Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Campfire Invite (Virtual Of Course :))

In the days of many good things pushed to online, it's brought weirdness and isolation AND also innovation. Join us tomorrow night as we participate with other cross-cultural workers in a virtual storytelling. All are welcome.
Register here. https://zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_tS1uPFueQvyv-7W6VXA50A

Sunday, October 4, 2020

Straining At Gnats and Swallowing The Camel

We had good plans for today. Then, we had a child who needed an ER visit and a subsequent COVID-19 test (results not yet in). Jon taught our family church like when we lived in Injibara and now the kids are curled up watching “Prince of Egypt”. Staring out the window upon the rainy gray skies, I’m simultaneously tired from a night of disrupted sleep, thankful everyone is okay and bugged at the possibility our next two weeks will be shaped by the walls of our deliciously cozy (read also small) house. This is part of the reason this blog has been so quiet, so many conflicting feelings and desires at one time. This has been a season on the worldwide stage of so many voices, so many opinions, significant misunderstanding and “othering”. It feels like throwing my voice into the vacuum may serve to alienate instead of build bridges, throw up defenses instead of healthy dialogue. We don’t need more noise. Though my Sabbath plans are different, I’m praying the unexpected quiet, unplanned hours would bring clarity on the murky waters in my heart and replaced with clean streams. I need more of God. My heart yearns to be Bible-saturated but my flesh pulls me towards Facebook-informed. I beg God that instead of my focus on tithing the appropriate amounts of mint, dill and cumin, I will not “have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness.” And that last phrase, I see myself here, oof. “straining at the gnat and swallowing the camel!” (Matt. 23-23&24) I’m praying for you today, the more faithful reader than I deserve, still checking this dormant space. Praying for us, for our hearts to find refuge in the shadow of God’s wings. Praying we would be as iron pillars in essential matters, unbending and unwavering and as flexible reeds in the nonessentials, bending with the wind but not breaking, and may God give us the wisdom to know the difference. “How precious is your steadfast love, O God! The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings. They feast on the abundance of your house, and you give them drink from the river of your delights. For with you is the fountain of life; in your light do we see light.” Psalm 36-7-9

Monday, March 23, 2020

Faith To Be Strong

Rarely has a song so perfectly fit what I'm feeling.

So I pray and sing on repeat. 

"Faith to be Strong"
Andrew Peterson

Give us faith to be strong
Father, we are so weak
Our bodies are fragile and weary
As we stagger and stumble to walk where you lead
Give us faith to be strong

Give us faith to be strong
Give us strength to be faithful
This life is not long, but it's hard
Give us grace to go on
Make us willing and able
Lord, give us faith to be strong

Give us peace when we're torn
Mend us up when we break
This flesh can be wounded and shaking
When there's much too much trouble for one heart to take
Give us peace when we're torn

Give us faith to be strong
Give us strength to be faithful
This life is not long, but it's hard
Give us grace to go on
Make us willing and able
Lord, give us faith to be strong

Give us hearts to find hope
Father, we cannot see
How the sorrow we feel can bring freedom
And as hard as we try, Lord, it's hard to believe
So, give us hearts to find hope

Give us faith to be strong
Give us strength to be faithful
This life is not long, but it's hard
Give us grace to go on
Make us willing and able
Lord, give us faith to be strong
Give us peace when we're torn
Give us faith, faith to be strong

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Practicing Faith Over Fear

I've rarely had a time when I get to practice my faith in God this much. 

My temptation is to turn inward. To throw together a suitcase and take the four kids and get out of here, far from this amazing, beautiful country full of beautiful people and such limited access to medical care. All schools are cancelled, public broadcasts have started about the importance of handwashing and talking of stopping physical touch in our greetings. Price gouging has started in the local markets. 

Our reality is Jon is in another country and we don’t know when we will be reunited. (Though by all human plans, it could be Wednesday morning!). All of us have recently experienced our best-laid plans recently thwarted. He still has no visa to re-enter Ethiopia and just heard from the office that the wrong document was submitted. If he can fly (Kenya travel ban is in affect today), when he arrives in Ethiopia, he will not be able to enter the country without a visa. If/when he gets a visa at the airport, he needs to self-isolate (if not quarantined in the rumored government center). Pray with us that we see him soon. Like, really soon. 

Of our SIM team in the near area, 3 of the 5 units need to return to their home countries for various, valid reasons.
Yesterday we farewelled our New Zealand family.

This morning, after a night of Tiger popping out of bed like popcorn, I cling to God, to faith over fear.  I begged God for an outward focus on others. But my mind struggles to go there. Directly outside of our gate, there are people in one-room tin houses. Our neighbors are day laborers. No work, no money for food, no back up resources.

