They Know Me Here

Our teenage daughter has a sign hanging in her room that says “I’m in my own little world. Don’t worry. They know me here.”

She has carried that thing through three military moves and to Africa and back.

Oh, to be known!

Transitions are painful. Sometimes painful as in sharp and stabbing, gut-wrenching. Sometimes painful as in that dull ache that will not really go away. Transition means move and change when maybe everything in us is longing for the comfort and security of the way things were – the familiar. Even when the familiar was not always perfect, at least we knew it and it knew us.

Transition usually means grief and loss. It can be messy and deep. On the surface, though, it may look neat, tidy, and manicured. But every now and then a weed of hurt will pop up, belying what is under the surface. No matter how well you try to make the change with “good” goodbyes, or how necessary it was, or how things all line up, there is still the sadness of leaving and beginning again.

I don’t know which is worse – saying goodbye to people and places you have come to love and trust, or reinventing yourself somewhere else where YOU are unknown and untrusted.

Missionaries seem to be in a near constant state of transition. This past month we met a new crew of them here in Charlotte. All are preparing for service abroad with SIM. God has called them to take the road less traveled and they are on their way. But it’s tough.  We know what they are heading into and as part of the Chaplain team here at SIM USA, we get the awesome privilege to speak a little encouragement into their lives during this pre-field training. Part of pastoral care means we had the fun of hosting both the ladies for a fun “Ladies Connect” and then the men for a “Men’s Only” night at our home. It helps us get to know them better before they go overseas. It also introduces them to the idea of Chaplain care and the many ways we are available to them in the future, both on the field and when they return for home assignment one day.

Mark's Badge of Honor

Mark’s Badge of Honor

Another fun thing that Mark especially enjoys is encouraging the new missionaries in their support-raising endeavors. Here at SIM we call it “Relationship Development Ministry” because we truly believe that we have an important relationship with our financial partners. Because inviting people to join your support team can be pretty daunting, Mark reminds new missionaries that just as God has called them to GO, He has called others in the church to SEND them! It is a joy to partner with churches and individuals and together see the Gospel spread to all nations.MarkSIMGoRDMpic2

There is also a growing vision in SIM USA for what the military calls “Family Readiness” as we work to do a better job of sending families who are better equipped -spiritually, emotionally, mentally, and physically…and I (Stacey)  am finding a niche in that as an “Educational Consultant” – specializing in home-school support.  Basically that means I keep doing one of the things I did in South Sudan and Kenya – I work with missionary families to develop an educational plan for their children and support them in doing it. This involves parent interviews, field visits, resourcing, etc. We are also working to develop a screening tool for families that will help with field placement, depending on the needs of the family. This type of care allows SIM USA to say YES to families who might otherwise be rejected by missions organizations because of the ages, learning challenges, or developmental needs of their children.

When not working with new folks, we are pretty busy following up with SIMers on the field who need care and also with those returning for home assignment. In January, Mark and I will head back to Nairobi for two weeks to work directly with the South Sudan team. Mark will remain in Kenya then visit some other fields before attending a Member Care conference in Turkey.  He is hoping to make three to four extended tours next year, visiting different SIM fields where pastoral care and Chaplain training is needed. His travel budget for this will be about $25,000. If you are interested in supporting this specific need, please click here

As a family, we are really enjoying the Fall season and the opportunity to be with the grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins for the holidays. Katie is a part-time employee at Chik Fil A and Grace is volunteering at SIM part time (as school allows). The boys are busy with homeschool co-op activities. Thank you for praying for us!

The kids having  Nerf gun fun with the cousins.

The kids having Nerf gun fun with the cousins.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Overflowing with Hope

If you’ve been reading the news, listening, or watching it on TV lately, then you may be feeling pretty discouraged. Maybe you sense that things just seem to be getting worse and worse – the Ebola virus reaches into Dallas Texas and ISis exploding across borders into Turkey.

