About robandjennifer

Called to a ministry of community development and education in rural Zambia.

Preschool Post

I try and keep this writing space reserved for a more personal conversation, such as writing about our family’s experiences living and working in Zambia. I figure I need a place to share about how we are doing as a family and what we are experiencing beyond just ministry.  Since I am the one writing, often the experiences I write about are my experiences, but none the less…

Today I’ve decided to give a more detailed update on the preschool. I was adding these things to our monthly update, but I found I didn’t not have enough room to say all that I wanted to say, so here you are… a lot has been happening at Pure Nard Preschool. Read on.
We made friends at Mungu Basic Primary School
Our lead teacher, Felistus and I, went down to the local primary school to meet the staff. My goal for this was to connect with the school. I want to take great care to be a positive piece of what Zambia is doing to educate its children and to be seen by the local public schools as a partner in education, not a distraction. Plus, I just think it’s a great way to have access to the primary school and see in what ways we can bring positive change to a struggling system. We were met by Mr. Bwalya, the Head of school and several senior staff and the grade one teacher. Our meeting was great. We found common ground and mutual aspirations and all agreed that improvement in the area of education was needed in Mungu. Mr. Bwalya is also a Christian, along with the staff that was with him, and he was thrilled to learn that our little Christian school would be sending “light” into the public school system. It seems we will really enjoy working with Mungu Basic Primary and a partnership would be beneficial to all involved.

We are here for such a time as this…
One of the items Mr. Bwalya brought up was his desire to see our school registered with the Ministry of Education. This was already in our plan, but he would like to take us personally and introduce us to the department. (This is very Zambian… to make introductions on behalf of a friend or respected colleague. It is a means of bestowing credibility.) This is an honor for us and it means we are now “looped in” with the other schools in the area. Mr. Bwalya also invited me to begin attending the Ministry of Education meetings as Head of school. I believe these meetings help shape the direction of education in Zambia. I’ll let you know what I learn.

Here’s the thing that came to mind as we were discussing these things…. Zambia currently has no early childhood program, or kindergarten, for its students in government schools. The country is moving in that direction, and taking steps at developing curriculum and training teachers, but it will likely be a generation before these things are realized for the the general public. We have a preschool. Not just a daycare, but a preschool with learning objectives and standards of teaching… and our school is not a school for “privileged” tuition paying students, it serves the rural poor (those that statistically do not succeed in school at the same rate as city-dwellers with access to resources) … and we are producing results. This, plus our relationship with the primary school gives us credibility to speak to the issue. I am really praying that as all of these pieces fall together we might be able to participate in what Zambia is doing, and help shape what early childhood education might look like as the new programs begin to take root. Wouldn’t that be amazing? You can join me in prayer on that.
Our students shine!IMG_1188
We took our Reception class (kindergarten) down to the primary school to visit the grade one class and to see for themselves what school at Mungu Basic would be like. Mrs. Bwalya (the grade one teacher) sat them down with her grade one class and continued to teach. I like Mrs. Bwalya. She is sharp. She had complete control of her class, which was impressive enough with 40 students, (yes… 40 grade one students!) but she also took the time, and probably her own money, to hand make dozens of posters for her room with the alphabet, numbers, and other teaching. A remarkable move considering the “norm” for classrooms like hers. She had no books in her room, but these kids would continue to read during class because of what they could see on the walls. Good move Teacher Bwalya… I like your style!

The class was working on their vowel sounds and making words with them. Our kids knew all of the vowels. Then she did a lesson on identifying capital letters versus lower case. Our kids could do it. No matter what she asked, our little kindergarteners were among the first to shoot up their hands! And our darling Mwaziona…. Mrs. Bwalya had asked someone to complete a word written on the board by choosing the correct vowel… there goes Mwaziona…. she correctly wrote the entire word on the board. Our students “WOW’d” Mrs. Bwalya. We couldn’t be more proud!
We’re thankful for the grade one teacherIMG_1192 (1)
It’s not just that Mrs. Bwalya hangs posters on her walls and has great classroom management. She is excited about teaching and loves her work. She is intentional about keeping the students engaged and learning. This isn’t always the case in Zambian government schools. The horror stories you read about of over-crowded classrooms with no materials and teachers who don’t show, happens here too. We are very thankful to have a grade one teacher who will keep our students moving when they get there. She is excited to see what a difference our school is making in getting these kids ready to learn in grade one!

Our preschool students are now at home on break for 4 weeks. 
Whew… a full term! I am thankful for the break, but excited about what next term will bring too. During breaks I find not only rest, but it gives me added time for working on projects and planning for preschool things that get set aside during the regular term. So for me, term breaks are both refreshing and productive.

This isn’t the case for our students.

