Friday, December 6, 2013

The Death of a Man

 It was a normal morning, as I sat down to read my Bible. This particular morning, I began reading 1 Peter. I could not move past it, and kept reading it over and over.  Our hope is based on Christ’ resurrection! What a wonderful reminder!  Little did I know what God had planned for us that day. 

It was a Tuesday just like any other. We had finished language class & headed over to the village for the weekly Bible study. We maneuvered between the huts making our way to Anna’s house.  There was a solem mood throughout the village. They were telling us something, but we were only picking up a little of what they were saying. They wanted to do something before the sun went down, and it sounded urgent. Finally, a lady came that spoke some English and filled in the blanks for us. A man had died that afternoon from malaria, and they needed to bury him before the sun went down.  Emotions of sadness, confusion and nervousness all collided together. We have never been to a funeral. We did not know how to act culturally, what to do, we had not learned the vocabulary needed for a funeral. Sure we could fumble through some words, but the depth of comfort we needed to communicate we were lacking. 

While walking over there, Jonathan was informed that he would be expected to preform the funeral. Unprepared, unequipped, out of our comfort zone and without a translator, we did not know what to do. But, as God has taught us time and time again, it is in these moments, when we have to depend completely on Him and not ourselves, that He shows us His amazing power and strength. We followed the women through the village to the house of the man who had just died. It was very quiet. There was a grave dug out right beside the mans house.

An older man, who was grieving, sat under a nearby tree. We mimicked what the other Turkana were doing, where they were sitting and how they were acting. I was lead to the freshly dug and empty grave. We had a Turkana Bible, so I flipped to 1 Peter. My thoughts were interrupted by the screams of a young girl who could not have been more then 15 years old. She was either a sister or a daughter of the man, it is hard to tell in this culture. The women gathered around her, holding her up comforting her.

Three men went into the hut and came out carrying the man wrapped in a blanket. They laid him next to the grave and motioned for me to begin. I cannot explain what happened next, just that God was teaching through me. I was able to teach, very basically from that passage and pray with the family. The old man was called to throw the first dirt into the grave. The weight of his grief and brokenness were apparent. Once he was finished, another family member came and threw in some dirt. the community grieved and buried that young man together. When they finished burying him, the women told me to grab a stone from the pile that was near the grave and place it on top. I followed them and everyone helped cover the grave with stones as a sign that we are together in this and that the family is not alone. The way everyone was truly grieving together and in it together was  very moving. It was sad to see how the children  in the village were not phased by the death, and how it was just a part of life here. They see a lot of death, so this was just another day and another funeral. They all helped carry stones, even the little ones and place it on the grave then skipped off to play. We learned that when a child dies, only the parents cry and it is not as sad for the community as when an old person dies. This is because so many babies and children die. I mean, this man died from a mosquito bite! The death, and struggle of life is so overwhelming here that there are no words I can say. All I can say it that is has changed my life  and mindset forever.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Skibbies & Snakes

There I was standing under the night stars in nothing but my stripped skibbies holding a broomstick and a machete. I was face to face with a giant cobra and the only thought that went through my mind was “what would crocodile Dundee do?” 

The day started off normal enough, I drank my morning tea and went for a run (or rather a brisk white-guy jog).  Since it was clean up day, I organized my movies, which brought me to the Paul Hogan classic Crocodile Dundee. I arrogantly thought to myself, as all men do… “You know, I can be like that guy”. My thought was interrupted as Holly asked me a question about Daniel. She was going to teach on fear and the necessity to trust in God. Little did I know God was going to teach me a valuable lesson that day.

A few hours later, the birds began to chirp and Holly spotted a giant snake up in the tree right beside our house. It was just far enough away to be unidentifiable. Was it a black Mamba? Cobra? Python? I still don’t know, but it was big. As fast as it appeared it went back inside the hollow it came from.  Disappointed in my self I knew Mr. Dundee would be highly disappointed in me. I didn’t even try to catch it. 

