31 May 2011

Clinging to... What?

We're entering an interesting time here at RVA.  I guess it's a yearly ritual - one of the quirks of living on a mission compound with a bunch of other people all in houses which aren't really their own.  The last few weeks, the housing committee has been meeting to discuss who will live where next school-year.  I (Jim) don't envy them.  They try to be objective - to look at family size and need.  They try to find the best fit for everybody.  It's interesting - do you make a family move who's lived in the same house for several years but no longer needs all the space because some of their kids have graduated?  Veterans of RVA have come to accept this: you can't expect to be in the same house for long.

Some people think that missionaries are 'good' Christians - I think this time of year is proof of our fallen nature.  There is sometimes-intense speculation on who will get the new house that's being built on campus... probably even some with (gasp!) jealous hopes.  People get possessive.  I get possessive.

I think as far as having to move is concerned, we're pretty 'safe.'  But still, I don't want to leave the house we've been in for the past 10 months.  I don't want to leave behind our big yard, the upstairs playroom or the freshly painted walls.  It's just now starting to feel like our home.  (The panicky feeling I get when thinking about these things demonstrates just how attached to them I am.)

The other day I was feeling a little anxious about all this after hearing somebody on the committee talk about how tight next year looks for available housing.  What if they ask us to move?

And then I felt strongly convicted about the whole thing.  Why am I so attached to this stuff?  What if I were that attached to the things that really matter?

My internal committee makes decisions about these things all the time:  Morning quiet time gets eliminated so that I can sleep.  Sleep gets pushed back to grade papers.  Papers get shoved back by homesick wanderings through my 'social network'.  Suddenly, I find time with God has been replaced by...  Facebook?  

What if I got that same panicky feeling when time with God was pushed out of my morning routine?  What if I was as attached to thinking about the world like Christ as I am attached to this old house that's not even ours?  What if my desire to know Him was as strong as my desire to know what's going on in the lives of people at home?

It's not as if I always make the wrong choice.  Sometimes my actions really do fit with those of the authentic Christian I want to become.  But not all the time - usually when it's comfortable.  Wouldn't it be awesome to be emptied of our attachment to stuff and filled with full dependence on Him?  I want to be that sort of Christian - clinging to Him.

30 May 2011

Names (A Chapel Address)

It's fun to be able to encourage and exhort students here at RVA.  There are opportunities for it everywhere.  Here's the script from a chapel service I spoke for last week.  If any of you whose names I made fun of happen to read this...  thanks for brightening our day, and sorry!

We’ve been thinking about baby names a lot lately.

Heather’s getting anxious about choosing a name, but I can’t think of anything.  It seems like a big deal.  You can’t just rush into this kind of thing - You don’t want to mess it up!

Heather has a name she likes, but I don’t like the spelling.

You want to spell it so people say it right…  you don’t want people to mess it up… you know the kind of name: Kyalo

But you don’t want to spell it stupidly either.  I once had a student named Nathunn

What were those parents thinking? 

'I don’t know, honey… don’t you think people will say Nay Than?  I like more of an Uh sound…  lets use a U…  and what about an extra N… that’d be awesome.  It really makes that unnnn stick.  Nay thunnn.'

Maybe we should pick a name that really means something:   I looked up some Biblical names and their meanings:
Hephzibah – My delight is in her.  Kind of a nice girl name, right?

Or maybe you choose a name you really like and THEY don’t.  I know a guy who changed his name to Purple Frog Rainbowstar.  What if my child does that!?!

It’s really intimidating!

Sometimes names really DO mean something, but really, more often, the name means something because of what we DO.  As a teacher, there’s a whole list of names that have been contaminated by some punk kid: 

'Honey, How do you like the name Jacob?'

'Jake… uh Jacob… uh… ' And there’s this image of somebody DOING something or BEING someone.  And I don’t like it!

There is one name most of us share:  Christian.

Does that name have meaning?  Look it up and you find: follower of Christ.

