Community

In America, we have the luxury of personal space. Can you imagine living close to, worshiping with, and sharing life with those you work with inside and outside of work? Bob and Andrea Parker are missionary doctors serving at Tenwek Hospital in Kenya. In their latest blog post, they talk about this reality.

Turi 2016 edit

Our Kenya Field Missionary Colleagues
By Andrea Parker
Photo Credit: Dylan Nugent

People often ask us how reality differed from our expectations in moving to Kenya. In many ways, we didn’t know what to expect from life and work at Tenwek, and we tried to approach our new life without too many assumptions. But, there were some things that surprised us. For me, it was living in community.

I had not anticipated how living in such close proximity to those we serve with would affect me. Or how it would feel to live with the same people we work with and worship with and socialize with and do school with. This was a cost I had not counted.

It’s easy in that situation to begin to resent the community and those in it. I began to miss the compartmentalized and often virtual life that seemed so easy in the United States, where I could choose who I wanted to know and who I wanted to be known by. And I could so easily separate the various parts of my life – work, church, home, family. And in doing so, I could control appearances. But, at Tenwek, there is literally no facet of our lives that is not shared with others in our community.

About a year into our time in Kenya, a seasoned missionary shared with me a profound reflection on living in community – that if we let it be, community is one of the most refining processes we can ever experience. And why is it so refining? Because it forces us to acknowledge and respond to our own impurities.

human know

“Our residents (and Bob) work together to untangle themselves from a human knot.”
Photo Credit: Dylan Nugent

Community walks into my house uninvited and stays longer than I planned, and it knows my lack of kindness when my schedule or efficiency is disrupted. Community hears me yell at my child in anger through the very thin walls. Community sees me lose patience and snap at a trainee or staff member. Community sees the way I turn a needy person away without gentleness or compassion. Community knows way too many of the times I’m not living a life of love or reflecting Jesus. Community is invasive and frustrating and hard. And community is indeed refining. Much like a marriage, it is that reflective mirror held in front of my face that reveals all the blemishes I want to pretend are not there. But unlike a marriage, I didn’t really choose this community. And sometimes our personalities and beliefs and approaches to life are very different. In all likelihood, most of them wouldn’t choose to marry me, and I might not choose to marry them.

At first this all sounds rather unappealing. Who of us really wants to be refined? But when we let it, the difficulty of community gives way to a messy beauty. Sharing life, which means sharing the really bad and sharing the really good. Because for all the irritations and struggles, when people show up ready to know and love one another, it destroys the idea and appeal of self-reliance. I must rely on others because I cannot and will not make it on my own. Community lets me borrow food when I’m out of a necessary ingredient. Community watches my child when I’m up late at the hospital and makes sure she has dinner and companionship. Community remembers my birthday (even when I don’t necessarily want it remembered). Community knows when I’m ill and checks in. Community brings me a plate of the best chocolate chip cookies I have ever had on a day when I don’t think I can make it through.

To read the rest of the Parkers’ ministry blog, follow this link: Parker blog.

ACT: Christ encourages us to live in community. This week, think of someone who is either a neighbor or someone who you see often but don’t talk to and do something for them—bring them a plate of cookies or offer some type of help or service. Be a light in your community!

 

Jars of Clay

Fear overtook Val Sleeth, missionary to Kenya, as she was blindsided by the statement, “I am an atheist.” She thought to herself, “Here was a clearly intelligent man, antagonistic towards a church that had betrayed him, who had deliberately chosen to deny the existence of God.” What could she do?

Jars of Clay

By Val Sleeth

“I am an atheist.”

These words derailed me.

In taking Michael’s history I had asked, “Do you smoke? Drink? Do drugs? Do you believe in God or consider yourself a spiritual person?”

This last question gives me vital prognostic information. My limited experience has shown that those with faith and a community do better in the hospital and at home. The research backs me up on this.*

And, all studies aside, this gateway question often leads to rich discussions and opportunities for prayer.

However, Michael’s answer shut me down. Lest I think he was flippant, Michael went on to explain how he had grown up in a Protestant church, been disillusioned in his teens by hypocrisy, and—after years studying secular humanism and atheism—had concluded that there is no god.

Here was a man directly stating, “I am lost.”

I would love to say that I boldly took Michael’s hand, shared with him the reason for the hope that I have, and asked him to pray to make Jesus Lord.

I did not.

