31 October 2013

12 Years in Kenya; Westgate Terrorist Attack and Other Security Issues

Yesterday, I attended a Town Hall Meeting for US citizens. These are held periodically by the staff at the US Embassy to keep us informed of significant current events. They’re always well attended and I consider them to be very much worth my time. I would estimate 500 people participated in this one, held on the lovely grounds of the residence of the US Deputy Chief of Mission, Isiah Parnell. Numerous Embassy staff were present and introduced.

The entire grounds and surrounding area was under tight security. We were required to RSVP at least a day in advance and had to carry our passports to gain entry. We were treated to a quite nice selection of snacks and beverages.

I attended the meeting with my friend, Denise. 

The US Ambassador to Kenya, Robert Godec, was the keynote speaker and fielded about an hour of questions after he gave his talk. The following are highlights from the copious notes I took. Most of these words were spoken by the ambassador, but all of the content was also reiterated by the other key staff members who spoke and fielded questions (the Consul General, the Regional Security Officer, and the Political Counselor).

US Ambassador to Kenya, Robert Godec

General comments
It’s estimated there are between 15,000 - 20,000 Americans living in Kenya. Approximately 100,000 American tourists visit the country on an annual basis. [Brief comment of my own: This figure would include short-term missions teams that enter the country on tourist visas.] 350,000 Kenyans live in the US.

The two countries have enjoyed a healthy relationship for 50 years. Over one billion US dollars have been invested in Kenya by the US government. The country hosts the largest US mission on the continent of Africa. And, of course, we all know that President Obama’s paternal roots are from Kenya.

The number one priority of the US Embassy is to ensure the safety and security of American citizens in Kenya. [This comment was emphatically stated several times.]

Westgate shopping mall during the siege

Terrorist attack on Westgate shopping mall
It is difficult to make sense of such evil as this monstrous attack.

Although originally thought to be more, this crime was likely committed by four well-armed terrorists, all members of al-Shabaab (the Somalia-based cell of the militant Islamist group al-Qaeda). We can’t be certain, as the CCTV video coverage was not constant, but this is what we believe based on what we currently know. All four most likely died inside the mall at some point during the four-day siege. Investigations are ongoing, but we at the US Embassy believe there were no hostages. The rubble of the now-destroyed shopping mall is still being sifted through and DNA samples are still being analyzed. The figure of 67 deaths remains as the final count at this stage. No American citizens died, but five Americans were among the 200 injured.

Great bravery was displayed by many police officers and average citizens. They have my deep admiration. Many of them lost their lives as they assisted others. However, because of their actions, hundreds more were saved and to them we owe a great debt.

The objects of terrorism are two-fold:
1)      To kill and maim
2)      To divide

Kenya remained strong and resolved, as did Americans living here. After the bombing of the US Embassy in downtown Nairobi in 1998, we pledged ‘never to forget’. Just as then, we will get through this. Courage, resilience, and our values bind us together. We can and we will get through this.

Americans showed strong solidarity by donating blood and giving money for the victims’ fund. There was an overwhelming outpouring of support worldwide.

The US Embassy took immediate action and maintained it 24-hours a day for the entire siege. Our staff visited the injured in hospitals and assisted with logistics of insurance, etc. Other staff made daily visits to the morgues to check on any American casualties. We also responded to over 50 inquiries from abroad, regarding the whereabouts of various Americans. We were able to track them down and report back to the inquiring family members. To this day, we are still responding to and assisting victims.

The US government has offered all assistance we have available to the Kenya government. Much of it has been received and utilized, including helping the local Red Cross unit and assistance from highly trained members of the FBI, as two concrete examples. We brought in our best experts in the full range of challenges that are experienced as a result of terrorist attacks. We also provided disaster management assistance.

As ambassador, I have been in close personal contact with senior government authorities, both during the attack and in the days since. We continue to dialogue with the government of Kenya regarding improvements in security. But ultimately, Kenyans are in charge. This is their country.

The Kenyan government gave much misinformation and there was also much media speculation that was misleading or wrong. Please, at all times, be wary of text messages from so-called security groups. Please confirm any rumors on our website. Whatever communication we send you from the embassy is as accurate as we can determine; we take our time and do our best to first verify it. We maintain a ‘no double-standard’ rule. In other words, what information we have as embassy staff also goes out to you American citizens here in Kenya.

We immediately sent out a text message when the attack began alerting you to stay away from the Westgate area. We sent text messages on the second day of the attack as well as the day after it ended. Additionally we kept you informed via emails. We received feedback from Americans that were inside, informing us that they had escaped. We appreciate such communication very much.

