it’s been an odd day all around.
thanksgiving, for us, has generally involved family and peeling potatoes and too many hours + kids in a car. but this was just a normal day in africa, with its docket of classes, meetings, dorm scrubbing, and a campus in full-swing.
we’re nearing the end of term, and life has become the kind of frenetic where it’s best i operate about one hour into the future: i just need to worry about my walking my class through their final projects. then: i just need to survive my swahili final. nimesoma kiswahili kwa bidii kwa sababu ninajaribu kuweza kuongea na watu hapa.
(sidenote: it’s like that dream, where i’m back in high school and i can’t remember my locker combination and i JUST realized i haven’t gone to chemistry the whole semester, and i cannot for the life of me figure out where we keep the science building. except i never did wake up relieved from this one.)
then: i just need to figure out the menu for tonight’s smallish gathering. i just need to walk down to the dukas to grab last-minute flour and sugar. i just need to get dinner and dessert around. i just need to pull the laundry down and quick-clean the house. and so forth, edging forward in fits and starts until at last we fall into sleep.
(sidenote nambari mbili: so tonight i went to bed at the ripe hour of 9:30 because it was just that kind of day, and so now it is 2:36 ayem and i am spectacularly awake. this post is brought to you by the surprise gift of insomnia.)
but back to thanksgiving.
there’s so much that has caught me just right this past year. so much that is richer and clearer and more. and God keeps startling me with the chance to stretch beyond myself, to reach and be reached for, and it just never gets old, you know? He’s ever the best and hardest and most consuming love i’ve got, and he keeps me. in direct spite of my fickle and traitorous heart, he keeps me.
i’m so glad.
praising Him in the small hours of the night:
for relentless grace
for electricity and plumbing in rural kenya
for folks to share life with
for eggs and chickens and milk
for you: your love, sacrifice, emails, praying, friendship
for redemption and life in Christ
for a crazy-wide african sky
for drinkable water
for our dorm kids, owens kids, student kids, mai mahiu kids
and for every last person who has wormed their way into our hearts when we weren’t even looking.
Mungu ni mwema. God is good.
ps dear family of mine: if i’d been in the states today, i would have totally made you eat this. (isn’t it beautiful?) i take my calling as the Personal Ambassador of the Brussel Sprout seriously. y’all missed/lucked out. :)
pps happiest thanksgiving.
last saturday, while the morning was sloughing its soft skin of sleep, braden and i headed out to photograph our haunts for you. i’ve shown you bits of campus, but i feel like you’ve been missing out on our larger neighborhood.
here we go.
when we head downhill from the main gate, this is the first little intersection we meet. (i used to look both ways before crossing the street, but i’ve since learned that anything large enough to do me damage will rattle and shudder from a quarter mile off.)
most days i turn left where the road spiders off toward the dukas (stores). by the time we work past those leggy pines, at least twenty people have said hello from the street. folks walk a lot here, and we’ve all got dust climbing our ankles.
this building with the flaming door is the place i buy produce for the week. it smells of must and earth. we were too early on this particular morning, but usually i circle the dim interior and pile up potatoes, blushing romas, green beans–purchasing an equal amount from each lady.
but back to the door for a sec. i love how this is a thing here, adorning cinder-block with an entrance the color of fire or sky.
walking on a bit, we hit the supa duka (first door in the red building), impeccably run by sarah and sammy. i mostly buy flour, sugar, blue band (margarine), and sometimes bread and red plum jam. sammy jokes with us about cannibals, and sarah tells me about the antics of her son, who turns two at the end of this month.
three shops down (green door, red umbrella) is mama chiku’s, a pint-sized eatery where we get samosas–some four dozen in one go–for our dorm guys. the samosas are savory with just the right chili kick, and mama chiku herself is about the sweetest person south of the equator.
if we circle back and head downhill, we pretty much trip over the post office. i have not yet braved the postal service, as i haven’t gotten a straight story on whether or not my mail will manage to find its way out of kenya.
but i’m determined to try it soon. possibly.
following the downward slip of dust and rock, we arrive at kijabe hospital, which for all its humble trappings harbors some of the finest medical staff in the nation.
also down this way but unphotographed–a children’s hospital that treats ambulatory needs, several schools, a college educating african pastors from a dozen countries.
i’m not sure when a place stops feeling new and starts being home. i’m not sure if we’re there yet. but the students look like mine and our dorm boys are mine and the neighborhood feels like we belong to it. this seems like a beginning, at least.
there’s so much to love here, and i find that’s true everywhere we’ve lived…that God is there too, bright and fierce and redeeming.
love you all. come see our neighborhood in person. :)
This morning I had this hearty half hour of stillness before the day cracked open. My middlest child joined me a bit before six, but for a while there it was just God and quiet and a bright cup of coffee.
