Five Loaves and Two Fish, Mama-Style

I was blogging a lot when we first moved to Kenya; it was quite a therapeutic way to process the transition and also to let folks know what was going on with our family. Slowly, I stopped, as life on the mission field got quite busy and I tried to get back into a new groove with homeschooling, which had been reduced to rather bare-bones with the move. I’m still not where I want to be in terms of homeschooling, but our oldest completed his GED last year at age 16, so I’m somewhat optimistic that we’re moving in the right direction.

IMG_0518Blogging when our children were young was easy; there were so many sweet moments I wanted to document. And when there were challenges, they were the small problems of small children (which don’t feel so small when you’re a weary Mom to many Littles, so I don’t say that lightly!) Now that they’re bigger children with bigger problems and there is privacy to protect, it’s hard to know what to say and what not to say in this space. But, I suppose I can talk about me, so if you’d give me the grace to do so, I’d like to share some thoughts as we have just welcomed blessing number 9 to our family, baby Joanna (born in September 2015).

Being a new Mom again at age 42, after 4-1/2 years of thinking that I was done with babies, has been an interesting experience. I always knew that children were a blessing, but Baby Joanna really feels like one! They say you can’t spoil a baby, but she is held more and loved more than any baby before her. There are few times I feel compelled to just let her cry, but those times that I do, one of her big sisters comes to her rescue! Not only do I have many hands to help with the baby, but also many hands to help with housework and meal preparation. It is a totally different experience than coming home with our first, second, third, fourth, and even fifth children! If you are a Mom of young children now, I promise you, it is so worth the investment in your children as you teach, train, encourage, and equip them with practical life skills and an attitude of service. It is tiring while you’re doing it (believe me, I know!)…that precept upon precept, capturing those “teachable moments” of correction (which usually happen at the most inconvenient times, or happen so often that you feel you get precious little else done!). BUT, perseverance has its perfect work and it is a blessing to see the fruit of years and labor in the Lord.

No, our children are not perfect; I would never claim that. But, neither am I. Yet I cling to the promise of a word that was spoken to me many years ago now. It was during a “revival”-type church service where a guest preacher brought a fiery sermon and ended with a very meaningful time of prayer. I had gone without my husband, who was away on business, and with my 5 young children, aged about 9 on down to 1. I don’t know what compelled me to go, since the service started just about when I would have been putting the kids down to bed. And all Mamas know that you just don’t mess with bed time. I went anyway…seeking more of the Lord and needing some encouragement, if I remember correctly. I fully expected at least two of the children to melt down, but 9:00 came and went and the evening went on in prayer. I figured I’d gotten as much as I would get (though I can’t even tell you now what the sermon was about), so I slipped out of the back row and started making toward the rear exit with all the children. I remember silently congratulating myself on the fact that we were doing so without disrupting the focused prayer that was in progress. Then, the speaker at the front of the sanctuary happened to lift his head as I looked up from one of my Littles at the back door. Our eyes met. He spoke rather loudly: “I have a word for you today!” and suddenly all heads lifted and all eyes were on me. I felt like I could have melted into the floor–and wanted to! But he came to the back where I was and spoke many encouraging words about children and family to me. He even spoke specific words over each of my older children. I wish I could remember them now. Bu then he came to me. He spoke about my weariness as if he knew. And these are the words I remember…words that have echoed over the years and continued to encourage me when things have been hard: “You’re not Super Woman! You’re not a super wife. You’re not a super mother. But what you can’t do, God can.”

I knew it to be true. I still know it to be true. And it’s not just true for me–it’s true for all of us! No matter where you are in this journey of mothering–physically weary Mom of Littles, or emotionally weary Mom of older children, certain of the outcome of your efforts (which sometimes God mercifully allows us to be), or uncertain…know that God can. Like the little boy who brought five loaves and two fish to Jesus, and ended up feeding a multitude, bring your offering every day to Jesus and know that He will do with it what you can’t. Bring your tear-wiping, your hugs, your pats on the back, the Bible-reading, the encouraging (even if you’re discouraged yourself), the kindness when you feel irritable…the list goes on and on. We do when we feel like we can’t do any more. We invest in what seems like a lost cause. We give out of our emptiness. And God knows. He takes those feeble efforts and does what only He can. I’m still living that, but I know it to be true. It’s true for me, and it’s true for you. Press on, Mama.

Our First Visit to Uganda as a Family!

I’ll admit, I haven’t always enjoyed village life. At first, I struggled with the loss of my independence, having no car and not having much at all to do, particularly with the children (I mean, after all our “work” was done). I liked being able to jump in the car for an occasional outing to the local museums or parks. I certainly missed the local library. And I even missed grocery shopping and running errands, tedious as both could be with a bunch of children in tow. Although I had always been busy at home, village life took it to a whole new level. That was an admitted adjustment. But once I got used to it, I found a great deal of contentment in my circumstances and in my role as wife, homeschooling mom, and behind-the-scenes missionary.

Selling most of our possessions so that we could move to Kenya left us living a very simple life at first. That also took some getting used to. But by the time our small shipping crate finally came, several months after our arrival, I found that I didn’t really miss much of what was inside. Except the books, of course. I definitely appreciated having our small library once again, and certainly the added kitchenware was a blessing—even the Bosch mixer—but I had discovered that most of what I had considered “indispensable,” wasn’t. Village life…simple life…was growing on me.

Then there is the small-town feel of the village. I’ve always enjoyed rural living, but village life in Africa when you’re a mzungu is challenging. I can’t say I’ve ever been a fan of the village gossip, but it has been nice to know our neighbors and be able to keep abreast of what’s going on just by asking some questions of a few select people. At first we were an oddity among our neighbors and it seemed like half the village lived at our gate and gawked at us every time we stepped out the door. But, as with the other things, that too passed and now, though we’ll always be the wazungu, we’re left more or less to ourselves.

