Wednesday, September 20, 2017

On Amazing Grace, Cheesy Christian 80s Music, and God's Plan

This year in Kenya looks much different for me than the last two years. Tim is still plugging away - and being used by God to do truly AMAZING things in the surgical and surgery education realms - but my work has changed dramatically.

For one, our third child flew the nest and is now a freshman at Baylor more than 8,000 miles away, instead of a busy senior at RVA, just a mile up the hill from our house.

Next, our 4th child (and our baby for 14 years) is now applying to colleges and enjoying his senior year. Wah! I'm struggling to grasp all of this leaving business that my kids keep doing......and right now, I'm not sure what to think of it all.

For another, I now spend my days teaching Desté (age 9) the way I taught our other four kids at this age - one on one, at home. This setting, while familiar to me, varies greatly from the last two years' environment, in which I taught British Lit to 75ish high school seniors. Even though I know it is good to be helping Desté in this intensive tutoring manner, I can't even really express how much I miss teaching seniors in the classroom - especially knowing that one of those seniors is my son. And especially knowing that the English department has lost teachers due to illness this year already and the seniors have had multiple fill-ins for the first few weeks - not optimal at all. I may have been unorthodox and approached education differently than the norm, but by this time last year, my students had at least read, discussed, and understood (and appreciated? I hope so!) the classic, entire epic poem, Beowulf, and had begun their video projects on said poem. It makes me so sad - very sad - to not be able to share my love for teens and of British Lit with this year's group of seniors. But, I guess this is just not the plan for now. And I'm trying to trust God with that.

On the bright side, Desté learns quickly in this relaxed, low pressure, you-can-always-ask-a-question-b/c-you're-the-only-kid-in-the-room school - so, more and more each day, we are seeing God's wisdom in directing us down this unexpected, even initially undesired path.

Whenever I turn mournful and sad about missing the opportunity I thought I would have to teach Sam and his classmates English this year, I try to stop my downward emotional spiral by pausing to pray - asking God to lift me of that unhealthy cycle, and also to help me to count my blessings - and not just any blessings, but blessings that have come specifically from my staying home this year.

A huge blessing is that Desté is, slowly but surely, catching up with his peers. He loves playing with friends - so his goal is to be able to return to school at some point - but in the meantime, we are home, and I get to watch his new-found academic confidence peek out from under the rocks of self-doubt and insecurity as a learner. He is just beginning to believe he CAN learn - and it thrills me to watch as this new attitude blossoms and begins to emerge.

A second blessing is the chance I've had to cook a bit more often - I just hadn't had the energy to create much in the kitchen the last couple years - but now, I'm starting to find my way in there a little more frequently, and am enjoying picking new dishes out from and the like.

A third super special blessing is that I can copy my friend Jennifer M, who used to live here, and who hosted Thursday lunches for a bunch of kids (including mine!) from RVA. Thursday lunches at the Bergs have become a "thing" this year for Sam and his buds - and getting to see them at least once a week is such a thrill for me. We usually have tacos, which doesn't fit with the digraph TH - so we just added an H in the taco word - and we now enjoy Thaco Thursdays at the Berg Place. It's so fun. 

Another blessing of being home is the amazing chance I have to rest and reflect sometimes - rather than work in overdrive seemingly all the time. As I reflect and pray,  all sorts of things come to mind, and today was no exception.

Sitting on my porch, I started thinking what an amazing fact it is that Tim and I came to Africa six years ago. We'd long dreamed of leaving the States and trying to serve people with the skills we had by working in a 3rd world country (Kenya is not 3rd world) but.... it never happened. Then, wow. Right when we thought we were "too old" to come, we came!

I started reminiscing about the beautiful people we've known here, about things God has taught us about love (endures all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and is patient and kind), surrender (laying down our lives and taking up His cross = the best life possible), giving (that we can NEVER outgive God - never, never, never - He has given us everything! Even his own son!), and so much more. I wondered, "Why Me, Lord? Why on earth would you pick me in the first place, and then why would you send me on this amazing, sometimes exhausting and scary, but always wonderful adventure? I know you could have picked someone more talented, stronger, younger......but you picked me. You picked us."

Then I remembered something. I remembered a song that I used to LOVE back in the 1980s when I had first become a Christian. I listened to this song so many times back then -- like, all the time, b/c it so reminded me of how I met Jesus and first started along the His path. Later, when I met and married Tim, I realized the song very accurately described how Tim first met Jesus, too. Though we didn't know each other in college, we both became believers at that time in our lives - Tim at the beginning of his freshman year, and me, at the end of my senior year.

It's overwhelming, isn't it, to look back and think - If it weren't for that moment in time, on that otherwise very ordinary day - the entire rest of my life would have been so different!

I certainly wouldn't be writing this blog from here in Kenya! And of course, so many other things wouldn't have happened, either.