Imagine if you are a global worker overseas, where insecurity and unrest are becoming the norm. Every day is a new challenge to your faith and endurance. On top of the international tensions, you live with the daily pressures of adapting to another culture and language. You may also be sweating it out everyday, or freezing, in a climate you are unused to. Your children may be struggling, your marriage may be coming apart at the seams. You may feel lonely and isolated and perhaps your ministry is beginning to suffer. You struggle to make ends meet with limited financial support. Sometimes you just feel unable to cope. Discouragement hangs over you like a dark cloud…You need hope. discouragement pic2

This week, we attended the annual Pastors to Missionaries Conference at Ridgecrest in NC. As hope-bringers, we were encouraged in our mission to shepherd those serving Christ around the world. We were reminded that we must always point people to the real hope that comes through knowing and serving Him. Our hope is not in WHEN (“when I finally learn the language…when my wife gets better…when my kids adjust…) but in a WHO. And that WHO is Christ Jesus.

We serve real people with real needs. They are not spiritual super-heroes. They are just normal, struggling people who have been called to do an extraordinary task. Sometimes they lose hope. When that happens (and BEFORE it happens) we must come alongside them and minister hope and healing and restoration.

As part of the conference, we met many pastoral care folks from other organizations as well as missions pastors, retired missionaries, and lay church members who just have a heart to serve God’s servants. We attended various workshops like “Going Alone: What its Like To Serve in The Absence of Missionary Care”, “Women in Missions”, “Debriefing through Collage”,  “Blind Spots and Worldview Assumptions”, and “Bringing Hope to Ministry Marriages” just to name a few.

We would love to see more churches send representatives to this conference next year!  As one attendee (Deneen) who is on her church missions committee told us “This has been so eye-opening for me! I never really understood the strain of the missionary life before. I did not understand how to care for them when they came home. But now I do and I can’t wait to tell others so we can better minister to them.”

Please continue to pray for us as we minister to God’s global workers.

Mark and Stacey Ridgecrest

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Settled

Several times these past three weeks, we have felt a bit like our heads were ready to spin off our bodies! That’s just how busy and crazy our transition has been. So please forgive us if we have been out of touch for a bit.

Being back together again as a family feels fulfilling -like finishing a puzzle and having all the pieces fit snug and tight. Its nice to be under the same roof again -especially when it is now our home and we can settle in. The house-finding story was distinctly God’s provision. Suffice it to say that in His perfect timing the Lord introduced us (through a co-worker at SIM) to an elderly Christian woman who had been praying to find the “right” person to sell her home to, as she needed to move to a retirement community. After meeting with us, she and her family offered us her home -so certain that God was directing them that they lowered the price to within our limited budget. Not only this, but they also gave us ALL appliances and several pieces of furniture, paid all the lawyer fees and half the closing costs! Later, her daughter’s church helped us with more second hand furniture and household items. So we have been greatly blessed, to say the least. What could have been a very stressful, costly transition has been made so much easier by these dear folks, as well as all of you who have faithfully continued to give and pray.

So now that the beds are up and boxes unpacked, Mark and I headed over to the SIM USA offices this week to have our debriefing and meet with our new Personnel Director and Member Care Director to discuss our roles.

Mark at SIM office

Mark in front of SIM USA office in Charlotte NC

We came away from these meetings with a new sense of awe, a sense that even through difficult circumstances, the Lord is doing something new and exciting (“For I am about to do something new. See, I have already begun! Do you not see it? I will make a pathway through the wilderness. I will create rivers in the dry wasteland.” Isaiah 43:19NLT).

