
THURSDAYS are mentorship days.
Jack meets with his men’s Battle for Hearts group and does ministry work for East Mountain, including planning special events, addressing technology needs of the ministry, and meeting with others on staff.
I meet with Nancy (name changed to protect her privacy), a mixed-race woman that I mentor. We are going through a really great foundational study together. biblicaltraining.org has provided us with so many free, high-quality tools to use as we teach and mentor others. I’m so thankful for it!
Nancy has a sharp mind and deep desire to grow in her knowledge of the Bible. Her insightful questions keep me on my toes! Meeting with her is one of my favorite parts of the week.
FRIDAYS are community-building days.
After Jack spends a half-day in the office, we go out to the EM community house for the weekly “braai,” a quintessentially South-African gathering that centers around grilling LOTS of meat and relaxing with friends.
We deepen relationships with EM’s ministry partners, board members, staff, former interns, and all kinds of other friends, new and old. It’s at the braais that many of our strategic connections are formed with local pastors.
SATURDAYS are catch-up and adventure days.
When we are good and get our work for the week done, we adventure around Cape Town or hang out. Often, however, we spend some of the day catching up with ministry work, prepping for the coming week’s meetings, and Jack works on his studies.
SUNDAYS are sabbath and family days.
We have learned the importance of rest and protecting family time! Being in full-time ministry means it’s easy to become over-committed, and before you know it, you are working every day of the week. That’s especially true here in South Africa, where there are more people with more needs than we could ever meet!
We worship in the mornings at Christ Church Stellenbosch. We are thankful to be slowly forming many genuine friendships with South Africans through our church.
My favorite Sunday afternoons are those we take a nap or go hiking, followed by a Face Time call to our families.
And that is a typical week here in South Africa!
Partnership :: Community :: Leadership Development. These three themes are at the heart of everything that East Mountain does. Our community in Stellenbosch has over twenty members, hard at work every day to move these themes from aspiration to reality.
In April 2016, we invited leaders from all over the world to visit us in Cape Town and hear how the Lord is at work here, with the invitation for them to pray through what an East Mountain community might look like in their locations.
We had CEOs from America, missionaries from India and East Africa, pillars of the church in East Asia, culturally-savvy leaders from Europe, and a strategic visionary from Latin America join us around the table for dialogue and connection.
For me, the sweetest moment came as we sang Amazing Grace together, gathered around the fire as the wind howled outside. “He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near” (Ephesians 2:17).
I found myself thanking God that no matter where we roam in the world, no matter what language we speak or what part of the globe we call home, we are never outside the loving and sovereign reach of God, who desires good things for us. And certainly it was a good thing to dream together, to dine together, to listen to the Spirit, and to be open to what God is doing in our midst.
Please pray for the members of the EM community here in Stellenbosch as we press on, relentlessly pursuing Partnership, Community, and Leadership Development for the South African church. Please pray for our friends all over the world, as they go back to the work of ministry, that they would feel renewed energy and encouragement. Pray that they would hear God’s voice and discern what is next. Pray that we would all have open hands and attentive hearts.
Thank you for being part of the Lord’s work, in Cape Town and around the world. May you be encouraged that no matter where you and your loved ones roam - physically or spiritually - you are never outside his loving reach.
Two weekends ago, East Mountain had the privilege of hosting Bill Mounce, a world-renowned New Testament scholar, author, and Bible translator. Bill was a part of the ESV and NIV 2011 Bible translations. Bill spends most of his time these days running BiblicalTraining.org, a website dedicated to training and equipping Christians at all levels. East Mountain utilizes Biblical Training’s resources in our pastoral training programs. Biblical Training supplies the content, and East Mountain provides the facilitators, the community, and the support network. Read below to hear about our weekend with Bill.
Bill with Micah and me at the East Mountain braai
On Friday, Bill visited with a cohort of Stellenbosch theology students. The students had the opportunity to dialogue with Bill about their research and his ministry experiences. One PhD student asked Bill about the importance of Biblical Languages for preaching. Bill's response, after decades of pastoral ministry: "I don't know how you stand up there and say 'Thus says the LORD' without being absolutely sure what the text means. And I don't know how you know that without the languages."
Theology students listening to Bill talk about the importance of Biblical Languages.
On Saturday, Bill lectured on Titus 2:11-16. We asked him to speak about the importance of theological studies for practical ministry. He chose to talk about the relationship of justification and sanctification, saying that so much of one’s ministry is dependent upon how one sees the relationship between justification and sanctification. Bill uses the imagery of Matthew’s gospel (7:12-13) in relation to these terms. Justification is the gate entered; sanctification is the path followed.
