Beautiful Baltimore

Well, the Polks have finally made it to the beautiful city of Baltimore for our first official support-raising trip.  Liz and I were able to make a brief presentation at Abbott Memorial Church on last Sunday, and will be continuing to meet with other churches and families around the area in the next 2 weeks.  So far we have had one church and one individual family join our support team.  Pretty cool!

Mother’s Day brought another important milestone for the Polk family— Nathan’s first art project for his Mama.

Nathan, artistic prodigy that he is, still needed a little help for this one

Liz also managed to get a nap and a family walk in the park as well.  It was a very good day!  We hope that you all had a wonderful Sunday as well, and that you took some time to appreciate and bless the mothers that gave you life.

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Back in the Blogging Saddle

It has been a while since our last blog post, but not without good reason I assure you.  Of course there has been the busyness of family life, and the numerous responsibilities that come with Easter Week when you are the Pastor of Worship.  And of course trying to get that perfect family picture for the front of our new prayer cards…

This wasn't it!

But all of these pale in comparison to our greatest blogging obstacle of having no internet at home for the past couple of months.  The blessings of moving into the farmhouse on our church’s campus are numerous.  More space, free rent, living within walking distance of work. But one of the costs has been our painful banishment from all things World Wide Web.  I will spare you all the grand saga of Charter internet contracts made and Charter internet contracts broken–and will simply fast-forward to the part where my good friends, Tim and Steve Butler, got in touch with their IT mojo by firing up grandpa’s old soldering iron and redesigning a used TV satellite dish into a make-shift wireless internet receiver that connects us to the church’s internet connection.

A work of art!

Absolutely brilliant!  I tip my hat to you, Butlers, as I settle back into my blogging saddle and ride off into the sunset.  Thanks guys.

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Update on recent church burnings in Ethiopia

A number of you will have heard of some of the recent events that have been happening in western Ethiopia. A couple of weeks ago over 60 churches and a large number of houses were burned down by Muslim extremists in the rural areas outside the town of Jimma. 46 of the churches burned down were Evangelical Kale Heywet Churches. We have heard that 2 people were killed – one was a Muslim who refused to take part and the other was an Orthodox guard. As a result of these attacks about 4,000 people left their villages and took refuge in Jimma. At one stage about 400 of these were living on the SIM mission compound in Jimma. Jimma itself did not see any violence during this time but there have been a number of threats.

The government took action to identify those who had been involved in the burning and we understand that over 100 people have been identified and arrested.

Those whose houses have been destroyed are for the time being staying in Jimma. The others have been moved back to their villages by the government.

This area is several hours to the west and southwest of Addis Ababa where our MTW team is serving, and has not directly affected their ministry.   Please be in prayer for those affected in this violence, and pray for peace to be restored between the Christian and Muslim communities in these regions.

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The Dawning of a New Era

That’s right, faithful blog followers.  It’s the dawning of a new era.  ”Living on the Ground–with Jason, Liz, and Nathan Polk” now has it’s own Facebook Page.  Stay connected to us and our ministry in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, through updates, posts, photos, videos, and more.  Click here to visit our new Facebook page.

Coming Soon! — Living on the Ground: the Website

Then of course will come, Living on the Ground: the Movie, Living on the Ground: the breakfast cereal, Living on the Ground: the hit Broadway Musical, and Living on the Ground: the collectible set of McDonald’s Happy Meal toys complete with posable figures of Jason, Liz, and Nathan…..  or, maybe we’ll just stick with the website.

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Rites of Passage: the power of the “Green Magnet”

Rites of passage are an important part of any culture.  Every people group marks significant moments of life transition with powerful ceremonies that draw upon their deep wells of shared history, culture, and community.  Just typing the words “rite of passage” evokes vivid images for me– you know, like the scene in “Roots”  where the group of young African boys is taken out to a remote village to be circumcised as a group.  They leave as boys, they come back as men.  Rites are powerful things.

