24 September 2011


Last Saturday was one of RVA’s once-a-term outreach activities.  During the day, about 75% of our approximately five hundred students participate in various outreach projects surrounding Kijabe ranging from playing soccer at a maximum security prison, to building fuel-efficient rocket stoves for widows or, like Faith did, making a lunch for the campus security guards.
Seedlings waiting to be planted. 

I always end up on the same sort of project.  It’s like being a preacher visiting someone’s house – somehow you’re always the one praying for the meal.   I’m a biology teacher, so I always end up on the ‘environmental option.’  This time was probably one of my favorites.  About one year ago, we helped build a fence for Care of Creation – a Christian organization trying to help educate people throughout Africa about environmental concerns and what it means to be good stewards of natural resources and how to get good crop yields without destroying the environment.

This time I joined Care of Creation with close to twenty RVA high schoolers.  We drove down to Old Kijabe Primary School, about 20 minutes down a four-wheel drive road under deforested hills and across dried-up streams.  This was probably my favorite trip so far.  We met up with around twenty students from Kijabe Primary and planted around 200 trees.  The kids were excited about what they were doing and had a great attitude about working to restore the forest.

The best part? Watching Kenyan primary students teach RVA kids about stewardship.

Hauling water to give each seedling a good start was the hardest part.

22 September 2011

The Monkey In The Classroom

Today was one of my most difficult days in the classroom ever.  Shaken by the news of the passing of an RVA staff member on furlough this term, classes were awkward, painful and full of tears.  By fourth period, my students and I were emotionally spent.  Nobody wanted to talk anymore, but our minds were consumed.  We decided to proceed with the lesson as planned.  This decision was followed by a totally unexpected, and much needed, distraction:

Today we were learning about cells.  About 15 minutes into class, I was demonstrating to students the preparation of a good slide with a leaf in order to observe some cell structures under the microscope.  Just your average, everyday, biology stuff.  A student raised his hand with a quizzical look on his face, and I waited until I’d finished explaining the particular sequence I was demonstrating to call on him.  Before I was able to finish, I was interrupted by a second student asking a question about a specific step I was explaining.  All the while, the first student was engaged in all kinds of facial gymnastics. 

Finally, his body language becoming more and more animated and his face cycling from curiosity to repulsion to panic in comical fashion, he pointed to the place I had been standing only seconds before and blurted out, “Mr. Frazier, what is THAT!?” 

There, next to the class set of Biology books, laid a full-grown Syke’s Monkey – dead.

Turns out, there was a monkey that somehow got hung on a power-line last night.  The electrician who took it down brought it by to see if we could use it.  I wasn’t in the room, so they just left it on the counter.  Only in Africa…

17 September 2011

What's a kid to think?

Today we took an impromptu trip into Nairobi as a family after the morning's Titchie field day games, and a lunch of Senior Store (a class fundraiser).  Jim and the kids sat at Java House, drinking milkshakes, while I made my way around Nakumatt (our supermarket) stocking up for the month.  

On our way home this busy Saturday afternoon, Jim got to practice his best Kenyan driving skills.  We were making our way through a few busy intersections back to the main thoroughfare that takes us up to Kijabe.  We came upon one that happened to have one of the five stop signs in Kenya.  

Joel, who has now witnessed Kenyan driving and traffic rules (or lack thereof) for over a year, exclaimed: "When you see that kind of a stop sign, it means you can keep going!"  And sure enough, the cars in front of us drove ahead as if it weren't there, and then so did we.

Every once in a while, amidst daily life that has become normal, and in a place that has become home, Faith and Joel make comments like this that remind us that we have been raising them in a different culture than we came from.  I'm just glad that he'll maybe have a few years to forget what he learned here before he's sitting behind the wheel!

08 September 2011

No deep thoughts; just cuteness.

We're almost two weeks into our new school year here at RVA, and the kids are back into their routine...

Faith is now a big first grader, with morning AND afternoon class!  Her quote after the first day: "It was too short!"

With sister off at school, Joel is back to his sandbox.  Here he is in his "big hole".  He loves spending time digging around with his trucks, as evidenced by the dirt that finds its way into his pockets and onto our couch!

