God is everywhere here, close to everything, next to everyone.
I have been in Nairobi for a month! I can't believe it. Time is going by so fast! So many words could be used to describe the past four weeks such as challenging, exciting, scary, lonely, fun, intense, freeing, amazing. Yes, I know some of those words contradict each other, but I'm on a great adventure with God 8,000 miles away from my family, friends, and my former home. So, like any good roller coaster, I get to experience both the ups and the downs.
A few of the highlights:
I know more Swahili than I did four weeks ago.
I can navigate myself (by foot) to a number of local shops.
I now know how to "top up" a prepaid phone.
I've survived 4 weeks without any TV!
I'm reading more than I did in America.
I met a couple from Nashville that's adopted me into their family.
I get my 10 cent bag of popcorn almost every day.
Fries are chips and chips are crisps.
I walk up 11 sets of stairs to my "3rd" floor room.
I bought a bike today. (Adventures to come!)
I'm a de-facto vegetarian.
I've reconnected with sweet Elizabeth, and we share oreos and the gospel.
All schools are not created evenly.
I've been sick-ish 3 out of 4 weeks I've been here.
I miss my family immensely.
I miss my friends from Memphis.
I miss accountability and community.
I miss my Sunday school class and those sweet babies.
I want some bbq nachos and a supreme snocone from Jerry's.
I really want a long warm hug.
8 hours is a huge time difference.
God's grace is so apparent here.
I have this huge desire to do something big here.
My trust in The Lord is growing.
My affections are kindled for these kids and this country.
My heart is here for the long haul
My desire for Jesus is bigger and greater.
I'm just getting started on this journey, and I'm so grateful for all the prayers and support. One month is nothing compared to a year, or even eternity. I'm grateful that The Lord has placed me in this spacious place, and I wait patiently for him to reveal His plan and His purpose for me here. God is here. He is everywhere.
This is Elizabeth. I've written about her before. She's one of the reasons I chose to live in Kenya. I love her as a sister and as a friend. She looks to me for wisdom and guidance (which I have none) and I look to her for courage and tenacity. God made my friend very beautiful both inside and out. If only she could see her beauty the way God does, and the way I do.
Every time I attempt to take a picture of Elizabeth, she quickly turns her head away from the camera. For every photo I have with her, there are 5 others where she is faced away from the camera. Yesterday, as we were sitting and talking, a fair-skinned African woman dressed in high-heels and a business suit walked by, and Elizabeth said "how can I look like her?" Assuming she was talking about the clothes, I said we could go shopping and "play dress up" one day. She responded, "No, not the clothes. Her skin. How can I make my skin like that?"
My heart sank. I looked across at this beautiful, vibrant young lady, and felt sad that she could not see how beautiful she was. This girl has a smile that lights up an entire room. A tall, slender physique that models would die to have. But most importantly a heart full of Jesus and full of love for others. "You're beautiful." I said. "Just the way you are. Don't you know you're fearfully and wonderfully made?"
She nodded, but I could tell she wasn't agreeing with me.
"You know you could be a model." I continued.
"Me, really? No one has ever called me beautiful. Why do you say that?" she asked in shock.
"Because it's true. Your creator made you unique and all of His creations are beautiful. You can't correct a masterpiece after the creator has finished his work. We are The Lord's masterpieces."
I small smile graced her face, as she thought of herself as a masterpiece from the greatest artist.
This reminded me of the influence of culture on our perception and stereotypes of beauty. And how those perceptions can travel overseas and across continents. I'm reminded myself of all the times I wished I were thinner, or my hair longer, or my skin lighter.
"No!" I hear God calling, "I formed you in my image and you are fearfully and wonderfully and beautifully made." I think of the deep blue oceans that God created, beautiful. The Grand Canyon reflecting hues of every color, beautiful. The rainbow spread across a rainy sky, beautiful. A summer sunset on the Mississippi River, beautiful. A tropical waterfall pouring into a blue abyss, beautiful. A great artist never makes any mistakes. Each creation unique, but crafted with the same intensity and effort. Each creation singing of the creator. Beautiful He made us. Beautiful we are.
A few days ago, I competed in my first international tennis tournament in Nairobi, Kenya, and I’m happy to say, I am undefeated in international play. However, this moment almost never happened. A few years ago, I quit tennis. I was absolute that I’d never compete in a tennis tournament again. I’d just lost a match in a local tournament and didn’t feel the drive and passion that I’d once had for the sport. For months, I didn’t step on a tennis court. I watched my dad and little sister continue to play, and sometimes I’d get the urge to join them, but my resolve to never play tennis again remained.
