Are we REALLY pursuing a productive life that actually makes the world a better place and helps people connect to God?  Please don’t answer that question yet. 

I want to be productive and as a leader (to bear fruit), I want to lead others to be creative and productive as well.   When you are producing and creating in a ministry setting, life is exciting, people’s lives are changing for the better, people are receiving Christ, growing in their new faith, sharing their new life with friends and family, wrestling with deep life change, launching out in radical faith to share the love of God with those around them, and giving generously of their stuff with joyful hearts.   They are loving their neighbors well, giving grace and forgiving quickly.

There are also some really great bi-products of being productive, you look good as a leader because everything you try seems to work and because you look good as a leader people tend to think that God is with you, regardless of whether or not this is truly the case.  I mean you have to be doing something right… Right?  But these are also very dangerous bi-products.

Truth is there is a very defined spiritual process that brings about a productive, creative, fruitful life.   It goes like this,

Abiding in Christ to > growing in Christ > bearing fruit for Christ  > being cut back for Christ’s sake. 

WHOA STOP!  Love the first three, but that fourth one? 

Yeah we know what pruning is when it comes to a plant, a garden, a vineyard, a shrub or a fruit tree, but we would rather just ignore the way Jesus used the term.  And from a leaders perspective I feel like many other leaders have “pruned” this verse out of their bibles.

“I am the true grapevine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch of mine that doesn’t produce fruit, and he prunes the branches that do bear fruit…    Jesus in John 15

But when we fail to recognize and embrace seasons of pruning several things happen.

-There is an overall lack of evaluation.  You can’t possibly evaluate in seasons of fruitfulness with as much scrutiny and carefulness as you do in season of pruning.  The fruit masks some true problems that you can only see as things are pruned back.

-It is easy to say you trust God’s plan when production is happening.  After all you don’t have to look very far to see the results right?  But there is no greater opportunity to trust what He ultimately wants to produce than when you feel the pruning.

-In times of fruitfulness we tend to take God’s activity for granted.  I look back on the baptism celebrations that happened in the past – where so many people were celebrating deep and real life change.  I kind of got used to those celebrations to the point where I realized that I took them for granted.  When you go without those, you feel a greater sense of desperation for the visible parts of God’s activity to show up again.

-Fruitful times also lull us into a feeling that we humans are the real producers.  I mean WE ARE THE BRANCHES RIGHT? And fruit doesn’t grow off the trunk does it? NO, it grows off the branches.  It grows out of our lives as leaders and into the people closest to us.  It’s fruit that is personal because you are watching it happen because of your love, care and leadership.  But when you feel the pruning, you are reminded that no branch produces anything really.  As branches we are just conduits from the vine to the fruit.  God produces the fruit, he just uses us as channels.

-So why does Jesus talk about pruning?  Well maybe this is the greatest lesson of all. 

…and he prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more. 

Pruning is essential for more production.  In fact that is why God does it – not to harm us, test us, frustrate us, or cause us harm.  He does it so that we can produce EVEN MORE!

Now as a leader, you have to keep this in mind because seasons of pruning mean that nothing you touch “turns to gold.”  Pruning is ugly and it leaves the plant looking ugly.  You don’t look very good as a leader and people tend to conclude that God must not be with you and /or you must be doing something wrong.

Just smile and know that sometimes the only thing you did wrong was that you were fruitful in the first place… and God is getting you ready for EVEN MORE!



ZAY PEOPLE :: An amazing report

First a little background: Some of you know that our two youngest kids are from Ethiopia. Through the adoption process we discovered that they were born on an island in the middle of Lake Zway. We also discovered that they are part of a particular tribal group called the Zay People. There are about 6000-8000 Zay People and they primarily inhabit the three islands that are clustered together on the eastern side of Lake Zway. The Zay people have been listed as an unreached people group – meaning they have no consistent gospel presence in their language or living among them. There are many physical needs that the Zay people have, and we have sought to meet those needs over the past two years. A few months after we adopted Tia and Garrett, some friends of ours began an organization called Garrett’s Heart to raise money to help the Zay People. It was formed primarily because of Garrett’s true heartfelt, consistent concern for his family and their living conditions. In the first year we installed three clean water wells on the island, which are providing clean water each day for the people on Zadecha Island. When we met with the elders of the island, they listed clean water as their top priority, with a medical clinic being second on the list and an irrigation system as their third desire. Another group has recently built a new medical clinic on the largest island, Debra Tsion. I am looking forward to seeing how this clinic can also serve the needs of all three islands so that we can turn our main attention toward installing an irrigation system that will triple their ability to produce crops. Now for the good part: But there is a deeper need that the Zay People have. They need to be able to hear the good news of Jesus Christ in their own language so that they can have the opportunity to respond to the hope found in Him. 12 months ago through a contact at E3 Partners (The “I Am Second” people), I met Joseph Menna who is a native Ethiopian and works for E3 Partners in Ethiopia. I traveled with Joseph out to the islands and watched as he led Tia and Garrett’s birth-mom and their oldest sister to put their faith in Jesus. I also met with a group of pastors that work with Joseph and we began planning a larger strategy to get the gospel to the Zay people consistently. I told them that if they would figure out the best way to spread the gospel throughout the Zway region and focus specifically on the Zay People then I would help them fund it. They sent me a three year plan and began preparing for the first event – a training retreat for 70 pastors in the region. E3 Partners is an incredible mission organization that knows what they are doing and does it well by contextualizing the gospel for the various settings that they are in worldwide. A few weeks ago this training event happened. The email I received was a short report of the training event and a few pictures of the event. I know this training will lead to many people in and around the Zay People hearing the gospel and receiving a chance to respond to it. This picture is part of the group that took part of their day to go to the lake and pray for the people in the islands.
There are a lot of organizations that seek to make a difference through all kinds of good projects that improve the lives of people all over the world. So many of these organizations have great intentions, but they only address the physical needs and ignore the more vital spiritual needs of desperate people. I am certainly not advocating doing only one or the other, instead I am pushing for a BOTH AND approach. Garrett’s Heart is committed to forming local partnerships that address the physical, spiritual and emotional needs of the Zay People. We are well on our way to equipping many local servants to share the gospel daily. Please pray for this group of 70 men and women who have been equipped and have a vision for reaching this region with the gospel of Jesus. I will be leaving on Sunday afternoon for travel to Ethiopia to bring our 7th child home (4 biological and 3 adopted). Our newest son is 8 years old and grew up on the same island as Tia and Garrett and was sent to the orphanage at the same time almost 4 years ago. I look forward to checking up on the work in and around Zway while I am there. Please pray for us that our presence would be a huge encouragement to the people who God is using to reach these amazing Zay people.


JOY Prom 2012

First of all a HUGE thanks for those who served so well at Joy Prom. I am grateful to you for giving of yourselves so well to make this night so huge in the lives of so many. Four reflections on JOY Prom:

- Joy Prom is an EVENT that we hope leads to 100's of RELATIONSHIPS. I hope many of you received a glimpse of what serving people with disabilities looks like. I hope you walked away with names to pray for throughout the year. I also hope you will take action so that this doesn't just become an EVENT each year, but something that facilitates year-long relationships. If you would like to take the next step and serve some of these same people please consider helping with Cabarrus County Special Olympics by contacting Emily Riley emily.riley@cabarrus.k12.nc.us

- There are just something TOO BIG for small groups of people to handle on their own. I love the fact the real life and real change is taking place in caring, mobile, small groups of Jesus followers. I love the Spirit's work in these groups responding to needs and serving people. But no small group could have pulled off what happened on Saturday night. However, a bunch of small groups came together with many other from our church and community and made it happen TOGETHER! There are VITAL roles that the church as a whole plays in the Kingdom of God. It points attention to need, it rallies people to the cause and it financially supports a lot of what happens. But there are limits too. Love needs to be expressed personally as well as corporately. The BIG church can love people with disabilities by organizing and rallying people to the cause, but that event will fall flat apart from individual people loving other individual people personally.

- Paying for this whole thing was a little chaotic when we started seeing the numbers of people who were coming continuing to rise. There was no way we were going to say "no" to anyone. We made the call to just trust God and ask the church as a whole to make up the difference the next day. I was blown away by your response to this need. You gave generously and met the need with room to spare.

- I can only imagine what it will be like when we take the same passion an intensity that we serve people with disabilities with and extend that to our 9 other LOVE Revolution Movements. You see we have created a MOVEMENT OF PEOPLE that are extending LOVE to people with disabilities. It was not just UCity Fellowship serving. Our church was the central force but tons more people showed up to serve and help as well. Why? Because true love is contagious and we created a place for that exchange of love to happen. All of the other Love Revolution Movements are off and running, BUT what would it be like if we all got behind them and invited our whole community to join us? We have some BIG events coming up Harrisburg 5k (April 21) and Movies In the Park (May 11). We have servant needs... financial needs and most of all a world that NEEDS a Love Revolution. Keep it up church.... God is using it for His fame.


Last Summer we did two things that very few churches actually do; 1) we met our monthly budget and 2) we grew significantly over the Summer months.