Since we’ve gotten a car and been able go into town a little more often, and especially since the coming of Nakumatt (*almost* a Superstore) about two years ago, village life has been a lot more bearable. But having more “things” available in town and easy access to them, has reminded me how much pull the world has. I have to remind myself that I don’t need more gadgets, the kids don’t need more toys, and our simple village market meals really are just fine, for the most part.

Recently we spent a couple weeks in Jinja, the second largest city in Uganda. Although it didn’t boast a “Superstore,” there were a lot of nice mzungu-style restaurants and a cheap-enough swimming resort along the Nile River that we got to enjoy a couple of times. Our days were spent in a very nice house on a YWAM base, where I did appreciate the convenience of a flushing toilet. But after all that, I have to say I was ready to go home…back to the village. I actually missed my choo (outdoor potty) because I was reminded that I did not miss cleaning toilets. I didn’t miss vacuuming carpets, either. I also appreciated anew the modesty of the village women.

One thing I found interesting was the YWAM dining hall. They serve three meals a day and it didn’t take us long to figure out that they don’t vary much from day to day. Breakfast was always a peanut butter sandwich with chai and a banana. Lunch was typically posho (boiled cornmeal, which we call ugali in Kenya) with a side of beans and plain pasta or potatoes. Supper was rice with beans, or rice with cowpeas, or (once a week) rice with meat, and a side of cabbage or sukuma (kale). Although breakfast got kind of boring, it was nutritious enough and…we got used to it. Lunch had a rather unusual combination of items (us not being used to eating beans or particularly pasta with our posho), but that, too, was filling and…we got used to it. Although in the village I’ve weaned us down to some simple meal options, we still have some variety when we go into town once a week or so, and we certainly didn’t eat the same thing every day. But I left the “big city” with a greater contentment about simple and repetitive meals, which I think was a good lesson for all of us.

We also picked up a new routine in Uganda. At the dining hall, they have a “bring your own” method of serving food, wherein every guest carries in their own plate and fork. There were basins set up just outside the dining hall with soapy water and rinsing water, where everyone exiting was responsible for washing their own plate and utensil. It took just a few minutes, but it amazed me that I never thought of doing such a thing at home. With dishes for 10 or more people, plus meal prep pots and utensils, washing dishes is a twice-daily chore that two children share and no one likes very much…it’s one of the few tasks that inspires grumbling at our house. We decided to set up basins in the sink so that everyone could wash their personal dishes after each meal, leaving only the meal prep dishes for chore time. With the reduction in overall dish-washing, we can assign only one person to the job, freeing up the second person for other tasks that might get neglected, and easing up the load over all. So far, I’m liking it!

Hannah and Joanna in Uganda. Joanna is three months old already!

Hannah and Joanna in Uganda. Joanna is three months old already!

Jonah's patience was rewarded as he got a Capuchin monkey to eat out of his hand! Very rewarding for our critter-loving son. :)

Jonah’s patience was rewarded as he got a Vervet monkey to eat out of his hand! Very exciting for our critter-loving son. :)

 

We went to Uganda to get our passports stamped, now that our 2-year work permits are approved. In Uganda, they actually keep your passports for this process, which left us stranded in-country until all was completed. It turned out to be a nice vacation for all of us, plus Marc and Nashon (our Kenyan brother) went out on some missions and looked for a future residence for our family.

Our plan is to continue to support the Kenya mission but share time with launching a Uganda mission. We’ll see how the Lord directs these transitions. For now, our two weeks away were very encouraging. Our fellowship’s deacon, Mzee Timothy, did an awesome job managing our food program for malnourished children and the medical needs in the community that the ministry supports, and overseeing the Sunday meeting. Our brother Lazarus, an overseer of our Bidii fellowship and an evangelist and teacher, went out regularly with one or two of the wazee (elders) from our Saboti church. Together, they continued to encourage and teach at the various fellowships and make sure that everything was running smoothly in our absence. A great test, which everyone passed with flying colors! God is good.

 

“Dirty Dozen” shopping list

After making it through our 30-day Local Food challenge, and deciding to make it a bit more permanent (but also a little more flexible), I’ve decided that I really like the simplicity of buying only a short list of food items each week and eating simple, somewhat repetitive meals. Granted, when the Sweazys came over for supper last night and the subject of furlough came up, we suddenly began discussing all the favorite eateries we might like to visit if we ever went back to America. Yeah…moments of weakness, but I digress.

I’m still pretty surprised that we seem to be doing so well on plus-or-minus 12 grocery items per week. What I think of as our “dirty dozen” includes staples from our grain storage: maize, beans, and rice, as well as items we can easily buy at the local shops: baking powder, salt, eggs, and milk.  We go to the market once a week for the remainder: tomatoes, peppers, onions, garlic, potatoes, and cabbage.  We’ve ended up making somewhat permanent exceptions for the following items, which we pick up in Kitale: a few seasonings (Italian seasoning, chili powder and cinnamon); Ghee or margarine; quality vegetable shortening (the locals call it “cooking fat,” and though we can buy it at the our neighborhood shops, it’s a bright yellow, sub-standard variety and I just can’t bring myself to use it unless I absolutely have to); and cocoa (for our morning hot chocolate, which is one of the few ways we get  milk into our diet on a daily basis…we have to boil it but then can’t refrigerate). We’ve gotten a little more flexible after the 30-day challenge and also occasionally have spaghetti…and pizza was a must-have for Hannah’s recent birthday celebration. I’m also trying to get fruit  once per week at the market, since the avocadoes and bananas that had been coming to our door somewhat regularly have now been out-of-season for a while.

