Saturday, December 15, 2018

My cup overflows

As I was digging through some files tonight, I found this devotional that I had written a few years ago for Karama just tucked away in google drive and thought I'd share.

My Cup Overflows
Do you have a favorite cup? A special coffee mug you use each morning? An heirloom tea cup you only use on special occasions? A souvenir cup you got at a sporting event?

Marc went to Nairobi a few years ago for a conference and bought some handmade mugs from a local Kenyan potter. They’re beautiful and unique with different colors and tones, each with a different shape and look. Though he bought four of them, both of us preferred the same one. On our selfish days, we’d try to get to it before the other could. On our not-so-selfish days, we might even make coffee for the other & deliver it in the sought-after mug. There is just something about the shape of it, the colors, the feel of it when it’s filled with hot coffee on a…well…we don’t really get ‘cold’ mornings here in Dar, but you get the idea. Even after an unfortunate mishap where the handle fell off, we still love it.

Some cups might just be a great sale find at Ikea (or side of the road from a street vendor), but others…other cups can tell stories.

Psalm 23:1-5
“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
2     He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
3     He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
   for his name's sake.
4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
   I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
   your rod and your staff,
   they comfort me.
5 You prepare a table before me
   in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
   my cup overflows.

While there is plenty we could reflect on in this verse, I want us to consider what we think of when we read the phrase, “my cup overflows.”

What images come to your mind?

What stories come to your mind?

What ‘cups’ come to your mind?

The first connection that came to mind for me was a visual image from our school’s primary assembly a few weeks ago. One of our chaplains talked about Acts 2:17, which reads, “And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.” The chaplain held a cup and a pitcher full of water in front of the students, and slowly pouring the water into the cup, talked about how God is the giver of all good gifts (James 1:17), he wants to give us life abundantly (John 10:10) and He promises the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. As the water overflowed from the cup and spilled out onto the floor, the students all watched, eager and wide-eyed, gasping with surprise and delight, many even moving out of their seats to get a better view or come and touch the water that had spilled.

The second connection that came to mind is from Matthew 26, which reads, "My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” A few years ago, my husband preached a sermon on communion and the four cups of the passover that are remembered during a Seder meal by the Jewish people (too much to get into here, but an interesting thing to Google & read more about!). While I cannot remember all the details of the cups, I remember thinking that learning about these cups was new information - not anything I had learned about in Christian education or through the church previously. An important part of Jewish tradition and belief that I knew nothing about. What did all these cups mean? What is this cup that Jesus would prefer to pass on? Certainly it’s not the cup mentioned in Psalm 23. No, Jesus was to drink a much different cup than the one we are offered, His was a cup of wrath.

In Psalm 23, God is our Good Shepherd but also our Great Host. He has prepared a table for us, the most amazing banquet that we could ever fathom. He provides for all of our needs, not only until we are filled, but to overflowing! God not only fills our cups to overflowing, but he is the Giver of our cups, or our portions. The cup or portion that the Father gave to the son was that of suffering, all the brokenness and sins of the entire world. A cup that was meant for us. Rather than handing us that cup, however, our Good Shepherd gives us rest, he leads us, he restores us, he protects us, he comforts us and as our Great Host he prepares a feast, he anoints our heads with oil, overflows our cups, giving us more than we could ever need.The reason we have cups that are overflowing is ONLY because Jesus drank the cup of God’s wrath on the cross. He was our substitute. He atoned for our sins, giving us a seat at the feast that the Father has prepared.

What a gift! What a wonder!

Doesn’t that reminder make you want to sit on the edge of your seat, with eager anticipation and eyes wide, anxious to see the overflowing that God is pouring out, just like the kids in assembly? Doesn’t it make you want to gasp with delight or get out of your seat so you can get your hands wet in the the glorious overflow of God’s goodness?

