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!


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. 

Monday, 13 March 2017

Rain!

When I first arrived in Kenya, they were well into the dry season. Mbita, in particular, was as dry as a twig. There was no grass anywhere and the only green came from the plentiful cacti that littered the roadside and fence rows everywhere. Trees had lost their leaves and the only trees that had leaves were the thorn trees- their leaves are thorns. 

The roads were so dusty that walking to and from school covered my feet in brown dirt. There was no getting away from it! Most days I felt like I was living through the dustbowl. When the wind would pick up, dust tornadoes would whirl in the street. My hair would become coated with the dirt and my eyes gritty from the dust. Every evening when I arrived home from school, I just had to wash my feet. Houses get so dirty here so quickly that one must sweep the floor every day. This is to stem the buildup of gecko poop on the floor but also to get rid of the fine layer of dirt blown in through the open windows.

Nearly every day I would “shower.” Because there had been no rain and the water pump was broken, our water was rationed from our rain tank. We kept a full bucket of rain water in our kitchen. When I wanted to shower, I’d scoop out about 4 cups of water, put it in a small bucket and head into the “bathroom.” It’s amazing how little water one needs to take a shower!By the end, the water would be nearly black, but I would feel cleaner. 

A week ago, the regular rains started to fall. Now, nearly every night, a thunderstorm or rainstorm waters the area. Even though the water pump is still broken, our rain tank is now full. I am now able to shower with 6 cups of water! And, rather than being covered with dust at the end of the day, my feet now track around mud. It gets caked onto the bottom of my sandals each morning on the walk to school as I slip and slide my way down the road. I’m quickly realizing that my sandals don’t have a whole lot of tread left. But I have been able to keep my feet under me and have not yet landed on my butt in a mud puddle. 

I have been shocked to learn that grass normally grows nearly everywhere here. Places that were just dirt when I arrived are now sporting small shoots of green! The land is taking on new lift and I am just loving it! In just one week, trees are growing their leaves back, plants are producing flowers, the dust is gone and the air smells cleaner. I no longer feel the need to constantly be washing my feet. 


With the rains, the temperature has dropped. Compared to the heat of the dry season, these cold temperatures feel downright cold! In reality, it is still mid-twenties around here. But, gloriously, I am able to sleep at night with a sheet. Sometimes I even need a blanket! No longer am I soaking the sheets in sweat- such an incredible change!



Rain, Dr. Seuss, Art and a View


As the saying goes, “time flies when you’re having fun.” The last months have simply flown by! There has been so much to learn and absorb. My time in East Africa so far has often been overwhelming, confusing, and challenging. But, this time has also been affirming, encouraging, and joy-filled. 

As I sit here writing this, the rains have come. The last three nights we have received roof-pounding rain. Our water tanks have been filled up and we now no longer feel the need to ration our water usage as much. 

For the first time, I am cold! I never thought that I would utter that phrase again but, I am cold! 

These pounding rains are needed as it has been incredibly dry. The problem comes with erosion. Many trees have been cut down to make charcoal and this has lead to soil erosion. The school farm has been working hard to prevent this erosion. They have been transplanting cacti (!) to create hedgerows between the crops. 



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Twice a week, I have the privilege of organizing and teaching an ESL class here at the school. Jane, Orro, Elijah, Gerald, Titus, George, Pamela and Susan are all employees here; they work in the kitchen, on the farm, in maintenance, and in security. Teaching these lessons is always a highlight of my week as everyone is so excited to learn! 

Since none of them were able to attend secondary school and most didn't finish primary school, they understand the importance of education. Each of them works so that their children can attend school. Together we have studied Dr. Seuss, looked at sentence structure, how to form questions, and many other topics. I am so grateful for the blessing they are in my life!



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I love teaching! Over the last couple of months, I have quickly realized that the school systems in Kenya and Canada are incredibly different and that there are good and bad aspects to both systems. To develop my East African teaching skills and to share my western teaching skills, I have been partnered with two upper-elementary teachers. I have learned a lot from Erick and Wilfrieda and have so enjoyed learning from them! I have been teaching Grade 7 English. We are doing a novel study together and the students are loving the change of pace from their normal school routine. Incorporating different subjects, such as art and creative writing, into English class is a bit of a novelty and these students have taken to it. 


