“When did you get back?”
It’s an innocent question I’ve been asked several times by different people who I haven’t seen in a while. Those who ask it seem to remember reading something somewhere about me going to someplace in Africa for some period of time, but they don’t really know the details. Since they know it’s been a while since I started talking about it (September of last year) and now they’re seeing me again, they just assume that I’ve already gone and am back again! I could easily make the same mistake.
I don’t blame people for not understanding. The life of a person trying to raise support in order to do mission work is almost as foreign to some as the place on the other side of the world where the mission work will be done. In my case, it’s even more confusing, because I’ve been working in the home office of my sending organization for the past 2+ years, and I never had to raise my own support before! I understand why people get confused, and I don’t blame them for that. But getting back to the initial question above, my standard answer has become, “I never left.” Sometimes that provokes follow-up questions, other times it doesn’t. But, there’s another question I’ve been getting asked lately that is getting harder and harder to answer…
“How’s it going?”
Oh, that tricky little question. I’m never sure what kind of a response people are expecting. Because, if I were to be honest in my response, we’d be engaged in at least a 20 minute conversation! I don’t want to be dishonest, so I usually answer with something along the lines of, “I’m okay,” or, “It’s going,” or, “I’m hanging in there.” It gives just enough information to say that there’s more below the surface of my answer, but I’m not going to volunteer that unless you seem interested in hearing more by asking some follow-up questions.
There’s another answer I’ve been considering using, but I’m afraid it would just confuse people. The answer? “It’s a paradox.” (No, the answer itself isn’t a paradox, the answer IS “It’s a paradox.”) Let me explain…
Last month, I spent four weeks in Palmer Lake, CO at Mission Training International (MTI) taking their Compass course. Besides fundraising, this was the last major hurdle that I needed to complete before I would be cleared to depart for Kenya. It’s hard to put into words (at least briefly) what all we experienced at MTI. It was a mix of gathering tools that will aid us in learning a new language, and tackling some of the difficult situations we’ll face living in a new and different culture. Actually, I think the front cover of our 3″ thick binder says it best: “Navigating a new language and culture.”
On day one, we were introduced to two rubber duckies. Yes, you read that correctly. You can see them in the picture to the left, nestled between a few of their other friends (which are part of an entirely different story). The nice clean duck is the “yay duck.” The dirty duck is the “yuck duck.” Yay duck represents all of the good and positive feelings we feel as we prepare to live and work in a new culture, while yuck duck represents all of the bad and negative feelings. It’s possible to feel conflicted with both yay duck and yuck duck feelings at the same time. When that happens, you have a… wait for it… pair-a-ducks. (Get it?)
So, how’s it going for me, you ask? It’s a paradox. I’m so incredibly excited for the work I’ll be doing in Kenya, and I’m ready to get there and get started! I’m filled with hope for the hundreds of thousands of children that could potentially be impacted by the work I’ll be a part of! (Yay duck!) And, at the same exact time, I’m incredibly frustrated that I have to keep pushing my departure back because I’m not fully funded. And I’m incredibly stressed because I know how much they need me there, and with people already supporting me financially (and I’m SO EXTREMELY THANKFUL for ALL of you!), I feel a certain pressure to, ya know, actually get there soon! Granted, this is mostly stress/pressure I’m putting on myself, but it’s still stress nonetheless! (Yuck duck…) But I’m over 70% funded! (Yay duck!) But I still have almost 30% to go… (Yuck duck…) You get the idea.
There’s another concept that we learned during our time at MTI called the “transition bridge.”
This bridge is used as an analogy for the transition we are all experiencing as we move from the culture and lifestyle we know to a completely new and different culture and lifestyle. It may be hard to see in the picture above, but there are five stages of transition represented. The first stage, “settled,” represents our old “normal.” It’s what we know. It’s our comfort zone. The second stage, “unsettling,” represents shaking things up as we start to uproot and prepare to go someplace new. The third stage, “chaos,” is right smack in the middle when our lives are completely turned upside down and when things are at the worst. The fourth stage, “re-settling,” is when things are starting to calm down a bit as we begin to adjust to our new environment. The fifth and final stage, “new settled,” represents total adjustment to our new life. It’s the new normal.
Now, take a look at the words written on the posters for each stage. You don’t have to be able to read each word, just observe where they are written. Those words written above the center, or above the bridge, are the “yay duck” feelings. Those written below are the “yuck duck” feelings. These are real examples that were given by the people in class with me. Just look at how the yay and yuck duck feelings change as we progress across the bridge.
