During the month of September, Kristen and I were able to take a sabbatical, a month of paid leave from our work. We definitely recognize it as a privilege to be able to take a month away from our work, though the idea of sabbatical looks a little different with the responsibilities that come with two little ones (esp. Lincoln :)).
Before we jump into sharing with you in the months to come about the new role we’re taking on with Athletes in Action, I thought I’d share a couple of thoughts that the Lord gave me as I (Jonathan) spent time with Him and with our family during our sabbatical…
- Jesus doesn’t need me to work for Him. It took a good part of the month to unwind from all of my ministry-driven spirituality, and at times it was a struggle not to work, to be honest. But as I did finally unwind a bit, I sensed the Lord saying that He is bringing me into a new season of enjoying Him. The adventure of the new role is really exciting, but even as I dreamt of what is to come, the overwhelming theme of the sabbatical for me was the Lord saying, “My work will get done whether you’re involved or not. Set your heart on enjoying me as I continue to call you, Jonathan.”
- Jesus is pleased with me. In fact, He’s thrilled with me! And you too. I realize that just reading that doesn’t make you believe it, even if you grew up hearing it in church, or even if you were fortunate enough to hear it from your parents (like me). That was the other clear message from the Lord to me last month… He thinks I’m really valuable, and it has nothing to do with my ministry. Even though I still constantly battle sin, He’s still really excited about me. The older I get, the more I believe that it’s Satan’s #1 objective to get us to believe the opposite- that we’re not valuable, that we’ll never get it together, that we’re not worthy of acceptance. Our culture does a good job reinforcing that message, too. Even at 37 years old, I still find myself needing to be constantly reminded of how much Jesus loves me.
I’m really grateful that we were able to take time out to rest and reflect. I think I learned those lessons in theory when I was in Sunday school as a kid, but I’ve still got a long way to go until they take full effect.
I (Jonathan) just returned last week from a quick trip to Tokyo to coach our team of interns who are there reaching college students this year! Pictured above are three of the twelve Tokyo Cru interns (the other nine all happen to be women :)). Let me introduce you to these fellas…
Daniel (to my left) just graduated from UCLA in June, so this is his first year in Tokyo. We spent a few hours together on campus, and I actually got to meet one of his most promising contacts so far- a freshman Japanese college student named Naiki. Naiki is actually a professing Christian (very rare among Japanese college students), and Daniel is working on beginning to meet with him for discipleship.
Jeff (across from Daniel) just graduated from Cal State Fullerton in May, so this is also his first year in Tokyo. I was happy to see that Jeff is really enjoying his time with Japanese students so far… he’s sensing that the Lord is really helping him to connect to Japanese students personally, which can often be very difficult for Americans.
Trevor (across from me) leads the team, is also a CSUF grad, and is in his second year working with students in Tokyo. He’s a stud. I had the privilege of discipling Trevor for his last couple years of college, and now it’s thrilling to watch him lead other men and women to help fulfill the Great Commission in one of the most unreached countries in the world.
Thanks for praying for us, for our local campuses, and for our efforts to bring the gospel to Tokyo, our partnership city. We’re very grateful for you!!
Within our movements on campus, we try to talk a lot about discipleship. Discipleship was at the heart of Jesus’ mission, and it is the centerpiece of His Great Commission: “Go therefore and make disciples”. Paul later expounds on Jesus’ strategy of discipleship when he instructs Timothy, “What you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust to faithful men, who will teach others also.” (2 Timothy 2:2) Within Cru, we label this discipleship strategy spiritual multiplication.
The essence of spiritual multiplication is that we want to develop gospel-centered men and women who develop more gospel-centered men and women who develop more… well, you get the idea. It’s quality over quantity. It’s multiplication versus addition. It’s Jesus’ strategy to give every man and woman on the planet a legitimate opportunity to know Him.
So that’s a big part of what we spend our time doing, and what we’re a part of. I (Jonathan), along with a few of the guys I’ve worked with, had the privilege of being a part of a video at our recent Winter Conference that illustrates well this concept of spiritual multiplication… check it out.
