Thursday, November 28, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving

Can't believe it's been so long since I've blogged.  A whole lot has happened - and still is happening - since my last blog.

However, because today happens to be Thanksgiving, I am dedicating my first blog in nearly 3 months to a few things I'm thankful for.  

*  I am thankful that after being away for the past two Thanksgivings and Christmases, I am in the US and will spend this entire Holiday season with family.  

*  I am thankful that I will NOT have Malaria this Christmas (in fact, this may be the longest I've been Malaria free in over a year)!  I've had really bad Malaria the past two years on Christmas.  Believe me, being over 7,000 miles away from family around Christmas is hard enough, especially when the phone network is barely able to hold a phone call and internet is too slow for Skype.  Add in a bad case of Malaria and you start to hate Christmas.  

*  I am VERY thankful to not have spent any time in a Kenyan jail this year!  There were a few points when everything happened in August that I thought there was no way around that.  I cannot even begin to express how thankful I am for a random contact in Nairobi that was able to keep me out of jail, not having to pay a single bribe and get out of the country.  

*  I am thankful for my wonderful family at In Step in Kenya!  I have spend the past year living life with them and it's been wonderful.  I cannot wait to be back with them as soon as possible!

*  I am extremely thankful for the support of friends and family during this time.  I have been SO blessed by so many people after being kicked out of Kenya.  From a great couple allowing me to move into their home to tons of encouragement, to people offering me short term work, I feel like the most blessed guy in the world right now.  

*  I am thankful for Christmas decorations.  We've been slowly putting them up over the last week or two.  Last week we put up the tree and I am realizing that with the exception of one year, I have not had a Christmas tree in the home I'm living at in 11 years.  

There is so much more that I have to be thankful for this year, but this is just a brief spotlight.  What are you thankful for?  





Friday, August 30, 2013

stolen

In John 10 Jesus says, "The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy.  I have come that they may have life, and have it more abundantly."

Bold, isn't it?  I've long since believed that Jesus is not merely talking about eternal life - physical life.  No, no.  It's so much deeper than that.  He came to offer us life in every aspect of what we do.  Life in our work.  Life in our relationships.  Life.  Honestly, it's a large part of the reason why I left my previous job to pursue my dreams in Kenya.  I didn't have life in my job.  Sure, I did okay financially.  I had some nice perks.  I was treated pretty well.  And I was satisfied.  But I wasn't alive.  I went to work daily feeling more and more dead.  Not because of anything work related.  Because I was meant to do something different.  Something that would give me an abundance of life.  Kenya.

I've been in Kenya for the past 9 months now with In Step.  Nine amazing months of experiencing life in all that I do.  It doesn't mean that every day was easy.  Not even close.  It means that when I went to bed at night I felt alive.  I knew that I was right where I belonged.

In the past two weeks it seems like that life is what was ripped away.  Stolen.

I've been reflecting on this since I got back to the US on Tuesday.  It hit hard this morning.  It was 4AM again.  I haven't managed to sleep past 4AM yet.  I started thinking about why and all I could think was "because I'm not supposed to be here on this time zone.  I should still be in Kenya".  I'm sure that in a few days this jet lag will pass.  It always does.  But still, that feeling of life being stolen.  Thats heavy.

I re-read this verse this afternoon.  I started thinking about what we do when things are stolen.  We file a police report, or find a way to either replace or get back that which was stolen.

That's my plan.  I plan to get that life back.  I know that things will not be this way forever.  Immigration will re-open and begin processing the visas I need.  For now, I'm reflecting on how to still experience life.  I'm questioning what is my purpose in the meantime?

I wish I had answers.  I'm sure that in time I will.  For now, I'll have to be patient and rest on my faith.  My faith that this will be sorted out.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Integrity

I've been thinking about that word a lot this past 10 days.  A whole lot.  11 days ago I was in Kenya talking to Julia about my visa.  I was leaving the next morning to take my motorcycle to Eldoret to get some minor work done and renew my visa.  And get a pizza.  10 days ago everything changed.  It's why I'm writing this blog in PA right now.

I am not going to go into all of the details right now.  But I'll put the short version of what happened here.  Basically, when I tried to renew my visa the Immigration Officer wanted me to have this new "special pass".  After a long day with him threatening to arrest me, etc, I left with no passport; he confiscated it until I applied for this new special pass.  A pass which, by the way, is only given out if you are a contractor such as one that builds roads, etc.  Also, a pass that is not being processed right now - it's impossible to get.  Eventually, this guy had the boldness to come out and say that he was looking for a bribe.  In fact, his words were "any normal person would have paid me and this would be over by now".

