Thursday, July 24, 2014

God's praise in a new form

Since arriving in Kenya, we have been adjusting to life here.  We are re-learning how to cook, speak, drive, shop, greet, hike, study, and so many other functions that were second nature back in the US.  One of our favorite new "functions" is our praise time in the morning in language school at Brackenhurst.  We always sing in Swahili, and until recently, our only accompaniment has been a drum (ngoma).  We also have some Korean classmates.  You should hear the blend of Kenyans, Americans, and Koreans singing Swahili words in English hymns to God.  Check out the video of this.

Sometimes, our morning praise time includes some of that Kenyan praise music.  But more commonly, we use European hymns that have been translated into Swahili (Kiswahili, for you purists).

Here is Amazing Grace, in Swahili:
And here's the translation of the first stanza:
In the grace of Jesus, I am saved; I was lost in sin, blind in soul.

You might say that some important phrases were literally 'lost in translation.'  And you'd be right.  But that's no fault of the translator.  Swahili commonly requires more syllables than English to convey the same information.  So when fitting the words into the song's meter, the translator had to truncate. In order to keep the tune and meter, we finish with words that seem less profound, less lyrical.

Some of our instructors are also prominent singers in their local church's choir.  But don't think of this choir as a stationary arrangement of robed Southern Baptists.  Oh, no.  Their music is festive, responsive, active, harmonious, and thoroughly wonderful.  When our Kenyan instructors give us original African hymns, with words and music not wedged into the grid of European hymnody, oh, how much more appropriate!  Responsive, joyous music with complex rhythms and harmonies.  That's how Swahili music is supposed to sound!

We do love singing tunes we have known for years.  The Sunday before we left the US, our wonderful Church blessed us by singing "Leaning On the Everlasting Arms."  We especially love this hymn, because we get to 'act up' in church (we lean when singing "leaning").  And a very neat thing happened here.  On our first day at Language School, we were very happy to recognize the same tune, this time with Swahili words. 

As we integrate into Kenya, we are trying to keep in mind that we can't wedge our American expectations into Kenyan life.  Those expectations often will not fit, and may produce awkward, truncated relationships.  We need to be ready to stretch and grow and find new, fuller ways of living.  Dwight Gradin taught us a quote:  "Learn a new language; grow a new soul." 

Kiswahili at Brackenhurst

Here we are at Kiswahili (the Swahili language) School at Brackenhurst, near Limuru and Tigoni Kenya.   After landing in Kenya June 12th, our hosts the Steurys, Manchesters, and Vanderhoofs helped us find the stirrups and ride.  They took us to buy phones and food and study materials and pick up the delayed luggage from the airport.  They fed us and held our hands.  And we are very grateful for their expert guidance.

Then three days later, they dropped us about an hour north at Brackenhurst Conference Center, where we checked into freshly renovated rooms and continued learning how to live in this country.  Our language course started on June 16th.  We have completed two weeks and are surprised at how much we have learned in a short time.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Meet our new friend, Ethan.

Ethan is a hero, through choice and dedication and long-term blood, sweat, and tears.  Ethan is a missionary who works with street kids in a gang neighborhood in Honduras.  Almost none of these kids have an engaged father.  Many of them don't know who their father is, and a few of them are orphans.  Ethan is the only father many of them will know.  He's the disciplinarian and the source of reward.  He teaches them how to behave, how to live without stealing, how to love.  Eight of the kids call him "Dad."  He has even taken one of them in, and spends much of his support money paying for the kids' school and clothing.  

Ethan works in a tough neighborhood.  When he drives in, if he doesn't give the proper signal, he finds a gun to his head, held by a gang member.  It has happened several times already.  Ethan has been tied up inside his own apartment and robbed, again at gunpoint.  He has delivered a eulogy for an 11-year-old kid, one of his Sunday School kids, who died due to violence.

Often we think of a hero as a guy running into a burning building to rescue someone.  That's a perfectly acceptable definition of hero.  But the "burning building" hero is finished with his deed in a few minutes and (hopefully) goes home.  Ethan is a more profound hero.   Ethan has been risking his life for years to save the lives of these otherwise hopeless kids.  He is currently back in the States, raising support to return to his work saving kids.  

