Sending Missionaries Well

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Recently I had the great privilege of a trip back to the United States to connect with our family and friends.  As a missionary in South Africa now, our times in the USA are packed full with connecting with those we don't often see.  It had been two years since my last visit to America so I had MANY connections to make.  

Time as a missionary is spent telling stories, and the Prince family has many, many tales to share of our time living in South Africa.  We are journeying alongside people as they come to know God, learn to build their lives, become strong in their giftings and callings, and develop into the leaders that are going to change this beautiful nation.  I was at a gathering with some of our supporters and they were asking me to share some stories with them from the mission field. During a pause, an excited supporter asked me to share what was REALLY on my mind.  This dear friend thought I was in a spiritual reflection when I actually was just deeply struck with gratitude at the simplicity of what was happening.  I told him that I didn't have any spiritual musings, but only a radical thankfulness that I had a group of people who wanted to hear these stories.  I was simply struck that someone wanted to listen to me.

As a missionary, we spend time every single day with people who we serve and most of our stories are too intimate and personal to share on social media.  But these moments are treasures to us.  They are people and hearts and moments and conversations and breakthrough and we hold them so dear to our heart.  To have a group of people who simply wanted to hear them meant the world to my little heart, and I think it’s imperative that all missionaries have this sort of support.

How can you be a good supporter of the missionaries you know?

  1. LISTEN WELL. Missionaries are experiencing a high concentration of beautiful moments and dark encounters and they deeply desire to share them. Ask missionaries about these moments and what they have learned from them.

  2. PRAY WELL. Pray for the missionaries you know, and be asking how you can specifically be praying for them. We have a prayer team that covers us spiritually, and it means the world to have people backing us from afar.

  3. LOVE WELL. When you do get to see missionaries, LOVE EXTRAVAGENTLY on them. We are always crazy humbled by our community when we return home from the mission field as they lavish love and blessing on us. Missionaries are usually the ones loving on others so it feels humbling to be filled by someone.

Nine years into our own journey as missionaries we clearly recognize that we could NEVER do what we are called to do without an incredible well of people who have sent us so well. We are grateful to God for all of you!

The NEW Diagnosis

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We have entered a new chapter in our lives with a NEW DIAGNOSIS over Keller's life.  

A couple weeks ago we had a follow-up appointment with Keller's pediatric neurologist who diagnosed him on the autism spectrum in 2014.  We initiated the meeting because we felt that it was time to talk with her about Keller's diagnosis as it had become clear to us and his other therapists and community that he had truly lost all his symptoms.  

This appointment put me in a very tender and emotional state.  I was sure of what I had seen in Keller's life and deeply certain of the incredible and miraculous strides he had made since his diagnosis, but I also trust this expert and her opinion and wisdom into Keller's life.  Without her concrete diagnosis on Keller's life when he was 22 months we would NEVER be where we are today.  She sat at that first appointment and even before she had written up a full assessment she knew unequivocally that he was on the autism spectrum.  She left no doubt or questioning in our minds when we left her office and her certainty helped launch us into our new mission with Keller.  

However, as much as we are eternally grateful for this doctor, being on the doorstep of meeting with her again made me feel like my own fate was in her hands once more.  I felt vulnerable and extremely emotional the entire day leading up to the appointment.  There are times still in our journey with Keller when a wave of emotion, grief, or fear will wash over me about his life and I feel again like I might drown without the anchor of God to hold me in the storm.  We are blessed to have an incredibly supportive community around us and so some of our closest friends prayed with me during that day as we anticipated the appointment.

At last the appointment arrived.  Casey was confident, Keller was clueless and happy (as usual) and I was an emotional wreck.  Quickly in our conversation Dr. Schleigal asked why we were there and we told her about our desire for her to assess Keller's progress.  She asked Keller some questions and we continued to chat and then she said "Well he is obviously NOT on the spectrum!"

This sentence that just rolled of her tongue has absolutely has changed our lives.  Our son Keller does NOT have autism anymore.  Keller is NOT on the autism spectrum.  The new diagnosis is that we have NO DIAGNOSIS.  We just have a happy and full-of-life little boy.

