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Saturday, December 29, 2012

December at a glance

A few friends have asked what Christmas preparations look like in Africa.  I thought I’d post on what our December break has consisted of – in pictures of course.

DSCN5680We started new traditions – I purchased a Cradle-to-the-Cross wreath before coming out to Kenya, as we hadn’t yet started advent traditions with our children.  We really wanted to have meaningful devotion as a family leading up to the celebration of Jesus’ birth. 

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DSCN5758And yes we did decorate for Christmas!  I made fresh garland from pine needles and pine cones collected in my neighbors yard.  The curly pieces are actually wood shavings from a shelf Dan built us.  He had to hand plane the wood and I thought the resulting scraps would look pretty in my handmade garland.

DSCN5759 I made sure to bring our stockings, a good number of ornaments and part of my Willow Tree nativity with us.  I also purchased an artificial tree, sight unseen, from a family leaving RVA before we came.  I thought it was important to keep Christmas as familiar as possible.  In hindsight, I’m really glad that I did that. 

If you look closely, you’ll notice we got a rug for our living room! We purchased it from our neighbor and we’ve never been so happy to have soft carpet to sit on. Cozy!

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DSCN5778We baked and decorated Christmas cut-out cookies.  Always a favorite!

DSCN5791Our bunk beds were finished and delivered! In an earlier post, I mentioned that we were having some furniture made by a local Kenyan man, Michael.  It took three months to receive two pieces of furniture, but we were able to design them ourselves and that was pretty neat!  The boys each have a small bookshelf at the head of their beds for treasures and there are three drawers under the bottom bunk.

DSCN5794We watched lots of movies during December.  With Daddy home and it being Christmas time, the kids enjoyed Frosty the Snowman, Rudolph, Winnie the Pooh & Christmas Too and Mickey’s Christmas, along with a few Disney Classics that we borrowed from the Library.  (We may be going through withdrawal in January!)

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DSCN5806Fortunately with a campus full of people away from their families for the holidays, there are plenty of planned events for staff members!  We went into Nairobi for a family swim day at Rosslyn Academy on the 21st!

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DSCN5813One Saturday morning, we went for a hike/bike ride on a nice easy trail here in Kijabe with a bunch of folks from RVA.  Nate was such a trooper, riding & carrying his big wheel the whole way! 

DSCN5815One of Ethan’s favorite things to do in the whole world is ride his bike!  In the above picture, he’s the one in the middle with the blue helmet. 

DSCN5873On Christmas Eve, after delivering boxes, we went sledding with a few other families! 

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DSCN5896Christmas morning looked remarkably similar to some of your Christmas mornings I’m sure.  The kids were up bright and early at 6:30am, ready to open gifts!

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DSCN5893And thanks to inventions like FaceTime & Skype, our family was able to watch the kids open presents!!  How wonderful to live in the age that we do with communication across an ocean at our fingertips. 

Hope your December was Merry & Bright and that the Love and Comfort and Peace that is Jesus Christ permeated your hearts and homes this Christmas!

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

“Do Not Be Afraid”

One of the things I love most about Christmas is the fact that something new and fresh jumps off the pages of God’s Word each year – something I’ve read many times before, and yet somehow, the Holy Spirit opens my eyes anew to a piece of His Truth that I haven’t yet seen.

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This year it is the phrase spoken by the angels, “Do not be afraid.”  I think part of the reason it stood out to me this year is that I saw it so often in other parts of my devotional reading.  A quick search on my favorite Bible reference site revealed that this phrase, or something very similar to it, appears over 80 times in the Bible! 

In the Christmas story, an angel speaks these words to Joseph (in Matthew 1), to Zechariah and to Mary (both in Luke 1), as well as to the shepherds of Luke 2 fame.  The unspoken assumption here is that there must have been something to fear – why else would the angels tell them not to be afraid? 