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Judi loves to hike and has taken me on a few excursions up the hill behind our house. I am still positive that I’d get lost on my own, but with her guidance, we are able to get in a lung- and leg-burning experience! The town of Mbita sits on a point of land jutting out into Lake Victoria. The city centre is focused around the causeway- a bridge built to connect Mbita Point to the island of Rusinga- one of the many islands of Lake Victoria. From the top of the hill, we are treated with the most panoramic vista ever! 


Monday, 6 February 2017

A Normal Day

Each morning, my alarm goes off at 6:22. I don’t know why I set it at 6:22, but I haven’t found the need to change it yet. I usually push snooze once or twice and then groggily roll out from under my mosquito net, check the floor for fresh bat poop and walk to the bathroom. There, I use the facilities, dunk my head under the tap and wash my face. On the way back to my room to get dressed I put on some water on to boil for oatmeal. By the time I’ve figured out what to wear for the day, I’ve got my toothbrush in my mouth and I’m pouring the dried oatmeal into a bowl and adding hot water. I have to remind myself every time I brush my teeth that I can’t use tap water to wash out my toothbrush! I don’t want to get sick! 

During breakfast I scroll through emails, read some of the Bible and drink my daily artemisia tea. Rather than take malarial meds, I have decided to drink this bitter tea every day. It is made by putting a pinch of the dried leaves into hot water and letting it sit overnight to cool and steep. In the mornings I guzzle it as quickly as I can without breathing in the smell. So far so good! No malaria! 

The beautiful main building of campus
By 7:10 I’m walking out the gate on my way to school. I usually pass 10 - 20 goats, a few cows, and young mothers and children getting ready for the day. My main goals on my walk are to avoid inhaling lake flies, stepping in a cow pie, and admiring the view. Lake Victoria fills the horizon and the vistas are breathtaking! 

At school I greet the guard at the gate and the teacher on duty. From there, I climb the hill and enter the main school building.

As is tradition here, everyone you meet, you give them a handshake when greeting them. So, when I enter the “offices” I greet Willis, the ministry co-ordinator; Pastor Amos- if he’s around; Samson, the head teacher if his office door is open and any other teacher or student that I come across. It does take a lot of time, but it shows a lot of respect for other people- something I feel could be improved on in our western cultures.

Morning devotions start at 7:30 and go until 8:00. From there I follow my daily schedule, which usually includes 2-3 classes in grades 6, 7, and 8. I’m partnering with the teachers of English (in 7 and 8) and math (in 6). I am rotating through observing, teaching and co-teaching these classes. I take an hour a day for personal KiSwahili study and try to fit that in where I can. Mid-morning is our daily porridge break and I try to talk with staff and students then. At lunch, I eat the local fare served (albeit a very small portion) and again converse with staff and students. After lunch I do a lot of prep work and either head out for my twice-weekly KiSwahili lesson or teach my twice-weekly ESL class. 

My first class of ESL students
The ESL class started out with 4 students three weeks ago and has grown to 9 students. Their English abilities vary from none to relatively fluent. It has been a bit of a juggling game teaching all of them at the same time! Some are able to read relatively complicated children’s stories while some are illiterate in both English and their native languages. But, across the spectrum, they are all incredibly diligent and appreciative! It has been such a blessing to get to know them!

I leave school between 5 and 6 most days and start the 15 hike down the hill to my house. I will usually stop and buy some vegetables or eggs from a mama selling on the side of the road. Walking home I greet the children and mamas and the occasional friendly-looking man. I dodge piki pikis (motorcycles) and goats and wind my way along the dusty roadside. 

Once home, I tend to wash the dust off my feet first and then settle in for an hour or so of relaxing before starting supper. Sometime Judi and I will exercise together after school. She’s a fan of Jillian Michaels and an amazing runner. I’ve been trying to convince her to do some weight lifting with me. There’s two old tires in the yard that would be perfect for tire flips and I’ve been brainstorming some body weight exercises we could do like push ups and handstand holds. I’m determined to get Judi hooked on weight lifting! If I can suffer through Jillian Michaels, she can suffer through my tire flips! :)

Supper takes place between 6:30 and 8:00 and tends to consist of some combination of spaghetti or rice with cabbage, tomato and onion. By 8:30, I am usually hiding from the bugs under my mosquito net and often fall asleep by 9:30. I am grateful for the long night’s sleep as each day takes a lot of emotional and physical energy. 