After seeing the success of pastoral care with our South Sudan team, SIM USA has a great vision to expand Chaplain care to SIM missionary teams worldwide. This will involve travel (for Mark especially) to many strategic areas of the world. It will involve the training of lay-chaplains on various fields. There are also urgent missionary needs worldwide for pastoral care and mediation. As part of the US member care team, we will also be debriefing and offering pastoral care for missionaries who return to the US for Home Assignment/Reassignment or Retirement. One role I (Stacey) am especially excited about is acting as a Homeschooling Advisor for moms on the field. I found this to be a great need among mission organizations in East Africa. Already I’m finding plenty of work here as I meet with both seasoned missionary moms who need new resources and new-to-homeschooling missionary moms who need guidance to get started. Mark and I are also hoping to continue our work with Trauma Healing, training missionaries in the material both here and on the field. We are pretty excited about all the possibilities – and so happy that we have been able to also stay involved with our South Sudan team via Skype calls and email. In late January Mark and I will be traveling back to Nairobi for the Spiritual Life Conference and to do some trainings for the team on Mediation, Chaplain Care, and Child Safety.

So, a few days ago a friend emailed asking if we were still missionaries. The answer of course is: YES! YES! YES We are still missionaries who raise our support just like before. The only difference is that we will be based in the US now. We will still be doing the same pastoral care work with missionaries -and even more so as our ministry sphere widens. We are so very thankful for those of you who believe in this ministry and recognize the incredible need for pastoral care so that missionaries can thrive in their place of service. We pray that you will continue to stand with us both prayerfully and financially.

Thank you also for praying for our children over the past several months. Everyone is doing very well. It was a relief to see Katie more her old self again when we returned and also to find that all of our children are sleeping better. We will start a familiar homeschool routine next week, including two days per week with a local cooperative.

Katie's Happy 16th Birthday!
Katie’s Happy 16th Birthday!

 

During the month of September, Mark will be traveling a bit to visit many of our supporters. If you or someone you know would like to learn more about our pastoral care ministry to missionaries, you can call Mark at 803-818-0629 for a phone call or a visit if he is in your area.

 

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To This You Were Called

I read the email from our International Director and my stomach hurts. A sickening ache fills my heart. Two missionaries have fallen ill with a devastating virus in West Africa.

For weeks we have been wondering “what if?” as we prayed for our colleagues in Liberia and West Africa. “What if…the very ones sent to heal and help are infected?” “Lord, we prayed, keep them healthy and strong. Let their health be a testimony to Your power and protection…”

And now, I hear the news, cold and shocking. I am driven to my knees. “Lord, what about Your protection, Your power? Didn’t You hear our prayer?”

You answer comes, both gentle and firm: “My grace is sufficient… for My power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Cor.12:9)

“But Lord, they have faithfully served You -compelled by Your love…They have given up home and family and friends…”

I hear Your quiet voice:”To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in His steps.” (1 Peter 2:21)

“But Lord, it seems so hard -so unfair! Can’t You spare Your servants this pain?”

Again, Your words go deep: “For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows.” (2 Cor.1:5) 

Gently You remind me:”He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and familiar with suffering…He took up our sicknesses and carried our sorrows…” (Isaiah 53:3a,4a)

I am silent.

