Thursday, October 4, 2012

A Day in My Life

This week, Ruth and I have been travelling around to all of the Kids Alive Kenya homes for various reasons. It’s been so wonderful to spend time with these other members of the KAK family, as well as sort out several things with different people face to face.
When I have the opportunity to talk to friends and family in the States, I'm often asked "so what did you do today?" and when I say things like "I went to the supermarket in town",  they ask "is that it?" and I often feel guilty, like I need more to show for my day, but well, yes. That's all I did today. It often takes more time to complete everyday tasks here than it does in the USA, and often what I set out to do in a day is not at all what I had planned in the first place. Here's an example:

When I arrived at the Nyamarambe home two days ago, I had planned to use my time there to take photos of the kids and staff in their daily routines, collect some stories for a newsletter I’m writing, talk with the home manager about the plans for the Library we’re putting into that home this year and discuss the possibility of sending some service teams there next summer.
When I arrived however, I received a text from the Nairobi office asking me to follow up on some missing progress report photos that needed to be sent to US sponsors a few weeks ago. After some investigating, I learned that the photos had been taken, but the memory card of the camera that had been used was corrupted, making it impossible for the home to send the needed pictures, and the students had all returned to their boarding schools. After some discussion on how we could best obtain the missing photos, the home manager told me that one of the students whose photo we were missing was at a boarding school about 20 kilometers away, and we could travel there the following morning so that I could take the photo and send it in that afternoon. He said the journey would take about 2 hours total, roundtrip.
The next morning I left the home at about 8:30 am on the home’s motorbike and waited in a nearby village as the driver went back for the manager. Once he arrived, we caught two more motor bikes to the nearest town, where we caught a matatu (public transport van) to the town nearest the student’s school. From there we took two more motorbikes to her school where the headmistress allowed us 5 minutes with our student to say hellow and snap our photo. After our brief visit with her, we were released to make our return journey by the same means as we’d come. Along the way I received many puzzled stares (white girls don't usually ride motorbikes around here. If they come here at all, they're usually in airconditioned landrovers with Kenyan drivers), had “mzungu!” (white person!) and “how-ah-you!” yelled at me countless times by children and adults alike, and received one proposition of marriage. I ltold the man as graciously as I could “thank you very much, but no. I do not want to become your second wife and take you to America".
We finally arrived back at the home, very dusty, tired and hungry, but triumphant at having completed our mission of taking one photo, at around 4:30 pm. What a day. Now I just have to figure out how to get the other 10 missing photos J

Friday, September 28, 2012

Recent Snapshots

Bittersweet moments

Just before take-off at O’Hare International Airport: Saying a teary goodbye to my family (not sure when I’ll see them next) while my Kenyan boss who hasn’t seen her family in weeks stands by and watches…
Just After Landing in Jomo Kenyatta International Airport: My Kenyan boss has a teary reunion with her family while I stand by and watch….

The price of cross-cultural ministry?

Don’t put me in that box!
"How do you know how to make fire?!” – one of my girls exclaiming as they all stare in wonder at my bonfire making skills

“Where did you learn to dance like that?!” – Another one of my girls astonished that I can salsa
"You know how to use an electric sander?!” – the maintenance man when I asked him if I could borrow it to help refinish my kitchen floor

Belatedly realizing I have an audience of about 30 kids/staff while I’m climbing on top of the Ambulance in my Sunday dress to get the spare tire down because the brand new one has two giant thorns stuck in it. “Meladeeth!  Be careful! You’ll get your hands dirty!”
I’m not sure where this “white girls can’t do anything” misconception came from, but apparently lately I’m all about breaking it.

If I had a million dollars
Realizing I need a tissue as tears stream down my face while typing up a new child sponsorship enrollment form for a girl at Hall Mead School*.  She comes to my Bible study each week, and has only recently begun sharing her story with me.  I so wish we could bring her into our full-time residential program. She has the best smile and heart for Jesus. Wants to be a doctor one day. “Thank you Lord that this girl will now have two nutritious meals, school supplies and a quality education at Hall Mead School. Please continue to protect and guide her as she heads up her household of a younger sister and mentally disabled mother in the nearby community.

