Tag Archives: childhood

As soon as I could read the writing on the wall

woman lying on area rug reading books

Photo by Renato Abati on Pexels.com

Hannah’s house had eight-foot-tall bookcases shoved against its white cement walls. Seven-year old Hannah loved to read everything, especially Boxcar Children and American Girl books.

But she was very smart and she got bored when she knew it already. Like the Beginner’s Bible stories each night before jumping under the mosquito net. Usually Mom and Dad still read from that Bible so the younger kids could understand.

One day she was lying on her daisy comforter-covered bed with a kids’ Bible she hadn’t seen before. It was probably a Christmas present, maybe from Grandma Rasmussen.

There were the usual stories, Adam and Eve, Noah, David, Jesus, you know. But then there was a picture with a hand – with no arm – writing letters on the wall. That wasn’t supposed to be there. There weren’t any Bible stories about that, silly! But it was, and it had right under the title the actual verses straight from the real adult Bible.

What if there were other stories in the Bible that the adults never taught the kids?

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Grandma Rasmussen taught Hannah how to bake cinnamon rolls, and how to iron, and make beds, and learn the three- and four- times tables. It was because she used to be a home economics and math teacher.

She and Grandpa were pastors too. She tried to teach Hannah the song, “Come everybody let us tell, the books of the Bible we know so well… Genesis, Exodus…”

Hannah knew the tune, but the words she knew were Swahili syllables she just tried to copy in her mouth. Later, she read the Table of Contents from the Swahili Bible and figured out what they had been teaching her to sing in PEFA Sunday School. It was the only thing she learned from ten years of PEFA Sunday School.

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But Hannah learned things at Sand Hill Lake Bible Camp in Minnesota. It was for the whole family, but she was eight so she was with the other kids. At craft time she learned how to make “God’s eyes” by crossing two popsicle sticks and winding bright colored yarn around them. She was really good at not letting the yarn overlap. She learned the theme verse that year, which was Jeremiah 29:11. And she learned that the lady up front was called Rebecca H. and she was very nice to Hannah because she was a missionary kid from East Africa too.

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In East Africa at school on Monday mornings, all the kids had to walk in a line to assembly. Everyone had to have their white and blue uniforms tucked in. The Headmaster made us sing songs like “Oh Cinnamon, where you gonna run to, all on that day?” Later Hannah figured out that it was the British way to say “sinner man.”

The headmaster usually told the story of the Good Samaritan, and that it meant we should all be nice to each other, and that Gandhi and Mohammed and Jesus all got the idea about how to be good people. Pretty much all the kids were Muslim Indians, and everybody liked the really Christian science teacher and hated the headmaster, who was Anglican or something. He always ended by telling all the kids they would look like spoiled brats if they littered. They could tell he didn’t mean it when he sang about “Seek ye first the kingdom of God.”

Hannah and her atheist Dutch friend talked about God as eleven-year-olds. Hannah started wondering if she was lying when she sang the songs about loving God and believing him.

~

Then Hannah left that school and moved to Chicago. Dad taught pastors at a Bible school in Tanzania but God told him to get more training at Trinity. She made friends with Rachel, the brave New Zealander, and Neema, the tomboy from India. They went to Kids on Kampus together.

Mr. Mike was the leader of Kids on Kampus. He loved puns, taking kids out for ice cream, and the Bible. Once he gave the kids a talk about how “as long as it is called today” we need to respond to God. It was really real to him. Maybe Hannah didn’t know it already. Maybe the Bible was sixty-six books on an eight-foot-tall bookshelf. Maybe thought she had read them but had only read the blurb or looked at the pictures. That happened sometimes.

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Hannah didn’t have to read the kids’ Bibles anymore. For her birthday, Grandma Rasmussen gave Hannah a card with Jeremiah 29:11 at the bottom (as always) and a Daily Bible. That meant it was arranged in chronological order because she wanted to read each day together with “my special Hannah.” Hannah tried really hard for a while but had to skip through parts of the Law because it got too boring, and gave up partway through Psalms, or maybe earlier.

Hannah also got a real Bible, an NIV Teen Study Bible from the Trinity bookstore. She and her Trinity friends always biked there to buy candy, listen to free music samples, and hide behind the shelves reading in the teen section. She made a goal to read one to four chapters of the New Testament every day. She almost always ended up reading four chapters, and wrote a lot of pencil marks on the sides.