The first one was because we all gave generously and made sure that we gave online even if we were out of town on vacation. It was truly amazing to know that this is possible when we all pull together and do our part. I ask you to please stay faithful to the financial giving

The second was because we laid out a great plan for the series that we were going to focus on and you boldly invited your friends, neighbors, co-workers and new acquaintances to UCity. Nothing is as powerful as a personal invitation from someone who cares. We know it makes a big difference for you to know what we are planning on speaking about so HERE IS THE SUMMER LINE UP! Three 3-week series that will apply to everyone you meet, so invite them to come with you.

Hot Summer Nights - (June 26 – July 10) Sex is something that many of us have been burned by, whether through our own choices or the bad choices of others. But did you know that God created sex and has an incredible purpose for it?

Week 1 – Scorched :: Destroyed by Desire

Week 2 – Quenched :: Refreshed by Intimacy

Week 3 – Shelter :: Revived by Grace

Your Move - (July 17-31) We all make 100’s of decisions every day and sometimes the time frame for making a decision is often short and our options limited. But regardless, a decision must be made. So what are you supposed to do, when you don’t know what to do?

Losing Your Religion - (August 7-21) Face it. Religion can be strange. Mystical. Superstitious. Legalistic. And unfortunately religion isn't going away. However Christianity is an invitation for you to lose your religion by beginning a relationship with a God who is love.

Let's make this Summer better than last. Make the invite!


A LOT of local LOVE!!!

One of the greatest things God is forging in our church right now is a deep passion to love our local community in a revolutionary way. When we began our LOVE Revolution Project one year ago, I had no idea that God had all of these local impact movements in mind. In fact last year at this point I asked you all to give me your ideas of where we could make a difference locally in ten different areas. So over the last 12 months God has taken these things from ideas that we talked about, to projects that we planned for, to movements that we have prayed and fasted over, to real transforming expressions of his LOVE in the lives of people around us.

I was talking to someone last night who is new to UCity and she said that one of the reasons she is here is because she wants to be part of a place that really invests in the local community and gives people opportunities to serve and love our neighbors in a revolutionary way. It was just a great reminder to me of what GOD HAS DONE and IS DOING!

Our movements are gaining focus and momentum. They are led by passionate people who really want to help you and prepare you to make a difference. So jump into what God is doing and feel what it feels like for God's LOVE to flow through you into the lives of you neighbors.

1. Poor and Elderly - Meet this Saturday at the church offices at 8:30 AM. (4351 Main Street Suite #207, Harrisburg, NC). Working on four projects that involve some light construction, yard work, etc. We can use ANYBODY on this one.

2. Outsiders - I AM SECOND is gathering a street team to serve as information providers at the Faith, Family and Freedom Concert on June 25th. They are showing two I Am Second Movies during the concert and want a team of people ready to answer any questions people might have about the site. There will be 18,000+ people at this concert so we could use a big team of 50+ You need to order an I Am Second Shirt to be on this team. Contact Paula@UCFellowship.org

3. Orphans - We are launching our NC Orphan Movement on Sunday June 19th, so be ready for a great Father's Day together as we celebrate fathers and care for those who are fatherless.

4. Hungry - Get acquainted with our movement that serves the Hungry in Cabarrus county through Angel Food Ministries. This ministry is a hand up to people struggling to make ends meet when it comes to the food needs of their family. I want to challenge you all to order a box of food so that you will know the process and know what is available. We also need help with distribution 2-4 servants are needed one day per month. To order food go to www.angelfoodministries.com or contact Bill Poppen at Poppen@UCFellowship.org to sign up to serve.

5. Schools - Over the Summer we will be hosting a tutoring program that serves the needs of the kids at Wolf Meadow Elementary which is the elementary school we have focused on. We need servants to help those who are running the tutoring program. Contact Maura@UCFellowship.org

6. Neighborhoods - We pulled off the first block party last weekend and it was a huge success as a couple in our church just used this time to get to know their neighbors better and foster some good relationships. Our only agenda is to remove aloneness from our neighborhoods, because no one should feel alone. If you would like to pull off a neighborhood party in your neck of the woods, we have everything you need to make it great.

7 and 8. Families and Marriages - We will be hosting Financial Peace again this Fall as well as an Intimate Encounters marriage seminar led by David and Mendy Henderson. These will be hosted at the YMCA on Sunday evenings and open to the entire community. Childcare will be provided so look for more details mid-Summer.

Hey this is a LOVE Revolution. We aren't just planning on pulling off events and doing some projects. We are just doing these things so that we can express real LOVE to those in our world that need it most. Please jump in and allow God to use you. You were MADE for this.


Let the Revolution Begin!

Let the rEVOLution begin! One year ago we began to make plans for the future as a church at UCity, a future that expanded our ability and capacity to express love to our local community. We didn’t just want to love… we wanted to LOVE in a revolutionary way that made people stop and say, “WOW… that is amazing!”

We began by raising money so that we would be financially prepared to take action. True love that is unconditional is always sacrificial and it costs the giver something without expecting anything in return. For us to express revolutionary love requires us to sacrifice – our money, our time… our LIVES! And so we began with $750,000 in commitments last April.

Then we identified 10 groups of people we wanted to target our love toward. We prayed, fasted, asked for ideas, sought counsel and came up with the following groups of people that we felt were in desperate need of LOVE.

- Orphans in NC
- People with Disabilities
- Poor and Elderly
- Local schools (1 Elementary, 1 Middle and 1 High)
- Spiritual Outsiders (People who need a second chance)
- Families
- Hungry
- Local Neighborhoods
- Married Couples
- Distinct Communities that need a new church expression

With these targets in mind, I prayed for and recruited project leaders who had a deep passion to lead our church to go ALL OUT in expressing a revolutionary love to these groups of people - Leaders who loved and would sacrifice their time, money and life for the sake of their group. Within three months we had all ten ready to go.

Then we prayed and fasted as a church… for 21 days! We asked God to bless our desire to express His love to people around. We wanted this love to change people, to transform the landscape of our city, not just be another project. We knew apart from God we can do nothing of eternal value.

And then we launched… and we are going to be launching for a long time!

The first project launch was in February 2011 with the local elementary school that we have adopted (Wolf Meadow). We simply provided monitors and runners for their testing period. We filled 50 spots. And for a school that has a high percentage of free and reduced lunch children and wasn’t used to having much help… we definitely made a huge beginning impact. There are many more projects ahead with the schools, but trust needs to be established and we want to be responsive to the schools needs rather than decide what we want to do. You see that is what love does, “it does not seek its own.” It is others centered. For us to love the school means we need to be ready to respond as needs arise.

The second project was a workday to serve the poor and elderly in March. On this day about 80 people split into 4 teams to work on projects in our area. We contacted Cabarrus DSS to find out what needs they knew of that they could not respond to or meet. We built two wheel chair ramps, painted the outside of a house and did some much needed remodeling and painting inside another home. It was amazing to see so many skilled people pouring their lives into our community. And to hear the amazing responses of those we loved. This was just the first of ten workdays that we have planned for this project.

The third project to launch is a night to celebrate people with disabilities called The JOY PROM! This is happening this Saturday night. We have a team of over 220 servants (volunteers) who are ready to serve at this event. I can’t tell you how simply amazing this event is going to be. A full night filled with limousines, red carpet, dancing, three course dinners, care and community for a mostly isolated group of people. We have over 210 people signed up to come which doesn’t include their caregivers. I am expecting to serve over 500 guests Saturday night. I can’t wait. Video to follow soon! We want to love people with disabilities and provide them opportunities for community, but we also want to let their primary caregivers know that we notice and love them too. I ran into someone who will be coming to the joy prom with her son who is severely disabled. She asked when our church services were, because as she put it, “I think your church will have a place for him to belong.” Whoa! That just upped the ante! You see this isn’t about one night, but an ongoing commitment to LOVE … Revolutionary style!

So get ready UCity because more projects are getting ready to launch…

-Spiritual Outsiders (April 10th Launch)
-Families (April 16th Launch)
-Hungry (Early May)
-NC Orphans (Mid-May)

More updates to follow!



Heart Failure (Revisited!)

I wrote the following blog THREE YEARS ago. Many of you did not know me then and what God did in our lives during this time is was so life-changing for us that I felt compelled to share it again - in praise to God for His amazing goodness. Please read what I wrote in January 2008...

Four years ago in 2003 we were celebrating the birth of our fourth child Lindsay. The day after Lindsay was born during a routine check of Mendy’s vital signs, the doctors became concerned about an irregularity in Mendy’s heartbeat. After a few tests, the doctor’s scheduled an immediate appointment with a heart specialists. After several heart tests including an echocardiogram, Mendy was diagnosed with perinatal cardiomyopathy, which is a complicated way of saying that Mendy’s heart was failing due to the stress of the pregnancy/delivery. Her ejection fraction (which is the percentage of the blood that the heart pumps out with each beat) was 33% and normal range was 55+%. Needless to say we were a little concerned, but the doctors seemed very nonchalant about it, gave Mendy a prescription and said come back in three months because “sometimes these things just go away,” as he put it.