And the next morning I start all over!


Dead Flies!

We ran out of water this morning! I turned on the tap and discovered that our water tank had finally emptied. My house here in Mbita is on city water but, by that I mean the city pumps “treated” water into a large black water tank on the outside of our house. Unfortunately, it seems routine for the water plant to not pay their electric bill which therefore means that no water gets pumped into our large reservoirs. We still cannot drink that water, even though it’s treated so we use it for cooking, flushing the toilet, washing dishes and cleaning. We filter or boil the water for drinking. 

Oh, the blessing of a mosquito net!
I am praising God right now that we still have some water left in our large raintank. Without this secondary tank I would joining the throngs of locals walking to the lakeside each morning carrying a yellow bucket on my head. While I welcome the idea of a new adventure, something tells me that I’d tire of this particular adventure very quickly! 

My Kitchen
I woke up late this morning as it’s Saturday and I didn’t set an alarm- 7:30. My roommate left early for a weekend of R & R in Kisumu so I have the house all to myself. As soon as I got out of bed, I discovered the water had run dry. I also learned what I call “The Plague of Lake Flies” has worsened. It seems since we are situated right on the shores of Lake Victoria, swarms of these gnat-like things called lake flies come up from the Lake. Birds and fish love them, but I don’t. They have a fine tuned knack for exploring my ears or flying up my nose or into my mouth if I forget to keep my mouth closed when outside. And, like most flying insects, they also love light. So, at night when we need light right around 7:00 they squeeze themselves through the screens on the windows and doors of the house and have a party above our heads. This is all fine and dandy until they start to drop- into my dinner, into my tea, into my hair, everywhere! Last night the plague was particularly bad- so bad I nearly abandoned making dinner to go to bed early and hide under my mosquito net. So this morning, I came to believe that lake flies have a very short lifespan. Our floor was covered in dead lake flies!! After sweeping them up, I had a few cups of dead lake flies. I’m sure I could have made from bird-friends with them, but I tossed them out into the garden. 

After cleaning the floor, I then began cleaning up our mess of supper dishes. Again, since the flies like wetness, all the pots and pans and plates had developed a nice coating of dead flies overnight. And, since our water had run out I got to carry a bucket of water from the rain tank to our dish washing stand. I then used the dishwater to flush the toilet- such creativity!!

And, after doing my weekly laundry by hand, I treated myself to a nice cup of tea and a bowl of oatmeal. What a day! And it’s only 10 AM! 

And, while I didn’t particularly anticipate having to deal with thousands of dead flies or a lack of running water this morning, I am so thankful for this life! Living here you quickly learn to appreciate the small things: mosquito nets that keep the bugs off, a good night’s sleep, the happy chirping of birds feasting on flies outside your window, a quiet morning all to yourself, the ability to filter water to drink, and delicious tea to savour…

Thank you Lord for your incredible blessings!


Friday, 20 January 2017

Christ's Gift Academy

ESL Class
Christ’s Gift Academy sits high on a hill overlooking Lake Victoria. It recently celebrated its 20th year anniversary and is located in Mbita, Kenya. Over 200 students, from pre-primary through grade 8, attend. When I first saw the school about two weeks ago, I was pleasantly surprised to find beautiful brick buildings, lush foliage, solar power (sometimes), and water stored in large reservoirs. My teacher’s heart sang to find a library; class sets of textbooks; and educated, smiling teachers. I have spent nearly a week with the staff and students here, observing, conversing, grading assignments, and teaching. Just yesterday I was able to teach my first class of ESL students! Titus, Gideon, Susan, Jane and Pamela are all employed at CGA but were unable to finish their schooling. They want to improve their English and learn how to read and write. I enjoyed getting to know them and assess their English language skills (which are so much more advanced than I had anticipated!)

