Monday, December 25, 2017

Interruptions During the Nativity

Recently while I was homeschooling the boys I was interrupted by a woman at the door selling beet roots and cilantro.  I wasn't particularly happy to pause our lesson to answer the door for a persistent woman who wouldn't stop knocking.  And I really wasn't interested in the beet roots.  But cilantro was cause for excitement, so the interruption seemed worthwhile.  Later as I prepared lunch I was interrupted by a man at the door selling potatoes.  I didn't need them, but I'd turned the guy down the previous two times so I felt obligated to buy potatoes again.  Then the phone rang while I was putting Asa down for a nap and the caller was ignored because I wasn't willing to let the naptime routine be interrupted.  That afternoon I was interrupted by someone else at the door wanting to borrow a cup of sugar and that night we were interrupted during a rare movie night by someone calling Eli with a medical question.  Not to mention the constant interruptions from three little boys throughout the day who need noses wiped and sippy cups filled and fights broken up and band-aids applied and toys reclaimed from the black hole under the couch and so on and so on.

Sometimes our life seems to be nothing but a constant stream of daily interruptions.  And sometimes our life is barraged by bigger interruptions like my recent bout with a bacterial infection that kept me in bed for 10 days - let me tell you, it is a huge interruption when Mama is down for the count for that long!  And I must confess that I am not a fan of being interrupted.  I find myself cringing whenever there's a knock at the door from someone selling something or seeking monetary assistance.  When the kids don't leave me alone for five minutes I struggle to reign in my frustration. And recently I was begging God to heal me because the major interruption of being seriously sick meant that I couldn't do normal life and take care of my family, which was rather annoying.

I was reflecting on this a bit when the Christmas season came upon us, and as I read the Christmas story again I realized there are many interruptions throughout the narrative.

First of all, the lives of Mary and Joseph were forever changed because of the virgin birth.  Neither of them planned on the sudden influence of the Holy Spirit to ruin their original notion for a proper marriage and subsequent family life.  Nor did Mary's birth plan include hiking to Judea because of Caesar Augustus' ill-timed yet obligatory census.  I imagine these interruptions were inconvenient at best.  

Then Mary gave birth to a son, a Savior.  His arrival had been announced to a crew of shepherds in the nearby fields, but Mary and Joseph weren't aware of the impending visit from neighboring herdsmen and no doubt were ill-prepared for them all.  (I sometimes wonder if Mary was nursing the baby and quickly tucked him back into the manger because a group of shepherds suddenly appeared at her door!)  But at least this interruption was one of awe and joy.  It was an interruption that caused Mary to treasure these things and ponder them in her heart (Luke 2:19).  And presumably Mary and Joseph weren't too cranky about the unexpected visit since the shepherds left the stable praising and glorifying God (rather than stewing about disagreeable hosts).

Then, at some point the Magi appeared out of nowhere (or at least somewhere east) and proffered extravagant gifts.  Gold!  Incense!  Myrrh!  I imagine Jesus' parents were pretty happy with this interruption even if they were caught off guard by a group of strange men worshiping their child.  

But then a "big picture" interruption happened: the flight to Egypt because of Herod's death sentence against the Messiah.  No one saw that coming, but it altered their life once again.  They got up in the middle of the night and fled, not knowing how long they'd be forced to live in a foreign land.  This interruption most likely caused anxiety and fear for both the present and future.

What I had never noticed about the Christmas story before is that God the Son took on flesh in a world fraught with interruptions.  From the moment He was miraculously conceived by the Holy Spirit, Christ demonstrated yet another way that He became fully man: He assumed a life marked by regular interruptions.  Therefore, we serve a Savior who understands what it's like to receive a knock on the door at an inconvenient time.  We also serve a Savior who teaches us how to respond to the knock.

