23 April 2016 - The Hike
Here’s a story from last term…
It was a little after 12:00 noon on a sunny Saturday as we set out with our boys for a weekend hike. Before heading down the trail, we stopped at the local duka and gave each of the boys some shillings to spend for snacks, drinks, etc. Somewhat curiously, some of the boys purchased glass bottles of soda to haul along on our journey.
After leaving the duka, we progressed down our initial trail, which met up with the ever-decimated “road” (I use that term loosely) that would take us to the river. About 20 minutes later, we were already stopping for a break (when they realized bringing bags of candy and Cokes wasn’t such a good idea).
When we finally reached the river (probably 30-40 minutes down the mountain), we found ourselves wading through brush and thorns up to our chests. Thankfully, we soon found the trail that ran along the river. While Uncle Dave, Aunt Ashley, and Beau chose to utilize this route, the boys readily welcomed the opportunity to jump along rocks and other natural debris in and along the river – all the while carrying their grocery bags.
It was a beautiful walk along (and in) the river as we passed picturesque scenes of fields enclosed with homemade wooden fences and women drying laundry that was strewn in trees next to the river. And as much as we enjoyed the sights, the local residents we passed were probably just as amused by the small band of Asian, African, and Caucasian travelers that weaved its way through their rural territory.
Using the time-tested navigational method of “following the river,” we eventually reached our intended destination: Paradise. Now, that is actually the name of the waterfall we arrived at, but it also serves as a fairly accurate description of the view we saw. Standing on top of the waterfall – which was a small river running down multiple levels of naturally-positioned rocks – we looked through an opening in the side of the rock at the valley below. With this beautiful backdrop, the boys spent the next little while climbing and playing in the water.
After a short while, we geared up for our return journey. However, we were not going to simply follow the same route home. Instead, we planned to take a different course that would lead us past a second waterfall. And, as with the trip to Paradise, Uncle Dave was leading the way and had never been there before. But, hey, it had worked out so far.
Now, at this point of the story, there is a little dispute in the retelling of events. According to some of the boys, “We were lost.” But, since I’m the one recounting it here, I get to tell my side, which is that we were in fact not lost. Never mind that we were off-course for 45 minutes, or that we were pushing through thorns and bushes taller than us, or that a mutiny almost took me down.
In the end, we couldn’t find the waterfall, so we turned around and headed back to the original river we had followed earlier in the day. From there, we were able to navigate back to the road and eventually to campus, completing a five and a half hour hike.
We did not escape unscathed, however. Besides our various thorn-inflicted lacerations, we had a couple of casualties: somewhere along the trail, our boys dropped a “selfie stick” (for taking pictures) and an iPod Nano. In the end, although there had been some grumblings during our off-trail excursion through the brush, the boys seemed to enjoy our hike overall, with some of them ready to embark again just a few days later!
21 February 2016 - Don't Forget to Close the Window
“Owl, owl…” Beau was mumbling as he walked back toward our apartment from the boys’ dorm lounge. Only a few minutes earlier, a monkey had escaped out of our living room when I walked in on it, retreating back to the open window in the lounge where it had come in. The boys had left for mid-term break a short time before, neglecting to close the window on their way out. I assumed the monkey I chased out was the only one to infiltrate our building, so I closed the window and returned to our kitchen. But Beau’s determined calls of “owl” (which he calls monkeys) made me think twice.
Quickly, I hurried to the dorm hallway (where the boys’ bedrooms, bathroom, and “laundry” room are located). As I rounded the corner, the monkey sitting in the middle of the floor – with a piece of bread in both paws and his mouth full – froze in place with the look of a 3-year-old who has cookie crumbs all over his face. Not feeling too confident in my abilities to chase him off without obtaining a bite mark or two, I ran back to the kitchen to get a broom, moving Beau to a place of safety in our apartment.
Returning to the hall, I moved carefully past the bedroom in which three monkeys were now climbing about scared. Unsure as to how many there might actually be, I continued down the hall, beating the broom against the wall next to each door as I approached. After a quick peek into one room, I would shut the door and move onto the next. Having secured the remaining four bedrooms, bathroom, and study room, I returned to the laundry room, where the monkeys seemed to have done most of their damage (well, at least to this point, as they ended up having a field day in the bedroom they were currently in). Debris was strewn everywhere, as they had done their best to derive a five-course meal from the discarded arrangement of food and other items the boys had deposited in the trash cans. I moved across the room to where the window was, opening it so the monkeys would have a way to leave.
