Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Just the Beginning

In the past two weeks, I hugged family members, friends, and co-workers. I went to doctors’ appointments, submitted paperwork, and sat in traffic. I wrapped gifts, wrote cards, and sang Christmas carols. Twas the season, and I was back to experience it in full swing!

Being in America causes a whole range of emotions to swell within me. Some are good and some are hard, but the undeniable truth is that I really am back on US soil!

With my homecoming date now passed, I’m left to process the year that just happened. Many question marks surround the coming year, but one thing is certain. Although this year has finished, it’s not the end of Kenya’s influence on me. Certainly I will carry the people and relationships and memories with me for the rest of life.

  
The young faith of many of my students encourages and challenges me in my own walk with God. Their exuberance and joy for life reminds me of the gift of life and of each day we have. Their humble attitudes and service to their families points me to Jesus’ own humility toward the many he served.


I invested the most amount of time in the 50 pupils who I had the privilege of teaching, but surely many others taught me and touched my life as well—fellow teachers, church members, young neighborhood friends, other missionaries, my roommates…and the list goes on.


So, yes, my year in Kenya has come to a close, but really, it’s only the beginning. The beginning of a faith enlarged from a year lived in another culture. The beginning of a hope brimming with the possibilities for a big future. The beginning of a love deep for people other than my own.

Ultimately, it’s the beginning of a life with a heart more filled. With my students. With Kenya. With the Lord.

Thank you for taking this journey with me, and may the Lord draw you closer to Himself as we all continue through this journey of life!


“Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.” [1 Timothy 1:17]

Saturday, December 7, 2013

I Wasn't Needed (and You Aren't Either)

As my homecoming nears, I admit that I am a bit tentative. I am eager to share my past year with you, my family and friends, but that same thought also elicits concern. As one author puts it, I will likely “grope for words to stuff impossible things into.”

Your patience and kindness as I try to gracefully transition back into life in America and try to relay experiences and relationships will be most appreciated. I am praying now that, with God’s help, I might be able to set aside any grumpy or judgmental feelings that may wish to creep in after a year of living in such a different environment.

But I do need to get one thing straight before I start showing pictures and speaking of life in Korr. Perhaps it’s not the best opening liner for someone who has sacrificed to support me financially or who has spent hours praying for my students or for me, but don’t let me fool you.

I wasn’t needed.

There was a “light bulb” moment, if you will, when this fact really sank to my core. I was conversing with a roommate from the summer as she was trying to grasp her role in her time there. She wondered aloud if she had made the right decision to come, if she was really needed there. And as I pondered her raw questions, the truth hit me rather matter-of-factly. Yes, she had made a good decision, but she wasn’t needed… and neither was I.

For as much as I was able to “accomplish” this year, or for all the relationships I was able to form, my students would have been just fine without me. The teachers would have pulled together to cover my classes, or perhaps the management would have looked to hire another person. The church would have continued to grow and learn, and its efforts in reaching out to the community would have still seen fruit.

Korr didn’t need me.

-HOWEVER-

I can’t deny the smiles or laughter or determination my pupils had during classes. I can’t overlook the times when they invited me into their homes or introduced me to their parents. And I can’t forget the tears that were wiped away on many of their teenaged faces as they said goodbye to their Madam.

No, I wasn’t needed, but because of my time there, maybe, just maybe, I was able to make a difference.


I tried my best to be a good teacher- to help progress my students in English and Math. But honestly, at the end of the day, I just wanted them to feel loved. That through a smile, an open door at my house, or even extra help on their homework, that they would know that I cared for them individually- a tiny reflection of the immense love that God has for them. And I do believe that God allowed me to positively impact many of their lives, just as they did mine. God used us all in big ways.


All throughout the world, there is a lot of need. People are devastated by disease, starvation and disaster. Children go without homes, parents, medication. The poor may lack hope, joy, or faith.

As Christians, we cannot ignore God’s commands to look after those who want. But lest we get prideful in thinking that we are the solution, we are quickly reminded that God himself could, in a moment’s flash, wipe the earth clean of all of its problems and faithlessness. God doesn’t need us, but he desires us.

Just this past week, I learned in a new way how God doesn’t see us as tools to fix problems, but rather as children whom he loves dearly. He cares so, so much more about what He does IN us, rather than THROUGH us, because He wants our identities to be based in Him, not in our service to Him. And as we ground ourselves in Him, out of us will flow action to show the world of His great love.

“The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” [Matthew 9:37-38]

So, may I get bold and ask my Christian friends what is stopping you from also going into a community outside of your own and sharing God’s love? None of us are meant to be the Savior for a community, but we can proclaim of the true Savior. We can joyfully share that God is complete without us, but he has pursued us and continues to pursue us with a relentless love. We CAN make a real difference as we also remember the One who makes all the difference.

I understand that it is not for everyone, but perhaps it’s for more of us than we will confess. Sure, there are real reasons to hold you back and also real excuses. But I’ve met every kind of person here in Kenya- single and married, with loans and without, with no children and with five children, working and retired, extroverted and introverted- you name it, they’re here.

What if you got bold and asked the Lord of the harvest if you are meant to be the next worker?

