Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Culture Charts and Navigating Culture

This came about because of the day I inadvertently traumatized two of our three children.  What I thought would be a good cultural experience for us all turned into one anxiety attack and one peak of frustration that culminated in two sobbing little boys desperate for an escape from said cultural experience.

Talk about a parent fail.

We had only been in Kenya for a few months, and our gardener mentioned that the nearby school was having traditional dance performances.  I was intrigued and wanted to see this for myself and take photos.  Better yet, I could take all the boys with me and we could learn about this cultural tradition together!  I explained to Caleb and Kai what we were going to do.  I told them there'd be singing and dancing and people dressed in costumes, even with paint on their faces.  It sounded so fun and exciting to the boys.  Costumes?  Face paint?  Who wouldn't want to see that?

So I strapped the baby on my back, and off we went with our gardener leading the way. 

We could hear the singing before we entered the school compound, and it was loud.  Music is usually loud here, so I wasn't phased, but once we entered the compound it was nearly deafening.  That should have been my first clue that things were about to go south, particularly because Caleb struggled with some auditory sensory issues at that time.

The second clue, which was less of a clue and more of an in-your-face realization, happened about one minute after we arrived and the group of students which had finished performing came streaming out the side door of the school, right to where we were standing.  They were dressed in traditional African attire and had various designs painted on their faces with white paint.  It was an impressive sight.  Or a terrifying sight, as it turned out to be for my boys.  Without skipping a beat, the whole group of students literally surrounded us and squatted down to peer into the faces of my sons at an extremely close range.

Caleb instantly began crying, and I mean crying, deep and anxious tears.  Kai buried his face into my side and clung to me like his life depended upon it.

I couldn't blame them.  It takes a lot of strength to bear the stares we receive as a minority here.  Our white skin attracts a lot of attention, and white children garner an even greater amount of attention. 
But to have that kind of attention literally in their face and without any prior warning?  It was too much.  My boys simply fell apart.

Except for Asa, who sat content on my back, oblivious that anything was amiss.

But while the baby was blissfully ignorant of the complete invasion of our personal space, my two other boys were acutely aware and utterly overwhelmed.  So I told our gardener that we needed to move to a different spot.  He took us to the back of the building where we could be alone and catch our breath a bit.  I successfully calmed Caleb down and detached Kai from clinging to my skirt, then asked if they'd be okay standing with our gardener for a minute so I could take some photos.  They agreed, and I went inside the school for literally two minutes to take some photos and a video.  When I came back outside, I discovered that another group of students had descended upon my children and were doing the same thing as the first group: squatting down at eye level and staring at my children.  They, too, were dressed in traditional dance attire, with face paint, and an intimidating presence.  No one was speaking to my boys.  They were just staring at them.  And so both of the boys were now a sobbing, hot mess.  Caleb was having an anxiety attack and Kai didn't know what to do with these people who wouldn't leave him be and so just resorted to crying about it.

And my inner Mama Bear came out.  For better or worse, I couldn't contain her.  I swept forward and threw my hands out to create distance between my children and these youth who didn't seem to understand the situation.  I wasn't angry at them, per se, since I know that personal space doesn't really exist in this culture, but I was definitely defensive of my babies and needing to protect them from the turmoil I'd unwittingly dragged them into.

We left immediately and the boys refused to let go of my hands until we were a good distance away from the school.  Eventually they both recovered from the trauma of being on display for a group of people dressed in traditional dance costumes.  But I felt terrible for putting them through that experience and wanted to reward them somehow for surviving through it.

And that's when I inaugurated their Culture Charts.

The concept was simple: for every new cultural experience, they would earn a sticker.  When they filled out a chart, they'd earn a prize.  It was as simple as that.  And I decided to backtrack for all the cultural experiences they'd already had, so they filled up their first charts pretty quickly with experiences like:

Learning how to greet people. 

Going to church. 

Shopping at the store.

Visiting someone at their home.

Traditional dances.

Other experiences included going to the U.S. Embassy, visiting the dentist, meeting Maasai women on safari, and drinking chai.

Some of these things seem so simple.  Going to church, for example.  They've been going to church since they were born.  But going to church in Kenya is not the same as going to church in America.  There are a lot of differences.  Visiting someone at their home?  Definitely not the same here as it is in America.  The first time we visited someone in the village, Caleb couldn't go into the house.  It was just different enough that he couldn't do it.  We let him play outside and he was fine, and several months later he eventually he made the huge step of going into a Kenyan home and not batting an eye, but it took extra time for him. 

