Sunday, June 30, 2013


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]