This week my younger cousins are in town to attend the Vacation Bible School held at my home church, Woodside. In the afternoons, I have been keeping them busy with swimming, trampoline jumping, and berry picking. On Monday, we drove out to a strawberry farm and picked a ton to freeze. And we chatted about everything under the sun.
One of the interesting conversations that happened was sparked by the fact that the farm was owned and operated by an Old Order Mennonite family. Now, although I have lived in Elmira for most of my life, I haven't yet grasped all the minutiae of differences between the groups, so I may have gotten some stuff wrong. But the boys wanted to know, why did this family dress differently, and why did they speak a different language, and a lot more whys. We talked about wanting to stand out from our culture and be visibly different from those around us, and that this was one of the ways that Mennonites make sure others know who they believe in. We talked about the fact that some of those choices made it more difficult for people to talk to them - and maybe that there were too many differences. And we pondered whether we look different to the people around us who don't believe in Jesus.
While we were chatting, we picked away, and soon discovered, that due to our later season adventure, most of the strawberries were very tiny.... until we came across a few that had grown into each other and became, as we affectionately named them, Teenage Mutant Ninja Strawberries. Yet more differences and whys to ponder on.
Now, the boys and I have gotten used to standing out due to skin colour (I usually live in Malawi, and they live in Toronto in a very multi-cultural neighbourhood). But what we realized in our discussions, is that seeing our 'Jesus Difference' isn't immediately visible. So I asked them about it... how do you think people will see Jesus in you? It's not in our Batman t-shirts, or the way we style our hair. We talked about the Bible and the lessons in it that teach us how to treat others and show them God's love, the skills God gives each of us, and how Michelangelo and Leonardo Da Vinci (makers who were featured at VBS this week... and also names of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles...) made such beautiful things to honour God. At VBS, they have been learning about the amazing plan and purpose God has in mind for their lives.
I ended up thinking back through my own life, and how it hasn't always looked like I expected. In high school, I was certain that I wanted to be either a professional musician or a landscape architect. Then I went to Rwanda on a short-term mission trip through Woodside, and met a young boy with special needs who wasn't in school because of them. I ended up sponsoring a child through those missionaries, to get him onto a school that could accommodate his needs. And that spun my overall direction right around - I had a passion for Africa and helping children with special needs reach their full potential. I ended up going to university for international development, and landed in Malawi - supposedly to work in the refugee camp with an agricultural group. But God rewrote that for me, and I ended up setting up a classroom in the refugee camp school, specifically for children with special needs instead. I can't wait to see the way God works in my new placement in Malawi!
P.S. Those Teenage Mutant Ninja Strawberries tasted just as good as all the rest! In fact, the boys would argue that they tasted even better than the normal ones! :)
Well, the Liebenzell Mission Day of 2017 was a lot of fun! Pastor Ken Davis, the leader of retreat ministries and outreach gave a wonderful sermon on Colossians 1. The worship was led by a team of German students who are studying at the Liebenzell University in Germany, and are doing a term abroad. We sang the yearly German hymn, written in the 1950s, "Vergiss nicht zu danken dem ewigen Herrn", or "Do not forget to thank the eternal Lord". I've put a translation below - it is a beautiful reminder of God's love for us.
Do not forget to thank the eternal Lord
He has done you a lot of good
Remember, in Jesus, he forgives you
You can approach him as you are
He is merciful, patient, and gracious
Much more than a father can
He threw our sins into the outermost sea
Come, pray to the Eternal One
You can trust him in the dark night
When everything seems lost
He loves you, even when you give Him sorrow
He is closer than ever
Through gratefulness new things enter into life
A wish that you never knew
That everyone like you would want to be the child of God
From the Father appointed as an heir
Through man, Jesus builds the eternal world
To prepare his community
He placed them in his church
And made them ready for service.
A very creative, responsive prayer was led by a Liebenzell missionary, Markus Gommel, who works with Bangladeshi immigrants in Toronto. He wrote specific prayers for Liebenzell missionaries, staff, and projects, and had each one prayed for in a different language! I was blessed to be prayed for by one of my missionary candidate teachers, Rita Mattmueller, who used to be based in Malawi, and prayed for me in Chichewa.
