Sunday, August 6, 2017

We've made it! Update on our journey & first few days!

As we are beginning another new adventure in East Africa, I'm going to do my best to keep this blog updated for those who care to follow along!

To get started, here is a recap of the last few days. 

On Wednesday, we said many goodbyes to family and friends and finished up packing the 12 tubs/suitcases we brought here with us. Let me tell you, saying goodbye does NOT get easier. It was interesting to watch our kids though, as this is now the third time we've said these goodbyes. They seem a bit desensitized to it, acting a bit more casual than I sometimes want them to or think they should. For four years, however, they've had to say these goodbyes not only to family and friends in the US, but also to multiple friends, multiple times per year in Africa. In fact, each year Isaac would become close to a few boys in his class, and inevitably those were the friends who left at the end of the year. So, I suppose I get why they aren't as tearful as their mama when we give those tight last hugs that I feel like has to last years - this is a regular part of their normal lives in a way it never was for me as a child. In a way, though they might not be able to articulate it, they're protecting their hearts. I suppose they also have now understood that while those relationships may change over time and distance, they are still there. The wonders of technology have certainly helped us keep in touch, so there is an awareness that we WILL see each other again...just maybe through a computer screen.

Ready to head to Chicago!
Thursday we loaded our van and the van of some friends and drove to Chicago. We had a bit of time to catch up with our friends David & Jenny (and kids), buy guitar strings that I had forgotten to buy earlier, and made it to the airport around 7pm. Checking in and getting through security went smoothly and we made it to our gate with plenty of time. 
on the way to the airport in Chicago 
checking in
Carry on luggage
Our friends David & Jenny who brought us to the airport in this sweet van!
Our long flight to Istanbul went quickly, as we travelled overnight and we all slept quite a bit. We had a few hours in the Istanbul airport (enough time for a quick last Starbucks!) and then boarded for Kigali. The process in Rwanda to obtain a visa and go through passport control was so quick and easy and the people were extremely friendly and pleasant. It helped that the kids and I were here only 2 months ago, so it was very familiar to all of us. We are entering on a tourist/visitor visa and will make work over the next few days to get our paperwork in for our resident visas. We are grateful for the help the school gives us in this! Please pray we have all the correct documents needed. 

We were picked up around 2:00am by David, a KICS employee who has coordinated our housing for us. He brought us and all our things home. The kids and I had a chance to see the house in June, but Marc had not, so the kids were very excited to show him around. We feel so blessed by this house and the way it's been furnished! We walked and already waiting for us was cereal, coffee, bread, bananas, PB & J, tea, milk, yogurt and juice - it was so nice to not have to worry about what we'd do for food the next morning! We stayed up for a few hours unpacking and finally laid down to sleep about 4am.
Made it to Kigali! 

The kids outside our new home! This was in June when we were able to visit.
Our yard is not so green and lush looking now! :) 
Girls bunk
Marc woke up around 9am and headed out with the Spiritual Life Coordinator at KICS to get our SIM cards for our phones set up. I got up around 10am and the kids slept a few more hours. We spend the day unpacking and trying to settle as much as possible. The director and his family stopped by to welcome us and all our kids immediately ran off to play as we chatted. At 4:45pm we walked the 3 minutes to school and met up with a lot of other new teaching staff and headed to the directors house for dinner. It was great meeting many new families, couples and singles! It was our 12th wedding anniversary, which our director knew, so they presented us with a cake after dinner. It was really sweet and thoughtful! We got home, got the kids in bed and kept unpacking. 

This morning we were up just after 8am and got ready for church. We went to one of the few English services in Kigali with the director and his family. There are several other options to check out, and we'll likely try them all before deciding where a good fit is for us. There is a church right across the street from school that we can walk to in about 4 minutes, and that will likely be where we land until we have the funds for a car. 
The kids lead most of the service this morning at Christian Life Assembly.

Kids room
After church we went to Java house for lunch, then I met with a woman and a few potential houseworker while Marc went to the store to buy fans and a few outlet adaptors. We finally made it home around 4pm and did a bit more unpacking. 

