22 October 2017

Marking 16 years living in Kenya as a missionary

Sitting outside my former mud hut at Mtoni

This month marks 16 years for me serving as a missionary in Kenya, as I first arrived in October 2001. 

Oswald Chambers has spoken to me deeply for all these years and has played a pivotal role in my persevering at my God-given assignment. This is an excerpt from a recent reading in My Utmost for His Highest:

The duty of a faithful missionary is to concentrate on keeping his soul completely
and continually open to the nature of the Lord Jesus Christ.

The men and women our Lord sends out on His endeavors
are ordinary human people, but people who are controlled by their devotion to Him,
which has been brought about through the work of the Holy Spirit.

Another shot of my mud hut (my ministry base and up-country home, 2002-2011)

Never choose to be a worker,
but once God has placed His call upon you, 
woe be to you if you “turn aside…to the right or the left.” (Deut. 28:14) 
He will do with you what He never did before His call came to you,
and He will do with you what He is not doing with other people.
Let Him have His way.
~Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest

The next four blog posts after this one are all subjects that are near and dear to me, but written by others:

Six myths about expat life, by Rachel Pieh Jones
Solitude, a reprieve from the noise of doing, by Katrina Kenison
Living single overseas, by Elizabeth Spencer
How to stay in when it's hard, by Jim Bloom

I hope you'll take a look at them, as you'll gain a glimpse into my mind and heart! 

Just scroll down.

Deb and I (plus several others) enjoyed a picnic in the park
on my 10th anniversary in Kenya (2011).

My 16th anniversary as a missionary living in Kenya; "Six Myths about Ex-Pat Life" (Rachel Pieh Jones)

Myth 1: Adventure
I’m an expatriate! Cue the Indiana Jones soundtrack, give me a whip and a cool hat, and let’s have an adventure! Okay, life as an expatriate is not all about adventure. In fact, it rarely is. Expatriate life is just life. Sometimes we do super awesome things but most of the time we are working, loving people, not-so-loving people, and doing the mundane things of life.

Myth 2: Living is the same as traveling
You might be a seasoned traveler who has seen the world and had a wonderfully adventurous time doing it. But traveling is not the same as living. Travelers don’t need to open bank accounts or rent a post office box or figure out what school to send their children to. Travelers get to see the world they want to see and they get to leave it when they’ve seen enough.

Myth 3: Feels like home
If you stay long enough, you’re right at home. Right? How many times have I heard, “You’re local now”? I’m not. I never will be. Yes, I understand things much better than the adventurous traveler passing through and I have some depth of cultural insight and some history and shared experiences. In some ways, the host country does start to feel like home. We have made it a home. We use phrases now like passport nation and global nomad. Home is being constantly redefined.

Myth 4: Expat life is always fulfilling and purposeful
Oh, but you do such meaningful work! Yes, yes we do. And sometimes, I feel that. Sometimes it is a humbling, awesome thing to see people thriving in a business start-up we launched or a girl earning a personal best in a race for a club that we sponsor. Other days? I see the beggar on the street and I wince. I don’t want to deal with their need. Some days, I give to someone because I am compelled by faith and compassion. Other days? I give because I just want the person to go away. And most days? Most days I don’t give. Most days are groceries, homework, friendships, and culture confusion. Most days are regular days. I believe we carry ourselves with us when we move abroad and that my husband and I would live the same way if we lived in the US – pursuing purpose and doing fulfilling work there, too. Simply slapping on an expat label doesn’t automatically make my writing or my husband’s teaching more purposeful. In many ways, it simply makes it lonelier.

Myth 5: Expat life is one of suffering and deprivation

Well, if it isn’t all gold and diamonds, it must be suffering. It must be lonely and frustrating and discouraging and really, really hard. Yes, sometimes it is. I hate missing funerals and weddings. I hate that I haven’t even met my nephew yet and he is almost one. I hate that I’m not there for my friends’ pregnancies and divorces and to help people move or celebrate. But I wouldn’t classify this as a life of suffering or of deprivation, not any more than life anywhere could be. A stay-at-home mom wondering if she will ever talk to an adult again? A too-young mom with breast cancer? A parent working so many hours they can never make their kid’s t-ball games? Expat life is not more or less. It is just one kind of life.

Myth 6: Expats are heroic

We are brave, we have been through coups and murders and robberies. We are creative, have learned how to make bread by hand, brown sugar by hand, clothes by hand. We are strong, don’t complain about cold showers or our hair falling out or about the boys who shout ‘sex’ at us when we walk past (or even if we do complain about these things, we don’t leave, so we have perseverance). We hear the phrase, all too often, “I could never do it.” Baloney. One – yes you could, if you had to. Two – I can’t do it either. I cry and fight and want to quit. Three – I could turn the phrase around and say I couldn’t do what you are doing – the long hours, the isolation of American independence, the cultural intensity. But that’s not true, I could. Just like you could.