This Beautiful Life
After a long day at the office, sitting in my front garden with a cup of tea, watching the sky change color over the peak of Mt. Kenya. Birds singing. Kids laughing across back field as they head to the dining room for supper.

Lord, it’s moments like these that remind me of the beauty of this place to which you’ve sent me. Thank you.

A Few Prayer Requests

-          Praise that my time in the States in July was so refreshing, and we raised about half of the needed funds for the new classrooms at Maranatha week

-          Praise for new relationships and friendships that are finally beginning to form

-          Please continue to pray for my Bible Study with the middle school girls here

-          We have several teams coming to serve with us in the next few months! Pray that the preparations for their stay will go smoothly, and that their time will be one of mutual encouragement and that God would be glorified through their visits.

*If you’d like to sponsor this girl or another Kenyan child like her, please visit:

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Michigan Summer

It's been a little too long since my last update and I apologize for that.  I've been a rather busy girl the last few months. June was spent running around to all of the 5 KAK homes taking photos of all of our kids to send to their sponsors, writing newsletters, collecting stories, hosting guests, planning for future teams and getting everything ready for my 5 weeks trip to the US.

My brother Drew married his college sweetheart in Fort Atkinson Wisconsin on July 14th, and the Lord graciously allowed me to be there for the amazingly special, joyful and God honoring day. Since then, I've been blessed to be able to lay low for the last few weeks at my family's summer cottage on Lake Michigan in Muskegon, MI. This has been a very timely and needed space for me to rest, gain some perspective and recharge for the work God has called me to do. Spending so much quality time with family and close friends (some of whom I haven't seen or heard from in more than a year) has been so good for my heart. I've also LOVED being able to attend church and worship services in English! Not only has it been such a blessing to be able to fully understand what the preacher is saying, there's just something about praising God in ones' own "heart language" that is so soul-filling.

I can't believe my  time in the States is almost come to an end. This coming week is Kids Alive Week at Maranatha Bible and Missionary Conference, and I will be participating in some presentations along with other Kids Alive staff members as we seek to raise the funds to build a kitchen and dining hall for our Hall Mead School in central Kenya. Hall Mead currently serves about 320 children from our residential care programs and the local community, providing a quality, subsidized education, nutrition and care for those precious children who otherwise would not be able to afford to go to school. Right now the "kitchen" is a lean-to shack on the back end of the school compound, and the "dining hall" is the grassy school yard.  It is our hope that this week at Maranatha we will be able to raise the funds to build a proper kitchen and dining hall for our kids and staff.

After Maranatha week, I have about 3 days and then I'm on a plane back to Nairobi. I'm really looking forward to getting back to my Kenyan "routine, seeing friends and all of "my" kids again and getting back to the work and life I've been called to there.

 For scheduling and funding reasons, I don't know when the next time I'll be able to visit the States will be, and so my ticket back to Kenya is "one way" - yikes! Now, I do LOVE my job and life in Kenya, but not knowing when I'll see my American family and friends next is kindof a scary and sad thought for me. Not having that safety net of a return flight is probably a good thing for me though I think - it's teaching me to trust God in a new, deeper way....more on that later :)

Some Prayer Requests:
 - That the Lord would bless our time at Maranatha and we'd be able to raise the necessary funds for our school project
 - that He would use us to be a blessing and inspiration to the guests, residents and staff at Maranatha.
 - Praise for my time at "home"
 - That I would be able to leave here with a fresh perspective and new energy for my work in Kenya
 - travelling mercies

