Lessons from Nigeria for Such a Time as This

I turned 40 last week.

Many people commented that it was such an unusual time to have a birthday because of all the quarantine/safer-at-home/self-isolation/social distancing measures that are in place.

But this actually wasn’t my first milestone birthday spent with curfews and movement restrictions.

10 years ago, as I was turning 30, the city in which we were living (Jos, Nigeria) had a curfew in place (I think it was 6 p.m. to 6 a.m.) and movement restrictions.

Our five years in Nigeria were a special time in our lives, and the challenges we faced there gave us a different perspective on hardships and suffering. In fact, some elements of life there uniquely prepared us for some of the things we are encountering in this current era of health concerns and stay-at-home orders. Here are a few:

  • Movement restrictions. I can’t remember how severe the curfew and movement restrictions were at the time of my 30th birthday. I do know that in the days leading up to my birthday, I had several meetings related to whatever the crisis was at the time. Because of the restrictions, Christie’s plans for a surprise birthday party for me turned into a slumber party so that we could stay up late playing games with good friends. Movement restrictions were actually a normal part of our life in Nigeria. Elections, holidays, violence, visits by government officials, and any number of other things often forced us into our homes for a period of time (sometimes hours, sometimes days). Today, we’re grateful to be able to go out for exercise and visit the grocery store, something that wasn’t always permitted in Jos.
  • Unpredictability. Life was wildly unpredictable in Nigeria. The security situation could change at a moment’s notice. We always had a “go” bag packed with essential items that we needed in case we would need to jump in a car and either drive to the airport or across the border. Over the last few weeks, the situation around COVID-19 has been changing rapidly, and uncertainty lies ahead. As in Nigeria, we are comforted by the fact that no matter how many changes we might experience, we can rely on our God whom we know holds the future.
  • Core support network. When life was particularly challenging in Nigeria, we found it helpful to have a few friends or family members that we could turn to. Some from our immediate community in Jos gave us hope and flashed light into our world when things were particularly dim. Others that we could text with encouraged us and gave us perspective. Today in the U.S., we have a myriad of tools (and incredibly fast internet) that allow us to connect with our core support network. We hope that in the midst of what feels like a dark and uncertain time to many, we can be life-giving to others around us, even as we try to surround ourselves (virtually) with life-givers.
  • Health concerns. When we tell people about our experiences in Nigeria, many assume that the terrorism was the scariest part of living there. To be honest, it wasn’t. For me, it was malaria. Every mosquito, every puddle of standing water, every quick walk outside, every hotel bed that wasn’t covered in a net–each caused a bit of fear over the threat of malaria. Many of our friends have lost friends or family members to this dreaded disease–no one disbelieved that it existed nor doubted its potency. We did our best to protect ourselves but we always knew that there was an invisible enemy out there residing in a barely visible mosquito.
  • Washing hands. Malaria wasn’t the only health concern. Because of typhoid, cholera, dysentery, etc., washing our hands frequently and carrying around hand sanitizer everywhere (brought from the U.S.) is nothing new to us.
  • Theology of suffering. Everyone suffers. Life has challenges in the U.S. and Nigeria (and China and Peru and Australia…). These challenges are much more profound in some places, but everyone suffers in some way. I am especially grateful that God has used my experiences in Nigeria to develop in me a Bible-centered theology of suffering. This has helped me to maintain perspective, continue trusting in God and be a source of hope (usually) for our children despite the dangers and challenges in the world. We grieve and we mourn, all the while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus Christ.

In what ways do you think God has prepared you for the current situation? How is He changing and growing you now, even in the midst of the uncertainty?

Note: I am not trying to compare our current situation in the U.S. to the situation in Nigeria now or even years ago, only to share how some of the lessons we learned in Nigeria helped strengthen us for elements of today’s environment. Please continue to pray for Nigeria and other countries that are struggling and will struggle to cope with COVID-19 realities! Often these are places where health care, sanitation issues and many other factors could make the number of cases and deaths truly horrifying.

What’s the Same, What’s Different?

I (Chris) have been encouraging those I come into contact with (figuratively, not literally) to think about what in their life can they keep the same and how to maximize what must be different during this tumultous time we’re living in.

For Those Winklers, here is some of what’s the same and what’s different:

Same: Our family played soccer on Saturday morning (see picture below).

Different: Instead of going to the low-key church league that we’ve been a part of for several years (The church stopped all activities halfway through our six-game season.), this past Saturday morning the five us ran drills and then scrimmaged just like we would have.


Same: Chris goes to the office in the morning, Monday through Friday.

