25 October 2016

Celebrating 15 years as a missionary in Kenya; how God interrupted my life

My four children, December 2011

Becoming a missionary or living abroad was never on my radar.

I had raised my four children alone, as a single mom, after an unwanted divorce.

In spite of the situation, we thrived throughout those years and God proved his faithfulness over and over again.

Around the same time my kids were venturing out on their own, God dramatically interrupted my life. He began stirring something in my heart, and soon a series of events unfolded rapidly. I followed his lead, by applying for a passport and selling my house.

Almost before I knew it, I was on my way to the other side of the world. God sent me to Kenya, East Africa, a place about which I knew virtually nothing. Not only had he 'connected all the dots', he had masterfully put them in place!

By his design, he supernaturally connected me to a handful of single parents and their children. His desire is that I love them as my 'neighbor', the second greatest commandment.

God comes alongside us when we go through hard times,
and before you know it, he brings us alongside
someone else who is going through hard times so we
can be there for that person just as God was there for us.
      ~ 2 Corinthians 1:4, Message

My mud hut, 2003

To be sure, there have been some ups and downs along the way, but God continues to prove his faithfulness again and again in my life.

I still stand amazed at this drastic pivot. Only God Almighty could have orchestrated everything so perfectly.

The woman who is ready for God and His work is the one who receives the prize when the summons comes. Readiness means we have no choice in what we want to do, but that whatever God’s plans may be, we are there and ready. Jesus Christ can put us wherever He wants. Be ready for the sudden surprise visits of God. A ready person never needs to get ready; she is ready. 
    ~ Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest

24 October 2016

Celebrating 15 years as a missionary in Kenya; the place where God revealed his plan

Masudi, age 14, in 2004

God used a unique way to reveal exactly why he sent me to this foreign land as a missionary. You see, when he dramatically interrupted my life all those years ago, the pieces of the puzzle only came into focus gradually.

God didn't give me a metaphorical compass or map to guide me. Rather when he called, I simply followed - one step at a time. I actually had no idea what he had in mind.

I was like Abram in Genesis, chapter 12 - God told Abram: “Leave your country, your family, and your father’s home for a land that I will show you." So Abram left just as God said.

I first traveled to Shimba Hills, a remote village near Kenya's coast, in October 2002. I was with a group of Kenyans on a mission trip there, hosted by a local pastor and his wife. Our itinerary consisted of outdoor crusades, door-to-door evangelism, and showing an HIV-AIDS video in the local secondary school.

The boys enjoying the beach at the Indian Ocean, 2004

During those five days, I hung out with three boys - Musyoka, Marsha, and Masudi. We quickly formed a bond during the evenings when they weren't in school. The day before the group and I were to return to Nairobi, each of them invited me to meet their mother. That day turned out to be quite pivotal in my life.

We followed narrow footpaths, meandering through the thick vegetation, as the boys took me to their homes. Over a cup of tea or while chewing sugar cane, the moms told me their stories (a common practice in Kenya). It turned out that each of them was raising their children as a single mother; one was widowed young and the other two husbands had abandoned their families.

Drinking coconut water at Masudi's mom's home, 2008

Although it wasn't a sudden realization, indeed God used this day as my 'aha moment'.

Slowly it dawned on me what God had in mind. And after all these years I am still amazed how he orchestrated this trip and how he used three boys - and their moms - to unfold his plan.

You see, I also raised my four children alone, after an unwanted divorce. By God's design, my assignment in Kenya is a vivid picture of 2 Corinthians 1:4 -

God comes alongside us when we go through hard times,
and before you know it, he brings us alongside
someone else who is going through hard times so we
can be there for that person just as God was there for us.

Stella at her home in Shimba Hills, September 2016

Over the ensuing years, I have stayed close to Masudi (helping him through high school and college) and have also met with his mom periodically.

Now, fast-forward to last month, when I again traveled to Shimba Hills to visit Masudi's mom, Stella.

While there, I pondered the significance of this location. It has been 15 years since God called me to Kenya and 14 years since he revealed his remarkable plan.

I hope you will enjoy the following photos on my inadvertent trip down memory lane.

Time passes rather slowly in the village

When I first came to Shimba Hills, there weren't any motorbike taxis, but now there are many.