Along with wanting to eat more locally/more inexpensively/more simply, we’ve also (within the past couple of months) eliminated beef and store-bought chicken from our diet. This was a decision made in light of Biblical teachings because of the culture we find ourselves in. We either slaughter a chicken or buy pork from the local butchery once a week, and recently we found a good source for mutton that we’ll probably have now and then.

Our “dirty dozen” shopping list and the resulting simplified food menus  have been good for our food budget but more than that, beneficial in reminding us that what we were once used to in terms of meals are certainly not “normal” to the vast majority of the rest of the world. It has also been a very helpful spiritual discipline in terms of conquering the flesh. We want to continue to challenge ourselves to be increasingly less indulgent in terms of food so that we will not find ourselves slaves to our stomachs. Throughout this process of streamlining, I have found myself thinking often of Finny Kuruvilla’s words in King Jesus Claims His Church (p. 205):

     The world and the media exert considerable force on our minds. Unless we are consciously resisting its pull, we will be prey. The world promotes stimulation and thrill-seeking through the palate. The world chases after a new delicacy and flavor with nearly every meal, fostering the lust of the flesh. Thus while all foods are clean and to be received with thanksgiving (Mark 7:19; 1 Tim. 4:4), believers should be content to eat simple and repetitive meals. This battle is more easily won if addressed early; one’s tasted are developed in childhood. Insofar as possible, parents should provide simple, nutritious meals that emphasize vegetables, legumes, and while grains, rather than fats, meats, and sweets. Restaurant patronage should be minimized to teach children contentment with simple home cooking. Few people think of these disciplines as connected to spiritual victory, but they surely are.

     …The connections between food, self-discipline, and spiritual power are profound.

They are profound, indeed…

Aaaand….we had pizza

As you might have guessed from the title of this post, we have a confession to make. Two weeks into our 30-day challenge to eat from our local markets…we had pizza. In discussing what we could and couldn’t get locally, Marc laughed and said something about how this could be a really great business opportunity for folks in our community–sort of like bringing the store to our door. We already have people selling us eggs, bananas, and avocadoes. Next step…cheese and tomato paste? So in the midst of lunch with Reagan (one of the brothers here), it came up that he was going to be making a trip to Kitale, and we jokingly mentioned the “store to your door” idea. Reagan jumped on it, as making some profit on a trip he was already making (enough to pay his transport) was very appealing to him. And the deal was done…we had pizza for supper.

So we briefly re-visited our goals for the Challenge to debate if the pizza decision was OK or not. Of course, there was the spiritual side of things, wherein we felt like local eating would help us to conform our appetites in a better direction. Though stoicism wasn’t our goal, in this regard, pizza was a bit of a disappointment. On the other hand, we do want to support the local economy, particularly the believers in our community. And so the pizza would be good on that score. And then there’s simply how good local eating is for our budget. On that front, pizza is a definite bust. All in all, we didn’t feel “guilty” for eating pizza once in the month, but I’m not sure it will happen again any time soon.

How about the rest of the 30 days? As was to be expected, our menus were not very varied. At about the third week, my enthusiasm waned as I was trying to prepare a “quick lunch” after a busy morning of homeschooling, and was lacking in most of the dozen or so ingredients that now formed the basis of our meals. Potatoes? Nope. Eggs? None on the shelf. Rice? Just had that for supper last night and likely would again that night. I don’t remember what we ate, but the good news is, I talked myself out of getting frustrated/discouraged about it.

For the most part, breakfasts were a plain coffee cake or mandazi (non-sweet donuts) with hot cocoa or herbal tea. Lunch was usually leftovers from supper the night before, rice, or kitheri (corn and beans). I tried to make our suppers somewhat more interesting and nutritionally balanced: eggs with tomatoes and peppers and a side of home fried potatoes, creamy cabbage and potato soup, homemade egg noodles with “faux cheese” (essentially a garlic-flavored white sauce) and spinach, or, once a week, stewed chicken with mashed potatoes. If none of these were available, we defaulted to rice and beans (usually eaten a few times a week, often with avocado). We even had dessert once or twice a week: pumpkin pie, sugar cookies, or what have you. The bananas that came to our door were always a good afternoon snack or a supplement to lunch.

And speaking of bananas, we hadn’t developed a taste for the “cooking bananas,” or plantains, that are readily available and cheap here. They are cooked while still green and are a pretty good substitute for potatoes. However, I never really put the effort into learning to cook them, until around week 3 of the Challenge when we harvested some from our backyard, and I figured it was as good a time as any. When I did a little research and found out how good they are for you, we started eating them more often!

I was pretty surprised that we could eat locally without resorting to ugali. Our supply of dry maize from last year ran out month or two ago, and we’re still a week or so from shelling what’s in the garden now, so if we were to have ugali we’d have to buy maize at one of the local shops. In this in-between season, maize is actually more expensive than rice. Though the Littles really like ugali, the rest of us just kind of tolerate it, so it was fine with all of us to eat more rice and skip the ugali  entirely.