Here’s Titus 2:11-16 in the NIV and ESV
After the morning lecture, we shared a relaxing lunch. One of the cornerstones of our ministry here at East Mountain is that we are intentional about spending time together and getting to know one another. We view sharing meals as an important activity which facilitates deep conversations and true community.
In the afternoon, we continued discussing the converging worlds of theological reflection and practical ministry with a panel discussion on how the church can and should address the country’s biggest needs. In addition to Bill, our panel consisted of Bryan and Gabe. Bryan is an influential church leader in Cape Town. Gabe is the lead visionary for East Mountain, overseeing strategic involvement and local partnerships.
Bill, Bryan, and Gabe
The rich discussion impressed on me the importance of the work we are doing. There is a deep need for greater Biblical literacy, more theological training, and, especially, discipleship of church leaders. Paul sent out Titus and Timothy as apostolic delegates with his full authority to address the situations in Crete and Ephesus, to restore order to the churches, and set up healthy, Biblical processes for dealing with current and future issues. In the same way, God, through His Spirit and His church, is calling pastors to lead their congregations in a way that motivates believers to preach the gospel, to love their neighbors, and to work towards reconciliation and peace (2 Cor 5).
In post-apartheid South Africa, there is no shortage of need for what Paul calls the ministry of reconciliation. As I learned in our discussion, even reconciliation is a loaded term in South Africa. The chasms of inequality and mistrust run so deep, only gospel-preaching paired with gospel-living can begin to bring healing.
Would you join us praying for the Church to rise up in addressing the needs of South Africa?
Would you pray for God to be glorified through the advance of His Kingdom here and now?
Thank you for being a part of what God is doing in South Africa through East Mountain.
On January 21, 2015, we hopped on a plane, skipped across an ocean, and jumped into a new life of faith, obedience, and adventure in the suburbs of Cape Town, South Africa.
Here's what our year looked like.
All of our 14 bags arrived safely; it was an unexpected blessing and great relief.
Jack handing out tablets to East Mountain Interns and Bible Certificate Course students.
As part of our educational strategy, East Mountain uses tablets preloaded with Bible resources, teaching material and coursework. A Houston friend sent us with 5 tablets, the exact number needed for the last minute registrants. God provides in unforeseen ways when we are obedient!
East Mountain's 2015 South African Resident Interns(Left to right: Lorenzo, Natasha, Lutando)
Dialogue Education Training: Learning How to Teach By Asking Questions
East Mountain Ministry Partners
God gave us our first child, Micah Mae, on March 24! His protection and His goodness were evident throughout the entire process.
Studying in the early days
East Mountain Fellowship
The East Mountain community and our church small group provided much-needed support and encouragement in the first couple of weeks.
Jack's parents came for a visit in April. Loren's mom came down in June.
Jack using his tech skills (i.e. Google & YouTube) in upgrading the EM Team House internet.
Summit is East Mountain's summer internship which runs mid-May through June. Summit is a combo of leadership training, mentorship, Bible teaching, and practical ministry.
The 2015 Summit Crew.
Alex and Maggie are some dear friends. Their daughter, Emma Kate, was also born in Stellenbosch, about 6 weeks after Micah.
Some rest time after Summit at the beach.
Studying in the department with Christian and Alex
Studying at home... sort of
The local coffee shop where I do most of my studying. By God's grace, I passed my first year of coursework cum laude.
Some of the best pics of our recent family photo shoot. (Thanks Kelsey and Autumn!)
We are so thankful for the memories these pictures represent. Each one represents tangible evidence of God's grace and his faithfulness in our lives.
Thank you for joining us in this journey!
Jack, Loren & Micah Mae
We've had a busy year. Here are some of our highlights.
What We Accomplished in 2015
What We Plan to Finish in 2015
What We Hope to Accomplish in 2016
By His Grace & For His Glory!
Will You Join Us?!
Sometimes late at night, I lay awake and stare at the ceiling. I ponder the deep questions of life and I think about …
tacos. Yep, tacos. (Specifically, a Torchy’s chicken taco, extra mango, with chipotle sour cream sauce.)
As a native Texan living far from home, I (Loren) am beginning to think “a land flowing with milk and honey” could be contextually translated as “a land flowing with salsa and [good] coffee, a land of large parking spaces and Targets and tacos to go.” (I’m sure my husband, the Bible scholar, would agree in spirit but disagree in principle.)
