Blog

Hi, I’m Justine. My husband and I live with out three girls in Malawi, Africa where we work in discipleship and development. I write about the small things that make up our days, and you will often find references to birth and the enneagram hidden throughout. I’m a rhyme addict, and my biggest lessons of parenthood and cross-cultural life often are articulated best in poetry.

Embrace: A word for the year

Americans. We are hard to generalize in one statement, because we are diverse. However, generally overseas, we are known to be loud, and vocal with our opinions. We are very expressive with our emotions, and we really like to give hugs. Before moving overseas, I didn’t realize how uncomfortable this can make other cultures feel, particularContinue reading “Embrace: A word for the year”

Missionary Feet

My daughter, like many others, loves to put on my shoes. Strangely my sturdy Tevas are not as picturesque as a pair of heels. The first time she tried them on, my pulse quickened with concern. My shoes are with me everywhere. The street. The dirt. Drop toilets. Everywhere. And in wanting to be likeContinue reading “Missionary Feet”

The Market

Food movies make me want to move to France. By and large these movies include French words, French cuisine, and an overall love for everything French. Since our daughter’s name is  French, this would be a natural move – supposing we could find a small town such as the one in A hundred foot journeyContinue reading “The Market”

Language lessons in humility

If you’ve ever wanted a practice in humility, try learning another language. Language blunders provide ample opportunity for both sublime entertainment and profuse apologies. For example, Ryan and I have been quick to learn that the word meaning “to plan or prepare” sounds very similar to the word used to describe relieving oneself. Thankfully RyanContinue reading “Language lessons in humility”

Walking large

 We have gotten in the habit of taking a daily walk around Namikango, weather permitting. If red-caked mud doesn’t cling to our shoes, it’s into the forest we go – through trees covering carpets of green life, past tall maize which must be near ready to harvest. We walk past the maternity clinic, greeted byContinue reading “Walking large”

Plumerias and Cooking Fat

First-time visitors are reliable to come up with observation statements, often comparing things that seem similar to the way they are at “home.” The clothing, the coca-cola, car companies and brand names. Isn’t it interesting that while we may love taking in the “newness” of things around us, our sight is drawn to what weContinue reading “Plumerias and Cooking Fat”

Why Malawi?

“When did you know you were called to missions?” I have often had people ask. Rather than share about a voice from above experience, I share about people that have influenced my understanding of Jesus over the years. Of a college education that left me convinced that because I follow Jesus, I want to beContinue reading “Why Malawi?”

Work: Alleviating poverty and the danger of false identity

Idleness is debilitating.

MoHI welding program - Photo Credit: Ryan Barnett
MoHI welding program – Photo Credit: Ryan Barnett

Father, husband, shows up at a construction site, waiting for the day’s assignment. No work for the day, he wanders back into the streets, unable to provide for his family that day. What options does that leave? Targeting items of the wealthier, gang involvement, alcoholism and more. Of course, this is not the only factor. There are systems around him – economic, social, political, that play a part in his story.

Repeated generation after generation.

It’s been called a cycle. There is no easy exit – no straight line to follow directions out of.

And so, it’s into the cycle we go – and many others – to find a point to grab onto and wrestle with, loosening the ease before another generation repeats the same story.

Bead work training
MoHI Bead work training program

The opportunity to work is one point we have grabbed onto. Access to small amounts of capital and basic basic financial services – the ability to save, training in a marketable skill. Attacking the thief of idleness through work.

With work, Father, husband finds something to accomplish, and a way to provide. Dignity. Mother, wife, finds value in services that can better the community rather than play on their vices. Dignity.

But today, we wake up and find ourselves in a different environment. Several friends cannot go to work because the federal government has termed their jobs un-essential. Our situation is different – support raising requires a different set of scheduled events. For those of us without an “8-5,” it is all too easy to feel a different pull…

I should be doing something more. 

Anxiety begins to build when there is not a pile of things scheduled to do – projects that need to be completed.

Is this idleness? Or is this an unhealthy pressure from something different?

This world – the first-world, operates on constant movement and submission to chronos.

To work, to perform, in quest of success. Recognition. To please, and to impress. Until there is nothing left to give.

Even in the world of working against poverty, a pressure builds to succeed.

No matter how hard you have worked – at the end of the day what do you have to show for it? Often, in Kenya, there was very little “productivity” we could show at the end of the day. One thing a day was enough to be proud of. This is not laziness – this is all of the factors that play into getting something accomplished. The four meetings that need to take place to have everyone on board before a decision is made – the cultural importance of the group. The things that come up while those meetings are supposed to take place – the inability to control outside circumstances – life keeps going on in the world outside – the world we are here to work for. 

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The issue is not work itself, but the way we define ourselves by our work – or lack of.

How often initial meetings begin with the question – “What do you do?”

Somehow, somewhere, we have developed this idea that our worth is intrinsically tied to what we do.

Which slowly, over time, tears away at the same dignity we praise to build up.

Both worlds ache for lack of freedom. Freedom that lifts Father, husband from turning to drink and releases Mother, wife from choosing shame.

Freedom that breathes on the over-worked and says simply, “You are the beloved.”

