Sabbatical year

Notes on living in a foreign country

Some quick observations on living in a foreign country – and on Madrid

  • Have you heard suggestions about doing things to engage your mind in typically mindless activities (e.g. brush your teeth with the other hand)? That’s how everything initially is in a new country. Simple things like going to the grocery or driving are a constant mental challenge and sensory stimulation.
  • What’s the climate like in Madrid? Someone described it yesterday as similar to West Texas or New Mexico. Did you know Madrid’s latitude is actually just about the same as Pittsburgh’s? But being so close to the Mediterranean Sea and the Sahara Desert (dust outbreaks all the way from the Sahara are common in Madrid), the climate is semi-arid. We have yet to see rain. The rain in Spain most certainly does not stay mainly in the plain.
  • We’re spoiled. I remember when our air conditioning stopped working for a couple days last summer and I thought the sky was falling. There’s not much air conditioning in Spain, despite temperatures in the high 90s and up into the 100s. We use wind. And it’s really not that bad. Then again, it’s a “dry heat,” so that might help.
  • It’s good to start slow. We’ve appreciated Paul & Sylvia’s wisdom in not over-scheduling us for this first month. I honestly hadn’t expected it to be so taxing early on just to adapt to living in a new place.
  • It’s great to have people who know the culture as guides. I know some people move into a new country entirely on their own. I’m sure they find a way to make it, but it’s hard for me to imagine. The help we’ve received from Paul & Sylvia, some other missionaries here, and those in their community has been invaluable. I’m not quite sure how we would have made it through all the initial needs (finding and securing a place to stay, figuring out legal stuff, etc.) without them.

Some important skills if you might ever live in a foreign country, or even do much travel (actually, these could be pretty helpful right where you are)

Yes, we’ve now lived in a foreign country for three weeks, and I’m giving advice. Take it as advice from someone who has lived in a foreign country for three weeks. Just the things we’re finding. I’m sure a bigger and better-informed list will come with more experience. So you can just disregard these and wait until the post at the end of our time here.

  • Learn to drive a stick shift. You never know when you might need to.
  • Learn another language. It’s the road map of a culture. And it’s key to getting around in a culture. If you know where you might be, which language to learn is obvious. If you don’t know, I would choose Spanish or Standard Chinese (assuming, of course, that you know English). After those, I’d choose French. Then Russian or Arabic. All you have to do is learn all of those, and you can go nearly anywhere in the world and get by.
  • Red = countries that don't use the metric system, via
    Red = countries that don’t use the metric system, via

    Get comfortable using the metric system (see the graphic).

  • Learn the art of people-watching and cultivate curiosity. Pay attention to people’s practices, the stories they tell, and their most commonly used images.
  • Read. Read things from and about other cultures.
    • Want an enjoyable, quick read that will give you some categories for understanding cultural differences? Check out Sarah Lanier’s Foreign to Familiar (link to Kindle edition). If you’re like me, you’ll be surprised at some of these differences and develop a better appreciation for them.
    • Read world news.
    • Learn about religions of the world. Understand a person’s/culture’s religion better and you’ll understand much more about their stories and how they perceive the world. Huston Smith’s The World’s Religions wouldn’t be a bad place to start.

That’s all for now. Just some bits and pieces from what we’re learning and experiencing. School starts in just over two weeks. Next weekend we have a leaders’ retreat with several others who are planning to start the Algete church, and things will start happening pretty quickly after that.

Sabbatical year

The most humbling thing I’ve ever done…


I’m pretty sure the most humbling thing I’ve ever done is to try to learn a new language.

As Emily mentioned last week, intensive work on language learning is our primary focus in August. The process of learning a language is bound to have its awkward moments. Before you can have big, elaborate conversations in Spanish, you have to be able to speak like a child. And it can be pretty humbling, as a grown man, to speak to someone like a child.

A story may illustrate best:

We needed a flyswatter. Since we didn’t know the word for flyswatter (not one of the first 4,000 words you typically learn in a new language), we asked the attendant at our neighborhood pool. He gave us the word: “matamoscas.” I promptly forgot it.