The school provided a shower curtain, but from my visit in June I knew it was plain and pink.
Found this one at a bargain store  in Atlanta and brought it along to try
and personalize the bits of our home that we can. 
Isaac is in the single bed, Hope is on the top bunk &
Geneva on the bottom bunk 
This week will be full as Monday and Tuesday will be at school 8am - 4pm and Wednesday - Friday we will be away at a staff retreat. We love our house, but making it a 'home' is going to take some time as we don't have much time these two weeks before school begins. I'll try to post some pictures of the house this week! 

Feel free to ask questions that we can answer in future blogs!

Kids & Grandma

Kids & Grandpa 

Our family with Opa & Oma and Aunt Dorie before saying goodbye. 
Buist/Driesenga tradition - SPOONLICKERS! 

Thursday, June 22, 2017

TeachBeyond Pre-field Orientation

Over the last 6 days, Marc and I (and the kids) have been in Wheaton, Illinois, attending a pre-field orientation for our new sending mission, TeachBeyond.

The vision of TeachBeyond is " serve our Father's world, to love Jesus Christ, and to see individuals and societies transformed by His Spirit through education" 

While we are so thrilled to be joining in the work of TeachBeyond, let me be honest and say, we were only sort-of looking forward to this training. We have less than 2 months in the USA, and our schedule is quite full, so 'giving up' a week of this precious time was difficult. Marc landed Friday evening at 5:30pm and we had less than 24 hours before we began the training, so after two weeks of him being apart from the family, we haven't really had any time to reconnect. We also had to be careful about our pride. Yes, we know we've only been on the field for 4 years, but we have had many experiences, read many books/blogs, and have already attended a different orientation/training four years ago. We absolutely realize we have SO much to learn, but we just weren't sure how much of this training would be geared towards those never having gone before, and how much would apply to those of us with even a little bit of experience. The other aspect of this training is that, until yesterday, we were not actually officially employed by Teach Beyond! (We are now, HORRAY!) We're a bit late in the game as far as switching missions, so we feel about 6 months behind most other people in our comprehension of everything we need to do and accomplish yet.

We've been humbled and surprised throughout this week with excellent training, comprehensive support services,  a deeper and renewed sense of calling and many new friendships. 

Here are a few of the highlights from these past 6 days: 

* We feel EMPOWERED to maintain our ministry partner relationships - we have a communications schedule, a website that does an amazing job of tracking pledges/support and a team of people helping us figure out our budget. This has been such an area of stress for us for the last four years, and we recognize that we haven't always done a good job in this area. Now, we are anxious to begin meeting with churches and individuals to build and maintain relationships with our ministry partners!

* We feel EQUIPPED to minister to MK's and TCK's, including our own children. We've had some amazing training on the characteristics of this people group and specifically how to minister to them. It's been interesting and sometimes amusing coming back to the US after living abroad for 4 years. We have watched as our kids try to navigate and learn/re-learn things about life here - how to flush a toilet, what certain things are (dishwasher, dryer, hair-dryer, garage, bike racks, automatic hand-dryers, etc), how to cross a street, trying 'new' foods...the list could go on and on.

We have third culture kids.

When we came to the US two years ago, it wasn't as apparent as it is now, and to have some additional training on this subject has been invaluable.

* We feel EXCITED about embarking on a new adventure which will entail language learning, cultural adaptation, new school culture and roles and just a lot of transition. Adjusting to a whole new environment is a lot of hard work, for us individually, as a married couple and as a family unit. We've been doing it for four years. Now, we're picking up and starting over, which is daunting in many ways. Through some of our training here though, we feel like we have better tools in place for this transition and are excited about it, rather than dreading it.

* We feel RENEWED in our sense of calling, specifically identifying that God is calling BOTH Marc and I to Transformational Education. I have been searching for my place in the missionary world for the past four years. This past year specifically, I dove into part-time ministry/work through Karama, which I am continuing in Rwanda and which I LOVE and am passionate about (If you don't know what I do with Karama, that's a post that will come in the next few weeks). However, I am being called into teaching preschool at KICS, and while I am still feeling apprehensive about my readiness for this task, I feel affirmed in this calling for this time. We long to see students transformed by the Holy Spirit, and we know the relationships we build in and outside the classroom give us opportunities to share the love of Jesus with our students.