I was afraid. Here was a clearly intelligent man, antagonistic towards a church that had betrayed him, who had deliberately chosen to deny the existence of God. I prepared to move on to his surgical history.

“Do you believe in God?”

I was not expecting his question. “Uh, yes.”

“And do you believe in all that Jesus—Son of God, raised from the dead—stuff?”

“Yes.” I was sweating. Uncomfortable. Never before had I felt such a desire to initiate discussion of an oozing rash. Anything to change the subject.

“Why?”

One word answers would no longer suffice. Michael continued to ask questions until, after about thirty minutes, I realized that I had shared with him the reason for the hope that I have.

“But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all surpassing power is from God and not from us.” II Corinthians 4:7

We have been studying this verse as we prepare for our departure to Kenya this fall at the Center for Intercultural Training. I keep thinking about Michael.

I have this treasure: the truth of the gospel. However, I’m like a pot my sisters and I used to build pulling mud out of the Columbia river. An hour in the sun and our “masterpieces” were flaking and cracked.

I’m realizing though that through those cracks, God’s power shines through.

Michael reminded me that, not because of me (actually, in spite of me!), I have this great treasure and any power I have to use and share it is from God.

I encourage you to consider what imperfections—what hardships or struggles—God may be using in you to reveal His power to others. And thank Him that His power is in us and works in spite of our weaknesses!

With Michael, I was busy and inept and fearful. Nevertheless, that day the Lord moved Michael from “I am an atheist” to “Will you pray with me?” We must not forget the all surpassing power we have in Him.

“For it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”

 Philippians 2:13

*Koenig, Harold G., M.D. 2015. Religion, spirituality, and health: A review and update. Advances in Mind – Body Medicine. Summer, http://ezproxy.uky.edu/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.uky.edu/docview/1698024209?accountid=11836 (accessed August 28, 2017).

Sleeth

God is moving today—right now—where you are, and He wants you to join Him!

ACT: Pray today that God will put someone in your path who you can speak truth in to and be a witness to. Be a missionary today!

Raising and Training Disciples

Toys are spread all over the floor. The two older boys are wrestling and fighting and need disciplined. The youngest needs a nap, and we have an appointment to get to in an hour. Pick up that mess! Stop fighting! Please stop crying! There’s so much noise and chaos every day. This situation can be summed up in the title “stay at home mom,” which our American culture uses often. But how does this work in other cultures? How do missionary moms do it? Read this story by Krista Horn, missionary mom at Tenwek Hospital in Kenya, to find out.

Recently I was asked, yet again, what it is that I do here. Besides the kids, that is. I’ve been asked this question many times, in various forms. This time it was phrased, “The kids are enough, I know [insert awkward laugh], but have you been to the Peds ward or the orphanages? I mean, what’s your thing?” I was honest: I don’t do anything. And I wasn’t embarrassed or guilt-ridden with that reply.

Long before we reached the mission field, and even before we had kids, I used to vex over this issue. What would I do? What would be my ministry, my “thing”? And how would I ever accomplish said ministry if we had kids in tow? What would it look like to be the non-ministry spouse as we headed overseas?

Well, after five years of motherhood and one year of missionaryhood, I’ve come a long way in my understanding of this issue. I currently don’t vex about it. The pressure to give an answer to the question “What do you do?” let alone give an answer the inquirer wants to hear, simply isn’t there. Not only have I given myself the grace to “do nothing” but take care of our three very busy and active little boys, but I’ve really begun to understand the fact that the value of “doing” and “accomplishing” is a cultural value – a high value in our American culture but not necessarily in this Kenyan culture. And that’s not always a bad thing. In fact, it’s often a very good thing.

It’s no secret that our Western culture is work-driven and success-oriented. It’s a wonderful thing in that it’s allowed our culture to come so far in areas like medicine and education and technology and infrastructure and countless other things. And being a Type A, super organized, task-oriented, efficient person, I love this part of our culture. Actually, I appreciate it so much that, since living here in Kenya, I’ve often had to fight my own cultural superiority when I see inefficient systems in place that perpetuate poverty and disease and lack of education. Sometimes I want to shout, “If you would just do something then it wouldn’t be this way!” And that’s partly true. There is certainly room for this culture to grow in just getting things done. However, I’ve been able to pull back a bit this year and see glimpses of the bigger picture, which has shown me that our own work-driven culture doesn’t get it all right, and this less-efficient culture doesn’t get it all wrong.

