After what has seemed like an incredibly long time in limbo, we’re finally getting a fresh start.  We’ve been back in the US for nearly eight months now and I’m starting a new job next week.  We stayed for quite a few months in a condo in Missouri next to Lora’s parents.  For the last couple of months we’ve been living in Fayetteville, Arkansas in a short-term furnished lease, while looking for work and trying to figure out what life here will be like for us.  By the end of this month, we’ll move into our own house, soon our kids will start school, and finally we expect to settle down a bit (skip to the bottom of this newsletter if you’d like to find ways to help us settle in).  When we left Madagascar last fall, we had no idea it would take this long to get to this point, but at last we feel like we’re really getting started with our new beginnings.

David learning to ride a bike at our house in Fayetteville
David learning to ride a bike at our house in Fayetteville

And yet, there’s still so much about what lies ahead that we simply can’t see yet.  Nor has getting to this point been particularly easy.  Lora still hasn’t received a job offer, and even more disheartening, she hasn’t had a single interview yet.  I had nearly a dozen interviews, each time feeling like I was very close to being offered the job (and each job being something I thought could make a great career for me), only to find out in the end that the jobs were offered either to someone they already knew (and had basically already known they were going to give the job to), or offered to a last-minute candidate they felt was very perfectly suited for the position.  To be honest, the job I’m starting (as a “Family Service Worker” with AR DHS) isn’t something I anticipate making a career out of, so I still don’t feel like I’ve “arrived” at my purpose here in the US yet.

Of course the job side would seem to come first, but finding a home has also been far more difficult than we expected!  Apparently the rapid changes back-and-forth with the pandemic has upset so many aspects of US life, that lots of things all over the country are in high demand and short supply (including both rental homes and homes for purchase).  When we first started looking, we had a nice list of rental homes to see, and each place we visited there were one or two other groups of people patiently waiting to view the home immediately after us.  We did pick a home that day that we were very excited about, but by the time we went to turn in an application that afternoon, we were informed that someone else had beat us to it and had been accepted that morning.

Thankfully we learned to thoroughly scour any and all rental home listings and jump very quickly on any possibilities, and that’s how we ended up with a furnished home for a short-term lease.  Which also put us in a position to somewhat more easily pursue and accept job opportunities.  So at least now I have a job starting next week (though even that is only starting after more than a month and a half of bureaucratic delays).

Even on the relationship side (which to us is an essential component of settling in to a new area), things have gone a lot slower than we expected.  Of course initially there was the pandemic still raging and not yet access to vaccines.  Experiencing the seriousness of covid-19 in our own family, we didn’t think it wise for ourselves, or caring for others, to throw caution to the wind just to pursue relationship time with people while the pandemic was still at its height.  But thankfully even that area of life is a new beginning with few remaining concerns – at least for those of us who’ve acquired immunity either naturally (through an infection we’ve survived) or artificially (through vaccines).  Certainly the US, and most of the world, is in a much better position now than we all were when we traveled here from Madagascar last November.

The first time Matimu and David were able to make friends living nearby was last week after they decided to start selling cucumbers from our garden.
The first time Matimu and David were able to make friends living nearby was last week after they decided to start selling cucumbers from our garden.

But even now “post-pandemic”, it’s been hard to find the time to meet with people as often as we’d like.  Time for that just doesn’t seem to be worked into the daily schedule here in American culture.  Thankfully our boys have had plenty of time with their grandparents on both sides, and that’s been a huge blessing for them.  But unfortunately they’ve still not made any regular friends.  And honestly during the entire time we’ve been back they’ve only had a handful of opportunities to really play with other kids close to their age.  Which is part of why we’re so looking forward to the next school year beginning for them.  Without a doubt it will be accompanied by many challenges and need for cultural adjustment for both our boys.  Yet they’ve always shown themselves to be incredibly adaptable and easily make friends with anyone they have even a few minutes together with.  So we hope they’ll have the opportunity to make some really meaningful and long-term friendships very soon.

I can think of so many things about this transition back to the US so far that just haven’t gone the way we hoped or anticipated.  To start with, why are we really here?  Lora and I both believe that God was abundantly clear to us that it was time to leave Madagascar, that our part of the work there is finished.  Not only that, but every little detail for our transition out of Madagascar and our return to the US was set up perfectly in just the right timing, in so many ways that honestly are inexplicable other than the fact that God paved the way.