* We feel CONNECTED to other missionary teachers. One of the distinctive characteristics that we love about TeachBeyond is the focus on educators on the missions field. We are leaving an amazing community behind in Tanzania. We know there is an equally incredible community at KICS, but it is wonderful to connect with other missionary teachers that are heading out all over the world: Germany, Senegal, Hungary, Nicaragua, Tanzania, China, and many, many more! This week, we were able to meet the NEW HOPAC chaplain! We've also met and gotten to know another couple who is heading to the same school as us in Rwanda!

* We feel PREPARED for the next 5 weeks in the US and beyond. We have an enormous to-do list, including a humanly impossible amount of funds to raise, reports to write, book studies and 'homework' for TeachBeyond we have yet to complete, church presentations, child safety trainings, open houses, meetings with supporters, a class to take (for Marc), missions committee meetings, doctors appointments, web pages to create for online giving, prayer cards to create, prayer letters to write and hopefully in all of this a lot of fun as well! It's overwhelming to come on 'home assignment'. It is not vacation. Let me say that again: IT IS NOT VACATION. We actually have a week of camping built into our 8 weeks in the US so we do actually take time to rest a bit while we are here, because otherwise we have multiple obligations each and every day. Despite all the busyness and stress of what's to come, we feel much more prepared to accomplish it because of the amazing support services of TeachBeyond. We know the people behind the names and emails now and have gotten a sense of their heart to help us succeed!

We are so thankful for this time of training with TeachBeyond and are looking forward to our new relationship with them! Feel free to ask questions about our new sending mission if you have any- we would love to share!
On campus at Wheaton College for our orientation with TeachBeyond. 

Monday, September 19, 2016

New Routines - What are we up to these days??

A new year has begun, and with it are new routines! Here's what we are all up to this term!

Marc continues to teach grade 9 - 12 Bible. HOPAC has added many new students to both grades 9 and 11, so Marc has more students than before. He's also added a grade 9 English class this year. HOPAC uses the British curriculum, which is much different than the American system. Bible is not an examined subject at HOPAC, so Marc hasn't really had to navigate the British system prior to this year. Now that he's teaching English, however, he has to be trained. He will be heading to Malaysia in October for a few days of training on the British system. He hopes to get a $25 flight over to Singapore and explore there for a day or two as well. 

"Happy Birthday, Baba!"
We celebrated Marc's bday on
September 6. 
Marc is one of the Grade 12 homeroom teachers this year, which actually means a lot at HOPAC! There is a grade 12 class trip to Zanzibar in June, which the students spend a lot of time fundraising for throughout the year. Marc will almost definitely go on that trip with the class, and will also be helping with the vaious fundraisers. The first one is coming up in October. They will be hosting a talent night, where they showcase their different talents like singing, dancing, poetry, etc. It's always a lot of fun to attend! 
Marc leading a 'pass the balloon' game at Hope's bday party.
Marc was able to go on the Grade 12 bonding day a few weeks ago. They took the boat over to Mbudya island for the day, which despite the crazy wind, was a great day for all the students and teachers. 

Grade 12 on Mbudya Island
Marc has a staff meeting after school each Wednesday, when the rest of us are in the library doing Swahili lessons. He also meets with several students throughout the week as needed, both for help with school, but also for discipleship and discussions. Marc has students in his classes from a variety of religious beliefs and backgrounds. Just this past week, one of his students sent him a message telling him that he loves the way Bible class is making him think and that it's already his favorite subject! Also last week, a mom of one of Marc's students told me that her child has really felt encouraged and built up because of the relationship with Marc.

Marc is also taking another Masters class online through Calvin College. This is his second class towards his Masters in Education. He can do half of the program online and the other half has to be on campus. We're still trying to sort out what that means for us and our future.

