Sunday, May 28, 2017

Kent's Story

Kent's Version of Our Call to Ethiopia  (To hear Jen's version, click here.)
A few weeks ago, I accepted the Director position at Bingham Academy in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.  We will be moving in January and stay for at least four years.  If you had told me two years ago that we would be moving to Africa, I would have never believed you.  Over the past year and a half, God has moved mightily in my life and heart to prepare me for this opportunity.  The following is a brief overview of the journey God has taken me on. 

In November 2015, the men in our community group were going through a marriage study called You and Me Forever by Francis Chan.  There was a particular chapter in this marriage study that God used to convict me of my lack intentionality in living on mission for Him.  I distinctly remember confessing to the men sitting in my living room, “Guys, this might be the most convicted I have ever been in my entire life.”  This conviction extended much farther than a specific job or location in the world.  It was a change in my thinking.  Was all of my time, talents, and treasures clearly focused on God’s mission?  I’m not sure I will ever be able to fully say yes.  However, I wanted to make sure that my life’s trajectory is one that is being more aligned with God’s mission.

Three months later, I took a trip with one of my mentors to Ethiopia.  We spent several days meeting with Ethiopian church leaders as well as speak at an international high school basketball tournament held at Bingham Academy.  Though I have been on numerous short term mission trips, this one was different.  First of all, this trip completely destroyed my stereotypes of Africa and my misunderstandings of what God was doing there.  I was amazed at the vibrancy of the Ethiopian Church.  I was blown away by the incredibly gifted, Spirit-filled leaders of the Church.  I was challenged by their devotion to the Lord.  I was humbled by their hunger to be trained in Biblical truth.  I was overjoyed by the fruitfulness of ministry that was happening.  Matthew 9:37 kept repeating in my mind when Jesus told his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.”  Secondly, I left the trip with a renewed sense of personal purpose.  I had been in season of life where I was struggling with clarity of what I should be doing.  I returned to the U.S. with an affirmation of my pastoral heart and desire to help equip the body of Christ.   I couldn’t help but feel compelled that my time, talents, and treasures needed to align with what God was already doing in Ethiopia.  I thought this probably meant two or three trips a year to Africa, but little did I know what God had in store.  As I got home and shared with Jenni (my wife) about what God was teaching me, we began to pray daily for God show us where He might be leading us.

I immediately restarted my seminary courses.  One of the most impactful courses was Introduction to Missiology (aka Missions).  It was during this class that I realized that what I was experiencing was actually a missionary call.  I didn’t have a “burning bush” moment or hear an audible voice from God.  I didn’t feel like some elite, super-Christian like I expected to feel.  Though I had a new passion for Africa (Ethiopia in particular), it was different than I had expected.  My professor described the missionary call as “an awareness of the needs and commands, a passionate concern for the lost, a commitment to God, the Spirit’s gifting, your church’s affirmation/blessing/commissioning and an indescribable yearning that motivates beyond all understanding.”  This summarized what God had slowly been doing in my life.

In January 2017 I heard about the Director position at Bingham Academy opening up. Over the course of the next few months of prayers, emails, applications, and Skype interviews, both Jenni and I have been blown away by the God moments throughout this journey.  Here are some of the moments:
·      As I was told of the job opportunity, I spent the morning with the Lord to see if this was something I should pursue.  During this time, I made a list of five questions I had in regards to the position.  I asked God if this is something I should pursue, I needed a majority of those questions to be answered with a yes.  Over the next couple of weeks, four and a half were answered with a yes! 
·      As I received the job description, I was amazed by the alignment of the job and my gifting and experiences.  It was like the last six years had been purposefully designed to help prepare me for this opportunity.
·      The similarities between Bingham and Briarcrest (my current school) are eerie at moments.
·      During my last 20 minutes in Ethiopia before heading to the airport, I “happened” to run into the SIM Director of Ethiopia who I will now ultimately report to.
·      During my trip to Ethiopia, I had spent three days on Bingham’s campus, meeting many of the faculty, staff, and students.
·      Incredible undeserved favor in the eyes of the many decision-makers who God used to choose me for this position.
·      Immense affirmation from many key American and Ethiopian friends when hearing of this opportunity. 