At the close of the service, the Liebenzell Canada leadership and the other Liebenzell pastors and missionaries that were present for the day, prayed for and commissioned me to serve as a long-term missionary in Malawi. It was led by my other missionary candidate teacher, Daniel Mattmueller. You can watch a video of the prayer below. I am so thankful for the amazing people who serve with Liebenzell globally, and that I am being included in that number.
After a potluck luncheon, I got to share about Malawi and the work that Liebenzell does there... stay tuned in the next while to get the lowdown on the various projects Liebenzell Malawi manages, and the lives that are being changed!
Once a year, Liebenzell Canada hosts a missions service and potluck. I will be one of the presenters at this year's event, happening on Saturday, June 17th! It is out in Moffat (near Guelph), at the LMC headquarters, and you are all invited to join us! The day starts at 11:30 AM, with coffee and visiting, followed by a short worship service. Then everyone enjoys a potluck lunch together (if you come, please bring a salad or dessert). Following lunch, there are missions presentations! This year, the team leader from Ecuador will be the keynote speaker, and the other presentations will be from a missionary serving Bangladeshi immigrants in Toronto, and myself. There is usually a children's program of some sort, a soccer game on the field, and sometimes some frog catching in the pond! Check out the info by clicking here. I'd love to see you there!
This has been a difficult year for me healthwise. So today, I want to talk about what it is like to have an 'invisible' illness.
This is not my first go-round with an invisible illness. About five years ago, I over-stressed myself, causing adrenal fatigue and a candida overgrowth. Strange words, I know. What they mean is this: my adrenal glands worked too hard for too long, and ended up not able to supply me with enough adrenaline and stress-adapting hormones anymore. I had too much candida yeast in my gut, which caused other problems. Overall, I had a list of symptoms as long as my arm, the most frustrating of which were crazy bad brain fog, migraines, dizzy spells, fatigue, difficulty falling asleep and waking up, trouble regulating my body temperature, and a weakened immune system.
At the time, I was a full-time (+) university student, and working forty to fifty hours a week. For a long while, I just thought that these symptoms were normal for any millenial. It eventually got bad enough that I went to see a doctor. With a very restricted diet, a boatload of supplements, and lifestyle changes to reduce my daily stress, I was thankfully able to recover.
Well, you'd think I had learned my lesson, but nope. About a year and a half ago, I spent six month running around like a chicken with my head cut off. Seriously - I ended up doing three people's jobs and also was given additional responsibilities at work, had to move three times, and basically, was extremely dumb about keeping myself healthy. I ended up stressing my body out to the point where I was laid out flat on my back for a week with a double lung infection, and then eventually got diagnosed with a thyroid condition that was brought on by the stress. I will now have that thyroid condition for the rest of my life, and will have to regularly go the to doctor to ensure that my medication is at the correct level to keep me going. Since the thyroid controls your metabolism and energy levels, many of the symptoms of my thyroid condition are the same as what I experienced five years ago.
It is surprisingly difficult for a Type A perfectionist, do-it-all, take-care-of-everything kind of person to say no to something - especially when you are in a place and situation where (a) you have the skills to help; (b) you see the needs around you are vast; (c) you are a missionary worker and feel that your time and energy should be used for God's kingdom; and (d) you are single and therefore technically have more time than people with spouses and children.
I have learned a lot since then, though. Really. I promise. Self-care is not a luxury - it is a necessity. Guarding my time to recharge and take care of my health, my relationship with God, my involvement with my church, my time with friends, and making allowances for my introverted self are super important to me being able to serve long term as a missionary. I have learned that not everything has to get done, and that if I can't pick up the slack, there are often others who can.
