Los Amigos de Chinandega

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For several years Faith Church has had a friendship with five churches in Chinandega, Nicaragua. The relationship was well over five years old when I first visited these churches with a mission team in January 2015. We hadn’t even left Nicaragua to return to the United States and I already wanted to go back. I especially wanted to spend more time with the pastors of these churches, to learn from them and to be mentored in ministry by them. So, in October 2015, I made a return trip to Chinandega to visit Faith Church’s sister churches and their pastors.

I’m going back again! Tomorrow. Monday, February 6. I’ll be in Nicaragua for a week, returning on Monday, February 13. It will be a full week.

Monday, I travel all day. I’m flying Des Moines – Chicago, Chicago – Houston, and Houston – Managua. With three flights, I’m really hoping to fit everything in my carry-on. Less chance of lost luggage!

Tuesday, after arriving in Chinandega for lunch, I’ll visit Sergio and his family and preach at El Manantial’s Tuesday evening service.

Wednesday morning, I’ll visit Eben-Ezer, the school at Iglesia del Nazareno. When I was last there they were completing a fund-drive and anticipated a EduDeo team coming to help put a second story on one of their buildings.

Wednesday evening I’ll share about our family’s experiences in Africa during their mission services. This is the global church – a Canadian immigrant to the United States travels to Nicaragua to talk about his mission work in Kenya! I’m excited to participate in the Wednesday night mission services at the Iglesia del Nazareno. For several years, they have prayed for Faith Church in Pella every Wednesday at this service, and I know that they also prayed for our family every week while we were in Africa.

Thursday and Friday promise to be a real highlight. They are the main reason for my trip. The pastoral families from Faith Church’s five sister churches will be going on a retreat together, and I’ve been invited to join them. I look forward to a wonderful time of worship and fellowship with them.

I’ve been asked to preach the Saturday evening service at Amor Viviente and the Sunday morning service at Resurreccion y Vida. Sunday evening, I’ll be sharing about our family’s experiences in Africa at Iglesia de Dios Central. And then Monday morning, I hop on a plane back to Pella.

So there it is: five church visits, at least three sermons, two mission presentations, a one two-day retreat with pastors, and, I’m sure, much more…

You can learn more about Faith Church’s friendship with these five churches, and read updates from my trip in Nicaragua at www.friendsofchinandega.wordpress.com.

 

Loose Ends

IMG_3014.JPGThat’s what I thought about when I saw this skein of yarn on the side table. I guess it’s more of a pile of tangles than of loose ends (here’s hoping there is just that one loose end anyway!) … but it still seems to illustrate what I’ve been thinking about.

Normally, we think of “loose ends” as things that need to be completed or cleaned up – and thus tied up – before we call a project “Done.”  That was kind of the thought that started this post, but as it turns out, we end up looking at the idea a little differently. I am realizing that loose ends are things we have to learn to live with: sometimes parts of life are left untied, and even untidied. Sometimes it’s easy – or even exciting – to have things feel open-ended, but other times, we long for conclusion.

One thing we haven’t done much of here at our virtual kitchen table is talk about financial specifics.  Money can often make conversations turn awkward, and we didn’t want to make things like fundraisers and budgets a major focus. On the other hand, money was one of the very practical ways that God enabled us to be in Kenya for nearly 5 months, and how Ryan was able to serve at Bridgeworld College. We want you know to that God provided for our financial needs through many different people, giving many different amounts, and we are grateful for each one. Thank you for trusting God’s leading in our lives, and responding to His leading in your own lives by partnering with us financially. It was incredible to us to have people ask how they could give, and what they could do, and what did we need – and then to watch our needs being met, abundantly. Praise God for being our Provider, through His people.

