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October 10, 2011

A Countryman Without a Country: Farewell to Christa

I remember the time when Lisa Rieck and Christa Countryman shot around the corner into my office. They made me a little nervous, standing there together, blocking my exit, with that conspiratorial gleam in their eyes. I wondered what they wanted and hazarded a guess to myself: I wonder if Lisa has recruited Christa to write for Strangely Dim . . .

That wasn't it. They both wanted to get involved with an organization run by an author-friend of mine. So I set them up with him, then I recruited Christa myself.

Now Christa is leaving us, after five years at IVP and two-and-a-half years at Strangely Dim. She took a great position writing and editing for Opportunity International, a Christian microfinancing enterprise based just around the corner from us. This is a natural next step for Christa, as she's had a heart for the developing world forever. Her seasonal jewelry sales to benefit an orphanage in Kenya have been a fixture on the IVP calendar for almost her entire tenure here, and her first job for IVP was helping to organize the bookstore at the 2006 Urbana Student Missions Convention. When we decided to write about hospitality during the month of October, her first impulse was to contact Matt Soerens, author of Welcoming the Stranger, to write a guest-post about immigration as a matter of Christian hospitality. She is, as they say, a global Christian par excellence. Add to that her skills both as a writer and as an editor, and you have a clear win-win for Christa and Opportunity International. Win-loss, on the other hand, for Christa and IVP.

Here are some links to some of my favorite Christa posts. I'm grateful to Christa for introducing me to Battlestar Galactica and Florence + the Machine, and I'm hopeful for the work ahead of her at OI. But before they get her, let's show her some love as she heads out the IVP door, folks.



Posted by Dave Zimmerman at 9:55 AM | view full entry

August 2, 2010

The Sparrow*

Last week I received an email with news of what I'm going to call an unequivocal miracle. Attached was a picture of a small girl, sitting on her new dad's lap, laughing. He's holding what must be the funniest slice of orange ever.

Perhaps a little history will help here.

In March I participated in a twelve-day "vision trip" in Kenya with Hope's Promise, an organization which specializes in adoption and orphan care. Hope's Promise establishes small, permanent homes for orphans in countries throughout the world in partnership with Christian nationals. I've been connected to two of their homes in Kenya for close to four years now, and in March I was able to visit them with a group of several others with a goal to learn about the lives of orphans and God's heart for them.

Esther with walker.JPGPart of our time was spent in a Nairobi slum in collaboration with a church there. The church has a number of remarkable ministries, including a small daycare at which each child is guaranteed a meal. For many, this meal is the only one they will receive. This was the case with little Esther, five years old but appearing to be perhaps two and weighing only about twenty pounds. Horribly neglected and undernourished, she exhibited all the signs that these circumstances produce--flat affect (nonexpressive face, disconnected emotionally from her surroundings), being severely underdeveloped both physically and cognitively, unable to walk without assistance, and other symptoms as well. She was an utter wreck, unwanted by her parents, and without hope for the present, much less for her future.

Esther's circumstances are certainly not unique. It can be easy to remain unaffected by stories like Esther's because we hear so many that sound alike. There are hundreds of thousands of people, including orphans, in the same or similar circumstances. And aid organizations abound, as well. Esther is a single grain of sand in a vast and unyielding desert.** 

Esther & Baba.jpgKnowing this, it can be easy to get caught up in numbers. We want our dollars to stretch as far as possible, assisting as many as possible for the smallest possible cost--in effort no less than in dollars. This is why I think it is significant that one small girl among the two million or so orphans in Kenya so impacted my team. We held innumerable children. We loved all of them. But we could not forget Esther.

In a recent report to our team about a visit to a physician prior to Esther's transfer to one of their homes, Colleen Briggs of Hope's Promise had this to say:

In one of the most bizarre experiences I have had thus far in Africa, I am asked to evaluate the worth of a life. Esther is melting into her mother's lap on my left, a tear swelling in the corner of her eye. Mama Karau [in-country coordinator for Hope's Promise] stands on my right. The doctor sits in front of us, silhouetted against a large open sunlit window. The dissonance of grinding gears and squealing brakes from traffic just outside almost drowns out his comments. I lean forward to hear as he gently explains that the tests Esther needs will be costly and her daily care will be consuming. We need to determine the value of her life. A thousand thoughts flood my mind. If the scale tips to the left, how long will Esther defy the odds? I turn to the right, and the balance shifts towards life. Knowing that I have the backing of friends in the U.S. including her child sponsor and the group of doctors, I tell Mama Karau, "If you can provide the care, we can secure the funding." As she later explains, Mama does not doubt that God has His Hand on Esther's life and has brought her to us for a reason, Mama does not hesitate to reply that they will care for her.

Like I said before--a child, loved, home at last, laughing in the arms of her father. No small miracle. 


*Matt. 10:29-31; Luke 12:6-7.
**For my take on approaching this problem, see my Drinking from the Social Justice Firehose.

Posted by Christa Countryman at 11:38 AM | view full entry