Category Archives: Kenya

You Wreck Me

Every time I think I have it figured out—

You wreck me.

God, every time I think this is it,

The wind whips in and flips the stableness into 62 different directions.

So I stand—teetering—balanced on my toes with my arms stretched out in the air

Groping for truth,

Groping for stability.

Teach me Father

For I try to do this on my own

And I feel myself falling.

Hold me God for you are the only stable thing in this life.

I slowly lower myself back on the ground.

The shaking starts to subside.

My pounding heart begins to quiet.

 

I’m here God

 

In spite of it all.

In spite of people and their opinions.

In spite of people’s expectations.

 

I’m here God

 

In spite of the crazy, chaotic, the unknown.

Hold me Father

In your steady, stable hands.

You’re all I need.

 

I wrote this a little over a month ago, but it’s been the theme of my life this month. So many changes that I’m not sure where to begin. So much that I’ve had to let go of and give to God. But, I’m here wrapped in God’s presence, thankful for this last year, and hopeful for God’s future plans

The children’s home where I have worked for the last 10 months is now being completely Kenyan run. I’ve said bye to the kids, and in ten days I’ll be back on US soil. I’ve had such an incredible year here in Kenya that I’m almost not sure how to return “home.” I’m excited to see family and friends but not sure how much reverse culture shock is going to happen when I step off the plane. Life here is so simple. I feel so close to God here. I’ve learned so much. I’ve changed. I’ve grown.

Of course I’m looking forward to hot showers, tacos, catching up on the last season of Psych, and turning on a light switch whenever I want to. But, I already miss the kids. I already miss the feeling of riding on the back of a motorbike with the wind whipping through my hair. I already miss the ladies who work at the supermarket. They would tease me about getting lost if I missed coming into town on a Tuesday and would make me order my food from the café in Kiswahili even though I sounded like a two year old. I haven’t even left the country, and I already miss it so much.

I do plan to return to Kenya in the fall although, I’m currently praying about different ministry opportunities. I know that God has a plan, so I’m trusting Him to show that to me in His perfect timing. In the meantime, I’m spending a couple days in Mombassa processing everything and enjoying some time on the beach. Then I’ll be packing and on a plane before I know what happened.

So many things have happened this year that it would be impossible to fit it all into one blog. I made a short video (which I will post below) of some of my favorite picture just to capture some of the memories from my time here at the children’s home. As this door closes I’m lingering a bit in the shadow almost ready to take the next step, but already missing what I’m leaving behind.

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Hard Wooden Benches

 

Wooden Benches

I purposely left the house at 2pm—the time that the meeting was supposed to start. Even though I got to the school half an hour late, I was still one of the first parents there. The teachers were crowded around the chalkboard carefully using a ruler and colored chalk to draw out a chart cluttered with numbers. I sat down on one of the wooden benches, lamented the fact that I had forgotten a pen, and tried several times to load facebook’s news feed. Yup, no signal. This was going to be a loooong meeting.

Forty-five minutes after the meeting was supposed to start, the teachers finally called the parents’ meeting to order. I’m sure parents’ meetings in the US aren’t fun, but ones in Kenya seem especially excruciating. All the parents of class seven kids were required to come due to the fact that the class had scored 18/19 in the district on the recent midterm exams. Hard to do worse then that. The teachers spent the majority of the meeting blaming the parents for not properly motivation and providing for their children. How many parents had bought some type of story books for our kids? In a classroom packed with parents only four of us raised our hands. Why weren’t the kids bringing lunches to school? Why weren’t all of the parents present? The kids whose parents hadn’t graced the school with their presence were pulled to one side of the room to serve as an example of what not to do.

Three hours into the meeting my head began to pound. Concentrating so hard on understanding Swahili, seeing kids marched in front of me while their midterm scores were read in front of everyone, heads down staring at their shoes (which were in various stages of disrepair) did a number to my head.

The class teacher with her multi-colored braids and black and white poka-dotted earrings kept saying, “these are good children,” but would then belittle the child for something he or she did in class or for the fact that their parents where absent. The audience chucked at the teacher’s stories of the kids antics, but I couldn’t. One little girl looked like she wished the floor would swallow her—tattered royal blue sweater and all.

Three out of my four kids were in the top 5 of their class with one of my girls scoring the highest score in her section. I was told to buy her a present, and they called her a Muzungu (an English speaking foreigner). My fourth child didn’t fair as well coming in number 14. I was told that he could do better. I nodded and watched him march in line with all the other students who hadn’t quite made the cut.