In a German-background family where output is valued almost as much as family, it has been difficult to explain my lack of energy, and to word it in ways that my go-getters understand, especially when I don't LOOK sick. Sometimes, what I perceived as judgement from others and my own high expectations made dealing with my illness even worse. A while back, I came across 'The Spoon Theory' by Christine Miserandino (click the link to read the original story), and found it helpful in explaining an 'invisible' illness to family and friends. Basically, each of us is given a handful of spoons that are our currency for what we need to accomplish in a day. A healthy person might have fifty, while I may only have ten, depending on the day. This means that every action and choice is preceded by a lot of thought - can I budget that into my energy for today? If not, when can I do that - is it even possible? Some days, I have a big energy budget and can behave like a "real boy", to quote Pinocchio. Other days, making dinner might be more important than having a shower, or replying to some emails. When your limbs feel like lead, and you can't keep thoughts straight in your head, molehills become insurmountable mountains. (I flooded our laundry room last year when I got the steps confused... just in case you needed proof that the brain fog was strong in me!)
I have had to reteach myself that my output is not where my value lies - as a creation of God, I have intrinsic value simply by being. And there has been a lot of good in rest and recuperation. I have had a wonderful year of relationship-building with family and friends (some new in both categories!). Thankfully, my supporters, church, mission, family, and friends have been so kind and understanding. This has been huge for me - I am so judgmental of myself, and came home feeling like an abject failure - why couldn't I see that I was overdoing it and save myself from it, why couldn't I just push through and keep going, was anyone going to be willing to back me as a missionary in the future? And every time I have voiced my concerns - be it to my counselor, family, friends, church leadership, or mission director, the same answer has come back...
"We believe in you and the call God has on your life - we want you to go back fully healthy and supported and we are backing you every step of the way."
I feel so very grateful and unworthy. And I think that this is progress, and the right place to be. When my heart is humbled, my spirit is chasing after Jesus, and my body, broken as it may be, continues to fight to move forward on the path the Holy Spirit is guiding me down, I am right in the middle of where God is working.
So, once again, I conclude my post with a big thank you. To all who have lifted me up in prayer, given me encouragement, continued to support me financially, helped me with fundraisers, cheered me on, and loved on me with the unrelenting, unconditional love of our Father, THANK YOU! From the bottom of my heart, thank you.
I have a tentative timeline for departure, a job description, and a budget in the works! Woohoo! This is getting real!
The LM Canada director, Mark Outerbridge, and I have been pursuing a missionary placement for me with LM Malawi. It looks like I will be going to work in the southern city of Zomba as the Malawi team administrator. This will involve bookkeeping, budgeting, reporting, government office stuff such as visas, and project/missionary support for the village-based team members i.e. purchasing materials. I love organizing things, running around the city doing errands, spending time driving in gorgeous Malawi, and visiting people! I am so looking forward to this job! It will also equip me perfectly for a lifetime of service in Malawi - knowing which government office to go to, who to speak with, and where the office is located are all crucial to making sure that missionaries can continue to operate effectively.
My first year back on the ground will be essentially shadowing the missionary who is currently doing this role, Michael Volz. I actually got to visit the Volz family in Zomba a few years ago on an Easter break trip. I will also be focusing on language learning. I am excited to get to know a whole new city and find my place in it.
We are looking at a timeline of me leaving for the field around the early fall, after my brother's wedding. Before that happens, I will spend a month in Germany being trained in the specifics of Liebenzell accounting and bookkeeping, attending the huge fall Missions conference that Liebenzell hosts, and squeezing in some visits with family.
My date of departure is contingent on my health being back to normal, and completing my fundraising. On the health side of things, I have been encouraged this month - I switched medications, and a whole list of symptoms have disappeared! So we are on the right track - now just to get the new medication to the correct levels. In regards to fundraising, that is a huge goal that I am confident my God will make possible to reach! At this point, my monthly support (salary, flight costs, ministry costs) is at about a third of what I will need. I will also most likely be fundraising for a vehicle (a big truck... I might require a stepstool to get into it!), as my tiny RAV4 will not survive trips to the village missionary sites during rainy season.
