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.

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.

screen-shot-2016-11-11-at-5-12-30-pm

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!

On A Personal Note…

My year through the Psalms with Tim Keller’s The Songs of Jesus continues to be a powerful and precious journey. God’s Word is truly incredible in so many ways. One of the things I find amazing, and even surprising, even though it happens repeatedly (like here), is the capacity it has to speak into so many different circumstances and events, exhibiting relevance and personal connection, though often I feel like all I’m doing is picking up a devotional and reading the next scheduled passage.

The past couple of weeks have been full of contrasts for our family. There have been times of delight and joy as we continue to experience Kenyan culture and life in Nairobi, such as sweet fellowship with other believers and colleagues at church and at Bridgeworld College, as well as fun times with friends at home or visiting “touristy” places together.

There have also been times of deep sorrow and unexpected pain as we continue to mourn as a family for the loss of our son and brother. Findley was due in March 2017, and all of us were excited about this: talking about names, discussing new sleeping arrangements, and the fact that our van was already full so we’d need to replace it with something larger… None of us expected to have to say good-bye to him before we really even got to say hello, but that is what happened; we lost our tiny baby boy at 17 weeks of pregnancy on October 14th. We chose a middle name for him, Salim, which we read is a Swahili name denoting peace and safety. While we cling to that hope and comfort, that he is at peace and safe in Jesus’ arms, our own arms ache to hold him here. We are keenly aware that things here on earth are not the way they’re supposed to be.

So the Psalms. If you have read any of them, you know that grief, pain, loss, and heartache are not shied away from at all. You also know that words of praise and glory to God are everywhere, often side-by-side or intermingled with with the expressions of sorrow, even verse by verse. Such contrasting companions, are they not? And at first glance especially so. But the more I think about it, living in a time and space and country of contrasts myself, the more I believe there is no other way to mourn and to praise, especially while we live here in a world broken by sin and longing for the Saviour to return to make all things new and right again.

The Bible App has a “verse of the day” feature, which was one of the first things I read the morning we lost Findley. I don’t see it every day, and I don’t know exactly how these verses are chosen and sent to my tablet, but I know this: God planned this verse for our family long before we knew we would need it. Psalm 73:26 was October 14’s “verse of the day.” “My flesh and my heart may fail (and oh, how they have,) but God (are there any more powerful words in Scripture? ‘but God!’) is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” My Mom told me that a larger portion of Psalm 73, including this verse, was also part of my Grandma’s funeral texts last month.

And back to Keller: the reading for October 16 starts with Psalm 109:21-29, and studies the phrase “But you, Sovereign Lord.” “Our prayer may rightly begin with our own hurts, sins, enemies, surroundings, troubles. But it is only when you lay these things before God, see them in light of who he is, and say, ‘but You…’ – that release, relief, hope, and strength begin to come.” (Keller, p. 289). I can’t answer my heart’s cries as to why, how, and what now, but I know the One who made my heart does not ignore these cries. Even when I do not know how to pray, He knows; He sees; He even weeps with us. (John 11:35). “God does not stand aloof to the pains of our existence.” October 22nd’s reading is Psalm 114, and looks at how God overcame seemingly absolute barriers to Israel’s escape from Egypt in order to bring them to their promised land: “The Red Sea parted and the mountains shook.” Likewise “to get us to our true country to live with him, [God] will shake and destroy death itself.” (Keller, 295).

Yes, these can seem like far-away and intangible promises sometimes (like now), but they are promises nonetheless, and our God is a keeper of promises. How do I know this? By the Psalms, for one. They speak of faithfulness, of answered prayers, of promises kept even in the midst of grief and inability to understand. The reading for today October 25, has us begin Psalm 116:

“I love the Lord, for he heard my voice; he heard my cry for mercy. Because he turned his ear to me, I will call on him as long as I live. The cords of death entangled me, the anguish of the grave came over me; I was overcome by distress and sorrow. Then I called on the name of the Lord: ‘Lord, save me!’ The Lord is gracious and righteous; our God is full of compassion. The Lord protects the unwary; when I was brought low, he saved me. Return to your rest, my soul, for the Lord has been good to you. For you, Lord, have delivered me from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling…” (Psalm 116:1-8, NIV).