Additional Scripture if you’d like to do a word study on ‘cup’ throughout Scripture:

  • Genesis 40
  • Genesis 44
  • Psalm 16, special focus on verse 5
  • Psalm 116: special focus on verse 13
  • Jeremiah 25
  • Matthew 23: 25-26
  • Matthew 26:36-46
  • John 18:1-11
  • Luke 22:14-23
  • I Corinthians 11:17-34

Questions for reflection:
Am I in a season where my cup feels like it’s overflowing with sorrow and suffering? As his sheep, are there burdens I need to bring to the Shepherd and let him tenderly take up and care for?

Am I in a season where my cup feels like it’s overflowing with joy and God’s provision? As his guest at the banquet, are there things the Great Host is blessing me with that I haven’t yet identified and/or thanked Him for?

Are there ways I am trying to prepare my own feast, or fill my own cup rather than allowing the Great Host?

In what ways can we become more like the children in the primary assembly - eager, wide-eyed, gasping with delight, on the edge of our seat in anticipation of what God is doing? What hinders us from that child-like reaction?

Monday, October 29, 2018

Advent Devotional Idea

For the last two years, our family has done a version of an advent calendar devotional at dinner each night. It’s been simple, meaningful and something we have all looked forward to, so I wanted to share what we do in case you’re looking for an idea. It's something you can do whether you're single, married with no kids or married with kids! You’ve still got plenty of time to figure something out as this year, Advent begins on Sunday, December 2!

The idea came two years ago when I was leading a Women’s Night of Worship in Dar. For that particular evening, in between the times of worship, we had a simple craft time. I had  cut up scrap book paper into strips that the women could choose from to make a paper chain to countdown the days until Christmas. On each strip of paper, we wrote a name of Jesus and a verse or two that corresponded to the name (see below).The idea was that at some point each day your family would gather and take down one of the links in the chain, read the Scripture together and learn about a name of Jesus. 

Shortly after this worship night, I realized I had a ton of small brown cardboard stars with simple twine loops that were meant for labeling gifts. I decided to write the names of Jesus on one side of the star and the scripture reference on the back. This took all of 10-15 minutes to do. 

About two weeks before this worship night I had been traveling and bought a wall hanging advent calendar that I got for a discount. When I bought it, I wasn't entirely sure how I was going to use it, but I was determined to FINALLY do something as a family for Advent. I was so excited to find that the little stars fit perfectly inside the pockets of the calendar! 

How we use it: 
Each night at dinner, one of our children takes the star out of the pocket and brings it to the table. If it’s one of our older two, they read the name of Jesus and the verse/s. We read for Geneva, though this year I have a feeling she’s going to labor through and sound out every single word she can! Once we’ve learned the name, read the verse/s and talked about what the name of Jesus means, that same child gets to hang the star on our Christmas tree. By the time Christmas comes, our tree is decorated with the names of Jesus! 

There you have it – super simple, but meaningful and engaging.

Ideas to change it up: 
Due to the fact that I am now a teacher (still feels weird to say that), I have to share ways to differentiate this activity:  
* If you have older kids, you could lengthen the verses/passages you read or add in reflection questions about the name of Jesus for the night. 
* If you have young kids, make sure you choose names that aren't as abstract - teaching a 3 years old about the Rose of Sharon or Root of David might be a bit challenging. Choose names like Shepherd, Prophet, Servant. Also you could read a story from a children's bible  that corresponds to the name rather than just the verse. 
* You could choose new names of Jesus each year and make it different. You could keep the old names from the previous year and put them on the tree when you decorate, but then add new ones each night of Advent. 
* You could also choose a new theme each year: names of Jesus, attributes of God, advent candle themes (Advent Candle Meanings ), choose key "Christmas" words and read Scriptures about those (one week on Joy verse, one week on Hope verses, etc) or come up with your own idea!

I’m including the list I used for the names of Jesus and the Scripture, but there are lots of lists out there, so feel free to find your own! There are more names than days of Advent, so you have to choose your favorites J 

If you don't have the cute little stars or a hanging pocket advent calendar - don't worry! Pinterest has so many amazing ways to do an advent calendar - get creative! If you end up using this idea, I’d love to see your families version of it and what you think of it. 