Next, I walked back past the bedroom where the monkeys were still leaving their mark, bouncing around shelves, beds, and the windowsill (and dropping many smelly signs of their bodies’ inability to stay calm). I ran outside, and began banging on the closed window they were trying to exit, and drove them out of the bedroom – across the hall to the open window. Immediately, I dashed back into the dorm (past a small boy who was now in a crying panic because of his father who was running around chasing “owls”) and ran into the laundry room before the monkeys could come back out. Thankfully, they were all out the window, and I closed and locked it before they could scurry back in.
I then proceeded to turn around and walk down the hall, shutting and securing the door to the hallway behind me. And that’s how it remained until the boys returned, waiting untouched to welcome them back from their break!
14 February 2016 - God's Preparation in Every Moment
A week and half ago, I had the opportunity to speak in “outside chapel” here at RVA, which takes place every Friday around the flag pole. After the Kenyan national anthem was played and sung and the flag was raised, I was able to share on the topic of how God is
constantly using what we go through to prepare us for what He has for us in the future. I
shared some examples from my life and from Ashley’s, showing the various experiences and opportunities God has used up to this point to prepare us for serving at RVA. For example, we both grew up in homes with parents involved in ministry, and many of our students here are growing up in similar situations. We have moved a lot, been homeschooled, and Ashley even graduated from an international school in Haiti. Again, these are various scenarios that some or all RVA students have/are experiencing. I also shared how I taught 7th grade in the U.S. at a very culturally diverse school, and now Ashley and I are 7th grade dorm parents at a very culturally diverse school. It’s amazing how God orchestrates everything, even years in advance!
I also shared that I wasn’t trying to imply I am more qualified than anyone else to
serve here, but instead simply convey how God has worked in my life to prepare me for what and where He has me now. And, even now, I know He is continuing to develop and grow me for what He has later on – even though I have no idea what that might be.
But I also wanted to balance the content of my message by highlighting the importance
of not missing what God’s plan is for right now. Even though it’s vital to see how God
might be using a current situation to help us grow and develop, we should not have our
focus only on the future and miss the opportunities before us now.
Praise God for His all-knowing direction in our lives at every moment!
9 January 2016 - Term 2 Commences
After a break with their families for the month of December, our Okapi dorm boys have returned for term 2! (Coincidentally, so have our monkeys, who seemed to take about a month-long break from frequenting our house – probably because they had decimated our loquat tree and moved on to find food elsewhere. However, since returning, they have
snacked on Ashley’s flower garden and eaten off of our cabbages.)
But back to our boys – as enjoyable as our break was, it’s great to have them back. The calm and docile atmosphere of the dorm has been replaced with excitement and yelling (how can it not be with 13 junior high boys living with us?). Beau is loving having his big brothers back, and sometimes I can’t tell who is enjoying his Christmas presents more – him or the boys (see below). We feel like the first week since their return has gone really well, and we appreciate everyone’s prayers in helping for this to happen.
This term, I also have the opportunity of getting to help coach the junior high boys basketball teams, which includes some of our boys. We are already through our first week of practice, and it’s definitely a different experience than what I have been used to in the States. Our practices and games are all outside, which I definitely wouldn’t be doing in January if I was back in Michigan.
We hope you had a wonderful Christmas and that your new year has started off very well!
14 October 2015 - Nonstop Needs and Perfect Power
Well, I knew it had been far too long since I posted last, but I am embarrassed to see just how long. My excuse was going to be that I am used to the U.S. measurement system instead of the metric, but then I remembered that it doesn’t apply to time. So, there goes that.
Anyway, our time here at Rift Valley Academy has been such a blessing so far! God has given us such a wonderful group of boys that we have really enjoyed getting to live with and help out. There are times when one of my favorite parts of the day is getting to listen to them pray for each other during devotion time in the evening. It’s such a great experience! They are “normal” 7th graders, which means occasions of noise, silliness, and (sometimes) frustrations – but that’s all part of the fun! And when they finally settle into bed at 9:30 (after some coaxing from “Uncle Dave,” mind you), we feel like we are able to take a breath and just unwind for a little bit.
