Wheaton alumni picnic in Nairobi Saturday

Just a brief public service announcement: We are having a little get-together picnic for Wheaton alumni Saturday afternoon on the NEGST campus. If you are a Wheaton alumnus (or know of one who didn’t get the notice from the alumni office) and are in the area this Saturday, come on over. So far I think about 30 folks are coming; many more were out of town or busy this weekend and sent their regrets.

Baby rush (Moses comic)

Today is Liam’s 3rd birthday. He’s been a little nervous about this day for a while, but seems to be warming up to the idea after we sang him happy birthday this morning. His sisters are really excited!!

Itinerary: Cake, popcorn & ceremony at school this morning; cake at lunch; and cake at grandma’s house this weekend.

Today’s Reverend Fun Cartoon:

Exodus 2.1-9 Baby Rush

[Lots more fun Bible cartoons at www.reverendfun.com.]

Just by serendipitous coincidence, Michael Heiser (The Naked Bible) has this post today: Moses, Sargon, and the Exposed Child motif in Ancient Literature:

Here’s an interesting article that advanced students of the Old Testament should read and digest. Egyptologist Donald Redford traces what he calls the “exposed child” motif through ancient literature. By “exposed child” he means stories that have the elments of the Moses birth in them. Redford’s goal isn’t specifically to deal with the Moses story, but that’s inevitable. The Sargon story in particular is very similar to the Moses story:

Cinderella and her missionary prince, a personal story

Back in August, while I was in Western Kenya at the pastor’s conference, I realized that I was only about an hour away from where Patrick and Violet Nabwera’s rural home near Kakamega. [I’ve written about Patrick and Violet before. They were our next door neighbors last year – and their daughter Joy (Kiara’s best friend last year) was part of our family for a few months. This past week they moved to Mozambique to begin language study.]

Patrick at homeWhen I realized I was this close, I called them and when I was done with my portion of the conference and caught a matatu to Kakamega. There’s something about visiting the place where a friend spent his childhood; suddenly all the family details take on a new concreteness. Here, meet my mother and my brother. These are the two cows he owns.

This is the field of sugar cane that provides a little income, and here is how the sugar company collects it. There is the little primary school school I went to as a kid. Here is Continue reading

Parents and peers are more important than schools for kids’ religion

According to Jeremy Uecker’s article, “Alternative Schooling Strategies and the Religious Lives of American Adolescents,” published in the December 2008 issue of the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion.

. . . At best, schooling has a limited effectiveness on student religiosity. Parents and friends, however, strongly affect each aspect of religious life in the study. Students who have more religious parents and friends are more likely to attend church, Sunday school, and church youth group. They are also more likely to consider religion more important to their lives and to have private devotions (praying and reading the Bible on their own).

The good news for parents is that while the choice of schooling is important, the most effective thing they can do to affect the religious life of their children is to take their own spiritual life seriously and to encourage their children to build friendships with peers who are also faithful Christians. . .

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A merry family Christmas

My parents have come up from Malawi, my sister Brenda and her husband Ben are here from Mali, and my sister Beth is back from a brief visit to US. My kids are eating up the extra attention. Yesterday, it was home-made, potato-stamped wrapping paper and a Christmas tree piñata (courtesy of their uncle Ben). Today it was Christmas cookies; tomorrow, it will be ginger bread houses. Christi’s happy for the people to help create a festive atmosphere too. I’m afraid I’m not very good at helping create festivity. Tomorrow it will be ginerI’d like to think that I’m more of an infrastructure and logistics kind of a guy – focused on taking care of kids in the middle of the night, airport runs, Band-Aids, comforting crying kids, tracking down recipes on the internet, taking kids jogging, outings, etc.

This morning two of my parents former students from the African Bible College stopped by – Alpheus from Malawi and Thomas from Liberia – both at NEGST now. They enjoyed comparing their experiences at both places, and Thomas regaled us all with Liberian folk tales.

One kind of sad (for us) family announcement is that Joy won’t be returning to us next January. Her parents have decided to send her to the boarding school after all. The school was founded by their mission and has extremely high academic standards. Patrick’s sister is now running the home where the kids stay, and all the kids are learning to do things like wash their own clothes and develop many of the skills their missionary parents have. It will help Joy get the kind of character, education, and skills she would get if she was living with them.

It makes a lot of sense, but we will miss Joy. Ultimately, I think we helped each other through some transitions.Before Joy lived with us, she would just glow about living at NEGST and the thought of staying with us. She clearly enjoyed herself, but I think the last six months have helped her realize that no place is the same without her parents and sister, and there is a lot to be said for her own Kenyan way of life – attractive as a Western lifestyle looks from the outside. We think she will be a lot more open to boarding school now than she would have been six months ago.