This was what we had always hoped for but also were scared to dream of.  A couple years ago Casey and Kieren started praying every night that Keller would lose his diagnosis, but it was too scary and vulnerable for me to pray.  For me, God was still GOOD even if Keller never lost his diagnosis.  I didn't NEED that miracle, I just needed God in the midst of whatever our story was supposed to be.  But over the last year it has become glaringly clear that Keller does not have autism, and to let myself even begin to accept that has been huge.  But this appointment, this day with our doctor, was the confirmation of it all.  And it has been so good.

Honestly, it still feels unreal when I think that I DON'T have a son with special needs now.  It became a part of our identity as a family, not just for Keller, so it's strange that the term no longer applies.  We now look ahead to our future and dream with new lenses for Keller.  So much is possible, so much is tangible, so much is even beginning to happen now.  We have a new diagnosis of a son WITHOUT autism and our lives ahead look rich with promise and potential.

Serving in the LITTLE

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Some days life, family, ministry is BIG and FULL and feels so significant.  Other days it's unseen and small and tedious.  This is life and it's both grand and ordinary.  But this life is also our gift to GOD and how we treat both the grand and the ordinary says something about how we worship this God.

Luke 16:10 says, "If you are faithful in little things, you will be faithful in large ones. But if you are dishonest in little things, you won't be honest with greater responsibilities."

This scripture isn't just about money but it's really EVERYTHING in our lives, because everything we have is a gift from God and we must be faithful in what we have been given.  Lately I have noticed that my life is SUCH a gift and the places God has allowed me to be in ministry are SUCH A GIFT.  I feel like things are growing and evolving and I just want to honor God in it all and be faithful with what I have been given.  GOD help me be faithful!!

There is a little boy in our road named Logan.  EVERYONE knows Logan.  Logan comes to our front door EVERY. SINGLE. DAY.  He is looking mostly for Keller, but he is just looking for attention, love, someone to listen to his stories.  My time daily talking to Logan is very little but in God's eyes it's also VERY BIG.  God wants us to be faithful in the huge moments but also, and maybe especially, in the little moments with Logan.

God has just moved in my heart to tell me that He sees how I am sewing into the big things and especially into the little things.  Our hearts are not most revealed when we work hard at the big things that everyone sees and notices, but our hearts are truly known when we give everything in the little, the things no one will see or ever hear about.  It's GOD that we are doing this all for and HE is the audience.

Serve with beauty and boldness in the LITTLE.

 

You Went BIG

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New friends of ours showed up at Keller's 6th birthday party this weekend with their son, and the dad took a look around the kitchen and said, "WHOA, you went BIG!" It was just a passing comment to him but really struck me as I glanced around our decorated kitchen.  Ummm, yes it seems that after HOURS of party preparation for Keller's superhero party, we had in fact gone REALLY BIG.  There were decorations, games, themes, food, banners, and more.  It was SUPER BIG. 

I thought later about that comment made by the father about us going BIG because I hadn't realized it before.  We always love celebrating birthdays in our home and as a family love putting together a party, but this one had gotten pretty extreme.  What happened that made it so BIG?

A quick reflection easily revealed that my heart is overflowing with thankfulness and celebration as Keller has recently lost his autism diagnosis.  There seems to be SO MUCH to celebrate.  Keller's early birthday parties were only a few people, and even that seemed to completely overwhelm his little head and heart.  As the years have gone on we have added people to his parties and they have become more big and boisterous.  But this year we have been planning his birthday party for MONTHS and he has been filled with eager anticipation for it.  He loves his friends, he loves a party, and he loves to celebrate.  We were all looking forward to it.

But maybe I was the one most looking forward to it.  To gather a big group of people and have a ruckus and rowdy celebration for my son is a true gift and one that I don't take lightly.  My son, who use to have autism and would literally SCREAM if anyone walked into our living room, now planned an entire party (and dinner that followed) for the people he loved and relished in every moment.  Truly, he soaked up all the love, attention and friendship of every single person that was there. 

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It.  Was.  Stunning.

So yes.  I went BIG.  I went REALLY BIG.  I made too many decorations and I made the whole family dress up like superheroes and I bought WAY too much food and the whole thing was super over the top.  I went BIG.  But for my miracle boy I absolutely love BIG and celebrating all that God has done in his life.

Happy birthday dear Keller.  For you, my son, we go BIG!

Shoot To Kill

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We were awoken abruptly in the middle of the night with the sound of three gunshots nearby.  Silence.  Three more gunshots and I reached over and grabbed Casey’s arm in the dark. Silence.  One more shot. 