So, when I think - How did I get here? I realize, it all started in a dorm room at Trinity University, 30 years ago. (My 30 year college reunion is this October!) When I gave my life to Jesus that day, of course I had no way of knowing where He would take me or what would happen next. Funny thing is, at the time, I was a bit concerned about all I would be "giving up" and "forfeiting" if I told Him I believed in Him and would live for Him. Ha! Turned out, all I gave up was a bunch of stuff that would have ruined my life. After I surrendered, for a while, it seemed everything was the same. I was still a college student, still in the same sorority, still wondering what I would do after graduation in two months' time.

All I knew was, now I was trusting Someone other than myself or my parents to order my days and direct my steps. And somehow, I knew this was a much better choice than trying to do life "my way".

Turns out, God loves to pick "Little League" level players and then let them go run the bases on a professional field!

And that is how I ended up getting to love Him and live with Him and serve others in His name while living in the beautiful land of Kenya (and earlier, Rwanda).

If you got this far in this lengthy blog post, maybe you'll want to read the (cheesy) lyrics to this song that so well describes my conversion (except the part of it being about a guy and I'm a girl). Here it is. Lyrics by Philip Sandifer.

by Phillip Sandifer
On the right side of midnight
On a warm summer morning
In a room like yours and mine
Sat a young man having quite a time

Brian said he’d had enough
Of the pain that kept him running
From the things that he really loved
Thinking maybe it’s too much.

And as he stared into the darkness
Of a room that had suddenly grown cold
He thought of what his father told him years ago.
And he finally realized he understood what he had told him.

When he said: “Son, you will reap what you sow, and I’m right -
Should you want to be the loner, keep living the loner’s life.
Oh, but should you decide you want to walk with the King,
Give him your burden, and he’ll give you everything.”

So, Brian fell to his knees with a prayer

And knowing that alone life was just too much to bear,
Whispered, “King, come to me, help me learn to live your way.
Brighten my darkness …..
….. and turn my night into your day.”

Now as we stare into the darkness
Of a world that has suddenly grown cold,
Listen as our Father tells us, everyday,
And join with me and we’ll all understand Him, as He tells us….

People: You will reap what you sow, and I’m right.
If you want to be the loner, keep living the loner’s life.
Ah, but should you decide you want to walk with the King,
Give me your burdens, and I’ll give you everything." 

 So, wondering what you should do with your life? Wondering where to go? Hoping to "make the most of life" but don't know how to do that? I encourage you to do what Brian did. Surrender to the One who made you and loves you. Ask Him to help you learn to live His way - He always says "yes" to that request, and He always gives us so much more than we could ever dream. His yoke is easy and His burden is light. (And no, no one ever learns how nor manages to "live his way" even close to all the time - it is more of a desire He gives than it is managing to live it perfectly!)

Might you die while following Him? 
 Yes, you might. But, news flash: You're going to die, anyway. 

Might you lose a lot of money following Him? 
Yes, you might. But money doesn't last, anyway. 

Might you be beaten, or ridiculed, or get sick, or lose friends or family?
.......Again, yes. But guess what? Those things could happen for much lesser reasons. And, those things pale in comparison to the Joy of Knowing Him. Seriously. 

So, what are you waiting for? Go ahead and tell the MAKER of the UNIVERSE (and of you!) - of the stars, the planets, the trees, and the mountains - that you want to follow His Way -- and get ready for REAL JOY, REAL ADVENTURE, REAL MEANING, AND REAL LOVE IN YOUR LIFE......FOREVER.

Monday, May 1, 2017


 Well, at the risk of being judged for the rotten missionaries we are.......I want to start this blog up again with the announcement that we are ON VACATION in the Seychelles, soaking up sun, surf, good food, and all-too-rare uninterrupted time together ❤︎ this week, so that we can celebrate the fact that God has kept us together, mostly happily, for 25 YEARS!!!!  AMAZING, BUT TRUE!

 We want to give a HUGE SHOUT OUT to the friends (who shall be nameless, as requested!) who sponsored this trip for us.  We couldn't have gone without your support, of course!  Thank you very much.  And, hey - we are thinking of making this an annual thing, so......(just kidding, again!)

More pics to follow.  But, we are obviously having a wonderful time and are feeling like kids.  Vacations are the best!  Thank you!

As we reflect on the last 25 years (only 26 years of knowing each other - quick courtship!) ....

I also want to give a big "SHOUT OUT" OF PRAISE to God, the only one who could take two totally broken, as in dashed against the rocks kind of broken, people, knit them together into ONE, and somehow, by his amazing sense of humor, unending grace and faithfulness, mercy and neverending kindness to us -- he kept us together all this time, and kept us loving each other, too!

Through Him bringing us together, we have matured, learned patience, been humbled over and over,  and had such FUN and ADVENTURES together.

And, as if that wasn't enough, through this marriage He arranged, God gave us FIVE AMAZING CHILDREN!  