Please encourage any American citizen residing in or visiting Kenya, if they haven’t already, to enroll in our STEP program so they will also receive our communications and travel advisories.

We also must remember that we at the embassy, as well as all of you, are guests of the government of Kenya. In many regards, we are limited in what we can do. But be assured, we will inform you of any threats that may affect you. Always remember that we are here for you.

Much need for improvement in disaster response
The government of Kenya recognizes their need to improve in the area of disaster response. Sadly there are many serious problems; the recent fire at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport is another grave example of this. The US government has provided training and equipment. We have given advice regarding both effective ‘control and command’ and emergency response.

Kenya is no stranger to terrorism
Besides the very tragic 1998 bombing of the US embassy, there were also two simultaneous attacks in 2002 near Mombasa on the coast. A hotel was bombed and an airplane was fired upon. In the past two years, numerous terrorist attacks have happened throughout the country of Kenya. There have been 14 such incidences in Nairobi alone, resulting in many deaths, injuries, and destruction of property. The Kenya diplomatic post has had ‘robust’ travel warnings for years. This is our new reality.

The two maps show all the zones in Kenya and give the names of wardens for each zone.

  • Always be aware and alert
  • Vigilance is of utmost importance
  • Evaluate your environment
  • Vary your routes and times of day whenever possible
  • Don’t be loud or attract attention to yourself
  • Have an emergency communication plan and a back-up plan
  • Always carry your phone
  • Make sure you have the numbers for the US Embassy in your phone
  • Know who your warden is [Note: these are US citizens that voluntarily act as zone representatives throughout all of Kenya.]
  • Let someone know where you are
  • Take care of yourself and others
  • Report suspicious activity to your local police station
  • Get to know your local policemen. Yes, there is the issue of corruption, but the vast majority are professional and courageous.

Thought-provoking questions we all need to ask ourselves:
  • How can I reduce my risks?
  • What is my personal risk tolerance?
  • Realize that resilience is an amazing human attribute, but it varies from person to person. Am I comfortable with Kenya’s ability to adequately respond to emergencies? 

If caught in an emergency situation:
  • Remain calm
  • Look for an exit and move toward it
  • Do not stay in one location
  • Have a plan
  • Ask yourself - What would I do if something happens in this scenario?
  • What are my capabilities?
  • Think through your options.

Issue of crime and general insecurity in Kenya
There is a huge threat of crime in this country. The chances of being a victim of crime are much higher than being caught in a terrorist attack. Statistically, the level of crime is down in Kenya. However, the incidences of violent crime are on the increase.

We are aware that in many of the neighborhoods where expats reside, there is a recent increase in armed robberies and muggings even in daytime hours. [Note: this also includes my neighborhood.] 

Crime in Kenya is a serious, serious problem. For years, it has been rated as ‘critical’ on our scale. One of the problems is that countering it is difficult. Even in this area, we provide much advice and support to the government of Kenya and to the police. But we are limited in what we can do; as diplomatic guests in foreign countries, we have no authority to do any policing. We will always do our best to keep you informed of whatever we know.

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[Final note: Ambassador Godec also touched on two other issues:

1)      The huge refugee population in this country and the policy change Kenya is considering on the matter
2)      The two current cases at the International Criminal Court, with Kenya’s president and deputy president

Godec assured us he has been deeply engaged with the relevant Kenyan authorities regarding both of these issues and that we will be informed if any developments raise concern for American citizens.]

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Be sure to see related post below, God Engineers the Goings.

12 Years in Kenya; God Engineers the Goings

I am created for God. All I know is that I am his to obey. I am here for God to send me where he will. Where we are placed is a matter of indifference; God engineers the goings.
- Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest

My twelve years in Kenya has been sandwiched between two horrific terrorist attacks – one in the States and now one in Kenya. My first trip to Kenya was a mere one month after 911. You may recall that the US government warned its citizens against flying at that time. However the two gals I traveled with, along with the church that sent us, strongly believed we should not change our plans but rather carry on with God’s compelling us to go.

Last month, only a few days prior to my 12-month anniversary here, Kenya experienced its worst terrorist attack since the 1998 bombing of the US Embassy – the four-day siege of the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi. Sixty-seven innocent people were killed and 200 were injured. Numerous others were emotionally traumatized and are receiving counseling.