 

Unfortunately, it’s not completely abnormal to hear gunshots if you live in the community of Ocean View.  Gangsterism is a part of life and we know many of the gangsters and their families who live near us.  We don’t feel threatened by them and the gang violence is towards other gang members, not innocent bystanders.  However, there are moments that sharply and aggressively remind you of the danger around you and the fragility of life. 

 

We talked about the shots fired the next morning, how jolting it was, and how especially ominous the final and lone gunshot was.  Casey remarked “that shot was the shoot to kill.”  He was right.  The other shots were aimed at another person to hurt them or stop them or wound them, but the final shot must have been at close range and was the shoot to kill.  That was the shot to take someone out for good.

 

This really got me thinking in spiritual terms and how the enemy must have a ‘shoot to kill’ tactic for each of us too.  The devil fires many different ‘shots’ trying to take us all down in many different ways.  John 10:10 says “The enemy comes to steal, kill, and destroy…”  We don’t realize it but the enemy is always trying to attack us.  It’s a part of our reality that we don’t like to think about, but ignoring it can be unwise.  1 John 5:19 says, “The whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one”.  Going even further, 1 Peter 5:8 describes the enemy as “a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour…”

 

In contrast, Jesus Christ offers us so much more - “exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think” (Ephesians 3:20).  God wants an abundant and full life for us in Him; every single one of us.  But we are under attack and to live not recognizing our spiritual reality it is blind ignorance.  There is a death warrant on each of our heads.  The enemy wants death in our relationships, death in our families, death in our emotional lives, death in our finances, and death in our relationship with God, just to name a few. 

 

Thankfully we weren’t in danger the night of those nearby gunshots, we must live aware of the spiritual battle around us all.  I pray we ask God to help us see our world in new ways.

Doing GOOD

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Thousands of women and I attended the Hillsong Colour Conference this past week in Cape Town, South Africa.  God certainly did spectacular things there and exceeded all expectations.  But what truly made my heart sour was nothing related to the production, world-class speakers, or epic and memorable moments from the stage.

This was my seventh Colour conference to attend, and as usual I had the beautiful privilege of hosting women from Ocean View for the stunning event.  Since it is a world-class conference it would be something out of reach for most of the families of Ocean View that support themselves and so many other around them.  Year after year, Hillsong Church has graciously sponsored a group from Ocean View so they woudn't miss out on the appointment with God.  Not only does Hillsong help sponsor our tickets, but they also provide transport, welcome the ladies as if they were royalty, and feed and personally host us throughout the entire conference.  They truly go above and beyond and it makes us feel like the most exclusive guests at the conference.

During one of the sessions where we were hearing about the incredible and inspiring work of people around the world for the kingdom of God, I sat listening with my Ocean View sisters and was overcome with emotion.  I don't have to travel around the world to see brave and sacrificial work done by the people of God, I only need to look to my sisters in Ocean View.  These women serve and love in ways that I could never imagine and each have a story of life in Christ that moves me.  They inspire me greatly and I found myself deeply grateful for their time at the conference to be refreshed and renewed for what God had for them to do in their lives.

What an honor to be a part of a church that truly considers others and shares what God has given us to those outside.  They love and care for the Ocean View community and I count it as such a privilege to help host these stunning ladies.  May we NEVER neglect doing good!

“Do not neglect to do good and share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.”

-Hebrews 13:16 ESV

Choosing Bravery

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Our son Keller is starting a new chapter in his life this year as he is now attending Grade R (called Kindergarten in the USA) and it's been a huge transition for him.  When we went to visit the school and had the 'meet the teacher' day, he ended the day crying because he was so overwhelmed and just wanted to stay at his playschool.  My heart was broken watching him struggle and we began to tell him over and over again that he was BRAVE.  He is BRAVE.

Now Keller has started school, and today was a true revelation in my heart that Keller doesn't need to become brave because KELLER ALREADY IS BRAVE.  Today Keller went to school just as normal but a friend who teaches in his school sent us a beautiful picture of him as he chose to be brave today and get dressed up as a skeleton which he had never done before.  He was smiling with pride and my momma heart soared to know he is choosing bravery in something that was an obsticle before.

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Every day at school, without the help of his obsessively loving parents, Keller is choosing to be brave and step into new and unknown things.  We watch from the sidelines and cheer from the background and couldn't be more proud of him.

