Not sure this is the right Swahili, but I like the hash-tag Lauren on our Chogoria team uses, #thisislife. It seems to express the normal day to day that can be taken for granted. It can appear from a blog or a facebook account that one is habitually traversing ancient cathedrals or scenic mountaintops, when most days tend towards the mundane faithfulness of plugging along.
So, haya ni maisha yetu siku hizi (this is our life these days), since we returned from our Area Director meetings and found ourselves facing the next stretch. Now there are no major trips or events standing between us and what we returned to Kenya to do, but we’re still in the in-between of transition.
Being away for ten days was brutal, even though we did listen to our recordings for a half hour each evening after our meetings were over. I found that entering Greece in Swahili-learning mode made me attuned to the Greek alphabet, to deciphering signs, to listening to and repeating greetings. But that tapered over the week and by the time we came back to Kenya language learning required a significant effort to plunge back into. Never the less, faithful Gideon has borne with us, and we are back to listening, conversing, discussing, reading. Karen had the brilliant idea of using a photo collection of Labor and Delivery pictures from Uganda to increase our hospital vocabulary (see photo above of us trying). And this being the “Global Participator Approach” method, we’ve also spent some hours this week just absorbing some “haya ni maisha” stories, which remind us that this is about real people, with courage and love and a lot to teach those of us who have had easier lives. For instance, a person who started excelling in later primary school because the first two years he was in school there was drought, so he never got any food before class and went to bed hungry each night . . . but in third grade the rains resumed so he could eat and by 4th grade he was first in his class of 70+ students (one teacher). Or the fact that teachers would have all the students without shoes lie on the dirt floor of the classroom and cane their legs to motivate them to beg their parents for shoes, which one just accepted as normal life because one knew one’s parents could never afford shoes. Or the fact that our teacher’s formal education ended in 9th grade when he fell asleep on the long bus ride with his school fees in his pocket, and awoke to find the money which his father had slaved to collect, gone. There was no replacing it. The way that a rain pattern, a theft, a broken bone, a hospital bill can irrevocably alter a life is eye opening. And the reminder that we’re working at this language because we want to relate to real people keeps us going.
Evidently there is a crisis/change of law or something regarding Kenyan banking that is affecting our landlord’s ability to finish the house we had hoped to live in by the end of this month. While I am still holding out hope for a possible miracle, we will be homeless in less than two weeks. So next week we need to come up with some plan B’s. After three months in a nice, but not OURS, house we were ready to settle, but it looks like God is stretching us again. We’re praying for a place to rent short-term that would still be accessible to begin working in the hospital, and perhaps even be a boon for Swahili learning?
Even though we’re not yet resuming our medical jobs, we’re still working hours each day after Swahili class to support our teams across East Africa. This week my Bible reading included this paragraph in Acts 20 where Paul is taking leave of the leaders in Ephesus (Turkey!):
Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy
Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves. . . . So now, brethren, I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified.
This passage leapt out to me the way that certain verses sometimes do. We had just tried to study Psalm 23 in Swahili, so the shepherding is in the context of the reality that God is our Shepherd, we aren’t ultimately alone in this work of overseeing. And the savage wolves hearken to two stories told this summer about Bundibugyo (where there are no animal wolves), a child’s dream and a praying healer’s vision, of evil in the form of a wolf. Evil has tried to bite into us in several places in the last week, children’s health, mental health, dissension. Scary stuff. But the passage reminds us that those we serve have been purchased by Jesus’ own blood, that God’s grace assures us of ultimately a table of fellowship even if it is set in the shades of a deathly walk.
While we are in Kijabe we continue to enjoy the friendship of this team, weekly morning prayer meetings together, weekly dinners and prayer times afterwards, informal opportunities for walks and talks. This team labors in significant spots for the Kingdom. Long hospital hours. Setting policy. Raising funds. Counseling war-affected students. Intervening for safety when kids start to fall apart. Initiating and managing language programs. Teaching English and statistics. Watching out for each other. It is a privilege to participate for this season. Friday I was asked to cover a Public Health elective class for Seniors at RVA taught normally by our former Serge team mate Jennifer Chedester. In spite of some computer glitches (!) I thoroughly enjoyed teaching the next generation of missionary/ngo workers about child survival.
And our own four kids are never far from our thoughts. We rejoice in the occasional facetime chats, the photos we get, the text chains. And in the context of savage wolves and perverse men, we thank God for the remarkable way all are thriving. Life is not easy for them scattered to independence, and we long to be more present, but in the meantime we are grateful for ongoing prayers. For the first, for wisdom, compassion, and perseverance in a challenging 3rd year of medical school where he is shining (and sweating, the boy works HARD). For the second, weekly mercies as Infantry Basic Officer Leadership Course continues in days of trekking, orienteering, target practice, tactical lessons. So far so good, but success always feels tenuous in that environment. For the third, friendship and learning opportunities and reading speed and safety as she studies abroad, right now in India. For the fourth, balance and wisdom and spiritual growth again as he plays on the rugby team, takes difficult engineering classes, and commits to quite a few activities. They are all gems and we miss them terribly.
I keep drifting back to Psalm 119:32—
I will run the course of Your commandments,
For You shall enlarge my heart.
Missing kids, being homeless, struggling with language, and battling wolves . . all that can tend to make me want to shrink down into survival mode and pull in my heart to a firmly shielded state. Pray that instead our hearts would keep growing. Reaching a solidly middle-age verging-on-old phase of life does not preclude an expanding heart, a deepening of love, a growing in grace. Praying we don’t become stodgy or bitter or defensive (I can see all three in myself) but rather we are transformed more and more to be like Jesus, courageous and risk-taking and meek as we run this course. (Or bike it, above).
There you have it, maisha in all it’s daily-ness.