30 December 2014

What I learned living cross-culturally as a Christian, written by Cindy Brandt

One of my favorite quotes regarding living cross-culturally is this one by Duane Elmer:

"Among the hardest tasks in life is to divest (rid or strip) ourselves of the culture we wear so comfortably."

I think the following piece, written by Cindy Brandt, does a good job examining this struggle:

What I learned living cross culturally as a Christian
We all wear a set of spectacles. Everyone does. Those lenses dictate the way we view life. They determine the habits we make, what to eat, when to sleep, when to marry, and how to work. They assign value to our lives, determining what is meaningful: family, faith, honor, love.

What I learned living cross culturally as a Christian is that you can see Jesus wearing different spectacles. You do not have to abandon your spectacles, or switch it out for a new one in order to find Jesus. You do not have to forsake the cultural values you were assigned at birth, taught by your parents, passed down by your ancestors, in order to know Jesus. No, you find Jesus by looking through them.

What I learned living cross culturally as a Christian is that some people have mistaken the Good News to be changing out the spectacles for new ones. We have reduced the Gospel to be an exchange of values and habits. What I have seen in both cultures I reside in, is that there are good values and bad values in both; we are differently good and differently bad. We are quite equally flawed, not one culture can claim superiority to teach the other much. As long as we believe we are the Bearer of Right Values, we will be pronouncing ill-informed judgment on other cultures because we have not yet learned to see God through their spectacles.

What I learned living cross culturally as a Christian is there is more than one right way to be Christian. When you see Jesus differently, your walk with Jesus is going to look differently. When people with different spectacles worship Jesus in the same way, it is likely because the dominant cultural narrative have subsumed the minority, often in the name of unity. They say that God is the same here, there, and everywhere, therefore if you follow God, you will look like me. Uniformity is a passive form of aggression. Homogeneity is coercing everyone to wear one pair of cultural lenses. It is leaving some people stripped of their core values, robbing them of dignity, leaving them without sight to see their way forward. It is perpetuating violence in the name of a nonviolent Jesus. The Good News is not that there are new spectacles we get to force upon other people’s faces. Jesus came wearing old spectacles, practicing Jewish laws, performing Jewish rituals.

What I learned living cross culturally as a Christian is that so much strife, across races, cultures, and nations, happen as a result of people being unaware of their spectacles, believing their worldview is the only right way to live. They begin to see others who live differently as evil or secular. That their way of living is uncivilized, less enlightened, sub-human. They refuse to believe that others also see God, that their lenses are just as clear, their view just as bright. That God reveals Jesus to everyone regardless of what culture they were raised in, no matter what color their skin.

What I learned living cross culturally as a Christian is that the Good News is the possibility for every tribe and nation to to participate in the life-giving, humanity affirming way of Jesus. When he taught us to love our enemies, he is showing us the way to honor a different way of doing life, to rest assure us all that every person is made in God’s image but situated to see God differently.

What I learned living cross culturally as a Christian is that the Gospel makes room for everyone, those who wear this set of lenses or that. It is Good News, indeed, that not any of us possess the singular image of God, that we only see a partial view, so that we spend our lives inviting more people to our table, to sit, eat, and tell us what they see.

Cindy was raised cross culturally, married cross-culturally, worked cross-culturally, and is raising her kids cross-culturally. She is grateful to be privileged with a unique vantage point - like she has been given two sets of spectacles in a world where most people wear only one.

Cindy writes at cindywords.com

23 December 2014

Carols by Candlelight: an annual event for the community, hosted by Karen Vineyard Church

Everyone always looks forward to this wonderful annual event. Folks from all walks of life gather at the Karen Blixen Museum around late afternoon. Carrying blankets, chairs, and picnic meals, they find a spot on the beautiful grassy compound. Soon the event starts as we all join in singing traditional Christmas carols. As the sun sets, we light our candles and sing 'Silent Night'.

