Thursday, September 1, 2011
The Girl in the White Scarf
In August of 1998, I was barely a college graduate. I had spent the summer wavering between two boyfriends, one that was incredibly fun and the other that was responsible and stable, and in my 22 year old mind, those things couldn't be found in the same person. It was one or the other. In the end, I chose neither. I chose to move overseas to complete a year long missions internship. As the summer drew to a close, I packed up my clothes, a used portable Discman, and 12 cd's (that I had gotten for the price of one, thanks to BMG music club) and I moved to New Zealand.
My flight path was strange. Corpus Christi to Houston to Chicago to Los Angeles to Auckland. I was exhausted by the time I arrived some 24 hours later, and because of time zones, I had missed an entire day on the calendar. I arrived on a Friday morning, bright and early. I remember the flight attendant came over the speakers and said that the temperature in Auckland was 15 degrees Celsius. Strange the things that stick with me. The day was spent taking a brief tour of the city. Denny's for breakfast, I remember. I was tired and nervous and thrilled all at once. I spent the day touring Auckland with missionaries Zane and Cindy Edwards, parents of my college friend Jonathan Edwards. That night, they took me to the weekly church event they referred to simply as "Club", and there I met Michelle.
I have to admit, when you are in a new place with new faces, people tend to look the same. Everyone had brown skin, dark brown hair, dark eyes. It was difficult for me to tell people apart at first. But on this first night of Club, Michelle was wearing a gray sweater, jeans, and a white scarf. She was the only girl wearing a scarf. So she stood out. Michelle, white scarf. Easy enough. She had the secondary distinction of being one of the only girls whose name I could pronounce. Sefulu, Fia Fia, Azariah, Lika. Michelle was a dream to say. And our friendship started there.
Over the year I spent in New Zealand, I grew to appreciate Michelle. She married young, and had a toddler aged son at the time. I was impressed by how competent she seemed as a parent at such a young age. She and her husband Asaua had been saved under the Edwards' ministry, and they were faithful to attend church, special events, and extra Bible classes the church offered. Because she was a stay-at-home mom (or mum) and my church work didn't usually start until the evenings, Michelle and I spent time together at Maraetai beach, at the local pools, and going to the gym. When I left New Zealand in the summer of 1999, I wasn't sure when I would see her again. But 2004 and 2007 brought us back together, first with my trip back to New Zealand, and second with Michelle and Asaua coming to the U.S. to visit me in Tennessee.
And then came 2009. I knew Michelle had a love for Ethiopia. Back in the 1980's she had been moved by television coverage of the famine taking place in Ethiopia, and she longed to go even then. Talk of Ethiopia continued, but by 2009, Michelle and Asaua had five kids. It kind of seemed like a big move for such a big family. In April, Michelle sent me a message that she was interested in going to Ethiopia with a group called Mocha Club. She learned of Mocha Club through a link I had posted on Facebook, and because I love missions, Michelle wanted to know if I wanted to go with her. Because of the timing, there was no way I could go, but she pressed on and within ten weeks, God had provided more than $5000 it cost for her to go to Ethiopia. She went and fell in love. She wanted to go back. So in October of 2009, she and I planned to go to Ethiopia on another trip the day after Christmas, this time her husband Asaua would go, too. Their money didn't come through in time, and at the end of the year, I traveled to Ethiopia with a group of strangers, sad that my New Zealand friends were not able to join me. But through a series of God ordered events, Asaua traveled to Ethiopia alone in 2010. He saw firsthand the need of the Ethiopian people. He saw the hunger and the poverty. And like his wife, he wanted to do something about it.
Michelle and Asaua have sold everything, including their home in New Zealand. Right now they are somewhere between Malaysia and Ethiopia with their five children. They will be arriving in Ethiopia on September 3 and will be working with an American organization called Blessing the Children. They will be volunteering their time and energy to meet the needs of orphans in their community, Debre Zeyit. I am still amazed that they are finally on this journey. Each time I hear from Michelle, she has a new story of God's provision for her family. I can't wait to see what happens next for them.
And this is how missions works. It starts with one person. One person reaching another person who is called to go and reach another person. Churches invested in the ministry of Zane and Cindy Edwards, who invested in the lives of Michelle and Asaua Tiatia. Other teachers and preachers and mentors came along and picked up where the Edwards left off. And now Michelle and Asaua are equipped to go and invest in the lives of others. I cannot tell you how proud I am of my friends. There is so much more to their story. So many more details of trials and hardship and mistakes and grace. There is so much that can be said about God's ability to hold together families through the darkest of times. But tonight, as I sit here at my kitchen table, I am thinking of my friends and their new adventure, and I am a tiny bit envious of all that they will see and do. I am praying for their safety, for God's provision, for comfort during the difficult times, for an easy adjustment for their children. I am praying that lives will be saved, both physically and spiritually, because of their sacrifice. Michelle and Asaua, I love you guys and I am incredibly proud of you. Kia kaha and Mā te Atua e manaaki.*
*Yes, I know you guys are Samoan and those are Maori phrases, but apparently the internet knows more Maori than Samoan (Be strong and God bless).
If you would like to donate to the Tiatia family, they are about $700 short of their initial deposit for their internship fees. A lot of people doing a little can really add up! You can donate by clicking here and under One Time Gift, click on Other and write "Tiatia Family" in the box below. Your donation is tax deductible.