Sunday, October 22, 2017

What does Gretchen do?

Over our four years in Tanzania, I had many people ask me, "So what do you actually do?" The term missionary can be so vague, and while Marc had a very defined role at HOPAC, my role was a bit less concrete. I figured some of you might be wondering the same thing now that we've moved to Rwanda - "What does Gretchen actually DO?" 

First, let me step back to last year in Tanzania and tell you what my time was spent doing there, just so you can get a feel for how different life is for me now! 

Things I was involved in last year in TZ:
* led worship 3 times a week for the primary school chapels
* worked 10-15 hours a week for Karama ( - last school year, this included traveling to Kenya 3 times, Ethiopia 2 times, and Uganda 1 time. 
* was one of four coordinators for the largest bi-annual artisan market in Tanzania 
* led a monthly online health/fitness challenge group called "Commit To Be Fit"
* started a pre-school for staff children at HOPAC - spent several hours 3 days a week there
* partnered with a friend to develop her sewing business 
* attended weekly bible study 
* classroom mom for Isaac's class 
* normal life stuff - groceries, helping with homework, church, writing newsletters, etc 

Things I am involved in now in Rwanda:
* Teach Pre-K part time (Monday-Friday, 8am -1pm)
* work 15 hours a week with Karama 
* Kinyarwanda language lessons 2 hours/week
* Marriage bible study for 7 weeks
* Body and Soul exercise class 
* normal life stuff 

It looks like my list is much smaller now, and to some extent, it is. Marc and I have made a point to take this first semester to focus on transitioning our family and settle into our roles at KICS. First of all, we feel our call is transformational education through teaching at KICS. That is our primary reason for being here and we want to give our roles at KICS 100%.  This has NOT been super easy for us - we've had to hold ourselves back from jumping into areas where we could serve outside of school. In fact, this morning at church they made an announcement about needing extra help with the worship team - the whole time I was looking at Marc with eager eyes. I probably will talk to the guy currently in charge, but will say I need to wait until January to really dive into anything....which will be hard for me! In our first month of being here, we realized how much we had allowed our family time to move to the back burner as we packed up/left TZ, had a whirlwind of a summer in the USA and then arrived in RW and two days later started work. It's been hectic. Our kids need us & we have decided that outside of school, that's our focus for now.

The KICS Pre-K is held in a house a few minutes down the road from the main campus. There is one full time teacher that I work with and two para's who assist us. We have 20 students in our class and they are incredible. There are 7 (I think) different nationalities in the class, but several of the students have barely lived in their passport country. For example, Geneva is American, but of her almost 5 years of life, she's lived less than a year in her passport country. She's not the only student like that - many of our students are TCK's or Third Culture Kids.

My co-teacher and I have split the curriculum so that she teaches Math & Science and I teach Bible and Language Arts. Social Studies gets incorporated across both of our subject areas in a variety of ways. Our team - my co-teacher, our paras and I - work amazingly well together. We are all learning a lot from one another and enjoying our students immensely! 

I'm continuing my work with Karama that I've been doing for over 1 1/2 years. I am the product coordinator and work directly with the artisan groups in Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda and Ethiopia (thus my travels over the last year). Mostly, this means I'm in communication between the artisan groups and our executive directors in the USA through email, whatsapp, viber and sometimes traveling to meet them in person. 

The vision of Karama is:

To live in a world where poverty is overcome through dignified work, so families and communities can thrive.

The mission of Karama is: 

Karama alleviates poverty by restoring dignity through creative, purposeful work for artisans, beginning in Africa.

