Monday, July 29, 2013

Servant Leadership for Kingdom Work

Ok, that’s my new life-inspiration-phrase or whatever.

I came into this trip with no idea what I want to do with my life, constantly changing my mind and begging God for a plan because I’m a huge planner and I don’t have one at all.

Then suddenly I am teaching children math every day and loving it.  Then suddenly I am hanging out with Judge Starr (!!!!!!!!), the president of Baylor, and talking about my life and he guides me in laying out a plan that just sounds perfect.  I know that I have time and options.  I know that I don’t have it all figured out, but I have an outline.

I know that I can do big things for Christ; all it takes is an ordinary person with a committed, willing heart, daily living out Jesus’s command for his disciples to “go and make disciples of all nations” and live by The Spirit.  I know that by offering all my time, effort, resources, and life to the Lord, He uses me.

I’m just so excited and joyful; I can hardly contain myself!  God is alive, God is working, and God is evident!  Here in Kenya, in my personal life, and over all of Satan’s schemes all around the world:

Our God Reigns!

Bwana Asifiwe!

Saturday, July 27, 2013

The TEC Room (Sewing Class)

I have a bunch of new best friends.  My heart has completely broken for these girls.  I love them so much and cannot stop thinking about them, so I thought I would just talk about them and my experiences with them for a bit.

They’re all very shy at first, and a few of them speak very poor English.  They are polite and quiet, sewing their brown paper dresses and blouses because they cannot afford to learn on fabric.  Until they get excited about something, and then they just cannot stop giggling.

Judy is the best dancer and by far the silliest.  She loves to randomly do crazy, funny little things and cannot stop giggling whenever we are having fun.  She is super outgoing, but has the worst English, so we are always just goofing around and playing in ways that don’t require speaking the same language, which is always a ton of fun.

Helen speaks English the best, is the best at sewing, and was the first one to ask me to sing.  She’s 18, and she never got to go to high school because her parents couldn’t afford it.  She felt abandoned and alone, without friends and without a future.  Her parents made her come to take the sewing classes at the BCC, and she went reluctantly, ashamed and angry at God.  Through the teaching, mentoring, and Godly guidance of Zippie (the girl’s amazing teacher, who I will talk about later), Helen found Christ and found hope.  She is now one of the most joyful girls I have ever spoken to and is so on fire for the Lord.  She is a part of
a community of friends of girls in the same situation as her, she’s excited for her future, and she has found her joy in God.  She loves Him and trusts Him with her life, always wanting to praise Him and thank Him for the blessings He has given her.

Agnus is the youngest, straight out of 8th grade, and is always smiling.  She is quick to participate in whatever fun we are having and gives everything her all.  She has one of the most joyful spirits I have ever seen and is always up for
anything, spreading her contagious joy for life and eagerness to learn to everyone around her.

Violet’s the newest member of the class, so she is a bit quiet and reserved still.  She dreams of one day becoming a doctor, but she ended up in the sewing class for the same reason as Helen: her parents couldn’t afford to send her to high school.  She loves singing more than anyone else and will gladly join in with a beautiful, loud voice, but always shyly and after enough other people have started singing together.  She is kind and gentle, but always glad for an excuse to have fun with the rest of the girls.

 I could go on and keep talking about the rest of them individually, but I will save that for a later day and get onto my time with them.  They teach me their worship songs, how to dance, some words in Swahili, and how to sew.  All I’ve taught them are a couple of worship songs, but I hope I am encouraging, loving, and giving them Jesus.  I certainly know that I am at least making class a lot of fun!

These girls all live in the slums of Nairobi, and the only life they know is one of extreme poverty, hardship, and suffering.  I’m grateful to bring joy into their lives and have fun with them for the short month that I am here, but I am even more grateful that they have found hope and love and a future through coming to the BCC and learning how to sew from a woman who is so set on giving them Jesus.