Each teacher took a turn defending his or her teaching methods. The clock kept ticking. The chief stood up and told a story about how he gives his son money when he scores well on his tests. Then it was the parents’ turn. They mostly blamed the teachers. The teachers turned it back on the parents saying there was only so much that they could do. I saw no end in sight so finally I apologized and ducked out of the dark class room between parental complaints.

The air felt light on my face and my headache slowly started to subside. It seems hopeless at times. Sure, I can do what I can to help the kids who live at the children’s home where I volunteer, but what kind of future do the rest of these kids have? I’ve offered to help out at the school once a week helping with English or composition. The headmaster appreciated my request but has never taken me up on the offer. I’m afraid that he thinks the English teacher would feel threatened by my presence. So I wait. I go to three hour parent meetings, try to show that I do care, and wonder what to do next. How do you help when help is needed but not wanted? How do you help when the teachers care more about defending themselves then they do about educating children?

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What do you do Anyway?

“So, what do you do?’ she asked as we sat sipping chai and killing time until lunch was ready.  It was the second or third time that week that I’d gotten this question from visitors stopping by the children’s home where I volunteer.

“What do I do?” I thought. Here I was talking to the nursing director of the entire Kijabe Hospital. To someone as busy as her, I’m sure my life looked fairly mundane. Well, today I was spending the morning entertaining guests that I had no idea were coming until I saw a car drive up the drive way. “Every day is different,” I answered. How do you explain being on call 24/7, starting your day at 5:30am but then having the kids gone for the majority of the day? Some days it does feel like I sit around all day, go for walks, and just exist until the kids get home. Other days I’m so busy that I barely have time to breathe and fall into bed at 8:30pm only to have my alarm jolt me awake telling me that it’s time to do it all over again.

As an “auntie” to 17 children, ranging from the ages of 6 to 17, I do everything from braid hair to clean up throw up. I cook a little, clean a little, help tutor the kids, try to teach them what it means to take care of their things (a never ending job). I pick puzzle pieces up off the floor and beat the living room rug after a weekend leaves it filled with enough dust and dirt to fill a sandbox.

What do I do? On Mondays usually do laundry which involves a couple of buckets, some Omo, and a whole lot of clothes pins. But, I don’t have to do the kid’s laundry. Mama Jane (my hero) does that. That woman is amazing. She can get the entire house mopped, the kids laundry (a literal mountain) washed, and cook a mean pot of rice (another mountain), all before lunch.

Tuesdays are town days. Catch up on emails and usually blog while we have fast Internet, stock up on fruit from the fruit market, and get some somosas (sometimes the only meat I get all week). Wednesdays are worship Wednesdays. We’ve been teaching the kids new songs, and I absolutely LOVE hearing them sing their hearts out when we worship. Thursdays are mandazi Thursdays. We head into our little town of Maraigushu to go to the local eating spot for some chai and mandazi (a doughnut type food just not as sugary). As we walk to town we inevitable end up walking with the local neighborhood kids on their way to nursery school. They like to grab our hands and by the time we reach the school we’ve usually collected a nice little string of kids. Friday is movie night. One of the kid’s favorite days of the week. We pop in a movie, sometimes Richelle makes popcorn, and we enjoy some family time.

The weekends are always a blur. Our cook doesn’t work on the weekends, so my Saturdays start at 6am. I get up, heat up water for the man who milks our cow, and then I typically start making pancakes. As the kids wake up, the little kids trickle in the kitchen to “help” me. I usually start burning the pancakes when I have 6 kids hanging on me, but most days the majority of pancakes turnout alright. The kids usually work in the shamba (garden) for awhile in the mornings. I typically braid one or more of the little girl’s hair (always a long project). Sundays involve church, sometimes walks, and whatever else happens to happen.

Then it’s Monday again- beautiful Monday. The kids head off to school. I typically clean up the kitchen and living room area, and it stays clean for the rest of the day! So that’s what I do. That and clean up bloody noses, put on a lot of band aids, give lots of hugs, and just live the day being flexible and taking care of whatever comes my way.

“It’s an emotional job,” Ruthann reflected the other day. “Not a job that can be easily measured.” Some days I do feel like I spend the majority of the day chilling, reading, doing whatever, but then the kids come home and I think, “What don’t I do!”

What do I do? Some days I’m still not sure, but I love it being here for the kids, watching them grow, and doing whatever needs to be done in a day.

Walking to town for mandazi Thursday picking up a string of kids as we go.

Walking to town for mandazi Thursday picking up a string of kids as we go.