And Aaron is busy growing!  After having one completely-under-the-curve child, and one 15th percentile child, we're not sure where this 95th percentile child came from.  But I suppose we'll keep him!

06 September 2011

On Being a Boring Missionary

It's amazing the pressure missionaries feel (whether it comes from our own expectations or through the expectations of supporters) to have exciting news and big thoughts.  As a church, we are in the habit of viewing spiritual experiences as intense and exciting and missionaries as super-spiritual people.  Spiritual experiences should be more exciting, shouldn't they?  David Platt in his book Radical speaks of how the Christian mega-church has become just another mass-marketed interpretation of the American Dream with entertaining speakers, an emotional concert-quality worship set, engaging programs...  exciting entertainment.  Is it any wonder that we then expect that same level of entertainment from even our own spiritual lives?

It's totally natural, then, that when our lives feel boring or mundane we begin to feel like we need to 'be more spiritual.'  This pressure is even greater when you're in 'ministry.'  A few weeks ago, there was an article flying around Facebook called We Need Boring Christians.  You should read it; It ties in perfectly with the other day's 'focused on me' Rugby post.  Basically, this guy writes about feeling like God was calling him to the mission field and winding up stranded and out-of-touch with God. This paragraph pretty much nails the missionary dilemma:
"Following Jesus is not to be romanticized through impressive Facebook status updates or photos of exotic places on our blog. Discipleship is often ugly, messy and painful. Faithful service will regularly lead us into dull labors and bewildering struggles that would make unexciting press. To romanticize social justice or cross-cultural evangelism is to promote an idealism that will be inevitably vaporized on the field, inadvertently leading to burnout and cynicism."

A lot of our life here as missionaries is boring.  Most of it, really.  To be completely honest, my greatest spiritual triumph right now would be finding the time and self discipline to get assignments back to students a little faster with some really meaningful feedback - feedback about biology.  Often stories from the mission field include intense spiritual warfare, but so far the most intense spiritual warfare I've experienced here has been the 'boring' fight against a stubborn self-righteous flesh that works to do good while pushing the real issue, that of total obedience to Christ, comfortably out of mind.  Instead, it's easy to sit and think of how I am spiritually above grading papers and how much greater my impact could be - to think how awesome I could be for Christ, not how HE is doing amazing things.  I begin thinking of how my spiritual life can entertain me - not in those words, of course, but eventually, being 'more spiritual' begins to replace being obedient.

04 September 2011


RVA is not like many other schools in a lot of ways.  Here's a good example:  At the end of last term I was asked if I'd like to play in the faculty vs JV rugby game.  I said sure.  I figured it would probably be just a bunch of hopelessly slow and awkward American staff running around desperately grasping at flags.

The day before the game we had a faculty practice.  It was there I found out that this was a full-contact tackles-and-all game.  Some of the guys knew a lot about rugby.  I hadn't even heard of a 'ruck'.  One of the experts spent about 15 minutes showing us how to tackle properly - with your head behind the runner's legs "so you don't get knocked out."  The whole thing seemed like a good way to get hurt.

At the end of the practice I was asked if I could play wing.  I had no idea what a 'wing' was.  I googled it.  After spending about an hour on wikipedia reading about the role of a wing and working through a who's who of outstanding wings from past international leagues and how each had "redefined the position" I felt much better; The wing plays on the edge of the field and while the goal is always to get the ball to the wing so he can advance it, I felt confident we'd be so overmatched the ball would rarely be coming all the way to me.

Game day it poured rain.  I offered extra credit to any varsity player willing to loan me a pair of size ten and a half cleats.  Warming up on the field I was told I'd no longer be playing 'wing' but 'fullback'.

"What's THAT?" I asked.

"It's kind of like a punt returner, but you always have to be ready because they can kick the ball whenever they want.  Just make sure you catch the ball and it'll be fine."

I listened as they continued to describe how I was supposed to tackle anybody that got past the defense "kind of like a free safety," to join the 'line' on offense and several other things that I can no longer remember.  It sounded impossible!