But as I cheer I can hear God speaking very clearly to me about my own path and the obstacles that are in my way.  Just as we have been telling Keller to be brave, God has been telling ME that it's my turn to be brave.  It's time for ME to choose bravery.

Having a child with special needs is a journey that is hard to even describe to those who haven't walked this path.  You live constantly planning, thinking, therapizing, sacrificing and praying for your child and each day is a challenge to tackle.  We have walked that road for three years, but now our little miracle is flying into his own world and living bravely all the things we have taught him.  It is stunning to watch your child thrive, but can I be honest that it's also strangely painful to see your child fly away.  I have walked with Keller every step of his past three years and what he is doing now is beyond my wildest dreams, and when I am honest it also causes a sharp pain in my heart because I am no longer needed.  This calling that was put on my life to be a special needs mother, the calling I never asked for and never-ever wanted is now part of my identity.  But what happens if it's NOT my identity any more?  What I never wanted is now so deeply who I am that I do not know how to separate from it.  Part of me doesn't want to separate from it.  All of me doesn't know how to separate from it.

And so in this confusion and heart pang God is telling ME now to choose bravery.  God knows my hurt and searching and has gone before every moment I am feeling.  God is telling me to choose to be brave, even when I would rather cry and be overwhelmed like Keller has in previous times.  God is telling me to BE BRAVE.  May we always choose to be brave.

“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear. – NELSON MANDELA

Too Close to Home

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We are seriously living the dream as American missionaries living in Cape Town, South Africa.  We have been here 8 years now and so things aren't 'new' to us anymore and we have learned so many lessons.  We live in a 'coloured' (mixed race) township of about 300,000 people called Ocean View and it truly has become home.  There is so much to be thankful for, and yet every once in a while things hit too close to home....

In recent times the people of our community grew a great anger and unrest about the state of policing and protection for the innocent in our community.  The gang situation has been worsening and it seems our home is a place where people who are running from the law come to hide.  This creates violence between the gangs.  Most of the times the violence is late at night in the dark corners of the community, but every once in a while it comes out into the open.  Recently a young boy was shot and killed as he stood in his own home as his family prepared for a wedding the next day.  It was unthinkable and tragic and wrong and the community went in an uproar.  Eventually we began to see riots outside the entrances of the community, a common way of protesting in South Africa.  People take tires and burn them with oil, they throw rocks at cars, and they chant with signs and shouting about their complaints.  It usually starts honest and passionate and can sometimes end violently.  Unfortunately this is what we encountered surprisingly one morning.

We were leaving to take the children to school one morning, and had been hearing through the social media conversations that the protests were heating up in the front of the community.  We had our children and two teachers in our car and hoped to simply drive out the back of Ocean View.  We got to the entrance and immediately the bonfire of tires and gasoline sent chills down my spine.  The fire was ominous but was in the middle of the road and so I thought I could simply drive around.  As I began to drive, three Rastafarian men suddenly surrounded my car and began angrily shouting at me.  "Turn back!  Turn around!  Go back!!"  It all happened so quickly but what I remember clearly was the look in their eyes of mad hate.  They were so aggressive and had never met me a moment in their lives.  For some reason my first instinct was to roll down my window and calmly and clearly speak with them.  I began to tell them that we WERE going through and that we had some place to be.  No matter how calm I was, the fact that I wasn't heeding to their anxious instructions only made them more angry and they then began to shake the car and continued to shout.  At this point (again I am not sure why this was my response) but I got louder and ordered them to stop, which they did.  They quickly (and strangely) calmed down and shyly said I could pass (looking around to make sure no one saw).  I said thank you and we drove on.

Only then did I notice that the kids were crying in the backseat and the teachers, both residents of Ocean View, were also very shaken up.  We all were in shock.  It just happened so fast and I had no idea how I would respond to it outside of the moment.  The children quickly calmed down and we talked about it many times afterwards to make sure they weren't traumatized.  The teachers debriefed with their staff at school and were fine.  For the rest of the day, however, the moments kept playing in my mind over and over again.  I knew the outcome, and I knew that I just reacted from my guts in the heat of the moment, but what if it had all escalated?  What if they had thrown the rocks at the car (which happened to other cars)?  What if they had forced us to get out?  Who knows what could have happened to my precious children?  What if it had all gone terrifyingly different?