Elsewhere in Scripture, it is proclaimed to Abraham, Isaac, Joshua, the nation of Israel, Jesus’ disciples, Paul, and the apostle John, to name a few.  All are either confronted with God’s presence, visited by an angel, or spoken to through a prophet.  In each case, humanly speaking, there is definitely something to be afraid of; angels are scary looking, God is Holy, obedience is hard and often doesn’t make sense, suffering isn’t fun and yet it’s something His followers are pretty much guaranteed.  Being approached by your Creator, no matter the form or fashion He uses to address you, is a fearful thought.  If we even come close to understanding our sinfulness in the presence of a Holy God, this should shake us like it did them.

And yet His response throughout is very consistent: 

“Do not be afraid, Abram.  I am your shield”  Genesis 15:1

“Do not be afraid, for I am with you” Genesis 26:24

“Do not be afraid.  Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the LORD will bring you today.” Exodus 14:13

“Be strong and courageous.  Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you” Deuteronomy 31:6

“Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9

“Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army.  For the battle is not yours, but God’s.” 2 Chronicles 20:15

“Do not be afraid, for I am with you…”  Isaiah 43:5

“Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the Lord.  Jeremiah 1:8

“Be not afraid, oh land; be glad and rejoice.  Surely the Lord has done great things.”  Joel 2:21

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”  John 14:27

“Do not be afraid…for I am with you.”  Acts 18:9-10

“Do not be afraid.  I am the First and the Last.  I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever!.”  Revelation 1:17-18

Humanly speaking, following God, hearing His word, obeying His instructions or being confronted with His truth can be scary.  But praise God, because when speaking to humans, He reassures us with His presence.  Isn’t that exactly what we celebrate at Christmas?  Emmanuel – God with us!!

But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid.  I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.” Luke 2:10

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MERRY CHRISTMAS!

Monday, December 24, 2012

Christmas Eve in Kijabe Town

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Over the course of this first term, part of our tithes and offerings given at RVA church were going toward Christmas Eve donations for the local community.   As newbies, we had no idea what this meant, but this morning we got to be part of a team distributing these boxes and thought we’d share some of that blessing with you.

Each year, the elders of the local A.I.C. of Kijabe (Africa Inland Church) prayerfully discern who among the surrounding community is in critical need, not just materially poor, but materially poor and without family aid.  RVA purchases basic necessities like flour, sugar, maize, margarine and shoes(among other things) and spends a Saturday filling the boxes to be distributed. 

On the morning of Christmas Eve, teachers and doctors and kids from Kijabe station split up into teams, each team being led by a Kenyan guide from AIC Kijabe with directions.  This year we had 50 gifts to deliver.  Each team stops at 6-7 houses to distribute the Christmas box, pray, and sing a carol or two.

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DSCN5837Our family joined two other families to go to 6 houses in the Kijabe area.  On our third stop, we went to the home of a widow in her 70’s or 80’s (Sho-sho means Grandmother in Kikuyu) with severe back problems, whose daughter was unable to get out of bed, having just had a stroke several weeks ago.  In the midst of chickens, dogs, and cows roaming just outside their door, there were 8-10 barefoot children as well. I am unsure whether these children were part of the home we came to visit or if they were coming to see the group of mazungus (white people) gathered there.

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The women we visited often closed their eyes and lifted their hands towards heaven as we sang and prayed with them.  They spoke mostly in Kikuyu and Swahili, praising God for the miracle these boxes were to them.  My kids shook hands with the Kenyan children and gave out lollipops.  Laughter and smiles and candy transcend language barriers. 

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Our families here at RVA, though sacrificing much to live in Africa, are abundantly blessed.   And it was a beautiful morning to share the love, peace and hope of Christ with six different families in our community. 

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From our family to yours, a very Merry Christmas!!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Teaching in Africa (TIA)

I now have 3 months of teaching at Rift Valley Academy under my belt – the first of three terms of this school year ended around Thanksgiving.  Compared to my time teaching at Beaver Falls High School, my tenure here only gives me 1/15th of the experience I had there (pre-algebra students: can you deduce how long I taught at BF from this hint?)

