Back Pain

I have had back problems off and on since High School Football that give me bouts of back spasms that have wiped me out for a day or two here and there.  But this time it has been much worse and more enduring.  I have had intense pain for over two weeks that is pretty debilitating.  I’m missing work and falling behind on important projects.  I’m missing out on time with the kids and basically everything else just trying to cope with the pain.  CT scan says the problem is probably that my disc between my S1 and L5 vertebrae has been flattened out, bone spurs may have developed, and nerves seem to be pinched.  Two doctors have told me to stop playing sports.  To me, this would be devastating.  An MRI is the next step, as well as rest and trying to bring down the swelling.

Please join me in praying for healing and pain relief.

Thankful day twenty

Today I am thankful to be HOME! (And that I get to call Ghana and this house – home.)

I am thankful for 11.5 hours of sleep (after 28 hours of traveling!).

I am thankful to have reconnected with both of my fabulous neighbor friends!

I am thankful for a walk with Matt to get vegetables for dinner.

I am thankful that all 11 bins and 5 suitcases made it back to Ghana and for the joy of reopening Christmas presents and favorite snacks!

I am thankful that our dear friend here had a healthy baby boy last night!

So many wonderful blessings from God!

What are you thankful for today?

Two Weeks in Ghana

In my last post I explained my crazy travels and why I returned to Ghana for just 2 weeks before coming back to California to get my family. Here is what I did in those two weeks (besides recover from jet lag!):

Big Picture

If I had to explain my job in two words, I’d say “Making Friends”. Alternatives would include “Develop Partnerships”, “Community Mobilization”, and “Catalyze (a) Movement”. OK, I cheated on that last one. I couldn’t figure out how to drop that indefinite article. You get the idea. My job is all about relationships. We (Leo and I) visit a lot of leaders and influencers. The majority are church leaders, but it also includes government officials, media, and like-minded NGO’s. We seek people out, develop relationships, and explore ways we can collaborate together to serve the oppressed. We mobilize the community to persuade those with power to use that power on behalf of the powerless.

Partnership Development

We had two such meetings recently. The first was a meeting with the Director of Social Services for the Church of Pentecost denomination. The Church of Pentecost has millions of members, reaching all parts of Ghana. They have a church in most villages along the shores of Volta Lake. Anita (our stellar aftercare director), Leo, and I headed over to the meeting, asking for God’s leading. The meeting was a complete joy! We learned that the church of Pentecost was already in motion studying and preparing to assist in fighting child trafficking in Ghana! We connected through our shared passion on the subject and our belief that “this too is the work of God!” We discussed ways we might partner with them and equip their pastors to be effective in their fight. We left exhilarated and praising God!

The second meeting I had was with the directors of a Christian children’s home and school associated with a church that my family and I have been attending. Over the course of the year, we’ve had many occasions to discuss with them IJM’s work, of which they were already quite familiar and very enthusiastic. They have grown in their passion and commitment and the church even hosted our first ever Ghana Prayer Gathering in November. We’ve been discussing for many months the possibility of their school and home taking in IJM clients rescued from child trafficking. We have a HUGE need for this. I am delighted to share with you that this latest meeting was to put the final touches on a Memo of Understanding creating an official partnership with IJM. Hurray! This is a dream come true for me.

Annual Work Plan

Leo and I spent a good amount of time developing our goals and plans for the year. We are overflowing with new ideas as well as ways to improve and expand everything we did last year. One wild and crazy idea is to multiply the Justice Conference we did last year into a series of three of them to “surround the lake” with pastors trained to fight child trafficking. Last year we did one conference for 270 pastors, covering the southeastern coastline. Might we (by God’s grace and with His help) replicate this in regions where we have less connections? One new idea is a social media campaign in Ghana similar to the “End It Movement” in the U.S. We are also planning to develop a three-tiered training for training pastors in biblical justice: a one hour seminar, a half-day workshop, and a 12 week seminary class. This will allow us a variety of options to offer our budding church partners to use in their various contexts.

