08 October 2011

A Convoy of Hope

It has been quite a while since my last post, so I decided it was time for an update. I've had some pretty amazing "Kenyan" experiences in the last few weeks, so let me fill you in on one of them.

Last weekend I was able to participate in a food distribution and famine relief trip in the northeastern province of Kenya. A friend and fellow teacher here at Rosslyn, Jamie Dunning, has already written some great stuff about this trip on his blog, so let me allow him to give you some background information on this trip:

"The drought in East Africa, affecting Northern Kenya, Somalia, and Ethiopia, is the worst in 60 years and has led to the worst food crisis in the world. 13 million people across the region have been affected and thousands have already lost their lives. Dadaab, a refugee camp in North Eastern Kenya, is now occupied with over 400,000 refugees seeking food and water, with 1,200 more people arriving every day...

This past weekend [we] joined a group of volunteers from International Christian Fellowship and Convoy of Hope to travel to a small village of Sombo, just south of Garissa, to deliver much needed food aid. The village of Sombo is made up of a combination of Somali and Watu people that have migrated from Somalia over the years. This area is desert and has not received rain in over 2 years. The results have been devastating. A common sight in the area is to see people digging in a dried river bed in search of water. People are dying every day. Even the camels have sagging humps and are thin. Our mission was to deliver food to between 300-400 people, enough to last each family a week or so. When we arrived in Sombo we were welcomed by the people with traditional songs and dances. They were overjoyed at the prospect of receiving food."

Jamie and a group of others had traveled to Sombo on Friday, then a group of us were able to take a Mission Aviation Fellowship plane up to join them on Saturday morning. They met us at the airstrip in Garissa, then we took a fun, off-road trip down a camel trail to reach Sombo. As Jamie wrote, the villagers were excited to greet us. Being a predominantly Muslim region, it was interesting to see how the groups of men and women were separate for most of the time we were there. We took some time to greet them and play with the children before we began to distribute the food.

As I looked around this dry desert region, it was just hard for me to imagine that anyone lived, or even survived, in this area at all. Not a drop of water to be seen (the closest source is the crocodile-infested Tana River). It was SO hot, and there was NOTHING around except some small huts, dried branches, and people. I don't even understand how they get clothes! WHERE do they get them, first of all, and how on earth do they earn any income at all in order to purchase the clothes, or the cloth to make them? I simply cannot fathom a lifetime that consists of that day in and day out without any real hope for anything to change.

There ARE small changes, though, that are making a difference. Kenyan pastor David Maina is working in Sombo. He has helped start a Christian school where Muslim children are attending every day and learning of the truth of Jesus Christ. A solar-powered water pump and tower have just been installed to help provide fresh water to the community. Bryan Burr, who is actually the father of one of my students, is a missionary with Convoy of Hope (yes, I borrowed their name for the title of this post), and he travels around to places like this in Kenya all of the time. Bryan and others like him ARE helping to offer hope in places where it seems like there isn't any. For a video update on what Bran and Convoy of Hope are doing in East Africa, check out this video:

Africa Famine Update from Convoy of Hope on Vimeo.

Now for the coolest part of this trip! A team from the U.S. had been here a few weeks before our trip to Sombo to assemble food packets to hand out to families. They had made 400 packages, more than twice the amount that the elders of the village had told Brian we would need. That morning, one of the men who was helping to coordinate the distribution counted the bags again to make sure all 400 were there. 400. As families arrived to receive their donations, we began to worry that there wouldn't be enough. What would happen then? How bad would it be to have to turn families away? Would there be a mob scene if that happened? These people were starving and desperate, and who could blame them if they got upset? So some of us began to pray. We didn't even really talk about it, but from conversations I've had since then, I know there were at least a few prayers being offered for there to be enough. There was. The last people went through the line, then quietly, people went home. It wasn't until Monday that we found out what really happened. Remember that there were 400 food packages assembled? Well, we handed out 450 that day. And no one went home without. 450. There's only one was to explain that! Jehovah Jireh, The Lord Who Provides, was at work that day.

As I think about the land that I saw last weekend, one verse in particular comes to mind, Psalm 63:1 :

"O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you, in a dry and weary land where there is no water."

That was a dry and weary land if I've ever seen one, and let me tell you, I was THIRSTY! But this verse reminds me that, more than water, I need--people need--the life and rest that can only come from our Heavenly Father. As much as I hope and pray that the people in these famine lands receive food and water to keep them alive, even more I hope that these people come to know Jesus. Please pray for the people of Somalia, Ethiopia, and northern Kenya who are fighting to keep their families alive. Besides praying, find a way to help. It doesn't take much, and you never know what God will use to bring people to Him!

