18 May 2014

Wrappin' it Up...Round 3?!

How is it even possible that I have now lived here in Kenya for almost three years?!  It's pretty hard to believe, and the time has flown.  When I first interviewed for my position here at Rosslyn, I was a bit caught off-guard when I was told that the initial commitment was for three years.  I was thinking two, and for whatever reason, three years sounded SO much longer than two!  But here I am, finished with my first contract, and I'm so thankful they asked us to commit to three years, because it's just long enough to make this place begin to feel like home.  I'm also happy to say that I've signed on for another contract--two years this time--so after a summer away, I'll be back in August for my tenth year of teaching! (Another stat that's hard to believe!)

I realized a few weeks ago that it has been a YEAR since I've written in this blog! I figured that as this school year winds down I'd take a chance to recap some highlights from my third year in Kenya and what God's been teaching me lately.  This post, Part 1, will be the highlight reel.  So here we go...

I began my third year of teaching 5th grade here at Rosslyn back in August with twenty-four students.  I forget the exact number now, but I think that collectively they've lived in eighteen countries, or something like that.  I love the diversity of our student body!  For those of you still wondering just what it looks like to teach at an international school in Kenya, check out this new promo video that was just released in the last few days!  It beautifully captures what it's really like to work here (if you watch carefully, you'll see a familiar face)!  One of the highlights of my time with this class this year has been seeing them develop a passion for social justice issues around the world--modern-day slavery and human trafficking, imprisonment due to false accusations, child abuse, etc.--as we've talked about God's heart for the poor and oppressed.

My kids are In It to End It!

We've been blessed to have representatives from International Justice Mission (IJM) speak to our class.  For nearly six months the students prayed for two men in prison here in Nairobi, falsely accused of robbery with violence and facing a life sentence.  Their trials and judgment days kept getting delayed, and even the IJM attorneys and staff members were nervous about the outcome.  However, during our spring break week, we received word that both men had been acquitted and were released!  I wish you could have seen my class's reaction!  They literally started singing and dancing in celebration for Anthony and Silas.  (You can read their full story here--my class even got a shout-out in it!) Our involvement with IJM (for this year) culminated with my kids taking on a service project to help plan a celebration event for nearly thirty children from here in Kenya who have been victims of (often violent) sexual abuse. The children have completed a counseling program, and to reward them for their commitment to the program, IJM had a "graduation" ceremony for them.  My kids planned the crafts, prepared the materials, wrote instructions for games, made personal cards, and then earned the money to donate to purchase supplies.  We were happy to hear that the children had a wonderful time, and I'm so proud of my kids for caring about people they will most likely never meet, and from whom they will receive nothing in return.  I'm excited to see how God uses them in the future!

My class of crazies.  :)

As many of you know, September brought the Westgate Mall tragedy to Nairobi.  While we heard countless stories of the ways in which God protected so many members of our school community and friends, we were not left without some scars.  Several students and staff members were in the mall at the time of the attack.  One student was pretty seriously injured, and he and another student each lost a parent.  Many students knew others who were inside or injured or killed, and so that was a very heavy thing to help young children process (while we were still processing it ourselves).  I remember one of my students expressed his fear that the same thing would happen to his parents and being afraid to be separated from them.

Westgate Mall Attack

One of the beautiful things that came of this was our campus' See You at the Pole event--a time when students around the world gather at their school's flagpole(s) to pray.  This year's event came just after Westgate, and it was incredible to see how students and parents from many beliefs, denominations, and religions united at our flagpoles to pray for healing and protection for this country.  Today the Westgate Mall sits empty, broken windows still open, bullet holes showing on the outside.  It just looms on its street as a reminder of what happened there.  It's pretty surreal, even now, to think of what happened to somewhere I visited several times a month.  Recently there have been some smaller attacks around Nairobi, the last happening just Friday.  Sometimes it's hard to find the line between being cautious and living in fear, but we know that the battle is not between flesh and blood, that it's something much deeper, much greater than our eyes and minds can perceive.  So we pray for God's protection, for His peace to come come to Kenya, and that ultimately people will come to know Him because of it all.