Any guesses where I might be on the transition bridge? I’m actually deep into unsettled territory and on the verge of entering chaos! Want some examples? In less than a year, I went from a 3 bedroom house to a 1 bedroom apartment to just 1 bedroom in my parents’ house! The registration on my car expires at the end of April, and I have no intention of renewing it…effectively eliminating my ability to be independently mobile. As of today (March 31, 2015), my steady, part-time job in the CMF home office is ending, but I don’t yet know when I’ll be able to leave for Kenya and start my new job there!
It’s unsettling! It’s chaotic! …It’s exciting! It’s a PARADOX!
I’m in this weird place right now. It’s like I don’t feel like I belong where I am – like I’m out of sync with life. Like I’m supposed to be somewhere else, but I can’t quite get there. I’m so close, but so far away. It’s a paradox. I know what I’ve been called to do in Kenya, and I’m ready to get started. I know God will provide the resources for me to get there, but I still must go out and find them. It’s a paradox. I’m not very good at asking for help. I’d much rather be on the giving end than the receiving end. That’s why I’m going to Kenya to begin with! Acts 20:35 says, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” But I must receive before I can give in the way I’ve been called to… It’s a paradox!
This is the part where I usually try to come to some conclusion that wraps everything up in a nice little package with a bow on top. And I really wish I had a nice, feel-good ending for ya, but that’s not my reality at the moment. The truth is, in the midst of unsettled chaos, as I continue to work as hard as I can to get to Kenya as fast as I can, I’m afraid all I have to offer are two ducks… Or, in Swahili, bata mbili!
So, how’s it going with you?
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Posted in Blog.
For one little boy living in the Mathare Valley slum in Nairobi, Kenya, the 24th day of February is a very special day. For it is on this day that this same little boy celebrates his birthday. This little boy’s name is David, and it just so happens that I am his sponsor and his friend. Last year, I was fortunate enough to be visiting Kenya on his ninth birthday, and was able to surprise him in his classroom with a party just for him. While I can’t be there with him on his tenth birthday this year, I wanted to celebrate by remembering what I was doing just 365 days ago…
David had no idea I was coming or even visiting Kenya. I never tell him of my visits in advance, as I’d hate to disappoint him if something would prevent me from coming. So, on his birthday, I was quietly waiting in a small office room at David’s school until his class was finished with lunch. Then, I was going to surprise him with a party in his classroom! However, as we were waiting, I noticed a steady line of children passing by outside returning their dishes from lunch to be washed. As each child walked by, their inquisitive faces would briefly peer into the room where I was waiting. All of a sudden, I saw David’s face among those walking by, and as he did a double take, a huge grin came across his face. My cover was blown! But all was not lost. He still didn’t know exactly what we had in store for him!
After a few moments, David’s social worker, Serah, brought us to David’s classroom where he was already sitting at the front of the class. She announced that we were having a special celebration for David’s ninth birthday, and opened up the box sitting on the table to reveal large birthday cake!
I learned that the tradition in Kenya is that I was to cut the cake with David while his classmates sang a special song. I don’t know enough Swahili to understand exactly what they were saying (yet), but my understanding is that it translates into something along the lines of “cut the cake and don’t be afraid.” After cutting the cake, the tradition continued. It was my turn to feed David the first piece. He then returned the favor by feeding a piece back to me. Fortunately, this entire moment was captured on video:
After this, I learned that another tradition is to play some sort of prank on the birthday boy (or girl). In this case, Serah smeared some of the blue frosting all over David’s face. Still not sure what was coming, I braced myself to have frosting smeared on my face, but thankfully (for me, at least) that is not a part of the tradition!
Through the blue frosting, I was happy to see that David had a smile on his face, even if he was slightly embarrassed! It was a wonderful memory, and I was so happy that I could share his special day with him!
A few months after that visit to Kenya, I got a letter from David. After talking about his schooling and what he had been up to, he wrote two sentences that I’ll never forget…
“I was so happy for your visit,” he wrote. “My mother was so thankful for the birthday cake.”
Reading those two sentences brought tears to my eyes. Something that we often take so much for granted – a birthday cake on your birthday – meant the world to David and his family. My tears were a mixture of joy and sadness. The joy was being able to share that moment with David. The sadness was for the thousands of other children living in Mathare that probably don’t know what it’s like to have a birthday party.
For so many children living in Mathare, there is no hope of life outside of the slums where they were born. The idea of a birthday party with cake is probably not anything that would even occur to them. The truth is, the best gift they could receive would be an opportunity to go to school, get a good education, and go on to college or university to prepare them for a good job and a life beyond poverty.
