01 June 2013

Wrappin' It Up...Round 2

Here at Rosslyn we've just finished another school year.  I can scarcely believe I've already been here for two years and that I'm completing my eighth year in the classroom!  I'll be heading back to the States for a visit before too long, but before I leave, I wanted to take time to reflect on this year.  This is the post I sat down to write two weeks ago, before I got distracted by my thoughts on identity, when I ended up posting about that instead!  We'll see if I can get a little further this time...

As I think about how things have been different this year, I can't help but focus on God's faithfulness.  When I got here at the end of July last year, there were four things I was praying would be different for my second year.  I have to tell you that God answered every one of my prayers beyond what I could have hoped.  While these things have been obvious to me all year, I've felt that it's important to put these things into words here at the close of the school year as evidence of His faithfulness so I won't forget!

1.  I prayed to find a church where I could get involved and feel like I was a part of it, and be challenged spiritually in the meantime, because that was such an important part of my life before I came here.  I began attending ICF, the church that meets here on our campus.  For several reasons that aren't really important, I had been a bit skeptical about attending there, but I have to say it has become my church home away from home.

2.  I prayed that God would give me deeper relationships this year.  The first year after a big transition is hard, and I tend to forget how long it really can take to develop genuine friendships.  While I truly felt blessed by my friends here last year, I think we all (myself included) quite often kept things very surface-y and we didn't open up and trust each other as much as sincere friendships require.  After another year of doing life with people, I can honestly say I don't feel that way at all this year.  One big factor in that was my small group of girls.  I love how God arranged this group.  There were six of us, from four countries (U.S., Canada, Australia, and Kenya) on three continents, and only two of us were even here last year!    We met on Thursday nights throughout the year, first studying a book, and then reading through the book of Isaiah.  Each week we spent at least the first hour just catching up on each others' lives, laughing a lot of the time.  We also dedicated part of the time each week to pray for each other.  Having the accountability and support from them this year just made such a difference to me!

My small group girls.

These next two might sound a bit odd, but trust me.  I love our Rosslyn community, and these are in no way a reflection on it.  They just demonstrate my desire to challenge myself to get outside the bubble to experience more of life in Nairobi.  

3.  I prayed I would meet people/make friends who weren't a part of the Rosslyn community.  There are SO many people here from around the world, and many of them are doing amazing things to serve God and people.  It can be very easy to stick around our campus and forget about how God is working in other places.  This is a request I'll continue to pray, but I love how God began to answer this year.  I met two other girls from Kentucky last fall, and while we didn't get to spend a lot of time together, it was fun running into them occasionally and just knowing they were here!  Two people who have become some of my closest friends aren't directly connected to Rosslyn either, although the story of how they almost were is pretty cool--especially since we met them anyway!  I think we were all just destined to be friends.  :)  Spending time with them and learning about their ministry project has been great.  There are others I've been able to meet and get to know this year as well, and I pray that God will continue to open doors in this area next school year.

4.  I prayed that I would be able to become more involved in non-Rosslyn activities and ministries.  This is also something I want to pursue more next year, but I'm satisfied with how this year went.  I've been able to make several visits to the Vapor Sports Center in the Kawangware slum.  If you don't know about Vapor, you need to!  (www.vaporsports.com)  Getting to know the director at the center and spend time with some of the kids out there has been special, even if has only been 4 or 5 times throughout the year.  Over spring break I got to visit the ministry site of Kawelle (www.kawelle.org) in Vumilia, one of the IDP camps that was created after the election violence of 2007.  (Kawelle was started by the friends I mentioned in #3!)  It's pretty incredible how God has arranged the circumstances for this project, and He's also put some amazing people in place to help it grow.  While I was only able to make one trip up to Makutano this year (sad!), it was still encouraging to see how God continues to bless Village Project Africa.  Seriously.  Too many stories to tell about perfectly-orchestrated circumstances, finances, human resources, etc.  We met an incredible boy named Brian while we were there, and it's just so exciting to be a part of what God's doing.  In non-ministry-related things, I was able to once again sing with the Nairobi Music Society during first semester, performing Handel's Messiah in October and a Christmas concert in December.  More recently I was invited to play with the Nairobi Orchestra for a spring concert accompanying the Nairobi Music Society in their performance of Jenkins' The Armed Man and Brahms' Requiem.  I hadn't played flute in an organized group for sixteen years, so that was both fun and challenging!

