Monday, January 28, 2013

I Have Been to the Mountaintop...

...and have seen the glory of God!


Okay, let me back up a bit.  I arrived in Nairobi, Kenya on Monday night, and spent the next two days having meetings with various potential partners, as well as meeting with the ICM Kenya staff.  The concept of what I am going to be doing seems to resonate with business people, pastors, and non-profits alike, which is affirming!  Those meetings were promising and productive.  The traffic in Nairobi?  Not so much.  I'm so glad to not be based in a capital city for the first time in many years!

On Thursday afternoon, I flew to Kitale and arrived at the Africa Theological Seminary (ATS) in the afternoon.   Below is a picture of the seminary from Google Earth.  I have highlighted the house that I am staying in, as well as the classroom where I will be teaching.  I have a room and a bathroom in the house highlighted; the house has two additional bedrooms which are rented out to other visitors.
In the evening, I met my housemates - a married couple working with another NGO that shares some space on the campus, called Water Missions International.  She is from Indiana originally, and he is from Switzerland.  They have left the corporate field to take a year off and do volunteer work.  They are very high energy people who have seen more in their year in Africa than I have in seven!  They invited me to join them for a weekend trip to Mt. Elgon National Park.  We would leave Saturday morning, hike up Mt. Elgon (about 14,000 ft), spend the night in the park, and then see the salt caves in the morning.  Knowing that this couple would only be here for about two more weeks, I had to say yes!

On Friday, I had a chance to meet with the ATS staff and was able to sit in on a class in the afternoon.  This was a class for the BA in Counseling, and several students from that class will be in my class next week.  They were giving presentations, so I had a chance to get to know them a bit, which was great!

On Saturday morning, we left for Mt. Elgon with a group of nine:  four Kenyans, two Germans, one Swiss, and two Americans. 

Here I am, at the top!
The arrow shows the part of the mountain we climbed through to get to the summit.
I thought I'd tell you the end of the story first - I made it to the top!  But it was not a pretty story.  We started climbing and after the first 100 meters of a straight vertical climb, I almost quit.  I view myself as someone who is in pretty good shape so I couldn't figure out what was going on!  The others reminded me that I had just arrived in Kitale and my lungs hadn't yet adjusted to the higher altitude.  When we started this climb, we were at the base - at around 11,000 ft.  When we started climbing, I couldn't catch my breath and my legs felt like dead weight.  I kept going, but when one of the other young ladies said she was going to stop, I said I would join her.  The journey already had been beautiful and I had no need to achieve this climb.  However, when we got to the stopping point, I was beginning to feel a bit better, so I decided to go on.  I hadn't realized that our guide viewed anyone stopping as a failure on his part...which meant that he wasn't altogether truthful about how far we would be going...or how long it would take.  In hindsight, if he had told me the truth, I definitely would have quit!  It was a three hour hike up, climbing approximately 3000 feet.  As we climbed higher, it started misting as we entered the clouds.  Then as we got higher yet, it started hailing.  When we reached the top is was very cold and we were exhausted!  But we had to get down quickly again to make it to our cabins before dark.  We made it down the mountain in about two hours.  [Unfortunately, there was a swamp area that you step on pieces of grass to pass through - my foot slipped and I sank down in mud to my knees.  I believe that I lost my glasses in that fall.] 

Panorama from the Summit.  Can't capture the beauty, but you get an idea.
These trees here are part of the palm family.  This was my favorite part of the hike to the summit.  (Not just because it was flatter :-).  These trees were beautiful and the place was so quiet.  No wind.  No noise.  Just these beautiful trees.

 This is one of the trees shown above at a very young stage.  Note how the water pools in the middle.  The song I referred to in last weeks blog kept playing through my mind the whole time:  You make beautiful things, You make beautiful things out of the dust; you make beautiful things, You make beautiful things out of us."  Amen!
In this picture, our guide, Philip, is showing us a tree called a strangling fir.  Apparently bird droppings land on the branch of a tree (in this case, a cedar).  The seed sprouts on the branch the roots grow down to the ground (Philip is holding one of the roots that hasn't quite made it yet).  What you see behind Philip is a cedar that is being slowly "strangled" by this fir tree.  Slowly it will begin to die.  Very interesting. 
At the park, we saw zebra, water buffalo, baboons, water bucks, bush bucks, blue monkeys, and wild pigs.  We didn't see elephant or giraffe, nor did we have time to track, but we were told there are a large number there.
If you look very closely at this picture, you will see an opening behind the vertical rock.  There is a huge cave in there (none of my pictures turned out well as it was too dark).  In the rock is salt, and the animals will come in there to scrape the walls to lick or eat the salt.  The elephants will scrape the wall with their tusks and then eat the rocks, balancing them with the appropriate plants to ensure that the salt can be broken down, dissolved, and then passed.  It's quite amazing.  At the back of the cave were thousands and thousands of bats flying all amazing cacophony of sound!  Apparently this cave was used for quite a number of ceremonies by the people in the area in earlier years.  It was very cool to be in there. 
We also climbed to the top of this bluff.  Amazing view as well.
Panorama from the bluff shown above.  Uganda is in the distance.
On Monday, I will begin learning to drive on the left side of the road.  To make things worse, the car that I am borrowing from ICM is a stick shift, not a problem normally, but the stick shift is also on the left.  Not sure how I'm going to swing that but it should be interesting!

