On Creativity and Supporting the Local Economy

This morning, I was busy canning French beans (regular ‘ol green beans, which they don’t really like here but which we weird wazungu not only eat, but put in jars to save for later). One of my near neighbors, who now helps me with wash, was watching the process intently and ended up just shaking her head and laughing, saying, “You are funny!”

The big boys had gone to the market for me, and most of the other children were busy helping Marc sort our dry bean harvest in the front yard. That left Hannah and Jubilee in the living room, happily playing–but I wanted to give them something productive to do that would capture their attention for a while. I remembered when Rebekah was young, introducing her to sewing with lacing cards like this (photo courtesy of Amazon.com):Product DetailsOn occasion, I had also made my own sewing cards by cutting various shapes out of colored paper and laminating them, punching holes with a hole puncher, attaching yarn, and threading it on a plastic needle.

With a burst of creative energy that I admit I’ve rarely experienced since we moved to Kenya, I decided to make the girls some lacing cards. Colored paper is hard to come by here, never mind contact paper, and I wanted something durable. Fortunately, someone had recently thrown a small box in the garbage can, so I retrieved it and cut a couple of pieces of cardboard from it. Hannah fetched our hole puncher and I found some yarn that one of the boys had left on the kitchen shelf (as we so often forget that there’s “a place for everything, and everything in its place”). Having no nifty plastic needles, I decided to improvise by putting some duct tape around the end of the yarn. I made a heart and a flower, and the girls colored and sewed them while I worked on the beans. Here’s Jubilee’s heart:

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So passed a busy but relatively quiet morning. When Rebekah was done with her morning’s work, I asked her if she wanted to make some sewing cards for our neighborhood little girls. She said, “Oh, they do sewing like this already. They use small sticks for needles, long grass or straw for thread, and leaves to sew together.” And I thought I was creative! The simplicity of life here and how much these folks can do with so little never ceases to amaze and challenge me.

And totally unrelated to the morning’s activity, while I was looking for the yarn which I remember having last seen on the kitchen shelf, I also tried to count our mound of eggs:

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Each layer holds 30 eggs, so we have sixty, plus the additional eggs mounded on top…maybe 80? I am thankful, as for a long time after our arrival here, getting eggs was hard. We could usually only muster 3-4 eggs every few days, which was enough for miscellaneous baking, but never enough to have, say, scrambled eggs for breakfast. We got our own chickens not too long ago, but they’re certainly not American Leghorns that lay an egg every day. Out of our 7 (?) hens, we only get 1-3 eggs per day, and after they lay 5 or 6 eggs they want to go broody, so they’ll stop laying for quite a while, even if they’re not sitting on a nest. A good breakfast of eggs for us is a couple dozen at least, so left to our own devices that rarely (if ever) happens.

But lo and behold, it seems that word has spread far and wide in our small village that the wazungu like eggs. Almost every day (usually in the evening, as the Mamas are starting to prepare supper) we have someone come to the door with one precious egg, or maybe two…sometimes a half-dozen. Most always, they come with their bag of dry maize in hand as well. And as we give them their twelve shillings per egg, we watch them run next door to the mill, where they use 5 or 10 of those shillings to grind the maize to make their evening ugali. One older man comes frequently with larger numbers of eggs, though no one is quite sure where he manages to find them. Unfortunately,we’ve noticed that he doesn’t spend his egg earnings so wisely. Sometimes Marc shakes his head over spending so much money on eggs (a dozen eggs here is about the same price as its American equivalent, which tells you that they’re comparatively expensive), but we use them and are thankful for the protein, since we only eat meat once or twice a week. And we’re glad to be a small cog in the wheel of our local economy.

Field Day, Africa-Style

I remember having a Field Day at the end of every school year–outdoor fun and competition all day long. Frankly, not my favorite day, because I’m far from athletic, but still–it was fun being outside with friends and not stuck behind a desk.