We are working to reach more of these children with a message of hope. We’re working to expand our programs so we can get them sponsored, so they can go to school and have access to nutritious meals, medical care, and spiritual and social development. We have somewhere around 12,000 children in our 16 schools right now, but there are at least 100,000 more children still out there, and we want to help them, too.
If you’ve been following along, then you know that I’m moving to Kenya for the next three years to serve with our field team so I can lend my skills in helping to build the necessary infrastructure needed to expand our programs so we can reach more children like David. And I need your support to get there. A gift in support of my work in Kenya is really an investment in the future of our program and the hundreds of thousands of children we hope to reach. I hope you will consider making a one-time gift to help me get to Kenya and start this important work. Any amount helps. Just click the link below to make a donation online.
Today, on the 24th of February, a day that is already special for a little boy living in Mathare, I hope you will help me get to Kenya and work to reach thousands more children with a gift of a quality education, meals, medical care, and spiritual and social development. And, maybe, one day, the gift of a birthday party of their own!
Happy Birthday, David!
Posted in Blog.
Stepping out of the back door of the airplane and into the sunshine, I made my way down the stairs to the tarmac. I couldn’t believe I had actually gone through with it. After nearly 20 hours of travel, my feet touched the ground on a continent and in a country that, just a few months prior, I never would have dreamt I would ever see. It was February of 2012, and I had arrived in Nairobi, Kenya.
I think everyone, to some degree, spends a large part of their short time on this earth searching for that something they can do that has meaning or purpose – that something that will make a positive difference in some way. I’m no different. I’ve said before that I’m attracted to jobs that bring happiness to those impacted by the work I’m doing. That is what attracted me to work in the tourism/attractions industry so long ago. Seeing families – especially children – having a good time and enjoying the experiences provided by the venues at which I worked was all the motivation I ever needed to keep doing what I was doing.
Three years ago, when I stepped off of that airplane in Kenya, I didn’t know what I was doing there. I was traveling as part of a short-term mission team from my church. There were two focuses: medical and microfinance. Medical is pretty self-explanatory. If you don’t know what microfinance is, I’d suggest checking out these resources. The point is, at the time, I was the Visitor Services Manager at The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis. My background didn’t really fit into either the medical or the microfinance category. I really had no idea what I was possibly going to contribute to this team and this trip.
In the twelve years prior, I had held various operations jobs with increasing amounts of responsibility at places like the Indianapolis Zoo, Walt Disney World and, of course, The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis. I graduated with a degree in “Tourism, Conventions and Event Management” while working full-time running the Rides Department at the Indianapolis Zoo. I became well versed in customer service skills, training, motivating staff members, safety, efficiency, crowd management, project management, operational planning, and many other operational things. And, while I’m not one to ring my own bell, I do think I’m a pretty darn good Operations Manager!
Back in Kenya, I was in a foreign place – both literally and figuratively. I was in a country I’d never been to before and that I knew little about. I couldn’t provide any operational assistance, because I didn’t really understand the context of where I would be going and what I would be seeing. But, what I saw was beyond anything I could ever have imagined.
Mathare Valley is one of many slum areas scattered around Nairobi, Kenya. Nairobi, the capital city, has a population of around 5 million people. But, approximately 65% of that population is living in extreme poverty – in slums like Mathare Valley. Mathare (pronounced mah-THAAR-ee) itself is right around one square mile in area. And, while no one has an exact count, it’s estimated that somewhere between 500,000 and 900,000 people live there. That’s like taking the entire population of Indianapolis, Indiana and housing it in an area about the size of two Indianapolis Motor Speedways.
But don’t get lost in the statistics. For just a moment, imagine one child living in this slum. Imagine this child, waking up in the morning in a twin sized bed that he shared with his parents and 2 other siblings. Imagine his one-room house, constructed of sticks and scraps of corrugated metal, that is 6 feet by 8 feet in area, with a ceiling height of just around 6 feet. The uneven dirt floor has a scrap of linoleum stretched out in the center. With no electricity, there are no electric lights. It’s dark inside, even in the middle of the day, because the one window only looks out to the narrow, 4-foot-wide alleyway that doesn’t allow the sun to penetrate too far down. There is no indoor plumbing. No running water. The smell of raw sewage permeates the dusty air.