Although I haven't been a victim of a terrorist attack, in my 12 years here, I certainly have not been immune to physical dangers and troubles. Two of my houses – one in Nairobi and my mud hut upcountry – were broken into, both on more than one occasion. I’ve been pickpocketed three times, plus have encountered other failed attempts. I suffered serious injuries after being hit by a car. I was hospitalized with a serious case of malaria and have had both typhoid and typhus on two occasions. I’ve suffered through a serious case of food poisoning, plus have been diagnosed with worms, amoeba, and numerous bacterial infections.

Kenya is a lovely country but anyone that's lived here will tell you it is rife with dangers – whether it be tropical diseases, unsafe roads, rampant crime, or ever-increasing terrorist attacks. If I walk or cycle around my quiet and tree-lined suburb neighborhood, tackle the bustling and congested streets of downtown Nairobi, or travel upcountry on the atrocious highways, I can never let down my guard. I must be keen of my surroundings and always on the alert.

However, in spite of all that, I am still here after 12 years. Like Isaiah, as I sat at the feet of my Lord in intense worship, I heard his call, “Who shall I send? Who will go for us?” 

And like that trembling prophet, my response was, “Here am I, send me”.

Because God has yet to revoke that compelling call on my life, I remain focused on the honor and responsibility that it entails.

As always, I covet your prayers for me!

I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me. (Acts 20:24, NIV)

Jesus said, ‘Mark my words: No one who sacrifices house, brothers, sisters, mother, father, children, land – whatever – because of me and the Message will lose out. They’ll get it all back, but multiplied many times in homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children, and land – but also in troubles.’ (Mark 10: 28-30, Message)

When the going gets rough, take it on the chin with the rest of us, the way Jesus did. A soldier on duty concentrates on carrying out orders. (2 Timothy 2:3, Message)

You know that from the day of my arrival I was with you totally – laying my life on the line, serving the Master no matter what… I feel compelled to go to Jerusalem. I’m completely in the dark about what will happen when I get there. I do know that it won’t be any picnic, for the Holy Spirit has let me know repeatedly and clearly that there are hard times ahead. But that matters little. What matters most to me is to finish what God started: the job the Master Jesus gave me. (Acts 20: 18-24 excerpts, Message)
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[Note: Be sure to see related post above - Westgate Terrorist Attack and Other Security Issues.]

25 October 2013

12 Years in Kenya; Celebrating with a Picnic on Mashujaa Day

Far and away, the most important benefit of celebration is that it saves us from taking ourselves too seriously. Celebration adds a note of gaiety, festivity, and hilarity to our lives. Jesus rejoiced so fully in life that he was accused of being a wine-bibber and a glutton. It is healing and refreshing to cultivate a wide appreciation for life. Our spirit can become weary with straining after God, as our body can become weary with overwork. Celebration helps us to relax and enjoy the good things of the earth.
- Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline 

Carol, Bevaline, Emily, and Ken show their patriotic colors as we celebrate the holiday

This year marked the fourth annual Mashujaa Day, a national holiday to honor past and present heroes of Kenya. [By the way, it's pronounced Mah-shoo-jah].

For my friends and I, it was also a fun way to once again mark another anniversary of me being in Kenya - now 12 years. The sprawling and beautiful Uhuru Park, right next to downtown Nairobi, was the perfect venue.

I think all kids everywhere must enjoy bouncing castles!

Joy and Cliff braved a camel ride, high up in the air as the beast sauntered along

Horse rides - Even for Ken, as an adult, it was a first-time-ever experience!

George, Linet, and Jeremy enjoy their leisurely boat ride on the beautiful pond

A rare day to sit back and relax for Joan

As in the past, we once again shared our food with some hungry children.

Joy, Jeremy, Denise, Pippa, and Joshua show their patriotism for Kenya.

Cliff with his face painted, waves the Kenya flag, as the others behind him join in on some fun games.

Such a fun, fun day! I also got my face painted :)

Joy had fun with her face painted and a balloon.

New friends - Jasmine and Moses

Joan, Linet, Jennifer, and Jacky - Making new friends was a fun part of our outing!

22 October 2013

12 Years in Kenya; A Fun Review of Past Octobers, Year-by-Year

October is a very pleasant month in Kenya. 
The sun shines so warmly and the lovely lavender blossoms 
of the Jacaranda trees grace the countryside, towns, and cities.
- my words

“One should just forget about fear; otherwise there is no point in living in Africa.”
- Francesca Marciano (Rules of the Wild)

A missionary is someone in whom the Holy Spirit has brought about this realization: “You are not your own” (I Corinthians 6:19). The desire that comes into a disciple is not one of doing anything for Jesus, but of being a perfect delight to Him. The missionary’s secret is truly being able to say, “I am His, and He is accomplishing His work and His purposes through me.” Be entirely His!
- Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest

The three excerpts above are from blog posts during past Octobers. Besides the Jacaranda trees being in bloom during this month, another significant detail is that it marks the anniversaries of my living and working in Kenya.