Isaac is in Grade 3 this year and is enjoying it. He's usually got some spelling, math, reading and writing homework each week. He's really looking forward to the grade 3 assembly coming up in a few weeks and has the role of "Dictionary Angel". During terms 1 and 3, each primary class leads an assembly for the rest of the primary school. These are usually quite elaborate with long skits, choreographed dances, songs, art work and usually includes a Bible lesson and some teaching on what the class has been learning so far this term. I don't think it's any secret that Miss Shirley, Isaac's teacher, is the BEST at coming up with ideas for her class assemblies. Over the past three years, I actually attended all of her assemblies even without a child in her class! I'm sure this one will also be fantastic! 
Isaac heading back to his classroom after swimming class

Our school has Fun After School Activities (FASA) each term, led by volunteer parents and teachers. Each term offerings are different, depending on who wants to lead what. Some activities from the past have been cake decorating, board games, choir, scrapbooking, art and prayer, baking, etc. This term, Isaac has signed up for Taekwondo on Thursdays after school. He started last week and came home very excited about what he had learned! 

This past summer, we started our children with Kiswahili lessons three times a week. Now that school has begun, we are down to just one time a week after school. Each Wednesday, Isaac heads up the library after school and meets up with Hope and another friend for a Swahili lesson. 

Isaac was a good helper at Hope's birthday party!
This past summer, I also began to give Isaac and Hope piano lessons. Isaac is doing quite well and picking up on it quickly. Finding consistent times to practice and do lessons has been a struggle, but we're still making work of it. 

Hope started in Kindergarten this year at HOPAC! She has loved being at school each day and really loves the 'special' classes of swimming, IT, art, music, Swahili and PE. I have really enjoyed watching Hope engage with kids her age. Since moving here, she has spent a lot of time with kids either younger than her or older than her. The kids close to her age all started KG last year, but because of Hope's September birthday, she had to wait a year. Even the kids in her preschool last year were mostly all younger than her and the two kids who wee her age were both boys. Her birthday party last week was so special to have 12 KG girls together for her to play with! 

Hope with all of the girls in KG at her birthday party last week
At some point last year, Hope just picked up on reading. She's reading far above her age and grade level, and we take absolutely zero credit for her ability! HOPAC uses the Oxford Reading Tree stage books for reading. Hope is cruising through the stages, trying to reach a stage that offers new words and challenges for her. I've reflected often over the past month of how far we've come. From her being two years old with no words besides 'mama' and 'dada', needing speech therapy two times a week for 10 months, going to geneticists to see about her growth and development delays to now excelling in areas of language and communication. Not only is she reading extremely well, she's also doing amazing in Swahili. Of the six children who did Swahili this past summer, I would dare say that besides the student in grade 6, Hope was doing the best. She was picking up on it quickly, remembering it, and has very good pronunciation. I would love to see if there is research out there regarding correlations between early childhood intervention for speech delays and ease in learning a second language. I'm curious. 

Hope joins Isaac up in the library every Wednesday after school for Swahili class. We haven't been as consistent with her about piano lessons, but hope to get a bit more serious now that we're more into a routine. 
Hope heading to the merry-go-round in the morning before school starts.
Geneva is going to preschool 3 days a week - Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. She doesn't often love going in the morning, but by the end of the day she has had fun. One of her best friends just switched schools, so this will be her first week without her. On Wednesdays, she comes up to the library while Isaac and Hope have Swahili and we read books together or sometimes she watches a movie with one of the other children who doesn't have lessons that day. Geneva does her lessons on Thursday with two children from another family. 

Caleb, Shannon, Vimbai and Geneva 
This past Sunday in church, Geneva surprised us by writing words from up on the screen in her notebook. She's been learning letters in preschool, and loves to spell "hope", but really hasn't put together many other words yet. We haven't put any pressure on our kids to write/read before Kindergarten and prefer they learn through play and social interaction. Tanzanian preschool, however, is a bit more focused on academics, so Geneva is spending time working on her letters in her school. I'm actually hoping to open a preschool/daycare for HOPAC teacher kids in January (more on that later) that Eva can switch to. 

Chrispine is in Grade 12 this year and has a lot of work with his classes. He's also studying for the SAT subject tests coming up in October. He recently passed the TOEFL test, which is required for international students when English is not your first language. Chrispine was just chosen to be a part of student council this year as the Chaplain. We are so proud of him! He is a very intelligent, caring, thoughtful and intentional young man. We know he will serve his classmates well in this role. 

