25 Not-So-Profound Observations Upon My Return

63554204895691614135661197_4327814-mdWe’ve been back home almost six weeks now, just long enough for me to begin making a few preliminary, perhaps superficial, and definitely random observations about life in America again.  It’s still way too early, and there’s much more processing that’s gonna have to take place, for me to disclose any deep thoughts (Jack Handey anyone?  Never mind).  Hopefully this will provide at least a sliver of insight into our transition and maybe even a moment of humor into your day.  Maybe some of you will even reassure me that I’m not crazy.  I admit that these musings range from routine to somewhat interesting to downright quirky, but for what it’s worth, here they are (in no particular order):

1. I don’t mean for this to sound trivial, but I could liken the transition so far to watching TV and switching from one show to another.  There doesn’t seem to be any gradual entry into the culture and it’s activities, but rather just a switch of the channel.  The blink of an eye and I’m engaged in something else.  A better example might be feeling like an actor in a play who steps off stage for just a moment while the crew changes the props, only seconds later to step right onto a totally new set.  An entirely different scene, but the play keeps moving right along.  Perhaps that’s because the world we’ve re-entered is the one I’ve known so well my whole life, or perhaps it’s because I simply haven’t been able to pause long enough to reflect on the road behind me.

2. I can’t believe I had completely forgotten about this phenomenon of “multi-tasking.”  Really.  In Kenya, such a concept would seem about as absurd as missing chai time.  You mean I can’t just do one thing and then move onto the next?  Is this the power or the pain of progress?

3. Why do the houses here have so many light switches and electrical outlets?

4. School for the kids is complex.  On-line tutorials, textbooks, and homework assignments.  Teachers and students emailing one another with questions.  Computers in class for note-taking.  Automated text message reminders about school meetings.  And did I mention that my kids aren’t even in high school yet!

5. These bathrooms are so incredibly clean!  Are people doing surgery in here or something?

6. Why are the text messages my wife sends to me going to my daughter’s iPod?  And why am I getting text messages from my daughter’s friend about pet hamsters?

7. Are you sure there are 24 hours each day in America?  Didn’t Einstein say something about time changing as you approach the speed of light?

8. Am I supposed to get one of those electric cars?  What happens if I do and my house gets hit by lightening?  Hopefully not what happened to my computer that once.

9. 2.5 hour phone call just to setup our home phone/internet service.  No joke.  But at least the man in customer support told me I could talk through speaker phone if I wanted to.

10. Why does it cost me almost three dollars per minute to call Kenya from the US, but it only cost me about four cents per minute to call the US when I was in Kenya?

11. It didn’t take long for me to realize that my cell phone and I were going to be spending a lot of time together.  I’m pretty sure I received more text messages and phone calls in one week here than I did in 6 months in Kenya.  Please don’t let it become “my precious” (sorry, Lord of the Rings reference).

12. I recently had my first McDonald’s breakfast in nearly two years when I took Julia and Mayson to school the other day.  We ordered the “Big Breakfast with Hotcakes.”  I don’t mean one for each of us, I mean the three of us split one order … and were full.  Does one person really eat this much food at one time, and more importantly, why?

13. On another food note, our family resumed its prior tradition of eating at the Waffle House on Christmas Eve, after our church service.  While there, I ran into a friend I had not seen since our return who remarked, “Wow, you’ve only been home three days and you already wanted to test your system!”  Yes.  Yes I did.  And it was worth every bite.

14. I have an urge to make the following bumper sticker for my car:  “CAUTION: seemingly inexplicable complexities ahead.”

15. I brought a lifetime supply of Chap-stick to Kenya and never used it.  Now that I’m back in the States I keep one in every room and two or three in my pockets.

16. Is it poor etiquette if I only reply to the person who sent me the email and not the ten other people who are cc’d that I’ve never heard of?