Many go home to find poor quality food, or not enough food. Nutrition is lacking and their energy wanes. Many also find a lack of resources leads to boredom and the learning stops. We in the States think of playtime at this age as a vital piece to learning, sometimes even more so than academics, but without toys, children’s programming, sports, arts, play parks and other fun things to do, and no adults at home who engage the children, home can often be void of learning and growth. In a nutshell, our students are missing the meals they receive and the fun activities they do at school.  We are asking you to keep these kids in your prayers. It ought to be that school breaks are fun and filled with family time.  This isn’t the case for many of our kids.

Our school will carry on without me
Right now I am in the U.S., getting Matthew prepared for school.  I am visiting church partners, friends, and family while here and I am entirely excited about this. I will be away from the school for a total of 8 weeks. The preschool will open on September 7 and be halfway through term 3 when I return. I am so grateful for a faithful staff who is willing and able to carry on without me. This is my dream… to open the school, train the teachers, and have it be 100% Zambian. Recognizably I may need to be there for a few years to set the academic standard and hopefully inspire the leaders and teachers to maintain this standard, but the goal is for me to NOT be there… Yes, I am trying to work myself out of a job! (and by God’s grace, perhaps we can do it again in a new location in the future) All that to say…I’m leaving the school in good hands, and this is a great opportunity to see how things go in my absence.  I’m already looking forward to learning about the results when I return. I will count it all (good or bad) as an opportunity to teach and train. Please pray for our staff. It is a big deal to be left on their own for the 6 weeks of school that I will miss!

Please Pray

  • Mungu Basic Primary, for our new relationships there and for the teachers; teaching oversized classes with few materials
  • Our teachers and students as they begin term 3 without me.
  • Students who have difficult situations at home
  • For our school as we begin to engage Ministry of Education and for direction on the ways we can help shape early childhood learning in Zambia

And there is always more to talk about                                                                                  I could go on and on about the preschool and the many great things God is doing there.  I could also go on and on about the great things happening at Mungu Community Church, Teen Challenge, and all the sustainability projects that are “in the works”.

It’s is incredibly difficult to remember that we have only been here one year.  It is AMAZING to see all that God has done in such a short time.

The good news is that I am in the States for several weeks and would love to come to you, your group, or your church to share more.  If you are not in Washington or Colorado, even Skype will be an easy way to share more (much easier than doing the time zone battle!).  Stay tuned to ways you can learn more… I’m excited to see everyone!

We are inviting partners to become a part of what God is doing through this ministry in Zambia.  Join the fun!  

If you would like to support this work by contributing financially to the Taylor’s ministry, please visit TheAntiochPartners and choose “partner support” after competing the form.

If you would like to contribute directly to the preschool, please visit TheAntiochPartners and choose “project support”.

Thank you!

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The End of an Era

You might very well know that I am a homeschooling mom.

I’ve been teaching our kids now for 11 years, and you know, eleven years is a long time.

OK… I had a little break in there following Rachael’s adoption where we sent everyone to school, but as necessary as it was back then, I still count it as a mistake, so let’s not count it at all.  I’ll claim the entire 11 years because there were parts of that year that were so stressful I might as well have schooled them at home.  I’ve got the stripes to prove it.

Rachael is the only one at home for school right now while her brothers are attending a boarding school.  We’ve been wrapping things up because I keep her on the same schedule as the boys.

Well played mom… keeping everyone on the same schedule so that school breaks are actually a break. 

If you’ve been keeping up with our monthly updates, you are aware that Rachael is waiting to attend school with brothers.  “Dying to go” is probably a better description. We sent in the application and…. yes!  Rachael has been accepted to Rift Valley Academy.  She is thrilled. In fact if you ask her about it, she can’t even contain her smile. We think it is a good move for her all-around well being, so we are excited too.  (In more ways than one!)

Here’s the thing… I just realized this week that I am done with homeschooling, not just for this school year, but forever!IMG_4425 (1)

It’s like winning the olympic gold medal for motherhood or something.  (I am visualizing other moms who get through the years of standing on the sidelines in the rain, or tame the homework beast night after night, or better yet, manage to feed, clothe and educate children alone.  We all get gold medals for our sacrifice as mothers)

Does it not feel like reaching the top of the peak of mount mommy hood?  Or… perhaps released from class on the last day of school before summer break is a better sense.  Homeschooling is a bit like living at school… 24/7.

Don’t get me wrong.  I am very happy with our choice to school the kids at home.  Each of them has benefitted from this choice for different reasons and nothing in me doubts that is was the right choice.  But….

I’m done!  Released!  Finished!

Is it irony that in the same year I send the oldest off to university, I am sending the youngest off to school with her brothers?

Rachael in front of the girl's dorm.

Rachael in front of the girl’s dorm.

