Monday, May 22, 2017

The Ministry of a Missionary Mama

Recently I was asked, yet again, what it is that I do here.  Besides the kids, that is.  I've been asked this question many times, in various forms.  This time it was phrased, "The kids are enough, I know [insert awkward laugh], but have you been to the Peds ward or the orphanages?  I mean, what's your thing?"  I was honest: I don't do anything.  And I wasn't embarrassed or guilt-ridden with that reply.

Long before we reached the mission field, and even before we had kids, I used to vex over this issue.  What would I do?  What would be my ministry, my "thing"?  And how would I ever accomplish said ministry if we had kids in tow?  What would it look like to be the non-ministry spouse as we headed overseas?

Well, after five years of motherhood and one year of missionaryhood, I've come a long way in my understanding of this issue.  I currently don't vex about it.  The pressure to give an answer to the question "What do you do?" let alone give an answer the inquirer wants to hear, simply isn't there.  Not only have I given myself the grace to "do nothing" but take care of our three very busy and active little boys, but I've really begun to understand the fact that the value of "doing" and "accomplishing" is a cultural value - a high value in our American culture but not necessarily in this Kenyan culture.  And that's not always a bad thing.  In fact, it's often a very good thing.

It's no secret that our Western culture is work-driven and success-oriented.  It's a wonderful thing in that it's allowed our culture to come so far in areas like medicine and education and technology and infrastructure and countless other things.  And being a Type A, super organized, task-oriented, efficient person, I love this part of our culture.  Actually, I appreciate it so much that, since living here in Kenya, I've often had to fight my own cultural superiority when I see inefficient systems in place that perpetuate poverty and disease and lack of education.  Sometimes I want to shout, "If you would just do something then it wouldn't be this way!"  And that's partly true.  There is certainly room for this culture to grow in just getting things done.  However, I've been able to pull back a bit this year and see glimpses of the bigger picture, which has shown me that our own work-driven culture doesn't get it all right, and this less-efficient culture doesn't get it all wrong.

Here's what Kenyan culture does really well: focus on people.  Case in point: stopping to greet people is very important here.  It's unfathomable to the average Kenyan why you would have anything so important to do that it would cause you to breeze past them without stopping to say hello and shake hands at the very least, if not ask about the family as well.  Another case in point: when you meet someone for the first time, the question "So what do you do?" never comes up.  Why would that be pertinent?  Most people are subsistence farmers anyway and wouldn't be able to regale you with tales of their career path to date.  On the contrary, people are not generally concerned with what anyone does, but they are concerned with how your family is doing and whether your children are well and how they're enjoying the break from school.  The people here care about people.

And that is something I've grown to love about this culture.

It's also something that's inherently hard to adjust to because, truth be told, it's tiring to greet so many people along the way.  It makes going anywhere twice as long as it should be, which is especially hard when you have a tired toddler on your back who really needs to get home and take a nap, or when you're just simply not in the mood to say hello to anyone.  And Eli often has a hard time coming and going from the hospital because there are so many "speedbumps" along the way (which is a Kenyan expression used to describe being late because of greeting people).  But the point remains: this culture cares way more about people than our own culture tends to, and that is a good and godly thing.

So what do I do at Tenwek?  Well, technically I've been teaching a PreK/K class for MKs for the past five months as well as coordinating all the holiday gatherings for the missionary community, which is something I suppose.  But more than anything, what I do is take care of our kids.  I feed them and clothe them and change their diapers and wipe their bottoms and teach, discipline, and encourage them.  In other words, I have three little disciples in my charge every day, and mothering them is what I do each day as a missionary.

Doing the mom gig definitely looks different over here than in America, and our kids need some extra guidance and management due to living cross-culturally, and that is enough for me, especially during this first term on the field filled with major transition.  We're planning to be here for the long haul and we're not trying to change the world in a day, which I know may not be the answer that people hope to hear.  I know the idea of a missionary who's handling the home life on top of ministry and speaking the language and doing any number of other missionary-ish roles sounds so romantic and so right, and there are certainly plenty of people even now who are doing that, but it doesn't have to be that way (and sometimes shouldn't be that way).  As someone who knows and feels the expectations of others, especially as we are literally supported by others to be here doing this life and ministry, I am somehow able to presently say that I don't do much of anything as a missionary except take care of our boys, and there is freedom in being able to say that confidently, without guilt.  I am thankful to live in the freedom of doing less and being more with our kids.  I am learning from this culture how to care more about how our family is doing than to care about what our family has done.  And I truly believe not only that our boys will be the better for it, but that God is pleased that a Type A, efficient American is learning how to let the discipling of her boys be the greatest accomplishment He could ask her to achieve.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Not in Vain

Recently I heard a friend say, "Missions is not heroic."  I couldn't agree with her more.