PS I love laundry. I love the pinning and the looking up into all that wind and sky. I do not so much love the folding part, but still. We all start somewhere.
Two weeks back Miss L turned nine. Thanks to a couple friends who let me tag along to Nairobi, we were able to snag a few gifts for her — watercolor paints, a journal and a cat umbrella. Nairobi is a tricksy little place: it boasts lots of Americanish stuff, but most of it costs a bazillion dollars and so you must search high and wide to ferret out the few price tags that don’t make your eyeballs walk out on you.
L had a great birthday, and we even pulled life together enough to have cupcakes and crafts under the tree out front. Or back. (I can never figure out what’s supposed to be the front/back/side of our dorm; there is one side that obviously isn’t the front, but the others are pretty equal. I think I shall start referring to them as Fronts #1, 2 and 3, and Not the Front. That’ll clear things up.)
Also: I do not know about these faces she is making. I try to get her talking to me when I snap pictures these days, because then we usually arrive at actual laughter + some exaggerated personality. She is undoubtedly blessed in the Department of Personality.
Yesterday was Multicultural Day here at RVA, which turned out to be a heap of fun. I tried to memorize the succession of nations as the flag bearers marched in, but I think we are familiar with the limitations of my brain. Here’s what I can still cobble together: we have students from Hong Kong, China, Japan, Malaysia, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand, Denmark, Netherlands, Sweden, Germany, Switzerland, Ireland, England, Scotland, Wales, Canada, United States, Brazil, Burundi, Ethiopia, Mozambique, Tanzania, South Sudan, South Africa, Uganda, Rwanda, and Kenya.
Plus the ones I forget.
The place was rumbling when South Korea and USA walked in, but it positively came undone with the arrival of the Kenyan flag and several of our Kenyan students and staff members.
The staff rigged up crafts and food and games (ie dart blowing contests, boomerang throwing), but sadly I have no pictures since the majority of my day was dedicated to the fine art of folding twelve million paper cranes.
Tip of the Week: If anyone ever brings up origami, do not idly mention, Oh I know how to do that. This sort of information is best left as classified, that’s all I’m saying.
And we haven’t even discussed Spiritual Emphasis Week, but I shall have to save that guy for another post, as pretty much only my mother is still reading this one. (See? This is why you’re my favorite mom.) But I need to say this, at least: God is redeeming some people here who mean the world to us.
‘Come set our hearts ablaze with hope like wildfire in our very souls.’ Amen. Bwana Asifiwe.
In case you are wondering.
This is our school chai tree. It is a rusting tangle of welded metal, from which students hang their marginally-clean chai mugs to dry. Some things here are just plain strange, and thus we find ourselves right at home.
We miss you.
Come see us.
sundays are the kind of days i want to keep forever. they’re as big as summer and swarming with kids swinging from our forearms and begging to be looped in circles. since the start of school, we’ve gotten to tag along to mai mahiu, a ramshackle town trickling out from a truck stop on the valley floor, where a group of our students do street ministry every sunday morning.
if you trace your finger along the transit routes webbing the african continent, you’ll find cities and families gutted by aids. but the children are just like everywhere: nine parts giggles and mischief, all parts reaching to be known. so we pray together, clap as we sing, share a story, and then play jump rope or rugby in the dirt.
to be honest, there’s nothing revolutionary about these mornings. i’m pale and out of place, and in my most shining swahili moments i can just ask my smallish friends if they want to play with me. and the kids, they sometimes bicker and scuffle over pocket toys, try out a few colorful words in english. but God has his sights set on each one of us, and so we sing.
we’ve made it through four weeks of school now, and speaking of school, here we go. these shots are from the first day, a series i’ve titled, ‘mom can we please be done now.’
[the older four find these sorts of things painful, while my seven year old will happily center himself in front of any camera that walks his way. oy about all of them.]
so the kids are playing soccer, which is super fun and also makes me wish there were an adult league going on.
