First Impressions of the First World

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As most of you know, we moved from the Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania, USA to Tenwek Hospital, Bomet, Kenya on January 29, 2013. At that time, we thought we were wishing the first world good-bye for a full 24 months. Little did we know, six short weeks after our departure from everything familiar, we would find ourselves back in the USA to bury our baby girl. Obviously, that was a difficult time. We spent six weeks in PA with friends and family before returning to Tenwek. This re-entry back into our ‘home country’ was challenging on many levels. We were grieving, I mean deeply and painfully mourning, the loss of Princess Hannah. But in little moments of clarity, this time away from our new home at Tenwek revealed a couple of important truths to us: #1) It convinced us that reverse culture shock is a real thing, #2) This reverse culture shock would become a part of our lives, for we should experience it every time we moved from one home to another, #3) Most importantly, it made us realize that God wanted us at Tenwek, that Tenwek needed to become our earthly home for as long as God ordained.

We travelled back to our Tenwek home April 30, 2013. It was even harder than I expected it to be. We had to go through all the emotions and motions of leaving our friends and family, traveling all the way to Kenya, and re-entering our new life at Tenwek that had just begun. BUT, we had to do this without the adrenaline rush…and more painfully, without our daughter. Every ounce of me wanted to crawl in a ball and die…or at least cry and cry and cry. I didn’t want to deal with customs and visas and Nairobi traffic and shopping and then make the long trip from Nairobi to Tenwek. And I certainly didn’t want to face all those doctors and friends who cared for Hannah or re-enter the house where Hannah began to die!

I just found this picture of Noah playing in Hannah's room with the few toys we took to Kenya. So sweet!

I just found this picture of Noah playing in Hannah’s room with the few girl toys we took to Kenya. So sweet!

Last year at this time was so very painful. And now, May 1, 2014 I sit in Greece. My womb is full of life. My family is healthy and enjoying all the adventures that God is taking us on. And yet, my heart is still grieving Hannah. The pain might not be as deep today as it was last year at this time, but I miss her just as much today as I did the day I said good-bye to her. I’m sad that she isn’t here with us. I’m heartbroken by the way life has moved on without her. I struggle now to know what I’m missing. What would life look like with a two-year-old spunky little girl in the mix? Would I be more stressed? Would I be crazy overwhelmed by trips like this? But this post isn’t about my grief. It’s supposed to be about my re-entry into the first world…

After seeing nothing but Kenya for the last year, I’m back in the first world for two whole weeks. It is surreal to say the least. As soon as we departed the plane in Istanbul, Turkey, I thought to myself “Oh! First World, you smell so good and you’re so beautiful!” Directly in front of me was an internet cafe. (I’m sure these exist in Nairobi, but I’ve never seen one. And we certainly have nothing like it in rural Kenya!) To my left, I saw a cafe with American looking food. To my right was a Victoria’s Secret (selling body lotions and such, not lingerie). I’m attributing the good smell to this Victoria’s Secret. My overly sensitive nose loved the mixing of fragrances! (This is the opposite of how I usually am with perfume counters. I typically hate them!) I guess I had prepared myself for being in Greece, but I didn’t even think about meeting the first world during the layover! As we meandered our way from one end of the airport to the other, we passed store after store, kiosk after kiosk, cafe after cafe, person with an iphone after person with an ipad, white person after white person! It was so bizarre!

Part of me wanted to explore every retail establishment in the airport. The other part of me wanted to weep over the over-indulgence of it all. Fortunately, our layover was on the shorter side, which prevented the first option. The fact that we were traveling with friends helped to distract me from the second option. What did we do for an hour? Aaron used his credit card to buy me a can of Sprite (craziness!), and Aaron got a Turkish coffee. The boys just played and watched the planes come and go. Somehow, they weren’t as aware of the drastic differences between the world we were leaving and the one we were entering.

Anyway, we were very quickly off to Greece! It was a short flight from Istanbul to Athens, and then a long drive to Evia. We’ve done some exploration and have more planned for the weekend. I’ll do my best to post more pictures and give you more impressions as we go along the way. For now, here are a few of the contracting/conflicting aspects about the First and Third Worlds:

1.) I grew up in the land of cleanliness; now I live in the land of yuck! The sight of garbage cans and garbage trucks is wonderful. I’ve always taken these things for granted, or sometimes complained about how they’d wake my kids up early on Thursday mornings. Now, I’d delight in having someone to clean up all the trash that is everywhere in Kenya.

An unfortunate but typical scene in Kenya. :(

An unfortunate but typical scene in Kenya. 😦

2.) I’m from the land of freedom; now I live in the land of fear, disease, death and poverty. Tenwek is a plush missionary assignment. I admit that. However, it is NOT little America. Sometimes I like to think it is, and it can sometimes appear to be. Tenwek has been greatly impacted by all the missionaries that have served there, but it is still a far cry from the America I call home. Kenyans, even born-again Christian Kenyans, still hold onto animistic beliefs. So many Kenyans loose children and aren’t allowed to grieve them. Disease is rampant and so often goes untreated because preventative medicine isn’t a part of the culture. Even if we tried to make preventative healthcare available, most people struggle to provide food for their families. How could they be concerned with trying to prevent an illness that may or may not affect them? So many issues have been brought back to light since leaving Kenyan just a few days ago.