Well, it turns out that Mission to the World (MTW) has its own little rite of passage.  After another week of exercises and interviews, MTW has decided that they still want Liz and me to be part of the family– which is pretty cool!  Liz and I have been fully approved, and are now official employees and missionaries of Mission to the World.  And to mark this significant life transition, Liz and I have participated in the deep and mysterious rite of passage known as the “Green Magnet.”

All of the mission candidates stand in the home office dining room waiting with anticipation to hear whether they have been approved in their final round of interviewing and testing.  It’s as tense as an episode of American Idol– with the various “contestants” waiting to find out whether they are being sent home, or whether they are coming back to sing their hearts out for another week.  Each potential missionary was called forward one at a time to get their “approval” notice and receive their official MTW magnetic name tags.  Not just any old magnetic name tag, mind you… but a “GREEN MAGNET” name tag.  What is a “Green Magnet” you ask?  I have to honestly say, I have no earthly idea.  All I know is that the front is shiny metal, with my name engraved on it

Jason Polk -- official MTW missionary

– and the back is magnetic and very, very, bright green.  And just in case one might question whether this is in fact a green magnet, it actually has the words “Green Magnet” imprinted on the back.

The "GREEN" Magnet

Is it an “eco-friendly” magnet, I wonder.  Does it say, “green magnet,” just because the color is green?  What does it all mean.  Inquiring minds want to know.  Perhaps it is symbolic?  Are they trying to tell us that we as new missionaries are untested and “green,” and need to gain further training and experience as we enter our fields of missionary calling?  Questions swirl, but answers are not easily forthcoming.  That is the nature of rites of passage.  They are shrouded in symbolism and mystery.  They require deep reflection and searches for meaning.  And so, just like all of the other newly appointed MTW missionaries, I donned my green magnet name tag– and pondered the significance of this new transition, while I kept reciting to myself over and over…”I am an MTW missionary.  I am moving to Ethiopia.  I have a green magnet nametag.”

Pretty wild!!  Hang on for the ride…

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Can I buy a vowel? I’ll take the I & O!

That’s right folks, it’s I and O week!  What is I & O?, you may ask.  It’s Interview and Orientation, the final week of interviews and home office training for Mission to the World.  Liz and I loaded up Nathan on Sunday afternoon, and drove down to Atlanta.  After many miles of road and several strategic pit-stops to top-off our gas tank, fill our bellies, and preserve our sanity– we finally arrived in Atlanta in the wee hours of Monday morning.  As you can imagine, Liz and I were pretty groggy during many of the sessions today, but all it all it was a great day.  We are gradually feeling more and more a part of the Missions to the World family, and are excited that each step we take is one step closer to our family leaving for Ethiopia.  Please be in prayer for us as we go through our final interview process, and learn the ins-and-outs of MTW as an organization.  It is kind of like your first weekend visit to the in-laws after you get married.  You are family, but there is still so much to learn about one another.  So far, so good…  I think it will be a good week.

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Farewell Sugarwood

The time has finally come to say goodbye to our beloved home of the past five years.  Tomorrow morning at 10am, several men from our church will show up at Sugarwood Condominiums with straps, trucks, trailers, moving dollies, and other manly paraphernalia to move our possessions to our new place– the mission house on our church property.  It will be hard to say goodbye to our little condo.  Suddenly lots of memories start to cascade through my head.  Liz and I sitting on the kitchen counters with some Arby’s curly fries right after we had closed on the condo.  Walking through all of the empty rooms and consecrating each one in prayer, asking God that he would inhabit and bless our home and use it for his glory.  Decorating for our first Christmas.  Hosting lots of people for meals and game-nights.

This was our first home as a married couple–filled with all the blessings and adventures of our first five years of marriage.  This was the  home we brought our son to after leaving the hospital.  This has been our haven, our safe place, through the ups  and downs of life.