So I went to the corner store looking for a flyswatter, hoping I could find it on my own. No luck. I tried to remember that word… Was it metatosas? Macachosas?

The tendency is to think that if you just say something “close,” people will surely get it. A little bit of mispronunciation can’t be that big of a deal. That’s not a great assumption. To illustrate: a Spanish-speaking friend recently tried to tell us her favorite foods in English. She told us they were jump and soap. Any guesses? I’ll give you time to think and give the answer below… Would you call those “minor mispronunciations” small or large hindrances to understanding?

Back to the flyswatter. I decided I’d just need to swallow my pride, grin foolishly charmingly, and try to explain what I needed to the clerk. I think I said something to the effect of, “I’m going to need something to hit things.” I did the universal “fly-swat” motion and sound effect as a complement.

He looked at me strangely, then a light bulb seemed to go off and he led me down an aisle where he proudly held up a hammer. “¿Sí?” “Hmmm… no.”

I had tried to say “los insectos,” but that didn’t seem to be working out. So then, in a great crowning moment, I — a grown man in a store — looked at this grown man working in a store, lifted my hands up beside my shoulders, fluttered them, and went, “Bzzzzzz.”

I don’t think the gravity of that moment — all of the pride swallowed and dignity trampled — hit me until later.

But it worked! The man had a look of instant understanding and rushed me to another aisle where he pulled out a…

… butterfly net.

Well darn. I told him we were closer, but not quite there yet. Then I said, “mortir!” and did the universal flyswat motion and sound effect again. I said “mortir” because I don’t know the word for “to kill,” so I figured “to die” would do. Sadly, I missed that one, too. It’s just “morir.” Give me a written test on these things, and I can do okay. In the heat of the moment, though, you never know what (non)-word might come out, which syllable you might put the accent on, or which verb tense you might use.

Thankfully, the kind store clerk again seemed to have a flash of understanding and rushed me to the flyswatters. I thanked him profusely and asked what it was called. He told me. I forgot again. I had to look it up to write this. Matamoscas…

We asked you earlier to pray for our language learning. Again, please do that. We know it’s critically important to have conversations that lead to quicker understanding than the one above.

The Holy Spirit came on people at Pentecost in such a way that they heard languages they didn’t know and yet understood them. They spoke to others who didn’t know their language, and yet they were heard and understood. We’re praying that God will give us the grace to hear and speak the Spanish language in such a way that we will understand and be understood. And we’re praying that especially in any opportunities to hear others’ stories and witness to the love of God, we might have a special measure of grace — a supernatural ability to hear and speak the language that we know goes further than our natural understanding.

Oh … our friend’s two favorite foods: jump and soap… those were ham (jamón in Spanish) and soup. See how a small difference in pronunciation can be a pretty big barrier to effective communication? And those came from someone much further along in her English than we are in our Spanish.

The kids doing their best "fly" look
The kids doing their best “fly” look
Sabbatical year

Visas are in!

Hi friends,

Just a quick note to let you know that our visas came back this week from the Spanish Consulate. This was our biggest point of stress and concern for the past few months.

To the many of you who told us you were praying for these, thank you!

We’re about to begin a final week of CROSS Training in Indianapolis, and then on a plane next Sunday. We appreciate your continued prayers.

Sabbatical year

Better than sex

“Giving is better than sex!!”

So exclaimed a (rather wild-eyed) United Methodist pastor from stage at this year’s Kentucky Annual Conference. Several others following him on stage commended his enthusiasm but said they weren’t sure if they could go so far.

The outpouring of generosity that we have received in the past few months has been incredible.

There have been the gifts of service — people like Megan and Jamie who have shown up to watch and play with kids when we had other demands; or Emily’s mom, who came for our final week in the house to help clean and pack; or Teri Schmelzel who hosted us after our trying trip to Chicago.

There have been the gifts of prayer. A high school friend of Emily’s sent her a note to tell her that their family of six had each taken one member of our family and committed to praying for us for the next year. The Offerings Community held a prayer send-off for us at Steve and Anna Dominick’s, capped by Jason Jackson’s heartfelt prayer over us that Sunday morning.