We, dear friends, are right in the middle of culture shock.
The good news: It’s just a phase, and we know it will pass.
The bad news: We are missing home more than ever.
Would you pray for us?
Here is what Jack has to say about it:
What I thought ministry would like: teaching, preaching, lecturing.
What it usually looks like:
- Tech-ing: fixing computers, setting up wifi, teaching computer skills, solving phone problems
- Friend-ing: building relationships with baristas and grocers in our neighborhood
- Supporting: Sharing my Bible knowledge to support the work of East Mountain as we disciple young people and encourage those preaching in the slums
Instead of giving lots of sermons, I've been blessed by hearing lots of great sermons.
Instead of being a Hebrew Jedi master, I'm learning to write more precisely and study hard.
Instead of leading out front, I'm supporting the work, strategizing from the back, plugging in holes.
God is teaching me that sometimes ministry looks like showing up and loving people. Sometimes the most important people to love are the ones you see everyday.
Our presence — the time we take to cultivate friendships with those who don’t know Jesus — it is powerful in a way that shakes spiritual kingdoms.
But it often doesn’t feel important like giving a sermon does.
I (Loren) am learning the power of being present for the mundane yet sacred moments of motherhood, as I change yet another diaper.
I’m learning how this tiny human opens doors and builds relationships with the local people in unexpected ways.
As we are reminded of these truths, we find ourselves humbled and encouraged. All we must do to be part of God's kingdom work is to be present and available for his Spirit to use us.
Wherever you are today, we pray you find the courage to be present and attentive to God's Spirit ... and possibly stop for a taco on the way home.
We miss you and love you, friends.
- Praise God with us! Micah’s colic has passed and her sweet, spunky personality is emerging. We discovered she is allergic to dairy, and if Loren stays on a strict dairy-free diet, Micah sleeps longer and is much calmer. Please pray that Loren would have patience and perseverance as she learns to cook and eat in a new way.
- For the friendships that we are building with non-believers here; that God would give us the opportunity and the courage to speak about him.
- For Jack’s studies: that he would continue to be encouraged as he studies the word of God, and for more opportunities to share his knowledge and bless others.
- For our support. We still lack 25% amount in monthly support, and $6000 for the cost of our car. You can give online here.
Rain slashes against the windows. It’s winter in Stellenbosch - another cold and grizzly day. The mountains are hidden in a heavy fog. I have never experienced a June quite like this one. Inside, a fire crackles in the large fireplace. I can feel the apprehension in the room; it is palpable among the group of young women gathered in a circle.
I go first and I share my story - the story of how the Lord found me and rescued me from myself.
It’s never easy, but I have shared my testimony enough to know that there is power in it. There is power in each of our stories - power in the unique way God reveals himself to each of us, power in His redemption.
As each young woman shares her story, fingers tremble and hearts race. Tears fall; sheepish smiles follow. These women barely know each other, and yet they will be living and learning together for the next six weeks.
It is East Mountain’s Summit internship program. Eleven young people in their late teens and early twenties, some South African and some American, have come to East Mountain’s retreat center in Stellenbosch to see what the Lord has to teach them.
As I listen to these women and pray for them, I start to feel alive. A part of me, dormant for these last months as I’ve struggled through postpartum days and long nights, begins to stir. I remember that I am more than simply a pair of hands to feed and clothe and rock. As I gaze down into the blue eyes of my baby, I hear the young woman across from me stumble over the words - that she was unwanted, that she can’t remember her mother, that she was made to feel unloved.
My heart aches and I wish there were a way for her to go back. I wish someone had been there to cup her chin and tilt her small face upwards and to tell her that the Lord doesn’t make mistakes; her life is no accident. As it is, she now hears this truth for the first time at age nineteen. The Lord has healing for her in this place, and he’s only just begun his redemption of her life.
I feel bold and confident. I can speak truth into these women’s lives. I can listen and ask thoughtful questions. I can help them process what the Lord is doing within them.
Fast forward two weeks, and I pull up to the retreat center on another rainy day. I hunch over the steering wheel, sobs racking my body. In the back, baby Micah wails - on and on, as she has all morning. It’s just too much and I feel I have nothing to give. I laugh at myself - at how I thought I could be a mentor to a young woman. These days, my life feels like wading through a mud pit - mucking through endless care-taking and sneaky postpartum hormones and trying to learn how to be a mother.