Between the classes I teach, our dorm responsibilities (which Ashley does a lot with), and other various items (such as campus activities on the weekends), we feel that we are often on-the-go. However, in the midst of it all, we have been so thankful for God’s strength and provision as we have not felt overwhelmed with all we do. As I was thinking about this, the promise of 2 Corinthians 12:9 came to my mind: “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”
We just completed what is known as “mid-term break,” which allowed the students to get off campus/go home for an extended weekend before starting the second half of term one. After the boys had all left last Friday afternoon and Beau was asleep for the night, Ashley and I sat down to watch a movie together. There was a familiar feel to it that we hadn’t experienced for a while, and I said to her, “Remember what it was like before we had 14 kids?” And as much as we enjoyed that time and the whole weekend (see the photos below for some of what we did), it was great to see each of our dorm boys as they found their way back to campus on Tuesday. Today, we were back to “busy,” but we were also back to experiencing how faithful God is to provide His power and meet our needs in the midst of nonstop needs.
12 August 2015 - The Widow-Maker
“And there’s your widow-maker,” said Matt, pointing to the bulky contrivance attached to the end of a metal pipe lined with wires and tape.
I’ve always enjoyed taking a nice hot shower, as I would assume is true with most people. (Is there really anyone that prefers a cold shower?) However, I know that in some places of the world, this luxury is not even a possibility. Fortunately, Rift Valley Academy is not one of those places, but it does offer a different experience than I am used to in the US.
Within a few minutes of arriving at RVA, we found ourselves being escorted around our new dorm-apartment by our hosts (which, by the way, is a wonderful service that RVA provides where experienced staff adopt new staff and help them get settled in). After snaking our way around the different rooms of our living area, we came to our bathroom and shower. That’s when Matt said, “And there’s your widow-maker,” and pointed to this:
This is how we obtain a hot shower. Without it (and it’s separate electric switch to activate it), we are left with water that would make the Ice Bucket Challenge jealous. So, where common sense might have propelled me to outright object in the United States, I do not even given a momentary pause now when I step in the shower and engage the electrically-heated water.
On the whole, we have many of the same amenities in our apartment that we had back in the States. Aside from the aforementioned “widow-maker,” the biggest differences I can think of are that we don’t have a dryer or a furnace, both because they draw an extreme amount of electricity. So, a clothesline replaces the dryer, and a fireplace the furnace. Now, it might seem like having a heat source would be unnecessary when living about 65 miles from the equator. However, take into consideration the fact that the elevation is over 7,200 feet, and this helps explain why temperatures drop into the low 50s (fahrenheit) overnight. Plus, “Kijabe” (the town where RVA is located) means “Place of the Wind” (Maasai language), which we are reminded of every night by the gusts battering the side of our apartment. As a result, it does get a tad (okay, a lot) chilly – especially at night – but I guess that helps to make the fire even more enjoyable!
26 July 2015 - Where There’s a Will…
I’m not sure how many people were originally planning to ride the matatu (a taxi minibus – see image below) to town yesterday, but I think the number doubled every few minutes before we actually departed. A matatu is typically intended to carry 14 passengers, besides the driver. However, as our merry group of adults and children – excited to have a day off – were waiting for our 11:00am pick-up, it became obvious that we were going to surpass that number. But I don’t think any of us realized by how much.
Initially, we began fitting ourselves into the van without any strategy whatsoever. As seats began to fill, Ashley told me to get in before there were no more available. What she didn’t realize was that we would be following a “no man left behind” policy before it was all said and done.
It quickly became apparent that we needed to rethink our haphazard approach to loading, and we began piecing ourselves together like a human puzzle. And for anyone who has ever done a puzzle, you know that sometimes you have to make certain pieces fit, even if they don’t seem like they’re going to! But, after a couple of minutes, we had succeeded – managing to put 33 adults and children into 14 seats.
Amazing a feat as it was, we thought we’d see if we could do it again! Well, that wasn’t our original goal, but after getting everyone in, there was a lack of agreement with driver about the actual price we would be paying (if you’ve never traveled to a barter-based economy, you might not understand this). About this time, the congestion of the situation began to get to some. So, with 33 people piled on top of each other, a driver trying to figure out the fee, and audible panic setting in, we started unraveling our human tapestry. Once we were out of the vehicle and the price had been re-agreed upon, we again tested our puzzle skills and got everyone back in – with some people in different spots than the first time. By the time the matatu crawled out of the parking lot, we had a total of 35 people (including the driver and his assistant) in a van designed for 15.