Rachael will go to school with her brothers beginning this September. I am pretty sure that  more than one of our friends wonders, “What the heck are you thinking?” when it comes to sending our kids to a boarding school, so I thought I’d take the opportunity to share our experience.

 

 

By the way, of all the crazy choices we’ve made for our kids over the long haul, choosing RVA has hands-down, been the best choice we’ve ever made.  EVER.

I think it is tough for Americans to digest the idea of boarding school. There are some fantastic boarding schools in the U.S. and I even know some folks who have chosen that route, but by in large, most of us think of boarding school as a place to send troubled kids. Or better yet, a place to send kids so parents are not troubled by them.

Let me take a moment to remind you that regardless of how you feel about public schools in the U.S., the truth is we have a system that works.  We can send our children to school for free and for the most part, our kids will be educated.  This is not true for Africa.  Most of Africa… in fact HUGE sections of Africa go without a reliable schooling system.  Zambia is no exception.

Homeschool is a great option, for home and for the mission field.  We have enjoyed the flexibility that it brings, and not having to change schools through all of our moving around has definitely been a benefit, but the kids are growing older, their needs are changing, and their classes are getting more difficult.  (for me, HA!)

And there are about a hundred reasons to choose RVA.  I’ll spare you and keep the list to a minimum.

A typical girl's room... should I start getting on Rachael to keep her room clean?

A typical girl’s room… should I start getting on Rachael to keep her room clean?

For us, there are several great schools to choose from in Lusaka.  We live in Kafue.  Educating our kids at a school in Lusaka would require a 3 hour round-trip commute every day, and believe it or not, the schools we’ve looked at are 3 times the price of RVA.  Yes, you read right, 3 times! Schooling our kids here would be comparable to the price of a university education…. who does that?  But more than expense and commute, is how much we love  the RVA community.

Rift Valley is an excellent school.  Our kids live in a dorm of about 20-24 students.  They have dorm parents (a married couple) who usually have their own kids and live in an apartment that is attached to the dorm.  These people have the incredible gift of making the dorm feel like family.  The spiritual development and care for students goes well beyond anything I have seen before.  Teachers and staff are missionaries and raise their own support to be at RVA and they believe they are called to their work and pour themselves into our kids in mighty ways.  And their friends!  The students at RVA come from all over.  It is truly an international school.  Kids who have lived in everything from mud huts to gated communities, and are from all parts of the world; the U.S., Europe, Asia, Africa.  It is amazing.  The sense of community there is something to behold.  I might even be a bit jealous.

Can I say enough?  Here’s a video about the kids’ school if you want to learn more:

RVA video

The best part of my story here today is that Rachael gets to go too.

Old-timer Christians always point out how the Lord prepares you for the seasons ahead, and though the seasons might be rough, you’ll be ready.  I’m finding truth in those words these days.  When we first came to Africa in 2012, it was an absolute… no way were my kids going to a boarding school.  You might remove my right arm before I was going to send my kids away.

It was less than a year before my mind had changed.

Life is different here in so many ways, and the realm of educating your kids is one of those things that gets shifted dramatically.  We learned from our friends, we faced some realities, and we were exposed to kids who went to far away schools… and thrived.  Our perspective changed.

I’m really thankful for that, a shift in perspective, that is.  We were given the choice to hang on to our kids so tight that they might never freely breathe again or release them into what we KNEW was the best choice for them in this new reality.

Before we ever left for the mission field, I was worried about how our children would do with such a move.  After all, its not them who received a call to go, they just happen to be stuck with parents who did.  I could list the many ways we were doing more harm than good and wondered if God was serious.

One of those fretful days I was reading with Rachael in Genesis and it was one of those moments where the story leapt off the page and into my heart.  Good grief… it was SPOT ON with how I was feeling about a call to serve in Africa.

In chapter 22, Abraham is told by God to take his son to the altar and offer him as a sacrifice.  I tell you it FELT like I was hauling my kids to the altar and laying them out there as living sacrifices for our call to serve.  I died inside when I read it, and as many times as I have read the story before, reading the part about the lamb took my breath away.  I knew in the moment that God would provide; that my children would not be slaughtered by our move, but in fact God would provide for them and they would be spared.

I didn’t know what “the lamb” would look like and I most certainly wouldn’t have guessed boarding school (good thing I didn’t, I might have stayed home).  But sure enough the opportunity came and it was OBVIOUS that the school was a good fit, and now that we’ve been a part of the RVA community for a couple of years, I honestly cannot offer words to describe what a wonderful provision of God’s care for our kids this has been.

The shift in perspective is good.  Abraham shifted from doing the work of offering something to God, to receiving God’s grace and provision.  He was faithful in letting go of his control… eeek!  And trusting that God would in fact… provide!  Gasp!