Before Joy lived with us, our kids seemed more agitated. Leila, especially, seemed to be suffering middle child syndrome – often angry (especially at her older sister.) Joy was a great friend to all three of our kids. I believe she helped them all learn how to play better together; she brought peace. I know there are lots of other factors (Leila prayed hard for contentment), but I’m sure she played a big part in helping them become more happy and content children.

We will look forward to having Joy stay with us during some of the school vacations when her parents are in Mozambique.

– – – – – –

Anyway, the next couple of weeks, I’m going to focus on enjoying family for Christmas. I’ll see you next year. 😉

Enjoy a good family Christmas.

My poisoned son and African reconciliation

Last week my two-year old son was poisoned. Christi had gotten stuck in traffic downtown, so I had come home early from the library (a long 30 second walk) to hold down the fort – sitting at home while the kids play with their friends outside in case someone needs some food or a Band-Aid.

Suddenly, I heard Liam (2) crying. There are nearly a hundred kids in our small apartment complex (maybe thirty of them are around Liam’s age), so there are always kid noises and someone is likely to be crying at any given moment. Still, I managed to recognized Liam’s cry and went outside to see what was happening.  As I turned the corner, one of the bigger girls was carrying him home, but she had trouble explaining what had happened. Then one of the women walked up and said she had been drying cornmeal “cakes” for killing cockroaches in the grass outside her apartment and caught some kids playing in them. Liam was still covered in the chalky dust. He had started to cry and run away when she tried to wash his hands off.

“Did you eat any of the cookies, Liam?” No.

“How did the cookies taste?” (Puzzled I have no clue; I didn’t eat any look.)

At that point I wasn’t really worried, but I took Liam upstairs, washed his hands and changed his shirt. Then we walked back over to the lady’s apartment to find out what the offending chemical was. By the time I got there, a crowd had already gathered in front of the apartment. Two of Liam’s other little friends had been seen with the chalk dust all over their mouths (a Kenyan girl and a Sudanese girl).

I asked to see the poison bottle. One of the mothers started to lash out. “How could you put poison out here when you see so many kids running around!!” (I confess the same thought had crossed my mind; she’s already safely raised three teenagers; what was she thinking?) Fortunately, one of those guys who oozes leadership was thinking the same thing I was. “Let’s focus on getting the name of the chemical,” he said. “After we treat the kids, we can address other issues.”

The poison label turned out to have a rather scary warning, so we

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Christi’s reader response reveals a few of our family secrets

Tucked in towards the end of a recent (Dec. 4th ) Economist article on France’s Nuclear Energy ambitions is this little sentence:

In 2005 Ms Lauvergeon suffered a blow when the government abruptly cancelled her plan for a share offering.

Christi retorts, “She didn’t suffer; I suffered!!!”

Not even half a year before that “cancellation,” Christi had left her communications and lobbying job in Washington, D.C. as well as her recently-begun executive MBA program at Georgetown and moved our family to Paris in pursuit of her lifelong dream of working in France. When the “government abruptly cancelled her plan for a share offering,” Christi’s project was shut down, and she was transferred to a different department to work under a boss best described as an egomaniacal nut-case. Her French dreams were cruelly shattered, and we began to set out in pursuit of a new plan, which eventually led us to Kenya (God works in mysterious ways – see here for translation).

In a small humorous twist of irony, I’m the only one who actually made it into Ms Lauvergeon’s home, even though Christi worked for her.  (Lauvergeon, CEO of Areva is easily one of the most famous and powerful women in France – a household name there. Forbes named her the 8th most powerful woman in the world in 2006 – see Time’s take.) When we moved to France, I had signed an affidavit with the government saying that I would not pursue any paid employment, so I took care of our girls. It just so happened that Lauvergeon’s British nanny used to bring the kids to the playgroup at our church and invited some of us to a private Halloween party at Lauvergeon’s house. 😉

It also turns out that in the same play group was the American nanny of one of France’s most famous singer, Patrick Bruel – winner of France’s top selling album the year before we got there and three other times. Since Bruel’s little Oscar was the same age as our Leila (1), and we lived just a couple of blocks away, we were invited over to his house for a few play dates. I was clueless; we’d been hanging out in playgroups for months, and I had no idea who this kid or his dad was – even after they told me his name (unbelievable in hindsight). However, after the nanny explained the security procedures and made me promise to be especially discreet about coming over, I figured I’d better check things out on Google. There I found out that were still smarting from the betrayal of a friend who had secretly taken pictures at their private wedding and sold them to a Parisian tabloid for $30,000! I only met Bruel’s wife once, and I don’t know how she pried out of me what I used to do before becoming an at-home dad, but I remember her being impressed that I could read a little Hebrew. That’s how I found out they were Jewish – something all the rest of France already knew.