It seems weird now to say that we didn’t give too much thought to this at the time, or at least I didn’t. There was the task of bringing a fourth child home, helping our 7,6 and 3 year-olds get used to having a new child which meant new competition for our attention. Needless to say it was demanding. At the same time there were some major transitions taking place within the church that required my involvement, so I kind of handled this like the heart doctor and thought it was something that would hopefully just go away. In the little research Mendy did on-line she found out enough scary things to realize that we probably needed a second opinion and she scheduled her follow-up with another heart doctor.

Every once in a while the thought would occur to me, “what if this thing is serious… what if it doesn’t get better… what if this thing gets worse… what if… what if… what if?” I began to struggle a little bit with the whole thing because Mendy and I had talked a lot about not having any more children naturally (we have always thought we might adopt more someday). Mendy was leaning toward not having any more and I was always pushing a little to have another child. In my family, I was the youngest of four, so I guess I am just glad that my parents didn’t stop at three. I began to feel a little guilty for wanting to have another child and all my “what if” questions began to turn into “what if my desire to have another child has actually endangered my wife’s life?” My mind began to race at times and I would be faced with some very anxious thoughts. But again the distraction of the daily routine was more than enough to keep me preoccupied with other stuff. The next three months were a blur!!!

In late January 2004, Mendy returned for her three-month check up with a different heart specialist at the Sanger Clinic in Charlotte. After doing another echocardiogram we waited for the doctors to give us an update. Waiting in a small room is never easy for me, especially when you are hoping for some good news. When the doctor came in, he looked concerned. He said that Mendy’s ejection fraction was at 22% and that we needed to follow an immediate and radical course of action. He explained to us that in the case of perinatal cardiomyopathy, about 1/3 of the patients recover the full heart strength, about 1/3 stay the same for the rest of their lives and about 1/3 get worse which leads to complete heart failure within the first year. With knowing what we knew about her earlier ejection fraction, we knew which 1/3 we were in (the worst 1/3). One of the doctor’s assistants had her white medical coat on with the words “Pre-Transplant Coordinator” printed under her name as her title. Those words were etched in my mind like no others. The thoughts of that day still are very real to me. That evening we had plans to take the older girls to a concert. During the concert Jeremy Camp sang, “Blessed Be Your Name” by Matt Redman. In this song the words “You give and take away but my heart will chose to say Blessed by Your name” became so real to us. Still to this day Mendy can’t sing this song without crying as she is reminded of that night as she stood by her girls and I and realized that in His plan He gives and takes away.

In the doctor’s words, Mendy’s heart looked like an elderly person’s heart. It was enlarged and the only thing consistent about the heart beat was that it was consistently irregular… a few beats and then mumble, mumble, gurgle then a beat and then more mumble. The doctor prescribed two medications and ace inhibitor and a beta blocker. The medications meant that Mendy would have to immediately stop breast-feeding Lindsay, which was a big blow to a mom with her last child. The beta-blockers were going to decrease Mendy’s heart rate and lower her blood pressure. The ace inhibitors would further decrease the blood pressure. All this meant that Mendy would be completely exhausted because the medicines are designed to keep her heart from working very hard. It was a tough day for both of us to swallow. We left the Sanger Clinic scared, worried, anxious and quiet. I don’t remember what we talked about the rest of the day, but we both knew what the other was thinking. All of my “what if” thoughts seemed that day to come alive in a nightmare. All of my “worst case scenario” was coming true.

Some of the medication was so intense that they have to ramp you up slowly and continually monitor how your heart and body responds over weeks and months. We had doctor’s appointments scheduled every three weeks for a period of six months. It started slowly, but I could see Mendy’s strength wearing away and I could see how she dreaded each new visit to the Sanger clinic, which brought about an increased dosage and more exhaustion. I could see Mendy struggling physically and emotionally. Each time she went to the doctor she had to say she could handle more medicine because she thought this was her only hope for survival. At the same time she knew that an increased dosage meant extreme exhaustion, more days trying to keep her eyes open, more nights trying to go to bed earlier, and more guilt that she couldn’t be what our kids needed her to be, in such a critical time of life.

There were nights that I would come to bed long after Mendy was asleep and stare at her and think and wonder. In the best of those times, there was a great deal of thankfulness and gratitude for our marriage and our family and our life. It’s the time in life where (as Solomon says in Ecclesiastes) it is better to think about death because sadness and sorrow have a refining influence on us. I thought many times about how we met, and how God had directed our lives in paths we never could have imagined. I can remember laying my head on her chest as she slept to listen to her gurgled heartbeat while I would pray that God would heal her heart. In the worst of those times, there were the thoughts of how could I live without her and who would I be. I mean I have been good friends with, or dating, or engaged, or married to this woman since I was 16. A lot of my identity is US. And then there were the thoughts of how I would raise four kids without their mom around… overwhelming!!!

Other nights I would get to bed before she would go to sleep and we would ultimately end up talking about what came next. Night after night I would listen to Mendy struggle with the reality of her condition and sooner or later she would get real quiet and ask, “David, am I going to die?” It was the question I dreaded and the question I had no answer for other than, “I don’t know.” I didn’t know, but I thought about it all the time and I knew Mendy did to. We both have such great families, that I knew somehow we would have all the support we would need no matter what, but it was really impossible imagining the worst, but you simply had to from time to time. It was a possibility! We prayed all the time.

The doctor prescribed cardiac rehab and Mendy began attending a support group for others with the same condition. The cardiac rehab turned out to be a little comic relief. Mendy was the youngest one in the group by about 45 years!!! Everyone thought she worked there, but she would explain her situation and jump into the activities with the rest of the 75 year olds. From what I hear, it seems as though the men would wait for her so they could walk behind her around the track, and “take in the view.” I told her she should wear several layers of clothes and begin shedding a few of them with each lap so that she could hear the heart monitors going off on all those guys.

As she read of others and talked with others in a support group who had the same condition, we got a little more sobering picture of this condition. Many women become completely debilitated with this condition and are basically on strict bed rest 24 hours a day. The stories of in-laws moving in to help care for the family and kids were numerous. Thankfully, that was not our experience. I think Mendy was somewhat determined that this was not going to slow her down. I would watch her force herself up in the mornings, do as much as she could possibly do to maintain normalcy in our house. And with four kids “normalcy” is a relative term. She resumed many of her roles in the church that she had before delivering Lindsay and even picked up a few. As I said before, there were some major threats to the sustaining mission of the church that ended up requiring a lot of my attention and whenever I needed Mendy she was there. At the end of each day there was a collapse into bed and the routine would start again.

Looking back, it was truly one of the loneliest times in our lives. It was the only time I wished that I were the pastor of a traditional church, with a guaranteed structure that was going to keep plodding along whether I was there or not. That people would show up, people would serve, people would give, other leaders would understand and the mission would continue without my attention. And maybe UCF would have been just fine if I had backed off, but it sure didn’t seem like it to me. These were the times when Mendy and I both began to have thoughts like… “come on God, can you give us a break here… we have sacrificed and served and followed you to start this church… we have poured our lives into this thing…. And this is what we get?... are you for us at all… where are you… do you know what you are doing here?” It was truly painful. I can remember Mendy and I on New Year’s Eve 2004 sitting together and crying and thinking and praying... if we have another year like 2004, I’m not sure we can take it. During this time, I can also remember reading a book by Brennan Manning called Ruthless Trust that rocked my world then and is still rocking my world today. I won’t explain it here, but if you just read it, you will experience the struggle of trusting God with your WHOLE LIFE.

The medication steadily increased over the next 6 months and the doctor didn’t want to test again until she had been at full strength medication for 3 months. It is hard to face a condition like this because the timing is so long in between. From the panic of January it was going to be 9 full months until we knew anything different. Nine months of doing what the doctors said and hoping and praying without knowing anything. I know that Mendy was tempted to quit the medication several times. Her reasoning was simple. If I am not going to make it then I want my kids to remember a vibrant mom who played with them until the very end, rather than a mom who was in bed for the last 9 months of her life. But she had to take the medication, so she did.

I can remember one office visit when they checked her heart rate and it was at 32 beats per minute. At that point they quit upping the dosage because they didn’t want her heart rate to go that low. I remember constantly listening to Mendy’s heart (sometimes at my request but most of the times at her request) to see if there was any regularity. There always seemed to be a few hopeful constant beats, but soon the mumble came and there was a sense of hopelessness. I dreaded looking into her eyes after listening to her heart gurgle. Her eyes were always hopeful for healing. Each time I looked up at her, she knew the answer and the hope in her eyes immediately turned to uncertainty, disappointment and sadness.

In October of 2004, as Lindsay turned one we returned to the doctor for our first real check to see if nine months of medication and struggle was worth it. To be honest, I didn’t expect much. I felt like I kind of knew what 1/3 we were in and knew that tougher times might be ahead. As I remember, the doctor came in with the good news/ bad news kind of look. The good news was that Mendy’s ejection fraction had not gotten any worse; the bad news was that it had not gotten any better. Overall, it was good news. It immediately gave us a little hope and for the time being took the talk of a heart transplant off the table. The doctor seemed to assure us at that point that often times the medication would stabilize a weakened heart and that this was your new reality of life. It might mean that you would be on medication for the rest of your life in order to maintain the present strength of the heart. During this time, I kept saying that where we are now is the “new normal.” People would often ask how Mendy was and how she looked like she was back to normal. I would say that we are at a stage of “new normal” and if you could see what I see at night and in the morning, you wouldn’t think she was back to normal. It wasn’t great news, but it was the best we had heard in 9 months.