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Lost in Translation

Even though here in Kenya I’m mostly surrounded by people who speak English, I’m the only American on staff at KAK right now, so I still often find myself totally confused by what people are saying (and they’re often totally confused by me too). Even Ruth, my British roommate, and I sometimes have moments of total non-communication when we’re talking to each other.
So, I’m working on learning 3 new languages right now – Kiswahili, British English and Kenyan English – all very different from what I’ve grown up speaking, but all equally valid ways of communicating. Languages are always evolving, so who am I to say that the American English is “better” than Kenyan English? I’ve gotten quite a lot of flak (mostly good-naturedly) from some of our British short-term team members about the way I speak and spell (and I’ve usually given it right back to them with comments like “well, we’ve just streamlined your language for you. You’re welcome.”), and I’ve realized that as long as we understand one another, who cares whether the way we’re communicating is the “right way” or not?  
It’s been fun learning these new ways of communicating, but I still have a long way to go. There are still MANY moments throughout my day where I find myself saying “Can you explain what that means?”, “say that again?” or simply “What?” Not being able to understand or communicate well has been a challenge for me at times, but God is teaching me a lot about humility, patience and trust through it all – I’m also much more inclined to laugh at myself these days than maybe I used to be. I have made some pretty funny mistakes, so instead of getting embarrassed, I laugh at myself. And my Kenyan friends and co-workers laugh with me too. And we laugh together when they make funny communication mistakes. And we all grow closer together and understand one another better through the laughter.
 As I’ve been working on improving my language skills, I’ve created a little glossary for myself to help me keep everything straight – some are phrases that I’d never heard before but are just how people say things here, and some are Kenyan pronunciations that were confusing to me at first or Kenyan re-workings of classic English phrases/colloquialisms.  

Here are a few of my favorites:                                        

Kenyan English
My American Translation
Paper Bag
Plastic Grocery Bag
Iron Box
Biskwit and Moskweetoh
Biscuit and Mosquito
Brother (said with a specific, knowing tone)
From the Blues
Out of the blue
It’ll cost you a leg and an arm
An arm and a leg
Isn’t it?
Do you agree with me?
I’m coming
I’m leaving but I’ll be right back
Said as a greeting when shaking hands (clever way to preemptively answer the question and skip over the “how are yous”)
Up and Down
Kenyan directional words meaning right or left depending on the grade of the road (if the road is flat, I’m usually completely lost)

Funny conversation Ruth had a while back:
“So Ruth, are you going to the vaganza?"
“What’s a vaganza?"
“I don’t know. I was hoping you could tell me."
"I've never heard of a vaganza"
"Well anyway, I guess this isn't the first vaganza because they said this is the extra one”
“Oh I see - An extravaganza!”

I'm getting there - slowly and with a lot of laughter, I'm getting there.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

This World is Not My Home

I think sometimes people in full time cross-cultural ministry are tentative about sharing the hard stuff that we sometimes deal with. At least I know I am.  I know personally I’d rather only talk about the joys, blessings and miracles I see God doing here in Kenya because I don’t want anyone to get a wrong impression. I LOVE my life here, and I know this is exactly where God wants me. I feel so much purpose in what I’m doing and I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.

But life here is hard sometimes. And maybe I’m not being completely honest if I don’t share some of the hard stuff too. This post is a recounting of a dream that I had within the first few months I was here. It was so vivid and felt so real that I had to write it down. I’ve been sitting on this post for a few months now because I wasn’t sure if it was an appropriate thing to share, but I think it is. I think it’s important to be transparent not only about the good things, but about the hard stuff too.
While some of the circumstances in this dream may seem silly or overdramatic, I think the feelings that it highlights are valid and even common for cross-cultural workers. I also think that the lessons that God has taught me through this dream are invaluable and applicable not only to people serving across cultures, but maybe to everyone in some way or another. 
I’m sharing this not because I want sympathy or to make anyone concerned, but because I think it’s worth sharing. And maybe it can be an encouragement to other cross-cultural workers who maybe have had similar feelings at times. And maybe it can help those of you who are not serving abroad to better know how to be praying for those of us who are.
Background: Maranatha is the location of family’s summer cottage on Lake Michigan. It is my safe place - the place that most feels like home and where I feel most like myself.

My dream:
After being in Kenya for some time, I was magically whisked away to a Starbucks at Maranatha – There isn’t actually a Starbucks at Maranatha, but the point is that it is an extremely familiar place where I know all the rules, how to behave, what to do and how to communicate. I’m competent there – maybe even an expert. I understand everything that’s going on around me – what people are doing and why, what they are saying, etc. and I feel known and understood.
 In the dream I was excited to be there, to have a break from life in Kenya and feel like my old self for just a minute. When I entered the Starbucks though, everything was not how I expected it to be. People started talking to me about bands and other American cultural things that I had never heard of. People began pushing and shoving in front of me in line, seemingly on purpose and they seemed to be enjoying themselves. Was I the only one who valued waiting your turn? They took advantage of my niceness for a while but then I actually got in a fist fight with a girl to maintain my position in line. She ended up winning though, and I went defeated to the back of the line.
After waiting in line for what felt like hours, I got up to the counter and found that the menu had changed – I didn’t know what was what or how to order anymore. To top it all off, the barista started addressing me in Kiswahili and all of the other Americans understood her and looked at me like I was crazy for not – I was the one who lived in Kenya after all  - shouldn’t I know more Kiswahili than them?! In the dream I felt so disappointed, confused, bruised and embarrassed. I ran through the crowd of jeering people to the bathroom and locked myself in the stall to cry.

