Tuesday, 3 October 2017

Hassan

This past weekend I visited some friends. They live and minister in a rough area of Nairobi and are just incredible people. Their only desire in life is to see the gospel spread. I learned so much from them by visiting and participating in their work.

The highlight of my time with them, by far, was meeting Hassan. Well, I guess I didn't actually meet him in the traditional sense of the word. You see, Hassan is deaf. I can't just walk up to him, put out my hand, and say, "Hi, how are you?"

The other students can decipher my slow sign-language-spelling and grasp my name, but Hassan can't. Hassan doesn't yet understand because he's new to school. He doesn't speak. He can't hear. He sits hunched over at the table with his class and watches. When a classmate asks him a question for us, "what is you're name?" he repeats back "what is you're name?, not knowing he's being asked a question. His classmates persist in their eagerness to help him understand. They try to correct him by giving him the correct answer. They sign, "Your name is H-A-S-S-A-N." He signs back "Your name is H-A-S-S-A-N."

I can see the hunger. I can see his eyes absorbing everything around him. I can see him amazed that his classmates are laughing and joking and learning. And I can see his longing to be understood and to be able to communicate.

As I sit across from him and he stares at the pages of scripture before him, I can only wonder what his life is like. What's it like to live with no means of communication- being unable to read, write, hear, or communicate verbally? Does he understand God's love for him? Does he know about Jesus?

He wears his neat school uniform- the one paid for by a supportive pastor that lives near his home. His uniform is a ticket to attend school and learn, a price his grandmother can't afford. Hassan should be in baby class but his teachers can't bear the idea of putting a boy that size with 3 years olds. So Hassan sits with the grade four class during lessons and joined his peers in grade 7 and 8 during our Bible study.

Watching these incredible children reading scripture and praying is the most moving experience. I sit mesmerized as their fingers fly through the air as they talk to God. I only pray that each of these beautiful children is given the opportunity to succeed. I pray that they learn to read and write and speak and communicate. I pray they learn to know of God's love for them. And I pray that Hassan learns to communicate so that he can learn how much God loves him.

So please pray with me for Hassan's teachers. Pray with me for the Kenyan public school system. And pray with me for Hassan.


Saturday, 26 August 2017

Serving where I'm Placed

I have spent the last month in Tanzania. I never expected to be visiting, let alone serving, in this beautiful country but God, in his sovereignty, thought it best that I come here for the month of August. I have taken the opportunity to dive headfirst into Swahili study and have been tutored daily. I've also had the opportunity to meet many incredible people here. The more I travel the more people I meet who are diligently serving God in all walks of life.

I have been able to work alongside a Tanzanian music teacher. Who would have thought that I'd be able to give piano lessons in Tanzania? That definitely wasn't on my list of ideas of how to serve God this term. Thankfully God has a better plan than I do.

It's been a joy working alongside Magdalena. She has the gift of music and can already read music and sing quite well. I quickly saw, however, that she lacked confidence on the piano. So, over a series of lessons we've worked on how to build chords, how to sight read music, how to understand guitar chords and apply them to the piano, how major and minor chords work, and a host of other amazing musical concepts. Magdalena has been a keen student. She practices hard, takes notes on what I say and always comes to the next lesson with a list of other questions for me to answer.

Just the other day she came to class having taught herself a new song, applying all the concepts I had shown her. She generously allowed me to video her playing. Enjoy! Magdalena, may God bless your dedication and hard work as you seek to reveal the beauty of music to your students!

video

Tuesday, 22 August 2017

The Boma

I spent three months living on a boma (farm) in a Maasai community. The landscape was full of colour- a land of zebras, wildebeests, ostriches, lions, cows, trees, and grass. The Maasai are pastoralists. This means that they have traditionally made a living by herding cattle, goats and sheep. A friend of mine, Joseph, told me the story of the veterinarian and the Maasai man.


A man once decided to test who possessed more knowledge about a cow- the vet or the Maasai. So he took a straight pin and stuck it deep into the end of the tail of a cow. Later that day the cow began to show signs of distress and the man invited the vet to examine the cow. The vet took a look at all the things a vet looks at- heart, temperature, excrement, etc. and declared the cow fit as a fiddle. The man next asked the Maasai to take a look at the cow. 
There is such beauty in the pastoralist lifestyle. Living off the land, relying on animals for nourishment, doing ones best to not waste anything. The Maasai are a beautiful people. They have taught me so very much!