We think we have received our final statements from the CRWM’s budget office, and we gratefully report that not only were all of our expenses covered, but there is even a small amount of funds remaining!  What might these be used for? Well, that’s one of the loose ends – we don’t know yet!  CRWM holds those funds in our name for a year, in case something else comes up yet related to our time in Kenya … OR in case a new opportunity to use them comes up for us!  Stay tuned 😉  If we do not end up using them ourselves, they will go towards another need in a similar area or project.  Be assured that your gifts were received with gratefulness and are used with discernment and care.  If you have any questions, please feel free to drop us a note (see above link 🙂 ).

Our support needs were not all financial, of course, and while it may sound cliche to say it, that doesn’t make it less true: we are even more thankful for those who prayed for us. Knowing that through the hard times, the easy times, the moments of confusion or the days of joy and wonder, that there were friends and family all around the world holding us up to our Father in prayer meant more than I know how to express. Thank you for being faithful to remember us, and to tell us that you were praying. Some people even took the time to write out some of their prayers and send a copy to us, which was a gift.

So here’s another end to leave untied – please don’t stop praying for us. The transition back to life in Iowa, and all that entails, is going reasonably well, most of the time … But there is still much to think about and process – and I refer not only to the piles of books and clothes that aren’t *quite* put away yet.  We cannot think of our time in Kenya and specifically at Bridgeworld as merely a good experience which we can now file away as “been there, done that.” Even as we are glad to see friends and family again here in North America, we tearfully miss the ones we left behind in Africa. Even as we are excited about the work here, and the things we will be involved in, we wonder how the work there is going, and we are saddened to be so far away from it now. It’s a tricky thing, to have your heart in different places around this world, and all the while having our longing for heaven intensified by grief. We pray that God will continue to lead us, and to build our love for His church in Kenya, as well as here in Pella, Iowa. We pray that we will be able to use what we have learned (and are still learning!) through our months in Kenya to serve and glorify Him which ever continent we happen to be on.  All of “this whole Kenya thing” has become part of our story, and God is still writing it.

Isn’t this a little bit of what this season in of the Church year called Advent is all about? A story still being written, and loose ends still hanging. We know that God came to us as a baby in Bethlehem to bring us salvation, and yet we are still waiting for Him to come again to bring it in full, aren’t we? And sometimes, the hard things in this world, the Aleppo horrors, the earthquakes in Indonesia, the drought in north-east Africa, illness or even death of our loved ones, the unrest in so many places – including our own hearts – feel like so many really really loose ends we are longing for God to come and tie up once and for all, like only He can do. It’s all too clear to us here and now that life is not all wrapped up, and certainly not with a pretty bow on top. Sometimes everything sad still feels so true. I remarked to my sister the other day that this year especially, the Advent season feels anticlimactic to me, and it is because of this: the ache of “already, but not yet” that we must live through. I need my head to remind my heart that the King is coming. Remembering that God fulfilled His promise to send the Savior once gives hope and faith that He will do it again, and for this we pray. Maranatha; Come, Thou Redeemer of the Earth.

What Time Is It, Anyway?

If I had a dime for every time one of us has said those words over the past few days …

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We left our home in Karen, Nairobi, at about 6:30 PM on the 22nd.  Turns out we had just as much luggage as we did when we arrived, even though we are pretty sure our landlord will be discovering Lego pieces in the crevices of the house for some time to come.  He was able to be at the house when we were packing the vehicles, so we could say good-bye and even share a time of prayer with him and our Bridgeworld friends that had come to drive us to the airport.  That was precious to us.  It is hard to express how grateful we are for these friends who truly became family to us over our time in Kenya.

Once we had our baggage checked in, we enjoyed dinner at the airport with the Kims, missionaries to Kenya who were on their way home to California for a couple of months. We had met them a few times, as they have office space on the Bridgeworld campus, and it was a blessing to our family to spend time with them again.  We were all on the same flight for the first leg of the trip, from Nairobi to Heathrow Airport in London, UK.