A bribe.  Unfortunately, in Kenya bribes are very common.  In fact, some say that it's the cost of living in Kenya and that sometimes you have to pay some people off.

I wish I could say that I never even considered it.  But that would be a lie.  Oh, I did consider it.  I could have gotten off cheap too.  I could have slipped the guy a few thousand shillings (about 30-40 bucks worth maybe?) and been on my way.  He's right.  It would have been over.  But it wouldn't truly be over, now would it?

Like I said, I thought about it.  I knew what he was really looking for.  I knew it even more when he threatened to have me arrested.  He knew I knew too.  It's weird, that unspoken exchange that happens.  So I sat there knowing that he wanted a bribe and considered it for a time.  But I just couldn't do it.  I moved to Kenya wanting to begin to break that cycle of corruption.  How could I play into it just because it would benefit me?  Is it wrong just when others do it but okay if I pay a bribe to get what I need to stay in Country?  Of course not.  A bribe is wrong no matter what.  So I pushed the thought away.  Because of that a long string of other things happened.  And in the end, this guy did not get a bribe.  And I am back in the US for an undetermined length of time.

As I thought about bribing the man, I thought through the consequences.  It would have meant paying more than just that single bribe.  I'd have to live with that for the rest of my life.  And this guy would be able to hold that over me every single time he saw me.  If I ever went back to the Immigration Office for anything at all with him there, he'd own me.  And how about the next time someone wants a bribe? I believe that once you start down that slope it gets harder and harder to stop.  You start to justify future bribes based on past ones.  All of a sudden everyone owns you.

So I did what I knew was right.  I stood firm.  He threatened to arrest me - I called someone to send me a lawyer.  He confiscated my passport - I walked away.  He took me to his supervisor - I (through a very helpful contact in Nairobi) went to his supervisor's head boss.  He told me that it was pay him for this special pass (which I know would have ended up being a fake for reasons I won't go into right now) or leave the country - I left the country.

So, it sucks.  I spent the past 9 months building a life in Kenya.  And in the past 10 days it feels like it was all ripped away.  And that sucks.  But I know that it is temporary.  I know that I am supposed to be in Kenya and that I'll be back soon.  And when I go back it will be the right way.  Without paying a single person off.  And that's worth every single dollar and every ounce of pain that it cost to leave the country in a hurry.

I keep thinking back to the Jack Bauer quote:
"You can look the other way once, and it's no big deal, except it makes it easier for you to compromise the next time, and pretty soon that's all your doing; compromising, because that's the way you think things are done. You know those guys I busted? You think they were the bad guys? Because they weren't, they weren't bad guys, they were just like you and me. Except they compromised... Once."
I'm proud to say that I didn't compromise this time.  Because I also think that the reverse is true.  When we hold firm and refuse to compromise, it's hard.  But it's easier the next time.  I don't know that the temptation is ever fully gone.  But it gets easier to stand against it.

Monday, July 22, 2013

...And then some you don't want


"Be careful what you wish for 'cause you just might get it all.  You just might get it all and then some you don't want"

I've not really been a big fan of the word "missionary" for myself over the past few years.  I do not feel like it appropriately describes the life that I'm living.  However, I have come to accept the fact that it is what I am by definition.  But I also know that that word conjures certain ideas and traits in peoples' minds.  Things like a perfectly balanced life...Always loving every moment of every day...building churches and schools...proselytizing...living an incredible adventure...never having a bad day...and the list goes on.

If that's the idea of what a missionary is and you don't want that idea ruined than please read no further.

Since the first time I set foot in Kenya in 2009 my deepest heart's desire was to come back and live here.  In my head I thought that it would be a breeze.  I'd have no trouble raising support and I'd be here and everything would always be happy and upbeat.  Before going any further, let me say one thing very clearly.  I love what I do.  There's no way that I can trade any of it for anything.  But...

I started noticing this when I had a short trip to the US in May.  I probably noticed it to a smaller degree while I was home raising support 8 months ago.  I went from this guy that people knew on campus at WCU to a guy who preferred to be in the background.  I still do.  I have no problem sharing myself with others but truly, I'm not the guy who wants to be in a spotlight anymore.  I tried that life and it wasn't for me.  When I left WCU it became easy to blend into the crowd more.  When I started going to Providence Church I wanted nothing to do with leadership in any way.  I was happy to do simple task like setting up chairs before a service.  Somehow, for some reason, out of the blue I was asked to lead a ministry.  I came to Kenya with a team and then came back alone a year later.  Now, I live here.   "you just might get it all and then some you don't want"...