[alright, so we do have an indoor night for staff, but those guys are good and also in shape. i tried to go a few weeks back and almost died. like twice, in fact: once from categorical embarrassment and once from hypoxia. as it turns out, i am looking for an adultish non-competitive it's-completely-cool-if-you-jog-to-the-ball and we-all-totally-believe-that-you-used-to-know-how-to-play sort of league. anyone?]
but back to the young folk. so we’re in the thick of soccer season, and it’s one of my favorite things to sit at the top of the hill under a strand of pines and watch my kiddos and dorm guys chase after the ball.
there’s something about africa that sets loose my understanding of God. i’m only and ever catching glimpses, peering darkly through a glass, and there He is: so much wilder and sweeter than i’d known.
lifting up thanks today, for:
sun and wind in our hills, how it feels like lothlorien.
our students and their moms and dads and younger siblings held safe in the middle of the terrorist attack. there are some unbelievable accounts, y’all, and the stories are still raw and not mine to share, but let it be known: God authors miracles.
mornings that feel like autumn (even though it’s spring here). (i know. weird.)
a fellow staff member and friend whose life was preserved late sunday night.
far away friends with beautiful new babies.
loquat trees, potatoes, bananas, cherry tomatoes and rhubarb–all within picking distance.
a home full of guys who are funny and dear and all of my favorite people.
six o clockish is such a nice time for a walk. the sun is doing its slanty thing and the whole campus washes over with wind and gold. right now it’s quiet here, the school breathing slow till the students arrive in two weeks, and we scrambling madly to prepare.
we’ve been at rva eleven days now, and we’re locating our groove between all the new staff meetings and tag-along drives to pick up laundry baskets and toothpaste from nairobi. yesterday morning the boys washed and hung three loads of laundry, then we walked a half mile to the snaking dirt road of kijabe town and bought vegetables and samosas.
the campus is teeming with ‘ohi’a trees and lilikoi and a ton of other plant life that makes me feel right at home. with the exception of eucalyptus, it’s hard for me to talk plants with anyone because they know the english or swahili names, and for the life of me i can’t think of what that should be. i’m all, you know, those short trees with the hairy red flowers, and they’re like, oh! you mean the bottle brush tree.
i do not understand their aversion to hawaiian names. :)
anyhow, meet our dorm:
we are the proud soon-to-be dorm parents of the twenty one freshman boys moving into bongo dorm. (when it’s not being a drum, a bongo is an antelope sort of creature with stripes and spiraled horns. a lot of the dorms here are named after kenyan animals.)
our apartment is the upstairs part, and the dorm is downstairs, comprised of four-man bedrooms, a lounge, a bathroom, and a smallish kitchen. it’s a lot of dark varnish and cinderblock–picture more camp and less dorm, and you’ll have the right idea. i’m really hoping i’ll get to paint a few walls and remake curtains before the boys arrive, just to make it all a bit sprucier and like home.
(our guys will also spend a good part of their free time in our apartment, we hope, though if our innate coolness is not enough of a draw, i’m not above bribing them with popcorn and chai.)
this week we have language courses every day, which is meant to jump-start us into swahili. when you think of us, please pray that God will loosen our tongues and wire our thinkers to have an affinity for language learning. once the school year starts we will have limited time to work on language, and we need every minute to stick.
the week after is three days of all-staff meetings, then the new students arrive, followed by the whole school. we’ll be in both dorm parent and teacher meetings, since todd is also teaching two periods of senior bible and i have a class of eighth grade art. (dear eighth graders: i apologize in advance for the pottery section, though hopefully you shall gain confidence by so brightly outshining your teacher.)
i have so, so much i want to tell you guys, but mostly i was walking the school grounds with lauren last night and i thought: just this. i wish i could just take a quiet walk with you all, one by one.
we miss you, and also we’re so glad for the chance to be here.
* * *
ps loved these words this morning:
we are the broken, You are the healer
Jesus, redeemer, mighty to save
You are the love song we’ll sing forever
bowing before You, blessing Your name
kenya requires extra eyes. a pair for scanning the dirt as we walk, searching out footing among the shale and the gullies, the writhing streams of ants.*
a pair to watch for motorbikes or matatus that send us leaping to the side of the road, where rain-plowed trenches meet brambles and barbed wire.
a pair to crinkle at the kids who run up to say, ‘how are you?’ and then flee in a knot of giggles when we’re silly enough to answer.
a pair to blink and nod at the mamas sitting bent and serene beneath strings of bananas.
and a pair to take in the hills and the tulip trees and the bright spots of bougainvillea that festoon the landscape like so much confetti.
maybe it’s just that i’m new here, with loads to take in, but i hope i never stop seeing kenya.
we’re winding down our last days of training here in machakos. about a week back, we hiked mount iveti (super fun except for the bees that got riled up and zapped a bunch of us good). we sardined into matatus that climbed slick along fogged-up roads all the winding way to church. we sang hymns in kikamba and ate goat stew and rice with the elders. we’ve grown familiar with–if not entirely fond of–drop toilets, and we’ve learned the prevailing rule of survival in kenya: if you believe in toilet paper, bring it with you.