Different: Instead of the Wycliffe USA headquarters here in Orlando, where he normally serves with a few hundred other staff, he walks through our garage and out to a room that was originally built as a workshop. Since we have lived in this house, it has been alternately a guest room, a store room and an office. Looks like it will be the latter for the foreseeable future. He’s been experimenting with different ways of connecting with his team, and it hasn’t seemed to take long to settle in to a new normal. Also, the lack of a commute gives him an hour back every day.

Same: Christie homeschools the kids. We’ve been able to keep most of our daily and weekly routine. This involves a lot of time outside, reading high-quality literature, math, Duolingo Spanish lessons, nature study and art.

Different: No field trips and no weekly homeschool group.

Same: We can Skype with family.

Different: Skype seems to happen a little more regularly these days (and without the anticipation of an in-person visit that was supposed to happen).

Keeping routines is helpful for mental health, but there are also opportunities and positives in the things that are different. We’re trying to balance both realities right now. What about you? What have you been able to keep the same, and what opportunities are you seeing in the different life you lead now?

Happy Birthday, Dear Jovelle

Five Years Old

Please, everybody, look at me!
Today I’m five years old, you see!
And after this, I won’t be four,
Not ever, ever any more!
I won’t be three – or two – or one.
For that was when I’d first begun.
Now I’ll be five a while, and then
I’ll soon be something else again!

-Mary Louise Allen



Five.  She’s a sweet-spirited, strong-willed, loving, smart, giving, whining, hammy bundle of energy.  She’s shy but has spunk (as evidenced when she boldly told a 12 year old who was teasing her brother, “Hey!  He’s littler than you!  You’re not supposed to pick on kids littler than you!”), loves learning about Jesus, likes to dance and make up songs and is daring.  I love that she wears stripes with plaid, cowgirl boots with fancy dresses and rainboots to church, and I hope she doesn’t outgrow a sense of style that doesn’t care what others think.


And, oh, the things she says!

This morning, even, before getting to try something new for breakfast…. “I’m so excited to explore the taste of them!”

Random reflections on her name:
Jovelle: “Jovelle doesn’t really sound like a  name. Bob sounds like a name, but Jovelle doesn’t.”
Me: “Oh really?  What does Jovelle sound like?”
Jovelle: “Just a word.”

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Jovelle: “I feel pretty.”
Me: “Oh yeah, why?”
Jovelle: “I just feel how I look, that’s all.”
Me, chuckling:  “Ok, get buckled up, please.”
Jovelle: “Why are you laughing when you say that?”
Me, not wanting her to think I was laughing at her: “Because I love you.”
Jovelle: “Why are you laughing at that?  I thought it was happy when you love someone.”

Me to Judah, who was building with Legos: “Whoa!  Look at that!  What are you building?”
Jovelle: “Just the fanciest thing in the universe.”


Jovelle at bedtime, suddenly talking and reflecting on having taken communion for the first time at church that morning: “It’s not actually Jesus’s body and blood we had.  It’s just crackers and juice.”
Me: “Yes, it’s just supposed to remind us about what Jesus did for us.”
Jovelle, a few minutes later: “It’s a good thing I took communion today because I was starting to forget that Jesus died for me so it’s good I took communion so I could remember.”

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Judah, picking up couch: “Look how strong I am!”
Jovelle, trying unsuccessfully to pick up couch: “Look how light I am!”

Happy birthday, five year old!  Still the cutest birthday girl ever!  😉

This Little One

This guy…. Two. Already.

Seems like so many moons ago….

Likes: bubbles, balls, books, pretending to be a puppy (complete with tongue-hanging-out-panting and crawling, a feat he can keep up for a good thirty minutes without breaking character, even while crawling on cement at Sea World (I mean in theory, cuz what mom would let her kid do that??!)), throwing things in the toilet and trash can (pretty sure we’ve lost half a set of kids cups and silverware to the trash can and many a lego and marble have been bathed in the toilet), milk (“no no”), nap time and bedtime (a miraculous change from the past!!), throwing food from his high chair to signal he’s done or dislikes something, giving kisses, food

Dislikes: being left out of things Judah and Jovelle are doing, vegetables (as a general rule), characters in costumes (I.e. Mickey Mouse, Chuck E. Cheese, etc.)

In general Josiah is really good natured and almost always smiling, but he’s got quite the stubborn streak as well.  He’s quite snuggly and very expressive.  And cute. Did the very objective mother mention cute?!

Happy birthday, little one!