Sometimes people express to us how proud they are of what we're doing, or they acknowledge the sacrifices we're making to be here, or they outright thank us for making a difference for the kingdom of God.  And quite frankly, we love to hear such things because it encourages us and motivates us and reminds us that we really are doing something a bit different with our life and maybe, just maybe, we really are making a difference.

But the reality is, what we're doing is not heroic.

I don't feel like a hero when I refuse to give someone money for their school fees.  I don't feel like a hero when I bite into a Twix bar because I found one in Nairobi to splurge on.  I don't feel like a hero when someone speaks to me in Swahili and I can't understand a word they said.  I don't feel like a hero when other moms mention when they gave out Bibles in a village or visited the Peds ward or coached a Bible Quizzing team and all I can mention is that it's been three days since I left the compound and my kid woke up too early from his nap again.  Trust me, more often than not, missions is not heroic.

Being obedient and taking up your cross and dying to self rarely is, no matter if we're talking about a job or parenthood or missions.  There are moments of heroic glory, like the time a young man showed up at church while still a patient at the hospital because he had an "aha" moment after a terrible accident and realized he needed to get right with God, and we think, "Wow, we're a part of something that's truly changing lives."  But more often than not are the vastly unheroic moments, like the time I inadvertently rewarded a boy for stealing (it's a long story), and we think, "Gah, we're ruining everything around here."

This life, this calling, is complicated.  Few things are easy or straight-forward.  And it's really hard to see the fruit of our labors.  Has Eli led anyone to Christ since being here?  Probably not.  Has he healed every patient that's come into his care?  Certainly not.  And yet despite the relatively few reportable statistics we can offer from this past year of being on the mission field, we know and trust that God is fulfilling His purposes.  Because that's what God does: He fulfills His purposes, for us and for the people of Kenya.  And the truly heroic thing is not about giving up the conveniences we had in America or even working among a foreign people but rather trusting that God is still at work in what He's called us to do even when we can't see the results.

As I reread the Easter story this past weekend I was drawn to Doubting Thomas and, in particular, Christ's response to him: "Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed" (John 20:29).  This is our task: as we obediently follow Him, to believe that God is bearing fruit in us and through us even if the evidence is unseen.

Sometime last year I heard a friend say this prayer: "Lord, thank You for everything You're doing that we can't see.  And thank You for everything You're doing that we get to see."  I've said that prayer many times since then, and prayed that prayer with our boys many times too, because I need to remind myself, as well as teach our children, the importance of believing that He is accomplishing His purposes even though we cannot see it most of the time.

Over this past Easter weekend I also read 1 Corinthians 15, and the very end of the chapter jumped out at me:

Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.  
But thanks be to God!  He gives us the victory 
through our Lord Jesus Christ.  
Therefore, dear brothers, stand firm.  Let nothing move you.  
Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, 
because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.

(1 Corinthians 15:55-58)

These verses felt very thematic of this past year of missions for us - our first year of figuring out some of the basics of this life and ministry, as well as maneuvering our way through its complexity.  For every patient that Eli sends home strong and healthy, we rejoice that our labor in the Lord is not in vain.  For every cultural faux pas we commit, we rejoice that our labor in the Lord is not in vain.  We do this because of Jesus.  We do this because of the Resurrection.  We do this because death has been swallowed up in victory and He continues the work of refining hearts and drawing people unto Himself even when His own disciple didn't believe without seeing and when we forget His ways and follow suit.

Our labor in the Lord is not in vain, whether we're talking about a job or parenthood or missions or [fill in the blank].  Thanks be to God!

Thursday, February 23, 2017

When Parents Come to Visit

When my parents came to visit us recently, our souls were filled.  We spent two whole weeks catching up, playing games, driving around Kenya, making food from scratch, and having an all-around good time.  Our boys reconnected with their grandparents, which meant extra attention and lots of book-reading, and Caleb has since asked us several times, "Which day are we going back to Michigan?" because having a great time with Grandma and Grandpa forces such questions to emerge.  It was sooooo good to have them here!

When my parents came to visit, they helped us a lot.  They pitched in with washing dishes, changing diapers, entertaining kiddos, and even helped with the Preschool class I'm teaching.  My dad pulled out his piñata-making skills and helped create two heart-shaped piñatas for a Valentine's party for the kids, which they loved!  I could never have pulled this off by myself with ten kids.

