Sunday, December 14, 2014

Christmas: I want lots of PRESENCE

I love Christmas. So many happy memories. I still think that my favorite was 10 grade as I met my biological family again. The feeling of being so loved and welcomed by people I hadn't known in years. I remember other Christmases with my adopted family and feeling the same welcoming and love by people that I was just meeting for the very first time. Christmas was always a special time of the year for me.

I spent two Christmases in Kenya. They were both difficult. Both times I had very bad malaria. My last Christmas there I was so sick that I could barely move. More than once that time I passed out in the hallway trying to make it to the bathroom. Nothing ruins Christmas more than laying in bed begging God to either take the malaria away or kill you - and actually meaning it!!

Christmas in Kenya was also rough because I wasn't with family. I was with people I loved and cared about, but, it wasn't the same. Still, there was one thing that I LOVED about Christmas there. It wasn't so commercialized like it is here. It wasn't all about shopping and buying/receiving tons of presents. The stores would put up some garland and tinsel. There were Christmas cards for sale and a few trinkets. There was no big hype about Santa. No black Friday or cyber Monday advertisements. Malaria and home sickness aside, it was refreshing. There was no pressure to buy the perfect gift or spend tons of money. In fact, the first year there we did a small white elephant. There were joke gifts like holographic photos and funny trinkets. The focus wasn't on the gifts. The focus was on each other.

Christmas, at it's root, is about relationship. The birth of Jesus is 100% relational. The very Son of God entering our dark world and becoming fully human. Intentionally entering our world to solidify a relationship between God and Man; to build relationships with us and to ultimately die for us. The very best Christmas gift was a presence.

So, now that Christmas is a short 11 days away, I challenge you to be present with people. Not just through December but through the year. Take some time to put down the phone and spend time with people. Ignore the Instagram opportunity and create a memory with someone instead. Show people that they matter by giving them presence, not presents.

This year, I don't care if I don't get a single present at all. I'd rather have presence with those that I love and care for. I'd rather have a time to go out for coffee and enjoy time not materials. I want lots of PRESENCE not presents this year.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

In honor of my dad, a great man



I know, I don't write very often anymore and I just wrote a blog over the weekend. But this one is too long overdue. My dad had (is still in) surgery today. The doctors found a tumor on his neck. What was supposed to be a rather short, minor, out patient surgery has been going on for the last 12 hours and will still be several hours more. They discovered that the tumor was much larger and more aggressive than they had thought. Good news is that they got it all out. Bad news is that there is a longer recovery time than they thought. For some reason (do I really need one?) I felt a strong desire to write this and brag about him for a minute.

This photo was taken on September 11, 1992, the day my adoption was finalized; I was 8 years old. I still remember that day. I remember the gift I was given was a shirt embroidered with my new initials: RDS - Raymond David Smith. Up until this day, my name was Raymond B Keisser, jr.

The man in the suit is my dad, Luther Smith. I remember the first time that I spent time at his house. This family picked me up from a foster home near Kutztown and drove me to their home outside of Allentown. My dad had an old school Apple IIE computer he taught me to use that day. I played this game called Load Runner. Funny what we remember, huh? After several visits and home studies and court dates, I moved in with this family and on the day this photo was taken, I was officially part of their family.

It wasn't always easy. I told both of my new parents, especially my dad, nearly every day that I hated them. I was jerk. A hurt and wounded, frightened jerk. I always pushed my dad. I wanted to know how long until he would kick me out. I never lived in one home more than a few months at a time and I had trouble understanding that this was now permanent. He never stopped loving me though. He never kicked me out. Instead, he did what I always wanted from my birth dad. He took me outside and taught me to throw a ball. I remember when he brought home a bike and taught me to ride. He taught me to swim. He took me camping. We watched Star Wars together. Actually, since they were re-released in theaters, I have seen every one of them, as well as all of the Star Trek movies in theater with my dad. I was even home form Kenya on a short visit when the last Star Trek came out and we saw the movie together just before I got back on a flight. The new Star Wars is out this summer and I recently asked him if we were going. He said yes as if there was even a question about it - there wasn't in my mind!

I remember my biological uncle (on my dad's side, my Uncle Joe on my mom's side is amazing! - another post for another day) taking me to fly a kite one day. I had no idea what to I was doing. It got caught in a tree. I got a huge beating for that. And no more kite. My father (Luther) took me to fly a kite. We went to a big open field and he showed me how to do it. We took a giant foam airplane too. One year he made me a bow and arrow set. He even taught me to sneak around the house (with the bow) like an Indian. The same uncle as the one with the kite tripped over what he said was one f my toys and ended up on crutches. Same result as the kite. Throwing a ball (okay, it was a golf ball, but still an accident!) in the yard one day I broke a window in the house. I was scared half to death at what my new dad would do. He never even raised his voice about it. Just told me that it was okay. It was just a window and could be replaced.

This one time I remember asking him to pick a favorite son, me or my brother. He wouldn't. I asked him what he would do if someone put a gun to him and told him to pick. His answer was that he would rather die than have a favorite. I was maybe 9 years old when I asked him this and I've never forgotten that serious look on his face. I knew then that he really loved me.

My new parents divorced when I was 10. But dad never stopped showing up. He was always there for me. We took trips together. Went to DC many times. Went camping in Canada a few years in a row. He showed up to most of my band recitals (yeah, I was bando guy!). When my grades were slipping early in high school he sat me down and taught me to be responsible. He taught me a work ethic. I was 16 and wanted this beautiful 23 karat gold Atlanta Braves watch. Mom's answer was to ask dad to buy it for me. His answer was to get in the car with him. We were going for job applications. I got my first job to buy that watch. I learned the value of a dollar because of him. He took me on college visits and helped me fill out applications. Moved me into college many semesters over.

When I left school the first time and worked full time as a camp program director he would come to my house and visit. Or I would go to his house for weekly dinners (and to watch Lost!). He remarried while I was in college. My brother and I were best men at his wedding. And when my step mom passed away a few years ago my dad and I sat in a hospital room and cried together.

My dad and I have a far from perfect relationship. We have times where we argue just like anyone else. But my dad means the world to me. I didn't have a father for the first 8 years of my life. And I wasn't sure that I could trust having one after that. But my father never stopped loving me and caring for me. He's the best damned father I could ask for and I love him.

Thank you dad for all that you've sacrificed and done for me.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

A Year of Rest

"And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation."
Genesis 2:2-3

"My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” Exodus 33:14


A little while ago I wrote a post called A year of hell. You can read it here. But I cannot leave it there. This past year has, at the same time, been a year filled with rest. 

Years ago, a few weeks before I left my last job for Kenya, a friend pulled me aside and said some words that have never left me. He said, "Ray, you look like peace". It is one of the nicest compliments that anyone has ever given me. And I felt it too. Every part of me felt peaceful. 7 months before I had made the decision to quit my job of almost 10 years to pursue a life in Kitale, Kenya. While leaving friends and family was difficult the decision itself was one of the easiest I've ever made because of how much peace I had.