We’ve been intending to share our staff lip sync video (from this year’s Fall Retreat) with you for awhile. Better late than never, though, right? You may remember that one of our traditions at our annual Fall Retreat is a lip sync contest, where we typically have 10-15 student entries along with an effort from our staff team. It’s a blast. We do have two dancers on our team (Kristen is one of them), so in our humble opinion, we tend to set the bar :). Our song selection this year is called “Hot Cheetos and Takis”. Enjoy.
I’ll be honest: it’s tough just to get motivated enough to write a blog, but this one has been especially difficult to find the inspiration to write. You may know that our family has been trying to adopt a child for quite awhile now (about four years), with no success up to this point. There’s no real rhyme or reason for the long wait (well, there are some practical reasons, but not much within our control), but we can’t explain away the fact that we’re still waiting. We do still (tearfully) trust that the Lord knows what He’s doing, though.
Speaking of tears, we’ve had our fair share lately (That’s an interesting phrase- “fair share”- isn’t it? “Life’s not fair” is probably a more accurate description of life as it really is. I remember my dad using that phrase with my sister many times growing up :)). Anyway, we recently were matched with a birth mom (she picked our profile out of a handful that she was shown!) who was due with her baby about a week and a half ago. During the few weeks leading up to her due date, all the signs pointed to us bringing home a baby from the hospital.
But as the due date approached and then passed, we became more and more nervous that this mom had changed her mind. We actually spent time praying for the Lord’s best, even though we knew that could very well mean that this mom would choose to parent her little boy. And that’s exactly what happened- five days after the due date, our social worker called and informed us that the mom had already had her baby and had decided to parent.
The call came while the three of us were having dinner, which was sweet, because Kristen put the call on speaker, and we got to hear the news together. It wasn’t the news we wanted to hear, but it was comforting to be in it as a family, and to grieve together. Lucy has been especially encouraging as we’ve dealt with the loss… during the call, she put her head down in her arms so that we couldn’t make eye contact with her. When the call was over and she popped her head up, she told us that she was praying. And then she said, “It’s okay, we’ll get another one.” She’s a gift.
So there’s our most recent, hot-off-the-press adoption update. We’re about done giving out updates like this, so we’ll plan on connecting with you again soon with some exciting adoption news to share… sound good? Haha, if only we could plan that!
For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. Isaiah 55:8-9
Last month our staff team joined our students at their favorite social of the year: Night at the Oscars. We just mentioned it in our most recent newsletter, because it’s also one of Lucy’s favorite Cru events. Everyone dresses up, we have dinner, and we watch student-made videos together. Then, at the end of the evening, we give out awards for some of the best. It’s a very enjoyable evening, as we typically have about 100 of our students attend from across our scope.
To give you a taste of the evening, here’s the video that our staff team made… enjoy!
A few reasons why we love February…
1. Lucy is super excited to hand out Valentines to her classmates. And I’ll look forward to
stealing sharing some of the Valentine’s Day candy she brings home. Dearest Kindergartners, I love dark chocolate. ;).2. The best part of February 14th for our family, though, is celebrating Jonathan’s birthday! Our annual tradition for the birthday/Valentine’s celebration is to make and eat sushi together at home. Lucy *l o v e s* sushi and so do we. You know what they say… “You can take the Whitmores out of Japan…”
3. February is also an exciting month for ministry! Tonight we are hosting a dessert at our house for any students interested in Summer Missions with Cru. We love seeing students take steps of faith to surrender their summer plans to see how God might want to lead and use them.
4. Finally, February 26th we are hosting an outreach event on campus called The Maze. It’s a world renowned production that has been viewed accross the country at hundreds of college campuses. Jim Munroe, who headlines the show, is an illusionist. But students will get to experience so much more than just a magic show. Check it out here:
After four years of praying and waiting, months of paperwork, thousands of dollars raised and invested, and many tears shed… We have reached the end of the road with our Ethiopia adoption.