Despite this relative lack of exposure, it is probably the best point in time to reflect on a few comparisons between the two systems – one, a public school in a majority low-socioeconomic, quasi-inner-city environment in Western Pennsylvania, the other a Westernized Christian boarding school in the middle of a third world country in Africa.  Clearly, there are going to be differences!

I tried to keep a few notes as the most obvious contrasts revealed themselves throughout the term.  Here are a few random ones for your reading pleasure :)

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1.  The first and maybe most unexpected was the two-hole punch.  You read that right.  There are no three hole punches in Kenya, or at least available here at RVA.  I was completely blindsided by this one, and although its seemingly an insignificant difference, it was really hard to get used to!  Believe me when I say that the three hole punch system for binders, notebooks, folders, etc. in the States is far superior – educators and others, be thankful for that!

2.  On a related note of classroom materials, all the paper is A4.  No more good ole’ reliable 8.5” x 11” standard paper.  A4 is 8.5” x 12” – drives me crazy!  Go ahead, call me OCD. 

3.  Ok, so the first two seem like non-issues.  I get it.  “What’s the big deal?  So you’ve got one less hole and paper with an extra inch!  Cry about it, why don’t you?!”  Here’s one that will blow you away.  Every Thursday is “Bring your knife to School Day”.  I kid you not.  Can you imagine my reaction the first time I saw a kid sharpening his pencil with a pocketknife in the middle of my class?!  That was nothing, because it was only Wednesday.  Thursday rolls around and several students showed up brandishing all types of weapons – machetes (they call them pangas) were the most common, but I saw all types:  pocketknives, switch blades, daggers of various sizes, hunting knives, and even a few swords.  The vice president of the student body (his title is actually vice-chairman here) reassured the new teachers in his opening day speech before the entire school not to worry about this tradition.  A portion of his exact words were “it’s not considered a knife unless it’s a foot long anyway!”  The fact that this is allowed with no concern whatsoever from the administration or the veteran teachers speaks volumes to the overall atmosphere of this school.  In light of several recent and unspeakably tragic events in the U.S., it’s sad but true that many of us feel much safer here, teaching in Africa.

4.  Although not too common, it is possible to receive a demerit.

5.  Today is December 18th, I haven’t taught since November 30th, (but I did teach on Thanksgiving Day, Labor Day, Columbus Day and Veteran’s Day) and I won’t teach again until January 3rd. 

6.  I have yet to hear the acronym “PSSA” or discuss“Eligible Content” or “Common Core Standards” and for this I praise the Lord (not kidding).  My colleagues back in PA will understand and be just the tiniest bit jealous, I’m sure.  Sorry guys!

7.  There are more students here than there are lockers available.  Exactly the opposite problem in Beaver Falls, and many other public high schools in the States, from what I understand. 

8.  I have posted in my classroom two Bible verses – right up front, on poster paper and have referred to them in class.  Colossians 3:17, “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” and Philippians 1:27a, “Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.”

9.  This one caught me a bit off guard and still hasn’t quite become the new norm:  Some students (not all, but enough that it’s a theme) will regularly say “Thank you, sir” when leaving the classroom.  Ha!  I teach Algebra!  Anyone else find this funny?  I still have not figured out a good response – mostly because I’m still so caught off guard every time I hear it!  “You’re welcome” seems the most appropriate I guess, but it just doesn’t sound right.  I appreciate any suggestions!

10.  Football always reigned supreme at Beaver Falls in the autumn.  Each year that I was there, they always put together a very competitive team.  Football is big here at RVA too – in fact, football in Kenya might even be called a national obsession.  But the team of 7th and 8th grade boys that I coached didn’t have helmets or shoulder pads.  Instead, most of them wore shin guards and weren’t allowed to touch the ball with their hands.  The fact that I played a small amount of soccer in high school was the only reason I was anywhere near qualified to coach them!