Thank you, thank you, thank you all for your support and prayers throughout this lengthy process of getting healthy and ready to go back! I have been so blessed by family and friends while in Malawi, and even more so while here recuperating. I so appreciate each of you being a part of my life, and am blown away by the kindness and generosity of the people who support me.
The Liebenzell missionary candidates are in their last few weeks of being in Canada, and we finally were able to arrange a weekend visit up north. The whole group drove up to my parents' place near Parry Sound and had a lovely few days together in nature.
It was neat to be able to arrange this, as my parents' goal is to start a retreat centre, called Kingfisher Crossing, at their place for people working in ministry - a place of rest and refreshment. So, this was in essence, their first run at hosting a group of ministry people.
We got to spend time helping out with setting up the summer-time furniture and toys, and also assisted with doing some wiring in the addition being built so that more people can visit. We also enjoyed hikes, canoeing, paddle-boating, playing Indiaca on the volleyball court (sort of a cross between volleyball and badminton), sunning ourselves in the warm spring weather, making s'mores over a campfire, and playing with the dogs. My mum led some special devotions and spiritual direction exercises, and she also spoiled us silly with tons of scrumptious food.
It really is a treasure of a place - 55 acres with a practically private lake. The group has an amateur bird-watcher who identified over twenty different kinds of bird, and others saw beavers, muskrats, otters, snapping turtles, painted turtles, evidence of deer, and of course, the ubiquitous Canada geese. On our way back to Toronto, we even saw a young moose just off the highway!
Our only regret as a group is that it took this long to arrange a trip - we all wish we could go again! So, if you are looking for a place to relax and immerse yourself in nature, let me recommend Kingfisher Crossing as the place to be!
Liebenzell Mission Germany has an intensive missionary training program, which I have had the privilege to take part in this past year. Most of their accepted candidates come to them after having finished a degree, often through the Liebenzell university in southern Germany. Many missionary candidates come to Liebenzell Mission after having completed an apprenticeship in a practical trade (such as carpentry, electrical, plumbing, etc.), and then study to become an ordained minister by the Liebenzell university. They then apply to become missionary candidates and, if accepted, are sent to Canada for nine months of additional training.
In Canada, they live together with missionary trainers in a house in Toronto. Candidates attend English school to improve their English, as that is the international language of Liebenzell missionary teams. They also are partnered with an immigrant church in Toronto and assist in their ministries. Once a week, there is a full-day training at the house, led by the missionary trainers. This usually includes: a devotion and worship time, a morning lecture, lunch together, and then an afternoon cross-cultural activity or guest speaker.
We have covered a lot of different topics in our weekly meetings - these are just the topics from the first half of the year! We covered understanding yourself - your personal and cultural history, understanding other cultures, ethnocentrism, cross-cultural communication, cross-cultural ministry, cross-cultural stress, cross-cultural leadership, multi-cultural teamwork, and spiritual warfare. We have also visited with other missionaries, ministries, immigrants, authentic international restaurants, and gone on a scavenger hunt in Toronto's Chinatown.
This fall, shortly after the German candidates arrived in Canada, we went on a retreat. We spent a few days in Red Bay (near Sauble) getting to know each other, and enjoying the fall colours and beautiful water before the snow came. It was a lovely time together.
After Christmas, new interns come to live at Liebenzell House, so the candidates move out into the city - some into apartments, and some into refugee homes to serve as resident assistants. The weekly meeting at the house continues. Candidates may participate in some additional training programs run by other organizations. The candidates also visit both the Liebenzell Canada and US branches, to build their knowledge of how each country branch operates, the differences that missionaries sent from different countries may have in terms of fundraising and other branch-specific things, and to build relationships with the branch staff.
The candidates return to Germany in May, just in time for the big spring missions festival that Liebenzell Germany holds. They are commissioned at this festival, and spend the remaining spring and summer months preparing to leave - fundraising, packing, and visiting with family and friends.
And then, at the end of the summer, the new missionaries head out into various parts of the world to serve with Liebenzell. This year's group has a couple and two single ladies heading to Malawi, two couples heading to Zambia, and a family of four heading to Chile.