This year - 2013 - marks 12 anniversaries since I first arrived in 2001.

As I reflect on this landmark, I thought I would share a few glimpses from previous Octobers. The first two quotes are from my second book – Created for Relationship; Compelled to Love My Neighbor – and the others are from my blog.

I hope you enjoy the montage... and please do take a minute to leave me a comment at the end. 

11-year Mashujaa Day picnic celebration

Three years, 2004
“When we met the other day I felt like I should come here and see you. I’ve never even known this place - Mtoni. I had to ask a friend for directions. Thank you for welcoming me into your home and for the chai. I’ve enjoyed talking to you very much. I want to ask permission to go now, but let me just leave you with a word of encouragement.” He stopped walking and very intentionally looked straight at me. “What you’re doing here in Kenya - for people like Rose and Martin - is so important. You just keep doing this good work!” Even though I know I’m in the center of God’s will, I often get frustrated with many aspects of living in this foreign land. Kisiangani’s unexpected visit deeply touched my heart. Those simple comments, from a total stranger, really encouraged me.
- my words, and quoting Kisiangani

Four years, 2005
“True bonding of an expatriate missionary and another people and their culture doesn’t take place at first sight. Becoming bi-cultural takes years… Jesus envisioned discipleship as a lifetime of building into the lives of others. The work of missions takes weeks, months, and years - an entire lifetime.” 
- Forget the Pith Helmet, various authors

I’m far, far away from my family – my parents, my children, and my grandchildren. I miss my friends and I miss my church. At times, I miss the familiar culture of home. I miss the comfortable, free, and easy way we Americans interact with one another. I miss the ability to unreservedly be myself, and in turn to be accepted for who I am.
- my words

Photo accompanying my five-year, October prayer letter

Learning the ways and thought patterns of an unknown and alien people group is quite challenging. Virtually every aspect of this foreign culture is at the opposite extreme of my American upbringing. I’m not proud to admit that I have succumbed to the sense of having been offended. Likewise, I’m ashamed to admit that I have likely caused more than my share of offenses.
- my words

“You have taught me to slow down and to prop up my feet. It’s the fine art of being who I am."              
- Sara Groves, lyrics from Every Minute (“All Right Here”)

“Interpersonal relations between Africans and Westerners in Africa may be friendly and cordial, and typically are, but developing significant friendships on a personal level requires considerable effort...[The most significant reason for this difficulty is] the important place that material resources are given in African friendships.”
- David Maranz, African Friends and Money Matters

Crossing a bridge, near my mud hut - 2007

Our work as God’s servants gets validated - or not - in the details. People are watching us as we stay at our post, alertly, unswervingly…
  • in hard times, tough times, bad times
  • when we’re beaten up, jailed, and mobbed
  • working hard, working late, working without eating
  • with pure heart, clear head, steady hand
  • in gentleness, holiness, and honest love
  • when we’re telling the truth and when God’s showing his power
  • when we’re doing our best setting things right
  • when we’re praised and when we’re blamed
  • slandered and honored
  • true to our word, though distrusted
  • ignored by the world, but recognized by God
  • terrifically alive, though rumored to be dead
  • beaten within an inch of our lives, but refusing to die
  • immersed in tears, yet always filled with deep joy
  • living on handouts, yet enriching many
  • having nothing, having it all

- 2 Corinthians 6:4-9 (The Message)

YUM! Fresh-picked coconut at Masudi's mom's house, Shimba Hills village (interior from the South Coast) - 2008

Jesus is called a friend of tax collectors and sinners… He seems to have enjoyed being with them… Jesus gladly shared meals with these friends and brought them love, hope, and healing… In a particular and protective way God loves those who are most vulnerable: widows, orphaned children, strangers, and those pushed to the margins of a community.

Friendship puts the focus on relationships and offers an alternative to models of mission that are more formal, professional, or bureaucratic… The greater the distance and the more complex the work, the harder it can be to assume that local relationships matter, that they might be interesting or satisfying, or that they are important to one’s relationship to God. Such distancing also makes it harder to resist turning people into projects.

