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!

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.