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.

 

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, Ryan!

Students at Bridgeworld College “enjoyed” a reading/study break last week as they prepared for this week’s final exams. The break allowed our family to enjoy a road trip over Ryan’s birthday.

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Evance, our very personable driver, picked us up shortly after 7am on Tuesday, November 1. We traveled north of Nairobi to Lake Nakuru, stopping to enjoy the view of the Great Rift Valley en route. After checking in at the camp, eating lunch and enjoying a quick swim in the pool, we took an afternoon game drive around Lake Nakuru. One highlight was seeing a white rhinoceros, which we had not yet seen in the wild, cross the road in front of our van.

As always, click on any picture below to open slideshow.

Another highlight (and lowlight!) was having a very large baboon climb into the safari van through the open roof as we stopped at the Baboon Cliff lookout point. Unfortunately we were too busy getting him (and/or ourselves!) out of the van to take any pictures. Torin later assessed this event as the best and worst thing that happened that day. Shortly thereafter another vehicle arrived at the lookout point. The driver forgot to put up the windows and the same baboon quickly returned and stole a bag of chips out of the car.

We spent the night at Flamingo Hill Camp in Lake Nakuru National Park, where our family was able to rent the family tent. Wednesday morning, we enjoyed an early game drive before breakfast. Highlights include a seeing a large herd of Rothschild giraffes and a group of white rhinos. We also caught a glimpse of some flamingos, and many other shore birds, including large white pelicans. Lake Nakuru is famous for enormous flocks of flamingos, but because of high water levels (and therefore changes in the available food for flamingos) there are far fewer flamingos at the lake now than even a few years ago.

After breakfast, we left Lake Nakuru and drove around the Aberdare forest and mountain range. The geography was quite different from the other places we had visited in Kenya. Along the way, we saw some of the tea and coffee plantations for which Kenya is well-known. We also stopped briefly at Thompson Falls. We arrived at Naro Moru River Lodge in time for a late lunch.

After lunch we drove into Nanyuki, a town located on the equator. There we visited the Mount Kenya Animal Orphanage, where we enjoyed feeding many of the animals, including the monkeys. It was Ryan’s birthday, but we didn’t bring any party hats. Having a  monkey on your head is definitely the next best thing! We stopped at the equator on our return trip to the lodge.

On Thursday, our family hiked on Mount Kenya with Julius, our friendly and capable guide. We walked 9 kilometers (about 5 1/2 miles) from the park gate at 2650 m (8700 ft) elevation) to the first base camp at 3300 m (11 000 feet) elevation. (From the camp, it is another two-days climb to summit Mount Kenya.) The climb took us through tropical rainforest, where we saw colobus monkeys in their natural habitat. In the rainforest, the vegetation was incredibly tall, lush, and dense, and it was interesting to notice the changes in plants (and temperature) as we hiked higher, eventually arriving above the tree line.

It had been quite a trek up to the first base camp, so we were very glad to meet gentlemen with a pickup there who kindly gave us a ride back down the mountain. The return trip to Nairobi took us through a very fertile section of the highlands, where we saw a lot of cultivated land. We also passed one of Del Monte’s large pineapple plantations, and many, many pineapple stands.  It is fun to see these fruits like mango, banana, and pineapple, as well as crops such as sugar cane, coffee, and tea growing as commonly here as the corn and soybeans we are so used to seeing back in Iowa.  It was also great to see our home and our beds when we arrived back in Karen Thursday night.

 

The Bomas of Kenya

Boma is a Kiswahili word meaning “enclosure.” It refers to the thorny thicket often grown around traditional Kenyan homesteads and cattle enclosures. The Bomas of Kenya is dedicated to preserving Kenya’s diverse cultural heritage, featuring model or replica villages and homes in the traditional styles of over 20 different people groups. It is not far from our home, and we recently enjoyed a day there.

As we toured these homes, we were intrigued by both the similarities and differences. Cultures from northern Kenya, an arid region, tend to be nomadic. Their homes were often made from sticks and grass. Those with beasts of burden (camels) usually took their homes with them as they followed their cattle in search of grazing land and water. Cultures from southern Kenya, which experiences the rainy seasons, often packed their homes with mud or cattle dung. The Kikuyu, from the forested highlands, built their homes with timber.

(As always, click on any of these photos to open a larger slideshow.)

In nearly every people group, women were responsible for building the homes. The height of a Maasai house is determined by the height of the woman who builds it, making shorter Maasai women less desirable for marriage. In some cultures, the men build the frame of the house, while the women pack it with mud or dung. Some pack only the inside of the frame, while others pack both the inside and outside. In one culture, men pack their huts with mud and dung, while the women’s huts are covered with grasses.

