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Monday, August 31, 2015

Lessons from my father

I went to class today.

As I arrived at the third floor of the building that looks out over the Great Rift Valley, there was a group of students standing at the doorway of the classroom I was aiming for. They were busy talking about some last minute schedule changes. Entering the room, there were maybe 20 students already seated, filling out the obligatory first-day survey and textbook cards. There weren’t any seats available, so I sat at a table in the back. That’s when my dad looked up, noticed me and smiled. After a long day of introducing students to his U.S. History and American Government classes, I could tell he was tired.

Dad teaching

But I’ve never been more proud.

My dad is the second Mr. Schmidt that many of his students have met here at RVA. When I came 3 years ago, I struggled to pronounce some of the same names he fumbled over today. His go to phrase over the past week has been, “We’re not in Kansas anymore”, and he’s certainly not in Alden, teaching at the public high school where he began and [thought he] ended his teaching career. Although he mastered the art of pronouncing some of the Polish-American “ski’s” that make up much of Western NY’s populous, nothing prepared him for the Korean or Kenyan names he saw today. By 7th period, when I sat in, he simply smiled when he got to another one he knew he’d butcher, and then humbly asked a student nearby to translate for him.

The students were extremely polite…and quiet! I remember being blown away my first day at how quiet everyone was, not sure if it was out of fear or respect. I now know the answer, and it’s one of the reasons I’ve fallen in love with teaching here.

Many of the “kids” are hardly that anymore. Most are seniors and Dad congratulated them on finally reaching the top of the pack. He talked about political cartoons and faith, liberals and conservatives, cultural clich├ęs and mandatory textbook covers. I could tell he was in his element – this isn’t his first time teaching American Government.

But it is his first time teaching in Africa.

I’ve learned innumerable lessons from my father over the years. The greatest irony in all of this was when the principal asked me if I’d be willing to be my dad’s mentor teacher. I laughed out loud and then realized he was serious. How do you mentor someone who’s been your mentor?

I may have the title this time around, but the way I’ve witnessed my parents’ walk in obedience over the past few months has mentored and encouraged and challenged me in ways that I’ll never hold a candle to as I attempt to support Dad in his new role.

Thanks Mom and Dad. Thanks for loving Jesus enough to do things that are hard and scary and new. I can already see the impact you’re going to have on these students – they may or may not talk your ear off over the next few months, but I can assure you they notice your obedience, they admire it, and they won’t soon forget it.

I know I won’t.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Beauty and the Beast

DSC_0011aOk, a bit of explanation.  First of all, our guest and dear friend, Sabrina Knapp, recently starred in her high school’s production of “Beauty and the Beast” as Belle (we were privileged to see it via DVD copy and can now easily agree with every other review we’ve heard – she NAILED it!)  So for the title of this post, the Beauty is Sabrina.  Secondly, “the Beast” is what we will refer to as the week we just had with her touring various parts of life and outreach here in Kenya (not to be confused with the vehicle that President Obama tooled around Nairobi in last weekend, also referred to as “the Beast”)

One week is only a fraction of the time Sabrina has spent with us, but we all agreed that this week has been one of the most varied, thrilling, raw, exhausting, and down-to-earth real since her visit began in the middle of June.

We are thrilled to report that very soon, you will have the opportunity to hear directly from Sab – she has agreed to author a few guest blog posts for us, so stayed tuned!

Here, in mostly pictorial form, are some highlights from “the Beast” with our very own “Beauty”.  ENJOY!

MONDAY, 27 July:
Building a fence with Pastor James.NIKON D3100048Pastor James started a ministry called Brook of Hope to rescue abandoned street boys in Maai Mahiu, and has recently raised funds to buy a piece of land there.  He hopes to begin construction of an orphanage, school, and outreach center to provide hope to more children in need.  We assisted in putting up a fence around part of the newly acquired property!  The short video on their blog is worth watching, and tells a bit more of his story.

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NIKON D3100066Both of my boys wanted to be sure Grandpa Schmidt saw these pictures of them working hard on a fence.  They did a great job!

TUESDAY, 28 July
Family movie day in Nairobi – Inside Out.  Great movie – sorry no pictures :)

WEDNESDAY, 29 July
Visit to local Kenyan Primary School to see Kenya Kids Can in action. 
A few of our colleagues here at RVA are heavily involved in the oversight of this program that had its beginnings in 2002 with another RVA family, the Peifers.  KKC’s aim is to “enhance the education of Kenyan students by providing meals and offering computer training to impoverished schools.” Over 16,000 students are receiving a hot meal at lunch each day in 26 different schools, and for many of these students, it’s their only meal that day.  It was ironic that Tuesday night we had just written a blog on star power because on Wednesday, we were the celebrities!