The Maasai stood back and observed the cow. He watched how it moved, looked at the shine of its coat, and saw how its ears twitched. He soon noticed that the tail was not moving as it should. The tail was hanging still. The Maasai began at the top of the tail and gradually felt his way down to the tip. When he reached the end of the tail the cow began to kick and bellow. After getting men to help hold the cow, the Maasai took a closer look at the tail and discovered the straight pin. All this to illustrate what I quickly discovered. The Maasai know cows. 

Life in the village revolves around caring for their herds. Families are up with the sun to rouse the animals and to prepare them to head out to graze. Cows are sometimes milked in the morning and calves are separated out from the mamas. Calves are kept at home waiting for mama to return while the cows and bulls head out to eat. For most of the day the cows are kept out in pasture. They graze and are brought to water. As the sun begins to set, the young people watching the cattle begin to move the cows in the direction of home. The way is well worn and the cows know the way. For a couple of hours each night the women and boys work hard at the milking. 

Milking time was the best time of the day. Since I was quite useless at milking I would often make myself useful by guarding the gate to the calf pen. My job was to make sure the hungry calves wouldn't get out all at once. By letting them out a few at a time, they were able to maximize the amount of milk. I did learn how to milk but just found I was too slow to compete with the calf. 

Milk is an essential part of the Maasai diet. Milk is boiled and then consumed at nearly every meal. I learned to drink it often- and enjoy it! 








Monday, 21 August 2017

TEA 2017

Last week I attended a conference here in Arusha, Tanzania. The Theological Education in Africa (TEA) conference is sponsored by Resonate Global Mission (formerly Christian Reformed World Missions) and, as a partner missionary with Resonate, I was invited to attend. And what a week it was!

The theme for the week, "Church, Worship, Community Development & Theological Education in Africa," was a long title, but I found the week to be packed with insightful nuggets.

Ever since I arrived in East Africa eight months ago, I have been constantly reminded of how little I know. As I move from place to place exploring God's call on my life, I meet more people, engage with other ways of life, and hear other languages. I've tried to learn as much as I can. I've absorbed language. I've adopted new ways of greeting and dressing. I've learned how to milk cows. I've learned to teach elementary school using a combination of three languages. Still, the more I learn, the more I discover how little I actually know. It's been a humbling experience and I'm grateful for the constant reminder that God is the only one with all the answers.

TEA 2017 welcomed pastors and church workers from more than 12 African countries. These 500+ men and women came to Tumaini University to learn. While there are many seminaries and universities throughout Africa, many pastors have not been blessed with the opportunity for theological education. So, throughout the week, I learned about hermeneutics, discipleship training, worldview, kingdom living, the divide between the "sacred" and the "secular," the problem of aid, business as mission, poverty, the role of the church, etc.

As one of the only mzungu (aka white) participants in the conference, I enjoyed the chance to learn alongside my African brothers and sisters. While many facilitators came from western seminaries, few mzungus came to actually attend the conference. I enjoyed the week at TEA because I gained new perspectives into the needs of the African church. I learned about the importance and necessity for theological education in Africa. And I learned most of this from African leaders themselves. Oh, how I long for the day when we could all learn from each other! What we in the west could learn from the African church! And how greatly the African church could benefit from access to our theological resources and education!

As one of the younger participants- along with being both white and female- I stood out quite a lot. I met many people, exchanged phone numbers countless times, and even made some new friends!

One key thought I took away from the week is the Moses Principle: "What is in my hands that God can use for the development of His kingdom?" These last months have not gone as I had planned. So, while I've done my best to serve God where He has placed me, I've often felt useless and lost. But I'm learning that God has been teaching me that His plan is better than my plan. I'm learning to simply serve Him in whatever country, village, city, school, family, or church that He places me in, for however long He places me there. And to serve Him with whatever gifts He has given me. This year, I'm learning what is in my hands and, more importantly, I'm learning to place those gifts at the feet of the One who knows how to use them best.

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

A Bad Attitude

I had a bad attitude on Monday. I let petty cultural differences annoy me. I couldn't understand Joshua's* English and I felt frustrated. Instead of asking him to repeat what he said, I smiled wide and nodded. I just didn't want to put the work into communicating through such an extremely heavy accent. 