Most of the homesteads we visited reflected a polygamous culture. Jody was pleased to find that the hut of the first wife was nearly always the largest and most prominent hut in the homestead, but less pleased with the the second and third wives’ huts. Ryan was dismayed to find that the husband’s huts were never anything to write home about.

In many homesteads, the children stay in their mother’s hut. In some, there was a separate boys’ hut for the unmarried sons over the age of 10. In at least one, the boys and goats sleep in the husband’s hut. In another, the unmarried girls sleep in the grandmother’s hut. Our girls were happy to find at least one village that included a separate girls’ hut.

In addition to the homesteads, the Bomas of Kenya features a cultural dance presentation. The different costumes and dances of the various people groups reminded us in some ways of the variety of costumes and dances with origins in Dutch provinces and villages that are featured at Tulip Time in Pella. Some colonial influence was evident in at least one dance, in which the primary accompaniment was an accordion and some of the dance steps resembled a waltz (video below).

A major highlight of the show, however, was the Jambo Mambo Acrobats‘ show. Watch the (hopefully not too shaky) video posted below the pictures, and you’ll soon see why the announcer told us: “Don’t try this at home!”

 

At the end of the day, we took some time to enjoy the childrens’ playground, which featured a few rather unusual playground guests!

Bridgeworld Retreat & Prayer Requests

Last Friday, Evan, Torin, Bronwyn, Gwennyth and I accompanied students and staff from Bridgeworld College to the Nairobi Arboretum for this semester’s student retreat and picnic. While many of the students in the social work program are familiar to me – I see them each week at chapel – I do not really know them as I do not teach any courses in that program. The retreat was a wonderful occasion to get to know them and to interact with students from the theology program in an informal, fun setting.

We travelled on a colorful Kenyan bus from the school to the arboretum, where we enjoyed the park-like grounds. Our day began with a time of worship and prayer. In keeping with the lyrics of one of the songs we sang – “We praise Him in the African way” – Anthony, one of the theology students, taught us a couple African dances. Rev. Philip, the dean of students, gave a short meditation, after which Joseph, chairman of the student council, led in a time of prayer.

For the remainder of the morning and the early part of the afternoon, we played played concentration games, jumped rope, had a tug-of-war, and ran some foot races. A lunch of chapati, buns, and bananas was enjoyed in the company of some furry little primates who were eager to join us. The afternoon ended with ice cream cones and bars bought from a vendor in the park.

Click on any picture below to open a slideshow.

It is hard to believe that the semester is nearly over. Regular classes end on October 21. I will be teaching a special week-long intensive preaching course for the theology students from October 24-28. The following week is a reading/study break, with exams the week of November 7-11.

As the semester ends, please pray for the students at Bridgeworld College:

  • That they will successful complete their remaining assignments and other course work.
  • That God will provide the funds to pay their remaining school fees. Students with school fees owing are not allowed to sit for their examinations.
  • That they will have good concentration and recall as they prepare for their examinations.

Staff at the college is busy preparing for the next semester that begins in January. Please pray for:

  • The recruitment of new students: In addition to the current theology, social work, and counseling psychology programs, the college hopes to have sufficient enrollment for its currently dormant business management program and a new program in information technology.
  • God’s provision of qualified lecturers, especially in the theology department: For the past four years, Rev. Sungho Lee, a Korean-American missionary, has been serving as Academic Dean and lecturer in the theology department. He is leaving Kenya in mid-December for a year-long sabbatical. This past semester Rev. Lee and I taught half of the courses offered by the theology department. Our mutual departures leave the school with a significant need for qualified lecturers, as well as someone to assume Rev. Lee’s responsibilities as Academic Dean.

Please also pray for Rev. Phillip, his wife Cecilia, and their family. Cecilia will be traveling to South Korea on October 24 to undergo surgery to remove a tumor near her eye. Give thanks to God for the way prepared for Cecilia to have this surgery and for the provision of all necessary expenses.

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Asafaha and Ryan

And finally, please pray for my friend Asafaha. Asafaha graduated from Bridgeworld College in August with a diploma in theology. He currently lives in a room on campus next door to my office. A few months ago, Asafaha’s father died. Recently his mother also died in Eritrea, Asafaha’s home country. Because of Asafaha’s status as a refugee in Kenya, he was not able to travel to Eritrea for either of their funerals.

“Be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel.” (Eph. 6:18-19)