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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.   

Friday, May 6, 2016

…but grace

Four years ago.  Four years ago we sold our home, gave away a car and a set of couches, sent many of our worldly possessions off to safe places with friends and family and boxed others up into storage.  We were thinking through goodbyes, upcoming transitions, moving our little ones to Kenya, flights, packing, more goodbyes, financial considerations, prayer letters, blog entries etc.  So many things to think through.  We were talking about ‘lasts’ and leaving well.  In short, we were counting the cost of this call He had placed on us. 

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During that final month in the states, our honest prayers were filled with painful, angry, doubtful, yelling. The sacrifice seemed too much and we were overcome by the laying down of things that were precious to us.

We moved to Kenya not knowing WHEN or IF we would make friends here, not knowing WHEN or IF our family would come to visit.  We moved to Kenya not knowing HOW many of the details of daily life would play out.  We had counted the cost, but what we didn’t count on was His grace. 

Christ calls us to do hard things in this life, yes, but He also offers us grace; unmerited blessing to undeserving sinners.  During those months of transition back in 2012, we forgot about His grace!  After all, Ephesians 3:20 describes God as “him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work in us.”

And did He ever surprise us with his grace!  Four years later, we are still surprised by the outpouring of God’s grace on us daily. 

  • He has given us a growing love for this school and this community, for our students and our co-workers, for our work here. 
  • He has lavished on us deep, lasting friendships here on this side of the world. 
  • He has enabled us to maintain solid, pick-up-where-we-left-off relationships with dear family and friends we rarely see at home.
  • He has provided time and time again caring, Godly teachers for our boys in this school, wise counsel for them and for us when we struggle, and a body of believers to live and serve alongside. 

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And then, during this second term of service, He began showing off his grace to us in the bridging of our two worlds.  And unmerited blessing He continues to pour out!  First, we hosted Kelly, Sabrina and Henry Knapp, having the privilege of introducing our beloved Beaver community to our Kenyan community in 2015. Then, Dan’s parents were able to serve at RVA for three months in 2015, bridging our Alden sending community to this one through their service. 

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And so it continued: It was pure, joy-filled fun to have Dale & Martha Schartner with us in early February and to soak up Martha’s gifted speaking ability at our women’s retreat!  Less than a week later, Dan’s sister Rachel, her husband Dale and their four kids landed on Kenyan soil to serve at a children’s home 4 miles from us.  We spent 6 weeks semi-together as they served, and 3 weeks doing life as a family of 11 in our home. 

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To top it off, dear friends Chris & Ellen Crefeld and their four kids flew in to celebrate the Resurrection with us!  What abundance!!  Even now, we’re thrilled to be planning and looking forward to my mom & Craig’s upcoming visit, their second time to Kenya! He IS able to do more than we could ever ask or imagine and He DOES. 

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And as this 2015-16 school year comes to a close soon, we find ourselves in transition as a family again.  Not nearly as big of a transition as ones we’ve made before, but one nonetheless. Nearly 60% of our staff will go on home assignment or be called away from their ministry at RVA this year.  Over half of our little community!

Some of that 60% are the very people God so generously placed in our lives for the past few years, and we find ourselves counting the cost yet again.  We count it for our kids as we watch their close friends move to different continents and we count it for ourselves in the very same way.  How quickly we forget the grace He extended in even providing those friends! We certainly didn’t expect or demand these relationships, and yet He provided them. A gift.

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I pray that as we enter another season of goodbyes, we would draw near to the One who called us by name, the One who lavishly pours out His grace and faithfully provides more than we can ask or imagine. 

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Just your typical field trip

6 nights, 7 days, 16 seniors, 3 adult leaders, 1 20-seater bus and 1 awesome bus-driver; put it all together and throw in bungee jumping, white-water rafting, rock climbing, repelling through a waterfall, cliff jumping, camel riding, milking, and eating; this all adds up to a pretty amazing experience, right?

Well, when these guys are assigned to hike with you for protection, you know you’re in for excitement.  Better to be safe than sorry should the scenario arise where we cross paths with a cape buffalo…or bull elephant…or leopard…or lion.  It’s important to arrive without incident so that you can jump off cliffs for the morning’s activity.

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In the course of one afternoon we chilled at a chimpanzee sanctuary and then posed for selfies within feet of the last living male of the Northern White Rhino species ON THE PLANET.  Later, we shoveled his dung.  That’s what you call scarce scat.

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If you were a camel at our Northern-most stop in Laikipia County, you were either on our dinner menu as a burger, on our breakfast menu as a sausage, milked by one of us just after sunrise, or our mode of transportation through the deserts of central Kenya.  50% of those options weren’t terrible (if you’re the camel).

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This was truly a “bucket list” trip.  One of our students had always wanted to be in two places at once.  She nailed it by standing in the Northern and Southern Hemisphere at the same time!

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You know it’s a good day when you have to wait for an elephant to cross the road before passing and you get to snap a photo of 4 sleeping rhinos.

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Then there was the visit to a tree-house restaurant; while waiting for our meal, we hung out with some of the locals (we didn’t see the sign until later…I promise)

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Most of the week, we were within sight of Mount Kenya – a pretty spectacular backdrop, and the actual mountain that another group of students from RVA were climbing while we gazed up at it.

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We petted and fed a blind rhino and learned about conservancy in a room full of artifacts and animal bones with signs that begged us to interact.

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We hiked, we camped, we drove and we slept.

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Each night devotions were led by a pair of students and we all shared what God was teaching us around the campfire. 

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We herded, counted and sprayed cattle for ticks.  We climbed and belayed. 

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We plummeted from varying heights, always wearing our safety equipment with a smile  :)

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A primary school welcomed us with open arms, showing off their newly acquired technology while we shared our dancing “skills”.  Another quick visit to a local village tested our ability to move rhythmically to music as well.

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It was the most exhausting yet rewarding excursion in memory.  We bonded, we sang, we got sick of each other, we shared, we cried, and we got dehydrated. 

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We drove six hours on a rocky desert road at an average speed of about 10 kilometers per hour without ONCE stopping to pee (perhaps the best demonstration of our state of dehydration).

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We were stretched WAY outside our comfort zones, we were challenged and encouraged, we stood in awe of our Creator as we marveled at His creation.  We learned a lot, ate well, drank too little, and slept better than expected.  We sang loudly, laughed often, and grew closer as friends.

Overall, I’d say our field trip* was a success**, eh?

 *This was just one of several trips that RVA’s junior and senior classes take each March, called Interims.  Our group traveled within Kenya while other destinations included Ethiopia, Uganda, Tanzania, Egypt, and many more.  One of the goals is for the students to experience a different part of Africa from the context that their parents work and serve in.  Another aim is to learn about a current issue affecting the lives of those we visit – our team focused on conservation and the unique struggles that arise between government agencies attempting to preserve “wild” Africa and land owners trying to earn a living.  It was fascinating to hear from both sides of the same issue.

**Success on a week-long adventure like this was only possible thanks to a gift provided by our family.  A quick shout-out to the Meyers clan, specifically my awesome sister, Rachel, for loving on our kids while we were away.  Check out their adventure in Kenya too.

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