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Feeding my Soul

IMG_2564Laying in the sun—palm trees, a pristine pool, tropical flowers. It feels like a different country, almost a different world. The sun feels so rejuvenating and the cold that has refused to go away for the last three weeks has finally started to break up. There’s nothing like a break in the sun after months of working non-stop. Not that I mind. I love my life, the kids at the children’s home, the daily routines. But, with such an emotional job it’s healthy sometimes to get away; and Mombasa is the perfect place to recharge. The food is amazing (yay a break from ugali and beans). The weather is deliciously warm.

For the last three days I haven’t had anyone really need anything thing from me which feels so good after spending the majority of the last nine months constantly on call caring for 17 of the most wonderful kids in the world. Even though I love the kids I work with to death, it’s a physically and emotionally exhausting job. It’s nice to get away from all the pressure, expectations, and endless needs. I’m already feeling so refreshed after just three days, so I know I’ll be able to do a better job when I return.

Travel, new places, cultural, all feed my soul. There is something so incredible about getting to discover or rediscover a new place. Tuesday we spend the day exploring Mombasa’s Old Town. We bartered a price with a great guide who took us all over the city. We saw the spice market, hundred year old buildings, and even ducked our heads into the fish market where we saw everything from dried shark meat to live lobster.

I ate Swahili prawns for lunch fresh shrimp cooked in coconut sauce. It was heavenly. I’m glad I live in such a diverse world. Full of such beauty and flavor. Last night we sat out in the gazebo chatting with our neighbor and new friend from Germany. We talked about life, God, and the challenges and joys of working in ministry. I love those moments. I feel so alive, at peace, full of purpose, and happy in the presence of my creator. He has made such a beautiful world, and I love being able to enjoy different pieces of His work.

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Seasons

I was sitting in her living room with the voice recorder rolling and so many feelings running through my mind. It was my last artist interview. I was about to turn 26, move to St Louis, and hopefully start a new job with the plan of saving up money and moving to Kenya.

She carved beautiful, intricate gourds, another incredibly talented artist hidden in the small town where I had run a newspaper for the last two years. She told me how sorry she was that I had decided to close the paper. I sympathized but knew that God was calling me to a new chapter in life, and to be honest the last two years had been the hardest two years that I had ever lived through. After the interview she gave me a parting gift—a delicate gourd intricately carved with tiny butterflies. She had fit a small light at the bottom of the gourd so that the butterflies glowed softly through the shell.

“Butterflies,” she told me. “A symbol of new beginnings.” I smiled and embraced the idea. I needed a new beginning and a symbol of hope as I was about to take a step into the dark beginning a journey that was going to take me across the world and require a whole lot of faith.

The butterfly theme kept popping up through out the year of 2013—stickers on a letter, the gift of a butterfly shaped cookie, the exquisite little insects themselves fluttering across my path at unexpected moments. All signs from God that He had me on this adventure. It really was a year of freedom, beauty, and adventure the compete opposite of what the last two years had been.

I just turned 27, and as I look back over the year I honestly couldn’t have asked for a better one. I met my boyfriend in Northern Ireland on my way out to Kenya. I’ve had the privilege of become a parent to 19 amazing Kenyan kids who have absolutely captured my heart. I’ve learned what it means to trust God every day and to simply rest in His presence. I’ve gotten to work with an incredible team of people as we’ve learned what it means to live in community and serve God and these kids even through the hard days. I’ve learned true contentment and what it means to take each day as it comes.

Honestly, I couldn’t be happier. God has blessed my life so much and every day I am more and more amazed by His goodness. He loves me. He has held me through the hard times and brought me to new places. I’m exited for what this next year will bring as I open my hand and watch the year of the butterfly flutter away. I feel refreshed, free, and expectant as I wait for all that God has in store for this new year and this new season of life.

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Your Red Dirt Has Forever Stained my Heart

If you dig down deep inside of yourself and find a desire to come to Africa,

Please do.

The red dirt will stain your feet.

The people will grip you in such a way that you will be forever changed.

But, I don’t want to sugar coat anything.

There will be days that you’ll cry,

Feel inadequate,

Used,

Exhausted ,

And just in dire need of an honest to goodness hamburger with real beef.

But, at the end of the day chances are you’ll experience life at such a different level that you won’t want to ever return to “normal.”

You’ll see joy in the midst of poverty.

True, deep joy.

Courage in the face of daunting circumstances.

Community in a world full of selfishness.

Yes, the giraffes walking against sun tinted plains will stir your heart, but what will really change you is,

The people you encounter.

The stories that break your heart.

The people with nothing who welcome you ready to share everything that they have with you.

 

Bring a scarf, a jacket, leggings, whatever  you need to stay warm because the African sun doesn’t always shine.