I guess I am still learning, but it amazes me still.

We’re proud of you Rachael!  Go girl!

PS.  More fun!  I’ve uploaded photos.  Look for the link on the “Snapshots” page.

 

 

One Down, Three to Go.

I can remember when my wings sprouted and I longed to fly the coop. All I wanted was to be on my own and what I perceived to be free. I took any and every opportunity to do my own thing (for better or worse) and I’m not sure I even blinked when it was actually time to move out of the house and into the dorm.

I don’t remember my mom being sad. Maybe she was ready for me to go! Or maybe she is a more mature person than I and managed to hide herself in the bathroom and cry her eyes out when I couldn’t see. I’ll go for the latter.

Here I am sitting in Kijabe, Kenya, visiting the 3 boys and applying for school for Rachael and I can’t get it out of my mind; the fact that this is Matthew’s last mid-term break.

Ever.IMG_4414

I find myself staring at him, hanging on his words, making up stupid things to talk about just to keep the conversation going, fussing over him and desperate to hug and kiss him and say sweet things that only a mother can say to a son, all the while trying not to embarrass him too much.

Does he even know what it means for him to go? No.

But it is time and he is ready.

I’m pretty sure he will make some stupid mistakes along the way and may or may not tell me about them. He may even meet a girl and fall in love.                                                                 There goes my position as the most important woman in his life.

It’s just around the corner. The day I give him a kiss and a hug, say goodbye, tell him to be a good friend and work hard, and a zillion other bits of sage advice which I will try to cram into the last 30 seconds of seeing him. I’m pretty sure I will succeed in teaching him all of life’s lessons in the final minutes of my goodbye. It is a parent’s duty.

I watched him run off to class today and noticed that he is a breathtakingly beautiful man. I like who he has become. He is ready. It is time.

I can imagine drop-off day at the school. In my mind it’s an endless sea of moms sobbing through their goodbyes, heartbroken that their kids did the unexpected thing and grew up. It was kind of like that when we all deposited our children at boarding school. I have history with this.

During the bus ride home the sobbing moms will be acutely aware that they are in the same boat yet fully married to the attitude that no one understands. This is when I’ll stand up and say, “What are you all crying for? You’ll see your kid next weekend.”  (I’ve got a bit of pent up jealous anger for crying sad moms who will be living within driving distance of their college aged kids.)

And this is the true and honest question of mine; can I cope? Can I say goodbye to Matthew full well knowing it could be a year… or more… until I see him again?

IMG_5202When I signed up to be a missionary, I did not sign up for this. I did not count the cost of children growing up and attending university. I did not foresee my son living on a different continent. I was sure that they would remain 10 years old forever, but here we are, just weeks from the day when he first sets foot onto the soil of adulthood and we’ll be down one with three to go. Praying this thing gets easier before we send off the last, but just as soon as I say that, I remind myself that I never want it to be easy to release our children into adulthood.

I am worried. Worried that he’ll not just do stupid stuff, but do really, really stupid stuff. I’m worried that I’m wrong; that he’s not ready and he will need to come home with a failure ripping big holes into his heart. I’m worried that he’ll forget to call home and leave us desperate to know if he is dead or alive, happy or sad, thriving or … not.

Yah… I know. My spirituality and maturity rating just fell to zero, but there’s nothing rational about a mother’s love for her children. I guess I am no exception.

If you are on the same bus as me, sending your kids off this year, let’s make a deal. I won’t tell you I’ve got it much, much worse because I live in Africa and my son is moving to the U.S., but please, please don’t tell me how rough you have it when yours doesn’t want to come home until Thanksgiving.  I am insanely jealous.  In my better moments, I know this is irrational and surely there are moms who have it unspeakably worse than me but honestly, it is where I am.

Instead, in a move toward motherhood solidarity, I’ll bring a box of tissues and we’ll share the common thread of missing mommy-hood and all the joys that having our kids at home brought us. We might even come to our senses and remember the countless ways our kids challenged us. (Err… made us seriously consider pediatric tranquilizers as a long-term solution.) We’ll replace the tears with laughter; the kind that makes your cheeks hurt and your sides ache. We’ll have a great old time with a glass of wine and celebrate each other for a job well done… children who not only want to fly the coop, but can FLY.

IMG_1009One down with three to go!

 

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Pure Nard Opens

IMG_4693We opened the preschool.

Pure Nard Preschool opened its doors to about 40 students on February 2.  Now we are busting at the seams with 61 students and a waiting list.

Turns out there is a real need for quality education in Mungu.  We already knew that, but we weren’t so sure how families would respond to a new school, especially one that had a foreigner on the premises.  WOW…. have we ever been well received!  Word of a good preschool flew like the wind and now we have a waiting list.