If you would like to contribute to famine relief through Convoy of Hope, visit https://donate.convoyofhope.org/sslpage.aspx

01 September 2011

So How Was Your Day...Really?

This post has nothing to do with my time in Africa, but it has a lot to do with how we look at, use, and value life. An email I read when I got home this evening has really given me perspective on what I'd consider a bad day, and I thought it was worth sharing. The following words are from Deb Watters. She and her husband, Mike, have been family friends for about 18 years. Five years ago, their 6-year-old daughter, Corinne, was diagnosed with cancer. While Corinne was undergoing treatment in the hospital, they met a 9-year-old boy named Victor who was also dealing with cancer. Victor had just been, or was about to be, turned over to be a ward of the state. Imagine being 9 years old, alone, fighting cancer. That alone will give you some perspective on your day. To make a long story short, the Watters ended up adopting Victor, and he became one of their 7 (yes, seven!) children. Five years later at 14, Victor is nearing the end of his fight against cancer. Their entire family has been an unbelievable example of faith in the face of suffering, and as you'll see here, Victor's life has been eternally changed by the love and grace of this family and is a testimony to us all. The following is Deb's update from Wednesday night:

"I am convinced that the ‘groanings’ of this world that we’ve experienced recently are all a reminder from God that heaven is the real home that we long for. And we couldn’t be prouder of how Victor and all the kids have handled all of this.

After an extremely harrowing day (few weeks really), Victor rested on the couch while all the kids gathered to listen as I read from a book called ‘Someday Heaven’ that we’ve been working through. It was balm for the soul.

But despite all of our recent conversations about heaven, none of us was prepared for how quickly Victor’s health has failed. After putting the kids to bed tonight, Mike and I had a long quiet talk with Victor as we kneeled beside him on the couch. The reality of the eminency of his death was quite a shock to him tonight, but Mike (as usual) had just the right words to calm and assure him and I struggled to keep myself together. In one moment Victor was anxious (“I never thought it would come to this”, “Should I write out a list of who should get my stuff?”, “I don’t want to be cremated”, etc), and then with Mike’s soothing words (a few from me), he would relax and smile in that wise content way of his.

We talked of having visits with friends and family over the next few days, Mike mentioned that Davis may come for a visit tomorrow. (You might remember that Davis shaved his head for Victor). Victor leaned his head back from exhaustion and pain, but breathed out a shallow whisper in the dark, “He’s been a goooood friend.” I stood up to get more pain medicine for him but he waived me back. “Wait, wait.”

He wanted to talk about a few stories that he’d wondered about. “You remember that story about Lazarus, how he died and then Jesus raised him from the dead?” Yes. “Well, didn’t Jesus have to make Lazarus leave heaven?” “And when Jesus died and the Bible says that people came out of their graves … I always thought it was sad that people had to leave heaven.” We talked about that a bit … not sure we had all the right answers, but he was more concerned about staying PUT in heaven than getting there, I think.

We were a bit exhausted from thinking, talking, crying, and even laughing. Mike got up to get something. I rested my chin on my forearm on the back of the sofa as we both stared off into space for a bit, letting our thoughts turn over. Then he turned to me intently and said, “Mom, if I go … I mean soon … will you tell my family about God, about Jesus?” Then his eyes grew fierce as he clarified, “I mean REALLY try?” And I promised as the tears rolled some more. Then we talked about making a video so that he could say what he wanted to them and others … and he asked if I would help him. Yes sir.

Victor's breathing episode this morning was scary for us all. But it has been a blessing for us to sit back in calmer moments and reflect on how these next days may play out and how we can better handle future episodes. Mike was at a breakfast meeting and I had just pulled in the driveway from a school meeting down the street and was finishing a phone call. The night before, Victor and Eric’s friend Joe had slept over after a soccer game. Although he felt poorly, Victor insisted on sleeping on the basement couch to be with the boys as they watched a movie in their sleeping bags. He slept with a portable phone and called me in the night for more pain medicine. In the dark, he quietly held liquid morphine under his tongue to ease the pain as his brother and friend slept; then he struggled to get comfortable again and drifted off. In the late morning, when Victor, Eric, and Joe climbed the stairs to the kitchen and I sat in the van in the driveway, everything changed.