Jesus was interrupted over and over again, especially by crowds who saw and experienced His powerful teaching and miraculous healing.  When the crowds followed Him, Jesus healed diseases and drove out demons (Mark 1:32-34), taught them (Mark 2:13), healed the sick and fed them all (Matthew 14:13ff), healed the sick and fed them all again (Matthew 15:29ff), and gave sight to the blind (Matthew 20:29-34).  Although Jesus also intentionally avoided the crowds at times, He exemplified how to be patient and welcoming even at the most inconvenient times (like the time people followed Him even though His cousin had just been beheaded and He really wanted some solitude and rest).  Jesus understood the value of giving people His time and attention, even if it was at an inconvenient time, which is something our American culture does not understand well.

As we've lived in Kenya and dealt with what sometimes feels like a barrage of daily interruptions, I've been faced with the reality that it is not in my nature (or cultural makeup) to handle interruptions well.  It's humbling and frustrating to realize this about myself, especially when I want to value people and relationships more than tasks or time.  But as I look to Jesus, who was born into a life of interruptions and who exemplified throughout His life how to handle them, I am being challenged to face my instinctual response to the plethora of interruptions that happen here and to find a better response: to open the door with love, to let God lead our every step (whether in our daily routine or on the days we're crossing borders), and to find what joy can be had in whatever interrupts us.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

When Sickness Strikes in Africa

The day before Thanksgiving, while we were traveling, I became sick.  I spent the next ten days in bed, fighting off an unknown infection that would not be defeated by my immune system alone.  It was the most sick I've ever been, but this arduous experience increased the conviction of our calling to bring healing to the poor in Kenya.

It started right after breakfast with a headache and overall weakness.  I laid down before our lunch engagement, barely made it through lunch, then went right back to bed for the rest of the day as chills overtook me.  By the next morning I was still weak and not feeling well, but by God's grace I survived the two-hour drive to Eldoret where we stayed the night.  I had skipped breakfast and lunch and went straight to bed again as soon as we arrived at the guesthouse.  Eli and the boys enjoyed a delicious Thanksgiving meal with the guesthouse owners while I laid in bed with chills and stomach pain, moaning and groaning my way through the afternoon.

Diarrhea arrived during the night, which was a most unwelcome guest.  Diarrhea + traveling + not being in your own home = discomfort at best.  I was miserable with intense stomach pain and the inability to sleep well.  In the morning I told Eli that I couldn't make the 4-hour drive back to Tenwek without medication in my system, so he made a trip to the chemist (aka pharmacist) to find some meds, which he thankfully procured and brought back to me before things got even worse.  My husband, God bless him, took care of the kids and all the packing while I laid on the couch trying to recoup some lost sleep.

We stopped once for the boys to get something to eat, and I tried a lemonade which I couldn't finish, so I simply headed back to the car to curl up in the front seat and wait for the remainder of the trip to Tenwek.  By the grace of God alone we made it all the way back without any incidents in the car, and the minute we pulled up to our house I had to dash inside to the bathroom.  I'm telling you, it was the grace of God alone that got us home that day!

I was unable to attend our Tenwek Thanksgiving celebration the next day, which was a particular disappointment since I had planned the entire day's festivities for nearly 100 people.  I later heard that the food and fellowship were amazing, which I thank God for, but was incredibly discouraged to have laid in bed all day while everyone else enjoyed the specially-ordered turkey and the traditional all-pie dessert.

By Day 5 I thought I was turning a corner because I was able to sit up and eat a bit.  I slept through the night and thought better days were ahead.  But by mid-morning the pain and exhaustion were back, as well as the fever, and it quickly became obvious that the mystery infection would not go down without a fight.  On Day 7 it was decided that I needed IV fluids to combat the severe dehydration caused by so much diarrhea.  One of the privileges of being a missionary at a mission hospital is that my community consists of doctors galore and insider contacts to everyone and everything at the hospital.  So a friend of mine rallied the troops and brought one of the best nurses in the hospital down to my house to get me started on an IV drip.  Over the course of the two days that I was on IV fluids there were multiple doctors making house calls to check on me and help with treatment, and I felt blessed and spoiled to be sick in such a place as this.

Caleb was very curious about what was going on 
and became determined to help take care of Mama too!