It was a weird joy. Glad for the reverse of the negative, but facing some very long-term medication options that were completely exhausting for Mendy. The other frustrating reality was that check ups from this point were every 3 months, a long time to wait before finding out progress. In November of 2004, I left on a trip to Africa for 15 days. Mendy was in good hands and I can remember spending large portions of the trip praying and hoping for change. I wrestled with God on the “why” of all of this and I kept hearing a phrase that I came up with as I read Ruthless Trust. It’s a question phrased from God to me, “David, do you trust me with the outcome of your life?” To me it means for me to do what I know to do in following God and leave the outcome of my life and the circumstances around it to God. My response is another phrase that I learned from Brennan Manning at a retreat he led. It is the phrase, “Abba, I belong to You!” In the most difficult moments and still today I remember how Manning taught me to use this phrase. You inhale on “Abba” and you exhale on “I belong to You.” It goes with my breathing pattern so I could repeat it endlessly until I believed it again and again.

In Jan 2005, we went for our first of four scheduled check ups for the year. As I remember, this visit was largely the same as before. Mendy’s heart wasn’t getting better, but it wasn’t getting worse. However, our first encouraging news came in April when the ejection fraction of her heart actually increased from the base line of 22% to 27-28%. The medicine was working and actually allowing her heart to regain some strength. The next visit in July her ejection fraction moved to 37%. We kind of felt like we were on a roll and the prospects of recovery became something we began to talk about again. We were thankful for the reversal, and cautiously optimistic about the future. In October, Mendy’s checkup was the same as July. She had leveled off which was bad news but also good news. The first few visits of 2006 revealed the same thing. The medication was working in that it had allowed her heart to heal, but now we were really facing another "new normal." It looked as if this is where Mendy would be for the rest of her life, but the doctors said that this would probably only be possible if she maintained her current medication levels for the foreseeable future. When we would ask about life expectancy the doctor never give us a direct answer. He always said you can read the stats, but “you are not a statistic.” I know he was trying to help, but it always gave me the impression that he didn’t want to tell us the truth. When we would ask about coming off the medication, he would say we would talk about it in a couple of years! YEARS!!! At this point he wanted to see Mendy back in October 2006. At this visit nothing changed and he scheduled another check up in one year.

At some point during 2007, the length of the this struggle and the consistency of being drained by the medication had taken its toll on Mendy. She went through periods of taking herself off the medication. On those occasions, she would get a taste of what having some real energy was like. Without my knowledge, she would go weeks without taking her medicines, at some point I would discover it and we would talk through it to the point where she would agree to begin again. Those times were filled with frustration, because of the fatigue that would come with the medication. It is probably hard to understand unless you have lived it. At some point during the Spring / Summer of 2007 Mendy quit taking the medication all together. It is something she just did. Something I would have strongly disagreed with had I known, but what is done is done.

In November 2007, Mendy was scheduled for her annual check up. She knew she had not taken her medicine and was going to tell the doctor and see what he wanted her to do from here. After having another echocardiogram, Mendy waited for the doctor to come in and give the results. I didn’t go with her for this check up. There comes a time when you just don’t expect much different to happen, so you just settle in to the routines of life and keep going. The intensity of every visit and the condition as a whole seems to fade away a little. It is always there, but somehow you feel like you just have to go on with life and not talk about it so much. We continually prayed for healing, but I’m not sure we expected much. The doctor returned and asked Mendy several questions and then shared with Mendy to most unexpected news. Her heart had returned to full strength. The strength of the heart of a normal 34 year old woman. Something that we were told would never happen. It was truly amazing to the doctor and to Mendy. The doctor said that he had never seen this happen and he really couldn’t explain it. Mendy knew that she could explain it and was able to say to her doctor that she knew where the healing had come from. When she called with the news, I was stunned. Stunned because it was so completely unexpected, stunned because of the joy I heard in Mendy’s voice, stunned at the goodness of God and stunned at my lack of expectant faith.

We end this year (2007) with incredibly grateful healthy hearts. The journey has been long and God has been good. We give thanks to Him and wake up every day with the full understanding that the outcome of our lives is in His hands. We are thankful for His healing in this life and we know that He will ultimately heal “all our diseases” in the life to come. As with all things that we consider “ours,” we don’t believe that God gives us something without a plan for how it should be used, and that includes our health. We look forward to investing the healthy bodies He has given us as a living sacrifice to Him, expanding His kingdom through our brief moments on this earth.

I hope that this blog serves as a very grateful “thank you” to all who have fervently prayed with us for healing. I know that there are many and we are blessed because of your prayers and faith.

Love loud… risk often... HOPE ALWAYS,


What are you hoping for... expecting to happen?

Unfortunately, I believe most Christ-followers in America have quit hoping. Our rationalistic society has has invaded our ability to hope and to expect amazing things to happen. And yet hope is the natural response to a life with God.

Our current series “Expectancy” is one that is obviously tied to the Christmas celebration, but I also want to use this time to lay out some beginning steps toward the idea of a 21-day fast that we will be experiencing together as a community. Last year our whole UCity community joined together to fast for 21 days: inviting God into some key areas of our lives, desiring to experience more of his plan for our lives and raising our sense of expectancy in anticipation of what He would do. And God did some truly miraculous things in the lives of so many people and in the life of our church.

For me personally, one of the focuses of my fasting was the completion of the adoption of Tia and Garrett into our family. Our lives have been forever changed and incredibly blessed as we watched God work every detail out this past year. We are still marveling at the ways God continues to use these kids to transform the lives of many others around us. My faith has grown, and the faith of our kids has grown as they prayed and asked God for this. I could go on and on, telling stories of marriages that were put back together, family relationships that were transformed, personal finances that were turned around, health problems that were healed and jobs that became incredibly profitable. Each of the people in these stories give credit to God as they sought Him in the fast last year.

This year has also been an incredible year for our church. We have grown by 25%, many people have accepted Jesus as Savior, we have stayed on pace with our budgeted needs, we have committed to give $750,000.00 to show LOVE to our local community, we have brought home 5 more orphans, we have defined 10 transformational projects, and we have sent another couple to the mission field. In all of these things I sense the hand of God and I am grateful for the leadership at UCity that led us to fast and seek God’s activity with a greater intensity than ever before.

For this reason and so many more, I have a great sense of EXPECTANCY as we head into the 21-day fast of 2011. We will be fasting as a community from Monday, January 10 – Sunday January 31.

We will be preparing you for this fast over the next three weeks. So begin to think about and prepare yourself for this fast. And rather than get overly-focused on what a fast is or the details of a fast, begin in your heart to GET EXCITED about what God has in store for you during this fast and throughout the course of 2011.

I have recently found out that several of my close friends are expecting a baby. And while there are A LOT of details to think through and plans to make… right now none of that matters as much as the excitement of EXPECTING. SO for now just begin to anticipate… expect… get excited! I sure am!


The WOW experience!

Day – whatever… I lost track!

One of the best parts of this adoption journey so far is watching Tia and Garrett enjoy some of everyday pleasures of life that we so often take for granted. Things like being able to tie your own shoes (because they have never had shoes), going out to eat and ordering what you want (because they have never had a opportunity to choose what they wanted to eat) and taking a hot shower (because they have never had access to hot water.

Yesterday I helped Garrett with a shower (he hasn’t had many because of the cast on his broken arm). I was trying to be quick about it and get it done, but each time I would start to turn off the water, he would get a little smile on his face and say “tinish more, tinish more daddy.” (“tinish is the word for “a little”). So we spent 10-15 more minutes with a little more hot water on his head and on his face and on his back… it was incredible to watch how much joy he was experiencing.

I love to watch their faces with each new experience and I love being able to provide these small (but huge) things each day for them. I find myself looking for the new experiences that each day will bring. At the same time, I know the whole new world of new experiences that await them in the US. I can’t wait to take them out to Harrisburg Park and let them kick the soccer ball around on the nicest grass fields they have ever seen. I can’t wait to take them to our house and watch them play and relax and be at home. I can’t wait to take them to Knoxville to my parents house and let them ride on the ski boat. I can’t wait to take them to church and introduce them to the tons of people that have prayed and fasted for them. So many things I can’t wait for them to experience… every single one is going to be a huge WOW moment.

Several things about these experiences remind me of our great and awesome God. In some ways I am completely in awe at the things God is allowing us to experience in our church and in our life. With each new person who accepts Christ, each new person that makes radical steps of faith and each new way that God provides for me as I trust him. I am WOWWED and AWED by so much of it. At the same time, I think God is telling me, “David, you haven’t seen nothing yet!”

1 Corinthians 2:9 “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him.” This is such a simple idea with huge implications. Right now I understand this better than I ever had. It is the character of God to plan and prepare new experiences for us to engage – each with its own plan and purpose. I think He can’t wait for some of you to trust him enough to enjoy everything He has planned for those that love him. There is so much he wants us to experience and he has given us His Spirit to guide us on these experiences. The next verse in 1 Corinthians 2 says, 10 But* it was to us that God revealed these things by his Spirit. For his Spirit searches out everything and shows us God’s deep secrets. 11 No one can know a person’s thoughts except that person’s own spirit, and no one can know God’s thoughts except God’s own Spirit. 12 And we have received God’s Spirit (not the world’s spirit), so we can know the wonderful things God has freely given us.

