19 October 2017

This October marks 16 years for me living in Kenya; "How to Stay in When it's Hard" (by Jim Bloom)

If we want to stay in hard places for the sake of God’s kingdom, our hearts need to be captivated by the immensity of God and his redemptive purposes in the world. Only that breathtaking vision can hold us in contexts of immense pain and seeming hopelessness.

If you’ve lost your vision, fix your eyes again on Jesus. Ask God to ravage your heart again for a glimpse of what lies just beyond the rough edges of the world.

It is a vision of glory beyond the horizon that keeps us going when the accumulation of disappointments, losses, and seeming failures threaten to kill our zeal for kingdom-building.

We are impoverished
without our brothers and sisters
from different ethnicities, cultures,
and socio-economic backgrounds
joining us at the table of the Lord’s banquet. 

Not just in eternity, but now in our present experience.

Yes, there is labor, toil, and fatigue in a hard field. But God loves to provide us valuable resources and spiritual refreshment in the people who live in these difficult places. They must be at the table with us if we will be complete.

Yes, we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us, but Paul learned both how low he could go and how much he could abound through much testing (Philippians 4:12–13). Therefore, as we seek to follow Jesus into a hard place, we must go with a deep humility, admitting that our knowledge of our heart is limited, trusting him to lead and sustain us wherever we go - and stay.

Jim Bloom, U.S. Director for InnerCHANGE
How to Stay in When it's Hard
(Above are excerpts. Click link for full article.)

- - -
Your longevity in mission may very well depend upon your leaning into the promises of God. For when you look to God you will have faith and when you lean into the promises you will have hope and where there are faith and hope, there too will be love. And love remains with the place and people.

~ Michael Duncan, missionary to Asia's urban poor
      (quoted in Bloom's article)

01 October 2017

Becoming aware; my quiet reflection in the woods

 . .

Becoming Aware
by Deb Smith, February 2017
Westerville, Ohio, USA

In stillness
I open my senses
I am quiet and I listen

I slow down
I observe
I am becoming aware

A slight breeze
Leaves rustling

Melody of a bird
A babbling brook

Intricate designs in nature

Brown beauty in the dead of winter

Gentle ripples on the surface of a pond

I wait
I practice silence
I know you are here

There it is -
the very presence of God

I sense you next to me
There's a whisper in my spirit
I hear your voice

You are everywhere
Your peace surrounds me
Your love enfolds me

And I have become aware


29 September 2017

The story of my life and how God has led me; two videos for your viewing pleasure

Speaking in front of a group of people is certainly not my gifting. However, I do believe I have a story to tell!

That's what I did this past May when I spoke at Crossroads Tabernacle Church in the Bronx (New York City), where my daughter, Jessica and her husband attend. I simple told the story of my life and how I unexpectedly ended up in Kenya, East Africa as a missionary. When I look back on my life, I find it all a bit remarkable and marvel at the paths on which God has led me.

[You can find the written version of that sermon on my blog at this link.
It's there in four parts, so when you reach the end of part one,
simply click the link for part two... and so forth.]

Recently my friends, Dave and Rose, asked me speak to the group of seniors at their church in Minnesota. Because of the time difference, Skype wasn't an option. Instead, I recorded this video at my house. It's not so great, but the story is still there. I hope you'll enjoy it.

I also put the photos from my sermon into a video format. I hope you will enjoy them as well.


Each one of us has a story to tell concerning how we've lived our lives or how God has led us. Have you ever put your life story into a written form, or perhaps made a video of it?

If not, I would suggest you give it a try. Put pen to paper and see what you come up with. As I composed my story, I actually gained some incredible insights into my own life.

26 September 2017

The Pineapple Story, by Otto Koning (former missionary to Irian Jaya, Indonesia)

“Tuan (sir), you have become
a Christian!”

Whenever the name of Otto Koning is mentioned, those who have heard him speak break out with laughter. They are not laughing at Otto; they are  laughing at their own human nature which he has an amazing gift to reveal.