I got everything I wanted in moving here.  And then I got some I didn't expect.  I guess I had this false concept that life here would always be easy.  But here's the honest truth.  It's not!  There are kids I see coming from horrible situations.  I give out meds on occasion.  Do you know how difficult it is to give ARV's (HIV meds) to kids that are just beginning to walk?  I see such poverty and destruction so often.  I didn't expect that for some reason.  And honestly, there are some days where I almost - almost - wish that I could just go back to the US and get a 9-5 job.  Blend back into the background.  Set up some chairs and live a quiet life that doesn't feel like it's on public display.

But that's not the life I've been given.  Another part of this sone says:
"I'm not running from.  No, I think you got me all wrong.  I don't regret this life I chose for me."
I'm not running from anything in my life.  And I certainly do not regret this life at all.  Even if there are some days where I wish I could go back to the US, I know that I can't.  I've seen and experienced a life worth living for myself.  It's hard, okay?  That's the truth.  But it's my life.  It's what I've been called to do at this season of life.  There's no way in the world that I could actually pack my stuff up and leave this place for good.  I also lived the 9-5 life for a while.  It killed me.  Every day I'd go to work and I was killing myself because it wasn't what I was created for.  Here, I get up in the morning and know that I'm where I belong.  I go to bed at night feeling fulfilled - even in the difficult situations.  I'm able to look past all of the crap that exists and see that God is good.  I see the joy in the kids eyes.  I see the hope that is here.  I see a country plagued with corruption, disease and death.  But I also see a country that is on the brink of major change.  And I am honored to be here during that time.

I'd love to blend back into the crowd sometimes.  But I also accept that my place right now is here sharing stories.  It can feel hard and demanding at times.  And there are times where I find it hard to "just be me".  It's something that I need to work harder at.  But, hey...I'm not perfect.  But I know the One who is perfect.  You see, I've realized that it's a choice.  I can face these challenges alone or I can go to God with my heart.  That's my choice.  I love what I do.  And I know that it's not me.  On my own, I'd fall every time doing this.  But I choose to lean into God during these times.


"I can't do this all on my own.  No, I know, I'm no superman"
-Scrubs 




Saturday, June 22, 2013

A lifetime in 20 minutes

I haven't blogged in a while.  Partially because the internet has been slow.  Partially because I've been busy.  Partially because I haven't felt like I had anything important to write.  But if I'm truly honest, those are pretty poor excuses.  I guess a bigger truth is that I have had things to write about but I haven't made the time.  I haven't made the time because sometimes those things that might be worth writing about are hard.  I'm going to suck it up and push through a blog now anyway.

I've seen close to a dozen new kids arrive at In Step in various conditions.  Some fairly healthy, some...not so much.  I've taken a lot of kids to the clinic since I got to In Step in Oct.  I mean A LOT.  Mostly we've done Malaria tests or Typhoid tests.  I've never seen an HIV test done.  Until recently.  I've seen three in the past month.  The first was a young girl who was molested by her father.  I took her to the clinic and prayed and prayed for a negative test.  That prayer was answered; she tested negative.  A few days ago we got a call from the Children's office that there was a six month old baby boy.  Normally Jeff or Carla will pick up the new kids.  But Carla was on her way back to Kenya from the US and Jeff was on his way to pick her up at the airport.  I went with Julia, our nurse who just arrived, and Hoglah, our social worker.  We took this boy, Chris, right to the clinic and had him checked out by our doctor.  He is badly malnourished; his skin was hanging from his bones and you could see each of his ribs clearly.  Because his mother was HIV+ and had died last month we had him tested as well.  It takes longer to get a Malaria test but this...this test seemed to last forever as we watched to see if a second line would appear showing a positive result.  As I prayed for a negative result I had this overwhelming feeling of "I'm going to see a positive HIV test eventually".  After a few minutes we saw a light half line.  An inconclusive test.  This was test number two I've seen.

Test number three was last night.  We repeated the test with a kit at home.  This kit says that results are valid in 5-20 minutes.  20 minutes seemed to drag on for an entire lifetime as we watched a second line begin to faintly appear.  The next step is a new test to see if he has only the antibodies or the actual virus.  It could be that the antibodies in his blood are still from his mother's immune system.  Our hope is that because he was so badly malnourished, he may not have been breastfeeding which could mean that he will test negative for the virus.  That's our hope and prayer for Chris.

I think that of all of the things I have seen in Kenya, this is still one that bothers me to an extreme.  I do not believe that anyone at all deserves HIV.  The fact that anyone has it is devastating.  Yet it seems somehow different when it's such an innocent child that has not done anything.  You cannot point to any decisions that the child has made that have led to it.  And still, they suffer from it.  To say that it's just plain wrong is a huge understatement but I cannot find the words to really describe it.  Whatever you call it, it is heartbreaking at the very least.