That’s when I woke up and realized that I was actually crying.  I’ve never cried in my sleep before...

This dream is significant in that it highlights a lot of the feelings that I have occasionally struggled with here in Kenya (especially when I first arrived), but often have tried to ignore or pretend aren’t really affecting me. I have felt incompetent, uninformed, unable to understand most of what’s going on around me, misunderstood, sometimes helpless, taken advantage of, lonely and unknown or unable to be fully known.

The fact that in the dream everything happened in a place I had expected to be familiar but wasn’t added weight to the feelings of disappointment and frustration (expectations – so key).
After I calmed myself down, I opened my Bible and read Psalm 120:1 and Psalm 121.
“I took my troubles to the Lord; I cried out to Him, and he answered my prayer”
“I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
where does my help come from?
2 My help comes from the Lord,
the Maker of heaven and earth.
3 He will not let your foot slip—
he who watches over you will not slumber;
4 indeed, he who watches over Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.
5 The Lord watches over you—
the Lord is your shade at your right hand;
6 the sun will not harm you by day,
nor the moon by night.
7 The Lord will keep you from all harm —
he will watch over your life;
8 the Lord will watch over your coming and going
both now and forevermore. “
Those passages were exactly what I needed right at that moment. Then I began to pray for strength and peace.  I was reminded that He is the only one who truly knows and understands me and what I’m going through. Other people may be able to encourage me or cry with me or give me words of wisdom at times, but He is the only one who is ALWAYS there for me (time zones don’t mean anything to Him) and always knows and is willing to give me just what I need right when I need it.
 I think that this dream was a gift from the Lord, and that it was meant to remind me that I won’t ever feel truly at home, comfortable or known anywhere in this world. I won’t feel like that until I am with Him.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

A Dream Come True

When I first visited Kids Alive Kenya in February 2009, I met a very sharp, intelligent young man at the Boys’ Home who was reading a rather tattered, trashy romance novel. When I asked him why he chose to read that book, he said “because I like reading and I don’t have any other books”. In that moment, God planted in my heart the desire to see a proper library built for the Kids Alive boys. A library that would be full of books that could inspire and shape those young men, and a quiet place where they could retreat from the jubilant chaos that can sometimes overtake a home full of almost 65 boys.  
Upon my arrival back to Kenya this past fall, I still had that strong desire to see a library built, but when I saw all of the other huge and pressing needs within the ministry, I filed that dream away, cross-referencing it under “maybe someday” and “If I had a million dollars”.
God, in his extravagant love and graciousness though, didn’t wait for “someday “. He has made this desire of my heart a reality less than six months since my arrival in Kenya.
Through a trip that was originally intended to be just as a visit from my family and slowly morphed into a 16 person Vision Team led by the President of Kids Alive International, God answered my prayers and has built the most beautiful Library for my boys to enjoy. The team provided the funds, books and man – excuse me – womanpower to transform some old, unused classrooms at the Boys’ Home into an “Oasis in the midst of the desert” as Isaac, the manager at the boys’ home has called it.
When I first heard that the team was interested in helping make the library possible, I though “This is so great! We’ll have the bookshelves built and the team will bring maybe 150 books and really get us started”. But once again, God has proven to me that his plans are not my plans, and that he can do far more than I could ever ask or imagine. The team not only brought almost 800 books, dvds and educational materials, but they also spent two days setting up and teaching to the new librarian a simple system for keeping track of everything  so that the new library can be maintained enjoyed for generations of boys to come.
I am blown away by God’s goodness and blessing to us.  Upon a recent visit to the Boys’ Home, I found the Library to be THE place to hang out. The very young boys look at the picture books and atlases with wide-eyed fascination, the middle school boys get lost in the worlds of the “hardy boys” and “sugar creek gang”, and the older boys and staff finally enjoy access to good literature - no more trashy romance novels!  It truly has become an oasis in the midst of the dry and windy, (but oh so bursting with joy) piece of land that so many wonderful young men call home.
The Kids Alive Kenya staff have seen the great blessing and value that the library is even only a few weeks after its completion, and we’ve begun talking about the possibility of having other teams come to build  libraries in the other four KAK homes, using the same system that the vision team has set up for us in the Boys’ home – so this blessing is already being multiplied to reach not only the 65 boys who live at the Boys’ Home, but all 250 kids within KAK’s care. God is so great!
 I am overwhelmed with gratitude to the people who helped to make this happen, but more than that, I am bursting with Praise for my God who has once again given me the desire of my heart and done it way sooner, bigger and better than I ever dreamed.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Sister love

