It’s a little bit hard to believe that I’ve been in Kenya for 3 months already. On the other hand, there are days I feel like I’ve been here much, much longer.
Everyone told me and every book about cross-cultural adjustment I’ve ever read all agreed that the third month is the most difficult when adjusting to a new culture. Well, having completed my third month, I will add my wholehearted agreement! At three months, you’ve come through the honeymoon period. The novelty starts to wear off and the reality starts to set in. You start to tire of the constant challenges. It’s still an adventure, but it’s real life now, too.
There have been days I just canNOT deal with one more bug, or rat after this last week.
Days when I’m tired of saying “What? I don’t understand? Can you repeat that? I still don’t understand…” This is even more frustrating when we are all speaking English. Okay, I’m technically speaking American-English, but still. Come on!
When I said I would be glad to “help” I did not mean I have an unending bank account to which you can have full access. I also did not mean I will take over and do it all.
Would you please just come out and tell me what you want from me? I’m tired of trying to read between the lines…
No, random man who just came up to me in the market, I do not want to marry you. Yes, I’m sure if I call my father, he will not want me to marry you either. I think I currently stand at 5 marriage proposals of varying degrees of seriousness.
Laughter in the middle of my prayer. What did I say? Oh, when you said the international students were having a hard time being away from home, you were implying they are missing their wives… physically. So, I essentially just prayed for the sex lives of my students? Great. Well, if it’s important to you it’s important to God. Please see the point above about being more direct in your communication…
There have been multiple misunderstandings which result in confrontations I would much rather not deal with.
I found myself losing patience a bit easier (which if you know me, I generally have a decent measure of patience).
Days I just wanted to cocoon myself into my little semi-American bubble of an apartment.
Days I missed my family fiercely. I don’t think my heart has ever hurt so much as when my sweet niece asked me if I would come play with her on Sunday after church and I had to say “No…”
But on the other hand…
The third month has been beautiful and blessed, with open doors and new relationships.
Invitations to share at churches.
Realizing that I’m starting to understand Kiswahili… just a little. And can speak it… kidogo.
Being welcomed into the homes of new friends.
People recognizing me when I’m out and about in town and greeting me as an old friend, rather than the relative stranger that I feel like on the inside.
Achievement! Even if it’s just something as simple as actually understanding the directions given and finding the place I’m looking for.
Opportunities to visit ministries, to see the work being done in nearby villages and communities.
That brilliant moment when you can literally see revelation dawning on the face of a student and the accompanying overflow of emotion as they grasp the new thing that God has for them.
So many hugs from little arms and little fingers in my hair.
Singing, praying, laughing, dancing… so much dancing.
Standing back and watching as years of imagining and dreaming come to life right before my eyes.
I am human. I am currently earth-bound. But we serve an amazing God who is transcendent above all my earthly failings.
My frustration bubbles over; God is there with an extra measure of peace.
I feel homesick and heartsick; God is faithful to surround me with the family of believers.
I’m done, can’t do it; God’s strength carries me one more step.
Yes, three months of living in a foreign country with foreign customs hits some unseen limit of adaptability. But this natural limitation results in a supernatural longing that pulls my heart closer to the heart of God. When I hit my limit, I am driven to greater trust and dependency on the God who has called me and brought me to this place.
Honestly, I wouldn’t trade one difficult moment for the immeasurable blessings I’ve found.
There is a little chorus we used to sing when I was a kid.
Oh Lord, I need you.
Oh Lord, I need you.
Every day, every hour,
I’m sustained by your power.
Oh Lord, I need you
The other day I was standing at my sink washing dishes during a rain storm. Seemingly out of nowhere, this song flooded my mind. I stood there singing this little song and as the rain came harder, God’s presence filled my little kitchen.
This song wasn’t a cry of desperation. There wasn’t any harrowing event that precipitated my singing. It wasn’t a cry of “OH GOD I NEED YOU!!!” It was simply a reminder that God is our sustenance. Every single day. Every hour of every day. God is the one who provides our strength, our resources, our food, our finances, our creativity, our rest. Every breath is dependent upon God’s sustaining power. And in the quiet moment, without the pressure of immediate need, I saw so clearly not only God’s provision, but God’s desire to provide.