But I think like Hephzibah the real meaning comes by observing ‘Christian’ in action.  I think a large part of the world hears the name ‘Christian’ and the meaning that comes to mind is nothing like ‘follower of Christ.’  I think it might be a whole lot more like our understanding of the word Pharisee.

One thing I really like about teaching at RVA is the conversations I don’t hear.  I haven’t sent anybody to Mr. Reber (the principal) for calling me a ____.  I haven’t had to stop any conversations about any activities from this past weekend that were illegal.  But there’s a problem:

It seems to me like most of our ‘Christian’ life is a little bit like Clearplay.  [A movie-editing program used here at RVA.]  We take this movie and cut out all the junk… the foul language, the dirty pictures, the crude jokes… but the THEME is still the same!

To ‘be more Christian’ we stop using certain words, we dress a certain way. We stop telling dirty jokes… but the THEME is still the same!!  We’re just clearplaying our pre-Christian life.   We end up being a lot like those Pharisees that Mr. Hildebrand [our student pastor] talked about yesterday… with our 600 laws, our ‘cleansing’ rituals - all careful self-righteousness.  In an effort to tone down our unsaved life we adhere to strict rules and end up with something that LOOKS and SOUNDS a lot different on the outside but at the core, we’re still the same old sinners.

Sure, becoming a Christian is so easy a caveman could do it!  [Referencing Sunday's message.]  But what about living the Christian… the Christ-following life? 
"I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace."  Ephesians 4:1-3
Completely humble? Every effort? That’s impossible!  So how do we LIVE as CHRISTIANS?

You cannot live as a Christian!
"To this end I labor, struggling with all His energy, which so powerfully works in me."  Colossians 1:29
 "I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me."  Galatians 2:20
We’ve got to drop the self-righteous fa├žade… Clearplay doesn’t work!  Cleaning up the rough edges still leaves us with the same sinful life, the same theme on the inside.  Does my life look like CHRIST is living it?  Christ who is within me?  I’m afraid not.  I think most of the time I’m just another Clear-played Christian – a ‘clean’ movie with a worldly theme.  I’m praying that God will work within me to help me to live the life that looks RADICALLY different to the world.  The Christ-like, Christ-following life.

25 May 2011


In my post yesterday I referenced a specific type of sleeper that the Gerber brand makes that zips up instead of snaps.  And how I REALLY wanted to get some, but it really DIDN'T matter.  Well, after library duty tonight, Jim came in looking like Santa, laden down with three packages.  There was a nice big one from my good friend, Nicole, who I left behind in Colorado.  She and her husband, Chad, were a large part of our preparation before we came here to RVA.  They were missionaries in Asia, and hope to head back one day.  Nicole and Chad proved to be very wise, insightful, encouraging, and challenging as we navigated all the preparations required to bring us here to RVA.  What a divine appointment the Lord gave to Nicole when they moved in just around the corner from us... I treasure the memories of the cold winter days that we spent curled up on each other's couches with our four children, talking about missions, motherhood, big changes, and our human inability to handle it all.  

She mailed a package last month that was a long time coming.  The treasures absolutely warmed my heart, as she had creatively thought of each and every one of us.  But I have to tell you what I pulled out first.  I ripped the tape from the customs inspection off the open end.  I immediately saw the patterned print that I recognized from the Gerber brand.  A colorful print of African animals.  Joel had a few things with the same print.  I thought "No way, that would be too good to be true."  But the first thing I pulled out of that package was a newborn, Gerber, zip-up sleeper, just like I was longing for.  It absolutely made my night!  

The thing that is even more dear to me about this is that I remember so many conversations with Nicole about the Lord's provision for not only our needs, but for the desires of our hearts as well.  I wrote this post after telling her about what He had done for our family over the course of October 2009.  And she spoke of the Lord building up our faith in His provision so we would have that foundation when we came to Kenya.  And honestly, I think of that important lesson she pointed out to me almost every week since we've been in Kenya.  A few months later, I remembered telling her how it seemed too silly and materialistic, but I was thrilled that the Lord was providing a [free] white fridge to replace our old almond-colored one.  Then all of my kitchen appliances would finally match.  But she said "No-- God's created us to appreciate beauty, and He loves you and wants you to have that!"  