I would be remiss to imply that this past week was all highs...there have also been significant times of wondering what I am doing I have anything to I yet another well-meaning American imposing her agenda on I qualified to do this will I be received...many moments of loneliness...missing my children (Noah was sick this week, Hannah had a doctor's appointment that I really wanted to be at)...but that made the weekend even more sweet as I saw the glory of God and was reminded of His greatness, His creativity, His steadfastness, and His very active presence in my life, as well as the life of my children.

God is good, all the time.  And all the time, God is good!

Saturday, January 19, 2013

T minus 1

 It's Saturday morning and I leave tomorrow (Sunday) morning.  T-1.  My days have continued to be filled with making arrangements and managing details...for the kids, for the house, for my new job, for my old job, and so on.  And, of course, saying goodbye to family and friends is also a part of the schedule.

I dropped my mother off at the airport yesterday morning.  She flew in last Friday and spent the last week serving me in any and every way possible, spoiling me, and doing house projects like staining and painting.  She is an amazing woman! 
L-R: Judy King, Mary Katerberg, me, Jackie Venegas

Last Sunday, I had the widows group over to my house for dinner (have I mentioned how much I love having my own home?  It really is an amazing thing...I had no idea how much I would love it after being without one for seven years!).  It was a great afternoon and they committed to continue to challenge and support me emotionally and spiritually - which they do very well!  As Judy often says, they have my back and I really do feel it.

Noah at the Secretary of State

On Wednesday, Noah turned 18 years old.  Another amazing thing.  I now have two adult children.  Because of living in West Africa, Noah was not able to go through the drivers training that other young people take at age 16, so we have been waiting for his 18th birthday to get his learners permit.  He passed the written test and vision test with flying colors, so it was time to get some practice driving hours in quickly before I go!  He can take his driving test in thirty days but will need to get some serious practice time in.  Thankfully, some people are willing to stand in the gap with him in my absence.

The evening of his birthday, we were able to pull off a bit of a surprise party for him, with some friends from Calvin and family.  That was a lot of fun.  His friends were challenged to give gag gifts.  In the picture, long time friend, Reuben Niewenhuis gave Noah a "Rueben's cube" instead of a Rubix cube, something Noah will be able to solve without too much difficulty!  Noah's roommate gave the gift of being Noah's servant for a day...something that in hindsight might not have been the best idea!  We did our best to try to define what that means but my sympathies go to Jeremy (in advance) for that day!

Another highlight this week was an opportunity that came through another member at Madison Square Church.  A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to speak at my church, and JoAnn Swart came up to me after the service to let me know that she works for an organization called Marketplace Chaplains.  This is an organization that has over 2700 chaplains nationwide (as well as Canada and Mexico).  These chaplains are hired by companies that want their employees well cared for; the chaplains make regular site visits, getting to know employees, and are available 24/7 for any employee needs.  A typical day might be walking around a plant and talking to employees one-on-one about a sick child or parent, a marriage in trouble, or multiple other issues.  Chaplains are able to perform marriages, funerals, make hospital or home visits, and so on.  The employees of the company that employs the chaplain essentially becomes their parish.  As I am working to help churches start up Marketplace Ministries in their church, I was very excited to learn more about this model.  JoAnn connected me to some key organizational leaders of Marketplace Chaplains in Texas who happened to have a virtual training for new chaplains this past week, which they invited me to attend.  As this was a great opportunity, I quickly rearranged my schedule and thoroughly enjoyed the training.  They also were willing to share some of their training materials with me!  I would love to see whether this model could work in Kenya - there may not be companies big enough to hire chaplains where I will be working, but potentially churches could have Marketplace Chaplains working with multiple small businesses in a particular community.

One other obscure item on my list of things to do was to rediscover dance.  Over the summer, I redefined my relationship with the Trinity:  God as Daddy, Jesus as Husband, and Holy Spirit as Dance Partner.  Granted, that may sound strange to some of you and I could probably write a blog on how my relationship with the Trinity has changed and grown, especially over the last couple of years.  But I wanted to learn how to pray in a new way, through dance, and celebrate my relationship with God in this way.  Amy Stoner, another Madison member, blessed me by being willing to work with me through a couple of sessions on choreographing a dance to the song, "Beautiful Things" by Gungor.  This is a beautiful song - if you don't know it you can click on this link to hear it.  My mom happened to snap a picture of me during a practice - it was a great experience and has helped to bring a spring back to my step.  Praise God!