We are the children of God, created as God’s handiwork.
Each person is the intentional creation of God. Even when we aren’t aware of our need for God, God desires to provide for us. How is it possible that the God of the universe not only knows and loves us, but desires to provide every good gift, desires to sustain and preserve us.
Our sustenance has nothing to do with us, and everything to do with our great God.
Since being in Kenya, I have visited quite a few churches. Some of the churches I’ve visited have been for the purpose of assessing/assisting with their children’s ministry. Traditionally, ministry to children has not been a big priority here, even though children are EVERYWHERE. Visiting churches, watching how they interact with and teach their children, and getting the opportunity to sing, dance, pray, and play with little ones, is absolutely at the center of my heart.
This past Sunday I visited Community of Hope New Testament Church of God. This church is in a rural area about 30-45 minutes out of Eldoret. The church was planted a few months ago by a graduate of the Discipleship College. A few weeks ago, Pastor Kenneth visited the college to ask for help. You see, he has a congregation of primarily young children.
When he came to the school asking for help, he wasn’t asking how to attract more adults; he wanted resources for teaching the children. That’s where I come in. Gene (the director of Discipleship College) asked if I would meet with Pastor Kenneth. We decided I would come observe church one Sunday, then see what we could do about resources and training.
He had told me they usually have Sunday school with the children, then dismiss the younger children to play while the adults and older children have service. I knew he had more children than adults. However, I was not expecting 21 children sitting quietly in their chairs, waiting for Pastor to begin, and only 1 adult. The entire morning, only 1 adult came for service. Others called or texted… they were sick or a child was sick. A couple who came after church had been delayed because he had to work that morning. But for the entire service, there were 21 children and only 1 adult.
Yet, Pastor Kenneth was not discouraged. He taught these little ones (most of them were grade 3 and younger) with passion and spirit. He laughed with them. He engaged with them. He asked questions and they were eager to answer and participate. We sang together. They told me their memory verses. They shared prayer needs and we prayed together. Pastor Kenneth wasn’t biding his time with the little ones waiting for the adults to show up; he was ministering to his congregation, as young as they are. More than once he told me, “but they ARE the church.” Pastor Kenneth understands what Jesus meant when he said to let the little children come. He truly sees that the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to these.
I have to wonder, if an American pastor planted a church and found themselves faced with 20+ children and fewer than 10 adults, how many would be excited at the potential? How many would look around on a Sunday morning at a congregation of 1 adult and 21 children and see that this IS the church? Or would we feel disappointment, like we had failed in some way by only drawing children?
In my 16 years of ministry with children, I have seen some of the absolute best programs. I have seen children’s pastors with such passion for their ministry that it explodes out of them. But more often than not, our fancy churches with our fancy programs treat the children as though they are a separate entity, like they are somehow not a part of our family. I have witnessed this ungodly mentality that when we have a fabulous children’s pastor, the rest of the leadership doesn’t have to worry about what’s happening “back there.” As long as parents are happy and you stay within budget, all is well. How many times have I visited a church with a great children’s area and really “effective” programming, only to find that the lead pastor has never stepped foot into the children’s area during a service. Is he not pastor of the children, too?
Yes, I am a little biased. My heart and calling is for ministry with children. But if we look carefully (or not so carefully!) at scripture, we find Jesus as the one who took out time for the sinner, the outcast, and yes, children. He gathered children to him and encouraged the grown-ups to emulate their faith. We should not be waiting for the little ones to become big before they join us in life and ministry. We should be running to join them. To understand what this childlike faith is that Jesus told us about. To understand why Jesus said that the Kingdom belongs to them.
I want my life to be about the Kingdom. Who better to teach me than those to whom the Kingdom belongs? After all, these little ones are the hope of our communities.
As I mentioned in my last post, so much has happened in the last 3 months. For one thing, I’ve been getting exposure to various ministries in the area. One of the very first ministries I was introduced to is the Eldoret Children’s Rescue Center. As the name implies, they are located here in the town of Eldoret, and they work with children living on the street or otherwise at-risk.