After no less than 4 trips through various security scanners, we and our carry-on items were stowed and seated on airplane #1, and we are thankful to report that the traveling was smooth and uneventful, the food was pretty good, and the sleeping was about as much as you could hope for.  Transfer in London left enough time for the kids to burn off some energy in the indoor playground area, and offered the parents a couple of good cups of coffee.  Airplane # 2 was boarded, and we were soon over the Atlantic, wondering where on earth the past 5 months had gone. We suppose it is a good sign that time seemed to fly by rather than the opposite, yet we wonder how it is that time can seem both long and short at once.

Clearing customs and immigration in Chicago was uncomplicated, and the kids all did great getting their faces scanned in for the passport checks and whatnot, even Saeryn from her perch in the backpack.  It was great to see Lee and Ken waiting for us as we exited the arrivals gate!  Every piece of luggage was accounted for except for the stroller that we had actually thought about leaving behind in the first place. Hopefully someone can use it where ever it eventually turns up.

Interestingly, it was about 6:30 PM again, now Nov. 23rd, as we arrived home in Pella – albeit Central Standard Time, which was 3:30 AM East Africa Time, Nov. 24th …  But anyway, what a delightful greeting we received as we pulled into the garage!  And it just kept going – right down to a home-cooked meal and table all set for supper, and stocked fridge and pantry shelves.  The baking, the balloons, the treats, notes, and cards … if we felt overwhelmed, it was definitely in a good way.

So what time is it? It was just Thanksgiving Day in the USA, as good a time as any for some of the “Thank Yous” we have to say.  Asante sana to the friends, neighbors, and co-workers we left in Kenya. Thank you to each person that prayed for us, wrote to us, thought of us, and encouraged us.  Thank you to our church family at Faith for loving us so well here, and to our own families, in all their various places, for loving us from afar.  And thank you to our Father in heaven, who holds together time and space around the world, no matter how mixed-up we might be about what the clock says, or what our hearts are feeling about where home is right now. We take comfort in knowing He is the same around the globe, and we praise Him for how He has sustained us and provided for us throughout our journey.

 

Kwaheri Kenya!

“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens.” (Ecclesiastes 3:1)

“There is a time to say ‘karibu’ (welcome), and a time to say ‘kwaheri’ (goodbye).” Dr. Lee, Bridgeworld College’s principal, shared those words at the college’s last chapel service during the last week of regular classes a few weeks ago. Sadly, the time has come for our family to say “kwaheri” to Bridgeworld College and to Kenya. We have thoroughly enjoyed our time here. There is so much that we will miss.

We will miss worship at St. Matthew’s ACK. We will miss kneeling to receive communion. We will miss the elegance (and sometimes the quirkiness) of British English. We will miss the “pole pole” (slowly by slowly) pace of life here. We will miss living and working in a multiracial, multinational, multi-ethnic community. We will all miss the food, especially all the fresh fruit, chapati and mandazi, though no one will miss ugali. We will miss the proximity to so many different beautiful landscapes and terrains, and the wonder of seeing giraffes and zebras just there out the car window.  We will not miss the frequent (and frequently unmarked!) speed-bumps on almost every road.

Ryan will miss the staff and students at Bridgeworld College. He will miss Nixon’s advice on how to navigate Nairobi by matatu. He will miss trying to speak French with Pauline. He will miss Rebecca’s delight in my pitiful attempts to speak Swahili. He will miss tea breaks and lunch hour conversations with Dr. Choi, Dr. Lee and Rev. Lee. He will miss the Monday morning prayer meetings, Wednesday chapel services, and especially Canon Mwaura’s benedictions.

Jody will miss coffee on the patio on these fresh early mornings. She will miss the African elements and interesting architecture of our home here. She will miss the variety of plants and flowers in the yard, and the different kinds of birds that come to the pond. She will miss the delight and joy so many Kenyans express on seeing our fairly large family out and about – “so many children for mzungu! (white people) Such blessings!”  She will not miss fiddling with the locked gate at the end of our driveway every time we want to go anywhere though.