It was a new cultural experience, and he earned a sticker for it.  Which was rewarding and affirming and motivating for him.  Which was exactly why I chose to do Culture Charts in the first place.

We don't use Culture Charts anymore.  The boys have acclimated enough that they're not necessary, which is a good thing.  I had almost forgotten about them until I found them while unpacking here at Chogoria.  It warmed my heart to see the charts again and be reminded of how far our boys have come in navigating their way through this culture.  They're still navigating their way through it, as are we.  But now we can simply have conversations with the boys about culture.  Culture charts are no longer needed to encourage and affirm these kids in their journey through cross-cultural living, and I'm thankful for that.

Sometimes, though, I wish they could still earn stickers.  It was a tangible reminder of what they've learned, and how far they've come.  

And sometimes I wish I could have a Culture Chart too.  I wish I could've earned a sticker for the first time I ate ugali and sukumawiki.  And I would've given myself a sticker for the first time I heard Swahili and understood what was being said.  And for learning to drive on the left side of the road, with cows and goats and zebras in the way.  And for trying and failing to make chai on my own.  And for learning the difference between geckos and skinks.  And for having my hair pulled during church because some kids were curious what long, blonde hair felt like.  And for suffering through typhoid.  I actually would've given myself two stickers for that one...or maybe three...or maybe ten...

But there was no tangible way for me to mark milestones in navigating culture.  There was only the awareness that I had done something new, sometimes succeeding and sometimes not.  And knowing that I had done something new was an achievement in and of itself.

The only way to acclimate to a new culture is to do all the new cultural things that come your way.  And once you do them (or in some cases, once you do them over and over again), then you have the hope of mastering them and being more grounded in this new culture.  And eventually it doesn't all feel new anymore.  Some aspects of this culture begin to feel familiar.  And that is an amazing feeling.  That feeling, in fact, is the greatest prize I could ever hope to earn as I navigate my way through this cross-cultural life.

Monday, July 8, 2019

The Art of Letting Go

During our time in the States last year, people would sometimes ask how we'd grown or changed because of living in Africa.  I always thought that was an insightful question, because it asked something deeper than "So how'd you like it there?" while displaying an understanding that living abroad does indeed change a person.

One of my responses to this question was, "I really learned how to hold things loosely, and simply let go."

When my phone didn't work for the first three months after moving to Kenya, despite multiple communications with people on both sides of globe and concerted efforts to fix the problem, there was nothing to do but let it go.  Oh well.  It would get resolved somehow. some day.  And I had other ways of communicating with people.  So oh well.  Hold it loosely.  Don't let a cell phone cripple you.

When I discovered one day that my precious light corn syrup from America had been nearly used up by my househelper who didn't understand its value (because it can't be bought in Kenya), I had to breathe deeply and let it go.  Light corn syrup isn't worth upsetting an otherwise smooth househelper relationship.

When the gardener planted grass seed in our garden because he thought it was lettuce?

When our sons' Kenyan friend threw books around and ripped pages because he'd never been taught how to handle a book properly?

When the water coming out of the tap was obviously dirty, but it was the only water to bathe our kids in, our kids who were even dirtier than the water?

Let it go.

Let it go.

Let it go.

It was a constant lesson, learning to hold things loosely. 

Power outages affected cooking and homeschooling and bathing (because at least dirty water can be hot if the power is on!).  Cross-cultural communications that resulted in Amelia Bedelia moments were never out of the ordinary.  Daily routines were upended because someone stopped by the door, again.  The list could go on.

In essence, it was because I had so little control over everything that I had to learn to let things go.

Control is something we hold dearly in America.  We love to be in control. 

We control our schedules and agenda by valuing our time and expecting others to do the same.  We control what we eat and when because our food options are virtually limitless in America.  We control where our money goes by holding an individualistic perception of finances ("what I earn is mine to do whatever I want with").  We control what direction our life takes because we make decisions for ourselves, with our own interests in mind.  The list could go on.

Americans love to be in control, and our culture is such that we can control much of our lives.  When things feel out of control, we lose our footing.  It feels like the earth is crumbling beneath us and the only way to get on solid ground again is to get back in control of our lives!

Life in Africa, on the other hand, offers little control.  It offers an albeit stressful (for an American) yet invaluable lesson in learning how to pull back, let go, and let God have His way with us.

