Recalculating

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The last month has been hard. It’s been frustrating, complicated, and a time of questioning. 

Originally, as you probably know, I was supposed to be in Liberia by now, in the middle of the jungle, assisting with Amani’s Girl Club which focuses on keeping girls out of prostitution. For months I have been researching and mentally preparing myself for this exciting yet grueling opportunity. 

Have you ever been attempting to follow a GPS along a new route and then you miss a turn you never saw, moved into the wrong lane, etc and that dreaded word starts echoing in your car. Recalculating, recalculating, recalculating… (I have heard this quite often in my driving experience) It has to be one of the most frustrating sounds of the 21st century. 

I found out in the beginning of this month, approximately three days after my last blog post, that the possibility of getting to Yekepa was slim. Liberia is severely underdeveloped, and it is hard for me to wrap my American brain around the fact that what is keeping me from what was supposed to be my new destination comes down to transportation and other logistics. Instead I am currently recalculating.

Don’t get me wrong I have enjoyed my time in Nairobi immensely, but in the back of mind I have always viewed it as a temporary respite before I plunged into a hard core adventure. Instead of trekking through a rural village I navigate streets teeming with people, board a matutu, and bump my way along to work. Instead of the fresh air that I had been envisioning, I breath in the heavy pollution of the city. I think I have only seen the stars twice since I have been here. I was never a city girl and I don’t think I ever will be.

However, Nairobi offers so much and everyday I am learning more and more. My handful of Swahili words is slowly growing. I have the opportunity to meet people from all different types of backgrounds. Instead of gaining perspective from one context I am learning from Sudanese, Congolese, Indian, Ugandan, Kenyan, Somalian… I get to have dance parties with forty and fifty year olds complete with a disco light, Bollywood music, and a liberty to let loose. I get to continue to go to a church that I feel at home in. I continue to learn from a lady who started an international business after becoming a refugee herself.

The day after I found out that I most likely would not be going to Liberia, I found myself going in the wrong direction on the public transportation system. And I let myself get angry. Angry at the situation. Angry that I was still in Nairobi. Angry that I was not getting the chance to prove myself. Angry at God for not letting me know of his plans ahead of time. I was angry because I wanted to keep going on the route that I had punched into the GPS. Not this recalculating bit that was taking me where I did not want to go.

Now I find myself going down this new road, albeit reluctantly. I still feel waves of disappointment when I see a road sign that reminds of where I initially wanted to go.

The sun is shining in Nairobi today though. It is a new day and I honestly have no idea where I am headed. Some days I still get angry. Then I remember what I wrote about in my last blog and I laugh. I may have talked the talk but now I am being forced to walk the walk. 

Last weekend I attended the annual Amani retreat. The speaker talked about change. How change is never easy. How we always seem to view potential change as a negative experience. She talked about how it is easy to let yourself become a victim to change. I don’t think it was a coincidence. I was nervous to attend this retreat, but I was welcomed with open arms. It was a time of refocus and celebration.

Recently, I came across a proverb from Darfur that says something to the effect that a wise man (or woman) does not hide from the storm but learns to dance in the rain. There is so much to be thankful for and so much to rejoice over. It’s time to shake things up on the dance floor.

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Crawling Out

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“You must know His hand in the everyday and that, in the end, is how you will find your way.” – Jessica, HNGR intern in India

Days have merged into weeks and the weeks have seamlessly created a month. Then two months. Now I find myself a third of a way through a six month journey. In some respects it seems like I have been in Nairobi forever, taking my taxi into work, chatting with the women at the Amani cafe every morning, always finishing homework at the last minute, and having the pleasure of experiencing blossoming relationships with all different types of people. On the other hand I have no idea where the last month has gone. Trying to recall the events, the emotions, the moments that give me joy, and the moments that are painful have all culminated into a great big stew where it is hard to pick out all of the individual ingredients.

Currently, I find myself in a strange position with my orientation with Amani Kenya almost at a close but my journey to Liberia not yet started. Initially I expected to be in Liberia by now with my “real” internship underway. Instead I am still in Nairobi with no official word on when I am leaving. It has been somewhat frustrating being in place with no defined role, yet at the same time the thought of leaving grows harder and harder. Relationships have been made, a church has become “my” church, and the modern conveniences that Nairobi offers are becoming more and more apparent, especially the more I hear about Liberia. 