I was so dehydrated that the nurse couldn't get a blood sample, so I was pumped with fluid for a day before trying to get a blood sample the next day.  Thankfully it worked the second time around and we were able to send samples to the lab.  Unfortunately, no one was able to identify the infection, but it was determined that it was bacterial (not viral), and it was not malaria.  Our current best guess is that I had typhoid.

After starting a round of antibiotics, which made me vomit a couple times but which ultimately kicked my immune system in gear, I started to turn a corner.  I stayed in bed for several more days, and on Day 10 I was able to get up and hobble around the house and even eat something.  I basically hadn't eaten for a week, which left me tired and weak, so regaining my appetite and beginning to put food in my stomach was a huge victory.

And slowly, slowly, I started to recover.  It's not easy on anyone when Mama is out of commission for so long, but my beloved husband was Super Dad and Super Husband the entire time.  He rose to the challenge and took care of the boys and took care of me and cooked meals and did laundry and worked tirelessly to keep everything in working order while I laid in bed for over a week.  And we were so loved and supported by the missionary community as well.  People watched our kids, covered Eli at the hospital so he could be home with us, brought us meals, came to pray with me, sent encouraging notes and posted Scripture on our door.  We couldn't have survived without all the help and love and support from our community!

In the midst of it all, I couldn't help but wonder how countless people throughout Kenya who suffer similar sicknesses are able to manage without access to healthcare.  I think that often they don't manage and suffer continually.  My infection, whatever it was, was not something that could run its course and eventually I would just get better.  I needed antibiotics and IV fluids to heal and recover.  And I thought about all the people who don't have easy access to healthcare like I did.  I thought about those who suffer for days, lying in bed unable to function as they hope and assume their illness will eventually pass but instead they continue to suffer while the infection rages on.  My heart aches for those who are faced with the reality of chronic illness or even death because they don't have access to the resources or opportunities for an alternative.  And now I feel an even stronger conviction to continue the work we are doing: providing the healing ministry of Jesus to countless people who would have no access to healthcare otherwise.

While I laid in bed I was reminded of the life-changing words we heard a Fulani woman say in Cameroon.  We were helping administer vaccines to a group of women and children in the bush, and one woman said, "Since you've been coming, our children don't get sick anymore."  Her words have impacted us ever since, and we come back to them whenever we're discouraged or feel too exhausted to go on.  What these people need, all over the world, are people willing to come and offer healthcare - to bring themselves and medical knowledge and medicine and compassion in Jesus' name.  And that is what we're trying to do.  And after suffering this mystery infection for so long and knowing I defeated it because I have access to healthcare, I feel even stronger about this call on our life.

When John the Baptist sent his disciples to ask Jesus if He was the Messiah, Jesus was in the middle of curing many who had diseases, sicknesses and evil spirits, and giving sight to the blind (Luke 7:18-21).  When John's disciples reached Him and asked if He was the Messiah, this is what Jesus said: "Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor" (7:22).  In other words, the healing ministry of Jesus was a sign that He was the Messiah, and to participate in the ministry of healing is to participate in the work of the Messiah.

So I am on the mend, still taking it slow but able to get around and do some of our normal routine.  And I am thankful for the chance to be here doing the work God has called us to.  I am thankful for a husband who's willing to face the sickness and suffering of so many people at the hospital every day, and who's willing to do what he can to offer hope and healing to those who suffer from all the Oregon Trail diseases and more which are still alive and well in the developing world.  It's not an easy thing to do, but it's what we can do to represent Jesus and all He has to offer to this sick and dying world.

I have notoriously small veins and had to be pricked several
times on my wrists and arm for the IVs and blood draws. 
These bruises were several days old. 
Battle wounds in the healing process!

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Learning From the One Who Teaches Us What is Best for Us

I stumbled upon this verse a few weeks ago while teaching Caleb's Social Studies class.  The kids have been learning about people/places within a community, and that particular day they were learning about the role of teachers.  Wanting to incorporate a biblical principle into the lesson at the last minute, I did what any non-teacher-trained-but-still-a-homeschooling-mom would do: I flipped to the concordance in the back of my Bible and looked under the word "teach."  And this is what I found:

This is what the Lord says 
your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel:
"I am the Lord your God,
who teaches you what is best for you,
who directs you in the way you should go."