Evan will miss having an upstairs bedroom with a balcony and a great view. Graeme and Torin will miss our yard and large fish pond, including the mud hole on the side. All of the boys will miss the lizards, chameleons and slugs they frequently find outside.

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Playing with Rhemma

Bronwyn and Gwennyth will miss Josie and Rhemma, neighbor-friends. They will also miss the new puppies next door, but they won’t miss the same neighbor’s rooster, who crows at all hours of the day and night. Saeryn will miss the different kinds of birds that come to the pond, and especially the heron we often see fishing in the mornings.

The first “Kwaheri” was experienced at Bridgeworld. The final chapel service for this semester was a very meaningful time of worship with the college community. It was a great joy for our family to gather around the Lord’s table with the school’s staff and students.

In addition to the worship service, there was also an opportunity for the students to say goodbye. James and Rebecca offered kind and encouraging words of appreciation, and presented Jody and I with tokens of appreciation from the student body. Dr. Lee prayed for our family and for Rev. Lee, who is leaving for a yearlong sabbatical.

The students’ reading/study break between the end of regular classes and their exams provided time for me to treat the school staff to an appreciation lunch. Jody and I  cannot express enough our appreciation for the wonderful welcome we received and enfolding into community that we experienced at Bridgeworld College. The school staff definitely went above and beyond to make our family’s staff in Kenya comfortable and enjoyable.

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A week ago last Friday the college staff joined together for a final farewell party for our family at our home. Though we hosted the party, the college had the meal catered for us, complete with goat – one Kenyan food we had not yet tried (at least not that we know of). It was wonderful to fellowship together. I will forever remember and appreciate Canon Mwaura’s final words to Jody and I, as well as his desire to bless each of our children.

Last Friday morning we had our hardest “Kwaheri,” as we visited Findley’s grave one last time before our departure. We brought fresh flowers, and planted two white roses bushes there.  We plan to purchase a similar bush in Pella next spring to plant at our home there in his memory. When we came to Kenya, we never imagined that one of our children would not come home with us.

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We have been thankful for the kindness of a nearby counseling center that offered us space in their prayer garden for Findley’s burial.  We had a private family committal service there a few weeks ago.

Leaving Kenya also meant saying “Kwaheri” to the Blohm family, missionaries with AIM Air in Nairobi. Trista Vanderwal, a missionary supported by Faith Church, introduced Jody and Ej to one another via Facebook in January. Ej provided a wealth of advice and cultural intelligence as we prepared to move to Nairobi. She, Phil and their boys were quick to visit and welcome us when we arrived, and have become very dear friends. We especially appreciated the time they spent with us and tears they shared with us after Findley’s death. Their support and comfort, as well as the fun our families have together, has been a gift we treasure, and we thank God for extending grace to us through the Blohm family. Last Friday afternoon, Phil & co-workers gave our family a tour of the AIM Air offices and the hangar at Wilson Airport where he works. Afterwards, we shared a meal with the Blohms at their home.

And finally this past Sunday we said “Kwaheri” to St. Matthew’s ACK. Our vicar, Rev. Redson Komu, kindly gave our family time to thank the congregation for the church home they have been for us during our time in Kenya, and prayed for us as we prepare to return to the United States.

While it is hard and sad to say “Kwaheri,” everyone has been quick to tell us: “Karibuni tena.” We are most welcome to come again to Kenya!

We depart in a few short hours. Our first flight from Nairobi is scheduled to leave just before 11pm local time (Tuesday). We fly overnight to London. Our second flight from Nairobi to Chicago is scheduled to depart just after 8.30am local time (Wednesday). We are scheduled to arrive in Chicago around noon local time (Wednesday). Both flights are approximately 9 hours long. Please pray that all of our air travel goes as well as it did when we traveled here in July. We are grateful for Lee Talma and Ken Van Zee who are planning to meet us in Chicago with our van. Please pray for a safe drive back to Pella on Wednesday afternoon.