When it goes down for the night the air will chill your bones.

 

Learn to love the rainy season.

Even when flood waters block you in and force you to wade through muddy, make shift streams.

Learn to love the sound of rain dancing on a tin roof.

 

People will call you “brother,” “sister,” ‘auntie,” “mama.”

They will help you when you’ve lost your way and try to sell you everything from bananas to peanuts.

 

The languages that at first sound like music will become a complete puzzle often leaving you tongue tied and

happy to sound like a two year old as long as you are able to communicate.

But, try.

Try to break the language puzzle.

Learn some phrases and be OK with not being able to say everything perfectly.

People will love you for trying.

 

It will change your very soul in a beautifully painful way.

So if you can.

If you want to experience a world of contrast and beauty then come.

Africa is waiting.

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It Hurts to Love this Deeply

I woke up the next morning with a throbbing toe. That’s when I realized that I had kicked some of the loose rocks in the driveway a lot harder than I thought I had. I was heading to town when he called. “You have to let them go,” he told me.

Let them go! How do you “let go” of two of your kids? How do you go from kissing them goodnight, braiding their hair, and helping them with their homework to possibly never seeing them again? God, I’m just not strong enough for this.

We’d made an exception when a mother with a paralyzed husband begged us to take her youngest daughter along with her granddaughter who was being raised by a single mother with epilepsy. We don’t normally take children with parents at the children’s home where I work, but in this case Pastor Simon had made an exception. An exception that was now causing all of us a lot of pain.

A year later the mother changed her mind. She wanted the two girls back. She didn’t like the fact that she couldn’t come and take the girls whenever she wanted to. She was threatening to cause trouble if we didn’t return them that week so that they could start school where she lived. That’s when I realized that it’s possible to love someone so much that it hurts.

I wanted to fight. Take it to the courts. Legally the children were under our guardianship, and I didn’t want them to go back to a home where they wouldn’t be taken care of like they had been over the last year. But, the decision was not mine and while everything in me wanted to fight it deep in my heart I knew that a judge would end up rewarding the children back to their biological relatives, so was it best to go down that road?

I felt like a robot packing a backpack for Esther while Richelle packed one for Michelle. Their toothbrushes, dolls, jump rope, shoes, and clothes. This was it. Our family was being split apart. I tried to hold it together for the other kids , but I wasn’t doing a very good job. I love my girls. Sometimes when I would be cooking breakfast on a Saturday morning Michelle (who is usually very independent) would come up to me, jump into my arms and hold on to me like her life depended on it. Esther is not much of a cuddler, but when we walked down the road she loved to hold my hand and when I’d tell her that I loved her she would always flash me one of her beautiful, bright smiles. I loved her giggly laugh, her cute cubby checks, and her sweet personality. When I told her that her mom wanted her to come and live with her again her eyes immediately filled with tears, and then she got very quiet. The brightness in her eyes disappeared and was replaced with a vacant stare. How do you explain to a child that you have no control in some situations? How do you say goodbye to one of your children knowing that if you do ever see them again everything will be different. They belong to someone else now. My mind still can’t fathom that.

I cried a lot—confused, desperate, angry tears. I felt numb, powerless, and broken as I watched the car drive away. “I’ll come back when it’s over,” Michelle had said quoting a line from “The Call” one of her favorite songs.

“I hope so,” Richelle had told her.

“What is hope,” she asked.

“I want you to,” Richelle said.

Ruthann had the hard job of riding with the girls and Pastor Simon to give them back to their relatives, and then it was over. At least as over as something like that can be.

I sat with little Kevin and held him as he cried over the loss of his sisters. Later, I sat with my arm around Niko when I found him sitting on the edge of the driveway in tears. I had no words, no answers, nothing to give but my presence and at that moment it didn’t feel like enough. The rest of the day is a blur.

One of our older boys gave me a pep talk about how God sees everything and knows everything. “I know,” I told him, “But, I’ll never see them I again.”

“Two mountains never meet,” he replied, “but people, people will meet again.”

Maybe we will meet again. I have no guarantee but maybe. In the meantime we are all still praying for God to get us through this, to hold us, to bring some good from this heartache. He sees. He knows even when we don’t. That doesn’t lessen the pain, but as least it is a whisper of hope. Right now, by God’s grace, we’re surviving one day at a time. Sometimes people think that working in a children’s home in Africa is some kind of romantic adventure full of wet kisses and fun little adventures. Some days that is true, but other days it just plain hurts. It hurts to love this deeply.

My beautiful Esther

My beautiful Esther

My precious baby girl Michelle

My precious baby girl Michelle

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