Here’s what Kenyan culture does really well: focus on people. Case in point: stopping to greet people is very important here. It’s unfathomable to the average Kenyan why you would have anything so important to do that it would cause you to breeze past them without stopping to say hello and shake hands at the very least, if not ask about the family as well. Another case in point: when you meet someone for the first time, the question “So what do you do?” never comes up. Why would that be pertinent? Most people are subsistence farmers anyway and wouldn’t be able to regale you with tales of their career path to date. On the contrary, people are not generally concerned with what anyone does, but they are concerned with how your family is doing and whether your children are well and how they’re enjoying the break from school. The people here care about people.

And that is something I’ve grown to love about this culture.

It’s also something that’s inherently hard to adjust to because, truth be told, it’s tiring to greet so many people along the way. It makes going anywhere twice as long as it should be, which is especially hard when you have a tired toddler on your back who really needs to get home and take a nap, or when you’re just simply not in the mood to say hello to anyone. And Eli often has a hard time coming and going from the hospital because there are so many “speedbumps” along the way (which is a Kenyan expression used to describe being late because of greeting people). But the point remains: this culture cares way more about people than our own culture tends to, and that is a good and godly thing.

So what do I do at Tenwek? Well, technically I’ve been teaching a PreK/K class for MKs for the past five months as well as coordinating all the holiday gatherings for the missionary community, which is something I suppose. But more than anything, what I do is take care of our kids. I feed them and clothe them and change their diapers and wipe their bottoms and teach, discipline, and encourage them. In other words, I have three little disciples in my charge every day, and mothering them is what I do each day as a missionary.

To read the rest of the story, visit Eli and Krista’s ministry blog at storiesinmission.blogspot.com.

ACT: There are many missionary moms out there, working hard to raise and train disciples of Christ. Will you send a word of encouragement to some of them? Here’s what you can do: Post a comment on this blog story—or a message if you prefer something more private— with your word of encouragement, and we will get it out to the moms on the field.

A Dream Come True

The passion burned inside her and she knew what she must do. She was going to become a nurse. People needed her, and she knew she had to do something about it. Do you ever feel that dream, that burning passion pulling you to serve others? Read more to learn about how Christine Stanfield, missionary to Uganda, took her passion to be a nurse and not only achieved it but also let God multiply it and mold it into something bigger than she first imagined.

Jeff and Christine Stanfield

Last week I renewed my nursing license. We drove across the city to the office of the Uganda Nurses and Midwives Council. On the way I reminisced through my childhood dream, my dream of being a nurse one day. I wanted to help people.

June of 1981 my dream became a reality. I graduated from nursing school. November of the same year I received my official registration (RN) from the Oregon State Board of Nursing. Hooray! I worked as a hospital nurse for nine years in Oregon, learning much and helping many people. Through nursing I connected people to Jesus. I loved my work.

Little did I know that ten years later I would become a KRN; a registered nurse in Kenya. My dream multiplied. I was Christine Stanfield, RN, KRN. My avenue for helping people multiplied as well. Oh, how I loved teaching nursing students, in Tenwek School of Nursing, how to help people. My students helped more people than I ever could as just one nurse. They connected many people to Jesus. I loved my work.

Imagine my surprise when 21 years later God invited Jeff and me to join Him in what He is doing in Uganda. We moved to Kampala, the capital city, in 2012. For the first year I observed and I listened. I learned much. Then my dream multiplied again. I went through the process to be registered as a nurse in Uganda. Now I am Christine Stanfield, RN, KRN, URN (Uganda Registered Nurse). I don’t work in a hospital and I don’t teach in a nursing school. I still help the people God brings my way.

Sometimes they come to my door. Sometimes I go to where they are playing sports. Once in a while I give advice on medication dosages or clarify medical reports for people unpracticed in reading the medical language. I teach community health lessons, helping people know how to help themselves and others. I take blood pressures and pray with pregnant women as I hand out a maternity delivery kit, called a Mama Kit. I have many opportunities to give spiritual care, connecting people to Jesus. I help people. I love my work.

At a sports tournament (Photo credit: Christine Stanfield)

I had a dream and God multiplied it. I am a nurse. I help people, connecting them to Jesus. I love my work.

ACT: Take time today to write down or think about some of the dreams God has for you. Then sit in prayer and ask the Holy Spirit to reveal to you what you need to do next. Give these dreams to God, and He will multiply them. God is waiting for you to ask Him. Who knows how many people’s lives you will impact if you let Him guide you.