As he rounded the top of the steps, Eric asked Victor if he wanted some eggs. But Victor gasped that he couldn’t breath and clutched his chest in pain. Later tonight Victor confided in me that what Eric did next made him feel really good: Eric ran screaming through the house in every direction calling for Mom. (I’m smiling now at the thought of Eric’s sheepish grin but it wasn’t even a little funny then.) By the time I got to the kitchen, Victor was seated in a chair gasping for breath with tears and clutching his chest as pain occasionally stabbed at him. Oh, how helpless we all felt, and none more than me. Because I feared just such an attack, I had asked our home healthcare nurse a few days ago what to do if he lost his breath. So I tried everything she told me. First I got the morphine. But he wildly said “no” …he couldn’t hold it in his mouth as he gasped for air. So I commanded Brian to get a fan and we positioned it as his face as I ran for the car to het a 4-year-old inhaler (a new one was coming in the morning with the hospice doctor). I flipped the top up and Victor grabbed it to take a quick breath … then grabbed his chest and yelled as if he’d been shot. He said later that it felt like a stabbing pain and a ‘pop’. Then he looked at me with terrified eyes and said, “Mom, what happens if I stop breathing HERE?!” I said, “Then we’ll do what they’d do in the hospital,” (not knowing exactly what that would be but knowing that when you’re in pain, just being in the hospital is comforting and I tried not to picture myself doing CPR on the kitchen floor). That was the last straw though. The wide-eyed kids in the house scrambled to follow my commands to get Victor’s wheelchair, my purse and keys, phone Dad, clear a path (you’d have to see our garage to understand), and help us get Victor into the van.

I broke several traffic laws on the way to the local Emergency Room as I phoned our Children’s Hospital oncology nurse to prep the local ER folks that we’d be coming. Victor kept up his shallow gulping in the back seat and asked a few times how long it would be before we got there. Then he said that he was scared. Me too (though not out loud). I had planned out a bunch of stuff for my day today, and a near-death experience for one of my children was NOT one of them. But I looked at him in the rearview mirror, then turned to see his eyes, and said what I believe down to the core of who I am (and have said many times before), “Victor, you KNOW that you don’t need to be afraid. The worst thing that can happen to us is the BEST thing…” but he cut me off in a high pained voice. “Mom, I KNOW, but stop. You’re scaring me.” I guess at that moment neither one of us was ready for that moment. But then, after a short silence, at the intersection of McAndrews and Nicollete, time stood still as a wheezing voice from the back seat said, “Mom, I love you.” I’m not sure how I saw to get the E.R. from there, and my mascara was long gone by the time we rolled in and were ushered to Room number 4. The nurses were nice but sure didn’t move fast enough to either of our liking. I had to be clear a few times that he needed more pain medicine, oxygen, and something for anxiety right away. Soon he was hooked to an IV with an oxygen mask on his face, still in pain, I held his hand and recited Bible promises that came to mind as the tears in my eyes echoed the ones in the eyes of the nurse across from me. Everything was better when Mike arrived a few minutes later.

Well, at least better for a few minutes. Victor was just starting to stabilize . We were reviewing details with the E.R. doctor when the kids called from home to tell us that Meghan had fallen from her crib and something seemed wrong with her hand. I said, “You are kidding”, hoping that they were, but remembering how the night before, Meghan had proudly hooked her little leg (up to the knee) over the side of the crib before I tucked her back in. You know the rest … broken arm. Our poor little girl had missed a nap and made it clear (to everyone in the next county I think) that she was in no mood for an oxygen clip on her finger (or her toe), or a name bracelet on her foot, or a scale to weigh her. But she quieted down when Daddy stepped on the scale with her in his arms. And she perked up when we told her that she could see her beloved ‘Di Der” (Victor). My pictures couldn’t capture how cute those two battle-weary siblings were sitting side-by-side in bed together, especially as Victor shared his popsicle with her. Several medical personnel popped their head in just to see the sight.

Yet it wasn’t until I began typing this tonight that it hit me how this all began … with another sibling in the hospital … sometimes sitting side-by-side … comraderie somehow easing the pain. God, were you planning even then, through pain, for our joy … to bring You glory? And as I type I remember how often God uses ‘bookends’ in the Bible to finish his story and to highlight the center.

So what is the center of this story? It’s a sweet little boy who finds new life because of his faith in what Jesus has done. (And he can't help but want to tell others.) It’s the gospel."