The Littles were generally accommodating of the dietary changes. Those with more entrenched preferences in regard to appetite were a little more resistant and apt to complain, though that was minimal overall. We celebrated two birthdays during the month and I expected moans and groans over missing out on birthday pizza, but somewhat surprisingly, that didn’t happen. When Micah turned seven, I made a “breakfast pizza”–pizza crust with hashbrowns, scrambled eggs and “faux cheese” on top. On Deborah’s 10th birthday, we had her favorite meal: cabbage, cornbread, and potatoes. However, Marc allowed an exception to the “local food only” rule and we bought a bag of carrots at the village market to add to the meal, since that was a request of the birthday girl and seemed reasonable. As we neared the end of the 30 days, I heard no complaining at all. Everyone knew why the decision had been made, and maybe realized it wasn’t so bad after all. And so, it seems that we have consensus on moving this from a 30-day “experiment” to a more permanent way of life for the Carrier family. God is good!

 

Homeschooling in Kenya: years in review

We came to Kenya at roughly the mid-point of the 2011-2012 school year. Suffice it to say, between packing, moving, and settling in here, I was happy if we managed to do some sort of language arts and math on a daily basis. In fact, the only text books we brought with us on the plane were our math books. Almost all our other books were shipped by crate, which didn’t arrive until we had been here several months. And by then, hours of daily wash and other manually intensive labors (which we were totally not used to), as well as a near-constant stream of visitors, made schooling pretty hit-or-miss for much longer than I would have liked.

We started the 2012-2013 school year in September and I did so with some trepidation. I wanted to get back into our routine of having a daily Circle Time with all the children, which normally includes reading aloud, singing, Scripture memory, “Training Times,” and so on. This time of teaching, direction, and family unity had become a greatly missed element of our homeschooling day.  Unfortunately, I found that particular habit somehow hard to re-establish, no matter how much I wanted to include it in our day. I think we might have had a dozen “Circle Times” throughout the year.

I also hoped to get beyond the Language Arts and Math basics that had been our routine. Don’t get me wrong, we were all learning plenty of new life skills and growing in our character, not to mention (sort of) learning Swahili, so there was lots we were doing that had great value and didn’t fit neatly into my “plan book.” And we didn’t entirely neglect electives…but I definitely wanted to step things up a notch.

As such, Marc and I decided early in 2013 to hire a wash lady to come in six days per week. It freed up a big chunk of my morning so that I could  focus on nurturing, discipling, and homeschooling the children. Even so, I wondered where the time went each day. We never seemed to get to that long list of things I wanted to “do” with the kids, and I started to worry about those dreaded “gaps” in their education. Would we ever get back into that old routine that had allowed us to accomplish so much? It seemed that the answer was no. In the early part of 2013, we hosted a steady stream of visitors. Just as we were recovering from that, Marc got in a motorbike accident and wrecked his knee, which put some burden on the family to help him out with a lot of daily functions. However, it was also a great opportunity to learn to serve cheerfully and put our faith into practice. There’s nothing like “life lessons!”

A month later,  I thought we’d get back to “normal,” but it just didn’t happen. Even though I wasn’t doing wash daily, meal preparation and housekeeping were still labor-intensive. As well, we continued to welcome steady streams of visitors who needed medical or food assistance–and of course, that operated on their schedules, not mine.

I spent much of our 2013-2014 school year still feeling like we just didn’t have the time. We did better, that’s for sure, but still didn’t manage to coordinate Circle Time very often and were still not as organized as I wanted to be with electives. Isaiah was now in 9th grade and I found that while we had excellent resources to get through the elementary and even middle school years, there was a gap as we entered high school. We had Math covered, but Language Arts was wanting. I thought we could use a free online website that boasted a pretty good high school syllabus, BUT our Internet just didn’t cooperate, so that was a disappointment. We made do with some intensive reading and writing, a GED preparation handbook, and occasional Internet-based studies. However, near the tail-end of the year, we ended up having a visitor who brought a high-school level Language Arts series of textbooks, which was a real blessing. Even so, I figured we might as well wait until  the new school year to begin it.

I also felt like my Littles weren’t getting enough attention. The big kids were kind of on “auto pilot” with a lot of their schoolwork, but I had a first-grader who was quite a reluctant reader, a pre-schooler who was ready to read (and I just didn’t have the time!), and in general I felt that all my younger children could use more of my attention. But I (we) were doing the best could…which was a frustration in itself. What could we possibly change up to make our homeschooling and family life more like what I thought it should be?

We ended up taking several months’ vacation this summer–something unusual to our homeschooling routine, for the last several years at least. We somehow have ended up schooling almost year-round, with days or weeks of as-needed to accommodate whatever was going on in “life.” I wondered if the break would be detrimental; the kids have always needed to retain some semblance of routine and productivity or else we end up dealing with behavioral issues, “boredom,” and so on. Not to mention serious complaining and struggle when we do try to get back in the groove. But I definitely needed a break, so…several months off it was.

I picked a random date of August 25 to start our new school year. I went in with little preparation, other than re-reading key sections of my old favorite, Homeschooling Year by Year (Rebecca Rupp), and tapping some random notes on possible schedule changes into a Word doc on my Android. I also purchased a few Kindle books, as I hoped to start Circle Time again with some regularity and needed a fresh read-aloud that our children of many differing ages could all enjoy.

We’re now almost at the end of our second week, and I’ve been pleasantly surprised with how smoothly things have gone. We’re accomplishing the basics, plus Circle Time, AND even electives every day, plus keeping up with house stuff and the regular demands of missionary life, without me feeling overwhelmed or like something is being sacrificed somewhere. I’m not sure how long this will continue, but I surely hope it does!

In trying to figure out just what allowed for this change (and why we weren’t able to accomplish it sooner), I see two significant things having occurred: The Sweazy family moved in next door in April and have become an integral part of the mission. Wanda, in particular, takes care of the regular medical needs of the needy in our community–something that had previously fallen to me.  Not only that, but I made a concerted  effort during the end of our last school year (and over our 3-month break) to train my older girls (ages 11 and 9) in many of the labor-intensive food preparation activities that I take care of on a daily basis. Thankfully, they have done well and are excited about the responsibility, which has removed a significant burden from me. (Incidentally, the start of the new school coincided with the beginning of our “30-day Challenge” to eat locally, which means greatly simplified menu options that either the girls or I can prepare).

