When You Hear The Term: White Supremacy Culture

Tema Okun, along with Kenneth Jones, are two individuals who have paved the way for us to understand the term “White Supremacy Culture” as it is presently used. This is also the name of a book by Okun. It’s a term that often leads to defensiveness among individuals of European heritage, i.e. “I’m not a white supremacist!” But it’s one that we, whatever the hue of our skin color, could learn much from, even if we bristle at it.

No – we are not Neo-Nazis; however, most of us grew up in a culture predominantly influenced by white people in power. It’s just a fact. These systems that were created with patterns and processes common in white culture also benefited the people who created those systems…white people. You are not a white supremacist just because you grew up in that culture. But if you are white, you have benefited from the system, because that is how it was designed—to make “us” comfortable.

Corporations, non-profit boards, schools and churches have all been influenced by white supremacy culture. The way we run meetings, the things we value in group work, the focus of the work—all are influenced by our experiences and training in white culture, whatever the ratio of melanin in our skin. Not all of that is bad, but when we don’t look at the pieces of that culture that can marginalize BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color) individuals and shut down their voices, we are continuing the negative pieces of the pattern. 

So, what does white supremacy culture look like in an organization? Those, like Okun and Jones, who have studied this topic, have a list of traits that are common. Let me name a few that I have perpetrated, thinking I was just being a good leader: Urgency, Perfectionism, Either/Or thinking, Patronizing, Individualism valued over Group, and Avoidance of Discord.

  1. Urgency—Ask my husband, I have an issue with time. I want a meeting to start on time, everyone to BE there on time, everyone to have their limited time to speak, and all the points I’ve written in the agenda to be covered. Heck – I’m a ONE on the Enneagram! I value time management. But how often do I leave out good discussion and ideas because I’m rushing to get through the agenda? Who do I silence by moving ahead before someone else has really been able to form their thoughts or get the gumption to speak up? Do I listen less to the person who was late, because they were late? Do I give more time to the person whose ideas most closely reflect my own? Conversely, when I’m not in charge, how often have I felt I wasn’t given a chance to speak? Have I ever sensed that a leader of a group just wants to hear from certain people, like my opinion doesn’t matter? Chalk one up for Urgency, which cuts off voices and limits ideas. 
  2. Also chalk one up for Perfectionism. MY agenda, My meeting, completing MY tasks… check, check, check. Recognizing this doesn’t mean meetings shouldn’t have a time limit. It just asks us to be aware of the voices we are leaving out through our rigidity.
  3. I often go into a meeting thinking I might have an answer to an issue on the agenda. That in itself isn’t negative. There was a time in my life, however, when I was very proud to say that I had a knack for “constructive manipulation.” Because, of course, I had the BEST idea and I wanted others to SEE it was the best idea. This is a pretty common phenomenon for people in charge who grew up within white systems. It’s not that we shouldn’t bring our ideas, but it’s the investment in our ideas at the cost of other ideas that creates a problem. There’s an Either/Or way of thinking that blocks us from hearing other points of view. White supremacy culture tends to value ideas from white culture over BIPOC voices. I need to think more in terms of Both/And about new ideas instead of Either/Or
  4. I used to create health curriculum with a team. Some of that had to do with abusive relationships, dealing with violence, and various mental health perspectives. We made good curriculum that was mostly well received, and we always tried to get perspectives, ideas and feedback from people affected by these issues prior to launching. But even good curriculum can fall flat if we provide it to persons with cultural experiences we did not take into account. Talking about depression with a group of 14 and 15-year-olds who have witnessed unbelievable violence and know a level of sadness I can only imagine means switching gears entirely. Not including those affected by a situation as you try to remedy or address it, is Patronizing. Missionary history is rife with such stories.
  5. It should be abundantly clear in this age of COVID-19 that this country suffers from, what I term, “the wild west syndrome” or individualism over what’s best for the group. Our inability to control this virus is in part due to an irrational need to put personal desires over societal needs. This is also a white supremacy culture issue.
  6. A good issue for Mennonites is Avoidance of Discord. The past few years we’ve been forced to accept some discord in our congregation, but I will own that I have rushed through a discussion, or glossed over a topic, while praying no one brings up anything difficult. To make myself feel justified, I might say those folks are being divisive, and I’m just keeping the peace. Being unable to hear the pain or the anger of others minimizes what those persons feel. It then allows for those in charge to make the same mistakes over and over. 