I have a few more weeks to meet together with the group in Toronto, and am thankful for the time I have had with them to learn more about the German side of Liebenzell, and build friendships with my future neighbouring co-workers!
We left off last time, with my arrival in Canada, and a diagnosis of a thyroid condition. From March 2016 until now:
It was decided that it would be best to wait for me to return to Malawi until the thyroid condition was stabilized, and that while I was in Canada, I would pursue additional mission training to better equip me for my future.
I have been attending weekly trainings run by Liebenzell Mission for missionary candidates. Our trainers are a couple who were formerly missionaries in Malawi, so they have been a wonderful resource for me. This year was actually the perfect year to be in Canada for this, as the majority of my classmates are going to either Malawi or Zambia (neighbouring country of Malawi) and will be my nearest co-workers! I have also been able to take a few courses through other mission agencies as well. Most recently, a supporter communication and fundraising course with New Tribes Mission, and a course on how to learn culture and language quickly, the PLANTS course by MissionPrep.
My thyroid condition is slowly getting closer to stabilization, but my numbers have fluctuated wildly over the past few months, which means that my energy levels and brain capacity often change from day-to-day. This has made it difficult to manage much more than basic survival and essential meetings, although that has recently been improving.
Lots of things happened in our family over the last year. In June, my dad was in a car accident that totaled the car, but he walked away with very minor injuries. Thank the Lord! The same week, my youngest brother flew to Australia to attend a Youth With A Mission bible school , and my mum moved up north to Parry Sound to join my dad there. I have since been alternating living with my grandparents in Elmira, and occasionally staying with my parents in Parry Sound.
Over Christmas, my middle brother got engaged, and the whole family is excitedly helping to plan and prepare for a wedding in front of the lake at my parents' new place. Our dog also had the cutest puppies and we had a blast caring for and playing with them until they went to their new homes!
The mission director of Liebenzell Canada and I have been figuring out my next steps, and where I would fit best and use my skills best in the Liebenzell Mission Malawi team. My teachers education certificate has resumed as of January, and I am working away to complete it by the end of June.
I am beginning to resume fundraising as my health allows increased activity. My previous posting only required me to fund-raise half of my salary, as the American mission school paid the other half and provided all ministry supplies. My new posting will not have that benefit, and I am trusting that the Lord knows this and has a plan for my ministry and finances!
I would appreciate prayers for continued guidance and improving health as the path ahead becomes clearer and a date for departure becomes more real.
Today marks one year back in Canada for me. Not a thing I ever really expected to write again. I was bound and determined to stay permanently in Malawi - it is home to me. However, God had a different plan for me these past twelve months.
I also realize that I have not posted on this blog in a very long time! Life has not been the easiest, and I am looking forward to resuming more regular posts in the near future.
So... what happened since my last post, why am I in Canada, and what am I doing?
I returned to Canada for a few weeks over the summer of 2015 to see family, friends, and take part in some mission activities with the Liebenzell Mission of Canada. I also enrolled in an online teachers ed certificate program through the UK, and attended a one week intensive in Nottingham. I spent a week in Zambia in August at the Liebenzell Mission All-Africa Missionary Summit - it was great getting to meet my fellow co-workers, and learn more about the wider ministry of Liebenzell in Africa and the world. I returned to Malawi and moved into my own little cottage, sub-letting it from a co-worker.
My second year as a Kindergarten and swimming teacher for ABC Christian Academy began - and I loved it! I had great co-workers in my fellow Kindergarten teacher from across the hall, and in my wonderful teaching assistant, and a super fun group of five-year-olds!
However, in October, everything started to crumble... my teaching assistant got married (yay!) and moved away (awww...), and was not replaced for over a month, which essentially doubled my workload, and made day-to-day classes much more stressful (and report cards and parent conferences began); my landlord decided to sell the cottage I was renting, so I ended up moving into the big house with my co-worker and her children (fun, but exhausting to move mid-term); and swimming lessons began, where I was in charge of enrolling 150 students, making up classes, assisting in training instructors, and teaching classes myself.