And yet, here I am. Waiting to pick up the young woman I am supposed to be “discipling.” She dances out to the car and suddenly realizes that my mood is grim. She knows my baby has colic. She’s heard me articulate that these days are hard, that I haven’t found my rhythm as a mom yet. I have been honest, and yet raw tears are something else altogether.
But, the Lord knows what I need in that moment and I find it in Erika’s gentle hug, in her assurance that things will be okay. And I am reminded that discipleship is not about confidence and having the right answers - many times, discipleship is raw life, laid bare for another to see.
Discipleship is not only the stories the Lord has already redeemed in our lives, but those he is actively transforming, day to day.
And so I open myself up, and we have a lovely brunch together, and I find myself excited by all the Lord is doing in her heart. She cuddles my baby and offers sympathy and reflects back to me what I look like - something I’ve sorely needed.
Just as this young woman learns best in community, so do I.
On the good days and on the hard days, we find ourselves increasingly thankful for East Mountain - for how this group of missionary families and South Africans have joined hands and formed real community - and invited us in. They have been our surrogate family, and encouraged us to exercise our gifts, and given us a forum to see God at work. As God continues to mould Jack and me into who he's called us to be, I’m thankful that East Mountain is a part of it.
As you muck through your day-to-day, may the Lord bless you with community. May he give you the courage to seek it out and the determination not to settle for anything less. May you find that whatever your station in life, there are those you are equipped to encourage and those ready to encourage you.
All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer.
A deep sense of awe came over them all, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders. And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had. They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need. They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity — all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved.”
Nervously, I made my way through the dark alleyway between two bustling streets in Cape Town. I passed a booth advertising “Pasport Piktures” on a crooked cardboard sign. Numerous beggars milled around, holding out their hands as I passed.
I found the line I wanted, clutching my diaper bag and the heavy carseat, where my tiny baby was sleeping.
The line for the government’s Home Affairs office wound out the door, down the dirty staircase, and into the alleyway. All I wanted was a birth certificate for my baby. I had not expected this - coming face to face with poverty. As I waited, I noticed a woman and her children huddled in a corner. Her toddler slept fitfully on the thin cotton blanket she had spread under him. She fed her small baby cereal with a cracked wooden spoon. I peeked at my own sleeping baby, her full tummy gently rising and falling, the cotton bow I had so carefully placed on her forehead slipping down over her eyes. As I turned away from the woman, tears filled my eyes and slipped down my cheeks. I couldn’t help but think of the agony she must face, trying to care for her children in this place. I felt the pain of it all in a way I wouldn’t have just weeks earlier, before I had my baby.
They say that becoming a parent changes everything - and truer words were never spoken.
As I waited, I grappled with the same questions that plague me daily here — How can we, living in South Africa, best care for others? How do we help without continuing a cycle of dependency?
How do we provide hope in dark alleys like this one?
The only answer that satisfies is this: the gospel. “…say to them, “The Kingdom of God has come near to you.” (Luke 10:9) If I’m honest, sometimes it doesn’t seem like enough. Sometimes I want the gospel, the kingdom, to be more than it is.
I think it’s only because I don’t understand the fullness of it. We toss around these phrases - “the gospel,” “the kingdom” - as if is such a light thing. As if it isn’t for the hopeless … and hope for those of us who face despair only on Mondays. As if it isn’t light coming into dark alleys, and warmth, and a full belly for all. Strength for today, hope for tomorrow.
What plagues me is that to bring the good news, to advance the Kingdom of God, requires courage.
Done correctly, and fully, it turns lives and hierarchies upside-down. Hope for life eternal AND food to fill bellies today.
And yet, I often forfeit opportunities in front of me - because proclaiming the gospel is scary. Bringing the Kingdom of God is scary - it requires doing uncomfortable things and it requires sacrifice.
In silent agony, I debated if I should give the woman the small bills tucked inside my jeans pocket. I debated it so intensely, before I knew it, it was my turn to go inside. Cheeks burning, I walked past her. As I did, I felt another opportunity slip by and felt deep shame at my indecision, my fear.
Jack and I have been wrestling with what it looks like for us, in this place, to bring live the gospel, to bring the Kingdom. And the Lord has been answering, in his own slow, unexpected way - giving us abundant opportunities to participate in training leaders in local churches. Putting the homeless right in front of us and letting us struggle through how to respond to them. Showing us the multiplying effects of teaching correct theology.
We find ourselves awed and humbled by our opportunities here, and how he has used each of you to make this possible. Thank you for being the hands that sent us.