Shortly after that comment, I was in Kenya. It started as a 3 month trip that turned into 4 by the time I bought a flight. By month one or two, it turned into a 6 month trip. All the while, I felt that same peace. I don't mean to say that there were no difficult times. There were. I experienced many things that greatly challenged me.  There was extreme poverty. There were death threats. There were times I saw some of the worst in humanity - watching a mother punch her baby in the face several times. Seeing parents put their kids to work on the streets. Yet, through it all there was peace. 

I came home from that 6 months and began raising full time support to go back for a few years. I allowed myself 5 or 6 days a week to have a part time job and hold meetings or plan fundraisers. And I was very protective of that seventh day - my sabbath. I didn't hold meetings. I didn't fundraise. I rested. I read books. I walked. I sat for hours sipping coffee and just being. Through it all, I knew who I was and I took joy in that. 

Eventually, towards the end of my time in Kenya something changed. I stopped taking a sabbath every week. I stopped having my personal quiet time. I took on the identity of "missionary" and yet I wasn't finding joy in the work. I felt only the pressure. I was so busy working for God that I forgot how to live for him. In simple words, I was burned out. That' when the most amazing gift was given to me: I was kicked out of the country. It took me a while to see that as the gift that it was. I came back home and started the journey through one of the hardest years in a long time. In January of last year, I made that painful decision to stop pursuing reentry to Kenya. I sat down with some of the pastors at church and told them I wanted a year of being home. No, I needed a year of being home. I don't know where the wisdom in that came from because it sure wasn't mine! I said that I needed a year to find myself again. A year to not have any big decisions to make. A year of blending into the crowd again. I wanted a year out of the spotlight. To not sit down at a coffee shop and be recognized by anyone as "the Kenya guy". I wanted a year to myself. Not up front anymore. Not leading anything. 

It felt so selfish at first. I mean, I had some good mentors over the years and such an incredible experience and I'm taking a year to basically be alone. Now that that year is down to just a month and a half left, let me tell you something. It was the best decision i made in a long time! And it was far from selfish. I tried to be involved in a ministry this past spring and quickly realized I wasn't ready. I had nothing to offer. I was so broken that I couldn't possibly help others. 

This past year of rest has been hard. Very hard. I've doubted. I've been angry. I've been hurt. And I have allowed all of those feelings, and many others. I haven't ignored them. And in them, I have found that rest again. I am beginning to have that itch to be involved again. I don't plan on moving away, but I plan on being actively involved again. I gave myself until January before fully committing to anything. And I know that when I do, I'll be ready and able to commit myself. This year of rest has been so beautiful. 

Last weekend I was exchanging a phone case at Best Buy when this older man got in line behind me. Right away he started to complain that "the line was too long". I found myself not even caring. I was in no rush. And to be honest, I hadn't even noticed that the line was long. I ended up walking aimlessly around the store for about an hour after. Then, I ended up in another store doing the same thing. That's when it hit me: I've found that peace again. I am far from living it out perfectly. But I can taste it again. And it's oh so sweet a taste. 

Sunday, October 26, 2014

"Aren't you glad you're not there anymore?"

I've been asked this question so many times in the past year that I've long since lost count. Even more so lately with the Ebola scare. Let me clear that up. There has not been a single reported case of Ebola in Kenya that I am aware of. Quick geography lesson (because I was never good at geography): the 5 countries affected with Ebola are in West Africa; Kenya is in East Africa. Africa is a very large continent (actually, larger than all of North America). The countries affected are further from Kenya than the US is coast to coast. So, even with the small number of cases in the US, We're all closer to it here than I was in Kenya.

Still, my answer to the question is yes, I am glad that I'm back in the US. I've made no secret that the past year has often been difficult. I still feel the loss of the life, purpose and relationships that I once had in Kenya. There are times that I read old blog posts or look at photos and wonder what ever happened to that man. Will he ever be that man again?

Some ask if I'm happy because of the Ebola scare; see first paragraph. Some think that I'm happy because it was "dangerous". I won't deny that I often put myself in situations that were not what we consider "safe". But it was always with a  purpose, often standing up for those that could not stand up for themselves. I never had a "death wish" or anything, but I had a desire to make a difference in others' lives. And I saw it pay off. I saw it when the conmen that threatened my life were finally arrested as the locals on that street started to also stand up to them. I saw it when the kids were less afraid to walk down certain streets because of certain security guards. I saw it over and over again.

Some ask if I'm happy because I'm "running away from relationships". This could not be further from the truth. I often think of those that I left behind in Kenya. I greatly miss the closeness that I once had with so many. Of all that I feel I lost last August, this is amongst the hardest.

Others ask if I'm glad to be home because of fears over immigration. No. Not one bit. I never wanted to go to jail in Kenya. But when that immigration officer threatened it unless I paid a bribe, I calmly put my hands out and told him to "arrest me. We'll fight it out in court".

Is it because I'm "just happier here in America"? I don't think so, but I am happy. I enjoy my job. I enjoy serving with my local church. I enjoy the relationships I have here. I'm happy I'm "not being there anymore" because this is where I belong right now. In December I started realizing that I might not go back to Kenya. By January, after much prayer, counsel, and several denied entry permits, that decision was finalized. Like I said, I still feel that sting. Choosing to stay in the US was a much harder decision than it was when I quit my job in 2011 to move there.

In January, when I made my decision public, I took an intentional year to rest. I wanted to be out of the spotlight. I wanted to blend back into the background again. I didn't want to be up on stage speaking, or raising support, hosting fundraisers, publicly sharing stories or being the voice of a ministry. I didn't want everyone to know who I was anymore. I needed to have a year to rest. A year to not feel pressure to make any big decisions. Believe it or not, burnout is HUGE for missionaries. There are things that you can do to prevent burnout. Unfortunately, I started to ignore those things and I felt it big time in such a relatively short period of time. By the time I came home I had lost sight of what was important. This year of rest has shown me what truly matters. I've learned to say no to things I really don't want to do. And the passion that I once had is being reignited again. Those are passions that probably will not have me moving several thousand miles away to another continent. But they are passions that I'm excited to watch blossom.

I'm happy because I am finally starting to feel that fullness of life and purpose again. It doesn't mean that I don't feel loss. It means that I am happy and content right here now. When I left for Kenya in 2011 I knew that it was the right decision. That made it a bit easier to sell everything and go. I know the same is true about moving back. Over the past year I've come to see that it was definitely time to move on. My hand may have been forced initially, but I firmly believe that it has worked out for good.