We made our way to the village later that evening. A small boy came running up to me in the middle of the fellowship saying “There is a big snake in your car!” As we approached the vehicle there were men, women, children all over it, looking in every window possible. The snake was nowhere to be seen, but everyone said, “he was just right there”, pointing to the dash. “I saw him go inside” one child said. Pointing to a space between the dash and the door. I looked everywhere, inside and outside but couldn’t find him. Finally a brave woman spoke up, “If God can shut the mouths of the lions, why are you afraid of one snake?” “Shoot, afraid, I’m not afraid” I said confidently enough to almost be believable. Every bump I expected to have him drop onto my feet. Every turn I would look down at the door where the child pointed expecting to see his beady eyes staring at me… I set the record for fastest time back to the house. I couldn’t wait to get out of that car. As I walked inside and saw the movie case, I could tell right away Crocodile Dundee had disapproval in his eyes. How could I have let him down again? Little did I know I would get another chance to earn some man points that night.

I woke straight up to the sound of our dogs viciously barking and growling. I jumped out of bed knowing something was terribly wrong. Of all nights to give the guard a day off. I ran outside as quickly as possible, grabbing the only weapons I could find, a machete, broomstick and almost dead flashlight. By the sound of their attack I knew this wasn’t your ordinary kitty-cat they had in a tree. I could sense real fear, and defense in them. As I rounded the corner I almost stepped on him, the biggest cobra I had ever seen. His hood raised, I closed my eyes and jumped back in case he decided to spit. My presence distracted the dogs just long enough for him to go into a thorn fence and eventually up a small papaya tree in our garden. His weight was breaking the branches out of the tree, and I knew to keep my distance.  As I handed Holly the flash light, I told her about my good plan.

“You hold this and shine it on him.  After I get him out of the tree, we are going to have to chase him. You go that way, I’ll go this way, and yell if you see him.”

I could tell right away she didn’t buy into my plan. Maybe it was the look in her eye, or maybe it was the way she handed me the flashlight back and said “this isn’t the movies, don’t do anything stupid.” That’s when it hit me, “Movies! Crocodile Dundee!" I raised my arm and flung my machete with all my might, expecting to pin him to the tree. I hit him right between the eyes, but since this isn’t the movies, my over sized knife simply bounced off. He stretched out, probably yawned, and in the blink of an eye made it to the ground. I ran in, ready for a fight, but found him making his way through knee-high grass. Holly once again reminded me, from the safety of the porch, “Don’t do anything stupid.” Always good advice! So, I decided instead of Crocodile Dundee, I will be like someone else who talks funny, The old guy off Downton Abby, and just sit on my tush eating crumpets and sipping tea.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Behind the Missionary Mask

I was ready to pack and go back home, back to the good ol' USA. We would be back home just in time to see my sister at homecoming. I had it all figured out, but how on earth did I get to this point?