And, as if THAT wasn't enough......He let us live in 4 AMAZING COUNTRIES!  (USA, BANGALORE, INDIA* (only for 2 months - but still amazing), RWANDA, AND NOW KENYA)

He saw us through sickness and health, strife and unity, confusion and clarity, joy and pain, fun times and hard times, financial plenty and more stretching times.......

All I can say when I reflect back on it all is, God has given me so much more than I ever dreamed or hoped for and, even with the pain we've endured at times, Yes, I'd do it all over again - in a heartbeat.

I am so thankful for all He has done.

This post is dedicated to my one and only -- Tim Berg.  Here's to you, Tim B!  I love you! Happy Anniversary!

Now, off to the beach!

Saturday, November 12, 2016

It's a small world, after all!

 It's a small world, after all!
.......reflecting on the similarities between my worlds....
realizing East Africa and the USA have more things in common than you might think.

A long time ago......I was in college and a singer named "Sting" came out with a song, called, "Russians".

"In Europe and America there's a growing feeling of hysteria.
Conditioned to respond to all the threats
In the rhetorical speeches of the Soviets.
MIster Krushchev said, "We will bury you."
I don't subscribe to this point of view.
It'd be such an ignorant thing to do
If the Russians love their children too.
How can I save my little boy from Oppenheimer's deadly toy?
There is no monopoly on common sense
On either side of the political fence.
We share the same biology, regardless of ideology.
Believe me when I say to you,
I hope the Russians love their children too
There is no historical precedent
To put the words in the mouth of the president?
There's no such thing as a winnable war,
It's a lie we don't believe anymore.
Mister Reagan says, "We will protect you."
I don't subscribe to this point of view.
Believe me when I say to you,
I hope the Russians love their children too
We share the same biology, regardless of ideology.
But what might save us, me and you,
Is if the Russians love their children too"

Probably, it wasn't the most profound song in the world, but in the 1980s, when we were all so scared of having a nuclear war with Russia.....this song made me think, and it made me calm down.  The concept that maybe those "boogie men" way over in Russia might just actually be real people, just like us, people who might love their children, too.....helped me to realize that perhaps they didn't want a nuclear war any more than we did.  

Now, I find myself thinking in the same way about my two worlds, East Africa and the USA - 8,000 miles apart, and seemingly so very different from one another - but turns out, we're all just people, and we have so much more in common than someone might think at first glance (for good and for bad).  

Below are just a few of the similarities I've noticed this week: 

1. Election Riots: 

Bus burning during Kenya's 2007 election violence
The longer we live in East Africa, the more I believe, "I was born for this".  Also, the more similar my worlds - one in Texas and the other here - appear to me.  While I feel at home here, I also continually MISS my home in Texas.  It is strange to think of home and have 3 places come to mind (1. Kibogora, Rwanda, 2. Kijabe, Kenya and 3. The Texas Hill Country).

First, the recent US election.  So, so, so sad.  Watching news from home in dismay, I felt I was listening to a BBC broadcast about an election here in East Africa - Burundi, Uganda, Kenya, DRC, Rwanda....
Car burning in streets during 2016 USA election violence
Riots?  Protests?  Marching in the streets?  Violence?  Factions?  Sounds familiar.  An American friend here posted on facebook that a Kenyan had asked my friend if her children were safe (in college in the States), as she had heard there was election violence in the USA.  Many of my Rwandan friends and some Kenyan nationals, too, have asked me the same question.  They let me know they are praying for my country, and asking God to bring peace for us soon.  They are praying for my family members and children to be safe.

2. Children love puppies:

 Deste has "come a long way, baby" regarding his dog fears, as you can see from these pics. Tim and I felt we were too old, too tired, too stretched-thin to add another puppy to our lives, and yet, we knew no other way to help Deste overcome his rather extreme phobia, which has actually interfered with his day to day life here.  For instance, he won't go to friends' houses, even best friends, ever, because they have dogs.  So far, Deste's love for "Louie" hasn't translated into a lack of fear for all dogs, but we are hoping it will.  His friends with dogs really want him to come play at their houses, instead of always having to come to ours!

3. Parents love their children, and will "go without" to help them.

We hear all the time, or we experience first hand, the lengths to which an American parent will go for his or her child.  Sacrificing retirement to pay for college, going without that last piece of pie at Thanksgiving,  staying up all night with a sick child, helping with science fair projects, etc.  Well, the same can be said for parents over here.  
 A worried father, I'll call him Silas (not his name), came to see me a few weeks ago.  Tim had been treating his 12 year old son, a boy with epilepsy and a myriad of other health problems (Tim was treating one of his other problems), and had sent him to Nairobi for a catscan.  We knew this man before his son went to the hospital. He built an outside storage shed for us so we would have a dry place to store our firewood and the gardening tools, Deste's bike, etc. A few days later, Paul, the dad (also not his name), showed up on our doorstep, hungry, exhausted and in tears.  The hospital in Nairobi would not do the catscan on young Paul until the father could produce 48,000 ksh (about $480 USD). Not sure if this picture adequately illustrates the truth that the hospital may as well have demanted $4,080 dollars, or $40,080, from this man -- but it's true.  Because we are blessed with supporters who so richly bless us, we were able to pay this bill for the family.  The doctors later released little Paul, but wrote some "essentials" down about materials the family needs to provide adequate care for him.

