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Saturday, April 4, 2015

Good Friday?

Good? 

Death, good?  Crucifixion, good?  The Savior of the world tortured and hung on a cross to die, good?  Followers deserting Him, God the Father forsaking Him, criminals dying on either side of Him, the Jewish leaders finally rid of Him, Satan smiling because of what he’s done to Him, a stone rolled in front of Him.  Good?

Yes, good.

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“Before we can grasp the full meaning of the resurrection, we first have to witness the crucifixion.  If we spend our lives so afraid of suffering, so averse to sacrifice, that we avoid even the risk of persecution, then we might never discover the true wonder, joy and power of a resurrection faith. Ironically, avoiding suffering could be the very thing that prevents us from partnering deeply with the risen Jesus.” The Insanity of God, Nik Ripken

We are slowly walking through the reality of the deadliest terror attack on Kenyan soil since the U.S. Embassy bombings in 1998 – it has not been easy.  Praying, thinking, questioning, fearing…

Emotions are flashing back to the Westgate Mall attacks in the fall of 2013.  Then again on December 2, 2014, while we were on home assignment in the States, we read these two headlines on the same day:

“Al-Shabab massacres non-Muslims at Kenya quarry”
“U.S. Teacher Killed 'With a Sharp Tool' in Abu Dhabi Shopping Mall”

In a matter of weeks, dear friends of ours were preparing to move to Abu Dhabi within days of us heading back to Kenya.  I was in the middle of preparing for a Sunday School lesson on how our faith should speak into our fear, based on Hebrews 11:29-38.  Suddenly, I was no longer presenting a theological concept for discussion; this was real life – too real. 

What does it mean to trust God amidst headlines like that?  How does my faith in God and His Sovereignty shape my response?  What if I can’t depend on the (true or false) sense of security that living comfortably in the States provides or rely on responsible decision making to avoid risk?  What if I feel completely naked, completely exposed, completely vulnerable, living in an area of the world where bad things happen and where some of those things are because of what I do or don’t believe. 

So here we go again.  147 dead.  Non-Muslims targeted.  Al-Shabab at large, increasing the frequency of attacks.  Wouldn’t it be easier to move back?  Certainly it would be safer, right?  Wouldn’t we feel more secure in the States?  Surely God’s protection there is more legitimate, more guaranteed, more humane than the craziness that grabs headlines around here.  Questions, tears, doubts, fear.

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I want so desperately to respond with authenticity like friends of ours did after a recent cancer diagnosis, “There is no reason to fear, only another opportunity to trust.”  Wow.

Psalm 27:1-3
 
The Lord is my light and my salvation - whom shall I fear?
  The Lord is the stronghold of my life – of whom shall I be afraid?

  When the wicked advance against me to devour me,
  it is my enemies and my foes who will stumble and fall.

  Though an army besiege me, my heart will not fear;
  though war break out against me, even then I will be confident.

Funny thing about being under siege – you’re stuck.  The whole military strategy hinges on cutting off supply lines and eliminating the possibility of escape.  Victims are completely isolated and it is only a matter of time before they die or surrender.  Completely helpless and hopeless, they slowly waste away, limited only to the diminishing resources that remain in their stronghold.

UNLESS…

God is your stronghold.  Think about being stuck within the shadow of the Almighty!  Diminishing resources?  Try ABUNDANT!  David had an intimate knowledge of persecution, being on the run, of people seeking to take his life.  Psalm 27 wasn’t written in the hypothetical.  He wrote, “though an army besiege me,” not, “If an army would ever besiege me.”  It is when we are cut off from everything else, when we are the most vulnerable, when we are at our weakest point and all we can turn to is our Savior; only then are we truly strong!

Ironically, it’s the peripheral defenses, the false blockades and pathetic attempts at security that we mistakenly place our faith in;  these, put up and maintained in our own strength, are what keep us from retreating sooner.  They prevent us from finding refuge in our True Stronghold.

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“The Lord is the stronghold of my life – of whom shall I be afraid?” 

It is because of the events we celebrate this Easter weekend that we can stay, choosing to obey in spite of our fears.  It is because of the sacrifice of Jesus, the terrible silence and the questioning and the doubts that followed, and then the indescribable joy when He arose, victorious over sin, death, and the grave.  And it is because He is still in the business of raising men and women from the dead that we can walk by faith and lay our fears at His feet.

“But because of His great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions – it is by grace you have been saved.”  Ephesians 2:4-5

Praise God, Jesus Christ is risen!

He is risen, indeed.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

A Day in the Life: Flat Stanley Visits RVA

World-renowned international traveler, Flat Stanley, has one more stop to check off his list.  Earlier this year, he visited Rift Valley Academy in Kijabe, Kenya.  His gracious hosts, the Schmidt family, gave him the grand tour of the school for missionary children that was founded in 1906.  In his own words, here are a few of the highlights of his trip.

“Hi everybody!  First of all, I’d like to give a shout-out to the one who made this all possible, Sam Mateer.  Without him, I never would’ve had the chance to visit Kenya.  Even though the journey was long, USPS flat-rate postage (no pun intended) did the trick and I arrived safely in the Schmidt’s mailbox in about two weeks’ time. 

The school day here isn’t too different than some of the schools I’ve been to in the States, but there are a few key differences.  I arrived in the middle of what they call ‘Term 2’.  The academic calendar is split into three terms, each about three months long. 

Here I’m sitting in on AP Calculus.  The students seem engaged and, for the most part, interested.  Weird.

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This group of sixth graders was intent on their reading assignment during English class.  Back in Pennsylvania where the Mateer family lives, there are very few opportunities for outdoor reading in the beginning of March!