After two years of living in Africa, I really thought I had learned a lot about this.  And I think I did.  Truly.  But after spending some time back in America, then returning to life in Africa again, I was smacked in the face with the reality that everything I had previously learned about letting go of my need for control was just scratching the surface.  The need for control is so deeply ingrained in me that, I fear, it will be a lifelong journey of choosing to give up my need for control and opting instead for letting things go.

And I say "choosing" because it does require a choice.  When our cultural makeup has taught us from birth that we can and should be in control of our lives, there's really no other way to unlearn that except to choose a different way.

And choosing a different way has been very good for us, even though it's been very hard.  It's been hard to do because it's unnatural, and it's been hard to do because sometimes I downright don't want to do it!

For example, when we bought this washing machine in Nairobi and had it delivered to Chogoria so we could actually do our laundry, we thought it might take a week or so before getting it all set up.

Our house, however, wasn't built with a washing machine in mind.  There was no obvious place to put it.  So we needed the plumbers from the hospital to come and install some drain pipes and a new electrical box to plug it in, etc.  Long story short, it took over two months before our washing machine was up and running.  It just sat there, staring at me every day while I hauled our laundry to the neighbor's house and back so we could have clean clothes to wear.  It took that long because things just don't happen quickly around here.  That's literally all there is to it.  And there was nothing we could do about it.  We'd gone through all the proper channels and done everything on our end that was appropriate to do, and then we just had to wait.  And wait.  And wait. 

Let me tell you, waiting over two months before having the freedom to do our own laundry whenever I wanted (and however often I wanted) was not easy for me.  I felt trapped, out of control.  I lamented every time our boys would come into the house covered in dirt.  I bit back frustration (or not) every time our boys spilled food on their shirts.  Or every time our son leaked in his bed overnight.  Because all of those times meant I had to do more laundry, without the ability to do it on my own.  My control had been taken from me.

Another example: there are ants in our kitchen.  Specifically, there are ants living in the walls of our house, and they congregate in the kitchen (for obvious reasons).  The only thing that has proven to keep them at bay is constant cleaning and sweeping.  If ever we forget, our sink looks like this:

I fretted over this for several weeks.  I don't like ants in our kitchen.  I don't like that I can't leave a pile of dishes overnight for our househelper to clean in the morning.  I don't like that I sweep our floors like it's my job (as if I need another job!) and I don't like that these little tyrants number in the thousands so that no matter how many I get rid of it doesn't even make a dent in the problem.  It's just the way this house is.  After realizing how much I was letting this bother me, and by God's great grace, I somehow let this go.  I still don't like the ants, but I currently don't vex over all the extra cleaning that goes into holding these little buggers at bay. 

It's just a part of life here.  Like so many other things.  It's just a part of life here.

And the best course of action is to let it go.

Which is something I'm still learning how to do.  Still choosing how to do.

Because, as it turns out, the art of letting go is about making a choice.  It requires choosing to care less about schedules and agendas.  It requires choosing to not begrudge interruptions at the door.  It requires choosing to find and accept help when you discover it's not possible to get the job done on your own.

Pole pole (as the Swahili saying goes, "slowly slowly") I am learning how to make these choices.  There are plenty of days I fail.  But some days I succeed.  And those days are victories.

Monday, April 29, 2019

Tales of Transition

The bags were packed, the deep storage stored, the keys handed back to my folks.  "Boys, time to get in the car!" I shouted to our three little munchkins.  It was time to fly back to Kenya.

I grabbed my own bag, headed out the door, and heard a voice from around the corner.  "Mama, I had an accident."  I turned to see our 6-year old standing in the grass, soaked all the way down to his toes.  It was not the kind of accident we were accustomed to hearing about, which our potty-training 3-year old was a pro at.  So I was confused, then suddenly panicky, and downright upset.

"What happened???" I yelled at him.

"I fell into the lake."

What? I thought.  You mean, the lake at the bottom of the hill that you're expressly forbidden to go to by yourself, and on today of all days when the bags are packed and the car is packed and I have no spare clothes anymore to find for you???  That lake???

It was not my best parenting moment.

Thankfully, my own parents came to the rescue and we found clothes for my son and dried his shoes and I was given space to cry my hot and angry tears and we still got on the road with enough time to make it to Detroit Metro in time for our flight to Nairobi.

*deep breath*

And our son recovered his excitement to fly back to Kenya, which I had temporarily squashed with my parental freak-out moment.

And then we had a great trip overseas!  The boys were all-star travelers, as usual.  We arrived tired but in one piece, and all our luggage came through without issue.