  1. Because little Paul often has seizures in the night, the family was instructed to procure a mattress of some kind on which he could sleep, rather than sleeping on the cement floor with the rest of the family in their 9' by 10', one room house (with no electricity or running water).  
  2. For his bones to harden (another problem), he must take calcium supplements each day and also must drink 3 glasses of milk.  No cow.  No milk-goat.  No money for milk nor medicine.   
 3. Paul needs to eat at least twice per day, to help strengthen his small frame and help him to grow.

Seeing this list, and seeing the Dad obviously wasn't eating much at all each day, either -- I looked about my house and realized, although we live on maybe 10% of what we lived on when we lived in America - that we own and enjoy an exponentially larger amount of goods than do our neighbors here.  Ashamed and disgusted with our over-consumption (we sometimes end up throwing out food that goes bad before we can eat the leftovers, for instance) - - I realized we had an extra mattress in our home that we keep ready for slumber parties for our teens.  Yet, it hardly ever is needed.  An epileptic child is sleeping on a cement floor, and we have a mattress tucked away in a closet that is only used about 3 times a year?  

Paul (facial features deleted to protect privacy)

Paul, Silas and their family. 

With the help of a friend, I loaded up the mattress, blankets, pillows and some other fun things, and we headed to Silas's house.  I wanted so much, after arriving, to take pictures of the surroundings to help my American friends understand, or grasp, the wide discrepency between what we have and what most of the rest of the world has.  Yet, I simply could not take the pictures without hurting their dignity.  I did take one happy picture of the family in their home.  Somehow, as I stood there in Silas's house, barely fitting inside due to the new mattress, and the fact that 7 people were crammed in a very, very small room, I thought of my home country, and I wished so much that my loved ones and all my fellow Americans could visit here just once.  Just one week or two!  When we as Americans get down because our child didn't make the club volleyball team, or because we can't afford to buy a car for our 16 year old this year, or whatever......I think it would help us to realize that others around the world struggle to provide for their children, as well, only often, the things they are working so hard to provide are things we take completely for granted - like having a mattress. 

 I wish my American friends could come here and meet people who work 12, 14, sometimes 16 hour days, at back breaking work, and then realize they do all that while only eating one meal a day.  I wish they would walk home with them, and see that they live in a shack with a leaky tin roof (or a mud thatched roof), that there are holes in the walls large enough for snakes to enter their home - and that they often do - that all the family sleeps in the same room - because the house only IS one room.  That they use a community outside "pit toilet" (outhouse) that smells to high heaven -- and that sometimes (rarely, but it happens), little kids fall in.  I wish they could visit their childrens' schools and realize, public school is not free here - people must pay school fees for their children to attend, and even so, often there are 50, 60, 80 children per class.  One teacher.  No teacher's aid.  No copy machine.  No glass or screens on the open air windows.  No electricity.  I wish they could see that the children behave beautifully in these schools - there are ZERO discipline problems - because education is valued and prized and no child wants to ever live through telling his mom or dad that he was sent home for disobeying or disrespecting his teacher.

I wish I could share my beautiful adopted land with my beloved American friends.  I am blessed to get to have the best of both have lived on both sides of the "pond", as they say.  Parents love their children in countries all over this world, and children love puppies in many countries, too -- and we all have fears, sometimes irrational, terrifying fears -- that sometimes love and hugs from a furry friend can dispel.     Maybe even more than realizing that East Africans and Americans all love their children, too, maybe we can hope or realize that both sides of America include millions of parents who "love their children, too".  We are all wanting to take care of our children, right?  Here's hoping we can all (me included!) learn to love one another, to hear one another, and to give grace to all we meet, as Jesus gives so much love and grace to us.

Monday, October 3, 2016

2nd Tier Missions

I often ask myself why I don't post blog entries as often as I did when we first came to Africa.  One reason I don't post as often is laziness, probably.  Another is simply being "too busy" (which is a poor excuse, as we all have the same 24 hours each day!).

 Another reason is that Africa seems like "home" now; it is our not-so-new normal. So, great blog ideas don't spring as readily to my mind as they once did.  I forget that what may seem mundane to me might actually be interesting to someone who lives across the ocean.

Two examples  ........

  • I heard that a few of my students camped out last weekend, and that a group of large, male baboons woke them up (and scared them silly!) by poking the campers' backsides with sticks.  While this story amused me when I heard it, I didn't immediately think, "Oh!  What an amazing thing to happen!  I must blog about this!" 