Someday I might tell you the funny story behind how I was interviewed the national news on the main TV stations in France (not once, but twice – just for being a dad). I think I was most amused by how proud all the local shopkeepers seemed to be that one of their regular customers “was on TV.” (Said in my best Mike Wizowski – Monster’s Inc. voice.) All of them had seen me.

Reader response: how to get from a buried quote in an Economist article on France’s Nuclear Energy ambitions to my brushes with fame as an at-home dad in Paris ;-).

Scholarship = coloring and playing with the computer

Liam (2 1/2 years old) stayed home from school this morning with an eye infection. Since Christi took a group of young American students from here camping to the Amboseli game park last night, and Njeri (our househelper) was doing the weekly market run, that meant I was on duty. It was just like the old days(I was the at-home dad for four years) or a weekend: wiping noses, helping set up the train tracks, comforting, putting on band aids, and taking him outside to watch the cows grazing on the lawn. I have to say, I generally enjoyed an unproductive morning, but I did manage to work through a couple of articles – highlighting key points in bright yellow – and typing down some notes in my laptop from a couple of monographs I’m working through.

After watching me for a few minutes, Liam commented:

“Daddy, are you coloring with yellow and playing with your computer?”

Yes, my son, that’s about the story of my life these days – coloring in yellow and playing on the computer. What a life! 😉

PS: Kiara (8) told me last night that she wants me to teach her Greek.

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Keep an eye out for this guy at SBL


I know it will be hard – like “Where’s Waldo” in the sea of black faces at SBL. His name is Samy Tioye; he’s a PhD candidate in translation, working on the concept of “eating blood” from Leviticus into Lobiri, his mother tongue in Burkina Faso. Most importantly, he’s also one of my best friends. 😉

Samy TioyeIt’s Samy’s first time at SBL, only his second time in the US, and his first time to New England, so I’m sure he would appreciate all the encouragement you can give him. Buy him a coffee; buy him lunch; buy him big books for Ben Byerly like Dunn “From Jerusalem” ;-). Ask him to give you all the dirt on me (a short conversation.) Better yet, ask him about his childhood and lifeguards. If he opens up, you’ll be in for a truly unforgetable, even unbelievible, . . . . personal story.  He can also tell you more details about being locked up in a Kenyan jail, but he’s got lots of other more interesting stories.

I cried, and Liam stole my snack

I didn’t stay up to watch the election results; I got a good night’s sleep. I woke up this morning and turned on BBC radio just in time to hear McCain’s concession speech. Christi and I went downstairs in the apartment of our Sudanese neighbors to watch Obama’s victory speech (we don’t have a TV.) Liam (my 2 year old son) had fallen down on his way to school; he walked back to be comforted and joined the festivities.

The speech was vintage Obama, but I’m not big on hype or political rhetoric; I remember Bush saying many of the same things when he was first elected (obviously not as eloquently).

But when the speech was over and Michelle Obama walked out onto the stage, the tears suddenly came (for Christi too). The symbolic importance of this moment for America and the world cannot be overestimated. I know it’s not perfect, and the real work is just beginning, but a critical threshold has just been crossed. That this barrier has been broken means a lot to me, and it makes me feel real good right now.

In the meantime Liam, rummaging through my backpack, takes out my banana bread snack, adds it to his own, zips up his backpack, and – with a smirk on his face – trudges off to school ;-).

Other random thoughts:

  • I’m really glad the campaign is over.
  • Will all the lobbyist have to learn how to play basketball now? (Reflecting on Obama’s election day activity.)
  • Christi on seeing Joe Biden on stage: “Joe Biden just got a free ride. He must be thinking, ‘boy was that easy.'”
  • I appreciated McCain’s concession speech, but we haven’t arrived with regards to race; we’ve still got a long way to go – on Main Street as it were.
  • It’s all downhill from here (once the realities of Washington strike); wait, we still have the inauguration. I’m counting the the First Lady to help the president keep it real.

With apologies to all my really conservative friends, I’m going to enjoy this moment.