Yesterday was what I called our “Field Day–Africa-Style.” It started with us dragging our beans out to dry on a big tarp first thing in the morning. We’re waiting until the pods are completely dry so we can beat them with a stick and get all the beans out. We tried some yesterday and found that they were still too wet. Well, several of our smaller kids decided that they wanted to shell beans by hand–it was “fun!” Not to leave them to their own devices, I jumped in to help. Next thing I knew, a few of their regular playmates were called in to help. Here we are (and as you can see by the photo, our oldest, Isaiah, on the far left, wasn’t one of the ones who thought hand-shelling beans was “fun”):

shelling beans

Of course, after we had been working for about an hour, the children went off to play kati (the African version of Monkey in the Middle). The littles commandeered the swing set. Eventually I heard cries of “Ume kufa!” (“You’re dead!”), indicating that the game had morphed into their version of freeze-tag. By noon I figured no one would be going home, so I started making beans and rice for a crowd. Mama Manu, who helps me with laundry, finished up that task and offered to beat the beans. She said they don’t wait until all the beans are dry–they beat them every day to get out what’s ready, then leave the remaining pods and do them again the next day. I don’t say “no” when someone offers that kind of help, so she went to work. Of course, her daughters (who had been playing) got called in to help clean the chaff off the beans after they were beaten. (Wish I had gotten a picture of Enoch (age 2) “helping” Mama Manu with his big bamboo stick!)

Mama Manu, hard at work
Mama Manu, hard at work
Little girls "helping"
Little girls “helping”

After the beans were cleaned off and set out to dry, most of the kids went on a “treasure hunt” of sorts, gleaning the piles for coveted “zebra beans”–they have a pretty, black-and-white swirl but were very rare in our harvest.

How many zebras do you have?
How many zebras do you have?

Then lunch, for two adults and 19 children, followed up by dish-washing on the veranda.

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Then, more play! Jubilee and Enoch had to go in for a nap, but the rest of the little kids hit the swings once again and the big kids decided to set up for volleyball.

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Volleyball net, take one: FAIL. Can’t see through it…oops.
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That’s better…



Mama Manu went home shortly after lunch, but the kids stayed on for volleyball. Our neighbor’s boy, Eliya, ended up coming over and was boasting so much about his fame as a player that the game ended up being Eliya vs. Everyone Else. I never did find out who won, though. Eventually the little ones got tired of sitting in the sun, so Micah set up his watercolor paints on the shady veranda and the fun continued:

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I kicked all the kids out at about 4:00, after a long day of work and fun. And there you have it, our first “Field Day,” Africa-style!

 

 

“I’m Afraid he’s going to be…an Engineer”

Don’t get the wrong idea…we don’t watch Dilbert…but when Marc was working with a bunch of engineers, this little clip made its rounds in the office so everyone could get a chuckle out of it:

Marc immediately thought of our son, Isaiah, who (except for the “utter social ineptitude”) has had “The Knack” since he was just a little kid. Back in Indiana, his favorite thing to do was post requests on Freecycle and see if he could score electronics or things with motors that he could fix. If they weren’t fixable, he’d take them apart and save anything he might use for a future project. He’s made some really neat stuff, including a motorized bicycle (using an old chainsaw motor), a homemade BB gun, and a small blender (though not suitable for much besides having fun). Not only that, he’s constantly fixing things around the house (yeah!!) in addition to being our on-call tech support guy. Here in Africa, he’s also become quite gifted at small engine repair and regularly fixes motorbikes.

The down-side of this great trait is that his corner of the boys’ bedroom usually look like this (and, yes, he made the desk himself):

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I’ve learned to close the door or just not look too often. Unless there’s a window of opportunity for room-cleaning, which doesn’t happen as often as I’d like.

Anyway, a couple weeks ago he had a neat idea to make a portable sprayer, using a broken well pump that Marc let him have and some assorted parts he’d collected (see the blue bin in the photo above). He was thinking it would be useful for the garden, but I was thinking pressure washing, so he made two different nozzles. Here’s the finished product:

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Yesterday we harvested our beans and used Isaiah’s new invention to spray the weeds remaining in the field so we can re-plant in a couple weeks or so.

Today I was going about my least-favorite-task-of-the-week, beating and hand-scrubbing our area rug from the living room. (I regret that I ever complained about vacuuming. What I wouldn’t give to be able to vacuum this thing–I’d do it EVERY DAY!!) The easiest method for this is to roll up the carpet, carry it outside, and sling it over the kids’ swing set. After beating it with a broom handle and ripping a few holes in it, now I use some flexible hose instead. Then, I fill a basin with some laundry soap and water and dip my brush in it. Bit by bit, I scrub the whole carpet, continually dipping the brush into the cleaner as I go. It’s a messy and time-consuming process, usually taking me 1-1/2 to 2 hours.

Isaiah asked if I could “pressure wash” the carpet using his new sprayer. My only reservation was that it would get so wet it might not dry before the afternoon rain. Then what? But I figured I’d give it a try. To my great surprise and joy, it worked wonderfully, though I did do a quick scrub with a brush on top of the spraying. Though it’s not perfectly dry yet, it seems it will be before the sun goes away. And, good news is, it cut my carpet-cleaning time in half!