It can be a scary place to be in, but few things are as satisfying or fulfilling. God doesn’t need us, but oh, what a joy to be used by Him.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Not So Different After All

It was several months ago, when the end was only a myth and when goodbyes were still far off in the distance. A teacher from school, trying to further his education- a story so common here in Korr. It was a simple request, really.  He just wanted to check his school’s status, check his registration. Something so easy yet so difficult without access to internet. So he asked me, his mzungu friend, for a few minutes of my time and my computer, a request that I couldn’t deny.

We casually walked home from school, making a stop in town before reaching my home as the sun was making its way toward the horizon. The internet at the time was touchy- so we went to the back porch to get closer to the signal as we waited for pages to load. I followed his directions as he told me to click here or type there, but before I realized what exactly we were looking for, I saw the words- written in red and thickened in bold type to ensure that we did not miss their important message.

Your registration was NOT accepted for any of your courses due to a competitive nature.

My heart sunk as I looked to him and watched him process those words. He was set back, to be sure, but his resolve was still there. At his wish, I clicked a few other links, and suddenly, before us was an opportunity for a second-chance registration. As I scanned information about this renewed hope, I saw another important message indicating the deadline. I looked at the date then looked at the corner of my screen. We were five days late.

The brief moment of hope had been quickly dashed by reality. Normally things are done very slowly here within Kenya, so my friend thought he had plenty of time. Without a way to check the information, a deadline had passed unbeknownst to him, taking part of his future with it. We clicked around some more, but this time I knew that we could not avoid the inevitable.

I watched the disappointment take root in his eyes, through his whole body. His eyes glistened as he lamented, “I wish I could have known. I wish. I wish. I wish…” I felt like I was an intruder on what should have been a private moment between him and God. I wanted so badly to somehow change this outcome, but we were powerless against a seemingly unfair system.

After some time, with this information now fully sunken in, he got up the courage to begin his walk home. And as he did, I found a spot where I let my own tears fall. He was top in his class, with a quick mind and an eagerness and exuberance for learning, not unlike my own high school experience. Why did I have the pick of universities at my fingertips, while his dreams were left at the doorstep? Why could I fritter away time on the internet when he couldn’t even use it to set up his own education? I was left with bigger questions than I could attempt to answer, but throughout it all, one truth rang loudly.

We’re not so different after all.

I don’t think I can ever forget the look I saw on his face that day, and my words to convey that will certainly fall short. But haven’t we all been there? To look into the eyes of someone we care about only to see raw disappointment, regret, or failure? Or to see that same expression when we lift our heads and see our own reflection in the mirror?

So much wants to declare to me that I am different here. The color of my skin, style of my clothes, or accent of my speech make a loud statement that I am a foreigner. But as I learned that day, there is far more that bring us together than keeps us apart. Joy and pain are not foreign to anyone, and perhaps they unite us more than we realize.

We have all been fashioned in our mothers’ wombs by a loving God who created us in His image. We have the capacity for goodness because He is good. So when we extend a hand in kindness or utter a word in encouragement or offer a smile in joy, we reflect God who authored kindness, encouragement and joy for us all. And when we feel the effects of a sinful world, as hearts are broken or trusts are betrayed or dreams are unfulfilled, we are reminded of this same God who sees our hurt and hurts with us all. The God who provides for all a way for hope that can never be destroyed- for a life that will one day be untainted by the effects of sin and circumstance.

That famous verse doesn’t talk about God only loving Americans or only loving Africans. It doesn’t say he loved those with a specific shade of tan or brown skin. It doesn’t say He loved one language, culture, or physical place more than the other. No, rather, he loved the world. And since I am in the same world as my dark brown, Swahili-speaking, skirt wearing Kenyan friend next to me, then I know that we also have so, so much in common.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him, will not perish, but have everlasting life.” [John 3:16]

I fully understand that backgrounds and upbringings and cultures will create differences between people within this world, and I believe that we should celebrate what makes us each unique. But as we celebrate the differences, I hope that we will also celebrate the numerous similarities.

I urge you not to forget that we live not just within our own town’s, state’s, and country’s borders, but within the context of this whole world. Make decisions and priorities and prayers that show that we, too, care about this entire world as God does. Because really, we’re not so different after all.

Enjoying fresh fruit- a rare treat in the desert!

Who says men can't wear skirts?

Laughter, a universal language.

PS. It is with great joy that I can say that my friend was able to make necessary connections with schools over the August holiday in Nairobi. A farewell party held for me this past weekend was actually held for the both of us, because he will be leaving to start school in January J

Sunday, October 13, 2013

When Bullets Fly


Following our second full week in school, I looked forward to a lesson-free Saturday spent at my friend’s house. The plan? To turn my very mzungu hair into a braided piece of artwork. I woke up without an alarm clock, enjoyed a slow morning, and casually walked over to her house a little past noon.

After spoiling me with a tasty lunch, I sat in a chair, and her fingers got to twisting. We talked about life in Kenya and America, sang to music played on a cell phone, and interacted with the numerous visitors who walked through her doors. Thanks to my full head of hair, I quickly realized that it was going to be a lengthy process!


 About 4 hours and 4 dozen braids later, I had transformed from majority-American to majority-Kenyan.


By that time, the sun was lowering in the sky, so she and another friend accompanied me back to my house. As I fixed a simple dinner for us, I noticed a message from a friend waiting for me online. Something about gunmen and Nairobi. Shocked, I assured her of my safety and quickly looked for more information.