There have been the gifts of special words — countless cards and e-mails and calls to give encouragement and affirmations.

There have been financial gifts. Several people have given us special gifts or made monthly commitments for the full year. I had expected to be grateful when people gave us financial support. What I hadn’t expected was just how personal this has ended up being. Knowing that people are willing to support us out of their own pockets has been one of the most personally affirming things I have ever experienced.

And there have been the simple gifts of time. I’ve laughed at how people I may not have seen for the next year have still felt an urgency to get together before we leave. But it’s a real gift simply to sit with someone, knowing that you soon won’t be able to — whether you would have or not. I stopped at the donut shop just before we left town and ended up just sitting at the entrance with Joe and Heidi. We talked some about what had come and what the next year held, but I have a sense that it’s just that time sitting there silently that I’ll remember.

So thank you. So many of you have been so generous to us in so many ways, and it has touched us deeply. I’ve named a handful of names here and could have named hundreds more. Your generosity toward us has urged us to give more freely of ourselves to others — with our service, with our prayers, with our words, with our money, and with our time.

God gave his Son freely that we might have life. Perhaps we best reflect the nature of God when we so freely give of ourselves in love. And maybe that does make it better than sex…

Sabbatical year

The storm before the calm

The kids on the 'L'
The kids on the ‘L’

Everybody wants progress, but nobody wants change. Or in the famous words of Peter Tosh, “Everybody want to go to heaven, but nobody want to die.”

Everything our family is preparing for grew out of the amazing faith we saw exemplified in Scripture. The sabbatical year as we see it in the Old Testament requires a bunch of subsistence farmers to stop sowing and pruning for a year and depend on God’s provision for their sustenance. (See my full post about that here.) In an earlier account, Abra(ha)m picks up and leaves everything he knows – his country, his people, his father’s household – and heads for a land God promises to show him (Genesis 12 — and it’s to a land God will show him, still unrevealed when Abram sets off). The Jeremy Camp song “Walk by Faith” deals with a lot of the same themes. It has probably played in the back of my mind more than any other for the past several years. I want the faith God called the Israelites to. I want the faith of Abraham. I want the faith Jeremy Camp sings about.

But I don’t want the process that such faith surely entails.

Isn’t this true for so many of us? We want growth, but we don’t want growing pains. It’s why get-rich-quick plans and amazing weight loss pills are popular. We get all the results with none of the difficulty.

Honestly, though we entered this process inspired by the faith it would have required of others, I came into it expecting little real challenge in the process – little real need for faith. So far, my expectation has been off.

The visa voyage

Our visa application process was somewhere between stressful and distressing. If you plan to ever get a long-term visa for somewhere, you should start the process yesterday. (Note: the requirements vary widely by the country. If you’re going to Taiwan, just prove you don’t have HIV, TB, or syphilis, and you’re in.) Most of the process requires sending things to various government agencies, then waiting for them to process the request and send necessary documents. So most of what we’ve done has actually just been waiting – and checking tracking numbers. And whenever something shows up in the mail, the rule is to drop everything else in life and immediately rush things to the next place they need to go.

The final leg of everything within our control was to get all of our finalized paperwork to Chicago. For two weeks, our appointment had been set for last Thursday. We needed to make that appointment at all costs. We’re already facing the real risk of not getting visas before we leave. If that happens, it means we fly back to Chicago just to pick them up. That would be a bummer.

So we set off for Chicago on Wednesday afternoon. Did we have our paperwork? Well, no. It was being overnighted from Houston to a friend’s house in Chicago, where we needed it to arrive no later than 10 am. (There are many other stories here — how all of our paperwork was misdelivered to the translation service we used, briefly lost in Houston, and found just in time; my trip to the state capital with the kids, complete with them running circles around Abe Lincoln’s statue yelling, “Echo!!” while I went through security, and Abigail biting Hunter’s finger in the Secretary of State’s office, shrieking and screaming to follow…)

The trip to Chicago turned out to be quite an adventure.