classes this week have been good. we’re delving into world views and finding that there are no easy answers. this afternoon we got a glimpse of what God is doing in creative access nations, and it’s enough to give your life for. He’s always and wonderfully enough.
next week we’ll head to kijabe and settle into our dorm apartment–at this point it could be the scruffiest shack on the planet; we’re just so ready for some permanence.
yesterday i walked behind a lady who didn’t have shoes, and the shoulder of road there was rocky and spiked with glass and thorns. but she smiled like the day was bright and cool, like a walk under a cloudless sky made shoes extraneous. maybe she was right.
maybe she’ll teach me a thing or two.
*so you are probably thinking: ants-schmants, but those guys bite like baby crocodiles and leave behind bloody marks on one’s unsuspecting legs. bad ants.
I wish you could see the hills here. In the first hour of morning, they roll out smoky and glazed from the sun, freckled with houses and trees. When I look up on my way to bread and jam in the dining hall, I wonder about the people who move and dream on those hills, if they hike out for work in the town or if all they’ve ever wanted is right there, in the peace and the sun.
We’ve been in Africa for more than a week now, though it seems newer than that, and mostly I feel displaced. I’m the sort of person who takes a while to get my bearings, and until then I’ll float along happily enough, but I doubt I’ll be much use to anyone.
I think part of that is the transitional state of living out of suitcases and dorm rooms, with nothing to make into a home, but all that is coming in a few weeks. We’re good for now.
So far in our orientation/training we’ve discussed HIV/AIDS, healthy living, transformational community development, and the nuances of cross cultural perspectives (monochronism vs polychronism, individualism vs collectivism, etc). A lot of it has been a review of information from books we’ve read or courses we’ve taken, so that’s helped us feel semi-competent and a little bit like maybe we can do this Africa thing.
I mean to take pictures and go on long wanderings and blog and think, but we’re in classes 7 hours a day, and meals and cleaning up kids and laundry (by hand) require some time and doing. By sunset I’m nearly done being human for a while. So much of this is good stuff, but also I’m tired.
The kids are doing great, mostly. They’ve fallen in with the other young folk and I think this comes off like summer camp with chai and mandazi. (On the other hand, a certain child of mine, who shall remain unnamed, did try to pilfer money from the offering box at church yesterday. The pastors said they hoped to see us next week, but they may have meant that more in a theoretical sense.)
We’re faring pretty well, I think. There’s an undercurrent of stress present in each day, but we’ve made great friends and we can see God here, alive and doing His thing. Thank you for praying and sending us notes and whatnot–the internet doesn’t often register a pulse here, but we’re glad for the times we can holler back at you. We love you and miss you a whole giant bunch.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast.
habari za usiku.
hopefully that means good evening.
i’m glad to report that we are in kenya, and i’m writing you from beneath a superfun mosquito net. i am not so glad to report that there is a mosquito under here with me.
thursday and friday’s flights went off without a hitch–thank you for praying! amsterdam’s security asked to inspect our 10 year old’s blunt-edged school scissors, but didn’t even blink at my sewing machine. rock on, i say.
we’ve spent the weekend acclimating and recovering our human-ness at the mayfield inn, which was the best idea in the history of thinking. we had a solid month of high octane emotions and working and moving, and in the week leading up to our arrival i logged a total of 17 hours of sleep (this is compared to the 56 i tend to need to function properly). so the chance to rest before diving into our training has been beautiful.
the kids have spent 85% of the past two days happily kicking around the flattest soccer ball i’ve ever met with their new mk and kenyan friends. the other 15% is chai time.
tomorrow we’ll drive down to machakos to begin three weeks of orientation/training. i’ve heard the learning curve can be staggering–please pray for us to be teachable and patient and encouraging. internet (and while we’re at it, electricity) may be spotty there, so do not be alarmed if you do not hear from us.
my eyeballs are complaining, but here are a few initial impressions before signing off:
-nairobi dirt is a volcanic red like hawaii’s. every white article of clothing is now a lovely shade of rust.
-the lime jam and sweet chili sauce (consumed separately) are sublime.
-neighborhood roosters are like alarm clocks where someone hits the snooze every ten seconds. we are not quite friends.
-the smell of dust and diesel says africa to me.
-we’ve met some mighty fine people here already. they teach me things in swahili and then reteach me the same things three hours later.
