Trying to learn gratitude amidst some challenges...

Dear Friends and Family,

At Michelle's suggestion, I'm slowly reading a marvelous book on gratitude right now; it's lovely (and yes, it's kind of a chick book, and I really like it). The author, Ann Voskamp, reflects on the way that gratitude cultivates awareness of God's generosity, and how gratitude depends on humility, insofar as pride and tacit suppositions about what I'm "entitled to" suffocate my apprehension of God's gifts. Expectations kill relationships--especially with God, she writes. Pride... [is] a beast that pulls on a mask of anger.... Pride slays thanksgiving.... A proud man is seldom a grateful man, for he never thinks he gets as much as he deserves.

These reflections have been poignant for me these past couple months, as I have struggled against a sense of mounting frustration over things that haven't gone according to plan (aggravation with our boys' school,
maddening government bureaucracy, problems with a major book shipment for our library, concerns about our support levels, etc). I feel so strongly that things should NOT be as they are (and I sometimes feel futile in my inability to change things), that in the cavity created by my helplessness I feel frustration slowly reach a boil. Pride...a beast that pulls on a mask of anger

So, instead of giving in to frustration, I'm trying to practice gratitude actively. To enumerate God's daily gifts to us. To remind myself that I don't get to expect or deserve anything. That everything good is a grace, to which the only licit response is gratitude.

These reflections on my spiritual struggles should not, however, obscure the fact that lots of great things are happening here in Medellín. We're hard at work on the new Master's program, and making great progress. My class on Acts is going well, and the students are gaining lots of ground. What's more, I have had the chance to give some lectures to the Freshman class on research methodology, and that's been really rewarding. These things are only snippets on the list of God's gifts to us this month, reminders (to crib from Voskamp again) to Bend the knee and be small and let God give what God chooses to give because He only gives love... This is the fuel for joy's flame. 

Peace be with you all,

Christopher, Michelle, Judah, Asher, and Zoe Hays

From Michelle

The highlight of our month was the opportunity to travel for the first time in Colombia outside of Medellín. We went on a weekend faculty retreat to Guatapé which is about two hours away by bus. I cannot tell you how much we enjoyed the chance to spend time with other faculty and staff of the seminary and to relax in a quiet, peaceful place away from the noise of city life. As a family we have been delighting in a book series called Swallows and Amazons in which the main characters (4 siblings and their 2 friends) spend their summers sailing up and down a lake, living on an island in their homemade tents, and exploring caves. On this trip to Guatapé our kids swam in a lake for the first time, explored a cave with real bats, took a boat out on the lake and did their own digging in the sand for pirate treasure. They boys both mentioned to me that this weekend was their time to live out the adventures in our story which made my heart glad.  

A typical school run

Some of you have asked what our day-to-day life is like so I thought I would give you a glimpse by describing our short walk to school. At 6:30am, the kids and I (Michelle) head out and we are greeted by this beautiful view of the mountains wrapped in clouds. Buses and motorcycles race down the hill an arms length (or less!) away from us as we make our way down the hill. Horns are honking loudly and I feel like we must be the last ones to have woken up in the whole city. On an unlucky day, white school uniforms are dirtied as we are blasted by thick, black exhaust from one of the passing buses. We only have one intersection to cross but it does not have a traffic light, a crosswalk or a crossing guard nor does it seem to have distinguishable lanes of traffic. Buses, taxis, cars, motorcycles and bicycles are all trying to push their way through and no one seems to care whose turn it is to go next. As a pedestrian, I am often unable to find a gap between the traffic that will give us sufficient time to get across. However, usually it is only a matter of time before the traffic is totally stopped with the congestion. At this point, I try to wedge us into a crowd of locals (who unlike myself appear to be very relaxed about the situation) and they kindly help us weave our way between the bumpers of the stopped traffic. Yesterday was a bit trickier as I had to dodge the motorcycles while carrying Asher's large and fragile model that he had made for the science fair. I had visions of a smashed project and lots of tears, but luckily we made it just fine. It is always an adventure! 

A space transformed
Today, Zoe and I enjoyed our second visit to our local public library (see above).  Normally when we move to a new city, one of the first things on my to-do list as a mom is to get us all new library cards. However, in Medellín where the neighborhoods are not so easily walkable (because of safety reasons and steep hills) and where everything has to happen in Spanish I felt intimidated by this basic task. I finally took a guided tour at our library a couple weeks ago and was again struck by what a different place Medellín is than any other place I have lived. This library opened in 2007 and was part of the city's plan to place new libraries strategically in some of the poorest neighborhoods, in order to re-claim spaces that had been lost to violence. The site where our local library now stands used to be a dangerous forested area that served as a boundary that divided three barrios (neighborhoods). Now it unites the barrios with safe walkways and plazas as well as serving as a community center for all three. An impressive transformation indeed.     

Praise God!

  • For good progress being made in the development of our new master's program. 
  • For the academic growth I'm seeing in my students. 
  • For time to get closer with my colleagues on a faculty retreat.

Please Pray

  • Judah had an interview at a new school last week, and will be doing an entrance exam this week. Please pray for success in this admissions process.
  • For the shipment of books from the UK. As I mentioned before, a few different donors and libraries in Oxford and London have kindly given the seminary around 1700 books. However, these books are currently sitting in a (rather expensive) storage in England, as we wait (and wait and wait) for the import license from Colombian customs. Please pray that we receive this license SPEEDILY, as each day means we lose money that we had set aside to purchase further books for our students.
  • For some much-needed growth in our support base. 


After reading about our journey to school, I'll bet you can imagine how much we enjoyed the calm and peaceful atmosphere at the recent faculty retreat in Guatapé. The beauty of the surroundings also brought to mind some verses from Isaiah 51 that I had read recently about God's power to restore ruins and turn them into beauty: "The Lord will surely comfort Zion and will look with compassion on all her ruins; he will make her deserts like Eden, her wastelands like the garden of the Lord.  Joy and gladness will be found in her, thanksgiving and the sound of singing." I am attending a women's bible study on campus and our study of Isaiah helps me to focus my mind on the God and his gifts to us.

Cultural lessons with first graders
Here is a funny conversation I had with one of Asher's classmates recently.
María José: Why did you move to Medellín if England was a rich country? Asher says God told you to come here. I am not sure about why God would say that. Do you think England is a better place than here? 
Me: I think there are special and unique things about every place. Did you know that you have things in Colombia that we didn't have in England? 
María José: Really? Like what? 
Me: We never got to enjoy any of Colombia's delicious fruits in England and we never ate plaintains.
María José (shocked): Are you serious?! Well, I don't ever want live in England then because life without plaintains is not really life at all!

And she came to that conclusion without my even mentioning the lack of sunshine in England . . . .
Copyright © 2014 Christopher and Michelle Hays, United World Mission, All rights reserved.
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