Friday, August 29, 2014

Seeing For Yourself

I turned to Audrey and Pamm and said, “You really can’t understand this place until you see it for yourself.” Audrey and Pamm are family friends from Minnesota. They have children my age and more like mother’s too me. They have watched me grow up and they are here to see for themselves the Africa I have been telling them about for years.
They agreed that pictures and stories really couldn’t depict with much accuracy the world you can touch and feel and engage with in person. And yet I still try with pictures and words to fill your heads and hearts with visions of Africa because I want so desperately to share this awe inspiring place with you. I want you to taste the dust, to feel the heat, to hear the sounds of the morning, to see the joy and frustrations of the people, to walk along the paths I walk and experience the pure glory of God’s creation.
The Ngong Hills from afar.
I took Pamm and Audrey to visit Rebekah and James in Ilkiloret. I had not seen Rebekah and James since their wedding, and was eager to find out if life had changed since being “married again”. They were married in a Maasai wedding 10 years ago, but exchanged vows in a Christian wedding three weeks ago. Rebekah said it was like going from “analog to digital.” She also said she was so glad the planning and preparation were over! I asked James if he thought their wedding would have any impact on the Maasai tradition of taking more than one wife. James said there were very few Christian men in the village who had only one wife, but that others were watching them with interest. “My church has 25 members,” he said. But his wedding was attended by hundreds of Maasai from the surrounding community, so he has hope that more people will come to know the God he follows, by following his example.
Pamm, Audrey and I with Rebekah (standing next to Pamm) in front of her manyatta.
Next to the classroom I helped construct in Ilkiloret, Janet, my former Maasai co-teacher and current Nominated Member of Parliament for Disabled People, is building a house. She also constructed a road into the village where only a path existed before. Because of her disability, Janet was helpless for much of her life; it is such a blessing to see her life transformed because of the opportunity afforded her. 
Janet's house, on the left, and the adult education classroom in Ilkiloret.
On the way home from Ilkiloret we stopped to see Grace and John King’atua. They are my Kenyan parents and they people who first encouraged me to come to Kenya as a missionary. I hadn’t seen them in months and wanted to get caught up on their lives and those of all the children they support. Janet was one of those children. This year they have five girls graduating from high school!
Grace and John at home in Kimuga.
I also told them about Daniel and that we were getting married soon. They were thrilled. John got his Bible and stood and gave me an impromptu sermon from Philippians 4:4-7. “It’s about rejoicing,” he said “And having joy in life. Never lose that. Build up peace with God, with your husband, with your family and with your friends.”
The glory of God’s creation was abundantly evident today in the transformed lives of His people. In the diversity of culture and custom that blended together so naturally as Audrey and Pamm and I sat under a tree in James’ compound, eating a delicious lunch of rice and beans that Rebekah had prepared. The swirling dust and ever-present flies could not extinguish the joy of new friendship and the shared slice of life. We did our part to build peace even before we heard John’s sermonette.
You may never fully understand this place from afar, but at least by sharing pictures and words I hope you will begin to see how important it is for all of us to keep doing God’s work. It’s about building up peace.
Rejoice! Shalom!

Sunday, June 8, 2014

A Saturday with Claire

A couple of weeks ago I was thinking about Claire and then the phone rang and it was Claire! I met Claire at an HIV Positive Youth Camp in December of 2012. We became fast friends. She joined me in January of 2014 with the Bethel students at Daystar University.
When she called I was in the middle of a second draft of a portion of the Maarifa curriculum and needed some assistance coming up with questions to ask the youth. Claire was the perfect choice for a helper. So Daniel and I went to see her one Saturday afternoon.
Claire lives about an hour and a half from Nairobi in tea country. The rolling green hills of tea plantations are absolutely stunning. 