~ Isaiah 48:17

A beautiful and encouraging verse stared me in the face and I was able to apply it right then and there with the 4- and 5-year olds sitting around our dining room table.  It's the kind of verse that should be framed or cross-stitched on a pillow.  I even made it the memory verse of the week for our boys.  I felt proud as I faithfully spent the week reinforcing the notion to our kids that God is a teacher, and He teaches us what is best for us – "What's best for us, you guys?  To love God and love each other, yadda yadda yadda..."  It wasn't until several days later that I bothered to read the verse in its context, and my heart sank.  If only quick concordance checks would clue us in to the context of Bible verses!

Isaiah 48 begins like this: "Listen to this, O House of Jacob, you who are called by the name of Israel and come from the line of Judah..."  Jacob, Israel, Judah.  There is no mistaking who God is speaking to: His chosen people.  Then God proceeds to call out the character qualities of Israel at that time.  They are a people marked by a lack of righteousness, a history of stubbornness, an inability to hear and understand, and are full of treachery and rebellion.  God even says they "were called a rebel from birth" (vs. 8).  Ouch.  He is not going easy on the nation of Israel.

After God makes it clear who Israel is, He then makes it clear who He is: He is the One who delays His wrath for His own name's sake, He is the One who refines and tests His people, and He is the creator and commander of the heavens and the earth.  To put it simply, God says, "I am he; I am the first and I am the last" (v. 12b).

It is only after all this that God says, "I am the Lord you God, who teaches you what is best for you, who directs you in the way you should go" (vs. 17).  Why does God say this incredibly beautiful and encouraging thing at such a discouraging point in Scripture?  Because Israel was so screwed up that they needed to be reminded that they were nothing but lost and wayward students who could never make it anywhere in this world without the Teacher.  The reality is that verse 17 only feels like butterflies and sunshine when it's read in isolation.  When read in context, it feels like ugh and flat-on-my-face humility and repentance for being a rebel from birth!  That is not something I want cross-stitched on a pillow.

To make matters worse, directly after verse 17 comes verse 18, which begins like this: "If only you had paid attention to my commands..."  This is past tense.  Israel had already failed.  They had failed to pay attention to the Lord's commands and therefore they missed out on what was best for them.  The English translation of "what is best for you" comes from the Hebrew word יָעַל (pronounced ya`al) and is properly translated as "to ascend."  God is essentially saying to Israel, "I want to teach you how to ascend!  Get out of that pit you're in and pay attention!"  Oh, how much we need to be reminded of that lesson.

Life on the mission field is busy.  We may not be driving our kids to school and back every day or to sports practice or much else that consumes so much time in America, but we are still very busy over here.  We are homeschooling and going to Bible Studies and attending birthday parties and checking emails and answering pages and talking with people at our door about a dozen times a day.  In the midst of all this, it's difficult to pull back and learn something from what's happening around us.  Being so consumed with this and that and everything in between leaves little time and wherewithal to be taught.  This reality is especially ironic for me as I fill the role of teacher for my own kids and some other MKs and have realized how much I want these kids to learn whatever it is I'm teaching, and to be eager about it too!  Whenever we have a bad homeschooling day, I feel defeated.  Sometimes I want to bang my head against the wall and give up altogether.  I want to scream, "I don't have to do this!  I don't have to teach you how to read!  I don't have to teach you how to count and add and care about numbers!  I could be doing about a million other things right now that could fill me up instead of deplete me and leave me feeling steamrolled by a 4-and 5-year old!"  But those days give me a glimpse into how God must feel most days with us.  He wants to teach us, He wants us to be excited to learn from Him, and He wants us to pay attention and go in the way He directs for us.  God wants us to be teachable.  When we stare out the window, when we wiggle and giggle and don't hear a thing the teacher says, when we tell God we're tired and want to be done, when we make it clear that we'd rather be doing anything else but learning at His feet...well, that's a disappointment if not an affront to God.  And I know His Teacher heart aches.