I have learned yet again how much I have taken for granted in my short life. The safety, comfort and opportunity so readily available in the West are not so easy to come by here. Just the necessities of daily survival- ensuring the water is safe; the lack of refrigeration, dishwashers, and washing machines; limited cooking capabilities; patchy power to charge devices; limited light once the sun goes down at 7 pm; dust and dirt permeating everything; and the heat- all seem to take up so much time and energy. Our days are full with the chores of living. 

Each morning I arrive at school for 7:30. Students and teachers begin with devotions and start their school day at 8:00. Teachers here teach on a rotational basis so, in 40 minutes blocks, they move through the various classes teaching their assigned subjects: KiSwahili, Social Studies, Science, Christian Religious Education, Math, Life Skills, Creative Arts, English, and P.E. This different method of teaching elementary school has taken some time to getting used to. And, with so much rotating of teachers, I’ve found students are left on their own for short periods of time throughout the day. And these days are busy! With a short break for morning porridge (their breakfast) and another for lunch, they are in class from 7:30-3:30 Monday - Friday. In those short breaks between classes they are expected to ensure classwork is finished and handed in and to also compete any homework assigned. Not only that, but students in grades 5-8 have even longer school days.!They are in class from 7:30-5:30! Since so much of the schooling system here is exam-based, much of the teaching practice is “teaching to the test.” This method is no longer used in the West, but is still very much in use here. No marks are written down during the year. Assignments are graded and students are conferenced with to make sure they understand, but there it is the final exam mark that decides how “intelligent” they are. 

I have learned that most of the students here have lost either one or both of their parents. CGA was established as a school for those who can’t afford education. The children usually live with their surviving parent or other family member in the surrounding community. As I have slowly been able to get to know some of the staff and students here, I have been overwhelmed at the stories they tell. Death strikes all too often. The more stories I listen to, the more incredibly grateful I am for my upbringing and family. I have been blessed. 

Christ's Gift Academy
On the flip side, though, I am learning that we are also at a disadvantage in the West. We live in such comfort that we often do not see or feel the pains of the rest of the world. Oftentimes, the struggles of a next-door neighbour can become buried under our busyness and distraction. I recognize that I’ve lived a distracted life, one spent more online than with the human sitting next to us. Here, life is in your face. Struggles are up front and personal. Parents and children get sick and die. Children are born HIV positive. People get malaria. This is reality. There are no distractions from these evil realities of our broken world. 

And so, this place is blessed with community. Neighbours know each other. Children actually play outside because there is no television or internet (or electricity!). My housemate -Kristen- and I cook dinner together each night and talk as we eat and clean up the dishes. We exercise together. We go to bed shortly after the sun sets and get up with the sun the next morning. Life is simple. Life is hard. Life is exhausting. But, God is good. So life is good! 

The struggle is real here. I’ve had a tough time adapting to the steep learning curve I’ve been placed on. It has been a tiring few weeks as reality has set in and new schedules and routines are being established. I am slowly finding a place for myself and attempting to figure out how I can best plug in to this school community. The situation in South Sudan is still very risky and most missionaries have been forced to leave the country. At this point, I am working to come to grips with the fact that I may not be able to get into the country this year. The few plans I did have for this coming year have had to be reworked and I have spent a lot of time praying for God’s guidance. God, how will you use me this year? What would you have me learn? What would you have me do? Open my eyes and ears so I can hear! 

God gave me Isaiah 43: 18-21 last week. It says, “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland. The wild animals honour me, the jackals and the owls, because I provide water in the desert and streams in the wasteland, to give drink to my people, my chosen, the people I formed for myself that they may proclaim my praise.” God provides and protects. He guides and restores. The struggle is learning to rest in His timing.


My purpose in life is to worship and praise God, however that may look. My goal each day here has been to strive to honour God and to do my best in everything. But, I am also learning the necessity of grace. To also accept the grace of God when (not if, but when) I am not strong enough and I fail. I pray that God would guide my steps as I haltingly try to serve Him. To God be the glory for He has done, and continues to do, great things!