There had been forecasts of bad storms passing through the Chicago area and Northern Indiana on Wednesday night. There was some talk about a derecho. Incidentally, that’s a Spanish word we had just learned. It means “straight.” That’s because a derecho has hurricane- or tornado-like wind speeds, but the wind is blowing straight, not funneling. As we made our way through the Middle of Nowhere, Indiana, we started to see lightning off in the distance. We turned on the radio for a weather report, and the broadcasters were pretty worked up. “Folks, reports are that these winds are 80 to 100 miles per hour — the equivalent of a category 1 hurricane,” and, “These can come up on you out of nowhere, folks. You need to get somewhere safe until this passes,” and the not too encouraging, “This is a storm like we’ve never seen before. We’re in uncharted territory!”

So we decided we should start looking for an exit. Stop at a gas station or restaurant. Somewhere we could get inside if we needed to.

The only problem was that we were in Middle of Nowhere, Indiana. Finally, we came to a rest stop. It wasn’t ideal, but we decided to stop there. When we came to it, though, we discovered only a locked building. By now, the wind was picking up, and it was just starting to rain. We spent two or three minutes debating whether to stay or go and decided to jump back on the road, hoping to find an exit somewhere soon.

That exit proved to be too far away. Within minutes of getting back on the Interstate, we hit the storm head on. The rain was torrential, the wind shook the van violently, and we could see just enough to even consider driving on. We started praying for protection as we drove. Eventually, we stopped in an underpass and got some relief from the wind. Honestly, it’s the most shaken and frightened I’ve ever been on the road. The kids were scared but did very well. Once we were stopped, we all prayed as a family and sang the Doxology several times. I called my parents and tried to tell them as calmly as possible where we were. Half of my reason for calling right then was so that someone would know where we had been, and how we ended up there – driving into the face of a storm – if anything happened.

I’ve always enjoyed big storms. I like the feel of sitting safely inside (naive though the feeling may be) while a storm rages outside. There was none of that sense as we sat under that bridge – only panic. I’m sad to say I can’t remember praying as fervently about anything else as I prayed for safety that night.

We used our phones to look at weather radar and confirm that we had, in fact, just seen the reddest of the storm, though there was still a lot more red heading our way. We also used our phones to read up on the wisdom of using an underpass for shelter. Turns out it’s not a good idea. We prayed, discussed, then caught a small lull in the storm and got back on the road, praying we could make it to an exit before the storm intensified again.

Though the storm picked up, we pressed on and made it to an exit with two motels. The first one had only one room available – perfect, we’ll take it! The only problem: apparently it’s a fire hazard to put six people in one room. They couldn’t let us stay there. Who knew? We got the same response at the other motel. But they let us ride out the rest of the storm in their parking lot and offered their office if the storm picked up and we needed to run inside. We called our hosts in Chicago and told them not to expect us, waited the storm out for the next 45 minutes, then were able to press a bit further down the road, searching the Internet and bidding on Priceline for hotel rooms (two hotel rooms…) We finally stopped somewhere and were able to beg our way into a single room, and we slept good and hard for a few hours.

The Consulate

I won’t belabor the next day’s events. We hit the road early and went full-speed all morning, got to the friend’s house where our documents were shipped, were able to use their church’s copier to make all 500 necessary copies of our documents (just barely an exaggeration in my mind, but Emily says it was 50), and got to the transit station just in time to miss the train we needed to make by two minutes. We prayed a decent bit on the next train in. The Spanish Consulate’s website is full of ALL CAPS STATEMENTS ABOUT DOING EVERYTHING CORRECTLY AND NOT BOTHERING THEM WITH E-MAILS OR PHONE CALLS. We would be showing up 2 minutes after our appointment was supposed to end. Given what we knew, we were a bit scared they would turn us away and tell us to come back when we could make our appointment.

Fortunately, the people at the Consulate were very helpful and accommodating. Moreover, they sounded pretty confident they would have our visas prepared in time and would even mail them to us. A huge surprise considering all else we had heard and read. Their kindness, along with several others’ hospitality and generosity all along this road, will merit a later post of its own.

Before last week even began, I had already told Emily it would only be by the grace of God that we would have visas before we got on the plane. I hadn’t yet factored in our lost materials in Houston (I was too brief above to capture all of that saga), a derecho on the way, or our failed mad rush to make our appointment.