17. I think I’ve put on ten pound since our return.  I’m trying to convince myself it’s because I needed to.

18. Favorite meal during my first week back?  Believe it or not, ham and cheese sandwich with mustard and mayonnaise.  Why?  Because in Kenya we had no sandwich meat.  Try not eating a good old fashioned ham or turkey sandwich for a few weeks and you’ll see what I mean.  Little secret:  Subway (the restaurant, not the mode of transportation) was started in Nairobi while we were in Kenya, so, ok, I did have two traditional sandwiches while I was in Kenya.

19. Favorite dessert since our return?  No-brainer.  Krispy Kreme doughnuts.

20. Given my previous comments, should I be surprised that it seems like every other commercial on the radio has something to do with weight loss?  Or needing a lawyer for something.

21. My youngest daughter asked why the water in the toilets here is so clean and whether we can drink it.

22. Trash on Monday and Friday, yard debris on Wednesday, recycling on Thursday.  No, wait, recycling on Monday, trash on Tuesday.  “Honey, where’s my smartphone?  There must be some kind of app for this.”

23. Does anyone have a jacket, gloves and a scarf that I can borrow? (Don’t drop anything off, I’m just saying I’m a lot colder these days)

24. The roads here are so smooth and the driving so mundane that I almost want to take a nap every time I get behind the wheel.  Could someone at least put some livestock in the roads just to keep it interesting?

25. Visual aid required below – my first trip to an American grocery store.  Ok … breath deep … don’t panic (dessert aisle in case you can’t tell).












Are We Listening?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA During America’s Great Depression, when jobs were a rare commodity, the owner of a telegraph put out an advertisement for a telegraph operator. For those who aren’t familiar with a telegraph, it is a device used to communicate messages over long distances, generally in Morse Code (a language of letters formed by short and long signals of sound). Dozens arrived at the break of day with the hope of finding work. One interested gentleman came later than most and for a short time waited with the others. Then seemingly unprovoked, he proceeded to walk right through the door marked “Private” and into the owner’s presence. Moments later, the owner emerged with the applicant to announce that the job had been filled and the others could leave.

It is reported that near chaos ensued as the indignant applicants wondered why they had not even been considered. The employer explained that over the office loudspeaker, in Morse Code, the message “If you hear this, come in. The job is yours” had been playing over and over. The gentleman who was awarded the position was the only one to respond.

morse-codeI first heard this story and its metaphorical application to our relationship with God many years ago at a summer youth camp. It impacted me greatly. And as we concluded our time at Swahili language school a few weeks ago, this historical incident resurfaced in my mind.

I didn’t get too far along the path of learning a new language before I realized that writing and speaking were considerably easier than listening. From the start, we were highly encouraged by our instructors to speak as much as possible to the nationals around us. In my perfectionistic fashion, I would rehearse a few phrases over and over, only to realize that as soon as I spoke with good pronunciation to Swahili speakers, they responded with a string of sentences that flew right past my ears at the speed of sound. In my defense, I really wanted to do things well, but the reality was that one-way communication was really no communication at all, at least in the relational sense.

It was certainly easier and more comfortable to keep my focus on the class notes, learning grammar rules and sticking with sentences such as “John bought bananas yesterday.” The textbook provided a safe place and it might have even brought some diluted sense of accomplishment. But I can tell you that I felt an unhealthy awkwardness from knowing the rules and being able to express myself while at the same time struggling to listen.