But when we learn something!  When we pay attention and ascend out of the pit!  Oh, what glorious days!  What delight the Teacher takes in us!  What joy and hope and blessing there is!  

So this is our task: pay attention and learn something!

In brief, here is what I've been learning lately: that to be a missionary and live in community and live cross-culturally, grace is required – for yourself and everyone around you.  Grace, grace, grace.  Lots and lots of grace!  Also, that people tend to care a lot more about how you make them feel than what words come out of your mouth.  Also, that I'm (still) quick to judge and that's not a good thing.  Also, that God is truly creative in how He calls people to missions and how He grows/challenges us all in our various points of the journey.  Also, that I really love and cherish the wisdom and perspective of missionaries who've been here a long time!

The more I reflect on it, Isaiah 48:17 feels like an all-encompassing verse that describes our relationship with God.  We are the stubborn, treacherous, rebellious students of the patient, refining God who is the first and the last and who desires what is best for us despite ourselves and who is willing to direct us in the way we should go to achieve that.  We are lowlifes and He is offering us LIFE.  That is what Isaiah 48:17 is capturing at its core.  And that is worth framing or cross-stitching on a pillow!


Along with the theme of teaching and learning, here are some snapshots of what Caleb and Kai are doing for school this year.  It's an interesting and rewarding experience to figure out homeschooling on the mission field!

Caleb's Science Class

Another mom is teaching a Kindergarten science class once/week, which Caleb is a part of.  He loves it!  They've learned about animal habitats and fossils and, most recently, how to make a volcano erupt!  He was super excited about it.  I made the dough for the experiment, then he shaped it and added his own decor, and then learned how to make it explode.  Man, he was pumped!  This science class has been so much fun for him and I'm so thankful to the other mom who's teaching it because I wouldn't be doing any of that on my own right now.  I'm so thankful for the cooperation between parents here to teach each other's kids.

Caleb's Social Studies Class

I'm teaching a Kindergarten Social Studies curriculum a couple times a week too, so Caleb has a couple classes with other kids in addition to homeschooling with me.  The curriculum focuses on learning about people in our communities (pastors, doctors, dentists, firefighters, etc) which has been fun and interesting to talk about in our Kenyan context.  For example, these kids know a lot about doctors and sick people given that every one of them has a parent who's a doctor and we literally live on a hospital compound.  When we learned about firefighters I had to explain that there isn't a fire station anywhere around here, so people have to grab buckets of water and get to work.  Last week they learned about the postal system and I had each of them write a letter and/or color a picture to send to someone, then we went on a field trip to the post office in Bomet to learn about the postal system and put those letters in the mail.  One letter went to a friend in Kenya and a couple others went to people in America, and the postman was kind and let the kids see all the different stamps and showed them where to deposit the letters for themselves.  Now we're waiting to see how long it takes for those letters to reach the recipients!

Kai's Preschool

Kai has preschool twice a week and loves it!  Another mom has graciously taken on the role of preschool teacher this fall and is doing such a fabulous job.  She's an actual teacher and is a cut above the rest of us who are figuring it out as we go.  Kai loves picking out clothes that match the color of the week, and picking out a show-and-tell item that goes with the letter of the week.  He is thriving in this group and my Mama heart is so happy that he has this chance to go to preschool!  Recently he was Student of the Week and got to tell everyone about himself and show off his favorite toy: a dump truck, of course.  Also, a few weeks ago the letter of the week was D, and Eli was asked to be a special guest at preschool (because D is for Doctor).  We combined the preschoolers and Kindergartners for that day, and it was neat for Eli to talk about being a doctor and do things like show the kids how to use a stethoscope and read an x-ray.  I was having flashbacks and remembering when my dad came to my class in second grade and talked about being a doctor (and even put a cast on my arm!) and I was so glad my boys could have that experience too.

So our boys are truly blessed with how their school year is going so far.  There is a great group of kids here that make great friends and classmates for our kids, and homeschooling with me at home is actually going quite well.  We definitely don't homeschool every day (in part because Asa makes it really difficult, in part because I think preschoolers and Kindergartners still need a lot of time to play, and in part because these boys are also learning a lot of life just by virtue of living here and are growing and learning in ways their American counterparts are not).  So our homeschooled Missionary Kids are doing well and making us proud!