First day of school pic
Chrispine is also playing football for school this term, which means 3 after school practices each week. He's joined the rugby team as well, which practices once a week in preparation for a special sports weekend in November.
Chrispine on the Grade 12 bonding day on Mbudya Island 
On top of all that, Chrispine is also serving as a Wyld Life leader this year. Wyld Life is the middle school ministry of Young Life. They will have club once a month with all the middle school students, but Chrispine will also meet with the other leaders a few times each month for prayer and preparation. He volunteers at God's Tribe with the media/sound team as well a few times each month. 

If you read our last prayer letter, you already know that we've added someone else to our family for a few months! Ellen has taught at HOPAC the last two years. She originally thought she was going to be done at HOPAC after last year. The new teacher to replace her, however, cannot come to Tanzanian until November, so Ellen graciously agreed to stay on until he arrives and transitions. Ellen moved in about a month ago and will stay until mid-November. Ellen was born and raised in Japan as an MK and has also taught in Cameroon. It's been a joy to have her as part of our family! 

Ellen with Lisa on the Grade 11 bonding trip last weekend
I continue to help lead worship at HOPAC assemblies 3-5 times a week, depending on the week. I love doing it, and wish you could all hear the primary school kids singing out praises to Jesus! I often have tears in my eyes as I lead. 
First day of school assembly 
I'm also involved with Karama for about 10-15 hours a week. Every Wednesday I spend at the Young Life Africa training center, as my 'office'. I meet with Dyan, (founder of Karama) and do a lot of admin work during the day. What I actually do for Karama is a post for another day, but I absolutely LOVE it and feel honored to be a part of it! 

Mondays and Fridays are the other days that Geneva is in school, so I often work from home those days. I fit in grocery shopping and other random tasks on these days as well, such as writing prayer letters, blogging, writing supporters, cleaning/organizing at home. Tuesdays and Thursdays, Geneva is home with me, and we usually try to actually stay home one of those days. The day we don't stay home, we will go to someones home or meet up at the pool for a few hours with friends. These are great days to try and connect with other ladies with small kids. I don't always do a great job of this, but it's one of my goals. 
Leading the weekend bonding retreat for Grade 11 
This year I am a class mom again for Isaac's class. So far, that hasn't meant much, but things will come up in the next few months. The Bible study I'm in begins again tomorrow and will meet each Tuesday afternoon.  I also will continue to co-plan and lead Women & Worship with my friend, Dyan. We gather women from across Dar 4 times a year for worship, prayer and fellowship. Our first one for this school year was the evening of September 11. We worshiped and did a journaling activity that the women could take home and continue working on for a few weeks. We will host another Women & Worship in December sometime, focusing on Advent and the Christmas season. 

I was able to go on the grade 11 bonding trip two weekends ago. I got to dust off my youth pastor skills and lead all the activities for the weekend! We took the bus South for a few hours and stayed at a camp on the beach. It was rustic, but you really can't beat a weekend on the ocean - even if the toilets don't flush! It was so much fun getting to know the new students and reconnect with the returning students from this grade. When this class was in 8th grade I taught them Bible for a term.
Grade 11 bonding trip 
We look forward to other things coming up this term, including attending Chrispine's football games, Back to School night next week, monthly visits to Green Pastures home for children, Chrispines birthday in October, Geneva and Gretchen's birthdays in November, the artisan market in December, and two visitors coming for Christmas! So much to thank God for this term!

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Lost & Found: My identity as His Beloved

I bet I have at least 20 different messages/lessons on the topic of Christian identity hidden away in my files from my years of being a youth director. It's a topic I covered every single year with my middle and high school students - and not just with one lesson, but several, sometimes an entire month. Adolescents are asking the big questions of 'Who am I?' 'Where do I belong' and 'Do I matter'. It is a season of life many of us have no desire to revisit. We know how difficult it is to be searching for answers to these questions in a world that can be harsh, unforgiving and unrelenting. I longed for my students to have a Biblical framework in which they could start making sense of these things, as well as a safe place to explore their beliefs, doubts, gifts, passions, failures and faith.

When we moved here in July of 2013, I was 33 years old. I was certainly not an adolescent but slightly on the young side to be having a mid-life crisis, but in a sense, that's how I felt. I had gone from full time church ministry to missionary. It might not seem like that big of a switch. Except it was.