3.) I love clean water more than I ever thought possible! (On a side note, Noah cracked me up the first night in our resort. After brushing his teeth, he asked “Now what?” in response to how he was supposed to rinse his toothbrush. When I told him to use the tap water, he got really bright eyed  and acted like it was so weird that the water was clean!)

4.) Greece is not America. While there are certain things (like clean water) that make me feel more at home here, it’s still not home. The food is great. The people are white. The cars, and steering wheels, are on the “right” side of things. Everything is clean and pretty and well-maintained. Women wear pants. Couples can hold hands. I can take the city bus without fear, and I can afford to buy the boys a new toy! However, we are not home. We don’t speak or read or understand Greek. We don’t know our way around any part of this country. Our hotel room has 5 twin beds lined up for the 5 of us to sleep in one room! The doors and windows leak when it rains. And now, I have to convert the US dollar to Euros! My head is spinning…

5.) Heaven is my real home. Missionaries know this all too well. It’s not because we are holier than most Christians. It’s because we never feel at home. Kenya is a place I call home. I miss it. I miss my bed and my simple life there. I love my life at Tenwek, but I’m always aware that I’m an outsider. Pennsylvania is also a place I call home. That’s where most of my friends and family live. I know how to find the grocery store, the library, the playground, and wherever else I want to go. I know how to communicate to people. I miss sales and coupons and yard sales. Being here in Greece, though, makes me more aware of the fact that I won’t feel quite as at home in PA as I did before. The mission field changes people. It should. God uses all things to mold us into the people He wants us to be. Because of the simple fact that I, and everyone I know back in PA, have changed and will continue to change, I’m beginning to dread the re-entry back into my home country. I’m acutely aware that I won’t be able to pick up right where I left off. I can’t just jump back into life as I knew it in the Lehigh Valley. That grieves my heart. The only way to handle that grief is to look to heaven, my real home. The sacrifice of a missionary is great. The families of missionaries sacrifice a lot too. We do it willingly and joyfully because we serve a God who is worthy of such gifts. It may sound trite, but it’s true: When I get to heaven, it will all be worth it! I believe it. Otherwise, I wouldn’t do what I do.

As my protocol, I’ll end with some thought provoking quotes.

I just finished the book Choosing to SEE  by Mary Beth Chapman. It was a good read. It was good to hear her say so many of the things I say to myself. She quoted C. S. Lewis, and I really love  this quote. “We’re not necessarily doubting that God will do the best for us; we are wondering how painful the best will turn out to be.”

Then, yesterday, during our morning worship session, the pastor quoted David. The story is found in 2 Chronicles and 2 Samuel. God tells David to buy a specific piece of land for the building of an altar. When David asks to buy the land from Araunah, Araunah insists that David take the land for free and offers him oxen and other supplies in addition. I just love David’s response: “No, I insist on paying you for it. I will not sacrifice to the LORD my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing.” (2 Samuel 24:24) Wow! Sacrifices should be costly. That gives me a lot to ponder.

Praises and Prayer Requests:

1. Praise God for the reality of heaven! Oh, how I long to be there!

2. Praise God for the life growing inside of me. I’m overjoyed by this new little person to welcome into our family, yet I’m heartbroken that our family will never seem complete. No family picture will ever show our complete family. Please pray for our hearts as we make this seemingly huge step of faith in the direction of healing and pressing onward to the blessings God has for us in the future.

3. Praise God for this respite. It’s good to get away from home. It always provides much needed rest and relaxation, time to reflect, a chance to miss home. Please pray for us as we process all the mixed thoughts and emotions we’re experiencing. Pray that we’ll be joyfully obedience no matter the cost.

4. Praise God for the good work He continues to do through our story! We are overwhelmed by the number of people who know us through our blogs or through a mutual friend or through some other random avenue. I personally did not prepare myself for this. It’s been an emotional week. Too many people have shed too many tears over us. It’s humbling. Please pray for us! We are clinging to God. We just want to honor HIM!

5. Please know that we are praying for you! May God bless you for helping us carry this burden, for diligently uplifting us in prayer, for not forgetting, for being our prayer warriors. We love and appreciate you more than you’ll ever know!

Ephesians 3:20 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

 

 

 

 

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5 responses »

  1. Wow, my heart so connected with you on so many levels with this post. We are forever ruined…..but it’s a good kind of ruin. A homesick for heaven kind of ruined. I often think of our reentry into the states and i long for it and dread it. I want to stay here in Kenya and i want to go back. But most of all i want to be where God wants us to be.
    Enjoy Greece, my friend! We love you guys and are so blessed and encouraged by your testimony.

  2. I grieve with you in your grief. I am grateful that you and your family have given of your time. i may not have much to give but i can do that. I will be honest, i feel bad when my beloved home is called the land of Yuck, disease and poverty. Animalistic beliefs? It may not be pretty or perfect, but its home. Words can heal, but these words hurt.

    • Thank you for following our story. I sincerely apologize for calling Kenya those things. I LOVE Kenya. It is a land of he most beautiful people. My comment about yuck, disease and poverty are not in judgment. It is dirty. We serve at a hospital where we see disease every day. Poverty is reality for so many Kenyans. It grieves my heart too. Please forgive me for hurting you. It was not my intention. I love my Kenyan home!

  3. Thank you for sharing your life with strangers like me, your faith has had such an impact on me. Your words are beautiful and honest. God places your family in my heart often for me to pray for all of you.

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