And so it was just like having her here next to me, sitting across the bed from me, and I could hear her saying "Wanting something exactly right for your baby is okay... and God delights in providing not only for our needs, but for something we might long for.  And look!  He did it!"  And that was the biggest gift for me tonight.  A reminder of God's abundant, limitless love, that came through a dear friend who loves me so well.  

24 May 2011

Getting ready for baby

Mother's Day, 2011
We made it!  I am officially 37 weeks pregnant today, a milestone that always feels good when we arrive, because of the time that we didn't.  We will get to meet this little one within the month!  I've been busy getting things ready on the home front, trying to make the arrival of the baby as easy as possible, since we will still be in the middle of our third and final school term of the year.  If we were back in Woodland Park, this would probably mean clipping coupons for newborn diapers and Papa Murphy's pizza, going to Munchkin Market to get some great deals on secondhand baby things that we might need, long weekly doctor appointments and getting ready for a short hospital stay away from Faith and Joel.

Things are a little bit different in Kenya.  I've said many times lately that I've made up for the lack of "nesting" instinct during my first two pregnancies with this one.  I think at least 75% of that has to do with necessity of preparation for the baby here!

One of the items that has proven most helpful for our family this year has been my sewing machine, that was at least 50% of one of our precious thirteen suitcases.  I've been busy making simple things like swaddling blankets and burp cloths, that are easy enough to make here, and don't really justify the effort or cost of receiving from the states.  I even made a 'Boppy' nursing pillow, which I'm really excited about having.  I had to make some custom-sized sheets for our custom-sized Kenyan mini-crib that the baby will sleep in for the first couple months or so.  I've also enjoyed making a few small quilts and other less-practical, more-crafty things, which keeps me busy when I'm feeling like I'm just sitting and waiting on the baby to come.

I've been stockpiling diapers and wipes on my trips into Nairobi for shopping.  Newborn diapers are very difficult to find here, so we'll just start out with size one.  Faith was in preemie diapers for a few months, and even Joel was for a few weeks, so I'm hoping this one can fill 'em up a little better, to cut down on laundry!  We will primarily use cloth diapers, once we feel up to getting back into the swing of things with those.  We've had a break for over a year from diapers!  I imagine we are in for a bit of a shock again.  Disposable wipes are also very expensive here, so I'm working on a few options for using cloth wipes.  We brought along most of our cloth diapers, so we have what we need, but there is an awesome diaper grant program for missionaries here that provides for many missionary families throughout the world.

One of the more challenging differences that I am anticipating is the lack of "fast" food here.  I don't really mean McDonald's, but just the lack of convenience foods/locations/hours here.  We can't run to the store after supper to get some more lunchmeat for quick sandwiches, or grab some soup from Safeway or a frozen pizza from Walmart.  Yes, we will have wonderful help in the form of meals from others on campus, but once we are on our own again, we're back to cooking from scratch day in and day out, and planning ahead for the day-long stock-up trips into Nairobi.  I've been trying to freeze some meals and have easier things on hand (we can find a selection of more convenient things to eat in Nairobi, thankfully) but really, convenience food after this baby is born is going to mean my stockpile of $6 boxes of granola cereal!  Pictured is my first attempt at making a (giant) batch of granola bars, which are sitting in the freezer, waiting for me to go into labor.

