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Saturday, August 13, 2016

Passports for Minors (Nairobi Edition)

If you’ve been hanging around our blog for awhile, you may remember a humorous jab we took at ourselves, the red-tape bureaucracy of international travel, and the joys of raising children in general, about 5 years ago.  You can read all about it here.

Well, we’ve done it again.  Expiring every five years, passport renewal appointments for anyone under 18 years of age applies to 3/5 of our clan – that’s twice every decade, folks.  This opens the door for memories to be pasted into the scrapbook of our collective minds, more quality family bonding time, and additional lessons to be learned on the highways and byways of life – or, in this case, Nairobi, Kenya.

Come along with us as we recount our recent tribulation…I mean, triumph.  Join our tribe on the adventure that is lovingly referred to as a necessary evil, one that keeps us legal here in Kenya and allows us to return to the home of Michael Phelps every so often.  Take these statements for what they’re worth (not much) and consider them as you plan your own excursions along the oft-traveled path to the U.S. Embassy in Kenya.

The morning of, pack several compact discs featuring Adventures in Odyssey.  These are vital for maintaining the sanity of any parental chauffer with children under 10.  Alphabet-based competitions are always an fan favorite, along with rousing games of “Count the donkeys, kids” or “How many speed bumps was that?”  Anything to keep the pre-adolescents from constantly touching, tickling, and screaming on your way to stop number 1.

Stop number 1:  PASSPORT PHOTOS.

If you play your cards right, these photos can be processed in less than an hour, giving you ample time to shop for a few necessities, visit a toy store or two, and give your children the opportunity to stretch their legs after the hour-plus journey.  Always remember: YES to pushing the cart and NO to riding the close-to-life-size elephant outside of Nakumatt.  Close encounters with any aquatic life wading in decorative ponds are also encouraged, just not too close. 

When having their passport photos taken, we stumbled upon the sheer genius of letting the photographer do all the verbal correcting.  They’re not likely to listen to your suggestions on appropriate head-tilt anyways, and too many chefs in the kitchen…well, you get the idea.  15-20 minute photo processing is a wonder of the 21st century that we can all agree is a GOOD technological advancement.

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Stop number 2:  FOOD.

Yes, the journey thus far has taken you up to the lunch hour; this isn’t suburban Pittsburgh, people.  If there is a food court with the Olympics playing on television, great; take advantage.  Unfortunately, this is somewhat rare (only occurring about 5 times per decade if you count both Winter and Summer Games) so try to plan your passport expiration and renewal needs accordingly.  In our case, we ignored the food court (too many choices for our crew) and went with the can’t miss option nearby:  DOMINO’S PIZZA!!

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This choice will likely result in the following:  cheers all around, food everyone loves, bottom-less sodas, and another screen to keep them occupied whilst you enjoy empty calories as a family.  YOU ARE ALL-STAR PARENTS!

Stop number 3:  PARKING.

Those who choose to do proper research ahead of time can largely ignore this “stop” along the way.  For us, however, it was the most exciting leg of the expedition.  Using Google Maps to plot our course, we simply assumed all the nice gentlemen dressed in camo and toting impressive artillery would allow us to settle our car in the Embassy’s main parking lot.  Silly us.  But, if you want to really spice up your trip, try to park there anyways.  They will be very helpful, directing you to turn around and pay for parking somewhere nearby, where you can proceed to enter the grounds on foot. 

As an added bonus, try making an illegal U-turn in such a way that several armed Embassy officers are in plain sight, one of which might sternly direct you to pull to the side, exit your vehicle promptly, and open both the hatch and the boot (hood, for you Americans) in order to inspect the vehicle.  After all, there are terrorists among us.  This will not be a pleasant conversation, and you would do well to implore his forgiveness for this lack of judgement on your part, ensuring him that you only want to get to your appointment at 1:00 (it is now 12:50) so your children can legally depart from his country at some future date. 

Assuming you properly primed your offspring with glucose during stop number 2, you will benefit from constant giggling, wrestling, and other varied shenanigans from your young ones in the back seat during these tense moments with a very upset member of the Kenyan military.  This will serve to increase the anxiety level of your wife, who is sure your mindless highway infraction will result in the incarceration of her husband, and possibly one or two of her children as well.  After all, this is immediately outside the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, possibly the most highly secured and well-guarded destination in all of East Africa.  THIS is the place you want your kids to be on a sugar-high.  THIS is the place you want to make an illegal U-turn. 