Note: All of these lovely photos were taken by my friend, Hannah

17 December 2014

Jamhuri Day picnic at Uhuru Park

Once again, I gathered a few friends for a picnic on a national holiday in Kenya. Jamhuri Day 2014 was Kenya's 51st year of celebrating their independence. The weather was great and we had a nice time of leisure and conversation amongst many other folks.

Joy and Jasmine enjoyed the merry-go-round and several of us rode paddle boats on the lagoon. Linet had her toenails painted by Francis, a quite charming nail technician and most of us enjoyed an ice cream cone. Just as we've done at every picnic at Uhuru park, we shared our meal with a hungry - but grateful - street boy.

Emmanuel, Jim, Jeremy, and Derrick

Jennifer, Esther, Joy, and me

Joy is on the creme-colored horse and Jasmine is on the yellow one.




I guess I was enjoying myself too much to get photos of Carol, Linet, and Hannah.

10 December 2014

Great weekend get-away; Champagne Ridge

In November, a few of us from my homegroup spent the weekend at Rongi Saba house in an area called Champagne Ridge. We were just on the edge of an escarpment overlooking the vast Great Rift Valley 3,000 feet below us. We had stunning views throughout our time there.

I cycled the 25 miles (40 kilometers) from my house in Ngong town to our destination. Half of the trip was on rough roads and most of it was quite hilly terrain. I enjoyed the adventure, challenge, and solitude.

Here's a section of flat roads, basically in 'the middle of nowhere'.

Acacia trees grow all around the area. As luck would have it, I got a puncture from one of the thorns.

In the evening, we played a fun game of Scrabble and had a nice fire going.

I got up early in the morning and enjoyed some chai out on the veranda.

God gifted us with this absolutely stunning sunset!

03 December 2014

Homegroup weekend at Savage Wilderness Camp

Anna, Lyz, and I in front of Mission Falls

In September, a few of us from my homegroup spent a weekend at Savage Wilderness Camp. We had a nice time hiking in the area and enjoying each others company. It's always great to get away from the hustle and bustle of the big city and enjoy God's out-of-doors.

Martha and her son, Tendo, enjoyed the pool

Our tents for the weekend

The falls from a different perspective

Rice paddies in the area

A beautiful sunrise across the valley, during an early morning walk with Anna

27 November 2014

A Special Birth on Thanksgiving Day - Thursday, November 25, 2004

My mud hut

A 10-year old story from my archives on this, another Thanksgiving

“The man or woman who is ready for God and His work is the one who carries off the prize when the summons comes. Readiness for God means that we are ready to do the tiniest little thing or the great big thing, it makes no difference. We have no choice in what we want to do; whatever God’s program may be, we are there, ready.

Are you prepared to abandon entirely and let go? Abandon means to refuse the luxury of asking any questions. When you do get through to abandonment to God, you will be the most surprised and delighted creature on earth.”  
-          Oswald Chambers

When I arrived for another stay at my mud hut, I was as happy to see Charles and the boys again as they were to see me. The language barrier prevents me from communicating too well with the boys but as I pedaled onto the compound, their huge grins spoke volumes. Charles’ wife had been bed-ridden for much of her pregnancy; I hadn’t even laid eyes on her before this trip to Matunda. When I met Agnes, I liked her immediately.

A few days later, when I left to return to Nairobi, she said, “Now Deb, who is going to be with me when this baby comes? It should come any day now. This pregnancy has had me ill the entire time. I fear giving birth alone.” I reassured her she’d be just fine.

Secretly, I wished I could be with her when that moment came. Almost three weeks later - on November 21st - I saw Margaret. Just back from Matunda, she responded negatively when I asked, “Is there a baby yet?” I was surprised, but held out hope that maybe I could share in the event after all. I was to travel to Matunda the following day.

After spending the night in Eldoret, I purchased paint and food items at Matunda market, and headed on my way. Cycling the last few hundred meters in the rain, I wondered if I’d find a new baby on the compound.