I bought soap in large quantity to give out and I planted a garden with Tiger and Miss T, because I DON’T KNOW. Sweet A has said I am not showing motivation for them to finish 4th grade. I want to be normal and follow the same schedule for their sakes, but currently, life is not normal. 

And it's not all bad. The Bibles we have to give out for Easter distribution are now being gratefully received as a place of hope in light of a hopeless situation. God is working and we all know it. 

As I pushed seeds into the dirt in the tiny garden in an act of hope, an act of expectation, an act of acknowledging God as the bringer of all growth, my heart calmed. My thoughts went from, “Will there really be fuel shortages, food shortages, all flights at a halt? What will happen when one of us needs a hospital for any reason? How long before we can be with Jon again?” to beginning to think how we could be a legitimate help to the some of the most vulnerable in the population.  

I contacted a friend at the Grace Center, an amazing organization striving to keep families together, where many of the children who attend are at significant risk of food shortages. They would love donations to be able to supplement food to the single mothers who will not be able to work at their day laborer jobs. You can give here

This is a place, that as we are there on a weekly basis, we have met a father with a baby on his back, his wife had just died and he was looking for food. The very place I send the beggar children, the begging mothers because I know there, they will find food and sustainable solutions.

I just got the following text from a friend who works there...

“We have to close the daycare. It will cost $4,000 usd to cover families expenses they will not be able to cover due to not working. If it goes beyond two weeks, we will need outside assistance or will have to get permission from the ministry of health to keep the daycare open to prevent starvation and homelessness...they say to stock up for two weeks of food, most of our families cannot even afford soap.”

Another friend from Hidden Abilities is heartbroken over the necessary decision to close down very soon as the children with disabilities are particularly vulnerable to being exposed. She also expressed they would so appreciate money to give to desperate families. You can give to this organization through the SIM USA website, project number #092936 or send donations to us and let us know how to designate it. 

Will you join me in fighting our fear and practicing our faith by giving generously during this time? How can we engage our kids in this work? Please brainstorm with me in the comments, can they do big jobs around the house for money for vulnerable peoples? Can they make something to sell to raise funds? What ideas have you already implemented or thought about to help the needy around you, wherever that may be?

With ❤️  From Ethiopia 🇪🇹 ,
Team Gerst

Saturday, March 14, 2020

Though The Earth Gives Way

The dust ominously is blowing in from the Sahara Desert this morning, blocking our morning sunshine with its bleak, thick presence. I don’t know what is covered in USA news but there has also been a thick cloud of locusts decimating crops around East Africa. This will very likely cause famine in regions.

Ethiopia had it's first confirmed COVID-19 case yesterday. So did Kenya. Jon is required to leave Ethiopia based on some immigration issues, so he is heading to Kenya. With the rapidly changing worldwide landscape, and rumors swirling of government quarantines, the only thing to do is settle into the unknown, trying not to speculate but knowing God is sovereign.

UPDATED: Things are changing so quickly, borders are closing, we need prayers for wisdom, if Jon is required to travel, we may all need to stick together.

UPDATED AGAIN: I have eaten an entire bar or chocolate. Just Jon will travel to Kenya on Sunday night. Pray for an expedient process and quick return on a visa so he will reunite quickly. 

Waiting in Addis Ababa at the immigration office. We turned in our green cards.
When I think of COVID-19 here, with the vulnerable populations and lacking medical care, my heart is overwhelmed. But I marvel at a big and mighty God who has the whole world in his hands. 

As I think of possible quarantine, my privilege is not lost on me. It doesn't mean my family will be hungry, or that we are shoved into a tiny, one-room, hot, tin house. As I think of possible famine, this doesn't mean my family will starve.

I also realize how something that can stop the world in it's tracks has been revealing to me about where my hope lies and-YIKES-dare I confess-my hidden idols. Like idols of being able to freely travel, idols of security and comfort, independence. 
Someone turned 3! I can't quite handle the fact that our youngest is 3. 

Today, I breathe deeply in knowing God is in control.
46 God is our refuge and strength,
    a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way,
    though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam,
    though the mountains tremble at its swelling. Selah
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
    the holy habitation of the Most High.
God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved;
    God will help her when morning dawns.
The nations rage, the kingdoms totter;
    he utters his voice, the earth melts.
The Lord of hosts is with us;
    the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah
Come, behold the works of the Lord,
    how he has brought desolations on the earth.
He makes wars cease to the end of the earth;
    he breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
    he burns the chariots with fire.
10 “Be still, and know that I am God.
    I will be exalted among the nations,
    I will be exalted in the earth!”
11 The Lord of hosts is with us;
    the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

In the Big and the Small

Tiger is nestled beside me on the couch. He is peering over my shoulder, scrubbed squeaky clean, smelling delicious and hoping the screen suddenly turns from blogger to "Sesame Street" or "Octonauts". Bless him. 