22 August 2011

القوة‎ and مال

I can hardly believe it, I even have students now who weren't alive when it happened, but next month will mark the ten-year anniversary of the bombing of the Twin Towers in New York City, the crash of United flight 93, and the plane crash at the Pentagon. No doubt the next few weeks will be filled with memorial services and emotion as families and a nation remember.

It seems to me that that was when Islam and the Muslim world really began to be noticed in America. Yet, ten years later, what do most of us really know about the more than one billion people in our world who make up the Nation of Islam? Some of us might say they read and follow the teachings of the Quran or that "they" are trying to build a mosque at Ground Zero. Others might say that Muslims make them feel uneasy in airports or that they are the reason so many of our soldiers have lost their lives. Those things might all be true, and I do not at all mean to diminish or trivialize the sacrifice that so many have given for our protection and freedom, but do those observations really give us a picture of what the Muslim world is truly like? Do we even care? Honestly, until recently, I really haven't.

Sure, I've prayed some pretty generic prayers for "the Muslims," but I've never really understood enough to pray more than that or have even known a Muslim by name. As I write this, I have still barely inched past that point. I know the radical Muslims are being blamed for much of the famine crisis that is going on in Somalia right now, for the continued onslaught of terror against the "Western" world, including the deaths of many U.S. and other soldiers from around the world, and for civil wars that are destroying generations. However as Christians, I think that, all political opinions aside, we have a divine responsibility to engage this culture, remembering that these people are still loved by God as His creation, and He knows them each by name. We could even learn a few things from them.

A year ago, my little Winchester bubble didn't exactly teem with people who were openly Muslim. I remember being in the airport here in Nairobi before I boarded my flight home, after spending 3 weeks here. I had about six hours to wait, and there wasn't a whole lot to do, so I just wandered. I remember that at several points throughout the night, I saw groups of men gathered wherever they could find room. They had rolled out mats and were kneeling and openly participating in their time of prayer. That was so foreign to me, and while of course I disagree with the "object" of their attention, I appreciated their dedication and lack of concern about who was watching. How many of us have hesitated to pray at a restaurant because someone might see us and think we're "weird." Ooooh, 'cause that would be so awful! (Please sense the sarcasm...and yes, regrettably, I have thought that before.) As we saw, and we undoubtedly see again in the next few weeks, the pictures of the planes flying in the World Trade Center, many of us wonder what on earth would possess those pilots to not only take the lives of thousands, but to give their own lives in the process, for this god they believed in. Um, shouldn't anyone who calls him/herself a Christian be willing to do that? Now, PLEASE don't misunderstand me here--we are certainly not called to give our lives in the same way, but when was the last time you felt that committed to the faith you profess? Just food for thought.

I hadn't really thought much about the Muslim world since that time, until I came back to Nairobi. Kenya is still a predominantly "Christian" country (seriously though, most of the stores play Christian radio stations! It's kind of weird to hear gospel music blaring from a shoe store!), but there is certainly a much higher percentage of Muslim people here than Winchester. It's not rare to see women in full-coverage black when we go out. While driving down a street, I noticed that on the side of one building was painted "There is no god but Allah" (that one got me a little bit). Last week while out to eat, we heard the call to prayer over a loud-speaker from the nearby mosque. Many store owners are Muslim. (In fact, after shopping with a friend in a store owned by a Muslim man and his family, she even made the comment that the Muslim men in Nairobi, particularly the store owners, were some of the kindest, gentlest people around.) There's nothing about the Muslim culture that seems to be particularly "in your face", but it's definitely here. So I've started paying a little more attention.

It has also been brought to my attention more by some of the local churches. This month is the Muslim month of Ramadan, the holy month of fasting in the Islamic calendar. It's based on the lunar calendar, and this year it's a little earlier than it has been in recent years. Again, here's something I had heard about, but didn't really have a clue what it was. (Here's a decent website to check out if you want to know a little more about Ramadan http://www.suite101.com/content/what-is-ramadan-for-muslims-a138742 .) Now I'm hardly an expert on any of the things I share here, and what I tell you is pretty much the little bit I've learned in the last few weeks. But I'm trying, even if it's just a little bit, to understand what the "fuss" is all about. I have a long way to go.