Besides these four major requests, there were other smaller things I'd hoped for, and I could tell you all kinds of ways God answered those prayers too.  I've had multiple chances to grow personally and professionally, for which I'm also thankful, and it appears that God is already opening doors for more of those things for next year.  I've also had some amazing travel experiences--going to Passion and rafting the Nile in Uganda, an educators' conference in South Africa, a trip to the coast in December, and two trips to major parks I wanted to visit here, Lake Nakuru and Amboseli.

I am constantly affirmed that this is where I'm supposed to be right now, and I am so thankful for the support of my family and friends who trust God enough to be ok with me being here, even if they don't like it so much.  I'm thankful for this school community that is so supportive and encouraging.  Most of all I'm thankful that I can look back and see the hand of my Heavenly Father at work throughout the last year, both in my life and the lives of those around me, and in the gifts He's given, both big and small.  Great is His faithfulness.

19 May 2013

Just Who Do You Think You Are?: Thoughts on Finding Identity in Christ

Identity in Christ.   A  lot of us hear this phrase batted around, but how often do we take time to think about what it really means, or if we're applying it to our lives?  This is something that God has been bringing to my mind over and over again in the last month or two, through different circumstances and conversations.  The whole topic of finding identity in Christ is something that I've become passionate about, especially for girls, as I've grown in that area myself and as I've observed how much it affects our lives.  Let me see if I can put my thoughts and what I've learned into words...

Identity in Christ was something I'd grown up hearing about, and as a college student and young adult I would have told you that I had my identity in Christ.  However, looking back, I think I knew much more about God's identity than MY identity IN Him (and if I had truly known Him, those two would have gone hand-in-hand).  It wasn't until my late 20s that this became something I HAD to work through and truly begin to discover for myself.  It didn't happen overnight, and in fact, I truly believe this is a lifelong process--one of those "good works" that has been started in me and will be carried out until the day when I am made complete in Him (Philippians 1:6).  But I do think that I have come a long way, and I have to say, life is so much better on this side of the issue!

About a month ago, a friend gave me the chance to teach one of his high school Christianity and Culture classes here at Rosslyn.  We batted around a few ideas, but this topic came to mind one night and stuck.  To open the class, I asked the students to write a bit about who/what they felt the world expected them to be--how they felt defined by family, religion, culture, media, friends, etc.  Some one-word responses of theirs were nice, smart, successful, irresponsible,  and beautiful.   It wasn't hard for them to quickly generate a list of what they thought they were SUPPOSED to be.  I then asked them to write a bit about how well they felt they measured up to those expectations.  I didn't read their responses, but it was pretty easy to see simply from their physical reactions to the question and the way they were writing that for most of them, they felt pretty inadequate.  We could all generate our own list of what we feel we're expected to be, and I'd be willing to bet that most of us probably think we don't measure up.

At all stages of life, we have questions and doubts tied to who we are (or think we are): Why am I here?  Why can't I be more like....? I'm a bad student.   I'm a bad parent.  I'm not smart enough.  Who will love me?  Why have these bad things happened to me?  I don't fit in.  Why me?  Why NOT me?  I can never be forgiven for that.  I'll never be good enough.  Who am I?   The list could go on and on.

So many times we try to find our identity--and the answers to these questions--in other things:  possessions, careers, relationships, status, family roles, appearance, activities, adventure, successes, failtures--we even define ourselves by the LACK of these things.   While it is very true that our personalities, relationships, roles, and life experiences play a large part in how we perceive ourselves and interpret and interact with the world, more important than any of these is the reality of who God has created us to be and who He says we are, because even when our circumstances change, the truth of who we are in Him never will.

Consider the life of Moses in these words by Rick Warren:
"In Egypt the baby Jewish boys were condemned to die, so [Moses'] mother put him in a little boat in the Nile River. It happened that the daughter of Pharaoh was taking a bath, and she took this little boy back into the palace to raise him as her own son.