My mom would say that, "I woke up on the wrong side of the bed." Perhaps I did, but that is no excuse for lacking patience. I was letting myself get frustrated with someone who was different from me- who spoke differently from me, who was educated in a different way than me. 


Monday night, while I was walking home from class, God convicted me of my bad attitude and bad behaviour. I had not been trying to engage Joshua* and I’m sure that my face revealed my frustration quite a bit. As I stumbled my way down the hill, I walked past a group of young people. I'm never quite sure whether one of them will have a smart aleck remark or if they will walk past quietly or if they will want to greet me and ask, "are you married?" 

As I approached them, I somehow felt that this was not going to be one of the quiet encounters. Groups of teenagers frequently show off to their peers- no matter the country, culture or language. As I passed by, one of the boys in the groups greeted me, “how are you?” Many people here believe that us westerners speak in a nasal tone and so try to mimic this tone when talking to a native English speaker. Some think that they are being friendly but they always come across sounding downright obnoxious. A few of the younger children believe that this is the appropriate way to greet the stranger- speaking as if they were plugging their noses. But, because I do not possess the language skills to explain this way of speaking comes across as rude, I have chosen to ignore these types of greetings. (The numerous other greetings- "Mzungu!" "How are you?" "Hi!"- I gladly return).

But I was convicted. Here I was fuming about Joshua* not trying to adapt his language to be understood and here this group of young people was making fun of my language. 

Was it possible that the difficulty I had in understanding Joshua mirrored the difficulty this community had understanding my language? While I have consciously adapted the way I speak since I first stepped off the plane three months ago, how do I know that Joshua* was not doing everything he could to be understood? 

The people in this community have graciously welcomed me with open arms. Why couldn’t I do the same with Joshua*? He was the visitor after all. I, as the visitor, had been welcomed. Why couldn’t I, as the host, welcome others? 

I thank God for using a group of rude teenagers to convict me of my sin. God and I had a long conversation Monday night. Tuesday morning I made sure that I got up on the right side of bed, walked to school with a smile on my face, and devoted extra patience to communicating with Joshua*. He was, after all, doing his very best to speak my language. The very least I could do was listen with patience and try to understand.

I can proudly say that we are now friends and, over time, my ears have slowly adapted to understanding his English. 


* not his real name.



Preschool Teacher Training

I recently spent a week and a half participating in a teacher training. For three days I was trained to use a new preschool curriculum and then we (myself and four other teacher trainers) spent a week training 9 preschool teachers to use it. 

Sarie, Lucy and Judi
The program came out of an organization in South Africa called Isivuno and is geared for use in the developing world. All the suggested teaching aids are made using readily available resources such as discarded bottle caps, pieces of colourful plastic, candy wrappers, rocks, hand-drawn posters, etc. 

The training was wonderful and I so appreciated working with this new curriculum. I particularly really enjoyed my first official time training teachers. I have learned a lot these past months about the limitations placed on teachers and schools here in Kenya. While most teachers are incredibly passionate about teaching children, teachers often don't get paid regularly, have to teach with very limited resources and often do not receive adequate training. Now, that's a huge generalization of Kenyan schools, but a true generalization nonetheless. 

Finger painting!
I was very excited to participate in this training because it is a resource that I can take with me wherever I end up- whether South Sudan or another East African country. The curriculum itself is very nicely put together. It is biblically based, uses many manipulatives, is laid out step-by-step and teaches literacy, numeracy and life skills. Since many preschool teachers do not have any training and may have not even finished secondary school, this curriculum is highly useful. 

While I have never felt the desire to teach in the pre-primary classroom, I have realized that, in this East African setting, I need to have some insight into how these classes run and how they could potentially be run better. I learned that the Kenyan government doesn’t dictate what is taught in these early years. They start funding public schools from grade 1. Therefore, many of these pre-primary schools are virtually day cares in which the children are fed, changed, and left to play all day. This system runs into problems, however, when grade 1 students are expected to be able to recognize and write their letters and numbers, know the sounds of the letters, be able to spell and recognize their name, hold a pencil, cooperate well with their classmates, etc.

Our teacher trainers really enjoyed all the learning and discussion we had during the week and left with at the end of training with comments like this:

Francis learned, "For us teachers we should use educational resources to teach. And these are God-given because we don't have to go and buy resources. We can just make them."