And then we had a smooth reentry into Kenya, minus the expected jet lag which hit the boys pretty hard.  But we rolled with it, administering melatonin and movies at 4am like it was our sole purpose in life.  We saw close friends, we saw a pair of hornbills at the guesthouse (yay!), we went on the annual field retreat and reconnected with a ton of people and met some new friends (sea creatures included), and we started the process of moving from Tenwek Hospital to Chogoria Hospital, where Eli will be the new program director for the family medicine residency there.

We also traveled back to Tenwek to meet and greet old friends and help our hearts with the transition of moving to a new home.  The boys were happy in that familiar place and loved climbing their favorite trees again and playing with one of their best buds.  It was a wonderful time.

Then, finally, we officially moved to our new home at Chogoria Hospital - eight hours away from Tenwek in a different part of the country, among a different people group and a different tribal language.  We love it here.  We love our new house, even thought it's taking a long time to get settled.  And the boys love all the bugs to catch both inside and outside the house.  And we love our new neighbors who've been a delight and a godsend at the same time.

Overall, our transition back to Kenya was smooth.  Quite simply, we were doing great for about three weeks and counted ourselves blessed to have such a smooth transition.

And then this past week happened.

The small-ish trials included power outages, ant infestations in the kitchen, ant bites on the kids, losing some of our stuff in the move from Tenwek to Chogoria, misadventures during a supply run, getting rear-ended by a motorcycle, whiny kids and short tempers, and waking up to water all over the bathroom floor that came from a leak in the hallway closet connected to a plumbing problem with our hot water heater.

The big trial was the morning that Asa accidentally fell off the top bunk of our new triple bunk and landed on the back of his head.  Long story short: his screams were awful, my heart froze with fear, he eventually vomited three times as a result of a concussion, my heart froze again, we took him to the hospital for a CT scan and continued praying for God's protection over our little man. In the end, the images showed no intracranial bleeding but they did show a hairline fracture on the back of his skull.  My heart gave out again, as if it wasn't already spent after the initial trauma.  By God's great grace, Asa was back to his normal self the following day and all we have to do is continually keep our active 3-year old from being too active so his skull has the time to heal on its own.

first night with the new bunk, 
before the incident

waiting for the scan

getting scanned and 
telling him happy thoughts

looking at the results

Asa liked seeing pictures of his skull

We rejoice in God's protection over Asa, whose fall could have resulted in a much worse injury.  Not only did God protect him completely, but He held our hearts close in the midst of fear.  He gave us the prayers of His people and Scripture to claim.  He strengthened us and sustained through that intense trial.

That was actually the first of our trials last week.  Meaning that everything else pales in comparison.  Yet it doesn't negate everything else.  We have still felt the weight of the other burdens and stresses and we still feel the desire to be freed from them.  So many struggles have come at us this past week that it feels like a barrage.  A deluge of difficulties.  An avalanche of adversity.

Which made me remember something I wrote down a while ago.

Two years ago I wrote this in my journal:

The only way to ensure that you won't be attacked by the enemy of God is to do little or nothing for God.... But if you are trying to bear fruit for the kingdom of God, if you are trying to spread the Gospel, if you are trying to be a source of light in this very dark world, then be assured that the enemy of God will make enemies of you too and will mount his attacks against you.

After the water leak incident this morning I suddenly remembered writing these words and went back to find them.  I wrote those words as an encouragement to myself during a difficult time when it felt like we were under spiritual attack.  I remembered those words this morning, not only because we now find ourselves feeling the same way again - under attack - but also because we're in the middle of transition, which seems to be a prime time for the enemy to go on the offensive.

In general, I don't think Satan chooses to attack people just because they're in transition.  But I do think he chooses to attack people who are making an obedient choice to do the will of God, especially if that choice requires altering courses in order to do it.  Which is why times of transition are especially susceptible to spiritual attacks.  Whenever a person chooses to fulfill God's good plan, it invites the enemy's schemes.  When coupled with the underlying stress inherent with major transition, the enemy's schemes are particularly potent.

Back to my journal entry from a two years ago:

What matters is not that we will have trouble in this world or that we will be attacked by the enemy of God if we are bringing glory to God.  What matters is how we choose to respond to it.  There's no denying that trials and hardships are a burden.  The crux of the matter is whether or not we bear the burden well.  That is what Satan is really concerned about, and what God is really concerned about too....  We should be prayerful.  We should be reading Scripture and reminding ourselves that a servant is no greater than his master - if Jesus can be tested by the devil then so can we, and so shall we be....  