From the age of 21, when I graduated college, I had been involved in full time ministry. I participated in Mission year straight out of college in Oakland, California. From there, I took my first youth ministry job which I was at for five years. I then moved to my second church as the youth pastor for another six years. Student ministry in the context of a church had been my entire post-college, professional life so far.

I went from being a well-known and respected leader in the church to a newbie missionary who had no idea what culture and language I had just entered into. I went from having regular child care lined up so that I could work to not feeling comfortable leaving my kids with anyone for months and months. I went from having long-term relationships with students who called me 'Mama-G', 'G-money', 'mom' and friend to students calling me Mrs. Driesenga. I went from being in charge of planning and leading weekly youth group, teaching, preparing lessons, Sunday school, retreats, trips, bible studies and more to not really having anything regular on my weekly schedule (at least at first!). I went from feeling fulfilled and satisfied as I was able to use my gifts to questioning what my gifts were and how I could use them in this new context. I went from a regular salary and benefits to lousy benefits, self-employment taxes and a 'salary' I had to raise (which wasn't going all to well).  I went from a strong community and network of friends, family and co-leaders to a missionary/expat community that, to be honest, can be a bit challenging to break into as a newbie. I went from feeling confident that God was using me to questioning why I was even here in Tanzania.

You can see where this is going, right? I found my self, at age 33, asking the classic adolescent questions of 'Who am I?','Where do I belong?' and 'Do I matter?'.

Throughout my years of ministry, my identity had slowly became enmeshed with my work. I was Gretchen, The Youth Pastor. Coming to Tanzania without that identity caused me to panic slightly. Our first year here, I frantically tried to find places to plug in - I had 40+ kids come play in our yard every week, I taught 8th grade Bible for a term, I co-coached primary swimming for the year, I started taking Swahili classes, I joined the worship team & ended up a worship leader, I joined a Bible Study, I went to a weekly prayer meeting...looking back I see that I was desperately trying to 'do' something, because in that, I thought I would find my identity. There was the added layer of complexity that now we were raising our funds, so I felt a pressure to produce something tangible that was worthy of the financial sacrifices of my friends and family.

In the midst of feeling fragile, lost and frustrated, God graciously revealed His stunning truth to me once more: I didn't need to 'do' anything to be his beloved, I simply was. He gently reminded me of His great love and His unending grace, which I am still trying to comprehend and wholeheartedly believe.

Before entering into our second year in Tanzania, I felt very strongly that God was asking me to limit myself to three things: family, worship and Swahili. I vowed to say 'no' to anything that didn't fall into one of those categories. I was asked to things that year that were good, yet I said no. It was challenging. I feared letting people down, or not proving my worth to supporters. I wondered if people would understand. The Lord patiently used that time to untangle my mess of an identity and draw me closer to Him. In saying 'no' to doing a lot of things, I was saying 'yes' to just being.

I'm still learning what it means to be a beloved child of God. I struggle yet with fully living in God's grace for me. There are days when I just don't buy it, days where I find myself foolishly trying to earn points with God because I fear my depravity is too much. There are other days when my pride gets in the way and I waver into thinking I've somehow earned my "beloved" status because of my "good works". As the Heidelberg Catechism so articulately states, however, "even our best works in this life are all imperfect and defiled with sin." (Q&A 62 - see below)

There are a lot of labels I can and do wear on a daily basis: wife, mom, worship leader, student, missionary, fund-raiser, friend, daughter...but my true identity, the thing that defines me above anything else is this: I am Beloved By God. I might be a slow learner and need constant reminders of this fact, but I follow a Savior who is incredibly patient with me as He shapes me more into His likeness.

"See what great love the Father has lavished on us,
that we should be called children of God!
And that is what we are!"
1 John 3:1

"But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy,
made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions -
it is by grace you have been saved.
And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him
in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus,
in order that in the coming ages he might show
the incomparable riches of his grace,
expressed in his kindness to use in Christ Jesus.
For it is by grace you have been saved,
through faith - and this is not from yourselves,
is it the gift of God -
not by works,
so that no one can boast.
For we are God's handiwork,
created in Christ Jesus to do good works,
which God prepared in advance for us to do."
Ephesians 2:4-10

Heidelberg Catechism Question & Answer 62 & 63


But why can our good works not be
our righteousness before God,
or at least a part of it?