Suffice it to say, my goal was survival until Christmas break. Most weekends in November, and for much of the December break, I was ill. Over the break, we moved again, as the landlord was continuing to make sudden and strange decisions. An already low number of staff became lower in January, when four staff members, for various reasons, no longer worked at the Academy. This meant that I took on more responsibility, again, and foreseeing this as a difficulty, I suspended my teachers ed studies for a year.
In February, both myself and my co-worker / housemate became seriously ill - I ended up diagnosed with a double lung infection and was prescribed bed rest for a week. Instead of receiving support from my supervisors, I was pressured into returning to work early, asked to take on still more responsibilities, and ended up with worsening health.
At this point, the director of the Liebenzell Mission of Canada and I made the difficult decision that this was no longer a healthy environment for me, and that I needed to return to Canada to be properly diagnosed and recuperate.
So, in March, one year ago, I flew back to Canada. My health continued to deteriorate, and it quickly became clear that there was more going on than a residual lung infection. In July, I was diagnosed with a thyroid condition, which is thankfully relatively easy to treat, once it has been stabilized - which is what my doctors and I have been focused on since my diagnosis.
Of course, I have been up to more than just visiting the doctor, and there are exciting plans being made for the future... but I am going to make you wait for those until my next post!
Today I read Samson’s story in Judges, and was struck by how watered-down and glossed-over his story is in my remembrances of Sunday school. He was a gruesome, vindictive rebel – the Nazirite vow that he was born into ordered him to abstain from cutting his hair, drinking wine, and touching dead bodies. Yet at the beginning of his appearances in the Bible, he throws a party for a girl as “the young men used to do”… which means wine. He killed a lion, returned to the carcass and found a hive in it, and proceeded to scoop out and eat the honey – and feed it to his parents! Disgusting and odd. And in the middle of his dramatic life, his hair is shorn. That is all three parts of the vow broken. And then there are the many people he killed, the prostitutes he frequented, his insistence on marrying a Philistine woman, and his other acts that show just how warped of a person he was. Distilling the Bible truth down to these behaviours makes me think that Samson was a psycho/sociopath or maybe just insane. So, this man who was supposed to be living an exemplary life for God is just about as opposite from that as can possibly be. And if we think about the physical descriptions of him, he would look extremely scary – between the seven long dreadlocks and the giant muscles, he probably looked like a Rasta Hulk – minus the green.
And yet, even in the midst of all his human weakness and sin, God found a way to use this man. In Judges 14:4, his choice of a Philistine bride is said to be from God – a method to find “an opportunity against the Philistines”. His first mention of God is to call out and basically complain that now that he has killed all the people, can’t God give him a drink? God obliges and Samson, now revived, proceeds to visit another prostitute.
I find it fascinating and refreshing for my soul to read about the mess that Samson was, and to realize that God still worked powerful things through him. Some days I look at the to do list that seems to be a mile long, see the many things that have been waiting for months for the time to get them finished, and wonder if my life and my work is actually worth it. Am I useful to God – is what I do pleasing to Him and furthering His Kingdom? Today, I know that it is – if God can use the crazy life of Samson to work His will, then He can use my willingness – even in my messy and sinful nature – to accomplish what He wants.
So, today – here is a new post for you on this long-neglected blog of mine. I do thank you for reading and following the adventures of my pursuit of God and His call on my life. And today, I recognize that my ability to write regular posts may not exist right now between the 20 five year olds that demand my energy, and the other aspects of life. But I do hope to see you again here soon. My frazzled first year of teaching is slowly winding to a close, and I have many memories and stories to share – and I hope that next year will have more breathing space for me to connect with you here
Welcome! My name is Katiana and I am a development professional pursuing my dream to live out Isaiah 1:17 to the best of my abilities. I am passionate about teaching and working with vulnerable families and children to improve their lives sustainably.
This blog is composed of my personal opinions, which do not necessarily reflect the opinion or views of institutions or organizations that I may be or have been affiliated with.