What you are seeing in your mind is just a thing of your imagination – mental pictures assembled by your brain from the words I just wrote. But those words I just wrote are an actual description of a very real place that I saw myself. It’s a real place, a real home that I visited. While it may seem unreal and far off to you, it is a very real thing to me. It’s not just something of my imagination; it’s a memory. Real people are living this way everyday.
To say that my perspective was changed would be an understatement. During that visit, something broke inside of me, and suddenly things that used to be so important to me didn’t seem important at all. Somewhere, deep inside of me, I knew I needed to do something to help. That something came in the form of a job at CMF International, where I was hired just 6 months after that first visit to Kenya to lead their Child Sponsorship team in the home office in Indianapolis.
But that’s not the end of this story. Now, I’m being called to go and serve there, with the field team in Nairobi, Kenya in partnership with Missions of Hope International. There is a need for someone to assist in helping the program there prepare for future growth. They need someone with a background in operations to help work through challenges and obstacles standing in the way of that growth. While we’re reaching over 12,000 children today, there are ten times that many children living in Mathare who have no hope for a better life. It’s a need I cannot ignore, and a purpose toward which I feel my life has been moving without even knowing it.
Many people would be quick to think that this journey that has lead me to Kenya started three years ago when I stepped off that airplane in Nairobi. I would argue that this has been going on much, much longer. For most of my adult life, and all of my professional career (which dates back to 2000), God has been giving me the experiences I will need to fill this very specific role in Kenya. I don’t think it’s an accident or a coincidence. God gave me the skills, and then He sent me on that short-term trip, which lead me to CMF, and now to Kenya for 3 years.
While I know this is the right path for me, there are still a couple of items I need to do before I can go. One of those, I’m fulfilling right now with four weeks of cross-cultural training at Mission Training International near Colorado Springs, CO. The other involves raising the remaining funds needed to send me to Kenya. I’m currently about $16,000 short of my goal, which could delay my departure. Please consider making a one-time gift of any amount to help me get there. You can do so by clicking this link and following the on-screen prompts. Every gift – large or small – helps.
But, this isn’t about funding me. I’m merely the tool that God is preparing to use. A donation to help send me to Kenya is really an investment in the future of the entire ministry in Kenya. It’s an investment in the futures of countless children who will be reached with a message of hope because of the work I’m being sent to do. And, trust me, you, too, will be blessed knowing that you’re playing a crucial part in this story. I wouldn’t ask if it wasn’t important.
Click here to make a one-time donation.
To learn more about my specific budgetary needs and/or other ways that you can get involved, visit my budget or partnership pages.
Posted in Blog.
It was one of the first warm-ish days of the year. I was working at the Indianapolis Zoo as the supervisor of the rides department. In gearing up for the coming spring season and annual ride inspections, I decided to do a little cleaning up around our family roller coaster ride. There was a 10-foot stepladder that was folded up and laying on its side at the ride. It was not obstructing the ride path, but it would clearly be in view of park guests once the ride opened for the season. That didn’t sit well with me, so I decided it needed to be moved out of sight. The problem was, it was on the wrong side of the coaster tracks in a spot where the tracks hug the ground and I couldn’t just drag it under. I would need to lift it over them to the other side. Easy enough, I thought. I can do this. No need to bother anyone by asking for some help.
So, I climbed over the tracks, grabbed the ladder, and leaned it up against the tracks. I then climbed up on the tracks again and grabbed the ladder to lift it over to the other side. Except, when I did that, the moisture on my shoes from the dew in the grass caused my left foot to lose traction, and my leg slipped down between the metal slats and my shin hit the rail of the coaster track pretty hard. I knew it didn’t hit hard enough to cause any real damage, and figured I’d just have a big bruise there. So, I shook it off, got back up, regained my footing, and moved the ladder to the other side. I jumped down from the track and picked up the ladder to set it inside the closet when I noticed a splotch of red on my pants near my left shin. It turns out that my shin had hit the rail hard enough that it cut a gash in my leg (through my pants!) that was gushing blood.
So, trying to be as discreet as possible, I hiked over to the restroom, cleaned out the wound, and applied pressure with some paper towels. But, I couldn’t continue my day with a pair of blood-stained pants, so I then hiked back to where the zoo uniforms were kept (we lovingly called them zooniforms), to see if I could borrow a pair of khaki pants for the rest of the day. I was told that I should probably have one of our EMTs look at my leg and have them take a report of the incident. In the end, rather than “inconveniencing” just one person by asking for their help initially, I “inconvenienced” multiple other people through needing to get new pants, having an EMT check me out, and having Security take a report.