This is refusing empathy, drawing dividing lines, creating unhelpful comparisons. I don’t like hearing, “Oh, you don’t want to hear about my bad day because you have been to a refugee camp.” Don’t compare our challenges. Just open up your life to me and be open to mine and let’s listen to each other. I’m not a hero. You aren’t a hero. Or maybe we both are. We’re just trying to make it through our days, trying to make a little difference in the lives of others and eking out some joy and thankfulness.

I do it here, you do it there. Press on.

Rachel Pieh Jones
(Writing, running, raising three kids in Djibouti)

6.5 Myths About Expat Life

My 16th anniversary as a missionary living in Kenya; "Solitude: Reprieve from Noise of Doing" (by Katrina Kenison)

“Solitude is the soul’s holiday, an opportunity to stop doing for others
and to surprise and delight ourselves instead.”
~ Katrina Kenison

There comes a moment. You love your life and the precious people in it. Yet, suddenly, the very intimacy you cherish feels like a burden you can no longer carry. You want to see yourself as a person who is competent and sturdy and kind. But today you are able to be none of these things. You can’t anticipate or meet one more need or set one more thing to rights.

You want to wake up in silence and let things go their own way. You want to take a vacation from worrying and fretting and fixing. You want to take a walk at your own pace. You long for a conversation in which the only one you have to listen to is the small quiet voice inside, the voice that speaks without words.

You wonder if anyone else hits this wall of too much. The hard, unforgiving place of feeling crowded and tired and overwhelmed. Or live up to the expectations you’ve set for yourself. You find yourself imagining solitude, craving it.

You think about where you might go, just for a little while, to privately fall apart and put yourself back together again. You arrive at dusk in a downpour. The cabin door is sticky but unlocked, like a magic place in a fairy tale. The rain has washed away some outer layer you were ready to shed anyway. Already you are inhabiting your body in a different way - curious and raw, defenseless, hopeful.

Solitude has always been your home territory. 

You feel lighter. Peaceful. Better. In the morning, without any sort of plan, you walk up the road, going nowhere. Focus on today, you remind yourself. With every step you are clearing a space, coming closer to a self you almost forgot you knew. Everything has its wonders. You are here to pay attention.

Alone, your life begins to feel like a choice again. You find yourself drawn into harmony with the sweet, easy flow of the day, unfolding according to its own rhythm. Slowly, something that was stuck deep inside begins to move. You ride the gentle currents of sadness, regret, joy, longing, acceptance. Surprised by tears, you lift your face to the sky and allow the sun to dry them.

There is the necessary, satisfying work of serving others. 
But there is also the soul’s work, which you ignore at your peril. 

And so, for today, anyway, you commit yourself to it fully: The journey inward to find your own truth. The stillness of your mind behind the noise of your doing. The willingness to see the beauty inside yourself, and to honor that.

You sit a while and take in the view, the gentle, slumbering hills, the drifting veil of clouds. This, too, is a kind of compassion - resting, listening, waiting in the silence of your heart. There is a new energy moving in you. A reverence. You can do this. You can dive down into the sacred quiet. You can learn to be at ease here. To be grateful for these hidden treasures in this secret, spacious place.

In a little while, you will walk the long road back. You will return home tomorrow a little different, still holding the hand of your wilder self, having touched for just a moment your own infinity.

Katrina Kenison
(Wife, mother, homemaker, writer, life-long reader, list-maker, recovering perfectionist, and inveterate seeker)

20 October 2017

My 16th anniversary as a missionary living in Kenya; "Living Single Overseas?" by (Elizabeth Spencer)

Single Overseas? 
8 lessons learned the hard way, from someone who did it all wrong

1. Find community that has similar values. 

2. Live with safe people. 
Your home needs to be an oasis.

3. Stay connected with people that love you.
Stay grounded in who you are and where you came from.

4. Know why you are going to live overseas.
You need to know why you are living isolated in a different country and making sacrifices. Being an international woman of mystery isn’t a good enough reason to live overseas alone.

Honestly, there is only one reason good enough to live overseas:
you have to be called and know it is part of your vocation. 

5. Know what gets you into trouble.
Know your limits and be honest about what you can handle and where you need support as well as boundaries.

6. Know your values.
I was a little vague about what I believed to be right and wrong. The further I got from community and the lonelier I became, the more those values seemed to fade into a distant memory.

7. Know that life in a foreign country is hard.
You are going to mess up, and there is grace for you. Living overseas alone can seem impossible at times and could make you question everything that once seemed certain.

8. Know when it’s time to go home.
I figured that part out too late. I was stubborn and determined to make Africa work for me.

I learned much from my mistakes. Singleness can be an incredible gift to understand who you really are, and living overseas single can heighten that understanding further.

Push into God and become who He created you to be.

Elizabeth Spencer once lived in Malawi for three years. 
She now lives in Ethiopia with her husband, Greg.

(Above are excerpts. Click link for full article.)

19 October 2017

My 16th anniversary as a missionary 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