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So if you have a budding engineer in your family, don’t despair. Let ’em take stuff apart, overlook the mess,  put up with the single-minded focus that makes projects preferable to breakfast, keep encouraging the successes and sympathize with the inevitable failures, and enjoy the fruit of “The Knack” when you can.

The Ugly Consequences of Sin

Our twelve year-old has always loved animals. Every time I upload photos from the camera, I laugh at how many pictures like this unexpectedly show up:

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It means that Jonah has snuck the camera away to photograph one of his latest “finds.” I’ve been surprised by chameleons, snakes, box turtles, butterflies, snails, and more at various times over the past few years.

When we moved to Africa, one of hardest things for Jonah was giving up his beloved hamster. He’s wanted a pet and the family cats don’t count because they belong to everyone. He wanted something cute and cuddly all his own, and though chameleons abound here and they’re fun to play with, they’re not exactly what he was looking for.

Then, just the other day, our neighbor’s boy showed up with something unexpected: a wild rabbit he’d caught. Somehow he knew that the wazungu house was the right place to try for a sale. I summoned Jonah to the door.

He wanted 250 shillings (about $3). We’d paid only 100 shillings each for our domestic rabbits and I whispered to Jonah that he really should negotiate aggressively on the price. But he was already in love, and I think our neighbor knew it. Jonah tried to offer 200, and he was refused. Back to his room he went to get the money.

Since it was evening, we made sleeping arrangements for the new bunny, quickly named “Sungura” (which means rabbit in Swahili, since Jonah didn’t know if it was a boy or a girl). By morning, it hadn’t eaten any of the greens that Jo had collected for him, so Jonah fed him baby formula from a syringe every couple of hours and the rabbit never left his side–even while he was doing his school work. Jonah was tickled that the rabbit continually licked his face and neck, and when Jonah would move away from the rabbit on the couch, it would quickly move over and snuggle to his side. Finally, the perfect pet! Just what he’d always wanted.

That evening, Jonah typed out an email to family in America and of course, told them about Sungura. We had just finished supper, so I told the kids they could go outside to play. I glanced over the email, clicked “send,” and looked at my inbox. Suddenly I heard loud voices outside and so I got up to see what was the matter. Before I got to the door, Jonah was inside. He had composed himself while in the yard, but as soon as he made it to the privacy of the living room, he erupted in sobs.

Through his tears, the story came out: he’d brought Sungura out to play in the great outdoors. Of course, all his siblings were excited to see the rabbit run around. One (who shall remain nameless), started chasing the tiny rabbit. Jonah yelled, “Stop! Don’t do that!,” knowing that his sibling might inadvertently step on the creature. His sibling didn’t listen, despite several warnings. Suddenly, a foot met the unfortunate rabbit’s neck. Blood immediately spurted from its nose. I ran outside to see what could be done, but it was, of course, too late and too serious.

The sibling was disciplined, and we all cried. It was an “accident”…but it wasn’t. This particular child has struggled to respect the word of older brothers and sisters lately. When corrected by them, this child has been obstinate about NOT listening and NOT following their direction. The rebellion has been obvious to everyone. It has been corrected by parents and siblings alike, and we’ve also tried to teach through the Word of God the importance of listening to wise counsel, obeying older siblings in the absence of Mom and Dad, and so on. To no avail.

If it had been an unfortunate accident, there would have been no punishment. But it wasn’t. It was sin. And this time, there were consequences. Unfortunately, it was not to the child only but to a beloved brother.

It was  a quiet and sad evening in the Carrier home. But we had some good conversation as a result. The brother forgave and his sibling repented. I know it is for God’s glory and our good.

But the boy still misses his bunny. He’s still a little sad. And things are still a little quiet as we all process the sadness of this circumstance and meditate upon the ugly consequences of sin.

 

“Idleness Teaches Much Evil”

I’ve often heard the expression, “Idle hands are the devil’s work,” and wondered where it came from. I hear it quoted like it’s Scripture (similar to phrases like, “the Lord helps those who help themselves“), but I never knew the origin. So I was intrigued when we started reading the Wisdom of Sirach (from the Septuagint) and we stumbled upon this: “Put him to work that he may  not be idle, for idleness teaches much evil” (Wisdom of Sirach 33:28-29). I’ve often seen this to be true, and the Scripture I usually remind our children of when they start having “too much fun” is Proverbs 29:15 (ESV): “a child left to himself brings shame to his mother.” That’s usually followed by a request for help with some chore or another.