As for the trip into town – not only did the driver stop to get gas, but he also decided to take a different route down side roads and past street vendors to our destination, which seemed to add about 10 minutes to the journey. Thankfully, we made it without any problems or further panic-attacks, although I might have altered that if I hadn’t been sitting by a window.
And what did we do for an encore? On the way back, we put 10 people in a tuk-tuk (see the image from the July 18 entry), which is intendeds for three passengers.
22 July 2015 - ”Always Have a Spare Sermon”
This past Sunday, our van jostled its way through several dusty side streets as we were on our way to attend service at the Workers African Inland Church (along with another missionary family we are with). As we pulled up to the gate of the church property, we anticipated being at only one service, but we quickly found that the pastor thought we were staying for both the English and Swahili services. Not wanting to be rude guests, we kept an open mind about it and went into the block building that served as the church, with only a single-room (aside from a smaller room at the front that looked like the pastor’s study/church office/etc.).
While we were waiting for the service to start, I noticed the other adult man (I’ll call him Vince) we came with interacting with children outside, so I slid out with him. He and his band of newly-acquired friends were throwing/kicking around a small ball-like object. Although I didn’t know what it was, I joined in, with the children simply wanting to play catch and Vince trying to turn it into a game of hacky-sack. Once I was able to get a better look at our “ball,” I realized it was a small, clear baggie snuggly enveloping some snack wrappers. The longer we played, a hole developed and it began to break apart. By that time, most of the children had moved on to something else and the service was starting, so I returned inside.
During the service, we were asked to introduce ourselves and “share a word,” which we had heard ahead of time is common in Africa. We were fortunate because we found out later that others in our group (attending a different church) were actually asked to preach. Although they didn’t on that occasion, they are supposed to be this coming Sunday. With this in mind, some advice we recently received from an expert in African culture seems very prudent: “Always have a spare sermon.” This is definitely a different mindset than what I have been used to in the United States, but it provides an interesting – and important – thought: Shouldn’t I be prepared at any moment, in any place, to share what God is teaching me and has done in my life? Shouldn’t I be excited for such an opportunity to illustrate to others what God has shown to me?
My life itself should be a sermon, but I should also always have a spare sermon and be willing to share it when called on.
18 July 2015 - What I've Learned so Far: The First 10 Days
After 8 days in Africa, it’s been a great experience so far! Not to say that there haven’t been challenges or some stressful times (not sure Beau actually got a nap before 5:30pm the other day while we were in training – and he usually takes two before dinner, so that allowed for a difficult evening/night). But I’m learning a lot, and I thought I’d list a few of those below:
- Don’t walk out of the airport without your passport, even if you are just shuttling luggage in and out. It creates a difficult situation when your wife is still in the airport with your documents, and all you have is a band-aid in your pocket for the security guard.
- Three vehicles (two Land Cruisers and one van – not buses) can transport 53 people all at once. If we had used the roof racks, maybe we could have managed 80!
- The guard at the Lake Nakuru National Park gets to work early, which I am thankful for. Otherwise, an early-morning run could have resulted in a mad-sprint from African wildlife (yes, simba included) if we had gone through the last gate without a vehicle.
- Many hotels in Kenya do not have a shower curtain for the shower, even when the floor is flat and does not slope down to the drain (or have a shower pan edge to contain the water). As a result, the bathroom floor becomes blanketed in water.
- Although you can locate a shower curtain at the local Nakumatt (think Wal-Mart), you should not assume that you will also be able to buy a shower rod at the same place. In addition, you should not be shocked if you cannot find a shower rod at the other stores within the same two-level shopping area.
- Kenya is way ahead of the States when it comes to cell phone service, as we can be standing on a dirt road in a rural community here and call half-way around the world to the United States for 3 cents a minute.
- A tuk-tuk (see image below) is the coolest mode of transportation ever and is fairly cost-effective (at 350 shillings – roughly $3.50 – for four people to travel about 12 kilometers). I hope to someday purchase and import a fleet of these to the USA and start a local taxi service.
- Wearing pants when it’s hot is going to take some time getting used to.
- Kenyans are friendly and can be a lot of fun to talk with.
- Because almost everyone in Kenya speaks English, it makes learning Swahili more difficult (unless you are intentional).
- God has brought a lot of wonderful people to serve in Africa, and it’s been great getting to spend time and learn with them!