Well, my sister Ginny has been back in the US for about two weeks now, but I’m still thanking the Lord for her visit. Having Ginny here was so great. She was my first visitor from home in the six months that I’ve lived here, and her arrival for me was a sort of strange but mostly wonderful moment where my separate worlds – My American world where I have many friends and family and feel comfortable and known, and my Kenyan world where I’m still new and am struggling to build good relationships and find my niche – collided.

During her visit I tried to find a good balance of letting Ginny participate in my “daily routine” and doing some special, tourist-type activities. Ginny helped me move into my new office, accompanied me on some sponsorship outings, participated in the community women’s bible study at The Boys’ Home, helped me do some shopping at the "exotic" local vegetable market, and enjoyed some time in the warm Kenyan sun while I worked. We also visited the animal orphanage, enjoyed lunch at some local “mzungu” restaurants, went on long walks down by the river, watched movies with some of the older girls and spent a night at “the Ark”, a guesthouse in the middle of the Aberdare national forest. Ginny has posted some photos of her time here on her facebook page. Here’s the link to her album:!/media/set/?set=a.10150595687848333.381390.536033332&type=3

Ginny’s visit came at a perfect time for me, as I’ve been feeling a little lonely in recent weeks. I’m still working on building friendships with the kids and staff here, but it’s going much slower than I would like it to, and having my sister here – someone who knows me well and who I don’t have to “try” with - was so refreshing.

Thank God for family!

More to come soon…..

Thursday, March 1, 2012

March 1st 2012 Update

Wow, time just seems to by flying by these days - I can't believe it's already March!

Much has happened since the New Year, and I will do my best to summarize it all here.

At the end January I had the opportunity to fly home for a brief 10 day visit. The purpose of the trip was to visit my Grandparents in Florida. I celebrated my Grandmother's 75th birthday with her, and I was able to spend some time with my grandfather who has recently been diagnosed with stage four brain cancer. I'm so grateful I was able to go home to spend this time with them especially since my gandfather's health is so precarious right now.

Even though the trip home was very short, it came at just the right time for me. It had been almost 5 months since I first came to Kenya, and I was going through a bit of a culture shock low and really missing home. Getting to see my family and spend some time on "my turf" was so refreshing. I am grateful for that time at home as I was able to take the time to refocus and refuel for the work the God has for me here in Kenya.

To say that I hit the ground running upon my return would be an understatement. Since being back in Kenya I've been busy hosting service and vision teams, working on our Easter sponsorship projects, catching up on newsletters and reports, developing new procedure policies for different aspects of the ministry and assisting in the Advanced Education program - crazy!

One very exciting thing that has happened since my return is the installation of a water storage tank on our house. The tank is a huge answer to prayer as the water table near Karundas has dropped drastically in recent months/years, and we have not had consistent access to water in our house for more than 2 months. After carrying jugs of water and taking bucket baths for so long, to turn on the tap and find clean, flowing water, or to be able to finally take a hot shower, is such a luxury! (It's funny what makes me excited these days)

I've also been preparing to move into my new office, AND I bought a Car! It's a beautiful 1999 Honda CRV, and has been SUCH a blessing to me. Having a car has been so helpful to me as Karundas, the home where I live, is about an hour's walk from the nearest town. In the past if ever I needed to go anywhere I would have to call a taxi or beg someone to drive me. Being able to drive myself where I need to go, when I need to go has been so wonderful and is helping me to feel less isolated out here in the interior.