On Friday morning, Zippie gave a devotional to her girls on Jeremiah 29, giving them hope for their futures through Christ and telling them that they can rise out of the slums and live a life that is not so full of pain, sorrow, and tears anymore because God has great plans for them.  She used my trip to Kenya as an example of things we never knew could happen to us happening for us, and told the girls that my life is evidence of the amazing things that God can do and that their lives will be full of amazing things like mine and they will get the chance to live their dreams, whatever they are.  I could not stop crying.

 These girls have found hope and joy in the Lord through this program that gives them Jesus and the practical life skill of sewing.  The workers at the BCC are truly living out the gospel through the work that they are doing, I am just so thankful to get to be a blessing to them and be a part of the work that is already going on here.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Una Taka Chai?

I spent the day yesterday in the kitchen, making food for the entire school and learning a lot along the way!


I am constantly being humbled.  Over and over again.  I cut vegetables SO SLOW.  And always forget the Swahili I just learned as soon as one of my favorite teachers shows up who I really want to show off to by asking them if they want tea or porridge, but then I get all frazzled and forget the question I’ve been asking in flawless Swahili over and over again for the last half hour.

Taking tea.

It’s like a coffee break, but required.  And delicious (although I also love coffee).  And you don’t ever take your tea to-go, you just sit and drink it.  They make their tea with milk instead of water, and put fresh ginger and rosemerry (literally picked from a bush right outside!) in with it, and it is just so delicious.  Taking tea is a time of fellowship and filling your belly half way through the morning because lunch is so late.  I absolutely love this little part of Kenyan culture.


The kids who go to school here are hungry.  When we finish serving everyone their rice and beans, many line up for seconds or whatever is leftover.  We scoop leftovers into their bowls until it’s all gone.

And that’s when it gets hard to watch.

The boys push and shove and thrust their bowls out in from of them to try to get in front of or above the other bowls, so that their bowl will be the one that gets the tiny scoop of extra beans.  They’re desperate for food.  I’ve always known that was a reality for kids all over the world, especially here, but I’ve never really seen that desperation, that hunger, right in front of me.

I don’t know what kind of homes the kids go back to afterschool or whether or not they get fed.  I know that at least 21 of them get fed, because 21 of them live in the residential home as orphans and eat their dinner from that same kitchen the lunch was prepared in.  I also know that the majority of the rest of them live in the slum that surrounds the BCC, and from visiting homes and walking around (during day, with none of my belongings, and with two Kenyan adult responsible males, no need to worry about me!), I do not have much hope for what they get at home.


On a more positive note, in the kitchen today, we had a couple of visitors!  I got invited to a wedding (on August 31st, so sorry if I just don't come home...), and I got to meet a boy who went through the program and is now in college!  It was so encouraging to see the longer-term effects of the good work that Buckner is doing in supporting the BCC.


Okay.  This is not just about the kitchen, but oh well.  I want to talk about it anyways.  Another one of my absolute favorite things about Kenya is that they all just sing all the time, and there is absolutely no shame or embarrassment or hesitation or anything.  It’s perfectly normal to walk into the class five room and see the whole class singing and dancing together until their teacher (er, I) shows up!  Talking with the girls learning to sew in the tec classroom, they ask me to sing for them.  Everyone asks me to share a song with them!  Many teachers are always singing something as they walk around, or sit and grade in the staffroom. 

At first I was hesitant to just sing for people out of nowhere, but I have completely picked the habit up and embraced this part of the culture by singing all the time.  So I absolutely loved singing while working in the kitchen, it made the work so much more fun.


I asked Paul (the head chief) for his life story while we worked, and what I got was a brief start that resembled the beginning of a life story, then a description of what his wife was doing before they met, and then a moment-by-moment, incredibly telling of their love story.  I think it took about an hour, maybe more, but I was hanging on every word because he was just so excited to tell it and so happy to share how he ended up with the love of his life.  He gave me lots of practical advice and reminded me of the importance of patience and waiting before the Lord for good things because it took him so long to find her and then finally marry her, but they are now so happy together.  He told me that I needed to always check to see if the man is looking for a wife or a girlfriend, and I was encouraged to run away if he just wants a girlfriend.  I got to see how he trusted God and remained loyal even when times were hard and many encouraged him to get a divorce because she wasn’t producing babies so everyone assumed she was barren, he valued commitment and had faith that God would provide, and God did just that after seven years of trying.  He proved the value of prayer, waiting upon the Lord, and having a relationship completely grounded in Christ.