When my parents came to visit, they learned a lot about our life here.  It was wonderful to give them a glimpse into our daily life, like homeschooling and living in community and finding chameleons and knowing where to get water when our filter isn't filtering fast enough.  Eli also gave them a lengthy tour of the hospital, which helped them better understand the work of a missionary doctor.  They ate ugali and sukumawiki, they visited a local church with us and saw chickens auctioned off, they slept under a mosquito net, and they laughed at how often a cow would block our path on the road.  It was a true slice of life in Kenya, and it meant a lot to us for them to see and understand this life of ours.

When my parents came to visit, we went on safari!  No trip to Kenya is sufficient without going on safari.  Some of God's greatest creations live here in East Africa.  It's marvelous to behold, truly.  And we live less than two hours away from Maasai Mara, which makes it relatively easy and convenient to enjoy a safari and see these beautiful creatures and landscapes up close.

When my parents came to visit, it felt a little like home.  Because, as we continue to say, "Whenever we're together, we're home."  We're so thankful for the blessed time we had with them, and it was hard to say goodbye and realize anew that we won't see them again for over a year from now, but we're thankful for what we can get - and we got two weeks together!  Furthermore, before my parents left Kenya, Eli's parents bought plane tickets to visit us in a few months also, which helped to ease this goodbye since there'll be another hello coming soon.  We thank God for parents who are able and willing to come all this way, and we thank God for the memories made!

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Circumcision Camp

It's exactly what it sounds like: a bunch of boys gathered together for a month, sequestered from the outside community while undergoing the rite of circumcision and beginning the transition into manhood.  It's customary around here for a boy to be circumcised sometime between 10-15 years of age.  It's also customary for a group of boys to go through the process together and they become "age-mates" (a common term here which refers to a very close friendship).  Going through this rite of passage together creates a bond between boys, and as they grow into men they usually maintain close relationships with each other because of this shared experience.

We had the privilege of attending the "Coming Out" celebration (yes, that's what it's called) after a circumcision camp last month.  The full-day affair was tantamount to a wedding celebration with hundreds of people, hours of singing and dancing, a feast for the whole crowd, a tree planting ceremony, and a couple sermons mixed in between.  One of Eli's Family Medicine residents, Elijah, is the father of one of the initiates, and he also coordinated and hosted the entire circumcision camp. Elijah performed the circumcisions on the boys, which in and of itself was a blessing since it ensured that the procedure would be done safely and correctly.  (Boys come to the hospital far too often because of complications from ill-performed procedures.)  He built a small compound behind his house for all the boys to live in for the month, and his wife cooked all the food for the 23 boys participating in the camp.  Needless to say, they were quite busy!

What was so amazing about the camp was that Elijah used this tradition as an opportunity to teach these boys about what it means to truly be a man: a man of God.  So, throughout the month, various men came to speak with the boys about God and faith and manhood, and they read Scripture together and prayed together and ate a lot of food together while they fellowshipped inside the compound.  Elijah used a God-centered approach with the purpose of raising up a new generation of godly young men.

This was one of the most beautiful things we've seen since coming to Kenya.  The American church has nothing like it, nothing to commemorate when a boy becomes a man, nothing to deliberately pull them away from the rest of the world for the sole purpose of discipling them further in their faith and shepherding them in paths of righteousness.  In an era of immaturity and outright godlessness, nothing is more encouraging than seeing boys being taught the ways of the Lord as they journey from boyhood to manhood.

We returned home thinking about our own three sons and how much we wished there was a rite of passage like this for them.  We continue reflecting on this and hope that we'll find a way in the future to pull them aside not only to focus on, but to commemorate, what is of utmost importance: choosing to live as a man of God.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Video Update from the Horns

We had intended to do this several months ago, but alas, it didn't happen till now.  But we finally made a video update for your viewing pleasure!  We sent this to our supporting churches and are putting it here also.  Here's an update after eight months in Kenya:

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Home for the Holidays

Last weekend we talked with my extended family as they were celebrating both Thanksgiving and my Grandma's 90th birthday.  It was wonderful to see their faces and hear their voices and imagine the smells from the kitchen behind them.  But afterwards I had an instant bout of homesickness, thinking, "Well this stinks.  My family is together and eating good food, and we're just going to bed!"  It was a moment of missing home while at the same time being at home right here.  Eli and I have lived in seven different places in the last ten years, and in so doing we've garnered an ability to be at home wherever the Lord has us for each season of life.  This place is no different.  We've already been in Kenya for eight months, and this is very much home for now.

home: we live in the upper left apartment 
of this 5-plex building

With that said, this is the first time we've had to broaden our concept of home.  This past year we adopted the adage, "When we're together we're home" because we wanted our kids to understand that despite our seemingly rootlessness that we could be at home anywhere.  We occasionally still say that to them even though they have such a concrete understanding of the world to assume that home is wherever they eat breakfast and read books and lay down at night.  It's not our kids' understanding of home that has needed to expand, however.  It's ours.  We haven't put much stock in typical things that make a home home, like certain decor or planting a garden or even owning a house, but it never occurred to me how much other aspects of life in America have defined home for me until this year, and certainly this holiday season.