Rachel, Neema and Hannah all started reading the Bible because of Mr. Mike. They got together and talked about God and doubt. They met on a field on the other side of campus a couple times and gave each other sermons they wrote themselves.

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The Trinity kids were very different from the rest of their school. There were a lot of Catholics and Jews with ipods, au pairs, North Faces and Birkenstocks. Michael Jordan’s kid was in Hannah’s 22-person eighth grade art class. Hannah took eighth grade art and math instead of seventh grade math like all the other kids her age. So every week the boys threw their dodgeballs at her and her Trinity friends.

Jewish Ian put a Time Magazine cover on the locker next to Hannah’s that said, “Looking for the Real Jesus?” and signed it “Jésus”, his name in Spanish class. It made the three friends angry. They started to call themselves “Friends Always Through Christ Around the World” and became closer because of the tough times.

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Hannah left the F.A.T.C.A.T.W. at the end of the second year to go back to the house with the white cement walls in Tanzania. At the last night of Kids of Kampus, Mr Mike and all the kids prayed for her and her family. The songs on the overhead seemed to pop out at her: “Prince of Peace,” “Emmanuel,” “Friend.” “Blessed be your name when the road’s marked with suffering…” And Hannah knew God was telling her there was a Friend who would be with her wherever she went.

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While Hannah had been gone from the British Anglican school, her best friends had moved away. Her classmates now loved celebrities and partying and Hannah loved God. So she ate lunch with a new girl, another Dutch atheist.

Before school in the morning, Hannah read the Daily Bible Grandma Rasmussen had given her. At night, she wrote angry tearful letters to God for not being her friend. Then right before bed she sung a made-up tune to a Bible verse ten times that she’d written on an index card, a different one to memorize every week.

Back when Hannah gave her sermon to Rachel and Neema, it was on the “What Will They Think” factor from Galatians 1:10. Now, she said it like a rap to memorize it: “Am I now trying to win the approval of men/ or of God or am I trying to please men/ if I were still trying to please men/ I would not be a servant of Christ Galatians one ten.”

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Slowly Hannah realized she had been blaming God for not keeping his promises but maybe it was her fault for being angry and very picky about friends. Then she realized God wasn’t picky about friends, and she shouldn’t be either. So she made three other friends. Then Dad and Mom told Hannah they might be moving to Kenya.

Hannah cried because she knew deep down it was meant to happen, but it was scary. They said goodbye to the house with the white cement walls, and went to visit the States for the summer before school started in Kenya.

At Sand Hill Lake Bible Camp again, one of the workshops was about listening to God. Hannah laid down on a pew. She remembered the theme verse from last time she was at Sand Hill Lake when she was eight and from Grandma Rasmussen’s birthday cards: “For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.” Then she remembered verses she had memorized before bed: “Be strong and courageous, do not be terrified, do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” And: “If I rise on the wings of the dawn and settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.”

And this time Hannah wasn’t going to blame God for not keeping promises. For the talent show at Sand Hill Lake, she did a song she’d written about the last move. The chorus went, “Not in the gale of wind, not in the fire, not in the earthquake, but in the gentle whisper You are there, saying, ‘I love you more than life itself, Trust Me, Trust Me, I am Emmanuel.’”

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And Hannah had more sleepovers in the first six weeks in Kenya than in the previous three years in Tanzania. Her new friends read the Bible and prayed together, because all of the friends were friends with God too. And Hannah realized maybe the Bible was God’s letters – sometimes angry and tearful – to God’s people for not being his friend. Why couldn’t everybody be friends?

Originally written for a college English assignment about my experience with the Bible.


Human (spoken word video)

Sexual harrassment threatens to make us beasts and objects, but we’re human. I share my journey of healing and forgiving. Performed live at Slam Africa.


Destined to edit books for the church in Africa

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Our missionary family “prayer card” – about a year after my salvation

Last month, I moved into a new associate acquisitions editor position at Oasis International. Over the weekend, I realized that God has been preparing me for this for twenty years!

