Sunday, December 22, 2013

The Christmas Letter [that almost didn't happen]!

Firstly, thank you for your love and care for our family.  We know we don’t communicate nearly enough and our efforts at keeping in touch are sporadic, but we truly are grateful for all you do to keep us in your thoughts and prayers despite the distance between us.

Well as I sit here reflecting about this past year I see Spencer eating his breakfast at the table… dressed up as a bear.  Our children continue to be a source of much joy and laughter for David and I.  They are growing up so quickly and sometimes I wish I could just freeze them at their current ages.

It’s been an interesting year and maybe one of our hardest so far.  It’s difficult to pinpoint why this is the case as we feel settled in our home, the children love school and life, there have been no major cases of sickness etc. but, life has, at times, felt overwhelming and exhausting.   It has been through this year though that we have been able to clearly see God’s hand on our family and know that He’s sustained us and given us the energy and strength that we needed.  As we continue to seek Him in 2014, we trust that His plan for our lives and our work here will continue to unfold.

I am so thankful for the two times this year when we have been able to take some time to rejuvenate and re-energise.  In June this year we took a week off and had a ‘staycation’ in Chiangmai at the Juniper Tree, a place of rest for missionary families.  It was a precious time to get to know some other families who are serving all over Asia as well as having time as a family without any of life’s usual distractions.  The second time of refreshment was about a month ago.  A church in America paid for all the ZOE missionary families to go and stay at a resort and they organised a four- day retreat/conference for us as a time of reflection, teaching, rest as well as lots of fun.  We felt so blessed and privileged to have been given this gift.
Singing on stage at the retreat.
Well, one highlight from the beginning of 2013 was having Dave’s two sisters, brother-in-law and nephew spend some time here in Chiang Mai.  We loved having them here, especially when Tammy stayed on longer to do an intensive language course.  We shared a lot of laughs and a lot of mango and sticky rice together.

I hit a bit of a low at the beginning of the year when my classes at ZOE became increasingly challenging.  Bogged down by the enormity of just what some of my students had been through coupled with a deep yearning to connect with them and show them God's amazing love through my life and actions, I had to remind myself that it's all about God and not about me.  Any little thing I can do is only through His power.  As His servant, my job is to continually and diligently be in prayer and obedience, remembering, that it is God who breaks the chains.  

In February, it was a pleasure to work alongside Dave and be the “official” photographers for two different ZOE staff member’s weddings.  We had such a blast doing this as well as presenting them with framed wedding photos as our gift to them.  In February, we also got an oven!  Whoop! Whoop! This was a highlight for me and it meant that I could, once again, bake and cook some of our family’s favourite meals.
We also completed our first ‘Run for Relief’ 5km fun run to raise money for the displaced people in the neighbouring country of Burma.  We have since been back to walk/run this track and bike-ride. We look forward to this being an annual event that our family completes together. 

March brought us to the decision to move Tobi to the Australian school where Eliana attends.  It was a big decision, but one that we have been so happy to have made.  Eli and Tobi were in the same class for the last part of the school year and are now in a split 2/3 class.
Visiting the Elderly Home
From April to June, I busied myself by helping out at our children’s school by doing odd jobs like purchasing and arranging a new air-conditioning unit to be installed, helping to bring in a school uniform and even being the school photographer!  I was also able to set up the schedule for our trip back to Australia and help Dave prepare for all the different events that he was speaking at.

In amongst all of that, I had the thought to put some of our stories into a book as source of encouragement for other people… this proved to be a bigger project than I had anticipated, but when it was finished (the day before we left for Australia) it was all worth it and I was so glad that Dave had supported me and kept encouraging me until it was completed.

After returning to Thailand, we found out that there was still no teacher for Tobi and Eliana’s 2/3 class for the coming school year which was to begin in 2 weeks time.  I stepped in to help out for a couple of days a week, which very quickly turned into full time.  It was a huge task to jump in without much preparation, but thankfully it is a small class and despite the busyness of the past 5 months, it has been a joy to have the opportunity to teach, not only, an age group that I love, but also two of my own children!

It would be untruthful to say that it’s all been smooth sailing, the craziness of working full time and balancing family life has definitely been a struggle.  I am thankful that David has been so understanding and supportive.  What a blessing and privilege it is to be able to see how our children are growing in confidence each day and be a big part of educating them in this season.

The past five months really have been a blur!  It is nice to finally be on 2 weeks school holidays.  We are looking forward to our ZOE missionary Christmas party on Monday, Christmas Eve with the ZOE family on Christmas Eve and a quiet Christmas Day at home on Wednesday. 

I guess my summary of the past year would be, “a year of unplanned moments”.  I wrote a blog post about it back in October, which I will paste part of here, but I really think that, it is these moments in life that we often get to see God’s work at hand.  To be able to pause for long enough to see Him in these instances in all His goodness is what I hope to be able to do each and every day.

Nearly 4 years ago when we uprooted our family from life in Australia and moved across the seas to Thailand, we never could’ve imagined all the things that God had in mind for us.  Thankfully God has been right here alongside us every step of the way. 
I like what Alan Ward writes,
"Isn’t all of life an unplanned journey? Each day comes to us; we don’t get to preview it and skip the days that we don’t like. We can only choose to receive what each day brings and struggle to find God in the midst of it all—for God is with us always if we can but train our eyes to see, our ears to hear, and our hearts to be open to receive Christ into our lives anew each day.  I hope and pray that in time we will all learn to see God with us in every present moment and especially on the unplanned journeys that are so much a part of this life."
King's Parade
As we head into 2014, it is our prayer that we will seek God in every situation and live to please Him knowing that He is with us through it all.

May you have a blessed and joyful Christmas.
With much love from our home to yours,

Andrea (on behalf of The Cross Family).

P.S.   A short update from Dave…
One of my favourite things to do at Christmas is to reflect on the past year.  As I sit here and do this, I know that it sure has been a wonderful year at ZOE.  Many children have been rescued this year and we have been blessed with incredible provision from the Lord to do this work. 
During one of my times at a ZOE safe-house this year, one of the boys was asking me about Christmas, what it meant, how we celebrated etc, and he was quite fascinated by it.  I am excited that in just a few days he will enjoy his very first Christmas.  He, like many others who we have rescued this year, have been through some incredible challenges.  He is definitely still in the initial stages of healing, but I am very excited to be able to spend Christmas Eve with him and the other children at ZOE. 

The year for me, just like Andie mentioned, has been very full.   We have had more involvement with the Government of Thailand and I have attended many other meetings with organisations and governments from countries outside of Thailand.
I often sit in these meetings with people who have much higher qualifications and experience than me, wondering how I came to be there.  It is during these times that I say (many) quiet prayers and ask the Lord to give me the wisdom that only He can. It is interesting to see what’s happening as we work with and alongside people from a wide variety of cultures and viewpoints.

I have also enjoyed being part of the team to review and develop the plans for the ZOE safe houses and I pray that soon we will have the finances required for these necessary buildings.

In addition to these things, I have enjoyed teaching sport to some of the children, three times per week.  I have two basketball classes and one karate class.  I have found that this has been such a great way to continue building relationships with the children –especially the newly rescued ones.

The Lord is so good and He continues to help and guide us in our work at ZOE.
Thank you for continuing to empower us to do this work.

Blessings, David.