Welcoming New American Staff

We were down to just three Americans on the staff for a while. Can you believe of those Americans, I’ve been there the longest?!? It really gives you quite a picture of how thoroughly Ghanaian our office is. In the time I was back in Ghana, I was able to help welcome several newbies. We have two new interns, a new Director of Investigations, and a new Field Office Director, who all arrived in the space of a few weeks. It has been great getting to know them and hosting a taco night at my house. The field office director and the investigations director are both married with a child each, so it is very exciting for us to have American families join us! Previously, we had been the only ones to bring kids with us to Ghana. I am greatly looking forward to bringing Joy and my kids to Ghana in a few days and introducing them to all our new IJM friends!

Fun

It was stunning how much more free-time I had with my family on another continent! What did I do with my time? Well, to be honest, for a lot of it I played games on my phone, watched TV, and read copious amounts of NFL news. But I also got to hang out with Gregg (our legal fellow), play ultimate Frisbee and American football with some friends, and drive our new staff on various errands. I also went to a massive market and found an old used E-Bike for a killer deal. What is an E-bike you wonder? Picture a bicycle with rocket boosters. It is exhilarating. I hope I don’t crash. Maybe I should get a helmet?!?  Also, check out this picture…

 

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Esther let me bask in the glory that is her barrister’s wig!

Financial Update

I am pleased to let you know that our financial support (from all of you wonderful people) has remained strong. I had worried a bit (needlessly) that after a year had passed people would begin to forget about us and our support would trickle off. I am greatly encouraged to see that God has provided (through you!) for all our needs. If our monthly givers continue at the current rate, combined with the annual and one time gifts we receive in January and February, we are fully funded for the year! One big piece of news is that we now intend to stay longer than the two years we signed up for. I am starting a major project (the creation of seminary course) that will take me more than a year to complete. This means we intend to stay in Ghana several months after our original December departure date. So any extra funding we receive will be what allows us to extend our service. Thank you so much for your prayers and support! We couldn’t do any of this without you!

Your brother in Christ,

Matt Robbins

IJM Ghana

Update on Abby’s Health and My Travels

We planned to return to Ghana as a family three weeks ago, but we had to adjust on the fly.

My youngest daughter Abigail has been having some medical issues (constant stomach aches with occasional fevers and vomiting) for a very long time now. We had a lot of testing done in Ghana last year and then more done during our visit back to California. Right before we planned to return to Ghana, Abby got sick again which led to a referral to another specialist. This meant that I had to fly back to Ghana alone to resume work with the hope that my family would join me a few days later. But the specialist wanted to do some in-depth testing which required general anesthesia (a bit scary for us since she’s so young, though very safe) to test for Crohn’s disease among other things. This meant an extended stay in the U.S. for the family.
I stayed two weeks in Ghana and then, after consulting with IJM leadership in Ghana, decided to return to California to be there for the procedure and help out with the family.

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Child-life specialist was AWESOME at explaining to Abby what was happening and helping her feel safe

I am pleased to report that all went smoothly and the tests came back negative for all the really bad things the doctor was concerned about. Abigail has been fever-free for a month, her energy and color have improved, and she seems pretty healthy. She has some gastritis, which we are treating with a prescription antacid. We hope it will eventually reduce her stomach pains. With the great news from the doctor and Abigail’s improved condition, we have bought plane tickets for the whole family to return to Ghana on Monday! Hurray! Praise the Lord!

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Way better than a wheel-chair for discharging kids from the hospital!

In the meantime, I am working on some IJM projects out of a coffee shop while Joy is homeschooling the kids. Thank you all for your prayers for little Abigail. We are grateful for God’s healing!

All done!

Thankful day nineteen

Today I am grateful for this guy.

I am thankful for the gift and encouragement and freedom to work remotely (for a little while) that allowed him to be back this week for our youngest’ procedure in the hospital.

I am so thankful that I was not in it alone.

I am thankful for joy and laughter together.

And I thankful that the test results (from the procedure) were good.

Thankful day eighteen

Today I am thankful for sweet oranges just picked from a neighbor’s tree

For a gym to work out in (that my kids love going to) and the joy of biking.

To be honest, there’s a lot about the last few weeks that have been painful and challenging – Matt returning to Ghana without us, doctor appointments, medical tests, questions, not knowing when we would return home (to Ghana), being away from our house, broken expectations, exhaustion, whining (lots of whining)… and yet I hear myself challenged to be thankful amidst it all and recognize that God is providing for us in the midst of this. His blessings have not stopped – we have a place to stay, a car to drive, people who love us (near & far) and access to great doctors who are caring well for our child. And for these I am thankful.