Monday, October 27, 2014


Life changes. And sometimes that means your blog title is no longer accurate. I am still adjusting to the reality that I am no longer "Lisette in Kenya", but God has been faithful and I am grateful for a fresh word and a new beginning.

There will be updates on very soon. Check it out.

And thank you for being a part of my life, wherever I am.

Friday, June 6, 2014


Over 75 years ago, a group of students from Asbury College (now University) were led by God to Kenya to share the story of the Gospel and the Hope of Christ. They arrived in Nairobi, then a small but growing railroad crossroads, and set out in search of a area that had not heard the story of the Gospel.
Their prayerful search let them west, into the land of the Kipsigis people. There they discovered a beautiful hillside that had been abandoned. Small caves on the hill overlooking a waterfall had been the site of a female circumcision camp and a number of the girls had contracted infections and died as a result. The Kipsigis considered the land cursed and in 1936 happily gave official permission for the missionaries, Robert and Catherine Smith, to build a mission station on this piece of prime property. 
Elah, a young girl who traveled to Tenwek with
her mother from Ghana for heart surgery
Photo credit: Hannah Veilling
As Robert began sharing the story of Christ with the people in the area, Catherine, a nurse, began ministering to their physical needs and very quickly saw the necessity for more help. The Smiths began asking World Gospel Mission to send a doctor. The next year another nurse arrived and then again the next year, another one. But it was not enough. They prayed for more help. 
Ten years later, in 1947, Edna Boroff brought not only her midwifery skills to Tenwek, but also laboratory training, greatly enhancing the diagnostic capabilities of this little rural clinic. (Fun fact: In her 40 years of service at Tenwek, Edna Boroff delivered over 20,000 babies and it is not unusual to hear the name Edna or Boroff in the community.)
But the still need was great and they prayed for more help. 
In 1959, Dr. Ernie Steury (also an Asbury graduate) arrived with his wife Sue and their young daughter Cindy. Twenty-two years after the Smiths first started praying and asking for a doctor, God answered their prayer. 
The little one-nurse clinic had transformed into an actual hospital. The original two buildings are still there today. They are so small that when Dr. Steury was operating on a patient and needed to work from the other side, he actually had to crawl under the table--there was no room to go around.
Faith, one of my Bible quizzers
In time, other doctors joined him. Soon, Tenwek began training Kenyan nurses and building more buildings. They began clinics in outlying communities.
In 1980, they began a community health outreach to teach about disease prevention. Today, Tenwek Community Health and Development is a model for programs around the  world.
Through it all, they have held true to the motto “We Treat, Jesus Heals”. The Hope of the Gospel has always been at the forefront of all they do. 
The current medical staff at Tenwek
Photo Credit: Hannah Veilling
Today, Tenwek is one of the largest mission hospitals in Africa. 

They treat 140,000 outpatients each year and admit another 14,000 for inpatient care. The nursing school is still here, and there is also a chaplaincy school.
Tenwek is now a training hospital for medical students. In the past ten years, they have added residencies for family medicine and surgery and are exploring the addition of even more.
Just a month ago, they broke ground for a new eye and dental building and plans are in the works for a women’s pavilion in the near future. (This one is particularly exciting, given the history of Tenwek's land.)
The story of Tenwek Hospital involves more people than we can count this side of heaven. There have been hundreds, probably thousands, of doctors who have come over the years, some for a few weeks, some for decades. Nurses, residents, medical students, teachers, community health workers, pastors, physical therapists, pharmacists, lab technicians have all played a role in the history of this fascinating place. 
And of course, there are the thousands of faithful who have never set foot in Africa, but have supported the work of Tenwek through prayer and finances from afar. 
Last night, I attended a dinner sponsored by Friends of Tenwek and listened to the list of exciting new projects and buildings in Tenwek’s future.
An aerial shot of the hospital, 2014
Photo credit: Samaritan's Purse
There is so much happening here. Seventy-seven years after World Gospel Mission missionaries first arrived in these beautiful green hills, we are still growing and responding to the medical and spiritual needs of the Kenyan people. It is an exciting time. I cannot wait to see what God has planned in the next five and ten years for Tenwek Hospital. 
However, that future will not involve me. Yesterday, as I was walking into the Friends of Tenwek presentation, I received the phone call I had been praying against for months: my work permit has been finally denied and there is nothing we can do to change it. 
I love the history of Tenwek, because I love the Tenwek community. I love being a very tiny part of this grand story, of God’s grace and His hand of healing in this land. I loved and embraced this story because I thought this would be my home and my land, too. 
I am still trying to wrap my mind around the idea of leaving permanently in just 8 days. It does not seem real. I keep thinking that something will change, God will open this door for me. Surely I will be back. But it seems that will not happen. We have explored every option, pursued every lead and God has, for reasons I don’t understand, said “no”. 
A particularly lovely spot on my morning hiking/running route
My heart is heavy. 
There is so much discussion about the future of Tenwek right now. New buildings, new missionaries, new training programs, all of which mean new MKs to teach. And I thought I would be here to see all that happen.
However, as a very wise friend reminded me today, “The last place you want to be is somewhere God does not want you.” 
I do not know why, but God is calling me somewhere else. I am looking at my options for next year and praying for clear direction for the road ahead (which is difficult when I can hardly bear to take my eyes off the rearview mirror). 

I would appreciate your prayers as well. Thank you for our love and support as I look to the next chapter in my story.

Saturday, March 1, 2014


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


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.

(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 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.