Emily’s mom said early last week that perhaps the whole year that lies ahead will be about God making us trust him. Granted, all of these things could happen to any traveler, near and far. We weren’t the only ones sitting under that bridge (there were five cars packed in there, trembling together). And yet however events line up and however God chooses to work, I get the sense that he is, indeed, making us choose to trust him right now. Only by the grace of God does it seem we’ve arrived at this point.

Everybody wants that trust, but nobody wants the storm that requires it.

If you’d like regular updates whenever we post, use the “Follow us via Email” form on the right of the page.

Sabbatical year

“Why Spain?” and a Ray family update

When people have heard that we’re going to serve with a missions organization, they’ve been surprised to hear that we’re going to Spain.

“Spain? I would have thought you’d be going someplace in Africa. What do missions organizations do in Spain?”

Our world is witnessing an interesting change in religious demographics. In the map to the right, the countries in red represent what’s referred to as the “Global South.” (There’s some dispute over these lines. Some want to make China blue. Some want to make Russia red.) The countries in blue are generally the wealthier countries of the world, with advanced economies. And for most of the past two millennia, most Christians lived in those blue countries.

But that’s changing. Quickly.

By 2050, a reliable estimate I’ve seen shows the USA as the only blue country in the top 9 largest Christian communities.[1] Christianity is quickly becoming a religion primarily of the Global South. A few decades ago, no one would have expected that the first American Pope would be Latin American.

Before, the spread of the gospel and new churches were needed most in the same places where the economies were the worst. Now the situation is changing. Some of those blue nations are the places where Christianity is waning most, and where further decline is expected. In many of them, there are still relics of Christianity, but the number of devoted, practicing Christians is small.

And so, for a group that’s focused on sharing the gospel, training new believers to become leaders, and starting new churches, some of those blue areas in the Global North are important places to be. That’s why the people we’re serving with have been devoted to Spain for thirty years. It’s what gave us such an interest in serving there. See our post on Madrid, the Cummings, and what we’ll be doing for more.

An Update and some prayer requests

We have a contract on our house! This was our biggest next hurdle, and we’re relieved to have cleared it. We’ll rent the house from July 2013 through June 2014. And our renters are also allowing us to use our basement as storage – an incredible blessing.

We will be almost entirely out of the state at the end of June – in Florida with family for a week, then in Indiana for training for three weeks. We’ll be out of the country sometime right around the end of July.

Please pray for us especially on our next practical matters:

  • We’re praying that our visas will all go through in time (so that we don’t have to fly back from Spain to Chicago to get them).
  • We’re praying for wisdom and discernment and the right place to come available in Algete and the same about a vehicle there. We’re trying to find the right balance between simplicity (small apartment, no vehicle) and making sure that we’re not limiting ministry opportunities in Algete (an apartment that is large enough to invite people in and the ability to get where needed). We want to be frugal and live simply without being cheap and hindering ministry.
  • We’ve been told by several people now that we might be surprised at the tough spiritual climate where we’ll be. That we need to be prepared for our own growth and we need to have people praying for our spiritual health. We would really appreciate your prayers for that.
  • Pray for our kids. We’re trying to be sure we’re making all the best decisions for them regarding schooling in Spain and how to help them through such a major time of transition.

We’ve been overwhelmed by some of your offers of financial support. Especially as we are making important decisions and trying to not let financial concerns dominate every decision, your support has been tremendously helpful. I plan to write more in the future about what a surprisingly humbling and encouraging experience it has been to receive financial support. A truly unexpected blessing for me. Sincerely, thank you!


1. The other eight: Brazil, Philippines, Ethiopia, D. R. Congo, Mexico, Nigeria, Uganda, China. From The Next Christendom by Philip Jenkins, 3rd edition, page 113.

Sabbatical year

Madrid, Paul & Sylvia Cummings, and What We’ll Be Doing

We’ll be spending the year serving with Paul & Sylvia Cummings (at top left in the picture above) in Algete, Spain, a town just northeast of Madrid. Think Nicholasville to Lexington.

