Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Setting the Table for One More

With sixteen 8th grade girls under our roof, plus a recently turned three year old, it can be tricky to meaningfully connect with each of them everyday.  Add in after school sports, drama practice, and a 90 acre campus and some days we may not even see some of the girls until their 7PM in-dorm curfew.  7PM rolls into a mandatory study hall, group and personal devotions, and then before you know it, it’s lights out. 

And so this school year, with our hearts desiring real connections, we adopted a suggestion given to us by another set of experienced dorm parents.  Every Tuesday and Wednesday night we add a 4th plate as we set the table and the girls take turns joining us for dinner.  The food’s not necessarily fancy, and often we’re juggling a near bedtime toddler, but those nights have become my favorite of each week.  Just those 30 minutes of (relatively) uninterrupted time gives us a chance to hear pieces of their hearts we wouldn’t otherwise catch: a shared joy, a recent struggle, a whispered prayer request.  Sometimes there are tears, other times laughter or even awkward silences, but regardless, those nights are always worth it.

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We pray that these nights continue to show our girls that we are for them.  We want them to know that they are a priority and that they are loved.  God has given us the awesome privilege to stand in the gap for these girls as they are away from home and sometimes that looks like setting an extra plate and inviting them to dinner.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Five Years Strong

Five years ago we boarded a plane to fly halfway around the world.  Five years ago we felt the red, East African dirt between our toes for the first time.  Five years ago we heard our first Swahili, made our first cultural blunders, and felt God giving us a love for a people who had yet to recognize His relentless love for them.

Five years ago we also met three dear families during our October 2012 Africa Based Orientation.  Though we were all working in different ministries across East Africa, our friendships stuck and we’ve managed to stay in touch and even see each other from time to time.  Two weekends ago we decided to get together to celebrate these last five years; complete with grilling…

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conversation…

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and even a ballet performance from two of the youngest.

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Five years finds us thankful.  Thankful for God’s faithfulness, thankful for the ways He’s stretching and growing us, and thankful for these sweet friendships. We’re also thankful for all of you who have made these five years possible through your consistent prayers, generous support, and willingness to let us go.

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(Thanks to Josh and Heidi Thulin for capturing such great photos.)

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Going Batty

I am NOT a fan of bats.  Spiders, lizards, even snakes don’t really bother me, but bats and I are not friends.  When we lived in Tanzania we regularly had bats that would hang in the eves of our roof and I would regularly call on my handsome and fearless husband to get rid of them.  I distinctly remember a night he was gone when, despite needing to pee, I stayed tucked under the safety of our bed net for over an hour until he returned to take care of our latest bat intruder.

Interestingly enough though, I’ve come to realize RVA is a bit like a bat.  With a school schedule that involves three 3 month trimesters with one month off in between, things can get intense. When the school year is in session, all is a flutter- staff and students fly this way and that getting things done, meeting deadlines, keeping our campus of over 600 people humming.  And then, when that one month vacation comes, goodbyes are said, students return to their homes across Africa, and those of us who are left behind (120ish staff members plus their kiddos) go into hibernation. 

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And here’s where I really see this metaphor playing out.  Bats go into what’s called a true hibernation, meaning they are in such a deep sleep that they may appear to be dead.  The same could be said of campus… venture out for a walk on our 90 acre campus during vacation and it’s practically a guarantee that you won’t see another soul.  Campus shifts from a place with people and voices flowing out of every nook and cranny during the school year to sort of eerie during vacation as you walk around wondering if your family is the only one still on campus.  The crazy thing is most of those 120+ people are still there, they are just hibernating in their homes, storing up all that alone time for when school starts and the pace of life no longer allows for it.

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Depending on the species of bat, it can either hibernate alone or in a group; the same is true of RVA staff. During vacation you’ll find the introverts barricaded in their homes with a stack of books or a pile of movies, while the extroverts send out all sorts of e-mails trying to plan game nights and BBQ’s.  Everybody’s hibernating, it just looks a bit different for each of us.

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And then, just like a bat who’s heartrate goes from 25 beats per minute during hibernation up to it’s normal 400 bpm when it wakes, a week or so before school starts, RVA starts to ramp up.  You go for a walk on campus and actually bump into a few families; mandatory meetings start popping up on your calendar; and emails suddenly become more urgent.  Everybody comes out of their homes blinking into the bright equatorial sun, shaking off the dust, and limbering up for the full three-month sprint that’s just around the corner. 