  • Tim recently told me about a female patient from a neighboring country who is dying of cancer in the post-surgery ward and has no family nearby to stay with her.  She is slowly dying, all alone, in a foreign hospital, with overworked, understaffed nurses who cannot give her as much care as she needs and deserves.   She has no money, only one set of clothes, and must depend on the charity of strangers (other patients) who share their small amount of food with her.  In the "old" days, this woman's plight would have been a series of posts.  This time around, I only sigh, breathe a prayer for this suffering woman, pray for her aloud with Tim in the mornings, and wish life did not have to be so hard for so many.  But, no pictures.  No posts.  No fanfare. 

Part of blogging is sheer force of will and habit.  I'm asking God to help me get back on track.  But part of blogging - at least this blog - has been writing about new experiences and my processing of those experiences.  Since not much is new anymore, I find it harder and harder to write my thoughts.  

I believe that (slight) burnout or "missions fatique" may be another reason I do not blog as often as I once did.  Some things feel so painful for me to even think about that I just do not feel I have the energy to process them.  It seems much less exhausting to shove those experiences under the rug of my consciousness and not allow them to break my heart.   

I've learned that while this works in the short term, refusing to face hard things drains me more in the long run.  The experiences build and build and, next thing I know, I am angry at the world for being so unfair and maybe even angry at God for allowing His world to be so full of pain.

So, while I'm getting back on track......and on a happier note, I decided to show you a bit of what ministry looks like for me here in Kenya.

*not my actual students*

Teaching MKs -- what a JOY!!! These kids rock.  They really do.  Each has a different life perspective than the other -- each has rich stories to share about growing up in Tanzania, or Malawi, or South Sudan, or Kenya, or Rwanda or South Africa, etc. etc. etc.

Our first essay in my Senior English class, by necessity, is the College Essay.  Most choose to answer the first prompt from the dreaded Common App, which reads:

"Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story."

While I work at becoming a regular blogger again, I've invited any students who would like to do so to share their college essays with you.

I think you will enjoy reading the life stories of these missionary kids from all over the continent of Africa.  And, perhaps you'll glimpse a bit of what it looks like to serve as a "2nd tier missionary" here at RVA.  (I think I just made up that term - if not, I don't remember where I first heard it.)  What I mean by 2nd tier missionary is, I no longer serve on the front lines in a mission field, which is what I would consider 1st tier or front line missions.  

I now support front line or 1st tier missionaries all over the continent by teaching their children, so those 1st tier missionaries can STAY on the front lines and not need to return to the USA for their children's education.

Like you in the United States who support us and other missionaries financially, I feel that I am now in a more supportive role for missions to Africa.  My mission now is to support missionaries - and of course, to teach and love missionary kids.  Anyone who knows me knows I've loved teens my "job" comes pretty naturally to me these days! (At least, the "loving kids" part comes naturally - perhaps the "teaching British lit" part of my job requires a tad more effort!!)

I still get to do some 1st tier work, as we continue our work with Seka Handbags in Rwanda and help in some other ways in Kibogora, Rwanda and Idjwi Island, where our son, Deste, was born. 

But, primarily, I am now a missions supporter, just like you.  And, I love my role!  Just like you, this support is critical - without financial support from America, missionaries cannot continue to serve.  And without education for missionary children, missionaries cannot continue to serve, either.

So, without further ado, here is the first (of many, hopefully) MK stories from one of my students, who will remain nameless.  :-)
I added in the pictures. Those were not included on this MK's college app (though maybe that would be a great idea!).


College Application Essay - Prompt 1
Moving anywhere can be both exhilarating and terrifying; especially as a young child crossing continents and cultures. In 2005, two months before I turned five, my family moved from Boston, Massachusetts all the way across the world to Mombasa, Kenya. 

At the time, I was excited and as long as I had my family and my blanket, I was happy and didn’t see the significance of it and the effect it would have on my life. As time went on, however, and I began to understand and experience things more, the profound affect this change was having on my life suddenly became more apparent to me. 
Adapting to the culture was quite a learning experience for my family. Mombasa is such a mixing bowl of cultures and beliefs that it isn’t just learning about one people group’s customs. There are so many things to remember about how people of different backgrounds view certain things, things I would never have imagined had my family remained in Boston. For example, when we first came to Kenya we had to go to a language school for a while to learn Kiswahili. During this period, on a trip to town in a matatu (cheap public transportation) the van became way too full of people. Since my brother and I were so young and little we had to be passed through the windows to get out of the vehicle. It was a very interesting experience, to say the least. Another time, when I was a little bit older, I was with my family and some friends staying at some beachside cottages for a few days. After we had eaten lunch, I was munching on my favorite Indian snack and walking around. Suddenly, a monkey came out of the tree nearby and started chasing me.  Needless to say, I was completely mortified and scared out of my wits. As I was running, I began screaming for help but my laughing family found the whole situation quite amusing and kept yelling after me to drop the food. In the end, I didn’t drop the snack but my dad ended up scaring the monkey away with a stroller.
Another thing I would have never experienced if I had stayed in the USA is the annual Kenya Music Festival. This is where hundreds of students from all around Kenya come together to compete, both vocally and instrumentally. In the sixth grade I was both taking voice lessons and singing in the school choir. That year our school entered several categories, and I was in three of them: choir, operatic solo, and duet. The whole experience was quite exhilarating. I was quite surprised when the results were given to see that out of the hundreds of students who had competed, I had come fourth in every category in which I competed. That year in choir deepened my love for music and allowed me to see the many talented people in Kenya.
The only downside I’ve experienced from our move is that now, whenever our family visits the United States, my “home” country, I feel like I’m entering a different world, and that I am a stranger there.  Sometimes it’s hard to answer the questions “where is home?” and “where do you live?” The way I’ve grown up is so different than what could have been, but life is so much more colorful and diverse to me here. Some people may consider uprooting a young child’s entire world and altering the very definition of her life to be a terrible thing, but I know I wouldn’t be who I am today if I hadn’t been transplanted to Kenya at such an early age, and I really appreciate the opportunities that I’ve had to see the world through new eyes.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Senior Stress & Family Update