Being Director of Bingham Academy will allow me to utilize my educational leadership experience while strategically placing us in a geographical position that fits in line with the calling I feel I have.  Please pray for us right now as we prepare for the next four years of our life!  In particular, please pray for the following:
·      That our journey would not be glorifying ourselves, but totally point to the Lord.
·      Our ability to process, communicate, and handle all the emotions that we are experiencing.
·      Our preparation and selling of our home and possessions would happen in a timely manner.
·      That we could raise the necessary funds needed as we are on the field.

·      That God would provide both housing and finances for the next six months during the transition to Ethiopia.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Words I Never Thought I'd Say...

So the backstory begins last February when Kent went on a trip to Addis Ethiopia with a great friend and our former pastor, Ernie. Ernie and his family had lived there for 2 years and started a discipleship ministry there. They have since have moved to Houston, Tx, but Ernie takes frequent trips back and wanted to bring Kent with him. So Kent took a week off work, flew by himself to Addis where he met Ernie and joined him in ministry. He got to speak at a sports tournament at the international christian school in Addis, sit in on some meetings with christian pastors and leaders, and see how God is moving in that country. He left feeling stirred towards the people there but unsure of what it really meant. He also was taking a seminary class at the time-missiology (study of missions) which was also shaping him and messing with him about God's heart for the nations. At this time, I'm just thinking, "Oh great, Kent is going to want to move overseas. God, you had better REALLY work on me because I do not want to move to another country!" I was definitely hoping this new passion in Kent would diminish and life would go back to normal. But it didn't.

The next few months we committed to pray that if God wanted our family to move somewhere, that He would make it clear and that we would be willing. God was really purifying my heart in this time, testing me and checking me to see what worldly things I was holding too tightly and if I'd be willing to give up my comforts and follow Him where he leads. It was a good test of faith and I hoped that was all it was, a time to fix my eyes back on Christ and stop turning to other things to seek satisfaction or comfort, a time to humble myself before him and see if I really do believe He is enough, and that his kingdom is the most important thing.

In February, Ernie called Kent and let him know that there was a position opening at the international school in Addis. We both thought this was a little crazy. The school is very similar to Briarcrest and Kent has a great job already at Briarcrest, so why move us across the world to do the same job in a third world country?  But we prayed about it and said that when they posted the position, we would see what it entailed and if it seemed to really fit him. When we saw the job description, we both could not believe how well it described Kent. Not only his skills and giftings but his passions and experiences made him a perfect fit. He spent some significant time with the Lord and felt God gave him a big vision for how he might be used there. His excitement grew and he filled out the application with great anticipation. There were 3 phases of interviews starting that February. On April 24th, we got an email saying that he was their top candidate and after presenting him to the school board May 11th, we got an email saying they wanted him for the job! They had also felt God clearly leading Kent to this position and shared our excitement for how God was at work in it all.

So needless to say...we will be moving to Addis, Ethiopia!

Lots of tears and good conversations have happened through this process. We are both torn up to leave this place we have called home for the last 6 years and of course this country that we love. God has provided us a wonderful church, sweet community, great job and school for the kids and the chance to live near our parents. I have been challenged to praise God in the sadness, because it means he has truly blessed us with so many people and things we love. We love the house that he provided for us 6 years ago. From newly weds to a family of 5, the noise, mess, and love in this house has tripled. But God's faithfulness these past 6 years only strengthens my confidence that he will be faithful to us in the next 6. He goes above and beyond all we could ask or imagine. Won't he do it? (Shout out, KV!)

When we told our kids, my picky 3 year old said, "Is the food good?" Yikes, she is in for a rude awakening. 

My 4 year old said, "Well if God is telling us to go, we have to obey because if we don't obey Him, we don't know Him." Wow. Preach, sister! Her precious heart is excited for the chance to share Jesus' love and forgiveness with people who haven't heard the good news.

So what's the plan? Well, here's all we know right now. The school is run by a mission organization called SIM. Everyone who works at the school is a missionary, most are SIM missionaries. So we are starting the process of missionary training. We have lots of paperwork, interviews and trainings in North Carolina to attend between August and October. We will figure out what to do with our house, cars and stuff in the meantime, probably moving out sometime this summer. We will start fundraising and tying up loose ends and leave in the beginning of January 2018. I am so grateful we have this time to process, prepare, and transition into this new adventure. I am not very good with change and don't handle stress well, so God knows it has to be a gradual process for me. He will take care of each step along the way and we are leaning into him as he is guiding us on this journey! And I am so thankful to marry a man who is led be the Lord and is sensitive to the Holy Spirit. It gives me great peace as he leads our family.