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I think 10 is a nice place to stop.  There are certainly more – and I may reflect on some in a future post.  Despite some of the obvious differences, though, it is still teaching teenagers, and most 9th graders still cringe at the thought of quadratic equations, and there are still discipline problems, and I’m still dead tired at the end of the day.  But it’s comforting knowing that my God has directed my steps and has me here, like He had me at Beaver Falls, for a season, for a reason, and for His glory!

Friday, December 14, 2012

Africa, Kenya, RVA – a journal entry {Part Two}

For those of you who may have missed Part One of this two part series written by my father-in-law, its worth a read. 

We will pick up today with his continued first impressions of RVA, Chai, Kijabe & Nairobi. 

On the campus of RVA

RVA has a very beautiful campus. There are all kinds of flowers in bloom all over the campus. Lots of beautiful colors, much like Florida. The campus is located on the side of the Rift Valley in Kenya. It is on the top side of the Rift Valley and the views looking over the valley are impressive. RVA is located on the equator but the elevation is about 7,400 feet above sea level so the climate is very enjoyable. It is presently entering its spring-summer season. It is getting warmer each day with lots of sunshine. Temperature during the day is 75 degrees and higher. At night it gets down to around 60 degrees.

It is basically a 100 acre fenced compound on the side of the Rift Valley. It has many school buildings, cafeteria, gym, athletic fields, many dorms for students, etc. (Much like a college campus) It also has 20 or so individual houses for various faculty members to rent when they come to teach, etc. Thus all the individual yards, though separate, are really all one common ground and the families and kids and students who live here all walk the various foot paths that go through one’s yard. You can pretty much walk or play in anybody’s yard because they all belong to the campus.

Dan + Courtney’s two boys are always in the yard next door - they have a trampoline built right into the ground so you can’t fall off it - you just hit the ground. Older kids from all over might be over there from 3 – 5pm with Ethan who is five and Nate who is three years old. They get along well. The older ones are very responsible with the younger ones. (Kind of like the neighborhood of “Leave It To Beaver” - that old TV show from the 1950’s.)

In some ways life is a lot safer. My little grandkids can pretty much go anywhere in the compound. Everybody looks out for the little ones. The older boys and girls are really good with the young children - they probably miss their younger siblings back in other African countries serving with their parents. My grandkids are outside each day with plenty of playmates of all sizes and ages. The RVA community is like one large family. From what I have observed thus far, the kids in middle school and high school are much closer to each other than in a typical American public school system. I am beginning to see many blessings (benefits) to growing up as a missionary child. It is hard to get all my impressions down on paper accurately.

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On Chai:

The Kenyans like tea. (Part of the British Empire historically) The school at RVA also stops in the late morning each school day for tea time. It is called “Chai Time”. On Monday Paulette, Courtney, and I went with Dan to Chapel for the school at 10 AM and then for Chai Time at 10:20. Students have Chai Time outside of the cafeteria and the faculty has Chai Time in a different location. It was fun and also impressive to see the faculty spend some time in prayer for the school and students during their Chai Time. We then went and sat in on one of Dan’s algebra classes. The fall term is coming to an end this week and Dan is getting his classes ready for term finals.

On Kijabe:

Paulette and I walked out into downtown Kijabe yesterday. Outside of the RVA compound is not much of a town. One main street with a few store fronts – about one half mile long. A rough dirt-paved road full of potholes, no sidewalks, not even the size of Cowlesville. Chickens and animals walking around. Lots of small huts (houses) on both sides of the town. There is a pretty modern hospital in Kijabe - a number of missionaries working there. Some of the babies of RVA teachers and staff are delivered at this hospital.