Case in point: our almost 14 year-old son. He’s had some difficult moments…okay, maybe days…in the transition to Africa. He has a sharp mind and has always needed a project to work on. When he’s left idle, he complains of boredom and here, where good “project materials” are in short supply, that boredom has often turned into a general bad attitude. I understand it and have made many suggestions for profitable things he can do, but mostly I’ve just prayed that God would bring a solution.

He’s taken his own dirtbike completely apart and done quite a few repairs. Other times, it’s been another motor bike in need of repair–along with a driver that lacked the money to pay for parts or service. Most recently, it’s this:

Marc decided that the time has come to get our family a vehicle. We didn’t think we would; we’ve made do quite well with public transport and Marc’s motorbike. However, since his accident he’s needed to hire a car more than once, and when he takes a large team (4-6 people, who lead the Luke 10-style eveangelism teams) out for KDM missions, transport gets expensive. So it seemed that the time had come to get a car–now one of two in our little village!

However, it’s in need of some TLC and, as we’ve discovered, mechanics here leave much to be desired. Marc grew up working on cars with his Dad and has taught Isaiah quite a bit but they’ve never been able to get their hands dirty together very much–until now. They spent Monday and Tuesday at work over the car, and yesterday when Marc left for a training meeting, Isaiah spent the day solo doing some more repairs. He was in his element, and pretty much only took a 20-minute break for lunch. Oh, well, he wasn’t exactly solo–he had a frequent little helper:

Grabbing tools
"Helping"

As parents we are often limited and can’t always give our children what they need. But God can. My son has a heart for God, but he also has an analytical mind and a need to do something productive. Though our opportunities here have been limited, we’ve grown in grace as we’ve weathered all the bumps in the road and the Lord has been faithful. I’m thankful.

Hosting our first African Wedding!

Yesterday was a big day for the Carriers as we hosted our first African wedding. Charles, the groom, was a widower whose wife died several years ago, and he recently lost the youngest of his three children to TB. Due to his wife’s death (and his need to work outside the home) and the prolonged medical care needed for his little one, his older two children were being cared for at a local children’s home. Ester is a widow of just a few months, with nine children (the youngest born just weeks before her husband passed away). Both Charles and Ester (and Ester’s husband) had been baptized by Marc earlier last year, and they are part of a solid local house church where they have been discipled and have been growing in their faith. Charles had been Ester’s husband’s best friend for several years, so they have known each other well. Both saw the possibility of their marriage as a way to honor God and bring their children together in a strong family unit, also enabling Charles to bring his own children home. It was an honor for us to assist them in making their commitment official.

Set up and ready for the big event!

We spent the day Monday cleaning the house and the kids greatly blessed me by going the extra mile. I wanted to make sure our plastic stacking chairs were all wiped down, and the chalkboard wall and dry erase board needed to be cleaned off as well. I figured after they finished the bigger jobs like floor-washing, I’d get someone to take care of the little things. But lo and behold, while I cleaned carpets and washed the kitchen floor, the kids  jumped right in to get them done on their own. Not only that, Jonah noticed many of the spots on the walls (which have not escaped my attention, but time does not usually allow me to address them), and he got a wash basin and cleaner and went to work to make the walls sparkle!

After all the work was done, the kids decided to bless Charles and Ester’s kids with some gifts–treats like cookies, lollipops, and gum from a local shop, AND some of the toys from their small box of toys in the living room. Jonah has two Beanie Baby bears that they all like to play games with, and it seems that all their games involve both bears for maximum fun. He thought aloud that maybe they should put one of the bears in the bag for Charles and Ester’s children. One of our littles said, “But then we won’t have two!” And Jonah replied, “Well, right now they don’t have any, and we’ll still have one!” So into the bag it went. Not every moment here is a “proud mama” moment, but once in a while it is nice to see that God is working something in our children’s hearts. I was blessed to see their excitement in giving and to experience the unusual camaraderie over housecleaning.

Also on Monday, I made a wedding cake (my first attempt), and I hoped it wouldn’t be too “un-professional” for the big day. Isaiah did the writing with some colored frosting and a syringe, having had some experience with that when the boys made me a special birthday cake back in December. Marc and Isaiah went shopping for some of the food, including a HUGE amount of beef (8 kg, the largest amount of beef I’ve ever prepared). When they got home, Marc diced tomatoes, onions, and peppers and tried to add that and the diced beef to my 8-qt. pressure cooker–the only way to prepare really good beef here! But alas, my pressure cooker was much too small. Rather than do it in two batches, we decided to use my large pressure cooker/canner, which I’ve only used as a canner and never as a pressure cooker. It worked perfectly and the beef turned out delicious!