Judith said, "I learned that each one of us is unique. Therefore each of our children are unique."

Biblical Foundations
Magdaline commented, "I learned that I am able to teach. So we can also encourage our children that they are able."

Jerusha mentioned, "As a teacher, I've learned that we should be caring and show our students concern by loving them and providing for their needs."

Caroline stated, "I've learned that I need to have the resources to help the students succeed."

Grace believes, "A teacher is a role model to a community and to society at large."

With exciting realizations like these, how can I not feel energized?

Learning to Teach using Manipulatives








Monday, 27 March 2017

The Grace of God

I started reading a book this morning about the story of Idi Amin, the dictator in Uganda. There is a whole bookshelf of books here and I'm enjoying reading them during the evenings. My teammates have quickly learning that I’m an avid reader as I devour their books. I've only completed the introduction of this book and already I am tired. Not tired of reading it, but tired of this world. The horrors that humanity is capable of is nauseating. The darkness in this world is often overwhelming and, at times, I get discouraged. The constant battle with evil and sin is exhausting. 

A friend emailed me a quote and the words just struck a chord with me: 

“This place, my work...this family has changed my life to the core.  They have taught me to open my eyes to the world --- to fully see the beauty and sweetness of raw life, to embrace brokenness in order to become whole and alive.  Working with the poor is not glorious --- in a sense of feeling warm fuzzies because I made someone smile today or tried to play the role of God or Santa Claus in their life --- those things are fake.  Caring for the poor is easy, it's knowing the poor that ties you in knots. It forces me to wrestle with tough questions that I didn't have to before because they were hidden by my privilege, by my whiteness, by my ignorance.  To be honest...it stings...this whole refining process...sometimes I wish I could just purge parts of my identity out of me.  Why is it that I have grown up to reduce Christianity to judgment, morality, tradition and even habit?  Yes, it is about having an authentic relationship with Christ, but why did I slap my neighbour in the face by doing nothing?  When my poor brothers and sisters read the scriptures, they cling to Jesus' words when he speaks about the poor --- why am I finally waking up to them?  Because I grew up in suburbia does that mean that these verses don't apply to me?  That I can simply reduce them to charity if I have time? God is teaching me that engaging with these complicated, integrated issues of poverty (oppression, unemployment, HIV/AIDS, illiteracy, exploitation, poor housing, crime, hunger, exclusion...) is not optional for someone who claims to follow Christ --- it is a mark of a Christian.  In this life I have been born into a land of plenty and my privileged skin has given me a voice --- how am I going to speak and will it be worthwhile?  Repenting of this ugliness inside me is only the first step --- how am I going to live the rest of my life?  Ali Jacobs October 22, 2007

Caring for the poor is easy, it's the knowing the poor that ties me up in knots inside. Knowing and experiencing how the poor live is a daily trial. It would be so easy to try to step in and give them the life I believe that they deserve when, in reality, it is God who works and moves. I am having to wrestle with questions of privilege and whiteness. Why was I born in Canada to a wealthy and white family? Why have I waited so long to do something in an effort to help? And why, when I get tired, do I just want to board the next flight home to be safe and comfortable in my family's arms? 

The faith of Christians here seems so much more real than my own. Their faith has been tried and tested in the real difficulties of life. All the Biblical passages about the poor, orphan, and widow hit home for them. For me, these passages still seem to be such a distant phenomena! 

These issues are truly complicated. How does a foreigner attempt to deal with the issues of oppression and unemployment and HIV/AIDS and illiteracy and exploitation of children and hundreds of other issues....? Particularly this young, white, naive, Canadian girl? How can I help? 

After 90 days the doctor's strike here in Kenya is officially over. They have resolved it and doctors are to be back at work. After over a month, public university lecturers are also heading back to work. University students are now able to head back to class to resume their degrees. What could I have contributed to these issues? I am neither a doctor nor a university lecturer. And, these issues never touched me personally so I rarely even thought about, let alone prayed about, these problems! Shouldn't I as a Christian be spending all my waking hours on my knees interceding for my fellow man? 

Only God can truly enact change in the lives of humanity. I am learning that, in reality, I can do absolutely nothing to help. It is only by the grace of God and God-given humility that I may ever be able to do anything of significance in my short life. All I can do is to be present in the lives of the people I build relationships with, to pray for them, and to do my best to follow God's prompting in my life.