What has most interested me though is the Muslim "Night of Power," which is coming up this Friday night, August 26. It always occurs during the last 10 days of Ramadan, and apparently this is the night that Muslims traditionally believe was when the Quran first began to be revealed to Muhammad. During this night, millions of Muslims believe that angels perform "special purposes." They also believe that their god will pay special attention to their requests, and many request a dream or a vision for guidance and revelation. Now here's the good stuff! THIS is where is gets interesting, and where you, if you so choose, can play a part! On this night, so many people are praying for visions and revelations, and you better believe they're getting them--but not from Allah! Here are some statistics I've come across (haven't totally validated the sources, but the info is in line with what I've been told in churches around here):
  • One source says that 80% (EIGHTY PERCENT!) of new Christians in South Asia come to Christ as a result of a supernatural encounter
  • More than half of new believers in Iran have had a dream or vision of Jesus
  • At least 35% of recent Turkish conversions were in response to a dream or vision
Here's a story that was shared in the church I was in yesterday:
The man who shared, who is actually the father of one of my students, has a "Muslim" friend. That man has been a Christian now for 15--20 years because of a dream he had during a Night of Power years ago. He had a dream about a pit. All around the pit people were falling in, screaming, and dropping to their deaths. At the edge of a pit was a lamb, and the lamb's neck was slit, and it was bleeding. As all these people continued to fall into the pit, some of the lamb's blood fell on some of the people. Anyone who was touched by a drop of the lamb's blood was saved from the pit. They did not fall. They did not scream. They lived.

I don't know how things progressed next, but that man knew that the truth about Jesus had been revealed to him during that night, even though he had asked another "god" for a revelation. The one God who COULD answer heard his plea, answered, and that man is now serving Him here in Kenya.

So would you join with thousands of other Christians on Friday night to pray for the Muslim world? Pray that they would get their visions, alright! Visions of a risen, living Savior who loves them and gave His life for them. And maybe while you're at it, you could ask God to give you a little bit of compassion for the Muslim world. Maybe you aren't even to that point yet and you just need to care at all. Ask God to work in and on the hearts and lives of more than a billion lost people in our world, and maybe He'll just work on yours too. I know He's working on mine. ~

13 August 2011

New Cuisine, A Volcano, and Some Random Thoughts

It has been nearly a month since I last wrote, and since it's a drizzly, cool afternoon, and things have slowed down a bit, I figured it was time for an update. This one is going to be kind of random--I'll try to recap a few things I've done, for those of you who are wondering, and I'll mention a few thoughts that have been rattling around in my brain for the past week or two. If you've been following my pictures on facebook, some of this might seem a bit redundant to you, so feel free to skip ahead! :)

Over the last month, I've had several new "Kenyan" adventures! Here are a few highlights:
  • A few weeks ago I tried Indian food for the first time. Eh. Not so much a fan (yet, anyway). I miss Don Senor.
  • Last night I tried Ethiopian food for the first time. Definitely a unique experience! I thought a few things were pretty good...but kind of changed my mind when they came back to haunt me at 2 a.m. this morning as it felt like the spices were burning a hole in my stomach lining!
The 2 a.m. Culprit
  • I started driving about two weeks ago, and while I haven't ventured farther than 3 km yet (about a mile), at least I took the first step! For those of you who don't know, in Kenya we drive on the left side of the road, the driver's seat is on the right side of the car, and most cars have a manual transition with the gear shift to the left of the driver. All of those things were a little intimidating at first, but I finally decided I couldn't live for three years without being able to fend for myself a little bit, so I bit the bullet. I have been VERY thankful that my first car back in high school was a stick shift! I hadn't driven one for years, but thankfully it came back to me very easily! Hopefully in the next week or two I'll try to drive a little further and expand my "driving horizons."
  • Last weekend, as part of our full staff orientation, we went hiking at Mt. Suswa, a double volcanic crater north of Nairobi that's in part of the the Great Rift Valley. While the hike was a little challenging (at an elevation of 7000+ feet, my lungs weren't ready for that yet!), it was breathtakingly beautiful. It was great to get out of the city a bit and just see more of God's creation. It made me think about how many beautiful things are out there that I'll never get to see this side of heaven, and it reminded me of how limited my scope of the world is. About 25 of us stayed overnight to camp on the rim--again, one of the most beautiful things I've seen. Plus, all of this was made much more pleasant to me with the fact that it has been cool and/or chilly for the last two weeks! (I love it!) Besides camping, the group of us who stayed were invited to a Masai village for a ceremony that afternoon. More about that in a moment...
On the rim of the crater
The summit
Our campsite