Claire and her auntie Monica walked down the road to greet us. Claire is petit in stature but larger than life in personality. She is also blind. We ate the lunch of mukimo (mashed potatoes with green vegetables) and cabbage that was prepared for us and then Daniel went off to see the neighborhood with Claire’s cousin George and Claire and I read through the narrative, a fellow writer in Nariobi and I had composed for Maarifa. Claire listened intently to the story and posed great questions to ask the youth as well as helping me identify words that might be difficult for them to understand. 
Claire and I at her house on Saturday afternoon May 31
When Daniel came back I had Claire perform her I CAN spoken word piece. I posted it on YouTube a long time ago.   Click here to watch
Afterward I told her that she wasn’t the only person in the room with a disability. She was surprised and asked who else had a disability. I told her that Daniel wears hearing aids. Daniel let her run her fingers over them so that she could “see” them for herself.
Daniel told her that one of the things he liked best about me was that I loved him just the way he is. Claire smiled and said, “Me too!”
We said goodbye to Claire and her amazing family and drove back through the rolling hills of tea to the new by-pass that is being built…it’s not open yet, but we drove on it anyway…lots of people do. We cut maybe an hour out of our trip both ways by driving on the bypass road. It feels strange to drive on a road in Kenya that is not full of potholes. It’s going to sound strange but we really enjoyed ourselves!
The last Saturday night of every month our church holds an evening Praise and Worship Service. It’s mostly singing and praying and brief message. Two months ago at a Praise and Worship night, Daniel and I spoke for the first time, so to us it’s an anniversary of sorts.
During the singing portion I thought I heard God telling me that Maarifa was of his heart; that it was His vision and that I was just the instrument to carry it out. You know when you think you hear God saying or doing something but you’re not sure…that’s how I felt. A few minutes later, Ann, a Kenyan woman from my Bible Study came up and asked if she could pray with me. She said God was telling her to tell me not to doubt. “I keep hearing the words abundant joy, joy unspeakable, have faith and trust, do not doubt.” 
Sometimes when you need confirmation, God gets right on it.
So here I go - not doubting, having faith and trusting Him in his plans for Maarifa, in his plans for Daniel and I, and for a future of abundant joy.

For Those Of You Who Didn't Know...

You might have seen my Facebook status change in the last month or so. Let me quell all the rumors here and now. It’s true! I’m in love!
So let me give you the vital statistics:
His name is Daniel Steyn. 
He’s 43. The same age I am, although he’s two months older. Another reason that is good is because he has the same birthday as my brother Tom. (No need to remember too many dates).
He is from South Africa. (He’s White.) For those of you who know me well, you might be giggling about now. Yes, I know I said I wanted to marry an African. But I didn’t specify the color with God. Guess who had the final word on that one.
He is an engineer. He works for Intel. (Yes, the computer company.)
He has lived and worked in Kenya for 3 years.
He is ridiculously handsome! And tall!
He likes to run…that’s what we did on our first date.
He is an amazing cook! Albeit with a recipe book close at hand.
And the best part is that he is a God-fearing, praying, Jesus follower!
But the best, best part is that he is crazy about me! I pinch myself every once in a while, not too often because I bruise easily…but often enough to remind myself that I’m not dreaming. There really is an amazing man in my life who loves me to pieces (and is not my father or my heavenly father), his name is Daniel, and I love him too!
Daniel and I in Kakamega, Kenya, during Easter weekend.
(It’s June 6!) Happy two-month Anniversary Daniel!
I can’t wait to see what the next two years…two decades bring!
- J

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Once In A Lifetime

I spent the summer of my 16th year of life living with my aunt and uncle in New Hampshire; they introduced me to the band Talking Heads. They called it traveling music. Any time we would get in the car for a lengthy trip, they would pop a tape…yes I’m that old…into the tape deck and off we’d go. These are some lyrics from the Talking Heads song, “Once In A Lifetime.”
And you may find yourself living in a shotgun shack
And you may find yourself in another part of the world
And you may find yourself behind the wheel of a large automobile