"And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose." - Romans 8:28

Sunday, August 17, 2014

A year of hell


"So this is it. I say goodbye to this chapter of my ever-changing life. And there's mistakes. The path is long. And I'm sure I'll answer for them when I'm gone...The road to hell along the way is paved with good intentions so they say. And some believe that no good deed goes unpunished in the end or so it seems..." Staind, Something To Remind You   Full lyrics here




It's hard to believe that it's been a year since I left Kenya. Actually, the 26th will be one full year. I remember that morning as I was crammed in the back seat of a shuttle on my way from Kitale to Nairobi. I left so early that it was still dark outside. I caught the very first shuttle out of Kitale. The only seat open was in the middle in the back row. If you know anything about a Kenyan shuttle, you know that a 6 foot 3 inch man does not fit very well in the back seat. I was in for a very long 8+ hour ride. I put my iPod on, buried the zipper of my bag into my lap, put my sunglasses on (yes, in the dark) and closed my eyes as I fought back the tears. Then, the above song by Staind came on my iPod. Okay, don't judge me, yes, Staind is my guilty pleasure band. As a child I loved their hard rock. As I've gotten older I've come to appreciate their more lyrical songs like this one a bit more. I found myself listening to this song a few times over. I had no idea just how fitting a sone it was and would come to be over the net 12 months. 

About a week before that morning I was sitting at Kenya's Immigration office in Eldoret. I thought nothing of it that morning. I even took my motorcycle on the 2 hour drive to get there. What a blast that was! And somewhat frightening on some of the roads too! And, yes, to those wondering, I wore a helmet. Then the day took a rough turn. I had renewed my visa before with no issues over the years. I've always been in and out in just a few minutes. This time was different. I had my passport confiscated. I was threatened to be arrested. By the end of day two it was more than evident that the choice was simple: Pay a bribe, leave the country (still had to get my passport back though) or go to jail. Very long story short is that the Member of Parliament that sits over immigration in Kenya "did me favor" and gave me 48 hours to be out of the country. Well, due to the airport catching fire just a few weeks before this, I ended up with a week. A week that I hid at a local guest house with very few people knowing where I was. 

That morning of August 26th started a very long year of hell. Chris and Shawn Hilburn very generously opened up their home to me. And they went a step further and drove to JFK to pick me up when I landed. I had the worst jet lag I've ever had, though in all fairness, I think that it was more a combination of some jet lag and a lot of emotional stress. I spent the first two weeks hiding (see the theme?). I didn't tell many people I where I was living. In a very real way, I shut down emotionally. I didn't want to see anyone. I didn't have the energy to really tell the story. And I couldn't stand the thought of people seeing how hurt I really was. I hated the thought of people seeing me as weak. 

That's when I ended up seeing a counselor at Serving Leaders Ministries (check them out). I began working through what happened. I began to allow myself to be vulnerable again. I very truly believe that this was a turning point in the journey. A HUGE thank you to Dave Wiedis at Serving Leaders! Without you, the journey would have come to an abrupt stop right there. With your help, I was able to move on.  

I wish I could say that everything was easy after that. But it wasn't. As the months dragged on I finally came to the very difficult decision to stop trying to get back into Kenya. In early January I made that decision known to the home I worked at in Kenya. I initially gave myself a year before I would look into other countries to serve. I took a job at The Firestore.  I worked in the warehouse for a while. It was a challenge. I went from, first, a job that I worked in for just shy of 10 years to a life of ministry in Kenya. All of a sudden, I was in a warehouse wondering what my purpose was anymore. Wasn't I supposed to do something greater? Is this what I had become after all that I gave up?

Eventually I decided that moving overseas was something I would no longer pursue. To be completely honest, I even questioned what the point was in the first place. It all ended so violently as many relationships I built over a few years had collapsed or otherwise drastically changed. I sat back one day and realized that since my first trip to Kenya in 2009 I made moving there a number 1 priority in my life. I watched so many of my friends and family get married, have kids, buy houses, etc. And I gave that up in order to pursue Kenya. Part of me (being honest here) really wondered what the point ever was. I questioned God when my turn for those things would be; when would I experience those same joys. I painfully wrestled with so many questions as I wondered just who I was anymore. For a while I took the identity of "the missionary". But I'm not anymore. So "who am I?" became a very real question I struggled to answer almost every single day. 

As the year carried on I continued to be vulnerable with a few trusted individuals and I allowed them really see my hurt in a way that I had forgotten how to do. Some took advantage of that while others, the ones who really have my extreme gratitude, truly supported me, even when I was miserable and not much fun to be around. I cannot thank those people enough for helping me grow through this year. Thank you for encouraging me. Thank you for allowing me to be in the place I was but loving me enough to not allow me to stay there. Thank you for lovingly calling me out in some issues that I needed to address. 

I began to relearn a lesson about who I really am. My identity is so much more than the work that I choose. And my fulfillment cannot come from my work. It comes from the identity written out through the book of Ephesians: as a child of the living God. I accepted that being in Kenya while I was there WAS the right decision. The experiences that I had will be with me for the rest of my life. Another part of this song says, "look in my face, all the stories it will tell I can't erase...". So very true Mr. Aaron Lewis, so very true. I have countless stories I can tell. Stories that will bring you to tears, both of happiness and of sadness. Stories of extreme highs and stories of extreme lows. But all of the stories have a common theme: hope. Stories I still long to tell to this day.  

As this year rounds out, things are looking good. In June I accepted a job in our purchasing department. It was a very entry level job. I knew that going into the job and I accepted it knowing that it was a chance to possibly move up. And on August 7th, the day before I turned 30, I was offered a new position in government sales. A position that I eagerly start on the 25th. 

I've lost quite a few friends this past year, but I have also seen who some of my truest friends are. And I've built some new relationships. Ones that I am excited about. 

So, yes, I say goodbye to this chapter. But at the same time as I say goodbye to the chapter of life in Kenaya, I also say hello. I say hello to a new chapter of my ever-changing life. One that I am so eager to read. 

Another lyric that sums up some of this year comes from the chorus of a new OAR song:
"Hey, don't say goodbye, just say goodnight
And we'll pick up where we left off.
We'll say hello and welcome home
And we'll pick up where we left off"
OAR, We'll Pick Up Where We Left Off

THANK YOU to all that have welcomed me home. We'll pick up where we left off.  

"Let the redeemed of the LORD say so, whom he has redeemed from trouble." Psalm 107:2. This entire past year has been redeemed in a mighty way. This is merely a glimpse at what it has looked like. Thank you for allowing me to share it with you.   



Sunday, June 15, 2014

30 by 30

I'm not really the guy that celebrates birthdays; they're just another day to me. I love celebrating other peoples' birthday, just not my own. While I don't care much about celebrating them, they still happen. And this year is apparently a big one. The big 3-0 coming up in a less than 2 months. In honor of that, I'm sharing a list of things I thought I'd do by 30, things I actually have and things I still plan to.

