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Monday, December 30, 2013

the least of these

You can see it from RVA, if you’re looking toward Mount Longonot.  The sun hits the tin roofs, making it hard to miss.  Rows and rows of them, just little rectangles of reflected light from where we stand.  They look a little out of place, located just off the highway that runs along the bottom of the Great Rift Valley.  And they are out of place.  IDP stands for internally displaced people.  People who aren’t home, or no longer have one, who have been forced away from the familiar. The only thing they can be sure of is being unsure. 

“Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”  Matthew 25:40

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This specific camp has been around since 2008.  Violence that spilled over from presidential elections in Kenya forced over 300 families to flee.  Eventually, this is where they ended up.  Living in tents, in what was supposed to be a temporary solution, they’ve long since settled in for the long haul. 

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There are some encouraging chapters to this tale.  Habitat for Humanity has played a huge role in replacing many of the temporary shelters with concrete block homes whose tin roofs now dot the valley floor.  The government of Kenya pitched in as well, allowing them to pool their money and buy the land they now occupy.  But despite these and other well-meaning gifts, poverty continues to plague the area.  The nearest town, Maai Maihu, is itself existing well below the poverty line, so income opportunities are even more scarce for a community that just “showed up” on the scene a few years ago. 

The land yields its few crops reluctantly, heavily dependent on the inconsistent rains throughout the year. Many stake their hopes on subsistence farming in an area hardly conducive to growing crops. But with nowhere else to go, it has become home. 

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Enter John Karanja.  I’ve known John since we arrived at RVA last summer.  He is a busy guy.  A local Kenyan man employed full-time here in our supplies store, he also oversees whatever immigration services the staff and students need.  Alien registrations, driver’s licenses, passports, visas, you name it – he does the legwork in Nairobi so we are able to live and minister legally in Kenya.   These obligations alone would keep his calendar packed, but God asked him to be a pastor as well. 

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He took it upon himself in 2008 to start a church in the valley.  Lacking any formal pastoral training, John knew someone had to shepherd and love these people.  His love for Jesus wouldn’t allow him to sit by while so many in the IDP Camp lacked the opportunity to know the Savior. 

Up until last year, it was known as the Church Under the Tree (I bet you can guess why), meeting under the shade of a big acacia tree.  Thanks to his persistent fundraising efforts, they recently constructed a church building on the same plot of ground where the tree still stands. 

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Now, this isn’t a paid position.  In fact, John often continues the ministry at his own expense.  Just getting there and back once a week is more than most Kenyans can afford in transportation costs. 

And he doesn’t just come to preach – his goal has always been to come with a nutritious meal for the 100-150 kids in Sunday School.  Sometimes it’s soup, maybe fresh fruit, even eggs if the donations were generous enough for that week.  He insists on having some food to share with them; they aren’t guaranteed many nutritious meals throughout the week. This too, often comes out of his own pocket. 

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Some monetary help comes from the local Africa Inland Church, but not being an ordained pastor, the support he gains is minimal at best.  From time to time faculty or students at RVA will catch a glimpse of his vision and donate money, but even that is unpredictable due to the ever-changing staffing picture here.

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The most impressive thing about John’s work is his attitude.  Often a thankless position, he presses on because he’s acting in obedience.  He deals with immense problems pastorally in a community like this, but he perseveres. 

His faith in God’s provision borders on the likes of George MuellerHe doesn’t know from week to week if he will be able to bring another meal, where the donations will come from, or if they’ll come at all.  He’s putting himself through seminary to be able to dedicate infants and perform baptisms.  This is his calling, his own missionary journey, to people in his own country.

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To see this happening in Kenya is hugely encouraging.  It’s no secret that there are a TON of foreign missionaries in this country and there have been for a long time.  So many Africans are still trapped in a culture bent on looking to the pale-skinned foreigners for a hand out; here is one example (and there are many) of a Kenyan with his hands out in service to our Lord, going where nobody else wants to go, putting in the time nobody else wants to invest, ministering to the least of these, his brothers.  My brothers. 

Well done, John, and thank you.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

family gatherings. kenya style.

A short walk from the gate, just past the dukas we frequent, lies the heart of Kijabe.  Almost directly across the street from the local carpenter’s shops are several rows of housing units.  A home on one of these rows belongs to a man named Jesse, our friend and gardener.   We were delighted to visit his family on Saturday afternoon.

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Jesse has become dear to our family over the past year and a half.  He works at our home two days a week, tending to the yard, the flowers and the small vegetable garden.  He’s extremely good natured with our three kids as they follow him around in their puddle boots, and he knows far more about caring for gardens than I ever will. 