These are just some of the ways I have participated in white supremacy culture. They support each other. For instance, I can’t hear your pain or your thought because the meeting is nearly over. Or if I truly consider your idea, it might derail my idea that is the BEST… etc. Sometimes the culture is very subtle, sometimes it’s overt. 

In the past four years I’ve taken a closer look at myself and at my patterns. I’ve tried to adjust how I lead or participate with an awareness of these and other aspects of my white culture. I become defensive, feel shamed, self chastise, then consider, ponder and try again. I make constant mistakes. Unlearning is a lot harder than learning. Unlearning doesn’t mean throwing out all my learned behaviors, but it does demand that I consider carefully whether what I’m valuing in my actions has genuine merit.

Our country is at yet another crossroads in understanding its history. This one is big. Many of you are on a deeper journey into recognition and ownership of the privilege that has been given to some over others during the creation of this country, and the effects that continue today. Some of you are reading like never before; others are joining SURJ (Showing Up for Racial Justice) groups; some are marching in support of Black Lives Matter. Some of you have joined Alicia Amazan online to tackle difficult subjects in regards to racism. Some of you are educating your children more earnestly about privilege and history.

It’s a big undertaking, and we are ALL late to the table. Until we understand how we participate in perpetuating racism, it’s hard to take needed action to change things. It’s difficult work, and it really has no end, but the results have the potential to enrich all of us.

Artwork by Maggie Girard

Resources

SURJ developed a learning curriculum which has involved a number of FMC individuals. The goal is to help white people develop an understanding of what we’ve perhaps missed in our formal education regarding race in the US, and also the things that hold us back from understanding what BIPOC persons deal with on a daily basis.  Another FMC group is being planned for the fall. Here is a link for the SURJ national website.

A short piece by Tema Okun with a concise explanation and examples of White Supremacy Culture:

An article on racism in white church bodies.

Alicia Amazan: Upon seeing people interested in learning and talking about racial injustice, my friend Chelsea and I sent out a call to have people join us on the journey. We wanted to provide a space to hold each other accountable, to keep learning when the media coverage loses momentum and we can slip back into the privilege of not seeing the injustices. We are passionate about learning and listening to Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) and are intentional about pointing others to these voices that are speaking out and doing incredible work to create a more anti-racist society. We also acknowledge that as white people we need to teach each other and not rely on BIPOC to teach us, as that is not their job. Chelsea and I are providing space for people to relearn history, identify and learn about whiteness and systemic racism and work toward being anti-racist. We have over 100 people joining us from across the country in a variety of ways. Below are ways people can be involved. 

What is offered at Continue to Learn and Listen?

  • Bimonthly Newsletter: On the 5th and 20th of each month, we email a newsletter full of resources related to a specific topic. We hope that you can find a few resources to meet you where you are and challenge you to continue to grow!
  • Monthly Virtual Gathering: Once a month we will gather on Zoom to dig deeper into the same topic covered in the bimonthly newsletter. We will present information, have discussions, and continue learning together!
  • Me & White Supremacy Book Club: An online group that works through the book Me and White Supremacy by Layla F. Saad over the course of four meetings.

Join us by subscribing at http://eepurl.com/g59Bvn or emailing us at email hidden; JavaScript is required.

Black Lives Matter by Bethany Habegger

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Young Voices

Checking in with Our Youth

What was the coolest thing you did this summer?

The coolest thing was going down the water-slide in Michigan. I was scared, but did it anyways and had a good time.

Theo, Age 7

My favorite thing was going to Lake Tippecanoe in our camper and taking a friend.

Lyra, Age 9

This summer I liked going to Michigan—I was able to watch TV which was cool since we don’t have TV at home.

Simon, Age 10

I took a trip to Cataract Falls with my friend.

Klaine, Age 18

This fall, I’m looking forward to…

Christmas, and going down the slide into the leaf pile in our backyard.

Theo, Age 7

Getting a dishwasher.

Lyra, Age 9

Apple cider.