We will trust that just as God did these things for the Psalmist, He will for us. It is in knowing that we cannot answer the questions, or stop the tears, or handle things, that we will find the One who can. October 25 is sometimes a hard day for us, because it marks the due date of the first baby we lost too soon, several years ago at just 8 weeks of pregnancy. Still, October 25 reminds us that we have experienced God’s comfort and healing in the past, and so we rest in knowing He is present, and He is faithful, even (or maybe especially!) in the midst of storms.

P1040125.JPG

A peaceful evening by all appearances – yet thunder was rolling overhead when this was taken. Contrasts are everywhere.

We pray this prayer, led by Tim Keller: “Lord, when I get into a tight place, my heart instinctively says ‘I can fix this. I can handle this.’ I think about people to call – but it is all futile. I can’t handle life, (or death!), and the sooner I admit this deep in myself, the sooner I’ll know the peace of always calling on You.” (Keller, p. 298).

 

 

 

These passages “coming along at just the right time” are not mere coincidences or random happenings; these are ways that the God who is infinitely greater than we can imagine does not fail to notice and care about the tiniest of babies and the families that love them and mourn for them. So we are encouraged: “Praise God because there is nothing too great for him … but also praise him because there is no one too small for God.” (Keller on Psalm 113:1-9). And further: “God’s greatness is seen in his regard for the ungreat. In Jesus he proved to be great enough to become small himself.” (Keller, p. 294). Sneak peek of tomorrow’s reading explains the full reason Jesus became small – “God saved the psalmist from death because his servants’ deaths are costly and painful to him … God does, of course, allow his people to die, but they are so precious to him,” that he has paid “the ultimate price on the cross.”

“Lord, you died that I (and that our precious Findley) might not die forever, and you rose so I might live forever. For this may I sing your praise!” (Keller, p. 299).

p1030863

Chorus for Swahili version of “How Great Thou Art

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.

p1010936

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)

Furahia Siku Ya Kuzaliwa, Graeme!

img_2057

And, Happy Half-Birthday, Saeryn!

The kids were all excited to realize that everyone in our family except for Saeryn (born April 1st) would celebrate a birthday in Africa. They quickly decided that we would need to celebrate Saeryn’s half-birthday so she would not be left out of the fun. (As if you could leave a 2 year old out of anything anyway!)

Saturday, October 1st was Saeryn’s half-birthday, so celebrate we did, with a half-cake and a trip to the Nairobi Safari Walk at the Nairobi National Park. While we had seen many of these animals in the wild while out on driving safaris, it was great to get a much closer look. We also saw some rare animals, like the bongo, and some strange animals, like the pygmy hippo, which is about the size of pig – much, much smaller than the Nile hippos we saw on safari. (Click any photo to view larger slideshow)

We traveled to and from the safari walk by matatu (city bus, more or less, depending on which one you happen to be on), which was the kids’ first matatu ride in Kenya and rather an experience in itself!

img_5535

The fact that this matatu is so full that the conductor/fare-taker (orange shirt) is hanging out of the doorway is not a problem! All aboard!

img_2051Sunday, October 2 was Graeme’s 11th birthday. (What on earth?! How is he 11?) The day’s festivities included a raspberry lemon cheesecake (which was a bit of a challenge – cream cheese here is different from what I am used to using, so I was relieved when the over-night refrigeration set the whole thing up very nicely, and doubly relieved when Graeme said it was “so so very yummy”), and of course, gifts.

On Monday (or “birthday boxing day”) we took a trip, again by matatu, to the Galleria, a nearby shopping center where there is a QuadBikes course. The boys enjoyed a half-hour riding the course, after which the girls enjoyed a nearby inflatable slide and trampoline. Frozen yogurt at Yogurt Planet, a great little shop in the same self-serve style as Mango Tree in Pella, topped off the afternoon.

(Open slideshow by clicking any picture)