We are thrilled to be a part of something that can directly impact families in such a profound way.

Pure Nard Preschool has a team of 3 lead teachers, 3 helping teachers and a cook who helps us serve snacks and a lunch.  The entire staff is local, living right in Mungu. Together they provide quality education for 3 classes: a baby class (2-4 years old), middle class (4-5 years old) and reception (5-6) years old).  Reception is the equivalent of kindergarten or grade zero.  Reception is not offered at primary schools, so I feel like this service is an enormous opportunity to get children ready for grade 1.  Many children in cities like Lusaka, or even Kafue, attend private reception classes, but once you get out into rural areas like Mungu, finding a preschool that can equip children for grade 1 can be a challenge.

The school fees are subsidized now and we are investigating sustainability projects to eliminate the need for outside donor funding.

It didn’t take long for us to realize how our involvement in the preschool has given us a direct line into the community.  Having a relationship with the preschool families gives us even greater access with more opportunities to serve, and its amazing how quickly you learn about the area, its positives and negatives… the good, bad, and the ugly…when you work with families.

One issue we discovered immediately was the problem of inadequate nutrition for children in this community.  I can say with a degree of certainly that about half the students are undernourished, and for about a quarter of the students the problem is severe enough that the consequences of malnutrition are visible… orange hair…distended belly…

If you follow my Facebook page, you might remember Mary.  We saw her on the road IMG_4696leading up to the school with her brothers and her orange locks were alarming.  She was not in school (nor her brothers) because the family did not have the 30 Kwacha per child to pay for the term (about $5). Pastor Daniel went for a visit and encouraged the family to send the children anyway.  The church was able to pick up the tuition for 2 of the children and the family was able to pay for one.  Now all 3 kids are enrolled in the preschool.  None of them had ever held a pencil before.  All of them are improving their school “readiness” skills and they are learning.  And guess what?  They also receive a nutritious lunch.

There are many ways in which Pure Nard Preschool meets the need in the community and one of these ways is to offer a nutrient dense meal to its students, a meal that includes more protein and is fortified with extra vitamins they would not normally receive from a maize (corn) based diet.

I love the fact that we are bringing something to the community that is needed.  And I love the fact that the very thing that is needed can be used as a tool to reach deeper into the community.  But what I really love is the bright and shinning faces that I get to see every morning!  Let’s face it… preschoolers are fun.IMG_4968

My role at the school is to train and support teachers, and to develop leadership to the point that the school is entirely run by local staff.  Yes… I am trying to work myself out of a job!  We have already designated a “head teacher” and no decision is made at the school without the consensus of the staff.  Believe me, these ladies take this school seriously, and they work through tough decisions.

Our goal is to have a staff that will take ownership of the early education of the children in this community, and have a heart for service that will bring about lasting change for Mungu.  We are definitely on our way.  This is ICBC, a project lead by the community for the benefit of the community.

Continue to pray for our little school, its staff, and the students.IMG_4808

PS.  If you have been following us for a while, you may remember the Sitali family.  They had lost their housing and were living under plastics out in the open… with rainy season on the way.  Not only do they have a home now, but guess who’s in our class?  Little Mwaziona had never held a pencil and now she is greeting me in English and writing her first letters and numbers.  YAY!  thank you for helping us help her!

Hey, before you go …. exciting news!  We have begun to create a webpage that describes the work of ICBC and Teen Challenge.  We would love it if you took a few minutes and looked around.  Your feedback is valuable to us.  The site is still a work in progress, so let us know what you think!  Here is a link:

PureNardMinistries.org

You will find more photos by selecting the link under the “snapshots” tab.  Warning… cute bomb hit the photo page with all these darling preschoolers.

 

What’s in the Box?

Tis the season, isn’t it?

I am thinking about some of our Taylor Christmas traditions.

The other day I retrieved from the back of a closet our “Christmas box”.  Sadly, its been reduced to a box about the size of a shoebox.  Or maybe that is good?  Some of the reduction was by choice… tossing or packing and storing items for our kid’s future Christmases… some not by choice… theft and loss are a reality with our lifestyle.

At any rate, it still brings great joy to open the box.  Do you have such a box?  You open and find the treasures that represent Christmas… the Advent season.  They hold memories and warm thoughts as you reminisce and contemplate the earlier days with loved ones.

Speaking of boxes….

We received a different kind of box here in Mungu not too long ago.  IMG_1420A big cargo container of food, a precious gift of nutrition arrived, and the gift couldn’t have come with better timing.  1,400 boxes of food, arriving at the end of a dry season which seems to keep hanging on.  Will the rain ever come?  And for a people who experience hunger at this time of year, relief comes in a box.  Indeed Christmas has come to Mungu.

