Saturday, March 1, 2014

Snapshots




I have been incredibly lax about updating my website. There are several reasons. Internet here had been very spotty recently, busy classes, etc, etc, but mostly, I struggle to know what to to write on here.

It seems like I should have plenty to talk about. I live in rural Africa, right? My life is full wild adventures involving elephants and Masai warriors, right? Not really.

My daily life is incredibly mundane. I go to school every day and teach kids; how many of you get online to read about a typical teacher’s day in the classroom? No one, not even teachers, would do that.

However, much has happened since I last posted at Thanksgiving. (Thanksgiving!!) So here some snapshots of the past few months.





Here at Tenwek, we have many Christmas traditions. Caroling up at the hospital, decorating the children’s ward. But few are as sacred as the gingerbread building bonanza. It is a wild morning filled with candy, sticky icing fingers, and hyped-up kids, but it's a treasured, time honored tradition.



No, this is not Mt. Kilimanjaro. Those are the Alps. And, no, you aren't confused. The Alps are not in Africa. I had the chance right after Christmas to head up to Germany to spend a few days with my cousin and his family, who were there visiting his in-laws. It was beautiful and cold and completely different than any of my other European adventures. 



This Noah, one of my second graders. I walked into math class one and he was sitting in my chair, grinning. I told him that if he was going to sit in the teacher’s chair, he would have to teach us something. So he did a quick (and impressive) demonstration of how to draw a crayfish. Not too shabby for a spur-of-the-moment art lesson, is it?




These are more of my second graders. We made rockets in science class and attempted to launch them (at least a foot or two) use little film containers filled with baking soda and vinegar. I have done it before and had it work. It did not work this time, but they loved making the rockets, complete with the loading docks (their idea, of course).




In January, we launched our new season of Bible Quizzing at Bethesda Africa Gospel Church. Mike and Pam Chupp have organized it for years and now we have 250 kids studying the book of 1 Samuel. My team (whom I have yet to remember to photograph) chose to be called “King David’s Conquerors” and so far it has fit: we are undefeated! In addition to the 200-something kids from the Tenwek community who meet every Sunday afternoon, we have a satellite group based at Mosop School about twenty minutes from us. Mosop is a mission school that serves orphans and the children of Africa Gospel Church missionaries. They were interested in being a part of the Bible Quizzing competition, but were situated to far away to participate in the Tenwek quizzes. So they invited two other public schools nearby (Chebole and Kamerieto) to compete with them. Every Friday afternoon, another missionary and I travel out and visit Mosop, Chebole, and Kamereito and meet with the coaches and kids. It’s been fun and a great way to get involved with other schools. 


Also, it's totally normal to have cows in the school yard here in Kenya. Occasionally, we even have them wander past the Tenwek MK School door. Here at Mosop School, they are a constant presence.



When I returned to Tenwek in September, I was disappointed to discover that one of my favorite spots down by the river, a nice rock overlooking the waterfall, had been plowed up to create a garden, thus destroying the lovely thick brush that shielded it from the nearby walking path. The rocks is still there, but my early morning retreats are not so quiet and peaceful when I am in full view of everyone walking up the hill to work. I have had to search out a new early morning location makes me less of an object of curiosity and have found a (relatively) uncrowded path behind my house. If I make it out early enough, I get views like this.



I love MKs for many, many reasons. Reason #237: They make their own tiki torches (splitting their own sticks and creating a light from--I think--an old sock, saw dust and lighter fluid). Then they knock on your door late at night to show it off.



Why I love MKs #238: Sometimes you have to settle arguments over who actually gets to take the chameleon home. (A strange conversation to have because these guys are all over the place. We are hardly running short on chameleons.) Also, they make faces like that. And this.


And this. (Made during chai time with their pretzels.)




A few weeks ago, I took a matatu (a taxi) into Bomet, the nearest town to get a few things and spend some time off the compound. Guess what I found in the tiny bookstore? Yep, that’s my dad’s book. 