We are certainly being tested and tried.  And we have a choice: the choice is how we respond.  God instructs us how to respond when Satan attacks, which is to resist him and stand firm in the faith.  Our choice is whether to do it or not.

Just yesterday I read a book to the boys that was among the many we've unearthed since being back in Kenya.  It's called The Sheep That No One Could Find and is a rhyming retelling of the Parable of the Lost Sheep.  In it, the lost sheep is depicted as being pursued first by a wolf, then a lion, then a snake, all out to destroy him.  I asked our boys why they thought the author would write that into the story even though the real story doesn't include those kinds of details.  Caleb immediately said, "Because the lion is prowling around looking for someone to devour!"  That kid knows Scripture.  I opened my Bible to 1 Peter and read them the passage he was remembering: "Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.  Resist him, standing firm in the faith" (5:8-9).

This is how we're resisting the enemy in this very present trial: we've started laughing instead of stewing, we're reading Scripture truths that speak into this, we're praying for joy and peace, we're contacting other people to also pray for us, and we did a prayer walk through our house to pray over every single room.  Let me tell you, it was powerful to hear our sons pray with us, saying things like, "Thank you for this room" and "make Satan just go away from this room" and "God, come here."

If we resist the devil and stand firm in the faith, we give glory to God.  And as I ended my journal entry two years ago,

If God can be glorified, then Satan is defeated.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Chai Time for Life

When asked what I miss the most about living in Kenya, I think of chai time.  Not just chai (which is amazing in its own right with Kenyan tea leaves and fresh milk from the cow), but chai time.

Kenyans drink a lot of chai.  For breakfast, mid-morning, lunch, mid-afternoon, supper.  Maybe other times in between.  Basically, any time of day is a good time for chai.  And my favorite part of drinking chai is the time it takes to drink it.

Not because it takes long to guzzle it down, but because it involves putting everything else on pause in order to sit down together.

During mid-morning chai time at the hospital, Eli and his team of residents and interns would pause rounding on patients in order to sit down at a table and drink chai together.

During mid-morning chai time at our house, the boys and I would pause homeschooling and our househelper would pause cleaning/cooking so we could sit down at the table and drink chai together.

This was not a gathering at the water cooler.  We did not stand around and make small talk about the weather.  Not exactly.

We sat down at the table together, we prayed over the chai, and we talked.  Sometimes about the weather, yes, but about many other things as well.  We talked about where we came from, what songs were sung at church, the best way to eat a loquat, why our kids wanted to carve faces into pumpkins, what we'd be cooking for the Christmas meal, my multiple language blunders, and much more.

Basically, we spent time appreciating each other and trying to understand each other better.  It was a way of loving one another.

And sometimes we didn't say much at all.  Yet the long silences that sometimes ensued while sipping chai were not uncomfortable.  We didn't feel obligated to fill the silence.  There was peace in simply sitting around a table together, pausing from everything else, and being still together.

Asa drinking his first cup of chai

Recently our family took a break not unlike chai time.  It was a time of putting everything else on pause, of intentionally sitting down together to appreciate each other and understand each other better, and sometimes to sit in silence together and let that be okay.  It was a sort of chai time for life.

It took a few weeks, and actually required a lot of heart work, and was so very good.  We came away feeling more connected, more patient and present with each other, and ready to unpause and dive back into life.  The only thing that could've made it better is if there'd been an actual cup of chai in our hands!

As we prepare to head back to Kenya in a few weeks, we look forward to re-embracing the rhythm of chai time, of pausing together to intentionally be together.  This, I believe, is one way we can love each other well.

Saturday, December 29, 2018

Righteousness and Obedience: Christmas and All Year Long

Recently I enjoyed a two-day Sabbath away from home.  Two nights by myself, Bible and commentary in hand.  I spent hours reading the Christmas story all over again, appreciating it in its fullness and gaining new insights from the commentary.  Of everything I pored over, two things captured me:


In particular, Joseph and Mary exhibited these qualities.  And we have much to learn from them that can and should be applied all year long.  As we enter into a new year, I'm encouraged to continue loving and pursuing a righteous and obedient life.

"Joseph her husband was a righteous man..."

Scripture has very little to say about Joseph, but we know this much: he was a righteous man.  It's one of the first things we learn about him.  In Matthew 1:18, we learn that he and Mary were pledged to be married to one another.  In the next verse we read plainly: "Joseph her husband was a righteous man..."  The Greek word that's translated into English as "righteous" is δίκαιος (pronounced dē'-kī-os).  According to www.blueletterbible.org, it means exactly how it was translated: righteous.  To take it further, it describes someone who observes divine and human laws.  To take it further still, it describes someone "who is such as he ought to be."