What came up on google horrified me- unfolding terror within a mall in the capital city. Masked assailants loaded with every sort of weaponry taking aim at innocent people. Dozens killed and many trapped. Many fleeing, but also many maimed by the flying metal. The terrorists still wreaking havoc inside.

The stark contrast grabbed me. Here I sat in a tranquil environment, when in my same country, people sat hidden, praying to find a moment to sit in safety. I had eaten my lunch, interrupted only by visitors and shared company, while others had eaten their lunch, interrupted by grenades and hatred. As I walked by Muslims and Christians and traditionalists all doing life together, individuals were being targeted for their lives in the name of religion.

For days, the world was captivated by the headlines of the on-going siege. We hung on to every update, waiting for the much anticipated news that the attackers were either killed or in custody. But the sigh of relief was only brief following the end, for the damage was deep and many questions remained. What exactly happened inside? How could this atrocity occur? What about those who are missing?

 The flag at school flies at half-mast following the attack

It’s hard for me to not wonder if the roles had been reversed. I had been in Nairobi only the month previously, and during that time, had spent a long Sunday afternoon in a mall picking up groceries for the coming term. What if they had decided to strike then? What if I had been in the check-out line when explosions suddenly ripped through the air?

But these questions aren’t just limited to people within the developing world. Rather, they are ones that anybody could ask, as even last year, gunmen entered malls, movie theaters, and even elementary schools in America.

And frankly, the questions are never done being asked.

Any of us could be going about our daily lives when we unexpectedly find ourselves lurched into the middle of the world’s next tragedy. It’s a sobering thought, to come to terms with the fact that our own security is out of our reach. And that thought brings to mind a verse that both encourages and challenges me.

“Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” [Matthew 10:28]

Really? Don’t fear the person who points an automatic weapon in my direction with his finger on the trigger? Don’t fear the drunk who gets behind the wheel? Don’t fear the person who lurks in the dark, waiting for a moment of power?

In an unsecure world, where can we find our security?

The answer comes as sure as the sunrise in the morning. As clear as the night sky over the desert. As resounding as the blasts on that fateful day.

Security is found in the God of the Bible, who is loving and faithful and sovereign.

As terrifying as those scenarios seem, that verse couldn't speak more truth. With our security found in God, this life is only the beginning. When we die, whether by natural or man-caused reasons, Christians know that we will begin an eternal time of joyous being with our Lord. No person or event can take away our relationship with God, and as a result, cannot take away our true security. Rather, we should fear Satan, who works to convince people that they don’t need God, and works to destroy the faith of those who do believe. A human can destroy our body, but cannot touch our soul. If we die apart from God, then Satan is privy to both our body and soul.

In our raw moments, we might admit that even this knowledge feels empty. When bullets stop hearts or when disease tears through a body or when a mind is born malformed God doesn’t seem loving or in control. And when we don’t understand or can’t understand, I must compel myself to remember that God has a much farther-reaching perspective than I do. “‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the Lord. ‘As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.’”  [Isaiah 55:8-9]

But God doesn't allow circumstances and then force you to deal with the consequences alone. Using the same analogy, the psalmist declares that that is absolutely not the case. “For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him.” [Psalm 103:11]

I know that the God who created the world and has formed every child in his mother’s womb, deeply loves each individual on this earth and desires to be in a personal relationship with every single one.  I know that He, who knows us to our depths and yet still pursues us, has promised good for anyone who follows Him. I know that the One who authors both blessing and hardship has won the ultimate victory so that we can share in that with Him for eternity.

None of us can ever guarantee our livelihood. Our life is short and passing, regardless of whether we live to be 100 years or only 25. We can’t determine when we will take our last breath. Before we do, in whom will you place your trust?


[Note: Nobody within AIM was injured or killed within the attack, although some families were initially trapped inside, and many had friends who were affected. Please continue to pray for peace within this country, for comfort of those who have physical, emotional, or psychological wounds, and for the truth of the gospel to penetrate hearts and minds as a result of this tragedy.]

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Christina Alice

Here in Korr, names are usually taken quite literally.

Chulayo (“born in the night”) was given his name because he was …born in the night!

Kulamo (“to gather”) has her name because…. many gathered for her birth!

Sofo (“faster”) was named because he came from his mother…faster! 

 Daniel, Elizabeth, Mercy, and Joseph--
(also known by their Kenyan names)
Dagti, Lagoya, Ntare, and Incaracha

The adults I talk with find it quite strange to name a child before they are born. How will you know the circumstances surrounding the birth- whether it’s raining or daytime or underneath an acacia tree?

Like most of you reading this, I was given my name before I was born. With my older sister Jackie as a cue, my parents avoided their first choice of Jillian in fear of a lifetime of mockery (Jack and Jill went up a hill…) and instead settled on Christina.

When it came to a middle name, the choice was more clear. After my sister had been named after my mom’s mother, I would be named after my dad’s mother.

Alice.

I have to admit, when I was six years old, I wasn’t thrilled with the name Alice. It felt out-of-date, and I secretly envied those with more modern, cool names. But over time, I came to see the beauty in being named after my grandmother, and greatly appreciated such an honor.

My grandmother was a special woman. She raised five children to love God and to live their lives in light of that love, with her life as a prime example. She was a leader within their church’s youth group, spurring on many young people to take their faith seriously, and to commit to following the Lord with their lives. She travelled the world with my grandfather, and they made friends wherever they went because of their friendly, compassionate demeanors. They even joined the Peace Corps after retirement because of their desire to make a difference!