I also found a lady with this car. I never did understand if she was buying this many mangoes or selling. Either way, I was tempted to hijack the car.



This is my new house (or, more accurately, apartment). Before Christmas, I had been living in a (real, non-apartment) house that actually belonged to a family on furlough. Once they got back, housing shifted around and I ended up back here, in my old place. It's a little more worn than when I left in 2008, but I still love it. 


I am working on another post about a visit to a tea factory, but it may be a while--it took me three days of intermittent internet access to get all these pictures uploaded and formatted correctly. But it's coming soon!




Thursday, November 28, 2013

Thankgiving

Because it's Thanksgiving, here are nine things for which I am everlastingly thankful.

1. My students. They are not without challenges, to be sure, but they are funny, creative, enthusiastic, and incredibly sweet. They make it fun to go to work every day. 




2. My Family. Without their love and support, I would not be the person I am today. Celebrating holidays without them is difficult, but somehow, knowing that they are still gathering, celebrating, laughing, and telling stories makes it easier. As I have interacted this week with a young girl whose mother wants to send her to an orphanage because she does not feel she can care for her any more, I am intensely grateful for parents and an extended family who have always loved me. 



3. Modern Technology. I may be an ocean away from friends and family, but I love being able to see pictures of my cousin’s newborn baby girl, read the latest journal entries from my friend’s kindergarten-age daughter, download the latest sermon from my home church, check out the art exhibit my art teacher friend has posted, and chat with my brother about his paper on St. Augustine (which, by the way, he will be presenting at a conference in Athens, Greece in the spring. Not that I am bragging or anything.). Facebook may have it’s disadvantages, but I can only imagine what William Cary or David Livingstone would think of being able to read status updates from friends on four different continents, all in one place, instantly. For global nomads, that is nothing less then miraculous. I bet Mark Zuckerberg has no idea what a blessing he has been to missionaries who live thousands of miles away from family and friends. 


4. The Beauty of Africa. I often catch myself humming “For the beauty of the earth, for the glory of the skies. . . “ as I hike in the mornings. There are no words to describe the landscape around here. 





5. My classroom. It’s an eclectic mix of supplies and books that people have brought and/or left behind over the years and I love it all. We have more classics in this room than some libraries do.



6. Music. When people ask me what kind of music I like, I have a hard time answering. I like it all. I am especially grateful this week for the talent and beauty of the Kenyan choir who sang Tuesday night. Thanksgiving services don’t get much better than this.

video

(I could not find a way to upload a simple audio file, so I--rather haphazardly--
scanned through my iPhoto library and created a slideshow of things for
which I am thankful to accompany the music. There are pictures of people, places,
images, and experiences that I have loved over the past year.)


7. My Supporters. I have said it before and I will say it again: I am a missionary because they are, too. They just play a different role. I am here, teaching in Kenya, because they are faithful to the work God is doing here.


8. Warmth. As I look at friends’ pictures of snow in Michigan, Kentucky, and even flurries in Georgia, I am glad to be here. Early morning hikes may be a bit nippy (as in the low 60's) and the afternoons often rainy, but overall, I cannot imagine more beautiful weather.



9. The Unpredictability of life. As one very wise person pointed out, we make lots of lists and goals detailing the things we want out of life. Thank goodness God did not give me the life I had planned out for myself. I could never have imagined here, in rural Africa, miles away from family on Thanksgiving Day. I could never have imagined the places I have visited and the people I have gotten to know over the past few years. I am unspeakably grateful the Lord has given me infinitely more than I could have asked for.


Saturday, October 26, 2013

Turn! Turn! Turn!: Change is for the Byrds*

During my time at Tenwek back in 2006, a missionary mom made a passing comment (which she probably does not even remember) that I have pondered periodically for the last seven years.

We were planning regular prayer/fellowship meetings for missionaries here on the compound and one younger mom proposed that each family take turns babysitting the kids. So every month or so, one family would be responsible for child care and thus miss the prayer meeting. 