I entered into this position in February 2016 knowing that the goal was to eventually hire national leaders to do my job. That's been the vision all along, and it's finally happening!! Karama has hired an amazing woman in Ethiopia to take over the work I do there, and is in process of hiring in Kenya. I'll spend the next few months training these new leaders and then will hand off this role completely. That means, around the end of December I will conclude this work with Karama. It's been an honor to work with this social enterprise as long as I have and while it will be sad to hand it off, I am so proud that it's being handed off to national leadership and excited to watch the impact to grow! 

Please visit the website to learn more about it, or to shop! 

Ugh. That's how I feel about learning another new language. Though I am conversational in Kiswahili,  I never became fluent, so that's hanging over my head a bit. And now I'm attempting Kinyarwanda, which I hear is much harder than Kiswahili. Great. I'm starting out with just 2 hours a week and I'm doing it with another TeachBeyond teammate, so it'll be fun to get to know her as well as the culture/language. Our kids are taking Kinyarwanda AND French in school, so they'll certainly surpass me in their language studies. We'll see how this goes. 

Marriage Bible Study
Our church is offering a 7 week marriage course, which we decided to join. It's in our neighborhood each Sunday evening for a few hours. While we are breaking our own rule of not getting involved in too much, we felt like it fit in with focusing on family right now and it is only 7 weeks, so it's got and end date. Our first study is tonight and I'm looking forward to meeting a few other couples in our church. 

Body & Soul 
There is a church about 4 minutes from our house that offers a few fitness classes each week. Due to my work schedule, I can only go Monday evenings and Saturday mornings, but I've been loving the accountability and challenge of these exercise classes! It's been good for me to be intentional about taking care of my mental and physical state and I've enjoyed meeting people outside of the KICS community. 

Normal Life Stuff 
Normal life stuff right now is helping kids with homework, making lunches, baking bread, taking the dog for walks, arranging playdates for our kids to build friendships, trying to find cheese somewhere, church, trying to make the house more our home, lots of coffee, newsletters & communication with supporters, etc. We don't have a car, so going shopping or running errands is a bit more difficult. We either get a taxi, or we check out a car from KICS if it's available. We're still trying to figure out where to buy things, how much things cost, how to get around (hilly/curvy roads EVERYWHERE!) and what to do for fun/relaxation. 

So that's my life in a nutshell. It's full, it's fulfilling, it's new and sometimes overwhelming. Overall though, we're setting in and trying to give ourselves grace as we remember we've been here less than 3 months. While it's still East Africa and some things feel familiar, it's a new country with a difficult history, new language, new school, new friends and new routines. Somedays we miss Tanzania terribly, other days we're ready to take on all the new challenges of cultural adjustment. 

This week, we only have school on Monday. Tuesday & Wednesday we have full days of conferences and then we have Thursday and Friday off. We're REALLY looking forward to the break! 

Thanks for reading along! 

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Umaganda - "Coming Together in common purpose to achieve an outcome"

Today is Umaganda. My Body & Soul exercise class is cancelled. Marc's Saturday morning basketball with the high school guys is cancelled. The shops are closed. The roads are quiet with no one driving on them. Unless we are participating in Umaganda, we aren't really supposed to be out & about. 
So what is Umaganda? 
My answer is Taken from
The word Umuganda can be translated as ‘coming together in common purpose to achieve an outcome’. In traditional Rwandan culture,  members of the community would call upon their family, friends and neighbours to help them complete a difficult task.
As part of efforts to reconstruct Rwanda and nurture a shared national identity, the Government of Rwanda drew on aspects of Rwandan culture and traditional practices to enrich and adapt its development programs to the country’s needs and context. The result is a set of Home Grown Solutions -- culturally owned practices translated into sustainable development programs. One of these Home Grown Solutions is Umuganda.
Modern day Umuganda can be described as community work. On the last Saturday of each month, communities come together to do a variety of public works. This often includes infrastructure development and environmental protection. Rwandans between 18 and 65 are obliged to participate in Umuganda. Expatriates living in Rwanda are encouraged to take part.
During the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, the meaning of Umuganda was distorted to describe ‘finding Tutsi where they were hiding and chasing them out’. It wasn’t until 1998 that Umuganda was reintroduced to Rwandan life. This was done as part of efforts to reconstruct Rwanda and to nurture a shared national identity.
Today close to 80% of Rwandans take part in monthly community work. Successful projects include the building of schools, medical centres and hydro electric plants as well as rehabilitating wetlands and creating highly productive agricultural plots. The value of Umuganda to the country’s development since 2007 has been estimated at more than US $60 million.
Our family hasn't quite gotten out to actually participate in Umaganda yet. We don't know who our community leader is in our neighborhood, nor do we know which types of projects they are working on and if our kids could participate. We've heard that there are also hour + long meetings in Kinyarwanda that we would need to go to in order to participate. 
So instead, we're having a quiet morning at home, accomplishing some work and homework after our delicious chocolate chip pancakes and getting ready for a few birthday parties this afternoon that Isaac and Geneva are going to. 