Furahia Siku Ya Kuzaliwa, Evan!

We have a teenager in the house! We are so grateful for the years God has given Evan, and praise Him for His faithfulness.  Last Tuesday, November 15, was Evan’s 13th birthday, and the last of our family’s birthdays in Africa. I think it was a birthday we will all long remember. Our family was on a short vacation to the Kenyan coast over Evan’s birthday.

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The day began with a glass bottom boat ride and snorkeling on a coral reef in the Indian Ocean. So many salt water fish have such vibrant colors. It was truly amazing. Next time we do this, an underwater camera will be in order!

For lunch, the kids were pleased to order personal pan pizzas from the resort’s snack bar, and then we spent the afternoon swimming in the pools and in the ocean.

And, of course, no birthday celebration is complete without cake and presents, which we enjoyed over dinner. The cake was brought by African dancers in dress, who encouraged the entire dining hall to sing “Happy Birthday” to Evan with them.

Bridgeworld and Beyond…

The end of this semester’s regular classes on October 21 certainly did not mean the end of my ministry work here in Kenya. God has opened the doors to several different opportunities to preach and teach in the weeks since. It has been wonderful to engage the Kenyan church in a variety of contexts beyond the college classroom.

I have continued to accompany the college’s public relations team on visits to area Christian high schools. Unlike the North American academic year, the Kenyan school year, following the calendar year, ends in November, with students enjoying a two-month break over Christmas. Many Christian schools host prayer services for their Form Four (senior) students as they prepare to sit their national exams. Those exam results determine not only if they graduate but also whether they are given admission to a university. I was grateful to preach at three prayer services.

I thoroughly enjoyed teaching a one-week intensive course on “Preaching Christ from the Old Testament” the week after regular classes ended. Many thanks to Sid Greidanus, a retired Calvin Seminary professor and friend, for giving me the last copies of his lectures notes for students from a similar course that he taught (and I took) at Calvin Seminary. Most of Bridgeworld’s theology students attended the course, as did several alumni and a few other visitors. It was a very busy – lecturing each day from 9am to 3:30pm for five days straight requires a lot of stamina – and very rewarding week. The students’ feedback was very encouraging.

At the end of the week the students presented me with a few tokens of appreciation. On their behalf, Joseph gave me a hat and Anthony gave me a shirt. Abigail presented something for the mama (Jody) because they noticed how well-groomed and well-fed I appeared every morning when I came to class. It’s not just an African saying, Abigail said: “Behind every good man there is a strong woman!”

Connected to the content of that course, Dr. Lee, Bridgeworld’s principal, asked me to write a short article on the importance of expository preaching, especially in the African context, for the college’s forthcoming newsletter. The newsletter should be printed in the near future and will be available on the college’s website. The college’s PR team also asked me to submit another article to The Shepherd, a Kenyan ministry newsletter, to support their work in promoting the college.

I was also grateful to spend a November Saturday with pastors and leaders from Kisima Fellowship Ministries, a church at which one of my students is an assistant bishop. The group included pastors from the church’s branches throughout Nairobi, as well as a group that travelled several hours from Western Province to attend the seminar. I gave three lectures on spiritual temptations faced by pastoral leaders. I was especially encouraged by the pastors who expressed an interest in starting theological studies at Bridgeworld College in the near future.