I also realized that during our previous years here in Kenya, dealing with baby Enoch was probably quite a bit more time-intensive (and emotionally demanding) than I had realized. Suffice it to say, he was a rather difficult baby until he began to be able to toddle around at about 14 months, and even afterwards had a temperament which made it hard to smoothly integrate him into our school days. Now, however, I am pleased to say that at three years old, he is much better trained, and even excited to be doing his own “school” (which usually consists of copying shapes or drawings, writing random letters, and “reading” lots of books).

And so, I find myself simply thankful for “new beginnings” and am looking forward to what the Lord will do with this next year of homeschooling on the mission field.

 

 

 

 

“I shined the light, and the man fell down”

david and violetThis is David, along with his wife, Violet, and four of their six children. David is a pretty big guy. Our two oldest boys were testing his strength this morning, and they found it amusing that he could pick up 13 year-old Jonah with one arm and hold him in a seated position on his bicep.

I’m not sure how long David has been a part of our fellowship…maybe six months? He and Isaiah somehow became fast friends when Isaiah was overseeing a bunch of guys (including David) as they dug a local fish pond. In fact, the effort to communicate with David (who speaks very little English) was what made Isaiah functionally fluent in Swahili.

David had been living somewhat far away when he responded to the message of the Kingdom and was baptized. That, combined with the fact that he struggles with reading (as far as we know), made for a slow process of discipleship. At one point, the church elders had to address a significant issue with him, but he showed sincere repentance and one of the next steps was a willing move to a location closer to the fellowship so that he could grow stronger spiritually. He lived right across the path from us for a while, was forced to move, and then found another place across the main road. There are several brothers who live near each other there, so it’s a great way for them all to mutually encourage one another. The accountability has also been good for David.

One thing we’ve all noticed about David is that he’s a really good Dad. His children obviously love and respect him and he’s cared for them well as his wife has recently struggled with illness. However, Isaiah (who spends a lot of time at David’s house) did report that David has a bit of a temper when the children misbehave.

Sunday at our communion meal, a large group of about 20 adults ate together and then were encouraged by our brother Sam to examine ourselves in preparation for sharing in the body and blood of Christ. This is always a quiet and introspective time and although public confessions are encouraged, they are somewhat rare. Such a thing is just not a part of African culture. This week, however, was an exception. Many stood to confess and share their struggles and ask for prayer. David was one of them–the first time he’s publicly shared during our fellowship meal.

The night before, he had been sleeping at his home farm some distance away. He still has a house there, which has a sleeping mat and a few other things in it because he stays there when it’s time to plant or harvest beans or maize. Although a vacant house is usually an invitation for robbery or vandalism, David’s brothers live close by so there have thus far been no problems. However, on this particular Saturday night as David was sleeping, he reported that he was awakened by some unusual noises outside the house. He went out with his spotlight and found nothing, so returned to bed.

Some time later, he was abruptly awakened by some more noises. Though nothing obvious, he knew it meant trouble. He said that he got out of bed and stood by the window. (His house is a mud-and-stick construction with one window and one door, which is typical in our area.) Soon, water began to seep in around the window and he guessed that there were three men outside trying to break through the wall and enter the house. He simply waited quietly in the dark with a fimbo (a straight club with a large round ball on one end, which can easily finish someone) and a flashlight in his hands.

Eventually, one of the men worked his way in, leaving his two friends outside. David reported that he struggled internally; his strong reaction was to beat the man and cause the robbers to leave. (You must understand that here, robbers don’t just come to steal and then quietly leave. In the face of any opposition, they typically have and use machetes or knives to defend themselves. It’s kill-or-be-killed, since any robbers caught in the act are typically subject to vigilante justice, often having petrol poured on them and a match lit.)

However, David said, he had “another voice” telling him not to follow his natural reaction. Instead, he quickly positioned himself in front of the broken-through wall and shined his spotlight in the face of the intruder. In his own words, he “shined his light, and the man fell down!” He told the man, “You will not get out of here!” and tied his hands together. He then called his brothers, and the men all stood watch until morning, when it was determined that the man was a neighbor and should be freed without repercussions. His friends had already fled.

I wondered, if David had not sinned against the man, why was he standing to confess? And then he admitted that he felt that his feelings of anger were sin and he was asking for forgiveness and prayer.

After the Communion meal, we talked as a family. Marc wondered aloud if, when David said, “he shined his light and the man fell down!,” that was an African way of confessing that he had turned on his flashlight and then beamed the guy in the head with the club. (This is not a big stretch if you understand the differences between our Western-style of communication and their Eastern style.) So he sent Isaiah to David’s house to “confirm.” As it turned out, David did, indeed, refrain from doing harm to the man, choosing instead to “love his enemies” and “not resist an evildoer,” as Jesus had commanded. The intruder, expecting to break through the wall into an empty house, was probably just greatly surprised to find that he was not alone. Given David’s size, I can understand his reaction.

With the struggles we sometimes face in the lengthy and difficult process of discipleship, David’s testimony of this weekend stands as a great encouragement not only to us, but to our entire fellowship. It demonstrates the work of the Holy Spirit to reveal the truth of Jesus’ teachings and God’s upside-down Kingdom, and the power of the Holy Spirit to help us walk in that truth, even when our flesh would prompt us to do otherwise. Join me in praising God and in praying for David and others in our fellowship here who are striving to enter the narrow gate and follow the path that leads to eternal life.