So while there are some really cool experiences that wait for us here in this life, there is a whole different world that God has prepared for us to experience. It is a world that we will never experience until heaven.

1 Corinthians 13:12 Now we see things imperfectly as in a cloudy mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity.* All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.

I understand this so much better right now because I am experiencing on a micro scale this same reality. When I try to tell Garrett and Tia about our home in America, I can tell they get excited but they really have no clue because they have nothing to compare it to. I think it is like God trying to describe to us what heaven is going to be like… we can get excited about it, but we really have no clue. And still I can’t wait!


Fresh Faces...New sons and daughters

Today was the day the Hendersons have been waiting a long time for. This morning we went to the airport and met Brandon McSwain and Karey Digh. A few hours later we went and picked up Tim and Robin Rhodes and their family. It is just great to see people you have missed so much for five weeks and to watch their faces full of excitement for what lies ahead. I can’t wait for the other team from UCity to arrive on Friday.

As I am writing this at 4:10 PM (Ethiopia Time), Mendy has gone with the Rhodes to pick up Eli their new son. Tomorrow they will pick up their new daughter as well. I am thrilled for the Rhodes and I trust the amazing plans that God has for this entire family. I am honored to get a front row seat in watching a compassionate community in action.

I know that many of you have been praying for everyone that is involved in Ethiopia (missions and adoptions) and I look forward to celebrating together as a community when we are all back together again. In so many ways this is not just what a few individuals and a few families are doing, THIS IS WHAT OUR UCITY COMMUNITY IS DOING, as well as many other things in other places. When we see ourselves as a compassionate community rather than a collection of individuals, then everything changes.

“Our individual ability to serve is quite limited. We might be able to help a few people for a while, but to respond in servanthood to all people all the time is not a realistic human aspiration. As soon as we speak in terms of “we”, however, the picture changes. As a community we can trascend our individual limitations and become a concrete realization of the self-emptying way of Christ. This communal realization can then find specific expression in the daily work of the individual members. Some people work well with teenagers, others with the elderly, others with hospital patients, and others with prisoners. As individuals we cannot be everything to everyone, but as a community we can indeed serve a great variety of needs. Moreover, by the constant support and encouragement of the community we find it possible to remain faithful to our commitment to service.” - Comapssion by Henri Nouwen

I love the many ways that people at UCity compassionately serve each other and the world around us. I NEVER want anyone in our community to feel the pressure to do what someone else is doing. However, I want EVERYONE to grab hold of the need to serve people around them in the unique ways that God has designed us to, so that together as a community we can say, “yes” to so many more needs around us. It is fun to see God’s Spirit form this in our community and I love the way so many of you serve faithfully. Keep going!

“He (Jesus) makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love.” Ephesians 4:16


Servanthood and the Search for God

I had a couple of days to really think about UCity and what an amazing opportunity we have to continue to pursue God and become a church that imitates his character through – generosity, humility, servanthood, compassion, and comfort. I am so enamored by these specific characteristics of God that were so completely displayed in Jesus.

I am afraid that our American independent mindset has corrupted the concept of true servanthood and I would like to attempt to lead us to recapture it. You see in nearly every area where we serve, we stay in control of the situation. We will serve, but only a defined amount of time, when it fits in our schedule and suffering is not an option. Remaining in control of the situation is not servanthood… and it was not the path of Jesus.

“Nobody finds anything wrong or strange with attempting to help people who are visibly lacking the basic necessities of life, and it appears quite reasonable to try to alleviate suffering when it is possible. But to leave a successful position and enter freely, consciously and intentionally into a position of servanthood seems unhealthy. It is a violation of the most basic human instincts. To try to lift others up to our own privileged position is honorable and perhaps even an expression of generosity, but to attempt to put ourselves in a position of disrepute and to become dependent and vulnerable seems to be a form of masochism that defies the best of our asperations.” -Compassion by Henri Nouwen

Not sure if it is funny or sad that I have never heard anyone describe Jesus as someone who “became vulnerable,” but that is exactly what he did. In becoming a slave he REALLY BECAME A SLAVE. He put himself into a situation where he was not in control any more, and this made him vulnerable and opened him up to real abuse… and death.

This perspective gives Jesus’ words to Peter more meaning,

I tell you the truth, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!” John 21:18-19

Becoming like Jesus means putting ourselves in situations where we are not in control, where we genuinely are servants. When we do this we are coming close to a profound spiritual truth that service is an expression of the search for God not just of the desire to bring about individual or social change.


The Journey Toward Becoming a Dad of 6

At this point in our adoption journey we are really getting to experience what being a family of 8 is really like. There are tons of the “real – unreal” moments when I realize that I am experiencing everything I had prayed for and hoped for. For 18 months, the journey to bring these two amazing kids into our family seemed like it might never end. You settle into the reality that you have to keep hoping and realize that you might never get what you hope for. I fully embraced the pursuit and somehow braced myself for the reality that this might be a life-long pursuit. When you put that much energy into the pursuit, you stop making any plans for what happens if the adoption actually DOES happens.

AND THEN, it happens. You are right in the middle of experiencing everything you hoped would happen. It is just unreal… and yet very real. These kids are slowly settling into our family. Each day brings new insight into their personality and new interactions with our older four kids that are just so incredibly cool to watch.

At first everything is so strange. There is real love, but it is foreign and not personal. It is based on the identity of these two kids as “orphans” ,not on their real God-given identity. In fact, we had just a small glimpse of who these kids actually are, how God formed them and what personality he infused them with. And yet they are there right in front of you – a son and a daughter. In this strange stage, everything is real but it feels a little forced.

For instance, I know what bedtime looks like at our house. I know how to put kids to bed that I love very much. Bedtime usually consists of tickling, talking, praying and kissing (usually in that order). My four oldest kids have grown up with this, love it and respond well to it. So as we tuck Tia and Garrett into their beds, I know how to be that kind of dad, but they do not know how to receive that kind of dad. I want to be the same dad, but it feels a little awkward and forced because they have never had a dad do that with them and you can tell that they have no idea how to respond to it. For the first several nights I would lay next to Garrett and say “goodnight Garrett, I love you.” and his response was, “okay” and that was it. The first several nights I laid down with Tia and said, “goodnight Tia, I love you” and her response was, “goodnight, bye!”

As the adoption pursuit phase ends and the becoming a real, everyday dad to six amazing God-created kids, I find in my heart a new pursuit beginning. It is the pursuit for the heart of Tia and Garrett. Not just to be the dad I am to the older four kids, but the dad that all six of them need individually. You see in many ways, I have been reminded that each child is unique and requires a unique approach. What one child needs is nearly the last thing that another one needs.

As I write this several bible verses come to mind.

If you forgive anyone, I also forgive him. And what I have forgiven—if there was anything to forgive—I have forgiven in the sight of Christ for your sake, in order that Satan might not outwit us. For we are not unaware of his schemes. 2 Corinthians 2:10-11

This might not seem like it fits the context, but the word “schemes” is a word that indicates that Satan has an individual battle plan to defeat us and our kids. He is working hard and has created a unique plan for our destruction. So the very least I can do as a dad is to create an individual plan for their success.

Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it. Proverbs 22:6

The phrase “in the way he should go” literally means “according to their bents.” It means that we as parents have to realize the different and unique bents of our children and train them accordingly. Parenting is not a one size fits all pursuit.

The last thought on this is a phrase I have used a lot, because wherever I seek to lead, it seems that I am the one who is changed the most in the process. I am literally being transformed into a different person as I seek to form our kids. What each child needs requires something different of me. So they form my life as I form theirs.


My First Trip to Zadechu Island

For those of you who may not know, the two newest members of the Henderson Tribe (Tia and Garrett) were born on Zadechu Island and spent the first four years of their lives there. This island is in the middle of Lake Zway, about three hours south of Addis Ababa. Through doing a little research, I discovered that there are five islands in Lake Zway, three of which are inhabited. The people that live on these islands are called the Zay people. They speak their own language and have their own culture. The Joshua Project lists this group of people as an unreached people group – which means they have no Bible written in their language and no consistent gospel message in their world.

Once I found this out, I sensed that God had bigger plans for our family than just adding two more members to it. I sensed that God wanted to use this adoption to allow us to have a broader impact with the Zay people. Mendy and I have also sensed that God’s plans for this may be the reason that we have experienced such spiritual opposition throughout this adoption process. It is with this perspective that I set out on my first trip to Zadechu Island.

I had heard that the rigors of this trip may be a little difficult for our whole family, so I decided that I needed to scout out the trip first. I asked Trent Post and Nicco to go with me. Nicco has made this trip several times in the course of helping us with this adoption. We pulled up to the edge of the lake and piled into a flat bottom boat with a 25 horsepower motor attached to it. It was then that I realized why the boat ride would take 2 ½ hours. Right after we left shore we saw a couple of Hippos that are certainly dangerous (actually, the most dangerous animal in Africa) but the locals don’t seem to be bothered by them at all, so neither were we.