I got to wear a helmet on one of the boda boda rides,
from Diani Beach (near Ukunda) to Shimba Hills

Masudi's nephew and niece

A camera always brings instant smiles and laughter

Masudi and his nephew

Katunge Mwema, Stella's 85-year old neighbor, heard I was around and came to greet me.
She remembers me from one of my early visits to Shimba Hills and still wants to cook me kuku (chicken) someday.

Squeezing everyone in for a photo after a nice chat

Masudi's sister, Emma, lights the solitary lantern as the sun sets and night darkness arrives

Kids doing their homework

Masudi's nephew, Modi, eating dinner by the light of the lantern

The next day, we made an impromptu visit to the beach, with Modi also joining us

We happened to bump into the bursar from Masudi's high school.
I used to pay school fees to him, and he remembers me very well.

Godwill is just about to enjoy his huge hamburger!
An added and unexpected bonus on the trip was being able to connect with Godwill! I know him from Nairobi, but he's now a missionary at Kenya's south coast... not too terribly far from Shimba Hills. Hopefully I was able to impart some sage advice and encouragement to him, from one missionary to another.

It also worked out to have dinner in Mombasa with Marsha, one of the original
three boys I met in 2002. I've also stayed in touch with him over the years.

If you are truly recognizing your Lord, you have no business being concerned about how and where he engineers your circumstances. Be reckless immediately - totally unrestrained and willing to risk everything - by casting your all on him. 
You do not know when his voice will come to you, but whenever the realization of God comes, even in the faintest way imaginable, be determined to recklessly abandon yourself, surrendering everything to him. 
      ~ Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest

Whenever we walk with God and obediently follow his call on our lives, we burst into spontaneous joy, and maybe even turn cartwheels on the beach!

20 October 2016

Celebrating 15 years as a missionary in Kenya; applying Scripture to my life

During this October, my 15th anniversary of living in Kenya, I read some of Paul's letters in The Message. As I often do with Scripture, I re-wrote bits of it to apply specifically to my life.

Perhaps you'll be prompted to do something similar yourself. God's Word is rich and so very relevant to each one of us!

Galatians: I am God-commissioned. He had designs on me and set me apart in my mother's womb, calling me out of his sheer generosity. My life is not mine; I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I will stoop down and reach out to those who are oppressed, sharing their burdens. I will not allow myself to get fatigued doing good, and will not give up or quit.

Ephesians: I, Deb, am under God's plan as a missionary. My eyes are focused and clear so I can see exactly what he's called me to do. God created me to join him in the work he does, the good work he has gotten ready for me to do, work I had better be doing. He wants me on the road he called me to travel, as I pour myself out for others in acts of love. I will do this in the same way God loves me, not cautious but extravagant.

Philippians: My prayer is that my love toward others would flourish, that it would be sincere and intelligent. As long as I'm alive in this body, there is good work for me to do. I will be energetic in my life of salvation, reverent and sensitive before God. That energy is God's energy, God willing and working at what will give him the most pleasure.

Colossians: I, Deb, have been sent on special assignment by Christ as part of God's master plan. Like Epaphras, I am a reliable worker for Christ. I am living well for the Master, making him proud. I stay grounded and steady, constantly tuned in to the Message, careful not to be distracted.

1 Thessalonians: Troubles don't come as a surprise to me, as I know it's part of my calling. I will keep on doing what pleases God: gently encouraging the stragglers, plus reaching out for the exhausted and pulling them to their feet. I'll be patient with each person and attentive to individual needs. I will look for the best in others and be cheerful no matter what. I will thank God no matter what happens.

2 Thessalonians: God gives me everything I need and makes me fit for what he's called me to be. He fills my good ideas and acts of faith with his energy so it amounts to something. May my life honor the name of Jesus Christ, as he puts a fresh heart in me and invigorates my work.

... and from the Old Testament:

The prophet, Amos, said, "I never had plans to be a preacher. I raised cattle and I pruned sycamore-fig trees. Then God took me off the farm and said, 'Go preach to my people Israel.'"

My personalized version -
I never had plans to be a missionary. I did remodeling, worked at my church, and was a mentor for two children in the public schools. But God interrupted my life and said, 'Go be a missionary to my people in Kenya. Love them as your neighbor, especially single mothers and their children to whom I will introduce you.'"

19 October 2016

Celebrating 15 years as a missionary in Kenya; hosting a party for a few of my friends

"Celebration brings joy into life and joy makes us strong."