It’s needless to say that I would not be who I am today or where I am today without the influence of my grandma.

My grandparents with their 4 children and my mom

A few weeks ago, my grandmother suffered a stroke and a few days later, passed away. Although it is always sad and tragic when a life comes to an end, my family can celebrate the incredible life she lived. We can celebrate the love she had for Jesus and the way she spent her life serving Him. And we can celebrate the fact that she is now in heaven with her Lord, and has seen him face-to-face! Her faith is no longer, for it has become sight.

There were many conversations on what I could do, what I would do. But ultimately, with it already being a natural break-time from school, the decision was easy. I wanted to go home, be with my family, and honor my grandmother and the legacy she left behind.

What a privilege to carry her name, to bear the name of Alice.


Yet there is another name I bear, an even higher privilege that I have each and every day of my life. When I call myself a Christian, I am inherently bringing the name of Christ on my life. This is both an awe-inducing and fear-inspiring result of trusting and following after Him. To be considered worthy to have his name a part of mine? Unbelievable. To carry the weight of knowledge of his perfect name collided with my very imperfect life? Somewhat terrifying.

"Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved." [Romans 10:13]

But what is perhaps most astounding of all is the fact that Christ loves me, loves each of us so much that he wants us to have his name. He wants us to take his name, even knowing that we will sometimes take it and misuse it, drag it in the mud behind us, or at times be ashamed of it or ignore it altogether. As Christians, sometimes we do a pretty poor job of representing Christ, but that doesn’t change who He is. I pray that when people look at flawed Christians (all of us), they would not think differently on the person of Christ, but rather see the God who wants to redeem imperfect people and call them His own, faults and all.

So today, as I reflect on my grandmother and my Savior, perhaps you, too, will consider the names you bear. More than anything, I hope that you would carry the name of Christ and live in response to the life he lived, the life that changed this world.

We do not become who we are alone. We all live in the light of someone’s legacy.

Whose do you live in?

Sunday, August 18, 2013

One Thousand Gifts

Okay, I admit it. I really dislike grading compositions.

I never imagined what being an English teacher would exactly entail. I was more focused on the people and the students and the setting. It wasn’t too much of a surprise, however, when I realized that I would need to assign, and thus grade, writings for each week.

It didn’t intimidate me at first. Everything was new and exciting and even reading their writings gave me a greater insight into the lives of my students. But over time, I knew my students quite well and the novelty wore off. It’s a monotonous and times-taking task, and correcting the same mistakes each time around can get discouraging.

During the last week of the second term, as my mind was looking for some distraction after hours of reading and correcting, I decided to count how many compositions I had given (and therefore graded) since the school year started. I flipped to the beginning of a student’s composition book and turned each page, smiling as I remembered the various topics. Finally, I reached the last writing, ending my count at an even twenty.

Twenty-seven students in my 7 East Class and twenty-three students in my 7 West class totals fifty students. And 50 students with 20 compositions each rounds out to a solid 1,000 compositions. Now that’s a lot of grading.


Just as the math teacher in me tried to figure out how many hours of grading that equaled, I was struck by the seeming coincidence of the number. For weeks, I had been treating myself to a chapter of a new favorite book of mine whose words had been providing me encouragement and inspiration in a fresh and insightful way. And the irony that stood before me then was that the title of this book shared the number of how many compositions I had worked through.

One Thousand.

Or, more specifically, the full title:

One Thousand Gifts.

The author writes from experience how she was challenged to incorporate thankfulness into every aspect of her days. Her words dance across the page, illustrating her experiences in a way that allows you to be right there with her, and illuminating her insights in a way that invites you to grab hold of them for yourself. She relates her journey of looking for God’s grace in every moment, whether beautiful and enlivening or dark and hopeless. She dares to express her gratitude no matter the situation, counting her gifts all the way up to one thousand (and beyond!) The book recounts the radical transformation that happened within her heart, ultimately enabling her to live fully.

With that backdrop in mind, my perspective began to shift.

The ability to express yourself through words? A gift!
The capacity to identify a life by the familiar strokes of their pen? A gift!
The chance to aid a child in achieving their hopes and dreams? A gift!
The mental capability to analyze and understand? A gift!
The cool breeze that refreshes while you work? A gift!
The aptitude to learn and grow? A gift!
The opportunity to love? A gift!

Certainly this is only the beginning of such a list, a counting of blessings.


And all of these gifts come from a most giving Father. The God who gives so that we might experience abundant life. Who gives purpose and love and strength and mercy for our days. For days when we remember, and for days when we forget. For days when strength invigorates, and for days when energy lacks. For days when hope rises, and for days when questions surround.

This God is the One who didn’t even stop short in giving of His Son because of His love for us.

Right now, I’m on school holiday, enjoying a bit of a break away from the sometimes endless tasks that lessons can bring. But in a few weeks, I’ll lift my broken piece of chalk to the board and prompt fifty students to write. And when I do, I’ll keep the truths of this book and the truths of my God lodged in the forefront of my mind. To give the outlook and perseverance necessary for the task. But ultimately, so that I can enjoy each moment that God has given me.

To live life with thanks, to live life fully.