Breath that breathes kairos into our chronos, and tells us that God is nearer than we think.

And, as we pause to catch a whisper of this breath, washes over us with the identity that we can never find in work.

Before we can leave our homes searching for income for the day, or before we can lift a finger to turn on the computer, We are loved.

Dinner table conversations: The heritage of our food

How has a month passed without a new post? This month, I can tell you exactly how. 7,000 driven miles, at least 8 audio-books completed, (Our favorite activity during long drives), surprise visits and long-awaited reunions, farewells and see-you-laters, meeting new friends (and new family members!), and lots and lots of food. Most recently, weContinue reading “Dinner table conversations: The heritage of our food”

Five minutes away

These days, I struggle with time. Perhaps it’s “Africa Time,” that isn’t easily shaken. Time is governed by relationships, not by a schedule. Today I noticed something more. By simply being in California, I feel like I am five minutes away from anything. We are in the same time zone, and Orange County isn’t as large as oceans away, so clearly it shouldn’t take more than five minutes to get anywhere.  Having lived half my college experience on the 91 freeway, you would think I knew better.

Regardless, it has happened again and again. Late by at least 15-minutes. And now with school back in session, University traffic clogs up freeways and side-streets alike. I’m sure you find yourself in the same traffic, but hopefully having planned a bit better on the timing to your final destination.

We’ve been in California for the last several weeks, spending sweet time camping, hiking, cooking, eating, laughing, walking, and driving more than ever before. And now, traffic is the reminder that people are back to normal. A dear friend is starting school as a professor at two Christian Universities. Another is starting her MSW program while raising two beautiful girls. We are mourning along with others, lives that have passed on in the last few weeks. New school years, new friends, new projects, and a return to their “normal”, whatever it may look like.

People have asked if it is hard, going back and forth, staying in other people’s homes, traveling for months. It was this way just after we got married – our first three months of marriage were in other people’s homes! Sure, it may not be the typical experience, but it is ours, and we are thankful.

Right now, our full time job is support-raising. Inviting people to partner with us as we move to Malawi.

Both of these things reverberate daily what I long to hear as an echo forever –

All is gift – All is grace

Every day, we drive up to a home that many someones have let us stay in at no cost. We eat meals together, and share laughter and tears at the joys and heartaches of their lives. And for these few moments, days, or weeks that we are able to share together, we cherish closeness of proximity. Nudging against the schedule, we feel it.

There is more than living out these chronological days. 

It is easy to feel a part of lives that are five minutes away. It’s these moments and conversations that build on previous foundations of friendships, and invite new ones to form. And somehow, they are sweet, knowing that time is limited.

Our shared space is not often this near. 

Pulling into a prime parking spot, the dashboard reminds me that I am ten minutes past my expected arrival time. But how wonderful to be able to drive ten minutes away and hug a friend or family member. Twenty minutes. An hour.

Despite the traffic, in comparison, it’s only five minutes away.

Just one of the places in Southern California that we visited with my mom and little brother.
Just one of the places in Southern California that we visited with my mom and little brother.

Open-ended stories

Several friends have recently returned from short-term trips to Kenya. This time, I get to hear them from the other side. It is good to hear things moving on, changing, growing. A few weeks ago I was able to connect with friend-turned-sister, who I worked and lived with in Kenya. We remarked that the worldContinue reading “Open-ended stories”

Please remember us

“Please remember us.” I cannot count the good-byes I have shared in the last three years. Whether dear friends leaving after some time, or new friends leaving after a week, it is another part of the “normal” of life overseas. Over time, it becomes a choice to continue saying “hello,” when you know you willContinue reading “Please remember us”

On seeing the crowd…

I’ve never noticed the crowd before. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven…”  Now, THAT I’ve read again and again. I’ve imagined it, a peaceful scene. Jesus, on the top of a rocky hill, in the middle of green grass swaying as a  light breeze carries his words toContinue reading “On seeing the crowd…”

Blue Cotton Shorts

Kenyan pupils can be incredible listeners. (I learned a few years ago, that in Kenya a “pupil” is called so when they are between nursery class to grade 8, and a “student” is one who is in Secondary School – Form one to form four.) Many a foreign visitor has remarked on how well behavedContinue reading “Blue Cotton Shorts”

Marriage, Mold and Home Decor

When you are engaged, conversation is all about the wedding. Colors and decor, decisions and dresses- are all part of the joyous anticipation before the big day! For Ryan and I, the conversations sped up and lasted a total of two months. (A wonderful decision, I might add!) And in the weeks following, to myContinue reading “Marriage, Mold and Home Decor”

Waiting

There are many ways to wait. The type of waiting can be determined by what we are waiting for. Last week, 16 mobile dental units were set up in the church hall, and the gates were opened. We began with the students, but word soon got out. There was a dental clinic in town, andContinue reading “Waiting”

Meeting Faith and Something New

The floor was immaculate by comparison, and lined with a thick patterned plastic design, similar to wallpaper or drawer liner. Blue flowers dotted the ground, and met lace fabric that covered the stack of belongings in the corner. In front of me, a waist high cabinet held pots, pans and other items necessary for dailyContinue reading “Meeting Faith and Something New”

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