Giving Stuff

When I started in my new role with Wycliffe, I was a bit startled to learn that 90% of the assets of the average American are non-cash–things like vehicles, real estate, furniture, etc.  Ninety percent!  In thinking about it, I realized our family wasn’t that much different and it started to make sense.

Then I met our staff who specialize in working with people who wanted to give through creative means.  Maybe their cash assets were low and didn’t think they could participate financially in the Bible translation movement.  However, God uses all of our gifts.  Just in the past few weeks I’ve learned of people who have given iPhones, RVs and even land–all for the sake of advancing Bible translation.  I’m grateful for the way so many have responded to give creatively to this movement!

If you have something, valued at $75 or more, would you please consider donating them to Wycliffe, even to support our own Wycliffe ministry?  Click here if you’re interested.  It’s quick and easy and puts your stuff to use in God’s Kingdom!

Some of the more common things to find around that could be donated:

  • Smart phones: Maybe an iPhone if you’re upgrading to the new iPhone 6s.
  • Gift cards: We might remind you about that one again after Christmas.  🙂
  • Vehicles: Your motorcycle that has gone unused or the inherited boat that never sees the water.

Thought of something sitting in your garage or storage unit that could be put to work spreading the gospel?  Here is that link again for donating toward our ministry with Wycliffe.

The image below is a link to a blog post written by my colleague Melissa which looks at this in more detail:Screen Shot 2015-08-17 at 10.02.50 AM

10 years in…

This is a season of anniversaries.

A few months ago I celebrated 10 years as being a member of Wycliffe.  I received notice back in July 2005 from my recruiters and friends, Ed and Linda, a day before I got the official notification from HR.  At the time, I was in the midst of a crazy busy summer working with youth groups coming to serve in San Francisco.  My acceptance into Wycliffe kicked off an incredible season of transition where I moved (by train!) back to Michigan for a short season before moving to Orlando, starting my first Wycliffe assignment, and then meeting and marrying Christie.

Then just a few weeks ago, I marked one year in my assignment as the Vice President for Advancement.  It’s been nothing short of a thrill ride–working through staff transitions, a major restructure, overhauling the physical layout of our office, and planning our first major event.  Not unlike the ride I was on with my father-in-law recently:

Manta at Sea World Orlando

Just prior to my one year anniversary I conducted performance appraisals for my leadership team.  I always enjoy these but this round seemed pretty special because it gave us all a chance to reflect on the first year of working together and how far we have come.  I know leadership transitions can be a challenge so I’m so grateful for the way that our staff has rallied around Christie and I over the past year.  I sincerely feel that we are clicking on all cylinders and I’m so grateful for a tremendous team that God has given us to serve the Bible translation movement for this season.

Looking back on 10 years also gives us the chance to think about how many people have made it possible for our Wycliffe ministry to thrive over this time.  Some of you have given financially–generously and sacrificially.  Some of you pray–faithfully and lovingly. Others of you have visited us, sent us notes of encouragement, brought food to us, and been the church to us.


Here’s to another 10 years together in ministry!

Coming “Home”

“You can’t go home again.”

Never has that statement been more true for me than this past 16 months. It has been about that long since our family left Nigeria for the last time and settled indefinitely in Orlando, Florida, USA.

Christie has lived in Central Florida most of her life; I lived here for three years before we moved to Nigeria in 2009. We had communities and networks of friends, family and colleagues that we knew well and that knew us. We had our favorite haunts–those stores and restaurants that we gravitated to. Orlando was our home (or at least one of our homes) and when we said farewell to our life in Jos, Nigeria, we were coming home.

Or so we thought.


Our “home” since February 2014.

Many of our friends in Orlando had moved. All had, to some degree, moved on with their lives (not that we would have expected anything less). Our haunts had closed or were under new management. Colleagues had changed roles. Even the look of my commute from the downtown area (where we lived before and now) to the Wycliffe office had changed dramatically.

We, too, had changed. Five years living in west Africa has a way of re-shaping your worldview. Our mannerisms and diction were different. The kids did odd things (like take power outages in stride as if nothing happened). I was a different leader and manager, and in a different role with Wycliffe, than when we left five years prior.

While there was some semblance of familiarity in our life, it certainly didn’t feel like home!

We all struggled with missing our community in Nigeria. This was particularly hard for Christie and the kids, probably mostly because I’ve had the benefit of going in to the office every day where I am surrounded by people who have made the same transition we’re facing. Skype calls and visits with our friends in Nigeria have been nice but didn’t quite cut it when it came to being a part of each others’ lives, day in and day out. We haven’t yet found any replacement for that community–and we may never find it again–and we are grieving as a result.