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IMG_3770Kijabe Hospital

I took a walk up the mountain road on a Friday afternoon. It is probably 2.5 miles one way. It is the very rough, steep, and curvy road we drove in on the night we arrived here. It takes you to the main road that goes into Nairobi. It was a hard climb but very interesting in the day time. Many mountain-side homes (farms), beautiful views, and lots of people walking up or down the road. I walked both ways by myself. The people are friendly and most speak English. It is much safer walking around here than it was on a short missions trip I took to Haiti a few years ago.

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On Shopping in Nairobi:

On the other hand, the lack of a car of my own is starting to get to me. It kind of feels like I am trapped here. Much different from regular American culture. In America you can come and go as you please. Here you need to get a ride with somebody. I want my own wheels! Many long term missionaries here at RVA do have their own car/vehicle, but to own a car here is very expensive so most do not make that purchase until they’re sure they will be here for a while.

On Thursday (Dec. 6th) six of us guys here at RVA decided we should go into the city (Nairobi) to buy Christmas gifts for our wives. When was the last time in America you went shopping with 5 men? It is not done that way in America. We would each drive separately. Guys don’t go shopping together. Here at RVA you have to. There are fewer vehicles on campus than people. You can rent an RVA vehicle or find one of the missionaries here that may own a car. Expensive gas, rough roads, few vehicles - you have no choice. A (would-be) two hour shopping experience in Nairobi will take you all day. The male bonding was okay and we had a nice lunch at a good restaurant in the city but you only do that in America for a sporting event. Police are everywhere. Armed guards with metal detectors let you into the malls and into the restaurants.

The main road into Nairobi (after the 20 minute climb up the poor mountain road to the top) is paved and pretty good but not an easy or pleasant experience. Kenyan driving is bad. Many vehicles are poor (and old) and cannot go up hills or steep grades without really slowing down. You cannot maintain a steady 55 miles per hour. You speed up, you brake, you weave in and out of your lane to pass. Driving and talking is a challenge. You need all your concentration to have a safe and successful drive into the city. And then you have the occasional cow or donkey that may wander onto the highway. Walkers and bicycles on the sides of the road also make it interesting. And of course you have the big trucks to deal with, black smoke, diesel fumes, and vehicles on the road with breakdowns. Getting into the city and driving around in the city - not fun.

I made some mistakes when I packed for Kenya. I heard it is the summer season here in December. RVA is located on the equator and it will be hot. Therefore I packed 3 pair of short pants and sandals to wear. Bad move. Men here in Kenya do not wear short pants. It is pretty warm but everyone is still wearing sweaters and jackets and hats. In our shopping trip into Nairobi yesterday I was probably the only man in a city of 3 million residents to be wearing shorts. (The 5 guys I went with did not send me the memo!) I am also white - so I felt a little out of place. I stuck out! There was no place to hide. The women of Nairobi also do not wear shorts. Long dresses for women and long pants for men - and not too many blue jeans either are the norm.

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In Conclusion:

We have certainly had a great time with our son and his family. It will be very hard to leave them. But we now know so much more about the setting they are living in, what they have and what they don’t have. We will be able to pray more specifically.

In many ways we will be able to sleep more soundly. They are in a very good, safe environment. They have a great number of very fine people and children around them to live with and work through the many challenges of family life. They are answering a call on their life and responding faithfully and effectively. Dan is really well liked and appreciated by his students and the staff. Courtney is handling the challenge of mothering three demanding children 5 years of age and younger and also taking an various assignments in the school community.

They are becoming more adept at speaking Swahili and establishing relationships with the local people of Kijabe. They have also developed some really close friendships with many of the residents of RVA. We were invited into the homes of three different families for meals in the short time we have been here. Neat people, all obedient to God’s call on their life.

Paulette and I have learned and experienced a lot. A number of things about missionary life here at RVA would really be nice to experience. Some things would really be tough for me. (I wonder what I would see, perceive, and understand, if I would stay here for more than three weeks?)

Wishing you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy, Healthy, and Joy-filled New Year!

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Blessings from the “Dark Continent” (It’s not as dark as it once was),

Don Schmidt

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