Jeremiah, a young pastor friend from Nairobi arrived, as he and I had previously arranged. We visited over peanut butter and jam sandwiches, carrots, and chai. Before he left - and at their request - he prayed for Charles and Agnes and especially for the baby. Agnes was quite concerned, confident it was two weeks overdue.

As I gave Jeremiah a push towards Matunda, the sun had just set in the western sky. Just above the eastern horizon, a full moon rose. All around us, for an entire 360 degrees, the sky was absolutely stunning with pink clouds. What a sight!

Tony, Pope, Jim, and Adu

The next day, I loaned Charles my bike and gave them 200/= for a boda boda  (bicycle taxi) so they could go to a clinic to see about the baby. That evening, Charles and Agnes reported that the nurse at the clinic had concurred - the baby should come any time.

It rained heavy for two hours at night. At midnight, I awoke to voices. Rousing myself out of bed, and peeking out the window, I saw Charles and Agnes praying and singing.

Realizing it was time, I threw on my sweatshirt and joined them. Throughout the night, Agnes laid on a gunnysack on the cold crumbling cement floor, leaning against an old rolled-up foam mattress. She was indeed in labor. Mary John, a neighbor who lives just down the hill, was also present. At their request I retrieved a razor blade from my house. Charles woke the boys and got them settled in the other tiny house on the compound. As he did so, Agnes laughed, “If they hear my groans and noises, they’ll mimic me for a week!”

Throughout the next few hours, and in between the incessant rain showers, I brought my lantern and small tin lamp, as well as my flask of leftover chai for Agnes. Charles tried to light maize cobs. They weren’t dry enough from the recent harvest; the ensuing smoke made it difficult for Agnes to breathe. He opened the windows to let the smoke out but the cool night air made Agnes cold. I brought my jiko (small cooker) and charcoal; eventually the house warmed. 

In between contractions we engaged in lively conversation. We told stories, we laughed. During their narrations, every ten minutes or so, Agnes would disengage in the conversation and endure a contraction. They told us of her difficult pregnancy that had caused her much pain and suffering. She was in and out of clinics and the hospital and very weak and bed-ridden for most of the pregnancy.  

Charles added, “You know - God’s ways are not human’s ways. Sister Deb, it was God that sent you to be our friend. People can say one thing, but God has higher ways. God is power.” Charles, only educated to fifth grade, talks in broken and halting English. All the same, I find him quite eloquent.

Circumcision revelers (across the river in the Mawe Tatu area) serenaded us through the night. It continued to rain off and on. When we grew tired and the conversation waned,  Agnes pleaded, “Charles, tell us more stories to entertain us.”

Crickets counted the passing minutes. My back grew stiff and sore from sitting on a bench. Mary sat on a small box on the floor. In between doing whatever needed to be done, Charles laid down on the mattress on the floor.

Strong, and enduring the pain and discomfort like a real trooper, Agnes got weary. “Will this baby ever come?” My phone indicated the time was 3:07am. Mary suggested we find a vehicle to take her to a clinic. Agnes confided to me she saw no need to go to a clinic. “Now, what for? Where will we find one? Anyway, I still have hope.”

Instead, a decision was reached to summon a midwife in the neighborhood. One had already refused because of the unavailability of gloves. Charles headed out to find another one. I loaned them my torch (flashlight). The contractions were now five minutes apart; Agnes pushed with each one. “This is too much work,” she asserted. Mary and I occasionally helped her walk around the house. Having admired her spirited courage all night, it was apparent to me that she was plum worn out.

An hour passed; still no baby. Agnes soldiered on; it was an agonizing wait. Roosters, in their morning ritual, announced the approaching dawn. When Charles finally came back, he informed us the second midwife had also refused to assist without gloves and without being paid in advance. Agnes was disappointed, proclaiming that was a silly reason not to help someone in need.