One of the most powerful expressions of mutuality and friendship is sharing a meal together. We tend to eat with people we like and with people who are like us. But shared meals break down social boundaries. All of us need to eat, and when we break bread together we embody our solidarity and common humanity.
- Previous 3 quotes from - “Friendship at the Margins”, Heuertz and Pohl

“One great reason why the rich, in general, have so little sympathy for the poor is because they so seldom visit them. Hence it is that one part of the world does not know what the other suffers. Many of them do not know, because they do not care to know: they keep out of the way of knowing it; and then plead their voluntary ignorance as an excuse for their hardness of heart.”
-John Wesley, “On Visiting the Sick”

“We are here to offer our hands as Jesus did when He was on the earth, to touch people with acts of kindness and compassion. We are the feet of Jesus to walk where people are hurting and to offer them the hope that is in God. We are the ears of Jesus to listen to those who suffer and to be a friend to them. We are the eyes of Jesus, always looking for the despised and rejected, that we might go and encourage them.”
- Joel Vestal, Dangerous Faith

Ten Years, 2011
To celebrate 10 years of being in Kenya, I hosted a picnic for many of my friends. We met at Uhuru Park in downtown Nairobi on Mashujaa (Heroes) Day, a national holiday in Kenya. Whether or not you've seen it before, I hope you'll enjoy this slide-and-video show! Make sure your volume is up, so you can hear the audio on the video portions.

Eleven Years, 2012
Last year, I once again, hosted a picnic for some of my friends. Here are two photos, but you can see lots more by clicking here.

21 October 2013

12 Years in Kenya; A Glance at My First Full Year (as recorded in my book)

June 2002, Nairobi
The sights, sounds, and smells of being in this foreign land no longer assault my senses like they did during my first visit in 2001. I have quickly grown accustomed to the ambiance, the landscape, the daily routines, the lifestyle, the poverty, the crowds, the people, the language nuances, and the frustrations. Most times I remember to look right before crossing the street. And most times I remember that pedestrians do not have the right of way.

"Grandma Deb, don't get eaten by a lion while you're there in Africa!"
-Terran, my seven-year old grandson

August 2002, Nairobi
I’m occasionally overcome with the realization that I’m actually in Africa! It comes unexpectedly. As I looked out across the savanna to the mountain range on the horizon, that sudden awareness dawned on me once more. The savanna was sprinkled with Acacia thorn trees – somewhat the quintessential symbol of Africa. As strange as it may sound, it looked just like a picture postcard.

“You are doing exactly what I want you to do here in Kenya.”
–unmistakable whisper of the Lord in my spirit

My house being framed
August 2002, Matunda Mtoni
I watched the ongoing process on my house. A couple of times, the whole thing seemed very surreal. Was I really here in Africa? Was I really watching my mud hut being built?
“You are going to be in heaven in your mud hut – no water, no electricity, loads of dirt, loving God and doing his work! Hmm… what more could my mother want?”
-Jessica, my daughter

September 2002, Nairobi
My God-given mission in life is to meet the needs of those around me in practical and pragmatic ways – to serve, build, counsel, and support. God has used me I this capacity in the US and he is likewise using me in the same capacity in Kenya. He has not called me to the masses, but rather he has called me to minister to individuals on a one-on-one basis. I feel God has been preparing me my entire life for this assignment!

Mary Atieno

“I have watched you interact with us Kenyans and I see that you love us! You don’t see our skin color. It lets me know that God also loves us!”
–Mary Atieno, my friend

September 2002, Matunda Mtoni
Eventually Margaret and I neared the compound and I saw my house! It looks enchanting. The mudding of the walls is finished and nearly dry and the grass roof is on. The door and all three windows are in place. It felt noticeably cool as I walked inside, even though the sun was already warm. The house is so inviting and so wonderful. I can’t wait until it’s completed and I can spend my first night in it!

“Deb, I thank God for you. I praise God you are here.”
–Margaret Wanjala, my friend

November 2002
God is especially using me to minister to single parents and single-parent children in Kenya. God, in his wisdom and sovereignty, continues to introduce me to such people. Imagine that he could use the pain of my divorce and ensuing single-parenting years to now encourage and lift up his children in East Africa!

“Oh, my! That is disgusting! I can’t believe you ate termites!”
–Autumn (age 11), daughter of an American friend of mine

December 2002
At times, the many cultural expectations and assumptions all wear on me. Oftentimes I feel like the proverbial round peg being forced into a square hole! Kenyans are used to preachers and evangelists coming in for short periods of time and preaching or holding crusades. Or a missionary might come to set up a church, a school, an orphanage, or a hospital. Then they leave. It’s as if no one quite knows what to do with me – I’m still here and I don’t preach! Many seem to have his or her preconceived idea about what exactly a missionary is. It’s all a tad bit overwhelming.