Dr. Kent Brantly, left, treats an Ebola patient

Dr. Kent Brantly, left, treats an Ebola patient

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To Be Honest

A few days ago, I (Stacey) sat chatting with my dear friend and neighbor. We were both contemplating our upcoming “goodbye” because she and her family were preparing to leave for a visit to South Africa and we will not be around when they return. We tried to make a few jokes to lighten the sadness weighing us down. She dryly quipped that we should take a “selfie” of the two of us and put it on facebook. Only she called it “fakebook”. I had to laugh. We debated about whether we should take a “before” shot (pre-tears) or “after” and both decided that an “after” shot was out! Nothing would ruin the mood of facebook like a messy picture of the two of us with mascara running down our tear-streaked faces, noses red and running. It was good to laugh before we cried.
Funny, how God always puts the most beautiful people in my life – for a season. But oh how it hurts when He moves me (or them) away. This time its me.
M– is gone now. She left on Saturday…no one to borrow a cup of sugar from or share a coveted piece of dark chocolate… As a matter of fact, pretty much every one on our little neighborhood compound is away. So I went over and sat in my neighbor’s house for a little solitude today (yes, she left me the key). I needed some alone time to pray and think about this last year and four months in Kenya. I thought of our SIM South Sudan teammates.
Within a couple of weeks of arriving last year, Mark and I found ourselves in neck-deep. It was like jumping off a high dive (or a cliff, some days). I wondered aloud if I would ever feel like I fit in, if they would ever be like the missionary “family” I remembered in Zambia. Slowly, the months passed. Our team braved robberies, medical emergencies, marital and family stress, interpersonal conflict, new babies born, and multiple evacuations – to name a few. We prayed, encouraged, counseled, mediated, skyped, and visited. We found ourselves in awe of them –their resilience, their love, their fortitude. They embraced us, wholeheartedly. They embraced our children. And when we struggled with our own really tough circumstances, they reached out and loved us –like family. We fit in.
That’s why it is all the harder to leave later this month. The only thing that keeps my mascara from running when I think about it is that Mark and I will travel back in January for their annual Spiritual Life Conference.
Still, don’t expect too many happy pictures from me on facebook this month. Yes, I am excited about the new roles awaiting us with SIM USA back in Charlotte. I also couldn’t be happier that we will be living right down the road from my twin sister and her family. And it makes me REALLY REALLY happy to hear that Katie is more like her old self again already…
But for now, we are still saying goodbye here and, just to be honest, it hurts.
“Though the Lord brings grief, He will show compassion, so great is His unfailing love.” Lam.3:32

Receiving some encouraging words from our team

Receiving some encouraging words from our team

Goodbye prayer for Conards2

The team prays for us at the end of our “farewell” party.

 

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“I Thought I Would Kill Them All!”

“When I came to this class, my heart was full of hate for the S**A. They have killed my brother! After I served with them and gave 20 years of my life with them in the bush, but now they have killed my own brother!…I thought I would kill them all!…but then I came here and have heard a different way. I have learned about forgiveness…I never knew that unforgiveness would keep me chained to them. But now I know, and with God’s help I will begin to forgive them so that I can be free.”…Hakim’s story  (with permission)

Hakim at the Healing Wounds of Trauma Equipping Session

Hakim at the Healing Wounds of Trauma Equipping Session

Clay figures symbolizing recent traumatic events in South Sudan. These were created by participants.

Clay figures symbolizing recent traumatic events in South Sudan. These were created by participants.

Last week, we were able to gather with 25 South Sudanese community and church leaders for a Trauma Healing Equipping Session. In this five day, intensive Equipping Session participants were learning how to be healing group facilitators. We took them through all 11 topics of the Healing Wounds of Trauma material, sharing how Christ is not only our SIN BEARER but also our PAIN BEARER. In a moving ceremony towards the end, participants are invited to pray and write down their painful memories, then burn them in front of a wooden cross to symbolize the freedom and healing available in Christ. Many painful stories were shared and even tears shed during the week. But by the time of the ceremony, there were also beautiful testimonies of forgiveness and healing (like Hakim’s, above).

Rachel shared this:  “In December the fighting started in Malakal. On Christmas Day we were hiding under the beds. It seemed like the worst Christmas. Always before on Christmas Day we were celebrating, putting on new clothes, eating together. But this year…our hearts were under the bed. Fighting was all around us….but maybe…maybe it was the best Christmas really…because we were together praying…” Rachel and other women from the church in Malakal hid her husband Pastor Peter and other men in a secret place. When soldiers came to kill the men, the women risked their own lives to distract the soldiers and send them in another direction.  Although she witnessed many horrible things, Rachel is a beautiful example of God’s grace and healing. She is already reaching out to many other women in the name of Christ.

TH Equipping

Pastor J shared  that the current conflict in South Sudan has hurt his people in many ways. But the Trauma Healing ministry has made a great impact on his life:   “Before, my people would come to me with their stories of pain and they were angry. I did not know how to help them because I was hurting and angry too. But now I have experienced healing and I have learned how to forgive. I am better able to help my people by taking them to God’s Word.”