The entire ride out, I just couldn’t believe that I was actually doing this. I mean, I had hoped for this moment for so long, but I wasn’t sure it would happen, and now it’s happening. We passed by the other four islands and then saw a small island with three big humps. That was it.

As we got off the boat, we start walking up the path. The island is absolutely beautiful – grass top huts are scattered around with small crops growing close by. Down near the shore there are several larger fields that have been plowed and some small crops are growing. Several people came to see who we were – all were friendly but not overly intrigued. We walked up the path passing several little compounds along the way.

After a few minutes we came up on a couple of boys who had caught 40 or so fish from the lake and were planning on selling taking them to the city of Zway. I think they were perch, but I’m not much of a fisherman so I really had no clue. Nicco stopped and talked to them for a while and they began picking out 10-12 fish to buy. Nicco said that we would take these to the family and they would cook them for us for lunch. That was news to me. I know eating with people is a HUGE deal here in Ethiopia. It is how you build relationships, but I was hoping to avoid a big meal on our first trip.

As they were picking out the fish, a couple of teenage boys were heading down the hill holding a yellow plastic bowl. They looked like they were heading down to the lake, when Nicco called them over. He asked them what they had in their bowl and told them that he was hungry. As they approached I saw a bowl full of raw fish that I assumed they were going to cook. Then Nicco reached in and grabbed a big chunk and tossed it in his mouth. I knew I was in trouble when he said, “wow, that is good, you ought to try some David!” I looked closer and Nicco explained that it was raw fish, mixed with some “local alcohol” (to kill anything bad that might be in the fish) and topped off with a ton of onions. I thought I was going to be able to avoid the whole thing, but then Trent popped one in his mouth, and all of the sudden I was the only one not eating anything. I grabbed one and chewed on it for a little while before a swallowed. It wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be. As I turned around, Nicco was holding another piece for me to eat. Feeding someone else in this culture is a sign of friendship and love – so I didn’t turn it down. (I think they call it giving someone a goose shot.) After that adventure – we grabbed the fish and headed up the hill.

It wasn’t long until we arrived – at the compound where Tia and Garrett’s family lives. There were four grass-roofed huts and before I knew it I was hugging their birth mom and meeting five of her other six kids (two boys and four girls). We went into her hut and sat down together. I stared at three girls (15, 12, 10) and then another set of twins (a boy and a girl that were about 3). As I stared at the twins, I felt like I was looking at (Tia and Garrett). They were all clothed in tattered clothing and none of them had any shoes. After a few moments of awe – feeling the impact of being in the hut were my kids were born – several neighbors started pouring in and sitting down with us.

I realized that they were already preparing and cooking the fish in the other hut and I went to take a look. I’m still not quite ready to describe the food preparation – but they told me that this hut was the hut that they cooked in and where the kids also slept. I immediately thought to myself that this is probably why Garrett has a burn mark on his leg. After that, I thought I would take some pictures and build a little relationship with the older girls. We had fun taking pictures and I had a chance to take in the surrounding scenery. I realized that their compound was directly below the middle hump on the island and the views of the lake and other islands were stunning. Just absolutely beautiful, but also kind of stunning that a whole group of people actually survive the way they do.

We went back inside to eat and I asked Nicco if they knew who I was. He clarified to the family and the neighbors that I had adopted Tizita and Geremo and I looked forward to figuring out how I could help their family and their people. That was met with a lot of smiles and some unspoken acceptance. It felt good and there were smiles all over the place. We ate injera (spongy bread) and fried fish together and Nicco asked the men to think about how we might be able to be a blessing to the island. Nicco says that you just need to let them come up with some ideas first and go from there. It was a great time together. I prayed for them and prayed that God would use this whole situation for his glory and that His purposes would be accomplished among these people.


After I finished eating I just stared at Werke (Tia and Garrett’s birth mom). It struck me that she was smiling. I had met her a few days before and she was completely stoic – no expressions at all. But here - in her hut, she was smiling and talking and enjoying our presence in her home with her neighbors. I realized that she had experienced the death of her first husband – after which she married her husbands brother (the younger twins dad) who had also died. In all my focus on these two kids being orphans, I guess the fact that this woman has been widowed twice had escaped me. At that moment, I felt so much compassion for this widow. I thought of her plight – trying to raise eight kids alone on an island with no economic opportunities. The struggle of having to give two of them up for adoption because she was unable to care for them all. My heart was filled with a love for her and her entire family.

I have tried to get out of my American mindset that always has to accomplish something and tried to just “visit” her in her distress. To sit with her and her family and be fully present with them. It was sweet. Even though the verbal communication was very little, I definitely connected with Werke on a whole different level.

My new family

Heading into this adoption process I thought (to myself) that maybe we would even pursue more adoptions in the future. We would see how this process goes, listen closely to God and see what happens. But as I spent time with Werke’s other kids, particularly the girls who were 10 and 12, I sensed God was introducing me to the rest of the kids I should care for. My mind began to race about the different ways I could help them and then I shut it off so I could once again just “visit” with these kids, love them and share with them the compassion of Christ.

I don’t know what the future holds, but as I was leaving the compound, the two girls chased after me. I thought they were just running out to say “bye.” So I hugged them and told them I would be back. But they grabbed me and both said one word over and over again… “shoes.” I looked down at their feet, all four of them were dirty and obviously very tough from walking and running around the island. I bent down and held each of their feet in my hand so that I could get a general idea of how big their feet were by measuring how far their toes reached up my arm.

Again, I’m not sure how my family will help this family in the future, but I do know that when I return, I will bring them shoes… about size 9 and size 5.

Looking forward to the return trip

As we left, it was so encouraging to know that I would be returning in a few weeks. At this point, it looks like the whole team from UCity will be traveling out to the island with me on our return visit. The boat ride back was definitely a lot rougher, but I think I have secured a larger, faster boat for our next visit.

Can't wait!


Wild Ride

It has just been way too hectic to keep up a journal of the daily activities. Besides, when I start to run through the day it seems to just come out as facts and not as thoughts. SO here are some new thoughts.

This adoption journey has been a wild ride for the last few days in a couple of ways. First the chaos. We took the kids to the Sheraton hotel on Saturday (July 3) to hang out on the playground. I was in charge of hanging out with the younger four on the playground while Mendy, Megan and Kaylee got on the internet. I was not feeling that great – slight headache and just some real tiredness. The kids were shooting videos of each other playing on the playground and generally having a good time. I was keeping up with them but not too engaged. After a while we settled into one area – Tia and Lindsay were playing with the video camera and Jacob and Garrett were playing on a four-person structure that bounced around. They were both standing on the thing that was meant to be sat on, but they had been pushing the limits on every structure and I didn’t think much about it. In fact _ the thought did come to my mind “should I make them stop that and do it right,” but I immediately dismissed it.

About five minutes later I was sitting next to the girls looking at their video work and I heard Garrett smack the ground. He had fallen backwards and his feet could not catch him so he tried to break his fall with his arms. Immediately I knew it was bad. He put his arm between his legs and when I began to move him, his eyes rolled back into his head and he began to go limp. I don’t have any medical training, but I knew this was not good.

I picked him up in my arms and his head fell back and he was almost completely limp. I got him awake and he screamed and then said, “sleep.” I said, “no!” I said a quick prayer and got the other three to follow me as I carried Garrett up into the hotel. I told Jacob to run and get Mendy. By the time Mendy got downstairs, Garrett had about passed out a couple of times. Megan and Kaylee got downstairs and I asked them to say a quick prayer. Megan’s face turned white and she sat down. Mendy went to get the van and while she was gone – Tia and Jacob both began to cry. It was a pretty scary situation.

I called Nicco to find out where we should go to the hospital and he said he would meet us there. I began to take Garrett out to the van and Megan said, “Dad I can’t stand up, my ears are hurting and I can’t feel my legs.” She was having trouble breathing. I rushed with Garrett, Tia and Jacob out to the car. Lindsay stayed behind with Megan (even though I told her to come with me. As I reached Mendy, I told her to go and get Megan because she was “losing it.” A few minutes later Mendy returned to the van and said Megan isn’t doing well and can’t come right now. I left Jacob with Mendy and told her I would send our driver back for them after he took us to the hospital. So Garrett, Kaylee and I left for the Emergency Room.

We went to an ER in Addis. It was crazy. I sent our driver back to pick up Mendy and the other kids and I waited for Nicco to arrive. This left me at the ER with two kids that don’t speak English and doctors that don’t speak English… and no translators. At first I thought they wanted my insurance card, but it turned out they just wanted us to pay in advance for anything they did. There was an accident victim that came in just ahead of us. We were in the same 10X15 room with him while they were checking him out – blood and bandages everywhere!!! I sent Kaylee upstairs to pay for the initial exam and we sat and waited. Kaylee was on point – she knew what to do and knew what precautions to take. After a long wait, Nicco arrived and so did Mendy and the kids.