Simon, Age 10

Going to an apple orchard.

Klaine, Age 18

Describe how you’re feeling about school right now.

Angry about going back because I don’t like school, but looking forward to friends and gym.

Theo, Age 7

Annoyed and disappointed about not going back to school in person, but looking forward to seeing friends.

Simon, Age 10

Name 3 adjectives that describe how you’re feeling about school right now.

Good. Bad. Happy.Lyra, Age 9

Apprehensive. Confused. Bored.

Klaine, Age 18

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Yes, We’re the Church Together!

“I am the church. You are the church. We are the church together. All who follow Jesus, all around the world, yes, we’re the church together!”

I remember singing these words in my childhood Sunday school class. This little song also included lyrics about how the church is not a building. The church is made up of people. At the time, I don’t think that made much sense to me. What did the song mean that “The church is not a building”? Didn’t we get up every Sunday and go to church? And what did it mean that the church is made of people? Even a little kid knows that you can’t build things out of people!

I’ve been thinking about that song a lot lately as we’ve been unable to meet in our church buildings. Can we still have church if we can’t go to church? I believe that the answer is yes. Yes, we’re the church together!

One of my favorite parts of church is the sense of belonging to a community. As members of the community we grieve together, we celebrate together, we help each other. When my faith is weak and I feel far from God, it can be so healing and refreshing to gather with other believers who can help strengthen my faith and remind me of God’s love. 

Over the past several months, many of us have had to change the ways that we gather and connect with our communities. Right now, for me, going to church means sitting down in my living room and opening my laptop. It’s better than nothing, but it sure isn’t the same as going to a building, greeting others with hugs or handshakes, singing together, and being physically near each other as we worship and pray and learn from God’s Word. 

But just because going to church looks different right now, that doesn’t mean that being the church has to look different. We can still grieve together, celebrate together, and help each other. Surely the Creator who knitted our very bodies together can knit together the Body of Christ even while we are physically apart! Although we cannot gather in the same room, we have not abandoned each other, and God has not abandoned us. Perhaps now, more than ever, we can practice being the church for each other. We may have to be creative, but there are still so many ways for us to show God’s love to each other and the whole world. All who follow Jesus, all around the world, yes, we’re the church together!

Fear Not by Maggie Machledt Girard
Artwork by Maggie Girard

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Remembering Steven McLay

Who was Steven McLay? He was a member of the HSLC (Holy Spirit Led Church) which meets in our building several times a week. Steven cleaned our FMC building for several years. While he worked part-time as custodian, he took two buses to come clean and two buses to return home. He took great pride in his work. We grieve the loss of Steven, who passed away on June 11, 2020, after suffering a stroke. Below are reflections from some FMC members.

By Allen Mast
Whenever I was at FMC and Steven came in, he would always say hi and ask if there was anything he could do for me. One time I had a trash bag going to the dumpster, and he almost demanded that I leave it, insisting he would take it with the other bags later.

By Emilie Walson
I found it very interesting to get to know Steven McLay during his tenure as custodian at FMC. Steven was excited to get the job and did a good job for the church. I enjoyed getting to hear stories about his special feline pets–they were his pride and joy. We nicknamed him Flash because he moved and talked so fast. There were several occasions when Steven joined our staff lunches. This was a time for getting to know Steven better, and I am glad we had those opportunities. We were sorry to see Steven step down and leave FMC.

By Robin Helmuth 
Steven had a broad smile, the widest kind, even though he had few teeth. I never saw Steven when he wasn’t smiling. He always, always, always asked how I was doing and how my family was doing. He was afflicted physically by gastritis and later lymphoma. Steven always put his arm over my shoulder or on my upper back, his way of letting me know he cared about me. I made it a point to thank him for his custodial services at FMC, and he was quick to respond he really liked being part of the staff. There were occasions I regretted not taking more time to learn about Steven and understand his life story more. Steven would nearly always look for me when he saw my Mazda in the parking lot. Yes, Steven’s witness as a loving, smiling, caring child of God will be missed.