Oh, by the way, Ethan is 23 years old.

Some young people are dissatisfied with the trajectory of their lives, dominated by electronics, and making little difference in others' lives.  Those folks would do well to ask the Lord for a job.  Perhaps He would give them a chance to be a hero, like Ethan.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Studying Hard at MTI

We're in our final week at Missions Training International.  It has been a highly fruitful time of superb training.  During the first two weeks, we concentrated on methods of language learning.  They showed us how to make our tongues and mouths create the most bizarre sounds.  Here are a couple of photos and videos of the training materials and drills.


The pronunciation drills were fun, but the language-learning games and processes were better.  Here's Martha following directions from world language-learning expert Dwight Gradin in the Vietnamese tribal language of Jeh.  
Dwight was one of a small team of missionaries who developed a system of writing for that language.  He is a master teacher.
During the last two weeks, we have been concentrating on cultural integration.  We have been involved in role-playing, simulations, and other imaginative means of teaching us how to thrive in our new home.  Here's a bridge-crossing exercise that may look sort of "summer camp-ish" but was actually packed with profound insights.  

 All of our instructors are former missionaries with extensive experience.  This has been a stellar month.  Helen and Meredith and James have been learning all day, too, in 'tracks' that are sometimes separate, sometimes included with Martha and I.  We are looking forward to putting our new training into practice in Kenya.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Training for New Servants at the Grand Household

We’ve arrived for our final training in the US prior to departure for Kenya.  Our destination for this trip is Mission Training International, in Palmer Lake, Colorado.  We are most excited. 
The COMPASS Course at MTI is universally praised as marvelous preparation for the Field.  The course lasts four weeks.  All of our interactions so far with the MTI folks have been wonderful and professional and gracious.  If I remember correctly, all of the instructors are former missionaries.  They will teach us how to integrate well with our new culture, how to learn language more effectively, and how to deal with some important situations. 
And, of course, it’s in Colorado.  None of our kids have ever seen the Rockies.  Martha and I will enjoy showing them the splendor of that part of God’s creation.  We will have some weekend time open, and hope to spend much of that time outdoors. 
When thinking about the preparatory training, I imagine that we’re like new servants, freshly hired to work in a fine 19th century manor house.  We’re elated to have been hired.  We know we’re not worthy to work there, but we so desperately want to do well to please the Master.  We know He is a wonderful Master, gracious and grand, and we want Him to find us obedient and diligent.  We need to be taught where to stand and how to dress and how He likes his pheasant prepared and how to treat His guests.  We know that He values integrity and honesty and courage and industry.  We know that we’re imperfect in those characteristics, but we’ll try so very hard.  And so we are overwhelmingly grateful for the training, so that we might have a better opportunity to succeed.

After MTI, we will spend the next two weeks in the “Grandparent farewell tour,” returning home on May 10th or so.  The next month will be our final push to pack up, close down the house, and be sure the older kids are tucked in.

Because we have a departure date!  The tickets are bought!  We fly out on June 11th and arrive in Nairobi the next day. We start work in the Master’s house soon afterward.  We are thrilled with anticipation and a bit apprehensive, hoping that we will be ready and able for our place in the Household.  We would be most grateful for your prayers to that end.  Onward, Upward!

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Fair warning

I am grateful for a gracious reminder.

I work part-time in the emergency department of a hospital nearby, to cover our expenses so that everything donated to our WGM account will only be used when we're en route to Chogoria.  I was working in that local ER a few days ago, taking care of a fellow who was quite sick and becoming sicker.  He had a whole-body infection, termed 'sepsis,' and his blood pressure was dropping.  He needed a large IV in his jugular vein to give fluids and check internal pressures and give powerful blood-pressure-supporting medications.  This IV procedure isn't surgical, but is somewhat complex, requiring multiple needles, a scalpel, wires, sutures, and other devices.  Because the procedure carries some increased risk to the patient, including collapsing a lung, injury to the carotid artery and infection, we took extra precautions.  We prepared the area carefully and used large sterile drapes, and I suited up with sterile gown, mask, and gloves.  I also used ultrasound to visualize the vein and artery during the procedure, and was glad to have ultrasound available, because this patient's anatomy was somewhat different and I would have to insert the needles at an atypical angle.