On Monday night, the officiating Bishop unexpectedly wanted to change the time of the wedding from 10 AM to 1 PM. This posed a scheduling problem, as we would have to notify everyone, and some were already traveling from some distance away. Not only that, but being on “African time,” we were pretty sure that 1 PM would probably end up being dinner time and we weren’t really sure how to “entertain” everyone until the Bishop made his entrance. Even so, we tried to work everything out and hoped for the best.

We wanted very little to do with directing the actual wedding, as we weren’t sure what the local customs would dictate. It was surprisingly similar to an American Christian wedding, except that the couple didn’t hold hands or enjoy a celebratory kiss after the vows were official. When the vows were taken, they actually held up their right hand rather than holding hands with each other, as is our custom. The cutting of the cake was part of the ceremony, and the bride and groom served bite-sized pieces to all the guests. I was called upon to assist with the cutting of the cake, and I wasn’t exactly sure what to do. The instructions I received weren’t very clear (and the tradition not familiar) so I fumbled a bit and was a little embarrassed, but everyone seemed gracious enough about my misunderstandings.Unusually, filling out of the official paperwork was done during the ceremony as well.

Here’s the happy couple when it was all over, including a parting shot with some of their children:

  

We praise God for allowing us to be a part of this blessed event. Kingdom Driven Ministries was not only able to fund the wedding through donations, but Charles and Ester should also have assistance in purchasing some property. This will go a long way in helping them to provide for their new, large family. Please join us in praying for Charles and Ester as they begin their new life together!

 

 

The Sobering Numbers Behind a Very Blessed Day

It is quite possible to live a Western style of life here in Kenya; many (particularly in the cities) do. They have lovely homes with electricity and running water, perhaps a car, and ample food. Their children attend quality schools. They wear nice clothes, get their hair done, and enjoy many modern conveniences and entertainments. I’m not just talking about foreigners living here, but native Africans. There are opportunities to earn a good wage, and many do. As a result, they also enjoy the corresponding standard of living.

Such is not the case, however, in most rural places, including the village in which we reside. Though not a recent article, a report in Jamhuri Magazine shows how Kenya compares on the per capita income scale, rating as a “very poor” country with an average annual income of $1,000 to $2,000 per person. In our area, I would say that the average person makes a few hundred shillings per day, which translates to 10800 KSH annually. That converts to $1278 USD, which corresponds well with the Jamhuri estimates.

As I said in a previous post about a very blessed day, in which our family enjoyed some time away and a good meal, Marc and I always carefully consider our financial decisions in light of these figures. Though we have a Western income (albeit now lower than it used to be), we hesitate to live a lifestyle that is vastly different from our neighbors. We feel guilty for spending as much on a one-day pleasure outing as our neighbors would use to feed themselves for…months? When some folks can’t afford basic medicine for emergency needs and we easily spend money on preventative vitamin supplements, we sense the unfairness of it. Granted, having more money than some isn’t a sin, and neither is it wrong to enjoy some things in life. But living here where poverty is quite in-your-face, the fine line that defines “too much,” isn’t actually so fine, and the delicate balance of needs versus wants tips quite a bit more easily in favor of very basic needs than it did when we lived in the States.

Our family went out to eat twice last year–once about a month after our arrival, and once just after Christmas when we visited Kisumu. Marc also occasionally treats one of the kids to a meal when they are chosen to go into town with him on errands. We eat meat much more frequently than our neighbors do (once or twice a week). Instead of ugali with every meal, we often eat spaghetti, rice, bread, or potatoes–all of which have a higher price tag than plain maize. While they typically have one or two outfits of “work” clothes and one “nice” outfit, we have a half-dozen changes of clothes each. Many here sleep on burlap sacks, mats, or thin foam mattresses. We were just blessed to be able to buy a pillow-top mattress to replace our compressed foam–a gift designed to assist Marc’s recovery from the motorbike accident. A Bible here is a treasured addition to the  home, as the possession of books is rare indeed. We brought a small library of books with us from the states, knowing how hard it would be to homeschool without them.

As you can see, there is a great financial and material chasm between “us” and “them,” no matter how much we feel we have sacrificed in comparison to our previous style of life in America (which was not extravagant by any stretch of the imagination). No matter how much food, medicine, clothing, or financial assistance we are able to give, it’s still just a drop in the bucket compared to the number of needs out there.