As the Body of Christ, we are making a difference for the kingdom in South Africa. May we share with you how?
In Our Family
On March 24, our daughter, Micah Mae, was born. We praise God for a healthy, natural delivery here in Stellenbosch. Loren’s labor was intense but taught us to pray and worship in a new way. Thank you for your prayers!
To our surprise, just having Micah here has been a testimony to others. Almost everyone we meet can immediately tell we are Americans by our accents. They are intensely curious why we came here, away from our family and home, at such a crucial time in the life of our growing family. With questions like that, opportunities to share the gospel are plenty.
For ten weeks now, we have been in that alternate reality that inevitably accompanies bringing home a newborn. Micah has colic, which means that she is healthy but cries uncontrollably for hours and does not yet sleep well. Her pediatrician has assured us that with time, she will calm down. In the mean time, we are taking one day at a time and finding many reasons to pray for strength and patience.
In Our Ministry with East Mountain
We continue to become more involved with the ministry and community life of East Mountain. We love being part of their team!
- Jack is handling technology for EM’s ministry activities. The knowledge he gained during his former jobs in tech support now meets a vital need here. We work with pastors from many different towns throughout the country. After the pastors visit the EM retreat center to participate in training courses, we don’t want to send them back to their communities empty-handed. We are working to provide them with tablets loaded full of Bible study materials so that when they return home, they have what they need to produce quality sermons and continue their study of the Bible.
- Loren is mentoring a small group of young women (some American, some South African) who are participating in EM’s six week internship program. She is also developing curriculum for the children's ministry here, doing some writing for the website, and building relationships with new friends.
- Jack is currently writing curriculum for the New & Old Testament pastoral training classes.
In Jack’s Studies
Jack’s postgraduate studies are going well, though he is finding time to study harder to come by with a baby in the house! He is finishing up his current courses in Hebrew Narrative Translation and General Linguistics. Soon he will be moving on to study Hebrew poetry and Textual Criticism (the scholarly practice of comparing ancient manuscripts). He has recently selected his topic for extended research is very excited about it! He will be investigating Hebrew words often translated “Now” and “Therefore” - words important for understanding the logic of a passage.
- We are still in need of $500 of monthly support, and we are trusting God to provide for the remainder of our needs. To support our work, click here.
- It has become clear that in order to continue our work with East Mountain, we will need a car. Many of our ministry responsibilities take place outside Stellenbosch, in the local townships or at the team retreat center. Would you consider giving to help us continue our ministry by purchasing a car? Our budget for this is $12,000.
- Please pray with us that the Lord gives us energy as we continue to serve and study despite getting little no sleep.
- Please pray that the Lord provides for the remainder of our financial needs.
- Please pray that God gives us wisdom in how to soothe our fussy baby and best care for her. Pray that we are given patience & perspective, and that she soon is able to calm down.
- Please pray that Jack is able to find the time and energy to devote to his studies, and that we both learn to balance our many opportunities here.
We thank God for each of you! Your support & encouragement means so much to us.
We miss you all! We want to share with you some of the amazing and specific ways God has answered our prayers since we arrived in South Africa just two short months ago. We cannot thank you enough for interceeding for us!
We were concerned about our visas, so together we prayed. The application was extremely tedious; the information we received from the embassy was not helpful. Despite numerous complications & set-backs, our visas arrived a full 2 days before our plane took off!
Together, we prayed for safe travels. We had relatively relaxing flights and were even able to sleep some. At the Houston airport, God provided an incredibly kind airline employee who intentionally didn't charge us the full amount she could have for our bags. She also convinced her manager to let Loren travel, though she was far along in pregnancy. Then, we were shocked to find every one of our 14 bags waiting for us when we landed!
Together, we prayed for community and a strategic ministry to serve - one of our earliest prayer requests, many of you have been praying with us for this for over a year. God has answered that prayer in East Mountian. It is truly a community, and a team where our skills & passions are needed. They have loved us well and served us since the day we arrived. In addition to our EM ministry team, we have found a church, a small group, and already have a few budding friendships.
Together, we prayed that God would give us a place to live by the time the baby arrived. We expected the process of finding a place to live to be long & frustrating; there is a housing shortage here. But, by the end of our second day visiting apartments in Stellenbosch, we found a place that was affordable, spacious, and in a great location. They even sell Dr. Pepper next door! We were able to move in a week later, and it is already starting to feel like home. In fact, our landlord works in Jack's department at the university.