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As we went around visiting each of the classrooms, the most common requests were either to hear the mzungu children talk or to shake their hands – volunteers were not hard to find. 

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THURSDAY, 30 July
Game drive at Lake Nakuru National Park (captions included).

DSC_0001Good morning, Nakuru!

DSC_0014What’s so good about it?

DSC_0017Look at it this way – at least you’re not as ugly as I am!

DSC_0031I’m pretty sure this is my best side.  Go ahead, take the picture.

DSC_0046aNOW where did that cub get to?

DSC_0050aShe’ll never find me down here!

DSC_0065Wait, Dan isn’t PEEING in this one, is he? (no!)

DSC_0077If I just stay right here and don’t move, they might mistake me as part of this tree…

DSC_0109bWhy do flamingoes lift up one leg?

DSC_0100Cause if they lifted both, they’d fall over!
Bahahahahaha!  Good one, Dad!

DSC_0119Be the rock, be the rock.  Grrrr.  This camouflage thing isn’t working at ALL!

DSC_0126Courtney:  “Okay, so how many more hours do we have to drive around with these crazy people?” 
Sabrina:  “Shhhh.  Just smile for the camera!

FRIDAY, 31 July
Spending a day with Florence, a young girl we’ve sponsored through Compassion International since 2005, when she was just six years old.

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What a joy to finally meet Florence.  We also had the privilege of meeting her mother, Jane, and her little sister, Lucy.  Jane said we now have 3 American children and 1 Kenyan daughter! 

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The day began at A.I.C. Jericho, the local church where the Compassion project takes place each Saturday and during breaks in between school terms.

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The project coordinator answered about a hundred of our questions as we all enjoyed a cup of chai together. 

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The next stop was to visit her home.  I say home because house certainly wouldn’t be accurate.  The living conditions in her ‘village’ are, in a word, deplorable.  Florence’s family has recently been relocated to a plot right alongside a trash-infested creek that often floods.

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The shelter that the 6 of them live in is smaller than our bedroom, and the trash heap we had to walk through to get there spills over everywhere.  We gingerly stepped over rotting food, trash, and feces, and the smell along the path was enough to knock you over. 

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We are continuing to process through many thoughts and hard emotions after this leg of our visit.  True poverty is ruthless and unforgiving.  Witnessing it firsthand is one thing - caring deeply about the people who are stuck in it sheds a different light on the entire topic.  Much more on that in a future post.

With just enough room for 4 of us to sit and 5 to crowd around and watch, we brought her family a few bags of groceries and Florence a new purple backpack full of things we thought she might appreciate.  She was so grateful for everything, but her whole face lit up when she pulled out a Bible.  Wrapped in well-worn pink duct-tape, complete with underlining, notes and highlights throughout, it was a gift from our other ‘daughter’, Sabrina; she had been praying for an opportunity to leave her own personal Bible with a young girl here in Kenya before she left.  God’s plan and timing are perfect!

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Florence shouted gleefully, “I love the Bible!” and held it tightly to her chest.  It was an encouraging moment as we prayed for Florence and her family. Pray with us that the truth of God’s Word would infiltrate their hearts and minds and that salvation would come to the whole family. 

From there we took a drive to the Giraffe Center.  Always a highlight!  Florence got the hang of feeding the giraffes quickly, but Lucy never quite appreciated their sticky, purple tongues.  She preferred watching from a distance :)

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On our way to see the giraffes, we passed a Pizza Inn.  Making conversation, I asked Florence if she has ever tasted pizza.  When she said no, it was clear that we needed to stop for lunch!

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Pepperoni, chicken tikka, and peri peri chicken – Florence enjoyed all three.  It turns out that love for pizza transcends at least one cultural boundary.  And the ice cream seemed a little cold to Lucy at first, but she ‘warmed up’ to it quickly!

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We want to say a BIG thanks to Compassion International and the work they do in tough places, bringing hope and Truth and light where the darkness is overwhelming.  To God be the glory for the work He is doing in the lives of His children around the world!

DSC_0233Pictured: Dan, Florence, Lucy, Jane, Courtney, Izaac, and Boniface     
(Izaac and Boniface were our guides and representatives from Compassion International – Kenya)

That was quite a week.  We’ve had no trouble sleeping each night!