And yet, since we’ve arrived here, nothing has been clear.  It’s almost as if God has stopped speaking to us.  I don’t actually feel a distance from him, as if his presence is removed or anything.  Rather it’s as if he simply has nothing to say to us.  I don’t think anything has changed in our relationship to him, neither in our desires to pursue him, nor our efforts at doing that, nor apparently his feelings towards us.  Evidently, he’s just not answering any of the questions we ask, about anything.  And neither of us have any idea why.  

Though we’re both aware that this is not an entirely uncommon experience among those who are following Jesus.  And let’s be honest, even when Jesus spoke directly to his disciples, using his own vocal cords, fairly often he didn’t speak clearly enough to be understood by them.

Not long ago I was reading the familiar passage at the end of John’s Gospel, about Jesus and Peter having this discussion about what lies ahead for Peter, and Peter also getting a bit nosey about what’s ahead for John.  Jesus replied to Peter there, saying, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.”  But apparently neither Peter nor others understood him (which is no longer a surprise at this point), and this rumor started going around that John would live forever.  So in writing his Gospel, John puts in a side-note to make sure everyone knows that the rumor is based on poor assumptions about Jesus’s meaning.

Matimu and David hunting for Easter eggs at their grandparents' house.  One of the best things about being back so far has been all the time our boys have been able to spend with their both sets of their grandparents.
Matimu and David hunting for Easter eggs at their grandparents’ house. One of the best things about being back so far has been all the time our boys have been able to spend with their both sets of their grandparents.

And this time reading that, it really struck a nerve with me.  Twenty-two years ago, when God gave me the vision to go to Madagascar, it was in response to my question, “What do you want me to do with my life?”  And considering the incredibly supernatural way in which God responded to me, I always assumed that he was answering my question the same way I asked it – that serving God in Madagascar would be the defining purpose in my life.

Now, even as a young Christian, I also knew that God doesn’t always answer our questions the same way we ask them.  So I always held out some consideration that going to Madagascar might not be forever.  But all things considered, it seemed like that’s what he wanted and so I literally geared everything in my life towards responding obediently to the vision God gave me.  And late last year (over 21 years later), I found out that God didn’t answer that question in the exact same way I asked it.  Which is fine.  Just like Peter, we sometimes read a bit too much into the responses God gives to our questions.  But this all just begs the next question: “Now what?”  And for both Lora and me, God just doesn’t seem to be answering that question at all, at least not currently.

So now we’re back to the job search.  As I said, I spent more than 21 of the last 22 years gearing everything in my life towards serving God in Madagascar.  So if that’s done now, which is fine, I’d think God would at least find some way to incorporate those 21 years of efforts into our ongoing lives.  All of the jobs (until this last one) that I applied for would’ve seemed to do that pretty well – a lot of skills and experience transfer.  But the last job (the one that seems to have little to no overlap with all my efforts towards serving God in Madagascar) was the only job I was offered.  So what’s going on?  Honestly, I have no idea, no answer to that question.  Nor does God seem to be interested in answering it, no matter how many times either Lora or I ask him.

So now we kind of feel like the Israelites wandering in the desert.  We left the place we were, as a result of God’s clear voice and his supernatural efforts to lead the way out.  But where are we going?  Like the Israelites it’s hard for us to see what’s ahead.  Perhaps even harder to see where we are and what we have the way God wants us to see it right now.  So we could focus on what it seems like we don’t have, we could complain (and maybe that’s what I’m doing here right now, haha!), or we could try to see it the way God surely wants us to see it.

Camping in Louisiana just before moving to Fayetteville.
Camping in Louisiana just before moving to Fayetteville.

Just like the Israelites, we’ve been well-supplied for every step of this journey so far.  In all the months we’ve been back (“wandering in the desert”) we’ve had absolutely every need provided for, at least just in time for when we’ve really needed it.  Maybe the same way the Israelites were unimpressed with their daily supply of manna, we’ve tended to overlook the consistent if often unremarkable response to our own regular needs since being here.  And we’ve had the same tendency to want to secure everything for the future, rather than being content with having all our needs met right now.

With the home search, the longer we’ve pursued it, the less hopeful we were of finding something nice and affordable and in the area we’ve most wanted to live.  As I said above, the job search hasn’t seemed to be much better (at least not if I consider I’ve been looking for a career the same way the Israelites were looking for the promised land), and Lora is still looking for work with very little positive response so far.  Again, this reminds me of the Israelites “spying out the land” of Canaan, and being so daunted about what seemed to lie before them that they wanted to give up.  Despite all the miraculous provision before that point, it wasn’t looking to them like God was going to just hand it all to them (unoccupied and with no obstacles) on a silver platter.  Similarly Lora and I have often felt pretty daunted trying to make our way into what lies ahead for us, often wondering why we even came to this point, why we left our old lives behind (and where is God bringing us – to this?!?).