There have been times in my life that my quiet time was something I did just to feel good about myself. Besides, I was a Christian and it was something you were ‘suppose’ to do. I had heard that getting through a day without relying on God’s strength was not wise, but I had done it plenty of times over my life and nothing bad came from it other than guilt. Over the coarse of many years, I had the usual ups and downs in my fellowship with Christ. I went to church, and enjoyed learning more about the Bible, but the emotion, the depth was not as deep as I had hoped. I knew I was God’s child, that was never in question, but what was I missing? Older generations would stand to talk about the Gospel and would break down in tears worshiping their King. How do I get that? Maybe I was not ‘doing’ enough. Maybe I need to confess more sins or pray 10 minuets longer. I didn’t know what, but something was missing. Dont get me wrong, during those ‘highs’ in my relationship with Christ, I knew His power. During the death of my mother, I saw Him work in so many incredible ways that made me tear up in awe, but those were just moments and memories. It is like no matter what God did in my life, a few months later I would be right back to ‘doing’ my quiet time and the emotions and awe were gone. I speak in past tense as if that were ages ago, but it wasn’t.
We were far away from home and everything that was familiar .
When we moved overseas in 2012, I had heard that we needed to depend solely on God everyday. I hear from veteran missionaries that the most important thing I could do for that day was spend time with God. For our first few months on the field, I made sure that I put God first. I was away from family, friends, my culture and everything I knew. Everything was stripped away and I felt completely vulnerable and lost. Of course I depended on God, I had to! I am not sure what happened next, but I think God wanted to show me how important that really was. We had been on the field over ten months, and we had found a routine and were enjoying living in Africa. Then it happened. I guess it was slow at first and so I did not realize it, but God become quiet. I had continued my on and off quiet times, reading the Bible as if it was a storybook. But in December, something changed. I know our relationship with God is deeper than any emotion, however, the depth of my soul felt alone. Now I ‘know’ God will never leave us, and I am not saying that is what happened, but He became silent. Silent and distant is what I felt anytime I prayed to Him. I got frustrated and started going through my day without Him. Those months were some of the worse months I have ever gone through. It was like darkness was all around me. At first, I tried to continue the actions of quiet time, but soon it became so frustrating to feel abandon, and I just stopped. God still provided opportunities for me to witness, but I was overcome with my inability to do anything. I questioned why I was even here. I felt beyond inadequate.

Letters and emails of encouragement poured in, but I couldn’t even read them. If they even knew who I really was, they wouldn’t be sending these letters. People letting us know they were praying should have been a breath of fresh air, but it just made me feel guilty, like they were wasting their prayers on me. Jonathan did what he could, but he was feeling the abandonment as well.
I was stuck,  and I felt so abandon.
When I did pray it was, "God! I gave everything for you! We came out here for you, to bring glory to you, not us. We trusted you and you have brought us out here on the front lines, stripped us of our armor, and then left us. We are getting hit left and right and you do nothing but watch.” I was beyond mad, I was confused, and emotionally exhausted. This went on for months. The more I tried to seek God, the more distant He felt. I got angry when I would read the verses talking about God never leaving us. I didn’t know what to do. Everything I knew didn’t line up with what I felt and what I was going through. Jonathan took us on a spiritual retreat to refocus at Lake Turkana, which was a little over 4 hours from Loki. While that was refreshing, I just felt like I was doing everything to find God, but He couldn’t be found. Who am I anyway, God is big enough to do what He wants. Was it time to throw in the rag and go home? 
Our retreat of the Lake
I realized that I couldnt just come & go to God as I please.  Too long had I just come and gone as I rode the waves of this Christian life. Those months I was oppressed. I know Baptist don’t like talking about this sort of thing, but the enemy was coming at me with everything, and I had no protection, or so I thought. Those were such dark months that I never ever want to go back. I threw all my ‘tricks’ down and decided to stop trying to get God to answer. I felt I just needed to worship Him. For months that is what I did. I didn’t ask anything, didn’t even really pray. I just read the psalms, and created a folder in my Itunes of songs of adoration. I made sure the songs were solely about praising God. Not to ‘win Him over’ but that was all I could do. I was broken, tired and beat up. So, I tried to stand and brush myself off, but I got knocked down again. So I just worshipped from where I was, broken and beat down. It didn’t happened over night, or over weeks, but slowly, I felt my soul was being fed again. The more I poured out adoration and praise, the more I couldn’t stop. It wasn’t about getting that ‘feeling’ back any more, but it was just about doing the one thing I could. As weeks went by, my soul yearned to sing praises to God. God started waking me up 5:00am where I would get up put in my earphones and worship God for hours. I had heard for years about this, but I finally understood. In the mornings, my soul would not let me go on without spending that time worshipping God. As I read the scriptures, it wasn’t just about awesome stories any more, it became a deep, intimate time with my Father teaching me.