One day I heard a still small voice say to me, Don’t quit. This your gift.
I didn’t understand. How could this sport be my gift? I certainly wasn't gifted in tennis anymore at this point. I was overweight and out of shape, and I’d been on a losing streak since before I quit. And I had no desire to ever play tennis again. Who could I possibly share this gift with? Yet, the voice grew louder, and I couldn’t ignore it any longer. After months of not playing tennis, I joined a team and played competitively once again. Since then, I’ve played off and on, winning some and losing some, but now I know it was more than just competing in tennis that God was calling me towards.
In 2012, I traveled to Nairobi to teach tennis in the slum of Kibera. Tennis was just the vehicle The Lord used to allow me to travel to this country and meet these amazing people. Now as I call this place my home, I am so grateful for how God orchestrated this journey from the very first time I picked up a tennis racquet until now.
Every afternoon as we make the hike to Kibera, I hear the same still small voice urging me on: Don't quit. This is your gift. And when I’m surrounded by little, smiling faces, I realize I am the one receiving the gift, not giving it. This is a sweet gift of love and affection, a gift of unbridled joy and excitement, a gift of courage and bravery facing challenging conditions, a gift of unselfishness and humbleness, a gift that speaks volumes into my soul and brings light into my heart. I receive so much more from these kids than I could have ever imagined when I first stepped foot in Kenya 3 years ago. I thank God for this sweet precious gift that He has given me.
When I think about all the times I "quit" playing tennis, but heard God urging me forward, I understand it now. When he says, Don't quit. This is your gift. I press forward to receive the prize He is calling me towards.
I wish every post could highlight all the joy and fun I'm experiencing with the kids and the joy of playing and teaching tennis everyday, but unfortunately that is not always our reality. Last week, the sun didn't shine in Nairobi, and tragedy came knocking onto Sadili's gates.
Each day last week, the sun was hidden behind a multitude of clouds. At any moment it looked like the heavens would spill over in heavy downpours. The rain would come and go, but the sun never revealed her face. While I continued to enjoy my afternoons with the girls from Kibera, things around us began to fall apart. As I write this, it's been almost a week since we've had running water, our internet connection is all but gone, and I've caught a stomach bug that has me almost completely incapacitated. Still, we press on, every afternoon we are greeted with the smiling faces of our Kibera kids we've fallen in love with. Last week, I introduced them to bubbles and jumping games, relays and selfies. Their excitement is contagious, and it's a disease I'm happy to catch.
But as the clouds continued to roll over Nairobi, the bad news came in like an unwelcome visitor. One of the coach's, Richie, brother died on Saturday night. He was 24, and in seemingly perfect health before his sudden passing. Just the week before, I joked with Richie about going to the doctor when he said he'd never been to a doctor before in his life. Could his brother's life been spared had he visited a doctor more regularly? The doctors said he had anemia. In America, anemia is so easily treated.
On the night of his death, the first hospital refused to see him because it was so late in the night. Someone came out and looked at Richie's passed out brother and declared he was dead, go to the police. The police said he was alive, go to the hospital, so they went to another hospital. He received no care that night, and now he is dead.
My heart broke when I heard the harrowing tale to get medical attention for a dying man. It's tragic and sad, and my heart aches for a family that has to bury their second son in as many years. In their tradition, the brother has to be buried in his family's homeland of Kisumu. However, they do not have any money. Today Richie said that he's received a lot of "sorries," but sorry won't bury his brother, and now as the eldest brother he must shoulder the burden of responsibility for his family.
Alas, hope is not lost: "the sun comes up it's a new day dawning." Today for the first time in over a week, the sun is perched high and bright uncovered to reveal all her glory. The maintenance man has just given me the thumbs up that our water is running again (but I've gotten the same thumbs up several times), and my antibiotics have begun to kick in, and I'm feeling much better. And if you're reading this blog, then the internet is somewhat working :)
God is good even on cloudy weeks that bring tears and pain. He will always get the glory through our joyous moments and the sad ones too. He is sovereign, and we must trust His plan. My prayer is that Richie's brother's death will not be in vain, and can bring attention to the lack of access to healthcare for Nairobi's underprivileged. Please join me in prayer for Richie's family, and that they will raise the funds to bury his brother in Kisumu. And that God will give Richie the strength and wisdom to care for his family.
“Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”
Lamentations 3:22-23 NIV