Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Mountain Sighting

I lift my eyes up to the mountains – where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth” – Psalm 121:1

It’s winter here in Kenya, which means that in the central province where I live it’s cold and cloudy and misty most every day. Mt. Kenya, which I can usually see from my front porch, has been covered with clouds for the last 2 months. Lately I’ve found myself forgetting it’s even there anymore. Last week though, while I was sitting on my porch cuddling a hot water bottle and nursing a cup of hot tea to try to stay warm and feeling a little down, just for a moment, the clouds began to slowly part. As I watched them graciously step aside, there, bathed in pink and gold evening light and standing just as strong and majestic as ever, was The Mountain. I quickly called to Ruth to come out and look, and the two of us stood together gazing at that glorious sight, receiving the beautiful gift the Lord was beaming to us and soaking in His love and goodness.Then, all too soon, signaling the end of the most spectacular drama we’d witnessed in months, the cloud curtain fell and all was misty and gray again.

It’s hard to describe what that brief glimpse of the mountain has done for my soul. After so many weeks of dreary, cold, plodding days, the kind where I act out of obedience rather than passion, out of faithfulness rather than fire, where at the end of the day I sometimes forget to take my glasses off before wearily falling into bed and then I wake up a few hours later with their shape imprinted on the side of my face, that brief mountain sighting reminded me that beyond the clouds, through the plodding and misty hardships of this life, there He always is, gloriously loving me and standing strong for me even when I’m tired and don’t see it. 

And the thing is, it was just a glimpse. The clouds did close in and the mountain is once again hidden. But my plodding feels less heavy now. I can step lighter because He has given me just the small bit of encouragement I needed. Even when I can't see past the mist, He is there. He sees my plodding and what it sometimes is costing me even when others don't, and He is faithful and steadfast and true through it all.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

March in Zambia

I spent the month of March on a working vacation in Zambia. I say “working vacation” because Ruth and I were asked to go support the work of Kids Alive there, and while we were still as busy as ever, it was rather nice to have a change of scenery and become acquainted with another arm of the ministry. I spent most of my time working with the sponsorship coordinators and pestering everyone with my camera and questions for some stories and photos I was collecting for the US office.  It was great to meet and work with some of the extended Kids Alive Family and learn about what God is doing in their beautiful country. We were even able to break away for two days to see Victoria Falls and walk with some full grown lions in Livingstone!

Here are a few highlights of the month:


  Visiting the two Kids Alive community schools in Mongu, western Zambia. Every day Kids Alive provides free education and lunch to more than 700 of the poorest children in this area.


Spending time at the Msisi Care Center, where Kids Alive offers counseling, scholarships, after school support, lunch and hope for a brighter future to more than 50 children who reside in one of Lusaka’s largest slum areas

Getting to know some of the devoted staff members who have committed their lives to loving and raising more than 80 beautiful children in Kids Alive’s full time residential program. What an honor to have been able to spend the month learning from these remarkable people.

Being present when a huge gust of wind ripped the entire roof off of the boys’ home during a freak thunderstorm, throwing it onto the nearby powerlines. God protected us in that no one was hurt, and I was able to use our car to drive through the storm to the power company and have the electricity turned off immediately. Not a happy highlight, but definitely a memorable moment! If you’d like to help Kids Alive put a new roof on the boys’ home, please visit: 
Seeing Victoria Falls: The Smoke that Thunders

Walking and playing with two full grown lionesses in Livingstone – definitely a once in a lifetime experience!

Overall it was a great month. I learned a lot, made some new friends, had some very memorable experiences and hopefully was able to make a positive contribution to the ministry there!

Now back to work here in Kenya – we have several busy months ahead of us!