“Deb, you have been such an example of God’s love. You are making a difference in so many people’s lives.”
–Chris, Kenyan pastor

February 2003, Matunda Mtoni
On my way home, I got caught in a heavy rainstorm. It rained so hard I could hardly see. The once dry and dusty roads were now awash with mud and streams of water. It certainly added a new component to my bike ride experience. Needless to say, I was soaked by the time I reached my mud hut


“Deb, most wazungu come to Kenya for a while and then they leave. But you have stayed with us. You live in a house like we do and you eat what we eat. It’s a miracle!”
–Nathan Kisiangani, farmer friend of mine

March 2003, Nairobi
My condition deteriorated rapidly. I had another violent shivering incident, my third in as many days. I cannot emphasize enough how horrible they are. My fever was high again and I was very weak. It required all the energy I could muster just to get to the toilet, and it required a ten-minute self-motivational talk just to do so… I suffered with the horrendous symptoms of malaria for ten days. It was not pleasant and was the sickest I’ve ever been in my life… This illness, although very difficult both physically and emotionally was just a bump in the road. My life is tucked safely in God’s hand. He has sent me here and I have no doubts about it.

“Suffering from malaria has been described as being akin to hell on earth.”
–Daily Nation, local newspaper

April 2002, Matunda Mtoni
After the downpour stopped, diligent farmers carrying a short-handled jembe (hoe) head immediately back to the fields. Their backs and arms have got to be aching from the weeks of back-breaking work. As I watch the whole process, my admiration for Kenyan farmers increases greatly. They live off the land and all their work is manual. They rely totally on God’s provision through the long and short rains. They are happy and contented people; they love God and others. They help one another and make sure no one goes hungry.

“You have been an inspiration to me in the area of your ministry. You love the hurting. Your unreserved dedication and commitment surely speak of a great heart. You have traveled, interacted, and fellowshiped with us without any reservations.”
-Syanda, Kenyan pastor

May 2003, village in Siaya
As I sat outside visiting with Carol’s two grandmothers, it was like being in a museum. It seemed as if I had gone back in time. These women live in a very remote area and by most any standard live a very simple life. They go about their daily tasks basically the same way they have all their lives. Modern conveniences and new inventions have simple passed them by and they are none the worse for it. They are quite content and happy with their lot in life.
Carol and her mom

“It’s a miracle! Imagine a white woman coming all this way to visit me in my home here in the bush! Ah, he’s my God. He has sent you here to bless us. I love my God. You have lifted my spirits and added hours to my lifespan. Ah, he’s my God!”
–Joseph Nyakako, father to my friend Carol

June 2003
So many Kenyans have stolen my heart. It’s as if they have climbed right inside my very being and made themselves comfortable. They have established a permanent place in my heart!

“You’ve encouraged us a lot and also challenged us. For a mzungu to be down to earth like you, it really takes God. And you know what, Deb? You’re from God; he sent you to Kenya with a purpose. Deb, we thank God you were born.”
–Linet Obanda, my friend

17 October 2013

12 Years in Kenya; I am a Triangle - An Illustration of Me

I have been aware for some time now that I have become different... that I’ve changed by living in a foreign land and among foreign people. In many ways, since God sent me to live in Kenya, it has not been easy when I’m back home in the States. It’s subtle but it’s ever present.

It certainly doesn’t seem like going ‘home’ should be so hard.  

After all, it’s where I was born and lived for the first 45 years of my life. This tension or anxiety is rather non-descript. I’ve never quite been able to put my finger on it for my own understanding, let alone put it into words for others.

Let me share one innocuous, almost silly, example:

Because of Kenya’s year-round temperate climate, if a store or office is open for business, there are no doors. Patrons simply walk in to the premises. In the evening, when said business closes – to be sure – large metal doors are closed making the establishment secure. But in the daytime – during open hours – there are no doors for customers to open or close.

While recently in the States, so many times I was confused by doors. Are they automatic or manual? Do they open in or out; do I push or pull? Just when I was getting used to automatic doors – the kind that are programmed to open as you approach them – I would encounter a manual door and practically walk right into it. I was expecting it to open. One particular time I kept pushing on a door, until a man showed me I needed rather to pull it open.

Okay... where is a hole where I can hide?

Such awkwardness is compounded greatly when it comes to relationships and interacting with people whom I know. I actually feel clumsy when greeting Americans. Do we hug, and if so, do we turn to the right or to the left? Do I shake hands with this person? Or do we kiss?

Of course, it goes way deeper than doors and greetings.