Things I thought I would do:

1. Be a high school English teacher
Ever since middle school I really wanted to be a teacher. By the time I got to college, I started to realize that it's not really what I wanted.
2. Be married and have a kid
This one speaks for itself. I thought I'd be married by 25 and my first kid by 30. 
3. Own my own home
Considering how much I've been traveling the past few years, this was not a high priority.
4. Own a BMW
Again, wasn't a high priority with the travel.
5. Write a book
Along with teaching, I wanted to be a successful author by 30 too.
6. Go skydiving
I remember turing 18 and my friend Jim and I thought about it. Then we saw how expensive it was. 
7. Have a PhD
haha....
8. Place my feet in all 50 states
I was pretty serious about this at one point. I probably have about half of them in if you can't layovers
9. Get a tattoo
I actually did that one...three times.  
10. Visit Germany
Always wanted to since taking German in high school. I ended up in a different country 

Things I actually did:

1. Moved out of the country
Still can't believe I actually did that! I feel like I lived a full life in that time. 
2. Had a few death threats
I guess technically it was just one, but it was repeated daily for 4 months. All because I exposed a few conmen and their scam. The phrase "I will end your life" or "I will cut your head" became a regular part of my day. 
3. Nearly got arrested in another country...
For being honest enough to refuse to pay a bribe. 
4. Learned to ride a motorcycle
Ended up buying one in Kenya too. Starting to save up to buy one here in the US now. 
5. Owned my own gun
Yeah, I know, lots of mixed opinions on this. But my gun never once shot a bullet that wasn't facing a safe direction. Truth be told, as much as I goof around daily, when it comes to firearms, I'm the guy you want to have one.
6. Starting living on my own
Well, mostly. I just moved into an in-law suit this weekend. No roommates. It's a strange feeling, but I kind of like it. I'm also realizing that I 
7. Spent just shy of a full decade working for one company
I learned a lot working there. Not only about business but about myself as well.
8. Owned my own kayak
I miss my kayak. I had so many great days on the lake with it.
9. Went snorkeling 
I can honestly say that the Kenyan Coast is probably the most beautiful beach I have ever seen. And snorkeling there was an incredible experience
10. Learned to forgive
I grew up with a lot of anger and hurt towards some biological family. While those are people I have no contact with, I have learned to let that anger go and forgive.

Things I plan to do:

1. Finish the book Wild at Heart again.
I've read it a few times and its that time to read it again
2. Run a 5K
I did an event called a Goliathon in April that was a 4 mile run with a bunch of obstacles. It was so much fun that I want t try a 5K. But I HATE running!
3. Read two fun books
I'm reading Marcus Luttrell's second book to start. Then to find one more. I used to love reading, but I've fallen out of it lately.
4. Build a ship in a bottle
Or at least start to. I just need to find a kit. I've wanted to do this for a while but never got around to it
5. Spend a day on a lake in a kayak
Speaks for itself.
6. Have Rita's Water Ice twice
I threw something easy in here :)
7. Cook chamosas 
It's an amazing recipe that we came up with in Kenya. I haven't made them in a long time though.
8. Spend a day on the beach
I can't remember the last time that I spent a day on the beach in the US. It's been a while since I've been around long enough during the summer to do that!
9. Go on a roller coaster. 
I'm terrified of heights but I kind of enjoy roller coasters...except for the hill going up part. I despise that part of the ride.
10. Write a total of 15 blogs on my other writing site
Yeah, I keep a second page too. Mainly devotionals I started to write out. I only have 3 so far, but I'd like to get to 15 before I turn 30. I have the ideas, I just haven't been able to write recently.

There's my list of 30. There are others in all three categories, but this will have to suffice. And because I've shared it, I guess I have to complete most of the last list, huh?





Sunday, June 1, 2014

The final chapter of Peter Lojore

I have avoided this for a long time now. I have sat down to write this and abandoned it so many times. Part of me wants to say that Peter is gone and there is no point in writing about him anymore. Still, there is one final story to write.

Brief history: Peter is a boy that I met during my first 6 months in Kenya. When I found him he was beaten half to death. He was covered in blood and barely had a pulse. He was so badly dehydrated. I knew that if he wasn't treated soon he would die. I got him to the hospital (which was quite a production as we loaded this boy on the back of a motorcycle taxi!) and got him some help.

Peter and I became friends over the next few weeks. When I had him discharged from the hospital I offered to get him off of the streets and into a home. That's what we did. It felt so good! This 18 year old was no longer a street boy. Three days is all that the joy lasted for. That's when he went back to the streets. I left Kenya shortly after. When I got back I did not see him. My friends in town said that he was not doing well though. In early December of 2012 Peter died.

I wrote several times sharing his story, but I don't know that I ever wrote what it did to me. A few weeks ago I sat with someone and openly and honestly shared this, probably for the first time. I knew some things about Peter. He drank.  A lot. Most street boys in Kenya huff glue. It's a cheap drug that kills hunger and keeps them warm at night. Peter didn't do glue. But I knew that he drank. One of my friends, who happened to be our social worker at the time, told me how she knew Peter and often saw him drunk. I brushed it off, unable to fully understand how tight a grip that addiction had on Peter.

All I could think was that I would do it too if I lived on the streets. Before you judge that statement, I will challenge you with what I challenge so many with. Wait until late September or early October when the overnight temperatures are in the low 40's or upper 30's (yeah, it gets that cold in Kenya, believe it or not). Put on a ripped up t-shirt, ripped shorts and go barefoot. Eat a piece of bread for dinner and go sleep outside for the night with no blanket and no pillow. To get a true experience, have someone come and kick you overnight as the cops and security guards will often do to these boys. How many nights like that will you last like that? How long until you are willing to down a bottle of alcohol or huff some glue just to feel warm and help you fall asleep? I will start the answering. I give myself one night. Maybe. How about you?

So, I pushed aside the issue. I put Peter in the home of a man that I admired and greatly trusted. I will call him "John". Peter warned me about John. Peter told me that he was ripping me off and was dishonest. I would not believe that. I had known John for too long. I trusted him. Eventually, after Peter ran away, I found out that Peter was right. This man had me so fooled. He's nothing more than a common criminal that hides behind a few seemingly good deeds. The things that have come up about him since make me sick. I saw him twice before I left Kenya in August. It took every once of self control in my body to walk away from him.

Since the time that Peter died I felt guilty. But I don't think that I shared it very openly. When I sat with someone recently I finally said the words that I had been hiding from for over a year. "I killed Peter". That's what I had been hiding in my heart for so long. The thought that I killed him. I saved his life the day I met him, then I killed him. As I heard myself say the words out loud it sounded almost stupid.

There are so many things that I wish I had done differently. I wish that I had paid more attention to his alcohol abuse. I could have found him help for that. I wish that I had believed him when he warned me about John. I wish that I had tried harder to find him when I got back to Kenya. I wish that...

In the end I have to accept that I did the very best that I could with what I knew at the time. Peter made a choice. One that I wish he did not make. But it was his choice to make. And I know that I did not kill Peter, nor am I not responsible for his death. This does not take the heartache that I feel for Peter away. The lessons I learned from his story are some of the most difficult lesson that I've ever had to learn. But they are some of the most important ones too. Even now, his story still teaches me new things. Looking back knowing how Peter's story ended there are some things I would definitely do differently. One thing that I would not change is the first day that I met Peter. If I had it to do all over again nothing I did that day or shortly after would change.