Family Challenge: Eat Locally

When we first moved to Kenya, one of our greatest challenges was adapting our appetites to the food that was available locally. (There’s a whole chapter dedicated to this in my first-year memoir, The Kingdom of God is not About Eating and Drinking.) Though contentment with our diet was difficult during year one, it was somehow achieved during year two, although we still did make some concessions. Items you might not find on our neighbors’ tables would include spaghetti; Ramen noodles; chicken, beef, or pork a couple of times per week; and (occasionally) oatmeal for breakfast or pizza for supper. Eventually, we conceded to purchasing Ghee (clarified butter) during our trips to Kitale, as a healthier replacement for the yellow “cooking fat” and margarine available locally. We felt OK about “extras” like vanilla and vinegar, also only available in town. All in all, we were pretty pleased with our menus, the resulting budget, and achieving that sometimes-elusive “balance” that being a mzungu in Africa (and particularly, a Kingdom Christian in Africa) seems to require.

Somehow, during the past six months or so, we’ve begun to feel like some of what we’ve allowed/excused in our eating habits has crossed the fine line into over-indulgence. I’m not sure why or how that happened. It may have to do with the fact that there are now two new “Super Stores” in Kitale that cater to wazungu like us. And if it’s available somewhat locally, then it must be OK, right? At least, that’s how we ended up reasoning. Also, in hosting a steady stream of visitors earlier in the year (and wanting to accommodate their American appetites and show them hospitality that they would appreciate), perhaps our appetites learned to re-appreciate a more expanded palate? But, we were left with the nagging feeling that we’ve made concessions that perhaps were not best for us, practically or spiritually. I can never read Jesus’ teachings in Luke 6 (verses 24-25) without some serious self-examination:

But woe to you who are rich, for you are receiving your comfort in full. Woe to you who are well-fed now, for you shall be hungry…

We have the option to eat what and how we want because we are rich. Perhaps not any longer by American standards, but certainly in comparison to our neighbors here. And we have tried very hard to live in light of that reality and walk in obedience to Jesus. It is, however, a continual challenge and we feel that the balance has swung too far in a direction we don’t care to go. So we’re making some changes once again…

As a family, we have decided to take a 30-day challenge: eat locally. And by “locally,” I mean what is available in the half-dozen shops in our area–not in the large village market, and definitely NOT the “big city” of Kitale.  We talked about what that would mean, the sacrifices we would need to make…and wondered, could we really do it? I’ll admit, I struggled with making the decision, feeling like we’re sacrificing good health. Because frankly, some of our neighbors’ health struggles that we commonly see in the clinic are caused by nutritional deficiencies, and certainly their immune response to illness is often compromised by the same. So, I asked myself, if we eat more like the locals do, will it be harmful to our health, and (if that is the case) is it really good stewardship to move in that direction? However, I do believe that if we are striving to be good stewards and live Christ’s Kingdom teachings to the best of our abilities, He will certainly provide us with “daily bread” that will meet all our needs.

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We’ll be eating more cabbage soup…

So here’s what “eating locally” means: No beef. If we’re having meat, it’s going to be a chicken we slaughter ourselves. Menu staples are rice, potatoes, cabbage, milk (1-2 L per day), eggs, maize, and beans. Fruits in-season are bananas and avocadoes, though they will be “out of season” for at least a couple of months here-and-there. We also score yellow cherries once in a while. Local shops sell flour, baking powder, salt, margarine, and cooking fat. One of our neighbors just started a little business of roasting peanuts–that’s good protein we would not otherwise have, and it supports a brother in our fellowship (win-win!). Currently we are eating fresh corn from the garden (though it will soon be dry enough to shell), and we also grow our own sukuma (kale), spinach, onions, and pumpkins (that’s Micah’s crop and we pay him 10-20 shillings per pumpkin, which to  a seven year-old is very exciting!). 

While we’ve agreed that we want to only eat what is available in our local shops, we are making a once-weekly trip to the village market to buy the bulk of those items, since economically and practically it makes more sense. For example, we can buy margarine at the shops here, but only in the smallest of quantities, so we’ll be getting a larger size at the market. We can get potatoes and cabbages locally, but not always in quantities necessary for the size of our family, and certainly the potatoes and cabbages are larger and “nicer” at the market. So that’s one concession we’re making, but I think it’s reasonable. We’re also adding three items from the market that are not generally available locally: garlic, tomatoes, and green peppers–in the interest of health.

Based on what we have locally available, our menu options are fewer and not-so-varied, but certainly this is good for our appetites. My only real “complaint” (and I’m certainly not complaining) is that our menu is pretty high on the carbohydrates. But maybe that’s OK and it’s just my American sensibilities that are offended by the perceived lack of “balance” in our diet. There’s probably more balance than I think, and perhaps God is giving us just what we need. All in the name of learning contentment with what He provides. All in all, I definitely think this is do-able, and very good for our family.

Since we have eight children (some with rather entrenched preferences in regard to food), we’re trying to move forward with everyone on board, and we want there to be agreement that this a good thing for all of us, both practically and spiritually. While some are more enthusiastic than others, we’ve all agreed to local-food-only on the basis of a “thirty day challenge.” We’ve just finished the first week, and we’ll evaluate in a few more weeks to see what everyone thinks about continuing. Personally, Marc and I hope that everyone will see that it’s a good thing and will be happy to make more permanent adjustments. On the other hand, perhaps some changes will need to be made. We’ll see…and we’ll keep you posted!

 

“How are you Loving your Neighbor?”