Many people have described the mission in Spain as a “hard-soil” ministry. The spiritual climate in Spain is tough. Less than half of one percent of Spaniards are evangelical. The attitude is generally secular and post-modern, uninterested in religion. The majority of the population is baptized Roman Catholic, but very few of these have an active faith. We’ve already been cautioned not to expect the same, explosive growth that’s occurring in other parts of the world.

And yet on that “hard soil,” Paul & Sylvia are seeing growth and fruit. The Cummings have been in Spain since 1984 and in Madrid since 1990. They just recently moved to Algete for a new outreach effort. Algete has only a small Baptist church of about 40 (with mostly immigrants – unfortunately a situation most middle-class Spaniards are not interested in), a Pentecostal outreach, and the Cummings house. For perspective, an equal-sized town in Kentucky would likely have 25-35 churches.

The Cummings’s work is heavily focused on relationship development. “Usually one must win a Spaniard’s heart to gain a listening ear for the gospel,” they say. The picture above is from their “Algete Thanksgiving.” Out of the 55 people in attendance, 44 were unchurched neighbors. Through various classes, camps and events, along with ongoing relationship development, the Cummings are taking opportunities to share the gospel with the people of Algete. They’re seeing some of that “hard soil” softened and seeing previously nominal Christians or atheists come to receive Christ as Lord. Though their setting is quite different, they are still following the same basic ECC principles that focus on abundant gospel sowing, house churches, and rapidly incorporating new converts into the life and leadership of the church.

Our early, potential job description:

  1. Participate and help to lead weekly prayer meetings for HOPE (House of Prayer España). These are usually in English right now.
  2. Participate in OMS prayer meetings on Fridays
  3. Lead a bi-monthly ALPHA group in English
  4. Help to lead bi-weekly ministry for adolescents and children.
  5. Help with YA, a monthly English outreach to young adults university age up to 30 years old more or less
  6. Organize and recruit help from the USA and do English Week in seven schools in Algete in the spring
  7. Help with any short termers who might come for the school year.
  8. Relationship-building/discipleship with young couples, men and/ or women
  9. English weekend for families at camp in the fall
  10. English classes that we all feel are valid
  11. Included in patchwork, boat-building, and anything else the Cummings are doing
  12. VBS in early summer 2014 – work with short termers who come
  13. Use our experiences of leading a worship community to bring new ideas and leadership to the group of believers in Algete
  14. Provide ongoing discipleship for new(er) believers
  15. Emily might be able to use her skills as a physical therapist and also use her scrapbooking skills with the ladies’ groups.
Sabbatical year

Serving with One Mission Society

omsA large part of our motivation for taking this year away was to spend time in a place where the Christian mission is thriving and where we could learn from those involved. We’ve heard great reports about the Christian movement in various places around the world, and we wanted an extended opportunity to participate in one of those works.

Several conversations led us to the One Mission Society, and specifically to the work they are doing in their church planting catalyst, Every Community for Christ (ECC). When someone initially directed us to ECC, we were amazed to see their principles of church multiplication. The list read almost identically to the ministry values that have already been developing within us, in the Offerings community, and at First UMC.

In 2011, ECC was in over 50 countries with 981 paid workers. In the year, they saw:

  • 587,037 decisions to accept Christ
  • 12,772 worshiping groups started
  • 473,908 baptisms

That’s 13 worshiping groups and 483 baptisms per paid worker! 

This isn’t surprising, given the incredible devotion we’ve seen from these men and women, their fervent prayer, and their dedication to the gospel. We also think they’re onto something by focusing on cell churches and house churches, training local leaders, and trusting and empowering lay leaders to plant new churches. Look at the ECC blog to see some great stories of God’s work around the world.

We couldn’t be more excited to participate in such a great mission and with such great people. We expect the experience to be a great time of growth and learning that will allow us to serve in an important mission and prepare us well for future ministry.

Working with One Mission Society’s ECC initiative still left over 50 countries as a possibility, though. After considering a number of ministries and locations, we believe God led us very specifically to Paul & Sylvia Cummings and the work they’re doing near Madrid, Spain. See more about the Cummings and the particulars of what we’ll be doing with them HERE.