Rest in Peace my friend.






Wednesday, May 14, 2014

play time


I went on a conference last week called Emotionally Healthy Spirituality. On the second day as we walked in there were a few boxes full of chess pieces with a sign asking everyone to take one.

By the time I got to the box there were only pawns (mostly pawns, actually), a few knights and this queen left. I chose the queen in the above photo. As I chose my piece I wondered what kind of workshop we would have about the chess piece. I wondered if this would be some kind of personality thing. I chose, arguably the most powerful piece on the board. I found it sort of interesting that there were so many pawns left on the board. The pawn. A piece that can only move one square straight ahead at a time. One of the only benefits to the pawn is that if it reaches the other side of the board it can be traded in for a more powerful piece.

Here we were at a  conference full of church and ministry leaders and most of the powerful pieces had been taken.

A couple of hours into the day we were asked to bring out our chess piece. Turns out that I was way overthinking the object here. This was nothing about personality or leadership style. What it was, was a reminder for us to play more.

I've been thinking about this a lot lately. I can so easily fall into the trap of "work, work, work and always be busy". I actually enjoy being busy, to be honest. So much so that I can tend to forget to do fun things too.

In the past week I've been making more of an effort to enjoy things more. It has been a busy week but I keep reminding myself to find joy in the small things. I play a game on the iPad. I watched 24. I caught up with old friends. Spent a few hours sitting on a bench next to a river. I made a list of things to do before turning 30 in August. Most of the things on that list are fun. Go to the beach. Read two new books for fun. Go cliff jumping, etc.

I'm not sure why this deserved an entire blog. Yet I wonder how many others there are like me that can so easily forget to play. Maybe I'm writing this more for myself. To remind myself even more to take pleasure every day.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

I should not have to defend myself for it

This has been on my heart for a while now. Probably for a few years actually. I've shied away from writing about it but here it goes. Sorry if it offends...

Too many times over the past few years I've felt the need to defend myself for moving to Kenya. I want to be very clear on this. I am not sorry for doing it. I did something that I felt I was meant to do when I did it. Leaving family and friends behind sucked. Being away from those I care deepest for on holidays sucked. It was very far from easy. I watched as most of my closet friends and family got married and had children while I saved and planned a move around the world. But I do not regret one second of any of it.

Since my very first trip to Kenya - a couple years before I left my job of nine years and moved there - I've heard so many negative reactions. I've heard "You're stupid for doing that.". "You'll never make any difference". "You're doing more harm than good". "What about people here, don't you care about them?" " I can't believe you just left everything here." "Won't you miss ...[fill in the blank]". "You missed...[fill in the blank] while you were away". And so many more.

I had a desire to do something amazing and I did it. I should not have to defend that. Nor will I. Not to anyone. Not now. Not ever. I understand that not everyone will agree with my decision. That's okay. You can disagree. But please, do not insult my decision.

The lessons that I've learned in Kenya as irreplaceable. I learned to stop looking at the world in black and white; right and wrong. That is a luxury that not everyone has. Most people in the world are looking at life and death. You cannot tell someone that something that they are doing is bad when it is the only way that they see to stay alive. You must first show them a new way that leads to life. You want to get a teenage girl to give up being a prostitute? Show her a new way. Teach her a skill so that she can earn money and support herself without selling her body. You want to make that boy stop huffing glue in the streets? Live one night in his position and you will see why he does it. It is not because he wants to get high. He does it because he wants to get warm at night. He wants to stop the pain in his stomach from lack of food. He wants to numb his heart to the rejection from nearly every single person he encounters day to day. Show him a new way to cope. Show him life.

I learned that it's not my job to fix every bad situation. It's not my job to save people. My single role was, and still is today, to simply love people where they are. To build relationships with them. I could talk for hours on the social, economic and political lessons I've learned while in Kenya but I will spare you all of those long winded stories.

Perhaps most importantly is what I learned about myself. I've always been (still can be) a very shy person. I was never the overly outgoing type. And I was almost always the one to back away from things if they seemed dangerous. Kenya showed me that I have what it takes to stand up to injustices. Get a few guys threading to kill you and it really tests you. Standing up to those men that threatened to cut my head off nearly every single day for 4 straight months showed me that I am bolder than I ever gave myself credit for.

The lessons are endless. Never will I forget my experiences in Kenya. From short trips to TI to the time with In Step. The fun times of shooting darts, late night games, bad movies, pranks and a trip to the Coast will always be with me. The hard lessons to learn will also forever be with me. The death of Peter. The feeling like I was the one that killed him. Seeing what horrendous things parents did to their children. Experiencing corruption as I was threatened with prison. Yet those lessons have, in their own ways, also given me strength.

I can never forget the stories of God's moving. Little Martin that was on his death bed in July of 2009 when I first went to Kenya. The same little Martin that is not so little anymore. But he is alive and well today. Stories of how God provided finances, both personally and in ministry, at just the right times. Kids that have been given a chance to succeed at life though they had once been abandoned, some left for dead.

Still, after all of these things that Kenya has shown me I still get mocked and ridiculed for spending so much time there. And I'm more than tired of it. In fact, I'm really pissed off about it. I understand that not everyone will agree with what I did. That's fine. But, please, do not belittle what I did. You don't have to support it or like it. But please, accept it. And if you want, it's even okay to ask about it from time to time rather than changing the subject every time it comes up.  

Okay, my rant is over.


Saturday, April 19, 2014

Not about a bunny...But not really about a cross either...

It's Easter weekend. I've been thinking about what that really means lately. We tend to associate Easter with a bunny, eggs, chocolate and spring candy. But I think that we all know one thing. That's not the meaning of Easter. But what is? Because I think that many of us have it wrong.

Some might say that Easter is about the Spring Equinox. Some say that it is actually a pagan holiday celebrating fertility. Others may say that it is just a time to welcome in spring. A time of renewal and rebirth. Some think it means nothing at all.

Christians. What do we say about Easter? I am going to suggest something that might sound slightly unusual, but hear me out. We tend to wrap the meaning of Easter up around the cross. But I suggest that if the cross becomes the center of Easter than we too have missed the point.

This week that we call Holy week, when Jesus intentionally made His way to Jerusalem to be put to death on our behalf, is very important. Scripture details many things that happened...The final supper...The betrayal of Judas...Peter's denial...The release of a known criminal...So many events that led to the beating and crucifixion of Jesus.

But that was Friday. And Jesus was not the first to be crucified. In fact, I've read that Romans were not even the ones to invent crucifixion. They may have "perfected" it (found ways to make it more painful and take longer to die), but they did not invent it. The fact that Jesus died on that cross is important but it is not the most significant nor should it be our focal point this Easter.