I found his vein with the ultrasound, injected anesthetic, used the large-bore needle to enter the vein, threaded a wire through the needle, removed the needle, used a scalpel to open the skin around the wire, inserted a dilator and removed it, and threaded the IV catheter over the wire.  Then I pulled out the wire and used a syringe to pull out some blood to confirm placement.  All was going well.  Then, while holding the catheter and reaching for the suture needle, I felt a prick on my finger.  The bloody scalpel had fallen into a cavity of the tray and was lying blade-up.  I had cut my finger with the scalpel.

I paused to consider risk of contagion.  And my thoughts were not reassuring.  This fellow's medical record included many past visits to treat STDs.  And his white blood cell count had been low for the last couple of years, which could be a sign of HIV infection.

I finished the procedure, suturing the catheter in place, and cleaning up my mess, including policing up the needles and scalpel and other 'sharps' so our superb nurses and technicians wouldn't be injured by them.  Then off to the sink to wash as best I could, and then I reported the 'needle stick' to the charge nurse.  She and the rest of the staff were very good, completing lots of paperwork and drawing lots of blood from me and from our patient to check for hepatitis and HIV and other concerns. All of this is routine procedure for a 'needle stick.'

The more difficult part followed - waiting the few days for the test results, and ruminating about my foolishness.  The stick had occurred at about 1:00 in the morning.  I was tired and was sloppy with my 'sharps.'  I should have been much more deliberate with every piece of equipment that had touched my patient's skin.  What if he had HIV?  And what if he had hepatitis C?  That was actually the main risk, based on his history.  Hepatitis C could be very debilitating, even fatal.  Surely the Lord would not allow those infections, especially as we're preparing to go to the mission field.

On the other hand, we recently had the profound privilege to hear the story of a friend already on the field who had been raped and subsequently had a positive HIV test.  This friend's story of faith and deliverance is truly remarkable and miraculous.  Perhaps we can tell it someday.  But I could hardly claim some sort of right to protect me from those infections when I knew our friend's story.

Isn't blood interesting?  Life-giving.  The Bible says life is in the blood.  Lose too much and you die.  Astoundingly complex, containing proteins, clotting factors, antibodies, inflammatory mediators, infection-fighting and cancer-fighting cells, electrolytes, hormones, cellular fuels, buffers, and cells that carry oxygen and carbon dioxide, among hundreds of other things.  And sometimes infectious viruses.  When it carries those, blood can be death-giving.  What is profoundly good by design can be exceptionally dangerous when tainted.  Symbolic of all creation, I suppose.

Martha took the news well.  She prayed and I prayed.  I might have lost a little sleep about it, but not much.  My favorite verse is Isaiah 26:3.  "You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, for he trusts in you.  Trust the Lord forever, for the Lord, the Lord is the rock eternal."  I am very grateful for that peace.

And then came the phone calls from the very kind Occupational Health nurse.  First, about HIV.  Our patient's test was negative.  (So was mine, in case you were wondering.)  And, last night, the second phone call.  His hepatitis tests were negative, too.  Hallelujah.

I am very grateful for this event.  In prayer, I feel that I have received fair warning.  Or at least an important reminder to be much more careful.  We're going to a place with a very high incidence of HIV and hepatitis and parasites and other dangers.  I cannot be sloppy with my 'sharps' or with similar procedures, and must insist on my students' diligence as well, for their protection.  We can go with the best of intentions and unfortunately still make a mess of it, both for ourselves and others.  But we desperately don't want to do that.  We will still engage as best we can, but we will make ourselves diligent.  As innocent as doves and as shrewd as serpents.  Thank you, Lord, for the very kind reminder.