(Jesus said) I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.’” [John 10:10b]

PS. The author's name is Ann Voskamp. Go ahead now.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Striking Realities

A school without its teachers isn’t exactly the most effective system. Like a car without a driver or an airplane without its pilot, it’s not going anywhere fast.


The whole of Kenya experienced a teachers’ strike this past month, leaving kids to fend for themselves during the interim. Talks of unhappy teachers, unfulfilled promises, and financial complaints seeped their way up north to us here in the desert, but it didn’t really affect us.

Or, at least, it shouldn’t have.

Three weeks ago, I arrived at school ready to tackle the last five weeks of teaching for the term. Feeling refreshed after an extended weekend for mid-term break, I quickly noticed that I was the first teacher to arrive. I passed out papers and chatted with students as we waited for the keys to the school and the other teachers to arrive. Not long after, the head teacher came in on his piki and unlocked the school as pupils herded into their classrooms. The wait for the other teachers, however, turned out to be much longer.

Finances have been a longtime struggle for my school, and this year has been no different considering it nearly didn't open in the first place. But the teachers have been so gracious along the way, gratefully receiving their pay when the money is there, and well, continuing on when it’s not. But after going awhile without anything, the teachers were feeling pinched, and with the rest of their country as an example, they, too, stayed home.

Meeting after meeting followed between the board of the school and the teachers as they tried to reach an agreement. But the reality is that there’s not much a leader can do when there’s literally no money. And the reality is that these teachers need an income to provide for themselves and their families. And the reality is that 500 children were without their teachers as the solution to this problem was trying to be found.

Those two weeks weren’t the most glamorous for me. Tears fell. Questions remained. A heart ached. I hated being separated from my kids. Those 50 beautiful rascals.

In real life, the ending doesn’t always turn out happy; but this time, it did. Leaders and teachers alike humbled themselves and reached an accord after seven lost school days. I felt my heart jump within me when the teachers announced they would be coming back, but I also had to temper that joy with the knowledge that the problem still remains.


On our first day back, we received heart-rending news that only two days previously, one of our Class 5 students passed away. This young boy was so young, had his horizons before him. That empty spot at his desk now leaves a hole in the lives of so many here at the school and in this community. And as I wondered what rare, deadly disease stole this young boy’s life and future, the answer struck me to my core.

Diabetes.

The reality is that there isn’t the right kind of instruments in the local dispensary to be able to test blood sugar levels. The reality is that a simple piece of hard candy or a cup of juice could have saved his life. But the reality is that this young boy lived in a place that did not have the right resources for him, and it prematurely cost him his life.

The realities of life here in the Kaisut desert can leave my head spinning and sometimes it’s hard not to wonder, “why?” Why do some places struggle for their most basic needs, while other areas are drowning in excess? Why do some children have an opportunity for anything their hearts desire, while others are considered lucky just to receive a basic education? Why do some families lose loved ones to treatable illnesses, while others have access to top notch health care?


Yet in the aftermath of these realities, hope rises from the ashes.

“Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him.” [Psalm 34:8]

The reality is that in the midst of young lives lost early, God weaves together circumstances that are for our good and his glory. He reminds us that this place is not our home and points us to his murdered Son who made a way for us past this broken existence and into His loving arms.

The reality is that in the midst of financial hardship, God reminds us that He is certain when wealth is so uncertain. He commands us not to worry because as we seek him first, he will provide for us. And we read that those who humble themselves to a poverty of the spirit will receive the kingdom of Heaven.

And the reality is that in the midst of my sin, God pursues me with a relentless, forgiving love. He picks me up, dusts me off, and claims me as His. And as I walk and stumble and run and skip along the path he has given to me, I know that He gives me his words, his Spirit, and his Son’s example to guide and sustain me.

I won’t always understand the trials and question marks of life, but I will cling to and claim the realities of a God who is good and loving and true. 

All our troubles, All our tears, God our hope, He has overcome
All our failure, All our fear, God our love, He has overcome
All our heartache, All our pain, God our healer, He has overcome
All our burdens, All our shame, God our freedom, He has overcome!

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Home

This past month, I’ve had the opportunity to visit the homes of many of my students. It’s been more than a privilege to be welcomed inside their homes, to meet their families, and to understand more of where they come from. Some of their homes consist of little besides a place to sleep and a place for a fire, but boy are they proud to show it off to their mzungu teacher. And boy do I feel blessed for being considered valued enough to see deeper into their lives.

A group of my students on the porch of Marian’s home

Christine, with her mother, inside their home

Joseph and I outside his home

With Mary, the mother of one of my students, in her kitchen

Chulayo in his home

In Kulmise’s home, making chapatis with her cousin


Outside the home of Eysimbasele, one of our night guards


What makes a place a home?

Is it the four walls (or in most cases here, the dome of sticks) that surround you as you sleep at night? Is it a place you’ve been for a sustained period of time? Is it the relationships with the people surrounding you? I'd like to think that it's a nice blend of all these, with the people giving purpose and meaning to the structure and location.

Three summers ago, my home was within eyesight of the mist of Niagara Falls. The following summer, the mountainous backdrop of West Virginia became my home. Last summer, I was back to where my roots are in good ole suburban Delaware. And now this summer, my home is found within the remote desert of Northern Kenya.

And after six months here in Kenya, I’ve settled in well and become adjusted to life and routine here. Right now, this is my home. But I also know this isn’t permanent. In six more months, I will pick up my life here, and go back to Delaware, to where I grew up and to where the majority of my family and friends live. 