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Narrow Way

Despite all the training and preparing and praying, there is only so much that can be learned about being a missionary until you're on the mission field, living it out day by day.  And even as you live the life of a missionary and figure things out over time, it seems that what you learn the most is how little you actually know.  But that's the life of faith: being humbled as you grow and stretch and follow God's call on your life.  And being on the mission field, it seems, multiplies the humbling and the growing and the stretching.  Something about living overseas refines you in ways that weren't possible before, reveals and showcases your weaknesses that you were able to keep hidden before, and expands your understanding of the Kingdom of God that was so limited before.

Something about living overseas increases your dependence on God at the same time it increases your awe of Him.

Back in March, as we approached our One-Year Missionaryversary, I spent a while reflecting on this life of missions.  It was by God's grace that I even had the time to reflect and process our first year as missionaries, and out of those reflections came a song.  It consumed me for a few weeks until I finished it, and I felt like it really summed up my thoughts on our first year in Kenya, and so I sang it to myself for awhile, and then life went on its way and the song fell out of my head and I didn't think about it much again.  But recently it's come back to me and I've been singing it again, and I wanted to share it here.

This version is a late-night, after-the-kids-are-in-bed-and-I'm-already-exhausted version.  At the very end you can hear our front door opening as Eli returned at 9pm on a Saturday after being at the hospital most of the day, and initially I was annoyed and thought of re-recording the whole thing just to erase the sound of that door opening at the end.  But then I realized that it's a perfect glimpse into the life of medical missions.  The bedtime stories without Daddy and the all-hours-of-the-night calls are echoed in that door opening at the end of the song.  On days like that, this song sometimes comes back into my mind and I'm reminded of the magnitude of this call on our lives, of the intense refining process happening in us, and of the truly narrow path we walk day by day.

I'm thankful for this journey even in its most exhausting and depressing and hopeless moments.  I'm thankful for God's faithfulness, for His love for the nations, for His call to servitude and taking up our cross, and for His promise to never leave us as He calls us to hard tasks.  I'm thankful for the privilege of being God's missionaries to the ends of the earth.

Narrow Way
© 2017 Krista Horn

Some say to take the road less traveled,
the path that’s not well-worn.
As I’ve journeyed down that road,
my heart’s grown as it’s been torn.
Torn for hopes not realized,
and yet grown through anguished cries.
As I’ve walked this narrow way,
He’s sustained me day by day.

Some say the harvest still is plenty,
and the workers still are few.
As I’ve seen this truth before me,
I’ve felt a harvest in me too.
Room to grow in love and peace,
pride and judgements – oh, to cease!
As I’ve walked this narrow way,
He’s refined me day by day.

Some say how great is the reward
for all those who pay the cost.
But some days the price is steep,
and His promises seem lost.
Is it true that there’s still worth
serving the ends of the earth?
As I’ve walked this narrow way,
He’s grieved with me day by day.

Some say that going against the current
requires being both strong and brave.
Yet as I’ve swam through this deep ocean
I’ve been floundering in the waves.
Floundering but sustained along
by a God who shames the strong.
As I’ve walked this narrow way,
He’s upheld me day by day.

Some say success is simply measured
by results that can be seen.
But what gauge can know the merit
of obedience to the King?
For a faithful heart is more
than the triumphs we long for.
As I’ve walked this narrow way,
He’s smiled on me day by day.

Some say to take the road less traveled,
the path that’s not well-worn.
As I fix my eyes on Jesus,
I still walk though I am torn.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

An MK Education

Missionary Kids don't often have a typical education experience.  Here at Tenwek, all the kids are homeschooled through middle school (which often includes participating in a coop among the missionary families) and then most of them go on to a boarding school for high school (Rift Valley Academy, about three hours away from here).  Every academic year looks different, depending on which curriculum parents choose and which conglomeration of kids are here and which parents are able to teach.  It's often said of the medical personnel at the hospital, "There is no normal year at Tenwek" and the same could be said of the MK school year.