Joseph was a righteous man.  He was such as he ought to be.

After letting that sink in, I decided this will be a new prayer of mine: "Lord, may I be as I ought to be."

Meaning, may I be as He desires me to be.  May I bear His image with honor and humbleness.  May I see people and treat people like Jesus does.  May I follow and serve Him no matter the cost.  May I listen to Him and choose obedience to Christ every day.  May I bear fruit for His Kingdom because I am being as I ought to be.

I am humbled by Joseph's righteousness, not because it existed in a vacuum but because it led to faithful obedience.  Matthew 1:19 actually begins, "Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man..."  This is the verse that tells what Joseph did upon hearing that Mary was pregnant, and not by him.  According to Mosaic Law, he could have had her publicly judged and stoned.  Instead, because he was a righteous man, he decided to divorce her quietly and spare her the experience of public shame.  This says a lot about Joseph's character.

But that's not all.

After he decided that a quiet divorce was the better course of action, an angel visited Joseph in a dream and told him to marry Mary anyway.  The angel explained that "what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit" and the baby - to be named Jesus - would save His people from their sins.

Then, "When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife" (Matthew 1:24, emphasis mine).

Joseph did as he was told.  Even though it made little sense.  Even though it would invite chastisement from those around them.  Even though it required reorienting his perception of the situation.  Even though it meant working through the confusing and painful emotions of betrayal and distrust so they could be replaced with understanding and love.  Even though it meant agreeing to a different life than he'd signed up for.

Despite all that came with it, Joseph did as he was told.

Because of all that came with it, Joseph did as he was told.

He did as he was told because he was being as he ought to be.

I'm convinced that righteousness begets obedience.  Joseph chose to obey the command of the Lord because he was righteous.  Later, when an angel again appeared to Joseph in a dream and gave a command, he obeyed.  Right away.  He didn't even wait until morning, but "got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt" (Matthew 2:14).  Joseph's righteous character led to obedience.  His love for God led to service of the King.

And I'm sure that's why he was chosen to be the husband of Mary and the earthly father of Jesus.

Mary would need a righteous man to stand by her and withstand the judgments from those around them.  She would need someone who could (and did) hear the Lord and believe her story.  She would need someone willing to parent a child not entirely his own.

And Jesus would need a righteous man to love and care for His human self.  He would need someone who could (and did) hear the Lord and rush to protect his family by escaping in the night.  He would need someone willing to cross borders and live cross-culturally for an uncertain amount of time in order to keep his child safe.

The Christmas story would not be the same without Joseph.  It would not be the same without his righteousness.

"I am the Lord's servant.  May it be to me as you have said."

We know a bit more about Mary than we do about Joseph.  What continues to astound me is her humble character.  She knew her place in the universe.  I don't mean that she was chosen to be the mother of the Savior, but that she was committed to being the Lord's servant.  Period.

Her response to the angel Gabriel's announcement that she would give birth to the Son of the Most High displays her heart: "May it be to me as you have said" (Luke 1:38).  Someone overwhelming and frightening shows up unexpectedly (hence the need to say "Do not be afraid, Mary") and says something kinda crazy (you're gonna have a baby even though you're a virgin - and he'll be the Savior of the world, by the way), and Mary essentially says, "Yeah, okay.  Whatever you say is cool with me."

She was obedient.  Even though it meant her reputation would be maligned.  Even though it meant her relationship with her betrothed would be deeply affected.  Even though it meant a sword would pierce her own soul too (Luke 2:35).  Even though it meant agreeing to a different life than she'd signed up for.

Despite all that came with it, Mary said yes.

Because of all that came with it, Mary said yes.

Mary said yes because she was obedient.

And I think she was obedient because first she was righteous.  The two tend to go hand in hand.  Righteousness begets obedience.

Mary and Joseph, a righteous and obedient couple, suffered much for their decisions to follow and serve God how He asked them to.  But they also benefited much.  They experienced miracles.  They spoke with angels face to face.  They gained a personal understanding of how the Holy Spirit can work through humanity.  They witnessed firsthand how joy can infect people (think of Zechariah and Elizabeth, the shepherds, Simeon, and Anna).  They were literally gifted with expensive and lavish presents.

But more than anything, they were blessed with participating in God's good plan for the world.  And "Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart" (Luke 2:19).  "The child's father and mother marveled at what was said about [Jesus]" (Luke 2:33).

