Tuesday, November 8, 2011

On the Move

Our house is going on the market. (Anyone out there moving to Waco, Texas?) The Avery family is moving to China! This is a big step of faith for us, and one we know God is leading us to take. When Kevin and I first moved to China in 2001, we were there to teach English in a northeast college and build relationships with our students and fellow teachers. Those two years taught us many things. Our American teammates and others serving there from New Zealand, South Africa and Europe mentored and encouraged us. We grew to understand and appreciate the Chinese way of life and formed lasting friendships. We also made countless mistakes in the process but learned valuable lessons from those, too. We were stretched, challenged and forever changed. When we moved back to the States, Kevin completed his seminary degree, I helped care for my grandparents in their final years in Waco, and we welcomed two precious additions to our family, Molly and Hudson.

Kevin and I began to talk about the future – where we could serve God and help people in need. In Waco, we’ve worked with urban youth and community development, Bible Study Fellowship and discipling new believers. Kevin ministers to terminal patients and their families through his job as a hospice chaplain. I worked as managing editor of the Wacoan city magazine before “retiring” to stay at home with our kids. Yet we felt there was work we could do overseas, reaching out to a people group somewhere on the fringes of society, in a place with less resources and willing volunteers than in our local community. We began to pray and dream about what God had in store for us.

In the middle of this, Kevin was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. This certainly wasn’t our dream, and we struggled to process it. We researched MS and its debilitating effects. The leading MS specialist in Texas is an hour and a half away from us, and Kevin sought him out as his doctor. We began to adapt to this kink in our plans, and we began again to seek God’s direction for our future but this time through the lens of MS. Kevin’s doctor listed the countries around the world where MS medicine was available and quality healthcare readily accessible. China wasn’t on the list. We sought ministry opportunities in Europe and found a promising one in Southern Spain. We bought the Spanish Bible on MP3 and Kevin began to study the language daily. And then God intervened.

During a conference at our church on Saturday, June 26, 2010, Kevin was confronted by how much he was living in fear of his condition and limiting the work God had for us to do because of it. We weren’t allowing God to show us his plans for our life; rather, we were deciding where we could help others and share God’s love in a “safe-for-us” environment. Kevin repented and felt God’s reassurance to trust him fully. “Your will be done, God,” Kevin prayed, and he immediately sensed God’s affirmation of our family’s return to China. After he shared all of this with the congregation, the keynote speaker felt impressed to pray for Kevin’s healing. This was certainly an unexpected turn of events, but in the coming days and weeks, Kevin’s healing was confirmed in several ways. Six months later, an MRI revealed absolutely no progression of MS since Kevin’s initial diagnosis in April 2010.

Through this, we have again felt ourselves being stretched, challenged and forever changed. We believe God has a clear purpose for our family in China, at this specific time in our lives. We are unsure how long our stay will be, but we are responding in faith, determined to seek God’s direction each year and be obedient to this role he has for us. And it’s a different role than before, in a different city, working more with the community at large than in a college setting. There will still be opportunities available to build relationships through teaching English, but the group we will be working with is a Christian humanitarian aid organization with an emphasis on medical care.

The group has been active in northeast China for nearly 30 years. It has a vision to serve children, the handicapped, elderly and poor in China through health care and community development. It works with a local hospital to provide chaplaincy care (a relatively unknown concept) and facilitate clinics by short-term medical teams (doctors, dentists, optometrists, etc.). It has a foster care program and hosts an annual summer camp for disabled children and their families to attend and receive respite from the challenges of daily life.

During our initial time in China, Kevin and I realized one of the heartbreaking effects of a country of 1.3 billion people is that disabled citizens are largely ignored. They are not valued as contributing members of society and often denied opportunities for education or employment. Cities and buildings are starting to become more handicapped accessible, but there are tremendous quality-of-life restrictions simply due to wheelchair confinement, much less greater disability issues. We know, however, that every person has great value and worth. The handicapped need to be included, not shunned. They need to be seen, acknowledged and loved.

We hope to care for disabled children and build relationships with their parents and immediate family members. We want to encourage them and teach them about living with purpose. We want to raise our children alongside them and reach out to their friends and teachers. We want Molly and Hudson to see firsthand how loving and serving others can make an eternal difference.

There is so much more to share and explain. We will be updating regularly as we prepare for this life change. We appreciate your prayers and support during this time. There is much to learn and do in the coming months!