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I like Edward – he’s the Swahili tutor on the right.  I didn’t learn too much of the language, but he did give me a piece of candy!  At least I knew enough to say, “Asante sana!”

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Chai break is a pretty big deal here.  After 3rd period, the whole school stops for 15 minutes to have a hot cup of chai – basically black tea with milk and sugar.  A few of the guys that work in the cafeteria let me join them. 

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Here I am in the “chai tree” – a lot of the students leave their mugs hanging here in the outdoor courtyard.  Not very sanitary, in my opinion, but then again I’m just a piece of cardstock. 

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The library is a pretty cool place.  Lots of good books – a few in particular caught my eye…

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I even got a little homesick!

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But mostly, I just tried to figure out why there were so many stuffed animals.  No, not the cuddly, sleep-in-your-bed kind – stuffed, as in they used to be alive! 

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I thought I read something about hunting being illegal in Kenya.  I guess when you’ve been around for over 100 years as a school, your exploits pre-date some of the current laws!

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The best part of my day was definitely hanging out with students.  There are lots of amazing kids here.  Above, I’m chilling with the first graders.  Then, after lunch, I found a random Algebra 1 class being held under a tree!

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Gotta love Freshmen!

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I am, in fact, in the picture below.  I’m just taking after my buddy Waldo – where’s Flat Stanley?

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Everybody wants a picture taken with Flat Stanley!  The most common reaction from the high school students was, “Flat Stanley?!  I remember him!”

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I was able to get a quick shot with these lovely ladies just before their semi-final football (some of you readers might call it ‘soccer’) match.  Turns out they won and went on to win the championship a few days later!  Go Buffaloes!

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This is part of the ‘psyche squad’ that cheered the Lady Buffaloes on to victory.  There are no official cheerleaders at this school, but I assure you, everybody in the stands gets involved!DSC_0037

And who can pass up a picture with a metallic giraffe?

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This after-school tradition was another highlight.  Tennis-baseball!  As you might have guessed, it’s basically baseball with a tennis racquet.  This match-up featured Kindergarten through 2nd graders competing for the most runs and the biggest hits.  DSC_0044

Rift Valley Academy certainly was a unique place to visit.  I originally hoped to see a bit of the Kenyan landscape and culture, but it turned out there was plenty to see here, right on campus!  Students and families from all over the world live and learn here together everyday.  Taking a page out of one of Dr. Seuss’s most well-known works, these kids grow up seeing and experiencing lots of different things.  My recommendation is coming from a guy who travels around the world quite a bit – RVA is definitely one of the coolest places you can go!

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Sincerely,
Flat Stanley

Saturday, February 21, 2015

BQ

Each grade, 7-12, has a group of staff members called sponsors who help students to plan class activities.  A lot of planning and organization goes into sponsoring a class and usually sponsors stay with that class through graduation.  Near the end of our first year here, we attached ourselves to the fine class of 2016.

In 9th grade, classes begin fund-raising activities to cover the cost of their senior class trip.  Freshmen sell snack concessions during movie nights, Sophomores sell Valentines and put on a restaurant for staff, Juniors and Seniors sell breakfast and lunch concessions at major sports tournaments. 

In addition to this, most of their Junior year is spent designing and planning a Banquet in honor of the Seniors.  The Jr/Sr Banquet, called “BQ” around here, is one of many unique RVA traditions.  The Juniors pick a theme for BQ and based on that theme, they design an elaborate set & table decorations, prepare a five course meal, write and star in a play and perform live entertainment for the senior class and their sponsors.  It takes 4-6 months of planning, an immense amount of coordination and is a ton of work for both the juniors and their sponsors.

All of the planning and coordination for this event comes together during mid-term weekend, when, instead of retreating for a long weekend break, our juniors, along with many of their parents, descend upon this campus in order to build Banquet. 

Last weekend (mid-term) we had 79 junior students, 90 parents, and 10 sponsors take on this feat.  For three days, we hammered, drilled, constructed, paper-mached and painted, while others cooked, sewed, hot-glued, acted, and sang.  It was non-stop. 

Last night, we reaped the rewards of our hard work.  We got all dressed up, processed at dusk through a lantern-lit path to the cheers of underclassmen & staff, and enjoyed an extensive dinner theater along with the seniors and their sponsors. 

Our theme?   Narnia! 

Come along & see what BQ is all about:

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What a joy and a privilege to be part of this tradition here at RVA! 

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

We are back

We are back to life in Kijabe – back to small town shopping at the Dukas, bringing our own baskets, shaking hands with and talking to the store owners, greeting each of the ladies who sell vegetables.

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We are back to life in Africa – where kind Kenyan women will take your filled-to-the-brim basket and hoist it on their backs to carry it to your car for you. 

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We are back to life at RVA, where Evelyn goes to story time on Mondays and preschool on Wednesdays, where Nate attends half-day kindergarten and Ethan is a full-day 1st grader.  

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We are back to life at RVA in all of its fullness – a math classroom full of Algebra and Statistics students, a JV basketball team to coach.  I am back in the Guidance office three mornings a week, and in and around our home most other times. 

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We are back to life at RVA and the myriad responsibilities that come with living 24/7 with the students we teach.  Things day schools don’t have like sponsoring an entire class of 79 juniors, like dorm cover Monday nights to give HS dorm parents an evening off, like staffing tournaments on the weekend or hosting them at your house. 

We are back to a full, fast-paced life during each term. 

We are back to life in Africa because we have a strong team of prayer and financial supporters, who allow us to live and serve here.  THANK YOU for your faithfulness in giving, in praying and in encouraging us. 

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