By Gaynel Bryan
Steven seemed to be a self-sufficient man. Often very happy, he was totally focused on doing a good job. On the personal side, the loves of his life were his cats. To the end, he would cheerfully share photos of them. I would often share my lunch with him because he would always come through the offices around lunch time and say, “Are you eating again?” It was a joke between us. One of the things I kept trying to impress on him was to slow down when he talked. He would speak a mile-a-minute, and I just couldn’t understand a word he was saying. I’d have to ask him to repeat what he just said, but slower, please. He would laugh and try his best to speak slower. It was a sad day for me when he stopped working here. I will miss his blaring speaker playing hymns while he cleaned, and his coming through the office to pick up trash right at lunch time, and his visits to show and tell me about his little fur babies. I will miss him.

Artwork by Maggie Girard

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Blended Pieces—Patchwork for Today

Therefore, encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.

I Thess. 5:11

Beauty can be enhanced by variety and diversity.

Some of our mothers and grandmothers collected remnants of fabric and combined them to create a useful blanket, a work of art, a gift for a new baby, or a donation for someone in need of warmth. Wade’s mother designed a beautiful quilt for us, sewn from colorful leftover scraps that she and my mother had saved. Even now the cherished piece sparks memories of a favorite dress or one of Wade’s childhood shirts. (Yes, we grew up in an era when our mothers sewed most of our clothes.)

And then there are pies… so many pies! More blended bits. We combine tart rhubarb and sweet strawberries, or milk and eggs for smooth custard. Lemon or lime fillings are topped with bland yet beautiful meringue. A fall vegetable becomes a fragrant, spicy, pumpkin dessert. 

In another context, consider the way a stained-glass window is comprised of many fragile shapes, held together to complete a design we can’t imagine until it is framed and illuminated.

All of these varied and unexpected pairings create something unique and valued.

But how does this relate to MennoExpressions?

Back in June, the caring members of our First Mennonite and Shalom team chatted online, trying to forge consensus as we explored topics for this issue. No coffee, tea or Long’s donuts were available to sweeten the process, unless we each indulged alone. We vacillated…

The pandemic, so overarching in our lives, seemed impossible to ignore, but we would prefer something lighter to bring balm to our weariness. 

Perhaps a general discussion of illness and its impact would be less focused, but surely still difficult for writers asked to share.

We also felt a need to show our concern for justice, recognition, and support for people of color around us.

And we wanted art which could inspire or illustrate.

How would we decide?

A reminder that MennoExpressions historically explored and reflected current issues, even when they were fraught with emotion, brought the suggestion that we could encourage contributions relating to any of these topics, or a different focus, and then combine them into a blended issue, a patchwork of reactions and ideas for our days of disarray!

As the mélange of completed pieces and artwork appeared in our email folders, we have been inspired, and gratefully share the hope and encouragement with you, our readers.

O God…Because you are my help, I sing in the shadow of your wings. Psalm 63:7


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What If…

For some 500 years Mennonites have differentiated themselves by adhering to some fundamental beliefs. No one belief by itself makes Mennonites different, but taken as a whole they certainly can claim a unique status. Among these basic principles are the priesthood of all believers, separation of church and state, simplicity of life-styles, not swearing an oath, belief that community is both vertical and horizontal, that the Bible is central, adherence to believer’s baptism, and abstaining from military service. While these principles do not mention it specifically, Mennonites have attempted to live out those principles with practical service.

It appears that during the Coronavirus epidemic people are even more willing to serve by offering to help, checking in on neighbors, or planning to help once out from under the restrictions.

So what is the What if…? Service is innate to most Mennonites. What if rather than responding to government-offered alternatives to the draft, what if Mennonites would volunteer for such service – even when no draft is existence. What if Mennonites of drafting age would show up at conscription centers and announce that they are here to help in any way needed, as long as they were not asked to carry weapons? Without weapons these volunteers might even choose to put on the military uniform if a peace emblem prominently displayed. What a wonderful opportunity this would be to pass out tracts about the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew chapters 5, 6, and 7), to participate in evening discussions, and, in case of war, volunteering for go to the dangerous front lines aiding wounded soldiers!

The military might understandably be doubtful, shocked, even suspicious, but eventually might slowly adopt a new mode of thinking, and, in some cases, even become converts. What if we were bold enough to try this new way of evangelizing? I believe the world might take notice.