  • Also last weekend, my aunt was back in Nairobi. My cousin and her son were here also before they flew back to Denver. I met up with them and Davis and some of their friends from Indy for lunch at an amazing restaurant on the other side of Nairobi. It was nice to have family in town, and we had a great time visiting and catching up.
  • School started 2 days ago, on Thursday. I have 23 students in my class who are from somewhere around 7 different countries. However, many of them have lived in several countries, so the amount of countries that make up their international experience is quite a bit beyond 7, I believe! I can already tell I have a lot to learn from them this year! They seem like a really sweet group of kids, so I hope we have a great year together. I love that, since I'm at a Christian school, I get to start each day with them by having a devotional time and a chance to sing together! What's more exciting is that several, if not quite a few, of them come from Muslim, Hindu, or nonreligious homes, so I really do have my own little mission field right in my classroom. It's a humbling, but exciting, thought.

So there are a few of the things that have kept me busy. Now I'll share a few of the things that have been bumping around in my head for the last week or two. None of them are quite what I'd call profound in and of themselves, but maybe God will use them to mean something more to you!

1. As I mentioned earlier, some of us had the chance to visit a Masai village near Mt. Suswa last weekend. I don't think I can quite explain the "remoteness" of this village. It was out in the middle of nearly-barren land. Everything around was very dry with sparse vegetation and little to no water supply. Here was this little group of people who live every day trying to survive (which is really beyond me how they actually do). They have TINY, dark houses that are crawling with bugs and full of smoke from the "kitchen". Their cattle are their livelihood, and it's hard to imagine where they got ANYTHING they needed--blankets, cloth, pots for cooking. I have no idea where they get those things. But here they were, welcoming us to their village in the middle of Nowhere, Rift Valley. What struck me as we visited was how many tiny groups of people like this there must be all over the planet--with nothing else around except some tourist buses, cows, and dust tornadoes. Yet, as insignificant as their place in the world seems, God made each of them! He has placed them there in this time and place just as much as He's placed the rest of us anywhere else. He knows them each by name, and He has a plan for their lives! It kind of makes my brain hurt if I think about it too much. But it reminds me of what a great big God we serve!

Masai Man
Masai Woman

2. I've heard this quote from Mother Teresa before, but someone shared it with our staff last week and it keeps coming back to me: "In this life we cannot do great things; we can only do small things with great love." It has meant a lot to me for several reasons. First, I think many of us think we NEED to do great things--great things as defined by the world. We don't. If we can't succeed in loving people in the small things, then no "great thing" means anything in God's Kingdom. The other reason it has resonated with me is in thinking of my students, which was kind of the context in which this was shared with us. I know that teachers can have a big influence--good or bad--on a child's life, and that's a little scary. I also know that as a teacher it is very easy to get focused on the task we have of educating students and forget about the other needs that they have--needs that might take more energy or patience from us, needs that might take us away from our planning time, and needs that might detour from the tasks we had planned. However when we take time to show love, God's love, to our students in the small things, it will could make an eternal difference in the life of that child AND make a change in our hearts as well. Of course this doesn't just apply to teachers and students, it applies to all Christians. Do small things with great love. Think about it. It might just change the way you live.

3. "Absence makes the heart grow fonder." Another quote I've heard before. What has hit me in the last week or so as I've thought about this is not that I'm fonder of the people I'm absent from and that I miss, I just realize how much they meant to me and how much I didn't always make the most of the time I had with them. It's very easy to take the people in our lives for granted--until they're gone. I am so thankful for things like Skype, MagicJack, and facebook, because moving to Africa would be a very different experience if I were cut off from those I love and miss (and until recently, that was exactly the way it was when people went this far away from home). Getting to see pictures from my goofy teacher-friends in their new t-shirts, see video of my dog, hear a friend's voice on a phone message, keep up with friends through facebook chats--all of these things are simple things, but they have meant the world to me over the last few weeks. I have moved around a lot in my life, so leaving people I love is nothing new. However, the relationships I've developed as an adult in the last few years have been among the most meaningful in my life, and leaving those behind has been harder than I imagined. So, all of this is to say don't take the people in your life for granted. You never know when God will call you or them somewhere else, and while we do have the blessing of communication, it's not the same.