I moved to Tanzania as a two-year-old and grew up there as a missionary kid. When I was four – exactly twenty years ago this weekend – I decided to follow Jesus. I don’t remember it, but my dad recently unearthed his old journal and came across the night I became a Christian. Earlier this year I noticed the file on my computer, realized this would be twenty years, and decided to celebrate my “re-birthday.” So I read over what my dad had written:

October 22, 1996        Hannah is 4

Dear Hannah,

I want to write this now for you to read later so you can remember what happened tonight. Tonight at bed time you wanted to read your Swahili book and they you wanted to read a book that your Sunday school teacher at the PEFA church next door gave you awhile back. (We had never read it before.) It was in English even though he only speaks Swahili. It was about heaven and hell and a little African boy named Mutu having salvation explained to him. You and I had talked about heaven and that Jesus died for us and what that means.

My dad writes that he explained the gospel in four-year-old terms and we prayed for my salvation.

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Mutu’s story might have come from this Christian bookstore in my hometown in Tanzania

I shared this story with a friend, who noticed, “Books have been part of your story from the beginning.”

“Wow, I never thought about that. This was even before I was reading on my own. But I guess they have!”

And as I thought about it more, I realized that it wasn’t just any book. It was a Christian book written in English, contextualized for Africa, distributed to me through a local pastor. It was exactly the literature that Oasis creates and distributes! Jesus saved this little American-African missionary kid through the same work that I do now!

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Editing Christian literature for Africa from my office in Nairobi, Kenya

From there, God weaved the rest of the story together: The second-grade teacher who told me I’d become a writer. The pastoring grandparents who always gave me Christian books for my birthday. The many childhood visits to village churches. My preteen years on a seminary campus where my friends biked to the bookstore for candy, browsed the shelves, and made our faith our own. The last-minute English major in college and the unexpected call to ministry. An Oasis job opening after graduation asking me to move back home to Kenya – literally to my parents’ house. Getting sick of Pulitzer winners and discovering African fiction. Multiple people randomly telling me last summer that I should go into acquisitions editing.

How does God do it? Not only saving me and continuing to affirm our relationship as I grew up, but designing the way I was saved to chart my destiny? I’m so in awe. I felt like I stumbled into this path, but what a comfort that God has known all along where we’re going!

So all I do is echo Ephesians 3:20: “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.”


Farewell, Imaginary Friend

Big hand flicking small person

Farewell, imaginary friend
for years you’ve kept me company:
I taught you in our school pretend
and mapped your house and family,

by candlelight a letter wrote
when both of us were 93,
“I miss her every night” – I quote
my poem when you were lost at sea.

Strange that my memories of us
are searches – like you wouldn’t stay.
Like all my other friends you must
have always been going away.

One day I’ll find you incarnate
as I described in listing song.
I’m sure I’ll know when we have met
because it’s forty-four lines long.

Gray days, you, rainbow, promised love.
You had no substance, shadow, scent –
the real I felt unworthy of.
Our game began as innocent.

‘Til wanting me possessively
you clouded sight aggressively.

I polished you to gaze upon
my image in your idol’s gleam.
With your ideals you blinded, conned –
my other friends less perfect seemed.

I tried to recreate them in
our image, squish them to our mold.
Ignored how people are within –
they hurt from hammers, unlike gold.

So from flawed people I withdrew –
you said it proved only you cared.
I tried to leave, came back to you
‘cause being alone made me scared.

Dear – wait, I never knew your name!
So please, still at a distance stay.
Today I leave you and our game,
declare my independence day.

Imaginary friend, goodbye.
Our friendship was as fake as you.
Bye, mobile home in castled sky –
so lonely ‘cause it had a view.

I’ve found a friend who’s down to earth.
He’s heaven-sent – Emmanuel.
He’s known me since before my birth
but never left. None loved so well.

He laughs, “Oh honey!” at mistakes,
chats over tea around the hearth.
He shards into stained glass remakes.
He died of love and gave me worth.

I’ll sing for him who gave me voice,
whose image I reflect adore,
in rainbow promises rejoice,
and over all his letters pore.

But all affection I give free,
this love was unearned from the start.
The Son makes all my shadows flee,
dwells in the flesh of muscled heart.

This is his home now, see his crest?
So leave us be, unwanted guest.