What does God desire? Is it “that there might be equality”? (See 2 Corinthians 8:13-14). That goes against our capitalist and independent American way of thinking, doesn’t it? At the same time, if we were to live a lavish lifestyle when others lack money to pay for malaria medicine, antibiotics, and nutritious food, how would God judge us?

Here is our standard–one that we continually examine ourselves in light of:

31 “But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats; 33 and He will put the sheep on His right, and the goats on the left.

34 “Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; 36 naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? 38 And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? 39 When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ 40 The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’

41 “Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels; 42 for I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me nothing to drink; 43 I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me.’ 44 Then they themselves also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not take care of You?’ 45 Then He will answer them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ 46 These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

Matthew 25:31-46

Living in a Kenyan village is hard, not because we’ve sacrificed to do so, but because we’re constantly faced with the realization that we could be doing more. Making moment-by-moment choices that used to be easy has become much more difficult. However, I think that living with this constant “tug” in regard to our finances and our expenditures is a good thing–it means that God is at work in us, showing us His ideal, and we’re doing our best to respond. It’s a journey…

A Very Blessed Day

When Marc and I went to Eldoret for his follow up appointment at the hospital two weeks ago, we ate lunch at a local bistro near the Nakumatt super-store. The food was incredibly American–head and shoulders above what we can get at the mzungu-style restaurants in our next big town. Needless to say, it was a nice “date” for the two of us. I mentioned to Marc that I thought it would be nice to treat the family to a celebratory meal there at some point, to spend some thankful time together as a family.

Travel in Kenya can range from uncomfortable to treacherous. The stretch of road where Marc was forced off the road on his motorbike last month has been the location of many fatalities in recent history–including one later on the very same day as Marc’s. So I’m not lightly saying, “Praise God!” when I say that our family praises God for His protection of Marc the day of his accident. We know that it is entirely possible he could have left for that day’s mission and not come back home that night. And although his injury was serious, it could certainly have been more so. Most significantly, we are thankful that Marc drew near to the Lord in his suffering and experienced a sweet fellowship with Jesus that has carried him through his recovery period in a way that has glorified God and been a witness to many in our community. From the very moments of his injury, the Lord gave Marc confidence that he would be back on his motorbike and back on the mission in just three weeks.

And last week (three weeks to the day of the accident), we saw that happen. Although Marc is still not completely healed, he hopped on his motorbike and met for three days with about ten local church pastors and house church leaders. These two groups of men have historically been in conflict in their community, but by the end of the second day of teaching on the Kingdom of God and Kingdom Expansion, representatives from both groups shared words of reconciliation before the group and publicly exchanged hugs in show of their new feeling of unity. On the third day, teams went out to local homes doing Luke 10-style evangelism–institutional church pastors and house church leaders laboring together for the Kingdom, not for the growth of their own congregations. Two of the people that they visited that day were actually given dreams in advance of the teams’ arrival. One man knew to expect a group of three pastors. Another woman already had her home set up for hospitality and was waiting expectantly for their message. Marc was beyond blessed to see what God did and was so thankful to be back doing what God has brought him here to do.

So after the mission, the subject of a family celebration came up between Marc and me. It’s always hard to make judgment calls such as this and we always debate. It seems unnecessarily extravagant to spend so much money on a single “event” (and involving self-indulgence with food at that, since we know that The Kingdom of God is not About Eating and Drinking), when our neighbors struggle to put ugali on the table. Even so, we knew it would be a blessing to our family and decided to go for it. It seemed confirmed when we received an unexpected donation earmarked for our family, and Marc’s Dad sent some money for the children as well. Even from afar, he still wants to spoil his grand kids.

We arranged for a car for this Monday and, after a weekend full of expectation, were off–on African time, about an hour later than we wanted to. We decided to let the kids order what they want, presuming that it wasn’t over-the-top. We made several requests for items not on the menu. They offered a “beef burger with cheese,” which I can only assume is a steak-burger, but we asked if we could have it “minced,” (i.e., an American-style cheeseburger). I even asked for bacon on mine and although it wasn’t confirmed when I ordered, it came through! Jonah was interested in the fish filet, but it was plain and not breaded. They agreed to bread it for  him. We had a couple of small pizzas for everyone to share, including Hawaiian and four-meat. Jubilee, at age three, didn’t really know what she wanted, so I suggested something from the Chinese food menu called “Chicken lollipops.” The description was vague–something about breaded balls of chicken “that can only be described as ‘wonderful.'” It seemed like a fun meal for a three year-old and she agreed with my suggestion.