You may remember reading about the accident that took three of his fingers last November and left him out of work for a few months.  Dan and I were able to visit his home once during his recovery last year, but this was the first time to meet his family.  His wife is Ann.  She works at AIC Regent Academy, a local Christian school, as a cook.  His children are Stanley, Janet, and Simon. 

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Quite unexpectedly, we were served stew and chapati with juice.  Another marvelous Kenyan meal with friends.  He pulled out photos of his wedding, his big extended family, his children, and some of the missionary families he’s worked for in the past.  We laughed about how young he looks in the photos. 

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Jesse’s youngest, Simon, just turned three.  He and Evelyn were equal in size and cuteness.

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We took a large gift basket for his family, filled with flour, sugar, rice, noodles, beans, jam, and other staples for their kitchen.  Our kids also picked out a few of their toys to give to his children for Christmas. 

We delivered a similar basket of food to Veronica and her family on Monday.  Their home is a little more over the river and through the woods, about a 20 minute drive.   

We are thankful to be able to provide Veronica with steady work as well.  She is a tremendous help to me in our home three days a week.  Veronica is married to Paul and has two sons, Joseph and Edwin.

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The eldest boy in the photo belongs to Paul’s late sister, Beatrice.  She passed away in November 2012 and they have taken Zechaiah into their care. 

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DSC_0035 (3){Driving through Kijabe and NOT nearly hitting a herd of goats would be a more newsworthy event, but we snapped a shot to give you a feel for rural Kenya.}

While we do miss some of the hullabaloo associated with Christmas in the States (you won’t find icicle lights adorning houses and you can’t get your picture taken with Santa), we are immensely thankful for new traditions, for extended visits with our Kenyan neighbors, and giving out of the abundance that God has blessed us with.

 

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Flowers for Kijabe

Stephen stands with the guards at the service gate twice a week, carrying bags of roses, wrapped in cardboard.  He stands hunched, leaning on his cane, his left arm and leg limp.  This is his livelihood – selling roses at the entrance to RVA and to others in Kijabe. He’s often sitting near the dukas when he’s not at RVA, roses at his feet, greeting folks as they buy their fruits & vegetables, asking them to buy flowers. 

Sometime this fall, we began supporting Stephen monthly.  We pay for a month’s worth of roses and he gives us a call once a week when he is at the gate.  As we greet and talk with him a few minutes each time, we have begun to develop a friendship with him.  He has four children, two grown daughters and two sons still at home. 

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Our family had the privilege of sharing a meal with Stephen’s family on Friday at his home.  He met us at the service gate, as usual, but this time we drove to his house, nearly 45 minutes away.  This man with a crippled body travels 45 minutes one way, two times a week, with the hope of selling a few bunches of flowers to some missionary families. 

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As we drove the long way on one-laned paths and finished the journey together on foot, he told us about the sickness he developed when he was young that left him crippled on his left side.  He said that the doctors told his parents he would have to go to America to be healed properly, but his parents couldn’t afford to send him to America.  And even if they could, they feared he wouldn’t return.  Stephen outlived his childhood sickness, but his scars remain. 

He worked at RVA in grounds keeping for many years, until it became too much for him physically.  It was then that he began selling flowers.  Even so, times have become tougher for Stephen and his family as many of his customers have since moved on from the Kijabe area.  He is struggling to find new customers, asking us if we plan to stay here a long time. 

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We were greeted by his wife, Naomi, and his sons, Obadiah and Peter.  We even met his brother and sister-in-law, while they worked in the field.  We washed up and feasted together on cooked peas & carrots, irio, and chapati.  Ethan kept saying “This is the best lunch I ever had!”  Certainly their hospitality was second to none. 

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After lunch, we drank chai and visited.  Then Ethan, Nate, & Evelyn went outside to play with the other Kenyan children that had, by this time, flocked to Stephen’s home to see the mzungu children with blonde hair.  They all giggled together and pet puppies and chased each other with sticks for a while.  

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As the storm clouds rolled in, we had to be leaving.  We were, after all, driving on mere footpaths.  One heavy downpour would have left us stranded there for the evening.  We brought them a small gift of flour, sugar, and rice, said our good-byes, and set off on the bumpy journey back home.

I think the biggest take away from our visit was that everyone has a story and everyone likes to be heard. I had no idea that Stephen’s limp left side was a result of a childhood ailment, likely polio or something similar.  I had no idea that he worked on the grounds of RVA or that his flower business is at an all time low.  As we live in relative comfort, with running water and electricity, vinyl on our floors and decorations on our walls, we forget that just outside our gates, there are plenty of folks who struggle to make it each day, whose stories aren’t often heard or shared with others.

I am thankful for the day we gave Stephen a chance to be heard, to share his story with us, and I’m even more grateful that my children got to hear as well. 