Otto and his wife, Carol, went to Irian Jaya (New Guinea) to be missionaries. They worked among a native tribe that had only known their village ways. One of those village ways was stealing from others. When Otto and his wife arrived and moved into a hut, the natives often came by to visit. The Konings would notice that after they left that various household items had disappeared. They saw these items again when they went to preach in the natives' village.

The only fruit Otto could grow on the island was pineapples. Otto loved pineapples and took pride in the ones he grew. However, whenever they began to ripen, the natives stole them. Otto could never keep a ripe pineapple for himself. This was frustrating and he became angry with the natives. All during the seven-year period in which this took place, Otto preached the gospel to these natives but never had a conversion.

The more the natives stole, the angrier Otto became. 

Otto took a furlough to the United States and attended a conference on personal rights. At this conference, he discovered that he was frustrated over this situation because he had taken personal ownership of his pineapple garden. After much soul searching, he gave his garden to God. Soon the natives started having problems among their tribe. The natives saw a correlation between what Otto had done and their own lives being affected by calamities in their village.

When Otto gave his garden to God, he no longer got angry and was free from worry. The natives started bringing him fruit from the garden because they didn't want any more calamities to come into their village.

The light came on one day when a native said to Otto,

"Tuan (sir), you have become a Christian. You don't get angry anymore.
We always wondered if we would ever meet a Christian." 

They had never associated Otto with the kind of person he was preaching about because his message did not line up with his life. Otto was broken in spirit when he realized he had been such a failure.

At the end of seven years, he witnessed his first conversion, and many began coming to Christ once he fully gave his garden to God. The fruit grew so abundantly and his village became the most evangelized in the whole region.

It was only when Otto gave all his possessions to God that he became free from them. God measured back to him manifold once He had complete ownership.Otto realized something each of us must realize:

To gain your life you must lose it, along with your possessions. 
- - - - -

I hope you'll listen to this powerful message, delivered through his dry humor.

Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.
~ Matthew 10:39

14 September 2017

Beyond Culture Shock; Culture Pain and Culture Stripping (written by Rachel Pieh Jones)

Rachel Pieh Jones

[I've read a lot about 'culture shock' and 'cross-cultural ministry', but these two new concepts brought up by Jones - 'culture pain and culture stripping' - also resonate with me. The following is an article she wrote at A Life Overseas. You can find the link at the end of the article.]

Expatriates are told to prepare for Culture Shock and expect to experience it within their first year. But what about after 16 years? What about the frustrations and tears, hurt and stress?

After the first year, I thought I was free from culture shock. Now I would delve deep, adapt, feel more local than foreign. So when I continued to struggle with cultural issues and when that struggle increased and peaked around year seven, I thought I was crazy.

I discovered that two things happen, after culture shock, as we root in a land not our own, as we love hard and get involved and take risks.

Culture Pain
Culture pain comes when the difficult, or different, or confusing aspects of a new culture begin to affect you at a deep, personal level. Living overseas is really your life now. This is your past, your present, your future. This is where you laugh and grieve and build a tapestry of memories.

Things like corruption and poor health care, attitudes toward HIV, education of girls, adoption, or poverty, religious rituals, children’s rites of passage, are not theoretical anymore. These issues are now yours to navigate. And sometimes, that hurts.

Culture Stripping
Culture stripping begins the moment you touch the earth in this new place. Culture stripping forever changes who you are.

Culture stripping is the slow peeling back of layers and layers of self. You give up your ideas about politics and faith and family, the books you read evolve and change. Even, potentially, your outlook on spirituality. You have little instinctive protective layers between you and the world.

You are learning, but you will never be local. And so you also are stripped of the idealized image of yourself as a local. This also hurts, but it is a good, purposeful pain.

Glad to see it
This new way of living and seeing the world look different than before you moved overseas. Not perfect, not like anyone else’s, and still sensitive. But different because the shock, the pain, the stripping, have changed you.

And you are glad to see it.
- - - - - - - - -

 -Rachel Pieh Jones, development worker, Djibouti

30 August 2017

Another visit in the village; this time at Kocholia near the border with Uganda

Adu is in Form 2 (sophomore) and Pope is in Form 3 (junior).

I squeezed in a stop to see Agnes and her boys at Kocholia, which turned into a four-hour visit. We had a nice time together and I finally got to see the two schools where the boys attend.