And now, we say goodbye.  Sugarwood–you have been a good home for the Polks these five years, and we hope that you will be a similar blessing to a new family.  Thanks for the memories.  ~Jason

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Happy Saturday, faithful blog followers.  With the Super Bowl just around the corner, many of you are preparing to don the colors of your favorite team and get together with friends over chili and hot wings to cheer or curse your pick for Sunday’s game on to victory.  I imagine you in your pre-game bliss, thinking about touchdowns and field goals, and the intricacies of defensive strategy.  I, on the other hand, am thinking about…linoleum.  Boxes and boxes of linoleum.

This week has been a challenge.  Not a bad challenge, necessarily, but this week has definitely pushed the bounds of physics and human decency that ordinarily govern how many things can happen simultaneously in one small condo.  First– we have kitchen remodeling.  Currently we have doors from our kitchen cabinets scattered and propped up all over the house as we let them dry from their recent paint job.  These doors seem to have developed their own natural migration pattern– like wildebeest or arctic birds– travelling from our living room couch to the hallway to our bed with daily regularity.  Lately it has seemed that no matter where you would like to sit, stand, walk, or lie down in our house– it first requires moving several pieces of kitchen cabinetry.  This is in addition, of course, to the aforementioned linoleum–stacked in boxes in front of our bedroom closet in a display that rivals the great Leaning Tower of Pisa in both it’s grandeur and structural instability.

Add to this chaos, the fact that we are in the process of packing for our impending move to the mission house at our church.  As I look to my left, I see what is quickly becoming the world’s largest collection of Schnuck’s grocery store egg boxes.  These boxes are gradually being filled and stacked around the house, filled to the brim with the various and sundry items that we have collected over the years.  In addition to taking up lots of room, these boxes also continue to tell me with their forceful, black, block letters that I must “KEEP CONTENTS REFRIGERATED.”  Despite my better judgment, that knows full well I don’t need to refrigerate the linens or books that I just placed in these boxes, I still can’t help but feel a little guilty for not doing it.  It’s like those “Do Not Remove” tags on your mattress.  You know it’s not illegal to cut them off, but you still look over your shoulder while you’re doing it, just to make sure no one’s watching.

Lastly, we add to this Polk Family Circus a little 9 1/2 month old boy, who has been fussy from a cold all week, and has made a new past-time out of scurrying across the floor to find various pieces of lint, plastic, and other inedible things that he can pop into his mouth with lightening speed.  Combine all of those things with a liberal sprinkling of Nathan’s baby toys and children’s books all over the floor, and we have what Liz and I have begun to affectionately call, “The Death Trap.”  As I sit here on the couch,  I can visualize in my mind the twists and maneuvers that would be required of me should I decide to get up and go to the bathroom.  With elegance, power, and grace rivaling any ballet dancer or NBA star, I would twist, turn, pirouette, and “shake-n-bake” my way past 14 children’s books, a baby blanket, two cabinet doors, several stuffed animals, a dining table chair, my infant son, a cantaloupe box from Honduras, and a plastic duck who, despite being dressed up like a kind and helpful fireman complete with hat, ladder, and firehose, never the less seems to be mocking my efforts through his unblinking eyes and smiling duck bill.  Maybe I’m wrong– but I don’t remember the Home Depot commercials that assured me of my ability to “do it all myself with a little help from the orange aprons” ever mentioning the physical dexterity that would suddenly be required to navigate my home without breaking a hip.  So much for truth in advertising.