So it's not a bunny rabbit. Not a pagan goddess. Not about spring. And it is not about the cross. So what is Easter about? It's about what happened after Jesus quoted his victory speech. It was a short speech. But it was packed with power and loaded with a punch. After nearly six agonizing hours of (yes, the Son of God felt pain) pain on that cross, Jesus said "It is finished". And he allowed Himself to die. He stopped pulling Himself up and sank down to the point where His ribs crushed His lungs and He suffocated. Many may not realize it, but that was usually the cause of death in crucifixion.

Yet His words "It is finished" were not to say that His mission was ending. In fact, it was just beginning. With those words He conquered the power of death. His life is not what was finished. Death is what was finished. And this was just the beginning.

Again...the cross. Not the point. That was Friday. Easter is about what happened next. What happened three days later as they found the tomb empty. What is Easter about? It is about that empty tomb. A tomb that the body of the Messiah was laid in and sealed shut. Guarded by Roman soldiers. A tomb where the stone was rolled away and found empty. Easter is about a Messiah that was put to death in our place. And then rose from the grave so that we may live.

Perhaps that isn't even enough though? Perhaps that tomb wasn't really empty. We know that there was no body in it. In fact, it is after this that Jesus begins to appear to His followers (in some rather humorous ways too). But was the tomb truly empty?

I believe that the tomb was physically empty, yet it was quite full. Full of the world's - past, present and future - junk. Out failures. Our short comings. Our sin (ohhh, there's that ugly word that we so often like to shy away from. I'd apologize for using it but the truth s that I'm not sorry. We all have sin and I won't pretend like it's not there. We're born into it). When Jesus died on that cross He stepped outside of time and took all of that on Himself. And He took it all to the grave with Him. And when He rose again He didn't bring any of it back. He left it dead. It is why we can read in scripture that we are made new. We are no longer dead to our former self but we are made alive in Christ. It's why Ephesians tells us that we are members and citizens of Heaven. And why 1 Peter tells us that we are a chosen people; a real priesthood. That sin was left in the grave. We can either leave it there or we can go pick it up again.

That's the meaning of Easter. Life. Life abundantly. Freedom. Freedom from all our junk. Easter is a time when we remember and celebrate that gift. It's free and it's eternal. And there's nothing we could ever do to earn it. And there will never be a need to earn it.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Why I support PA House Bill 162 and open adoption records


First of all, what is HB 162? Long story short, it is a bill that, if passed, will open up original birth certificates for adoptees. This may not sound like much, but if passed, it will be a step forward in opening adoption records to adoptees over the age of 18. You can find out more here: PA Adoptee rights

In case you didn't know, I was adopted when I was 8 years old. I spent the first 8 years in and out of foster homes and with different family members. When I was adopted on Sept. 11th, 1993 I was given a new birth certificate. In fact, I have a digital copy of it only laptop. It shows that the date filed was August 23, 1984. The parents listed are my adopted parents.

Let me pause for a minute and say that I love my adopted family. Sure, we have our issues and flaws, but they are my family and I love them. They took my in and loved me as one of their own. I am extremely thankful for them every day.

Ok, back to HB 162. Obviously, my birth certificate that was filed on August 23rd of 1984 does not have my adopted parents listed. In fact, it has the names Kimberly Krezdorn and Raymond Keiser. The birth certificate with my adopted parents was, in fact, not filed until sometime in 1993.

This new birth certificate is my legal proof of identity. It lists my new name and new parents. My original birth certificate is useless as a form of legal identification. Yet, it is not so useless to me and other adoptees. It is a part of our identity. Part of who we are. It is a part of who I am. And, as it stands now, I have no legal right to have it. It still exists, mind you. It is locked away in a fire proof safe in an office in Berks County. For some, having their original birth certificate can begin to repair a broken sense of identity. It can begin to show where we have come from; who we were - leading to who we are now. Simply put, adoptees grow up with many questions. An original birth certificate can begin to answer a few of them.

I do not think that it should stop with a birth certificate. I believe that all records should be open to adoptees once we reach adult age. Think about it. I am able to freely access my criminal record, driving record, credit history, etc. Yet the ONE set of records that I want - records that are ABOUT MY LIFE - I am denied. Why? Because some government agency thinks that I do not have the rights to it. Because they believe that protecting the anonymity of birth parents is more important. I have seen some studies showing that approximately 95% of birth parents welcome a reunion with their birth children. Plus, anonymity is NOT guaranteed during the adoption process. As one US Supreme Court ruled,

"A birth is simultaneously an intimate occasion and a public event - the government has long kept records of when, where, and by whom babies are born. Such records have myriad purposes, such as furthering the interest of children in knowing the circumstances of their birth."
If a birth is a public event, then why is MINE made private?

Why are these records so important? Because they hold answers. I am very fortunate. I was reunited with much of my birth family when I was 16 years old. They've been able to give me many of the answers that I was looking for. And they, as well as my adopted family, have poured out so much love to me. Not every adoptee is this fortunate. Many grow up and never get the answers that they want. I support this bill for them, probably more so than I do for my own gain. Still, while I have a lot of answers, there are more that I want. I want to see the records. I want to see the reports that were filed. I want to see the reasons my birth parents listed for signing away their rights. I want to see these records because it is a part of who I am. And I am being shot down in accessing them. To see my records I may have to file a court order. I may have to hire an attorney. And even then, I can still be denied. If you have never been adopted - never had a large chuck of your life torn apart and gaping holes left in its place, you may not understand why this is so important. But trust me, as one who has experienced that, it is incredibly important. And it is a terrible injustice that some government agency that no longer knows me can deny me these records. These answers.

So, what does this all mean with HB 162? Well, this bill has passed through Congress and was moved to Senate. It is currently sitting in committee and awaiting a vote that may or may not happen. If the bill passes, it will pave the way to  opening more records.

If you want to help, here is a list of senators that sit on the committee. Please consider sending an email supporting this bill.  A sample email is below. (all contact info and sample email come from THIS FACEBOOK EVENT PAGE)

Email address for members of the Senate Aging & Youth Committee:
Bmensch@pasen.gov, Washington@pasenate.com, kward@pasen.gov, jscarnati@pasen.gov, dargall@pasen.giv, lbaker@pasen.giv, senatorschwank@pasenate.com, stack@pasenate.com, yudichak@pasenate.com, evogel@pasen.giv, rvulakovich@pasen.giv, swanger@pasen.gov

Dear Senators, 
I am contacting you to express MY SUPPORT for HB 162, restoring the right of adult adoptees to access their original birth certificates through the same process as all other citizens. Please support this bill and pass it to the full Senate for a vote. 
Sincerely, 
YOUR NAME
YOUR CONTACT INFO

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Mission Field Confessions Part II: confessions from back home

A little while ago I wrote a blog being honest about some things that I felt as a missionary in Kenya. If you missed it, you can read it here http://raydsmith.blogspot.com/2014/03/mission-field-confessions.html

I've been thinking about this topic since I wrote that. Here are a few more confessions about being back in the US now. Hopefully this one is a bit more lighthearted.