As Tim busily adds the finishing touches to his presentation for the surgery residents tomorrow, I'm reflecting on last weeks' classes in English 12.  My lesson plans said that we would be reading, discussing and analyzing more of Beowulf last week.....but, after watching the stressed out, worried faces of my students as they discussed college applications, I decided that Beowulf could wait, and that we would devote five days of class to facing those college app fears head on.  Since most of my students are boarding students, these kids don't have the benefit of parents at home with them each night, helping and advising and guiding them through the college application process.  And since I've already watched two of my own endure this tedious task, I couldn't sit back and not help these precious senior students, all so motivated yet mostly all so scared of the daunting process before them. 

College Resumes, Essays, Common App forms, Texas Common App forms (Can someone please explain to me why Texas feels we need our own separate common app?) -- you name it, we did it.

Honestly, I shake my head and sigh when I see all the additional hoops colleges have invented for these tired, nervous high school students to jump through since I was a high school senior applying to college.  My goodness!  College Admission people deflate all the air out of the ""Where am I going to go to college?" fun balloon, don't they?  I keep asking myself, "Do they really need to make it this difficult to apply to their school?"

Hopefully, those 5 class days were well spent, and now, I pray, some or all of those seniors can breathe a little easier at night, as most have moved much closer to being able to hit "send" on all those applications.

Meanwhile, we started week 3 of senior year, and are back to watching (reading) Beowulf kill the evil Grendel, and (soon, very soon), destroy Grendel's mama, too -- along with that pesky dragon that comes to ruin Beowulf's retirement plans years later.  As you know doubt remember, Beowulf is legendary in its ability to bore high school seniors across the Western Hemisphere to tears, and to cause them all to ask, "What in the world difference does this make to me?" So, I take it as my personal mission, my personal goal, to find a way to make this epic poem interesting and - dare I say it? - enjoyable for my students.  Perhaps I'll let you know later if I think I accomplished this feat of teaching...or not.

Besides teaching and doctoring, we are enjoying being with the 3/5 of the kids we have left at home, and trying not to be too sad about missing the older two who are away at college.  (Thank goodness for facetime and skype!  It always makes me feel so much better when I can see my Wheatie girl or my Aggie son on my computer or phone screen!)  Ruthie is a senior in high school this year.  I keep feeling like Steve Martin in the first "Father of the Bride" remake movie, looking at his grown daughter, but "seeing", in his mind's eye, a little girl with braided pigtails and bows.  I can't believe my little Ruthie is really going to graduate high school this year.  It just doesn't seem possible.  I'm enjoying getting to know the kids in her class - such sweet kids!  And, I'm also enjoying having Ruthie as a student!  What an honor.

Sam is just behind her as a junior.  He continues to revel in hanging out with his 10 or so best buds in his class.  Of all our kids, Sam definitely has enjoyed RVA the most, and I believe that is because of the wonderful young men in his class.  They have a bond like no other!  Sam is taking a videography class this year, and he loves it so far.  I'm thankful that RVA has so many great Art classes for Sam, as that is his passion. 

Little Desté grows more and more each day - he currently is making strides towards conquering his overwhelming fear of dogs.  His goal is to be able to go to his friends' homes - the ones who have dogs - by Christmas.  We'll see.  He's working on it!  Desté felt nervous about starting 1st grade - quite nervous.  But, he's taken to first grade like a fish to water.  He loves his teacher, absolutely adores her, in fact!  And, he is friends with every kid in class - they all get along so well together!  Tim and I are so thankful that Desté has adjusted so well to our family and his life here after all he's been through.  He does miss his Aunt Jeanne and his brother and sister on Idjwi - a lot.  Just the other day, he burst into tears, out of the blue, and said how much he missed them and wanted to go see them.  I'd love to be able to surprise him with a visit during a break this year - but it is kind of difficult for Americans to obtain visitor visas into Congo.  So, we'll be praying and working towards that.