But I digress.

Stop number 4:  PARKING, for real.

After your brief interaction with the authorities, you will likely be shaking, your wife will be boarder-line inconsolable, and your kids will either be crying or dying of laughter simply due to the fact that “Daddy almost went to prison!”  At this point, despite the insatiable curiosity from the back seat concerning, “Why do they all have to carry guns?”, and the time dwindling before you’re late for your appointment, find a LEGAL parking spot already and get on with it!

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Stop number 5:  EMBASSY SECURITY

U.S. Embassy.  Security.  High (the sugar level in your kids, that is).  Thankfully, your kids might still be cute enough that their outlandish comments and behavior will mostly be overlooked, even smirked at, by the myriad guards and security personnel you will meet over the span of 200 yards or so from the gate to the location of the U.S. Consulate.  Once there, you will breath a sigh of relief, as the woman who hands you your number (like the tag you get a the deli so you know when it’s your turn) directs your children to the play area.  A play area!  You’ll be even more thrilled when another family, similarly distraught and angst-filled due to the privilege of carrying out this task with minors, walks in behind you.  Friends to play with!  This is key.  Make any arrangements necessary to ensure this happens on your trip. 

Stop number 6:  WAITING

As long as your kids don’t start arm-wrestling on the floor with the kids from the other family, you should be fine.  Just wait.  Patience is a virtue, right? If they DO start arm-wrestling, try to remember that nobody cares as much as you, and that everyone else waiting in line is probably grateful for the entertainment (all cell phones and electronic devices were turned in at the 3rd of 12 security stops on your way in, so Facebook and/or Pinterest are non-options).

Yes, there are bathrooms.  Yes, your kids will need to use them at least once each (remember the bottom-less sodas?).  Yes, they are located close enough to the waiting area that everyone will hear EVERYTHING that takes place in those restrooms.  Relax.  It’s almost over. 

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Stop number 7:  YOUR NUMBER IS CALLED!

Proceed to the private room where the nice lady helps you process your passport applications.  You have already paid the fee, so the painful part is behind you (cough).  Now it’s just a matter of convincing her that the 5 year old girl sitting on your lap is, in fact, the same girl in the original passport picture at 11 weeks old.  This will likely not happen based solely on your word, so plan to email her several growth photos when you get your electronic devices back later. 

You’ll provide your John Hancock in a few spots, you’ll be told that you can pick up the renewed passports at a time and place that is inconvenient for you, and you will walk out of that little room just a little happier than when you entered it.  Now your reply to “Can you go now?” will be “Yes, my love, of course we can”, instead of the hushed, harsh, and repeated response of, “Would you just sit STILL!?!” 

Remember, you’re a good parent and your children are angels. 

Stop number 8:  RETURN to KIJABE

Open the windows, crank the tunes/Odyssey episode, and please plan on bringing snacks.  Your children will try to convince you that they’ve experienced a minor famine over the past three hours and might not be able to carry on (try to be understanding – the crash after a sugar high can be rough on the little ones).

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Stop number 9:  HOME

You did it!  With any luck, you’ll soon be granted legal passage for your minors to and from all sovereign nations of the world!*  Well done, brave soul.  For another five years, you can relax and watch your children grow.**  Reassure yourself that the next time you are tasked with this objective, it will almost certainly be easier.*** 

That’s it – thanks for reading!  Feel free to email the U.S. Embassy today and get started on your own adventure. ****

*Travel visas and airfare expenses NOT included.
**Please remember to take pictures of your children from time to time in case you need photographic evidence that they are, in fact, still the same children 5 years later.
***This is not likely to be the case, but you can fool yourself into thinking so.
****DO NOT email the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi (unless, of course, you are residing in Kenya when you need to renew your U.S. passport)

Saturday, July 23, 2016

All things NEW

Last Thursday was RVA’s Commencement Ceremony.  For our family, it marked the ending and beginning of many aspects of our lives here in Kenya. 