I love the idea of Umaganda and the focus on community life and unity. I am looking forward to learning more about it the longer we are here. 
What do you think about a required once a month morning of community service in YOUR community? Would you participate? What benefits or outcomes do you think you might see? What would be the drawbacks to such a requirement? 

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Weekend Accomplishments

This weekend we accomplished two big things.


We got a dog!

Bongo is a rescue dog who has been staying at a volunteer foster home since he was rescued off the streets of Kigali. We think he is around 6 months old and have no idea what type of dog he is. There is an organization called WAG here in Kigali, who rescues dogs they find, nourishes and nurtures them until they find their forever families. Bongo is up to date on vaccinations and we had him neutered this past week before we picked him up. The kids are so excited to have him home, as we've been talking about a dog for a long time.


We got patio furniture!

This might not seem like a big deal, however, there are no Home Depot or Lowes around to browse and buy in. The furniture we wanted for our patio is made out of banana leaves and woven together to make the furniture and it's very affordable. We have a map of the city, and the spot to buy this furniture is located on it, but Kigali is very hilly and curvy so nothing is quite as simple as it seems on the map. We tried to find the place last weekend and after lots of frustrating U turns, gave up and went home. This time, we got help from a friend and were able to find it! We had to park at a supermarket a little ways away and walk, as there really wasn't anyplace to park nearby. So after crossing the busy road and walking up the steep dirt path, we found a few people who made the furniture. I was grateful that the people we talked with knew a small amount of Kiswahili, as that really helped us communicate. We had to hire a truck to follow us home with the furniture in the back. I'm so excited to be able to enjoy our patio a bit more now!

Sunday, August 27, 2017

First Week of School: COMPLETE!

It's Sunday afternoon and we've had a restful weekend. Tomorrow was declared a public holiday, so we have an unexpected day off from school! We have an especially short week coming up as we have next Friday off as well. I have mixed emotions about a 3 day week this week. This first week was spent trying to engrain procedures, schedule and routine in the Pre-K, so having a long weekend, a 3 day week and then another long weekend isn't helping the momentum and continuity much. On the other hand, this week has been BUSY! In fact, the last 5 months for us have been busy, so having an extra day tomorrow is welcome!

So how was our first week at KICS? Let me tell you!

Monday was a half day and went pretty well for our family. Isaac had a few rough patches as he's adjusting and entering into an American curriculum after being in a British curriculum school. He and Hope had to do some entrance testing, and a few of the questions threw him off - asking things about inches and feet when he's used to centimeters and meters - things like that. He did get a locker and figured out how to use the lock, which he was really excited about. Hope had a great first day - she's excited about everything school right now - especially that she doesn't have a uniform. I do NOT love that like she does. We try and remember to set out clothes the night before, but we are so used to uniforms now that it's an adjustment for all of us. Geneva was our only student in Pre-K who cried on the first day! She was with me the whole day, but of course, had to share me with 18 other children. She was not impressed. Marc is teaching two AP classes, which is going to be a lot of work- for his students, but for him too. It's been really beneficial that he taught the same Bible curriculum at HOPAC as what is being taught here. He's sat down with the new Bible teacher here at KICS to help navigate the curriculum, which can be a bit overwhelming.