Matimu reading a trail map on a hike in southern Arkansas.
Matimu reading a trail map on a hike in southern Arkansas.

And yet, there were at least two figures in that story who determined that all the obstacles and challenges so obviously before them were far less important than the One who was with them.  They determined to forge ahead regardless of the obstacles in front of them, confident in God’s abilities to protect, provide, and open the right doors at just the right time.  For us, we’ve been trying to have that same attitude, to keep pushing ahead past the numerous challenges, even when it’s not clear which direction God wants us to go – but to be confident that he is with us nonetheless.  

Sure enough, we were able to find an excellent home to rent long-term, and it seems significantly better than any others we’ve seen or considered this entire time.  And it’s ready for us right when we need it.  My job might not be what I’ve been looking for and looking forward to, but surely God has determined it’s good for me all the same.  At least it should be enough for us to pay our bills going forward.  And God will also use me to do good for others through it, will he not?  And while Lora has struggled to find work so far, she’s not yet at the point where she needs work (as she’s hoping to work with one of the local schools, and those positions don’t start until August anyway).  Just as God has overcome every challenge along the way for us up to this point, we also trust that Lora will find a job at the right time, one that God will use for her to serve others.  

Whether or not either of us find what we consider to be a “dream job” this year or next, it doesn’t change the fact that God is taking care of us every day, and he always has.  Sometimes it just takes a while to get to where he’s leading us.  Certainly I’ve had a lot of experience with that during all the years between the vision God gave me and the time we finally moved to Madagascar!  And sometimes God doesn’t even make it clear where we’re going at all, and it can feel like we’re simply wandering aimlessly with no end to challenges before us.  But for our part it’s simply a matter of maintaining that right perspective and attitude, of trusting God in all the ways he’s shown himself to be trustworthy, and not trying to get ahead of whatever it is that he’s doing right now.

Matimu and David crossing a bridge on a hike in Louisiana
Matimu and David crossing a bridge on a hike in Louisiana

Right now, we’re starting a new beginning.  I have work ahead of me.  We have a long-term place to live.  Lora will surely find work soon.  Our boys have a school to go to.  Lora and I are both going to begin volunteering for the refugee resettlement agency here soon and we’re very excited about that.  We have a new start.  We have a lot to look forward to – to see how God will use us in his service in this time and place.

The last time we spoke with Nuckiline, she told us the work there in Madagascar is continuing well.  She’s been translating more Bible stories to share with the discipleship group there.  The group has been growing, including some men who are now regular attendees (the first men to participate regularly).  Though there was another strong wave of covid-19 that passed through recently, God has kept them all safe.  And Nuckiline is still eager about the work ahead.  Though we didn’t feel ready at that time to leave, God has always known what he’s doing, and clearly Nuckiline is continuing to serve him faithfully in the work there, and there’s no longer any need of us.

So now the old is finished (for us).  We’re in a new beginning in a new place, and we eagerly look forward to see what God has in store for us!

In Christ,
Adam, Lora, Matimu, and David Willard

P.S.  We have almost a month in which to make our move to our new home.  Over the last few months we’ve begun gathering some furniture and household items, but so far we still don’t have very much.  If any of you not living too far away have anything you’d like to give away or sell to us for a low cost, it would be a huge help for us settling into our new home!  In particular, we really need:

* Bunk beds & mattresses
* Queen bed & mattress
* Dining room table and chairs
* Couch(es)
* Dresser(s)
* Bookshelves
* Nightstands & lamps
* Washer/dryer
* Vacuum cleaner
* A weed-eater or other yard/garden maintenance tools (our new home has a great big yard)

As we’re in Northwest Arkansas, anybody with items to give/sell us from Arkansas (NWA or River Valley), Tulsa/Eastern Oklahoma, Southwest Missouri, or anywhere in between – would be a great help!  Please reach out to us (by e-mail or phone) and let us know and we’ll plan a time to come pick any items up, preferably before the end of July.  We have a great van we can use, and we can also rent a trailer as needed.

It's been a long journey, but God has been taking care of us all along the way.
It’s been a long journey, but God has been taking care of us all along the way.