Well, that's all I have for today! I pray that God will use something in this post to bless or encourage you. Thank you for the many prayers so many of you have prayed for me--it means more than you'll ever know! A closing thought: A few weeks ago, I hired a local man to paint for me. He worked 18 hours in a week, and I paid him a TOTAL of about $35. (Considering that the average income here is $2/day, that was a great rate--but still it seemed to me that was nothing compared to how hard he'd worked.) When I'd asked him what I owed him, he didn't really want to say, and finally suggested a total that was about 30% less than that. I really had no idea what the going rate was, so I paid him more than he suggested, which apparently made him very happy. With a huge smile on his face, he shook my hand and in his limited English he said, "God bless you!" Humbled beyond words, the only thing I could think was, "He already has, Meshach. He already has."

19 July 2011

How In the World Did I Get Here?

Well, here is my first attempt at a real blog. I must say I've never been a big fan of the whole blog thing--I never really thought that the whole cyber world had any need or want or use to know that much about what I thought or what I was doing! Furthermore, if you know me, I'm not usually one to volunteer this much information about the more "personal" things in my life. However, before I left the States, many people asked if I would blog so they could keep up with what all was going on over here, and if any part of my story can encourage you to trust and follow God, then I'll tell you whatever I can. And I guess if you're reading this, then you do care! So, here it is!

I sure am outside my own little world (have to give credit to Matthew West for that one), or at least what USED to be my own little, Central Kentucky world. Last Saturday I moved into my new home on the campus of Rosslyn Academy in Nairobi, Kenya. I'll be teaching 5th grade here when school starts in a few weeks. What many people have asked, but few people really know, is how I got here in the first place. Let me try to explain (this might take a while!).

I've wanted to come to Kenya for about as long as I can remember. I know when I was in high school a doctor from Tenwek Hospital that's here in Kenya spoke at my church. At that time I was contemplating a career in the medical field, so that was of special interest to me. Obviously I didn't pursue the medical-career path, but my desire to visit Kenya never left. Years later my aunt and uncle began working in Kenya intermittently through an organization called Overseas Council, based out of Indianapolis. As the circumstances changed after my uncle passed away, my aunt became very involved with a mission in rural Kenya, now called Village Project Africa. I'd always hoped to be able to visit Kenya with her one day, but I never told her that. A few years ago I was somewhere with her (in a kitchen, I think??), and she said to me, "When are you going to come to Kenya with me?" I was a little surprised because, like I said, I never told her that I wanted to go! At that point I thought it would be many years down the road, but God arranged circumstances for me to come for the first time last summer (2010). I didn't have any big plans in mind for when I visited, I just wanted to see what she did and help where I could. Then I arrived, and God started to change things in me REAL quickly...

Now here's a part very few people know (until now!). One of the first nights I was in the village, I had climbed the steps to my second-floor room at the house in which I was staying, and I paused to look out over the fence to see what was next door. Here is what I saw:

A few hours later, I was lying in bed in the dark trying to hide from the mosquitoes, when I realized that I had seen that scene before. No, I had never been there before. I had seen almost this exact image in my mind since the time I was in kindergarten. Yep. I had a Sunday School teacher, whose name I don't remember (I do remember she was pretty young, I'd guess college-age, and she broke her leg trying to land after sky-diving!), who had told our class something about missions. I don't remember who, what, or where it was about, but from that time forward (even now), when anyone talked about missions--no matter where in the world it was--I got a picture in my mind. A picture almost identical to the one you see above. When I realized the connection that night, I didn't really know what it meant, if it meant anything at all. But I did think it was more than just a coincidence. (Interesting fact: the view over the fence this year looked NOTHING like that picture from last year!)

Now for a side note: it might be of interest to know that during the time I was here last summer, the college group at my church that I helped with was reading through The Christian Atheist, by Craig Groeschel. After I finished that book (also while I was here), I read Crazy Love by Francis Chan (highly recommend both, if you haven't read them). If you know anything about either of those books, you know that both pose challenges to the typical, comfortable, American Christianity that has become so prevalent. Reading those books while sitting in the middle of an African village, surrounded by mud huts and people who had almost nothing, put a whole new spin on things. Additionally, at the same time, God was using several songs to speak to me very clearly about how I needed to change some things in my life. Give Me Your Eyes by Brandon Heath, Follow You by Leeland and Brandon Heath, To Know You by Casting Crowns, and then later My Own Little World by Matthew West. Anyhoo...