Because the righteousness
which can stand before God's judgment
must be absolutely perfect
and in complete agreement
with the law of God, 1
whereas even our best works in this life
are all imperfect and defiled with sin. 2

But do our good works earn nothing,
even though God promises to reward them
in this life and the next? 1

This reward is not earned;
it is a gift of grace. 2

"He's asking us, 
'Will you take what you think defines you, 
leave it behind, 
and let Me define who you are instead?'

The cool thing about taking Jesus up on His offer is that whatever controls you doesn't anymore. People who used to be obsessed about becoming famous no longer care whether anybody knows their name. People who used to want power are willing to serve. People who used to chase money freely give it away. People who used to beg others for acceptance are now strong enough to give love. 

When we get our security from Christ, we no longer have to look for it in the world, and that's a pretty good trade." 

- Bob Goff, Love Does

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Things I miss & Things I don't

Yesterday marked 3 years since our family first arrived in Tanzania.  I intended to write a blog about 3 big things I've learned these last 3 years. What did I do instead? Looked through almost 3 years of pictures from facebook with Hope (who was up very late!) We relived our move here, our first few months of everything being new, new friends, remembered old neighbors and commented on how things have changed and people have grown. It was actually a really fun hour or so, but alas, no blog post. And I sit here now, having had a busy day of Swahili, laundry and packing for a 2 night getaway and have no real energy to put into a "things I've learned" type of post. Instead, how about things I miss & don't miss about living in the US? That'll have to do for now. 

Things I miss about living in the US, in no particular order:

Family and friends top the list by a long shot, of course. 
  •       neighborhoods with sidewalks, streetlights and parks
  •       having daylight past 6:30pm
  •      consistent internet, electricity and water
  •       accessibility to things - if I need new guitar picks, I know 5 options of where I can get them in the US...not the same here. 
  •       fall and everything that goes with it
  •       berries
  •       highways & the ease of travel
  •       free or inexpensive things to do with the kids -parks, fishing, hiking, walks, lakes, availability    of rec league sports, lessons of various types (ballet, etc)
  •    liturgy in church 
  •    good health insurance and access to top doctors and health care
  •    thrift stores & garage sales 
  •    the children's museum and the meijer gardens
  •    a sense (though often false) of security - not always feeling stressed when driving or out at        night, or wondering about your home security, etc. 
  •   camping 
  •   PBS
  •   Tiger's baseball 
  •   certain restaurants & good pizza 
  •   Ice cream/frozen yogurt 
Things I do not miss about living in the US, in no particular order: 
  • advertising and commercials 
  • kids sports being god in the lives of some (many?) families
  • processed food being cheap and whole foods being expensive
  • the temptation to consume, consume, consume
  • fast food
  • the hurried pace of life - everyone always being "crazy busy"
  • pressure to have the latest, the best, the biggest, the most, etc 
  • politics
  • winter & snow (the kids would without a doubt disagree with this one!)
What about you? If you moved away from where you currently live, what do you think you would miss? Anything you'd be glad to leave behind? 

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

At it again...Nitajaribu kujifunza Kiswahili pamoja familia yangu

One of my lifelong goals has been to be fluent in another language. Easy to write on a bucket list, much harder to accomplish in real life.

Our first year here, actually within our first few weeks here, Marc and I took about 10 hours of Swahili lessons with another couple who had recently moved. We learned the important greetings, learned numbers and some key verbs and sentence structure. It was hard to do during such a big transition and with the small kids, but it felt good to make some quick progress. School then began and Marc lost any free time to dedicate to lanague. Finally in December 2013, I partnered with a few other ladies and began a language and culture program called GPA, or Growth Participator Approach. For eleven months, I spent 3 hours a day, 3 days a week, studying KiSwahili with a few other ladies. After a few months in a group of 6, we paired off into twos. My main partner, Angie, also has a young daughter just a few months older than Geneva, so the two of us were constantly interrupted with requests for juice, TV shows, naps, bathroom breaks, arguments, etc. I'm pretty sure the other two groups (whose kids were all in school) progressed MUCH quicker than we did. It was discouraging at times, as many days we felt like we were taking one step forward and two steps back instead of the other way around.

My partner Angie with our friend and language helper, Lucy a few years ago. 