Friday, 6 January 2017

Mbita, Kenya

The breeze wafts through the room. The birds chirp, sing, and warble in the trees. Dogs bark. Cows’ bells ring. The waves rhythmically roll onto shore in the distance. The sun hangs low over the horizon of Lake Victoria. The day is nearing it’s end. I am home after spending my first official day at Christ’s Gift Academy (CGA). The school is about a 15 minute walk up the hill from my house (and I can proudly say I have successfully been able to navigate my way there!) While I can hear Lake Victoria from home, I can see an even more stunning vista of trees, lake and sky from higher up the hill in front area of the school. At night the many lights from the village fishing boats make the lake look like it is it’s own city- amazing!

So, where to begin? Here I am. In Kenya. As I think over these past days of travel and settling in, I find that there is just not enough space to share everything! One thing that has become more than obvious to me is that I am in a new world. This is a world with geckos on the walls; with bright, hot sun and pounding rains; with beautiful, black faces and bright, welcoming smiles. It is a world full of handshakes and greetings and community; a world of new smells- not all of them pleasant; a world in which a walk to school takes one through a herd of goats butting heads and past the cows grazing alongside the roadside. This is a world in which one must always watch where you walk in order to avoid a twisted ankle or stepping in a fresh cowpie. It is a world of odd toilets and bucket showers and a world with little electricity so candles are lit around 7 pm. It is a world in which God is constantly praised and where the exclamations of, “Praise God!” and “Amen!” punctuate most conversations and testimonies and even begin most speeches.

Sunday evening was my first night in Mbita (pronounced em-bita). Steve and Judi, my team leaders, had myself and my roommate Kristen over for supper as we live just on the other side of the compound and haven’t had time to buy food supplies. Eating with us were two young people- Maurine and Caltex. As we prepared to sit down to a supper of spaghetti, bread, and greens, Steve first suggested that we pray. So, with the six of us taking turns, we welcomed in the New Year by praising God for His blessings and challenges in 2016 and asking for His guidance in 2017. What a blessing to be able to commune with God’s family this way! 

I have discovered that most people in the area speak at least a little English, if not quite a bit. They have different ways of phrasing things and strong accents, but I have thankfully found most people here relatively easy to understand- when they speak English, that is! The people here in Mbita are primarily from the Luo tribe and so the mother tongue is Luo. Swahili is also understood and spoken by many here and this is the language that Steve and Judi believe would be most helpful for me to learn. Many in Eastern Africa understand Swahili and so, when I am able to get into South Sudan, knowing some Swahili will be more beneficial than Luo. And so, along with teaching and tutoring at CGA, I will be sitting in on KiSwahili classes in an attempt to learn as much of the language as I can. It is also our hope that I would be able to teach English to some of the gardeners and mamas at the school who were unable to finish their own schooling and didn’t have the opportunity to learn English. 

Today we spent the day, as staff and teachers at CGA, discussing our theme for the term (which, in Kenya, is 14 weeks). The theme is “Good News.” The good news of the gospel is alive here in Mbita. It is our hope as educators to get the joy that the gospel brings to permeate the lives of our students and our fellow teachers. I understand that the concept of being a Christian witness in every area of our lives is still a difficult concept to grasp. Teachers, while claiming to be Christian, will misuse their authority. Students, while claiming to be Christian, will be dishonest on tests. All Christians sin, yes, but most of the teaching these past days has centered on the importance of knowing the good news of the gospel and living it out. Because, if we teachers do not know and understand the joy that the gospel can bring, how are we able to pass that joy on to our students?

As I begin the long and challenging process of settling in, I covet your prayers. I ask that you would pray for health- as new foods and new cooking methods are beginning to create havoc on my system. Second, I ask that you would ask God to increase my personal joy in Christ Jesus so that those I encounter and get to know will see Christ in me. I want to serve God wherever and however He desires. I ask that you would pray for perseverance and grace for when I feel lonely, homesick, beaten down, exhausted, or sick. I also ask that you would pray for humility in my tasks, an open mind to learn what God is teaching, and an open heart that learns to love these people God has brought into my life.

These next months, I will be striving to learn KiSwahili, learn how to cook, learn how to find electricity to charge various gadgets, learn how to ignore the rats in the ceiling and the flies in my water, learn how to truly listen across cultures, learn how to wash clothes and clean house, learn to make sure I am using clean water, learn how to shop for food at nearby village stands, learn how to teach in such a new cultural setting. These and so many other skills need to be learned and, by God’s grace I am learning!


Thank you for your love and support!