We also have a box on the way!  It is the giving spirit of a dear friend who poured her heart for quality education into a box full of supplies for the preschool.  Soon we will be opening a box that provides the tools we need to give an even greater gift… an education.  A solid start to help change the direction of these lives, no longer pre-disposed to a life of poverty, but an opportunity for transformation and change.

Sometimes change itself is the gift, isn’t it?  Like a church full of people who commit to a lifestyle change, one that includes weight-loss, a commitment to good health, living with less and sharing with their communities… both locally and in the world.  And aren’t those life-changing gifts the kind that pour into others?  It’s contagious.  Through their commitment to change, we find our little preschool building funded.  Transformation will happen here.  Transformation is happening there.  Thank you CLC.

Here at the Taylor home, we celebrate the season of Advent.  We light candles in eager anticipation of the Christ to come.  We share devotionals and Bible verses and contemplate our salvation.  We contemplate our Savior.

On Christmas we celebrate with our church family, share great food and exchange gifts.

Some things change with a move.  We are missing our church family at home, and who 10704121_881406645227432_8361432246554705371_nwants to cook a turkey all day in 100 degree heat?  If you saw our posts on Facebook with a photo of the candles in our Advent wreath, you know that some things are requiring us to adjust.

But for the sake of the kids, we still want to give gifts.  Let’s face it, unwrapping the presents under the tree is just plain fun.

Buying gifts… now that is a different matter.

It didn’t take us any time at all to realize that stuff here is expensive… really expensive!  To make matters worse, the quality suffers BIG time.

So… in all my bright ideas I thought it would be a good idea to use a shipping service and actually buy their gifts from American companies (think Amazon) and have it shipped to us here in Kafue.  So far… I think this is going to work.  I’ll let you know the results in a future post.

But here’s the thing that I observed….

I have never, ever been so careful about what I give as a gift.

I thought.  I prayed.  I asked.  I calculated size, weight, need.  I swear… it took 2 weeks before I made a decision on what to put in the box.

This is teaching me a lesson about giving gifts.

Have you ever poured that kind of energy and thought into the gifts you give?

I wonder if it would change how we “consume”, but that’s a whole other conversation.

In my efforts to find the perfect gifts for the kids, the thing that kept popping into my head was the Christmas song, Little Drummer Boy….

“Our finest gifts we bring, pa rum pum pum pum,

To lay before the King, pa rum pum pum pum,”

I am also challenged this Advent season to consider carefully the gift I bring before my King.  It is a thing to grapple with… that our gift, no matter how small and seemingly inconsequential, is enough.  What can we give to God?  

Yet, at the same time, our attitude, our generosity, our willingness to give…abundantly and from the heart, is everything.  Perhaps the greatest gift we can give to God is realized in the way we give to others.

Merry Christmas everyone!  We are praying that you find all the hope, peace, joy and love this season offers!

Love, Jennifer

If you would like to give us a gift this season, consider contributing your year-end gift to this ministry.  It is through the financial contributions of folks like you that we are able to remain here in Zambia.  We’d love to have you jump on board as a monthly contributor too.  The Antioch Partners makes it easy… you can have a monthly donation deducted right from your checking account or credit card.  Simple…. and profoundly helpful to our ability to serve!  Thanks for considering.  Here’s the link:

www.TheAntiochPartners.org/giving

Also, don’t forget to check out the link to our photo page.  Enjoy!  You can find the link under the tab called “snapshots”

 

Get on the Matatu

If you ever find yourself in Africa, one of the things that should find its way onto your bucket list is taking a ride on the local bus.  In Nairobi, this would be the “matatu.”

Operating solely on your “sixth sense” you will locate the bus-stop according to where everyone else is standing.  It is by the grace of others who are willing to assist that you board the right bus.  The bus (or matatu) rolls up to the stop looking like a left-over 1940’s school bus with a fancy paint job, and by fancy I mean anything goes.  This day we would get a spattering combo of yellow and pink.

Tattooed across the front wind-screen in giant letters is “God with us.” and suddenly you start saying your own kind of prayer.

Thanks to the driver’s assistant, you confirm your destination and the price, but this is all done within a matter of seconds because the bus only makes a rolling stop.  Bet you didn’t think this 40-something year-old woman could jump on or off a moving bus, did ‘ya?

Taking a look around the bus you are left with 2 choices… to be annoyed and intimidated by your surroundings or embrace them.  Music booming so loud that every part of your body throbs, sitting close enough to your neighbor you are practically in his lap, and questioning if you will EVER recognize the stop you need, is oh so in-your-face contrary to your western ways.  Let’s face it, there is a certain degree of fear about taking public transport in cities like Nairobi.  It is a big stretch for most of us Americans.  Geez… most Americans I know can barely manage the idea of taking public transport in their own cities!