Their ultimate goal is reuniting families. Many, but not all, of their children come off of the street. They do whatever they can to track down families and then support and strengthen the family so children can stay with their parents. If the home environment is ultimately unsafe for a child, they will bring the child back, but based on what they told us, they have a pretty good rate of success.
A large part of the success of reunification depends on what they can do to strengthen the family. They had a school on campus but realized many of the children were coming back to the center because their parents could not afford to keep them in school. Their response: they closed the school and funneled that money into providing uniforms and school fees so that families could stay together. A statistic I heard over and over in grad school is that 80% of children in orphanages worldwide are not true orphans, but they can get better education, health care, etc in the orphanage, so the parents would rather the child be where they will get the best care, even if that isn’t in the home. The rescue center recognized this trend and did something to reverse it and encourage children to stay with their families. And it seems to be working.
They are attempting to end the cycle of street-children by working with street-mothers. They have a “distressed mothers” unit in which young mothers living on the street can come live and get training. They must learn to cook, care for a home, manage their finances, as well as learn a trade. When they complete the program, they assist the mother in finding a job and a home. They have had two women go through the program with a 50% success rate! One mother stayed for only a short time and left without her children. I suppose she thought they would receive better care at the center than with her. They have not had any contact with her since she left. The other mother has a home and a job. She still brings her children during the day to be cared for while she is working, as they are too young for school. Such a beautiful plan with so much potential.
They have big dreams! They have a ten year plan which includes a three-stage care plan for children, primary school (which would be open to the public), a chapel, play and recreation areas, reading rooms, and the most intense vocational training block I’ve seen yet (with electrical, plumbing, masonry, carpentry, motor vehicle, metalwork, hairdressing, dressmaking, catering, and computer/business training areas).
They still have a long way to go, but they know what they want and are working toward it. I’m excited at the possibility of partnering with them as they grow and develop. Remember the Eldoret Children’s Rescue Center and their director, June, in your prayers.
I am so ridiculously behind. Those of you who have followed my meager blogging attempts for any length of time know that it is not unusual for me to go months at a time without a post. I had hoped I would be much better now that I’m on another continent… I guess some things don’t change no matter where you are :)
So much has happened in the last almost 3 months (say what?!?!) since arriving in Eldoret. I am so excited to share with you pieces of what I’ve been up to. A few things I hope to blog about soon…
- The Eldoret Children’s Rescue Center
- Village of Kisa
- Churches! So many churches!
- My classes
- Some of the amazing folks I’ve met
Stick with me, if you dare! But, I can’t promise you that I won’t disappear again…
I was doing so well for a while… writing posts, posting posts, writing posts and scheduling them to post so I wouldn’t actually have to post.
Then, life happened… the internet was down for a bit… I couldn’t get iPhoto to work and didn’t want to post without pictures… I had work to do… blah blah blah.
I’m going to try to be a little more regular with my posts, but I appreciate your forgiveness when I’m not :)
The other night after boiling water to wash dishes and scraping slugs off the shower walls and switching out mosquito chips and squishing yet another bug, I leaned against the counter and thought for the first time, “this is really hard.” For just a split second I wanted to feel sorry for myself. I wanted to wallow in the “simplicity” of life back home compared to my new reality.
But just as quickly, I snapped out of it. See, the truth of the matter is, I may not have both hot and cold water coming from my kitchen faucet, but I am blessed beyond measure. No, living here is not “easy,” but what calling is? Grad school certainly wasn’t. Moving to California wasn’t. My time in India definitely wasn’t. Even living in Chicago, as much as I loved it, wasn’t necessarily easy.
Regardless of our place in life, there are simplicities and difficulties, hardships and joys. And at times it can seem that walking in your calling is the hardest, most challenging place of all. I would do well to remember Paul’s exhortation in his letter to the Philippians to learn to be content in all situations and to rejoice in the Lord always. Even if you’re showering with slugs, rejoice. Be content with the water you have, because some don’t even have the privilege of running water. Thank the Lord for his glorious creation, as you squish it and fling it out the door.
So, yeah… life isn’t that hard after all. Easy, no. Different, yes. But it just gives me another opportunity to learn to be content wherever I find myself.