Last Updated on January 4, 2019

Because many of you have been with me as I have been “growing up” in my motherhood, I am elated (and only slightly terrified) to reveal the next chapter: We’re moving to Africa. (And yes, we thought we’d take the kids.)

Oh, the irony. Remember this post, about how God developed contentment in me to change the world from suburbia, after all my dreams of going overseas? I think God needed me to come to that conclusion—to trust Him wherever He placed me; to realize that ministry was just as critical!—before He grew the seeds He’d planted for overseas work with the impoverished.

But when my husband first asked, “What do you think about pursuing ministry overseas?” I was, well, shocked. And not just because of that whole four-kids-aged-two-to-seven thing. Because I thought overseas working with the impoverished was a dream on the “Probably Not, But We’ll Find Out Why in Heaven” shelf.

Still, months (and another story) later, on our exploratory trip to Uganda, I was overwhelmed. The poverty stretches across such a beautiful country, starting right outside of the airport. (This post from my personal blog tells more about what God was working in us on this incredible trip.)

Standing outside of our brick hut on the Nile one evening—the most stunning place I’ve ever been—I was a sobbing mess. Everything is harder in Uganda. You can’t drink the water. The plumbing is generally terrible and occasionally embarrassing. The mosquitoes could give you malaria. There are few apples or berries or lettuce or air conditioners. And in the capital city of two million, there are six traffic lights. I felt the weight of what God seemed to be asking of us: Us, who were performing gymnastics to juggle regular life in our calm little neighborhood back home.

But God pulled me to Hebrews 11, and to Psalm 23. His promises for those who live by faith are breathtaking. And His goodness and mercy will follow my family and me all of the days of my life. That’s even if the worst would happen to us. In truth, His plans are bigger than my life and my family.

This was emphasized when Richard, a local Ugandan, captivated me with a story from his childhood. He and his family had spent a night in the bush fleeing some tribal rivalries. One tribe was killing fathers in order to make their sons child soldiers. When he told me how old he was, I was surprised: Honestly, he looked older. I mentioned, “You’ve seen a lot in your days, Richard.”

He responded, “Most Ugandan men have.”

I thought of my sweet sons I’d just showed on my camera. Aiming to groom them into godly young men of courage who’ll lead their families, I am aware of how God seems to hardwire boys. They’re constantly seeking out small competitions and battles that reinforce their ability to conquer and guide and protect. Maybe it’s determining the highest stair step they can jump off without breaking their little blonde squashes open, or maybe it’s another battle between the Nerf sword and the Nerf battle axe. But these little feats gradually instill a sense of “I can.”

Yet Ugandan men, in this naive, Caucasian American female’s estimation, are constantly hearing, You can’t. You can’t provide for your family. You can’t protect them. Richard practically pleaded with me that his country’s greatest need is for its men to step up and lead their countries and their wives and their children, loving them well.

So I’m excited to tell you that my family is moving to Uganda in January. Our new organization, Engineering Ministries International (eMi), focuses on poverty relief and development, providing structural design and construction management for Christian organizations in the third world. Its east Africa branch serves eight countries, four of them among the top ten poorest countries in the world.  My husband will—get this! –be doing construction management of orphanages, schools for underprivileged kids, water and sanitation systems, stuff like that. He’ll do it with local labor teams, who he can build as men, evangelizing them and discipling them in fatherhood and in marriage.

And when I surface from the initial tidal wave of adjustments, along with helping out eMi, I hope to continue writing for MomLifeToday.   I can only be awed by the adventure God’s been writing all along.

As for the kids—this has been a priceless journey. We’ve been having great talks about what it looks like to really help people in need. We’re having a lot of open dialogue, counting the cost together and also turning to God’s promises and opportunities for faith. This is God’s calling for them, too. At this point, they’re excited. And they’re at better ages to adjust than their parents…!

I recently heard Francis Chan exhort believers to make sure we’re doing something God-sized enough that if He doesn’t show up, you look bad. Um, mission accomplished. We are so in over our heads.

May I ask you to pray for us?

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  1. Jody Hagen says:

    Janel…..as I read this post (though I already knew about the move) I found myself weeping in my kitchen as I was pumping my breastmilk……..I’m not completely sure why yet; though I think it has something to do with the desires of my own heart, placed by GOD, and the seemingly endless holding pattern it appears that I/we are in. I suppose it was a joy and encouragement to see that He has fulfilled yours and I am truly excited for you and your family. Maybe the Lord would see fit for us to visit…….

    1. Jody, I would adore it if you were able to visit. And from one who's been in holding patterns of my own (life here just seems to be full of waiting!), my heart just hurts for you. This is*a dream come true for me. As you can tell, I didn't know if God would fulfill those desires He'd given or (kind of like the prophets waiting for Jesus) or it would just be a lifelong "advent" of sorts for me. Thank you, friend, for being excited in the midst of your own season–and I mean that.

