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!

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