One of the moms of older kids spoke up and declined to participate. Her kids were old enough to take care of themselves and she felt fine leaving them at home without adult supervision. “I missed a lot of meetings in the past to take my turn with the kids,” she explained. “But my kids are older now and that season of my life is over.” 

I was young then and had not given much thought to the different seasons of life, but I do now. (Granted, I like to think I am not that much older, but do have a little more life experience than I did when I first moved overseas seven years ago.) 

In case you cannot make out the words, it says: "Dear Miss Lewis,
I'm sad that your leaving. I want you to stay at LCA to be the art techer.
I will be heart broken when you Leave." And there are lots of pictures of
broken hearts, as well as a picture of that student crying, and quite
insightfully, a picture of me smiling and crying.
I am mulling over that thought as I settle into life back at Tenwek.

I have just left a particularly wonderful season behind me. I loved my job at Lexington Christian, my coworkers, my students, and my bosses. I even loved subbing this past year and the chance to see kids in different environments and interact (however briefly) with teachers I hadn’t really known well before. 

I loved my winsome and uninhibited roommates. I loved our little brick house with the massive backyard, sunny kitchen, and cheerful blue living room. I loved the unpredictable scenarios and accompanying laughter that became the hallmark of our lives in that home. 


But, as hard as it is for my mind to grasp, that season of my life is over. My wonderful and winsome roommates have moved onto to other seasons of their own. One has moved to different part of town with another friend and the other two roommates will soon shift to a smaller apartment downtown. Before long, someone else’s family will sit in our sunny kitchen and (I hope) laugh in the cheerful blue living room. 

Today, I sit in a different living room, on a different continent, having just bid a good day to a new roommate I didn’t know until after I moved in. In some ways, I feel at home here at Tenwek, but the truth is, this is not a return to a previous season of my life. It’s a whole new one. There are changes here at Tenwek, beyond the new paint jobs, updated wi-fi, and renovated buildings. 
My new porch (or more accurately, the porch of the house
where I am living until January when the family who actually
lives here returns from the U.S.)

There are so many new faces and new kids to learn. New challenges and new curriculum. (Guess what, guys? I am teaching Latin!) Friends from five years ago are no longer here to lend a listening ear and I have to fight the habit to take the sidewalk to my old apartment. (Someone else lives there now and might be a little startled if I were to walk in and toss my keys on the table.) With the plethora of new families comes an even greater number of expectations and relational dynamics and I have yet to get a grasp on how to understand all of them. (Notice I did not say satisfy all of them. And, yes, I am very aware some of the moms can and probably will read this blog post.) 

I am very aware that my move to Tenwek seven years ago came on the heels of a particularly difficult season. As much as I loved my friends in Virginia Beach, I never really settled in or harbored any notion of staying very long in that area. I hated my job and was never really attached to my apartment. Coming here was such a welcome change, and while there were certainly challenges, rebuilding my life in the middle of rural sub-Saharan Africa seemed down right relaxing compared to the job I had dragged myself through for the past ten months. 

Left to Right: Ashley, Lydia, Wil and Luke in 2006
My season at Tenwek in 2006-2008 was a breath of fresh air. The season that began three weeks ago will be different. I am leaving behind a life that I could have happily lived for much longer, not escaping from one I was desperate to leave. 

Thankfully, while I anticipated a particularly rough transition, things have been smoother than I thought. (However, I have to confess that during the first flight from Atlanta to London, I made the mistake of watching a TV show about four wacky roommates and, consequently, had a very tearful and probably poorly-concealed pity party as I thought about the roommates I was leaving behind. If the very nice and reserved British couple who sat next to me happen to read this--and wouldn’t that be the coincidence of the century!--I apologize if I made you uncomfortable. Sometimes a girl just needs to cry.)
Left to Right: Luke, Wil, Elizabeth, and Ashley

So, while I miss my roommates terribly, and am a little bummed when I come home from work and realize, once again, that they are on another continent and not hanging out in the living room or fixing dinner in the kitchen, I am adjusting. 