And you may ask yourself-Well...How did I get here?
How did I get here, indeed! I’ll tell you one thing for sure, when I was 16, the idea that I would be here - in Kenya as a missionary - was not even a notion in my brain.
I won’t back up that far, as it would be confusing and boring. This chapter started when I walked up to Stephanie Black at Karen Vineyard Church and told her I wanted to join her Bible Study.
As it turns out Stephanie ended up giving me rides to Bible Study often. We became friends. She knew I had been a journalist and referred me to Bob & Hope Carter, missionary friends of hers, who were looking for a Christian journalist to write the stories of the youth in the Positive Teen Camp they facilitated twice a year.
As soon as I finished my first interview in December of 2012 I knew I wanted to get more involved with youth living with HIV. That week I interviewed 14 youth living with HIV. They all talked about how alone they felt. They all talked about how discrimination and stigma made them not disclose their status to anyone, further alienating them from the world around them. They all wanted to know why God allowed this virus to infect them, and kill their parents. I didn’t have answers. I wanted to have answers.
When the work with Wezesha By Grace ended I was devastated. Why had God brought me to Kenya if it wasn’t to work with Wezesha? I found myself in a very odd place. I wanted to remain a missionary. I couldn’t imagine going back to a 9-5 job or earning a wage. I wanted to depend on God to provide and I wanted to be doing His work. So why had He let it end. I prayed and prayed and prayed some more. And then God reminded me of the Positive Teen Camp, and an idea came into my head.
I went to the African Inland Church Headquarters website and looked over their Health Ministries program and especially the division that deals with HIV/AIDS. When I didn’t see any psychosocial support programs for youth living with HIV, I wrote a proposal to start one and took it to the head of the Health Ministries Department.
My missionary visa is facilitated by AIC church and I need the visa to stay in the country; what better way to be a missionary than to work directly with AIC. Joshua, the director asked me why I didn’t start a non-profit organization. “Because I don’t want to own anything,” I told him. I want Maarifa (what it was later to be named) to be wholy owned and embraced by Kenyans as a means by which they can assist youth living with HIV – a community coming together to empower a generation of youth infected with HIV.
Joshua was eager to accept my proposal but was very clear that AIC could only provide human resources for Maarifa, not financial ones. At the time I thought writing a few grants to get Maarifa off the ground would be easy. But it turned out that money for psychosocial support is not readily available.
After my proposal was approved I realized I needed more training in HIV to feel as if I could speak intelligently about it. I looked on the internet for trainings in Kenya. I found an organization called HIV Hope International that did sporadic trainings on HIV for church leaders and wrote to the director who was based in the US. He eventually wrote back and said there was a training the next month (August 2013) in Maralal. I had never heard of Maralal. It was a full day’s journey into the bush and the last bit was basically no roads at all.
The training itself I’ve blogged about before, but what came out of that training for me became the framework of the Maarifa program. It’s called the Armor of Positive Living and is loosely based on Ephesians 6:10, which calls us to put on the armor of God.
From that point on it has been meetings on top of meetings, finding partners, finding curriculum writers, doing strategic planning, making site visits and the list goes on.
And so it helps to write it all down to identify the people God placed in my life to make “here” a reality. Stephanie Black has since returned to the states, but the Bible Study she started remains strong and the friendships I’ve made there inspire and lift me up to this day. Last Monday they prayed for me and for Maarifa. I’ve felt like I’ve been under attack lately, life just being more frustrating and hectic than usual, kids (mine) being more moody and surly than necessary, things just generally not working out as I hoped. I told the ladies assembled in Beverly’s living room that even though I was feeling beaten down, I was not letting the devil win.
I know how I got here. God ordered my steps to this path (to Kenya, to Maarifa, to Judie, Milly and Tamara, to Karen Vineyard Church) and I simply followed his lead. He WILL provide a way out. He will provide, period.
Here I am God. Use me.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Recycled Knowledge

The candidacy requirements at Globe International require that you read a number of books on cross-cultural living, fundraising and bringing the gospel to the world. I read the first two books on cross-cultural living and psychology in four days and wrote two book reports. The following is what I learned in a more personal format!
The two books I read were, Survival Kit for Overseas Living, by L. Robert Kohls and Psychology of Missionary Adjustment, by Marge Jones.
When we head overseas we pack our suitcase with our clothes and toiletries, but we also take with us our cultural baggage: our customs, beliefs, values, morals, ideals, language and accepted ways of behaving (among many other cultural indicators). This cultural luggage often reveals where we come from, even before we take out our passport.
Through the use of commonly accepted stereotypes we often form assumptions about certain people groups even before meeting someone from that group. Having a set of expectations is fine as long as they are not set in stone. Being flexible and adaptable is key to remaining sane in any cross-cultural setting. That doesn’t mean giving up your culture, it simply means knowing your culture and why you react to another culture the way you do. It also means understanding that other cultures are different, not necessarily wrong.
The Survival Kit provided information about culture shock and reverse culture shock, both of which I’m intimately familiar with. Having traveled abroad as an exchange student at the age of 17 and then in a semester abroad in college and then as an Au Pair the year after I finished college, I can vividly remember facing many cultural challenges. 

 One stands out in my mind. I spent Christmas in Spain as an Au Pair with a Catalan family. They were so welcoming and hospitable, but the food and customs were very foreign. One dish they had on Christmas Eve looked like small worms. Their eyes stared up at me from the hot oil in which they were boiled. I was given something else to eat, but as soon as lunch was done, I called my family in Minnesota just to hear what they were doing. When I hung up, I just sat by the phone and cried. I felt like life was going on without me, like I would never understand my surroundings or get to enjoy Catalan customs.
I never did try the worm dish, but I did become a big fan of the Catalan people and culture. Spain will also represent a transformative time in my life…not all of it good, but I learned so much about myself.
What a lot of people don’t realize is that experiencing other cultures changes you. That’s what the reverse culture shock is about. Fitting back into your own culture isn’t as easy as you would think because you are slightly different than you were when you left. Your world-view has expanded, your horizons have broadened, your rose-colored glasses are a bit clearer. You’re a new you. Enjoy it!