Everyone tried everyone else’s food and everything was absolutely spectacular. Most agreed, though, that the chicken lollipops were a favorite, and Jubilee beamed as she passed her chicken-on-a-stick around the table. Wish I had gotten a picture.

We window-shopped at Nakumatt, an experience we haven’t had since being in the States. It’s a real American-style store (with price tags to match!). You can think of it as Wal-Mart on steroids. I briefly looked at the covered garbage cans, thinking how nice one would be in place of the cardboard box we use for kitchen garbage, but nearly $25 USD wasn’t something I would be able to justify. We browsed leather furniture (yeah, right…) and the boys practically high-fived when they came around the corner of one aisle and discovered…BAMBOO SKEWERS!! When they had some pocket change in the US, they would often spend $1 at Wal-Mart on skewers to make kites, model cars or planes–anything a young boy can imagine. They’ve often lamented the lack of good “project materials” here in Africa, and skewers have certainly been mentioned by name. So no surprise, Isaiah dropped a pack in the cart: “I’ll pay you back when we get home!”

I paused at the pillow display and had a quickly-whispered conversation with Marc. When we moved to Kenya, we had many furnishings and household items purchased for us in advance of our coming. We were assured that pillows would be procured so we didn’t bother to bring ours. To our dismay, the highest-quality pillows available in town were pretty much rectangular pieces of 2-3″ compressed foam with some fabric sewn around it for looks. Certainly not the most comfortable, but better than nothing. When one of our short-term missionaries left behind what the children call “The Amero-pillow,” each child secretly (or not-so-secretly) hoped it could be theirs. But of course, Dad won. So we decided to suggest to the children American-style pillows of their very own, which they could consider a gift from Grandpa. I don’t think the Nakumatt has heard that much celebratory cheering in a while as the kids chose pillows and jammed them into the cart.

And even though sometimes when we try to do something special for the children, it gets tainted by arguments, selfishness, complaining, and so on (with eight children, they’re all rarely all happy!). But this day was remarkable in that there were no corrections, no bad tones…nothing negative at all. We were very blessed to enjoy such a special day as a family and are thankful to God for His faithfulness, His goodness, and His great love for us in allowing us this time together.

Community Gardening

Marc is recovering amazingly well from his motorcycle accident 2-1/2 weeks ago. We had a follow-up appointment at the hospital this week to check on his knee, and the doctor was very pleased with the healing progress. He’ll get stitches out in two more weeks. When I had malaria over last weekend, he started hobbling around on his own (first with crutches and then without) because he wanted to let me rest. So things are looking good–just in time for a training meeting this week!

However, it is planting season here and he was not quite up to that. And I have two brown thumbs, so I’ve always been on the weeding, harvesting, and preserving side of the garden. Earlier this year, Marc attended a Farming God’s Way seminar and wanted to pioneer a FGW garden on our property to show our neighbors that it’s possible to improve their yields and do better for their families. He trained our son, Jonah, on how to do the planting (it involves some precision measurement and he wanted it to be done right), but for us to do it ourselves would have taken quite a few days and a lot of labor.

We were pleasantly surprised and blessed to have several of our friends and neighbors volunteer to help with the planting. We coordinated for everyone to get together this past Saturday at 9:00 AM, and for once almost everyone was on time. We planted maize and beans–some hoeing, some fertilizing, and some planting and covering seeds. We enjoyed a lunch of kitheri (corn and beans) and finished the whole garden by about 4 pm. God is good! Rebekah took some photos while we worked (her primary role was keeping baby Enoch out of the garden and out of trouble–no small task these days).

 

The Lord Knows What we Need

For quite a while now, we’ve felt like we really needed to get away as a family. Sometimes living here as the only wazungu in town is like living in a fish bowl.  Just a quick illustration:

In discussing the issue of being home-bound yet again with Marc, suddenly he had an idea. Silas owns a large shamba—several acres of farm, field, and trees bordering a river—not too far from our house. He wondered, why couldn’t we go there, spend a few hours and enjoy a picnic lunch? Silas was agreeable to our going and we decided, to everyone’s excitement, to try out a trip there are a family. I was certain that this would help fill in the gaps in terms of what the children felt they had been missing, and I was thankful for the opportunity for some fun family time. Truth be told, the daily grind and Marc’s busy schedule sometimes leave me wishing for a bit of a “Sabbath rest” for all of us, and I hoped this would be it.