I don’t know who I am or what my role is when I’m back. During each of my field-stays (my time in Kenya), my friends and family back home inevitably experienced things that I missed out on. And, of course, they likewise have not experienced the things I experienced while I was in Kenya. It can be hard to connect like we used to, almost like there’s some kind of invisible barrier.

Part of me mourns each time I go back.

In the past, the best way I knew how to describe this vague and uncomfortable feeling, was to liken it to arriving in the middle of a conversation. I don’t quite know what’s already been said in my absence and I don’t quite know what my contribution to the conversation should or could be.

Or… do I even I fit into the conversation? Will what I have to say make any sense?

Four years ago, when I attended a Missionary Debriefing Retreat at Mission Training International, we were taught something that stuck with me:

For every one year that I’m away in Kenya, it’s as if two years have passed between myself and my friends or family members. During each other’s absence, we have both been growing and maturing – often in different directions. This factor is like doubling my time away… and our time apart from one another.

While I was at the retreat this year, our discussion-group leader shared a fairly simple – and yet quite apt and enlightening – illustration with us. She enhanced it with simple drawings.

As Beth brought her illustration to a close, I had tears in my eyes. A box of Kleenex was passed around to others in my group. Each one of us sat silently and let the impact sink in.

I found it to be quite profound.

I share it with you, in the hopes that you’ll get a glimpse into my reality. Please read through it slowly so you can adequately absorb the concepts. Allow the simple illustrations to enhance my words.

It’s not just a thesis; it describes me.

I AM A TRIANGLE - The illustration

People living in Circle Country are Circles. Even though each and every Circle is slightly different, with their own personalities and nuances… they all function and think entirely according to their Circle Culture. This Circle Culture has a subtle influence over how every Circle behaves and thinks about a variety of issues. Generally speaking, there are certain norms to which all Circles ascribe. The influence of Circle Culture begins from the moment a baby Circle is born.

These cultural issues, distinctions, and norms would include such things as:

·         perspectives on birth, birth order, and the circle of life
·         their take on dying and death
·         views about the world
·         whether or not the culture is based on Honor/Shame, Truth/Guilt, or Power/Fear
·         attitudes toward conflict resolution
·         simple things like food preferences and celebration of holidays
·         styles of greeting one another
·         proper ways to leave someone’s home
·         concepts about money and the sharing of resources
·         philosophies on time-management and time-keeping
·         beliefs regarding the role of women in society and the treatment of the elderly
·         attitudes and behavior toward the poor and needy
·         outlooks on changing ones environment verses allowing nature and fate to take its course
·         whether or not there exists a culture of reading or a general curiosity about the world
·         how God interacts with mankind
·         distinctions between a society based on community and one that applauds and favors the individual
·         matriarchal or a patriarchal society

Naturally the list can go on and on. In addition to these viewpoints, philosophies, and attitudes that are peculiar to Circle Culture, each Circle also has a history of sharing life and experiences together and building memories with other Circles.

If a Circle gets on a plane and flies to Square Country to live, she will land in the midst of Square people. All of these Squares function entirely according to their Square Culture. And just like the Circle Culture influences all Circles, so the Square Culture influences all Squares beginning at birth.

It cannot be stated strongly enough that these two cultures are vastly different from one another. Simply stated - and forgive my being redundant - one is a Circle Culture and the other is a Square Culture. In one, all the people are yellow. In the other, all the people are blue.

While Circle person lives in the midst of Square people, she may adapt to a degree. She may come to value and admire some of the practices and attitudes of the Squares and their Square Culture. Circle person may experience a certain level of comfort living in Square Country and some things may rub off on her. But she won’t ever quite fully absorb the culture of Square Country. As much as Circle person may eventually feel like she fits in…. she simply will never truly belong. She will never truly be a Square; she is, after all, a Circle.

However, by living within Square Country and while surrounded and influenced by Squares, Circle person will lose a bit of being a Circle. It happens subtly and over a period of time, as she embraces some of Square Culture. It’s very imperceptible, but in her heart, she realizes more and more that she’s not as yellow as she used to be.

Now not quite 100% a Circle and certainly not a Square, she will live life in the ‘in-between’. 

It will be as if she has transformed into a Triangle Person. She has undergone a metamorphosis, deep down inside.

Her shape and her color have evolved into a different shape and color. She has the tints of her two life experiences – yellow and blue – but they have now become green.

She’s different. Without knowing it, she slowly and unconsciously changed by living in that different country – Square Country – and by being surrounded by a different environment with a different culture – Square Culture. She slowly realizes she has a mixture of the two worldviews and other cultural distinctions. She has shared life and many Square experiences with Squares. She has created a history within Square Country.