It was so powerful how completely different worlds we live in, from social norms to economic situations to stages in lives to just about everything… We are so different, yet he shared with me such universal, practical, real truths that apply to both of us in the same way, even though every other detail of our life is completely different.  Paul and I share faith in Christ, so we are siblings, live with the same goal in mind, and can learn from each other.  It constantly strikes me how cool it is to be sharing that with everyone on staff here, despite how different my daily life is from theirs.

In Conclusion,

I loved taking a day off from my normal work to help out in the kitchen and be a part of the ministry of feeding the kids that goes on there.  Cooking has never been strength of mine (to say the least), but it was awesome to be able to encourage the kitchen staff in the work that they do day in and day out with very little thanks.

A child cannot learn if he or she is hungry, for the child will be focusing only on how to satisfy their hunger.  The kids who come to the BCC for school are given life, education, and hope through a good meal.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Take Tea

I think I can describe my experiences in Kenya so far simply in saying that I have already learned more than I ever thought I could learn in a week.  About…

I’m not studying education, but if the best way to learn is through experience, then I am definitely on the road to knowing how to teach in a classroom.  Tutoring is nice because you get to make sure at every step through the problem that your student understands, and teaching is crazy hard because you have no idea how many of your students are following you.  It’s hard, but I’m starting to figure it out, I hope, and I’m starting to realize that I do like it a lot, despite the challenges!  I love giving people the gift of math, if that’s not too cheesy or nerdy, by helping them understand and appreciate it.

World Politics:
Fun fact: Obama is Kenyan.  Enough said.
Many of my teacher-friends know just as much about the American political system as I do, and, a little over a week ago, I knew NOTHING about the Kenyan government, or any other government in the world for that matter.  Now, thankfully, I can say that is no longer true.  I could tell you a whole lot about Kenya’s government system.

Loving Kids:
It doesn’t require being able to speak the same language to sing and dance and tickle and play and be silly.

Life for Orphans:
Before coming here and spending so much time with the residential kids, I thought that Americans adopting international orphans and bringing them to America was the absolute best thing for them.  Now, don’t get me wrong, orphans being in homes is definitely best for them, but I’ve learned that that home doesn’t have to be America for them to have the best life possible.  These kids are used to life here and the culture and the way things are.  They have a community, a school, friends, and essentially a family in the residential home, even though it doesn’t quite look like your average kid’s family. 

Human Suffering:
Why do bad things happen to good people?  Why is life so unfair for so many people?  Why is there human suffering?  It’s okay for me to not have the answers to those questions.  It’s okay to say “I don’t know why there has to be suffering on earth, yes it upsets me too, but I do know that God is living and powerful and good.”  The only thing we can do is stand in front of a mirror and ask that question to ourselves, following up with “what are we doing about it?”

They are excellent kissers.

My Passions:
I’ve known I am passionate about loving kids (particularly underprivileged and orphans), spreading Jesus, experiencing all parts of the world, and learning math, but I have never before been in a setting before where I pretty much get to do all these things at once.  I’ve always wondered how God could possibly use my strange personality and interests that do not correlate at all, but I think I am starting to see how.  I don’t know what it’s going to look like exactly, but it’s been a huge answered prayer to see how God can use my gifts and passions for His glory.  Such a powerful reminder that He is in control and has a plan for me way bigger than what I have for myself! (Coming into this trip, I had no idea I would become the kids 5th, 6th, and 7th grade math teacher, but God is teaching me so much and using my skills and passions in ways I never thought of to glorify Him and further His kingdom!)