Bet you didn’t kiss a giraffe this weekend

(I know; I look even worse than normal in this picture, but I thought some of you would get a kick out of it anyway. Looking on is my niece Liana.)

As part of the show-our-nieces-and-nephew a good time tour, we took them to the nearby Giraffe Center. (The center is about 10 minutes from our home, and we’ve taken so many friends there my eight year old Kiara now considers it “boring”; she is a good sport anyway). Obviously, most people just feed the giraffe by hand from the balcony.

While we were there, a local primary school visited, and I was quite impressed with how the staff turned from the tourists and made the kids a priority. (The same happened at the Elephant Orphanage). In addition to regular school visits . . .

. . .  the funds collected [from visitors] are utilised solely and specifically in bringing underprivileged children to the Giraffe Centre and other places of Wildlife interest. We call these “Ecology trips”. . . .We locate schools in the slums and outlying areas and arrange to collect  25 kids at a time by bus from the schools, rehabilitation centres and Homes. . . [read more]

I’m back; a weeklong family reunion

I knew I was back in Africa when it took me a full 30 minutes to walk the 100 yards from my apartment to the library – greetings and “welcome backs” all along the way. (That’s about the same amount of it would have taken me to walk the 3kms from where we stayed in Cambridge to Tyndale House.)

As for my arrival: It doesn’t have the same burst through the doors feel any more. I sent an sms the second the plane landed – “touchdown”; I raced through immigration (yes, I managed to be the first one through); I scanned the waiting throngs through the glass doors at baggage claim and immediately picked the love of my life out of the crowd, . . .  then had to wait an additional 20 mins for my bag to arrive before I could greet her properly.

We got home after the kids had already gone to bed, so Friday morning had that festive Christmas feel – bleary-eyed parent gets startled awake at the crack of dawn by very excited kids and stumbles into the living room to hear all the dramatic stories that have been saved up for weeks. Christi even put on some Christmas music for the occasion.

After eight heroic weeks of single parenting, Christi was ready for me to dive right back into my usual parenting roles; but after six weeks of less than enough sleep, and two successive nights of only three hours of sleep (one in the final push at Tyndale, one seated on an airplane), I didn’t exactly step up to the plate the way I was supposed to. 😦  All our dreamed of plans for long talks, make-up back rubs, and foot massages kind of went out the window when we realized that the kids would be home for mid-term break – Friday through Monday. Now that the kids are back in school and I’ve slept a bit, we are both feeling much more relaxed. It’s nice just to be able to talk about things as they come to mind without having to write them in an e-mail or save them for our next chat.

Christi found out about a little cottage near Lake Naivasha

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My kinda girl

Today, Christi sent this e-mail to all NEGST students:

I have recently returned from America with 4 bins of toys, because I know how hard they are to find at good prices here in Kenya, and that the kids will love them. I will be selling them at reasonable prices at 10:00 a.m. tomorrow, Saturday, 13 September, at Pistis School—our community’s nursery and primary school. The toys were donated to me, and 100% of the proceeds of the sale will be used to bless Pistis School children.

This is how one mother, one of the many Christi has networked for, responded:

WOW Christi, Did you know what a blessing you are? I am able to concentrate on my studies now without thinking of business deal 1, 2 or 3 because you… thanks. When I think of all the other things you are doing, I am reminded of the biblical salt, affecting change slowly and surely. God bless you and your innovative thoughts. Count me in to buy some toys tomorrow.

That’s my girl!! And that’s just the tip of the iceberg! 

[Eight weeks is a long time to be apart.]

Getting together with Sam Shellhammer at Tyndale House

I feel like I need to start a daily series of “Teabreak at Tyndale.” Yesterday, it was a fascinating conversation with Jonathan Moo about the Bible, eschatology, and the environement. Today, I look up and there’s Sam Shellhammer, newly-retired Vice President for Student Development at Wheaton College. After thirty years of service at the college, he and his wife are taking a very well-deserved retirement visit to England.

15 years after I graduated, he still remembers my name, details of my time at Wheaton, and where I lived three years ago. Incredible!

Christi’s flight – a six hour delay ;-(

I finally got my my compter set up tonight check e-mail, only to find out that Christi’s flight from London to Nairobi has been delayed almost six hours. Now, instead of arriving at 9pm, they arrived at 3am. It’s hard enough to travel with three little kids on your own . . .

After confirming that the flight had arrived a few minutes ago, I called Christi on Skype. [The benefits of modern technology.] It sounds like it was a miserable time in Heathrow and on the flight today. She’s says that the kids all tried to be troopers, but you can only ask so much of little ones who haven’t slept for over 24 hours.