A reunion with two other

A reunion with two other “Nigerian” families earlier this year.

There are reasons why counselors are desperately needed on the mission field. It’s not just because of the PTSD, cross-cultural issues and interpersonal challenges that are so common. It’s also because of the transitions we face and the need to balance having multiple homes. It’s a psychological struggle and one that we (both Christie and I, plus the kids) now face every day.

Would you pray with us? Pray that God would help us to reflect upon and remember our time in Nigeria, while helping us find the community He has for us here in Orlando. Pray that He would help our kids understand the new reality we are in, while not losing their life lessons and cross-cultural experiences from our time in Jos. Pray that we would continue to have sweet reunions with friends from our Nigeria life!

Thank you for praying!

One Year

It’s hard to believe it’s been one year since I got a phone call that my spiritual mentor, my second mom, my best friend’s mom was gone.  Some of you have heard me talk about her (and talk about her and talk about her….  😉  ) and probably only know her as “Mrs. Nilsa,” but oh, what an amazing woman of God she was.  Even in the midst of fighting cancer, she had such strength, courage, conviction and faith.  I remember a conversation with her not long before she passed away when I was really struggling with the idea of pain and suffering in general, but also with her cancer.  She looked so peaceful as she told me that she wasn’t angry, she wasn’t struggling as much as I thought she should be because “I know my God, and I know His character and who He is.”


Truth be told, I still struggle with it, but often when I think of Mrs. Nilsa and the dignity and faith with which she walked through her journey, I am humbled and moved out of my own self.  This is just one of many gifts Mrs. Nilsa gave me, one of many legacies she left and things she taught me.


To list them all would be impossible, but here are a few….

  • She taught me grace.  She reminded me time and time again – not merely with her words but with the grace she poured out on me and the kids – to give the kids more grace than I often do.  She looked at them with such kindness and love, and they felt that.  They knew they were loved.  And she always had dessert and chocolate to offer them, so that didn’t hurt.  😉

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  • She was a prayer warrior.  Even when some things got too tiring for her to do, she never. stopped. praying.  In fact, she told me once that most of her time was spent reading and praying.  How I long to be such a faith filled prayer warrior!
  • She loved well.  She loved her family and her friends, and oh how she loved her God!  She was one of those people that made you think you were her favorite person in the world – only to find out that everyone else thought that too!  She genuinely cared about you and often would turn the conversation to you even when you tried to make it about her!
Mrs. Nilsa was a tricker!  ;)  That wheelchair was supposed to be for her, but when we turned around she was popping Jovelle in it and pushing her around!

Mrs. Nilsa was a tricker! 😉 That wheelchair was supposed to be for her at Disney, but when we turned around she was popping Jovelle in it and pushing her around!

When we were in Nigeria, I read something about personalizing Scriptures for people, and so I mailed Mrs. Nilsa a personalization of Proverbs 31, which I had the privilege of also sharing at her memorial service.

Proverbs 31: The Remix, for Mrs. Nilsa

A woman of noble character, who can find?

She is worth far more than diamonds

or even chocolate chips in Nigeria.

Marty has full confidence in her

and lacks nothing in value.

She brings him good, not harm,

all the days of her life.

She works with eager hands.

She is like the Publix semi-trucks,

bringing her food from afar –

or at least sending it afar

in packages stuffed with goodies,

sweet treats from home for the blessed receivers.

She gets up while it is still night

(night owl that she is!);

she provides food for her family –

delicious variety, ethnic experiments,

all cooked with love and sacrifice –

and portions for her friends

and the occasional church youth group.

She considers before she buys

to make sure she gets the best deal –

and her garage is stocked to prove it.

She sets about her work vigorously;

even when her arms are not strong for her tasks,

she somehow leans on Him

and perseveres….

But she is also strong enough now to admit

when she can’t do it alone.

She accepts help graciously

and shows her gratitude with an offering

that is worth far more than the money she saves:

on bended knee, her prayers

sweet smelling incense before her Heavenly King.

Her lamp does not go out at night,

for it is often in the darkness and solitude

that she cries out:

prayers of gratitude, thanksgiving, praise,

salvation, healing, forgiveness, intercession….

In her hand she holds her Bible

and grasps it with her heart, too.

She opens her arms – and her home – to the lonely,

the misunderstood, the teenagers, the lost,

the ones that society calls “misfits,”

the patients with whom she shares a waiting room,

the high school girl looking for answers

(now a mom still looking for answers)

and finding them in the dark of night

in the patient responses and questions

of the mom of a friend

(now a friend herself)

who was willing to listen and point her to

the One True Answer….