Together, we prayed for God's provision. Through the generous gifts of many of you and a favorable exchange rate, we are about 75% funded. Through the body of Christ, each of our needs has been met as they have arisen. Thank you for being a part!
Together, we prayed for a good doctor. The Lord provided a doctor to deliver our baby that we feel we can trust, and Loren has already received excellent medical care from her. In addition, God has provided a supportive and knowledgeable doula who will come to our apartment when labor begins, remain with us through the entire birth, advocate for us in the hospital, translate for us if needed, and help us understand any differences in the health care system. As Loren's due date nears, we feel calm and confident.
Thank you for your prayers! It has been astounding to watch God answer prayer after prayer!! What a sweet season. We place our hope and our trust and our faith in God our Father. We want to point people to Jesus in everything we do.
As we continue to pray, we invite you to pray specifically for a few big things ...
Lord willing, Baby Messarra will be joining us any day! We are both excited and nervous.
The baby is measuring small in every way, and this concerns the doctor. Would you join us in praying for our baby girl?
Please pray for:
- a healthy baby and a healthy momma
- wisdom and discernment on the many decisions to be made during labor and following delivery
- for our parents, who wish they could be here with us to welcome their granddaughter
- for God to be glorified in the birth of our daughter
We are also encountering two difficulties here: the lack of internet and a car. We are finding life challenging without them, especially because it makes it hard to connect with people - both new friends here and all of you back home. Having these tools would also open many more doors for the kind of ministry projects we can do. Would you pray that despite slow systems here, God would show us favor and provide speedily for these needs?
Thank you for joining us on this journey and sustaining us with your love and prayers. God is doing powerful things here in South Africa!
We are grateful for you! We love you! We miss you!
One Sunday morning we found ourselves sitting in plastic lawn chairs inside a one-room church in Mitchell’s Plain, one of the largest slums nearby.
The city we live in, Stellenbosch, pulses with the energy of a college town, an eclectic mix of care-free, party-seeking students and dignified professors. It’s set against the backdrop of stunning mountain views, surrounded by vineyards, and filled with oak-lined streets that boast beautiful European architecture.
But drive a short distance in any direction, and you remember that you are, indeed, in Africa. Flat plains stretch out, dotted with scrubby bushes. Suddenly, the townships pop into view - poor neighborhoods where the vast majority of the population lives.
Ramshackle buildings with flat roofs, built haphazardly, lean against each other for support. Narrow roads crowd with children running, men shooting the breeze, women hanging laundry. Above, a tangled mess of electrical wires and smoke clouds the horizon.
The contrast is so stark, it’s unsettling. Like many things in South Africa, what you see is not necessarily what you get. One of the reasons we love working with East Mountain is that they have ministry partnerships with a multitude of different communities - white, black, coloured (the proper term for an ethnic group here), wealthy, poor, Anglican, Baptist … we have been so thankful that the Lord has placed us on a team of strategic missionaries that have the same vision we do for a unified church. Being part of their work allows us to be involved in many layers of South African society, not only those we would encounter in our own quiet neighborhood.
And so it was that I found myself, the object of curious stares (as if my pale skin & red hair weren’t enough, my watermelon-sized belly really does the trick), opening my Bible along with the tiny (mostly coloured) congregation. What followed was a quiet, passionate sermon on the suffering of God’s people - one of the most encouraging and challenging I’ve heard in a long time.
“As a Christian, if you are not suffering now … well, don’t be surprised when it comes.” He reminded us that the road to following Jesus is not easy, nor should we expect it to be. What struck me was the joyful, confident tone of his voice, even as he spoke of suffering. I saw many heads nodding in agreement.
My heart ached as he made the sermon personal. He acknowledged that he knew people in that room who weren’t sure where the next meal was coming from.
He softly acknowledged the congregation’s grief over the recent death of a young man in their youth group, lost in a drive-by shooting. Mitchell’s Plain is one of the most violent, gang-ridden neighborhoods in the world. I knew this, but such a reality was hard to imagine in this church. It struck me that I was sitting among Christians … that really knew what it was to follow Jesus along the road of suffering.
They didn’t choose Christianity because the culture told them it was right, or just for the sake of their kids, or because of an uneasy feeling that it’s better not to offend an unknown God. Theirs was a genuine faith, tested intensely and tested often. They knew Jesus on a deep level I don’t as a child of privilege, born into a middle-class American family. As the pastor touched on Hebrews 11 and the great Christians of old who suffered joyfully for Christ, I realized I was sitting among modern-day heroes of my faith, unknown and unsung except by Jesus himself.
