Coming Home~A Family Restored
By Jennifer Thomas


What I saw in the slums of Nairobi was heart-breaking, even more so because it was a physical reflection of my own brokenness.




A Parents Aware Testimony


"Coming Home~A Family Restored" Commentary








My story is probably not one that you would hear every day. I'm 22 years old, and for a year and a half I lived in Nairobi, Kenya, as a teacher and a caretaker for AIDS orphans.
          Even my childhood was a bit exceptional. My mother was just 16 years old when I was born. As a child I watched her go through three marriages, three divorces, and drug addiction. When I became a Christian at the age of 12, I decided that I would follow God rather than the lifestyle my mother was leading at the time. But I still had issues to overcome from my childhood experience.
          I went to Edison High School in Fresno, which gave me excellent preparation for further academic work. At 18, I headed off for Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts,






Jennifer


where I studied physics for two years before leaving for Kenya on a semester service trip. I moved into a house in Nairobi where 25 orphans lived. After two months I decided to stay and help with their schooling.
          What I saw there, in the slums of Nairobi, was heart-breaking, even more so because it was a physical reflection of my own brokenness. I wanted so badly to do something~to "fix it"~that I stayed and taught. What I refused to admit was that both of these problems~brokenness in Nairobi and also my own heart~required God's intervention and healing.
          Upon my return last February, I was both physically exhausted and feeling disconnected~like I was drowning. Although I was a Christian, in my insecurity I found myself questioning whether God would ever accept me.
          Given all this, my greatest surprise has been the healing I have experienced in the months since coming home. God is using Parents Aware Discipleship (PAD) to bring tremendous healing to both my family and myself.
          My mother attended PAD before I did. When I was in Kenya, she was constantly praying for my safety and that I would come home. Through PAD she was also addressing her own issues.
          Upon my return I moved in with my mom and my 14-year-old brother. I heard such good things about PAD from my mother, pastor, and friends that I decided to see what it was all about. I am now participating in PAD for the second time.
          The questions in the PAD curriculum are helping me to diagnose my own brokenness. Questions about feelings helped me to recognize that I had become emotionally numb. The acceptance and prayer from my group have made it possible for me to be willing to feel again.
          One of the biggest examples of healing occurred through my PAD homework. One of the homework assignments covers gender roles in a marriage relationship. The first time I attempted to complete this assignment, I wasn't able to come up with words to describe how I felt.
          The second time I was able to process this further to the point that I am now able to say I have hope that it would be great to have a husband who would love my mother (or even me!) as Christ loved the church.
          Things started to happen quickly after my first session in PAD: I went back to college; I am studying to become a teacher and I am getting straight A's; my brother's grades have skyrocketed; and my mom has been making really smart decisions. She bought a duplex and saved $6,000 by writing the contracts herself without using a realtor. She is working while pursuing a teaching credential.
          My mother and brother are solving problems and communicating in ways I have never seen them do before. They are sharing their problems and being honest about their feelings. At first I thought there was something wrong but over the course of a few months I began to see the healing that has taken place.
          Learning how to communicate with my PAD group also helped me to communicate better with my family. My first PAD coach, Judy, was an excellent listener. From her and another group member, Dianne, I learned that I could share my thoughts and feelings and that people would not only accept me, but love me enough to pray for me. I can say the same thing about my current PAD group. If I share about something I wish I had done differently, they help me see how to approach it better the next time.
          I am also more willing to communicate my problems and feelings with my family and to ask for help. This is the main reason why the current semester at college has been so good. I come home and tell my family about my hurts, disappointments, and triumphs of the day. We come up with solutions together that actually work
          I even told them when I didn't turn in a paper because I thought it was due the following week. A year ago I would have been too ashamed to tell my family or to talk to my professor. This time I was able to arrange an alternate assignment and to tell my family. They were able to encourage me and to tell me about times when they did something similar.
          The three of us have been connecting really well. It's fun solving little problems like "who's going to rinse the dishes" and "where are we going to put the dresser," when it used to be no fun at all.
          One of the things I struggle with is responsibility. I'm always forgetting things~in school my homework was often late. By attending PAD every week and bringing my study guide and doing the homework, God is helping me to be responsible and to complete what I begin.
I'm experiencing the truth of God's word in my life. The memory verses from PAD stay with me throughout the week, reminding me of the healing that God is doing. On my ride to work or school, I say the memory verse and it helps encourage me for the day.
          When I first started looking at what the Bible says about my identity in Christ, I can't say that I experienced its truths. Now that I have been addressing my issues, I am finding that I really am a daughter of God and an overcomer in Christ.


Parents-Aware Discipleship is a 12-week, small-group study for all Christians ready to address relational issues in a supportive, safe setting. Sessions are offered in Fresno, Calif., in March and September, beginning with a four-hour orientation for those that train as coaches. Or, the PAD curriculum is available for churches and Christian organizations that desire to run their own groups.
For information, email Parents Aware.