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Peter’s recent baptism

During our Sunday morning fellowship, all the men are free to share  as the Holy Spirit leads.The interactive service is usually encouraging, often interesting, and sometimes just l-o-n-g. In African culture, wazee (old men) are respected, and since our church boasts many of them, it’s not uncommon for all of them to feel compelled to say “something.” This week, one of our newly-baptized wazee, Peter (I think he is about 80 years old), sang us a worship song, which brought a smile to my face.

However, mostly I am still thinking about what Nashon shared…wish I had a picture of him to show you, but the fact that we don’t might tell you something about how shy he is. Marc sometimes takes him along for assistance with translation, and if he’s struggling with words or if something strikes him as humorous, he often gets a hard-to-control case of the giggles. Nashon is (I think) 23 years old, which here in Kenya is still considered a “youth.” (A youth can actually be as old as 30!) But his challenge to all of us during this week’s fellowship showed a wisdom that perhaps even the wazee would envy (though I’m sure they would never say so).

Many spoke about loving one another this week (must have been a Holy Spirit theme) and I don’t think I could even summarize all of what Nashon had to say, but really, it was only one statement/question which made me think, and perhaps even challenged me:

People find it easy to love someone who is far away. But you, how are you loving your neighbor?

And isn’t it true? When we lived in America, it was “easy” to send money to this cause, that person…all good, and certainly something we should all do. I’m not knocking financial giving. But at the same time, I could be challenged to love those closest to me in practical ways (even my family members) when I had to see all the attitudes and behaviors in them that I didn’t like, deal with situations that weren’t easy or comfortable, and see in myself all the areas needing improvement as a result.

How often do we all willingly give or do things for others who are “far away” (i.e., perhaps not intimately involved in our lives), but neglect to really love (in word and deed) those closest to us? Why is it that others so often see our good sides, while we “let it all hang out” at home and let those we’re supposed to love the most see us at our very worst?

As a fellowship, we got back together at 6 PM for our communion meal. Our brother  Sam opened up the fellowship by sharing a bit, and I don’t know if he meant to continue on the morning’s theme, but he also talked about loving others and wondered,

If someone went and talked to your neighbor, what would he say? Would he say that you are a Christian?

It’s true that we all will only stand before God in judgment and that no man can know another’s heart…but at the same time, a tree is known by its fruit. The people we are closest to are the ones who should be witness to our “fruit.” And they are, whether it be good or bad.

You, how are you loving your “neighbor”? If someone went and talked to your neighbor, what would he say?

Meet Silas…

We met Silas pretty much on day one when we moved to the village here in Kenya. He owns a shop just across the street from our house, where he lives and works with his wife, daughter, and newborn baby son.

Though we didn’t know it from the moment we met, Silas was eventually identified as that “man of peace” that would be instrumental in expanding the Kingdom of God in our community.

2014-06-24 17.24.31Recently, we helped Silas to purchase a piki piki (motorbike), in hopes that a fledgling business as a boda boda (driver) would help provide more comfortably for their family so that Silas would be more free to invest his time “on the mission.” Most recently, he coordinated many of the brothers (under the direction of Charlton Sweazy) to construct a home for a widow in our fellowship. He also regularly shares the Gospel of the Kingdom with visitors to his little shop, runs patients to the local clinic under Wanda’s direction, and visits satellite fellowships that are still in need of teaching and discipleship. If there’s anything to be done, not only do we trust Silas to do it, but he is always willing.

If Silas has a fault, it’s his memory. Rumor has it he suffered a head injury as a youth and was never the same (though we’ve never confirmed that to be true). In any case, he often confuses the English words “remember” and “forget” and he’s always “remembering” something–which is really “forgetting.” So when you call him to pick you up on his piki piki, he sometimes gets distracted and then “forgets to remember,” or “remembers to forget.” In other words, multiple phone calls by way of reminder are often necessary. And sometimes he shows up at the door and, after greeting and small talk, when asked if he needs something, he may stand there with a dazed look for several minutes before, with a shake of his head, he says, “Oh, yes!” and then proceeds with the reason for his visit.

We love Silas!

Riding on the piki today behind Silas, on my way to a women’s meeting, reminded me just why someone like Silas is such a gem. For starters, let me compare him with many other drivers at the boda boda “stage” in town (the place where you can hire a driver from a sea of motorbikes). Many of them are drunkards (not necessarily abstaining in order to pursue a living as a driver). Some are just plain rude and crude. Then there are those who lack not only a desire for safety but common sense as well. Couple that with dirt roads where potholes are the rule rather than the exception, impromptu speed bumps pop up unexpectedly, and pikis share the road with animals, pedestrians, bicycles, the occasional car, and other unsafe pikis often driving at high speeds, and a ride into town (or even a couple kilometers to a women’s meeting) can be downright scary.

I meditated on this as I rode peacefully on the back of Silas’s motorbike this morning. Needless to say, Silas is as straight-laced as they come. He drives at a moderate speed and even slows down for speed bumps so I don’t fly up off the seat. I smiled when we came upon a little girl, maybe a year old, sitting in a little pothole in the dirt path we were driving on. I wondered what Silas was doing as he stopped and beeped his horn, since the house we were at wasn’t our final destination. Turns out he just wanted to get the attention of the girl’s mother, who was busy doing her wash in the courtyard.  They had a short conversation, and then Silas said to me, “Yeah, many drivers they go too fast and they might not see her.” True enough!

I called him to come pick me up as I thought our meeting was wrapping up, since for him it was about a 15-minute ride and I didn’t really want to wait around. However, as it turns out, our closing prayer time went on longer than I thought it would and, out of the corner of my eye, I noticed Silas pull up on the path outside before we finished. He ended up sitting there for about 10 minutes and I wondered what was going on when I saw him turn around and disappear down the path the same way he had come. To my amusement, when I exited the house I found him giving one of the neighborhood little tykes (about 2 years old, maybe) a spin on his piki, safely situated on the gas tank in front of him. Needless to say, the boy was smiling from ear to ear.