photo credit

I was telling Jim the other day how all I wanted was to go to Walmart or Target and get this certain kind of Gerber sleeper that we had with Joel that I just loved (they had zippers... so much easier than snaps!) and then I could come back here, and I'd be happy.  Once I snapped out of my daydream, I realized that if we were in the states, I really wouldn't care about that at all, and I wouldn't do it.  What's the next best thing in Kenya?  Or maybe the tenth best thing...  Toi Market.  'Toi' is a large outdoor clothing market in Nairobi, with stall after stall of used clothes and shoes.  This first picture is just the outskirts of it.  It's really one big crowded maze that makes you think you should be in the Amazing Race.  The roofs are just tarps, the stalls made from lumber, and you are constantly trying to watch where you step (it's just muddy ground below), look for what you need, hold on to your money tightly, and tell the vendors hounding you that 'no thanks, I really don't need any more maternity clothes'.  If we were to need anything for our family to wear, we would certainly be able to find it here.  Maybe not in the right brand or color, but we could keep ourselves clothed quite nicely.  I purchased four more baby sleepers for about $6 total.  It can be rather warm inside, and it's certainly more tiring and more of an ordeal than shopping online or waltzing in and out of Walmart, but for what is available, it's more than sufficient.
photo credit

photo credit
We plan on welcoming our newest creation just down the hill at Kijabe Hospital.  This will allow me to labor at home as long as possible, take a last-minute ride down the bumpy road to the hospital, welcome our baby, and as long as everyone seems healthy, return home a few hours later.  There will be no routine IV's, no poking or prodding of the baby, no extensive monitoring, no waking the baby every so often, and nothing that the natural process doesn't really warrant.  Maybe I sound a little like the natural birth movement that is hitting pockets of young moms in America and has been for a while... 

There will also be bugs on the ceiling and spiders in the corners, I may end up laboring in the ward with eight of my closest Kenyan friends, or maybe I'll be pushing out the baby alongside another in the delivery room without a door, on the narrow flat bed that doesn't do anything fancy.  There are no epidurals to choose to have or not to have, and there is no heat or air conditioning.  Most likely there will be power, but last Tuesday it was out all afternoon.  There's one bathroom down the hall for everyone, and I've gotten the impression that I'll probably rather just wait to shower until I get back home.  Our hospital bag isn't just filled with things for 'mother's comfort', it's filled with towels and blankets, and diapers, and anything and everything we'll need for that day or night that the baby arrives.  

That being said, we are excited for this delivery, and the part that makes the above paragraph bearable, and maybe almost not noticeable, is the care that we will receive.  I will be attended by a good friend and a talented nurse, along with the skilled doctor or midwife that greets us in the delivery room (that part is unable to be planned, but whoever it will be is very skilled and able), and there are a handful of missionary pediatricians around that will be on call, day or night, to care for the baby that has been wonderfully knit together in my body over the last eight months.

Above all, we trust in the God who led us here to Kenya, allowed us to create this life, and designed the amazing feat of childbirth, and we eagerly anticipate the unveiling of his awesome plan and faithfulness in the arrival of our third child, just as He did with the arrivals of Faith and Joel.

23 May 2011

The Coconuts

(Quite) A while back, we celebrated Faith's birthday.  She turned 6.  I can't believe how fast the past 6 years have flown by!  On the day of her birthday, we were at the coast near Mombasa.  A few months ago, Faith saw people drinking from 'young' coconuts through a straw at a travel fair in Nairobi.  She really wanted to try it when we got to the coast and on her birthday, we agreed to let her.

Mombasa was hot and REALLY humid.  This picture is of a guy climbing the palm tree to cut down some coconuts for us.  It also shows what happens when a camera lens goes from an air-conditioned room to the hot, sticky air outside.  (This picture was taken early on a bright, sunny morning!)  The coconuts were put in the refrigerator to chill until afternoon Chai.

Joel Was the first to try it.
It didn't really live up to Faith's expectations either!

The 'meat' inside was much better!

We stayed in a house about 15 minutes' walk from the beach, and when the house-help found out that it was Faith's birthday, they decorated for her.  Faith was pretty excited when we got back from the beach and everything was ready for her party!