What feels like home to me?  Dropping temperatures do, plus leaves changing color and falling off the trees, plus the occasional snowfall, plus the sun setting before 6pm, plus the anticipation of lots of cups of cocoa.  Here, the temperature remains relatively the same all year round, as does the timing of the sunrise and sunset, and there are no leaves falling let alone snow falling.  I do, however, have the occasional cup of hot chocolate in the mornings and evenings when the air is cooler.  Since we moved here, the realization has struck that spending 32 years in the Midwest has cultivated a connection between the changing seasons and a sense of home.

sometimes on the weekends I'll sit 
on the balcony by myself 
with a cup of hot chocolate
while Eli handles the kids inside

Thankfully, there have been other aspects of the fall and winter seasons that were replicated here, to help it feel more like home in America, namely gathering with friends and celebrating the holidays together.  The Harvest Festival encouraged us to carve pumpkins with the boys and trick-or-treat among the missionary houses, and our Thanksgiving celebration was complete with turkey and dressing and bursting bellies, and the upcoming Christmas activities will include gingerbread houses for the kids and caroling around the hospital and a party with the missionaries.  So there are plenty of gatherings to make it feel like home around here.

Which reasserts the point that people make a place home.  "When we're together, we're home."  Even though we're literally half a world away from our family and friends in America, we have so many new friends here who have become special and important to us, and who already feel like family to us, and who we're able to be at home with.  We thank God for the people he's placed in our lives for this season and for the house that's become our home too, which is why, despite bouts of homesickness here and there, we can confidently say that we'll be home for the holidays this year!


Here's a tour of our home in Kenya:

the Pepper Tree right in front of our house, 
our boys' favorite tree to climb

living room

fireplace, which we barely use because of the kids, 
but most missionaries use them 
because it can get quite chilly at night

what our living room normally looks like


the table where we do preschool lessons

dining room

kitchen (the largest one we've ever had!)

we have all the normal appliances here

bathroom with plenty of hot water, 
although the water pressure is usually terrible

sink that's usually soaked because little boys 
like to play in the water too much!

flushing toilet!

Caleb and Kai's room

they share a dresser in the closet

Asa's room

view from the changing table

our room

the fan is mostly for white noise 
since there's a road right behind our house

decorated for Christmas

our Charlie Brown tree,
and 2/3 boys willing to sit for a photo

Our boys are very excited for Christmas this year!  We walked to the river yesterday to find a tree, which meant finding any evergreen-looking tree and cutting off a branch to suit our needs.  So we found this and hauled it home, and the boys were very excited to put on lights (which we got from a fellow missionary family who had extra) and ornaments (a select few we brought over with us).  We've had a real tree every year and this year is no different, even though it's a bit unique this time.  We thank God for the chance to celebrate Christmas in Kenya!

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Ninajifunza Kiswahili

Today I said that the elephant was my husband.  Last week I said that the towel was mean.  The week before that I said that the bored person was looking at wealth.

Such is the humor of learning a language!

My teacher, Carol, has been laughing with me (and at me) during the past 5 weeks of my attempt to learn Swahili.  She is a wonderful and patient teacher who encourages me constantly and who claims that I'm doing quite well.  I love learning, even though my pace has slowed significantly in the last couple weeks due to the amount of words and grammar floating around in my head.

Being able to recognize words as I overhear people speaking is invigorating.  Some examples of words I've recently heard and recognized include: bara bara (road), mgongo (back), safiri (to travel), leta (to bring).  Equally exciting is when I find a way to speak a complete sentence out loud to someone else and have them understand me!  For example, over the weekend I was at Maasai Market in Nairobi and was able to say, "Mume wangu ni daktari kwa Tenwek Hospitali" which means, "My husband is a doctor at Tenwek Hospital" which, for my purposes, essentially meant "I'm not a tourist!  I live here in Kenya, so give me a fair price!"  I was also able to say, "Ninataka kununua ngoma.  Bei gani?" which means, "I want to buy a drum.  How much is it?"  It's empowering to have some Swahili vocabulary under my belt!

