When I first moved to Kenya, I was tired all the time. Partly because I was recovering from a sinus infection and partly because of the high altitude. I would get winded walking even the shortest of distances. The one mile hike to kibera seemed like a marathon, and I’d barely be able to even stand when I got there. Getting up to my room was a task for sure, walking up the 11 flights of stairs, I’d have to stop midway and by the time I got to the top, I was exhausted. My stamina was limited, and I wondered if I would be able to endure here if I couldn’t even walk five steps without losing my breath.
I’m amazed at how much my endurance has increased in the nearly 3 months I’ve been here. I walk everywhere now, and with ease I might add. I walk up and down hills to get to the supermarket, or mall, or coffee shop. I can nearly sprint up the stairs without even the faintest feeling of exhaustion. I have more endurance for the physically challenging situation where I live. I’ve had to adapt to not only the altitude, but also living without a car, and being forced to either walk or take public transportation. My body has adapted, but more so my faith has adapted as well. I am learning to endure in this Christian race.
When I first came to Kenya, I was ready to change the whole country in one day. Maybe that is an exaggeration, but I wanted action, and I wanted immediate results. I wanted God to reveal His plan for me here, and I wanted to act on it in that second. But that’s not how it’s happened. My mindset was short term. I was thinking about a sprint instead of a marathon. God’s timing is not like our timing. I’m sure in an instant He could open any door for me and give me the means and provisions to walk through that door. But that’s not His plan for me. He seeks for me to endure. To build my patience. To build my faith. To build my trust. He is working, and I see fruits of His work daily, but it’s not instantaneous. Unlike modern photography where pictures can be seen on the spot, God is revealing His picture for my life using film that takes time and darkness to develop. Just like I feel my lungs getting stronger with each breath, I feel my faith getting stronger with each day. Moving to another country, by myself has not been easy. There have been challenges and times of loneliness and sadness, but just like the dark room in photography, I know those times are the places for developing, and when the full picture emerges it will be a beautiful sight.
Paul urged the early church to "run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith” (Hebrews 12:1-2). I heed Paul’s advice today, and every day, and I know it’s through Jesus that I will have the strength to endure. This will not be a sprint. It’s a marathon. And my mind, body, and spirit are adapting for the race ahead.
And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.”
So did this really happen...I quit my job, gave away my furniture, packed 3 suitcases, and moved to Kenya? Is this a dream? Is this my life? Is this real?
These are just some of the thoughts that race through my head when I wake up some mornings. And when reality sets in again, I'm still amazed that I live in Kenya. What's even more startling is that I moved to a new country by myself, without any established community or friends. So when I think about all that has happened over the past 2 months it's even more amazing. God is even more amazing!
My dad left over a month ago, for the first few days after he left I was sad. The realization that I was all alone in a foreign country was so overwhelming. Fast forward several weeks, and God has filled my life with some amazing people. I have met a couple from Nashville, and they have adopted me as their "daughter." Their generosity and love has been a game changer for me. I have joined a small group at my church, and several of my new church members have opened their homes to me. The way God forms community and fellowship is amazing! I am truly grateful for all the people I have met, and look forward to watching how The Lord grows these relationships and friendships during my time here.
In addition to forming new friendships and community, The Lord has used this time to give me a new vision for my work here in Kenya. I came here with the intention of using tennis as a means to build relationships with kids and share the joy of Christ. My current situation doesn't allow me to fully live out those intentions. So The Lord has given me the desire to branch out some and go into schools, nurseries, churches, and children's homes and run mini tennis and bible camps. Whether for 1 day or 3 weeks, I'd love to use my time in these schools to use tennis as a vehicle for the gospel and build meaningful relationships with kids. I have several challenges to fully achieving this vision, but I am faithful that God will provide where He has laid the plans. (I'll be writing a follow-up post on my specific plans and ways to support and pray for this mission).
Nothing can renew faith like being in a needy situation. I literally need The Lord for all of my needs. I must rely on Him to provide for me while I'm in this foreign country. I rely on Him for safety, for transportation. I rely on Him to help me communicate in a foreign tongue. I rely on Him for food, water, and shelter. He is literally my everything, and it has greatly increased my faith and trust in Jesus. As I attempt to start my own mission and ministry, I know that I will have to trust Him more and more, and I'm excited about this new faith journey.
Two months down, many many more to come! Can't wait to see what other news things The Lord will produce.
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.