We would love for you to follow us along the way (you can subscribe to this blog or follow my instagram at jenniaustell) and join us in praying for all God wants to do.

To hear Kent's version of the story, click here.

Feel free email Kent at if you want to receive email updates. Thank you for loving us and caring for us! More to come!

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Celebrating Savannah's milestones!

TOTAL 3rd kid problems! I have not kept up with blogging AT ALL and have not recorded Savannah month by month as I have the other 2. (LOVE YOU Savannah!) So here's my quick update!

In September, she turned 3 months old. The big kids were getting into the swing of school and Savannah started becoming MUCH more aware of what was going on around her. She had a hard time napping, not wanting to miss out on anything. She mastered rolling over but didn't want to be put down much at all.
In October, we celebrated her turning 4 months old, as well as her first Halloween. We put together some last minute costumes from the dress up box, and she wore her silly monster hat and onesie as we trick or treated with church friends.
At 5 months old, we celebrated Thanksgiving at Aunt Joy's, as usual. It was so wonderful spending the whole day with beloved family and although she did NOT nap, you made it through the long day like a champ. Since about 3 months old, she has not been good at sleeping in other places. 

She got time with her cousin Ty, who is a week younger! 
She also fought through some rough nights as her two bottom teeth started to pop through!

As she figured out how to sit up better, we thought we'd test out the swings at the park one day. She loved it! (It has been the strangest winter in Memphis, mostly super mild.)

At 6 months, we tried to start you on baby food, of which you did NOT like. We still didn't have you on a schedule, since I am usually out and about all morning. You stopped falling asleep in your car seat like you always had before, but started taking better crib naps. You can say mama and dada.

At her 6 month appointment: growing well, long and lean like her daddy!

This month we flew to Chicago for a quick weekend so I could catch up with some of my childhood friends and they could meet Savannah. She did great on the flights and my heart was encouraged and refreshed from sweet time with friends. (On the plane she actually slept ON ME in the ergo! This never happens anymore!)
Saw best friend Kara and her kids
Saw best friend Kendra and her twins

We had a wonderful Christmas this year with our crew. It is so magical having little ones take in the holidays with so much wonder and joy! This year was triple the fun! The big kids got roller skates (favorite present even though they basically walk in them). KJ saw her first real movie with me, Trolls, and is mildly obsessed. She got a huge troll doll from uncle drew.

In January of 2017, Savannah turned 7 months old. She sleeps 6:30pm-6:30am. I'll feed her (still EBF) and she will go back down for another hour or so. She wakes in the night on occasion, and I just feed her and she goes back down. I figure she could use the extra calories. She mastered crawling although she doesn't like to play independently for more than a couple minutes. She wants me to sit right down with her and fusses if I try to go do anything else. (Very attention needy!) I basically have to hold her all day in my left hand and do stuff with my right hand, or wear her in the backpack. She takes 2 naps if I am actually home in the morning to put her down around 10. Otherwise it's one nap around noon after I pick up the big kids from school.

8 months Old (February) and pulling up on everything! Starting to love food, mostly when she can feed herself. Still nursing 5 times a day. We are hoping to make it till 12 months old. She rarely does a bottle, I wish I had done it a little more with her, especially since I am going away for a weekend in March. We had fun celebrating Valentines day with the girls and they thought it was so special that we wrote them a heart every day that said one thing we loved about them. They couldn't wait for their heart each night and stuck it on the door for decoration.

We started track season this month and mine and Kent's mom watches the girls every day. I have enjoyed that time with the Briarcrest kids and love being out on that track, but with my other two in school in the mornings, I'm a little sadder to leave them in the afternoons. But I am SO thankful they get time each week with their amazing grandmothers! My parents also left for Italy for 2 weeks to visit my sister this month!

And now she is up to date! 9 months old on March 8th. She is cruising and wants to walk! She is into everything, putting everything in her mouth, playing with plugs and outlets, tupperware, everything that is not a toy. I have yet to take her to the doctor because I totally forgot she needs a 9 month appointment. We are on spring break right now, so it is AMAZING that Kent is home more (and I can actually write this blog haha!). We did our taxes, fixed some house projects, spent some family time together and just relaxed. Once school starts up on Monday, we hit the ground running with track meets and the rest of the year FLIES by!

That's all for now! Hopefully I'll have another update before 9 months goes by again!
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