Back in March, we had the opportunity to travel to South Africa for a retreat with our Resonate regional team members. We decided to drive in order to do some sight-seeing along the way, and we are so glad we did!
First stop was Livingstone, where we spent a day exploring Victoria Falls, or Mosi-oa-Tunya, with friends we knew from JMU (although they have since left Zambia for another calling). I’m going to let the pictures do most of the talking, because I can hardly think of how to describe the sights, sounds, and feelings at the Falls. Verses from Job or Psalms about the mightiness of God displayed in nature come to mind, such as Psalm 42:7 – “Deep calls to deep at the roar of your waterfalls…”
A couple of notes: ~ In March, the water is at high volume, because the rainy season has filled the rivers that all flow into the Zambezi, and that is also why the water looks a little muddy. This certainly did not detract from the magnitude and majesty in our opinions! ~ You can get alarmingly close to the drop-off point at the top of the falls! There is actually nothing to stop you from just falling or jumping or wading in. It was absolutely spectacular and felt as much refreshingly non-commercial (contrast with Niagara Falls much? ha!) as it did nerve-wracking with small children about. We are immensely grateful for this experience.
After spending time hiking along the viewing areas, we took the trail to see the drop-off, where in the drier seasons you can swim in Devil’s Pool (gotta go back!) right at the lip of the falls, and then hiked to the bottom to see the Boiling Pot.
Next up was a little thrill-seeking! If you scrolled through the above photos, you will have seen a wide yellow metal bridge span over the Zambezi River just after the falls. You can walk onto this bridge, and technically be in Zimbabwe! So we all did that. You can also bungee jump OFF of this bridge, which is what Evan and Graeme did. From the Zambian side, you can take a big zip line ride, landing on the bridge itself, and that is what Torin, Bronwyn, Gwennyth, and I (Jody) did. It was a ton of fun with an amazing view!
Here (click to open new tab) are some videos from our day at “Smoke That Thunders” – one of the Seven Wonders of the Natural World!
Any move brings with it plenty of adjustments, and our move to Zambia is of course no exception. One thing we are finding particularly awkward is thinking about seasons! We left Iowa in October, which was still fairly warm, but definitely sliding into “Iowa fall” and cooler temperatures. Arriving in Zambia (still in October) however, we found very hot, very dry weather – “Zambia summer” and it stayed hot well into January, although eventually the rains brought first some relief and then an amazing explosion of green everywhere we looked. By March, which is when the first set of pictures below were taken, it felt kind of like “Iowa spring” (even though we’d just come out of hot weather, not snowy cold), because of all the lush new growth. I guess this is what “Zambia fall” is like? Then the evenings started to be noticeably cooler, and by the end of April, outdoor swimming wasn’t so appealing at least in Lusaka. Elsewhere in Zambia, at lower elevations, it was still quite warm, and we really enjoyed late May swimming when we were in the Lower Zambezi area. In June and July, we found we wanted a blanket at night and turned the fans off, although we certainly didn’t feel the need for the wooly hats and puffy jackets that we’ve seen many of our Zambian neighbors sporting this time of year. We just could not bring our snow and ice loving hearts to say “winter,” but some people do refer to the cooler dry season that way. Weather and tolerance of temperature is one of those things where “it’s all relative” does apply!
Slideshow 1 – March 2022 Our backyard, on a walk nearby, and driving south of Lusaka.
Here we are at the end of August, and most of the blankets have been put away. Although we’ve heard Zambians saying things like “springtime” for our current season, things are not getting greener like we would expect back in “Iowa spring” – it hasn’t rained for several months and won’t for a couple more yet. It is usually clear and sunny, and everything is dusty, inside and outside. It’s almost surprising to see that you can still have something of a productive garden in the dry season, at least the early part when it’s cooler. For sure this involves some watering, but we have also realized there’s been a fairly heavy dew many mornings, and that must help. As we move into “hot and dry” again, we’ll have to see what happens with our planting efforts. Adding a little more confusion as we adjust our Iowa connotations to what the seasons and months of the year bring in Zambia are the school calendars. Justo Mwale, where Ryan is teaching, runs their school year on the Jan-Dec calendar. We have more or less kept our homeschool calendar close to what we were used to in North America, but now it feels strange to say “this fall” as we look at starting up a new year of school in September! We kind of feel like we’re just going to quit referring to time of year by season at all, and take the weather as it comes. Maybe this will help adjust our expectations or assumptions, or at least a reduce confusion a little? Even 10 months into our time in Zambia, we often feel quite new, and not sure what to expect. But there are also times when we aren’t surprised by the traffic or the pot holes, and we are recognized by the banana seller or the guard at a gate, and we return from a really wonderful trip, thinking “it’s good to be home.”