The Psychology of Missionary Adjustment offered information about how missionaries adjusted or didn’t adjust to life in the field. It addressed the issue that a lot of missionaries face of being treated as some sort of celebrity because of their willingness to answer God’s call in their lives. Just so you know, when you are called you will know it and even if you drag your feet like I did, sooner or later you will probably say yes, and it feels like the most natural thing in the world. It doesn’t feel like I’m doing something out of the ordinary. So when people get all excited about it, I just feel perplexed and a little embarrassed. If everyone were called to be missionaries there wouldn’t be doctors and teachers and pilots and garbage collectors. We have all been called and if you were listening to God, He has told or is in the process of telling you exactly what your ministry is. Maybe it’s your office mate, maybe it’s a relative, maybe you need to walk in and volunteer at the homeless shelter you pass every day on the way to work. We are all called. So let me slide off the pedestal you propped me up on and get on with my work. Because I’m human and I make mistakes and I lose my temper and I step off the path sometimes.
Jones also talks a lot about the process of becoming a missionary. I didn’t go through the traditional process so that part of the book was very interesting to me. I’ve never been good at doing things the proscribed way, so even though I usually end up in the right place, I usually take the most untraveled or never traveled before paths to get there. God meets us where we are and starts working in us and through us immediately! How great is that!

There was another chapter on learning the language of wherever you are called. I was talking to a friend about this the other day. I spent 10 years learning Spanish. I can think in Spanish without translating it in my head first and God called me to Kenya where after 13 years I still don’t speak fluent Swahili. In my defense I have never studied Swahili the way I studied Spanish. I am determined to learn Swahili but may have to go to Tanzania and learn it properly. Kenyans have polluted the language kabisa (a lot)!
There was also a chapter on bonding and differences between acceptance, adaption and integration. It is interesting to read about different missionaries’ experiences in this area. When I lived in Barcelona, I had long hair and a spiral perm. I looked a bit Spanish because of my Armenian ancestry. Cataluyans would ask me directions on the street. I understood Catalan but I couldn’t speak it so I would answer their question in Spanish. They just looked flustered and walked away. (Most Cataluyans speak fluent Spanish.) It wasn’t that they didn’t understand me; it was what they heard that they weren’t expecting. I fit in by appearance until I opened my mouth. It’s like Black Africans who come from other parts of Kenya which are not Swahili speaking, they can only blend in so far.
Cross-cultural relationships are work. God created us to be in community but he didn’t say there wouldn’t be misunderstandings. Getting to know your neighbor if they have a different language and culture is the Mt. Everest of relationship barriers, but with God’s love and wisdom there is always a way to forge a friendship.
Another chapter I want to tell you about is called The Fish Bowl. I have been using that analogy for years, especially since I live in the small town of Ngong. I can’t tell you how many times someone has said to me, “I saw you yesterday in town by the bank talking to so and so wearing such and such.” Yesterday as I was walking from my house to the matatu, a random stranger asked me if they could take my picture. No! It’s like being a Hollywood celebrity without the income bracket!
I don’t think any amount of orientation can prepare you for the lack of privacy or misinterpretations of your actions that will occur while in the field. The best you can do is be as transparent and communicative as possible about who you are, what you are about and where your boundaries lie.

When things don’t go as expected, because missionaries do fail sometimes…there is something called the Let Down. One of the authors, Myron Loss, mentioned in Psychology of Missionary Adjustment, offered 15 tips for survival in the missionary field.
Because these are really universal and could be of use to almost anyone in any situation I will list them here for you to mull over:
1.     Set reasonable goals.
2.     Don’t take your job description too seriously.
3.     Be committed to joy.
4.     Maintain good emotional health.
5.     Remember that you are human.
6.     Don’t be afraid of being a little bit eccentric
7.     Be flexible.
8.     Don’t take yourself too seriously.
9.     Reduce your stress where possible.
10.  Make your cultural change gradual.
11.  Forgive yourself. Forgive others.
12.  Establish some close friendships with people from the host culture.
13.  Be thankful.
14.  Be an encourager.
15.  Take courage, someone understands.
After you have thoroughly mulled over this list write a couple of these survival tips (or the whole list if it helps), in your journal or planner and make a conscious effort to incorporate them into your lifestyle.
That’s the end of my reports. I hope you’ve enjoyed the recycled knowledge. I added some artsy photos so you wouldn’t get bored. They don't have anything to do with the content except the one below.
Next up for a book report blog is Funding Your Ministry, by Scott Morton. That one might take me a while to crank out, as I’ve also started the Perspectives in Global Missions online course, which has a mammoth amount of reading included in it.
Not that I wish I was in Minnesota right now, but it would be much easier to stay inside and read if the view out my window wasn’t this!


Friday, January 17, 2014

A Blog about a blog

My work for the month of January is to facilitate the travel and logistics for a group of students from Bethel University who are taking a J-term course about the Media in Kenya. As communication students they are recording their experiences in a blog.

Please check it out and keep track of their progress. This is their third and final week in the country so there is a lot to read already.

I am so encouraged to know that God is working in the lives of young people all over the world. The Bethel students have interacted with both Christian and Muslim students. They have especially enjoyed meeting Kenyan and international students at Daystar University where we have been for the past week. They have discovered that the similarities far outweigh the differences in culture and experience.

Enjoy the Bethel Blog!