For good or ill, we were not created to dwell in one season forever. As I contemplate the blessings and challenges I have left behind and look at the ones I am currently facing, I realize I am not alone in my ponderings. As it turns out, people have been thinking about these kinds of things for centuries.


There is a time for everything,
    and a season for every activity under the heavens:
    a time to be born and a time to die,
    a time to plant and a time to uproot,
    a time to kill and a time to heal,
    a time to tear down and a time to build,
    a time to weep and a time to laugh,
    a time to mourn and a time to dance,
    a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,

    a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
    a time to search and a time to give up,
    a time to keep and a time to throw away,
    a time to tear and a time to mend,
    a time to be silent and a time to speak,
    a time to love and a time to hate,
    a time for war and a time for peace.

What do workers gain from their toil? I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. 
Ecclesiastes 3:1-11

“The fatal metaphor of progress,” G. K. Chesterton once said, “which means leaving things behind us, has utterly obscured the real idea of growth, which means leaving things inside us”.  (I know have used that quote before, but it bears repeating.)

As I think about all the changes in the world around me, it is easy to forget the most important changes are those that happen in our own hearts and minds. God gives us different seasons, not just for the sake of change, but because He always has a purpose and that purpose is always to draw us closer to Him.

It seems God has given me a season to uproot from that little brick house in Kentucky and now is the time to replant myself here in Kenya. I know I cannot fathom all the reasons for the changes, but I am grateful for the assurance that He will make it all beautiful in His time. 


*One hundred points will be awarded to the first person to correctly identify the inspiration for the blog post title. Please note that the points mean absolutely nothing.


Thursday, August 22, 2013

Big News

Because it's almost my birthday and I am almost entering a new decade of life and I am definitely far too tired to find a creative new way to say what I have said to roughly 1,471 people in the past 10 days . . . I am simply posting the link to my latest newsletter so you can know what's going on in my life.*

Big changes.

Big move.

Big decisions, and a million and four tiny ones that have left me brain dead (and mostly unable to compose an acceptable blog post) at the end of the day.  

I am exceedingly thankful we serve a bigger God. Glory to God. 


*This newsletter was just sent out earlier this evening. If you would like to be added to the mailing list, let me know at Lisette.Lewis@wgm.org. This is likely (I hope) the only time I will post my newsletter here. I strive to have different things to say in newsletters than I do on my blog, but the news of my impending departure needed to be told both places and I did not have the creative capacity to share it two different ways. 

Friday, August 9, 2013

Humility and Community

I hate asking for help. It’s a character flaw and not something of which I am particularly proud, but a trait that has become more obvious as I have gotten older.

I suspect it stems, at least in part, from growing up as the only girl with four brothers, all of whom are taller and bigger than me. I was very aware of my general inferiority when it came to physical strength and, in the spirit of sibling rivalry, I was determined not to let anyone know I needed help with anything. 

(All together now: “Anything you can do, I can do better, I can do anything better than you. . .”)

But whatever the root reason, it’s a flaw that remains to this day. I love being independent. I love doing things on my own, finding my own way. I know it’s vanity and pride. I like to think I am being selfless, not to ask others for their time and resources. I don’t want to burden anyone else, I think. But the truth is, I just like the idea of being able to do something without help. Like a two year old determined to put on her own shoes, I enjoy the satisfaction of saying “I did it”. (Real life fact: Missionaries are not always super-mature.) 

This is a serious detriment when it comes to raising support. (Kind of like when the two- year old puts her shoes on the wrong feet.) Sometimes I think that God called me to be a missionary because I needed the exercise, every day, of depending on others for my most basic needs. It is nothing if not an exercise in humility--and I am woefully out of shape.

However, several years ago, I had a major revelation in the middle putting my couch on a moving truck. I was carrying one end and my friend Jason was on the other, walking backwards up the loading ramp. Looking across those green cushions at Jason’s face, I realized asking for help is not a sign of weakness; in fact, when you have others helping, it makes you stronger. I could never have lifted that couch on my own. 