Slideshow 2 – August 2022 Hikes in a forest reserve in Lusaka
I didn’t plan to take an entire year between last post and this one, but a lot has happened (to put it mildly) and apparently the blog took a back seat. Way, way to the back. I’m not really sure how to sum up the past 12 months, but I would like to share a recent family picture in front of our home on the campus of Justo Mwale University in Lusaka, Zambia. We’ve been in country for almost 9 months, and in this house for about 5.
Thank you to all of you that have prayed for us, written to us, called over voice or video despite the many hours of time zone differences to sort out, and generally just kept up with us as best you could over these months. We miss family and friends, desperately some days, but we are also being given more family and friends here in Zambia. The two most recent sermons at our church here in Lusaka taught us more about Jesus as the Vine and how we are grafted into Him for our good, and His glory. There was a beautiful reminder to us that God’s family is not confined to the situation and experiences we grew up with, and we count it a privilege, as well as a mandate, to live as branches of Jesus wherever we are. We are curious and excited to see how God will work in us and through us, and we pray that we may bear fruit as we remain in Him. I hope to share some stories and pictures along the way.
“Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing. John 15:5 NLT
“For God is working in [us], giving [us] the desire and the power to do what pleases him.” Philippians 2:13 NLT
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I have been in Nigeria for four weeks now. My first week and a half were spent in self-isolation per the country’s covid-19 protocols. Grading 140+ book reviews, preparing lectures, and teaching online, kept me busy during my quarantine. I have been able to be on campus the last three weeks. It has been a great joy to be with students in class.
Two weeks ago, I received a vehicle, so I have been driving myself to campus. The commute is about twenty minutes. The tarmac roads are very good. Traffic can be heavy, but it is not nearly as crazy as Nairobi traffic.
I am learning new skills, like how to hand wash clothes, and figuring out the essentials of daily life, like where to get groceries. Some speciality items are bought at the store, but most things, especially fruits and vegetables, are bought in the market or at a roadside stand. I arrived in the middle of mango season, so I’ve been enjoying fresh fruit every day from a tree in our yard.
The neighbourhood behind our compound is quiet. If I get up early enough, I can take a three or four mile walk before it gets too warm. A nearby hotel has a nice pool where I have been able to lap swim for exercise. The compound where I live has a tennis court and I recently introduced several neighbours to the joys of pickleball.
Lectures for the current semester end this week. Exams will be administered over the next two weeks. In addition to grading term papers and exams, I will be preparing for a two-week Doctor of Ministry course I am teaching in the second half of May and for the course(s) in the part-time programme (summer intensives) that I will teach in June. The three student research projects that I am supervising should be completed by the end of June. It has been good to be in able to meet with those students in person to review their work.
Thank you for your love, encouragement, and prayers.
Yesterday – over a year since we had planned to arrive in Nigeria – I finally made it to the campus of TCNN! On Thursday (8 April) I received the results of my covid test – negative! – and was able to teach at the college in person yesterday (Friday 9 April). It was a very full first day, including five hours of lectures in two master-level classes, chapel attendance, lunch with a colleague, and afternoon tea with the provost (principal). It was a great joy to finally be able to meet students in person. Thanks be to God!
Last week, Ryan received the necessary visa to travel to Nigeria. He left on Saturday afternoon and arrived early Monday morning. He is now self-isolating at our house in Jos, and will continue to teach online during his quarantine. He is scheduled to have a COVID-19 test on Monday 5 April, and hopes to be able to teach on campus later that week. We praise God for answering prayers for smooth and safe travel. Ryan will be in Nigeria through the end of the current semester and the submission of the student research projects he is supervising, which will likely be three months. The rest of us are continuing on with life “as usual” (what does that even mean anymore?!) in Pella, Iowa. We appreciate your prayers for God’s provision and care for our family during this season of separation.