Moses had an identity crisis. He was born Jewish, but he was raised Egyptian. He had to ask himself at some point in his life, 'Who am I?' This was quite an important choice because it would determine the rest of his life. He was in line to be Pharaoh. If he said, 'I'm an Egyptian' and faked his heritage, he would live a life of ease. He would have an outstanding career. He would have fame and fortune.
If he said what he really was — Jewish — he would be humiliated, kicked out of the palace, and sent to live with a bunch of slaves for the rest of his life.  Yet Moses saw his people being badly mistreated as slaves, and he could not be silent...So he made a decision that cost him the next 80 years of his life.

Hebrews 11:24 says, 'By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh's daughter' (NIV). The word 'refused' in the Greek literally means to reject, deny, to totally disown. Moses cut himself off from a promising career as an Egyptian, and he refused to live a lie. Instead, he wanted to do what God had made him to do."

After reading this, I began to study the life of Moses a little more.  In Exodus 3, Moses had his encounter with God at the burning bush.  God had given Moses instructions to go to Pharaoh to lead the Israelites out of Egypt.  In Exodus 3:3, Moses said to God, "Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?"  God's response?  "I will be with you." Um, God?  You didn't answer his question!  Moses, trying to rephrase his question, said to God, "Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, 'The God of your fathers has sent me to you,' and they ask me, 'What is his name?'  Then what shall I tell them?"  God's response?  "I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: 'I AM has sent me to you.'"

Moses began with a question about who he was.  God answered by declaring who HE was.   I think that is the first thing we have to get straight when searching for our identity.  Who is God?  When we know that, THEN and only then can we begin to understand who He has created us to be--which makes sense since we're created in the image of God.  If we don't know the original, we have nothing by which to process the image. 

After we develop a healthy understanding of Who God is, we can begin to understand what He says about who He's created us to be.  For starters, here are some things God says about YOU.  As a child of God, you are:
  • chosen, God's special possession (1 Peter 2:9)
  • a new creation, reconciled, Christ's ambassadors, the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:17--21)
  • fearfully and wonderfully made, seen by God (Psalm 139:13--16)
  • a dear child, forgiven (1 John 2:12)
  • alive with Christ (Colossians 2:13)
  • redeemed (1 Peter 1:18--19)
  • not fearful, but powerful (2 Timothy 1:7)
  • have freedom and have been given confidence (Ephesians 3:12)
  • created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27)
  • God's handiwork, created to do good works (Ephesians 2:10)
  • chosen to be holy and blameless, adopted (Ephesians 1:4--5)
  • precious and honored (Isaiah 43:4)
  • known by God (Psalm 139:1--4)
  • beautiful (Psalm 45:11)
  • LOVED. (John 3:16)
I asked the students to compare the first list they wrote--the things they thought they were expected to be--to this list.  I asked them what they noticed about the differences between the two.  One girl finally spoke up and said that in the first list, the words denoted things that WE had to do or become to earn a reputation, but in the list of words of who God says we are, those are things He has done for us. A pretty profound observation.  The reality of who you are has nothing to do with you. It's not about how you grew up, where you're from, what you look like, how well you perform, how much stuff you have, how unloved you feel, or how much you've screwed up.  It's about God, what He has done for you, and who He says you are.

So what does this mean for our lives?  We have to stop looking to people and things to fulfill us.  NO ONE can ever do this for you--it's only God.  When you look to people, and activities, and success, and stuff to help you find your identity, you will be sorely disappointed--and probably miserable--because people will let you down.  Activities will end.  Successes will be forgotten.  Stuff will break.  What DO we do?  Look to God.  Spend time with Him.  Find out more about who He says you are.  Ask Him to TELL you who you are!  Spend time with others who are finding their identity in Him because they'll help point you in the right direction.  Separate yourself from influences that detract from or are in conflict with who God has created you to be.  Find your strength, your confidence, your contentment, your peace in Him.  Doing so will not only make your life more fulfilling, but you'll be bringing glory to God in the meantime, displaying his artistry and workmanship as His creation.

For some final thoughts on this, check out this video:

Side note:  One of my favorite things about God is the idea of being redeemed--purchased, bought back--from what once mastered us.  While typing the list above, I was reminded of this song by Big Daddy Weave.  If you don't know it, and believe it, you should.