The game started with the faculty receiving the kick, me waiting back deep, by myself, hoping just to avoid embarrassment.  Nobody's ever accused me of having good hands, and I guessed (rightly) that the JV team would be extra willing to kick the ball at me just to see if I could catch.  Sure enough, the ball came right at me.  Surprisingly, I caught it.  Even more so, I ran past the first two or three defenders untouched.  I made it across midfield.  The crowd was getting pretty loud.

"This is really fun!" I thought.  I actually broke two or three tackles before being taken down quite a ways across midfield.  'Fullback' was going much better than I had anticipated.

Almost immediately, they got the ball.  I didn't know where I was supposed to be.  Thankfully, some of the students in the audience started yelling, "Mr. Frazier! Scoot back!"  I did and then a student broke free around the end of our line.  He was really fast!  I was the only one left between him and the try zone.  I hadn't tackled anybody since my eighth grade lightweight football days.  I got in front of him and made the tackle!  The only problem was, I forgot to put my head behind the runner and I took a hard blow to the chin.  Somehow my lip got pulled downward by something and that little flap of tissue in the middle of the bottom lip that keeps it from getting pulled down too far tore free.  My whole chin was totally numb.  I felt like I had lost the lower half of my face and had a huge rubber prosthetic chin put there to replace it.  I couldn't tell if I was bleeding, so I stayed in the game.

The J.V. team thought I was pretty good.  I didn't have many more kicks come my way.  I only badly missed one tackle the rest of the half.  By that time, I knew I was bleeding... a lot.  I'd spit out a bunch and now my mouth was dry with it.  I decided to rinse it out and get a drink.  I filled my mouth with water and swished it around.  That was a terrible idea.  NOW I could feel.  It stung - badly.  But the admiring groan from those who saw me spit a bright red stream of water soothed pain.

The rest of the game is just a blur of bodies and tackles.  The staff began to pull away, scoring several tries.  A large portion of the student audience coached me through the game, telling me to run back, to join the line, to watch for the kick...

Toward the end of the game, I was trying to tackle a guy. I was very careful to put my head behind the runner, but as I did, something out of nowhere collided with my face.  It ended up being a team-mate's knee. (a picture of the instant after the collision at right)

I could feel my lip getting pulled even farther out of place, and my nose started pouring blood.  I wobbled off the field.  On the sidelines I gave a pained grin to my teammates.

"Was your nose crooked before?"
"Not really."
"That nose is broken!"

I went home to check out the damage and to put ice on my nose.  I walked in the house and avoided seeing Heather who was sick in bed, snuck into the bathroom and began to wash up.

"Are you ok?" she asked.
"Just a bloody nose."

And I thought it was just a bloody nose.  My lip hurt a lot more.  Now both have healed just fine, but the nose is just a little different.

The next day in class, I had a lot of comments about how great I'd played, how fast I was, how tough I must be for staying in the game...   I think what they meant was that I was faster and better than they'd expected from an uber-ackward science nerd.  It still felt really good - to be praised by men, and have my ego fed.  I think the experience helped me see how much I crave that external validation.

So I've been thinking about it a lot the last few months. I think a lot of the time when we do bigger and better things as Christians our motivation is often that others will notice us and praise us more.  Even when my initial motives are pure, the siren song of recognition can easily pull me under.  "Great job in chapel today, Jim!" or "I can tell students really like you" are a couple of comments that make me feel great, and more often than not, I just soak it all in.

God calls us to something much different.  Deitrich Bonhoeffer in his book "The Cost of Discipleship" wrote, "When Christ calls a man, He bids him, 'Come and die.'"  I've begun to realize that all my thoughts about the rugby game were about how awesome I was.  In fact, my whole method of appraising my success (even my spiritual life) concerns what I am doing.  What if my reflections on the tasks I've undertaken all made me think about how awesome HE is and about what HE is doing?

01 September 2011

And We're Off!

It's been a while since we posted (again).  We just started a new school year, which means we just finished the shortest summer vacation of my life.  I (Jim) thought the last month was going to be a good time to catch up on the blog (and life in general).  Turns out, it was a good time for disrupting routine and causing family chaos and getting further behind on the blog (and life in general).  It's an interesting example, I guess, of how total freedom brings total Chaos.  So now we're hoping for a return to normalcy and a schedule.  Maybe we'll catch up on the last three months of thoughts and events too.