We all hit our limit somewhere; there are things I cannot do by myself. That's why God created this beautiful thing called community. We need each other.

Trying to shove that couch up the ramp without anyone helping would hardly show off my strength--it would be a ridiculous and cringe-worthy display of obstinate stupidity that, in the end, would probably just damage the couch (and my back). When we are willing to let our friends and family pick up that other end, we are able to do things we could never even imagine on our own. Acknowledging our own weaknesses actually makes us stronger.

So thank you for picking up your end of my ministry at the Tenwek MK School. I am truly grateful--and humbled--by your financial and prayer support. And that’s a good thing.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Home or Something Like It

I have been away for almost a month, down in Georgia, where I grew up. I spoke at a few churches, met lots of wonderful people, reconnected with some old friends, sprayed weed killer on approximately 382 poison ivy plants in my parents woods, played games with my family, and helped with a six-family yard sale in my aunt’s front yard. 

Last Wednesday night, for my last hurrah before I drove back to Kentucky Thursday, I spoke to a wonderful crowd of people at Trinity United Methodist, in the fellowship hall where I have eaten Wednesday night dinners for roughly twenty five years of my life. There is nothing quite like talking to people you love in a place you love about a ministry you love. It was good to be home. 

Thursday, I left my home in Georgia and returned to my home in Kentucky. I don't quite understand this peculiar ability to have more then one "home", but I am making peace with that.


_____________________________________


By Friday morning, I was standing on our back deck in Kentucky, sipping coffee out of my favorite mug and watching the sunlight as it spread across the backyard. Our house faces east, so early in the morning, our backyard is shrouded in shadow. The sun starts on the back fence and slowly creeps toward the house, illuminating the still-wet grass and garden with shimmering sparkles. It’s a lovely thing to watch as my brain emerges from sleep-fog.

A few hours later, I sat at our kitchen table, talking with my roommates. We covered topics ranging from mundane details of my trip to the complexities of human nature and the profound struggles involved in making major life choices that are outside the norm and perhaps not understood by everyone we love. We laughed, cried, and laughed until we cried, all within the span of about thirty minutes. It may sounds like an emotional reunion, but it’s actually just a normal day in this house full of women. 

Then I headed out to a friend’s house to watch her two little girls for a few hours. I had not seen them in almost a month and was greeted with warm hugs and an effusively verbal five-year-old’s summary of life since I had left and questions about my trip, my family, and my hat. (In contrast, when I asked her two-year-old sister how she was doing, I got a thumbs up.)

Yesterday morning, as I was walking into the sanctuary at my other church, I felt a tug on my hair. I knew before I even turned around that an joyful, goofy Puerto Rican man was standing behind me, grinning. I was right. After the service, I hugged friends (including the goofy Puerto Rican man and his family), told them about my meetings in Georgia, and heard about all their summer adventures so far. 

It is good to be home.

_____________________________________


Mt. Hood, Oregon
I travel a lot. In the past year, I have spent months on the road, all my essentials packed into the back of my trusty old Jeep, but, in the end, I come home to this life, full of familiar people, sticky-sweet hugs, predictable pranksters, peaceful decks, and perfectly sculpted coffee mugs. It’s comfortable, it’s wonderful, and, by the Grace of God, it’s mine. 

In a few months, all that will change. I will be on the road again--or more specifically, in the air. And I will not be coming back. As I settle once more into the rhythm of Wilmore life (at least for this week), that is hard to wrap my mind around. 

For this world is not our permanent home; we are looking forward to a home yet to come. 
Hebrew 13:14

One day, I will move for the last time and I will truly be home. I am so grateful. Until then, I am packing that coffee mug. 

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

On Waiting

Sometime late last fall, I gave up hope of any more warm weather, admitted the inevitable, and begrudgingly packed up the shorts and t-shirts and pulled out the suitcase that held my winter clothes. I was perplexed when I pulled out only a few sweaters. I dug through some more suitcases, checked some boxes under the bed. Where were the rest of my winter clothes? 