The two boys and I squeezed onto one motorbike that was passing by, as the school is a fair distance from their home. Oh, my! The driver was not only unfamiliar with the road, but also seemed to be quite a novice at driving a motorbike. Additionally, parts of the road were covered with stones. We actually ended up in the ditch at one point. Needless to say, it was a rather precarious ride!

The guy in the white shirt is the evangelist at the church next door to the church, and the lady was the gatekeeper on the day we stopped by. They ended up giving us an impromptu tour of the school compound.

This gentleman works for the school taking care of the cows and other tasks

Yummy! Hot chai, warm roasted groundnuts, and hot roasted maize!
Great snacks in the village!

They're growing up! Zach is now in Class 2 and Duane is in Class 5.

To get to Duane and Zach's school, we walked... also a bit of a distance, but at least it was in the direction of the stage where I could get a vehicle to Eldoret. Along the way, we stopped often to visit with neighbors or relatives of Agnes.

It added more hours to an already long day, but I'm glad I opted to stop for the visit.

28 August 2017

Jinja and Kampala: Nile River, Mto Moyoni, and hanging out with good friends

Once again, I had a wonderful time at Mto Moyoni, a retreat center on the banks of the Nile River. I enjoyed the fabulous view as I ate breakfast on my veranda, read a biography about Corrie ten Boom, and mostly just relaxed. The monkeys were also entertaining to watch.

Red-tail monkey, also known as Black-cheeked, White-nosed Monkey

The sun comes up on Lake Victoria

American Supermarket, a rather interesting name!

I climbed all 720 steps in the minaret at Uganda's National Mosque

Once on top, we had an amazing 360-degree view of Kampala

A special added bonus was being able to hang out for a whole day with these two guys! Ryan was a missionary in Uganda for 3 years and Jacob is a missionary in South Sudan... and we're all from the same hometown! From a human perspective, it could seem like coincidence that we were all in Kampala on the same day... but we believe God set it up.

25 August 2017

My brief sojourn of silence and solitude; enjoying God's great out-of-doors at Mabira Forest

Since 1992, Kenya has had a history of tribal clashes surrounding their elections. They are a young nation and learning this foreign concept of democracy has not been easy. During my almost 16 years living here, there have been four elections - 2002, 2007, 2013, and this year, 2017.

You may remember how bad things got following the 2007 election. It's referred to as Post-Election Violence and was the top world news for weeks on end. When the disputed winner was announced, chaos and mayhem broke out. Close to 1,500 people were brutally killed and hundreds of thousands of people were displaced from their homes. Businesses, homes, and churches were looted and burned to the ground. This political, humanitarian, and economic crisis put the nation at a stand-still for a full two months. It was not a pleasant time!

And so, like so many others - foreigners and locals - I decided to get away from Kenya during the days surrounding this year's election on August 8th. During the 2013 election, I opted to take a little vacation in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania; this time I crossed the border to Uganda spending some time in both Jinja and Kampala.

I arrived at Mabira Forest on the 7th and didn't leave until the 10th. There was zero internet reception the entire time I was in the forest. It was wonderful to not be engrossed in what was going on!

Mabira is a rainforest about an hour from Jinja. I stayed at a small cottage in a place called Griffin Falls Campsite and thoroughly enjoyed myself! I met and chatted with folks from around the world: Japan, Poland, Hungary, etc. Some came for the forest itself, some for bird-watching, and some for the zip-line. Some stayed for a night or two, and others came just for the day.

I did one long hike with Hussein, our guide, plus several short ones on my own. I was always on the alert for spotting the Red-Tail monkeys, as they jumped from tree to tree high up on the forest canopy. I reveled in the variety and colors of the many, many butterflies - so lovely. One day, I ventured out for a two-hour hike alone.... in this place where the trails are not marked! Luckily I found my way back.

In the afternoons, ah... I sipped chai and listened to the rain; there's nothing better than that! Each evening and into the night, I built and stoked a campfire, all-the-while listening to the sounds coming from within the forest: monkeys, Turaco birds, owls, tree hyrax, etc.