1. I sometimes forget which side of the road to drive on. I know, you'd think that it should be pretty simple...we drive on the right side of the road in America. But after driving a bit in Kenya on the left side, sometimes I still have to question for a minute before turning onto the road.

2. Along with that, I sometimes have to remind myself which side of the car to get in on. Again, should be straight forward - steering wheel is on the left, get in on the left. But, when I'm walking to the car I sometimes have to pause and remember what door I want to get in on. I've often caught myself walking to the passenger door of my own car or the driver's door of someone else's car.

3. I still look the wrong way when walking across a street. Most of us learned early on in life "look left, then right, then left again" to cross the road. Well, in Kenya, you look right first because cars drive on the other side of the road (well, they're supposed to. In reality, they're usually on whatever side of the road they feel like being on). After my first 6 months living there and nearly getting mowed down by bicycle taxis, motorcycles, busses and trucks, I finally got in the habit of looking to the right first. Coming back to the US, I can't seem to get into the habit of looking to the left first before walking across the road. Though, in all fairness, it may not be fair to say that this is a result of living in Kenya. I've had a bad habit of just walking without looking at all for a while. Even this morning, walking into the grocery store, I nearly got hit by someone. In my defense, there was a "yield to pedestrians" sign and I did cross at the sign. So...yeah, I'm totally faultless here.  I don't know, maybe looking the wrong direction from time to time is a positive step!  :)

4. I still utter some Swahili phrases during the day. I never learned as much Swahili as I wanted to. But the little bits I picked up I still use without even realizing it. Usually it's common, everyday phrases like "excuse me" or "thank you", etc. Often it is met by confused looks by others.

5. I miss samosas! Seriously, they are one of my very favorite foods. And there were only a few places that made them right. And I miss them. You know it's bad when you are on a first name basis with the local samosa cook. Even worse when you would SMS him to prepare an order for you. Even worse yet when you walk in and you are met with a smile and an "AHHH, Mr Ray! How many samosas do you want today!?"

6. I DO NOT miss rice and beans! If I never eat rice and beans for lunch or dinner again, I will die a very happy man! Seriously, I like spicy food, but it was not just a "like" there. It was a necessity just to have some difference in the taste. If it taste the same every day, throw a ton of hot sauce in it so you can't taste it anymore. Focus on the burn instead. At first, the beans were just a means to eat chapati (which I ALSO miss!) and the rice - I could take it or leave it. After a while, even the thought of dipping chapati in the beans wasn't enough to help.

7. Going off of the previous one, I also DO NOT miss peanut butter & jelly sandwiches and potato chips for dinner because rice and beans got boring.

8. When I go to a restaurant I still, without realizing it, choose what I want to eat plus two or three back up selections. This was important in Kenya because very often the restaurant would not have your first choice. I was at this place called Iroco Boulevard once. I asked for a plate of chips (what they call french fries). I was told that it would be three hours until they were ready. Three hours...I asked if they had whole potatoes. They did. Okay, follow me here. French fries are quite simply cut up potatoes deep fried. Whole process should take less than 30 minutes. I offered to go in the kitchen and make them myself. That was a no go. Again, three hours until they would be ready. I went through my 2nd and 3rd choice meals which they were also out of. So I left and found a new place to eat. Shame too. That used to be such a good place to eat. I think that the day I saw their demise was when it took well over an hour for a club sandwich to come out of the kitchen. How do I know it was that long? Because I read the ENTIRE newspaper and still had no food.

9. My first week back in the US I went to a Starbucks and asked for a coffee. The barista (wow, I don't think that I ever used that word before!) asked what kind I wanted. I stood there confused. I actually didn't know how to answer that question for a minute. I got used to asking for coffee and praying (um, begging God is probably more like it) that it wasn't that Nescafe 3-in-1 instant garbage.

10. I DO NOT miss malaria. This might just be the longest I've gone without malaria in a long time. The last time I had it really bad (Christmas 2012) I was literally praying that God just killed me to make the pain stop. The actual prayer was something like "God just kill me or heal me. I don't care which one anymore". And no, that is not an exaggeration. Between the malaria and the quinine treatment, every single inch of me was in pain. All day and night.

11. Still, I'd rather get malaria than a cold. If you catch it early it's can be easy to treat and goes away faster than a cold.

12. I can proudly count in Swahili to the very high number of ............FOUR! WOOO-HOOO!! Moja, Mbilli, Tatu, nne. There was a time I could count to ten. But the number ten always scared me because the Swahili word for ten is only one letter off from a slightly vulgar word. And two of my Kenyan friends once taught me the wrong word...so I usually stopped at nine. Just to be safe.

13. Last one. This one could be an entire blog but I will try to keep it short. For now. Coming home was difficult. The circumstances were very trying at the time. Now, I am at perfect peace with the decision to stay home. Recently (maybe in the past month or two) I've finally stopped living with one foot out the door. I've firmly planted both feet here. In the USA. In Chester County. And I feel such peace about it. I'm even happy and rested. More than I have been in many months. One of the best compliments I ever received was when my friend Jeremiah once told me before leaving for my first 6 months in Kenya "You look like peace". I feel like I am finally getting back to that place again. And it feels good. Really good.




14...Okay...one more...I'm actually really happy that I will be able to watch live the return of Jack Bauer after a 4 year absence! Yes, I'm a big nerd when it comes to the show 24. And yes, on May 5th my phone will be off for two straight hours.




Sunday, March 23, 2014

Mission field confessions




Growing up every time "the missionary" came to speak at church it was a really big deal. They were always elevated to this high position. We, the congregation, were on the bottom, the pastor was up the ladder a few rungs. Then, way up on the top,that's where the missionary was. They would speak about how everything is so great in their little piece of the world. How awesome everything always is. As I got involved with doing international missions I placed a lot of those expectations on myself - and then some. What I learned was that I couldn't even begin to live up to them.

Here are a few of my confessions about TRUE missionary life. These may not be true of everyone, but they certainly are for me.

1. I am not brave for moving to Kenya. Okay, look, I'm going to be honest here. I took the EASY way out. Yes, you read that correctly! I said I took the easy way out. So many people say things to me along the lines of "I wish I could do what you did", or "You're so brave for doing that". Want to know the truth? Here it is. First of all, you can do it if you really want to - and if you're called, for at least a time, to do so. Second, it wasn't brave or courageous of me. The truth is that it was easy. It was easy because I knew that it was the right decision. It's actually harder moving back into the US again. Moving to Kenya - that was the easy thing for me. Let me say it another way: moving to Kenya was an act of faith and obedience not bravery. 

2. It's not always a spiritual high. In fact, there can be some pretty low times. The idea that missionaries have this perfect life and faith is outrageous. Yes, a lot of faith is involved. But that faith can be a challenge at times too. Surrounded by so much poverty, death and corruption day after day after day can really beat you up. I know it did me. There were so many times that I had a hard time seeing anything good in a situation. I remember the first time that I watched a 6 month old baby's HIV test come back positive. Talk about faith shattering! I may not have doubted the sovereignty of God, but I sure did struggle to see it sometimes. Isn't that the very definition of faith? Believing without seeing?