28 February 2013

Amani ya Juu: Praying for Peace in Kenya

I borrowed the title for this post from the name of one of my favorite ministries/shops here in Nairobi because it just seemed fitting.  In Swahili, amani ya juu means "peace from above."  The next few days, weeks, and months have the potential to be rather tentative here in Kenya, and it truly can only be God's peace, a peace from above, that will heal this land and bring people together.

Several of you have been asking for some details about the Kenyan elections that will be held this coming Monday, March 4, so I thought I'd compile a bit of the information for you if you'd like to know more.  U.S. Ambassador to Kenya, Robert F. Godec, explains it this way: "The general election on March 4 will be the most important since independence. It will be an important test of Kenya's progress. It is the first national election since the post-election violence that claimed over 1,000 lives and displaced 600,000 people, and the first under Kenya’s new constitution. The government of Kenya, the international community, and civil society are working hard to ensure this election is free, that it is fair and that it is peaceful."

While I've learned bits and pieces of Kenya's political history while I've been here, and more so in the last month or so, I am certainly no expert.  However I have been told that most of the issues coming to light in this election are rooted very deeply, so there is certainly no quick-fix to the situation.  To compound the issue(s), the team of men who appear to be the current front-runners as candidates have both been indicted by the ICC for crimes against humanity in the previous election and should be appearing at the Hague for trial in the near future.  While their unity as runningmates could result in more ethnic unity within Kenya, their election could also mean a cold shoulder toward Kenya from the international community.

Since I am no expert, I thought that simply sharing links written by people who know a lot more than I do would be more beneficial.  Below are links to a few articles that are beneficial in understanding the current political climate in Kenya:

Q & A: Kenya's 2013 Elections

Kenya Elections: Maps and Graphics

Uhuru Kenyatta: Indicted Candidate

Obama's Address to Kenyans

As you can see, there's quite a bit at stake over the next few days.  Depending on how the results turn out next week, run-off elections could be held in April or May (whether or not the results are judicially disputed would determine which), prolonging the time of uncertainty.

For those of you asking about my personal security right now, our Crisis Management Team here at Rosslyn has been working on safety and security issues for months and months.  They're closely monitoring the situation, along with input from the U.S. Embassy and United Nations political advisers. We're "hoping for the best, but preparing for the worst."  Right now I feel just as safe as I would at any other point.  We've taken measures to be prepared IF difficult situations arise, but like I said, we're hoping none of those will need to be used.  At the end of the day, God's still in control, and no matter what happens, we can rest in that.

So please join us in prayer over the next few days, particularly.  Pray for God's peace to reign here in Kenya--for His peace to draw Kenyans together across ethnic lines, for His peace to allow the "system" to work and keep people from taking matters into their own hands, for His peace to protect the people of this country.  Please also pray for two specific areas that are close to my heart--Kawangware here in Nairobi (home of Vapor Sports), and Makutano (home of Village Project Africa).  Kawangware is labeled a "hotspot" for election-related violence, and when I talked with one of Vapor's directors last weekend, he agreed that there is a lot of tension in the area right now.  During the last election, many families involved with Village Project Africa were affected by violence--some even lost their homes and had to move to IDP camps away from the village.

  The words to Kenya's national anthem are :

O God of all creation,
Bless this our land and nation.
Justice be our shield and defender,
May we dwell in unity,
Peace and liberty.
Plenty be found within our borders.

Let one and all arise
With hearts both strong and true.
Service be our earnest endeavour,
And our Homeland of Kenya,
Heritage of splendour,
Firm may we stand to defend.

Let all with one accord
In common bond united,
Build this our nation together,
And the glory of Kenya,
The fruit of our labour
Fill every heart with thanksgiving.

We pray that Kenyans will live by this prayer in the coming days, and that peace and liberty will be found within the borders.  The following verses were shared in church last Sunday, and they seem a fitting conclusion:

"In the Lord I take refuge.  
How then can you say to me: 'Flee like a bird to your mountain'...
When the foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous do?
The Lord is in his holy temple; the Lord is on his heavenly throne.
He observes the sons of men; his eyes examine them...
For the Lord is righteous, he loves justice; 
upright men will see his face."
Psalm 11