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ENDINGS: 

Class of 2016 – We will miss the smiling faces of the class we’ve come to know and love these past four years.  God has big things in store as they literally spread from here all around the globe this week.  This is, of course, a significant beginning for them as well.  College for many, gap years for a few, military service, work, and many other “firsts” await these young people, just after they’ve wrapped up so many “lasts” here at Rift Valley Academy.

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House #832 – Our little white house has been a wonderful home for us since we arrived in August of 2012.  Many memories and transitions, laughter and tears were shared within those four walls.  DSCN4709
Relationships – We’ve said hard goodbyes before.  It turns out they don’t get any easier just because you’re a veteran.  Tear-filled embraces were shared and gut-wrenching farewells were given this past week as our best friends left RVA to step into the next chapter in their lives.  As hard as it was to see them go, we are confident this isn’t really an ending, just an adjustment; a turning of the page, as our student commencement speaker so eloquently noted.  God is still God.  We are still His children.  Nothing can tear us out of His hands or from His family around the globe.

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BEGINNINGS:

Classes of 2029, 2027, 2026, 2025, 2024, and 2023 – These are the RVA graduating classes that will soon be represented in our home (our three included).  11 bundles of pre-adolescent male potential and kinetic energy will soon be added.  By the end of August, our home will be multi-colored, multi-lingual, and multi-cultural!  New smiling faces, new adventures, new joys and pains, and lots of NOISE.  By God’s grace and through your prayers will we enter this new chapter of mentoring young men to His glory.

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An appropriate wall decal in the dining room.

Tembo Dorm, #812 – We have now moved across the campus and up the hill (we’re convinced it’s 10 degrees cooler up here!).  New digs at a new elevation, complete with new neighbors, new roles, and new brothers!  Pray for our family, and their families, as we anticipate their arrival in a few short weeks.

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NEW Relationships – A whole new batch of RVA-ers arrives in the coming weeks.  Dorm parents, teachers, administrators, project managers, moms and dads, sons and daughters.  Some returning, some brand new, all excited about the ministry opportunities that await them.  Pray for good transitions and a welcoming spirit by those of us receiving them. 

NEW Video – Check out our newest video, created by us thanks to a request by Alden Mennonite Church’s VBS this past week.

NEW Website – Check out RVA’s newly updated website – see if you can find any of us in the pictures :)

NEW Life – Pray with us as we grieve from across the ocean.  Two solid Christian men, dear friends of ours, and pillars at First Presbyterian Church in Beaver, PA, entered into the Lord’s presence earlier this month.  Lift up the Maize and the James families as they settle into life without Ian and Tom.  Praise God with us as we find comfort in knowing their eternal resting place, worshipping His glorious name, face to face, for all eternity. 

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NEW lessons from an old truth:

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.  For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong
2 Corinthians 12:9-10

Too many times I desperately want to be better, to perform, to measure up, to be the best, to figure it out and overcome obstacles in my own strength.  God has been gently and consistently reminding me how, and in what state, He chooses to use His people.  His glory will be made manifest, His power will be on display, His greatness will be shown to the nations, if only His children will get out of the way and let Him do it.  He still desires to use me, but only in the depths of my weakness, when my need for Him is real.

Right now, amidst all the changes, the goodbyes, and the new challenges ahead, I am keenly aware of my need for Him. 

I guess this is exactly where He wants me.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Gentle Reminders

Dear friends being called away from life and work at RVA has sent me into an unexpected emotional tailspin and I’ve been more homesick in the past month than in all of my four years on the field.  During this painful month of May, I’ve been asking God to show me why I’m here. I want to remember His faithfulness and abundant clarity in bringing us here and I want to see again His faithfulness and abundant clarity in keeping us here.

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Just outside our little white house in Kenya, we have a newly renovated bungalow.  It’s intention is to house student teachers for a term at a time, however this school year it has been used regularly by visiting parents, missionaries from all over Africa.  Its always been my joy and my blessing to host these families, whether they’re here for medical appointments at Kijabe Hospital or because their child is struggling or they’ve come to surprise their student for the weekend.  Truly, coordinating and maintaining the guest cottage and serving these families in this way is one of my favorite roles at RVA.