First day of School!
KICS has incredible leadership between our principals and director. We've been impressed and inspired by each of them, and feel like we are being professionally equipped and challenged but also nurtured and cared for. We are thankful to be working under their strong leadership.

Our Pre-K class has 21 students on the roster, though one has been traveling and will join us this week sometime and another has yet to come. Our teaching team is made up of Carrie, the full time core teacher and myself (part-time), as well as two full time para's, Patience and Sumayiah. Our team is incredible. I'm learning so much from each one of them and we seem to really balance each other well. We all bring different gifts and strengths to the table. We are working at identifying what those are and how we can best utilize them to enrich our Pre-K program. Carrie and I have sorted out that she will be teaching Math & Science and I will be teaching Bible and Language Arts. We have had to make some alterations to our schedule this past week and are still working on ironing out all the kinks. Even though Monday is a holiday, we're planning a full day of work to get ourselves set up for the week.

My co-teacher, Carrie during story time 
Our students are bright, fun, beautiful, full of life and energy and just overall fantastic. At KICS we have 25 different countries represented. Our Pre-K students come from Rwanda, USA, Kenya, Ethiopia, UK, Ghana, Uganda, Korea and perhaps I can say Tanzania as well for Geneva. We have 2 little ones who do not speak English, and one who has very limited English. During story time, I'll be pulling the two with no English aside and working with them on GPA, which is the language learning method I used to learn KiSwahili. It's very active and engaging and so far the girls have really had fun with it!

Leading worship during Bible time
Our Pre-K is located in a house about a two minute walk from the main KICS campus. The school has been growing tremendously, and therefore had to find a difference space for us! The last few weeks have been filled with trying to turn a home into a Pre-K. It's been a lot of work, and truly Carrie did so much of it before we got here, so I can't complain, but we still have a lot more to do.  I'm very thankful for the resources we have here though. 

Thanks for reading about our first week. Feel free to post questions! 

Friday, August 18, 2017

House Tour

Thought I'd give a quick "tour" of our house here in Kigali. We feel very blessed by having a safe house so close to school. It's been amazing that our school arranged the furnished housing for us, and while not everything is what we would call our "style", we're so thankful for it all! While there is no Ikea or Target anywhere to pick up a few extra things for the house, we are having a few shelves made by someone here and hope to get our Tanzanian paintings on the wall soon.

This is our living room and stairs up to the dining room. To the right at the bottom of the stairs is a little hallway with a bathroom & our 3rd bedroom, which is currently a guest room/toy room for the kids.

Main floor/guest bathroom

Guest room/toy room 
Dining room that overlooks the living room.
Marc & Isaac were sorting Isaac's school supplies.

Between the dining room and the kitchen we have this little room.
We're not quite sure what to use it for right now. It used to be the kitchen,
but they built a new kitchen, so now it's just an oddly placed
little room. It currently
has our fridge and our water cooler in it...that's it.

Out kitchen is huge! We don't have anyplace for our food to go right now,
so we're having some shelves built. Please excuse the mess. We aren't fully
"moved in" to the kitchen yet 
This is out the kitchen door to our back where
our wash machine is. We are so grateful to have
a wash machine!
Other view of the kitchen. The big box in front of the stove
is how we got our groceries home today. They do not allow
plastic bags in Rwanda, so you get boxes or paper bags. 

On the top floor, there are two bedrooms
& our family bathroom.

Our room.
Please excuse the mess. This room is also a work in progress! 

Kids room - Girls are on the bunk bed. 

Kids closet

Isaac's bed

So, as you can see, we have plenty of room for visitors, an amazing view of the city (look out Isaac's window) and are by no means "roughing it" as some might imagine. We love living in this house, this city and this country!