I apologized for making him wait and said,”Those Mamas prayed long today!” To which he simply laughed and said, “Yeah, it’s like that.” (That’s one of Silas’s favorite phrases, which he uses liberally and sometimes in a way totally unrelated to the conversation.)

To my surprise, one of the Mamas from the meeting begged a ride home, since it was on our way. Without missing a beat, I got squashed between her and Silas like a mzungu sandwich. Ordinarily, having a piki driver practically in my lap would make me uncomfortable, but knowing that it also  made Silas uncomfortable actually made me feel better. I noticed that he scooted up on the gas tank as far as he possibly could to create more space for me. 😉

So now you’ve met Silas and gone with me a  morning errand on the back of his piki. …”It’s like that.”

On Feeling Like an “Outsider”

Recently we got a chance to visit with a fellow missionary family here in the Kitale area, which was a great blessing. During the course of our  conversation, I was asked if (now that we have been here in Kenya for almost two years), we feel like we have really “integrated” into the community here. My answer was mostly no, but I’ve been thinking about the subject off and on ever since.

In one sense, I think we have integrated as much as we possibly can. Local children no longer chase after us yelling, “Mzungu, Mzungu, how are you?” everywhere we go. Our children are no longer harassed by constant attention (stares, poking, prodding, and pushing) when they are out and about in the neighborhood. I am blessed to see our yard full of smiling and laughing brown faces in addition to the eight white faces of our children on most afternoons. Even better, I like to hear the back-and-forth conversation in Swahili as the children play. Even Enoch (age 2) has picked up an impressive little vocabulary. I laugh when he asks his friend Nila, “Taco nini?“. What he really means is, “Unataka nini?” or, “What do you want?” but of course he’s only two…and he doesn’t understand that everyone is giggling at him not just because he’s adorable, but because taco is a bit of a crude word in Swahili.

Crowds of kids no longer line up along our fence and stare for hours on end; it’s only during school vacations when children visit from farther-away places that we can’t name each and every one of our little guests.  And we no longer welcome a seemingly unending stream of adult visitors who are trying to figure us out. Most people know who we are and why we are here.

Hosting a home fellowship is a small part of our “mission” here, and it’s really just a means of showing people how it’s done so that more local home fellowships will be birthed; we have little interest in spear-heading a mzungu-centric “church.” Our first attempt at house-churching attracted way too much attention–too many people, all committed to other local churches and not coming out of much beyond curiosity–or a desire to garner the favor of the wazungu. But even that has changed; now the majority of folks come for the purposes of fellowship and discipleship and we rarely have visitors  who don’t sincerely want to know more about the Gospel of the Kingdom and what it means to live as a follower of Christ. So even in that regard, I feel a much greater sense of acceptance and effectiveness.

We have different ways of doing things, all oddities to our neighbors and the subject of much conversation at first: we don’t really like ugali; we homeschool; we don’t really believe (as most people here seem to) that it takes a village to raise a child and children should be seen and not heard; we are certainly more technologically advanced than most folks around here; and of course, we have a larger house and more possessions than almost everyone we know. All these differences have, for the most part, been slowly accepted as a part of who we are and, though we are obviously different, we’re no longer viewed as “outsiders,” as much as we were at first. We’ve been welcomed, accepted, and, as much as is possible, integrated into our community.

On the other hand, there are ways in which I don’t think we can ever really integrate. Learning Swahili has been a struggle and, though most of us can follow a simple conversation and make small talk, it will be a long time before we’re fluent enough to hold a meaningful conversation. This is particularly difficult when it comes to ministry and fellowship/discipleship. Relying on translation is a necessary discomfort for me; I know I am missing out on so much in the development of relationships and greatly wish that there was better integration in that regard. We would be much more effective for the Kingdom if circumstances were different but I trust that God can work through us even with our limitations.

As well, there is  much that we cannot culturally comprehend, as we have a very Western mind-set and and ingrained lifestyle that is very different from what is normal here. We’ve learned, and continue to learn, much about communication, realities of life here, and ways of doing things; but without first-hand experience we often find ourselves, by default, on the “outside.” I don’t know if we can ever really overcome these differences, any more than we will cease to be an oddity simply because of the whiteness of our skin.

But in spite of the awkwardness and the discomfort that are the inevitable outcome of so many meetings and conversations, I have hope. I know that God can use us in spite of our weaknesses (2 Corinthians 12:9). I trust that it is His work that is being done and that there is much more being accomplished than what I can see with my own eyes. And I understand more and more what it means to be “in the world but not of the world” (for example, John 15:19).  Hebrews 11 speaks of those who walk in faith as people who confess to being “strangers and exiles on the earth,” and the Apostle Peter urges us to live as examples to those around us, because we are “aliens and strangers” here. Feeling, in some ways, not totally integrated into our community here, just reminds me of how God wants me to view my citizenship here on earth. In many ways, a certain level of discomfort is good. The seemingly unending self-assessment that we go through as a result of the many cultural differences is equally beneficial.

Truthfully, sometimes I feel like it would be easier to go back to America–where we fit in better, and where relationships would be more natural and more effective for discipleship. I don’t think we will ever totally “integrate” here, but maybe we aren’t meant to. We’re being stretched, we’re growing, and we will accomplish whatever is God’s will for us to accomplish while we are here.  As with everything, we trust that God is working all things for good and for His glory.

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