I had a reality check of just how weak, and vulnerable I am. I am not just saying this because it sounds nice, but I am terrified to go through a single day without the complete and total reliance on my Savior. Yes, He has made Himself known again, but this isn’t just an up and down of my Christian walk. God allowed me to see how important it is to worship Him. Those months were a blessing and have changed my life. The enemy still attacks just as fierce as he did during those previous months, but the difference is, I am now wrapped in my Fathers strength.
In June 2013, family came to visit-what a blessing!
Label me a missionary or whatever you want to call me, but don’t for a second think that I am anything more than I really am. I am a human, a weak one. I read cards and feel encouraged, but feel too inadequate to be receiving encouragement from all these warriors in Christ. It only takes a tiny pebble to make me fall, but I cling to my Father like I never have. I cant think about His mercy without getting choked up. He is my wonderful, glorious Majesty and I am determined to worship Him every morning, no matter what is happening around me. Im sure you have noticed by now we always sign our emails, ’To God be all the glory.” That isnt just some cool, spiritual, missionary phrase. Even through this event in my life, He is bringing glory to Himself. With everything inside of me, I know that God gets every single bit of glory and honor. Anything good that comes from my life is through Christ.

Just what the doctor ordered: Family, s'mores, and card games!

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Westgate Attack

“Humm, apple or Cherry?” I asked Jonathan trying to seek his input in this important decision. We were meeting some friends that evening and I didn’t know which type of dessert to bring. With the Nakumat bakery full of fresh and wonderful desserts, the decision was hard. The man at the bakery was very nice and friendly as he gave us some free samples to help us in our decision-making. “Cherry, without question,” Jonathan answered. We had spent that morning with our builder looking at supplies and trying to find ways to cut cost on the house. It was September 7, and we decided to spend the rest of our Saturday relaxing and enjoying Nairobi before we headed back to Loki.  For lunch, we tried out the new hamburger joint at Westgate. It was a brand new restaurant right at the entrance of the mall. We sat outside on the patio and enjoyed the fresh grilled burger, onion rings and fries. The staff was very friendly and we struck up conversations with them as well as other missionaries that frequent the mall. It was a very pleasant place. Once our stomachs were full, we shopped around the nice air-conditioned mall visiting various shops, enjoy a mocha at the coffee shop, and made sure all of our ‘to do’s’ for Nairobi were finished. Little did we know, that in exactly two weeks, the various employees we came across would live through the terror attack on the mall that left countless dead.

Westgate was not a mall for the rich, but it was a pleasant place for various people on different income levels. It was also clean and orderly, and was our place we came to get refreshed. Before leaving that day, we talked about how we were excited to return during the Christmas season. For Christmas, they decorate so beautifully that we forget where we are. Last year, the sounds, smells and sights made us feel closer to home.  Westgate is where we would go to watch movies with our Nairobi family and friends. With the mall only about 2 miles walk from the Baptist guesthouse, many visitors frequented the mall. We took Jonathan’s family there when they came to visit. It is where we could get away from the chaos and get refreshed.

For our Nairobi family that lives right across the street from Westgate, we praise God for their protection, but we also pray for them these next few months as they process all the saw and heard. For our Nairobi friends who did their weekly shopping there and their date nights, we praise God for your protection but continue to pray for you as you too grieve over this tragedy. For the employees that we shared in laughs and conversations together, we pray that you are safe and that you may come closer to Christ through this horrible ordeal. For all those who lost a loved one, friend or acquaintance, we deeply hurt along side of you and pray that God’s peace will be felt through your life. For everyone involved, our prayer is that God will make His name known, and that Christ will be your stronghold.

Westgate may seem like just a headline in the news now as it gets buried under the news of earthquakes and other attacks around the world. To us, this will forever be grained in our minds. Those living in Nairobi and us who visited, knew that mall well. We see the pictures and know exactly where they were taken. We see the Nakumat footage and know it was taken on the shampoo isle. We see the pictures of employees hurt and killed and wonder if we were talking to them just two weeks ago. As a country familiar with the hurt of terror attacks, please continue to pray as Kenya picks up the pieces and tries to move on.