One more shout-out to Sabrina for being determined to make this visit to Kenya happen.  We have LOVED having her here and will miss her terribly after she’s gone.  The following conversation lends some insight into how much our family has cherished her time with us:

Evelyn:  “When is Sabrina going to change her last name to Schmidt?”

Courtney:  “Oh, honey, she’s not going to do that.  She’s just visiting us for a few weeks.”

Ethan:  “Yeah, but she’s pretty much our sister.”

Dan:  “Well, we like to call her your sister, but she isn’t really.”

Nate:  “No Dad.  She is.  She’s our sister in Christ!”

And there you have it, folks.

Blessings,

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Star Power

Back in May of this year (wow, we haven’t blogged in awhile!), as the third term of our school year was just getting under way, Kijabe Hospital was gearing up for its centennial celebration, 100 years of God’s faithfulness in East Africa through medical missions.  In honor of the event, Kenya’s president, Uhuru Kenyatta scheduled a visit to shake hands and tip his hat to the quality care Kijabe Hospital has provided all these years. 

In anticipation of his visit, the community of Kijabe was ready to roll out the red carpet (almost literally).  If you’ve ever traveled the road down the escarpment from the main highway to our compound, you know it is certainly not fit for a presidential motorcade, so it received one of the best facelifts we’ve seen in three years.  But there was a good chance he would arrive by helicopter, so RVA administration prepared for a possible landing on our school’s rugby pitch.

It wouldn’t be right for him to land on our field without a proper Kenyan greeting, so this particular Friday, the entire student body and staff were donned in their Sunday best, just in case we would be called upon to line the field and welcome him.  Emails and student announcements prepped students and staff to keep any photos off of social media.  There was talk of the “presidential toilet” (not even joking) and how it would be properly transported down the hill.  It turns out that the tunnel underneath the railroad wasn’t quite wide enough for the trailer it usually travels on! 

As it turned out, we never did catch a glimpse of him.  The helicopter landed on the airstrip below the hospital instead.  But oh, were we prepared!  Here’s a picture of my third period Algebra class, all decked out and ready for the visit that never was. 

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A few years ago, I was teaching at Beaver Falls High School in Western Pennsylvania.  Two weeks into the school year, in the height of high school football season, we were graced with a visit from Joe Namath, the school’s most famous alum.  “Broadway Joe” was celebrating his 50th high school reunion, visiting his alma mater for the first time since he went off and got famous as a star quarterback in the NFL. 

In anticipation of the big day, the first two weeks of school were a little crazy.  It was kind of a big deal, really. The entire town (school, county, city of Pittsburgh, ESPN, HBO, NFL films, the Golf channel?) was watching as Joe was ushered back to the place where it all began; as he and several of his 1960 and 1961 high school teammates were honored; people lining up for autographed jerseys, t-shirts, football helmets, etc. That Friday our football team played their biggest rivals at home.  Classes were canceled so a pep assembly could be held, a visiting college band played before the big game, and Joe was honored in front of a pregame crowd that blew every previous headcount at the local football stadium out of the water.  Everybody who was anybody turned out for the game to see if they could snap a picture or shake his hand.  Just like everybody else, I was caught up in the “how many degrees of separation are there between you and Joe” frenzy.  All because the guy used to be able to throw a football (it’s possible he still can).

This past weekend the celebrity theme has pervaded most conversations yet again, this time on a slightly more global scale.  U.S. President Barack Obama made his long-awaited visit to Kenya, flying into Nairobi on Friday night and staying through the weekend.  The statistics associated with the size of his entourage, the vehicles, the cost of the trip, and the groundwork laid in preparation are staggering.  Nobody knew quite what to expect in the city as far as traffic patterns and security measures, but be assured that the world was watching and Kenya was ready.  Televisions were tuned to his live news conference, newspaper headlines for the past two weeks were dedicated to this epic event, and Obama was on everybody’s mind and lips.  Even in our local church service Sunday morning, his name must have been mentioned 7 times; a few during the announcement and prayer request time, as an object lesson during the sermon, and again in the closing comments before the benediction!   

Star power. 

In each case, I was impressed by the shear anticipation and reception of these honored guests.  There was a just-hold-everything-and-wait-until-______’s-visit-is-over-so-we-can-get-on-with-life-as-usual mentality that gripped each respective community.  Celebrities and politicians are big news.  They become THE topic of conversation.  I, like everyone else, was caught up in the hype, chatting about the itineraries, plotting the best spot to snap a photo, wondering how close I could get to the action while still looking casual.  It’s not every day you get to rub shoulders with a guy like one of these:  the myth, the man, the legend.