The thing with being irritated or annoyed (or afraid) is that it places a wall squarely between you and everything else.  Embracing the same…. you step in.

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What I found inside that bus was a kind, older gentleman who made sure that I had paid the right price and made sure we got off at the right stop.  There was beauty in his hospitality…reaching out to a stranger.  And on the way back we found a young man who in all his joy, laughed and smiled as we all bounced our way around the back seat, colliding and bumping along as the (certainly) crazy driver made his way through the streets, and again, helped us find the right stop.

Here is the difference between taking a seat and minding your own business, and sitting next to someone and leaning in with a smile, a greeting, and a willingness.

Get on the bus.

We decided on an Ethiopian restaurant.  This place is run out of a family home, so you don’t actually get the benefit of a sign out front.  You look up and down the street searching for clues of the restaurant, which thankfully, had the good sense to paint the words on the outside gate.  All 10 of us entered.  Me, my 3 boys, another mom and her 3 kids, and 2 tag-along kids who didn’t have visiting families for mid-term break.  Yep…you got it, 2 moms and 8 teen-agers.

We filled their living room.

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The best editing I could do… we were, in fact, in the DARK.

 

I’m not sure why the restaurant owners decided to not turn on the lights, but we were, in fact, sitting in the dark, with exception to 2 candles. The owner decided for us what we would eat for the evening and we waited, in anxious and ravenous anticipation of a delightful Ethiopian meal.  Waited…we did.

You can imagine how the time unfolds with 8 teen-agers.  Did I mention only one of them was a girl?  Yep…you read right…7 teen-age boys, sitting in the home of an Ethiopian family, waiting for their FOOD.  The worst offenders (one of which belongs to me) wore the baskets which are meant to cover the food… on their heads….while ensuing a world federation wrestling match on the couch (for which I am positive will not survive the evening) and shouting at what I think is at the top of their lungs.  The wadded up napkins being thrown through the air in were most definitely a sad attempt at basketball, and believe it or not… we had one “de-pants-ing.”  These guys are funny.

The arrival of dinner brought the lights with it.  They cheer in unison and the ravenous devouring of more-food-than-you-can-imagine takes place in less than 5 minutes.  It fills my soul to watch these guys fill their bellies.

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Proper dining room behavior…uh…no.

As mom, I could step in and get these guys to “straighten up” but I want to do a different kind of stepping in.

I found joy there.  I found joy in seeing kids at play… true play…where they can be goofy and stupid and laugh with abandon, and each one is included, a part, and welcome. Ahhh… the heart of God in 10 playful teenagers.

The owner of the restaurant walked us out as we finished with the biggest smile I think I’ve ever seen on a man.  I apologized for the mess and the rowdy kids.  In his broken English he thanked me and said that his heart was full because the boys were at home in his home.  He asked us to come back.  He said the joy was all his.

Get on the bus.

Getting 3 teen-aged boys to pack their backs is really the equivalent of herding cats.  Just as you get one on track, another leaves the room.  You locate him and re-focus his efforts, and another goes out.

After receiving an email from the office staff at the school announcing that the RVA school bus will be loaded and leaving Nairobi at 2pm prompt, and that to get those boys up to the school without the bus will run me upwards of $70… I am focused.  No one leaves the room until they are packed.  Period.

We scurry out of the guesthouse and make our way to the designated meeting place (along with about 40 other students and a few parents) and wait.

And wait.

So much for 2pm prompt.

Our collective African experience keeps the crowd calm.  No one complains at the tardiness of the bus, which is now an hour late, because we all know what being on time in Africa means.

Then we see the bus… turning on to a street, not the parking lot where we were waiting.  The equivalent of 2 city blocks away, the bus is late and it is in a different place.

We’re hot, tired of waiting and we have to haul all their things back to where we started from.  And suddenly, I don’t want them to get on that bus.

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In a flash, the extra hour and the walk back become the most important, best part of the entire weekend and my aching heart searches fruitlessly to find ways to make time stand still.

I thank God for the last moments with them in the parking lot… for the crazy Ethiopian dinner, and the wild ride on the matatu.  I thank God for the bus that my children so willingly ride… to play in the home of an Ethiopian family…without abandon, and I thank God that He provides us every opportunity to stretch and challenge our western ways so that we can meet His joy on the bus.

Embrace the ride.

Love, Jennifer

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Meet our neighbor

We have a neighbor to the back of us.

As it turns out, he just moved to Kafue too.  He is a 26 year old young man from Burundi (A tiny country between the Democratic  Republic of Congo, Tanzania and Rwanda).  He has a student visa and will be staying here in Zambia for about 3 years.

What a nice guy.