Geremew went back for some xrays and we saw what appeared to be a fracture and a bone chip in his elbow. However, the doctor would not be in until Monday to read the xrays and do the right treatment. We also had another issue. Geremew had a TB test done on that arm that had to be read on Monday morning, which meant that we could not cover his arm with any kind of cast until the TB test was read by the doctor. They ended up putting a half cast on the outside of his arm and made a rough sling.

We got back home that night completely exhausted with one son in a half cast, Megan recovering from some kind of stress induced shock and all of us wanting to be back in the States.

I know God has plans for all of this time. I am trusting that we can see past this days chaos to see God’s plan in all of it.


Hello from Ethiopia

Hello from Ethiopia. I hope everyone has had the opportunity to keep up with our journey over here through daily devotionals, blogs, facebook, emails and videos.

Blogs: www.loveloud.blogspot.com (David)
www.HendersonPartyofEight.blogspot.com (Mendy)

We should be wrapping up adoption details by early next week and then the waiting begins for our Embassy date. In the meantime, we have definite plans to advance the Kingdom here in Ethiopia through the following adventures:

1. Spending a few days with Trent and Carmen Post - UCity's Missionaries in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
2. Visiting several families suffering with HIV/AIDS - these are families that different families at UCity support monthly. Their monthly support of $45 supplies food, shelter, clothing, education for the kids and medical supplies. If you are interested in supporting a family please email me back.
3. A visit to the island where our two kids were born. The island is in the middle of lake Zway. The people on the island are and unreached people group, which means that they have no gospel message in their language. They are called the Zay people. Should be a fun adventure and I look forward to the plans God has for us to reach them with the message of Jesus Christ... cool stuff!
4. Visiting with an orphan care initiative in the city of Zway.
5. Visit Langano Farms and get an update on the progress of work that began with Mike and Amy Rodgers.
6. Hopefully a visit to Awassa and the well drilling projects that many at UCity have sponsored.
7. Hopefully a visit to Durami missionary training center. This center is sending Ethiopian missionaries to completely closed countries such as Iran.

What I need from you?
I need the kingdom to advance in the UCity area through our church.

1. Invite people like crazy. Now is the time to step up to the plate and invite people into this amazing community.
2. Give financially to make this Summer like no other Summer before at UCity. We finished June pretty strong so I am hopeful. Please give online when you are out on vacation and be faithful to the mission that God has called us all to.
3. Grow in compassion for each other. Please read the daily devotionals and think about someone who you just need some time together with no other agenda other than being with each other.

I love what I am hearing about UCity and I am SO GRATEFUL to be on this journey together with you. Thanks for your prayers and support.

Love Loud...Risk Often...Hope Always,

Sunday, June 27, 2010....Day 4 - Rescue

I woke up this morning at 4 AM, which is really crazy. Usually I don’t have this much trouble adjusting to the sleep schedule, but I’m usually not trying to juggle so much. Having the whole family over here is great, but it definitely requires more of my attention. Journaling and reading time are scarce trying to keep four kids comfortable in a foreign country. I am proud of each of our kids. They have been troopers in this new experience.

Everyone else woke up early and waited around for a while to go to church. I can’t remember the last time I left for church at 10:45. We went to the International Evangelical Church, which is an English speaking church and I have heard has been quite good recently (usually it is pretty dry and boring for my taste).

The message was good. It was about how the church is being bullied in 1 Peter and Peter is reminding the church about who it really is. The only thing I didn’t like was the message set the world up as the big bully who sooner or later “will get what they deserve.” And while that may be true in God’s timing, I don’t find that thinking very helpful in evoking the compassion required to love and serve a broken world with mercy and grace.

After the service we headed to lunch with Trent and Carmen Post and their family. We went to a restaurant where I knew our kids could get a meal they would love. They needed it and it worked. Great meal topped off with ice cream at Kaldi’s.

We called Nicco who went to Zway to pick up the twins birth mother so that she could be in Addis for court on tomorrow. When we spoke to him he said that their mother wanted to come and see us tonight when they arrived in Addis. I knew this time was probably coming, but I had not put much thought into what I would say, feel or do. They said they would be at the guest house around 6. That gave us about 2 hours to collect our thoughts and think about this meeting.

We headed to the Sheraton to figure out if I could load the videos for church and give the kids some time on the internet. I think the videos loaded on the flip sight and I hope this will provide a view into our world each Sunday during the service. I then tried to load the video I couldn’t load yesterday on to YouTube. It worked and may provide a way to get video back home regularly during this trip.

We headed back to the guest house and Nicco, Chase Abraham and the birth mother were waiting for us. Mendy and the birth mom hugged for a while outside in the rain and then they came inside and we all greeted her warmly. She did not speak any English and was mostly quiet. We had a good 45 minute visit with her – asked many questions and expressed our deep desire to take good care of her children. She is very confident in her decision to allow her children to be adopted. She has 5 other kids and no husband in one of the poorest areas of Ethiopia. We found out there are about 1500 people who live on the island and I look forward to making a big impact in the lives of those people as we seek out partnerships to help with their needs.

We took some pictures and said our goodbyes. It was a great first visit. We will see her in court tomorrow. After this visit, I feel more confident that tomorrow will go well. The June 27th entry in “Jesus Calling” devotion couldn’t be more perfect for us today.

Good night playing some games. Ready to get some sleep before court tomorrow. I am not taking anything for granted because this whole process has not gone as planned. However, I have had a quiet confidence that God is covering this process. I asked him today, “God would you bring us all the way out here on this trip only to have us rejected in court tomorrow?” While that is a possibility, the answer I received was simply this, “David you are doing what you are supposed to do, stepping through each door that opens, so keep walking.” I will do just that – keeping walking, trying to keep in step with His Spirit.


Day 6 - Our New Family

Today we just hung out at the guesthouse all morning and early afternoon. I hope this becomes the norm because our whole family just needs time to hang out together – playing some games and getting to know each other. This is a little hard for us at the guesthouse setting. All the living areas are common areas – and they are nice, but we still feel like we have to monitor the kids rather than just let them roll and do what they want.

We shot a quick video for the church on Sunday introducing all of the Hendersons. Really we aren’t sure if many people in our church know who all of our kids are.

We decided we would go out around 3 PM and head to the Sheraton to try to send some videos out, update blogs etc.

One our way, Tizita needed to stop and go to the bathroom. The lady that was riding with us told us she would run her into the bathroom and Mendy and I casually agreed – no big deal right? WRONG. Once Tizita realized she was out of the car and we were not with her a look of terror came over her face. She was scared to death and began screaming. I jumped out of the car and caught up to them and everything was fine. It was a little picture of a girl who has had no security in her world and deeply craves it. She is so excited to have a mom and a dad.

We pulled up to the Sheraton and got out of the van. As we were walking up to the hotel, Tizita began to cry and had a look of real fear in her eyes. She was scared to go into this giant building. We are not sure why, but it was very evident. As we got her in the doors we asked a security guard to explain to her that this was a great place etc. He said a few words to her and relief and joy came over her face. She was still a little unsure, but definitely not scared.

I couldn’t send video or update blog – frustrating because I thought I had it worked out last time.

We went to pick up Muluken (from our adoption agency). He was the social worker that I feel like helped us the most over the past 6 months. He has always told us the truth about the situation – we didn’t always believe him, but he turned out to be correct most of the time. We took him to dinner at Metro Pizza – great pizza and a good time all around. Muluken told us a few things about our agency - they were frustrated with us because we got our own driver and our own place to stay. This frustrated them because when they arrange the details, they get a cut of the money that is paid. Muluken also informed us that several times others told him he was spending too much time on Tizita and Geremew’s case.

We arrived back to the guesthouse with no electricity and found our way to bed in the dark. Great first full day with all six kids. Goodnight.

Monday, June 28th - Day 5 - RESCUED!

No matter what I write today, it is going to be so painfully inadequate. The emotions of the day are overwhelming that I am just stunned.

Both Mendy and I had a lot of trouble sleeping last night. Trying to wrap our minds around the impact of what today would hold was challenging. On the one hand, I had a lot of trust that we were doing everything we could do and confident that God would do what only he can do. However, I was not presuming upon God. He is not obligated to make this happen and I was bracing myself for a few of the “what if” scenarios. What if the MOWA papers didn’t arrive? What if the biological mom did not say the right things? What if our agency messed something up? What if the judge simply said no? So I tried to sleep a little with these thoughts rolling around.

A new group arrived at the house we were staying at. They came in around 11 or 12 and were pretty loud. I was reading a book called Compassion and I was having trouble finding compassion towards their loudness. However, Mendy gently reminded me that we have led groups before that got in late at night and certainly weren’t very quiet. All that to say, we didn’t rest well.

We woke up and EVERYBODY was a little on edge. I was stressed, Mendy was stressed and the kids were just trying to figure out what was going on. By 7:30 AM we had two kid meltdowns, and Mendy and I were sitting in silence, frustrated at each other. I apologized for my insensitivity and she reminded both of us that Satan was certainly at work trying to steal the day and our joy.

We were planning on arriving at the court house by 8:00 AM even though the court time was planned for 9 AM. We were running behind which raised the stress level. We arrived at the court house around 8:30 AM and then it hit me. I didn’t know who I was supposed to meet – what they looked like or what their name was. For all I knew, I wasn’t even in the right building. We called Nicco and he was almost there with the twins birth-mom. When he arrived he said he didn’t know who we were supposed to meet either. You see up to this point we have been working with two people in our agency – neither of which handle the court side of things. Nicco had a phone number to call but no name. However, he did confirm that we were at the right building, so we went inside.