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And oh, by the way, I set aside a few minutes this afternoon for some quiet time in the Word of God.  This weekend I told more stories about a guy I’ll never meet than about how Jesus has reached down and redeemed me from the pit of hell, dying so I don’t have to, giving His life so that I might live eternally.  I focused more on “Broadway Joe” than the Alpha and the Omega, more on the Commander in Chief than the Creator of the Universe. 

Sure, it’s neat to meet someone famous, to be around when someone who’s really done something is visiting, to tell people that so-and-so was in the area.  I don’t think there’s anything wrong with any of that.  But to watch my excitement over a fellow human being, a fellow sinner, a talented athlete rise to a level that beats out the zeal that I have for my Lord is shameful.  

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As I’ve observed these reactions to human stars, it struck me how sinful and idolatrous I really am.  Thank the Lord that He forgives me, that He’s taken care of the depths of my sin, that He’s infinitely more faithful to me than I am to Him.

King David had the right idea of what true star power looks like.  Although an imperfect man himself, he got it right when he reflected on the accomplishments of his hero, his God, his Savior.

“Many, O LORD my God,
   are the wonders you have done.
The things you planned for us
   no one can recount to you;
were I to speak and tell of them,
   they would be too many to declare.” Psalm 40:5

A Super Bowl MVP trophy?  Not bad. 

Elected to a position of national or global influence?  Impressive. 

Eternal victory over sin and the grave, God becoming man and dying so we can live? 

Priceless.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

on contemplating missionary service

The decision to come and serve on the foreign mission field is a tough one, both for those considering a short-term opportunity or a long-term commitment. We often forget this, as God has grown in us a fondness and love for what we do.

On one hand, it's never going to make any sense.  You will never sit down and say "this could really help add to my savings, advance my portfolio, and put me in a better position financially."   The truth is, you will likely end up paying to work there.  You will never say "that sounds like a good opportunity to live with relative ease. I'll have my nights and weekends free, and all that I want will be at my fingertips."  The truth is, the schedule here at RVA is quite full for 13 straight weeks each term, weekends included, and much of life in Africa is inconvenient. In a typical American worldview, RVA (and all missions work) will never make an ounce of sense.  

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What it boils down to is that living and working at RVA is not an occupation like one in the states.  It's a service.  You likely won't gain a single thing monetarily from it - in fact, it will cost you.  You likely will have to eat food that is slightly different than you're used to, live with things in your home that don’t work quite right or aren’t built quite right, and be inconvenienced regularly when a culture much different than yours collides with your own. Not to mention, the internet is slow and Nairobi traffic is a nightmare.

But our service is to the Lord alone and our purpose is the advancement of His Kingdom, til He returns.   We have the AMAZING opportunity here to teach and disciple and welcome into our homes children of missionaries serving in the HARD places. 

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We had a staff appreciation chapel on Thursday morning, where our school board read letters out loud written by parents of these missionary kids.  Parents serving in closed countries writing to us about the necessity of RVA to their ministry, for their children to have a safe place to attend school.  Parents writing notes of appreciation for men and women of the faith on our staff who sacrifice comforts and salaries to invest in their children so that they can remain in the hard places, building relationships and loving the lost into the Kingdom. 

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It's not always easy, but it is rewarding.  We have a fine staff of about 120 people who pray together daily and share meals and fellowship with one another.  We have men’s and women’s bible studies and accountability groups, and we worship together each week.  It's a community.  Not only that but we're sent and encouraged by a community that we love and miss dearly in the states.  We have the love of the body in two places.  People faithfully committed to giving so we can be here and people faithfully serving alongside us here.

The rewards ARE great, but most of them are not going to be in this life.  This is Kingdom building, and Kingdom investing. 

It's teaching, yes, but its so much more.  It's service.  It's sacrifice.  It's flexibility.  It's teaching something or leading something you're not completely comfortable with because it's a need, and we live to serve.

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If God lays on your heart to come out to Kijabe and serve at this fine school or if He lays on your heart to serve in one of those HARD locations or with one of those HARD people groups, I guarantee it will not be because of any earthly gains. This decision will never make sense and it will never be at a convenient time for you.

It will be because you want nothing more than to offer yourself as a living sacrifice to be used in whatever way is needed at the time, with the talents and abilities God has given you, for His Glory and His purposes.

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