3. Being a missionary doesn't make you a biblical expert. I always viewed missionaries as the ones with all of the answers. Guess what - that's not even close to true. We wrestle with scriptures too. I loved the times where we, as a staff, would read something and at the end we would all be confused and left without answers. But we dove in anyway, and we sought after an understanding. It's not some magical gift we get when we become a missionary. We have to work at it too.

4. Holidays can suck. No matter how much I loved what I was doing and knew that I was right where I belonged, holidays away from family sucked. I spent two christmases away and I hated them. Part of the reason was that both years I was stuck in bed with really bad Malaria. However, a larger reason is that I missed my family. I could never escape the feeling that I was letting them down by not being with them on holidays. It sucks. Yet we push through it and cherish the times that we get to be with family and friends in the States - our first home. It's hard but the few minutes we can spend on the phone with loved ones means the WORLD to us. Hearing just one family member say that they're proud of us for the reason we're away makes the pain of being away manageable (notice, it doesn't take the pain away). The world has become so small with increasing technology. Still, on Holidays when I knew my family was together and I wasn't there I might as well have been on a different planet. 8,000 miles felt more like 8 million miles at those times.

5. Getting sick overseas can bring on some of the worst cases of homesickness. Seriously, every time I had bad cases of Malaria, I wanted to get better. But I REALLY wanted to be back home in the USA. Not for the medicine, I could get the same medicine (cheaper too) in Kenya. Not for the comfort of things. But for the comfort of family and friends. Those days being stuck in bed, barely able to move, all I really wanted was to see a family member. Someone to tell me that they hope I feel better soon.

6. We need encouragement too. Sounds simple. But so often forgotten. It's easy to think about a missionary living overseas and think to send a monetary donation. That's awesome. If you feel led to do that, by all means do so. BUT...though we may sometimes stress over financial support, there is a peaceful faith that comes with it. We know that we'll be taken care of. What we often need more than financial gifts is encouragement. A little note saying you're thinking about a missionary can make the entire week for someone. When you think about a missionary you know or support, send a little email. It doesn't have to be long - just long enough to let them know you're thinking about them. Especially around birthdays, holidays or anniversaries. It might take you 5 minutes but your email will be read with such excitement and joy over and over again.

7. We don't need financial gifts. We need support. This one ties into the above. You might not think that there is much difference in financial gifts and support. But there is a HUGE difference. I didn't realize how much difference there is until I left Kenya last year. It was then that I realized that I had support, not just money. The way that I was welcomed back into my community at home was such a blessing. I didn't just have people sending checks each month. I had people that were invested in me. And as a result, I am still cared for at home as well. When I left Kenya, I was forced out for refusing to pay a bird to the government. I was given 48 hours to be out of the country or be arrested. The amount of support that poured in still brings me to tears 9 months later. The emails, voice messages and get messages during that time were so desperately needed. Within hours of being kicked out, I had three different families open their home to me. One that drove over 4 hours to pick me up at the airport. This is not financial support. This is SUPPORT. This is relationship. THANK YOU TO ALL OF YOU!

8. Sometimes the spotlight is so bright that it burns. This may be something that I tended to place on myself more than anything else. But I often felt that there was this bright light over my life and everything I did was subject to scrutiny. Every time I bought a samosa (my favorite food over there!!) or anything as a treat for myself, I felt a pressure (again, mostly I placed it there) of what people would think. So many times I just wanted to turn the light off and blend into the background again. Back to a time where no one knew who I was.

9. Missionaries love to share our stories but we might not be ready right away. This one is tricky, so please be sensitive. I love to share stories about Kenya. I could talk for hours about my experiences. But sometimes, I just want to be alone too. Sometimes, usually after coming back into the US, it's difficult to start talking about it right away. Please don't be offended if your missionary friend isn't able or ready to talk about it right off of the plane. It is not a sign of disinterest or a lack of desire to share with you. He may just need a bit of time to decompress first. Believe it or not, returning to the US, even after a short term trip, is a HUGE culture shock. Be patient and know that when your friend is ready, you will be rocked by their stories.

10. We want to know about your life. This ties into the last one. We may send regular updates. We do so because we want you to be a part of the experience with us. But we also want to be a part of your life too. We want to know how you are doing. What is happening in YOUR life? Don't be afraid to send a note back with an update on you. Just because you're not the one living in another country doesn't make you any less interesting to us. Plus, it will allow us to feel connected to you too.

11. Burn out exists. My last summer working at camp, a man that I greatly admire, Steve, said something remarkable. He asked the question, "are you working for God or living for Him?". I thought that I had it down. I tried to take care of myself and have daily quiet times and a weekly sabbath. Unfortunately, that stopped at some point. There were times that I would go weeks without taking a true day off. I started to work for God, not live for God. This will always lead to burn out. It may not happen right away, but it will happen. Take care of yourself or you will leave the mission field burnt to a crisp.

12. Relationships are not perfect. I'm flawed and broken just like everyone else. When I became a missionary my life didn't all of a sudden fit neatly together. I still have broken relationships that I wish were able to be repaired. Moving 8,000 miles away doesn't fix them. In fact, it can actually put more of a strain on already fragile relationships. I know because I've had, and still have, plenty. It doesn't mean that we stop caring or trying. It means that we're just like everyone else. We live in a fallen and broken world. We are not above it.

13. We can leave the country but the country stays with us. I may feel peace about not returning to Kenya but those memories will ALWAYS be with me. I think of stories from In Step and the kids there that have had such an impact on me. I think of Peter Lojore and how some of the most difficult lessons I've ever learned came from his far too short life. I still think of the first time I had a legitimate death threat. I still think back to the street boys and how they became my friends, not my ministry. I think often of the time I got to talk with the local glue (cheap drug for street boys) dealer. I think about my little buddy Alex Juma (local street boy) and how free he was when I took a simple ball to town and had a catch with him. I so often think of how much I have grown and changed because of Kenya. My friend Daniel once told me not to go to Kenya expecting to change the country. But go expecting the country to change me. And it sure did. I am not the same man that I was in 2009 when I first boarded a plane to Kenya. I may have left Kenya, but I have not forgotten it. I never will.

14. I got used to life there. It became comfortable. Remember when earlier I said that moving there was not brave? This is why. Things made sense in Kenya. The phrase "this is Africa" (or "TIA" for short) was often uttered. Life was simpler. When something didn't make sense, it all of a sudden did because "it was Kenya". It may have been a running missionary joke, but there is a lot of truth to it.

15. I loved it. Even the parts I didn't like, I loved. These last two may sound a bit out of place with the other ones, but they're true. There were parts I may not have always liked. But I loved my life there. There was a deep sense of purpose; it mattered. I have peace about not being back right now. But I also miss it dearly.