And I thought of everything the Lord has provided for us in recent months — the outpouring of love and financial support, prayers and encouragement from all of you.
I thought of how smooth our transition here has been; we have been welcomed by the East Mountain community, by professors and students in Jack’s study program, even by the friendly people of Mitchell’s Plain.
The Lord has been very kind to us in recent months.
Yes, it was difficult to quit steady jobs that we both loved, say goodbye to family and friends, and fly into the unknown - especially with a baby on the way.
But oh, how the Lord has been kind to us. Our transition has been so much easier than I was prepared for.
- Within weeks, God provided a lovely, affordable apartment in a peaceful part of town.
- Through all of you, God provided the finances for essentials like a bed, a fridge, and a stove. I felt I was living in the lap of luxury the first time I used our washing machine - not something I expected to find at an affordable price here. As I unpacked baby clothes and supplies, I thought of each beloved friend and family member that purchased them for us - this made it all the sweeter.
- Within weeks, God provided a doctor I feel I can trust, and a doula to help me through labor. He has provided a robustly healthy pregnancy, and within weeks, God willing, there will be a third Messarra adventuring with us around South Africa.
The Lord has been kind to us - especially through all of you. Thank you, a thousand times over.
Pastor Andrew concluded, “The Lord loves us, when things go well for us and when we are not sure how to make it through the day; let us not doubt his love and goodness. Even as he allows us to suffer, he invites us to know him - a joy that no suffering can touch.”
While I know there will be suffering, I also realize that the pastor was right - knowing Jesus, really knowing Jesus, is the sweetest part of this life. Following him as he takes us through journey after journey, be it a journey through a tough job, financial strain, grief, joy, blessing, parenthood, marriage, singleness … Jesus remains with us and makes life worth the living. May we never be distracted from this truth.
My prayer for each of you is that you come to know Jesus as deeply as Christians in Mitchell’s Plain - for such an joy cannot be snatched away.
Would you continue to pray with us?
- For a positive labor experience and a healthy baby - she is due March 23!
- For the provision of a car and internet at our apartment.
- For Jack as he re-develops study habits - it’s been a long time, and having a newborn will only add to the challenge! He is loving translating Deuteronomy & Judges with like-minded nerds.
- For our continued funding - we are 75% funded! Thank you to everyone that has given!
- For friends here - it can be a little lonely moving to a new place. Would you pray that God provides us with solid community and rich friendships?
Goeie dag (literally “good day,”/“hello” in Africaans) from Stellenbosch, South Africa!
Life has been moving at lightning speed for us the couple of weeks! The Lord has been faithful to us in ways both large and small, and we are excited some of that with you. Thank you to all of you that have prayed for us, supported us financially, encouraged us, and followed our journey - you will be amazed to hear how God is already at work here in beautiful South Africa.
Transitioning to missionary life overseas is not unlike the experience of a roller coaster: there is a lot anticipation and dramatic build-up, but even hearing the “clack-clack” of the wheels as the car moves higher, you’re never quite sure what it will be like when you finally tip over the crest and go careening down.
Much like a roller coaster, we have found most of the ride so far to be exhilarating, amazing, and yes, a bit overwhelming.
Our journey began with a layover in Dubai. It was full of exciting sights … and a sobering discovery. In the midst of incredible infrastructure and brazen opulence, it became clear to us that the empire of Dubai has been built on the backs of migrant workers who are essentially slave labor. We had heard of this in the news, and while we had hoped to see the Burj Khalifa or the Palm Islands, it did not occur to us that we might run into this ugly reality first-hand.
Our waiter from Nepal, followed by our Pakistani cab driver, had been well-trained to answer questions about Dubai and show off the country to its best advantage. They were not, however, prepared for our gentle questions about their homeland, their families, and what brought them to Dubai. Sadness and anger tumbled out of their mouths as we listened and mourned with them. It grieved us to hear of families left behind, deplorable working conditions for unfair pay, and little hope of change.
I was reminded of the great pyramids: they testify to the vision and leadership of great pharaohs … but if those stones could speak, they would also tell of other lives, less lauded - the lives of the slaves who built those towering structures, brick by brick. Most of the second flight, I restlessly turned and thought of our friends in Dubai. While their chances of justice in this life are slim, I pray that they would find hope everlasting in Jesus.