He also speaks French.  Swahili is his first language, French is his second, and he is now learning English.  Wouldn’t you know it?  I have a degree in French.  Now, don’t get all excited about my French because let let me say this… it’s been a while.  My French ability is a FAR cry from fluent, but my new friend barely speaks English.  With no other French speakers for miles around, I am sure even being able to greet someone in his native tongue is not only great fun, but in some sense of the word, a relief.  (If you have ever lived in a situation where the only way to communicate with others is to speak in a foreign language, you know what I am talking about.)

Continual speaking, listening, reading and translating in a foreign language is exhausting!

And yet he does not want to speak in French with me.

With the goal to learn English in view, he takes every opportunity to come for a visit and practice his speaking.  I don’t mind a bit… he is a great guy.

I have a background in teaching English as a Second Language (ESL) and told him I would be happy to help him.  The other day he was over here to work on his English conversation skills.  I wanted him to elaborate on his home country.  I asked for descriptions of things, to tell me about his family, what life was like, and more… I know that the more I can get him to talk, the more quickly he learns.  So he started to really share….

“My home was not in the city, it was in the country.  There was my father, my mother and there were five children.  I have three that are older than me and one younger brother.  My oldest sister is six years older than me.  It was nice.

I was five years old and I was hiding in a banana bush with my brothers and my sister.  We were so afraid.  We hid because there was genocide.  We were watching the soldiers take the head of my father and of my mother.  After we saw what they were doing we ran.  We had to jump over dead bodies.  There were people and people and more people… all dead.  We had to run over them.  We went to the city where it was safer from genocide.  My sister was the one taking care of us.”

(at 6 years older, she would be 11 as head of household)

I wish I could pause your reading so that you fully digest the story I just wrote.

I certainly had to take time to digest what I heard.

The suffering and injustice that some must endure is mind-blowing.  He was 5 years old.  How can we not notice these things that are happening in the world and do what we can to bring an end to these horrific injustices?  We read the headlines and hear the news, but do we really think about the ordinary people who pay the price of oppression and conflict?

Sitting there listening was a mixture of grief and horror, my emotions were stewing.  Is there anything I can say?  It was a relief, for sure, to know that he is a Christian and views his personal history as a testimony… not just of survival, but of God’s faithfulness.

We sat in my living room for some time.  I felt honored that he was so willing to share his story with me.  We are neighbors, but we’ve only just met, and we are foreign to each other.  Me, an American…him, from Burundi…

I’ve been thinking about this conversation every since… I mean, I can’t get this conversation out of my mind.  I’m not even sure I can accurately describe what I think and feel about his story, but I will share with you what I’ve come away with so far…

Have I ever really heard the stories of my neighbors in times past?

For me (Jennifer) I’ve had to do the hard work of learning how to be a good friend over the years.  Those of you who know me, especially if you’ve known me for a long time, you know I can say what I think, though sometimes what I think is not what is needed.  I can also come across as harsh and uncaring…. aloof?  They call it “introverted” now, which I think is a nice way of saying, “alone and OK with it”.

Let’s just say I have had to reach for friends, but the friends I have… they are for life.

I am improving.  Over the years I’ve decided I want to be more relational, more involved, a better listener and a better friend.

Perhaps I never heard my neighbors’ stories because I inadvertently gave them the cold shoulder… sending the message that I don’t want to hear.  If I’ve ever been your neighbor, I should apologize now.

But I DO want to hear, and I was entirely taken back by my new friend’s story.  I was overwhelmed by the intimacy of it and his sharing deepened our friendship something like 100-fold.  Now he’s become a part of the family.  He and Rob have a standing agreement to check on each other’s fires, help each other with the heavy lifting around each house, and share tools while he calls me “Mami” and sips juice while discussing our gardens.

I sort of feel like saying my “introvertedness” is (or was) a sad excuse to not get involved.  I think the fear of making new friends… or rather being able to keep them… prevented me from some pretty valuable relationships.  I think back over the years of all the neighbors I’ve had and I know that each had their own story, but I didn’t make the effort or take the time to find out and listen.  Why?  Was it out of Fear?  Complacency?  Busyness?

So I have to ask… What’s your excuse?  Do you know your neighbor’s story?  Do they know yours?

But wishing to justify himself, he said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”  Jesus replied and said, “A certain man was going from Jerusalem to Jericho; and he fell among robbers, and they stripped him and beat him, and went off leaving him half dead. And by chance a certain priest was going down on that road, and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. And likewise a Levite also, when he came to the place and saw him, he passed by on the other side. But a certain Samaritan, who was on a journey, came upon him; and when he saw him, he felt compassion….

Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor…?”

Luke 10:29-37

 

Don’t forget to check out our new photos.  Click the “Snap-shots” page and you will find a link there.

Love, Jennifer