She extends her hands to them all….

When it is sweltering outside

she has no fear for her household,

for the AC is set to freezing.

Too freezing.   😉

She is clothed in fine linen and purple

(or at least she was before she told the Red Hat Ladies

exactly where her priorities are).

Her husband is respected at the church and at work,

where he takes his seat among the elders of the (Disney)land.

She is clothed with strength and dignity,

even when she might wonder if sickness

has taken her dignity away.

(It has not.)

She can laugh at the days to come,

even when the days are uncertain,

and her laugh can make you laugh, too.

She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue,

even when the phone connection

isn’t too clear from overseas.

She offers advice – prayerful, thoughtful advice –

when asked and mentors those blessed enough to be in her life.

She watches over the affairs of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness

(In fact, she eats hardly any bread or carbs these days –

though she likes them – a testament to her willpower.)

Tammy and Sharli, her children –

and her children’s friends! –

rise and call her blessed.

Marty also, and he praises her:

“Many women do noble things, but you, Nilsa, surpass them all.”

Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting –

though her beauty doesn’t seem to fade

because it comes from a joy deep within –

but Mrs. Nilsa, who fears the Lord, is to be praised.

Honor her for all that her hands have done,

and let her works,

the meals she has cooked,

the packages she has mailed,

the friends she has made,

the family she has raised,

the teenagers to whom she has listened,

the people she has brought before the throne,

bring her praise at the city gate.

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My best friend wrote the other day that “grief is a circular staircase.”  There are days when things feel okay, and there are days when the loss of my dear mentor and friend – from whom I still had so much to learn and am even still learning from in many ways – is just as raw as when it first happened.  And there are days, truth be told, when I play this game where I pretend that we’re still in Nigeria and it’s just a little hard to stay in contact what with the time difference and bad internet so of course things have been silent for a while.

Enjoying one of her favorites, Dole Pineapple Whip, at Disney

Enjoying one of her favorites, Dole Pineapple Whip, at Disney

The pain of losing someone you love just sort of lingers beneath the surface, though, even when it’s not boldly rearing its ugly head.

But there are also those sweet, precious memories, countless memories… of trips to Disney… talking until 3 am… the time when the kids ran around catching dead leaves that whirled around on a blustery day, saying they were for Mrs. Nilsa – who accepted them with a big smile on her face as if they had brought her a bouquet of roses and proclaimed, though it was March, “You brought fall inside to me!  Fall is my favorite season!” – so that to this day they associate fall with her… her voice when she would get angry or frustrated and silently exclaim, “Oh hush puppies!”

And there is the Hope of things to come, too.  I am eternally grateful for the time that Mrs. Nilsa took to pour the Truth of God into me because I know that one day I will join her in eternity, a place where there is no more sadness or sickness or pain or tears, and together we will praise our God.


Now He is Six

When I was one,
I had just begun.

Judah 018100_3780When I was two,
I was nearly new.

100_0632When I was three,
I was hardly me.

100_5458When I was four,
I was not much more.

100_7716When I was five,
I was just alive.

100_9277100_9367But now I am six,
I’m as clever as clever.

IMG_0407So I think I’ll be six
now for ever and ever.

by A. A. Milne

…And then he was six.

So soon.

And yet already he can’t wait to be seven. I wonder sometimes, is it just the birthday excitement he wants? If we gave him presents every day, would he want to slow down this fastness then?

I tell him to enjoy being the age he is, that kids get to spend much of their day playing and have far less to worry about, even if sometimes they do get time outs and often get decisions made for them instead of being the one to decide whether to have peas or carrots for dinner (or darn it, no vegetables, just cookies this time, thank you very much) or what time to go to bed… but still.  Still, he longs for the next age and the next and the next, while I long to hold on to each year a little longer.

Maybe Chris and I just make this grown up, parenting thing look so easy.  Yeah, that must be it.  (Cough cough.)

Well, no matter – happy birthday to our fast growing boy!  This boy delights us, tries us, stretches us and amazes us daily.  He is smart and silly, cautious and adventurous, full of questions that challenge us and make us think, and he has an insatiable desire to learn…. I love that he loves playing soccer and baseball and riding bikes as much as he loves reading and school.  (In fact, one of the things he wanted to do for his birthday today – despite being sick and even though it was his birthday and he could choose anything he wanted – was “have school.”)  We pray that as each day passes he will continue to grow in the fear and knowledge of the Lord and in favor with God and man.  Happy birthday, dear Judah!