So, what to do?  What else is there to do– but laugh, pray, and try not to take it all so seriously.  We are in transition, and we are going to be in transition for a long time to come.  This is the path that we have chosen, and which we believe God has called us to follow.  And so, we embrace it and walk through it as a family by God’s grace.  As a good friend once told us prior to having kids, “You have to embrace the crazy!”  Good words.  Life is crazy right now–there is no doubt about it!  But we are in this crazy transition together, and even in the midst of the minor frustrations and tensions, God is at work shaping and refining us more and more into his image.  So much of Scripture speaks of our Christian life through the metaphor of a journey.  We are called to travel God’s narrow path, and walk as children of light before Him.  And every Christian journey comes with transitions and potholes.  That is just the way it works.  So please pray for us in the upcoming weeks as we complete our move and finish our remodeling projects, that we would handle the frustration and chaos in a way which honors God and loves one another well.  We know that eventually the chaos will begin to settle out again.  In the meantime, I’ll keep practicing my ninja-like moves as I leap over furniture and linoleum boxes to get from one room to the other.  Oh, and by the way– if you come over for a visit.  Don’t leave too quickly if we don’t answer the doorbell.  We might just be busy climbing a mountain of linoleum or trying to refrigerate our office supplies.  Be patient– good things often come to those who wait.  It’s a good reminder for all of us.  ~Jason

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Moving Right Along–reflections on couches, CDs, and “other stuff”

“Moving Right Along.”  Yes, before you ask, I did lift that title from the Muppets Movie.  But it seems to fit.  What does it say about us that a singing frog and bear in a Studebaker seem to sum up our current experience?  I’ll let you decide…

But, muppets aside, there is a lot of moving and transition going on for us.  First up is getting our condo ready to rent.  Liz and I hope to get a renter for our condo by this spring, and move into the mission house located on our church’s property.  This will hopefully give us greater flexibility to travel in the upcoming months to speak with churches and individuals about prayer and financial partnership with us in church-planting and AIDS ministry in Ethiopia.  But it also means that the time has come to start selling or giving away many of our belongings, and also means we have to say goodbye to a home we love.  Seriously humbling and scary!  These transitions have already begun to expose Liz and me in the often hidden ways that our hearts cling to “stuff” more than to our Savior.  But it is also a joyful and liberating task–as we grow in excitement in our sense of calling to Ethiopia, and as we are daily reminded of the power of the Gospel that promises God’s grace and forgiveness for the subtle ways we love couches and CDs more than Jesus.  Liz just finished reading Missions and Money by Jonathan Bonk, and it has spurred lots of conversation, and has led us to reflect quite a bit on what the Scriptures say about wealth and material possessions.  ”As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy.  They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life.” (1 Timothy 6:17-19)  The humbling reality is that even as Liz and I give away many of our possessions, and transition into a lifestyle in Addis that most would consider quite modest, we will still be among the richest Christians in the world.  This feels strange to say.  Liz and I have sought to live modestly and without too much focus on material possessions, and yet the truth remains that by global standards we are wealthy Christians– especially when compared to the numerous believers around the world that live on less that $1 or $2 per day.  It has forced us to ask in very personal ways, “What is God calling us to regarding our possessions and lifestyle in the future?  What does it look like to live as wealthy Christians in a city like Addis Ababa that is so deeply affected by poverty?”  Liz and I have started calling out to God in prayer about these things, that He might deliver us from the greed, materialism, and worry which so easily entangle our hearts when material possessions and our own financial security are involved.  Please pray for us, that we would grow in faith and trust in God as our eternal portion and lead lives of generosity and readiness to share, that we might “take hold of that which is truly life.”  We can not do it without the work of His Spirit within us.  Thank you for praying–it means more to us than we can possibly say.

In the meantime, we’ll keep getting rid of stuff until our lives can fit into a shipping container.  Keep singing Kermit and Fozzie, the journey has just begun.  ”Moving right along, footloose and fancy-free…”  ~ Jason

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A New Year, A New Blog

Welcome to “Living on the Ground”– our new blog.  With the beginning of 2011 comes many transitions, as we prepare to move our family to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.  We thought it would be helpful to have another outlet to share our thoughts and feelings about this journey in the upcoming year, and would love to invite you to trek along with us through these blog entries.  Thanks for walking this path along with us!

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