Rosslyn "See You at the Pole," September 25

This school year also provided some new and sometimes-challenging opportunities for me.  Each year each of our schools (elementary, middle, and high) host a Spiritual Emphasis Week (SEW) when class schedules are different and there are daily chapel and small group times.  In previous years the school has brought in a guest speaker for the week, but this year the event leaders decided to use "in-house" speakers for the middle and high school SEWs.  I was asked to speak for one of the five high school chapels about friendship with God, and that definitely took me outside of my comfort zone!  I've spoken to large groups a handful of times, but only for a couple of minutes at most.  They wanted me to speak for 20-30 minutes to this group of "scary" high-schoolers AND their teachers (my friends and colleagues)!  I can talk to 10- and 11-year-olds all day, but these high school kids are a whole new ballgame for me!  (Let me just say, if you'd meet some of our high-schoolers, you'd be scared too, because they're pretty amazing, intelligent, and talented people!)  Two nights before I was to speak, I was panicking a little bit (ok, a lot) because it just wasn't coming together.  Thankfully God used a couple people at that time to calm me down and remind me why I was saying anything in the first place--that He and His work in my life was the focus, not me.  Anyway, with their encouragement and God's help, I did it, I survived, and I'm glad I accepted the chance to grow through that process.  I pray that God spoke through me to draw these kids closer to Him.

Another new, big thing for me this year was chairing our school's Christmas Project Committee for the first time.  Each year from Thanksgiving week until we let out for Christmas break, our Rosslyn community engages in a school-wide fundraiser to give money to selected local organizations.  This year our committee selected three amazing organizations to support: Initiative for Learning Disabilities Kenya, Jacaranda Kids, and Future Hope and Baby Centre.  Over the course of four weeks, our school raised approximately $17,000 for ILDK and Future Hope and donated $3,500 worth of brand-new shoes for Jacaranda Kids!  It's an incredible experience to see everyone come together and be so generous for something where all the money is given away.  With the funds we raised, ILDK was able to complete construction on and outfit a special needs unit at a local school--something that is desperately needed here in Kenya.  Future Hope was able to pay moving expenses for moving their orphanage to its new property, fence the property, build a kitchen, and build a boys' dormitory.  Chairing this project was a LOT of work over a 3-month time period, but I had an incredible team, and God was clearly in the whole thing.  Having many of the children from the organizations here for our Christmas Project chapel when we presented the organizations with their funds was such a special experience!

 (Did I mention how many times I had to speak to audiences of hundreds of people during this project?!  Eeek!)

Children from Future Hope and Baby Centre singing for us at
our Christmas Project Celebration Chapel.  Precious!

There are a few other highlights from this year.  One of those was getting to lead music at my church here once a month with some of my closest friends.  That was one of the last pieces of my "old life" that I was missing here in Kenya, so I've been so thankful to have that opportunity.  Thanks to Audrey for including me!  Another fun thing was getting to be a small group leader for a Discipleship Now weekend hosted by BlueSky Youth.  This was the first event like it here, and 80 students from 6th-12th grade were involved in activities at BlueSky, Rosslyn, and host homes from Friday night through Sunday morning.  I got to lead the sophomore girls' group, and I enjoyed getting to know them (more scary high-schoolers!).  I hadn't been directly involved in student ministry since I'd been here, so it was fun to be able to participate in that weekend.  I also had the opportunity to be a co-presenter for a workshop at ACSI's International Christian Educator Conference Africa that was held in Kijabe in April. While I've led workshops in Kentucky and Kenya within my own school or district, this was the first time to teach educators from around the continent!  We had fun and received positive feedback, and I was thankful for that opportunity for my own professional development.

BlueSky D-Now Weekend at Rosslyn

While sadly I haven't done much (ok, any) travelling outside of Kenya this year (yet!), I've had the chance to visit a couple of beautiful places within Kenya, and I've been able to make two visits to Makutano, the village that inspired me to move to Kenya in the first place.

 I've had two long-weekend stays at L'ol Dacha, a beautiful getaway in the Ngong Hills.

View from the main building at L'ol Dacha in December

Sunset over L'ol Dacha in February

I made another trip to Crescent Island in December.

Crescent Island animals

Visited Makutano in January and March.

Audrey drew quite the crowd when she joined in their game!

Love these smiling faces!

And spent Easter weekend camping at Tiwi Beach along the south coast.

"Home" for Easter weekend

My three amigos, Easter Monday morning

Well, that wasn't in a nutshell, but I think that covers some of the most memorable parts of my third year here.