A few minutes later, after another couple of strong pushes with no baby, she stood up, noticeably frustrated and exhausted. Wrapping her blanket around her shoulders she announced, “I’m walking to the midwife down the hill here - even if I die at her door!”

I reminded her that the woman had declined to help earlier. “When she sees my condition, now how can she refuse?” Mary asked her how she would make it with no vehicle. “I’ll just go pole pole (slowly). This baby has delayed too long!”

Charles grabbed the torch; he and Mary assisted Agnes on each side. Knowing Agnes was exhausted - and a bit stunned by her decision - I stood transfixed in the doorway. They’d gone a mere ten steps when Agnes moaned, squatted, and let out a scream.

The next sound in the still dark night was the cry of a baby!

Immediately I scooped the crying infant off of the cold wet grass. As I warmed him in my arms, he stopped crying. Charles supported his wife; Mary ran for the lantern. “Deb, there’s still something in there,” moaned Agnes. I told her the placenta hadn’t come out yet. Getting her back into the house was awkward, as the baby and I had to walk very close to her because the umbilical cord was still attached.

She moaned again and Charles lowered her. As I simultaneously squatted down alongside her, a big squirt of blood landed on my foot. Mary placed a gunnysack underneath to catch the placenta, which quickly followed. Charles then led Agnes into the house. I followed with the baby in my arms.

Once inside, Mary fumbled around nervously trying to tie the cord. I helped as best I could by holding back his curled up legs. Having completed its 9-month task, the cord was already cold to the touch. Mary was ready to cut it when I noticed she hadn’t tied the thread nearly tight enough. Eventually she completed the task of retying it; I resumed my seat on the bench. We discussed what should be done with the afterbirth. With his jembe (hoe) Charles buried it.

I couldn’t take my eyes off the child in my arms. I had the unreservedly incredible privilege of holding him for the first full hour of his life. Content and with a full head of curly black hair, he was simply beautiful. With eyes bright and alert, he looked around at his new environment.

Agnes and I marveled at the way things had developed. I checked my phone; he’d been born at 4:30am. I informed her that he looked just like Charles. Too tired to really care, she was simply relieved it was over. 

Charles continued to praise God about the course of the last couple of days. “You know, God’s a power! His ways are not like humans. People can give advice but God’s ways are higher. God’s a miracle. Look at this baby. God is a miracle.” His eyes sparkled; he laughed with joy.

“Deb, it’s for you to name this child,” declared Agnes. “If it had been a girl she was to be called Deb. But I’m not prepared to name a boy. It seems God only wants me to have boys.”

Hesitating for a moment, I considered what name to choose. Suddenly Charles asked, “Sister, what is your father’s name? I think you must have the same character as your father. You’re so kind. I want my son to have that same character.”

“My Dad’s name is Duane. Yes, he is a very kind man.”

“Then that’s the name of this boy - Duane,” proclaimed Agnes. Regardless of never having heard of the foreign-sounding name, they accepted it immediately and practiced pronouncing it.

As we continued to muse over the child’s birth, I told them today was Thanksgiving in America. I explained it’s a day set aside to give thanks to God for all our blessings.

"Duane not only has an American name, he was born on an American holiday!"

Charles insisted that I pray and give thanks to God. As I offered thanksgiving to God for the miracle I still held in my arms, emotion flooded over me; I was barely able to hold back my tears.

As the night came to a close, Charles gave Mary a push home. I sat next to where Agnes lay on the floor and laid Duane by her side. I brought the tin lamp close so she could see him for the first time. “Agnes, here take a look at your son.” Together we marveled at him.

I left to head to my own house. The sun had just come up over the horizon revealing a thick fog across the valley. It was beautiful - the dawn of a new day. 

A few hours later, Charles invited me to join them for the simple lunch he’d prepared. While we ate, we reminisced and rejoiced, repeatedly praising God.