It is so easy to get caught up in things like this. To withdraw from my context and to forget the big picture. Back in January when I attended Passion I was battling feelings of fear at the thought of doing HNGR. Fear sometimes has the tendency of creeping in through the cracks unnoticed in small increments, until one day you realize that your joy is gone. The speakers at Passion somehow triggered a recognition of how petty my fears were and the extent to which they had captured my imagination and held captive my trust in the Lord. It was there that I realized that HNGR was not about me. It is not about what I get from all of this or even how uncomfortable my situation may be. It is about the God who so lovingly created each one of us and who has His hand over all of our journeys whether that is teaching elementary school in Mississippi, about to start school in the fall, taking care of little ones at home, or going to the same workplace for the thirtieth year in a row. I think that might be one of the most overwhelming parts of this trip. That it doesn’t matter where I am or what I am doing. What matters is that God is there waiting for me to crawl out of myself into a life that celebrates His workmanship and His joy. It provides for a much more exciting life than always being concerned with how everything is affecting me.

A Volcanic Revelation

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At 5’3, I am on the smaller side of average, and if you know my brother he is 6’6. He is also two and a half years younger than I am, so I have always been a little defensive about my respective size. I absolutely hate being thought of as weak, as many people automatically make that assumption when they meet me. In my fallen state, it is a bit of a pride issue that I tend to ignore, but this past weekend it pretty much hit me slap in the face in a wave of dust and incredible scenery.

There are two other awesome interns (working for World Harvest)  living with me at the Mutuuki’s and they invited me to go with their team to Mt. Longonot. Mt. Longonot is a dormant volcano that people come from all over to climb up and then around the crater for a total of about 14 km. I have never really climbed a mountain before and didn’t think much about it. In fact for breakfast I ate only a piece of toast. Needless to say it didn’t take long before that piece of toast disappeared and I was being pulled up the mountain by a guide named Edmond. How embarrassing. In one of the steeper parts as he was tugging me along he started talking about politics and it was all I could do to utter something in response. Talking about Obama, while trying not to faint, was not exactly high up on my priorities, but Edmond was really gracious and just said that maybe I’ll be the first female president.

When we got to the top of that first climb, I thought I might cry it was so beautiful and because I was so tired. We ate lunch though and after that I was a new person. It was a long hike around the crater and up to the tallest peak, but being in the sunshine and out of the city was incredibly refreshing. It also helped that the people I was with were incredibly kind and understanding. We even saw a giraffe out in the “wild”.

That experience was a great reminder of how I should be more dependent on God. If I left myself to my own devices I would be struggling at the base of a mountain. Letting God pull me up though means I get to see the beauty of life in ways I could never have imagined.

at the top, dirty but incredibly satisfied

at the top, dirty but incredibly satisfied

 

the inside of the now dormant volcano- incredibly beautiful

the inside of the now dormant volcano- beautiful

 

Oh My Soul

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I have watched Michael Jackson dance the iconic Thriller. Seen how Shakira’s hips don’t lie. Witnessed the pinnacle of adolescent angst at prom. However, none of those quite compare to my  Kenyan host dad, who happens to be a pastor, “change the lightbulb” while dancing in front of the praise team this morning during church. It was one of the most delightful moments I have experienced in quite some time.

I know I mentioned the church I have been attending in my last blog post, but I can’t help but attempt to share some of the joy that New City Fellowship has inspired in my soul. It is so easy to find oneself in the routine of church: attend most Sundays, sing through the songs you know by heart while your mind wonders to your plans for the rest of the day, congratulate yourself when you make it to the occasional Sunday evening service, etc. Maybe it’s just me that often loses sight of the celebration that everyday should be, but especially Sunday morning. God has graciously been using New City Fellowship to remind me of that.

This Nairobi church is made up of predominately of Kenyans, Indians, and ex Pats, and one of it’s core values is racial reconciliation. Embracing the complicated tensions of class, race, and assumptions of the “other”, New City strives to heal the rift of racial divide in the name of Jesus. During worship we sing in Hindi, Swahili, English, and another Indian language called Gujarati. And it is a celebration. One of the English songs we sung today was Matt Redman’s, Bless the Lord (10,000 Reasons), and one special three year old voluntarily sang it again tonight. It was a good reminder that we all have something to be grateful for, the abundance of God’s love that meets us in all circumstances. Let me be singing when the evening comes.