Still, I stay here and chose to confront these feelings head on.  Why?  If I'm truly honest, I ask myself that same question.  Why face it?  What makes me desire to stay and see this and so many other heartbreaking issues daily?  I don't know.  I can't describe it.  But I KNOW that it's right to stay.  I've seen it and I cannot hide from it.  I've heard too many people cry out "where is the goodness of God in that?". That's a valid question.  The truth is that I don't know.  Sorry, no profound, deeply spiritual answer.  Just the truth.  I don't know.  But you know what?  It isn't my job to see that goodness right now.  My job is to simply have faith that it exists.  I may never see some of these situations working for good in my time in Kenya or in my lifetime.  But I have an unwavering faith that goodness will come from every single one of the situations.  Whether from a child with HIV, extreme abuse, molestation, abandoned, death, etc.

Still, I could have that same faith and not have to see these things every day.  So why chose it?  Maybe it's because it's become my fight.  But you don't have to come to Africa to see these things.  They exist everywhere.  I believe that we all have a fight.  This is mine.  Where is yours?  What is yours?


The reality was that it wasn't a hard decision for me to make.  Deep down in my bones, I just knew it was the right thing to do: to go for it.  - Bear Grylls



Saturday, April 27, 2013

Going to a foreign land

Almost 4 years ago (4 years this July actually) I first came to kenya.  My life was definitely changed since that trip in 2009.  My eyes were opened.  Not only to the way of life in Kenya, but my eyes were opened to my own life as well.  Past hurts that I was running away from finally caught up to me in one conversation.  Suddenly, there was a choice.  As Andy Dufrense says in Shawshank Redemption, it was time to get buys living or get busy dying.  I chose to get busy living.  And my life has been changed drastically.  I came back to Kenya 15 months later already changed.  almost 11 months after that, I came back a third time to kenya.  Instead of a short trip for two weeks, I left my comfortable job and stayed for 6 months.  Six months hanging out with kids on the street.  I was busy living.  And it felt great.

Six months ago now, I came back to Kenya.  Has it really been six months already?  It sure doesn't feel that long!  Six months ago.  I came to a country that I've grown to call home.  Six months has come and gone.  It's Saturday afternoon as I sit and type this on top of the Mid-Africa Hotel in Kitale enjoying my day off.  The food at this place is not the greatest by any means.  Maybe that's why I chose to have lunch elsewhere...But the view...I love the view!  I sit here knowing that on Monday I'll be getting on a matatu driving to Nairobi to catch my midnight flight back to the US.  But this time, it's different.  I've spent enough time "testing the waters" in Kenya.  I spent the past 6 months on a trial period with In Step.  Six months later and I've made a firm commitment to being here.  It's where I belong.  It doesn't mean that I don't miss family and friends back in the US - I do miss them.  In his autobiography (which I highly suggest to anyone), Bear Grylls says, "The reality was that it wasn't a hard decision for me to make.  Deep down in my bones, I just knew that it was the right thing to do: to go for it".  I can't remember what exciting thing that he was talking about.  But that strikes home with me.  It's hard to leave people behind.  But at the end of the day, it's the right thing to do.  And I know that.  I was busy dying for too many years.  Doing things that I wasn't truly passionate about.  Now, I'm busy living.  I'm working with kids that I truly care about.  I love each and every one of the children at In Step.

Like I said, Kenya has become a home to me.  It's no longer a foreign land on the other side of the world.  It's where I live.  Sometimes I forget that.  It usually hits me on my day off.  When I get on my motorcycle and ride into town.  I catch a glimpse of myself in the side view mirror and all of a sudden remember that I live in Africa!  Heading to the US on Monday feels foreign to me.  Being back in the US for several months last year was often times difficult.  If I'm honest with myself, I'm scared!  I'm scared because I don't know that I fully "fit in" anymore.  Simple things like driving.  I'm so used to sitting on the right side of the car to drive and driving on the left of the road.  Big things like what we so often refer to as "first world problems" - Starbucks got my drink wrong.  Storm knocked the power out.  Traffic is bad.  Things like that.  Strange that as I get ready for a trip - a visit? - to the US (sounds weird to say that) I feel like I'm heading to a foreign land.

Yet, I'm excited too.  I hadn't planned on going back this soon.  I had wanted to spend a year here first. Unfortunately, due to some issues with Kenyan Immigration, I cannot get my work permit yet.  So back to the US I go for a couple of weeks.  While I hadn't planned on it, I am excited to see friends and family.  I'm excited to be able to go to my home church and here the message live rather than via podcast.  I know that it's going to be a busy week.  I know that I won't get to see everyone that I would like to see.  But there's always next time too.

Fears and excitements aside, see you soon America.