So, nothing really insightful or deep this blog post, but wanted to at least write an update.  I'm trying to begin writing in here more regularly again - whether I feel inspired to say something profound or not.  Tonight was "not" - but at least now you have a picture of what's up here these days.

Feel free to comment or send us an email with your updates.  We love to hear from friends back home.  (

Sunday, August 28, 2016

John 3:16 and "Not my circus, not my monkeys"

 Well, hello there! 

I know, I've not blogged in ages.  Sorry about that. 

The problem with journals is, if you slack off for even a little time, the life stories keep adding up and adding up, stacking higher and higher in the writer's mind......causing said writer to procrastinate further due to the wrong belief that, "If I write now, I have to catch up on this, and this, and this......

Augh!  I will never have enough time to get caught up ...... or, maybe I will.....tomorrow.  Yes, I will do it tomorrow." 

Only, you know how that goes.  Tomorrow never, never comes.

So, today is the day that I wave the white flag of surrender to my perfectionistic thinking that tells me I have to chronicle every event in this blog.  I can't possibly catch up on our lives for the last year, except to say this:

We moved to Kenya.
 I teach senior English at Ruthie, Sam and Deste's school, Rift Valley Academy.
Tim is a professor of surgery with the PAACS surgery residency program at Kijabe Hospital.
Last year pretty much at our lunch.  Life was way too crazy, exhausting and -- oh, what an adjustment.

Tomorrow, school starts again for this year.  Our prayer is that we learn this year, through the to-do lists and busy schedules, how to discipline ourselves to live sane and healthy lives.  Burning the candle at both ends left us with no candle at all, and so our #1 priority this year is to trust God to show us what is essential and what is not, and to do the essential things, and let the rest slide.

Our relationship with Jesus is of course our #1 essential.  Without Him, nothing else matters and nothing else can be done with meaning.
#2 is time to invest in knowing each other.  We grow, we change, and yet.....if we don't keep spending time together each day (even a few minutes)......we end up feeling more like roommates or teammates rather than marriage partners.
#3 are the family relationships we have.  With 5 kids, my parents and siblings - that's a lot of people.
#4 are our jobs.

So, if you do pray for us and our ministry, our prayer request for this year is that we would go "back to the basics" and quit trying to be everything for everyone, but instead just rest in being God's children - and doing only what we are called by Him to do.

 So, what does this have to do with my post title? Well, I was meditating on this famous verse this morning, and thinking about how much I've taken for granted the fact that God the Father saw his people and knew we were without a prayer, without a hope, that we had HUGE problems we could not solve.  AND HE DECIDED TO GIVE UP HIS SON SO HE COULD FIX IT FOR US.
He knew the only way to help us out of our mess was to send his (one and only) son to save the day.......and He could have said, "Not my circus, not my monkeys", and would have been justified in saying so. 

We were the ones who chose our own way, who left God in the first place.  He could have just said, "Your problem.  Not mine.  You made your bed, now lie in it.  Goodbye.  Thanks for playing."

But he didn't.

Even though our problem, our huge, devastating, eternal nightmare problem was not God's problem at all.......even though we (the human race) had brought this problem on ourselves........God decided, out of LOVE for us, to make our problem His problem.  He decided to move heaven and earth to help us.  And to give his ALL to help us.  He didn't even spare his only son.  That's more than any parent can imagine being asked to give.

The World's coping mechanism system.  Kind of reminds me of Cain's famous line, "What?  Am I my brother's keeper?"


When I think of this, it not only fills me with gratitude, it also infuses me with a little less caution about guarding my priorities.  I've been focusing so much on how NOT to burn out, how NOT to become so exhausted, so depleted, so discouraged.......And Tim and I came up with our "plan" to be emotionally and spiritually healthy.  It basically involves building an invisible wall around our lives and saying NO to everything that isn't in our immediate circle of calling.

That's good and well......and I certainly need more of this - to remember I am fully human and cannot go and go and go and go and help and help and help and help without finally just imploding.

AND YET, it is also imperative to remember:  GOD GAVE HIS ONE AND ONLY SON.

God never says, "Not my circus.  Not my monkeys."

And, being one of those monkeys, I am SO glad he doesn't!

Does God want me to solve every problem that arises, everywhere and every time?  Of course not.  But might God call me his year to bear the burden of someone else?  To be a help to someone who needs love who officially is "not my circus, not my monkey"?  Yes.  I believe he might.

So, my quest this year is to LISTEN TO GOD'S VOICE, and not to harden my heart to the needs around me, even as I also try to rein myself in and safeguard my strength and time so that I have enough to give to my God and my family and myself.  Hardening my heart, resolutely saying "NO" every time, means I am trusting in my own strength to restore my tired heart.  I am depending on human methods to restore and refresh me.  "Just say NO" is the human mantra of how to protect ourselves. 

Yes, I do want to say NO a lot more often, I want to eradicate all I do that is not sent from Him, but I want to stay open to saying YES to anything He IS asking of me - because if He asks, I know it's good, no matter what. And if He asks, He will give me the strength and time to do it. 