But at the end of the day, Delaware isn’t permanent either. Not because I have some grand plans to travel somewhere else when I return, but because no place is permanent.

And whether you've moved so many times that you've lost count or you've never been outside the boundaries of your state, I’m reminded how fleeting the term "home" is.

Ultimately, our home is not here on this earth. We were not just made for this existence. I am looking forward to the day when I meet Jesus face-to-face. Then I will be home. For good.

“For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come.” [Hebrews 13:14]

The same God who I will spend forever with in Heaven is the same God who loved us enough to send his Son, Jesus, to earth so that we could be brought back into a relationship with Him in the first place. I don’t deserve this Home. None of us do. But Jesus offers it to us all as a free gift.  This home that will never change, never become broken, never end. Whether you read the Bible or not, I would encourage you to check out John 14 to read what Christ says about this.

Yes, I anticipate the day when I will be reunited with my family and friends back in America, but most of all, I am yearning for the time when I will finally, truly, be home.


This is my temporary home // It’s not where I belong // Windows and rooms that I’m passing through // This is just a stop on the way to where I’m going // I’m not afraid because I know this is my Temporary Home

Saturday, June 8, 2013

desert vs. desert

English is a tough language.

You can imagine how my students feel trying to navigate a sea of rules and exceptions to rules, memorizing new words and trying to understand long passages and difficult questions in hopes of passing their exams each term. American kids have a hard enough time as it is. Most of my kids are learning English as their third, and maybe even their fourth language.


There are things in English we don’t even think about. Take for example the verbs looked, played, and waited. Even though they all end in “-ed,” that “-ed” is pronounced differently in each of them. Never thought about that before? Yeah, me neither.

Just the other day I was standing in front of 23 pairs of eyes staring at me waiting for me to answer the question of defining the word “ever”.

Go ahead. Define “ever”.

Yeah, that’s how I felt. Hah.


And then there’s this fun thing called homonymy. In a broad sense, it means that words can be spelled or pronounced the same, while having different meanings. My kids mix up “there” and “their” all the time, and I can’t blame them. It takes practice and repetition to know the difference between words that can play tricks on the eyes or ears.

Problems like this do not limit themselves to my Kenyan students, though. Just the other day I was left contemplating the word “desert,” and I noticed that a simple emphasis switch changes the word’s meaning completely. Emphasis on the first syllable? The place where I live. Emphasis on the second? A verb meaning “to leave.”  Here's some further clarification:

[dez-ert] noun;  an arid region that is largely uninhabited due to its lack of water

[dih-zurt] verb; to leave without intending to return, to forsake or abandon; to fail at a time of need

I can’t say that I ever thought I’d live in the desert, but there’s no fooling me now. Sand and heat and acacia trees and lack of resources are constant reminders. And in case of a passing moment where I’m lost in a non-desert related thought, the unexpected (and uninvited) appearances of critters like this one can surely jolt me back into my present time and space. Yep, I live in the desert.

Yes, this is my camera.
Yes, it was dead at the time of this picture!

Although I live in the desert, I realized that I am quite unacquainted with the word desert…well, the verb, that is. Yes, I live in a place far from family and friends and all that is familiar, but I do not have to worry about being deserted. The God I serve has promised he will never fail me, never abandon me. His promises throughout the Bible, to different people in different circumstances, make that clear. And he has made that clear in my own little 24-year old life, whether I’ve been walking through difficult times or rejoicing in the good.

“The Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” [Deuteronomy 31:6b]

Even with these promises and this knowledge, it can be deceiving at times. Perhaps it’s not so much a coincidence that this noun and verb share the same six letters.  The noun desert infers a lack of something, and when we lack something, isn’t that when we are most fearful that we will be left to fend for ourselves? We lack knowledge of what the future holds. We lack happiness when hopes and dreams are dashed. We lack acceptance and love from those who we should find it in. All of this lack can lead to an underlying, but unshakeable feeling of loneliness. A fear of being left by ourselves. Of being deserted.

But the most wonderful news in the world is that for those who follow Christ, this fear of being left alone is one that will never be realized. Yes, we will still experience pain and hardship and rejection because we live in a broken world. But in the midst of that lack, we have a faithful God who is tenaciously sticking by our side. The God who vows to give us true satisfaction in Himself, regardless of the circumstances.

This is my prayer in the desert // When all that’s within me feels dry //
This is my prayer in my hunger and need // My God is the God who provides

Do you know this God? This God who promises, in the midst of your desert, to not leave you abandoned? Perhaps you know of Him, but you don’t really know Him. Or perhaps you know Him well, but have been tricked into forgetting or questioning the truth of this promise. Wherever you find yourself in this moment, I pray that you would be encouraged that the God who created America and Kenya and every other country in between, cares so deeply about you that He would never even dare to think about deserting you.


“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland.”  [Isaiah 43: 18-19]


Sunday, May 5, 2013

The Seventh Day


When I learned that we would take our school break outside of Korr, I initially felt like that would be cheating the missionary card. Part of me believed that I should always be doing something involved with the ministry here. Preparing for classes, hosting visitors, supporting the on-going work. But when I was honest with myself, I knew that that wasn’t possible, or even Biblical. We weren’t meant to go without stopping.