Suddenly, I remembered. Last spring, as we were shifting things around in our house--one roommate was getting married and leaving, I was moving into her old bedroom upstairs, and two new roommates were moving in--I had given most of my warmer clothes away. I wasn’t going to need them anymore because I would be in Kenya before winter came, anyway. (I consoled myself with the thought that, because I had kept mostly black/gray sweaters, at least my clothing would reflect my feelings about the cold weather.)

[Seriously, where would you rather go for a hike? In this freezing, colorless park or…


Castlewood Park, across the street from my old house in Lexington, my first winter back in the U.S.


In this gorgeous land full of warmth and sunshine? Is there really any question?]
Near Sharkertown, KY

And yet here we are, another winter come and gone, and warm weather is here…and so am I.

As most of you are aware, I have been in the process of raising money for almost two years. In April 2011, I was accepted into the Missionary Discipleship program with World Gospel Mission. That summer, I sent out my first newsletter.

My goal was to teach one more year at LCA and work on finding ministry partners and be in Kenya by fall 2012. 

In September 2011, I attended a seminar at WGM’s headquarters in which they told us that raising the funds and working with ministry partners was a full-time job. It wasn’t just about Sundays and Wednesday nights. Being a missionary is full-time--it doesn’t matter if you are here in the U.S. or on the field.

I remember thinking, “Well, I know that is true. . .but I already have a full-time job.” In fact, in addition to teaching full-time, I ran an after-school art club several days a week and planned and taught a Wednesday night kid’s class at a church downtown. 

I knew I needed to be talking to people, contacting churches, but when? When I came home dead-tired at 8 pm after an 11 hour work day? Or the day I got home early and really needed to work on the examples for art club the next day? Do I tell my cousin that I can’t help her with wedding stuff so I can call ministry partners? Or skip the chance to go out to dinner with friends I will miss terribly so I can catch up on emails? 

The result? I made very little progress. But I turned in my resignation to LCA, determined that, come summer, I would make up for lost time and be ready to head to Kenya by fall 2012. I had every week booked. Kids camps, camp meetings, churches. And I had a wonderful time, meeting new friends, traveling to some really lovely places, and sharing my heart about Tenwek Hospital and the MKs I love so much.  In the end, I wasn’t that much closer to my goal. 

So at the end of the summer, I let the school know I would be available to sub when I was in town, which, in the fall, wasn’t much. I spent most of September in Oregon, sharing with churches and groups out there. October was spent with a beautiful friend who was dying of cancer. After Mari’s death, I spent some time back home in Rome, GA in November. . .and then the holidays came. (Does anyone ever know where the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas go?)

And here we are again, at the end of another school year. I am almost half way to my goal. Has it been a long road? Yes. Am I tired of talking to people about money? Yes? Do I just want to be in Kenya? Absolutely. But the truth is, if God still has me here, there must be a reason. 

About a year ago, in a sermon, I heard a quote from pastor and writer Mark Batterson: “"God wants you to get where God wants you to go more than you want to get where God wants you to go." I have thought about having that tattooed on my right arm. (Just kidding, Mom!) It has solved a great deal of anxiety over the past months. Because if I am praying, searching, and trying my best to obey what God is telling me, it must be that the place God wants me to go, for time being, is a little brick house in Wilmore, KY. 

I am called to the Tenwek MK School. And I still hope, pray, and trust, that God will open the right doors and hearts so I can be there in the fall. (Is God opening your heart to be a part of this ministry? Follow this link to partner with me financially.) 

But until then, I can be content here, knowing that just because I have a calling to Kenya doesn’t mean I can’t have a purpose here in the U.S., too. My ministry isn’t confined to a little schoolroom in rural Africa. 

It’s right here, right now.

Is God preparing your heart for something. . .but you are still waiting for it?
Send me an email or leave a comment. I'd love to pray for you!