In my ongoing effort to be a better hearer of Swahili, I can’t help but consider what the Bible says about hearing the Lord (and it does have a great deal to say). Just a few verses:

My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. – John 10:27

… Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry. – James 1:19

And Samuel said, “Speak, for Your servant is listening.” – 1 Samuel 3:9-10

She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. – Luke 10:39

Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. – Revelation 3:22

Just like knowing the rules of Swahili and being able to express myself do not make me a great communicator, knowing and conveying the precepts of scripture without hearing from the Lord is not unlike the Pharisees. After all, they could regurgitate an abundance of scripture and knew a lot about Jesus, but unfortunately they didn’t know Him. Here are a few things the Bible has to say about those who choose not to hear the Lord:

Yet they did not listen or incline their ears, but stiffened their necks in order not to listen or take correction. – Jeremiah 17:23

Stephen, in his condemnation of the Pharisees just before his martyrdom, boldly proclaimed:

You stiff-necked people with uncircumcised hearts and ears! You are just like your fathers: You always resist the Holy Spirit! (v 51) … At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. (v 57) – Acts 7

Jesus himself declared:

… You have never heard his [God’s] voice nor seen his form, nor does his word dwell in you, for you do not believe the one he sent. You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life. – John 5:37-40

listen_up-1600x1200When I think about those dozens of applicants who’d hoped to secure the position that fateful day, I imagine there are numerous explanations for why no one else responded. Surely a number of the applicants simply did not understand Morse Code. Some might have understood the message had they heard it, but perhaps they’d fallen asleep as they waited or were too busy talking with others to take notice. A few may have even heard and interpreted the message but not had the courage or common sense to respond.

The Bible is clear that God speaks, not only in a general sense, but into the specific circumstances of our lives. All the time. In our study of His word, are we just reviewing rules or are we receiving revelation? Are our prayers religious voicemail offered to the Lord, or do we see our prayer time as an opportunity to converse with our Heavenly Father? To say that we can have an interactive relationship with the Creator of the universe is not irreverent, it’s miraculous. His messages are going out. Are we listening?




25 Clues You Might be a Missionary in the Third World

Putting a little twist on Jeff Foxworthy’s You Might Be A Redneck If …, the following are just a few clues that you might be serving as a missionary in the third world if …


1. You can accomplish anything in the dark with only a headlight (including surgery)

2. You routinely wash and reuse ziplock bags.

3. You find the thought of constipation hilarious.

4. You have a six month supply of ketchup and jelly in your pantry.

5. You can take a shower in 2 minutes, with or without hot water.

6. Your fellow missionaries are your neighbors are your work colleagues are your church members are your friends are your “aunts and uncles” are your classmates/teachers/students.

7. You actually think that tan clothes are white.

8. Your son is able to peek his head into your operating room during the middle of a procedure (without mask, cap, or scrubs) and ask, “Dad, will you be home for lunch?”

9. Your front door spends more time open than closed.

10. You debate whether you should bring a spare pair of pants with you while you’re learning to drive in city traffic.

11. Your mouth starts salivating when a visitor from the States brings you candy, any kind of candy.

12. Your dinnertime conversation turns toward the topic of giarida and no one thinks anything of it.

13. Your “date night” means the kids fell asleep early.

14. You are used to your family in the States calling you and saying “good morning” when its actually 4 pm your time (you do the math).

15. Your sleep isn’t restful unless it occurs under a mosquito net.

16. You know how much school fees are for every school within a 25 kilometer radius (ask a missionary if you don’t understand).

17. You no longer flinch when you find a chameleon crawling on your curtains.

18. You usually remember the day of the week but often have trouble with the date.

19. You reprimand your child for pouring out a cup of water.

20. You have to take a trip to the airport customs office and three trips to the same post office in order to get one shipment of your children’s homeschooling books.

21. Your six month routine health maintenance for the children includes a prophylactic deworming medication.

22. You find yourself wanting to bargain with the clerk at checkout over the price of an item when you visit one of the stores in the big city.