At the end of the Equipping Session, participants met together to map out a plan for leading healing groups among the South Sudanese refugee communities here in Nairobi.  By God’s grace, they are looking to reach over 110 people with the hope and healing of Scripture in the next three months. Please be in prayer for this ministry as they take hold of it and carry it forward – to the glory of God.

“But the Lord stood at my side and gave me strength, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed…The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to His heavenly kingdom. To Him be the glory for ever and ever. Amen.”  2Tim.4:17,18.

Team of Teaching Facilitators for the Equipping Session

SIM Team of Training Facilitators for the Equipping Session

 

 

 

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Serving the Saints

Mark's recent visit to folks in Cairo who are learning Arabic.

Mark’s recent visit to our folks in Cairo who are learning Arabic.

 

Mk care in Cairo!

TCK care in Cairo!

Planning a trip to Doro May 28-June 5

Planning a trip to Doro
May 28-June 5

This last month has been busy and challenging as we have been faced with a major family decision. For those who did not get the newsletter, please click here for an explanation.

Mark traveled to Cairo earlier this month, to visit those in Arabic language study. He and teammate Tohru, one of the RDs for the SSudan Team, made the trip together. This was really beneficial for Mark as Tohru is fluent in Arabic! The trip was meant as an encouragement to the team as they are in a very difficult situation. Many of them are aching to return to the work in South Sudan, but for now that is still not possible.

Mark and Andrew (Director) will make a trip up to Juba and then our SIM base in Doro, South Sudan (Upper Nile Region) May 28-June5th. We currently have 8 SIMers on the ground there. Please pray for safety as Mark and Andrew travel and that they will be a great help and encouragement to the others who are very weary at this time. Please also pray for South Sudanese refugees in Mabaan county.  Food is scarce. Sporadic fighting also continues to break out in different parts of the country. Pray that it will not touch Mabaan and that the ministries there can continue. The church is growing and people are receiving the Gospel. Pray that they will grow in their new-found faith.

Ladies fellowship

Ladies fellowship

God is moving in the hearts of people in South Sudan. Pray for them! Pray for the missionaries who work there!

God is moving in the hearts of people in South Sudan. Pray for them! Pray for the missionaries who work there!

Back in Nairobi, Stacey and three other facilitators will be leading a week-long Equipping session June 2-6. It is designed to train South Sudanese church leaders in the Trauma Healing program. After they learn how to lead the healing groups, these christian leaders will be able to carry on the Trauma Healing ministry within their community here in Nairobi and also back in South Sudan.  Pray that those who attend will be focused and teachable. Pray for healing of the deep hurts in their lives. Pray for the Gospel to be shared and lived out through this ministry.

Other important PRAYER REQUESTS:

Pray for God’s provision of housing and a vehicle for us in the US as we take on our Member Care ministry role at the SIM US office in Charlotte, NC.

Pray for safety and that we will finish well here in Nairobi before our departure July31st. Grace and Katie will go ahead to the US with their grandmother this week on May 28 -so please pray for their safe travels and adjustment back to the states. Pray especially for Katie as she has had a difficult month here in Nairobi with the increased terrorist alerts and bombings. We will follow with the boys at the end of July.

Pray that our monthly financial partners in ministry will continue to stand with us. We have received overwhelming encouragement and support for our decision. Thank you so much for that!

As we mentioned in our newsletter: we remain dedicated to the task of Pastoral/ Member Care with SIM. Our service as missionaries will NOT end as we make this transition back to the US. Rather, our sphere of service will change and widen.  We will be returning briefly to Nairobi in January to serve the S.Sudan team during their annual Spiritual Life Retreat. Afterwards, Mark is hoping to travel to other areas of Africa to minister to SIM missionaries before attending a Member Care conference in Turkey. Without the continued support of our ministry partners, we cannot provide this type of vital pastoral care.

Many Blessings,

The Conards:  Mark, Stacey, Grace, Katie, Ben, Josiah, and Isaac

“…they have devoted themselves to the service of the saints…they have supplied what was lacking from you. For they refreshed my spirit and yours also…” I Corinthians 16:15-18.

 

 

 

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