This week I am VERY excited because my sister Ginny is coming to visit! She is a sophomore at Wheaton College, and is coming over her spring break. I'm so looking forward to having her here and spending some good quality sister bonding time :)

More thoughtful posts to come. I thought a general "what I'm up to" post was most needed now.

A Few Prayer Requests
  • Please continue to pray for my relationships here - I'm working very hard to build real, strong frienships, but it is taking longer than I had originally expected
  • Praise for our water tank and my new car! God is truly taking care of us.
  • Please also pray for my role here in Kenya as it is currently changing. Pray that the transitions would go smoothly and that the Lord would be glorified through these changes
  • Please pray for the upcoming life-skills training weekend that Ruth and I will be hosting for our Advanced Education students - Pray that the training would be effective and that our students will be able to leave feeling better prepared for life outside of the Kids Alive homes.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Joy to the World

The last few months have been very busy for me here at Kids Alive Kenya. I’ve spent a lot of time settling in, getting to know people and the lay of the land, and sorting out all of the paperwork, etc. that needs to be filed with the Kenyan government in order for me to stay in the country – if all goes well, by mid-January I will be an officially recognized missionary and approved for a work permit and resident alien card. I’ve also begun to feel like I better understand my role here and what is expected of me in regard to my job description. This new clarity is a huge answer to prayer for me, as I now feel that I can move forward with clear direction and purpose when it comes to my job. I’ve begun helping with the Advanced Education program, writing reports and newsletters for all of Kids Alive Kenya, assisting with teams and running the sponsorship program at the Boys’ Home. I love that I am able to be involved with so many different aspects of the ministry here, as I feel like I am gaining a good knowledge of the overall ministry of Kids Alive Kenya, and also because it creates a nice variety in my daily routine

Christmas was quite a time. Most of the kids in our homes went on “home visits” to relatives or friends over the holiday, but there was a small remnant that didn’t have anywhere to go and stayed at the homes. Ruth and I took 6 of those kids into our house over the so that they could feel like they got to go on a ‘home visit’ too. It was really fun having a full house, if a little chaotic at times. 5 of the 6 kids who stayed with us are siblings, but because the boys live at the Boys’ Home and the girls live at Karundas, they don’t always get to spend a lot of time together. It was really special watching them interact as a family together while they were with us. Despite (or perhaps because of) their unfortunate background that has left them with no adult relatives capable of caring for them, they have stuck together and really love and watch out for each other.

Wanting to make Christmas special for the kids who’d stayed in the homes, Ruth and I instigated a Christmas party for the kids still at the Boys Home and Karundas. After the Christmas church service, we brought the Karundas kids over to the Boys’ and had a big Christmas feast. We also planned games and activities for everyone to participate in throughout the day. It was a huge hit. Everyone seemed to really enjoy themselves and left very full and very happy. After the party we returned home and the kids staying with us opened a few gifts that Ruth and I had purchased for them. It was a very low key day compared to most western Christmas celebrations, with no hype or real build up, but it was a day overflowing with joy.

I have to admit though, apart from the small gift exchange at the end of the day and all of the joyful celebrations throughout, it didn’t feel very “Christmassy” to me at first. I struggled with this throughout the day, but then God reminded me that those things that were lacking in my mind - a candlelight Christmas eve service, cookies, red sweaters, snow, a nativity, etc. – those things aren’t really what makes Christmas Christmas. They’re wonderful things, but when it comes down to it, they are just my own culturally comfortable ways of celebrating. What makes Christmas Christmas is Emmanuel – God with us – and that can be and is celebrated in so many different and beautiful ways in so many different and beautiful cultures and countries around the world – and I think that such diversity is extremely pleasing and glorifying to God. So although I missed my red sweater and I didn’t get to sing “silent night” by candle light, I did get to sing “Mungu Aliupenda Ulimwengu” in the sunlight while wearing a green T-shirt, which is a pretty great way to celebrate Christ's birth too.

fun fact about Kenyan Christmas:  On Christmas eve, many Kenyans will stay up until midnight to ring in the birth of Christ, kind of like American new years. At midnight everyone will yell and bang pots and drums to announce the birth of Christ.  Pretty noisy, but also pretty cool J