So, as we come out of hibernation and prepare to receive the sixteen 8th grade girls who will join our family this coming year, would you pray for us and for them?  We’re thankful for hibernation and the rest it allows, but these next three months, this is why we are here and this is what gets us excited.


(All bat related facts taken from http://www.conservationinstitute.org/10-animals-that-hibernate/ and all photos borrowed from rva.org.)

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Hell’s Gate National Park

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In early June the entire 7th grade class piled into a bus and drove down very dusty roads to Hell’s Gate National Park.  Hell’s Gate is Kenya’s most geothermally active park and after arriving we were met with plumes of steam, high rock cliffs, and eroded river beds. Our assignment for the day was to supervise the students as they took part in repelling, rock climbing, and hiking.

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Thankfully a handful of adventurous RVA staff members were already trained for the task of leading the students through each challenge. This meant our role was to encourage the kids as they put their fears aside and tried something new, to take pictures, and to make sure we didn’t lose anybody!

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After some intense repelling and climbing, we hiked the gorge and marveled at the awesome power of water. The kids traversed through the gorge floor’s slippery, slime-covered rocks effortlessly.  And we, well we traversed as well, just with a bit more caution and a whole lot slower.

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We arrived back on campus late in the day exhausted but thinking, “What a great job!”

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Oh, the places they’ll “go”

A few Sundays ago, around 6:50PM, I heard the screams of our dorm girls as they stampeded down the stairs and into our dining room, where, prior to that moment, I had been quietly sitting.  As they talked over one another, fighting to be heard, I made out shouts of “Eww gross!” “It’s everywhere.” and “Who did that?”  Finally I heard the phrase that made the whole picture come into focus, “SOMEONE POOPED ON THE FLOOR.” Cue. Jaw. Drop.

“Wait, wait, wait, let me get this straight… someone POOPED on the floor?” By the sight of the heads nodding up and down, I knew I’d surmised correctly.   My mind started racing… “What do I do? Who would do that and not clean it up?  How can I give whoever did it an opportunity to clean it up anonymously?  We did NOT cover this in dorm parent orientation…”

Before I could answer the questions in my head, one of the dorm girls insisted that I needed to see it, looped her arm in mind, and half-dragged me up the stairs to the dorm bathroom.  As I hesitantly peered into the stall, I saw poop on the ground, poop in the toilet, and poop sprayed all over the toilet seat.  Seriously not an exaggeration and seriously gross.

As luck would have it, the girls had youth group starting at 7PM and before I could even decide what to do next, they all bounded out the door, leaving me staring at a disaster of a toilet stall.  Though I racked and racked my brain, I just couldn’t think of a way to allow the “pooper” to clean it up without causing extreme embarrassment.  And so, before I could give the idea too much thought, I grabbed a roll of paper towels and a bottle of bleach spray and headed in.

All the while I cleaned, I avoided breathing through my nose and just kept telling myself, it’s just poop, you’re a mom you deal with poop all the time, just don’t think, just spray and wipe, spray and wipe.  A half bottle of bleach spray and nearly a whole roll of paper towels later, that stall was cleaner than clean, but I still had to figure out how to address the issue with the dorm.

After I spent ten minutes washing my hands, Jared and I talked and decided what was done was done, but that our goal needed to be ensuring it didn’t happen again.  As the girls returned from youth group, we were sitting in the living room waiting for them, directing them to join us to have a brief meeting before bed.  In my calmest possible voice, I told the girls I’d cleaned it up- making sure to emphasize that I’d used a lot of bleach so that they wouldn’t start avoiding that stall- and that I wasn’t mad, but that if something like that happened in the future, they were old enough to step up and clean it themselves.  Then, just as I was instructing them not to tease anybody it happened to, they all burst out laughing and yelling… “It was a prank!”  Cue. Jaw. Drop. Again.

Once again, 9 voices started talking all at once, explaining and describing their part in the hoax.  They couldn’t believe that I hadn’t realized their display was really a combination of soggy toilet paper rolls and mud, but, as I tried to explain, I wasn’t exactly studying what I was cleaning up; I was holding my breath, squinting my eyes, and just trying to finish as quickly as possible.  As I got over the shock, I was so relieved it wasn’t real, that I couldn’t possibly be mad and even joined in their laughter.  It had been a well-played prank and a great reminder not to be surprised at the places these dorm girls will “go”.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Baking with Sunshine

Some of you may remember our post from a few years ago about our many attempts to find a way to bake in the bush.  We worked our way through baking in a pressure cooker, baking with charcoal, baking with sand, and baking in a brick-oven.  Some methods were better than others, but all had one thing in common: difficulty regulating the oven temperature resulting in burned food and many frustrations. 