I don’t like to inconvenience others, so I sometimes struggle to ask for help when I should.
In 2012, I visited the Mathare Valley slum in Nairobi, Kenya for the first time. That visit alone is responsible for me leaving a 12-year career in the tourism/hospitality industry and going to work for a missions organization that is trying to bring hope and change to these families and children living in extreme, unbelievable poverty. Now, three years later, I’ve been moved to go and serve there, on the front lines, in Kenya for the next three years.
It’s so hard to put into words just what it is about Mathare Valley that caused this radical change in direction for my life. I can only explain it as seeing people living in conditions that are so unimaginable, and wanting to do whatever I can to help them – not just for a short time, but for the rest of their lives. Something inside of me broke on that first visit, and it changed the entire trajectory of my life.
In the next few weeks, I want to share with you some specific stories from my visits to Kenya, in the hopes that you will grow to gain a greater understanding of what is going on and why this is so important to me. I hope you will take the time to read through them and try to gain a new perspective.
I’m really excited to get going and get started in Kenya. But, in order for me to do that, I need your help. The truth is, there are a lot of expenses wrapped up in me getting to Kenya, and I can’t do this on my own. Did you catch that? I’m asking for your help – something I often struggle to do.
Many of you who read this blog already know me. Maybe we’re family. Maybe we went to high school or college together. Maybe we worked together at the Indy Zoo, or Walt Disney World, or The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis. Maybe we met in 2003 or 2004 when we were IAAPA Show Ambassadors together. Maybe we met at Traders Point Christian Church. Or, perhaps we visited Kenya together. Maybe we didn’t meet until I started working at CMF, leading the Child Sponsorship program. Some of you know me better than others, and some of you may trust me more than others.
However you might know me, I’m asking for your help. And, if I’m asking for your help, you have to know that it is important. This is important enough to me that I’ve had to learn how to get over myself. I’ve had to learn how to find my voice and communicate to others that I do need help. I’m trying to depart for Kenya in April, but I’m still about $16,000 short of my budget in order to send me there. So, I’m asking you… Would you consider making a one-time gift toward my sending budget? Your gift will allow me to get to work in Kenya, working alongside the team there, and enabling them to reach so many more children with a message of hope for a better future. And that is what it’s all about.
All you have to do is click on this link, and follow the prompts. And, I hope you’ll tune in again over the next few weeks as I share more stories from my visits. I will thank you, as will the countless children we hope to reach!
To learn more about my specific budgetary needs and/or other ways that you can get involved, visit my budget or partnership pages.
Posted in Blog.
Six months ago this week, I was in Orlando, FL firming up my plans to move there and pick up my career where I left off at the Walt Disney World Resort. (If you’re new to following along with my adventures, click here to catch up…) All this time, I’ve still been on the waiting list for a full-time position with the company. Then, two days ago, I FINALLY heard back from Disney:
It seems as though my time on the waiting list has expired.
When I think about this, it just seems crazy how much has happened and changed in my life over the last six months. It seems even more crazy that, not only could I not get a full-time job at Disney in the area I wanted, but they haven’t even been hiring for part-time jobs in that area, either. I’ve watched Disney for years, and I think this might be the first time I haven’t seen them even hire part-time workers in preparation for the traditionally busy holiday season.
On the other hand, I don’t think this is crazy at all. I think this just serves as affirmation that going to serve in Kenya is the right thing for me to do. And while my opportunity to return to Disney has expired for now, I feel a renewed passion to go to Kenya and share my knowledge and experience to help the program there grow and reach even more children. And, I’m excited to get started working with the wonderful team of people there who are equally as passionate about this work as I am!
Part of the Sponsorship Team during a field visit to Kenya in 2013
At the same time, I’ve had so many wonderful conversations over the past few months, not only with the folks I’ll be serving with in Kenya, but also with potential supporters as I raise funds in order to get there. While I would never classify fundraising as “fun” (maybe it should just be called “draising”), I wouldn’t give up the opportunity to talk about why I’m going to Kenya and what I’ll be doing there for anything!
I don’t know what the future will bring. But, I do know that I’m going to serve in Kenya for a purpose. And, even if just one child living in poverty is impacted in a positive way from the work I’ll be doing, I’ll consider that a success.
I’m still looking for folks to partner with me as I go to serve those living in extreme poverty in Kenya. If you are interested to learn more about what I’ll be doing, please explore more of this site, or feel free to contact me via Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, or e-mail. I can’t do this without the generous support of people like you!
Posted in Blog.