23. You actually do go coocoo for Cocoa Puffs.

24. Your children’s feet are so ingrained with dirt that you wonder if a power washer would even touch it.

25. You long for the days of dial-up internet service because it seemed faster than what you currently have.







One Thousand Eyes

Before reading this post, let me apologize.  I did it.  I did what I said to myself I wouldn’t do when I first started a blog.  After months of consistently posting, I let the car idle too long and it stalled.  So finally, here I am months later with a new post, and hopefully the start of a new consistency.  But keep the faith, and I’ll try to do better moving forward…

A Thousand Eyes

Not too long ago, my son and I were walking through the heart of Tenwek hospital. It was fifteen minutes into the lunch hour, and since I had not made it home per my usual routine, Zach had come up to the operating room to investigate the cause of my absence. Fortunately, I finished my case just as he arrived. We strolled quietly along the hospital’s main sidewalks as we basked in the beautiful, mid-day sun of the western Kenya highlands. The usual hospital crowd of both patients and family members blanketed the architecture and landscape in all directions, young and old, occupying every available bench, wall, and soft patch of grass that could be found. Kenyans are a social but sometimes quiet people, and it is not uncommon to see a half dozen or so huddled in a row, seemingly content just to be together.

Despite the fact that I’ve worked at Tenwek for well over a year, and even with dozens of wazungu (white) physicians visiting the hospital annually on short-term trips, those curious Kenyan eyes never seem to lose interest as we pass them by. And when a missionary child accompanies mom or dad at the hospital, those eyes get a bit wider and stare just a little longer. We exited the hospital’s rear gate as we offered our “habari” greeting to the guards, and started down the rocky and windy path leading home. As we made our way, I looked over at Zach and remarked, “Hey, I think I have a title for my next blog post … A Thousand Eyes. Do you know what it’s about?” Thinking he would reply with interested uncertainty, he immediately answered, “Yeah, it’s about how the people here always watch everything you do.”
Ivey eyes

After recovering from my surprise that the title had such an obvious impetus (at least to Zach), I began to meditate on those last four words of his … watch everything you do. He was right, but on more levels than I think he realized. The people here do seem to notice every step we take and every move we make (to borrow a quote the musician Sting), but mostly because we have a lighter skin color and come from a culture far away. It can be a little intimidating, and to be honest, at times I feel like checking the mirror to be sure that my white coat isn’t covered in urine or that I didn’t unknowingly grow a third eye overnight. And on those really difficult days, my flesh sometimes wants to cry out to those intense onlookers, “What, what, what!”

Yet in reality, this little idiosyncrasy of being a missionary in a culture that’s not my own is really a metaphor for what it is like to be a follower of Christ in a broken world that is longing for the truth. Christians are constantly being scrutinized by the crowds, and it is easy to feel that we are simply victims of unfair examiners who are out to get us. We are quick to point out, as many a bumper sticker have proclaimed, that we’re “not perfect, just forgiven.” No doubt there is wonderful truth in that statement. But that doesn’t justify settling for an existence that is any less than the best we can have through the empowering of His Spirit. And I just can’t find any Bible verses that excuse us from our responsibility to live in a way that is worthy of being given a personal relationship with the Creator of the Universe.

Instead, we are reminded in 1 Peter 2:1 to “Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.” And in the same vein, Matthew 5:15 instructs us that “Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. “

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not implying that all inquiry into the lives of Christians is done fair and square. And I’m not saying that in general, the biases out there in our society aren’t overwhelmingly against the Christian faith. What I’m suggesting is that before we cry foul at the inequities imposed by those who oppose, we should ask ourselves, what is our default modus operandi: “not perfect, just forgiven,” or “ambassadors for the King of Kings?” In a world where the line between Christian and non-Christian is often blurred, it behooves us to remember what the term ‘holy’ means: set apart. My prayer is that as the stares come our way, we won’t shy away from scrutiny, but through the enabling of the Holy Spirit, we will cherish the opportunity to live lives before men that leave no room for anything but to bring glory to our great God.



After a Year …

Yes, the title does say year!  Next month will mark the completion of our first year of service on the great continent of Africa, and our March newsletter gives a brief glance into our lives and ministry since our arrival.  I tried to send this via email to those who have requested to be on our list, but only a few people received it due the large file size (the newsletter includes quite a few pictures).  So for those of you who are interested, here it is …

March 2014 Newsletter