My language study will only last for 12 weeks, so I'm nearly halfway done already.  Even so, by the end I will confidently say that the elephant belonged to my husband, the towel was dirty, and the bored person was looking at the boat.

Mungu atasaidia hivyo nitaongea Kiswahili kidogo!

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Meet the Residents

We'd like to introduce you to the Family Medicine residents currently working at Tenwek Hospital.  These men have been working on various rotations such as Pediatrics, Medicine and OB as they work through their first year of a 4-year residency program.  Eli is directly involved with teaching the required curriculum for the residents, as well as working with them on their rotations.  These godly men are aiming to bring the healing ministry of Jesus to the people of East Africa.

Elijah Terer

Elijah (on the right in the picture) is well-known around Tenwek.  He's worked in numerous roles over many years and could be a Tenwek Institution in his own right!  Elijah began his medical career by attending the Tenwek School of Nursing and then took a job as a nurse here afterwards.  Then he returned to school to become a Clinical Officer (equivalent of a Physician's Assistant in the States) and took a job here at Tenwek.  After working for several years in that position, Elijah went on to medical school followed by an internship here at Tenwek.  He then worked as a Medical Officer here (equivalent of a General Practitioner in the States) before applying for residency to become a specialized doctor.  He was accepted to the program at Tenwek and now is training to become a Family Medicine doctor!

Elijah is a joyful, welcoming man who is loved by all.  He has an inviting personality and is an intelligent and kind person.  It should be noted that in addition to his role as a medical resident, he's also a pastor at his church.  His obvious leadership skills are being put to good use, and Eli is grateful for the chance to work alongside him as Elijah seeks to improve the healthcare in his community.

Samuel Agot

Samuel (middle in the picture) is from South Sudan.  His complex story sounds like something out of a movie, and it's incredible how God has protected him and led him to this point.  As a child, Samuel was caught in the middle of the Second Sudanese Civil War and became separated from his parents which forced him to join other boys who, together, walked all the way to Ethiopia and ended up in a refugee camp.  Samuel was able to attend school at the refugee camp and performed well enough to be earmarked as a future leader for the provisional government of South Sudan.  As a result, he and some of his classmates were sent to Cuba to attend medical school.  Upon completing medical school, this group of young Sudanese men somehow wound up in Canada working regular jobs.  When the chair of the Family Medicine department at a nearby university heard that a group of medically-trained Sudanese men were more or less "hanging out" in Canada, he created a program for them to get back on track with the hopes of getting them back to Africa to serve as doctors.  Through the efforts of multiple entities, including Samaritan's Purse, Samuel and these other men were ultimately sent back to East Africa, where Samuel did an internship in Kenya before returning to South Sudan to work at a government hospital.  While working there, he was forced to flee from civil conflict yet again, this time with his wife and children along, and again ended up in a refugee camp in Ethiopia where he was the only doctor among 30,000 refugees.  In the long run, Samaritan's Purse helped to facilitate further training for Samuel, which ultimately brought him to the Family Medicine residency here at Tenwek.

Samuel is a hard-working and compassionate man who has gone through trials we can only imagine, and who is daily undergoing the rigors of training in a foreign place in a language that is neither his first or second or even his third language.  He is passionate about returning to South Sudan to meet the needs of his people there, and Eli is blessed beyond measure to work alongside a man who has gone through so much and who desires to bring hope and healing to a country so desperately in need of the kingdom of God.

Elijah Yulu

Elijah (on the left in the picture) is a resident at Chogoria Hospital in another part of Kenya who spent a few months here at Tenwek in order to do his Pediatrics rotation.  It was an unlooked for yet special blessing to have him here because we were hoping to serve at Chogoria Hospital when we originally applied with WGM.  We ended up at Tenwek instead, but this summer Eli had the chance to work with and teach a resident from Chogoria anyway!  It was an encouragement to us and a reminder that God knows what He's doing and He can cross paths in any way He sees fit.

Elijah is a fun-loving and particularly kind young man who is dedicated to his work and to the vision of bringing Christian healthcare to his community.  It was wonderful to add him to the Family Medicine team for a few months and to be blessed by his contributions to Tenwek.

It is a true honor to be involved in the work of training godly people to minister to the healthcare needs of their own communities.  Africans are better equipped to reach Africans than Americans are.  They speak the language and they know the culture inside and out.  They can communicate the Gospel of Jesus more effectively than we can in this culture, so we are praying and working to prepare them to do just that: to proclaim the Good News that Jesus is Healer, not only of our physical bodies but of our souls as well!  Please join us in praying for these men to grow in leadership, that as they are discipled they will become disciplers themselves and bear fruit for the kingdom of God wherever He leads them.