I wish you God's grace and peace.  I will do my best to keep this blog up while in Kenya and will be back again in the US over the summer.  Thanks for reading and thanks for your prayers!

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

T minus 12

Twelve days to my departure to Kenya.  I could put this to a song, like the Twelve Days of Christmas, for the next week:
  • On T minus 12, my agenda said to me:  research Kenya
  • On T minus 11, my agenda said to me:  get life insurance
  • On T minus 10, my agenda said to me:  service your car
  • On T minus 9, my agenda said to me:  get your hair cut
  • On T minus 8, my agenda said to me:  visit with your mother
  • On T minus 7, my agenda said to me:  speak at one of your supporting churches
  • On T minus 6, my agenda said to me:  visit with your renter
  • On T minus 5, my agenda said to me:  celebrate Noah's 18th birthday
  • On T minus 4, my agenda said to me:  take Noah for his driving permit, then practice driving
  • On T minus 3, my agenda said to me:  make final touches on syllabus
  • On T minus 2, my agenda said to me:  pack and weigh your bags
  • On T minus 1, my agenda said to me:  say goodbye to loved ones
You get the list is long and keeps growing of all the details that need to be done before I leave.  Be glad that you don't hear me sing this song!

Yesterday, T-13, I went to the Kent County Health Department for several new shots regarding Kenya.  My last time there was 2003 and it was time to renew some of my boosters.  They gave me a nine page traveler's report regarding Kenya and health risks associated with that area.  Anyone traveling for the first time would be rather intimidated after reading this report!  Unfortunately for me, because I will be living in a more rural area, close to the Uganda border, I qualified for some extra shots as well!

As I read through the report, a thought occurred to me.  When we moved to Liberia and Ghana, Bob did a blog on the history or highlights of both of those countries.  In fact, for each country, he had at least three or four books relating to history and geography.  The only books I've ordered for this trip thus far are Business as Mission books!  So today I'm going to postpone some of the trip prep that I was going to do, to do some research on Kenya and share some of that with you - at least some info that you may wonder about, given my move there.

The first thing about Kenya (which someone just asked me the other day), is that is is right on the equator.  It is bordered by the Indian Ocean on the south-east, Tanzania on the south, Uganda on the West, South Sudan to the north-west, Ethiopia to the North, and Somalia to the north-east.  The population is over 43 million - 73% are below the age of 30!  I will be living in Kitale, which you can see on the map, is on the western side of Kenya, close to the Ugandan border.

Nairobi is the capital city and also serves as the regional commercial hub.  The economy of Kenya is the largest by GDP for East and Central Africa.  Agriculture is the major employer, with coffee and tea are major exports, and more recently, fresh flowers to Europe.

The Kenyan Flag:  Masai Shield with two spears, symbolizing the defense of freedom
The official languages are English and Swahili (which I am determined to learn!).  It is the world's 47th largest country (224,081 sq miles), and the land ranges from low plains, fertile plateaus, and central highlands.  Mt. Kenya is the second highest peak on the continent.  Kenya's climate ranges from tropical on the coast, temperate inland, to arid in the north and northeast.  I will be living close to the base of Mt. Elgon, which is around 2000 meters about sea level, so the temperatures will be cooler (at least cooler than other parts of Kenya, and definitely cooler than where we lived in West Africa!).  The average daily temperature in Kitale is around I'm packing my winter clothes!
Kenyan Coat of Arms:  Harambee means "All for One"

Kenya's name has an interesting (and sad) history.  The original name was Kirinyaga, named for Mt. Kirinyaga, meaning Mountain of Whiteness (because of the snowcap).  However, because Kenya was colonized by the British, who could not pronounce this name, it was changed to Kenya.  By the 1930s, over 30,000 white settlers were in Kenya, primarily farming coffee and tea.  The Kikuyu people (the largest ethnic group) had no land claims, in European terms, and worked as itinerant farmers.  By 1964, the Republic of Kenya was declared and Jomo Kenyatta became Kenya's first president. 

The last election, in 2007, erupted into riots - the elections were assessed to be flawed by international observers, calling the results into question.  1000 people were killed and 600,000 people were displaced.  The next national election is March 4, 2013 - in just under two months!  This will be the first election under the new constitution, which was passed in 2010.  Please pray with me for peace and transparency.

That's enough of a history and current events lesson for this blog!  If you are Kenyan, feel free to correct me if anything was incorrect!  Thanks for reading!