Monday, December 9, 2013

In Defense of Marriage

Tightly packed into the wooden pew, 11 of us squeezed in where 7 might seem uncomfortable in some cultures.  Keenly aware of the aromas chosen by the people pressing against me, I sat and listened.

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I cannot understand spoken Swahili.  I know even less Kikuyu.  My ability to communicate in the language of the Maasai is non-existent.  I did, however, pass high school English awhile back.  This combination of [in]abilities became clear to me as I attended my first Kenyan wedding Saturday. 

I understood maybe 20% of what was said, and that was almost entirely thanks to the program, printed in English.  A service performed in four languages will do that for you. 

Despite the absence of verbal comprehension, I was amazed how clear the essential message came through, no translation required.  In many ways it felt like a court case. 

  • the Prosecution: although mostly silent, they presented their impressive case simply through the state of marriage in the world today, the statistical unlikelihood of any well-meaning couple actual living out their vows until death
  • the Defense: representing the sanctity of marriage and the entrance of these two individuals into holy matrimony 
  • the Judge: God, the author, protector, and sustainer of this sacred covenant 
  • the Jury: not only of their peers, but the entire community of faith in support of the nervous young couple

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The couple came forward.  Unspoken charges were hurled, one after another; valid, difficult questions from the Prosecution.  “Why should these two be allowed to marry?  Why even bother with this antiquated status update?  What if they aren’t happy?  What if they get bored?  What if this is just a big, expensive mistake?  Who in their right mind will support them?  Are there any who would care enough to hold them accountable to the vows they are making?  How can their marriage expect to survive in this day and age?” 

In response, the Defense boldly answered each charge, calling witnesses to the stand and testify.  Each testimony built on the previous one, each sworn statement providing yet another layer of affirmation and pledged accountability.

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  • Both sets of parents came forward, surrounding their children, affirming the decision and commitments being made. 
  • Visiting pastors and elders rose to introduce themselves (there were at least 12), announcing their presence as stewards of the covenant, heralds of the Word that calls for faithfulness
  • The local church pastor and visiting bishop pointed their confession to the Author himself - laying hands on the bride and groom as they knelt before the congregation, acknowledging in prayer the One who alone has the power to sustain them
  • Preaching from the Word, the minister provided evidence in support of this accord – drawing from Isaac and Rebekah’s story in Genesis (I think).
  • Each of the three choirs came forward, lifting up the Name above all names, belting out exhortations to the couple, and testifying to the beauty of the eternal Covenant between Christ and His bride.  
  • Even the sheer length of the event served as a not-so-subtle witness in defense of marriage; THREE hours to do what an American wedding can plow through in half an hour tops.
  • Possibly the Prosecution’s best opportunity came when the pastor asked the question concerning both the bride and groom, one at a time, waiting at least a full minute to see if anyone would speak out against either partner – silence followed.
  • The Jury watched closely as the couple signed the marriage certificate in their presence, satisfying the legal requirements for their union.
  • Finally, the couple was presented, awaiting the Jury’s decision.  (I would say a hush fell over the crowd, but in truth, it was probably the loudest wedding I’ve ever been to)  The applause and celebration in response confirmed the verdict in favor of marriage.

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It was easy to get caught up in the excitement, the cultural differences, the loud music, and the food and dancing that followed.  But I couldn’t help hearing the faint voice of the wounded Prosecution still threatening, “This isn’t over.” 

And it isn’t over.  The first day is easy.  Everyone’s happy, everyone looks great, the honeymoon stage has begun, the couple really likes each other. But marriage is hard work, a commitment to someone for life, a covenant requiring 100% from each party, unconditionally. 

And that is why the Prosecution is so successful, why their record only improves as time goes on.  African or American, it doesn’t matter.  They are relentless in their pursuit of discouraging couples, sewing seeds of selfishness and discontentment. They are all too happy to help accountable members of the Defense and Jury to forget, to feel uncomfortable, to avoid tough conversations and ‘mind their own business’ when they see the marriage falling apart. 

We don’t want to call sin for what it is.  We don’t want to call to account those who are tempted to toss aside their commitment before God.  But we must. 

Pray for Janet and Nehemiah.  Please pray for Courtney and I, pray for your parents’ marriage, for your own, for your friends’.  Please pray for all of our marriages to lean on His all-sufficient grace. 

We are in desperate need because, in this court case, the Prosecution never rests.

“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ ”  2 Corinthians 12:9

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Facebook is confused

I don’t use Facebook too often and apparently I haven’t filled out a complete profile either, because when I logged in recently, this was at the top of my page:

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There’s something to be said when Facebook can’t quite nail down your origins!  It got me thinking about our students, about missionary families, and about TCK’s (Third Culture Kids).  Consider that question Facebook asked me:  “Where did you grow up?” or a related one, “Where are you from?”  For many of you reading this, the answers seem pretty straight-forward.  They always have.  Now imagine, if you can, what it would be like to not have an answer for those questions.