Please join me now, on a short excursion into the forest!

I think I shall never see
A poem as lovely as a tree.

A tree that looks at God all day
And lifts her leafy arms to pray. 

Poems are made by fools like me 
But only God can make a tree.

~ Joyce Kilmer (1886-1918), American poet
[excerpts from her poem titled, Trees]

This fern, as small as my finger and on the floor of the forest, was so amazingly delicate

The sudden appearance of mushrooms after a summer rain
is one of the more impressive spectacles of the plant world.
~ John Tyler Bonner, 
biology professor at Princeton University

If I am united with Jesus Christ,
I hear God all the time through the devotion of hearing.
A flower, a tree, or a servant of God may convey God’s message to me.
What hinders me from hearing is my attention to other things.
~ Oswald Chambers
My Utmost for His Highest

Come to the woods, for there is rest.
There is no repose like that of the green deep woods.
~ John Muir (1838-1914), 
Scottish-American environmental philosopher

It's good to slow down and become immersed in the natural environment,
to tune in to the smells, textures, tastes, and sights of the forest. 
Today, most people spend much of their lives indoors, tethered to devices.
It takes a while to clear out the clutter in our brains and tune in to the natural world.
The environment of a forest can boost our immunity and mood, plus lower our stress.
~ An article on "Forest Bathing", 
National Public Radio

There were many, many butterflies in the forest - SO fun to watch as they frolicked in the air.
Many were prettier than this one, but they weren't still long enough to get a photo.

And into the forest I go, to lose my mind and find my soul.
~ John Muir (1838-1914), 
Scottish-American environmental philosopher

Hussein was our very able guide on a two-hour hike in the forest.
The four of us stopped often to crouch low and look at the variety of mushrooms and red ground flowers,
or to gaze at the butterflies fluttering around us and the beautiful wildflowers. We were in awe of our surroundings.
Here we are at a rare clearing in the forest, near the waterfall, where we had enough light for a good photo of us.

[Note: I took 68 photos plus a few videos during my three days in the forest. I managed to reduce it down to these 10 photos for this blog post.]

24 August 2017

Visiting two families in the village on the same day, at Fafaral and Mawe Tatu

I've known Martin and his family since I first had my mud hut built in 2002. You may remember early in 2016, with the help of many of you, we purchased a motorbike for Martin so he could better earn his daily bread. However, after a few months and for reasons we don't fully understand, he decided he no longer wanted the motorbike.

Nathan, after thinking it over for a while, had the idea that we shouldn't let the blessing pass from Martin's family. So, he sold the motorbike and bought two cows for Martin's grandparents. They are now caring for Martin's brothers (in the photo), Sinclair and Tony, after their father died and the mother moved away from the area. The grandparents were really struggling to feed these two boys and take them to school. An added blessing - the cow in the photo is now pregnant! I believe Nathan's idea was from the Lord, as it has greatly relieved the grandparents of this unexpected and added responsibility.

When I visit folks in the village, I typically take a 'care package' for the lady of the house. I buy kitchen staples like tea leaves, sugar, matches, soap, cooking fat, salt, chapati flour, etc. This time I also added a new flask for keeping freshly-brewed chai hot. To say these grandparents were elated would be an understatement! Margaret danced for joy several times, while singing, "Ona! Asante! Look. Thank you!"

Robai climbed the tree to pick Guava

Mawe Tatu (three stones) is a group of very large stones that dominate the horizon for miles around. When I had my mud hut at Mtoni, I could see it in the distance and always drew inspiration from it, especially if I was feeling down.

The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer.
My God is my rock, in whom I take refuge,
my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.
~ Psalm 18:2

One time, Nathan and I cycled to the largest stone and tried to climb to the top. Nathan succeeded, but I had to settle for a lower spot. On this day, we talked of doing it again some time :)

Breakfast: eggs and chai, along with the newspaper.
Everyone wonders what will happen with Kenya's election this year.

Robai and Deb, two of the students I sponsor in school

Deb's brothers (except for Laban who was talking care of the cows)

Nathan and Alice, my long-time friends

My old stomping grounds, Matunda market. Anyone need some cabbage?