This isn’t the same three year old that sang for us tonight, but how sweet is he?

Honeymoon

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The past few days have been an absolute whirlwind, but now I am settled in with a cup of black current tea, a stomach full of Ethiopian food, and the nagging effects of jet lag. Happily, I am very much in the honeymoon stage of everything (except the traffic). I cannot speak highly enough of the people I have met here in Nairobi. They rival my southern roots with their exceptional warmth and hospitality. At the Amani center all the women greet you with a hug and a kind hello. I can’t wait to put up some pictures of the beautiful grounds of this secluded paradise. Of course I have had many moments of feeling like a dumb mzungu (white person), but everyone has been extraordinarily patient when, for instance, I go into the export office saying I am there to work in the distribution center. Or when someone does point me in the right direction, I find myself frozen in uncertainty in mounds of colorful fabric and bustling women.

I also learned that sleeping pills shouldn’t be taken at five in the morning.

With that being said, I have witnessed the beauty that comes from living in such a diverse city, and I have had the pleasure of worshipping in Swahili, Hindi, and English.

When I think what six months actually means, I have to take a step back and just appreciate each day for what it is. Day by day, step by step. By doing this, so far, each day has been filled with mostly positive and happy moments, a honeymoon if you will, even amidst the craziness of being uprooted half way around the world.

Mild Taste of Nairobi Traffic

Mild Taste of Nairobi Traffic

Diving Board Jitters

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A major theme other HNGR students have been discussing is walking in faith or “getting out of the boat” like Peter. With that in mind, all I could think about when I arrived at the airport was the feeling I had when I jumped off the diving board for the first time at the community pool. The last day of swim lessons all the parents would come watch us swim probably a quarter of a lap and then the grand finale- jumping into the deep end. I remember inching closer and closer to the end and then forcing myself to jump off. At a birthday party a few years later, friends of mine convinced me I could learn to dive from that very diving board. I am far from graceful, but I attempted it and to my great dismay landed flat on the water. The life guard gave me a standing ovation, and told me it was the greatest belly flop he had ever seen.

As my plane was taking off I felt like I had the first time I got on the diving board, slowly inching myself towards the edge, and I was most afraid of doing another great big belly flop. God has been good, and by probably the third hour of my travels I was feeling better. I arrived in Kenya around midnight (I think), and have been welcomed with open arms. The Amani center is BEAUTIFUL. It’s tucked into a nook of the city, a small piece of paradise amidst the business. The ladies of Amani are extremely friendly, and I am excited to be here for  a little while.

Peace be with you.

Wide Open Spaces

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When I was five years old, the Easter bunny gave me two tickets to see this country singer, who I thought was the greatest musician ever. Probably no one knows him anymore, but his name was Clay Walker. And I was obsessed. However, the highlight of that night was not that crooning cowboy. Instead it was a group of three blondes called the Dixie Chicks. They rocked my five year old world. I still remember the pants lead singer, Natalie Maines wore. I had never seen anything like them. Every color imaginable was represented in a myriad of bright shiny fabric, impossible to miss, and a little to reminiscent of Dolly Parton. Clay Walker was quickly replaced with my new female heros. The Spice Girls? Britney Spears? No way. I was a Southern child through and through and my inspiration was the Dixie Chicks.

One of their most famous songs, Wide Open Spaces, continues to be one of my all time favorite anthems. Just in case some of you have never heard this song (although I can’t possibly imagine why) here it is:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dom7VlltBUc

The nineties hair and cheesy hair aside, this song is still one of my favorites. It was this song that first triggered and articulated the free spirit that I have buried down somewhere. But never have I indulged it to the extent I am about to. For those of you who don’ t know I am headed out on this little journey to Nairobi, Kenya and Yekepa, Liberia for six months. My emotions are as varied as the colors I saw on Natalie Maines’ pants. At once feeling terrified at the extent to which I will most likely discover my incompetence, I am oh so excited to find the light that God places in all circumstances and in all places. He has truly orchestrated the past few months, genuinely giving me a sense of awe at how BIG He is and how small I am. 

Finding the Light, is my attempt to record the joy that comes in the morning.

I am so excited to share my journey through Wide Open Spaces with you.