Every spring the parents begin discussions about how many kids will be in each grade for the following year, who will be around and willing to teach certain subjects, which kids will need to take an online course here or there to cover their requirements, how to physically get the textbooks and workbooks to Kenya, which classes will be in the MK schoolroom versus in someone's home, and so on.  It's a lengthy, ongoing discussion with many kids' education to figure out.  But somehow, every year it works itself out.  Teaching the MKs is a beautiful picture of the Body of Christ working together - this past year one parent taught 2nd grade math and grammar while another taught 4th aend 5th grade science while another taught middle school history while another taught art to multiple age groups, and on and on it goes.   It's a big puzzle, but somehow the pieces all fit together and the MKs get a solid education each year!

Tenwek MK Schoolroom

When we arrived last year I was preparing myself to begin the adventure of homeschooling.  It was not something I was excited about.  I presumed I could accomplish the task fine (especially since I only had to tackle Preschool for now), but it was not something I looked forward to as part of our transition into missionary life.  I am not a teacher and I wasn't sure how the dynamic of "Mama is Teacher" would work for the boys, but thankfully, homeschooling Caleb and Kai has been an enriching experience and is usually enjoyable.  I'm proud to say that I'm teaching them to read!   My lessons with them only last about an hour, and we don't even do lessons every day (and we took a 3-month break last fall while I was in Swahili study), so it's been a fluid thing for us thus far.  But overall it's gone well and Caleb will officially begin a Kindergarten curriculum in the fall.

our homeschool table at home

In addition to homeschooling our own boys, I volunteered to take over a PreK/K class this spring while the mom who'd started it was doing Swahili study.  I ended up spending five months coordinating a class for ten 4- and 5-year olds on Mondays and Wednesdays.  It was more work than I expected, but it went well overall and the kids had a lot of fun.  We had to meet in someone's backyard for the first three months, but then we were able to move inside for the last two months, which was wonderful because the rainy season had started and because we finally had a big table for crafting!

nature hike to the river

PreK/K class

learning about chickens

craft time

indoor location

The MKs here typically stick to a normal American school calendar (starting in the fall, ending in the spring, followed by summer vacation).  They also take days off school for normal American holidays like Thanksgiving.  And this year the kids enjoyed a Snow Day!  Since there's no chance of a true Snow Day ever happening here, the moms coordinated a morning of fun for the kids by cancelling school and pulling out a slip 'n slide and serving ice cream (with homemade cones!)

slip 'n slide

fake snow

ice cream!

Some years ago, someone created the tradition of the Fine Arts Festival at the end of the MK school year, in which each family has a table to display art projects, as well as a program in which the kids have a chance to perform something in front of everyone.  This year the PreK/K class I taught sang a song and recited a verse, and the older kids did everything from recite an essay to sing in Spanish to perform a science experiment!  It was a wonderful way to celebrate all of the kids' accomplishments this year and to marvel at what they're able to do in spite of not having all the usual supplies and resources available that we do in the States.

our table at the Fine Arts Festival

And now the school year has ended and the kids are well into summer break, but they are far from remaining idle.  They continue running around and playing games and feeding flies to chameleons, and the past couple weeks has found the older kids taking some "summer classes" that I coordinated for everyone.  I've been hosting a Cookie class, while other people are teaching photography, CPR, and archery.  Several of the kids are also taking Swahili from a local language teacher.  So the MKs are having fun this summer before they'll dive into the next school year in September.

cookie class with the oldest MKs here

cookie class with 8- and 9-year olds

chocolate chip cookies!

It's an incredible blessing to have so many MKs here.  We know that most mission stations do not have as many kids around as we do at Tenwek, which is the result of the growth of the hospital which has drawn more doctors and their families to this place over the years.  We do not take it for granted. The kids are great friends with each other and they are going through the unique experience of an MK education together.  It's a monumental task for the parents to make sure these kids have a quality education while living in rural Kenya, but by God's grace it happens every year and we thank God for the chance to be a part of it.

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!