As we think about returning to Tanzania in a couple years, Jared is determined to find a more reliable and efficient way to bake.  As he tossed around different ideas, he kept coming back to the sun.  After all, we use it to power lights, charge computers, heat water, and dry clothes.  And given our location just south of the Equator, it is plenty intense.  Jared began researching solar oven options online and wisely decided to time his tinkering with last month’s visit from my brother, Andy, who just happens to be an engineer.

Andy drafted a preliminary design based on the oven Jared had picked (a simple double-walled glass tube with a rubber lid), and brought both the oven and the materials they would need in his luggage.  For days, they assembled and disassembled, tweaked and fine-tuned; constructing fixtures to help focus the sun’s rays, creating a sundial to align the tube’s position, and rigging our kitchen thermometer to monitor the solar oven’s heat.

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In a word, they were focused.  And let me tell you, all that tinkering was beyond successful.  So far the solar oven has not only baked bread, it has also cooked cookie bars, brownies, apple crisp, chocolate cake, squash, French bread, rice, and banana cake.  Not to mention, black beans, baked potatoes, and steamed carrots.  All with zero gas and zero electricity- just the free, God-designed power of the sun.  All though we can only use it on full sun days from 10AM-4PM and Jared may damage his retinas from the glare of the reflectors, at least we’ll be eating well!

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Thursday, March 30, 2017

A Visitor’s View- Guest Post

2017 is our year of visitors.  Jared’s parents in January, friends from Indiana in February, my brother and his family as I write this post, and my parents this coming July.  An unusual, but fun year, and a great chance to make face-to-face memories with ones whom we usually only see via Skype.

So, to mix things up a bit and give you the insider scoop on what it’s like to visit RVA, here are some excerpts from our Indiana friend Summer’s thoughts on her recent trip.

In February, I had the pleasure of traveling to Kenya with my friend Laura and spending a week with Jared and Megan at Rift Valley Academy (RVA) in Kijabe.  Jared and Megan picked us up in Nairobi and I was immediately impressed with Jared’s East African driving skills- turning left into traffic, speed bumps, rough roads- all handled effortlessly.  We were thankful for the chance to have lunch with Kijuu (Jared and Megan’s R. friend from Tanzania) just before he headed back to Tanzania and loved hearing about all the ways God is using him to spread the Gospel among the R. people.

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After lunch, we drove 1.5 hours up to the RVA campus.  It’s a beautiful campus- flowers, stone buildings, and colorful hanging laundry; sunrises and sunsets over the valley; bright and abundant stars; a basketball court just above their dorm.  Outside of the campus gates, there’s a beautiful market filled with a variety of produce and a small store with some basic items.

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I was a little intimidated about living with the teenage girls in the Hoods’ dorm, but I ended up really liking them.  Laura and I jumped into dorm life, playing board games, participating in their devotional time, and reading them bedtime stories.  I was impressed by the number of opportunities for RVA students… sports, music, art, foreign language, woodshop, AP classes, and drama, just to name a few.  Aside from caring for their dorm girls, we observed Jared helping at the elementary school and Megan giving tours to prospective families and managing two campus apartments for visitors.  We also had a chance to take Swahili lessons from the teacher they meet with on a weekly basis.

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Two things I came away from RVA with… (one) It takes everyone.  There are 120+ staff members serving at RVA.  It takes biology teachers, dorm parents, administrators, nurses, and even construction managers to run this school, which is part of enabling families to take the Gospel throughout Africa.  (two) God gives grace for what He calls you to.  Megan and I have similar personality types- both task oriented and desiring things orderly- and yet I see God giving Megan patience and flexibility amid the crazy of “parenting” 11 kids under 14.

So, how can you be praying for them right now?

(one) Pray for the Lord’s wisdom, guidance, and presence with them as they disciple the girls and care for their emotional, spiritual, and academic needs.  Pray that He will continue to fill them through their relationships back in the States, new friendships through RVA and AIM, and time with Him.

(two) Pray for the surrounding of their home/dorm that it could be a place of encouragement and joy and that the girls would love one another well.

(three) Pray that God would prepare them for returning to the R. people after they finish this chapter at RVA.  That He would guide where they go, who is on their team, and prepare the hearts of the R. people to receive the Gospel.