Miss T hustled down the stairs in her pjs for her own nighttime blessing. It's hard to recognize her at night because she is not in gaudy heels and a cheap princess dress. "Mommy, I love you and I like to play with you". Bless her. 

The Ethiopian Orthodox fasting started on Monday which means most of our neighbors are eating a vegan diet and fasting every morning until early afternoon in a lead up to Easter. To live in a cultural so intentionally religious, I've been challenged in my intentional mindfulness leading up to Easter (and Christmas in its season). 

I am in such a different season now. The majority of days are within our walls. The Littles are digging the routine and have settled in. Jon travels much more than he used to, one of the reasons we made the move to a city, and I am thankful for teammate support here. The girls and I press into our new weekly preschool class at the Grace Center, I rejoice to watch J and A grow in confidence.  

God has also brought some new relationships into their lives and I see another prayer being answered, as another reason for the move was for social opportunities for them and English-speaking friends. 
 Our big house here teems with guests, for meals, for overnights, for play dates and prayer meetings. I'm thankful at how often our guest rooms are filled. It is so starkly different from our rustic, rural life but I am reminded over and over that God is in this and providing. Layers of who I perceived myself to be are being stripped away and I return in desperation to Christ being the only place where my identity can lie. 
On the very best of days, J and A can be convinced to do "preschool" with Tiger and Miss T.

The list of my wish-I-could-get-involved-ins is longer by the day. But the Spirit continues to impress me with the need for a stable, routine, discipling and slow-paced life for myself and the kids between all the times we have to travel. I don't want to move into something "big" just so I don't feel "small". 

We have visitors coming this month from Indiana! Shane and Stef and kids, we are so excited to have you here! They are planning on bringing luggage for us and here's a wishlist if you would like to be involved. Have I told you how humbling it is to get visitors, to be remembered, to be prayed for? I don't know where we would be without your support. And I mean that. One day, my mom shared with me of hearing from a woman that I don't even know who prays for us everyday. I started to cry, astounded and humbled at this gift we can never repay but then frustrated with myself. I told Jon, "Can you even imagine what a mess I would be without these prayers?!?" ;)

The whole crew has to travel to Addis Ababa on March 8th for visa issues and from there, Jon has to exit the country while the kids and I can stay. He will most likely go to Kenya to do an e-visa process, and take advantage of the time to visit KIBIR partners. I asked if I could be the one with the exit visa and have to exile to Bora Bora or somewhere difficult ;)

Can you spot the hornbills? This is the tree outside our bedroom window and a pair of hornbills are frequent visitors. They are mesmerizing.

Join us as we continue in prayer for our new Bahir Dar neighbors, the Awi people and to move forward in faithfulness with however God wants to use KIBIR Consultants. 

And a few resources I've loved/learned from or want to dig into!
Homeschool moms, SS teachers, Pastors, everyone, take time with this graphic. God is so amazing.

Children are naturally curious about new people. Use this family activity to cultivate a habit of welcoming those from other cultures into your home. It will help your family participate in loving others like God does. It also provides practice in asking appropriate questions that may lead to deeper conversations.

Monday, February 10, 2020


I'm not even going to apologize for the long absence here...how many times do I say I will revive the blog and not do it will you still believe me? Are you still there? 

If you are, thank you for your loyalty and your prayers. 

I still write blog posts in my head, during the morning hours when creativity oozes through but I'm juggling morning school, rowdy toddlers and marveling how quickly everything is a mess, every day. When I get to a window of space in my day, the only inspiration I have is to power nap and fold laundry. 

But tonight, after the gentle prompting of a friend (thanks Margo) our littles are in bed, Jon is trying to teach Rummikub to the bigs (bless him) and I've settled knowing this tired brain won't etch out a riveting piece, but rather a signal across the miles, "Heeeellllooo, I'm still here!" 

Since arriving back on Ethiopian soil, we've been able to host at our new house, attend a conference in Addis Ababa and visit our old village neighborhood. 

It was amazingly sweet to be back in Injibara.

And though all of the pictures on this post are from this time, also incredibly sweet to feel roots beginning to push deeper into our Bahir Dar soil.

The words beneath the pictures aren't captions, just the scattered last paragraph

We are working out new rhythms and routines. 

The girls and I have our first chance to teach an English speaking preschool at the Grace Center, something we hope to do on a weekly basis

As we walk familiar trails, we also find new ones.

4th grade moves forward and in the midst of travels, we are behind but hopeful to keep learning about this great, big world around us. 

With these hooligans in tow, making everything so much harder and so much cuter.

We stretch into our new season, praying to be effective in our new community as well as how to reach to our Awi community.

This week, a sick, pregnant friend (not pictured) will stay with us. She is not well and I need prayer for wisdom, compassion, energy and language as we support her. Pray God opens her eyes to him.

Thank you all for the ways you love us and so faithfully pray.

Praise God he is able!