Five years ago, our family was knee deep in preparation for our sabbatical in Kenya. I had purchased a new devotional at the beginning of 2016: The Songs of Jesus by Tim Keller. This is a journey through the book of Psalms, and it was both amazing and heartening to see so many passages speak into our day-to-day life with relevance both timely, and timeless, as only Scripture can do. I think there are a couple of posts here on the blog about ways God used the Psalms in our lives then. Lately, I have been sort of re-living some of those experiences as I am re-reading the devotional, this time together with our children in our homeschool. The reminders of how God is faithful to lead, instruct, encourage, comfort, and carry us have been very precious to my sometimes fretful and forgetful heart.
Not many people can say that 2020 turned out the way they would have expected, I am sure. (Anyone? Anyone at all?) For our family, the pandemic was really just one more shade of weird and unpredictable on the wide spectrum of the unexpected, albeit a bold one. It is already over 4 years ago that Ryan was first approached about the possibility of a missionary appointment at the Theological College of Northern Nigeria; not much of this process has moved quickly. There are more things to “blame” than Covid that have contributed to the fact that 14 months after Ryan’s role as pastor at Faith Church came to a close, we are still living in Pella, Iowa, and not in Jos, Nigeria, where we had been planning to move in early 2020. Not only that, but we are still living in the parsonage that we moved into 15 years ago when Ryan was first ordained here. Nobody feels weirder about that than we do, believe me, and at the same time, we are grateful for the stability that staying in this house has given us. (I wanted to mention this, because some have asked us if we have a place to live while we wait, knowing that, since having lived in the parsonage as part of Ryan’s pastoral role, we did not own a home here in Pella. Faith Church has supported Resonate Global Mission in this tangible way, providing housing, as we could not get to the house prepared for us in Nigeria.)
So it is that 2020 brought this already long-drawn-out transition to a head for our family. In the midst of various complications — from small things like medical appointments getting postponed, to medium-sized things like a passport being lost, to big things like a pandemic shutting down airports — we have felt much like Paul must have when he describes being prevented from doing the work and making the trips he thought were before him (see Acts 16, and Romans 1 and 15). We decided to set aside a period of time for intentional, focused prayer and Bible study as a family to seek direction and wisdom concerning our plans to move to Nigeria. We have sought the Lord, and He has answered us. Through passages of Scripture, devotional readings we were already following, “verse of the day” offerings on the Bible app, songs sung and sermons heard in church, a timely word from a friend, and so on, our hearts have felt God’s presence, listened for His voice, and sensed His leading. We are especially thankful for helpful and encouraging conversations with our Resonate leadership team as we have discerned a way forward together.
As you can read in the attached newsletter, the next step in our family’s journey looks different than we had hoped or expected. We are planning for Ryan to make a trip to Jos on his own, and pray that he will be able to have a productive and meaningful time in person at TCNN for the remainder of this semester. Our plans for what happens after that are under construction. There is grief and disappointment that something we (and many others) have poured so much into for so long is still not coming to the fruition we had expected and planned for. There is some frustration that we continue to wait for God’s timing for our family to move. At the same time, we are confident that none of this has been surprising to God, and He will make each step of the way plain in His time as we seek to serve Him with joyful and obedient hearts. We have committed our way to the Lord, and will keep doing so; we trust in Him, and know that He will act. (Psalm 37:5) We pray that we will not see all these delays as wasting time or effort, but as time used to teach us to rely ever-increasingly on the Lord, and to draw us closer as a family as we seek His direction together. As we wait upon the Lord, we claim His promise that our strength will be renewed. (Isaiah 40:31) Sure, we may never fully understand what has sometimes felt to us like wandering in the wilderness, but our God is the one who makes streams in the desert. (Isaiah 43:19) We rest in this:
Oh, the depth of the riches, both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! Romans 11:33
Happy New Year! It’s still January, so that still applies, right?
Speaking of “still” … We have had many friends and neighbors and relatives contact us one way or another to ask if we had any news or updates concerning our move to Nigeria. I thought maybe one of the simplest ways to answer would be to share this song, which has been my theme and my prayer of late.
Grace and peace to you, and thank you for waiting with us.