In these last few weeks of emotional upheaval, in all of my questioning and longing for home, I’ve hosted two different families from two areas of rural Tanzania.  Both had elementary aged homeschooling children with them and as they each did a load of laundry in my kitchen, we got to talking about life. 

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Life in the bush.  Life where homeschooling happens with countless interruptions from visitors, needs that come knocking multiple times a day, all day long.  One of these moms was sharing that she has no medical background whatsoever, but has become the resident expert in her village, and the constant interruptions are taking their toll on schooling.  The other mom was sharing that her current fifth grader is already begging to come to RVA. She said “he’s just so ready to be in a classroom, learning alongside his peers, but I’m not sure I’m ready for him to be here.”

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And I was reminded of two things:

1. The need for missionary family care and missionary kid education is very real.  We are here to help care for the whole family by hosting them in our little bungalow for a week AND by teaching and caring for their boarding kids.

2. It’s HARD for these families to send their kids here.  This is no light-hearted decision for them as they put an amazing amount of trust in us as staff to care for their children. Our role here is important!   

This.  These conversations over a load of laundry.  This is why we’re here.  And we do love what we do!  I love what I do.  I’m glad to be reminded of it this morning.  And I’m thankful for a patient and loving Father, who gently reminds me over and over again “this is why you’re here.” 

Saturday, May 28, 2016

A vote worth casting

During the third and final term of each school year at RVA, several underclassmen candidate for the position of Student Council Chairperson.  They have the opportunity to give a short speech in front of the staff and student body.  Often these presentations are infused with some comedic element or a few tongue-in-cheek campaign promises designed to elicit a chuckle from the audience.  These are always worth attending - even if it is only to see the joker, who knows he doesn’t have a chance at winning, make everyone laugh.

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It was refreshing to hear the young man quoted below use his three minutes in the public eye in such a way that the spotlight was aimed somewhere other than on himself.  I asked him afterwards for a transcript of his speech so I could share it with all of you.  Enjoy.

“Each year we have these elections for student council president. And each year, several candidates come up here, and persuade you why it is they that should be president. They come here with hilarious and comical speeches, witty lines and slogans, and talks on what it means to be a leader. I know this, because last year that was me. And always at the end, we tend to add a little thing about how we want to serve God this year, and how really it’s all for his glory anyway. Well, as I was planning my speech, thinking about the president I wanted to be, I realized something. I don’t want God to just be the pretty bow on top that I wrap up my speech with. It should be all about him. So instead on talking on what a good leader is, I’m going to talk about the Godly leader that I want to be this coming year.

When we look at the kings of Israel, King David was considered amongst all the Kings to be the Mightiest, the greatest. Saul may kill thousands, but David kills tens of thousands. He was promised that his descendants would reign on the throne, forever. I see David, and I have to ask… how? How does this man, who was guilty of adultery, and murder, who was constantly crying and weeping for deliverance from overwhelming enemies, who’s own sons turned against him and against God, how, is he seen as the greatest leader of Israel’s history.

In truth, it was not for his strength, but for his weakness, not for his might, but his humility, it was not because he was whole, but because he was broken, that God was able to use him to do awesome things through him. I learned this past year, that leadership is a spiritual gift, not an innate ability, or an ascertained talent. True leadership is when we finally surrender, so that he can lead us. A true leader is actually just a follower, a servant, a humble and broken man, who knows he can’t do it, but also knows who can.

If I am to lead a body of Christ, then I better be representing Christ and not myself. My goal for this coming year, is not to bring about huge changes or great ideas, which can both be good, but what I want instead is to lead in a Christ like manner. To be able to honor him, and just follow after him. To be humble, and fully dependent, not on my own strength, but on his.

‘Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does no faint or grow wary, his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength, Even youths shall faint and be wary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be wary, they shall walk and not faint.’

Thank you.”

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God is at work in the hearts of the students here.  Thank you for helping our family have a hand in teaching, mentoring, and witnessing these young people as they grow more and more into the likeness of Christ.  It is an honor to watch them mature here at RVA and go out into the world, well-equipped to play their own role in expanding God’s Kingdom on earth.

*The picture above was taken our first term here (fall 2012) when I coached the 7th and 8th grade boys soccer team.  Many of these young men, including the author above, are now preparing to enter their senior year; it has indeed been a pleasure to walk through life with them.   

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