She asked for shrimp for her birthday.  I'm not sure this is what she had in mind... but it was pretty good!
We topped it all off with a coconut cake that Heather made from scratch... in a toaster oven and iced in the air-conditioned bedroom where it stayed until its big moment.  Have I ever mentioned that my wife is awesome?

10 May 2011

Through A Child's Eyes

If you ever want a really interesting take on life, hand your younger kids a camera and then see what they find beautiful.  Several weeks ago, ours (age 4 and 6) ran around with a camera one afternoon.  The pictures struck me at the time as beautiful and different.  I ran across them again, so here they are in photo-essay form.  These are some of the ones that were in focus.  Enjoy!

Even trash can be beautiful! 
A Joel-high perspective of our home.

Joel's Foot and a Daisy. 
Our watering can. 

Self-portrait by Faith.

06 May 2011

Helping People

During the term break, I wrote a couple of posts about wrestling with poverty, the desire to help, and the plight of the poor.  So many destitute people here have, as they see it, no way out.  And much of the time, they're right.  Unless somebody helps them somehow or takes compassion on them, they are powerless to change their situation.

Most Americans are incredibly wealthy.  We, on a missionary salary, are incredibly wealthy.  We have the potential to do great good - but the problem is overwhelmingly huge!  So, as I've processed the last couple of weeks, trying to distill the actionable points from a complex set of experiences, I've got a couple:

The Power of Hope.  In our relationship with Zack, it's been incredible to see the role hope plays in breaking the cycle of poverty - I think.  While the jury is still out on whether Zack has been able to develop a long-term, sustainable means of supporting himself, a person's future is often written in their face.  Zach's desperate, hopeless, tension was clear - even in this culture that discourages negative emotional displays of any kind. The relief of a way out was equally palpable.

I'm still unsure whether we did just the right thing to help Zack, but I think we did help - hopefully without developing an unhealthy dependence on 'wealthy' white missionaries.*  Yesterday, Zack stopped by to chat.  He's a new man.  "I think it will work out,  We will be ok," he says.  The poor don't need a handout, they need a way out.

Our Need for Humility.  Zack was making less than 100 dollars per month in a place we spend at least as much to eat as we did in the states.  And yet he is able to raise over 60 dollars a month to feed twenty HIV families once a month.  When feeding those HIV families, I saw families much poorer than Zach living in huts facing an incurable disease with JOY on their faces.  Me?  I get stuck thinking I'm over-worked, underpaid, under-recognized...  I am blessed!  I need to recognize my complaints for what they are: prideful self-entitlement.  I need to respond to trials and disappointments in humility.  But not only those!  My successes and my blessings are not deserved - they require humility as well.

Our Burden.  I am rich.  Money and possessions - these are obvious, but we (the western church) are rich in other areas.  Time, experiences, opportunities, knowledge; we have the best.  Will I part with the wealth I have to serve the less-fortunate?  To give all?  Christ demands it, will I surrender it?
* I recently read the book "When Helping Hurts."  The first few chapters are a very good and thought-provoking demonstration of the need for real help - not just handouts - and should be required reading for those thinking about helping the needy.  A later chapter on short-term missions is also very good and thought provoking.  If you're going on, or especially if you're organizing, a short-term missions trip, you need to read this chapter!

04 May 2011

Spiritual Obscurity

Lately I've felt like God wasn't speaking.  Getting to Kenya brought with it huge changes in the way I pictured and thought about the world.  It seemed just about every day, I (Jim) was growing in my relationship with Christ, being stretched by the things around me and a necessary dependence upon Him.  Not that our dependence isn't necessary, it's just so often forgotten when we feel adequate.

I really felt that God was convicting me of one thing:  When we came to Kenya, it took considerable surrender on my part.  I knew I'd miss my family deeply.  Woodland Park was comfortable.  I liked my colleagues, my job, our home... Colorado was home.  We were surrendering a lot.  But in the back of my mind was a little number:  Two years.