It is now officially Leila’s 5th birthday – her golden birthday. What a way to spend it; she turned 5 on the airplane.

So close yet so far. The irony is we we could have spent the whole day together in London. But, the layover was supposed to be too short, the bus fare to Heathrow costs too much, and I needed to drive the car here to Durham. What could have been . . .

The next hurdle is to get Liam back into the country. It’s taken over six months to get his residence papers, and the immigration officer at the desk when she left Nairobi claimed that Liam had illegally overstayed his visa. Then there are the eight bags which have to clear customs. [Update: Great! They are in the car on the way home.]

She’s not had much luck on the London-Nairobi flight. Three years ago, she was coming (again on her own after visiting a sister) with Leila and Kiara (then 1 and 4). That flight was also delayed a few hours as they tried unsuccessfully to repair the in-flight entertainment system. So instead of getting to take a break while the kids watched cartoons on the screen, she had to entertain them.

Fortunately Christi’s parents and our good friend Samy Tioye is picking them up – chain reaction disruption.

Christi and the kids leave Boston for Kenya tonight; arrive tomorrow night

If you think of it, I’m sure Christi would appreciate a few prayers over the next two days. As you all know, it’s a long night and day flight of flying for anyone – let alone someone traveling alone with three small children. She has collected a lot of donations – including a few laptops (and some books for me, naturally), so the luggage limit is maxed out. In traveling, there are always those elements that can go either way – the transfer, kids sleep, etc. Then there is the jet lag to cope with at the other end. Fortunately, her parents are meeting her and we have a lot of great friends to help out. Still, she will also have a full plate the moment she arrives with a lot of people happy to see her back.

Tomorrow, seven of the NEGST crew here at Tyndale House leave for the British New Testament Conference (BNTC) in Durham tomorrow morning. I’ve rented a seven passenger van, so we will see how all of us do navigating around England on our own.

We’re off

Christi and the kids are on their way to the US. Last I checked (11:30pm last night) everyone was happily seated and excitedly checking out all the seat buttons, as well as their new airline socks, eye covers and tooth brushes. They are landing in London right now for the next major hurdle – the 5 hour transfer to their flight to Boston. (I see from an e-mail this morning that Christi got everyone free “Executive Club” membership when she checked in.)

Liam (2) provided two moments of excitement at the airport. First, the Kenyan passport officials did not want to let him leave the country – “He has overstayed his 3-month visa.” (He was born here, and this must be the tourist visa from his visit to the states last year. We’ve been working on his Dependant’s Pass for a very long time, but it still hadn’t arrive before they left.) Finally Christi said, “Well, I am not leaving my son in Kenya, so what are you going to do?” Eventually the official decided to let him go without any stamp in his passport, so there is no record of him leaving Kenya ;-).

Then, at boarding, Liam ducked out the open gate door and started scrambling down the stairs towards the tarmack; he wanted a better look at the plane. Christi finally convinced him that the door into the airplane was the other direction.

This morning I’m leaving to help with a rural pastor’s conference in Western Kenya with ALARM (Africa Leaders Reconciliation Ministries). I’m only staying the first two days, but my sessions are as follows:

  • The inner life of the leader
  • Leadership skills
  • Biblical interpretation
  • Preaching
  • Marriage
  • Parenting

How’s that for a line-up? Being a foreigner and feeling like I have expertise in only one or two of these subjects, I tried to talk my way out of the others, but my colleague Nelson insisted. I’ve never been in charge of anything for that amount of time, but I plan mostly on facilitating good discussions and offering some tools. Most of these pastors haven’t had the opportunity for much education or training, so this is something I’ve always wanted to do with my life.

Your prayers Christi and myself would be appreciated. (In the meantime, check out some of the “Links of the Day” on the right.)

There’s a monkey in the kitchen

One of my favorite questions for Njeri –  our wonderful househelper, nanny, chef, and friend: “Did anything exciting happen today?” Here was yesterday’s answer.

Ever since the fruits ripened outside, monkeys have started coming around. [We are housesitting for friends about 1/2 a mile off campus.] Today, Kiara and Leila were in the back yard playing, when the monkeys came. The monkeys looked like they wanted to play with the girls; they weren’t afraid, so the girls came running into the house, “Auntie Njeri! Autie Njeri! Monkeys! Monkeys!” I was in the laundry room, so I came out into the kitchen and saw one who had climbed through the bars and was sitting on the kitchen sink eyeing the fruit basket.