After about 11 months of language study, our language helper got very busy with a full time job and was unable to continue with us. We took a break for the holiday season and then actually never got started again!

This past year, HOPAC's Kiswahili teacher offered classes for the teachers during the school day. I wiggled my way into that as I am at school three days a week helping with assemblies. It was good, and early on I got moved from the intermediate class to the advanced class, but it was a more traditional style of language learning and I honestly did not practice or retrain most of what we covered this past year.


The whole family is getting in on lessons! Our kids and three children from another family are going to work together with a language helper to begin learning vocab. The GPA approach,at least phase 1 where the kids will start, includes a lot of physical response and games - I actually really enjoyed it and think our kids will have a lot of fun with it as well! They will begin next week with 2 hours a day for 3 days a week. Marc and I are then going to work with the helper for about 5 hours per week as well.

I'll be sure to post some updates about our progress and maybe some pictures as well!

If you have any interest in the language approach we are using, check it out HERE

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Western Michigan Christian trip to Tanzania - 2016

We just got done hosting a team from Western Michigan Christian High School. They're actually probably in the air somewhere, arriving home to the USA in a few hours. I thought I'd share what our schedule looked like while they were here. We kept them very busy, but wanted to fit in as much as possible during their trip. 

We have another group coming in 3 weeks time! They will have a different schedule than below, but some of the elements will be the same. 

Saturday, May 14
9:05pm                             Arrive Dar Es Salaam
                                             Orientation - cultural rules, expectations (if not too tired)
Sunday, May 15
7:30am                             Rise & Shine, Breakfast
8:15am                             Leave for Church - help set up for church
9:30am                             Worship at God's Tribe Church
11:30am                          Help pack up church
12:30pm                          Lunch & pack 
2:30pm                             Leave for Mikumi  (dinner at Tan-Swiss)

Monday, May 16
6:00am                             Breakfast
6:30am                             SAFARI – Mikumi National Park
3:30pm                             Leave for Dar
 Tuesday, May 17
7:00am                             Breakfast
8:00am                             Mbezi Chapel Preschool - teach lesson, craft, game, songs
10:30am                          Nuru Center - working with adults with disabilities
2:15pm                             Karama - learn about Gretchen's position with Karama
3:30pm                             Sala Sala kids club - help with the volunteers who lead this club
6:30pm                             Dinner & Debrief                       

Wednesday, May 18
7:00am                             Rise & Shine, Breakfast
8:00am                             Mbezi Chapel Preschool - teach lesson, craft, game, songs
10:00am                          Visit some Karama artisans: Mabinti, Africraft, Nzito
6:00pm                             Dinner at home
7:00pm                             Life Group - our church small group 

Thursday, May 19
7:45am                             Primary Assembly
8:10am                             Mbezi Chapel Preschool - teach lesson, craft, game, songs
10:30am                          Wamama Kahawa - learn about this small business
11:30pm                          Lunch @ HOPAC Snack Bar
12:00pm                          Grade 2 - plan teacher party
12:30pm                          Go through donations for the orphange
1:15pm                             Assist a service Learning class at HOPAC
2:30pm                             Fish Market 
5:00pm                             Home to change
6:30pm                             Dinner at Addis in Dar

Friday, May 20
9:00am                             Leave for city center : Hindu Temple visits
1:00pm                             Lunch on Kisutu street
2:00pm                             Textiles market/Sokoni/purchase ferry tickets                  
6:30pm                             Dinner  

Saturday, May 21
7:15am                             Rise & Shine, breakfast
8:15am                             Meet at HOPAC, head to Green Pastures Orphanage
12:30pm                          Lunch
3:45pm                             Ferry departs for Zanzibar

Sunday, May 22
8:00am                             English worship @ Christ Church Cathedral
                                            Zanzibar tour: stone town, slavery memorial sites, etc
3:45pm                             Ferry departs for Dar              
6:00pm                             Arrive in Dar - home for dinner

Monday, May 23
8:00am                             Pack 
10:00am                           Kunduchi Beach   
3:15pm                             Home to shower & finish packing
5:00pm                             Early Dinner
5:30pm                             Leave for airport

10:20pm                          Depart Dar es Salaam