“The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul.” [Psalm 23:1-3]

So for the past three weeks, I stepped away from Korr, and rested. Rest came in various forms—from not setting my alarm for 5am to exploring new sights. From playing card games with new friends to admiring God’s handiwork.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so I’ll spare you your reading glasses and give you a glimpse of my time through these shots.


What shopping for 3 months of food looks like!


The closest encounter I will ever have with a giraffe (or any animal, for that matter).
But for the record, giraffes are really cool in person!!


Seeing elephants at a much more acceptable distance.


Spending time with the Holmertz family.


Enjoying the beauty of the Kenyan Coast and Indian Ocean.


My friend, Salome, who played in the ocean with me on our first day.


Hanging out with our friends from the coast at a ruins site.


Visiting friends at Rift Valley Academy. Talk about a breath-taking view!


Back in Nairobi to lend a hand at a VBS.


This is just plain adorable.


Savoring a last milkshake.
Cold things just don't exist in the desert (well, not without a fridge at least!)



Even God, our all-powerful, perfect Creator, took time to rest after finishing his work of making the world. Let’s take God’s example and make sure that we rest. We are not meant to keep a torrid pace for long. We get tired, overwhelmed, discouraged. God knows this and commands that we rest because he wants to gives us a refreshment and nourishment for our souls that cannot come at break-neck speed. So whether you step into a quiet room for a few minutes or step away from your responsibilities for a few days or even weeks, might you look to God for the restoration that only He can bring.


 “And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, 
because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.”

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Bittersweet Sixteen


I’ve never been a fan of April. I would be okay if March jumped right into May. Eleven months is enough for the year, right?

I can always feel it in the back of my mind whenever April is approaching. Like most students dread going back to school after a break, I dread the start of April. But I know that as sure as spring follows winter, April will once again find its way onto the front page of the calendar.

I guess I can’t blame the entire month. It’s really just one offending day that’s the problem. Maybe if April 12th could somehow morph into April 14th, I could accept the month again with all the others. But for the past sixteen years, this has yet to happen. And because it never will, I must continue to face the reality of this day.

Today, sixteen years ago, cancer won the battle it waged against my dad.

I was just a little girl. I didn’t understand. Couldn’t understand. But over the years, I was forced to understand. My dad was no longer there for me to jump into his lap and read him stories. He was not there to stare down the boys who came to my house or to cheer embarrassingly at my graduations. He was not there to bid me farewell at the airport when I left for Kenya and he won't be there to greet me when I return. And today I am reminded that another year has passed without him in my life.

And I can focus on this. Or I can focus on the years he was in my life. The times he made me laugh. The times he wiped my tears. The times when he showed me just how much he loved me. Sorry for all of you and your luck, but I had the best dad in the world.

At our Good Friday service just two weeks ago, the pastor posed the following questions:
Can death bring joy?
Can death bring hope?
Can death bring peace?

Certainly not the death of my father. His absence in my life has never brought me joy, hope, or peace. Far from it. And if you’ve ever lost a loved one, you know that man’s death cannot bring these things.

But there was once a day when someone’s death was different than anyone else’s in all of history. And his death brought joy. His death brought hope. His death brought peace.

When Jesus hung on the cross dying, he satisfied God’s judgment on all of mankind’s sin. In doing so, he brought peace between God and man. He brought hope for a life greater than this. He brought joy even amidst pain and brokenness.

I know that life does not end when a heart stops beating. God promises that those who trust in and follow Him will spend eternity with Him in Heaven. That we will be reunited with our loved ones. That when we are with Him, it will be impossible for death to reign.

“He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” [Revelation 21:4]

I miss my daddy more than anything. Having joy doesn’t eliminate the pain. I long for the day when disease and tragedy and illness will no longer rip us away from our loved ones. We were not made for this broken existence. But we know that this is not all there is. We were made to be with Him.

So today, on April 13th, I am choosing to cling to joy. To hope. To peace. To Him.

“Light for my darkness,
Peace for my soul,
You are my rescue,
You never let go.

All my hope is in You,
All my strength is in You,
With every breath,
My soul will rest in You.”

Friday, March 29, 2013

Happy Anniversary, New life.


I walked into her office, spoke with her for no more than two minutes, then walked out.

It was a simple transaction, that spring 2011 day, but it had great implications. I walked into the building as a soon-to-be graduate less than three months away from starting graduate school. I walked out as a soon-to-be graduate with not a clue of what was next. Ever so politely, I had withdrawn myself from Physical Therapy school.

I should have known it was coming. That fall I had nearly changed my major as a senior, feeling stretched and pulled in so many directions and not being sure which way was up. Not that anything is wrong with Athletic Training or Physical Therapy, but Christ was grabbing more of my affections and stirring plans for my life that I would have never given for myself. I was learning and growing and changing. I was not the same person I was when I stepped foot on the campus. Thus, trying to conform to the original plan was just not working.

“In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps.” [Proverbs 16:9]

Now, two years later, I look out my window at the acacia trees and the sandy, rocky soil and the mountains in the distance. I breathe in the fresh air and feel the warmth and enjoy the wind. I draw my attention inside and notice the tall pile of compositions I still need to grade and think about each one of the lives that are represented by the grammatically-struggling words on those pages. Those lives that have worked their way ever so easily into my heart.

This is my life. I live in Kenya.