And finally, Bronwyn and I recently enjoyed a visit to Hekima Place. A friend of my parents is on their US Board of Directors. He and his wife shared their enthusiasm for Hekima Place and its ministry to girls orphaned by AIDS when I saw them at my grandmother’s funeral earlier this year. Jody’s mom had sent a number of little dresses for Africa with us, which Kate, the director of Hekima Place, was very grateful to receive. In addition to learning more about Hekima, I was able to share with Kate about Bridgeworld College. Last week, she visited the college with the five Hekima girls who are finishing their high school studies. Perhaps they will continue their education at Bridgeworld next year…

Please remember the Bridgeworld College Public Relations team (including Philip, Muchiri, Nixon, and Sarah) in prayer as they continue to build relationships in surrounding communities.  Each pastor or leader they are able to bring to Bridgeworld, and thus help to train and educate, can be greatly encouraged and empowered in their home setting as they bring the gospel to others – truly a ripple effect.

Furahia Siku Ya Kuzaliwa, Jody!

For my birthday adventure in Kenya, we spread the fun over a couple of days.  There were a few things I had long been hoping to do in Nairobi, but we hadn’t been able to figure out yet, partly because they are located towards the city center, and our house is not.  Thanks to helpful advice from neighbors, and logistical information and tips from encouraging friends at the college, we have become familiar and comfortable with the buses and matatus here. It has gradually become easier for us to get to places as a family that are beyond walking distance – since the car Ryan uses from Bridgeworld (usually) only holds 5 people – and we were ready to tackle an expedition downtown for “Birthday Eve Day” (day before the birthday: Thursday the 10th, in this case).

p1050542I have always loved libraries and museums, and so I was curious what Nairobi would have to offer in these areas.  Maybe I also thought visiting a library and museum would earn me a little extra homeschooling-mom-cred 😉 right?  We found a few libraries by web searches, and chose to visit McMillan Memorial Library (it doesn’t have an official website, but there’s a brief intro; see also here) for a few reasons.  Opened in 1931, it is probably the oldest conventional library in Kenya; it is a beautiful building on the outside, and it is near the other places we wanted to visit on this day.  We were also intrigued by this library as it is supposed to house some furniture sold by Karen Blixen to Lady McMillan, who had the library built in memory of her husband.  As it turned out, we weren’t able to figure out which pieces these might be.  Unfortunately, the inside of the library, including some artwork, items from the McMillan’s estate and elsewhere, is a bit disorganized and in need of some repair, but we did still enjoy browsing the shelves – some were gorgeous wooden units – and admiring different titles we discovered.

(As always, click any image to open larger slideshow)

 

Next stop was a quick (for me, not so quick to the minds of several of the kids) look at Freeman’s, a yarn and textile shop on Biashara Street.  Most of the shops along here featured fabrics, children’s clothing, and baby items.  I was curious to see what yarns might be available: mostly acrylics imported from the UK it turns out, as well as some other craft and sewing supplies. The shopkeeper was very friendly and didn’t mind my window shopping at all.

From here, we hopped on another matatu (rather: squeezed into it; sorry for bumping your head on the van door, Saeryn), and headed for the National Museum.  You may not take photos in much of the museum, but it was a very rich experience, with extensive displays and collections featuring Kenyan history, wildlife, and cultures.

Included with our museum tickets was a tour of the Snake Park, which also featured turtles, tortoises, fish, crocodiles, and lizards, mostly native to Kenya or other parts of east Africa.  There were a few exceptions, such as an American Alligator, for comparison to the crocodiles, and a milk snake that a hapless Canadian tourist attempted to import was trying to smuggle in as a Valentine’s Day gift a few years ago. You can’t make this stuff up. And, finally, we walked/dodged/darted/scurried through the bustling city center to find the bus home.

On my birthday proper, the 11th, we walked up to the Hardy Shopping Center, which houses a grocery store that we frequent, a pharmacy, and a couple other small shops, as well as a nice restaurant called News Cafe.  We enjoyed the breakfast special there.  Lunch was a party at our house that we will talk more about later as it was combined with a farewell party, but it was a very special time with Bridgeworld College friends!  Friday afternoon, we packed up for “Birthday Boxing Day” (thanks, Marcia, for getting us on board with this!) November 12 was the first day of our vacation on the east coast of Africa! More to come on this, too.