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My Connection to Missions

My parents were called to serve the Mennonite Church in Bragado, Argentina in 1961. I was four years old at the time, and went on to grow up in that small community of 30,000 people, in which there was only one other American family. The school system was very good, and hence I was not sent away to a boarding school like other MK’s (missionary kids), but rather attended schools locally, all in Spanish. My parents (Earl and Genny), my younger siblings (David and Donita) and I, fully integrated into the local community. Because of this total immersion, I learned Spanish at a very young age. I dressed, acted and talked like all of my friends, though they did know that I was “American”. We returned to the US when I was 16, when the church in Bragado called local pastors to continue the work that was started by missionaries 50 years before. We served under the Mennonite Board of Missions (Elkhart), which in 2002 became Mennonite Mission Network.

Though I have not served in long term assignments like my parents, I have worked at a Christian hospital in India, participated in medical mission trips to Senegal and Paraguay, and a building project in Puerto Rico. More recently, my life-long interest in serving others, both at home and abroad, made me receptive to an invitation by Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) to join a fundraising team for the “New hope in the name of Christ” campaign. The timing coincided with the celebration of the 100 year history of MCC, which began in 1920.

Art by Annabella Habegger

Did you know that MCC is now supported and sponsored by many Anabaptist denominations? It is exciting that a large group of believers is working together to address worldwide needs.  The work focuses on three areas: relief (responding to disasters), development (improving education, clean water, sustainable crops, etc.) and peace (building peaceful communities). Because of the great work being done by MCC, I gladly accepted the invitation to help support the campaign, and hopefully assure that this work can continue for another century.

We formed a team of six people from the Great Lakes Region of MCC (IN, MI, OH, IL) and began meeting in people’s homes during 2019. I am so grateful for FMC families that opened their homes to us during the silent phase off the campaign. This groundwork was necessary to launch a successful public phase of the campaign which has now begun in 2020.

The goal of the “New hope in the name of Christ” campaign is to raise 100 million dollars over a three year period. The money will be used for the ongoing operating expenses of MCC, in addition to supporting new programs and increasing the size of the existing endowment. This seems like a very lofty goal, and indeed it is. How can we respond? In addition to praying for the work of MCC, we can renew our commitment to support the ongoing work, increase our giving to help support new programs, or include MCC in our estate planning. We are very excited that the campaign is off to a great start. If you would like further information, please feel free to visit https://mcc.org/centennial/new-hope or reach out to me. And thank you for your support of MCC.


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About the artist

Annabella Habegger

Annabella Habegger is an artist living and working in Indianapolis. She graduated from IU Bloomington with a BFA in Digital Art. She enjoys exploring all types of media, often combining drawing with other materials.

Service While Standing Still

I grew up spending many days at Aunt Lucy’s house. In Lucy’s room there was a bulletin board with a large heading: “THINE FOR SERVICE,” and as a nurse, a children’s Sunday School teacher, a neighbor, a friend, and certainly as an aunt, Lucy lived out that motto more than anyone I knew.

Mag with her Aunt Lucy

As a child I remember Edna Ruth Byler, the founder of MCC’s self help ministry, bringing her trunk-load of mother of pearl jewelry (actually only pins) and Palestinian needlecraft into our living room and setting up shop for a few days. And there was Grandma, in her 90’s, hunched over her sewing machine, still piecing comforters for Mennonite Central Committee. That field trip I took to the city to shop for items for MCC Christmas Bundles was an annual highlight.

And my college education had a motto: “Culture for Service.”

Being a Mennonite-Anabaptist has meant looking for ways to clothe the naked, feed the hungry and shelter the destitute.  Following Jesus has meant looking out for the needs of others, as much as we look out for ourselves, and “THINE FOR SERVICE” has meant, in addition to our own daily arenas of service, supporting our sisters and brothers who are doing the hands-on, front -line action in all areas of the world.

As I write this, service in the Kingdom of God now includes social isolation, considering the needs of others and doing our small part in flattening the curve of spreading a virus. “Looking to the needs of others“ means walling up, staying home and standing still. This is NOT the kind of service we have known before.