Cooking Natural Fresh Food:
In the kitchen at the BCC (one of the funest, most physically demanding, and hottest places to work in the whole place), almost all the food comes straight from the BCC’s farm right outside.  We go pick vegetables, chop them up, and throw them in the stew for lunch.  The food is all absolutely delicious.  I’m sure I will get sick of ugali long before my time here is up, but I love chipati and everything with fresh vegetables in it is delicious.  I’m excited to spend some more time in there in the coming weeks and learn how to make all the wonderful Kenyan dishes.

Sharing Jesus:
You don’t need to have any earthly wealth to be spiritually rich and share Jesus.  I have learned this through some of the kids, who have so clearly shown Jesus to me in how they love me and prayed for Jesus’s blood to cover my family and me.  Despite knowing that I came to Kenya to help them, they have offered me Jesus with every opportunity they have.  I was also moved by the pastor’s sermon this morning, which included a call to make yourself available because God will use you and to invest in the things that matter for eternity instead of the things of this world.  He challenged his congregation full of the poor and the needy to share Jesus with everyone in their lives who does not know Christ.  Sharing Jesus requires nothing but knowing Him yourself, and that is the richest that one can ever be.

Marriage, Divorce, and Patrimony:
So here in Kenya, it’s perfectly legal and socially acceptable to have multiple wives.  I mean, it doesn’t happen in every family, and I certainly don’t know the statistics or anything, but all the people I have encountered see it as a perfectly normal social practice that they abstain from because it is a sin for Christians, but they know people who do it.  As my teacher friends were telling me about the practice of patrimony in Kenya, my mouth was wide open in shock, and I could not stop shaking my head and saying how terrible that whole concept is.  On the other hand, divorce is VERY uncommon.  They followed this question up by asking me about divorce in America.  They explained that they highly value the family unit, and so if a man wants to be with another woman, he just adds her to the family instead of destroying the family by breaking apart from his wife.  They could not wrap their minds around how it is possible that half of marriages in America end in divorce, and our society still survives.  After talking with them for a while and letting myself see it from their point of view, I realized that they have a point.  I mean, patrimony is not okay.  But it’s also not okay for me to so quickly judge their culture when there are many parts of American culture that are considered okay, but are just as bad, according to the Bible.  It’s crazy how we judge things that seam different and bad so quickly that we often don’t stop to reflect and realize how perverted and wrong our own mindset and culture is.

Trying to Teach a Class Full of Kids at Completely Different Academic Levels:
It’s just really hard.

Community and Prioritizing Relationships:
So, in America, you don’t go to someone else’s house unless you are invited, and if you are invited, you show up on the decided date at the decided time.  Just showing up would be so rude!  When I told my Kenyan teacher friends this, they were blown away.  If you don’t show up at your friend’s house periodically, you’re not really friends.  And if someone shows up at your house, you invite them in and serve them food or drink and they hang out for a few hours.  Even if you have something else planned.  Shadrack told me, “if I came to your door and you told me you were busy, I would never come back to your house again.  Even if you invited me.  Never.”  Here, they prioritize each other above all else.  It’s so special.
They also prioritize conversations.  I was talking with Absolom in the staff room one day, when one of his students came in and politely informed him that it was time for their English lesson.  He gave them their notebooks and told the student in one quick sentence what they should work on, then went back to our conversation.  We talked for another hour or so, and he just never showed up to teach his class because we were in a conversation, and you don’t just interrupt a conversation.  Even to teach a class.  It blows my mind how much they value each other as people.  I feel like I already have stronger relationships with all of the teachers here then I have ever had with my classmates or coworkers, simply because they value relationships so much.  It absolutely blows my mind. 

Being Driven to Education:
From that story, an American would naturally ask how the teacher could leave the students on their own for the entire class period without chaos ensuing.  The answer lies in the fact that the kids in Kenya want to learn.  The kids in the classroom are so self-sufficient and they work so hard without having to be pushed by their teachers because they all genuinely want to do well.  These kids value their education because they know how blessed they are to be in the school they are in.  I wish all Americans could realize how amazing of an opportunity being educated is and would really take advantage of it and appreciate it and want to learn like they do here.