Upon my return home last year, I had a really hard time being back in America. I hadn't wanted to go home, and I felt guilty for the privileges I had simply because I had been born in the U.S. Within a few days of being back, I began to try to figure out a way I could come back. I knew that the Village Project didn't have need for me to be there full-time in any way that would justify me raising support, and I also knew I would need a reliable internet connection so I could finish my master's degree. That meant I would need to be in a city, but I hoped that if I could just get close, then maybe I'd have more opportunities throughout the year to work in the village and with other ministry organizations. So, I had to figure out how to support myself! Well, duh, I'm a trained teacher with a few years of experience under my belt. Through a VERY odd thought process (it involved a calendar, pictures of elephants, a Bible verse, and Taiwan), I realized I knew of a school here in Kenya, Rift Valley Academy. I began to look into that school, and I emailed my dad to see what he knew about it. Through the person he contacted to find out about RVA, I was made aware of Rosslyn Academy. I started working on applications for both schools last August. By late October it was clear to me that RVA wasn't going to work out for now, for multiple reasons, but everything in the Rosslyn process just kept falling into place.

I interviewed with Rosslyn through Skype in mid-December, and they told me it would probably be early to mid February before they started offering positions. This gave me a lot of time to think and pray and wonder and make my poor friends and family kind of nervous. The whole time, my main prayer was that if working at Rosslyn was what God had for me, then they would offer me the job. If it wasn't what He had for me, then I prayed they wouldn't want me! I wanted to have a peace about that so I didn't really have to be part of the decision-making process! :) I really would not have had any hard feelings about it if I hadn't been offered the job, but part of me just always kind of new it was going to work out. Ever since I had been back, anyone I told that I was looking into options for going back to Kenya said they weren't surprised. I remember Brian Walton telling me that he knew I was going back, he was just waiting for me to tell him when and where! One of my co-workers, who had no idea I had even applied to the two schools, came to me one day and said, "Wouldn't it be cool if you could go back and teach there?" It just seemed, and I felt like, I had been made for this.

On the evening of January 31, I received an email from Phil Dow, the superintendent of Rosslyn, offering me an intermediate teaching position. Now, I'll be honest here. When I first read his email, I burst into tears. I don't really know why. I guess because what I had been expecting for a while was now real. I almost instantly knew I was moving to Kenya (and THAT was a lot to take in within a few minutes). I asked Phil if I could have a few more days to pray about it, although I already knew what my answer would be. However having a few days to live with the idea before it was official helped me to have a peace about it. I remember lying in bed that night and thinking about my options. I didn't HAVE to accept the offer. I had a job there in Winchester, and I could go on with my life there. It was a very odd feeling knowing that I had a choice, no one was making me go to Kenya, but the two options I had would each lead me in extremely different paths, quite possibly for the rest of my life. I just KNEW that if I stayed in the U.S. I would wonder for the rest of my life what WOULD have been had I chosen Kenya. So here I am, and I have never had a moment's doubt about whether or not I made the right choice.

Now, for one last cool piece of the puzzle. I hope I get this straight because I can't find the actual email she sent me, and I wish I had it in her words, but my mom wrote to me soon after I had accepted the position here to tell me something I never, ever knew before. She wrote that a few weeks before I was born, she was praying for me and praying that God would help her trust Him with wherever He would lead me as I grew up. She said that out of nowhere, as she prayed that, she "heard" God say, "Even Africa?" She said she really had no reason to think about Africa. She'd only distantly heard of a missionary or two going there. Of course now we can see that God started preparing her for this nearly 33 years ago.  It is no surprise to me to look back and see how He has orchestrated all the events of my life to lead me to this point, especially in the combination of children's/youth ministry and teaching, at all the right times over the last ten years, to get me to where I am now.

So if you've hung with me through all of this, let me leave you with one more thought: I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I am where I am supposed to be right now. It might not be forever, but it is for now, and it is a GOOD feeling. If you don't know that about yourself, pray about it! God isn't going to bring everyone to Kenya or Africa or take you to an island in the sea. But He might! He might also want to use you as you sit in your office or walk down your street or spend time with your children to show others who He is. So many people have told me how "brave" I am for doing this. Brave has nothing to do with it. I would be wrong to do anything else.

"What if there's a bigger picture? What if I'm missing out? What if there's a greater purpose I could be living right now outside my own little world?...Father break my heart for what breaks Yours, give me open hands and open doors. Put Your light in my eyes and let me see that my own little world is not about me."
~Matthew West

"In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will direct your paths."

Proverbs 3:6

So here I am, and there's how I got here! I'll try to make the next one shorter. :)

P.S. Just to clarify, I am living in Nairobi, the capital city of Kenya, and teaching at an international Christian school there--not in the village. For more info, visit www.rosslynacademy.org!