We recently had a long talk with some good friends about a decision they're making that has already raised questions from others.  The decision is a good one, a godly one, and they feel confirmed in moving forward after spending many months in prayer about it.  But it can be hard on the heart when others don't share an understanding of what God is asking, or when others outright question a decision being made.  Our encouragement to them was this: be obedient.  There is no greater choice to be made than obedience to Christ.  No matter the cost.  No matter what people think or say.

We also encouraged our friends by reminding them they're not alone in being questioned for making a counter-cultural decision that will affect their whole life.  We've gained some experience in that regard.  We've had people question our choice to do missions.  To live overseas.  To take our children with us.  To give up a doctor's salary.  To be financially dependent on others.  To not settle down somewhere.  To choose a perceived horrible life.  

All of this has been said of us, and often directly to us.

And sometimes it's hard to hear.  But always it's a reminder that no matter what people say or think - shoot, no matter what WE say or think sometimes - we are choosing a path of obedience.  And I hope that's because we are walking in righteousness.

So as we enter a new year, our prayer is that we would be as we ought to be, like Joseph.  And may our response to God's leading be the same as Mary's: "May it be to me as you have said."

Tuesday, December 4, 2018


Ever since the journey of "missionaryhood" began for us (over 14 years ago now) we've been asked questions many times, in many ways, that all boil down to this: Why?

Why do you want to live overseas?

Why would you choose to forsake the salary of a doctor in the States?

Why would you choose to raise your kids in a different culture?

Why would you choose to live there all the time, instead of just visiting?

Why do you want to serve overseas when there are so many needs here in the States?

Why is this so important to you?


Here is a short video we've used at churches to set up this question:

So why do we do this?  The short answer: Because God asked us to and we chose to obey, and because we believe that serving the poor is close to the heart of God, and because Africa as a whole suffers from the least amount of doctors per person than anywhere else in the world.

Check out this map from the World Health Organization.  Countries in red have less than 1 physician per 10,000 people.  This has been continually convicting us to keep doing what we're doing.

In short, God asked us to go and meet a need for healing people in Africa.  We said yes.  That's really all there is to it.

The long answer includes things like Jesus saying, "When you enter a town and are welcomed, eat what is set before you.  Heal the sick who are there and tell them, 'The kingdom of God is near you.' " (Luke 10:8-9).

It also includes things like the Lord saying to Moses, "I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt.  I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering.  So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians" (Exodus 3:7-8) and then the Lord packing a punch when He said, "So now, GO.  I am sending YOU to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt" (Exodus 3:10, emphasis mine).

The long answer includes us recognizing that, often, God desires to use His people to be the answer to prayers and cries for help.  It includes knowing the heart of God, which breaks for those who are sick and suffering, and knowing that He calls His own and equips His own to bring comfort and healing.

The long answer includes obedience and determination, continually confirming that we're still on track with His plan for our life, and commitment and joy to be in His service.

That's about it.

If you want the longest version to why we do what we do, give us a call and we'll tell you in person!

Saturday, October 13, 2018

The Uniqueness of Medical Missions

Thinking about ministry is much like thinking about a person: each ministry is unique in its own right, with its own set of blessings and challenges that set it apart from other ministries.  No two are the same, and they are constantly growing, adapting, and transforming over time.

With that said, some generalities can be made.  This post is about that: generalities.  Even within the relatively small medical missions world there are vastly different scenarios depending on context.  So let it be noted that this is only about generalities.

The various aspects of medical missions sometimes garner the envy of other ministries, and sometimes garner sympathy.  To understand why, here is what's generally unique about medical missions.

People come to you.
When a health professional shows up to hang his shingle, as it were, word travels fast and people suddenly start showing up at your door.  Medical missionaries rarely ever have to spend time and energy looking for people to minister to and who want their help.  People are sick all over the world, and many people have been sick for a long time without answers and without help.  So when a doctor or nurse or anyone with any ability to help with their physical needs shows up, people start flocking.  It's an incredible blessing to have the people you've come to help willingly come to your door.