Ethiopia has not officially closed its doors to international adoption (although many regions within Ethiopia have) so our agency hasn’t officially closed its program there either. However, it’s been made pretty clear to us that because of the unhealthy climate and unethical practices of adoptions in Ethiopia, it is no longer wise (or encouraged by our agency) to pursue adoption there.
I’ve listed below a few bullet points which are excerpts from a recent email we received from our agency. These points summarize the sad and broken system of orphan care and adoption in Ethiopia better than we can…
- As a Non-Hague compliant country, the proper checks and balances do not exist to consistently demand ethical practice and procedures when it comes to placing orphaned children for adoption.
- No central authority in Ethiopia exists, which means that agencies work directly with orphanages to place children. This leads to competition between agencies especially as adoption has slowed all over the country and many adoptive families continue to wait around the world.
- The competitive setting has created a rising cost to actively place children for adoption, a system we do not support as an agency. Many orphanages are currently placing children with European agencies due to the amount of funds they administer to orphanages and fewer regulations to clear children for adoption through their respective embassies.
- Orphanage directors can receive money and use it in whatever way they see fit. Our experience is that this is not always in the best interest of the children they serve. Poor care continues in many orphanages around the country.
- Since agencies work directly with orphanages in Ethiopia to refer children for adoption, orphanage directors have in essence been put in a place of power. With the demand to place children growing, directors have started to use this power to receive money from international NGOs for whatever purpose they desire. The cost has exponentially increased over the past 2 years. We have heard up to $15,000 being asked to place one child. Sadly, many agencies have been willing to pay at any cost to continue to place children. This has led to an incredibly corrupt system.
- Historically [our agency] has supported orphanages through community development work and direct care to children including food, medical care and facility improvements. Unfortunately, this model no longer allows [our agency] to be considered a viable placing agency by many orphanages …Today, without offering orphanage directors money in exchange for children, we struggle to provide ethical adoptions.
We are sad for our family… for the loss of what could have been. But we are mostly sad for the orphans and families stuck in this broken system.
A few final thoughts…
- This is not just an Ethiopian problem, and we are not saying it’s anyone’s fault. This can happen anywhere- it’s a global problem. A human problem. There are many Ethiopian people and organizations that do great work for orphan care, orphan prevention and family restoration. We’re still learning more about this and hope to stay connected to Ethiopian orphan care by praying for and supporting their efforts.
- Not all adoptions that have taken place or will take place there are unethical. We would hate for this news to make you turn a critical eye to anyone you know who has already or is adopting from Ethiopia. We trust that there are still agencies taking the high and hard road that have been able to place true orphans in the homes and care of waiting families.
- We are grateful and it was worth it. We are so grateful for the agency that we had the opportunity to work with. We know that not a dollar or a year has been wasted in this process, although sometimes it can feel like it. We believe God called us in this direction for a reason… perhaps to open our eyes, to burden our hearts or to lead us into other opportunities. We will have to do more waiting to find out :).
- About a year ago (when we were beginning to question if Ethiopia would keeps its doors open to adoption) we started a domestic adoption process. We are still waiting for a placement domestically. We could get a call tomorrow, or in a year, or maybe God will close that door too. We don’t know but we continue to give our desires and plans to grow our family to the Lord and trust that He will lead us.
We would love if you would continue to pray with us as we wait.
With two dancers on our staff team this year, you had to know that our annual Fall Retreat staff lip sync would provide some entertainment :). Props this year to Kelsey and Kristen, our choreographers, as well as to Callie, our new staff girl who took part with very little time to practice! In case you missed it on Facebook, here’s what we do for work (haha)…
As we’re finishing off another school year, we’re also celebrating the many great things that the Lord has done in students’ lives and through our ministry. Thank you for your partnership with us! Wanna get a taste of what the Lord has done through Cru in north OC and Long Beach? Check out this short video…