Chopping Vegetables:
It’s okay if I’m really slow at it.  I’m still helping.  And I’m getting faster!  Plus, being humbled is always good.

How God Has Oriented Me to Use Me to Further His Kingdom:
I love Kenya and am so thankful to be serving God’s people here.  I am (obviously) learning so much and growing so much and helping do God’s work at the BCC, but these people know Jesus and love Him and are serving Him already.  God has made me super passionate about sharing the gospel with people, teaching them about walking with God, showing people Jesus in a new way, and helping shepherd people in the Lord.  I fail all the time, but by God’s hand, I try to do all that in America, and I often see the fruit of God’s work through it.  There are so many people and places in the world that desperately need to hear the Good News of Jesus Christ.  The majority of the people of Kenya are doing that themselves!  They are going out and telling people about Jesus and helping them in their walks with the Lord, and it is so beautiful and wonderful to see.  Right now, this is where God has called me, and I’m loving every minute of it, but I am seeing His plan is not for me to ultimately be here long term.  I’m excited to see what He does have in store for me and how he will continue to gradually reveal his plans for me to me!

The Differences Between Living in Africa and America:
So, obviously, there are about a million differences, but one really stands out to me.  Africa hasn’t had the necessary medical equipment and medicine to diagnosis and treat cancer.  The same cancer that tons of Americans have survived from has killed tons of Africans completely unnecessarily.  Millions in Africa die from preventable, treatable diseases because they don’t have access to everything we have access to medically.  I’ve always heard statements like that, but just in the past week, the reality really sank in for me and shook me up all over.  If my family lived in Africa, my mom probably would not be alive.

Kenyans worship all the time and don’t need anything but their voices.  It is absolutely the most beautiful thing I have ever heard without a doubt, and has not yet seized to fill me with joy every time and inspire me to join in, praising God.  Before school starts in the morning each day, teachers worship together during devos; in religion class, teachers lead their students in worship; in the staff room or on the playground, I always hear people lifting their voices to Jesus; and Sunday mornings are just incredible.  They truly call out to Jesus, worshiping Him and bringing Him honor.  It has brought me to worship in a new way since I’ve been here, where it’s not at all about me, but only about God.

When helping out the first grade teacher, I was asked to draw a poster for her because they don’t have access to a computer or printer or signs to purchase or anything, so everything is handmade.  I successfully drew every tool in the book (literally, the first grade English curriculum book, I drew the tools and wrote the word in English), even a plow, and they looked like what they were supposed to look like!  Who knew I am somewhat capable of creating recognizable pictures?  I never thought I had it in me.

The Holy Spirit:
On my first day in the 5th graders’ Christian Religious Education class (when I observed before starting teaching), the students were learning about the gifts and fruit of the spirit, and they all already knew all about the Holy Spirit and that it is their “helper.”  I have taught devos to tons of campers and explained to many questioning people what the holy spirit is in a complicated, theological manner, but hearing the 5th graders so simply explain and understand the Holy Spirit as our helper that God has given us for times of need gave me a sudden simple understanding of the gift that God has given us by entering us through his spirit to help us.  It’s really that simple, and that cool!  How neat that God loves us so much that he decided to come dwell inside us, simply to help us with our daily lives on earth?!

Life in the Slums of Nairobi & How Buckner is Helping:
Walking through the slum that the BCC is in the middle of and talking with the people who live there, it breaks my heart to see the conditions they are living in, but I am endlessly thankful for the work that Buckner is doing by supporting the BCC and how it improves the community by providing access to water for everyone; programs that provide education and a home for the abandoned, orphaned, homeless, and molested children; and very affordable healthcare for the whole community.

Hujambo!  Habari ya asuburi!  Mzuri!  Asante Sana!  … I’m working on it.

Sorry I’ve been so bad about blogging—free time and Internet have been scarce, but I hope I’ve made it up to y’all!

Footnote: Two of the lovely ladies I am here serving alongside are keeping a blog as well and have some really interesting, eye-opening posts worth reading because they have been doing different things than I have!  You can find it at this link.