We love living in this community and absolutely love the people of Ocean View, but violence and pain are unfortunately a part of the story as well.  We can't always predict what will happen and things like 'safety' are viewed differently by us than most we know.  However, when it comes TOO CLOSE TO HOME it can really rock my soul.  What am I willing to put out there for this calling?  How much risk is too much?  How much love is too much?  How much of what my children experience and witness is too much?  How much of what I experience and witness is too much? 

I don't know the answers to these questions, but I am glad that I provide the space to wrestle with them when they simmer to the surface.  They do not have concrete answers but they need to be asked.  The need to be noted and the questions need to be felt.  Once I allow myself to wrestle with them I settle back again into the glaring certainty of our call to Ocean View.  I sense again in my soul our family's calling to live among these friends as neighbors and family.  Soemtimes the cost may seem too much, but it's not today, and it wasn't on that day.  The cost is actually NEVER too much when it's what God has called you too.  After the questions and the wrestlings we find a deep peace in knowing our calling and being obedient.  And we know God is with us, and that even when it seems too close to home, our home is really in HIM.  And we are really good with that.

 

Shining a Light

Recently in Ocean View I have started up another Shine course.  Shine is a course created by Hillsong Church with a goal to use Biblical principals to teach woman about their value, worth, and inner potential.  It has profound principles, is full of truth without being overly 'Christian,' and just creates a fun and touching atmosphere for women to connect with one another and themselves.  I absolutely love teaching it and the fruit that comes from each course.

The women I am teaching all doing various sorts of volunteer work in the community of Ocean View, as well as being from the community of Ocean View.  To me, this means that these woman already know the life that comes from helping and serving others, and so I honor them already.  What they don't always know is their own value and beauty, and already we have begun to uncover that in our time together.

Being around these woman has reminded me of the beauty in allowing your own light to shine.  One of the women began to share her heart and her story, and how much her life changed after she came off drugs.  She had been addicted for years and years, and now her new life in Jesus is completely different away from that lifestyle.  She now serves the people of Ocean View alongside her daughter, determined to make those around her know the love of God.

I am stunned by how significant a life and heart can change when Jesus Christ shines His love on them.  I am stunned by how much light comes out of this woman as she shines for Jesus.  I am stunned to see her huge potential and in awe of all I know God will still do as He shines through her.

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Time and time again as I spend time with friends, old and new, in Ocean View, I am struck by the fact that it is not I who is shining the light of Jesus on them, but them shining the light of Jesus on me.  Through their lives and hearts I get to see a part of God that I have never personally experienced but am humbled and awestruck to know.  Who knows what God has ahead for these women, and even for my own life.

The Edge of Autism

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Our days with autism, could be numbered.

We are walking a journey with our Keller James that is miraculous and unbeleivable.  It is at the same time hard to take in and yet all we have wanted to see for years.  It's the days we dreamed of... when we were brave enough to dream.

Keller has finished creche (preschool) and in January 2018 he began Grade R (kindergarten).  He attends the same school Kieren attends, a normal primary school filled with neuro-typical boys and girls.  The school does value inclusion and has a few kids on the spectrum and with other intellectual disabilities, but it looks likely that Keller will not be one of them.  For sure, he was nervous about the change to 'big school,' but he is ready, and we, his biggest fans in the world, know that he will thrive.

At this point we have been told by multiple therapists that Keller does not have ANY of the symptoms of the autism spectrum and some have recommended that we meet with our diagnosing doctor about taking away his diagnosis.  This can happen, where a child would 'lose a diagnosis' because of intervention and an overcoming of symptoms.  We see Keller still struggling at times with focus and other tasks, but we agree that truly his defining autism symptoms are no more.

I someone wonder, with a huge lump in my throat, HOW DID WE GET HERE?

How did we get to a point where our child has no symptoms of autism and absolutely thrives in every part of his life?  Was that other child we had just a dream or was that really our life?

We know that Keller's autism diagnosis at 22 months was very real and it was very accurate.  He met all the criteria for autism and had symptoms that were moderate.  Our lives were completely turned upside down by the diagnosis and our family became intervention experts and all personal therapists for Keller.  

We have walked a three year journey with Keller where every moment was an opportunity to have therapy and help him learn and our efforts have proven fruitful.

What has been the most fruitful in this journey with autism has always been PRAYER and the PRESENCE of GOD.  We have always known that God was with us and have always seen His hand on Keller’s life.  There are changes and advancements that could have only come by a miracle and we never will forget what God has done.