"This is for two years, then we'll see what God has for us."  It was our default response to how long we'd be in Kenya.  But was it true?  I needed to let go of everything... not just for two years, but for life.  I wrestled with myself, prayed, agonized and finally felt that I could honestly say, "I surrender!"  I expected things to really start moving then.  I knew I was on the edge of some breakthrough spiritually -  I could feel it; I expected it.

Silence.  I never before felt quite that isolated despite efforts to keep growing in my faith.  For months.  God should have been speaking to me.  I was trying my best to be faithful.  What about His end of the bargain?

On Sunday afternoon, I had a few moments of down time, so I grabbed my Bible and went outside for some peace and quite.  As I was taking my Bible off the bookshelf, I noticed 'My Utmost for His Highest.'  I read through it some time ago as a devotional, and I brought it to Kenya.  I haven't been using it, but something made me pick it up.

I turned to the entry for May 1st and read.
 "For a time we are conscious of God's attentions, then, when God begins to use us in His enterprises, we take on a pathetic look and talk of the trials and difficulties, and all the time God is trying to make us do our duty as obscure people.  None of us would be obscure spiritually if we could help it."

I was craving attention.  I wanted to be recognized.  I wanted to do something big to serve God, yes, but also to feel that I was important, somebody.

I thought for a little bit. "None of use would be obscure spiritually if we could help it."  I put the iPod on.  I'd put the entire music library - new songs, songs from before college, kids songs, audiobooks - on random shuffle the day before.  The first song was an old hymn sung by Caedmon's Call "I Boast No More."   You can try listening here.
No more, my God, I boast no more
Of all the duties I have done;
I quit the hopes I held before,
To trust the merits of thy Son.

Now, for the love I bear his name,
What was my gain I count my loss;
My former pride I call my shame,
And nail my glory to his cross.

Yes, and I must and will esteem
All things but loss for Jesus' sake:
O may my soul be found in him,
And of his righteousness partake!

The best obedience of my hands
Dares not appear before thy throne;
But faith can answer thy demands
By pleading what my Lord has done. 

Suddenly, after exasperating silence, it seemed as if God was getting out a big stick and beating truth into my head.  I need humility.

02 May 2011

I wonder if God is celebrating the death of Bin Laden.

When I got up this morning, I saw the news that Obama was going to hold an evening press conference.  As details began to emerge, it was interesting to watch the initial euphoria grow.  This was a big deal!  But then it all began to leave a bitter taste in my mouth.

At the risk of sounding like a flaming liberal and making people mad, I don't think we should be glad that Bin Laden was killed.  Obviously, he was a bad man.  Clearly he got what he deserved.  But as a Christian, it stung to hear many friends cheer his death and read facebook status updates celebrating the fact that somebody had died and was going to hell.

I don't think God's celebrating.  I think he's deeply saddened.  And I think we should be too.  Saddened that Bin Laden burned with hate for God's people.  Saddened that the decadence of the west fuels the thirst for radical jihad.  Saddened that Christians are celebrating the death of an enemy, when death is exactly what WE deserve for our sin.  Saddened that we've forgotten what Christ died for and what we celebrated just last week!

Yes, wars happen.  Yes, I'm grateful for the men and women who sacrifice to protect our freedom - really - THANK YOU!  I don't think pursuing bin Laden was wrong.  The world might be a safer place without him.  But let's not celebrate the ending of a life!  Instead, let us recognize the depth of our fall and the penalty we deserve.  Let's grieve with our Father for the lost.  Let's rejoice in Him for the hope we have. Let's tell somebody about Our Hope!

I pray the church will rise up as a church of forgiveness.  That we will indeed love those who persecute us and pray for our enemies. (Matt. 5:44)  If we cheer the death of our enemies, our faith is without love; Without love, our Christianity is just another empty religion.

"For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign Lord. Repent and live!" Ezekiel 18:32;  also see 1 Timothy 2:4;  2 Peter 3:9