With a few of my students on a recent trip

This was not my plan. My plan never gave a second thought to the vast land known as Africa. My plans preferred to stay in America, where I would find a nice job, a nice husband, and settle down into a nice house. But my plans centered around ME. What I wanted, what I desired. Sure, I wanted to honor God in all of that, but I had it a bit backwards. I would pick my path, and then God could bless me in what I had chosen. He was coming second.

I certainly don’t have it all figured out, but I have learned firsthand that when I seek God first, He gives me new desires--His desires. And His desires don’t center around catering to my wants, but rather around bringing Him glory and seeing his life-changing Name declared throughout the whole of this world. Hence, my life here in the middle of the African desert.

And isn’t that the way it should be? The God who made the universe and allows our lungs to breathe in the air He provides shouldn’t be an after-thought in our lives.

“Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs.” [Jonah 2:8]

This weekend, many will honor the sacrifice that God the Father made in sending His Son to die for us, and the sacrifice that God the Son made in actually enduring that death, His Father’s judgment for all of mankind’s sins. But, can we really stop for a minute and actually think about that? God loves us with such a crazy, scandalous love that He allowed His Son to be separated from Himself and murdered. Jesus paid the punishment that our sins deserve. God loves you personally, intimately. He desires for all to know Him and experience this lavish grace and love. To experience abundant life as he directs and as He plans, for surely His plans are better than ours. Do you know Him in this way?

“He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all-- how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? [Romans 8:32]

So, this weekend, I am also celebrating how two years ago, God loved me enough to flip my plans upside down and start me on this new journey. I have hardly ever known what is coming next, but the knowledge that He is leading is plenty for me. I pray that this weekend also finds you rejoicing in Him, and in His plans for your life. Happy Easter, dear friends.

My math class, working on an exam

Saturday, March 9, 2013

My feet are dirty


This past weekend, we had the privilege of visiting Ngurunit, the nearby hometown of a secondary school teacher. After a bumpy, dusty one-hour drive, we arrived in this beautiful, mountainous town. For a few days, we walked around, enjoyed the company of old and new friends, and spent lazy evenings underneath the star-laden sky.

Walking through Ngurunit

It didn't take long for me to notice a simple difference between Korr and Ngurunit though. The sand and dirt that we walked on in Ngurunit had a greater affinity for sticking to my feet than back in Korr. The first afternoon, I looked down at my feet, impressed by the tan I was quickly getting. I soon realized that I was easily fooled as this “tan” was actually a thin, solid layer of dust.

There was also water in Ngurunit; water that you could swim in. The water was quite refreshing on those hot, African afternoons, and it was nice having the water clean my feet. But as we would leave the water and start back home, I would take about three steps before my feet were dirty again. In fact, my wet feet now exacerbated the problem. If dirt can cling easily to a dry foot, you can imagine how it took advantage of some damp ones.

Local children sliding down the rocks into the water

But let’s be serious. This isn’t a problem that is limited to Ngurunit. I rely on my feet each day to transport me through the hot, windy desert in Korr. And at the end of the day, well, they are in need of a good cleaning. They are calloused. Sweaty. Dusty. Just plain dirty.

The other day, as I contemplated this unfortunate by-product of my life, my mind jumped to John 13, a story in the Bible that talks about dirty feet. If you are not familiar with it, I encourage you to check out the whole story. Here’s a glimpse.

“After that, he [Jesus] poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.” [John 13:5]

Washing feet was a job saved for servants, and rightly so. It wasn’t exactly the most glamorous job. Servants would have to get down on the ground and proceed to touch filthy, smelly feet. Feet that perhaps hadn’t been cleaned in several days. They would use their hands, which they used to eat and drink and clothe themselves, to wipe the grime off of strangers’ feet.

Now with that thought in mind, let’s ponder this story. Jesus, the Son of God, was eating dinner with his closest friends. You can almost hear the gasps in the room as He stood up and walked toward a pitcher and basin. Jesus was their teacher, their leader, their God. He was the last person who should perform such a demeaning task.

But in order to show them the “full extent of his love” [verse 1], Jesus knelt on the floor, and began to wash his disciples’ feet. Full of compassion. Full of humility. Full of love.

Today, I look down at my dirty feet, and close my eyes. I imagine a scene similar to the one portrayed in John 13, except that now Jesus isn’t washing his disciples’ feet. He’s washing mine. The very same Jesus who sits at the right hand of God is sitting at my feet. He looks me tenderly in the eyes, and wipes the dirt from my feet. And by doing so, he is expressing the magnitude of his love. This isn’t a task fit for him, but He cannot help but show the depth of his love for me. So the God of the universe takes my dirty feet and cleans them.

Take a moment to picture Christ doing the same thing for you. Because He has.

Feet that Jesus himself has cleaned

And once Jesus had performed this simple but incredibly powerful act, He gave his disciples a charge.

“Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.” [John 13:14-15]

We don’t live in a culture where washing feet is needed, but we are certainly to serve others the way Christ showed us. You know that man with the bad attitude? He really needs someone to listen to him. You know that woman who everyone gossips about? She could use someone to stick up for her. You know that young person who seems to make all the wrong choices? They would truly benefit from having a godly role model in their life.

We are all given different opportunities to love and to serve those around us. What are yours? How will you take hold of them today? This week? This year? May Christ's example be our guide as we seek to truly love others.