  2. Wendy Donley says:

    So excited for you as you step out in faith on this journey, friend. He is with you! From the Psalms this morning – "May your mercy come quickly to meet us, for we are in desperate need." (Ps. 79:8) As you face needs both here and there, may you know His mercy again and again!

    1. Thank you so much, Wendy. I am definitely feeling the desperate need ;). So grateful for your encouragement and your friendship!!

  3. God bless you. We believe that the LORD has plans for us to minister in Niger someday. We have a 2 yr old and there are so many 'whens', 'what ifs' and 'buts' involved. Wonderful to see how you and your family have stepped out in faith and leaning fully on the promises of GOD…Once again, GOD bless.

  4. Emily Bertholic says:

    Janel, I am so excited for you, John, and the kids. What a great opportunity for your family to experience God outside of the "safety" of American life. I hope you will be blogging your journey. I will certainly be praying for you.

    1. There is already so much to blog about (though having the time is certainly prohibitive!)! I am so grateful for your prayers and for your encouragement. You're right, this entire experience is priceless, and our faith muscles are growing a whole lot :). Thanks so much, Emily.

  5. Ohhh Janel, how exciting!!! You'll be living the life that many only dream of. God bless you and your family!

    1. Thanks so much for your enthusiasm, Sandy! We feel so humbled that God's inviting us into this kind of adventure. Grateful for your encouragement today.

  6. I just saw your website and your posts were interesting to me. I am a Senior adult with grown children & precious grandchildren. My son and his wife and my 2 very young grandchildren are planning to move to Africa in the summer of 2013. My head tells me this is wonderful and a very noble thing to do, however, my heart is grieving over the loss of the relationship with my grandchildren. *Ages 3 & 1. I know we have skype, but that does not replace the actual hugs and personal time spent with them.
    My question to you is what can I say to my son & his wife to encourage and bless them as they are preparing to go?

    1. Diane, I’ve just read your comment–which means your family is likely already here on the continent with me! But I am so grateful for your authentic response and your desire for God’s greatest plans despite what I anticipate is genuine, often intense grief. My parents currently have all four of their children living on different continents, so I understand that when parents send us, it is unquestionably a journey of faith for them, too.

      Things to help your children and grandchildren feel sent…well, here’s my best shot :).
      1) You might say something communicating that as intensely as you are grieving your loss, you are even more grateful and honored that God has called them to this–and choose to present those emotions to Him as an offering. When my sister was having my niece on the other side of the world and I was in tears, God reminded me that what I was giving up was like my “alabaster box” to pour at His feet.

      2)You can also communicate that you are 100% committed to “sending” them (in the Romans 10 sense) by encouraging them, choosing faith in the times you’re tempted to fear, and seeking to stay connected to them with a vital, intimate relationship.

      3) If you have the ability and resources, the missionaries I know are tremendously encouraged by a visit. It takes some courage and resources on the parents’ part, but it made my parents feel so much more connected with our ministry, our calling, our family, our friends, and ways to pray for us. And it was an indescribable gift of honor and encouragement to my own family!

      4) In your interactions, focus more on the “I’m there with you! What’s going on in your life?” (i.e. embracing God’s purposes) rather than “I wish you were here” (i.e. grief). I appreciate that my parents don’t capitalize on my times of discouragement to try to bring me home, but instead stand behind me to help me be completely “here.”

      5) Send regular care packages with fun things they can’t get; send texts when you’re thinking of them, or newsy e-mails to help them feel connected, as long as it doesn’t result in disproportionate homesickness for them.

      6) Pray about specific ways you can facilitate what they’re doing. When my parents visited, they brought engraved Bibles for each African on our staff…and made each person a friend for life :). My parents have sent small packages to missionary friends of mine who usually don’t receive packages, too. It shows me how much they are committed to surrounding me, despite me being a hemisphere away.

      Does that help, Diane? I am praying for you this very moment.

  7. I would love to learn about the relocation process and preparations beforehand!

    1. I just found your current blog so I will check it out!

  8. Wow, I’ve always wanted to see Afrika and stories like this truly touch my heart! It’s so brave to take the kids with you, to give them this unique opportunity to move only to another place, but in a quite different world and to experience it. This will broaden their horizons immensely!

  9. My family is moving the Kenya in January and I can’t tell what year this is written to see if you are moving in Jan 2016 or not. I have been wanting to connect with families that are American, and have moved over to Africa, to get some clarity on some things. Will you let me know if you are already there, returned, or waiting to go still at this point please? I will be bringing 7 children with me.

  10. I admire your courage and faith! My husband and I are planning our family moving to South Africa for the middle of the next year and I already have panic attacks and nightmares. The only thing that calms me is praying, and I pray every day, for my parents, who we are leaving here and for my children, who will meet a new world, to be brave, and I pray Got to keep us together. Moving to Africa is going to be a great adventure for our family, as it is for many other families. May the Lord watch over you!