But it’s not a bad thing. It seems very natural and okay to her.

Now… if this newly developed Triangle person gets on another plane and returns to her original Circle Country, she won’t return as a Circle person. She boards the plane as a Triangle Person. She’ll remain the Triangle she has become.

Once arriving back in Circle Country, she will realize she doesn’t quite fit in there anymore. The vast majority of Circles have never left Circle Country, or perhaps just for a visit. This new Triangle has to realize and accept that it’s not their fault; Circle people simply have no point of reference to relate to their friend, who is now no longer a Circle like them... but a Triangle.

As a Triangle Person, she begins to realize she’ll always be a little bit of a Circle as well as a little bit of a Square. She’ll never quite fit in like she used to in her own country and in her own culture.

Back then – when she was a Circle in Circle Country – it was so comfortable and easy. Nothing seemed to require any effort. 

Now things are awkward. Everything seems different. Sometimes she finds it to be really hard.

She wasn’t expecting this. However, it’s inevitable. It is simply the nature of the beast.

Now she’s somewhere in the middle, not fully a Circle anymore, and not a Square either. She lives and exists in the in-between.

She realizes and comes to accept that she is – and will always be – a Triangle. She will always live in-between two countries, two cultures, and two shapes of people. 

This is me.

I am a Triangle person.

When I’m in Circle Country, I am a Triangle.

And when I’m in Square Country, I am a Triangle.

No matter where I am, I will always feel like I’m different.

I will always feel like there’s some sort of dis-connect.

It is what it is.

And it’s okay. I have accepted it.

I am, and always will be, a Triangle.

~       ~       ~      ~       ~       ~      ~       ~       ~      ~       ~       ~

I hope this illustration will help you understand me better. 

Please leave me a comment. It just takes a moment.

By the way, I posted a slightly different version of 'I am a Triangle' at Thrive Ministry's online magazine. You can see it here.

My daughter Naomi is also a 'Triangle', having lived abroad for four years (in both India and Singapore). She recently blogged about this illustration, too. You can see her version by clicking here.


15 October 2013

12 Years in Kenya; A Sampling of Missionary Quotes

“Obedience to God was the reason for this journey. It was a good thing for me to remind myself of the reason because, on top of everything, it was really great fun. It was an adventure and held the thrill of adventure... It was the thing I was made for and I was full of gladness.”

Elisabeth Elliot
writing about her first year as a missionary in Ecuador
early 20th century

“People talk of the sacrifice I made in spending so much of my life in Africa. I never made a sacrifice. We ought not to talk of sacrifice when we remember the great sacrifice which [Jesus] made who left his Father’s throne on high to give himself for us.”

David Livingstone
missionary to Africa
19th century

"Go, send, or disobey."

John Piper 
modern-day pastor and author

"A missionary is created for the purpose of being God’s servant, one in whom God is glorified."

"The missionary’s secret is truly being able to say, 'I am His, and He is accomplishing His work and His purposes through me.'"

Oswald Chambers 
evangelist, teacher, and author of 'My Utmost for His Highest'
early 20th century

"As for ourselves, yes, we must be meek, bear injustice, malice, rash judgment. We must turn the other cheek, give up our cloak, go a second mile."

Dorothy Day 
American journalist and social activist, 
working with the poor and homeless
20th century

“Here am I, send me; send me to the ends of the earth; send me to the rough, the savage lost of the wilderness; send me from all that is called comfort on earth; send me even to death itself, if it be but in your service, and to promote your kingdom.”

David Brainerd, 
missionary to American Indians
18th century

"I wasn't God’s first choice for what I've done for China. I don’t know who it was. It must have been a man, a well–educated man. I don’t know what happened. Perhaps he died. Perhaps he wasn't willing. And God looked down… and saw Gladys Aylward. And God said, ‘Well, she’s willing.'" 

Gladys Aylward
missionary to China
early 20th century

“All God's giants have been weak men who did great things for God because they reckoned on God being with them.”

J. Hudson Taylor
missionary to China, and founder of the China Inland Mission
late 19th century

"You can give without loving. But you cannot love without giving." 

Amy Carmichael
missionary to India
early 20th century

"Prayer is the mighty engine that is to move the missionary work."

A. B. Simpson
Canadian preacher, theologian, author, and founder of the 
Christian and Missionary Alliance
late 19th century

"He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose."

Jim Elliot
missionary to Ecuador
martyred in 1956