Saturday, April 6, 2013

My Journey Continues

My journey of trusting God through uncertainty, and learning to be present and grateful in the times and places He allows me to be, is not yet over.  I think in my lifetime that journey probably won’t ever be fully complete, as I’ve been learning and exploring the depths of trust and gratitude for many years, and every time I think I've "got it down", He takes me even deeper, but this particular season of uncertainty over my immigration status is definitely not yet over. God has been again proving Himself to be so good and faithful however, and I have seen Him answer my prayers in small yet very tangible ways in these last two months.
For example, Ruth and I were asked to spend the month of March serving in the Kids Alive programs in Zambia (More about that in an upcoming post), and because the chaos of the recent elections effectively shut down almost all government offices for the past 3 months, my Kenyan work permit has still not been approved. So leaving to go to Zambia would mean having to obtain another visitors’ visa upon my return to Kenya, something that, without an approved work permit, gets harder every time I leave the country. After a lot of prayer, I decided that I would “just go” and trust that if God wanted me to be allowed back into Kenya, He would make it happen.
After a wonderful month with our partners in Zambia, as we boarded our return flight from Lusaka, I began to feel very nervous about how I would be received at the the immigration desk in Nairobi. I spent the entire flight (except for the one hour when I fell asleep listening to a random bollywood film soundtrack) praying that the officer would be kind and I would be granted another visa without being harassed like I was last time (in January the officer questioned me for almost 20 minutes, threatened to arrest me, and then gave me a visa that was only valid for 3 weeks).   I asked God to help me word my visa application in a way that was truthful, but would raise the smallest number of questions.
 When it came time to make the application, I nervously began filling in my details as always, but when I came to the line where I was asked to list my occupation, a thought, very much from outside myself, popped into my head. To my surprise, instead of “Missionary” or “NGO volunteer”, the words I usually use to describe my profession, my pen formed the word “Writer”. Writer? I suppose I do write for work quite a bit, I thought– reports for donors, newsletters about our programs, stories about the kids for their sponsors, this blog – but I never ever in my life have considered myself to be a  professional writer of any sort. Because the thought was so clearly not mine, and because the more I thought about it the more I realized it was technically true, I decided to go with it and see what would happen. Well it worked! The immigration officer was the kindest I’ve had yet, and he accepted my application without any queries. We chatted about the weather in Nyeri this time of year; he asked me if I’ve learned to speak any Kikuyu yet. I smiled and tried (probably rather ridiculously) to be as charming as possible - and that was it! Stamped!  Approved! Just like that. No harassing, no threats. No ulcers. Three more months (that I will in NO WAY take for granted) to legally be in this place to which God has so clearly called me. I walked down the stairs to baggage claim wearing what Ruth said was the biggest smile she’d seen from me in weeks, inwardly shouting praises to God for His clear intervention, grace, kindness and favor.
Maybe this example seems small and insignificant, but to me it’s huge. It was such an immediate, perfect answer to my prayers and proof that God IS working all things toward His good purposes. True, He didn’t miraculously open the government offices and compel the officials to go to work and approve my work permit. He didn’t blind the immigration officers and let me walk across the border undetected. My status here is still very tenuous. But He did miraculously show up right when I needed Him most, calming my nerves and giving me exactly the words (or I suppose just the one word) I needed right when I needed them. He is faithful and his timing is perfect. I am beyond grateful. Amen.
P.S. The next time I freak out about my future and forget about being grateful and trusting His faithfulness (which in all honesty could be as early as tomorrow), if you wouldn’t mind, someone please show me this post? Thanks so much :)

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Learning through Uncertainty

The end of October, November and the beginning of December were possibly my busiest times so far with Kids Alive Kenya. For about 7 weeks, I was kept on my toes hosting back to back teams from the US, UK and Taiwan. Each team brought its own small challenges, but each team also brought huge blessing, encouragement and new partnerships for Kids Alive Kenya and for me personally. It’s exciting to watch the direction in which the Lord is taking this organization, and the hearts He is touching and bringing together around the world to help make the vision of KAK a reality.

Two days after the last team left the country, I flew to Michigan to spend Christmas with my family. My time in the States was greatly needed, and it was wonderful to be able to spend time with my family and a few friends, some of whom I hadn’t seen for several years.

Upon my arrival back in Kenya last week, as I drove from the airport to the Nairobi guesthouse where I was to spend the night, a strange feeling came over me. It was one I’ve only ever felt in my life when I’ve been travelling to a very familiar place like my childhood home or my family’s Lake house. A feeling of comfort, peace and belonging. I was a little surprised by this feeling, as my life in Kenya has never really felt particularly certain or comfortable. Being the only American in a town of people who mostly have never interacted with someone outside their tribe (let alone their country) has often caused me to feel foreign and out of place. While I should be used to it by now, I still feel a little uncomfortable when every time I walk through town I’m met with open mouthed stares, whispers as I walk past, marriage proposals from drunk men  and shouts of “hey white person!”. So I was confused by this “belonging” feeling that came over me, but after I slept off my jetlag and had time to analyze it, I realized that it was a gift from the Lord for a moment that could have been filled with anxiety and stress, and a reminder that as long as I continue to follow closely after Him, I will always be exactly where He wants me – which is exactly where I belong.

 I applied for a Kenyan work permit over a year ago, but because of a lot of complicated, extenuating circumstances, I still haven’t been approved (despite the fact that all I want to do is to work as an unpaid volunteer for an organization that cares for Kenyan orphans). What this means is that every time I leave the country, it gets harder for me to obtain another visitor’s visa to get back in. This time the immigration officer I met at the border issued me a visa for only one month instead of the usual three, and said that if my permit isn’t approved by the first week of February, I’ll have to leave the country and possibly never be allowed back in again.

It’s been a week since my return, and very little progress has been made toward my approval, which has left me in a state of extreme uncertainty. Will I be leaving Kenya in 3 weeks?  Should I start packing and looking for flights? If I have to leave, will I ever be allowed back in? God, why is this happening – don’t you want me here anymore? If not, then where do you want me?

And yet, as I've been churning these questions over and over in my mind, that peaceful "belonging" feeling hasn't quite left me. And through all of this, a twofold theme has been surfacing in my devotions, conversations and prayer life: the importance of gratitude and being present. The immediate future may be very uncertain, but into my worry-filled thoughts this week, God has been gently whispering that while I don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow, He does. He does. So I shouldn’t waste today with worrying about tomorrow, but rather focus on and be grateful for the gifts and tasks He’s given to me for today. Easier said than done, I know, but if He is teaching it to me, then I have full confidence that He’ll give me what I need to put it into practice.