Sunday, 27 September 2015

Priorities when starting afresh

We have often found that moving home (particularly when it involves moving to a different country) makes us reassess our priorities. Some of this can be deliberate - time to leave old things behind, perhaps start a new routine, a time to make new habits. Some of it is borne of necessity - water needs to be boiled and stored, clothes need to be washed by hand and dried in a small space, the electricity is intermittent. And some of it comes through unexpected challenges or questions as we get to know new people. I find it a helpful time, to consider which things have true importance.

Some recent examples:

1) Settling in a church. Wherever we go, if it is for more than a couple of weeks, we desire to get regularly involved in a church. We believe this to be Biblically correct, to join with the body of Christ wherever we are. And it brings other advantages too - we get to know other believers and be encouraged by them (and hopefully bring some encouragement too). We make it known to those around us that our faith is important - either we are seen walking to church, or when people ask how we intend to spend the weekend, we will talk about going to church. It helps the children realise the importance of this in any move - that no time is too short to be important to God. And in many respects it mirrors what we will see in heaven, when 'every tribe and tongue' will worship. We've been amazed at how blessed we have been in places where we have only lived for a few months - and our involvement and commitment to the local church has been a major part of that.

2) Patterns of family worship. We find that keeping our family devotional routines always helps with transition. We start every morning with a Psalm, and end every evening by reading through one of the books of the Bible before praying together. Wherever we are in the world, this has been our pattern, and I believe it brings the security of knowing that 'if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me' (Psalm 139)

3) Increasing involvement of the children in chores. There are more chores to do here - it fluctuates from dusty and dry to wet and muddy, and the beautiful red soil  which is so characteristic of Africa makes a delightful mess on the tiled floors. Dishwashers are unheard of and we don't currently have a washing machine. It is actually very good for the children to see how these jobs need to be done, and to reflect on how blessed we are with labour-saving devices in the UK. And now they are a bit older, we are increasing their responsibilities in terms of folding their clothes, tidying up before meals and at the end of the day. Small things which (in honesty) would be easier done myself, but we are using the move as an impetus to  instill better habits.

4) Building relationships in the community. As an expat living in Africa, it can be possible to live behind a locked gate and travel everywhere by car. We've seen that. Our approach is to try and walk as much as possible, and to find local stalls to buy our groceries rather than supermarkets in air-conditioned malls. (I am not saying the malls are wrong or that we never go there, but rather am describing the patterns we try and build). The market we have found is about 3 Km away, and is bustling, noisy, dirty and a little smelly. It's great! Several of the sellers recognised our family from our time here last year, and it's great for the boys to stop and greet people, to see daddy bartering for vegetables (the mental arithmetic can be quite fun to follow) and to get a much better idea of the value of money and where food comes from. So it's both a rich learning experience, but we also hope and pray it is a chance for us to walk with locals from different backgrounds and for them to perhaps question 'the reason for the hope that [we] have' (1 Peter 3:15).

5) Our commitment to living as a godly family - and that a major outworking of that is the decision to home educate. When I started to write at, one of the big challenges I faced was the reaction of some friends, family members and colleagues towards our decision. I think almost every home educator can tell you the typical list of concerns that well meaning people raise! And most of them can be very easily refuted (maybe I'll do a separate blog post on that soon!). I felt we'd got beyond that, and people just generally accepted it as something we did. Quirky or eccentric perhaps, but I was actually quite encouraged by how positive people tended to be once they saw how it all worked out. However now, in quite a different culture, I feel we are going back through the same kind of process with a slightly different slant. Amongst the middle classes here, there is very much a culture where a child will be raised by a nanny and in some kind of childcare or school from early until late (in fact the sign on the gate of the school next to our compound comments that 'children left before 6.30 am or collected after 6 pm are under their parents' responsibility' or words to that effect. It would be quite normal for a child to be at school from 6.30 until 6! There is always a temptation to justify our choices; sometimes this is right and helpful, as by explaining our priorities we might be able to challenge. But some of it comes back to 'being fully persuaded'. It is also easy to feel guilty for not being able to work between certain hours every day; again, I can summarise how we do this, how actually we are more productive in the hours we do work, and that we have considerable lattitude in terms of exactly when we work. But the point for me is to be confident before God that we have made the right choices, and not feel the need to apologise! I am sure I will write more on this too, as the weeks go by.

So there you have five things we are trying to prioritise as we build our lives here. Central to everything is having a Christ-centred, Christ-focussed household where visitors are welcome, and where we seek to encourage other believers and challenge non-believers. Many of the other things we do in our day to day life are just frills. It doesn't really matter if I walk, drive or take a taxi - the key is that I am seeking to build relationships, seeking to use my time wisely to glorify God and to make the most of every opportunity. I am sure you can think of similar examples - things that are of primary importance, and others which are just a means to that end.

So my challenge tonight is: What are the key priorities for your family?

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