I am thankful that we serve a God who sees all, who promises release for the captives, and who invites us, wealthy and poor, free and oppressed alike:
“Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost … come to me … listen, that you may live; and I will make an everlasting covenant with you, according my faithful love promised to David.” (Isaiah 55)
After relatively smooth flights, the miracles continued when we landed in Capetown and were astonished to find that all of our bags made it! Our East Mountain team was incredibly kind to pick us up from the airport, and in short order we were set up in East Mountain’s large and comfortable guest house and retreat center. We have enjoyed getting to know our team - they have been so supportive and helpful to us.
In another answer to prayer, we have found a place to live long-term! While we had settled in for a long wait, the Lord has swiftly provided a place to live and the basic items we will need to move in. We are in a little two-bedroom apartment in a quiet neighborhood, within walking distance of the Stellenbosch University campus. As a mama entering the “nesting” phase, it has been an unexpected blessing to know that we will be settled plenty of time before the baby arrives. Stay tuned for pictures of our new place!
While there is more to tell, we want to extend a huge thank you to each of you that has supported us - we felt such an outpouring of love, especially in the days shortly before leaving and since we’ve arrived. Many of you have given us going away gifts, supported us financially, sent us encouraging words, and prayed for us. In the whirlwind of moving, we haven’t been able to reach out individually to each one of you, but please receive our deep gratitude. We would not be on this incredible journey without you, our faithful community.
Through many recent details, the Lord has made it clear that we are where he wants us to be - we already see so many opportunities to grow the Body of Christ in South Africa. Together, I know we are going to see God work powerfully in his church. Thank you for your generous hearts and for joining us. You are dear to us!
May you find time this week to dwell on the promises of Isaiah 55; whatever challenges you face today, his peace and abundance are yours in Christ!
January usually feels like a slow month - Christmas is over and I'm typically in "recovery mode," falling back into a rhythm and contemplating a new year, all in the midst of cold, gray winter. This January has been quite the exception! We have said good-bye to our jobs and co-workers, dealt with visas, moved out of our house, packed our bags, and prepared to start a new life overseas. We are now soaking up every last minute with family and friends as we make final preparations to move.
It's hard to believe, but in three days, we will be on our way to South Africa!
It’s 15 hours from Houston to Dubai, where we will layover for a night, and then on the next 10-hour plane to Cape Town, South Africa, followed by an hour drive to Stellenbosch.
Study update: Jack begins new student orientation the day we land. He is excited to dive back into the world of Linguistics, Greek and Hebrew. As his wife, seeing his passion and excitement for studying and sharing the word of God continues to confirm for me that God is leading us forward to pursue our calling.
Would you pray with us, that as Jack studies the word of God, the Lord would give him opportunities to share his findings with the church?
Housing update: We will initially be living with some very kind missionaries from our East Mountain team and will begin hunting for a place of our own to live, something that we've been told can take time and patience in a university town with a housing shortage.
Would you pray with us, that God would deliver us an affordable rental home in a safe area that meets our needs?
Baby update: In late March, God willing, we will welcome our little girl! We are thankful that both Loren and baby are healthy. Much of Loren's time in the first few weeks will be establishing care under a doctor and securing plans to deliver the baby.
Would you pray with us, for health for mom and baby, and that God will provide us with a skilled doctor, doula, and supportive community as we welcome our first child?
Ministry update: We are excited to finally in person join the East Mountain ministry team (check us out, we are now "official" on their team page!). We are honored to join them as we work together to equip and expand the church in South Africa.
Would you pray with us, that as we undergo a lot of transition, we are able to establish a healthy and positive community with our East Mountain team?
Funding update: Thank you to everyone who has given to support our ministry in South Africa! Currently, we are 60% funded. We are thankful to be reminded that God provides for us, enough for each day and need. You can find more information on our budget page.
Would you pray with us, that God continues to meet our financial needs as he teaches us to rely on him and our community of faith?
We’ve been amazed (yet again) at how our God is a God of abundance - we have seen his care through all of you. We are overwhelmed by the generosity of our community here - between baby showers, practical help preparing, words of love, financial gifts to our ministry, and an outpouring of love and support, we are very aware that we will not journey into South Africa alone. We are deeply humbled by all of the support and love.
Thank you for being part of our journey, and thank you for your love.
Together, I know God is going to use us to encourage our brothers and sisters in South Africa, and to advance his kingdom work! Lately, I’ve been contemplating a beautiful quote from The Valley of Vision. Wherever you find yourself this January - stuck in the cold and gray, aware of his abundance, or somewhere between, may it encourage you:
“Every new duty calls for more grace than I now possess, but not more than is found in thee, the divine treasury in whom all fullness dwells.”