So, prayers for our family this year?

  • Pray we adopt more God honoring boundaries around the time, money, relationships and energy He has given to us.  That I especially let God be God, and let me be just me. 
  • Pray we are used to bring His love and light to our areas of ministry. 
  • Pray our hearts would not be hardened to His voice as we seek to protect ourselves from exhaustion, but that we would have soft hearts towards Him and open ears to His voice. 
  • Pray that we can find a creative way to celebrate our upcoming Silver Anniversary (25!) this May 2 without spending too much money doing it.  (I know it's early, but the way time flies, we know we need to start planning now.)
  •  Pray for Deste's adjustment to 1st grade.  He's very nervous about going to school "all day", and doesn't know if he can survive it.  (Kinder was a half day program.) Pray also that he learns to read and can stay up with his class.  He is fiercely competitive and when he doesn't catch on to academic things, he becomes super discouraged.  He is very smart, but changing languages three times before age 6 put him rather behind on school type things.
  • Sam is entering his hardest year at RVA.  Junior year classes are tough, very tough - pray he can rise to the challenge, and yet still have time with all his buds.  Pray also for the time he invests teaching piano (Thanks, Verna Benham!).  He really loves his students and enjoys having a part time job.  Pray that God keeps using him and inspiring him in this area.
  • This is Ruthie's senior year.  She'll be a busy bee, applying to colleges (all Texas schools), taking SATs again, taking an online college class and participating in the many RVA classes and extra activities that make up senior year.  Pray for peace for her as she applies (decisions!  decisions!), pray for sizable financial aid to come in for college (we can always pray, right?),  and for God to direct her to HIS college choice - to just the right place for her.
  • Pray for our Aggie Son, Stephen, at (where else?) Texas A&M. He's thinking through possible career directions, and maybe changing majors, so needs lots of wisdom. Pray he gets the support he needs from someone local, since we the parents are 8,000 miles away. 
  • Hannah, our Wheaton English major, has just started classes and moved into a slightly larger dorm than she's had in the past. Wheaton does so many things so well - great classes, fabulous professors, delicious dining hall, beautiful campus. But their housing? Except for one large freshman dorm, the housing is a rollback to OUR 1970-1980 dorms, the kind we all suffered through. 😀Actually, her dorms have always been much worse than mine ever were. Think sardine can. With 4 students inside. There ya have it. Pray for Hannah - that she and her 3 dorm-mates can find creative ways to manage their limited space and to balance fun, "down time", and study time in a crowded situation - and also whether she will add another major (education) to her degree plan. 
  • Pray for Deste's biological siblings, Desange and Tubunduru, who still live on Idjwi island.  We were not aware that he had siblings when we adopted him, and we probably could never adopt them now.  We do pray for them, and send them to school and provide some support for food and clothing and such, although not nearly as much as we'd like.  Please pray for them, for health, for growth, for opportunities, and most of all, to know that they are loved by a God who never, ever says, "I'm too tired to help you, I am too overwhelmed.  I can't take anything else on." So thankful that we have a God of endless strength, endless love, endless caring.  Please pray that our mighty, magnifacent God will be an everlasting help to Deste's relatives on the Island of Idjwi.   
  • Please pray that two interns could be found - possible Business major or minor students and/or fashion design students - who would commit to spending 3-6 months in Kibogora, Rwanda, to befriend the Seka ladies, teach them, doing Bible studies with them, and setting up some systems (standardized purse making, shipping, 501c3 status, etc) so that Seka can become self sufficient eventually.  We really believe that Seka was a ministry that God called us to start, but if we don't get some tangible help in this way, we are unsure how much longer Seka can continue.  :( 
Thanks for reading.  Sorry this was so long.  I will TRY to update weekly so I don't need to write such long posts in the future.

We'd love to hear how you are doing!  Shoot us an email:

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Guest Post

I just checked our giving, and it looks like donations to our mission are down.  Yet, I also recently read a blog post by a man we follow named Simon Guillebaud, who has worked for many, many years in Burundi, a kind of "sister country" to Rwanda.  Burundi is now officially the poorest country on earth - not a great #1 spot to claim. 

Simon wrote about an opportunity to help a school that is making a significan positive difference in Burundi in his blogpost today.  "Discovery School" is in need of a new (used) school bus.  

I pray that anyone who still reads my blog - I've obviously lost many readers due to my lack of ever writing - will pray for Discovery School Burundi and will donate something, even $5, to their school bus fund.  

If you think you've got a tough row to hoe, simply google "Burundi", and you'll soon realize how blessed you are.  These are our brothers and sisters.  Please help if you can!  Thanks.  

Read Simon's post here: 

Simon's Post about Discovery School in Burundi

He has shown you
what is good, 
and what 
the LORD requires of you.
To act justly
To love mercy
To Walk humbly with your God. 

Micah 6:8