You see lots of suffering and death.
The people at your door, however, are often deathly sick.  And I mean deathly.  One of the most unique and hardest aspects of medical missions is the incredible amount of suffering and death you see.  Heartbreak and tragedy are daily experiences.  Simple conditions like strep throat and serious diseases like tetanus, meningitis, and typhoid all lead to death without proper and timely intervention.  People die.  A lot.  Way more than you want to imagine and way more than you care to see.  And you see it.  You witness it with your own eyes.  It's especially hard to watch so many children die.  Mothers still die in childbirth, as do their babies, and young children still die at alarming rates from all kinds of conditions, most of which are preventable.  Medical missionaries must learn how to emotionally process all the death they see.  They must also become experienced at telling grieving family members that a loved one has died.  And sometimes grieving people wail at the top of their lungs for the entire hospital compound to hear - an ongoing reminder of the presence of death.  For all the good outcomes and healing success stories, of which there are many, the amount of suffering and death remains a shocking and sobering part of daily life for a medical missionary.

Opportunities to share the Gospel are plentiful.
Not only are people coming to find you, but many of them are eager to hear good news.  Being sick, especially if the sickness is serious, is a vulnerable place to be.  People want hope.  They want good news.  And what better news is there than the Good News?  A medical ministry offers incredible opportunities to share the love of Jesus and the hope of heaven with the sick and the dying.  Physical healing and spiritual healing often go hand in hand.  And in some places, like where we currently serve, there are few obstacles to sharing our religious convictions with patients in the hospital.

You must be careful not to forego the spiritual needs of patients.
Even though the opportunities to share the Gospel are plentiful, it's all too easy to get wrapped up in meeting the physical needs of the people around you, because the needs are glaring and abundant.  When you are faced with immediate physical needs, you tend to go into "doctor mode" and do the doctoring required to figure out what the patient needs to make them well again.  That's what you were trained to do.  Sometimes it's hard to remember the spiritual needs of someone who's lying on a bed in front of you with an arrow sticking out of his face.

Your professional training is ongoing.
We were expected to meet certain educational requirements before heading overseas as missionaries, and Eli was obviously required to have a medical license in order to practice medicine.  That medical license was obtained after seven years of medical training in America.  Family doctors in America are taught basic adult medicine and pediatrics, learning things such as helping patients with weight management and well-child checks and the occasional serious condition.  Family doctors in Africa need to know how to manage everything from malaria to cholera to worms to machete wounds.  Upon moving to Africa, Eli was required to further his medical training in order to treat diseases he'd never treated before.  For example, the very first patient Eli saw in Kenya needed to be treated for uncontrolled HIV and tuberculosis meningitis.  And that's not uncommon.  Eli has undergone extensive and ongoing medical training since moving to Africa, little of which was taught through his professional training in America.

There are days when we feel incredibly blessed to be doing what we're doing, and there are days when we envy what non-medical missionaries get to do.  I suppose that's human nature and par for the course.  Because every area of ministry has plusses and minuses, blissful benefits and dreadful downsides.

These particular aspects of medical missions are what make it unique.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Images of Kenya: The Wildlife

Going on safari is a magical experience.  We had the privilege of going several times because we lived so close to Maasai Mara, Kenya's most well-known game preserve.  The savannah is an awe-inspiring place, a habitat with a broad diversity of wildlife that reminds us how masterful and creative our Creator God is.

These animals offer Kenya an economic boost because of the steady stream of tourists that come to see them.  And no wonder!  Going on safari is a once-in-a-lifetime experience (unless you're like us and live so close you can even do day trips - can't complain about that!).

These photos really don't do it justice.  But they offer a glimpse.

And yes, these are all my photos.  I've been asked many times if they are.  Just a regular DSLR camera, up close and personal with the animals.

I think of Aslan every time I see this photo

ubiquitous antelope

Mama zebra and baby

solitary giraffe

these two rhinos are under surveillance 24/7 
by the Kenyan Wildlife Service, 
to ensure they are protected from poachers

the Swahili word for zebra is "punda milia" 
which means "striped donkey"

leopard, one of the more elusive big cats

male ostrich

hippos are surprisingly loud creatures

baby hippo!

gathering around the water hole


we saw these beauties and Asa 
started staying "twiga"
which is Swahili for giraffe

secretary bird, which we knew all about 
from watching a Wild Kratts episode

pair of lions


cheetah siblings recently independent from their mother

Hello, elephant!

a herd of female elephants

baby cape buffalo

silver-backed jackal

mama lion moving her cub 
to a new location

lazy lions

line of giraffes

yes, the safari jeeps really do get that close

mama baboon and baby

baby baboon!

mama rhinoceros and baby, a very rare sight


flamingo stretching its wings

These last photos are not from safari.  But they are more examples of Kenya's diverse and incredible wildlife.

chameleon, which we could find easily 
in the yard around our house

starfish at the coast

moray eel in the tide pools at the coast

crab at the beach