Art by Annabella Habegger

So I am reminded of Darryl Byler’s father. Darryl, the long-time director of MCC Washington Office, shared in a sermon some years ago about his dad’s lifetime of active ministry. But near the end of his life, Darryl’s dad became a shut-in, and was stymied, not knowing NOW how to be useful in serving others. But then he began sending a note of encouragement to a different person each day. At his death, it was not his many years of active ministry that people were remembering, but it was those notes that became his lasting legacy.

There is a quote from MJ Sharp written on of a large vat in the Goshen Brew Company:  “We can always listen.”  MJ began his work in the CONGO with Mennonite Central Committee and then continued to work there under the auspices of the United Nations.  As many of you know, MJ and his colleague were abducted and murdered as they worked for peace among warring factions. Reporters from the New York Times and NPR describe MJ sitting under a banana tree with a warlord, listening to his story, offering alternative ways of meeting his goals. Over the course of several years, MJ and his team persuaded some 1,600 rebels to lay down their weapons, which impacted some 23,000 family members. Profound change and greater peace came from sitting still under a banana tree, listening.

In these days of being walled up and shut in “We can always listen.” We can listen to each other’s heart-cries. And we can listen to a SPIRIT OF PEACE that enables us to be bearers of peace to others. We can listen to a SPIRIT whose LOVE is larger than all our fears, We can attend to a SPIRIT who is creative and imaginative and offers us new ministry opportunities, when we stand still enough to listen. 

“THINE FOR SERVICE” does not stop when we stop our regular routines.  Always, always there are ways to reach out to those in need, to be of encouragement to one another and to keep those on the front lines (especially our health care workers and the MCC workers who are serving the most vulnerable) bathed and undergirded with our resources, prayers, and creativity.

LISTEN!


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About the artist

Annabella Habegger

Annabella Habegger is an artist living and working in Indianapolis. She graduated from IU Bloomington with a BFA in Digital Art. She enjoys exploring all types of media, often combining drawing with other materials.

The Bumps in the Road

Facts: My wife Lisa and I served with MCC starting in June 1994 for a three year term in Zambia. We served on a catholic mission where there was a school and hospital in the “bush”. I was a math teacher and Lisa was a nurse. We both worked in our respective profession with the Zambian’s at St. Joseph Mission in the copper belt of Zambia. We returned to the US earlier than expected in May 1995.

There is so much more than Facts. So much so that I will say the experiences we had in Zambia made us better people, made us more caring, made us have a better marriage.

We arrived in Zambia not knowing much at all about Africa. We found a lot of hardships. The poorness of the people, the rough living conditions, the lack of jobs available, the scarcity of medical facilities and supplies, and schooling children was financially out of reach and many had to travel great distances to attend.

But, with all of the hardships, the people were kind, caring, willing to help.  I loved playing soccer with all the children every Sunday afternoon. I started to plant a couple of banana trees in the front yard of our house only to have many people come over and dig for me. Lisa enjoyed her walks and sitting around talking with the other Zambian nurses. Lisa and I did everything together! No friends to talk to. No phones within 30 miles. No internet all! Our relationship became stronger.

But there were a lot of bumps in the road as we experienced our Zambia service. And when I say bumps, I literally mean horrible roads. Every road, every interstate had major crater problems that were unavoidable. With all these decrepit road problems, Lisa’s back problems came back in a vengeance. She needed back surgery. She was pregnant with Marie. We made the tough decision to end our MCC assignment earlier then we wanted.

Our bumps in the road changed to more challenges. Coming back in May, I could not find a teaching job. We didn’t know where we were going to live. Lisa was unable to work. I felt empty for not completing an assignment I signed up for. We felt we let our Zambian friends down, but we had no choice.

Lisa and I took these bumps and moved forward. The lack of finding a teaching job led me to the financial services industry. We have found ways to help the poor and marginalized. We have instilled a sense of volunteerism in Marie and Nolan. We have tried to look at ways to connect with foreigners.

We are so happy we went to Zambia. We are so happy we had bumps in the road to make us come back early. We are so happy that our life bumps has lead us to the places we have lived and the experiences that made us better.

Listen to God’s call. Be open to change. Take risks. Work through disappointments. And enjoy the life you have.


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