“Deb, I didn’t know I could ever have a neighbor from abroad,” stated Charles proudly with his typical big grin revealing two large dimples. “You are not only my neighbor, you’re my friend. And now this child has a name from America. There’s no other Duane in Kenya. This child is special. God is a miracle. God is power.” Turning to Isaiah 55:8, 9 in his Bible, he read aloud -

“For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.”

If truth be told, he had quoted those verses so many times throughout the night. It seemed to be the theme of Duane’s birth. As he now read the passage directly from God’s Word, tears once again welled up in my eyes.

Indeed, God’s ways are so incredibly remarkable. What an amazing two days it’d been!

While we ate, I took advantage of the opportunity to hold Duane again. Agnes announced that I was to also choose Duane’s second name. Suspecting I may be given that honor I’d already given it some thought. I conveyed to them I thought it should be Jeremiah, after my pastor friend. In my eyes, he’d played a very pivotal role in the unfolding story. Charles and Agnes readily agreed - Duane Jeremiah. We had fun repeating it.

All afternoon, as the intermittent rain showers continued, I continued to give God the glory. What a memorable Thanksgiving this had turned out to be!

Agnes and Charles with Duane, a few weeks after his birth

current picture of Duane

As Oswald Chambers says in the opening quote -

I had been ready. I didn’t ask questions. I had simply made myself available for the tiniest little thing that needed to be done. I abandoned myself to God and to His program.

18 November 2014

Trip to Tanzania: an island, a missionary retreat, and good times with friends

During one of the afternoons of the retreat, I joined three other ladies on a fun excursion to Mbudya Island. I had a great swim, a fun stroll in the woods, and a relaxing few hours.

Thrive Ministry Missionary Retreat

These are the wonderful ladies in my small group.

The main purpose for my trip to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania was to attend this fabulous retreat. There were 45 ladies in attendance, all American missionaries serving in Africa. Additionally 18 volunteers traveled from the US to serve us for the four days we were together.

The main goals of the retreat were:

  • to step down from the pedestal upon which we so often find ourselves
  • to be refreshed spiritually 
  • to experience God's lavish love
  • to be reminded of our true identity as children of God
  • to be encouraged and empowered
  • to eat lots of chocolate :)

It was such a blessing to be there and to make new friends. We were challenged and stretched by our speaker, Peg Forrest. We shared loads of laughter; had great discussions and prayer times in our small groups; ate well in the dining room; and enjoyed lots of free time.

Generous anonymous donors paid for 75% of the cost! We were blessed to have over 900 people praying for us - by name - a full month before the retreat as well as during it. The goal of Thrive Ministry is to support and encourage American missionary ladies so they can persevere in their calling.

I had asked God to give me a practical 'nugget' I could take home with me from the retreat. And, sure enough, he did! In fact, I've already implemented it with great results. He is so faithful.

As the retreat drew to an end we were commissioned with a new slant on our calling as missionaries. We were reminded that God gives us a God-shaped purpose that is unique to each one of us and that we are to use that gifting to bring him glory. As we gathered in our small groups one last time to pray for and lay hands on each other, it was intense and emotional.

You who were formed and made by me are called by my name and were created for my glory. 
Isaiah 43:7

Christina and Laurie, leaders of Thrive

A beautiful sunrise on Mbezi beach

Praise the Lord, you his servants; praise the name of the Lord. 
Let the name of the Lord be praised, both now and forevermore. 
From the rising of the sun to the place where it sets, the name of the Lord is to be praised. 
The Lord is exalted over all the nations, his glory above the heavens.
Psalm 113

I woke up early one morning and strolled down to the beach. Watching the dawn of a new day is always special and is such a reminder to me of God's faithfulness. On this occasion, an added bonus was watching a boat full of fishermen arrive at the shore with their catch after a night of working under the stars.

 Visiting friends in Dar

I sandwiched the retreat in between visits with friends that live in Dar es Salaam. I had a nice time with Robert and his family, as well as with Penny.

I love seeing whimsical Baobab trees :)

A rare view of Mount Meru's peak, in Arusha