We climbed three flights of stairs and walked down the hall way to a stark room with chairs lining the walls. I asked Nicco if he had called our agency. He told us he only had a number and not a name. Mendy and I were stressed out…filled with anxious thoughts. There were probably 40 people in the room and everyone trying to talk quietly – while we were there with all of our kids, trying to keep them from making too much noise and fighting with each other.

Nicco called the number but no one answered. I asked him what needed to happen right now for this to pass… oh and at this point it is about 9:30. He said that two representatives had to show up and the MOWA document had to get delivered.

I kept thinking HOW DID I LET THIS HAPPEN. I have taken nothing for granted during this process. Every small victory has been celebrated and resistance from the enemy is expected at every turn. So how did I get to the most important day without making sure who our contact was, where we should meet and when they would be there… oh and who was checking on the MOWA document? I was ticked at myself. I kept praying over and over again for these three things to happen. A LONG 10 minutes later one of the agency representatives arrived and he said that the other was on her way. Another LONG 10 minutes later the second representative arrived. And about 5 minutes after that a person came in to deliver some documents to the judge. When he walked in both of the representatives lit up with a smile and nodded to me that those were probably the MOWA letters. Okay, now to wait…

A few minutes later we were all sitting in front of the judge. The judge was a very polite female. She asked Tizita and Geremew’s birth mom several questions about her situation and made sure she knew this was final. Then she asked Mendy and I, if we were ready to adopt, why we wanted to adopt from Ethiopia, etc. It was a quick five minutes in front of the judge and she congratulated us for adding two members to our family. We passed!

This is the day we have prayed for, hoped for and longed for. There was so much emotion in the day that I have been completely spent the rest of the day. Mendy’s smile was as bright as I have ever seen it. We truly felt the favor of the Lord and the prayers of so many people. It was and is amazing.

We made a quick plan to try to get our embassy date moved up and then we went to the orphanage to get Tizita and Geremew. It was a sweet reunion. Their birth mom rode with us. As we entered, it was difficult for Mendy as their birth mom said goodbye to them. She just can’t imagine doing that as a mom and knows how difficult it must be. We took pictures and let the kids say goodbye to their friends. Then we all went to meet Nicco for lunch. The Henderson 8 plus Nicco and the kids birth mom. We had a good lunch complete with a trip to the ice cream store downstairs. This time also included several trips to the bathroom (most kids bladders are so small because they aren’t used to drinking that much – or so we are told). We said our goodbyes to Nicco and their birth mom and headed for the guest house.

Megan, Kaylee, Jacob and Lindsay have been completely amazing today (except for the waiting time before our case was heard). They have fully embraced their roles as big brother and sisters. It is so amazing to watch. Megan is appropriately and maturely mothering, Kaylee will have these kids speaking English in no time because she is great at explaining everything to them. Jacob is very , very affectionate to both kids – he hugs them, puts his arm around them and you can tell he just really cares from deep within. Lindsay is so glad to have a playmate. She told Mendy that this was even better than she thought it would be.

Amazing Day! Topped off with dinner with Posts and a lesson in hair management from Carmen.


Rescue - Day 3

Day 3 – Rescue - June 26th, 2010

We had a great day today. Yesterday’s visit to see Tizita and Geremo seemed hurried and rushed and we didn’t bring any games to play together as a family. Today was completely different. Weeks ago Mendy had packed both Tizita and Geremo backpacks full of games and activities to interact with them. We rolled into the orphanage and Tizita and Geremo were definitely ready to see us. They were so happy to see us and our kids were so happy to see them.

Watching each of our kids hug and love on our two new kids is incredibly special. Megan is cool calm and collected and just loves on these two kids in a way that they know they will never have to “perform” to get her attention or her love… it will always just be there. Kaylee is the consummate helper/teacher, always looking for where they might not understand something or need some help doing something. Jacob is very affectionate with both Tizita and Geremo, his hugs are amazing to watch and he is chomping at the bit to have some space to play ball with these two. Lindsay is just so happy to have kids her age to play with that she just never stops playing. She is absolutely loving this.

After we left the orphanage, we went back to the guest house and I completely crashed for the afternoon. Each of us is adjusting differently to the time and travel change so it is hard to all be on a good schedule.

We went the Sheraton Hotel to access their high speed internet. I shot a video of me, Tizita and Geremo to share with the church on Sunday morning. It is a really great introduction of them, but after 3-4 tries I was not able to load it onto the flip video sight. I will be working on this tomorrow, because I have to be able to get some video back to UCity for Sunday morning gatherings. I pray that I can make this connection happen.

We then went to Trent and Carmen’s house and ate a meal together with them and the five girls that live on the compound with them. I can tell that they are adjusting well and pouring themselves into the girls and their community in ways that are distinctly Trent and Carmen. I could tell they had a few rough days, but that they have been able to get a handle on everyday living so that they can figure out how to settle in for the long haul. They are living in the same community where we do all of our HIV/AIDS projects. I look forward to seeing how Trent and Carmen can get us some better updates, pictures and stories to further our support there. The house that they have is actually perfect for them I think. The compound has separate housing rooms in the back where the girls live as well as room for guests and mission teams.

We returned to the guest house just in time to watch the world cup game with US vs Ghana. We watched it with two Ethiopians. One was pulling for the US and the other was definitely pulling for Ghana – but he was trying not to let on that he was pulling for Ghana. I think it was because he just wanted to be polite. But he was definitely happy when they won. Great night. Looking forward to church in the morning.

Rescue - Day 2

Day 2 - Rescue - June 25, 2010

We arrived in Addis Ababa today after a very long flight. Nothing terrible went wrong, but with all of our kids flying with us, neither Mendy nor I got to sleep very much. So needless to say, we are exhausted. We picked up our twelve bags and were greeted at the gate by Trent, Carmen, KiKi and Gavin Post, and Nicco! Man it was great to have people who know you and love you – greet you. After a quick drop off of our bags at the house where we are staying, we headed over to the see our kids. The anticipation was huge, we opened the gate and Lindsey spotted Tizita right off.

I wish I could describe to you the hugs that I saw between all of our kids. I know we have described to you the journeys of our hearts, but our kids have been on their own journeys as well. They each prayed, hoped, longed for, and ached for this to happen; so the huge smiles on their faces were no surprise Tizita was really excited, but Geremo was VERY tentative. They knew we were coming today and I felt as though Geremo knew his whole life is about to change, but wasn’t sure of what it was going to be like. The fear of the unknown was very present.

I think that this is completely normal. After all, Geremo doesn’t really know us and has very little reason to trust us at this point. It reminds me of the tentativeness I see in people who are trying to decide if they are going to believe God and trust Jesus’ work for their life. They just don’t really know yet everything God has planned for them – they haven’t experienced his character, his grace, his love… and so they are fearful of what the future holds and tentative to trust Him. I understand why Geremo is hesitant, but it still makes me sad. I want him to be secure and free and excited… and rest. I know this will come in time, but I want it to be soon.

We looked at their birth certificates today. They state that their birthday is September 3, 2004. We are not sure this is correct, but if so that means they are still five years old – about 10 months younger than we thought.

We were talking with Tsday and Muluken (the case workers at our agency) about Tizita and Geremo’s journey to this point. We had spoken with Tsday and Muluken numerous times and so I think they feel comfortable around us and they are unguarded in their speech. We were talking about what it was like to travel out to the island were our kids are from. She mentioned the journey and then she said, “there is a curse… the people are under a curse… a generational curse.” Now Tsday does not speak very good English, but Muluken was describing that there is a belief by everyone around that the people on this island are under a curse. Both Muluken and Tsday affirmed that they believe that this curse is why this adoption was such a hard case to complete. I didn’t inquire much further, but when Muluken was describing the curse he said it, “keeps people tied up.” He didn’t think I understood what he was talking about, so he used the phone cord and wrapped it around his hands to illustrate what he meant. I got the picture loud and clear. I was in tune with what they were saying and I believe God was speaking to my heart saying, “pay attention David, this is part of my plan.” I long to be a force of freedom for these kids and for the people of this island, someone God uses to share with them of Jesus who broke the power of death and sin, to set us free.

As we were driving away from the orphanage and to the restaurant, we were in the heart of the city. There were beggars everywhere and poverty was all you could see – particularly if you are a child and had never seen this kind of poverty before. About 10 minutes in to the drive, Lindsay (our 6 year old) climbed to the front of our van, grabbed me and said, “Daddy, I want to go home.” I comforted her and said, “Baby we are going home right after we get something to eat.” She said, “No, daddy, I want to go back to our real home.” I comforted her again and helped her know that God has a plan for this time. We prayed and she seemed a little better. I think the whole day and the surroundings were just too much for her to bear.

We arrived at the family restaurant. I wanted to make sure our kids knew that they could get some decent American food while we are here. As I was reading the menu, I was literally falling asleep. All of us are exhausted and in light of that, I think we are all handling things pretty good. Back to the orphanage tomorrow morning.