We had fun just getting there. It wasn’t “too far,” but a bit of a stretch for lots of little legs to walk comfortably. Isaiah stayed at home with several of the children while Marc, Micah, Jubilee, and I (with Enoch in the Ergo) zipped down to Silas’s on the motorbike. Marc went back for the girls while Isaiah and Jonah rode down on their little Suzuki dirt bike. Of course we had to greet Silas’s mother (who in Kenyan culture is just called “Mama Silas”). She spoke not a word of English but was happy to welcome us to her shamba.

Silas showed us around and, to my disappointment, the river at the back of the property turned out to be at the bottom of about a 10-foot drop-off. Instead of letting the kids leisurely explore as I imagined they would, I nervously kept a grip on Enoch and watched the littles to make sure they didn’t wander too close to the banks. The overgrown fields were fun to explore for a while, but there weren’t as many good climbing trees as the boys thought—those were closer to the house, so back we trekked.

Unfortunately, by the time we made it to the house again, an entourage of about 30 children was watching us like hawks and trying to meet up with us at various points. It seemed there was no  “getting away.” And once we got back, Silas unexpectedly told Marc that he had been committed to sharing about the Gospel of the Kingdom at a “Christianized” circumcision ceremony at the house of his neighbor. It was expected that he would stay to eat, but simultaneously Silas’s Mom was also preparing lunch—pulling out all the stops and sending someone to get what was, for them, very expensive fish because she knew the wazungu liked it. By now the children were eager to go home, the morning not turning out to be what they thought, but there was no way we could offend Mama Silas. It seemed we were in a “lose-lose” situation. Ultimately, our fun family day ended up with Marc going next door (for as short a time as possible) and the rest of us hanging out much longer than planned at Silas’s. We ate a lunch of fish which, while tasty, was certainly not accommodating to our mzungu sensibilities. (Whole fish, having been dried and left in the sun at the market, often ends up with maggots in it, and we found some floating in the fish broth. Not to mention, the experience of eating fish whole was not quite appetizing.) We were thankful for the hospitality and were truly blessed that Mama Silas wanted to give us her very best; however, we were also glad to return home after an unexpectedly…interesting morning.

 

So you can see, we were all out of ideas when it came to what to do to enjoy some time together as a family.

I don’t want to make a long story longer, so I’ll spare you to details of how our family was connected with a group of Mennonite missionary families here in Kisumu–but of course, it was a “God thing.”

Much to our delight, we were invited to their compound for a few days following Christmas. They said we could stay in a guest house there, be well-fed, and have transportation at our disposal to visit the local museum and zoo. After a long but uneventful ride in a semi-private matatu we were warmly welcomed, fed lunch, and enjoyed the company. There were lots of children for our kids to play with and the adult fellowship was a true blessing to me. I don’t think I had realized how much I missed it.

During our first full day we visited both the museum and zoo, so the second day was spent just enjoying the company of several of the families and relaxing. I even got to do two loads of laundry in a washing machine! Needless to say, I felt incredibly spoiled and it was so nice to get a break from that day-in-day-out manual labor. I was equally blessed that they made sure we ate well for every meal—a much greater variety of food than what we have available in our village and even in the next big town. Not to mention, refrigeration meant an opportunity to have cold smoothies and homemade granola with cold milk! It’s amazing how much you take those little things for granted—and what a blessing it was to enjoy for the short time we were there. Most of all, we were blessed by the obvious love of all of these Kingdom Christians and their willing generosity.

Here we are in Kisumu–a rare photo of the whole family, in which *almost* everyone is looking cheerfully at the camera–and only three takes, I think:

(I’m sure you can’t help but notice Micah’s new haircut in the photo. When Silas told us that “Africans no care about quality, they care about price,” he wasn’t kidding. We bought a set of clippers here and I decided to cut Micah’s hair. He likes it short, so opted for a “1,” which has always been super cute on him. Much to my horror, the comb fell off the razor as I was buzzing by his ear, so he was shaved almost to the scalp in a split second. Convinced that I could somehow rescue it, I put the comb back on and continued, only to have it happen again. So, Micah got totally buzz-cut but he had a super attitude about it, praise God!) Now, for the conclusion of our story…..

I came away truly refreshed from our mini-vacation, the burden of discouragement which I had been feeling at that time greatly lifted. The family was likewise encouraged, and we returned to home and “normal” with a renewed sense of God’s grace and goodness (in spite of another round of illness that hit us almost immediately upon our return!) I share this not simply to relate our experience, but to encourage you to consider how you might spur someone around you on to love and good deeds (see Hebrews 10:24)—even if, to you, what you offer seems small.

We are thankful, and God is good.