Sabbatical year

Kids and Sabbatical Year

kids at omsOne of our most constant questions through this process has been, “How will this affect our kids?”

We think this year can be an extremely formative time for our kids, and one that they’ll look back on fondly. We know they’re young and won’t remember it all later – particularly Hannah. But we’ve also talked to several people who either lived in a foreign country for a while as children or have taken their kids abroad for a significant time, and they’ve all said they think this will be a great gift to our kids, and that it may be at the perfect timing. They’re at very formative ages, will be able to pick up the language quickly, and can experience this as a great adventure.

We’re particularly excited for our kids (and ourselves) to see another culture and realize that not everyone thinks and does things the same way. We love a lot of things about American culture. But there’s also plenty we don’t love, or don’t even realize isn’t the only way. We want our kids to see that the American way isn’t the only way from an early age.


We had initially planned to home-school while we were away, but several people have convinced us that it will be better to let our kids be in the public school system in Spain. That will give them the best opportunities to really be immersed in the Spanish culture and language, and to meet new friends.

The Spanish school system is about on par with the American one, and we expect the kids to learn just as much in this year as they would at home. If they learn slightly less in any areas, we think that will be more than made-up for by learning a new language.

Schools typically run from about 9-1, followed by a break, then back from about 3-5. And during September, they only keep the morning hours, which will be a nice way to ease into it. Ella, Abigail, and Hunter will all be in school — Ella in 1st grade, the twins in pre-school. Hannah will most likely stay home with us.

Missing Home

Without a doubt, the hardest thing about deciding to do this was knowing that we’ll be taking our kids away from family for a year. They usually see grandparents at least 3 days per week. We’ve loved how close our kids are to their grandparents, great-grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. That’s one of the reasons we’ve always planned to stay in Kentucky, and why we planned to make this only a one year journey when many people suggested we consider doing two years.

Fortunately, being away from family today is a lot different from what it would have been like 100, 50, or even 10 years ago. We plan to still be in regular contact by phone and Skype.

We know the kids will miss family, but we also know those relationships will always be special for them, and that this is only a year away. And we’re hoping that family might be able to visit. Emily’s mom already plans to come and be with us for a month. Friends who have moved far away from home have said they miss the multiple-times-per-week with grandparents, but that it has made special visits more special and more intense. And again, it’s only for a year. Most of the others we’ve talked to live across the country and see grandparents about once per year, each year. For us, we expect the kids to go back to seeing family much more regularly after a short time away.

Sabbatical year

Sabbatical Year and Money

in God we trustFrom the beginning, Emily has reminded me that this is supposed to be about trusting God’s provision. At the same time, I’ve been preparing and saving so that we would be able to self-fund this year. My plan from the beginning had been to use savings to fully self-fund our time in Spain.

Two things helped changed that mentality. First, a good friend gave us a check that she could only give us after months of saving. She said she planned to give us another check but needed more time to save. This came as a complete surprise. It came when I was still planning not to open any funding accounts or accept any financial support. We were overwhelmed and incredibly honored and blessed by our friend’s generosity. Her gift, and some others’ encouragement, showed us the real blessing it can be to receive these kinds of gifts from people.

Another friend actually called it “selfish” when I told him we didn’t plan to accept financial support. (He said it kindly, but strongly.) As I considered it more, I realized how much my original decision had to do with my own pride. This has been an area where God has already produced some great transformation in me through this process.

Second, less than a week after our friend gave us that check, we received the final cost estimate for our time serving in Spain. It was higher than we had initially planned. A lot higher.

Now we were in the position of needing to trust God with our provision when I didn’t honestly plan to before. I think Emily actually celebrated this a bit. She had never been happy with my certainty about self-funding. I didn’t celebrate — I lost some sleep. And yet, this may have been one of the best things that has happened in our early planning. I’ve had to learn in a number of ways to trust in the Lord and lean not on my own understanding/planning. None more so than financially.

We believe these plans are according to what God has called us to. And with that, we trust that God will provide — perhaps in ways we had not even considered before, and perhaps by showing us ways that we can live more simply and require less in the first place.