I spoke with a student today that spent his entire life in Sudan, until last year when the government kicked his family out, along with all the other Christians – a sort of Holy Islamic cleansing for the country.  Now he’s not sure where to call home as his parents are in between ministry assignments, seeking the Lord’s will for their family’s future.

Or consider the potential identity questions that arise when you attend a boarding school in Kenya for 9 months of the year, your parents serve as missionaries in Uganda or Mozambique or Tanzania, and yet your passport says United States of America or South Korea or New Zealand.  And you were born somewhere else entirely!  I can’t even imagine and yet this is reality for so many kids at RVA. 

Maybe it’s no big deal.  Or maybe we just think it’s no big deal because most of us don’t have to imagine that.  I wonder for my own three children, depending on how long the Lord will have us here, what their perception of their own “roots” will be.  They are still so young, but already you can see the wheels in their minds forming impressions about what Africa is, what America is, what home is, what family is.  Their conclusions have the potential to be vastly different than either Courtney’s or mine. 

Where am I from?  I grew up on a farm on Schoellkopf Road, in Cowlesville, New York.  Courtney spent her childhood on Creekside Drive in Altoona, Pennsylvania.  My daughter, Evelyn, has spent over a third of her life in Kijabe, Kenya, and the proportion is only growing.  How will she answer that question when she’s 30?  Or even when she’s 15?

All this rambling to say this:  Pray for the students here.  Pray for their families.  Pray for their parents as they make decisions that will alter their kids’ lives in ways most of us Americans have never had to deal with.  They are seeking to do the Lord’s will, they have a heart for the lost, they care deeply for their own families.  And yet they are called to live in hard places, to sacrifice hard things, to put people they care about in hard situations.  It’s the story of almost every kid on this campus.  Pray for strength, for courage, for health, for peace. 

But most importantly, pray that their identity would not come from wherever they call home; that it wouldn’t be based on how they answer the question “Where did you grow up?”  Ask God to grant them the assurance that, regardless of the confusion they may have about their earthly roots, their eternal ones are well secured.  Pray that their identity would be found solely in Jesus Christ;  that they would find comfort in knowing that he has gone to prepare a place for them, a home that will never change and that no one can kick them out of for all of eternity. 

Thank you so much for your prayers.

“Do not let your hearts be troubled.  You believe in God; believe also in me.  My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you?  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.  You know the way to the place where I am going….I am the way and the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.”  John 14:2-6

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Our Sensory World

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RVA is a unique place.  Our students call Africa home (Kenya, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Uganda, Rwanda and Mozambique commonly – but also countries farther north or farther south or farther west).  They call nations all over the world their passport country (USA, Canada, South Korea, the UK, Australia, and many more).    And each year RVA celebrates this unique diversity during Multi-Cultural Day.

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This year’s theme was Our Sensory World.  Split up into three “continents” (the Americas, Africa/Australia, and Euro-Asia), students had the opportunity to taste, touch, see, smell, and hear things from each continent.  They spent an hour at each continent participating in various activities pertaining to that culture.  They had artwork to make, music to play, dances to learn, costumes to wear, and food to try. 

DSC_0017 (3)Students learned a tribal dance with the Maasai

DSC_0091They put together a giant puzzle of the world (made by none other than Mr. Schmidt) and competed in teams for the best time

DSC_0102They observed multi-cultural artwork in a gallery and voted best in class

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DSC_0119Titchie girls performed a Korean fan dance

We feasted together outside for lunch and then moved into Centennial for the much anticipated Ceremony of the Flags.  This tradition is one of the best RVA has to offer.  A small glimpse of Heaven. Students sang praises to the Lord in Korean, Swedish, Portuguese and Swahili.  For one song, we sang the verses in English and the chorus altogether in our heart languages. 

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Twenty-Five flags were represented by students who hail from those countries. Each country’s anthem plays as they process to loud cheers from the crowd.  One can’t help but be all teary as over 500 students and staff erupt into applause for each nation or as those same 500 people sing praises together in many languages.

After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands.  And they cried out in a loud voice: 

“Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb… Amen! Praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and strength be to our God for ever and ever.  Amen!” 

Revelation 7:9-10, 12

Until the Whole World Hears,

 (we will leave you with some photos from the day)

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DSC_0028 (3)preschoolers for the US

DSC_0032 (2)drinking chai and eating maandazis while representing the red white & blue

DSC_0112and Evie is always good for a game of Ring-around-the-Rosy :)

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