-it’s a mixed bag: we’re so glad to be here, but also we miss you. i’m not convinced this will ever change, and come to think of it, i don’t know that i’d want it any different.
goodnight, friends. we love you.
there are days, and then there are days.
we’ve had quite a few of the latter, all strung up in a row, and it’s been exhausting but so full of good.
-two sundays back, our home and sending church commissioned us. let me just say that being hemmed in by our people all praying and affirming God’s imperative to go has been one of the highlights of my life. i felt maybe a little like a certain mary once did, treasuring up all these things and still pondering them in my heart.
-also, we were flashmobbed. my life is now complete.
-we have all this family. blood-and-sinew family, and heart-and-spirit family, and all of them showing up at just the right time. some scrubbed our house clean, prepared meals for us, gave us kindles(!), hauled our stuff away, stored cedar chests, prayed us all the way down to peachtree city.
-speaking of peachtree city: people. i drove a ford f-150 (todd had the awesomer dodge ram 2500, but whatever) for a good ten hours south. now to some of y’all, that is everyday happenings, but this is a first both in bulk and duration for my driving career.
-so we were concerned about staying alert the entire drive. but mostly it was fun times–supposedly todd had sanity and satellite radio in his truck with the oldest and youngest progeny, but i had the middle three and i promise you it was the party truck. (well, if the party is nerdy and off-kilter and features things like 8am-9am is talk with a british accent hour.)
-sidenote: it turns out that my 12-year-old is a clandestine country music fan. which was great news for him, as once we hit tennessee the options were country, country, classic country, people talking, country.
-since showing up here at the africa inland mission office, it has been non-stop rearranging and repacking and filling out forms and taking notes on all the nitty gritties that they have promised to also email me because my hopes of retention are zero to none.
-and they gathered us in. the staff here, who have long prayed for us, looped a circle in the dining hall and sang us off and prayed. these are the things that make me cry 42 times per day.
-also, i could be starved for sleep.
so today. today we do the final meetings and turning in forms and sealing/tagging baggage and getting on that plane. and lucky for me, i am taking you all with me, so get ready folks. we have the middlest seat from atlanta to amsterdam, but they could stick me on the roof as long as we end up in africa.
y’all are something beautiful, with your encouragement and speaking life and truth and praying. we couldn’t be doing this without you.
see you in nairobi.
this is what i like best about rising at 5ish** ayem: the day looks positively roomy from this angle.
my to-do list goes from here to next door, but in the first hours of the morning it’s so possible. gut four rooms for our moving sale? tame the landscaping? finish emails and exercise and order luggage and call people back and plan birthday parties and talk to the guy at the bank about whether or not we can close accounts long-distance? i’ve got a solid eighteen hours, baby. bring it on.
except eighteen whittles down to twelve to two, and we have to try again tomorrow.
but back up for just a second. people.
you all are tremendous.
and this God of ours, He clean sweeps me off my aching feet. support came in right on time, and we’re officially cleared to leave for kenya.
for the calls, the sacrificial giving, the emails, the hard-core praying, the words of encouragement at a time that rescues my heart again. about a week from our clearance deadline, God gave us a peace that was unanticipated and beautiful, and we’re still marveling. i hope we’re always marveling.
i’m so glad to have each one of you, and i nearly can’t believe it some days, y’know? we had a friend who walked us through this season of missions sharing, and every week we’d tell her: we had a great time; they’re such good people. you guys are an ocean of such good people.
and i’m excited for all of us, for the opportunities ahead. for how God lets us each have a hand in His work.
so we’re all-engines-go, and things are a wee bit hectic, but i don’t doubt for a second that God’s here too. next week’s our moving sale–hopefully starting on thursday–so if you’re local come get stuff. (please. it keeps staring me down and it HAS to vamoose.) june 30th is our commissioning and send off at the church. i shall be the girl with the u-haul of tissues.
we leave town july 9th. fly out of atl july 11th. and from there we’ll wake up in nairobi.
we’ll learn the ropes of life in africa, and navigate the internet situation, but we will find a way to be in touch. and please, could you do us a giant kindness? send us emails. let us know what’s happening with you, how we can pray, what’s big in your week. please let us still be a part of your lives, even if it’s not as up-close as we’d wish for.
and please keep praying. we can work our little hearts out, but life and redemption begins and ends (or, well, goes on forever) with God. we need His leadership, His strength, His fire.
we love you guys. and we can’t wait.
**i am not intentionally getting up this early. it’s just that my brain is like, let’s do this, while my body is all, nooooooooo. we just got here! it’s warm and quiet and we don’t have to sort anything. five more minutes?
poor dude loses every time.