"The only thing that will produce genuine joy is obedience to God."

Richard Foster, in his book, Celebration of Discipline, goes on to say:
God's normal means of bringing his joy is by making the ordinary junctures of life holy. He breaks into the routine experiences of our daily existence. Celebration comes when the common ventures of life are redeemed.

God has established a created order full of excellent and good things, and it follows naturally that if we think of those things, we will be happy. That is God's appointed way to joy. If we fill our lives with simple good things and constantly thank God for them, we will know joy.

Celebration is a spiritual discipline, an act of our will. It's the result of a consciously chosen way of thinking and living. Joy begets joy, and laughter begets laughter. Of all people, we should be the most free, alive, and interesting.

Celebration adds a note of gaiety, festivity, and hilarity to our lives. Jesus rejoiced so fully that he was accused of being a wine-bibber and glutton. Celebrating the glory and wonder of God helps us relax and enjoy the good things of the earth.

Encourage yourself with good conversation,
even by making merry.
   ~ Francois Fenelon, 1651-1715
       (French theologian and writer)

The joy of the Lord is our strength.
   ~ Nehemiah 8:10

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

I hosted a fun, fun party - with much gaiety and laughter, great fellowship and delicious food - for a few of my friends (30, counting myself). The entire purpose was to celebrate God's faithfulness in my life, serving him as a missionary in Kenya for the past 15 years.

Joy and Cliff, enjoying their mango juice

Rose with beet juice cocktail, and Jim with a Coke

Carol, Jasmine, and Jeremiah

Gloria and Masudi

Pastor Ken and Joan

Jim, Debbie, Perez, Moses, Jaiden, Emily, and Malakai

Joshua, Jacky, Dorothy, David, and Joy (our excellent server for the day)

The kids played with toys, while we adults had fun with a 'white elephant' gift exchange.

Sammy, Linet, Daisy, Rose, and Jim

Debbie, Ben, Dorothy, David, and Veronica

God’s loyal love won’t run out,
and his merciful love won't dry up.
They are created new every morning.

How great is your faithfulness!
I’m sticking with you, God.
I'll say it over and over.
You're all I’ve got.

~ Lamentations 3:22-24, Message

17 October 2016

Celebrating 15 years as a missionary in Kenya; candid thoughts from David Joannes

My young friend,
Martin, 2005

[The following is an excerpt from David Joannes' blog. He is a long-term missionary in China, with an articulate voice in stories of justice and social concern, especially among the poor.] 

Make no mistake about it: cross cultural missionary work is not easy. Throwing in the towel is an inviting consideration.

I’m not going to lie to you. Being a missionary? It’s not easy.

Don’t get me wrong. There’s a lot to be thankful for. Being a missionary? It’s rewarding. We feel secure knowing that we are right where God wants us to be. I’d dare even say it’s simple, because life boils down to the basic Christian principle of trust and obey.

Rewarding? Yes.

Easy? No.

My mud hut, 2003

Missionary attrition is a real thing. We don’t pack our belongings in coffins like our missionary heroes of the past, and modern technology has made it incredibly easy to return home after a few years on the mission field.

So… How do you help? Simple. Don’t forget us.

You’re there. We’re here.

Unless we make a lot of noise on the Social-Media-Platform-of-Choice and unless we reach out to you, you probably don’t spend much time mulling over us. After all, you’re living your own life and struggling with your own struggles. We get it. We understand. Really. We do. Still, it would be nice to hear from you once in a while.

The mission field is rife with stories of missionaries who traveled halfway across the world, adjusting to a new culture, being traumatized by the transition, and never hearing as much as a “how are you?” from folks back home.

One friend of mine told me she never heard a word from her church for more than six months. She sent her newsletters regularly, and no one ever responded.

It doesn’t even have to be a long, complicated email. A friend of mine, who I haven’t talked to in years, just messaged me the other day with these simple words, “Hey. How are you? How can I pray for you today?”

It made such a difference.

Crossing a river, 2008

So yeah… back to that last question.

What makes life as a missionary hard? It’s different for all of us, so the best thing you can do is ask.

A simple message on Facebook or a quick email will suffice. You don’t even have to pay for postage stamps to do it. Let them know they’re remembered, ask them what they need prayers for and do pray for them. It really does help.

- David Joannes, davidjoannes.com